Tuesday, 16 September 2003

More on the Hanson Debacle

Further to a previous post, from The Australian :
Pauline Hanson is still in prison after losing her second bid for bail, but a panel of three judges believes her lawyers have mounted a strong case for her conviction to be overturned.

The Queensland Court of Appeal, in a judgment handed down yesterday, also suggested the former One Nation leader's three-year sentence for electoral fraud was too long.

The panel's judgment said the argument against Hanson's conviction in a submission to the court by Hanson's counsel, Cedric Hampson, "appears sound, appears in parts actually conceded in argument by the Crown" and "would appear to destroy the basis for Ms Hanson's conviction on any count".

But the judges found neither Hanson nor party co-founder David Ettridge had produced the "exceptional circumstances" required for them to be released on bail pending their appeals, expected to be heard in early November.

The court also dismissed appeals by the two party founders against judge Richard Chesterman's decision to refuse them bail on September 1.
Let's see... even the prosecution now admits that the people-who-weren't-actually-party-members in fact are probably party members in law. And the court believes that the sentence was probably far too high in any event. But the distinguished court and the Law supposes that's no reason to grant bail before the next election...

To quote Charles Dickens:
'If the law supposes that,' said Mr. Bumble, squeezing his hat emphatically in both hands, 'the law is a ass — a idiot.'


Cartoon by Nicholson of "The Australian" newspaper: www.nicholsoncartoons.com.au. Peter Nicholson has a very enlightened attitude to re-use of his artwork, and deserves thanks.


A Journalist in Baghdad

From John F. Burns, sometime writer for the New York Times:
Terror, totalitarian states, and their ways are nothing new to me, but I felt from the start that this was in a category by itself, with the possible exception in the present world of North Korea. I felt that that was the central truth that has to be told about this place. It was also the essential truth that was untold by the vast majority of correspondents here. Why? Because they judged that the only way they could keep themselves in play here was to pretend that it was okay.

There were correspondents who thought it appropriate to seek the approbation of the people who governed their lives. This was the ministry of information, and particularly the director of the ministry. By taking him out for long candlelit dinners, plying him with sweet cakes, plying him with mobile phones at $600 each for members of his family, and giving bribes of thousands of dollars. Senior members of the information ministry took hundreds of thousands of dollars of bribes from these television correspondents who then behaved as if they were in Belgium. They never mentioned the function of minders. Never mentioned terror.

In one case, a correspondent actually went to the Internet Center at the Al-Rashid Hotel and printed out copies of his and other people's stories -- mine included -- specifically in order to be able to show the difference between himself and the others. He wanted to show what a good boy he was compared to this enemy of the state. He was with a major American newspaper.

Yeah, it was an absolutely disgraceful performance. CNN's Eason Jordan's op-ed piece in The New York Times missed that point completely. The point is not whether we protect the people who work for us by not disclosing the terrible things they tell us. Of course we do. But the people who work for us are only one thousandth of one percent of the people of Iraq. So why not tell the story of the other people of Iraq? It doesn't preclude you from telling about terror. Of murder on a mass scale just because you won't talk about how your driver's brother was murdered.

Monday, 15 September 2003

Depleted Uranium : A Perspective

From Steven Den Beste :
I know that if the inside of my home was lined with DU foil, then my exposure to radiation would decrease because it would reduce my exposure to cosmic rays without contributing any significant radiation of its own.
Well, yes.

But some people prefer Tinfoil Helmets if it suits a particular political agenda.

A human body is more radioactive than an equal mass of depleted uranium because a human body contains carbon-14 and potassium-40, whereas U-238 has such a long half-life as to be almost non-radioactive.
I'd have to check these figures, but they sound about right.

That's not to say that Depleted Uranium is entirely non-radioactive. But it does put the issue in perspective.

Sunday, 14 September 2003

AGH!

From a japanese site illustrating examples of Optical Illusions : Rotating Snakes.

Answers to Quiz

In a recent post, I posed the question:
Name the movies, and the thing they have in common.
"I hate all wretched people! I feel disgusted with them!"
"But who made us the way we are, huh? Men with guns."
"I'm from Earth. Ever heard of it?"

Well, I've received... no entries. None. Nada. Zip. Tiddly-Squat. 3/5 of 5/8 of Blogger All.

Here are the answers, anyway.

The Movies:
1) Shichinin no samurai, in English Seven Samurai, originally titled in the USA "The Magnificent Seven".
2) The Magnificent Seven
3) Battle Beyond the Stars

What they have in common: Identical Plot. A Poor Japanese Farming Village / Poor Mexican Farming Village / Poor Agricultural Planet is threatened by an attack by Ronin / Bandits / Space Pirates. A youngster is sent by the Village / Village / Planet Elders to find *Hungry* Samurai / Gunslingers / Mercenaries to help defend them.

Of the three, "Battle Beyond the Stars" has the worst script, but the best characterisation. The Special Effects are technically good, just deliberately very cornball, and the film as a whole is somewhat tongue-in-cheek. Robert Vaughn plays exactly the same role that he did in "The Magnificent Seven", but does so rather better. George Peppard's role as a rather decadent Cowboy from an ancient and ruined place no-one has heard of called "Earth" is a minor gem.

"Seven Samurai" has the best Cinematography - but you'd expect that from Akiro Kurosawa.

"The Magnificent Seven" is one of the few Westerns that even I've heard of.

I should have included a fourth quote:
Remember, there is no such thing as sex in our country
from "Dikij Vostok", in English "The Wild East". The plot of this one is when a group of Dwarves leave the circus in Kazakhstan, and need seven helpers to defend them against a group of marauding biker bandits.

Not many people know that.

It Came From Outer Space

Interstellar travel has yet another hazard. Just because you're not near an unshielded thermonuclear reactor (otherwise known as a star) doesn't mean you can't be blasted by a Solar Flare. From Science@NASA :
On August 24, 1998, there was an explosion on the sun as powerful as a hundred million hydrogen bombs. Earth-orbiting satellites registered a surge of x-rays. Minutes later they were pelted by fast-moving solar protons. Our planet's magnetic field recoiled from the onslaught, and ham radio operators experienced a strong shortwave blackout.

None of these things made headlines. The explosion was an "X-class" solar flare, and during years around solar maximum, such as 1998, such flares are commonplace. They happen every few days or weeks. The Aug. 24th event was powerful, yet typical.

A few days later--no surprise--another blast wave swept past Earth. Satellites registered a surge of x-rays and gamma-rays. Hams experienced another blackout. It seemed like another X-class solar flare. Except for one thing: this flare didn't come from the sun.

It came from outer space.

"The source of the blast was SGR 1900+14, a neutron star about 45,000 light years away," says NASA astronomer Pete Woods. "It was the strongest burst of cosmic x-rays and gamma rays we've ever recorded."

I really don't like to think about what the effect would have been if it had only been a few hundred light years away. Enough to sterilise the surfaces of all planets orbitting nearby star systems, anyway. And any Interstellar travellers had better have their SPF 5 trillion sunscreens on, or just a kilometre thickness of lead shielding.

The sooner we get off this rock and start spreading out a bit, the better.

Saturday, 13 September 2003

The Way the Brain Works - Reading

From Snooze Button Dreams :


Acocdrnig to an elgnsih unviesitry sutdy the oredr of letetrs in a wrod dosen't mttaer, the olny thnig thta's iopmrantt is that the frsit and lsat Ltteer of eevry word is in the crcreot ptoision. The rset can be jmbueld and one is stlil able to raed the txet wiohtut dclftfuiiy.

Friday, 12 September 2003

Design Your Own Superhero

Blogging's been light recently - due to the fact that in addition to a fulltime job, and having a 2-year-old son, I'm finishing off a Master's in Information Technology. And had an assignment due today.

Hmmm... 312 e-mails to read, plus another 107 in the "Suspected SPAM" directory to leaf through and purge.

What I need now is... a SuperHero!

(WARNING - highly addictive...)

Thursday, 11 September 2003

Two Years On

This is what I said two years ago.

A New Kind of Warfare



There's no easy and quick answer to this one.

Like many people who have contributed to discussions over the past decade in places like the Compuserve Military Forum, http://www.stratfor.com, http://www.strategypage.com and others, I've done some analysis on Threats, so know a bit about what I speak.

The general consensus had been that Cyberwarfare was going to be the Next Big Thing. Global Thermonuclear War was passe, terrorism had been shown to be at best ineffectual, at worst counter-productive. Instead, the threat was going to be vs infrastructure, the weapons anything from a judiciously placed lump of Semtex, to frame-ups of key personnel or their relatives, to The Worm From Hell. Few lives if any would be lost, the hip-pocket nerve would be the target. I thought this myself, based on the evidence that no terrorist group had ever detonated a nuke or caused millions or even thousands of casualties in one attack.

But the so-called Nuclear threshold has now been crossed. OK, so they didn't use Nukes as such - but the effect in terms of damage to property and people was comparable with a small nuke. What makes a Nuke so terrible? It's the random, massive destruction, the defencelessness we as a civilised society have against it. The actual kill mechanism is less important, except symbolically.

The point is, with Civilisation - the concept of having cities with such
things as sewerage, electricity, internet access, public health - addiction to that concept leaves you vulnerable. Water supplies can be contaminated, subways can be filled with poison gas, airliners can be hijacked and sent crashing into skyscrapers, and there is no defence against this. None.

You can make things harder - for example, I doubt that the next hijackers will be believed if they say "don't resist any no-one will get hurt." But for every gap you fill, there are hundreds of others left wide open. A Police State that covers most of these gaps leaves the facade of Society intact, while destroying the heart, and still doesn't cover everything.

For my own peace of mind I won't say a half-dozen other things that have been openly discussed as being more destructive, and a lot easier to pull off than Ground Zero. I'm 99% sure that any Bad Hats reading this will already have thought of them, but if one happened, the thought that they might have been in the remaining 1% and got the idea here would destroy me.

I fully expect that some of them will be used, or attempted, against us no matter what we do or do not do.

All you can do in the way of defence is make things so that random crazies are very likely to get caught, and do not cause too much immediate damage or long-term trauma if they get through. Against a wealthy, well-organised and widespread group with literally millions of dollars to spend on airfares, equipment, forged documents and so on, there is no credible defence. None.

If they are a bunch of amateurs, their sheer size and communications will make them detectable long before they're able to do anything. But if they're smart, recent events have shown that they can evade the system we had in place before September 11th., and likely will be able to do so for some years to come.

Until September 11th though, deterrence had worked. The chances of being able to get through the defences were so small, and the consequences of a successful strike being so large, that the game wasn't worth the candle.

But now every Xenophobic group who until now has had to watch impotently as liberal states had run roughshod over their favourite hatreds and prejudices will have gained heart, and probably more financial support.

OK, so there's no defence. What are our options?

Option a) Give In.

One trouble with this one is that we don't know who to surrender to.

Should we say "Ok, we'll stop going after the Popular Front for the Liberation of Judea", then the Judean People's Liberation Organisation, their hated enemy, will attack us even harder until we reverse our course.

Then there's the old saw "He who pays Danegeld is never free of the Danes". Blackmailers historically require more and more. Should we give the Bad Hats a reward for their behaviour, they'll naturally repeat it.

At the risk of showing some naivity, there's also a matter to be considered: we wouldn't have been taking the actions the Bad Hats don't want us to if we hadn't thought them to be either right at the time, or at least in our best interests. For example, I'm so much in favour of allowing freedom of political thought that I wouldn't give it up to save my life.

Finally, there's another issue: some of the Bad Hats don't take prisoners, they won't accept our surrender. The type of people whose beliefs allow them to deliberately massacre civilians as a prime objective - rather than do so accidentally, or as regrettable byproduct of military neccessity - are the type who won't listen to us if we cry "Uncle!". The mere existence of liberal states is anathema to them. It's Their Way or No Way, Right is on their side, and no abomination is unjustifiable if the End is good.

So for a variety of completely practical and cynical reasons, giving up or even bending a bit is right out. At least this saves us some painful soul-searching.

b) Attack the Enemy's Capabilities.

If the Enemy isn't physically able to harm you, you don't care what they think.

The basic problem we have here is that the Enemy presents few clear-cut targets.

Either they're effectively stealthed, or they're inextricably mixed up with a lot of innocents, third parties, or ourselves. For example, we could adopt a policy of shooting down all airliners even remotely suspected of being hijacked.

This would certainly take out all hijackers, but also countless of our own families.

Still, there are a number of targets, that can be serviced by a number of means.

The targets vary from such obvious ones as military training camps, which can be neutralised by special forces, conventional invasion, air attacks, nukes or political pressure to close them, through to financial supporters, who can be rendered bankrupt via cyberwarfare, have their assets frozen, or just simply assassinated, by bullet, bomb, frame-up or airstrike. Disinformation causing their own side to kill them is a particularly neat way of doing things, as it provides cover for your own infiltrators. Third-party bounty-hunters are also a way of reducing your own casualties.

Attacking the Enemy's capabilities is something that can be done relatively quickly, and depending on how much ethical damage we're willing to accept, could be both thorough and effective. For example, Nuking every state that's ever disagreed with us publically would be as effective and through and only marginally less appropriate than cutting off our own heads to cure migraine.

Attacking the Enemy's Capabilities when they're well-defined is something the military is good at. In this case, the number of appropriate targets is relatively small, so military action is just a small part of the whole war.

On the other hand, some of those obvious targets are very difficult, so would require a massive military effort to neutralise, so this difference may be more apparent than real.

Expect a lot more unconventional but physically destructive warfare, e.g. tracing down any "insider traders" who have made a (literal) killing on the stock market recently, and depending on the evidence, rendering them financially impotent ( a bullet in the brain is one simple way, but may not be the most appropriate ). Manipulating the stock market might be equally as effective at causing corporate collapse. Still, the financial "collateral damage" may mean that a car accident or even sudden fatal illness might be better. Trouble with such covert attacks is that true accidents in the future will be blamed on you, so it might be better to just say "Yes, we shot him, so what?" rather than weep crocadile tears.

c) Attack the Enemy's Will to Fight.

This is the epitome of warfare. You don't have to expend blood and treasure if the Enemy lacks the will to attack you - he'll do what you want.

There are two ways of doing this, one far more effective than the other. The easiest and quickest is to instill fear in the heart of the enemy. This has historically been very popular, both on a large geopolitical scale, to the smallest personal scale. It ranges from the terror of "Mutually Assured Destruction" to the terror of provoking a Jihad. It ranges from the threat to go after Saddam Hussein personally if he used Chemical Warfare in the Gulf, to the blandishments "Just obey and no-one gets hurt" used every day by Police forces, and for that matter, by the Hijackers on September 11th.

Note that credibility is the key. If the other side doesn't believe you, as happened in the flight that impacted in Pennsylvania, even unarmed civilians can and do fight effectively. If the other side believes that all they'll get if you kill them is an instant ticket to Paradise, then threats aren't credible. If you can convince them though that by their actions they've risked eternal damnation, that's another matter. This is a particularly promising avenue of attack in this case. A great effort to convince the Imams and Islamic Scholars of the world to unreservedly condemn Ground Zero and state that the perpetrators are now roasting in fire hotter than the H-bomb would likely be very effective indeed - the people concerned appear to be highly religious. In recent times, both the USA in Vietnam and the USSR in Afghanistan gave up and pulled out because they had lost the will to fight what was perceived to be a losing battle in a dubious cause.

And that last leads to the second, much harder and vastly more effective way of removing the Enemy's will to fight. The absolute pinnacle of the military art is to make the Enemy your Friend. And two can play at this game.

In order to resist, we must remain convinced that there is a clear-cut moral difference between ourselves and the Enemy. Like Pearl Harbor, Ground Zero has provided us with that.

We allowed Rwanda, and Cambodia, and Bosnia, and many others, sometimes out of fear of a larger war (The Bogistanis are Russian Allies...), sometimes out of ignorance (Bogistan? Where's that?), but sometimes out of indifference (who gives a damn about what happens in Outer Bogistan?) or worse, if they were our Allies in the "Great Game" ("If they didn't shoot those kids, the Commies would have taken over"). As the result, many of our Enemies call us hypocrites, and with some (not much, but some) justification.

We (and I do not just mean the USA here, I mean every country that lost citizens on September 11th for starters) can no longer say "Someone else's problem."

No more "business as usual". We must ratchet the filter of what is acceptable behaviour by states or organisations a few more notches. Not enough to make the different but basically decent into enemies or destroy the ideals we hold dear, but enough so great quantities of the world do not perceive us as hypocrites. If you want a soundbite "First we've got to get on God's Side, then he'll be on Our Side."

Finally, as our long-term strategy, we must try to convert at least the children of our enemies into our friends. Our weapons here are more likely to be solar-powered radios, food drops (imagine a raid on Baghdad that fought through heavy defences to drop a few thousand tonnes of baby food), education (so when Baghdad announces that the baby food is all poisoned and millions have died, it's not believed), and stern action to counter the Bad Hats. We may not be able to pick any "Good Guys" to support, but we can sure identify and destroy the torturers of the Secret Police, the thieves who take the foreign aid money, and those who terrorise their own populace. For very often there are many who remain silent out of fear.

We must bolster their courage, and give them a reasonable choice of behaviour other than to join the Enemy camp.

So much self-serving tub-thumping rubbish has been talked about "Moral Re-Armament" that the phrase is direputable. Yet that is what we have to do. We must no longer accept the right of any government to starve or massacre its people or any others.
We must also do something about our own internal injustices, racism and perjudice.

Not because it's "right", because it may not be. But to sap the feeling of smug self-righteousness that is the Enemy's main strength, and take it for ourselves.


Well, that was what I said 2 years ago. I see only a few minor omissions and amendments needed, even now.

Monday, 8 September 2003

You Could Make a Difference

From Chief Wiggles, currently serving in Iraq. Until recently, the Chief helped run a POW Camp holding Iraqi generals that had co-operated with Coalition forces. He's no longer there, but the Generals are.
They have been there since the first day of the war now well over 5 months. I recently spoke with the leader of the generals, informing me that they are very tired from this terrible ordeal and we are losing their support, being discouraged by the way they have been treated after following our advice to lay down their weapons and surrender.

In their minds they would have been better off had they just ran to their homes like the other 9,000 plus brigadier generals in the Iraqi military. They regret having trusted us enough to turn over their bases, their ships and aircraft, and their men, in hopes that we would reward them for doing so. They just want to see their families and do their part in reconstructing their country.

The meeting was held on Friday, the general's issue was discussed and it was turned over to his staff for a decision. At this point we just need everyone that can to write the Secretary of Defense's staff, requesting this issue be resolved, especially now that they have a job waiting for them the minute they are released.

...

Prior to coming to the palace a month or so ago, I lived at the EPW camp in southern Iraqi with these men for about 3 months, interacting with them on a daily basis. I spoke with them day in and day out, sitting with them in their tents, eating their food, talking with them in groups and one on one, meeting their families, and seeing them in their highest and lowest moments. I have personally questioned each and every one of them extensively.

For the most part these men have been waiting for our arrival since 1991, hoping we would come to release them from the chains of Saddam Hussein. Yes they are career military men but not hand picked by Saddam, but just a handful of some 10,000 Brigadier Generals who just happened to chose the military as their livelihood, over the years having moved up the ranks like anyone else. Many of these men had been retired, only to find themselves activated before the war. Many were in the Navy and Air Force, not highly regarded or trusted by Saddam. Many were sent to the southern part of Iraq to serve out the remainder of their terms, having fallen out of favor or by choosing not to participate with the doings of their leader. None of these men were serving in the Republican Guards or the Special Republican Guards, where allegiance to Saddam is required.

...

Good night. Pray for all of us here. We need it.
Write Donald Rumsfield too about the generals getting released. Thanks!!!!!
I'll make it easy for you. According to the DOD Addresses Website, the addresses are:


Donald H. Rumsfeld
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000


Paul Wolfowitz
Deputy Secretary of Defense
1010 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1010


Arms to Saddam

This graphic, from The Command Post, bears repeating, over and over again, until the penny finally drops.



So the next time someone goes on about the US "armed Saddam", you'll know the facts.

Weird Wide Web

Stories too improbable to be false Department:

Readers in the UK have probably heard of this one, but the story didn't make it down here.The Million Pound -er- Pound


Sunday, 7 September 2003

Movie Quote Quiz

Inspired by Normblog's Westerns Quotes Challenge, ( I've sent him my answers BTW ), here's one of my own.

The quotes come from 3 different movies.
Name the movies, and the thing they have in common.

"I hate all wretched people! I feel disgusted with them!"
"But who made us the way we are, huh? Men with guns."
"I'm from Earth. Ever heard of it?"

OK, here are some hints:

Remember the context of the introduction : Westerns. The films may not all be Westerns, though it's likely at least one is.
The second quote is from a fairly famous mainstream movie.
The same actor played essentially the same character (though different roles) in 2 of the movies.
If your memory isn't good, or like me you don't watch a lot of films, Google is your friend. (Oooh what a giveaway!)

Electronic Voting

A recent article in MIT's Technology Review states some uncomfortable truths about non-electronic voting. How it's inherently very insecure and open to abuse.

For all the problems inherent in electronic voting (e-Voting), the reason it's got a deservedly bad press is simply because of some woeful implementations. "Secret Sauce" might be a good recipe for a Fast-Food chain, but "Secret Source" code for an e-Voting machine is a disaster. And proprietary, trade-secret hardware... requires a degree of trust verging on gullibility.

Here in the ACT (Australian Capital Territory), e-Voting was used on a trial basis in the 2001 elections. Anyone who cared to could read the source code used in the machines. Anyone who cared to could also read the source code of the Operating System that resided on the machines, and even the source code of the compiler used to make the binary images. Not many did want to, but it's available, free, for those who want it.

Is the system perfectly secure? No way.

Is the system vastly more secure than any paper voting system? Certainly, and provably.

Is it more secure than the electronic voting machines currently in use in the USA? I don't know - because the software and hardware for those are all trade secrets, I'm not allowed to find out, and neither are you. We just have to trust them.

Documents detailing the performance and history of the eVACS® system used in the ACT are freely available on the web, along with the source.

One thing you won't find freely is the cost of the system. But as I work for Software Improvements, the makers, I can tell you. (I had nothing to do with the project myself, I was too busy making spaceflight avionics software at the time). The cost to develop the software was well under $150,000 US, (at least, that's what we got paid for it - that fact's available on the web too) and it runs on machines that cost about $1,500 US each. (All figures in the below quote are in Australian Dollars, about 65c US)
The cost of the project in total was $406,000.
Of this amount, the re-usable EVACS software accounted for $200,000. The cost of providing hardware in polling places amounted to $125,000 with $25,000 of this amount invested in hardware that can be re-used at future elections. Other costs
included venues, security, auditing, printing of barcodes and professional and technical assistance.
- ACT Elections Report (pdf)

So contrary to Glen Reynolds, e-Voting isn't neccessarily a bad thing. Better than paper, if implemented properly anyway. And if it's not implemented in a totally open manner, how come the US voter is standing for it, especially when there's a cheaper, better alternative? If us Aussies can develop a system like this, surely US developers can for only a few million, and have the satisfaction of it being "Made in the USA"? And if not, you could always buy one of ours for a tenth of that price.

Remember, I'm an employee of the developers - so don't take my word for it, read some of the reports I've quoted above. Do a Google search on "eVACS". Check for yourself.

Saturday, 6 September 2003

Further Thoughts on EU Protectionism

While looking through Technorati's webcosmos view of Prof. Norm Geras's blog, I came across a site called Crumb Trail.

Although the site's a bit less whimsical than my own, OK, it's dead serious, there's much of interest there (as well as appearing very neat and tidy in Opera 7.1, my Browser Of Choice). For example :
To be good environmentalists, to live on this planet while caring for it, we need to see ourselves in context. We are part of nature rather than separate from it. We are a consequence of natural processes and we alter those processes by simply living. We must choose how we want to live in the world and what kind of people we want to be but not all choices will result in good outcomes because physical reality constrains the range of aesthetic and ethical choices we might make. Somewhere beyond the modernist rigidity of viewing nature as Nature - a given which is submitted to with near religious awe - and postmodern relativism which sees nature as an illusory construction, there is an informed view that has elements of those earlier views but is more realistic and complex. A scientific path - ruthlessly honest, empirical, pragmatic and open to revelation - can arrive at this same destination but not all environmentalists can travel that route.
Is this damning Evironmentalism with faint praise, or just a ruthlessley honest appraisal of a movement by someone "on the inside"? I strongly suspect the latter.

It's very easy to demonise those we disagree with strongly on important matters. It's less easy to criticise the imperfections of those whose ideas are similar to one's own. A reminder that many people can be doing good for all the wrong reasons : Irrationality and Superstition may sometimes be enlisted in a good cause, but in the long term they lead to Year Zero and Auschwitz.

From a comment by Rolf Goergens on Samizdata.net :
Fischler (an Austrian) is actually the best of a bad bunch. He tried to ram through some agricultural reforms, including cuts in subsidies, but a coalition of France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece and Ireland stopped him. If he didn't do the posturing described by the Guardian he would be toast and replaced by someone even worse.
Just as you think you have someone pegged, a nasty and inconvenient little fact gets in the way of your cosy, comfy little worldview of Good and Evil. A timely reminder that most people, even those doing considerable harm, are acting according to their consciences, and within the constraints of their Life and Times.

<humour>I exclude Postmodernists, they're Irretrievably Damned.</humour>

Let Them Eat Cake

From The Grauniad :
The European commission yesterday launched a ferocious attack on poor countries...
For once, the Grauniad has it exactly right. It's an attack all right, and on the poor.
.... and development campaigners when it dismissed calls for big cuts in Europe's farm protection regime as extreme demands couched in "cheap propaganda".
Their propaganda has to be cheap, it's all they can afford. And has to rely on truth to convince. For expensive mendacity, and bare-faced lies, you have to look to the past masters of it in Brussels.
In a move that threatens to shatter the fragile peace ahead of next week's trade talks in Cancun, Mexico, Franz Fischler, the EU agriculture commissioner, said Brussels would strongly defend its farmers.
Except for the Poles, Czechs and so on, who as 2nd-class citizens don't qualify for the Public Trough like their Westerner counterparts do. The best form of defence is attack, and if the French and German farmers are going to be able to afford their new cars every year, well, some Africans will just have to keep on starving. <sarcasm>They breed like rabbits anyway, and it's not as if they're people like us anyway, is it?</sarcasm>
He said many recent attacks on the EU's much maligned common agricultural policy (CAP) were"intellectually dishonest" PR stunts.

Mr Fischler's comments came as Britain's trade secretary, Patricia Hewitt, warned that failure at Cancun would be "disastrous for the global economy" and a severe setback in the fight against terrorism and poverty.

Britain believes a deal to cut farm subsidies in the west is the key to developing support for a new global trade deal, and Ms Hewitt made it clear that the government saw recent reforms of the CAP as a good basis for negotiation.

"Rich countries can't preach free trade abroad and have protectionism at home. There is a danger of locking developing countries into poverty because we lock them out of our markets," she said.
Perfidious Albion! They obviously need re-education in the Napoleonic Ideal of a United Europe. Ah, if only Adolph had succeeded...
Mr Fischler, speaking in Brussels, said that although the EU was keen to give developing countries a better deal he warned that they would get nothing if they persisted with their "extreme" proposals.
"Extreme", like complying with all obligations under the WTO, not just the ones you feel like.
"If I look at the recent extreme proposal co-sponsored by Brazil, China, India and others, I cannot help [getting] the impression that they are circling in a different orbit," Mr Fischler reporters.

"If they want to do business, they should come back to mother earth. If they choose to continue their space odyssey they will not get the stars, they will not get the moon, they will end up with empty hands."
The Lower Orders should know their place, and not be so insolent to their betters. The arrogance of some of these Darkies and Chinks! Untermenschen, all of them!
Mr Fischler accused developing countries of demanding that developed countries make drastic changes while they themselves did nothing.
Maybe it's because, unlike the EU and USA, they don't go around handing out subsidies to the tunes of billions of dollars per year... so can hardly cease the practice.
Widening the scope of his attack, he accused non-governmental organisations, which frequently claim the CAP damages the developing world, of "cheap propaganda".

He took issue in particular with campaigners who point out that each EU cow receives $2 a day in subsidies.

"This may be a nice PR stunt but unfortunately this argument is not only intellectually dishonest, it is factually irrelevant.
Not incorrect. Not wrong. "Factually Irrelevant". "Intellectually Dishonest". We, the Intellectual Elite know best, and it is our opinion that your indisputable truths are not worthy of consideration, you are uncouth and churlish to mention them. Your facts are "irrelevant" because we, the Aristocracy, say they are. Begone, Varlets!
Yes, in the developed world we are spending money on many things. Not because we are all stupid, but because our standard of living is higher.
Ah, the Chewbacca Defence. With a contemptuous sneer tossed in gratis.
"What next? Criticising governments for spending public money on hospital beds, costly noise protection walls or fancy trees in parks instead of sending it to Africa? Societies around the world must have the right to choose which public goods and services are important to them."
- "these are the facts of the case"
- "but this is Chewbacca"
- "this Chewbacca argument does not make sense"
- "it does not make sense"
- "if it does not make sense, you must acquit"
Mr Fischler also made it clear that the EU did not believe all developing world countries deserved major concessions. Some African countries were really poor, but others, he noted, were net food exporters and far more prosperous.
...But we'll soon put a stop to that! I mean, if they become as rich as us, soon they'll be thinking that they're our intellectual equals. Just look what happened in America. Uncouth Barbarians. Fortunately, we have such worthy allies as Monsieur Chirac's good friend Robert Mugabe to help keep the hoi palloi in their place. The Cheek of some people...
Pascal Lamy, the EU's trade commissioner, joined the attack pointing out that 70% of customs duties paid on goods exported from the developing world were levied by other developing countries.
Thereby showing that not every EU Bureaucrat has his head wedged firmly up his posterior. Many developing countries have to rely on customs duties, as they're so dysfunctional, there is no effective taxation system. They're trapped in a cycle of poverty. But this has an important corollary: If the EU cut its extortionate tariff rates and increased its miniscule quotas, just possibly the customs duties paid to the EU would actually increase, and everyone would benefit. But they'd prefer to be Big Frogs in a small Pond, rather than increase the Common Wealth.

I'm not exactly a Leftie. Storming the barricades with shouts of "Liberte, Equalite, Fraternite" and leading the Aristos to the Guillotine is not my style. But reading Herr Fischler's words, I can understand that position. The behaviour of these Aristo-Bureau-Eurocrats...offends me.

And from a strict viewpoint of self-interest, it's worth examining Patricia Hewitt's words again. I've never been a fan of hers, I consider her an Idiotarian par excellence. But even a stopped clock is right twice a day :
failure at Cancun would be "disastrous for the global economy" and a severe setback in the fight against terrorism and poverty.
"Disasterous for the Global Economy" - that will hit me in my hip-pocket, always a sensitive place.
"severe setback in the fight against... poverty" - I have an aversion to seeing people starve. That doesn't mean I close my eyes to it, it means that I want to do something about it - not mouth pious plattitudes and ignore it. Hey, it's my money - I worked damn hard for it, and if I want to use some of it to help give someone rather less materially fortunate than myself an opportunity to make themselves better off, then that's my right. Just as it's yours not to.
"severe setback in the fight against... terrorism". - Ah, now here we have the crux of the matter. Too long, we've adopted a policy of "live and let die". We've closed our eyes to the plight of those living in totalitarian or theocratic oppression. We've let the UN pass resolution after resolution condemning Israel - sometimes with some justification, oftentimes not - while ignoring the far worse enormities committed by others. From the World Socialist Website (!!! -never thought I'd be quoting them)
In February 1982 a Muslim Brotherhood revolt broke out in Hama (Syria). Ba'ath Party officials were killed and appeals were broadcast from the mosques for a national insurrection. Assad's retribution was ruthless. The military levelled half of the city, slaughtering an estimated 10,000 to 25,000 people.
Syria is now of course a member in good standing of the UN Human Rights Commission, and until recently chaired the UN Security Council.
...of over 700 General Assembly resolutions passed since the UN's 1945 establishment, nearly 450 condemn Israel. None have been passed against any Arab country nor any Arab terrorist organizations! In other words, out of 190 nations in the United Nations, over sixty percent of all General Assembly resolutions condemned just ONE member, Israel!
...
In its entire existence, the Security Council has passed only 131 resolutions. Of those, 88 criticized or opposed Israel. Not one deplored or even contained a breath of criticism against Arab countries in general or those in particular which initiated wars or terrorism against Israel.

Massada2000.org
Fortunately, not one of those resolutions was a "binding" Chapter 7 resolution, the US or UK vetoes saw to that. But nonetheless, the mythical "Man from Mars", just looking at the sheer number of Resolutions, would have to conclude that Israel must be a mighty superpower that's massacred Billions of people. In Syria, a dictator can erase a city and all it's inhabitants, and be welcomed in the halls of power with na'ry a word said.. and few care to recall the Millions killed during China's Cultural Revolution, or the UN inaction in Cambodia, in Rwanda, and its inneffectual bungling in the Congo, in Nigeria, and in Bosnia.

And while arms of the UN are doing theiroften incompetent and wasteful best to help the Iraqis and others, sometimes being killed in the process, the UN's Arab-dominated General Assembly is still playing its silly games :
The United Nations can take vigorous action to deny the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq any legitimacy and deprive the perpetrators of the fruits of their aggression.
Al-Ahram
We've ignored this crap, the posturings, the hypocritical words of oppressors with not just beams, but whole deciduous forests in their eyes criticising the motes (sometimes wholly imaginary) in our own.

Worse, we've ignored the Tyrannies in Africa. The average lifespan has actually decreased there over the last 50 years. Literacy is down, Infant mortality is up. In Africa and the Middle east, Superstition and Religious Fundamentalism are spreading, while the Rich in those benighted and ethically backward societies are often getting Richer, and remaining wholly unaccountable for their actions.

September 11 was the result. It wasn't the poor who did this, it was financed and planned by Multi-millionaires, the unnacountable and powerful elite whose megalomania we'd treated with condescending disdain.

We're all in this together, and the 21st Century War will take a long time. Several campaigns have already been fought - easy ones, short-term ones, military ones. Though there's more to come. In the longer term, we must eradicate the few glaring inequities that stifle the development of dysfunctional nations. We must be intolerant of dictatorships, of kleptocracies, and of Vested Interests in our own societies that seek to retain their not-so-ancient-priviledges by keeping the poorest nations "in their place". We must be intolerant of governments that deny Female Sufferage. We must be intolerant of those who name schools after terrorists. We must get rid of them - by peaceful means if possible, but get rid of them root and branch. They've shown that the planet is no longer big enough for both of us.

Getting our own house in order, and ejecting the new Aristocracy in our midst would be a good start.

September 11 2001 Remembered

Here's what I thought at the time. Little has changed in the suceeding two years.

Flashback: The Year 2000, the Sydney Olympics.


A great International outpouring of joy and goodwill.
The Cold War is really, truly over, Ding-Dong, the Witch is Dead.
The late, unlamented 20th Century, the Century of Nanking, of
Auschwitz, of the Somme and the Berlin Wall is gone, finished,
Kaput. Optimism that the 21st Century will at least make a start
on curing the worst of this sad old world's ills is in the air.

September, 2001


The Year 2001, and for me personally, an annus mirabilis. I'm
working on a Space Programme, something I've dreamed of for
over thirty years, and even more importantly, I have an infant
Son after 20 years of marriage, born in July. The 1% chance of
Fatherhood the docs gave me after my bout of Chemotherapy over
twenty years ago came off, we'd hit the Jackpot.

10pm on September 11th, and we're changing his nappy by the light
of the TV in the background. I take out the toxic waste, when
my wife calls out.

"An aircraft has hit the World Trade Centre in New York, there's
a special bulletin."

The CNN pundits gasbag on about reports of a "light plane", but
even I know from the size of the smoke plume it had to be an
airliner. And no airliner is allowed nearby. It's a Hijack. It's
a suicide attack. Hundreds of people are already dead. The world
has changed, and the USA is going to be PISSED.

As calmly as I can, I explain to my wife (as we try to get
Andrew back to sleep) what has happened. Stay calm, there might
be dozens of attacks in the next few minutes, and just pray that
the signal doesn't suddenly vanish from Electromagnetic Pulse.
Pray that it's a singleton, and not the first of dozens in the
next hour.

A replay is shown - that's no small aircraft, it's a 757 from the
looks of the tail. May God rest their souls. It has to be Al Qaeda,
they tried to take out the WTC once before. Bastards.

Another replay : No, the angle's different, and MY GOD IT"S
HITTING THE OTHER TOWER THOSE POOR PASSENGERS!!!!!!!!!

Oh God.

Oh God.

Those poor passengers.

What time is it in New York? 14 Hours time difference, it's what,
9 am or thereabouts. People will be at work. There's what, 20,000
people in there. How many already dead? Fortunately, the Towers are
built to take an airliner hitting them. But there's so much smoke...
They'll stay standing, won't they? Get everybody out, they'll die of
smoke inhalation.

My heart stops as the picture suddenly goes blank - but restarts
as transmission resumes. No nukes yet. (And a portion in the back
of my mind is saying "For maximum effect, stage a showy attack to
draw all the emergency services in, *then* set off the Nuke" - from
a Threat Analysis I did over a decade ago.) But airliners will
continue to fly into buildings. How many? Five? Ten? Fifteen?

Reports of an attack on the White House, then the Pentagon. More
pictures, yes, a strike on the Pentagon confirmed, reports of
a large fire in a shopping centre near the White House, unconfirmed.

I tell my wife there's at least a 50% chance of US nuclear
strikes sometime in the next few days. But the towers will still
stand. No sooner are the words out of my mouth when I see a large
dust plume rising from one of them. No, from where one of them
*used to be*. Oh Christ, the Firemen, the Medicos, the Police,
the people. The people. All those people....

I tell my wife there's no significant chance of an attack near us,
not yet. And if so, there's a mountain between us and the airport,
where any nuke is likely to be let off. Parliament house is too far
away, and our thick curtains would contain any glass shards.

Maybe. Probably. Not a lot we can do about it anyway.


Then I look at my baby son, not yet 2 months old, and I
think "My boy, this is your war, just as the Cold War was your
Dad's, World War 2 your Grandad's, and World War 1 your Great
Grandad's. It'll take decades, just like the last one."

The world has changed. It's war, to the knife. No retreat,
No surrender, No quarter.

I just hope the Yanks stay calm, and don't make Arabic an
extinct language. It wouldn't be their style, but this is
Pearl Harbor Mark II, and some things just can't be borne.

Reports of a plane coming down in Pennsylvania.

The slow, silent agony of the second collapse. How many people
have just died as I watched? Five Thousand? Ten? But no more
airliners, no follow-up attacks. F*cking Amateurs, it could have
been so much worse. But Reason was never Al Qaeda's strong point.

They're dead. They just don't know it yet.

The cards will fall, Afghanistan certainly. Probably Iraq next.
Syria, Iran, Saudi, Yemen, Neutralised one way or the other.
Hopefully peacefully, but if not, not. All the smelly little
Theocracies and Dictatorships. Probably North Korea. It'll take
decades of education, diplomacy and sometimes guided bombs.
We'll take casualties. Nukes, or Bio-war, almost certainly. But
we can't "live and let live", they won't let us. The shroud
covering Manhattan proves that. We're all in this together.


Damn, just when we thought we'd done away with war. Maybe next
century.
The Photo's of Andrew at 18 months old. I wish I could have left him a world where War wasn't neccessary, but that was not to be. Hopefully by the time he's in his forties, it will have been won.

Friday, 5 September 2003

Brother Hoods



The Two Cows Model of Economics

Way back in the late 60's, I was first introduced to the "Two Cows" model of Economics. Over succeeding decades, the model has changed, and there are now literally hundreds of variants available on the Internet. Just do a Google Search on "Two Cows Capitalism" to find some of them.

My favourite - and the one closest to the original model - is from good folks at TheCapitol.Net, "...a non-partisan firm that provides legislative, budget, media, testifying and writing training and information for government and business leaders." - it says so on the label. Who knows, it might even be true. Here are just some of the definitions :
ANARCHISM (I): You have two cows. The cows decide you have no right to do anything with their milk and leave to form their own society.

ANARCHISM (II): You have two cows. You steal your neighbor's bull and ignore the government.

ANARCHISM (III): You have two cows. You keep the cows and steal another one. You ignore the government.

ANARCHISM (IV): You have two cows. Either you sell the milk at a fair price or your neighbors try to take the cows and kill you.

ANARCHISM (V): You have two cows. Your neighbor hits you over the head with a brick, steals your cows, then shoots them for fun. You later discover that he is a Nazi.

ARISTOCRACY: You have two cows. You sell both and buy one really big cow - with a pedigree.

...

BUREAUCRACY (I): You have two cows. At first the government regulates what you can feed them and when you can milk them. Then it pays you not to milk them. Then it takes both, shoots one, milks the other and pours the milk down the drain. Then it requires you to fill out forms accounting for the missing cows.

BUREAUCRACY (II): You have two cows. To register them, you fill in 17 forms in triplicate and don't have time to milk them.

BUREAUCRACY -- EUROPEAN UNION: You have two cows. The EU loses one cow, milks the other and then spills the milk.

BUREAUCRACY -- UNITED STATES: You have two cows. The government takes both, loses one while moving it to a farm in Puerto Rico and forgets to milk the other.

...

UNITED NATIONISM: You have two cows. France vetoes you from milking them. The United States and Britain veto the cows from milking you. New Zealand abstains.
Go read the whole thing.

Thursday, 4 September 2003

Only in Australia

From The Australian :
Wildlife officers have set traps for two large crocodiles sighted near Rockhampton's city centre.

Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) ranger Tim Farry said a local resident had reported seeing two crocodiles, 3.5 metres (11.5 ft) and 4 metres (13 ft) long, at the entrance to Gavial Creek last week.

The sightings were later confirmed by local wildlife rangers, Mr Farry said.
...
Mr Farry said the QPWS had erected warning signs and urged caution.

"The animals have been classified as problem crocodiles because of their size and because of their proximity to public facilities," Mr Farry said.
...
Ironically, the central Queensland city is currently hosting a major military exercise, Crocodile 03.

Wednesday, 3 September 2003

Avast There, Me Hearties!

And me Kidneys, and me Liveries... For 'tis but 16 days afore International Talk Like a Pirate Day, well shiver me timbers. Arr.

Jim : Cap'n, where be the Poopdeck?
Cap'n :Arr, Jim Lad, the Poopdeck be below the Crow's Nest. That why it do be called the Poopdeck. Arr.

Arr, there be few things more pleasin than watchin a video of Cap'n Feathersword with the young 'un. Arr.

And there be no truth to the scurvy tales about that lily-livered bilgerat Barney and that right comely wench Dorothy, they be just good shipmates. Arr.

Tuesday, 2 September 2003

Postmodernism

Amaze your Friends! Now you too can engage in content-free discourse in the finest Academic tradition of Postmodernist thought. From "A Simple introduction to Postmodernism" courtesy of English Professor, Mary Klages :
Many modernist works try to uphold the idea that works of art can provide the unity, coherence, and meaning which has been lost in most of modern life; art will do what other human institutions fail to do. Postmodernism, in contrast, doesn't lament the idea of fragmentation, provisionality, or incoherence, but rather celebrates that. The world is meaningless? Let's not pretend that art can make meaning then, let's just play with nonsense.
In that spirit, may I present for your edification and enlightenment, the Postmodernist Essay Generator, guaranteed to generate essays of as much intellectual merit as the best products of Postmodernist philosophers.

Sunday, 31 August 2003

60th Anniversary of Operation Safari

Amidst the roar and tumult of World War II, a little-known incident occurred on August 29th, 1943. An incident that deserves to be far better known than it is. An incident that even military historians are unlikely to have noted. An incident that was a harbinger for one of the most dramatic humanitarian stories of recent history, and one that should cause us all to reflect on our own personal responsibility to act as "decent human beings" in our own times.

It was "Operation Safari" - the scuttling of the Royal Danish Navy. Doesn't sound like much, does it? But it made the front page of the New York Times, and for good reasons.

A quick recap of history: At 3:30 am April 9, 1940, the Nazis invaded Denmark. There was almost no resistance - unlike in Norway, the Danish government ordered the armed forces to surrender without a fight. Most of the Danish defences had been constructed facing West, against England, and the army had been stripped down to a mere 14,000 soldiers. Only 9 Danes died before receiving the word to give up. At 4:30 am a note was handed to the Danish government by the Third Reich, and the capitulation was signed at 6:00 am, only a few hours after the invasion started.

The Danish Government was allowed by the Nazis to keep most of its independence. There was almost no difference between life before the invasion, and life afterwards. The German soldiers stationed in Denmark acted more like friends and allies than an occupying power. In particular, the rabid anti-semetism that accompanied the Third Reich's dominion was not enforced. Up until mid 1943, it was possible for Danish winemerchants who happened to be Jews to make regular business trips to Palestine, and import wine clearly labelled in Hebrew. This caused some curiousity on the part of the Wehrmacht soldiers who often stopped in to buy a couple of bottles of their favourite plonk, but no animosity.

In January 1943, at a student festival near Gjørslev, the Danish students invited the audience to participate in singing two national anthems of particular significance. The first was, of course, the Danish National Anthem. The many Germans present expected the second to be "Deutschland, Deutschland Über Alles", but was instead "Hatikvah", the Zionist anthem.

The situation was quite different in Norway.
Thanks to Norway's long frontier with Sweden, about 800 of Norway's 1700 Jews were able to escape. Of the remaining 900, only 12 escaped death at the hands of the Germans.
From documents introduced at the Eichmann Trial, T580-T589


So what happened? As Germany began to lose the war, the cosy trade relationship turned into a leaching of Denmark's wealth, in particular food. In August 1943, strikes took place. On August 28th, the Germans issued an Ultimatum... only this time, it was flatly refused. On the morning of August 29th, 1943, the Germans declared a military state of emergency "in accordance with articles 42-56 of the Hague Conventions".

The King declared himself a prisoner-of-war. The Danish government resigned. The Danish armed forces repelled German efforts to seize the Danish Navy, causing and receiving many casualties in the process. The Danish navy, unable to escape, scuttled itself in "Operation Safari". It was the beginning of active Danish non-co-operation with the Nazis.

Using as a pretext the state of Emergency, the Nazi top brass finally put into operation their plans for the extermination of Danish jewry. They'd been deterred from implementing these plans by a succession of local Commissars, some SS who were rabid antii-semites, some profesional Diplomats, who had uniformly reported that to implement the "Final Solution" in Denmark would mean a popular revolt.

The plans were carefully laid: two ships, with capacity for all 8,000 Danish Jews were ready to sail. SS, Gestapo and Wehrmacht forces were all set to go.

But these carefully laid plans were totally ruined by just one man: the German head of shipping operations, one Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz. Days before, on his own initiative, he had journeyed to Sweden to try to get the Swedish Government to offer asylum to Denmark's jews - with no luck. The Swedish telegram of offer to Germany was ignored. 24 hours before the massive raid was to begin, as soon as he found out the exact timetable, he walked into a meeting of the Danish Social Democratic Party, and announced:
"The Disaster is here. Everything is planned in detail. In a few hours, ships will anchor in the port of Copenhagen. Those of your poor Jewish countrymen who get caught will be forcibly be brought on board the ships and be transported to an unknown fate."

As the result of this warning, word-of-mouth spread rapidly. Only a very few Jews, those who couldn't believe what was about to happen, or those too ill or too old to relocate, were caught in the net. Instead of 8,000 Jews, the SS caught... about a hundred. All the rest had been spirited away, hidden in ordinary Dane's houses, barns, attics, in hospitals and in warehouses, in Nurses quarters and in schools. Over coming months, a total of just over 450 Jews were caught before they were able to escape to Sweden. And due to unstinting efforts by the Danish Government, sending food parcels with return receipts that had to be signed by the addressee, only some 52 Danish Jews perished in the Camps.

98.5% of Danish Jews survived.

Because one man, at great personal risk, acted like an ordinary human being.

Because an entire nation, at great personal risk, acted like ordinary human beings.

The Nation of Belgium didn't. The Nation of Holland didn't. The Nation of France didn't. The Nations of Poland, of Hungary, of Rumania, of Bulgaria, of Italy, of Czechoslovakia, of the Ukraine, of Byelorus, of Latvia, of Lithuania, of Norway, and of Estonia didn't.

But the nation of Denmark did. Let us never forget this, and never forget Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz. May we all, if ever called upon to act like decent human beings, regardless of the risk, find the courage to follow his example.

The Lost Art of Correspondence

One Patsy A. Newton is an Australian Lass with a wicked sense of humour. Her blog "The Lost Art of Correspondence" is devoted to one thing : extracting the michael from those who deserve it.
"It's very simple. I write letters to people and post their responses."
Her victims^H^H^H^H^H^H correspondents have included a number of prominent columnists, several Nigerian scammers, and Anti-Imperialist Solidarity, USA. Some hilarious reading.

Friday, 29 August 2003

Cultural Significance

From The Australian :
Prime Minister John Howard today said he resented moves to ban the singing of Waltzing Matilda at Rugby World Cup matches and encouraged Australians to belt out the tune.
At first I thought that this had to be a beat-up, a replay of Jim Hacker's refusal to Ban the British Sausage. But then I read this, from the ABC :
The Australian Rugby Union has asked the International Rugby Board to reconsider a reported decision to ban the performance of Waltzing Matilda at Australia's rugby World Cup games.

The IRB was reported to have banned the song from the official pre-match entertainment on the grounds that it had no major cultural significance.
I'm sure all Australians will treat this ruling with the respect it deserves.
"You tell someone not to do it in Australia and they'll probably do it twice as loud."
Well, yes. It's one of our funny little cultural traits, taking the piss out of complete wankers.

Thursday, 28 August 2003

Comments Temporarily Disabled

Due to problems with BlogExtra, comments have been temporarily disabled. (since the service is free, I'm not complaining) They'll be back as soon as possible. In the meantime, you can always e-mail me.

The Space Programme That Never Was

Marcus Lindroos of Finland has produced a very concise yet detailed explanation of how we got to where we are now in Manned Space. He made two graphics (shown below) revealing what was planned, and what was funded, between 1980 and 2000.

What was Planned


What was planned


What was Funded


What was funded

I'm sure that a couple of 5 Gigawatt solar power sats would have helped the US get on-board the Kyoto agreement (not that that has much merit except symbolically). And reduced the ability of certain parties to fund terrorism.

Marcus also produced an (incomplete) series of slides showing how the Shuttle came to be, including some heartbreaking artists conceptions of things the way they could have been. He also gives hard numbers, planned performance characteristics, and explanations. I'll be quoting more of these in future posts, along with some commentary from a 2003+ perspective. In the meantime, go visit - and maybe we're not as technologically far away from a moonbase as you might think. Financially, Managerially and Politically is another matter.

I'll leave with one final pair of graphics showing how the Space Shuttle came to be such a very partial success. They come from a slide showing the cost trade-offs that were made way back in 1971.

Projected Cost of Development (and Technical Risk)


Alternate Space Shuttle Development Costs

Projected Cost Per Flight


Alternate Space Shuttle Costs Per Flight

The design we ended up with is the one on the far right - RAO BRB. By making the costs per flight so high, and the re-useability so low, it ensured that only a few flights would be made per year, not the dozens needed to prove and test the system in the 80's in time for a replacement in the 90's. And to ever make it even remotely cost-effective. Isn't Hindsight wonderful?

Design Your Own Hell

Now's your chance to put Spammers, Hamas etc where they belong.

New Agers
Circle I Limbo

Idiotarians
Circle II Whirling in a Dark & Stormy Wind

French Bureaucrats
Circle III Mud, Rain, Cold, Hail & Snow

Spammers
Circle IV Rolling Weights

Post Modernists
Circle V Stuck in Mud, Mangled

River Styx

John Pilger
Circle VI Buried for Eternity

River Phlegyas

Racists
Circle VII Burning Sands

Jamia Islamia
Circle IIX Immersed in Excrement

Hamas
Circle IX Frozen in Ice

Design your own hell

Wednesday, 27 August 2003

Manned Space

I've always been a strong advocate of the manned space programme, and continue to be. But with some very big caveats.

First, we should stop pretending that the manned space program is anything to do with Science. It isn't. Or rather, with only one exception - more on that later - , our technology is now at the state where a manned mission costs vastly more than a dozen, or even a hundred, unmanned missions that would get the same quality of scientific data.

For the cost of sending a Scientific exploration team to thoroughly investigate a small patch of, say, Mars, we could put literally hundreds of rovers, aircraft, and fixed landers a la Viking down and cover a vastly greater area, albeit with less flexibility in focussing on anything interesting we find.

For the cost of the ISS - the International Space Station - we could have done so much more in the way of Scientific research that it makes no sense whatsoever, if Science was the only goal. As regards Space Manufacturing in microgravity fields, you must remember that the ISS is not in "zero gravity", it's in "very small gravity". It's not far enough out to remove the effect of tides from the Earth. But far more importantly, the whole structure moves and vibrates every time any of the crew so much as sneezes. The effect is enough so that certain experiments "on" the ISS are actually set adrift on the end of a tether, so they won't be affected by this. As regards the old Von Braun idea of assembling interplanetary vehicles in a convenient permanent rendezvous, refuelling them and sending them to the Moon, Mars etc., the Apollo and Gemini programs showed conclusively that space docking could be done anywhere, even Lunar orbit. And the Mir programme showed the dangers of docking to a big, lumbering structure in case anything went awry. Any vessel returning to Earth from, say, the Moon will be travelling at pretty much Escape Velocity, that is, about 25,000 KPH. This is because it's "falling from an infinite height", or as near as makes no odds. The Apollo capsules came in like bats out of hell, far faster than any previous re-entries for this very reason. It makes more sense to carry X kg of extra mass to re-enter, than 5X Kg or more of fuel to slow down to Low Earth Orbital speeds to rendezvous with a space station, then re-enter using another vehicle.

I always knew that it was more expensive to send a man to do a robot's job, but always believed that the flexibility of a human being more than made up for it in many missions. But that was before I worked on FedSat, where I found out how much autonomy we could be giving to various small, cheap satellites. The cost differential (robot vs manned) is somewhere between a factor of 10 and 100. So we shouldn't be comparing the benefits of 1 manned mission vs 1 robotic mission, we should be comparing 1 manned mission with possibly 60 or 100 robotic ones.

I repeat; if Science is the only justification, then anything a man can do, 50 or 100 robots can do better.

I've personally never been impressed with the "because it's there" argument for exploration. Nor the old saw about "Name one thing a Man can do that a Robot can't : Plant a Flag". If only because an early Lunik did exactly that, some 10 years before Apollo 11.
U.S. Rejects any Flag Planting as Legal Claim to Rule Moon, N.Y. Times, Sept. 14, 1959, 15 I, at 1, col. 8, 16, col. 3;


But Robots aren't sexy. The old saw went "No Bucks, No Buck Rogers", but the converse is more true: "No Buck Rogers, No Bucks." The incremental cost of the Apollo 13 mission (according to the Artemis Project) was about US $375 Million. Compare that with the international box-office receipts of the film "Apollo 13", US $ 334 Million.

Experts agree that most of the technology for a manned trip to the Red Planet is already available. The mission would be long, costly and not achieve much other than to plant a flag and do science that could in any cast be mostly duplicated by robots.

But it would still breathe life back into the space dream, the vision of man carving out his destiny in the cosmos.

"The future of man in space is a matter of political will as well as science," said Sims. "A mission to Mars needs the kind of will that (former US President John F.) Kennedy brought to the Apollo programme."
- From "Annus horribilis for space exploration?".

So there's a very practical reason to continue manned missions : because there's funding for it.

From an ethical viewpoint, that sucks as a reason. There is, however, a far better one. The one Scientific experiment thata robot cannot perform, and a human can, is "How do Humans fare in Space?". Because we are stuck on one small, fragile chunk of rock at the moment. One passing comet or chunk of rock in the wrong place at the wrong time, and we're merely a blip on the fossil record. If we wish to preserve Earth's biodiversity (and incidentally our own skins), we must spread out a bit. In the short term, have several self-sustaining arcologies/ecologies throughout the solar system. In the long term, no Star lasts forever, and the Sun is more variable than most of its ilk. Within the timescale that Evolution starts to operate, and H.Sapiens becomes something else, we should have spread ourselves a bit wider. Assuming we'd be prepared to take 99% losses, we could probably rig up some interstellar colonisation vessels within the next century, and no need for a hyper-drive or doubletalk-generator, just a self-sustaining self-contained ecology that can make a trip of a few tens of thousands of years. If we really went at it, storing all the anti-matter that's currently wasted at CERN and other supercolliders, and built a few thousand more of them, then maybe we could so it in thousands rather than tens of thousands.

Now this isn't feasible - we'd have to vastly increase the world's power output and store it for centuries just to get something to a decent fraction of lightspeed - say 1/1000 of it. But given a few thousand years, who knows what we'll be capable of? But only if we take the first steps. It doesn't have to be now, it doesn't have to be us. Someone will do it. The point is, is our culture worth preserving, or will the future belong to other people and other societies - people who have got their act together, but who may not have quite the same regard for individual human rights that we do ?

From the long-range nebulous future, to the hard realities of the present. The 1960's aircraft with 1970's avionics that is the Shuttle needs mending with a new one, ie replacing. It's too expensive and with too few airframes to fly as anything other than as an experimental aircraft. We need not tens of flights, we need hundreds, not to transport anything, but to get the reliability up to something approaching commercial air standards.

It's also a hybrid - it transports people, but also is a moderate-weight high-volume lifter. The replacement should be a combination of a heavyweight lifter in the Energia/Saturn class, plus a smaller vehicle specialised in transporting people around the joint. Whether this vehicle should be re-useable or disposable is another matter, as is whether it should be winged or ballistic. But it should be flown often enough so that the reliability can exceed that of the Shuttle and Soyuz - which is at best, 98%. Either way, more astronauts will die, that's not avoidable. But at the end of it we'll have a true Space Transportation System that's as reliable as, say, a DC-3.


Monday, 25 August 2003

The Ultimate Brain Site

All your Cerebral Culinary needs, from Brains4Zombies.com

Per Ardua

...ad Astra. From Space Daily :
Twenty-one people died in the explosion of a satellite launch rocket at Brazil's Alcantara space center near here, aeronautics officials confirmed Saturday.

The prototype launch vehicle was being prepared for Monday's launch into orbit of two Brazilian observation satellites when it exploded Friday, incinerating the bodies of the victims and destroying the satellites and launch pad.
...
The explosion was triggered when one of the rocket's four main thrust engines was unintentionally fired up. The 36-meter(118-foot) platform where the technicians were working disintegrated, officials said.
Defense Ministry sources said no injuries were reported. Everyone who had been working on the platform died in the sudden blast.

Almost all the dead were technicians from Sao Joao dos Campos, a city in the state of Sao Paulo which houses a number of aerospace companies.

The technicians were putting in place the final details relating to Monday's scheduled rocket launch.
Dulce et Decorum est, Pro Astra Mori. My sympathies to the families.

Dilbertesque Management

From the RISKS Digest :
"Some customers learn from experience," reports John Schwartz of The Times, paraphrasing Don DeMarco, vice president for business continuity & recovery services at IBM, `but seem to learn the wrong lesson.' He described a corporate client that survived a major flood with the help of his company's disaster recovery services, and then declined to renew its contract for the following year.

Mr. DeMarco said he was aghast. "Are you kidding?" he recalled asking. "We just saved your company."

The client, however, was unmoved. "We're in a hundred-year flood zone," Mr. DeMarco recalled him saying, "and it just happened."

Political Prisoners

I realise that to many readers, the story of how a right-wing politician got 3 years in pokey in far-off Australia isn't of great worth and moment. But it's my country, and it's important to me.

From the ABC :
Federal Liberal MP Bronwyn Bishop has described jailed One Nation founder Pauline Hanson as a political prisoner.

Mrs Bishop says Hanson has been jailed for three years because of differences in electoral laws between the Commonwealth, where her party was properly registered, and in Queensland, where it was not.

She says the Electoral Commission accepted the registration and has described her jailing as a political act.

"The bottom line is there are a lot of people who didn't like what she said - I'm one of them, I didn't like a lot of what she said, in fact most of the things she said," Mrs Bishop said.

"But the important point is this: this is a free country. There's freedom of speech and we now have someone who's a political prisoner and I find that totally and utterly unacceptable."

The text of the Full Judgement (pdf) is also interesting. Not for what it says, but for what it doesn't say. Now IANAL (I Am Not A Lawyer), but I have read an awful (accent on the awful) lot of reports of cases in my career.

In sentencing, in many jurisdictions here in Oz, the judge has to say what matters have been considered in coming to the judgement. If they miss out anything that they should have considered, the way is left open for an appeal ( which may or may not be successful). At least, that's what appears to be the case in many courts, from this layman's view. Remember, IANAL.

The usual formula is something like this:
I have considered the fact that this is your first offense. I have considered the affirmations of your Good Chararacter by the Pope, the Dalai Lama, the Prime Minister, and the Head of the UN. I have considered your 12 starving children and wife, to whom you are the sole care-giver, and your aged parents, who depend on your income for their medical expenses. I have considered your complete co-operation with the Police, your early plea of guilty, and your expressions of remorse. I have examined whether a non-custodial sentence would be appropriate, given the Council for the Defence's contention that since the recent amputation of both your legs, you would be unable to exceed the speed limit on your bicycle by 3 miles per hour and thus re-offend. I have taken into account the Defence's contention that the forty-nine other cases of similar conduct involving bicycles since 1900 resulted in a maximum penalty of a ten dollar fine. I have considered the Prosecution's contention that a single case in 1348 of "furious Driving" of a runaway horse resulted in the miscreant being imprisoned in the Tower of London for three years, and have followed this case. I am pursuaded that your offense is in the most serious category, and sentence should serve as a deterrent. I therefore sentence you to two years in prison.
It's perfectly OK to completely ignore mitigating circumstances, and to neglect anything the Defence says, slavishly following the Prosecution's every word, no matter how outrageous. But you have to at least say in the judgement that you've considered these issues, even if you obviously ignored them as being irrelevant. There's no sign in the judgement that any possibility of a non-custodial sentence crossed Chief Justice Patsy Wolfe's mind, nor indeed that any words regarding mitigating facts from the Defence were spoken.

It seems odd that a judge of Patsy Wolfe's calibre should make such an elementary error, and hand down such an obviously grotesque sentence. Still, IANAL, and the jurisdiction is Queensland, where they do things rather differently - this may not be an error at all in that jurisdiction. I say again, IANAL, and especially not a Queensland Lawyer. But just maybe it's not inadvertant, and she's neither the Government's Wolf, nor the Government's Patsy.

Sunday, 24 August 2003

For those who wear the Dolphins

Submariners are a special breed, known for their shyness and modesty. With that in mind, I present a quote from Up Periscope :
In the beginning was the word. And the word was God and all else was darkness and void and without form. So God created the heavens and the earth. He created the sun and the moon and the stars, so that the light might pierce the darkness. And the earth, God divided between the land and the sea, and these he filled with many assorted creatures.

And the dark salty slimy creatures that inhabited the seashore God called Royal Marines, and dressed them accordingly and the flighty creatures of the air he called WAFUs and these he clothed in uniforms which were ruffled and foul. And the lower creatures of the sea God called Skimmers. And with a twinkle in his eye and a sense of humour that only he could have God gave them big grey targets to go to sea on. He gave them many splendid uniforms to wear, he gave them many wonderful and exotic places to visit, he gave them pen and paper so they could write home every week, he gave them make and mends at sea and he gave them a laundry to keep their splendid uniforms clean; When you are God you tend to get carried away.

And on the 7th day as you know God rested and on the 8th day at 0700 God looked down upon the earth and God was not a happy man. So he thought about his labours and in his infinite wisdom God created a divine creature and this he called a Submariner. And these Submariners whom God had created in his own image were to be of the deep and to them he gave a white woolly jumper, he gave them black steel messengers of death to roam the depths of the sea waging war against the forces of satin and evil. He gave them hotel rooms when they were weary from doing Gods will. He gave them subsistence so that they might entertain the ladies on Saturday nights and impress the hell out of the creatures called Skimmers.

And at the end of the 8th day God looked down upon the earth and saw all was good but still God was not happy because in the course of his labours he had forgotten one thing, he did not have a Submariners white woolly jumper but he thought about it and finally satisfied himself knowing that not just anybody can be a SUBMARINER.
BTw if you visit the site, be warned: the humour is nearly all very VERY Un-PC. Submariners are a dirty bunch, and Aussie Submariners are in a class of their own. (They have to be, after a 3-month patrol no-one can go near 'em without a full Chemical Warfare suit).

Friday, 22 August 2003

Crock of ...

Too tired to comment. Let's just say that Many a True Word is spoken in Jest.

Oh yes, and Salties (Salt-water crocodiles) figure prominently in our plans to defend Northern Australia. Cheaper and far more effective than minefields. Several Japanese recon teams were landed in the Northern Territory and Western Australia from subs during WW2. We only found out about them when some remains were discovered - of the lucky ones, who'd died of thirst rather than being eaten before they got inland.

Salties don't get very big :
The worlds largest reptile the "Salty" has a broad "stubby" snout with cone shaped teeth.

Its average length is 4 meters but males 6 to 7 meters have been reported.
That's what, not even 24 feet long, and only 13 feet on average.

The Australian Street

This is going to be short, as tonight I'm feeling shattered.

Up at the crack of dawn ( it was raining, HOORAY! We're still under tight water restrictions ) to catch the first direct flight from Canberra to Brisbane. Flight delayed due to weather. Then boarding a 737-800 (with the neat winglets), and a 170 KPH tailwind got us in only half-an-hour late. Back again on the last flight from Brisbane, this time a BAE-146, which cruises at 700 KPH rather than 850, and fighting a headwind, so we got in late after over 2 hours in the air. Just ahead of the Fog - landed on a clear runway, but during taxiing, the fog rolled in and visibility went down to 20 metres. Still, we need all the moisture we can get - rain, fog, snow, anything. Very much Deja Vu all over again, reminds me of February, only then it was smoke choking the city, not a nice, cool fog.

Anyway, on to the meat of the article. When I was in Brisbane, I had to take a $50 taxi ride to my final destination. The driver was a Marionite Christian from Syria, who had come here 25 years ago. We got to talking about the Hanson Affair. I've always found Taxi drivers to be a good source of info on what people are thinking. They listen to their passengers haranguing them about the issues of the day (they've no choice), and then broadcast what they've heard to anyone who will listen.

The conclusion : that the whole business stinks.

Then after a long and gruelling session of consulting (mainly giving bad news to the customer, who'd suspected all along that things were going pear-shaped but wanted an expert opinion), back again to the airport. This time, the Driver was a One Nation supporter - but like most such, was less than clueful. He didn't know, for example, that Ms Hansen had paid the money back long ago, and that the only reason she got it was because of the half-million votes she got at the election. The subsidy is just over a dollar a vote, but can only be given to properly registered parties. As the party wasn't properly registered due to a technicality, the money had to go back into the Government coffers. But to imprison someone for 3 years for this, and essentially in "Solitary Confinement" for her own protection, that's so completely Over The Top that heads will roll. Probably starting with the Judge who handed down the sentence.

This story won't go away.

Unlike me, who's totally exhausted. I've still got a pile of e-mails to answer, a report to write, and a Master's course to work on. But not tonight, too exhausted.

G'day

..to all my visitors from Plastic.com

The comparison you're looking for is below. None of the weapons shown are actually RPG-7s, but they are Anti-Tank weapons similar to types used in Iraq. They are also taken from much closer than the actual range, and should be far easier to differentiate from a camera. The actual view of the soldiers would be more like this one ( which is of an RPG-7 being aimed at you).

I wish to emphasise the animation merely mirrors the original graphic, at Spartacus. For some reason, the originator hasn't received credit, while a mere publicist (myself) is receiving large quantities of traffic. There Ain't No Justice.

I invite you to have a look at the archives. There's some interesting stuff, Brain-Twisters, articles about Cyborgs, "Blue Suede Shoes" in Klingon, and the Chinese Space Program. Have fun.

Thursday, 21 August 2003

Welfare for Agribusiness

"To those that hath, shall be given".

As a special favour to my many US readers, I just thought you'd like to know why you have to pay so much for food.

From the New Republic :
Agricultural protectionism--the combination of quotas, tariffs, and subsidies for farm products--may be the purest example of destructive special-interest politics ever created. Rich countries--with a few exceptions, such as Australia--burden their own populations three times over. The policies cost taxpayers directly--the atrocious 2002 U.S. farm bill is slated to cost $180 billion over ten years. (Worse, annual unbudgeted "emergency" farm spending during the late 1990s accounted for a great deal of the spending boom that squandered much of the predicted budget surplus long before the first Bush tax cut took effect.) In return for their largesse, taxpayers get the privilege of paying higher prices as consumers (and, of course, inflated prices for basic foodstuffs hit the poorest proportionately hardest). And, by locking up an excess of labor and capital in an agribusiness sector that couldn't turn an honest profit on its own, agricultural protectionism inhibits productivity growth, preventing shifts in employment and investment to more productive parts of the economy.

Still, the costs agricultural policies impose on their own societies are manageable in the huge economies of the developed world. The costs they impose on the rest of the world are often devastating. By shutting off access to developed countries' markets for the goods that developing countries are most likely to produce competitively, agricultural protectionism forecloses the most likely route to development and poverty alleviation. Moreover, the artificially high prices in the rich countries encourage overproduction there; the surplus gets exported at cut-rate prices, which not only makes it hard for developing countries to compete in export markets, it typically makes poor farmers uncompetitive in their home markets as well. And as farms go out of business, unemployed and underemployed farmers migrate to sprawling cities; but often there aren't many jobs available in the cities, either. (The next rung up the development ladder after agriculture is typically textiles, which is also the subject of massive protectionism.) In the end, the damage done to poor countries by the agricultural policies of the United States, the European Union, and Japan probably far outweighs the aid they gives those countries.
That's not quite fair : Japan does put on a 50% tariff on most imported food, and gives huge subsidies to local farmers, but they never have significant surplusses to export, and it's the dumping of food at way-below-cost-price that does the damage. South Korea's just as bad. The US, although it doesn't give very much Government-funded Foreign Aid in relative terms, gives a lot in absolute terms, and vastly more through private donations.

But yes, the US and EU have indirectly killed 10's of millions of people by their agricultural policies, as has been mentioned before. The quote above tells you exactly what the mechanism is.

Some figures from the good old CIA Factbook : US Workforce - 141.8 million. Percentage in Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing : 2.4%. So let's be generous, and assume there are 180 million taxpayers.

<sarcasm>Isn't it nice to know what $100 per year of your tax money gets spent on? To give (at most) 4 million fellow-Americans a measly extra forty thousand bucks? Hey, you only have to pay 3 times the world price for luxuries like Sugar as the result. You should feel honoured.

Who says the USA doesn't have a Welfare state? I mean, not every American farmer is a miillionaire. Yet.</sarcasm>

If you want to change this state of affairs, you know what to do. You have a power that much of the world doesn't. A power you've helped give to others. Write to your Congresscritter, and vote accordingly.

Oh by the way, if you live in Europe, you're paying twice as much.