Sunday 31 October 2004

Really don't mind if you sit this one out

From Jethro Tull's Thick as a Brick :
Really don't mind if you sit this one out.

My words but a whisper -- your deafness a SHOUT.
I may make you feel but I can't make you think.

From The Daily Kos :
Is "bringing democracy to the Middle East" too big a task for us? I'd feel more confident about the answer if we could first bring democracy to Florida.
Sadly, he believes it.

From Walter Cronkite on the OBL tape :
So now the question is basically right now, how will this affect the election? And I have a feeling that it could tilt the election a bit. In fact, I'm a little inclined to think that Karl Rove, the political manager at the White House, who is a very clever man, he probably set up bin Laden to this thing.
I'd blame senility, but a lot of Bush-Bashers think the same.

From Arab News (Hat Tip : Silent Running) :
Al-JOUF, 29 October 2004 — A Saudi newspaper yesterday reported the discovery of what it called a rare coin with unique features that belonged to an ancient civilization. The paper said the coin had an inscription in an unknown language that was not English. It described the coin as having a palm tree with eight branches, a woman sunbathing, a ship and a castle with a dome.Ancient Arab Coin

According to the newspaper, the coin belonged to an ancient civilization that flourished in Al-Jouf.

The strange thing is that the “strange” coin, which the paper claimed had an inscription in an unknown language, had Puerto Rico inscribed clearly on it. The coin is believed to have been left behind by one of the tourists visiting the area and does not belong to any ancient civilization as claimed by the newspaper.
And no doubt, others will deny the last paragraph, saying it's a Zionist plot to conceal the Ancient Arab Civilisation that was once there. I wish I was being sarcastic, or joking.

So you ride yourselves over the fields and
you make all your animal deals and
your wise men don't know how it feels to be thick as a brick.

Saturday 30 October 2004

Shuttle Flights To Resume in May

From The Australian :
THE US space agency has given a green light for the resumption of space shuttle flights in May 2005, more than two years after seven astronauts died in the mid-air disintegration of space shuttle Columbia.

NASA's Space Flight Leadership Council yesterday endorsed a recommendation from the agency's space shuttle program to launch a "Return to Flight" mission sometime between May 12 and June 3 next year, a NASA statement announced.

The agency's earlier plan to resume flight in March was scuttled by a string of hurricanes that impacted operations at NASA facilities in the southeastern US states.

"After four hurricanes in a row impacted our centres and our workers, it became clear we needed to step back and evaluate the work in respect to the launch planning date," William Readdy, co-chair of the NASA council, was quoted as saying in the statement.

"We asked the program to go back and evaluate May, and they reported the milestones are lining up. The May launch planning window is based on solid analysis and input from across all elements of the program," he said.

November Contest will bring Australia to a Stop

From The Command Post :

The German Picture Magazine "Bild" has covered the US election - and endorsed Bush.

The UK "Guardian" has infamously tried to sway the vote against Bush in a battleground state.

But neither the UK, nor Germany can possibly match the intense excitement that all Australians feel at what's going to happen on November 2nd, 2004. This contest is one of the most important events this year from Australia's viewpoint, and many Australians would say it's more important than our own elections, held in October.

Australians everywhere will be glued to their TV sets and radios, and in this, one of the great gambling countries of the world, literally millions of people will be betting on the outcome. Some only a dollar, others (literally) millions. Virtually every Government and Commercial Office will be running sweepstakes on this crucial issue, who is going to win and by how much. It's that important to us.

My personal prediction of the winner of the race ? Well, let's put it this way : the winner will have a face like a horse, and not be from Texas. I'm not going for the favourite, as I think it's way too close to call.

I'm going for Vinnie Roe, by a nose.

Oh yes, and in the other race that day? Hopefully, like the election we had that the MSM said was "too close to call", the incumbent by a landslide. But I wouldn't bet on it.

Vogon Poetry.

The classic Vogon Poem is, of course,
Oh freddled gruntbuggly thy micturations are to me
As plurdled gabbleblotchits on a lurgid bee.
Groop I implore thee my foonting turlingdromes.
And hooptiously drangle me with crinkly bindlewurdles,
Or I will rend thee in the gobberwarts with my blurglecruncheon,
see if I don't!

- Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz
But you too can now generate your own Vogon Poetry, discourtesy of the BBC.

Friday 29 October 2004

Brave New World

It helps when reading this to be familiar with the album "War of the Worlds".

Now imagine a certain Democrat candidate for the US presidency singing it...

Take a look around you at the world we've come to know
Does it seem to be much more than a crazy circus show
Maybe from the madness, something beautiful will grow
In a brave new world, with guidance from the UN,
We'll start... we'll start all over again!
All over again! All over again! All over again!

The US domination of the Earth is fading fast,
And out of the confusion a chance has come at last,
To build a better future from the ashes of the past,
In a brave new world, with guidance from the UN,
We'll start all over again!

Look, man is born in freedom, but he soon becomes a slave,
In cages of convention from the cradle to the grave,
The weak fall by the wayside but Progressives will be saved,
In a brave new world, with guidance from the UN,
We'll start all over again!

I'm not trying to tell you what to be,
Oh no, oh no, not me...
But you'll see at a glance, that we should learn from France,
They're gonna have to build this world anew
And it's going to have to start with the EU ... OUI!

I'm not trying to tell you what to be,
Oh no, oh no, not me...
The proles with feeble SATS, they NEED aristocrats,
They're gonna have to build this world anew
Yes and we will have to be that chosen few...

Just think of all the poverty, the hatred and the lies,
And imagine the destruction of all that you despise,
Slowly from the ashes the phoenix will arise,
In a brave new world, with guidance from the UN
We'll start all over again!

Take a look around you at the world you've loved so well,
And bid that aging empire, AmeriKKKa farewell
It may not sound like heaven but at least it isn't hell
It's a brave new world, with guidance from the UN,
We'll start, we'll start all over again!
All over again! All over again! All over again!

It's unfair, unjust, grossly exaggerated, satirical, and I fear all too accurate.

The one thing that causes me to distrust capital-S Socialism is that the "elite", the "cadre" who control Progressive Movements see themselves as the Wise and the Good, servants of the people. They are mere citizens, but they're the best citizens to lead. Their only superiority is in their intellect, their education, and their political progressiveness.

Now look at the Webster's Dictionary definition of 'Aristocracy'.

When I first read Orwell's '1984' with his musings about how the Proles could just be the saviours of us all, I didn't understand him fully; and what I did understand, I disagreed with.

But as a Computer Scientist who's done a little work on Artificial Intelligence, Cybernetics and Systems, I've become increasingly convinced that he was right. The reason Democracy works so well (though still imperfectly) is that masses of people behave differently, and have a different Intelligence, than individuals do. You really *can* talk about "the electorate" as a single entity, rather than merely a container for the set of all voters. The unconscious thought that occurs, which often leads to voters making an unconscious decision, then attempting to find justifications for it, is a very, very dangerously innacurate thing when performed by the individual. It's called "prejudice", and can lead to all sorts of nasty symptoms, like racism, sexism etc. But when its engaged in by millions, or tens of millions, it can often lead to truths which only much later on are found to be valid via logic and deductive reasoning. It has value: like Fire, it's a useful slave but a terrible master. The point is, that the "great unwashed", the Proles, the Masses, the Plebians , as a whole tend to exhibit ordinary human decency. That is extraordinary. And it makes their vote, and their opinions, at least as valid, and sometimes more accurate, than the ones of their intellectual superiors. Most of their intellectual superiors aren't aware of that though, they're not quite that superior.

A few months ago, on this blog I mentioned that Democracy seemed to be superior to even Meritocracy. I got comments from someone who asked me exactly how this could be. Well, it's taken me quite a while to put it all together. Some (relatively simple) tasks, like building bridges, sending someone to the Moon and back etc are amenable to a formal, logical, and rigorourous conscious-thought approach. Get your premisses right, follow the logic through, you get a 100% guranteed right answer. Meritocracy rules here. The trouble is that getting the premisses right is often impossible for some worthwhile tasks - like solving world hunger, ensuring justice for all, and so on. Meritocrats who are experts in their areas are no better, and often worse, than people who are less expert in any field other than the one of simply living. And that takes an inordinate amount of Intelligence - simple socialisation between humans requires the devotion of large parts of the brain. The reason why so many "experts" or "geniusses" are proverbially other-wordly, as in the traditional Absent-minded Professor, is that they only have so much Brain to start with, and large parts of theirs are devoted to Planaria, or Software Engineering, or some other Intellectual pursuit. Other people have much more expertise in difficult subjects less admired: the Traditional Dumb Blonde Valley Girl may spent vast amounts of processing power figuring out social interactions, how to become "Most Popular Person", choosing clothes etc. But being human, it's difficult for one of the Nerds, the Experts on Intelligence (whose own Brains are wired up not to value social interactivity so highly) to realise just how much intellectual processing power is involved in everyday decisions by the hoi palloi. When you do, it's quite humbling. Worse, looked at objectively, this should have been bleedin' obvious. Einstein's Brain was anatomically unexceptional. Moreover, there have been many medical cases pointing out that we don't really know a heck of a lot about the brain. A perfect example is that of Lt Robert Lawrence (whose story is told in Tumbledown). He was unfortunate enough to be hit in the head by a high-velocity military rifle bullet. The bullet itself did little damage, but as any military expert will tell you, with those rounds the bullet makes a little hole, but a cupful of tissue around it is turned to jelly. Lt Lawrence eventually had a massive 45% of his brain matter removed. But apart from partial paralysis on his left side, his intellect remained intact, his emotions remained much the same, it didn't affect him nearly as much as by all rights it should have. He's since gone on to chronicle his experiences in a book, and of course act as advisor in the movie.
Other people can have a much smaller insult to the brain - a blood clot in the wrong place, with only a pea-sized amount of tissue destruction - and become, bluntly, "cabbages".

There's so much we just don't know, about Brains, Intellect, Thought and Intelligence.

To summarise:
I distrust Aristocracies, they have a poor track record.
A Meritocracy applied to an area not fully Scientifically understood (as in Government) is an Aristocracy.
Most formal Socialist parties are ruled by an Aritocracy.
Democracies work well , and my hypothesis is that this is because people in the mass have a different kind of intelligence at work.

I'll blog more on this later. Meanwhile, readers might like to have a look at some relevant past posts:
Let Them Eat Cake
Baboon or Buffoon?

If that piques your curiousity, do a search on this site, first with keyword "aristocracy", then with keyword "democracy".

Thursday 28 October 2004

The Shire - Located!

It's on the Indonesian island of Flores, where Fossil Hobbits have been found in a Hobbit-Hole. Hobbits ate both giant rats and miniature Oliphaunts, indulged in cooking, dodged marauding Dragons, and the Third Age of Middle Earth may have ended as recently as 12,000 years ago - with the eruption of Mount Doom.

From The Australian :
When Peter Brown first saw the skeleton last December, he was stunned. "I knew in a nanosecond that it was something unusual," he says of the 18,000-year-old fossil his colleagues nicknamed Hobbit.

"It was right out of left field," he recalls. "The last time things like this walked the planet was 3 [million] to 4.5 million years ago," claims Brown, a paleoanthropologist with the University of New England in Armidale.
For a start, Hobbit was very small, measuring only about 1m in height. Then they measured the little creature's brain. There was dead silence.

"I went a bit pale and my jaw dropped to my knees. It had the brain size of a chimp but [archeological evidence showed] it was a tool maker and a biped [walked on two legs]," Brown says.
And "seriously heavyweight" it was. As the months rolled on and the data firmed up, it became clear the team had discovered the smallest species of human to be found -- on an island just 600km east of Bali. Even better, the creature they named Homo floresiensis lived at the same time as people just like us.

As the trio carefully examined the remains in Soejono's office, it was obvious they were looking at an unusual creature. It had some characteristics, like body and brain size, that were similar to those of the most ancient of human ancestors, Africa's 3million-year-old australopithecines.

But other anatomical features resembled those of a more recent archaic human called Homo erectus. In particular, it looked like a creature that lived about 2 million years ago in the republic of Georgia.

What's more, Hobbit was just that, hobbit-small but properly proportioned. In fact, when field director Sutikna's co-workers discovered the remains at Liang Bua cave on the Indonesian island of Flores, they believed they'd found the skeleton of a three-year-old child.

That's just what Morwood and Brown were expecting when they arrived in Jakarta to have a first-hand look at the bones: a nearly complete skull, jaw and right leg, along with some bones of the left leg, hands and feet, pelvis, ribs and spine.

Their examination of the creature's pelvis, however, led them to conclude that the skeleton was that of a woman aged about 30 years. They also knew there was solid archeological evidence from Liang Bua that the creature made and used sophisticated tools, hunted primitive elephants called stegodons and giant rats, cooked their booty and had probably sailed to the island in the first place thousands of years ago.

Undoubtedly, these tiny creatures also chatted with one another.
From radiocarbon to luminescence, uranium-series and electron spin resonance, the results were the same. "Our most accurate date for the skeleton is 18,000 years," says Roberts.

"I was gobsmacked," he recalls. Moreover, this year his group completed dating on the remains of six other humans found in the cave, with staggering results. The little people lived in the area as recently as 13,000 years ago. That's many years after Homo sapiens had truly settled the region.

Hobbit Skull

And from the ABC :
Local legends tell of hobbit-like creatures existing on the islands long ago but until now there has been no evidence of them.
Mr Brown and his colleagues have found the remains of seven other dwarf individuals at the same site since the first find.

"The other individuals all show similar characteristics and over a time range that now extends from as long ago as 95,000 years to as recently as 13,000 years ago - a population of hobbits that seemed to disappear at about the same time as the pygmy elephants that they hunted," said Bert Roberts, one of the authors of the Nature study.
The scientists suspect the Flores species became extinct after a massive volcanic eruption on the island about 12,000 years ago.
Finally, from the BBC :
The 18,000-year-old specimen, known as Liang Bua 1 or LB1, has been assigned to a new species called Homo floresiensis. It was about one metre tall with long arms and a skull the size of a large grapefruit.

The researchers have since found remains belonging to six other individuals from the same species.

LB1 shared its island with a golden retriever-sized rat, giant tortoises and huge lizards - including Komodo dragons...
Even more intriguing is the fact that Flores' inhabitants have incredibly detailed legends about the existence of little people on the island they call Ebu Gogo.

The islanders describe Ebu Gogo as being about one metre tall, hairy and prone to "murmuring" to each other in some form of language. They were also able to repeat what islanders said to them in a parrot-like fashion.
Yet there are hints H. floresiensis could have lived on much later than this. The myths say Ebu Gogo were alive when Dutch explorers arrived a few hundred years ago and the very last legend featuring the mythical creatures dates to 100 years ago.

But Henry Gee, senior editor at Nature magazine, goes further. He speculates that species like H.floresiensis might still exist, somewhere in the unexplored tropical forest of Indonesia.

UPDATE : Dissecting Leftism had some interesting and cogent remarks back in August about similar peleolithic peoples here in Australia.

Wednesday 27 October 2004

Alternate Realities

Over at The Command Post, I've authored an article on the upcoming US Presidential elections that has been building up inside me for a long time. Sorry to re-direct you, and cause you additional hassle clicking the link, but there's little point repeating it here. Although I would be surprised if Bush doesn't win more popular votes, with the distribution of the electoral college amongst states, Bush could easily lose (as Al Gore did in 2000). It looks like it will be, to all intents and purposes, a draw (again like 2000), where minor technicalities will decide who gets in.

Of course, the same thing was said about Latham vs Howard. I thought Latham would just squeeze in, so my track record on election predictions is pretty abysmal.

Suffice to say that I'm both pro-Bush, and anti-Kerry (two different concepts), and I attempt to explain what I think would happen under a Kerry Presidency. Sorry to disappoint rabid GOPers, but I don't think it would be a disaster, just a minor hiccup in world affairs. OK, not so much a hiccup as having a lung removed, but probably no worse than that, unless something drastic happens which requires leadership.

For a different set of alternate realities, have a look at Today in Alternate History. Timelines such as the Martian Invasion, or Communist America. Amusing, and also food for thought.
October 27, 1871: Democratic party boss William Tweed is arrested for corruption by Communist Attorney General David Wade. The arrest of the most powerful Democrat in New York brings the Democratic party in New York crashing down. With the loss of New York, the party soon began losing its hold over other states, and in 1884, was completely absorbed into the Socialist Party.
See what I mean?

Tuesday 26 October 2004

Barry Cohen's Crie de Coeur

It's in The Age.
Soon after I told a Labor legend: "Anti-Semitism is now rampant in the Labor Party." I expected a vigorous denial. His response confirmed my worst fear: "I know," he said.

For better or worse my character and life were shaped by the anti-Semitism I experienced as a boy and a young man. I was proud to belong to a party that fought all forms of prejudice. Not any longer.
As they say, Read The Whole Thing. But note the last line of the article:
Barry Cohen was arts minister in the Hawke government. A longer version of this article (which Barry Cohen asked not be published until after the federal election) appears in the Australian Jewish News.
How many votes did the ALP get that they otherwise would have lost had this article been published before the election, rather than afterwards?

By one standard, Barry Cohen did a terrible thing, concealing this canker eating away at the heart of the ALP, a concealment that may have caused some pretty odious people with even more foetid policies to be elected. For someone who has devoted his life to a political ideal, and who still hasn't (quite) given up on saving the ALP from descending into the Abyss, it would have been very hard. Still he should have done it.

Or should he? Because, as I said, he hasn't (quite) given up. He still thinks the ALP may, against all odds, manage to reform itself, to turn away from the Pit. Had he published before the election, his credibility amongst the rusted-on-Labour supporters would have been irretrievably damaged. It would have been viewed as Treachery of the basest kind - and been counter-productive. On reflection, and after much thought, I think he did the right thing in the end. Especially if he was aware of the internal and Most Secret Labor party polling that said that the ALP was heading for a train-wreck. Oh, but I feel for the man! He must have suffered many a sleepless night pondering this.

As a RWDB who should be rejoicing at the downfall of my political enemies, by some rights I should be glad of this. But I'm not. That's because they may be my political opponents, but they're not my enemies. At least, not yet. Should the Liberals make a huge to-do about this? Not at the moment. Wait until the ALP has been given a chance to reform. But by all means threaten to make this a major issue at every single by-election that comes round. It may give those sick-at-heart at the rot within the ALP the courage to cauterise it.

And my respect for Barry Cohen has increased markedly.

Talking about respect, this from Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, also reported in the AJN :
Downer drew applause when he said Israel has a right to build its security barrier and slammed what he termed the “politicising” of the International Court of Justice in its July ruling that the barrier is illegal. When the UN then voted on the barrier, Downer instructed the Australian delegate to vote against the resolution to dismantle the barrier despite being advised by diplomats in New York that Australia should align itself with the European Union and Canada by abstaining.

“In a nanosecond, I said we will not change our vote, we will vote against this, even if we’re the only country in the world that votes with Israel on this resolution, we’ll still do it because this resolution is wrong.”
Onya, Alex.

Monday 25 October 2004

Obligatory Cat Post

Actually, it's not so much a cat post, as a pussy post. A Platypussy post, in fact.

From the ABC :
Scientists from the Australian National University have proved what many have thought for years - platypuses are really weird.

In the international Nature journal today they report a platypus has five chromosones determining sex, not one - like the rest of the species in the world.

Professor Jennifer Graves says platypus have five X and five Y chromosomes, and when sperm are made it gets even stranger.

"What we've discovered is that these five Xs and five Ys line up in a great big long chain, that go XY XY XY XY XY XY, and then all the X chromosomes move to one pole, and all the Y chromosomes move to the other," she said.

Professor Graves says there is another unexpected finding.

"One end of the chain looks like human sex chromosomes but the other end of the chain looks like bird sex chromosomes, so the chain is actually linking a very ancient system of sex determination in birds and probably reptiles too," she said.

The unique status of the Australian mammal is now unassailable.
The Australian takes it further :
The new research puts platypuses closer on the sex chromosome scale to spiders, termites and birds than their fellow mammals.

Echidnas, the only other member of the monotreme club, have a similar "weird" chromosome make-up.
In fact, the Echidna and Platypus differ not just from mammals, birds and reptiles, they differ from all other vertebrates in having this arrangement. It was thought that they were the last representatives of the primitive mammals that pre-dated the dinosaurs. (yes, mammals came first, but got supressed for a few eons), sort of halfway between reptile and mammal. This research shows that they are vastly more, er, peculiar.

Only in Australia. (And in fact, there's a thriving colony of them not too far from where I'm writing this).

Twixt the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

From the ABC :
A technician in the Royal Navy has become the first serviceman in Britain's armed forces to be officially recognised as a Satanist, the defence ministry said on today.

Chris Cranmer, 24, has been given the go-ahead by his captain to perform Satanic rituals on board the HMS Cumberland and is reportedly lobbying his employers to register Satanism as an official religion in the armed forces.

"There is a guy who has asked to practice his (Satanic) beliefs on a Royal Navy ship," a defence ministry spokesman told AFP.

"His request was treated sympathetically by the ship's commanding officer."
The Church of Satan was established in San Francisco in 1966 and LaVey was its high priest until his death in 1997.
Founded in California. Why am I not surprised? Anyway, to continue:
Followers live by the Nine Satanic Statements, which include "Satan represents indulgence instead of abstinence", "Satan represents vengeance instead of turning the other cheek" and "Satan represents all of the so-called sins, as they all lead to physical, mental, or emotional gratification".
Well of course! Obviously he's aware of what Sir Winston S. Churchill is supposed (incorrectly) to have said, "The only traditions of the Royal Navy are rum, sodomy and the lash." - so he should fit right in.


Brazil Back in Space

From the ABC :
Brazil has successfully launched its first rocket into space, 14 months after an accident at a similar takeoff killed more than 20 people.

The rocket was launched from the a site near the equator.

Brazil says it hopes the success of the mission will boost plans to build 15 rockets to sell rockets to the European space agency.
The accident, over a year ago, was a horrific one: a premature ignition while technicians were working on the booster.

Saturday 23 October 2004

Today's Brain Link

From comes the title:

UF scientist: 'Brain' in a dish acts as autopilot, living computer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- A University of Florida scientist has grown a living "brain" that can fly a simulated plane, giving scientists a novel way to observe how brain cells function as a network.

The "brain" -- a collection of 25,000 living neurons, or nerve cells, taken from a rat's brain and cultured inside a glass dish
DeMarse experimental "brain" interacts with an F-22 fighter jet flight simulator through a specially designed plate called a multi-electrode array and a common desktop computer.

"It's essentially a dish with 60 electrodes arranged in a grid at the bottom," DeMarse said. "Over that we put the living cortical neurons from rats, which rapidly begin to reconnect themselves, forming a living neural network – a brain."

The brain and the simulator establish a two-way connection, similar to how neurons receive and interpret signals from each other to control our bodies. By observing how the nerve cells interact with the simulator, scientists can decode how a neural network establishes connections and begins to compute, DeMarse said.

When DeMarse first puts the neurons in the dish, they look like little more than grains of sand sprinkled in water. However, individual neurons soon begin to extend microscopic lines toward each other, making connections that represent neural processes. "You see one extend a process, pull it back, extend it out – and it may do that a couple of times, just sampling who's next to it, until over time the connectivity starts to establish itself," he said. "(The brain is) getting its network to the point where it's a live computation device."

To control the simulated aircraft, the neurons first receive information from the computer about flight conditions: whether the plane is flying straight and level or is tilted to the left or to the right. The neurons then analyze the data and respond by sending signals to the plane's controls. Those signals alter the flight path and new information is sent to the neurons, creating a feedback system.

"Initially when we hook up this brain to a flight simulator, it doesn't know how to control the aircraft," DeMarse said. "So you hook it up and the aircraft simply drifts randomly. And as the data comes in, it slowly modifies the (neural) network so over time, the network gradually learns to fly the aircraft."

Although the brain currently is able to control the pitch and roll of the simulated aircraft in weather conditions ranging from blue skies to stormy, hurricane-force winds, the underlying goal is a more fundamental understanding of how neurons interact as a network, DeMarse said.

"There's a lot of data out there that will tell you that the computation that's going on here isn't based on just one neuron. The computational property is actually an emergent property of hundreds or thousands of neurons cooperating to produce the amazing processing power of the brain."

With Jose Principe, a UF distinguished professor of electrical engineering and director of UF's Computational NeuroEngineering Laboratory, DeMarse has a $500,000 National Science Foundation grant to create a mathematical model that reproduces how the neurons compute.
Good luck on that last bit. I suspect that it's going to be not just non-trivial but actually hard - though an approximation would be fairly straightforward. has more on Laminated Mouse Brains similar research. If you don't get the reference, may I recommend The Rediscovery of Man by Dr Paul Linebarger, otherwise known as Cordwainer Smith.

From a review :
Like Heinlein, Smith built a detailed future history of the human race as a backdrop for his writing. It starts at the end of WWII and continues tens of thousands of years into the future. Smith spent much of his childhood in Asia, as the son of a diplomat, and grew up to become an expert in Asian culture and affairs, as well as politics in general and psycology in particular. Many of Smith's stories are rewrites of Chinese myths and fables, with casts of characters out of his dreamlike human universe governed by the omnipresent Instrumentality. Interestingly, even within this vast sweep of time, Smith's Instrumentality never chances upon a single alien race, despite the eventual development of various and increasingly efficient techniques of FTL travel. At a few points in "The Rediscovery of Man" Smith makes mention of the Instrumentality's preparations for possible alien encounters, but only modified and/or forgotten sub-species of humans are ever discovered. The word "dark" gets used a lot in describing Smith's future vision, but I don't believe that there is more darkness in his writing than would/will actually occur in a future interstellar civilization. Smith's personal history is one of witnessing human affairs from the viewpoint of those who are leading (or manipulating) the rest of us, and it is the appearance of this unique understanding in his writing that gives it it's edge - but perhaps also that element of darkness. But the wonderfully offbeat technology is pure imagination - such as the "laminated mouse brain" containing a guardian hologram for a young girl on an interstellar journey in the story "Think Blue, Count Two", or Old North Australia's strange and fearsome planetary defense system in "Mother Hitton's Littul Kittons"; a directed-telepathy weapon powered by the lethal hostility harvested from the minds of specially-bred psychotic weasels. One could actually hope that humanity turns out as exotic and abstract and imaginative (and as long-lasting!) as Smith's vision. If you are a scifi buff but are unfamiliar with Smith's work, there is a gaping hole in your expertise that you can now remedy with a single, chronologically-ordered volume of stories. If scifi really isn't your bag, I guarantee you still will be seduced and enchanted and transfixed by this relatively small body of work which, like the writing of Stanislaw Lem, raises speculative fiction to the level of literature.
Of course "Mother Hitton's Littul Kittons" is a bit far-fetched. A Defence systems consisting of enormous antenna arrays in the Outback bouncing signals off a nearby moon? Ridiculous.


Friday 22 October 2004

Iraq News Not Fit To Print

From the Wall Street Journal :
Basking in the sun by the Al Hamra Hotel swimming pool, a Spanish journalist complained to me that "all my editors want is blood, blood, blood. No context. No politics."
I'm no Chrenkoff, but over at The Command Post, I've posted a few articles that the papers haven't considered important.

Iraq Police Commandos
“They were all chosen on the basis of loyalty to Iraq and from their support for the democratic change taking place in Iraq and for those who have not committed crimes against Iraqis,” Thabit said. “They were efficiently chosen according to information about their background.”

Thabit spent six years in jail for involvement in conspiracies against Saddam Hussein’s regime.
And the results came in quick and positive operations beginning in the Haifa Street area of Baghdad, where two battalions hauled away 58 foreign fighters attacking Iraqi and multinational forces in the city. The first two battalions also hauled away another large force of foreign fighters in Samarra operations.

Aftermath of an Attack :
“Those people who attack Iraqis everyday don’t care who they kill,” lamented one Iraqi at the scene of the attack. “If they had missed us they could have hit the primary school next door. Thank God the children didn’t get hurt.”
“The ING are fighting for their country, and the way I look at it, they are just like any American Soldier…fighting for a free Iraq, which is why my Soldiers took it very seriously when they heard the ING needed assistance and were there to support them 100 percent,” San Miguel said.
San Miguel said after the casualties had been safely evacuated he went with his men to the IP station to explain why the first aid training was postponed.

“They said they understood, expressing their concern for what happened to the ING,” San Miguel said. “It was good to see that the IPs were concerned about the ING, because it shows that there is professional relationship starting to build between the two security forces.”

Individuals Making a Difference :
So far he estimates that more than 200 boxes of donations for Iraqi children have come in. And though he never thought his singular effort to help would grow to such proportions, Tingue said he is pretty happy with how his project turned out.

And even the First Spotting of Spam in Baghdad :
This was the 1st advertizing mail I get from an Iraqi living in Iraq, and I suppose it’s at least one of the 1st advertising mails sent by an Iraqi living in Iraq in English to anyone. I don’t know, it may sound ridiculous to some that I give such importance to a stupid advertising mail, but you have to be an Iraqi to understand why I was thrilled about it. It gave me hope because more Iraqis are planning for the future, making use of the Internet and information technology and seem to be optimistic and welcoming foreigners.
No-one looking at the situation in Iraq would describe it as Peachy and Peaceful. But the unremitting propaganda emanating from those reporters terrorised by the terrorists amounts to a completely distorted view.

Thursday 21 October 2004

Press Credentials

Over at The Command Post, you'll see a disturbing report about journalists in Iraq, what they're reporting and why.

Simply put, unless they report what the terrorists want reported, they get targetted.

Furthermore, the terrorists have internet connections, and the ability to check your "bona fides". Unless you've got an unbroken track record of being unremittingly pro-Saddam and anti-American, you're history. The terrorists examine the credentials of the press very carefully. Fortunately for the world's press, a lot of them qualify.

Camera teams are now firmly "embedded" with the terrorists, allowing their carefully-crafted scenes to be reported "live", though they may need several takes to get it right.

Example: An initial report from the AFP, via the ABC :
US air raids have destroyed two buildings said to belong to top Islamic militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in the restive Iraqi city of Fallujah, however residents say the attack killed a family of six.

"Multinational force-Iraq struck two adjoining Abu Musab al-Zarqawi terrorist safe houses in northeast Fallujah," the US Army said in a statement.

It made no reference to any casualties in the strike, but said that "several Zarqawi terrorists" had been using the buildings to plan attacks.

In Fallujah, a rebel-held city west of Baghdad, locals said they pulled a family of six from the ruins of a house hit in the dawn strike.

"The house was completely destroyed by a missile dropped from an American plane and we have pulled from the rubble the bodies of four children, a woman and a man," said one resident, Bassem Mohammed.
Some time later, a new report, from an "embedded" Reuters camera team. also via the ABC :
A Reuters witness saw a man and a woman and four children, two boys and two girls, being pulled out of the rubble of a razed home in the rebel-held city of Fallujah, about 50 kilometres west of Baghdad.

The US military denied a family of six was killed, saying it launched four strikes against safehouses used by Zarqawi's fighters.

"Intelligence sources indicate a known Zarqawi propagandist is passing false reports to the media," it said in a statement.

Reuters television footage showed men chanting "There is no God but Allah!" as they carried the body of the father of the family of six.

"Is this the gift that [interim Iraqi Prime Minister] Iyad Allawi is giving to the people of Fallujah?" asked one man, pointing to the small bodies of two of the children lying in the trunk of a car. "Every day they strike Fallujah."
Gosh, what a coincidence, that a Reuters camera team should be on hand just at that very moment, some hours after the event. The trouble is, that no intelligence is perfect: civilian casualties in such air raids are pretty much guaranteed, no matter how much you try to avoid them (both for humanitarian and propaganda reasons). We just don't know: what we do know is that there's a concerted propaganda effort underway. Sometimes they gild the lilly, and go a bit too far for plausibility:
The US military says its almost nightly strikes on Fallujah are carefully targeted at fighters led by Jordanian militant Zarqawi, who it says is holed up in the city.

But residents say they know nothing of Zarqawi - some even doubt his existence - and that the US raids kill civilians.
The Beheadings? Zionist propaganda. Zarqawi? Never heard of him. There is no "Zarqawi". There is no "resistance" in Fallujah.

To give you some idea of the constraints reporters are working under, go visit Back to Iraq 3.0 :
Saturday around 2 p.m or so, John was picked up about 500m from our hotel compound. He turned out of the front gate, took the first right -- as most of us do -- and a car stopped in front of him and a tailing car pulled in behind him. Four men with pistols jumped out and three of them managed to force their way into the car, putting guns to the heads of John, his driver and his translator. They then took him to western Baghdad, held him overnight and interrogated him.

We're not sure what all happened during his captivity, but he was able to persuade his captors that he was an Australian and a friend to the resistance and not to the Americans. It appears, by the kidnappers' statements and questions, that they were nationalists and not jihadis, lucky for John. Also, he was lucky for not being American, because the kidnappers said if he had been, they'd have killed him quickly. They had tracked him for three days, they said, and proved it by asking him why he had gone to the Green Zone and to the Palestine on two separate days. This was how they were able to pick him up so easily.

At one point, one man disappeared, saying he would check out John's story. He came back after about 15 minutes, John said, convinced John was who he said he was. We suspect they Googled John, because they referenced previous stories he had covered.

After some hours, his captors relaxed and said that he would be released in the morning. But before he was released, a sheikh from a village near Fallujah arrived. He again interrogated John, but this time it was much more aggressive questioning, John said. Finally, the sheikh said that while they were convinced he was a man of good heart and a journalist, he would not be freed Sunday as promised because Australia was a member of the Coalition and thus, a “warring nation” as Zarqawi has said. Instead, the sheikh would consult with his supervisors in Fallujah on what to do.

Now, this was serious. There's no doubt the sheikh would return to fetch John and turn him over to al-Tahwid w'al-Jihad. So, in a fit of humanity, after the sheikh left, the nationalist captors took John and released him. We're unsure of the ramifications of this act at this point and if there will be any retaliation within the Sunni resistance or against us. It's possible.

As frightening as John's experience was for him, it shows that journalists' plans for “security through obscurity” has been blown out the window. John's captors said they received a phone call that he was on the move and that the time for taking him was now. This fits in with our intelligence that there are kidnap teams up and down Jadirya Street looking for us. His captors said they had penetrated the staff at the Hamra Hotel, where many of us live. They have people in the compound watching us. They know who we are and they're looking for “soft targets” -- reporters moving around with little security or few precautions.

John was lucky -- very lucky. He was picked up by nationalists who, we hear, are getting out of the kidnapping and beheading business. He wasn't an American. He had a pedigree of lefty, anti-war reporter. And he fell in with a (more or less) kind-hearted bunch who were just doing their job as national resistance fighters.
And the SS were just a bunch of guys doing their jobs, who by 1945 were getting out of the Extermination and Genocide business. Al Capone was just a businessman who was getting out of the Murder and Extortion business. Kind-hearted guys, the lot of them. Real softies, just doing their jobs.


I have a lot of respect for the author, Christopher Allbritton, and am disappointed that he's written this stuff.

So the next time you hear a report from a journalist in Iraq, ponder on whether they're telling it like it is, or adding to their credentials should they get kidnapped.

Wednesday 20 October 2004

Where Have All the Sunspots Gone?

From NASA :
Solar physicist David Hathaway has been checking the sun every day since 1998, and every day for six years there have been sunspots. Sunspots are planet-sized "islands" on the surface of the sun. They are dark, cool, powerfully magnetized, and fleeting: a typical sunspot lasts only a few days or weeks before it breaks up. As soon as one disappears, however, another emerges to take its place.

Even during the lowest ebb of solar activity, you can usually find one or two spots on the sun. But when Hathaway looked on Jan. 28, 2004, there were none. The sun was utterly blank.

It happened again last week, twice, on Oct. 11th and 12th. There were no sunspots.

"This is a sign," says Hathaway, "that the solar minimum is coming, and it's coming sooner than we expected."
"Contrary to popular belief," says Hathaway, "the solar cycle is not precisely 11 years long." Its length, measured from minimum to minimum, varies: "The shortest cycles are 9 years, and the longest ones are about 14 years." What makes a cycle long or short? Researchers aren't sure. "We won't even know if the current cycle is long or short--until it's over," he says.

But researchers are making progress. Hathaway and colleague Bob Wilson, both working at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, believe they've found a simple way to predict the date of the next solar minimum. "We examined data from the last 8 solar cycles and discovered that Solar Min follows the first spotless day after Solar Max by 34 months," explains Hathaway.

The most recent solar maximum was in late 2000. The first spotless day after that was Jan 28, 2004. So, using Hathaway and Wilson's simple rule, solar minimum should arrive in late 2006. That's about a year earlier than previously thought.

The next solar maximum might come early, too, says Hathaway. "Solar activity intensifies rapidly after solar minimum. In recent cycles, Solar Max has followed Solar Min by just 4 years." Do the math: 2006 + 4 years = 2010
So what's the big deal? Well, the Sun is actually an unusually variable star for one of its size and position in the main sequence. Solar output affects cloud formation, and climate generally. Rather more so than the amount of Greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere.
Places now in drought can expect relief: and places that had unusual lulls in storm activity can now expect a more normal - and less pleasant - climate. At least for the next 4 years or so.

Tuesday 19 October 2004

Today's Brain Link

And also an addition to the Blogroll, something I do only on alternate leap-years.

This one's from Sound and Fury, a mis-named blog if ever there was one, as it certainly isn't "A tale told by an Idiot....signifying nothing".

Bear with me: some stuff I post is "froth and bubble", designed for amusement and to refresh the intellectual palate between main courses of things of great worth and moment. This one's meat, with truffles and a rich, rich sauce.

It's a critique of Martin Gardner's review of Roger Penrose's new thousand-page Magnum Opus, The Road to Reality.

Sounds exciting - not. But to anyone remotely interested in "Life, the Universe and Everything", the nature of mind and matter, it's heady stuff.

What is it about? I'll quote :
1. Contrary to Gardner's characterization, Roger Penrose didn't simply attack the dubious notion that " just a few decades...computers will be able to do everything a human mind can do." He wouldn't have gone to all the trouble of writing two hefty tomes on AI merely for the purpose of arguing against the giddy speculations "of a few artificial intelligence mavens". Anyone can do that. He wrote to argue for the utter impossibility of human-equivalent AI--an entirely different (and vastly more difficult) argument.
Dan Goss, the author, manages to distill the quintescence of many pages of already triple-distilled writing by some truly brilliant minds. I'm not sure I agree with him in all respects, but it's the type of writing that requires really careful perusal, and a lot of contemplation afterwards.

How have I managed not to spot this before? Well, his blog archives only go back 3 weeks. I was able to read every article on it in a few minutes. It will take me many hours though to digest what he's been saying.

Fortunately the author sent me an e-mail (larded with compliments) drawing my attention to it, otherwise I might have missed it, and would have been kicking myself afterwards when I finally did locate it.

I'll be posting later about these issues. But right now, I feel like the traditional Anaconda that's just swallowed an elephant. Whatever intellectual stimulation this blog has provided Dan in the past has been repaid a thousandfold. And there's more to come! Yummmmmmm.

Monday 18 October 2004

Corporate Gibberish Generator

Seen via Harry's Place (Which in itself is an interesting site for someone of my political pursuasion. Far, Far, FAR Left. But Rational. Sane even. Definitely neither anti-semitic nor post-modern.)

Anyway, here it is. With an example of the output :
At AEBrain, we understand how to recontextualize dynamicly. Our technology takes the best features of XSL and PGP. We will iterate the capability of e-services to engage. Imagine a combination of HTML and C++. We understand that if you integrate magneticly then you may also evolve compellingly. We will incentivize the capability of user interfaces to envisioneer. Imagine a combination of Apache and Perl. If all of this seems fabulous to you, that's because it is! Think social-network-based, collaborative, one-to-one. We will deliver the power of markets to deploy. The micro-CAE factor is customer-directed. Imagine a combination of Flash and IIS.
Harry's place also contains critical articles about some of the worst things characteristic of (parts of) the Far Left. Thuggery. (He's agin it) Stalinism. (He's agin it doubled, and the tolerance of it by the faux-Leftist Euro-Aristocrats). Post Modernist Psychobabble (Even CHOMSKY is agin it!)

He's also predictably against Fascism , though many on the Left these days, and not just the Far Left, have an unhealthy friendhsip for it when practiced by non-Westerners.

If he keeps up being impressed only by facts, logic, numbers, evidence, basic humanity, compassion and rationality, maybe he'll stop being a Far-Lefty. Or I'll stop being a Right-Wing-Death-Beast. Because I see far more basic similarities than superficial differences between him and myself. I just can't see him ignoring facts just because they contradict his prejudices and deeply-held dogma - a failing not confined to the far left, but also found in the far-right and (it pains me to say it) the centre and all points in-between. I wonder if he's as disconcerted by that as I am?

Things DO Go Better With Coke

Today's Brain link is to a story in the Times, via The Australian :
The research team set out to investigate whether brand images had a visible effect on the brain, and chose Coke and Pepsi because both products were so similar, yet provoked strong opinions in many people.

"Coca-Cola and Pepsi are nearly identical in chemical composition, yet humans routinely display a strong subjective preference for one or another," Dr McClure said.

"This simple observation raises the important question of how cultural messages combine with content to shape our perceptions, even to the point of modifying behavioural preferences for a primary reward such as a sugared drink."

In the study, 67 volunteers were asked whether they preferred Pepsi or Coke and then were given a blind taste test while their brains were scanned during functional magnetic resonance imaging. The technique measures activity in different regions of the brain by charting the flow of blood to particular areas.

The subjects were then scanned again, while their sips were preceded by a picture of either a Coke or Pepsi can flashed onto a screen. This produced a very different set of brain responses. When a Coke can was displayed it activated other parts of the brain as well. A Pepsi can, however, did not have the same effect. The results, reported today in the journal Neuron, suggest that Coke's branding has been so successful that it stimulates a cultural preference in the brain that might sometimes override preferences based solely on taste.

"There are visual images and marketing messages that have insinuated themselves into the nervous system of humans that consume the drinks," Dr McClure said.
And just in case that I have contributed to the Coke Conspiracy to Brainwash you, here's an image that should undo the damage.

Coke Bombs

Sunday 17 October 2004

Lockheed-Martin and Rocket Science

From the Seattle Post Intelligencer :
The NASA spacecraft that smashed into the Utah desert last month while bringing home fragile samples of the sun may have been doomed by engineering drawings that had been done backwards, an investigating board said Friday.

Because of the backward drawings, the switches that were supposed to detect Genesis' re-entry into Earth's atmosphere and trigger its parachutes were placed incorrectly, said Michael G. Ryschkewitsch, chairman of the Mishap Investigation Board.

He emphasized, however, that the panel has not completed its findings on what went wrong with the $264 million mission to capture particles of the solar wind.

The design drawings were produced by Lockheed Martin Astronautics, which built Genesis for NASA, Ryschkewitsch said. How the mistake escaped detection is under investigation, he said.

The discovery of the likely cause of Genesis' crash raised questions about review processes at Lockheed Martin Astronautics, which was involved in a pair of failed Mars missions that were major embarrassments for NASA.

NASA's Mars Polar Lander, built by the company, was lost in December 1999, probably when a sensor cut off its descent motor too soon. A few months earlier, the Mars Climate Orbiter was lost when no one noticed that Lockheed Martin Astronautics was giving NASA navigation data in English units rather than metric.

"Since Genesis was being assembled around the time of the Mars failures there were a number of additional reviews and we are trying to understand in detail what was looked at and exactly what happened there, and we're not yet prepared to comment on that," Ryschkewitsch said.

Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, based outside Denver, did not immediately return phone messages and pages left after business hours Friday.
Mistakes will be made. That's why you have reviews. And I'd say that Lockheed-Martin needs to review their system PDQ.

Saturday 16 October 2004

How To Write Best-Selling Fantasy Fiction

A complete paint-by-numbers guide is now available. Let's give it a test, by seeing how well it copes with a work just outside the genre. A Space Opera. Say, in a Galaxy, far, far away....
1. Create a main character.
Most of the people who read your book will be unconfident males. So make your main character a Loser. Aimless, shy, cowardly, guilty, ill, lazy, rural - any of these will do.
Let's say, Oh, Luke Skywalker. An orphaned country bumpkin farmboy who wants to become a Jedi like his father.
2. Create a Quest.
Out of the blue, the Loser must be suddenly told that the fate of the whole world – or some other world - rests in his incompetent hands. To save the world he must perform some task, confront some nameless foe, learn some mysterious skill etc.
Become a Jedi, Deathstar Destruction, check.
3. Create a Motley Bunch of Companions.
The Loser/Hero must have a Motley Bunch of Companions drawn from different human species e.g. dwarf, elf, Rotarian etc. Each of these companions will have one particular skill such as sword fighting, lasso twirling etc which will come in handy at a particular part of the story.
Wookie, Rogue, Comedy-duo Robots, Check.
4. Create a Wise but Useless Guide.
The Guide is wise adviser who knows all about the Quest, but never fully reveals it. He also appears to have immense powers but will not use them when they are most required.
"Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobe, you're my only hope.". Check.
5. Create the Land
The first thing the Motley Bunch must do is travel some phenomenal distance through an assortment of vastly different terrains and climates. All Fantasy Lands have every conceivable form of climate and landform - mountains, deserts, swamps, glaciers, forests - arranged randomly across the landscape contrary to any known principles of geography or ecology.
Agrculture on a Desert Planet. Check....
6. Create the Enemy
Every Fantasy Land has a Dark Enemy, an almost omnipotent ArchVillain who is trying to utterly destroy it....
Calling Darth Vader! Call for Mr Vader! ...and so on. Hey, the System Works!

Friday 15 October 2004

Car Customisation Redux

Vehicle to autonomous biped robot conversion for the Mini Cooper r50

In 2000 I thought my formal connection to Mini might be severed when Rover was sold by BMW. Luckily, BMW chose to retain the Mini brand. Subsequently, a few engineers would need to stay in England - Oxford to be exact. I was slated for retirement and was originally from the Oxford area so it raised little suspicion when I offered to stay. From then on, progress was swift....
Every home should have at least one.

Thursday 14 October 2004

Today's Interesting URL

Dilbert's Dream House.

Now if only the Green Party would have a look at some of the Eco-friendly features, and put them in their policy...

Tuesday 12 October 2004

Couldn't Have Said It Better Myself

Two comments by MarkL over at Back Pages. I'll quote them in full.

As a life-long swinging voter, I find this thread fascinating. Congratulations for maintaining, in nearly all cases, civil discourse between adults.

I posted above why I thought the ALP was deeply unconvincing in this election. This actually scares me.

The system we have works best with TWO powerful parties. What those currently oput of office MUST do is to craft credible policy positions while in opposition and form themselves as a credible alternative government.

Why am I worried? Because this is what the ALP, the oldest and most respectable political institution in the nation, has consistently failed to do.

Until the 'why?' of that issue is addressed, then the ALP will not take office.

That is very, very bad, because ALL parties need that time in opposition to refurbish themselves and shake out the deadwood.

I hang out with a lot of other swinging voters, Got talking to 'em this morning. Most are worried, most indicated that they found the ALP unelectable.

I straw polled 'em on why. There were some ALP people there who voted Liberal for the first time in their lives. What they said shocked me, this was:
  • they felt that the ALP had sold out their constituents in Tassie by betraying them to the 'latte-sipping trendy leftys of the inner cities'. Money quote from one of them "They sold us out to the f*cking Greenies. They showed no loyalty down. Why should I show loyalty up?" That bloke is in his 50s and has voted straight ALP since he was 21 years old.
  • They want the old ALP of pre-WWII back. You know, the one that stood up for workers through balancing workers rights with a thriving economy. The one that wanted every person to have the chance of putting a roof over their heads, and educating their kids, so they could get a job too.
  • The ALP was seen as threatening the roof over their heads and their kid's future jobs by pandering to the Greens.
The swinging voters mostly want:
  • the ALP to split off the hard left and dump 'em on the Greens, then form coalition with them so they do not poison the ALP well.
  • an end to the endless parade of party hacks and union hacks who have never earned a buck in their lives except through the Union movement or as a professional pollie. They reckon the present ALP front bench is packed with these people. In the cases where they were wrong about the ALP front bench, THEY DID NOT KNOW IT. One said, "name the workers on the ALP front bench". Nobody could.
  • an absolute end to the factions, to branch stacking, to the entrenched corruption within the ALP system.
  • Interestingly, they all knew Beazley senior's 1970 'the ALP used to be the cream of the working class, now it is the dregs of the middle class' quote.
  • they all regarded the ALP as poisoned by people who were so convinced of their own leftist views that they WOULD NOT LISTEN to anybody else, to the point where even reasonable aspirations for the ordinary bloke were not listened to. They do not want a bar of socialist utopians, because that does not work. They want people who know the real world. Quote" and the real world is a nasty place, sometimes."
  • The ALP blokes ALL supported the war on terror. Every one of 'em, (and every swinging voter}, wants the fascist bastards killed. They all know what a real fascist is - unlike the Australian Left or the Greens. These are not dumb people. They distrust the Australian media's anti-Americanism, they mostly look elsewhere for facts. Quote: "they have murdered a hundred Australian citizens for no reason. They just murdered a harmless old Pom. They are fascists. We know we are at war. Find them and kill them."
  • The ALP has no mechanism for shaking out the deadwood, because of the factions.
  • Therefore the ALP is simply out of touch with what people want - because it willfully refuses to listen.
The deadliest words came from a CFMEU member who voted for John Howard. He said: "NO party can call itself the ALP if it is willing to toss the jobs of workers on the scrap heap, to suck up to people who know bugger-all about what it is to be a worker who wants to work. Latham's deal with the Greenies was more than an attack on my comrades jobs. IT WAS A BETRAYAL OF THE DIGNITY OF THE WORKING MAN."

That comment caused dead silence, because he hit the nail on the head. He felt personally humiliated by Latham. And he voted straight Liberal because at least Howard recognised in him the dignity he had in being an ordinary Australian worker.

One of my grandfathers joined the ALP in 1923. He rose to be a train driver after 30 years. The other in 1919 when he got back from the war. He rose to be a springsmith after 40 years. Both are dead. I am glad that they never saw 'their ALP' betray the dignity of the working man.

I am a swinging voter. Please fix the ALP so the system works, and so I feel they are credible, and measure up to what they were in the past.

Not content with that, MarkL then produced another accurate and incisive comment.
GRegan, you raise some interesting points and some intriguing points. Thank you for that. However, extension of the argument (regarded forests as sacred so must be a greenie) is (as you doubtless know) an illogical syllogism.

You have to take the development of National Socialism at its historical value. Yes, Matilda, facts are absolute and not relative. They do not depends on ones frame of reference, or culture, or the colour of your eyes. Please do not trust me, just go and check the facts of the matter out for yourself, and reach your own conclusions.

It is beyond argument that Hitler was a socialist, and that he developed his own rather special brand of socialism, to our enormous cost. Read what the evil so-and-so actually said, actually did. Read his party's policies, and where they got them from. Read his speeches, and what he was saying during his long rise to power; it was all from the run-of-the-mill socialism of the era. Please remember that era is 80 years ago. Things have changed since. And socialists do not like to be reminded that National Socialism was an anti-capitalist, anti-democratic, socialist creed. Unless you are a Socialist Alliance hardliner, in which case it is the great secret everyone knows, but which dare not speak its name.

National Socialism was a major development in socialism, as was the development of soviet communism. Both had long lives, both dated from the end of WWI, and both are still with us.

Ba'ath does actually stand for Arab National Socialist, leading Arab nationalists of the period 1934-38 travelled to Germany and, with German National Socialist political philosophers, developed an Arab version of the creed. A Lebanese Christian friend of mine knows this. He has lost 20+ relatives to National Socialist Syrian Army troops and secret police occupying Lebanon. He is from Zahle, originally, so as you doubtless know, this explains why. Oh, they murdered the most recent one ten months ago. He really, really hates Arab National Socialists.

This, BTW, makes the Syrian state that last National Socialist state on earth, as North Korea is the last Stalinist one. These pernicious ideologies last until someone destroys them. Note the active tense. Playing a role in the destruction of ANY National Socialist regime is a good thing IMVHO.

SO I sound like a right winger? How odd. I thought leftists were supposed to SEEK the destruction of National Socialist governments. Certainly, my devout practising marxist mates (OK, they ARE rather old geezers!) are still crowing about it. Marxism can develop from a bourgeoeise democracy, according to them, but not from a National Socialist state.
Yup, the Marxists I know support the destruction of Saddamite national Socialism by the Coalition!

It is a mark of how far the left has sunk that it now fails to identify such totalitarian regimes and oppose them. The western left was the most merciless of their opponents, until it lost its moral compass. This is why Christoper Hitchens has abandoned the western left, of course. And become a self confessed 'recovering Trotskyite', philosophically attached to Paul Wolfowitz's brand of activist neo-conservatism. Christopher flipping HITCHENS!

There are no more International Brigades, are there?

Instead, we see 'peace' marches to oppose the removal of National Socialist totalitarian dictators. Which they then broadcast as proof of popular western support for their government.

Has the west supported ugly regimes? Yes, as part of opposing some of the worst ideological structures the world has ever seen. Was this expediency at its worst? Yes, and it stands condemned at the bar of history when there were better options of achieving the same end.

But to attempt to render moral equivalency between the support of authoritarian regimes, and the existance of national Socialist or Communist regimes is simply invalid. And we have the body count to prove it - real The Gulag Archipelago if you do not believe me. That is like saying the idiotic and reprehensible behaviour at Abu Ghraib is morally equivalent to Zaqwari's murder of western hostages, and his bombing campaign against Iraqi civilians.

Such a comparison (where made) can be considered deeply racist: implying that westerners acting badly is equivalent to Arabs murdering others actually does this. Because implies that 'we have to expect this sort of thing from the brown chappies'.

I am not saying you are a racist, and please do not think that I am saying or implying that at all. I am saying that where people are not careful about the issues of moral relativism, this sort of issue can arise. This is dangerous ground.

Overall, please look objectively at the development of the great ideologies of the past century. A tremendous and bitter failure of the western left is ignoring what National Socialism and Stalinist Communism really were - but only by knowing exactly what they were can the modern left avoid becoming them again.

The men of the International Brigades fighting Franco knew.

Do you? If you do not, then they died in vain. So it is well worth the effort to find out.

I have strayed very far from commiserations and congratulations on the Australian election! I do apologise for that, but I thought some words from an ex-socialist who is now a professional grouch who takes no politicians word for anything and makes up his own mind on the facts he can find on every substantive issue might interest the odd person. Being accused of being a RWDB was, however, bloody funny. Thanks for the laughs. I guess I just wish a plague on all politicians houses ... (is this bad??)

Hey, there is a bumper sticker:
Hate all the bastards equally!
Be a Swinging Voter

To all, congratulations and commiserations in equal measure, and good night.

I'm a little less cynical. A little. But otherwise, MarkL and I are of like mind. I really couldn't have put it better myself.

Post Scriptum : I tried contacting MarkL for permission to quote him, but wasn't able to. A matter of politeness. I just hope he starts blogging...

Saturday 9 October 2004

Latham Concedes

But vows to Do A MacArthur.

Meanwhile, Phillip Adams won't forgive God for this. Auschwitz? De Nada. The 30 years war? A mere bagatelle. The Black Death? A minor matter. But Howard getting re-elected? Unthinkable.

The Nobel Peace Prize

Looking through the list of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates reveals a very, er, spotty record. For example:
1971 Willy Brandt
1973 Henry Kissinger, Le Duc Tho
1994 Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin
2002 Jimmy Carter
Of course, there have been less controversial awards too. Mother Theresa was a shoe-in, and she'll score a Sainthood too.

The latest award has gone to someone who's done a lot of practical good in Africa, Professor Wangari Maathai. At least, I think she's done some practical good.
The Nobel Committee praised her for taking a "holistic approach to sustainable development that embraces democracy, human rights and women's rights in particular." She thinks globally and acts locally, they said.
Fully Buzz-phrase compliant. But further reading shows that she actually did do something useful.
The feminist, crusader and environmentalist was motivated by widespread deforestation in Kenya to mobilize rural women to plant trees to sustain their fuel needs, as well as to combat the effects of soil erosion.

But on the other hand... she has a few odd ideas.
Kenyan ecologist Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, today reiterated her claim that the AIDS virus was a deliberately created biological agent.

"Some say that AIDS came from the monkeys, and I doubt that because we have been living with monkeys (since) time immemorial, others say it was a curse from God, but I say it cannot be that.

"Us black people are dying more than any other people in this planet," Ms Maathai told a press conference in Nairobi a day after winning the prize for her work in human rights and reversing deforestation across Africa.

"It's true that there are some people who create agents to wipe out other people. If there were no such people, we could have not have invaded Iraq," she said.

"We invaded Iraq because we believed that Saddam Hussein had made, or was in the process of creating agents of biological warfare," said Ms Maathai.

"In fact it (the HIV virus) is created by a scientist for biological warfare," she added.

"Why has there been so much secrecy about AIDS? When you ask where did the virus come from, it raises a lot of flags. That makes me suspicious," Ms Maathai said.

Africa accounts for 25 million out of the estimated 38 million across the world infected with HIV, and the vast majority of infected Africans are women, according to UNAIDS estimates.

The United States on Friday congratulated Ms Maathai on winning the Nobel Peace Prize, but tempered its praise over her claims about AIDS.

"She said (HIV/AIDS) was invented as a bio-weapon in some laboratory in the West," a senior State Department official said.

"We don't agree with that."
I can see why not.

Friday 8 October 2004

Chrac admits French Cultural Inferiority

Time to engage in the ancient and honourable pastime of Frog-Bashing. It's racist, it's uncultured, it's wrong, but it's fun, and they make themselves such irresistable targets...

In fact, Monsieur Chirac asks that French Culture be given the same status as a threatened species. Or possibly that of a patient in intensive care, requiring a constant stream of money to keep it alive.

From the International Herald Tribune :
HANOI: President Jacques Chirac of France warned Thursday of a catastrophe for global diversity if the United States' cultural leadership goes unchallenged.

Speaking at a French cultural center in Hanoi before the opening Friday of a summit meeting of European and Asian leaders, Chirac said France was right to stand up for cultural and linguistic diversity.

The French president warned that the world's different cultures could be "choked" by U.S. values.
Like, er, Freedom, perhaps? The right not be be dominated by an Aristocratic Upper Class, be they Nomenklatura, Titled Nobility, or effectively hereditary bureaucrats, as in France? It's a dead giveaway that it's the Values he's against, not the danger of over-concentrated power.
This, he said, would lead to a "general world subculture" based around the English language. This, he maintained, would be "a real ecological catastrophe."
Equal only to that caused by the eradication of Smallpox.
Citing Hollywood's overwhelming leadership in the movie industry as an example, Chirac asserted that only with government assistance could countries maintain their cultural heritage.
Monsieur Chirac obviously doesn't count the thousands of Bollywood movies put out each year, which have audiences in the tens of millions. But of course, they're not en Francais so of course they don't count. And they're made by little brown people, not Cultured Europeans.
Vietnam is a former French colony, but only 375,000 of its 81 million people speak French. English is considered by most people a far more valuable and practical second language, particularly among those in business.
Ironically, English is turning into the new lingua franca - "the language of the Franks".

Being Australian, there's lots of things about US culture that I don't like. That's OK, many Americans don't like bits of their culture too. And it gets really difficult talking about "US Culture". California Rolls, Tex-Mex, Chop Suey, Boston Beans, Clam Chowder... Washington (state) is about as different from Washington (DC), as Birmingham (Alabama) is from Birmingham (England). Or Melbourne (Florida) is from Melbourne (Australia).

While staying at the Quaker Square Hilton in Akron (Ohio), in the heart of the Bible Belt, it was difficult to believe I was in the same country as Santa Monica (California). Parts of LA were so much like the daggier parts of Sydney that it was odd that they all drove on the wrong side of the road, and talked a bit funny. Akron, with its 15 channels of Preacher feature TV-Evangelists was, um, a bit different. A little ludicrous; a little frightening; not something that fit easily in my comfort-zone. But certainly different.

There's enough Cultural Diversity within the Anglosphere to make any suggestions about it being a Monoculture laughable. And it survives despite, rather than because of, cultural protection mechanisms. The US exports "Sesame Street", the UK exports "Bob the Builder", and Australia exports "The Wiggles", and the marketplace is big enough for all of them to fight it out. It's as American as Apple Pie, as British as Curry and a Pint. And for that matter, as Japanese as Tempura (and note the country domain of that URL - it's .fr).

France - or Outer Mongolia for that matter - can be in the race too. All they have to do is be better than the competition. Just look at the way Australian diets have changed over the years. We now eat a lot more asian-style cooking, quite a bit more Mediterranean-style, and rather less of the Roast-and-two-veg of Europe and the UK. The perfect accompiment for Kangaroo fillets is Turkish beetroot dip. California Rolls are excellent with a trace of Vegemite in with the Wasabi.

Monsieur Chirac is venting on about US and Anglophone "Cultural Domination" without realising that the Anglosphere is constantly re-inventing itself. English has rightfully been called "The Borg of Languages", typified by a question one German engineer asked me when I was in Bremen: "What's English for 'Kindergarten'?"

And in France they have campaigns by the Acedemie Francais to stop people from using words like "e-mail", as they pollute the racial purity of the French Language.

Quelle Fromage!

Lies, Damned Lies...

And Statistics. Over at The Iron Monkey there's a first-rate article on how to manipulate a story to match a preconceived bias.
Step 1. Start with data that shows a positive trend, like this DOT highway fatality data that shows that the traffic fatality rate is at the lowest level ever recorded. This article states the correct conclusion at the top:
The fatality rate on the nation’s highways in 2003 was the lowest since record keeping began 29 years ago, the U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta announced today. The number of crash-related injuries also dropped to a historic low in 2003.

"America’s roads and highways are safer than ever," said Secretary Mineta. "The decreasing number of traffic fatalities and record low death rate on our roads shows that we are headed down the right road – one that leads to a safer America."

But don't worry, we can find ways to make this data sound scary, as if it means just the opposite.

Step 2. Change the comparison......

Thursday 7 October 2004

"Hamlet" in the original Klingon

Hamlet in Klingon

Remember - if you haven't read Hamlet in the original Klingon, you really haven't read Hamlet.

A product of the Klingon Shakespeare Restoration Project, available through the Klingon Language Institute - who also offer a Postal Language Course.

Though oddly enough, although they supply links on where to buy "Conversational Klingon" (ISBN 0-671-79739-5) and "Power Klingon" (ISBN 0-671-87975-8), they don't give any information about some of the great Klingon Albums, such as "Qo'nos chargh 'elvIS" (Elvis takes Kronos). But if you've been reading this blog, you know where to get them.

Hat Tip : Reader Dark Messiah

Wednesday 6 October 2004

Hollywood Values

Sometimes the shallow fashionistas of the entertainment industry can really get on my wick. The values espoused are so trite, trivial, and so ill-thought-out that it's unbelievable how intelligent people can spout such tripe.

But then, you meet someone whose values are far more moral, logical and ethical, and is not afraid to do something in accordance with them.

May I present to you : World On Fire by Sarah McLachlan, a talented artist I'd never heard of before. Please view the video.

Tuesday 5 October 2004

In Other News...

The most important space event since the moon landing : the winning of the X-prize.

I stayed up until 0300 last night in a vain attempt to see TV coverage of it. The Webcast was jammed solid, overloaded here.

We get a different feed here from the US.
CNN - nothing. MSNBC - nada. BBC World - zip. Local Channels - tiddly-squat. Eventually, half an hour after the event, BBC world had a 12-second story on it, with 5 seconds of video showing the landing. The rest were rabbiting on about share prices, company takeovers, fashion accessories, holiday destinations or some such guff.


Oh yes, according to Rand Simberg of Transterrestrial Musings (who knows the pilot), SpaceShipOne broke the 1963 altitude record set by the X-15 . And it's the 47th anniversary of the launching of Sputnik.

Fisk : Democracy, No!

Robert Fisk bemoans the removal of someone who at least made the trains run on time.
ROBERT FISK: ...people say to me, look. I don't care if you got rid of Saddam Hussein. No, we didn't like him, but at least with Saddam Hussein, we had security. Our children went to school in the morning. Although we didn't have free speech, we knew that if we obeyed the rules, we would be alive. Now, that is not praise of Saddam Hussein. He was a cruel dictator. We helped to prop him up. We started him off in the first place. But if the alternative is carnage on the scale we're now seeing, what do you think that the Iraqis want? I mean, history shows that what Bush did, and what Kerry thinks he might be able to do, cannot work, especially in Iraq. I'm writing a new book about history and the folly of history and the inability to escape from it....
Afghanistan is not a success. Human rights organizations are already pointing out that the polls are hopelessly flawed, that the candidates in some cases are working for the warlords...There has been some reconstruction work. Some people have gone along to put their names down for a vote, but given the warlordism, the vote is likely to prove meaningless, if it does take place. I don't think, by the way, that the elections are going to take place in January or any time soon afterwards in Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: Robert Fisk, thank you for joining us, of The Independent newspaper in Britain, a long-time middle East correspondent for that paper, voted year after year the best foreign correspondent by British editors and reporters. This is Democracy Now!
And she said it without a trace of irony.

But perhaps I'm being too harsh? Fisk also says:
Both in Afghanistan and in Iraq, we have profoundly failed because we have not done our work as we should have done internationally through the United Nations. And that, unfortunately, is why the bin Ladens of this world can continue to flourish and can continue to stage their war.
So invoke the mystic incantation "UN" and all would have been well?
It would be pointless to remind Robert Fisk of what happened to the UN envoy to Iraq. It would be equally futile to try to unravel the tortuous logic that leads to the conclusion that Bin Laden and Al Qaeda exist because, what, the US and the UN are at loggerheads? The Bin Laden and Al Qaeda Islamofascists, and for that matter the Junjaweed currently masscring blacks in the Sudan, exist because the United Nations is just as impotent, and even more corrupt, than the League of Nations ever was.

For someone so well versed in history, he hasn't learnt the lessons of Munich - for using his logic, if France and England had just let the League of Nations handle the little dispute in Poland, all would have been well, with no need for a World War. On facts, Fisk is pretty good. On analysis, abysmal.

Strengthen The Good #3

This month, the featured micro-charity is The Garden of Angels.

This is an organisation that works to provide names and legal, honorable burials for abandoned newborns. More importantly, it also does its best to make sure that newborns aren't abandoned in the first place.

So rather than just breath a deep sigh when you see yet another story of a baby's body being found in a garbage bin, do something about it. You could donate a few bucks, or link to the strengthen the good website, or to the The Garden of Angels page directly. Or just pass around the message that such an organisation exists, via word of mouth or inter-office e-mail. Every bit helps, and being a micro-charity, even a single dollar can make a difference.

Monday 4 October 2004

Myers-Brigs Personality Test

My Results:

INTP - "Architect". Greatest precision in thought and language. Can readily discern contradictions and inconsistencies. The world exists primarily to be understood. 3.3% of total population.
Take Free Myers-Briggs Personality Test

Given that by profession I'm a software and systems architect, specialising in real-time and safety-critical systems where even the smallest error can cause disaster - pretty accurate, I'd say.

This and other personality tests - varying from the sublime to the ridiculous - are also available via the link above.

Obscure Obituaries

Randy Cassingham's Honorary Unsubscribe Recognizes the Unknown, the Forgotten and the Obscure People who Had an Impact on Our Lives.

Examples include:

  • Hovercraft inventor Christopher Cockerell
  • First on-air TV weatherman Clint Youle
  • MAD cartoonist Dave Berg
  • Frisbee developer Ed Headrick
  • Astrophysicist Fred Hoyle
  • "Spanish Flea" composer Julius Wechter
  • "Hawkeye Pierce" model Keith Reemtsma
  • SF Writer Poul Anderson
  • Vinyl inventor Waldo Semon
  • Concentrated orange juice creator Wallace R. Roy
  • Colour TV broadcast pioneer Walter D. Scott
...and hundreds of others

Sunday 3 October 2004

In Space, No One Can Hear You Laugh

Over at the Encyclopedia Galactica, there's a new section on Space Humour. Not the sick "NASA = Need Another Seven Astronauts" variety, but gags and japes actually pulled by people in Space.

For example, the photo below isn't doctored, it's real.

Shuttle For sale

Kerry's Quest

Saturday 2 October 2004

No Chance of Confusion

From the Brisbane Courier-Mail :
Labor candidate Ivan Molloy posed with a machine gun supplied by Muslim extremists and has said Australia should be turning its military on both itself and the US.

Dr Molloy has also claimed Muslim guerilla groups should not be labelled terrorists.

The group he posed with in the Philippines in 1983 has recently been linked by Washington to Osama Bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network.
A photograph of the gun-toting Dr Molloy was featured in a 33-page working paper he wrote for his thesis entitled "The Conflicts of Mindanao: Whilst the Revolution Rolls On, the Jihad Falters".
"I don't want to get caught in the trap of saying I am sympathetic but I would say I understand their causes," Dr Molloy said yesterday.

But Dr Molloy said groups which resorted to violence should not be stereotyped as "terrorists" by people who did not understand their side of the argument.

"It is no good to call them all terrorists. You have to look at the side they came from," he said.

In December 2002, Dr Molloy blamed Australia and the US for terrorism.

"If the West in general and the US in particular are really serious about stamping out terrorism and state promoters of this activity, we would be turning our guns not only on the Russians, Chinese, Irish, Spanish, French, virtually all our allies and even back on ourselves, but most importantly also on the US itself," he said in a public speech.
Dr Molloy, an academic at the University of the Sunshine Coast, posted on an Internet chat room in April 2002: "I have spent much time in Asia and Central America researching and supporting many popular struggles against oppression."

From News Ltd :
John Howard and Alexander Downer are demanding Molloy, a Queensland lecturer specialising in terrorism, be sacked after the emergence of a 1983 photograph showing him brandishing a gun allegedly supplied by an extreme Muslim terrorism group in The Philippines.

Adding to the case against Molloy, the Government produced an academic paper presented seven weeks after the 2002 Bali bombings. Molloy argues if the West, and Australia, were serious about stamping out terrorism then "we would be turning our guns not only on the Russians, the Chinese, the Irish, the Spanish, the French, virtually all our allies and even back on ourselves".
Wonder why News Ltd didn't mention the US? Maybe because it wouldn't fit in with the picture they're painting of "harmless leftist trendoid". Anyway, beack to the News Ltd article:
We enter and the poor candidate is sweating like a sow. Molloy doesn't want to talk, is waiting for a call from head office, promises to "unload" if they dump him. Campaign workers are afluster, urging their man to keep his trap shut and step back inside. Only wife Cate Molloy, who skipped a sitting of state parliament to be by her husband's side yesterday, is showing any vestige of poise or good humour.

Perhaps that's due to her pedigree as a prominent nudist state MP. The member for Noosa has provided Premier Peter Beattie with the occasional political migraine through her passionate advocacy of the sensual wonders of nude bathing.

Having sailed through these controversies, Cate reckons Ivan's lot is a giant fuss about nothing. The now infamous picture of her husband wielding a gun, published on the front page of The Courier Mail, was, she says, a legitimate part of his university thesis. Cate insists Ivan, also a keen nudist, is no terrorist sympathiser.
Last week, when Cate blamed the Liberals for the Bali bombing, he happily endorsed her comments.

Now, according to Molloy, Labor HQ is on the phone to sort out The Philippines mess.

We agree to rendezvous later. By which time the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister are demanding Labor sack Molloy. And Mark Latham has mistakenly labelled him "Ivan Milat".

Controversial ... the picture that sparked the furore
"Excuse the slip," says the Labor leader when he realises the nudist-cum-alleged terrorist sympathiser has now been lumped with the notorious serial killer.

"That's a funny coincidence - Ivan Milat was once one of my constituents."

Mr Latham later backed Molloy, who in a letter to the party said he had always repudiated terrorism. He insisted the photograph showed him with supporters of the late Philippines president Ferdinand Marcos.
Which is why, no doubt, it was included in a thesis sympathetic to the Moro Liberation Army.

To some people, all the talk about 'Terrorism', 'Democracy', 'Liberation' and so on is all a bit of a joke. Something to talk about over a Latte on the beach (nudist or otherwise). It doesn't really matter whether you pose for a "photo opportunity" with an Islamic terrorist - sorry, Freedom Fighter - or a 'Marcos Supporter'. I mean, there are just so many anti-Imperialist movements around, it's difficult to keep all these precious little brown people straight. No-one takes it seriously, anyway. It's not as if anyone's ever going to fly airliners into skyscrapers over anything (Ha-Ha!).

As for the pictures? The one on the Left in Ivan Molloy (the Labor Candidate), the one on the Right is Ivan Milat (the Serial Killer). No chance of confusion, is there?