Saturday, February 28, 2009

Perfectly apt, really

Imagine ... Lennon's classic played on church bells

Apt because it is to be performed in an Anglican cathedral.

But he's getting really tired of eating crackers

Parrots teach man to speak again - Telegraph

Proof the internet is evil

Internet 'is causing poetry boom' - Telegraph

Opinion Dominion explains...

It's war: minister takes aim at defence |

Our Defence Minister thinks his department is "at times incompetent".

No doubt it is. The problem is that, at least as far as the uniform side of the fence is concerned, they expect people who may be quite good and competent at one job (flying a plane, being an engineer or battlefield tactician) to be sensible and competent in another role they never really intended taking on when they joined (management of personnel, running a quasi-judicial system for disciplinary breaches, conducting fair internal enquiries.)

Time and again, you can see a person who may have been quite good at his or her original job making a complete hash of the more generalist duties that certain positions may require. It's not for lack of attempted training and assessment; Defence spends an inordinate amount of time on management training, and assessment is continual. It's just that some people with good technical skills in some areas just don't seem to be able to engage common sense when it comes to other areas.

It's often truly puzzling as to how some really bad decisions can be made by uniform men or women who are clearly not dumb. Of course, this also means that Defence then has to spend an inordinate amount of time on internal review of such decisions.

I don't know the answer; maybe its inherent in having a relatively small defence force. But it is still discouraging.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Local food in Japan

This is a feature of Japanese towns and cities that I have often noticed as being quite different from most Western cities:
"Locally grown for local consumption" is a common practice in many cities in Japan. Small plots of urban land dedicated to farming can be found in cities of all sizes. Kunio Tsubota of the Kyushu University Asia Centre writes in Urban Agriculture in Asia: Lessons from Japanese Experience "The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) estimates that about 1.1 million hectares of farmland exist in "urban-like areas" and are producing ¥2.6 trillion worth of products."

Tsubota states that municipalities desire some farmland in urbanized areas because the land provides open areas necessary for emergencies, residents don’t want buildings constructed on green spaces, and that it’s more cost effective to grow crops than to convert urban farm plots into parks, and then maintain the parks.

One thing I have noticed, though, is that a lot of these Japanese urban farms may be right beside busy roads, and I wonder whether car and truck exhausts so close leaves a residue on fruit and veggies. (I guess it would just wash off anyway.)

There are parts (but getting smaller over the years) of some Brisbane suburbs which still contain small market farms. In fact, fruit and vegetables brought in some of the Vietnamese dominated shops, which I think get their stuff from such local farms, can be incredibly cheap compared to the supermarket. We usually get our pork from a "pork butcher" that seems to supply all the local restaurants too, and is always cheaper than the supermarket.

Urban farming therefore makes some sense, doesn't it? (As does living near asian migrant areas!)

Further to that Tarantino post...

A few posts back I had a link to a Guardian blog which embedded the ugly trailer for Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" (yes, that spelling is apparently correct.)

The trailer is also on Youtube, but this time it has the Motion Picture Association of America preview rating at the start, which says the preview is "Suitable for All Audiences".

Are they mad?

Probably as mad as Quentin Tarantino, who thought that Kill Bill was a film that would be quite fun for boys and girls above the age of 12.

Given that he displays an emotional age of a 13 year old boy (and an unpleasant one at that,) I shouldn't be surprised. (Look at how juvenile most of the comments following any Tarantino clip on Youtube are as well.)

That young men should be getting excited about such a splatter-fest film is not a good sign. The only positive thing is that critics have become cynical of Tarantino's endless repetition of his one trick oeuvre.

Mad grandmother

BBC NEWS | Americas | US fortune 'not solely for dogs'

Talking about the $8 billion estate of the late Leona Helmsley, the article notes:

Helmsley also left $12m to her pet dog, Trouble, while explicitly leaving out two of her grandchildren.

A Manhattan judge later reduced the trust fund for the nine-year-old Maltese to $2m and the grandchildren received $6m each.
How do you spend even $2 million on a dog? Diamond encrusted collars?

On David Cameron's loss

A lesson for us all in a short life, well lived | Libby Purves - Times Online

Libby Purves writes very well about this.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

High speed skepticism

Expanding broadband to bail out economies - International Herald Tribune

This article notes:
In recent weeks, the United States, Britain, Canada, Germany, Spain, Portugal and Finland have all included measures to expand broadband access and to bolster connection speeds in their planned economic stimulus packages. Australia, France, Hungary, Ireland, Japan and South Korea have announced separate broadband plans, according to a compilation by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development...
While analysts agree that investing in communications technologies makes economies more competitive, they are skeptical about whether the promised gains will materialize quickly enough to make the spending packages - ranging from €11 million, or $14 million, in Hungary to $7 billion in the United States - effective recession-busters.
Indeed. Count me as a skeptic when it comes to claims about how high speed internet to the likes of the back of Bourke is going to supercharge the Australian economy. According to the article: in telecommunications typically generate positive returns, said Olivier Pascal, an analyst at Analysys Mason, a consulting firm. Complex economic models show that every $1 spent on network improvements increases the gross domestic product by $1.30, he said. And that does not include the increases in productivity that such investments generate, he added.

He said that the same models showed that "allocating spending to telecoms will create far more jobs than giving it to, say, agriculture."

When I can download lunch, print it out at my desk and eat it, I'll be a little less skeptical.

Of course, I like high speed internet as much as the next time wasting internet junky, and it's nice to develop it for rural populations. It's the claimed benefits to the economy that I doubt, especially when it's just about ramping up speed to cities which already have relatively good speeds. At least one company in France has a similar view:

A top executive of Vivendi, which controls SFR, the owner of French fixed and mobile networks, said recently that faster connections would simply worsen the problem of online piracy, undermining Vivendi's music, movie and games businesses.

"Today, fiber serves no purpose," Philippe Capron, chief financial officer of Vivendi, was quoted as saying by a French business paper, La Tribune. "There is no new revenue stream and no supplemental service to offset the considerable investment. All that it does is to encourage the illegal downloading of films."

Let's hope so

Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds: the worst film ever made?

Go to the link to see the trailer for a film which, with any luck, will be the last ever made by QT. As the Guardian's Paul McInnes says:
If this film isn't the work of a man who not only has nothing left to say, but is revelling in his ability to continue not saying it, then I don't know what is.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

File under "what the hell are they thinking?"

Spider-Man musical set for 2010
Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark will include the story of the superhero's origins and will feature music and lyrics by U2 members Bono and The Edge.
This'll probably give Jason Soon nightmares.

Not happy Clive

Crikey - Hamilton: why we should stick to carbon trading regardless

Clive Hamilton's take on why Australia should forge ahead with an ETS is an interesting read. He does set out the differences in approach between it and a carbon tax pretty well.

Mind you, I still don't agree with his conclusion, which seems to be "yes I know, the ETS Rudd is giving us is useless anyway, but every other nation is going to use ETS so we have to use it too, regardless of its effectiveness."

There's also a surprising suggestion made:
A case could be made to modify the CPRS so that those who want to do more than respond to higher energy prices can do so. In fact, they can do that already, by clubbing together and buying emission permits that they simply retire so the aluminium smelters can’t get their hands on them.
Hamilton argues that the fluctuations in carbon price are something that just have to live with, because it is easier for politicians to handle:

Against this, a carbon tax fixes the price of pollution through the tax rate and leaves it to the market to decide the amount of pollution. Business has certainty but the environment pays for it. If Australia has a legally binding emissions cap, as we now do under the Kyoto Protocol and will have again under a Copenhagen agreement, then the government will be compelled to adjust the tax rate frequently and by large amounts as it tries to hit the target.

Imagine the politics of that, remembering that the GST rate is virtually cast in stone. Politically, it's infinitely easier to let the price fluctuate in the marketplace, with the peaks and troughs smoothed by business planners.

I don't know about that line "Business has certainty but the environment pays for it." As I noted recently, I am swayed by the argument that sufficient business certainty is exactly what is needed to drive investment in a relatively rapid change to cleaner technology.

UPDATE: as for the idea that people might help reduce actual emissions by buying up permits and taking them out of the hands of industry, Andrew Macintosh writes:
....the extent of abatement through such voluntary action is likely to be tiny.

The operating revenue of Australia’s four largest conservation organisations is around $60 million per annum. Let’s make the wildly optimistic assumption that all of this money is directed to buying and retiring permits, which will cost around $25 each and will equate to one tonne of CO2-e. This would reduce emissions by 2.4 million tonnes, or less than 0.5% of Australia’s annual total. This is hardly the type of rescue package the CPRS needs.

A contemplation on modern life - the forgotten hankerchief

Today I forgot to put a clean hankerchief in my pocket as I left the house.

When I was a child, I always had a kid-sized hankerchief in my pocket. It was used for my nose mainly, but were also pretty good at mopping up blood from skinned knees, blood noses, and lost baby teeth. When very young, if I was in need of taking a few coins to school, my mother used to tie them into the corner of the hankerchief, so they weren't jangling loose in my pocket. I used to like the idea that one could be used as a tourniquet if I was bitten by a snake or had a cut artery. They were, in short, very useful and quite comforting.

As a middle aged adult, I continue to find them useful. Now, tissues will be used during any heavy cold instead of carrying the phlegm in my pocket all day. However, when you have young children, a large kerchief in the pocket is still extremely useful for drying hands after visits to the toilet, mopping blood from their skinned knees, etc. Even when not with my own children, my habit on going to public toilets (especially if I am about to use my hands to eat) is to finish drying my hands with my hankerchief, and then use it to protect my now clean hand when opening the exit door. They remain a very useful thing to have where ever I am. I feel lost today due to my morning oversight.

It seems to me that somewhere between the 1960's and 2009, they fell out of fashion. I am reasonably sure that no children take them to school anymore. I doubt that many adults below the age of 40 use them much either. A couple of Christmas's ago, a nephew with 3 young children of his own saw me using my hankerchief to dry my kid's hands and said "that's a handy thing to have." Indeed.

The range of hankerchiefs available in shops now seems very small; the last time I looked, it seemed quite hard to find reasonable quality ones. They are either very cheap thin things, or quite expensive. The tissue has replaced it all, but really, I find them not even half as useful.

Why did the utility of the hankerchief get lost in the modern world? Or am I mistaken, and they are more popular than I know?

If, dear reader, you have a good hankerchief experience to share, please let me know. Their rightful place in the scheme of life needs to be restored, and the campaign may as well start here.

Now they listen to him

Peter Schiff - Radio National Breakfast - 25 February 2009

There's no transcript available, but you can listen to what Peter Schiff said this morning about the fundamental debt problem of the USA. It sounded quite convincing and quite scary.

I see from his Wikipedia entry that he has taken to talking like a survivalist lately, which is a bit of a worry. But I don't know that that affects the credibility of his diagnosis of the problem.

Back to ocean acidification, greenhouse gas, etc

Here's a round up of interesting stuff about greenhouse issues, all in one post so that readers who don't believe in it can skip right over!

* There's a study out on Great Barrier Reef coral which indicates ocean acidification (lowering of the ocean pH) has already been underway for some time. (Seems very technical work, and I wouldn't be surprised if other scientists argue about this.)

* It seems that at least some molluscs get heavier shells with more CO2 in the water, rather than lighter. This paper is based on some tank experiments, and is pretty noteworthy because it seems to show how little is properly understood about the biological processes in calcification.

The authors note, however, that heavier shell production (or just normal shell production) in some species seems to be at a price. (Like less muscle, reproductive changes.) It's still not a very encouraging sign that everything is OK under increased ocean acidification. (In fact, I seem to recall some article that was about a period in prehistory when molluscs ruled the oceans. Must go looking for that.)

* Ross Gittens writes this morning about the Rudd ETS and Penny Wong's recent counterattack on the idea that individual efforts to "reduce carbon footprint" don't change emissions overall. Ross says Rudd and Wong are being misleading in their claims:
It's true only in an arithmetic sense that anything we do "contributes directly" to Australia meeting its emissions target. Everything contributes to the bottom line of the sum. But, because the bottom line is controlled under the scheme, any helpful contribution we might make just leaves more scope for others to make unhelpful contributions.

When Wong says strong actions on our part help make it easier for governments to set lower emissions targets in future, the future she means is after 2020. As it stands, the only changes governments can make under the scheme are to the "trajectory" or path we travel to get to an unchanged destination level of emissions in 2020.

Why has the Government constructed its scheme in such a strange, off-putting way, which fact it has then wanted to conceal and obfuscate?

So, the point that individual actions to live more frugally leaves more room for industry to increase CO2 is correct.

(As I understand it, a carbon tax can't be really based on a set target, so there is a degree of guesswork involved in knowing where to set the tax so as to achieve a desired level of reduction. However, monitoring its progress should be a much simpler task, I would have thought; and you remove a lot of the "money for nothing" aspects of permit trading and derivatives markets that make me so sceptical of ETS as a concept.)

* I asked over at Harry Clarke's blog last night, but don't know the answer yet. Has anyone done any extensive work on how a carbon tax would work? ETS has been in favour for so long, I don't think there has ever been much in the way of discussion in the popular media about how you could make a carbon tax work.

My assumption had been that a carbon tax would mean each country concentrates on assessing it's own emissions, and the effect the tax is having on them. However, I suppose it is possible to have a system of credits involved too, and if credits could be gained for overseas offsets, you would have much of the same rorting possible as has been shown under the present European ETS.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Burning offsets

Just wanted to note that in a post in November 2006 I wrote that, although I considered action against carbon dioxide emissions was warranted, one of the things of which I remained very sceptical was:
Carbon offset schemes which involve growing trees, especially if they are in areas where bushfires are a distinct possibility.
As Andrew Bolt has noted, it would appear that at least some carbon offset plantings have been burnt in Victoria, with more under threat.

Wouldn't it make sense to do most of your planting in regions where bushfire is relatively rare - such as Queensland?

Great ideas in British education

Rod Liddle writes (but without links to the source of these stories, unfortunately) as follows:

+ Children at a junior school in Cambridgeshire were asked to write down as many rude and obscene words as they could think of, as part of some ill-conceived campaign against bullying. Parents weren’t too happy. One mother said she was disgusted “when my 10-year-old showed me an exercise book with words like c***sucker, d***head and fat arse rewarded with a tick from the teacher”.

Meanwhile, in a similarly fatuous attempt to combat Muslim extremism, pupils nationwide are to be asked to empathise with suicide bombers, to see the world as a nihilistic Islamic psychopath might see it.

Schools have long since given up on inculcating a sense of right and wrong in their pupils; the whole notion is outdated and, frankly, authoritarian. Which is something to be thankful for when a 12-year-old child screams “fat arse” at you and then detonates himself. At least he was able to empathise.

Rats in her underwear

We're the ones caught in the rat trap

Melanie Reid in The Times writes of an pretty "full on" rat infestation of their house:
The rats started stealing my clothes. One morning, I found my shirt jammed hard down a hole in the floor behind the washbasin in my bathroom. When I tugged it out it was shredded: the rats had been trying to drag it down to make a nest. They just miscalculated its size. Confronted with unassailable evidence, I did an audit of my underwear, and found half of it had disappeared. My husband, table-leg at the ready and a desperate look in his eye, swore that it wasn't him. Nightly, it seemed, the rats had been on forays to tug my discarded knickers and socks underground.
Kind of amusing, from a distance.

Green and glowing

Nuclear power? Yes please... - The Independent

Nuclear power is increasingly back in favour:
Britain must embrace nuclear power if it is to meet its commitments on climate change, four of the country’s leading environmentalists – who spent much of their lives opposing atomic energy – warn today...

The four leading environmentalists who are now lobbying in favour of nuclear power are Stephen Tindale, former director of Greenpeace; Lord Chris Smith of Finsbury, the chairman of the Environment Agency; Mark Lynas, author of the Royal Society’s science book of the year, and Chris Goodall, a Green Party activist and prospective parliamentary candidate.
Mr Tindale describes his conversion as follows:
It was kind of like a religious conversion. Being anti-nuclear was an essential part of being an environmentalist for a long time but now that I’m talking to a number of environmentalists about this, it’s actually quite widespread this view that nuclear power is not ideal but it’s better than climate change,” he added.
Australia, meanwhile, with lots of uranium, twiddles its thumbs.

Come one, come all

ROME MUST GO – ST MARY’S STAYS - Workers Bush Telegraph

The Courier Mail claimed that having an "estimated" 1500 people turn up at Mass with Peter Kennedy last weekend "may have dealt a blow" to the Archbishop's plans to remove the priest from the parish.

Apart from mild curiosity about the accuracy of that count (and noting that not many of them hung around for the afternoon's "rally"), it's worth pointing out that Peter Kennedy has not been shy about drumming up support from all quarters.

Have a look at the post above that appeared last week on Worker's Bush Telegraph, a website that seems devoted to things like organising protests against Starbucks, unconditional support for Hamas, etc.

The post is not by Kennedy, but he takes the opportunity in comments to invite everyone to come last Sunday, and "to bring all your friends and neighbours." (Religious affiliation is clearly optional.)

The comments are actually worth reading for the contribution of John T, who appears to be a local activist type (probably aboriginal?) who has some major issues as to why many people attend St Marys. It's worth pasting a big slab of it here:

I cannot understand why radicals and intellectuals have totally bought into this bullshit that St. Mary’s does such good work with the poor and oppressed, a narrative repeated in tonights 7.30 report as a key element of the church.

On Saturdays and Sundays a travelling show comes into South Brisbane. Like ants, the St. Mary’s congregation come from all over south east Queensland to have a special experience with each other and then they return to their communities. Hardly any of them are locals who are likeley to run into the poor and oppressed at the shop or have them knocking on their door asking for a cup of sugar.

These outsiders administer the biggest welfare agency in Brisbane, not just South Brisbane, that deals with homelessness. Micah is a government funded organisation that operates within government policies and programs regarding homelessness. It is government outsourcing.

While the social workers are administering their programs, the St. Mary’s community remains insulated from the poor and oppressed including those of the South Brisbane community just as church goers in every other congregation in Brisbane do. St. Vinnies, run by amongst the most conservative catholics, operates on a direct engagement between congregation members in each parish and the welfare clients. The congregation actually gets to meet the people they are helping which is more than what occurs with the St. Mary’s mode.

St. Mary’s is just another West End illusion that people from outside West End come to experience, just like the coffees shops are for people from all over Brisbane come to be part of the West End experience.

Not every activist is so keen on the parish, then.

Keep Baz at bay

Will Hugh Jackman get Oscars call back?

Let's hope not.

For me, Hugh Jackman has a touch of the Mel Gibson's about him: a lot of people seem to like him, but for reasons I can't explain, I just don't care for anything he does.

Nearly everything about last night's Oscars seemed a little "off". The dance numbers were underwhelming, particularly the second one. (Jackman was too self-consciously ironic, and it seemed a huge waste of the number of dancers on stage.) But at least it brought with it some vindication when I found out that Baz Luhrmann was responsible. Keep that untalented bowerbird away from song and dance, please! (And movies too, while we are at it.)

For those of you who are, like me, obsessively keeping score on the number of bad reviews of Luhrmann's "Australia", (gee, I wonder why I don't have many readers) last weekend featured two new ones: in the Japan Times, and Greg Sheridan in the Australian. (The Japanese have a particular reason to take issue with the film, with its entirely fictional land invasion of an Australian island.)

The Luhrmann inspired tourism campaign is also copping recent criticism from the industry.

Can't he just take up painting or something?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Flying geeks denied

Journey's end for Flight Simulator

Here's an amusing take on Microsoft's announcement that they are (apparently) no longer going to be developing Flight Simulator beyond its present incarnation. I like this part:

Of course, what every simmer dreams about is being called on to land an actual plane in an emergency. A trembling stewardess announces over the public address that both flyers upfront are suffering debilitating convulsions from the in-flight catering and has anyone flown an Airbus before?

"Er, not really but ….." you splutter.

You are the last hope and with increasing confidence and cool, you inform ground-control that the myriad of dials and gauges you face, once the ailing captain has been hauled from his seat, are second-nature. Eventually, you plop the aircraft on the runway with a couple of harmless bounces, just for dramatic effect, and applause from the passenger-cabin rings in your ears.
I wonder: was the product used by the 9/11 hijackers in addition to their "real"training?

Is he a priest in any meaningful sense?

There was a remarkable article on Father Peter Kennedy, the sacked parish priest of St Mary's South Brisbane, in the Courier Mail Q Magazine on Saturday. (It looks like the website does not put up weekend articles until much later than they appear in print, so I will keep a look out for it. UPDATE: you should be able to read the article as a .pdf here.)

Essentially, Peter Kennedy appears to have been doubting his faith and/or the value of priesthood for much of the time he has been ordained, and in many respects sounds like a man on the edge of a nervous breakdown.

Another interesting profile of both Kennedy and the Archbishop was in The Australian over the weekend. (This one, however, does not delve into Kennedy's history so much, and argues that he mainly became radicalised as a result of some controversy while he was a prison chaplain in the 1980's. I think his disenchantment with the Church and priesthood comes well before that, however.) The article does make a good point, though:
Kennedy insists that St Mary’s is a community church that is acting in the spirit of Vatican II in being driven by the congregation. He parts company with Bathersby in that he believes the role of the priest is to help guide the congregation, not dictate to it.

Yet here’s a contradiction: Kennedy insists that while St Mary’s is about the community rather than him, his presence there is vital. “This community will die when I leave,” he says. “After that, they will either appoint a priest who’ll toe the line and deliver exactly the Mass they want, which will mean a lot of people will leave, or it will be absorbed into another parish.”
I have come to the view that he is incredibly disingenuous in nearly everything he says. His talk this weekend was that he would not enter into negotiation with the Archbishop because it was up to his parish "community" to negotiate about it, and anyway he already knows his community wants him. (Never mind that his idea of "community" for St Marys obviously does not extend to the "community" of the entire Roman Catholic Church.)

It is also ridiculous to be taking such an attitude while at the same time threatening legal proceedings (in his own name, I presume) about unfair dismissal.

The Archbishop and Father Ken Howell are, I believe, being too kind in their response to this man who should have given up the priesthood as soon as he realised he was not really cut out for it in the 1960's or 70's. He would have been much happier being a social worker directly on the streets all of those years since then. I think it would be a serious mistake to let him co-celebrate mass with the new priest, even if "the community" were to allow it.

I am inclined to think (as Mild Colonial Boy suggested to my last post) that this will only be solved by physically closing the Church. Presumably, Kennedy and his mob will follow him to another premises, they can continue to think they are Catholic for all I care, and after 12 months the old building can be re-opened with another priest. The dispersal of much of the Kennedy emotionalism might ensure it can then be run without the current group staging a scene.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Why defend emissions trading?

An argument for emissions trading at John Quiggin

I don't understand why an economist on the left of politics like John Quiggin is still arguing for an emissions trading scheme as being preferable to a carbon tax.

Surely, the recent experience of financial markets ought to make anyone very cautious about a proposed new scheme which is welcomed by those who can see that there is money to be made in a potential novel market. I expected it would make Labor types especially skeptical.

In the post linked above, Professor Quiggin argues boldly that the recent collapse in the price of the European emissions permits is not a warning against using ETS:
Most commentators have seen this as a strike against emissions trading, but actually it’s a positive. The big concern about price uncertainty arises when we are very uncertain about the cost of reducing emissions. Under cost uncertainty, setting the emissions target too low could impose unexpectedly high costs on the economy.

What’s happening here is that we are uncertain about the rate of growth of the economy. An emissions target is countercyclical since it imposes a relatively high cost when the economy is strong, and a much smaller cost when the economy is weak. This is a Good Thing.

There are many comments following which contest that view, and I find some of them very convincing. TerjeP argues, for example:
If the focus of the carbon emission policy is to reduce carbon emissions by ushering in new energy technology then the key business sector that needs price certainty from a carbon tax is the renewable base load energy sector. They are after all the ones in need of new capital and who must persuade investors and bankers that things will work out as planned.....

However dealing with the volatile carbon price that an ETS would deliver makes investment in such unproven high risk commercialisation a far less certain venture.
And besides which: doesn't a hell of a lot depend on whether the US goes down the ETS path as well? If Obama actually goes for a carbon tax, wouldn't it be wise to follow?

UPDATE: How convenient. Penny Wong has column space in the Australian this morning in which she explains why an ETS is preferable to a carbon tax. Her key point:

Arguments around the merits of emissions reductions policies can be complex, but the core explanation for why emissions trading is superior to a carbon tax is simple. A carbon tax does not guarantee emissions reductions. A cap-and-trade scheme does.

Delivering a target is a key part of domestic and international efforts to reduce carbon pollution.

Cap and trade gives us certainty that targeted reductions will occur, whereas a carbon tax gives no guarantee over the quantity of reductions. Under a cap-and-trade scheme, the government issues permits for each tonne of carbon up to the total cap. Under a carbon tax, the government needs to estimate how emissions levels would respond to a carbon tax rate, introducing uncertainty about whether the target would be reached.

But Penny: that assumes that the ETS actually works. She claims:
Emissions trading gives businesses and the community more certainty.....While the carbon price will fluctuate under a cap-and-trade model, there is a capacity for firms to use market instruments to help manage movement in the carbon price.
Yes, market instruments have been working so well, lately. (Disengage sarcasm mode.)

More Wong claims:
Emissions trading opens up the prospect of sharing the burden of reducing emissions with other countries through linking the CPRS to schemes overseas. A carbon tax would take Australia out of this emerging international market.
But problems with the credibility of credits claimed for reductions in other countries has been one of the major issues of the European ETS, hasn't it? And wouldn't common sense suggest that there is always going to be an incentive for businesses engaged in quantifying the effects of overseas mitigation to be biased towards overstating the benefits of schemes? I mean, that keeps all potential customers happy.

I would have thought that one of the benefits of a carbon tax is that you can cut out that part of an ETS and just worry about accurately assessing what is going on in your own country.

Penny doesn't want to wait, though, and that's a worry:
Now is the time for getting on with the job not kicking around theories.
It's not the theories we want discussed, Penny; we're saying it's the practicalities that need to win out over theory.

Investigating methane

Bubbles of warming, beneath the ice - Los Angeles Times

The potential for trouble from methane and other carbon being released from thawing Arctic regions is given a bit of an overview in this article. Some disturbing thoughts:
The upper 3 meters -- about 10 feet -- of permafrost stores 1.9 trillion tons of carbon, more than double the amount in the atmosphere today, according to a recent study in the journal Bioscience.

"We are seeing thawing down to 5 meters," says geophysicist Vladimir Romanovsky of the University of Alaska. "A third to a half of permafrost is already within a degree to a degree and a half [Celsius] of thawing."

If only 1% of permafrost carbon were to be released each year, that could double the globe's annual carbon emissions, Romanovsky notes. "We are at a tipping point for positive feedback," he warns, referring to a process in which warming spurs emissions, which in turn generate more heat, in an uncontrollable cycle.

Re-appraising Lewis - again

Film - Hey, Laaaady! Jerry Lewis, the King of Comedy, Finally Gets Recognition From Oscar -

Here's another article (this time from the other side of the Atlantic) re-appraising Jerry Lewis' career in light of his receiving an award for humanitarian work at this year's Oscars.

I am very curious as to how his acceptance speech will go.

UPDATE: I'm not the only one speculating how badly a Jerry Lewis acceptance speech may go at the Oscars. Will update further once I have seen the real thing.

UPDATE II: Lewis managed to be brief and sincerely appreciative. Congratulations.

Teaching sex

There's a fairly sensible article in The Times, written by a teacher with first hand experience, about the state of sex education in England today. (A certain babyfaced 13 year old father has caused a degree of national reflection on the topic.)

The writer does not sound all that intrinsically conservative, but she notes this oft-repeated concern that conservatives have about sex education:
The non-statutory curriculum for PSHE says, of the sex and relationship component, that “it helps [students] to understand human sexuality and the significance of marriage and stable relationships as key building blocks of community and society”.

Yet so much of PSHE ignores the latter half and focuses instead on how not to fall pregnant or catch a sexually transmitted infection. As one girl said to me recently: “Miss, they’ve been showing us how to put condoms on penises for years, but they never talk to us about relationships or how we choose.” Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings.

The danger is that so much information is being blasted at these children on how not to conceive, where to go for help, the dangers of chlamydia, that the implied subtext is that it is all right to experiment with sex whenever you want. The curriculum does say that learning the advantages of delaying sexual activity should form part of the content, but how often is that touched upon?
Her experience when she does try to get a lesson taught in the school emphasising marriage or "stable relationships" is instructive:
I seized on the second part of the general statement about sex and relationships education (“to understand . . . the significance of marriage and stable relationships as key building blocks of community and society”) and designed a lesson on marriage. It was a good lesson. I taught it myself and it generated thoughtful conversation about responsibility and parenthood and such like. But one of the PSHE teachers came to me and refused to teach it.

She said it made her “uncomfortable” and was “not relevant”. I pointed out that “stable relationships” were to be emphasised as much as marriage; no one was to feel uncomfortable, that is the whole point of good PSHE. Still she refused. If parents don’t, and teachers won’t, teach children the basic tenets of moral responsibility, what chance do those children have?
The problem is, I suppose, that it is extremely difficult to teach the benefits of "stable relationships" (or, God forbid, "marriage") without experiencing it directly. How can teachers show kids that there is something better than the patterns of dysfunctional adult relationships they may be watching at home?

Meanwhile, in a report in the same newspaper, the government is issuing a leaflet which will do its whimpy best to discourage young parenthood"
The leaflet suggests that parents should start the “big talk” with children as young as possible, before they pick up “misinformation” from their peers in adolescence. The best way to raise the topic may be while performing mundane tasks such as “washing the car . . . washing up, watching TV, etc”, it says.
The main controversy about the leaflet is that it suggests parents should back off on the 'right and wrong' aspects of the discussion. This is justified by a psychologist as follows:
Linda Blair, a clinical psychologist, said educating older children and teenagers about sex had to be a process of negotiation. “We do not know what is right and wrong; right and wrong is relative, although your child does need clear guidelines,” she said.
Like that's going to help.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Add that one to the list of movies I just didn't get

So, I finally caught up with The Last Picture Show.

What a dreary, pointless story. As with much European cinema, the story is told competently, but at the end of it I think "why did they think this story was worth telling?"

It's also a severely underpopulated film, similar to most Australian movies, where there just doesn't seem to be enough people on the screen. I know it was meant to be a dying, dead end town, but really, art direction that made the streets look like an absolute ghost town just made it look unrealistic to my eye.

Critics love to hail the American movies of the early 1970's as some sort of artistic highlight of cinema: I reckon they were just mostly depressing, dark movies with few redeeming features.

UPDATE: just thought that is an appropriate place to list some other movies that I "just don't get". (This means I am forever puzzled by their critical and/or commercial success):

1. Forest Gump. Not offended by it; I would rate it as "harmless". But why was such a downer of a silly fairy tale a critical and box office success?

2. Rocky Horror Picture Show. Proof that one catchy song can sway hundreds of millions that they have had a good time during an entire 90 minutes. At least the sequel was a gold plated dud.

3. Pretty Woman. Proof that two attractive stars can make people forget that they are being sold a wildly improbable fairy tale which seems designed to make people feel better about prostitution as an industry or temporary career choice. Offensive.

A viewing recommendation

For a long time, SBS seems to have reserved Friday nights at 8.30 for World War II documentaries, and currently it is running a lengthy series called "Churchill's Bodyguard".

I haven't seen all of it, but what I have seen has been very interesting, and stuffed full of footage that I have either never seen, or only seen briefly, before.

As the title suggests, the series is based on the memoirs of Churchill's long serving bodyguard, so you get a very detailed and intimate view of Churchill's activities and character. (It seems virtually everyone who was close to Churchill has written about it: at a holiday unit some years ago I found an old book by his personal physician who followed him around during WWII as well.)

Last night's episode featured the long and dangerous trip Churchill made in secret to first visit Roosevelt on board a ship in Newfoundland.

It occurred to me while watching it that one of the things that makes WWII so fascinating is that the technology was just at the right level of development for providing drama. It allowed the sort of secret operations and trips that would be impossible today between the major powers. But the rush to develop and perfect new technologies also gave this war a large part of its dramatic character too. You just can't imagine such a scenario ever happening again.

It was also noted in last night's episode that Churchill appeared to believe that supernatural protection was being provided to him to "complete the mission".

(On the other hand, Hitler was lucky to survive as long as he did. Maybe he had infernal protection, and it was all a proxy war. Could be a movie in that!)

Circus denied

Rebel priest defies deadline

What the hell? I get no media circus to watch on the Sunday night news after all.

Father Howell has given up on the idea of trying to get into St Mary's church this weekend, and he and Archbishop Bathersby are going to let ousted priest Peter Kennedy run the show as always.

Howell is quoted as follows:

"I have been a priest for 25 years, and I will not engage in a situation whereby the celebration of the Mass becomes a place of conflict and division.

"I don't believe that anyone would attend this weekend's services with the intention of behaving violently. However, tensions are high, people are upset, and Father Kennedy has urged as many people as possible to attend the service in a spirit of protest."

Father Howell said he remained committed to taking up his position as administrator of St Mary's.

Catholic Archbishop John Bathesby has conceded to enter a mediation with the maverick cleric.

"I believe a sensible next step would be to have an experienced, independent and eminent mediator meet with the archdiocese and Father Kennedy to attempt to achieve a peaceful and dignified outcome to the current impasse. I would strongly urge Father Kennedy to participate in this process," Archbishop Bathersby said.

Hmpff. Kennedy has shown no inclination of budging in his (or "his community's") practices. As far as I can see, mediation will involve him telling the Archbishop that he is wrong.

A physical confrontation at the church is delayed, but I doubt it can be avoided indefinitely.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Next he should look up the meaning of "disingenuous"

As noted a few posts back, "rebel" priest Father Peter Kennedy, now finally officially relieved of his duties, went as far a calling the temporary replacement "a religious scab."

Kennedy is quoted today:

Fr Kennedy said he regretted calling Father Ken Howell, whom Archbishop Bathersby has appointed to take over St Mary's, a "religious scab".

"I looked up the word scab in the dictionary and certainly Ken doesn't fit that , so I apologise for that," he said.


Father Ken Howell, meantime, is trying to shame the parish into letting him in by being very, very nice:

Fr Howell, who has invited Fr Kennedy to jointly celebrate all the masses at St Mary's this weekend, said he was disappointed by the remark.

However, he said he thought it was the comment of a man under pressure.

This is on top of comments that he doesn't see that there is a problem with the Gay and Lesbian Choir continuing to use the church.

It's an interesting tactic, but I doubt it is going to work.


Carbon Capture Firm Could Use the Ocean to Combat Global Warming

I guess if money and energy are no object, there are lots of ways you can fiddle with the environment:

The study, "Electrochemical Acceleration of Chemical Weathering as an Energetically Feasible Approach to Mitigating Anthropogenic Climate Change," lays out a means of making the ocean more alkaline by reducing its acid content, in a process "equivalent to the electrochemical acceleration of the Earth's natural chemical weathering process."

In essence, the study proposes using electrolysis to convert weaker carbonic acid in the oceans into hydrochloric acid - "the engineered process accelerates the weathering kinetics to industrial rates," the study states. That could speed the rate at which silicate rocks –basalt, granite and other minerals that make up most of the Earth's crust – absorb the acid from the ocean.

"The increase in ocean alkalinity resulting from the removal of HCl causes atmospheric CO2 to dissolve into the ocean where it will be stored primarily as HCO3 without further acidifying the ocean," the study states. Atmospheric carbon dioxide is being absorbed by the ocean already, causing it to become more acidic - and that is leading to problems for coral reefs, giant squid and other ocean life, scientists say.

I think I have heard of this before, but not posted about it. Probably because of this:

Undertaking such a vast engineering project would be daunting, to be sure. It's the equivalent of building about 100 plants the size of major sewage treatment facilities to capture about 3.7 gigatons of carbon dioxide per year, the study states.

"Our current estimates indicate that running the process described here at scales sufficiently large to impact the earth's climate is unlikely to be commercially viable in the near future," the study says.

The redundant blogger

Jennifer Marohasy - Gone Fishing

It's hard not be bemused by what happens at Jennifer Marohasy's blog when she disappears for a break. (It's been nearly three weeks now.) The raucous, rarely enlightening, debate by the band of regular commenters just continues unabated.

I can't quite work out whether, as a blogger, Jennifer should feel proud or embarrassed that her blog is almost as active without her as when she is posting.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

What a surprise

The Hindu News Update Service notes that:
The Asia Pacific Sexual Health and Overall Wellness (AP SHOW) survey found that men with "suboptimal erections" are less satisfied with sex and other aspects of the sexual experience.
Love that terminology. It makes me want to use at least part of it every day. For example: "Kevin Rudd, our suboptimal PM".

The Taliban concept of "truce"

Pakistani reporter is killed after celebration of truce
A rally to celebrate a day-old peace deal between the government and a hard-line Islamic cleric in the Swat Valley ended ominously Wednesday when a Pakistani television journalist was shot and killed after covering the march.

Fast work

Short works of genius that cheer up the writing profession | The Spectator

A good column from Paul Johnson about the speed with which some famous novels (or plays) have been written.

A bit rich

Why men can't apologise - Times Online

A female "relationships expert" says (citing one example) that men have trouble saying "sorry".

The comments are already flowing in the other direction:
What a stupefyingly assumed, breathtaking generalisation of an entire gender based solely on one person's own prejudices and the singularly thin example of one incident! How do I know this? My girlfiend would rather lose an arm than say sorry!
And it is true that, in my vast range of relationship experience (hahahaha,) one important lesson learnt is that women do not generally feel a need to apologise for things said or done when feeling even slightly hormonally grumpy. Men, on the other hand, are expected to pretty much apologise for everything.

I doubt I am unique in this finding.

Aiming for the easy target

A headline in The Independent today:

Coming to Britain, church with a mission to demonise homosexuals

(It's about the crackpot Westboro Baptist Church, about which even uber gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell says "They are such an absurd, fringe, fanatical group that it’s probably best to just ignore them.”)

I could suggest an alternative, more important headline for The Independent:

Already in Britain -Religious leaders who wants homosexuals killed !

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Pass the popcorn

Currency Lad has a wry post noting the UFO cult support of soon-to-be-departed St Mary's parish priest Peter Kennedy.

Kennedy's latest rhetoric indicates he truly comes from the ACTU school of diplomacy:

"I intend to have our liturgy at 9am as normal on Sunday morning and there'll be a thousand people there, I'd say.

The people are not going to receive Father Howell. He's naive enough to think he can walk in there on Sunday and the people will welcome him.

Well, they won't. I know the people, I've been there 28 years - the people want me there and I've helped build that community into what it is today.

And then this guy comes in, like a religious scab."

How classy. It would appear that his parish has always been close to the trade unions, and indeed the Trades and Labor Council has offered nearby premises from which to conduct services. (That last linked story indicates that, as of January, Kennedy did not seem overly troubled by the fact that "our community" would seem simply re-locate down the road. Why the change of heart, then?) Peter Kennedy also appears to be getting free advice from union lawyers, as he has apparently mentioned potential "unfair dismissal" action in the industrial courts. What next - legal action about the procedural unfairness in the election of the next Pope?

Speaking of oddball support for the church, I have previously noted the support pledged by perpetual aboriginal activist Sam Watson, following the parish joining the "Sacred Treaty Circle" last November. Problem is, no one seems to know what the "treaty" means.

According to Watson:
...we’ve more or less declared St Mary’s to be a very sacred site to Aboriginal people from right around this area, and we will now defend that.
According to activist Bejam Denis Walker:
Well the treaty is a recognition of our sovereignty under God in country. Something that the Australian government hasn’t realised or recognised, and it fulfils law. Without it, I maintain, people are behaving unlawfully. Essentially it creates a oneness between the Indigenous peoples and the non-indigenous peoples.
Clear? Um, not exactly. At the St Mary's parish blog, there's a link to a new, long open letter to the parish from a West End aboriginal figure Sean a.k.a. John Tracey, complaining that Peter Kennedy had been quoted as saying that the Aboriginal sovereignty asserted in the treaty was a matter of symbolism. Not so, claims Sean:

It seems that perhaps Peter may not have fully understood the treaty he has signed if he considers Aboriginal sovereignty to be legally uncertain and symbolic.

To describe assertions of sovereignty as symbolic directly undermines those assertions.

Bejam has served on the Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane a proclamation of Sovereignty and a Notice of Want of Jurisdiction. In international law, Common law, commercial law and Aboriginal customary law these are legitimate and legal statements that can underpin a range of very real court actions relevant to St. Mary’s and beyond. They are not a symbolic ambit claim but a real instrument of law.

Hmm. The (very lengthy) proclamation mentioned above can be read here. The respondents are the Archbishop of Brisbane and Queen Elisabeth II of Australia, basically telling them to both shove off. As for the Church in particular:
...the Roman Catholic Church, and indeed the State and Federal governments and all establishments that uphold and sustain the Roman Catholic Church in Australia, are operating in our Indigenous lands, illegally, and have no jurisdiction to make any decisions regarding the use of our lands/law/culture.
Yet the same letter complains about the lack of apparent support for the treaty process at St Mary's:

In the last month I have attended two meetings at St. Mary’s, called by Bejam to begin the process of assisting “the agenda”. In both cases the meeting was cancelled because nobody from St. Mary’s turned up.

If St. Mary’s remains so busy fighting the Catholic hierarchy or doing business as usual that it does not have the time or headspace to properly deal with the treaty and customary law then it cannot make any claim to being a part of the treaty or customary law process with any integrity, even if they do appropriate the symbols of these things into their own liturgical self identity and their fight with the Catholic hierarchy.

Well well. As I had suspected, aboriginal activists would claim this "treaty" gave them some say as to the future of the parish, or at the very least, the right to occupy the car park in perpetuity. (There has been talk of a tent embassy being established: "a fantastic idea" according to Peter Kennedy.) Yet the parishioners seem to have been too distracted to keep all activists on side.

In another odd aspect of all of this, the new priest being parachuted in from the Cathedral, Father Ken Howell, is quoted today as follows:

Father Howell told The Courier-Mail his propulsion into the spotlight by being appointed to take over St Mary's was "a little daunting".

He looked forward to working with Fr Kennedy and the church community so St Mary's outreach work could continue and to plan liturgies.

He could see no reason why the gay and lesbian choir could not continue to use the church, he said.

Now that's not exactly going to keep conservatives happy. But what will the choir members do? As I expect that many of them may have had their relationships "blessed" by Peter Kennedy, one suspects that most of them will follow him to his new Union home.

This weekend will be a circus at St Mary's, especially on Sunday morning when it appears it will be a case of duelling priests to see which of them is going to conduct Mass, while Sam Watson pitches a tent in the car park, the Raelians spot invisible flying saucers above the Church, and (possibly) fights break out between some of the lesbians. The drama may also be heightened by another fainting spell from Father Kennedy.

Although it is fundamentally a serious issue, I can't help but be entertained as well.

Stop it, Frank

What The Caine Mutiny Can Teach Us about Global Warming Scientists

Ack! Another anti global warming piece by Frank Tipler. (A very lightweight one too, it must be said.)

Have they peaked yet?

Hit & Run: Tattoos - so in they're out - Hit & Run, People - The Independent

Good to see someone in The Independent taking a cynical view of the ubiquity of the tattoo. Bryan Appleyard will be pleased.

Out of curiosity, I saw a brief part of London Ink on some cable channel recently. (God knows what entertainment there is to be found in watching an entire series about a few tattoo artists ruining perfectly good skin.) Anyhow, the bit I saw featured a woman getting a tattoo of a pair of ballerina shoes and a ribbon on her neck. It was so high, the lower part of her hair had to be shaved.

At the end, observing the shoes in the mirror, she expressed delight at how good they looked. She noted that "they will always remind me of ..." I forget what. Her former ballet days maybe.

"What the hell?" I thought. The tattoo is on your neck, woman. It will soon have hair over at least the top part of it, unless you are going to go all Sinaed O'Connor permanently.

Unless you live in a house of mirrors, is it not self evidently dumb to have a tattoo intended to act as an aide-memoire on your back?

Kissing science

At the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference, a biological anthropologist made this observation about kissing:
Lots of hormones are present in differing quantities in our saliva, and they may serve several romantic purposes.

"There's evidence that saliva has testosterone in it, and there's also evidence that men like sloppier kisses with more open mouth," Fisher said. "That suggests to me that they are unconsciously trying to transfer testosterone to trigger the sex drive in women."

It is worth remembering the importance of testosterone to women:
Testosterone has such a distinctive image as the definitive male hormone that it's hard to equate it with the normal sexual functioning of women, says Davis. "Women's bodies manufacture oestrogen from testosterone. Women often feel particularly sexy when they ovulate because that's when their testosterone levels peak. It also contributes to making women feel more confident, positive and motivated. Unfortunately, these qualities are considered to have more value in males in our society. And, as is the case with men, female testosterone levels start to decline in the mid-20s through to natural menopause."
Women should be thanking men for making them feel good. It's our hormone they are using, after all.

A short review by BA

Thought Experiments : The Blog: Benjamin Button

Bryan Appleyard did not think highly of this year's big Oscar contender. Hollywood's great decline continues unabated.

Impressive toy

It's not entirely clear how scary this might feel til you get used to it, but it looks pretty damn impressive:

According to the company's website:
For special applications, future designs could achieve higher altitudes and top speeds, extended range of up to 300 km and even travel both above and below the water´s surface.
I look forward to seeing some new pointless, but kind of fun, exercise like crossing Bass Strait by jet pack, then.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

This is modern Art: Part III

The Telegraph reports on an exhibit at the Tate Modern which featured 55 fish. (Not very big ones by the looks.) Trouble is, about a quarter of them died. This was not actually the intention.

You can always trust PETA to go overboard:
"Tropical fish, who were born to forage among brilliantly coloured coral reefs, belong in the deep blue depths of the sea, not suffering a miserable existence in glass tanks in art galleries so that people can gawp at them."
I take it they did not react well, then, to an earlier fish related art controversy:
In 2000, the Chilean artist Marco Evaristti sparked outrage for a work he exhibited at the Trapholt Art Museum in Denmark. The display, entitled Helena, featured 10 blenders containing goldfish. Evaristti said that he wanted people "to do battle with their conscience" so visitors to the exhibition were invited to turn on the blenders. Several of the fish were liquidised which led to the museum director, being charged with, but later acquitted, of animal cruelty.
I wouldn't be happy with a goldfish in a blender exhibit either, but perhaps more on the grounds that it is really stupid art.

About those CO2 levels

Some not very useful reporting by Reuters going on about this topic. Read here for clarification.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Hitchens on talking to Iran

It's worth reading Hitchen's take on this.

Iran reversal

Tigerhawk had an important post recently about the apparent reversal in US intelligence circles about Iran's intentions to build nuclear weapons. They are back to being sure it is being pursued.

Those of us who were skeptical of the 2007 NIE report have a right to feel somewhat vindicated.

All hail the duck

Luv-a-duck make a range of pre-cooked duck products that last for months in the fridge (longer if you freeze it). They also have a website that boasts of the company's "state of the art retail duck showroom at Port Melbourne." I must remember that when next down there.

We recently had a pack of roast duck legs we bought last year and nearly forgotten about. They were just heated up in the little benchtop oven, and served on mashed potato. Fantastic.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Short break needed

I need to spend more time concentrating on work for the next few days.

In a vague attempt to keep people visiting while I try very hard not to read the Internet at all in that period, I have set up some posts to appear in my absence. Nothing too deep, and most are links to stuff that interests me.

Fresh application of my mind to blogging will resume soon.

Troofer fodder

Outspoken widow of 9/11 victim dies aboard another doomed flight |

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A tabloid moment

Dad at 13

The pictures at the above link show such a baby faced 13 year old that it is kind of hard to believe he is the father. (He's not taking the rap for someone else, is he?) The mother is his 15 year old "girlfriend". What was she doing playing around with a boy who looks about 10?

UPDATE: I really was too generous in that first post: he could pass for 8 or 9, in all honesty. I see that The Times has a lengthier article about it. In the accompanying video, it shows the school that the girl attends as being "A specialist school for the performing arts." Hmm. Fits in well with my recent run of posts about famous artistic souls and their lack of familiarity with the concept of self restraint. (Of course, I am being very unfair to this girl. Maybe.)

But even worse, is this:
Chantelle said that Alfie had regularly stayed the night.
Hello, parents? Anyone home?

UPDATE 2: I may have been right with my initial doubts that the boy is the father. In a very farcical turn of events, the large amounts of money apparently on offer for the story are almost certainly the reason that 2 other teenagers are happy to claim that they could be the real father, and DNA tests are being suggested. As The Guardian writes:
Small wonder that the News of the World has compared the situation to Channel 4 drama Shameless - only with "the total absence of anything remotely funny".
Not that I find Shameless funny, though.


Country pulling in all directions awaits leader |

Jason Koutsoukis gives a good overview of Israeli politics in The Age today, and thinks that even if Benjamin Netanyahu becomes Prime Minister, it's still possible that he will be more pragmatic with the Palestinians than his rhetoric indicates.

But in another article, he also quotes a former Israeli diplomat as saying that Israel is "ready" to launch a military strike on Iran. Netanyahu mentioned Iran in his "victory"speech too.

I bet the Obama White House is sweating over this.

Friday, February 13, 2009

From the archives of the sophisticated European sense of humour

Ananova - Pooping Obama is a best-seller

I'm not sure if this story had much attention when it first came out last December, but it is of cultural interest:

Catalonians traditionally celebrate Christmas by placing a caganer, which translates as pooper, in a nativity scene.

People find it fun to try to spot the tiny defecating figures which are supposed to bring prosperity and a good harvest.

Traditionally, caganers would be small bearded men in full Catalan costume but these days, it's more likely to be a celebrity.

I guess you know you've hit the bigtime when you become the model for a Catalan Christmas pooper.

The way to a voter's heart is via his...

Mexico City Journal - Mayor Aims to Add Spark to Flagging Sex Lives -

“Things have changed,” Angel Posadas Sandoval, 74, finally confessed, not going into specifics but nonetheless making himself abundantly clear.

He was talking, however obliquely, about the free Viagra the government is giving away to poor men age 60 and above.

Talking with Iran: the pro's

Foreign Policy: Think Again: Talking with Iran

Here's an article by (I think) a former diplomat arguing that the US talking immediately with Iran is a good idea.

Not sure that the case for that is conclusive, but there are interesting bits of history of note in the argument. For example, the section on page 2 about the post 9/11 situation starts:

In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Tehran detained literally hundreds of suspected al Qaeda operatives seeking to flee Afghanistan into Iran. Iran repatriated at least 200 of these individuals to the then new government of Hamid Karzai, to Saudi Arabia, and to other countries. The Iranian government documented these actions to the United Nations and the United States in February 2002, including providing copies of each repatriated individual's passport.

But Iran could not repatriate all of the individuals it detained. For example, the Islamic Republic has no diplomatic relations with Egypt, and Iranian diplomats told my colleagues and me that Tehran was not able to send al Qaeda operatives of Egyptian origin back to Egypt.

Silly star

'Joaquin, I'm sorry you couldn't be here': Letterman baffled by actor's shambolic performance

Snippets of the interview can be seen here. I guess the whole thing can be seen at Letterman's site.

I'm inclined to go with the hoax theory.

Or maybe there's just never enough?

Those warning we failed to heed | Herald Sun Andrew Bolt Blog

I've already expressed skepticism about the immediate round of "not enough controlled burning" and "not enough fuel reduction" claims being made as soon as the destruction of last Saturday was finished.

Andrew Bolt has a column today on the topic in which he argues that the current Labor government in Victoria has been one of the worst for ignoring calls for such action from fire chiefs and the like.

He may be right for all I know from this distance.

However, I reckon he inadvertantly weakens the case when he goes and quotes the same line from a 1939 royal commission, and again in 1984.

Look, if after every major bushfire, every investigation says there was not enough fuel reduction in the disaster, it suggests that it is just always going to be one of the reasons for a bushfire. I suppose it is logical in a way.

Certainly, by giving us examples from well before the political influence of Greenies, Andrew is weakening the case against them now.

I remain very skeptical that, given the weather conditions for the whole month of January in Victoria, the never-likely-to-achieved "perfect" scheme of fuel reduction would have actually prevented major fires. I even doubt that different planning laws regarding the siting of houses may have made too much difference, given the distance ahead of the fire front that 100 kph gusts could send embers.

My intuition is that, if people like to live within a hundred meters or two of the edge of a forest (and fair enough if they do), then design standards of the house (including the enforced inclusion of a bushfire shelter) is more likely the answer.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

There goes the neighbourhood

Continuing this blog's determined (yet curiously without obvious motivation) vendetta against Dubai, this article in the New York Times indicates that it is definitely not the place to be during a global economic downturn:

With Dubai’s economy in free fall, newspapers have reported that more than 3,000 cars sit abandoned in the parking lot at the Dubai Airport, left by fleeing, debt-ridden foreigners (who could in fact be imprisoned if they failed to pay their bills). Some are said to have maxed-out credit cards inside and notes of apology taped to the windshield.

The government says the real number is much lower. But the stories contain at least a grain of truth: jobless people here lose their work visas and then must leave the country within a month. That in turn reduces spending, creates housing vacancies and lowers real estate prices, in a downward spiral that has left parts of Dubai — once hailed as the economic superpower of the Middle East — looking like a ghost town.
OK, so the news is bad. (Real estate prices dropping 30% in the space of couple of months, for example.) How does the government there seek to improve things? By banning bad news, of course!:
Instead of moving toward greater transparency, the emirates seem to be moving in the other direction. A new draft media law would make it a crime to damage the country’s reputation or economy, punishable by fines of up to 1 million dirhams (about $272,000). Some say it is already having a chilling effect on reporting about the crisis.
Presumably, they want to ban rumours like this:
Dubai, unlike Abu Dhabi or nearby Qatar and Saudi Arabia, does not have its own oil, and had built its reputation on real estate, finance and tourism. Now, many expatriates here talk about Dubai as though it were a con game all along. Lurid rumors spread quickly: the Palm Jumeira, an artificial island that is one of this city’s trademark developments, is said to be sinking, and when you turn the faucets in the hotels built atop it, only cockroaches come out.
It was all built on sand: literally and metaphorically.

Nice mice

Mouse study reveals genetic component of empathy

From the report:
In the study, a highly social strain of mice learned to associate a sound played in a specific cage with something negative simply by hearing a mouse in that cage respond with squeaks of distress. A genetically different mouse strain with fewer social tendencies did not learn any connection between the cues and the other mouse's distress, showing that the ability to identify and act on another's emotions may have a genetic basis.
I'm mostly curious as to how you tell a strain of mice is "highly social". Do they spend a lot of time having friends over?

Carbon price sale!

What a slump in carbon prices means for the future - environment - New Scientist

Genius or not?

Oscar watch: Jerry Lewis is long overdue an Academy Award | Film |

Heh. The Guardian re-considers (in quite "high brow" fashion, it must be said) the history of the Jerry Lewis Wars: is he a remarkable auteur, or just an irritating schmuck? I like this part:
But, as the critic Jonathan Rosenbaum has written: "Lewis's popularity in America is far greater than any French love of Lewis ... American denial of the American love of Jerry Lewis is pathological."
Let's just say that I feel he is now under-appreciated (indeed, probably virtually unknown by a deprived potential audience of children, even though nearly all of his movies are available for around $9 at Big W or K Mart.) Go on - at least get Artists and Models. Even if you are feminist, you can tell your children that Dean Martin was an evil man who should not be touching that woman without her consent.

As noted previously

'Apocalyptic predictions' mislead the public on climate change, say experts | Environment |

Basically, the British Met Office Hadley Centre makes the same point I have recently.

While both sides are at fault, I get crankier with the skeptics now because it is not as if there are no websites out there that are "moderate" in their claims, yet can point out the flaws in most skeptic arguments. Yet it seems increasingly clear that prominent media skeptics do make the attempt to read the other side. Indeed, as I have also complained recently, they just don't care about the issue of qualifications or experience of the skeptics.

Real Climate, although much derided by the likes of commenters at Marohasy's blog, has often had posts complaining about exaggerations or mis-reporting on the AGW side of the coin. (However, I have to admit, my recollection of their post on An Inconvenient Truth was too soft on big Al.)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Another noteworthy first hand account

ABC Online - ABC Bushfire Community - Billowing mass of Hell

This one is by one of the firefighters, who found themselves simply unable to do a thing for the doomed town of Marysville:
We knew this was something serious, something far beyond what we had ever seen before. The conditions were absolutely extreme. The winds were hurricane strength.

We proceeded into Marysville. This was a little tourist town of 1500 people surrounded by mountain ash forest, tree ferns and waterfalls. It was a town built around that environment. It had a commercial centre, guesthouses, all the trappings of tourism

We got to Marysville and day turned to night. There were burning embers and pieces of bark landing and starting numerous spot fires. Our intentions were to put out the spot fires, find houses and save them. That's what we are trained for: to save life and property. ...

it became clear very quickly that the scope of the fire was beyond what we were capable of. The apparent conditions were so extreme that everything was impossible. No form of active fire fighting was possible.

Our training told us that we had a resonsibility to save our own crew and it was obvious that was what we needed to do.

We made our way back to the anchor point at the oval. It was a typical country oval - a patch of clear ground. We had to sit it out. There was 30 minutes of intense stuff and we sat there for four or five hours as the town burned around us. There were houses burning everywhere we looked.

It was very confusing. A lot of residents were attempting to leave. It was pandemonium. People were pleading with us to help them free friends and family who were trapped in their houses.
A nightmarish situation.

This'll be interesting

Iran's Ahmadinejad 'ready' to talk with America |
Determined chants of "Death to America" rang out in city after city in Iran Tuesday, even as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a mass rally in Tehran that Iran was "ready" to talk to its arch-enemy if the US showed "real change."

Speaking as Iranians marked the 30th anniversary of the Islamic revolution, Mr. Ahmadinejad declared Iran to be "officially … a real and genuine superpower," and that the "shadow of threat has been removed forever" from the Islamic Republic.

"From now on, which power in the world can be found that has the courage to threaten the Iranian nation?" Ahmadinejad asked to cheers.

Hint: it probably starts with the letter "I".

But back to the basis on which the Iranian public appears to want "dialogue":
Despite the nod toward dialogue, the message from state-run TV was unrelenting. The afternoon news broadcast on IRIB Channel 1 devoted 25 minutes to scenes of Tehran and huge rallies across the country, with primary emphasis in every city on the "Death to America" chant.

Great line

Andrew Norton - Labor and ‘neoliberal’ policy

Andrew Norton has a great line in his post about Kevin Rudd's attack on "neo-liberalism" (which Andrew writes after pointing out the obvious problem in Rudd's argument is that it was Labor that brought in the fundamental reforms he complains about):
Apparently when the Coalition introduces a market reform it is ‘economic fundamentalism’, but when Labor implements a market reform it is ‘economic modernisation’.

Bottlenecks to watch out for

Why sustainable power is unsustainable - tech - 06 February 2009 - New Scientist

While we are talking clean energy, this recent New Scientist article outlined some of the natural bottlenecks that may be involved in some clean energy ideas.

Newt's ideas

GINGRICH: Where does the conservative movement go from here?

Newt Gingrich is notable for being a Republican identity who takes greenhouse issues seriously. He thinks the "Bush-Obama" stimulus is all wrong, and argues:

At American Solutions, there is an American Energy, Jobs and Prosperity plan being built that will turn American energy assets (including clean coal, ethanol, more production of oil and natural gas, new technologies from hydrogen to wind and solar and a vastly expanded nuclear-power program, as well as a dramatic modernization of the electric grid and an expansion of conservation) into money that stays here at home.

The next building boom ought to be in America instead of the Middle East, and the future of American energy consumption should be built on paying Americans rather than paying Venezuela, Iran, Russia or any other unreliable foreign country. OPEC's efforts to cut production and raise prices should remind us that the time to invest in new energy resources is now, before the next crisis.

It's a wonder Bob Brown and the Greens here are not arguing along similar lines for a big redeployment of the next stimulus package into energy issues (other than mere insulation.)

This is modern art: Part II

'Angel of the South' to be giant white horse - News, Art - The Independent

Maybe I should be torn. I can be quite awed by big statues, but like all sensible people, I also know that horses are inherently evil.

No, actually I am not torn at all. This planned giant white horse, standing in a nondescript field surrounded by electricity towers, would have to take the award for stupidest big public art installation ever. And it is the winner in a design competition for a work that is to be called "Angel of the South"? Is there something funny leaking into the water in that part of England?

Incidentally, the other two shortlisted entries "included a steel latticework "nest" by Richard Deacon and a tower of stacked cubes by Daniel Buren. " Hardly angel-like either, one must concede.

I see that England already has an "Angel of the North", but at least one can some influence of the concept of "angel" in it.

Great Britain's decline continues. Further updates coming.


CCTV apologizes for fireworks that burned Beijing hotel - International Herald Tribune

It was a big building too: go to the link to see the photo.

The story is also of interest for the way China effectively censored the image from its public:
There were no pictures on the front page of The Beijing News. On Tuesday morning, the home page of Xinhua, the official news agency, featured a photo from another tragedy: a stampede in South Korea that left four people dead. Throughout the morning, CCTV's brief bulletins about the blaze omitted footage of the burning tower. By evening, the newscast skipped the story entirely.

Even before the flames had been extinguished early Tuesday, pictures of the burning hotel had been removed from most of the main Internet portals serving China. In the afternoon, the story had been largely buried, but by the evening, news of the fire was accessible via the Xinhua and CCTV Web sites.

The network's unusual public apology and the media's skittish approach to covering the fire suggested that the authorities were struggling with how to deal with a sensitive news event in the age of cellphone cameras and YouTube.

The concept of "openness" in that country has a bit of a way to go.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Further proof that no one is wrong all of the time

Pharyngula: Singularly silly singularity

The rabidly and offensively anti-religion scientist PZ Myers takes down Ray Kurzweil's silly "singularity" idea.

I have never taken Kurzweil seriously, but it's good to read another scientist's explanation of why my intuitive dismissal of the concept was well founded.

High brow author with high brow squeeze

Salman Rushdie steps out with statuesque actress half his age

Forward planning needed

Asteroid bound for Earth! Warn your grandchildren - New Scientist

AN ASTEROID that had initially been deemed harmless has turned out to have a slim chance of hitting Earth in 160 years. While that might seem a distant threat, there's far less time available to deflect it off course.

Asteroid 1999 RQ36 was discovered a decade ago, but it was not considered particularly worrisome since it has no chance of striking Earth in the next 100 years - the time frame astronomers routinely use to assess potential threats.

Now, new calculations show a 1 in 1400 chance that it will strike Earth between 2169 and 2199, according to Andrea Milani of the University of Pisa in Italy and colleagues (

With an estimated diameter of 560 metres, 1999 RQ36 is more than twice the size of the better-known asteroid Apophis, which has a 1 in 45,000 chance of hitting Earth in 2036 (New Scientist, 12 July 2008, p 12). Both are large enough to unleash devastating tsunamis if they were to smash into the ocean.

Although 1999 RQ36's potential collision is late in the next century, the window of opportunity to deflect it comes much sooner, prior to a series of close approaches to Earth that the asteroid will make between 2060 and 2080.

Maybe, this asteroid will be the target of the world's first attempt to nudge one out of harm's way.