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

Circle II Whirling in a Dark & Stormy Wind

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

Circle IV Rolling Weights

Post Modernists
Circle V Stuck in Mud, Mangled

River Styx

John Pilger
Circle VI Buried for Eternity

River Phlegyas

Circle VII Burning Sands

Jamia Islamia
Circle IIX Immersed in Excrement

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

Per Ardua 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 all my visitors from

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.

Wednesday 20 August 2003

Hate is not the Answer

After seeing a picture of that grinning slob, gun in one hand and Koran in the other, who blew up all of those toddlers, I had to do something as catharsis. The other picture, of paramedics desperately and unsuccessfully trying to resuscitate a preschooler caused me to completely lose my objectivity. It wasn't despair at Human folly, it was hot, raw rage. Please go and read my piece in The Command Post. And I'll try to follow my own advice.

A Fate Worse Than Death

From the Sydney Morning Herald :
People suspected of posing a threat to Australia's security could have their telephone and internet services cut off under new laws before Parliament.
But if you think Terrorists are going to have it tough, don't try forming a populist Political Party. The Australian Political Establishment never forgives and never forgets. Case in point : the recent conviction and jailing of two people who had the effrontery to form a far-right political party that at one time posed a real threat to the mainstream.

I happen to oppose this group, not everything they stand for, but most of it. Much (though not all) of their membership I consider to be racist scumbags. Most of the rest I think are just terminally chauvinist and ignorant.

But the prosecutions always did have the signs of being a politically-inspired Witch-hunt. From the ABC :
Former One Nation director David Oldfield says Hanson and Ettridge are paying a very high price for what he believes was a simple mistake.

"They did not receive a penny personally in any way for this having occurred, so I think it's all a bit harsh given those circumstances," he said.
Just a bit. With no non-parole period recommended, they'll probably have to serve the full term. Armed robbers get less. You get 6 months more for manslaughter. It's what an MP gets for blatant and intentional bribery and corruption.
The vice president of One Nation in Western Australia, Brian McRae, says the party is devastated.

He says he does not believe the convictions will bring the party into disrepute.

"Generally most people realise it's a political witchhunt, people who aren't even in the party," he said.
Even people like myself who would gladly see the Party dead and buried. But not like this.
Before the sentence was handed down, Queensland Premier Peter Beattie said the verdict would not spell the end of One Nation.

He says Hanson may now become a martyr.

"There will be people who will see her as being martyred," he said.

"I just say to all those people who think that way that this process has been followed in accordance with the law, there has been no political interference, this has been due process."
<sarcasm>Yeah, Right, Pete.</sarcasm>
Leader Bill Flynn disagrees with the verdict but says it is not the end of the party.

"I'm not going to go into conspiracy theories, we think there was a weight of opinion in certain areas of influence to make sure that this happened," he said.
...which is about the only area of agreement I have with the man.
The Queensland National Party leader, Lawrence Springborg, says no-one should take pleasure from the Hanson verdict.

"The jury has made this decision, I don't think anyone should gloat over it and I believe it's now time to move on," he said.
Easy for him to say: he wasn't given 3 years for what was a technical breach of the electoral laws. No, the convictions might be Kosher, but the sentences stink to high heaven.

The Full Story of Pauline Hanson makes interesting reading. But it all comes down to a technical infraction of the rules. Even the prosecutors admitted that. From the Brisbane Courier-Mail
In the District Court in Brisbane, solicitor Chris Nyst was addressing the jury in a fraud case against Pauline Lee Hanson.

The Crown has alleged Hanson and David William Ettridge fraudulently registered One Nation by using the names of 500 people who were members of a supporters group and not the party.
Mr Nyst said the trial was not about "if One Nation were a mob of dopes who knew nothing about running a party". He said there were two clear organisations - a supporters group and a political party - and while it may not have pleased a legal draftsman it was the way the party chose to establish itself.
Pauline Hanson's Legal Qualifications and usual occupation? None, and Fish Shop Proprietor, respectively. "Mob of Dopes" seems perfectly appropriate in describing all aspects of the party, its (dis)organisation and leadership.

I repeat: the sentences - unlike her Fish, but like her party's policies - stink.

Tuesday 19 August 2003

The Quick and the Dead

From The Australian :
US troops have admitted shooting dead an award-winning Reuters cameraman while he was filming near a US-run prison on the outskirts of Baghdad.

Witnesses said US soldiers on a tank shot Mazen Dana, 43, as he filmed outside Abu Ghraib prison in western Baghdad yesterday. The prison had earlier come under a mortar attack.

Moments before being shot, Dana told a colleague that working close to the US military was not a problem "as long as they don't shoot me".

His last pictures show a US tank driving towards him outside the prison walls. Several shots ring out from the tank, and Dana's camera falls to the ground. The US military acknowledged its troops had "engaged" the Reuters cameraman, saying they thought his camera was a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.

"Army soldiers engaged an individual they thought was aiming an RPG at them. It turned out to be a Reuters cameraman," a spokesman for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in Washington yesterday.
OK, look at the picture to the left. Which ones are Anti-Tank Missile Launchers and which ones are Cameras? Remember, the pass mark is 100%.
(Animation courtesy of Spartacus - reload to restart)

Books and DVDs from

As seen on that excellent Blog, Silent Running, may I present this hilarious selection.

Idi Amin - The Last Word

From an article in the Sydney Morning Herald :
Allan Hogan recalls interviewing the murderous former dictator of Uganda, who was buried in Saudi Arabia on Saturday.

I met Idi Amin in 1975 when I travelled to Uganda with cameraman David Brill on assignment for ABC's Four Corners. By then Amin had appointed himself "president for life", and his murderous regime had been responsible for the deaths of up to 300,000 people.

Our arrival followed on the heels of a French documentary team who had made Amin the laughing stock of Europe.

One hilarious scene in the French film showed him talking to the animals, like Dr Doolittle, as he cruised the shores of Lake Victoria in the presidential barge. Another scene showed him presiding over a cabinet meeting in which one minister appeared to question a presidential decision. The minister's body was found floating in the river the next day.

A short, portly Englishman sporting a New Zealand rugby tie met us on arrival at Entebbe airport. He was Bob Astles, described by one of Amin's biographers as the tyrant's "professional lapdog".

We were the first Western journalists to visit Uganda since the French crew (Amin had expelled the rest), and Astles warned us that a death sentence had been handed down against them, in absentia.

After our first night in Kampala we were met by Astles to begin our guided tour. When I reported I had not been able to call Sydney from my hotel room he said that he was aware of my problem.

"We executed the telephonist this morning. We don't like that kind of incompetence."

Weird Wide Web

From The Australian :
A Cambodian teenager suffocated when a fish he caught jumped out of his hands and lodged in his throat, newspapers reported today.

Lim Vanthan, 17, and his family were planting rice at the weekend near their home on the outskirts of the impoverished South-East Asian nation's capital, when they decided to go for a swim.

During his dip, Lim Vanthan caught a prized 20 cm fish, called kantrob in Cambodian, with his hands.

But the high school student's excitement was short-lived when his catch squirmed out of his hands and jumped into his mouth, where it became stuck because of barbs running down its back.

More Fun with your Central Nervous System

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin.* ( .wav file)

First, I want you to stretch your right arm in front of you. No need to overdo it, just put it up as if about to execute a dive.

Now rotate it clockwise, as if drawing a big letter 'O' in the air.

Then, stretch your left foot in front of you, and rotate it anti-clockwise.

This should be quite easy. With me so far? OK, put your left foot down, and stop rotating your right arm.

Now, put out your right foot, and rotate it anti-clockwise, just like you did with your left foot.

Finally, put out your right arm (if you'd put it down) and rotate it clockwise, just like you did before.

Watch what happens to your right foot.

For an explanation of this interesting effect, see The Volokh Conspiracy. (BTW it doesn't always work with me, as I've had CNS damage due to encephalo-meningitis, and my circuitry's abnormal as the result. )

* - From "Listen With Mother", a UK radio show you have to be antedeluvian (like me) to remember.

Monday 18 August 2003

Courage, Plasma, and Lasers

Today I was honoured to meet and shake hands with probably the Bravest person I've ever met. Mrs Peggy Marguerite Chang Diaz. Memorable quote :
I have all the worry, He has all the fun
Oh yes, I also got to meet her husband, Dr Franklin Chiang Diaz (veteran of 7 Shuttle missions) too. (BTW he looks about 30, and wears braces.. Not many people know that)

Dr Chiang Diaz is currently visiting the Australian National University, pursuing what seems to be a favourite topic of his : Plasma Rocketry. He described the specific impulse of such engines as being in "the thousands", compared with the 200-300 of current rockets.

Also there at the presentation was Dr Ben Greene, CEO of "the most interesting company in Queanbeyan", Electro Optic Systems, otherwise known around here as "Lasers R Us". Apart from doing a lot of highly classified Defence work, they've got a laser tracker that can get the position of any piece of space junk to an accuracy of a millimetre. Their more powerful lasers can also be used to zap a few microns of surface off of a spent satellite (or whatever) in LEO and push it into a decaying orbit. He reckons the problem of "space junk" will be licked, starting in about a decade.

From the ABC Radio National Science Week Site :
Monday 18, 6pm'Space Business' - Richard Aedy from The Buzz on Radio National hosts a discussion with NASA Astronaut Dr Franklin Chang-Diaz. Royal Theatre at the National Convention centre, Canberra.
Broadcast on Radio National on Monday August 25 at 1.05pm (AEST)
That's Sunday at about 6-9pm in the US, and Monday 3am in the UK. A transcript and streaming audio will be available on the web.

Sunday 17 August 2003

Weird Wide Web

Dial-The-Truth Ministries reveals the dreadful truth about.... Santa Claus. Saint Nick or Old Nick?

The Blenderphone. Every home should have at least one.

And a true treasure. Most people know of the Easter Eggs inside some software. (And if you don't, just go to any of the Easter Egg archives).

But I only recently found that Hardware engineers have often buried secret little artworks, etched in miniature on chips. Examples include "a Pac-Man gobbling the initials GAAS (gallium arsenide) on a TEMIC Semiconductors silicon-germanium radio frequency integrated circuit.". A collection of these delightful images, often the size of a pin-head, is in the Silicon Zoo.

(This one for Computer Geeks and Bloggers only). Microsoft's next extension to HTML? The Mind Reading Markup Language. note Because it's not case-sensitive, it doesn't conform to the XML guidelines.

Canberra : Baghdad's Sister City?

From the ABC :
The ACT Government has announced it is exploring a possible sister city relationship between Canberra and Baghdad.

The local Iraqi community has written to the Government asking it to consider the relationship.

ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope has directed the Office of Multicultural Affairs to examine the prospect and a forum is being organised to discuss the links between the two cities.
Hell, why not. We're both at about 35 degrees latitude, similar climates. Canberra's a bit smaller than Baghdad, with only 300,000 people. But at the beginning of the year, we too faced a Disaster (scroll down to the Bushfires article), and we've got a water shortage too. Things are slowly getting better though.

Throwing the Book at them

From the Sydney Morning Herald :
German police detained 71 neo-Nazis during a march in memory of Adolf Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess in the Bavarian town where he was buried after his 1987 suicide.

Police said they deployed 1,000 officers to prevent trouble at the march, which drew 2,600 neo-Nazis to Wunsiedel.

Demonstrators were detained for displaying outlawed Nazi symbols like the swastika, or for carrying weapons such as knives, tear gas spray and a baseball bat, police spokesman Klaus Bernhardt said.

All 71 were released without charges by this evening,
That'll teach 'em.
About 400 people had rallied against the marchers in the north-eastern Bavarian town.
Thereby proving that, just as there are racist morons everywhere, there are some people with the courage to stand up to them.

Saturday 16 August 2003

New Blog on the Block

Evil Pundit of Doom. An brand-new OzBlog that does the same type of thing I do with my "Weird Wide Web" series, just a whole lot better.

No I'm not going to give up, I'm taking it as a challenge.

What are you reading this far for? Just pay him a visit.

"Highly Recommended"

Another Brain Short-Circuiter

This one, like the previous one, is to be found on Anton Feestra's "Confuse Your Brain" site. This time, it illustrates some processing glitches inherent in the design of the human Visual Cortex. Which should tell people who hold to the "argument by design" tenet of Creation "Science" something about either the sense of humour, or the fallibility of the Almighty. Personally, I'm an Agnostic who leans towards Theism, but consider the "Theory" of Evolution to be as well proven (and as ill-understood in the finer details) as the "Theory" of Gravity.

The lines are straight, but they're also parallel. Measure them and see. I did.

Death of a Monster

His Excellency President for Life Field Marshal Al Hadji Dr. Idi Amin, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular, has snuffed it.

From the Sydney Morning Herald
US President Jimmy Carter said events in Uganda during Amin's rule "disgusted the entire civilised world."

Ugandans initially welcomed Amin's rise to power, and his frequent taunting of Britain, former colonial ruler of much of Africa, often played well on the continent.

But his penchant for the cruel and extravagant became evident in 1972, when he expelled tens of thousands of Asians who had controlled the country's economy.

Suddenly deprived of its business class, the East African nation plummeted into economic chaos.

Amin declared himself president-for-life of his landlocked country of 24 million, awarded himself an array of medals and ran the country with an iron fist, killing real and imagined enemies.

Human rights groups say from 100,000 to 500,000 people were killed during his 8-year rule.

Bodies were dumped into the Nile River because graves couldn't be dug fast enough.
Hmmm.. what's the population of Zimbabwe? 12.5 million according to that invaluable resource, the CIA Factbook. Well Mugabe may have (has) gotten rid of the wealthy elite, and wrecked the economy. But his killings are in the dozens, hundreds at most. There are no TV pictures of rafts of corpses floating down the Zambesi, as there were from the Nile when Idi was in power. Robert Mugabe's cronies and relatives have "swallowed up" lots of the confiscated lands, but haven't actually eaten the erstwhile owners. At least, not yet.

So maybe the world is getting better. Actually, with the death of this man in the manner pretty much exactly as I wished for, it's definitely better.

Friday 15 August 2003

More on the ICCC

That is, the International Circus Clown Conspiracy.
"The UFO sitings over Iraq are actually mass hallucinations engineered by the Conspiracy of Circus Clowns to make Michael Moore and other enemies of the Cabal of Neo-Cons think they are not alone. In the ensuing paranoia, the Conspiracy of Circus Clowns and the Cabal of Neo-Cons plan to control the world. If you see UFOs, close your eyes - it's all a trick. Meanwhile, a special task force led by Indimedia is being set up to tackle the problem. "

This Customised Conspiracy was generated by the C.O.N.S.P.I.R.E Discovery site. and is a lot more plausible than much emanating from the BBC's Andrew "there are no Americans near the Airport" Gilligan recently.

More evidence of the International Conspiracy of Circus Clowns, (see the Protocols of the Elders of Barnum ), is in the deeply disturbing picture opposite. It was the controversial cover of the "Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction" for June, 1996 to illustrate the story "The Auschwitz Circus" by Matthew Wells. Art by Kent Bash.

Victims of the International Circus Clown conspiracy include :

Frank Loy, Under Secretary for Global Affairs at the State Department;

Keith Campbell, co-creator of Dolly the sheep,;

UK Labour politician Clare Short, Secretary of International Development

Ralph Nader, Green Party Icon;

And many others.
The attacks have taken place throughout the world, and claimed such illustrious victims as Microsoft's Bill Gates, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, former European Commission President Jacques Delors and Dutch Finance Minister Gerrit Zalm, who was last year felled by an organic banana pie at the opening of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange.
Yet still the Joey-controlled mass media won't report the pattern. Oh the Humanity!

Even More Useless Fact

Polar Bears are Left-Handed.

Not many people know that.

Factoid of the Week

Admiral Sir Reginald Aylmer Ranfurly Plunkett-Ernle-Ernle-Drax was the person entrusted by Chamberlain to forestall the signing of the Ribbentrop-Molotov non-aggression pact. Due partly to the fact that he took the SS Athenia to Leningrad, rather than one of those new-fangled aircraft, he arrived too late.

Later, Admiral Drax published an article entitled "World War III : Some Pros and Cons" .

Not many people know that.

An excellent source of such useless knowledge (though with a paranormal tinge) is Did You Know? Useless information for your brain!.

Unnacountably it doesn't include the above information.

Talking about Paranormality, the Global Consciousness Project is worth a visit.
It appears that consciousness may sometimes produce something that resembles, at least metaphorically, a nonlocal field of meaningful information.
What does it all mean? Essentially, the project attempts to investigate "Large Disturbances in the Force", and may well have found significant evidence for their existence. It's "fringe science", but unlike most such, Science nonetheless.

Thursday 14 August 2003

Index of Archives

I've been getting a lot of first-time visitors recently, so here's some of the goodies to be found in the archives.

The Protocols of the Elders of Barnum - The Secret Plans of the Circus Clowns revealed.

Brain short-circuit Demonstration which shows how your speech centre can get confused by conflicting signals.

Australian Political Ecology which explains why John Howard is a Liberal, but not a Democrat, while Senator Lees is both a Democrat and a Republican.

Plus the song "YMCA" in Klingon, a Plush Cthulhu in a Santa suit, and a Banana Factory.

And that was just last week.

Also articles on Space, Cyborgs, Fisking the BBC, and Why you can't tickle yourself.

Greetings everyone who's come to this site via The Command Post.

Latest news from Australia : Scientists have found a compound that might explain why Australians (with their high level of meat consumption) are not just world-beaters at Sport, but are highly intelligent.**
The dietary supplement creatine - known to improve athletic performance - can also boost memory and intelligence, researchers claim.
It might also explain some other Australian habits. Like taking showers multiple times a day.
The supplement is also notorious for creating an unpleasant odour in the vicinity of the taker.

** - not to mention modest.

Wednesday 13 August 2003

Four Views of Canberra

The good folks of ACTEW-AGL have put up a webcam showing 4 views of Canberra, the place that I live in. Of course, you've got to remember the time zone shift, so if it's daylight where you are, it's probably night here. But you can see any picture in the last 24 hours.

If you're interested in the joint - it's Australia's equivalent of Washington DC, go take a look at the Canberra Tourism site. Some of the Desktop images are truly breathtaking - though not as good as the real thing.

Another view of course is that Canberra is "A good sheep station, spoilt".

The most complete review of the place is the one at LonelyPlanet. There are only a few things that it doesn't mention, that only a native knows.

1) At Dawn and Dusk you can watch the Roos and Wallabies cross the road and carpark near the Campbell Park Defence complex. In 20 years, we've only had Roos jumping around our front lawn twice.

2) There are Platypi (as in "Duck-Billed") in Cotter Dam.

3) A mate of mine who's of Ngunawal ancestry tells me that the translation of "Kumburra" as "Meeting Place" isn't quite right. "Arena" or "Battleground" is closer; it's where the local tribes met when they had to "settle their differences" , by engaging in open warfare.

IT Outsourcing redux

An Infinite Number of Monkeys.

Weird Wide Web

An aerial photo of the house I was born in.

Tuesday 12 August 2003

Programming and the Law

No, this isn't about the latest silliness of the RIAA, or other people trying deperately to defend an obsolete business model in the courts. In fact, it's nothing to do with Courts as such - it's to do with legislation.

In my Brilliant <word_definition value = "to go downhill without control">Career</word_definition>, I've seen and done a lot of things. I've worked on systems for Printers, Small Businesses, in Veterans' Healthcare, Better Ways to Kill People, Spaceflight Avionics and Legal publishing. As a Systems Analyst, I've had to absorb the basics of all these "Problem Domains". I'm not a Doctor - but know about Ankylosing Spondylitis and Rickettsia Rickettsii from perusing data on Veterans Health. I'm not a Lawyer - but unlike most Lawyers, I've had to read every single reported case in every Supreme Court in every State of Australia from 1996 to 2000. And a lot of the legislation enacted over that period too.

Which leads me to a post from
Don't just sit there waiting for disaster to strike, says the lawyer. Think about it beforehand. Take precautions beforehand, with the magic of paper, that can clarify, now, what needs to be done, now, thereby preventing catastrophe in the future. So what if most people don't read it? The people directly instructed to behave themselves better, in such a way that catastrophe is averted, they'll read it. That's sufficient.
As you can see, this involves going beyond merely foreseeing disaster, to actually preventing it.
But isn't that what you would do if you spent your whole life imagining future catastrophes and trying to fix it so that if catastrophe did strike your clients would at least keep their skins in one piece? Wouldn't you, if you got a job where you were now expected to look at the bigger picture, then ask: well, can't we contrive more and better paper that would actually prevent these disasters?
So the laws and the regulations pile up, and the people agitating for them and writing them and voting for them all truly believe that they are doing us all a favour. That's what makes it all so dangerous. Bad people are relatively easy to stop. It's the good people you have to really look out for, if only because they are so much more numerous, and so much more persuasive.
...and much more besides. Go read the whole thing.

But what's really interesting is some of the comments;
I wonder are lawyers any good at programming?
Because thats exactly what "us" programmers do (predict mistakes and error paths).

<sarcasm>Of course computer code has got shorter over the years and less complex, so you can see we have been much more successful.</sarcasm>

Posted by: Rob Read on August 11, 2003 05:51 PM
(I inserted the "sarcasm" tags, as someone took him literally). Anyway, he's absolutely right. That's what "us programmers" do, to a great extent. And when you're dealing with Safety-Critical systems - things like avionics, where people's lives depend on the system - then it's 99% of your job. But the similarities don't stop there.
The code metaphor for law seems to work pretty well for me. From my experience (and that of others), as a body of code evolves over time, it becomes inflexible and spaghetti. Often, this is the result of fixing a specific problem in a specific case. Every so often, one or more pieces (often in tandem) needs to be ripped up and re-coded. Legal codes are huge bodies of code on which very little garbage collection has been performed.

Posted by: Dishman on August 11, 2003 11:21 PM
Exactly. What is a Law but a program?
IF you do this THEN you get thus-and-such a penalty. END IF

In fact, I was constantly struck by the extreme similarities between computer programming and the legislation my program was helping to publish. In programming, you have problems of "configuration management", that is, what's the latest-and-greatest code that works as opposed to what's still "under construction". And when do you publish rev 3.45, and what problems does it fix, and what problems are planned to be fixed in rev 3.46.

Legislation has exactly the same structure. Most legislation merely amends previous legislation, and comes into effect on a certain date. Before that date, the law says one thing, then magically, it says another. What was legal becomes illegal; what was illegal becomes legal. It's worse than that when you have the possibility of retrospective Legislation - that is, the question "Is this action legal" depends upon not just the date the action happened, but also when the question was asked. And sometimes the new law is defined to come into effect "2 weeks before the XYZ act comes into effect", so until that happens, you can't know what the law is. Or was. But I digress.

Australian Taxation legislation is so horrendously complex that I doubt that anyone understands it fully, and it must by its very nature be full of contradictions and inconsistencies. It's constantly being amended and fiddled with, so in order to know what taxes you should have paid 3 years ago, you sometimes have to wade through literally dozens of amendments.

Now Computer Programmers have managed, by making use of a formal set of symbols called a "Computer Language", with its own grammar, syntax and semantics, to ease their task. There are lots of languages, some highly Cryptic ( APL), some that are almost as bad to the uninitiated (C), yet others that flow like English ( Ada).

Warning!Don't follow the links in this paragraph if you're not a Computer Maven.
Some of these languages - such as the SPARK subset of Ada-83 and the RAVENSCAR subset of Ada-95 are "formally provable". You can always determine how the code will behave. In fact, with developments in xtUML you can actually "execute" the design model of the system.

But there is no "LawLan", no special, formally provable language for writing legislation. There's no way of writing a "Law Program" that you can execute under a variety of circumstances ("system tests") and see what it does. So we get unintended consequences, the Courts make rulings giving results that Parliament never intended. But sometimes they have to, because the Law is Inhuman - it's a Juggernaut that can crush the powerless and innocent unless tempered by some common Humanity and uncommon sense.

The Lawyer-cum-Information-Technologist who invents such a provable, verifiable law-language system - (and the person who manages to cajole the writers of Legislation into using it, and the Voting public to accept it) will be a candidate for sainthood, and will in all probability be martyred. But it's something we're going to need sooner or later.

Public Obnoxiousness

There are some people, often deranged, sometimes just Mean, who take delight in causing problems for others. And the Internet is a perfect vehicle for them.

Case in point : (I can't vouch for the accuracy of this address information, it may be forged in order to cause trouble)

Bill White
Attorney retired
P.O. Box 811335
Macy's Plaza
Los Angeles, California
Fax 509-277-8825
Voice Mail 509-277-8825

Mr White appears to have some moderately serious mental illness, rather than being an evil little twerp. I hope he gets some treatment for this, for his sake and for that of other people.

He's not short of money. He spends a large amount buying Internet domains in other people's names, then posting usually sexually explicit and always completely baseless malicious falsehoods about them. Fortunately, they're so blatant, they're easily disproved. Subtlety is not his forte. Whether he believes them himself is open to question - he may indeed merely be the sad victim of a rather spectacular case of Paranoia. That doesn't help those who have ever met him though, they're victims of his condition too.

His activities have been so obnoxious, he's even caught the attention of the LA Times. But according to Pacific Media Watch, stopping him is going to be hard, and he's already done untold damage.
Over the next few years, White obtained several personal computers, which he keeps in his apartment in downtown Los Angeles. He said he spent "lots of time" on his sites. Many of those sites include information about people that White apparently found while combing the Internet. "This is what is so nice about the Internet," he wrote. "You can do most of it without leaving your desk."
"I had no idea what he meant," said Smith-Christopher, a professor of theological studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. "Then two days later, another e-mail came. It said, 'Your Web page is up Daniel.' "

On the page -- the first of several to appear -- White alleged that Smith-Christopher had AIDS. Another page urged readers to send a contribution to a memorial fund for Smith-Christopher at Loyola Marymount.

Smith-Christopher said he doesn't have AIDS. He tried to have the sites removed, but finally gave up, he said, after discovering that one Web host company was in Pakistan.

Around the same time, Sir Peter Barter, a government minister in Papua New Guinea, heard of White's Internet campaign against Divine Word. Barter sent White e-mails telling him to stop.

White constructed several sites about Barter, including one that incorporated the logo of Barter's travel firm and urged prospective customers to boycott the business, which specializes in taking foreigners to Papua New Guinea.
Barter said he believes the sites cost him millions of dollars in lost business. In 2001, Barter traveled to Los Angeles in hopes of stopping White's Internet activity. Barter asked officials from the Los Angeles Archdiocese to sue White in civil court over the Web sites. The archdiocese declined, deciding that a suit would be "an exercise in futility," said a spokesman, Tod Tamberg.

And today, when Sir Peter Barter enters his name in a Google search, the first 10 sites found are usually Web sites created by Bill White.
There appears to be no quick end in sight. Anyone who's ever seen, met, been seen by,or otherwise come to the attention of Bill White is likely to be a victim, sooner or later.
White -- wearing a Cincinnati Bengals jacket and a button-down shirt -- refused to speak on the record about his activities. But in subsequent e-mails, he repeatedly expressed astonishment that The Times was focusing on him instead of on the alleged scandal he said he is trying to expose.

Then, five days after the meeting, White posted a web site about the reporter, followed soon by sites about two Times editors.

"I think I would give up eating to maintain my sites," White wrote when asked about his endgame. "Well, almost. Well, maybe I would eat less."
Poor Bill White is a victim of mental illness. Others don't have this excuse.
Catalina Hosting, based in Avalon on Catalina Island, now hosts the bulk of White's sites. A company employee said in an e-mail responding to an inquiry from The Times that the company has received complaints about White's sites but has chosen not to remove them.
"We are glad he has the time [to] spend his money with us," the employee said in the e-mail.
Interesting, given their Conditions of Service
The following are list of contents, behaviors, and links that are considered UNACCEPTABLE to Company and are subject to prosecution to the fullest extent of the law:
Sites that contain, promote, or are linked to topics such as nudity, pornography, adult content, sex, or foul language.
Sites that have been promoted through spamming or mail fraud schemes, or pages promoting the sending of unsolicited email.
Any infringement of copyright, trademark, patent, trade secret or other intellectual property rights.
Contents promoting to racism, or otherwise extremely offensive to others, including those which aggravates, harasses, threatens, or abuses others.

Oh yes, why am I making myself a target for him? Two reasons: I refuse to be terrorised, and besides which, from all accounts I'm one of the few Australians he hasn't targetted. Yet. That risk isn't noticeably increased by this article. If I'm not afraid of posting some rather anti-Islamofascist articles on The Command Post, I'll be damned if I'll fear some pathetic (as in, he deserves pity, not spite ) individual who just goes around telling fibs.

Satellite Tracking Spectacular

Ever wondered how many satellites there are orbitting Earth? Wonder what the pattern looks like? Well, go visit J-Track 3D at NASA. It only shows 500, not all of them, but the 3-D display is zoomable and rotatable. The "ring" at Geostationary orbit is quite pronounced, then within that there's the Cats-Cradle of GPS satellites, then finally the hundreds of satellites in LEO (Low Earth Orbit).

Sunday 10 August 2003

Project Pluto

It's said that Alfred Nobel, the Inventor of Dynamite, believed that it was so destructive that it might put and end to War.

History has shown that no weapon has been deemed "too destructive" for this. At least, no weapon that was actually built. There was one that was conceived though, and shown to be probably quite workable, before, in a fit of Sanity, it was closed down.

It was called Project Pluto.
Pluto's namesake was Roman mythology's ruler of the underworld -- seemingly an apt inspiration for a locomotive-size missile that would travel at near-treetop level at three times the speed of sound, tossing out hydrogen bombs as it roared overhead. Pluto's designers calculated that its shock wave alone might kill people on the ground. Then there was the problem of fallout. In addition to gamma and neutron radiation from the unshielded reactor, Pluto's nuclear ramjet would spew fission fragments out in its exhaust as it flew by. (One enterprising weaponeer had a plan to turn an obvious peace-time liability into a wartime asset: he suggested flying the radioactive rocket back and forth over the Soviet Union after it had dropped its bombs.)
I emphasise, by all accounts this thing would have worked as designed.

Which leads me to another Horror Story. This one fictional. I'm no great fan of the Horror genre, but this one chilled me to the bone. It's called "A Colder War by Charles Stross. Project Pluto gets a mention, yes, the one I described above, but that's in order to stop Something far, far worse. I consider it one of the best fictional works available on the web. Please go read it - but not if you're subject to Nightmares.

Scheduled Maintenance

Permalinks should work now - at least for the last 50 posts. Cross Fingers.

And a big "Hello" to all the readers from Biased BBC, The Command Post and Normblog. Hopefully now you can zoom directly to the article you wanted. If not - bung em a line and I'll see what I can do.

Saturday 9 August 2003

Ion Drive

"Voyage to Arcturus" has an interesting article on the European SMART-1 satellite that's taking the "Scenic Route" to the Moon. It's hitchhiking with some Geosynchronous Comsats into Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO), then getting off and making its way to the Moon using an Ion Drive.

The article is particularly interesting because the author (Jay Manifold) does some back-of-the-envelope calculations about the thrust required - and shows that there's plenty and to spare. The Maths is fairly simple, there's lots of links showing where he got the data from, what the equations are etc. All-in-all a very nice piece of work, that even the Mathematically-challenged can understand.

It takes a real Rocket Scientist to explain Rocket Science so that it isn't - er - Rocket Science.

Oh yes, one more thing :
All in all, it makes for a nice demonstration of a technology that will not only permit comsats to carry many more transponders, etc -- much of their mass today is taken up by conventional propellants for stationkeeping -- but also permit much larger payloads to be sent on interplanetary missions.
So the author sees the implications too. Damn, you get to read some good stuff on the Web.

Friday 8 August 2003

The Protocols of the Elders of Barnum

Something is rotten in the People's Republic of Berkeley. I used to have a lot of respect for the University therein - it was a hotbed of off-the-wall ideas, some quite dotty, some incredibly imaginative, some right, most gloriously wrong. I've actually collaborated in a small way with some of their researchers in the past - it's often been cutting-edge, or even beyond. But just like someone who OD's on "consciousness-expanding" chemicals and ends up murderously Psychotic, they're on the road that leads to irrational mysticism, denial of reality, the Year Zero and Auschwitz.

Exhibit A : From Ken Lane's Weird Files :
The wacky politicians of Berkeley, Calif. -- infamous for telling citizens what they can or cannot eat, drink and think -- have endorsed the bizarre Space Preservation Act. The maniacal legislation, introduced in the House of Representatives by crackpot Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), would forbid "mood management, or mind control of such persons or populations." Also on the no-no list are "exotic weapons systems" such as "chemtrails," the water-vapor exhaust of jet aircraft that conspiracy theorists believe to be an evil plot of some kind.
But that's just the Politicians pandering to the ignorant, isn't it? I mean, no-one actually believes that the "WASTE" on rubbish bins means "We Await Silent Tristero's Empire" do they? Well, maybe...

Exhibit B, : An academic paper, based upon some work that was totally debunked ages ago. From a Berkeley Law Student's blog about it :
The researchers conceded cases of left-wing ideologues, such as Stalin, Khrushchev or Castro, who, once in power, steadfastly resisted change, allegedly in the name of egalitarianism.

Yet, they noted that some of these figures might be considered politically conservative in the context of the systems that they defended. The researchers noted that Stalin, for example, was concerned about defending and preserving the existing Soviet system.
In many cases, including mass politics, 'liberal' traits may be liabilities, and being intolerant of ambiguity, high on the need for closure, or low in cognitive complexity might be associated with such generally valued characteristics as personal commitment and unwavering loyalty," the researchers wrote.
This intolerance of ambiguity can lead people to cling to the familiar, to arrive at premature conclusions, and to impose simplistic cliches and stereotypes, the researchers advised.

As opposed to such Progressive slogans as "It's all about Oil", "Bush stole the election", "Cowboy Texans", "Zionazis" etc.
<sarcasm>Nope, no simplifications, premature conclusions or stereotypes there.</sarcasm>. Think the post is distorted? No, the University of Berkeley openly boasts about this <sarcasm>fine Academic achievement.</sarcasm> Reagan = Hitler, Stalin and Castro, all conservatives.

Exhibit C1 : From the Wall Street Journal's OpinionJournal :
Berkeley students this week even demanded that the school chancellor stop investing university resources in companies like General Electric that do business with Israel a la the 1986 apartheid divestment.
Nothing wrong with that, that's just the expression of a particular political opinion, not irrational Anti-Semetism, isn't it? Well....

Exhibit C2 : From Little Green Footballs :
Dean of Letters and Sciences
University of California at Berkeley
Dear Sir,
I am writing to call your attention to an incident that occurred August 6, 2003 during the Iraqi Arabic (Arabic15) class, in which I am currently enrolled. The instructer, Abbas Kadhim, announced before the entire class during a discussion on Zionism that he believes that the infamous text "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" is not an anti-Semitic forgery but was in fact written by Jews.
"The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" was a forged text supposedly written by Jews. In it, the Jews describe a plan of achieving world domination. All reputable historians consider the document to be a forgery perpetrated by the Tsar's secret police.
I asked Mr. Kadhim if he was being serious about his claim. He assured me that he was one hundred percent certain in his belief that Jews were behind the "Protocols." By making such a statement, Mr. Kadhim spreads potentially dangerous anti-Semitic propaganda.
I say "propaganda" because for over a century the forgery was used to justify and encourage anti-Semitism to the point of killing Jews: The "Protocols" led to violent pogroms in Tsarist Russia, and Hitler incorporated much of the "Protocols" in his Mein Kampf to prepare the German public psychologically for the Final Solution.
I am disgusted that UC Berkeley is giving a forum to an ignorant, anti-Semitic, and prejudiced individual such as Mr. Khadhim to voice his views. I request that the University of California investigate the matter forthwith and dismiss Mr. Kadhim from its staff.
Susanna Klein
This is not a case where a Law Professor expresses an opinion in support of "Creation Science", nor a History Professor professing that the World is Flat. It's more similar to a Chemistry Professor teaching about Phlogiston, or a Professor of Neuroanatomy teaching about "Virtuous Humours" and against the Germ "Theory" of Disease.

With that in mind, don your Tinfoil helmets as I present selections from "The Protocols of the Elders of Barnum", possibly the next Political Science textbook at Berkeley, detailing the Proven facts about the Circus Clowns' Evil Domination of World Affairs.

1. ....Putting aside fine phrases we shall speak of the significance of each thought: by comparisons and deductions we shall throw light upon surrounding facts.
2. What I am about to set forth, then, is our system from the two points of view, that of ourselves and that of the GILLYS [i.e., non- Joeys].
8. Whether a State exhausts itself in its own convulsions, whether its internal discord brings it under the power of external foes - in any case it can be accounted irretrievable lost: IT IS IN OUR POWER. The despotism of the CIRCUS, which is entirely in our hands, reaches out to it a straw that the State, willy-nilly, must take hold of: if not - it goes to the bottom.

25. Far back in ancient times we were the first to cry among the masses of the people the words "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity," words many times repeated since these days by stupid poll- parrots who, from all sides around, flew down upon these baits and with them carried away the well-being of the world, true freedom of the individual, formerly so well guarded against the pressure of the mob. The would-be wise men of the GILLYS, the intellectuals, could not make anything out of the uttered words in their abstractedness; did not see that in nature there is no equality, cannot be freedom: that Nature herself has established inequality of minds, of characters, and capacities, just as immutably as she has established subordination to her laws: never stopped to think that the mob is a blind thing, that upstarts elected from among it to bear rule are, in regard to the political, the same blind men as the mob itself, that the adept, though he be a fool, can yet rule, whereas the non-adept, even if he were a genius, understands nothing in the political - to all those things the GILLYS paid no regard; yet all the time it was based upon these things that dynastic rule rested: the father passed on to the son a knowledge of the course of political affairs in such wise that none should know it but members of the dynasty and none could betray it to the governed. As time went on, the meaning of the dynastic transference of the true position of affairs in the political was lost, and this aided the success of our cause.

3. Do not suppose for a moment that these statements are empty words: think carefully of the successes we arranged for Darwinism, Marxism, Nietzsche-ism. To us Joeys, at any rate, it should be plain to see what a disintegrating importance these directives have had upon the minds of the GILLYS.

I'll end it there - <humour>I fear that one night there will be a knock at my door, and suddenly a custard-pie will come out of the night, as has frequently happened to those who exposed the secrets of the Circus Clowns.</humour>.

The "Protocols of the Elders of Barnum" have exactly the same degree of credibility as the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion". If this is what's being taught by people who the students have every right to expect know something about what they're saying, then Berkeley, as an Academic (as opposed to Psychiatric) Institution is dead. And that would be a tragedy, as it was the free-play of rational discourse that made it so valuable in the past.


Circus Lingo courtesy of TooClowns . Original Idea inspired by an old, sad joke.

Thursday 7 August 2003

Brain Short-Circuit Demonstration

Each of our brains is wired differently. I've recently found an intriguing demonstration of how there's interference between different parts of the brain. I'm slightly dyslexic, and I find the task almost impossible to perform correctly, and totally impossible to perform at anything like a normal speed.

The demonstration is quite simple. Look at the words below. Now read aloud the COLOUR of each word, not the word itself. So for the first word, you should say "Green". Try it - it's harder than it looks.

Wednesday 6 August 2003

Afton Hema

"The Evil that Men do lives after them; the Good is oft interred with their bones." - William Shakespeare

Let me take a break from punditocracy on the Deep and Meaningful events of the week.

I want to talk about a very ordinary - and a very extraordinary man. A good bloke who I will always remember having a dirty great big cheesy grin on his face. A Software Engineer who worked on Defence projects. A Rugby player. A Family man. A man who just dropped dead in the middle of a conversation at work on 31st July.

He'll never make the front pages of International Newspapers, unlike Uday and Osay.

Unlike Uday and Osay, he was a decent Human Being, neither a Saint nor Monster. Oh, but a Character. I'll never forget him being able to scrounge up a Rugby Training Machine one day on very short notice for the King of Tonga. A man of great integrity, friendly and possessed of a wry sense of humour.

I worked alongside him at Hollandse Signaalapparaten in Hengelo, the Netherlands for nearly a year, and for some time thereafter at HMAS Watson, the Royal Australian Naval base at Sydney's South Head. I'd lost touch with him, and was meaning to look him up. And now it's too late.

He lived, he did well by his family, and suddenly, before his friends had time to say goodbye, he's gone. And the world carries on, uncaring and without noticing.

... a very humble but highly principled man who simply did what was right and what he believed was his duty...
Yes, that describes him.

Unlike Uday and Osay, his legacy is a fine family, his son Tristan and daughter Crystal, who have requested donations to St. Vincent's Hospital in lieu of flowers. His legacy is also in the design of systems that have helped save people's lives, and have measureably increased the safety of Australians and others at home and overseas.

Unlike Uday and Osay, his death makes the world a poorer place in every sense.

Afton won't get a Headline in the world's press. But he will get this small memorial from a friend and colleague, and he'll always be remembered with affection by those who knew him. The Good he did lives after him, the Evil of Uday and Orsay is ended, finis.

So for once old Bill Shakespeare got it exactly wrong.

( In Memoriam : Afton Te'a Hema 5th March 1949 - 31st July 2003 )

The Australian Political Ecology

I've had numerous e-mails from people in the USA inquiring about the political system in Australia. While there are some good sites explaining the system on the web, here is an unshamedly biassed roundup of Australian political parties, past and present. I'm only counting parties that have had Federal members elected.

Australia Party : A party for Chardonay-swilling chattering-class liberals in the US sense. Extinct since the 70's, and missed by none. Their ecological niche has been filled by the Australian Democrats and Greens (see below).

Australian Democrats : Originally had the same "third force" role as the Liberal Party did in England. "We'll Keep the Bastards Honest" was their motto. Quite similar to certain branches of the US Democrats in phliosophy. Originally founded when a rather leftist member of the LIberal Party (see below) broke away (SPLITTERS!). Has lost a lot of its more radical members to the Greens, and has never been the same since the leader of the party resigned to join the ALP (Australian Labor Party - see below).

Australian Greens : They're Green. They're Australian. If they'd just discard their Superstitious and Luddite elements, they'd make enough sense for me to vote for them in preference to any other party. But then they'd no longer be Greens, would they? Often preys on the young of the National Party ( see below ). Main activity : hugging trees.

Australian Labor Party : "I belong to no organized party : I'm a Democrat" - so said Will Rogers, but he could equally be talking about the Australian Labor Party. (Interesting spelling, "Labour" is the way the word's usually spelt here. But it's been "Labor" since 1912). From Wikipedia :

The Labor party is infamous for its relativley visible and clearly institutionalised system of factions. These sub-groupings within the party only encompass a small fraction of the membership, but, through strong norms of loyalty, wield almost all of the power. The nature of the factions is constantly changing, and there are separate groupings within each State. Currently, the two largest factions are the Labor Right and the Socialist Left.
. Which is a bit out-of-date. Currently, there's the NSW Centre-Left, the Victorian Socialist Left, and God only knows what else. From the official ALP site :
Today factions are often based on common interest, personalities or regional interests. Not only do factions have names "Centre Left", "Socialist Left", "Labor Unity" etc they often have structures, regular meetings and even their own newsletters. They may even have membership fees. Factions may elect office holders and people to be negotiators with other groups. However frequently key faction operators hold positions of influence because of the standing they have in the broader Party.
Factions are not monolithic blocs of votes. Often within factions there are sub groupings. Indeed although there are three large national factions there are many sub groups. At the 1994 National Conference of the Labor Party there were 15 sub groups!
10 out of 10 for honesty, and about 45 RPM for spin. They've never met a Big Business they didn't like, nor a small business they did. Not dominated by the Unions (who have a block vote by the party's constitution), they deny that categorically. Basically Centrist Euro-Socialists.

Democratic Labor Party : Irish Catholic Fanatically Anti-Communist offshoots (SPLITTERS!) of the ALP, popular in the 50's and 60's. Extinct since the late 70's, the population never having recovered from having their leader "nobbled" by the ALP appointing him ambassador to Ireland in 1974.

National Party (Formerly National Country Party, and before that just plain, honest, Country Party) : The closest thing Australia has to Agrarian Conservatives. For Free Trade, Capitalism, Free Trade, Family Values, Free Trade, Christian Virtues, and did I mention Free Trade? The Natural Enemy of the Greens. "If it moves, shoot it, if it doen't, chop it down and strip-mine the soil it's growing in." seems to be their motto. Has been in Coalition with the Liberals since Adam was a boy, and is often seen as being the Right-Wing of the Liberal Party. Though in Queensland, it's the Liberals who are the Left Wing of the National Party. Rather more Ecologically sound than their motto would suggest. Vety similar to European "Christian Democrats".

Liberal Party : Liberals with a small "l", moderate in all things, especially moderation. Sometimes too far to the Right for my liking, and just as often betrays the principle of "Less Government is Good Government". More similar to US left-wing Republicans than US right-wing Democrats, but only just. The party currently in Government, which has seen inflation go down to miniscule levels, a deficit become a surplus, unemployment to halve, and growth remain steady at 3.5% at a time when the SE Asian economies have imploded. Until they lose the plot - which all parties eventually do - they're likely to remain in power. The party of Small Business, believers in a mixed economy rather than fanatical free-marketeers, at least, as long as a mixed-economy works. Tend to go a bit Thatcherite in a crisis.

Republicans : Not a party as such - they have members in every political party, especially Labor, but also the Liberals. Want to replace a system that is obsolete and irrational (but works) with one that's new, rational, but may not. They're not too sure about the details, which is why we're still a Monarchy - in name, anyway. In practice, we have a ceremonial President like Germany etc (called the Governor-General), and an executive Premier (called the Prime Minister) who actually does the governing. Hey, it works.

So although Australia has Democrats and Republicans, they're quite different beasts from the US species, and occupy different ecological niches. Australian Liberals are neither Leftist Euro-Socialists like the Canadian variety (who are more like the ALP), nor "liberals" in the US sense.

Then again. Australia is the place where the trees don't shed their leaves, they shed their bark, and some mammals lay eggs. So what else do you expect?