Tuesday 30 November 2004

Kids, Don't Run with Scissors

Especially not Grandpa's razor-sharp gardening shears.

But three-year-olds are wont to snatch things up as soon as you put them down.
They're also wont to run off with them, at least, for a few seconds.
They're also wont to trip and fall.
The whole process takes less time than it takes to read about it.

Andrew, Carmel and I got a very thorough practical anatomy lesson. The wound, which looked just like Andrew had slit his wrist from side to side, exposed the tendons and arteries - but damaged neither. Carmel was nearby, and had already bound the wound with her dress and applied pressure to it by the time I got there, maybe 30 seconds after the event.

We managed to distract Andrew at the Hospital as the stitches were being put in (the wound was far worse than it looked at first sight, quite deep, but still missed everything major), by singing nursery rhymes. He was utterly terrified, crying, bloodied and screaming in pain, yet managed to sing "the Grand Old Duke of York" along with us as the Doctor did her gruesome work (and Daddy held his wrist steady). I even managed to spot a piece of foreign body hidden from the Doctor's sight by one of the tendons. In. My. Infant. Son's. Wrist. (Permission to Gibber? Refused.)

Andrew is now fast asleep, happy as Larry that he got a McDONALDS GIFT CERTIFICATE!!!! for being so brave. His only complaint was that Mackers was closed (it was midnight when we finally left the hospital), and soon cheered up when I said we could go to Hungry Jack's tomorrow (he prefers them, anyway).

I am so bloody proud of the little bloke.

Panic over, duty done, everything OK, I can now collapse in a screaming heap and change my gore-soaked clothes. When I said "bloody proud" I meant it literally.

To parents everywhere, Goodnight.

Monday 29 November 2004

The Gostak Distims the Doshes

One SF story I read a long time ago was "The Gostak and the Doshes". Basically, the protagonist finds himself in a "universe next door", an altogether kinder and saner one. One which is so much like our own that he's perfectly at home. Until War fever breaks out, over the Engtalians' stubborn refusal to admit that the Gostak distims the Doshes.

The protagonist becomes increasingly befuddled and frustrated trying to figure out exactly why this whole society is being plunged into war. What is a Gostak? What is a Dosh? What is distiming?

What is the Gostak? The thing that distims Doshes.
What is distimming? What the Gostak does to doshes.
What are the doshes? Things that the Gostak distims....

That's about all I remember about it, but it made a distinct impression on me, as I last read the story about 30 years ago - 2/3 of my lifetime ago.

But now, thanks to the Internet, I can find out where the phrase came from, and buried in an explanation of how to program in the language PROLOG, the following :
"As an able but little known writer has remarked:
Suppose someone to assert: The gostak distims the doshes. You do not know what this means; nor do I. But if we assume that it is English, we know that 'the doshes are distimmed by the gostak'. We know too that 'one distimmer of doshes is a gostak' . If moreover, the 'doshes are galloons', we know that 'some galloons are distimmed by the gostak'. And so we may go on, and so we often do go on"
The quote above is from "The Meaning of Meaning" by C.K.Ogden and I.A. Richards; quoted also by Dr. Miles Breuer in "The gostak and the doshes", an S.F. tale of countries driven to war through the force of incomprehensible slogans.
Then there's oddities, like "The Gostak Distims the Doshes: Economic Warfare in 27th-Century Apalacia", which has the following definition :
Doshery (doscéria) — A natural region in which doshes are found and may be harvested.
As well as this interesting (and plausible) piece of Alernate Future History :
Mundane War (2712-2720 A.U.C.) — The world war (bellum mundanum or bellum universum) between the Roman, Han, and Quechua empires. Major theaters were: (1) India, where hostilities began when Roman legions came to the aid of the Indian Emperor against invading Han armies; (2) Persia, where Aryan and Roman legions fought a second Han attack; (3) Australia, where Quechua and Han colonies fought each other; (4) Hippolytana, where Han and Roman colonies fought; and (5) Luna, where Roman and Quechua colonies fought. Major fleet actions occurred in the South Pacific Ocean, South Atlantic Ocean, and cis-Lunar space as well. Europa, Cingutana, Brasilia, and trans-Lunar space (including Mars) saw little or no action.
Other Gostak and Dosh-related facts, this time ones you won't find on the Internet anywhere else. The Miniature Figurine maker Martian Metals (before its warehouse was tragically burnt down), included coupons - "doshes" - with its products that could be sent to their Gostak for distimming (and earning of additional products). It was a quirky, whimsical company that produced quirky, whimsical products, and is sadly missed these 25+ years.
Then there's the Gostak deck for the Dvorak card game, which contains the following crucial information:
Doshes can be distimmed, coppled or snerked, and some of them are morbled. Podules can be flimmed or foomed. Vebs can be wunked. Fum and shim are quantities or generic adjectives. Some Players are piminy.
Which should be self-evident to the reader at this point.

Oh well, at least I'm not alone in my fascination.

Sunday 28 November 2004

A Familiar Ring

I knew I'd seen Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell's style before. Here. (From November 1939 issue of Die Sturmer, Goebbels propaganda mag)

Except Goebbels' cartoonists were more subtle, and less anti-American. And showed more wit.

1942 Nazi Cartoon

This cocktail (Blood,Tears) doesn't seem to agree with him

Pardoning the Thanksgiving Turkey

More pro-National Socialist and anti-American cartoons are available here too.

Saturday 27 November 2004

Latham's Last Stand

From The Australian :
Federal Opposition Leader Mark Latham will put his leadership to the test next week when he pushes for a senior Labor senator to be punished for destabilising the party.
Told you the days might not be in double digits. Anyway, on with the motley :
Mr Latham, who led Labor to its fourth consecutive election defeat at the October 9 poll, will seek the support of fellow frontbenchers to discipline Labor deputy Senate leader Stephen Conroy and may even try to sack him from the front bench when caucus meets on Tuesday.
A recent poll put his popularity at its lowest level since he became leader in December last year, while former Kim Beazley adviser Michael Costello labelled him a "dead parrot" who could not bring himself to accept blame without qualification for the loss.
He yesterday warned frontbenchers to stop leaking details of internal party meetings as he again rejected claims his leadership was under threat.
And he issued a brief statement last night, calling for unity in the party.
"In politics disunity is death," Mr Latham said.
"It is obvious that the party cannot afford to allow this destabilisation to continue.
"Naturally I'll be talking to my colleagues about it next week."

He will attend the cabinet meeting on Monday morning and caucus on Tuesday, where the issue of Senator Conroy is expected to be raised.
Mr Latham needs caucus support to remove the Victorian Senator from his post.
Under the ALP's factional system, only the Politburo Caucus can determine who is in the Cabinet. The PM just says what jobs they do, a major plum like Shadow Minister for Trade, or something minor like Shadow Minister for Pacific Islands.
Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd, tipped as a possible leadership contenders, said a Latham-led Labor could win the next election.
"Our challenge as an alternative government is to learn carefully what we got wrong in the last election, what we got right in the last election, to change our posture and our policies accordingly and get on with the business of taking the fight up to John Winston Howard," he said.
Opposition treasury spokesman Wayne Swan said there would not be a leadership spill by the end of the year, as has been suggested in some media reports, and the party would unite behind Mr Latham.
"I'm completely confident there won't be a spill," he said.
"I'm completely confident that Mark Latham will lead this party into the next election, absolutely confident."
The Kiss of Death.

Still, the Labor Caucus does face a problem: Mark's on the nose, but is his replacement ready? Does he have the numbers to get in in such a short time? Latham might survive this one, albeit mortally wounded. Still, grasping the nettle like this is probably his only chance, slim though it is.

As a commenter said about the last article, Entertaining Stuff. (My bet's on Rudd BTW, but in 2 months, not next week).

Friday 26 November 2004

Dead Man Walking

I'd say Mark Latham's days as leader of the Australian Labor Party are numbered - and may not be in double digits. They probably are. Probably.

From The Australian :
PM stays out of dead parrot row
Prime Minister John Howard stayed resolutely on the sidelines today in Labor's internal brawl.

He refused to buy into the row which has seen Opposition Leader Mark Latham described by a former senior opposition adviser as a dead parrot.

"I don't want to comment on his position. I will leave that to others," Mr Howard told Melbourne radio 3AW.

"It is terribly self-serving on the part of one political leader to be commenting on the adversity of his opponent."
A Politician in Australia can survive many things. But being held up to public ridicule by his own team isn't one of them.

Other signs that his feet are nailed to the perch are the less-than-enthusiastic support he's getting from the Comrades of the Caucus.

From the ABC :
Federal Opposition Leader Mark Latham says speculation about his future is nonsense that is filling up newspapers.

Unnamed Labor figures are reported to have said that Mr Latham has lost the support of key factional leaders.

Mr Latham says he was elected unopposed as Labor leader last month and he has no time for colleagues that make anonymous criticism of his leadership.

Mr Latham has told Adelaide Radio 5AA, disunity in the Labor Party is death.
But... I thought it was all nonsense... never mind.
However, Tasmanian Senator Kerry O'Brien says Mr Latham still has to convince the Caucus that he is the person who can lead Labor to victory at the next election.

Senator O'Brien says there are other people in the party who could take over.

"There are always plenty of people with that leader's baton in their knapsack and I'm not going to speculate about what might be totally hypothetical at this stage," he said.

"Mark's our leader at this stage, we're working through the consequences of the loss."

Federal Treasurer Peter Costello has predicted Mark Latham will not last as Opposition Leader.

Mr Costello says it appears Mr Latham now lacks the support of the Labor Caucus.

"I think they've probably made up their mind about Mr Latham but what they haven't made up their mind about is the alternative," he said.

"I'll watch like everybody else to see what alternatives emerge over the course of next year."
Or possibly sooner, at this rate. They're not Marshal's batons in their knapsacks, they're daggers.

Even his most enthusiastic backers are strangely muted about how wonderful a leader he is. From the ABC again :
The Federal Opposition health spokeswoman, Julia Gillard, has urged her colleagues not to fuel further speculation about Mark Latham's leadership.
Ms Gillard says Mr Latham is doing a good job as Labor leader.

"Clearly, after an election defeat there is a bit of hurt around the place but I think that Labor that needs to get on with the task under Mark Latham's leadership," she said.
Really. He's not that bad. Keep that thought, and repeat it until you convince yourself.

From The Australian :
There was no rift developing between Victorian Premier Steve Bracks and Mark Latham, Mr Bracks said today.

But Mr Bracks said the federal Labor leader was wrong to blame state governments for the ALP's election loss.

The two men shook hands and exchanged a brief greeting in Ballarat today at the launch of celebrations of the 150th anniversary of the Eureka Stockade.

Mr Bracks denied the meeting was frosty and said he had a good relationship with Mr Latham.

"I've got an effective and professional relationship, a good relationship," Mr Bracks said.
Asked if he backed Mark Latham as opposition leader, Mr Bracks said the leadership was a matter for the federal caucus.

"It's not my role to back anyone, I have a state to run," he said.

But Mr Bracks said Mr Latham was the elected leader and deserved the support of the party.
So much for a "ringing endorsement". Then there's Maria Hawthorne's piece in The Australian, Good Aussie Journalism at its best (and I'm not being sarcastic) :
He has been labelled a dead parrot by a former Beazley adviser, a narcissist who won't listen to anyone by anonymous frontbenchers, and a bully by a state Labor premier.

He has allegedly had an angry bust-up with factional heavyweight Stephen Conroy, accusing him of leaking internal ructions to journalists, and says one journalist has been sold so many pups by Labor leakers that he could open a pound.

Meanwhile, Latham supporters ask journalists if they know the frontbencher responsible for a critical magazine story this week, then mutter darkly about members of the Left faction.

One frontbencher says Mr Latham's like someone with a bad case of sunburn – "even looking at him hurts".

After going backwards at the election and losing ground in opinion polls since, Opposition MPs are cranky, fractious and looking for answers.
Internally, the Labor caucus is split into three camps – those who voted against Mr Latham last December and now feel vindicated, those who took a chance on him and now wonder what would have happened on October 9 if they had not, and a small band of Latham loyalists who are sticking by their man.

His problem is that he does not have a large store of goodwill within his party.

His prickly personality and loner attitude have earned him few friends in his nine years in federal parliament.

And his reaction to the election defeat, particularly his reshuffle of the Labor front bench, has got many offside within the party.

"There's always winners and losers but there's a handful of people who weren't his supporters who he's chosen to kick in the guts," one demoted frontbencher says.

Some frontbenchers are even suggesting that there is not the goodwill for Mr Latham that there was for his predecessor Simon Crean – an astonishing claim given the months of destabilisation before Mr Crean's eventual departure.
Simon Crean had all the charisma of a compost heap, though at worst he was mediocre rather than actually awful as a politician. To have less support than him... takes a bit of doing. But Mark Latham has managed it. To continue:
In addition to the open political arguments, Labor's staff ranks are haemorrhaging, with 11 positions advertised last Saturday, including a speech writer and economics adviser for the determinedly independent Latham.

Some caucus critics have predicted a leadership spill by Christmas...
Quietly, without any fuss, the rats whose employment is on the line are leaving the sinking ship. When the staff leave, you know the end is pretty near, and absolutely certain. Then there's this gem :
Bookmakers won't take bets on how long Mr Latham will last as leader.

They argue that, because the matter will be settled by the Labor caucus – a relatively small (and even smaller since the election) group of people – it would be possible for someone with inside knowledge to profit.
But... that would imply that members of the Labor Caucus might be dishonest! You know things are bad when the bookies won't take any bets. It's a dead cert, accent on the "dead". As in parrot.

In order to understand the group dynamics involved, just go to this site. For Your Eyes Only.

UNbelievable and UNsustainable

From the BBC :
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has sent a team of investigators into refugee camps in west Africa following the revelation that large numbers of children have been sexually exploited by aid workers there.

The scale of the problem - revealed in an overview of a report by the UNHCR in conjunction with the British-based charity Save the Children - has surprised relief personnel.

From Reuters :
A U.N. General Assembly panel has killed resolutions denouncing human rights abuses in Zimbabwe and Sudan after African nations argued the measures were politically motivated by Europeans and the United States.
U.S. Ambassador John Danforth, who transported all 15 Security Council ambassadors to Nairobi last week, castigated the assembly on Tuesday when it became clear the measure would be scuttled by a procedural vote.

"One wonders about the utility of the General Assembly on days like this. One wonders if there can't be a clear and direct statement on matters of basic principle," he said.

"Why have this building? What are we all about? This to me is a very bad situation," Danforth told reporters.

On Wednesday, U.S. delegate Gerald Scott noted the well-documented abuses in Sudan's western region of Darfur, where Arab militia had tortured civilians and made homeless 1.8 million civilians in a clash with African rebel groups. The resolution would have condemned all sides in the conflict.

"If these (U.N.) bodies cannot speak with one voice on an issue as clear as Darfur, what can they do?," Scott asked.

The Sudan draft expressed "grave concern" at atrocities in Darfur "including forced displacement and arbitrary executions" as well as widespread abuse of women throughout the country "in law and practice."

From Diplomad :
Our Diplomads have served at the UN, in New York, Vienna and Geneva, and worked with the UN in a variety of other posts, and can tell you from experience that the UN is a massive, expensive hoax that needs to be ended once and for all.

Those who don't rely on the "elite" MSM for all their information, know about the UN's "oil-for-food" scam that is slowly being uncovered, and could prove the most massive financial scandal in human history (even bigger than Massachusetts' "Big Dig.") The "oil-for-food" scam, huge as it is, flows logically from the ruling ethos at the UN. The UN system is built on corruption, on the principle of the shake-down; whatever lofty objectives might have existed at its creation, for the UN corruption now provides the means and reason to exist.

See also a multi-count indictment by the Belmont Club. I've always been of the opinion that the UN's various organs - like the WHO, FAO, ILO and so on - do far too much good for the whole thing to be abandoned. But given what's happened with UNESCO and the UNHCR, I wonder how long it will take for the rot to set in irredeemably in other organs too? What happens when the WHO becomes politicised and as corrupt as the rest? Or the FAO? Or the ILO? Or, as seems increasingly likely to have already happened, the IAEA? Reluctantly, I've come to the conclusion that we should be preparing a back-up plan. It would take decades to set up, so we better start soon.

A Smidgin of Justice?

Seen via Normblog, this piece from the Guardian :
Josef Mengele, the "Angel of Death" at Auschwitz concentration camp, spent his last years in his Brazilian hideaway lonely, depressed and short of money, according to 86 letters, notes and diaries discovered filed away in a Sao Paulo police archive.

One of the most wanted Nazi war criminals, because of the experiments he conducted on children and other inmates, Mengele apparently lived his last years suffering intense abdominal pains.

Fear of being discovered made him chew the ends of his moustache, resulting in a ball of hair blocking his intestines.
So he suffered from Hairballs. Caused by unbearable stress over many years. Lonely, depressed, and short of money. Good.

As Norm said :
It's not even the tiniest fraction of justice. Still,let the memory abide of him chewing the ends of his moustache - of a ball of hair blocking his intestines.

Big Lie, Incompetence, or Carelessness?

Now is the time that Americans in the US engage in certain religious ceremonies, involving the consumption of native American avians, usually accompanied by native American swamp berries.

This time Last Year : US President George W. Bush goes to Iraq bearing a fake Turkey for a photo-op. He didn't actually serve any Turkey, how could he, it was plastic. Or at least, that's the common wisdom.

Looks pretty real to me. The people eating it certainly think so.

Bush Serving Turkey : Scoop.co.nz

Bush Serving Turkey : Al-Jazeera

Bush Serving Turkey : AlphaPatriot.com

The inimitable Tim Blair has produced a (partial) list of idiots repeating the story. No, that's unfair. They're not all idiots. Some are just incompetent journalists, others with a reckless disregard for the truth. 60 seconds using "Google" on "Bush Turkey" found these images. That means that either they carelessly didn't check, or they don't know how to. Or were deliberately lying for some political purposes, now moot.

Thursday 25 November 2004

Obligatory Cat Post

Catapult, anyway. Seen at Voyage to Arcturus, a game where you design your own Trebuchet. Separate contests for distance, accuracy and power. Equally good for members of the SCA and IEEE.

Back to the Moon and On to Mars

It hasn't made much of a splash in the papers, but one of the lesser budget items passed by the US congress recently has been George W. Bush's "Moon, Mars and Beyond initiative".

Arguments against it by the pro-Robot-Exploration Mafia are in an American Physical Society Report. I think they're wrong, as I've said so before.

The Financial Details :
Despite the federal budget squeeze and skepticism by many members of Congress, the gigantic appropriations bill that was approved this past weekend contained all of the more than $2 billion that Bush requested for the space exploration program in the 2005 fiscal year. A total of about $14 billion will be sought for the five-year period ending in 2009.

The ultimate cost of the venture, to include a manned landing on Mars if that's approved by future administrations, will run into hundreds of billions of dollars over the next 30 years.
And the Timescale?
NASA earlier this month awarded 70 contracts, totaling about $1 billion, for such items as a robot "prospector" to search for a good site for a manned moon base and for construction equipment to handle mining for possible lunar resources.

Northrop Grumman Corp., the big defense contractor based in Redondo Beach, Calif., was given $18 million to develop an "autonomous walking inspection and maintenance robot" for work on the moon. Boeing Corp., of Chicago, got $31 million for a "precision landing and hazard avoidance technology demonstration" for a future lander.

Meanwhile, NASA presented a tentative exploration strategy paper at the international workshop. It suggested the lunar south pole would be the best target for the first human outpost. Two previous U.S. spacecraft have spotted what appears to be frozen water in the polar region. The water could be used for drinking and also split into hydrogen and oxygen to make fuel for future trips.

The NASA paper proposed a series of unmanned missions to the moon between 2008 and 2011 to collect data and pick a landing site. Between 2011 and 2015, robots would prepare the site for a permanent manned base between 2015 and 2020.

The lunar operations would serve as a test bed and training ground for an eventual Mars landing, the paper said.
For a discussion on why I think this is a a Good Thing (tm) (and lots of references to other opinions) see Bush Gets It Right.

Wednesday 24 November 2004

The Buck Passes Here

From The Australian :
Mark Latham has blamed Labor premiers for contributing to the ALP's devastating federal election loss, stunning colleagues and angering the state leaders.

During a difficult two-hour election post-mortem in Canberra yesterday, the Opposition Leader also cited his failure to engage with business and problems within his office as prime reasons for the poll debacle.

He said the Scoresby freeway controversy and the public outcry over Sydney's Orange Grove development contributed to a slump in support for Labor in Victoria and NSW.

He was also critical of the role played by Tasmanian Premier Paul Lennon in the lead-up to Labor's forestry announcement, blamed for the loss of up to four seats across Australia.

Despite the sometimes-frank assessment of the loss, senior figures were not impressed.

"Latham's f..king mad; he's in complete denial," one said.
But... wasn't it just last month he was saying it was Interest Rates? But not the War on Terror. The excuses change, but one thing never does: it's not Mark Latham's fault. It never is. Well, he's lasted longer than Bob Carr thought he would.

But I suspect he won't last 13 months at this rate.

Tuesday 23 November 2004

Strengthen the Good #4

I'm a founder member of the "Strengthen the Good" Network of Bloggers, as mentioned in the New York Times.

This month's micro-charity - one where even a single dollar can make a significant difference - is helping to build an English-Language Library for Teenagers in Bratislava, Slovakia. the School is the Bilingválne gymnázium C. S. Lewisa / C.S.Lewis Bilingual High School.

What they want is books. A List and postage instructions are available on the Strengthen The Good site. But a buck or two goes a long way in Slovakia, so if it's not convenient to post books, then you can donate cash via PayPal, Credit card or cheque instead. And if you can't do that, just let people in your office or workplace know. Maybe they have a duplicate copy of "Catcher in the Rye" (for example) that's just taking up space.

Oh yes, "Strengthen The Good" is now a US 503/c Non-Profit Organisation, which means donations are tax-deductible (if you live in the US). By getting rid of some old books you don't read any more, you may actually save more money than you spend on postage.

Previous Micro-Charities
No 3 Garden of Angels
No 2 Brent Woodall Foundation for Exceptional Children
No 1 Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice Hurricane Charley Disaster Relief
No 0 Announcement - but it was really the Tom Family that started this whole thing.

Monday 22 November 2004

Software to Mars

Seen via The Eternal Golden Braid (and indispendable read), an article on Spaceflight Avionics software development on the Pathfinder mission to Mars.

Having done something along the same lines myself - though FedSat wasn't separated by light-minutes - I can really appreciate his remote debugging remarks. That was an area we put a lot of effort into - capturing as much data as we could in case something was dodgy, so we could diagnose and fix or work around it.

European Superiority

One thing the European Union does more thoroughly than anyone else in the world is... Corruption.

Someone who escaped prosecution for a multi-million dollar political funding scam only because he has presidential immunity grants a pardon to someone else convicted of another multi-million dollar political funding scam - and does so in a way that even mentioning he was ever convicted is a criminal offence. And this other person naturally becomes a Euro MP.

Meanwhile, the EU Vice-President and commissioner in charge of the anti-fraud portfolio... has a conviction for giving misleading evidence in a fraud case, and had involvement in several others.

Exhibit A : From EU Referendum :
Vice-President of the EU commission, Siim Kallas, the Estonian commissioner ... was convicted in 2001 of providing false information during his trial for the theft of $10m from the Central Bank of Estonia in a oil-trading scam in 1993. He was acquitted of charges of abuse and fraud in relation to the oil deal.

Furthermore, Kallas had also appeared in court just five years earlier when he appeared as a witness following the disappearance of Russian Roubles from the Estonian Central Bank, of which he was then the president.

Unbelievably, notes UKIP, Kallas has been appointed a Vice-President of the EU Commission, and has been given the anti-fraud portfolio. Says Nigel Farage, in a refrain that is not uncommon on this Blog, "You simply could not make it up."

Exhibit B : Also from EU referendum :
Nigel Farage UKIP MEP demanded to know whether his colleagues would buy a second-hand car from Jacques Barrot. Apparently he was not referring to his appearance but the fact that
"M. Barrot had been sentenced to an 8 month suspended sentence and was barred from elected office in France for 2 years, after being convicted in 2000 of embezzling FFR 25m (US$ 3.8m) from French government funds by diverting it into the coffers of his party."
President Chirac had granted Barrot a presidential pardon, which made it illegal even to mention the conviction, so the French media obliged. Many of the French MEPs were unaware of the story.

Mr Farage was threatened with legal action by the European Parliament President, Josep Borrell, there by grace of a backroom agreement between the two main groups, and censured by other MEPs. It is not done to reveal past secrets about present Commissioners.

So, it is business as normal in the European Union. And just in case anyone is interested, here are the relevant salaries though not the expenses, which probably effectively double incomes:

Normal Commissioner: 217,280 euros (£152, 661 / $283,374)
Vice-President: 241,422 euros (£169,622 / $314,859)
President: 266,530 euros (£187,246 / $347,592).

Nice work if you can get it, and then there's the pension to follow.

From Jonathan Lockhart's Notebook :
Nigel Farage and the UKIP gang have exposed the criminal conviction for a party funding scam of the new French EU commissioner, Jacques Barrot. As Richard North reports, the fraud involved ripping off £2.5 million from French taxpayers.

But here is the rub: not only did Barrot get a presidential pardon (from an amnesty under one Jacques Chirac, who of course only escaped prosecution because of presidential immunity) but the terms of the pardon made it illegal to make any public mention of the conviction.

Hat Tip : Blithering Bunny

UPDATE: From Blithering Bunny :
Kallas had initially been convicted of a number of criminal charges, but after many years in appeal courts, and with one charge being sent back to the lower court, was finally cleared of all charges. Richard North has some details.
My thanks to Scott at Blithering Bunny for updating me in the comments. Too bad Diogenes isn't still around - his quest would have been completed. With Scott's example, I could hardly leave the article uncorrected.

Sunday 21 November 2004

Food for Thought

From Zeyad's Healing Iraq, one of the better Iraqi blogs. (And isn't it wonderful that we have a choice of so many now?) :
One can't help but notice that the clerics who usually incite holy wars in Iraq against the US occupation on the expense of Iraqis are based in countries allied to the US such as Qatar, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. On the other hand, you have Sheikh Salah Al-Din Kuftaro, son of Sheikh Ahmed Kuftaro, the late Grand Mufti of Syria, publicly denouncing the behaviour of Iraqi insurgents yesterday during Friday prayers at the Kuftaro mosque in Damascus. He described them as the "present day Kharijites" and their actions as "unislamic".
Calls to attack the US seem inversely proportional to the chance of the US retaliating. Funny that. Meanwhile, posting from Zeyad might be a bit irregular for a while. The article I quote above begins:
Fierce fighting has been going on in several areas of Baghdad for the last 4 hours. I was supposed to leave for Basrah this morning, as soon as I walked out of the front door I was face to face with ten or so hooded men dressed in black carrying Ak-47's and RPG's. They had set up a checkpoint right in front of our door.
Rather puts things like traffic jams and late trains in perspective, doesn't it?

Light Weekend Reading

You could do worse than just go to Chrenkoff, and read "Around The World In 54 Blogs".

Friday 19 November 2004

A Matter of Time

Following on from a previous article, from the AFP :
London - A British schoolteacher, attempting to motivate her pupils into making the most of each day, told them a meteorite was about to smash into the Earth and that they should all return home to say goodbye to their families, a report said on Thursday.

The teacher at the high school in Manchester, northwest England, only realised her lecture was misjudged when many of the assembled teenagers started crying, the Sun newspaper said in its Friday edition.

According to the report, the unnamed female teacher made the announcement to around 250 pupils at St Matthew's Roman Catholic High School during their regular morning assembly.

Saying she had bad news, the teacher announced that a meteor would strike the Earth in 10 days' time, and that they should return home and say their "final farewells" to their parents.

After the crowd of 13 and 14-year-olds looked on in horror, and many burst into tears, the teacher swiftly explained that she was only trying to encourage them to "seize the day".

"Some of the children were 100% convinced they were going to die," the father of one child told the paper.

"God only knows what this teacher thought she was doing."
10 days? Nah. Possible, but so remote a chance that it's close enough for all intents and purposes to "impossible", unless we're really, really, really unlucky. Not much we could do about it in that timeframe, anyway.

10 thousand days? Possible, and we should be working on a plan on WTF to do in the eventuality, remote though it is. At least so we can see it coming.

10 million days? Definitely a possibility, though it's more likely that Yellowstone National Park will go Kablooie and wipe out most of the Northern Hemisphere instead. Even more likely is another Ice Age, again expunging civilisation in Europe, North America, China and so on. But we'll have reached the Singularity by then, and should have the means to deal with such minor inconveniences.

10 billion days? Now you're talking. Virtually certain, unless somebody does something about it.

10 trillion days? Well, that greatly exceeds the time left for Sol to remain on the main sequence, so the point is moot.

She wasn't wrong, just had her timescales out.

Meanwhile, back in Iran

And back about a thousand years too. From Iran Press News :
A 14 year old boy died on Thursday, November 11th, after having received 85 lashes; according to the ruling of the Mullah judge of the public circuit court in the town of Sanandadj he was guilty of breaking his fast during the month of Ramadan.

The Kurdish site Rojeh´heh Lât reports that the young man´s identity has not been disclosed. He was scheduled for burial on Saturday, November 13th (after 3 days at the local morgue), in the cemetery of Beheshteh Mohammadi in Sanandadj. However due to the public´s realization of the events surrounding the boy´s circumstances the cemetery was stormed [in protest] and his burial did not take place.

According to informed sources, supervisors have instructed that the burial take place in the presence of his closest relatives, surveyed by security forces.
But they're not all backwards theocratic barbarians there. From News Ltd :
The United States has seen information suggesting Iran is working on the technology to deliver a nuclear warhead on a missile, US Secretary of State Colin Powell said today.

"I have seen some information that would suggest they have been actively working on delivery systems ... you don't have a weapon until you can put it in something that can deliver a weapon," he told reporters during a brief stop in Brazil on his way to an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Chile.

"I'm talking about what one does with a warhead," Mr Powell said.

"We are talking about information that says they not only have (the) missiles but information that suggests they are working hard about how to put the two together."
The conjunction of the two stories is... disturbing.

We Gotta Get Out of this Place

..if it's the last thing we ever do.

From the Eternal Golden Braid, some quotes about Space Colonisation. An example from Carl Sagan :
Since, in the long run, every planetary civilization will be endangered by impacts from space, every surviving civilization is obliged to become spacefaring--not because of exploratory or romantic zeal, but for the most practical reason imaginable: staying alive... If our long-term survival is at stake, we have a basic responsibility to our species to venture to other worlds.
I'd amend that - it's not just our species that's at stake, it's the whole biosphere as we know it.

When Mother Nature presses the "Reset" button, as she does now and then, sometimes it only kills all land-dwelling life larger than a Guinea Pig. But sometimes she leaves it pressed down, and nothing larger than bacteria survive. We owe it not just to ourselves, but to our fellow travellers on Spaceship Earth to make a backup.

Most people are too busy with day-to-day life, arguing the whys are wherefores of events-of-the-day, how many angels can dance on a pinhead, let alone the intricacies of Postmodernism, to worry about this type of stuff. Fair enough - but it's not a matter of if a (literally) world-shattering (or at least biosphere-destroying) event happens, it's a matter of when, and how bad. Tomorrow? A million years hence? The point is, it will happen, as surely as it will rain sometime where you're reading this. Faith is not required, nor belief. It's as immutable as an avalanche that's roaring down on us. But we probably have some breathing space. Probably. And probably enough.

In the next few thousand years, we're going to see a lot of changes. Cyborgs, genetic engineering directing our own evolution, probably genuine AI, what Vernor Vinge terms the Singularity. Everything I've read and learned in the way of hard-nosed, practical engineering (as well as Science), tells me that this is not just a possibility, it's inevitable, barring some global catastrophe.

A worldwide Thermonuclear war would delay it a few millenia, but no more than that. A Dinosaur-killer asteroid strike that killed most of humanity would delay things a bit longer, maybe a hundred millenia in the worst case. But no longer. Unfortunately, there are far worse things than that that could happen (like a Gamma Ray Burster going off nearby, as in "somewhere in the same Galaxy"). Some of these possibilities would be non-survivable without Godlike technology. But most of them would be quite survivable just by not being in the immediate vicinity. If Sol burps and licks the Solar System clean, as long as we have backups in other systems, Earth life will survive. Vastly more probably, if Earth takes a hit from a glorified snowball the size of Ireland, only a few lithophillic bacteria might ride it out here, but anyone on Mars or even the Moon would be perfectly safe.

The only question is what is going to happen first? An Extinction Event? Us getting off this rock (and taking our companions, from dogs to dandelions, with us)? Or a singularity that makes things like travel to the stars, solar Dyson spheres etc a matter of will rather than know-how?

Beats me. But just in case, let's have a decent space exploration and colonisation programme going, shall we? Just in case something as stupid as a couple of cubic kilometres of rock hits the joint before we "become as Gods".

Wednesday 17 November 2004

Bad News for OPEC

From Space Daily :
Researchers at Luca Technologies have made a discovery regarding natural gas production in Wyoming's Powder River Basin that could lead to a renewable source of energy for generations to come.

The company today announced that laboratory evidence shows that the Powder River Basin (PRB) coals are generating natural gas in real time through the ongoing activity of anaerobic microbes (bacteria that live in the absence of oxygen) resident in those coal fields.

The company has termed sites where this microbial conversion of hydrocarbon deposits (coals, organic shales, or oil) to methane occurs "Geobioreactors,"
Robert Pfeiffer, LUCA Technologies president and chief executive officer commented, "Our research on native coal, water and microbial samples from the PRB has determined that PRB coals can produce natural gas in real time."

"This finding suggests that the gas in the PRB need not be an ancient remnant of microbial activity, as generally believed, but instead is being actively created today."

"Moreover, we can increase or decrease methane production by PRB microbes by altering their access to water or nutrients, or halt gas production entirely by exposing the organisms to oxygen or heat sterilization."

"This finding holds the potential of turning what is today thought to be a finite energy resource into a renewable source of natural gas that could potentially go on for hundreds of years."
Much of eastern Europe, and practically the whole of SE Australia, is sitting on thousands of cubic kilometres of low-grade coal and shale. It looks like it's possible to convert a large part of that to useable fossil fuel. So much so, that the world's energy needs for tens of thousands, not just hundreds, of years could be met. Of course if we do this, then we really will need to do something about Global warming and CO2 content in the atmosphere, something that despite many protagonists of the hypothesis, I've seen little evidence for. A decent-sized volcano puts out quite a few cubic kilometres of greenhouse gasses, rather more than an industrial nation does in a year. But this will change if we all need energy equal to, say, ten times current US expenditure per capita.
Given the increase in Oil prices recently, which are mainly from increased demand on the part of China and so emphatically not a short-term issue, something like this coming along now is especially fortuitous. It may take a decade or even two to get it going, but LNG (Liquified Natural Gas) will likely replace Oil and Coal in most power plants, sooner or later. High-grade coal will most likely be reserved for Steelmaking, and Oil for vehicle fuel and plastics.

So how come this story isn't splashed all over the front pages of newspapers, and on every News TV channel? Beats me.

The Judas Roach

From The Australian :
It behaves like a cockroach. It smells like a cockroach. It is accepted by other cockroaches.

But it is not a cockroach. It is a robot and scientists say its invention is a breakthrough in mankind's struggle to control the animal kingdom.

The robot, InsBot, developed by researchers in France, Belgium and Switzerland, is capable of infiltrating a group of cockroaches, influencing them and altering their behaviour.

Within a decade, its inventors believe, it will be leading the unwanted pests out of dark kitchen corners, to where they can be eliminated.

But this is only the first of the applications for a pioneering program that has scientists dreaming out loud.

They say they will soon be using robots to stop sheep jumping off cliffs and to encourage chickens to take exercise.
The initial task, carried out by the Centre for Research on the Cognition of Animals in Toulouse, France, was to analyse cockroach behaviour. A student spent three years filming the insects and making a computer program that reproduced their movements. The study showed that cockroaches, like ants, are egalitarian creatures, without a group leader. They congregate as a result of a "collective intelligence" that depends upon interaction within the group.
A lot like the Internet really. Now there's a scary thought...
"Cockroaches like contact with each other. When they meet, they stay still. They are happy to be with a friend for a few moments. The more friends around them, the longer they stay," said project co-ordinator Jean-Louis Deneubourg.
Dammit, I'm starting to like them. Friendly, sociable little critters.

Upsize that?

From Space.com :
Astronomers think they have found a rare if not unique black hole very near the center of the Milky Way. That would make two of the beasts in that part of the galaxy.

The discovery also adds weight to the idea that black holes come in three sizes, essentially small, medium and large.
Or, for Americans, Regular, Large and Family.
Stellar black holes -- the remains of collapsed stars, are common. They typically harbor as much mass as a few suns. And for years, scientists have known there are supermassive black holes in many galaxies; one with the mass of more than three million suns anchors the Milky Way.

The newly detected object appears to be an intermediate mass black hole, packing about 1,300 solar masses.

George Galloway in Court

From the UK Telegraph :
George Galloway, the MP, told the High Court yesterday he would have been a "fool, a knave, a thief and corrupt" if he had solicited money from Saddam Hussein for his own enrichment.

Tuesday 16 November 2004

Creation "Science"

A School Curriculum report I'd like to see :
Miskatonic University's Board of Governors has decided that "Creation Science" should now be taught alongside the more usual Evolution-Theory-based Biology and Quantum Superstring-Theory-based Cosmology courses.
In keeping with our American heritage, the primary theory being taught will be that of the Lakota Nation of Native Americans, and the majority of the course will concentrate on the roles of Thunderbird and Coyote, and experimental verification of the Theory. Students engaged in Advanced studies will perform a critical analysis and comparison of the primary Theory with that of the Arunta people of Northern Australia, in particular the concept of the "Dreamtime" and the role of the Rainbow Serpent. Experiments will be designed and performed to distinguish which Theory is more accurate.
Classes will also be taught in less detail about other competing theories, such as the Lesser- and Greater- Path Buddhist, Zoroastrian, Hindu, Classical Greek, Islamic, Judeo-Christian, Taoist and Shinto theories, approximately half-an-hour on each.
After all, this is about "Science" and not any particular religion, isn't it?

Next, We have to develop Tripods

From Space Daily :
The U.S. Missile Defense Agency has successfully test-fired the megawatt-class laser built by Northrop Grumman for the Airborne Laser (ABL) system, marking the first time such a powerful directed energy weapon suitable for use in an airborne environment has been demonstrated.

The ground-based test, referred to as "First Light," took place Nov. 10 on ABL's laser testbed at the Systems Integration Laboratory, a special building at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., which houses a modified Boeing 747 freighter fuselage where all elements of the laser system are being assembled and tested.

747 Heat rayThe test involved the simultaneous firing of all six laser modules and the associated optics that comprise the Chemical Oxygen Iodine Laser (COIL). The laser systems produced an amount of infrared laser energy that was within pre-test expectations.
It's a genuine honest-to-God Martian-War-Machine-type Heat Ray. But to be mounted on a 747. Object? To shoot down things like ballistic missiles, other aircraft etc. At a 747's cruising altitude there's no effective cloud - but of course an aircraft flying entirely below any cloudbase would be relatively safe. I say "relatively" because even at low efficiencies, a Megawatt is a lot of power to be pumping out, even in fractional-second bursts.

Monday 15 November 2004

Eyes in the Back of Your Head

Or rather, inside your skull. From the European Molecular Biology Laboratory :
Researchers in the laboratories of Detlev Arendt and Jochen Wittbrodt have discovered that the light-sensitive cells of our eyes, the rods and cones, are of unexpected evolutionary origin - they come from an ancient population of light-sensitive cells that were initially located in the brain.

"It is not surprising that cells of human eyes come from the brain. We still have light-sensitive cells in our brains today which detect light and influence our daily rhythms of activity," explains Wittbrodt. "Quite possibly, the human eye has originated from light-sensitive cells in the brain. Only later in evolution would such brain cells have relocated into an eye and gained the potential to confer vision."

The scientists discovered that two types of light-sensitive cells existed in our early animal ancestors: rhabdomeric and ciliary. In most animals, rhabdomeric cells became part of the eyes, and ciliary cells remained embedded in the brain. But the evolution of the human eye is peculiar - it is the ciliary cells that were recruited for vision which eventually gave rise to the rods and cones of the retina.

So how did EMBL researchers finally trace the evolution of the eye?

By studying a 'living fossil,' Platynereis dumerilii, a marine worm that still resembles early ancestors that lived up to 600 million years ago. Arendt had seen pictures of this worm's brain taken by researcher Adriaan Dorresteijn [University of Mainz, Germany]. "When I saw these pictures, I noticed that the shape of the cells in the worm°s brain resembled the rods and cones in the human eye. I was immediately intrigued by the idea that both of these light-sensitive cells may have the same evolutionary origin."

To test this hypothesis, Arendt and Wittbrodt used a new tool for today°s evolutionary biologists – 'molecular fingerprints'. Such a fingerprint is a unique combination of molecules that is found in a specific cell. He explains that if cells between species have matching molecular fingerprints, then the cells are very likely to share a common ancestor cell.

Scientist Kristin Tessmar-Raible provided the crucial evidence to support Arendt's hypothesis. With the help of EMBL researcher Heidi Snyman, she determined the molecular fingerprint of the cells in the worm's brain. She found an opsin, a light-sensitive molecule, in the worm that strikingly resembled the opsin in the vertebrate rods and cones. "When I saw this vertebrate-type molecule active in the cells of the Playtnereis brain – it was clear that these cells and the vertebrate rods and cones shared a molecular fingerprint. This was concrete evidence of common evolutionary origin. We had finally solved one of the big mysteries in human eye evolution."

Hat Tip : Transterrestrial Musings

Sunday 14 November 2004

He could at least have said "Please".

Seen on a Blog :
If you read this blog, you will find an apparently odd mixture of literary criticism, philosophical and psychoanalytical reflection and vaguely Marxist politics. Nonethless, I regard these things as part of the same project.
Roughly, this can be summed up in the words of Theodor Adorno: "To displace and estrange the present, to reveal it to be, with its rifts and crevices, as indigent and distorted as it will one day appear in the messianic light." And perhaps by the sadness in Brecht's 'As a way of living together, we merely invented capitalism." If these quotes sound pretentious or portentous (in the pejorative sense) then go elsewhere.
So without reading further, I did.


I try not to have too many terribly serious posts in a row, the crucial issues are far too important to be serious all the time.

So this one's not about Nanotechnology ( I'm still learning about that ), nor even weirdness like the light-sensitive cells inside the human brain (more on that coming soon).

No, this one's an interesting and amusing little Flash game - MicroLife, from the BBC. OK, it's from the perennial kid's show, "Blue Peter", which is nearly as old as I am. But as I'm a perennial kid, that's appropriate.

Saturday 13 November 2004

Benny Hill and the Marxist Connection

Over at Socialism in an age of waiting (Marxist.org.uk) there's an intriguing article about the tenuous connection between Benny Hill and the funding of Marxist organisations.

Less funny - and more pathetic - is the second part of the article, on the British Stalin Society :
Some might see Stalinism’s journey, in just half a century, from the ruling ideology of a world superpower to barely filling a grotty community centre in King’s Cross as a humbling one. Not the Stalin Society. Founded in the 1930s, it ain’t dead yet. One pale old man tells me he remains confident because “we still have Cuba and [North] Korea”.
Quite. Monsters are only objects of fun when they're safely dead. This one still needs a stake through the heart and head cut off (though I wouldn't put Castro in the same league as Kim Jong Il, he's more like Syria's Asad.)

Yet another interesting article on the site gave me a lead to Spinoza's arguments about Means and Ends, Lesser of Two Evils etc. Worth a read, and the site is worth a regular visit, even for a Right-Wing-Death-Beast like me. We disagree, um, Radically on the means, but the ends we're aiming for are pretty similar. Not all Marxists are created equal, dismiss people like these at your peril.

To see what I mean, here's a quote from Harry's Place, another hang-out for the true Leftist who hasn't abandoned his principles :
We have 'peace' campaigners who are in favour of terrorism.

We have 'anti-fascists' who support fascists.

We have 'feminists' supporting the oppressors of women.

We have 'socialists' against trade unions.

We have 'revolutionaries' in favour of the status quo and stability.

We have 'anti-racists' who support racists.

We have 'secularists' against secularism.

And now we have anti-censorship campaigners who respond to a political murder by saying the victim had 'abused his right to free speech'.

And they say we are the ones who have sold out?
See what I mean? Spare a thought for the people who are trying to reform the Left from within, and to make it become what it was always supposed to be, yet never quite was.

Friday 12 November 2004

Brain Regeneration Demonstrated

From The Speculist, via Transterrestrial Musings :
Harvard scientists have manipulated stem cells already present in the brains of mice to induce the birth of new neurons, an advance once considered impossible by most scientists.

They induced the birth of new cells by killing nearby neurons in mice, which set off a cascade of events that led to stem cells, producing new neurons in the cerebral cortex. If scientists can turn this into a therapy for humans, it would mean that patients could literally heal themselves with stem cells already present in their brains.

Thursday 11 November 2004

Tex's 2004 blog awards

From Evil Whacking Day, Tex's 2004 Blog Awards :
Best blog of them all: Little Green Footballs

Best solo blogger: Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs

Best oz blogger: Tim Blair

Best cranky old right-wing geezer: Kim Du Toit

Best chick: Michele Catalano

Best essay-style blogger: Belmont Club

Highest IQ: the very appropriately named Alan E. Brain

The "really needs to start posting more coz she rocks" award: Emily Jones

The no-particular-reason-to-give-the-award award: Yobbo

Best newbie: Currency Lad
Well, only one dud (No 7) out of ten... that's a lot better average than you get from the Emmies.

I really must see if I can get a copy of the video showing Karyn Phelps (famed Lesbian former head of the Australian Medical Association), Myself, Tommy Leonetti (Cpl. Nick Cuccinello in "Gomer Pyle USMC") and Tiny Tim. Rated "G".

I generally don't care too much about awards. But from Tex... that's pretty good for the ego. Though I think Professor Norman Geras, Professor C.D.Hall, or even Professor Bunyip have a bit more between the ears than I do.

Wednesday 10 November 2004

"Other than that things are fine"

Over at Astronautix.com, the Encyclopedia Astronautica, there's an article entitled The Hard Road to Space, which details the few well-publicised tragedies, and many, many unpublicised close-calls that have occurred in manned spaceflight.

The title of this post comes from Astronaut Gordon Cooper's long-duration Mercury flight in Faith 7, where at the end of the mission, nearly every system was failing. Those that hadn't already failed, that is.
Well, things are beginning to stack up a little. ASCS inverter is acting up. And my CO2 is building up in the suit. Partial pressure of 02 is decreasing in the cabin. Standby inverter won't come on the line. Other than that things are fine.
He had to bring Mercury MA9 in via manual control - and landed within sight of the recovery vessel, an extraordinary bullseye under the best of circumstances - which these most certainly weren't.

Some of the Soviet missions though were, if anything, worse. This one's a description of Cosmonaut Boris Volynov's ordeal in Soyuz 5 :
Volynov remained behind for what was undoubtedly the most unbelievable re-entry ever survived. The PAO service module of the Soyuz failed to separate after retrofire. While this had occurred on various Vostok and Voskhod flights, and on one Mercury flight, it was a much more serious problem for Volynov, where the module was much larger than a small retropack. Furthermore, once it started reaching the tendrils of the atmosphere, the combined spacecraft sought the most aerodynamically stable position - nose forward, with the heavy descent module with its light metal entry hatch at the front, the less dense service module with its flared base to the back. Volynov at once appraised the situation and considered all possibilities and realised that there was nothing he could really do.

The spacecraft was re-entering air-lock forward and with every minute the G forces increased. Volynov did his duty with all of his strength but this became increasingly difficult since he was hanging in the straps of his seat with the G forces assailing him in the opposite direction from what planned. Soon a strong smell penetrated the cabin - the rubber gaskets of the hermetic seal of the hatch were burning. The hatch had a light covering of heat protective resins, but at the last moment these could not hold out and they vaporised into fumes that immediately spread throughout the cabin. Volynov could remain conscious for only a few seconds after this.

He remained alive when a miracle occurred - a miracle for which he could thank the designers who had included a strong titanium frame which helped the airlock hold out against the onslaught of the superheated plasma. The PAO service module finally separated from the SA re-entry vehicle. The capsule turned around to an aerodynamically stable position at hypersonic speed and the heat shield finally took the brunt of the heating as designed. The spacecraft continued on a 9 G ballistic trajectory. The damage to the capsule resulted in a failure of the soft-landing rockets. The landing was harder than usual and Volynov broke his teeth. The capsule was recovered 2 km SW of Kustani, far short of its aim point, on January 18, 1969 at 07:58 GMT. It would be seven years until Volynov flew again, on Soyuz 21.
But he wasn't out of the woods yet...
The crew was to be feted at a state ceremony at the Kremlin, but this was ruined by an attempted assassination of Soviet leader Brezhnev.
Fortunately, the gunman didn't just miss Brezhnev (who was in another car), but the Cosmonauts as well. As for Volynov's next mission, Soyuz 21 :
Crew member became psychotic and mission was returned to earth from space station early. Toxic gases in station were suspected.
In this one, Volynov had to control the ride down while accompanied by a crewman who was stark staring bonkers.

Then there's the Voskhod 2 crew that spent the night after re-entry up a tree, surrounded by hungry wolves... or the Soyuz 18-1 crew that had to abort the launch, and landed after a crushing 20-g re-entry onto a mountainside near the Chinese border, then slid to the very edge of a precipice...

As they say, go and RTWW. Read the whole thing.

The Hexagon-Sized Hole in the Smithsonian

That's not a misprint for "hexagonal" or "hexagon-shaped" either. Though it's the latter, not the former.

OK, I better explain.

From The Space Review :
Last week, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum officially opened its James S. McDonnell Space Hangar at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, near Dulles Airport. The hangar is filled with numerous space objects, the most notable being the Space Shuttle Enterprise. There is one object that was supposed to be there but is not: a schoolbus-sized KH-9 HEXAGON spy satellite, developed by the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), whose headquarters is only a few miles down the street from the museum annex.

Many years ago, when the Smithsonian was still trying to raise money for what was then called the Dulles Annex, they produced a plastic model of what the facility would eventually look like. Small clear plastic markers were cut in the shape of aircraft, spacecraft, and other artifacts and placed inside the model. Off in one corner of the Space Hangar was a little blue object shaped like the Hubble Space Telescope and labeled “KH-9.” That model was occasionally displayed to the public at special events and was usually on display on the downtown museum’s third floor, where the offices are. A map of the Dulles Annex exhibits was also published in Air & Space Magazine, and it too had the KH-9 off in the corner. So now that the space hangar is finally open, some people may wonder why there is no KH-9 to be seen anywhere in the facility.
As to why? Well, you'd better read the article. Another snippet :
Whatever the real story, the results are clear—the NRO will not acknowledge any role in developing the KH-9, and will not declassify its satellite. Instead of proudly standing alongside the space shuttle Enterprise where millions of Americans can see it, the KH-9, the fabled Big Bird, gathers dust in a classified warehouse (probably only a few rows down from the Lost Ark of the Covenant). When it will eventually see the light of day is anybody’s guess.

Now for an exclusive: Lots of things that should be classified accidentally end up on the Internet. Sometimes pictures from Labs and Clean Rooms, where satellites are being worked on by white-coated technicians. It doesn't take a Rocket Scientist to recognise that the white-coated technician in this picture is checking out a Big Bird.

Double Standards

This one's about the Ivory Coast, France, and Global Politics.

FRom CNN :
Saturday's violence began when government warplanes struck French positions at Brobo, near the northern rebel-held town of Bouake, in the afternoon, U.N. military spokesman Philippe Moreux said.

Eight French soldiers were killed and 23 others wounded, said Defense Ministry spokesman Jean-Francois Bureau in Paris. An American citizen was also killed in the raid, the French presidency said, without providing details.

A ninth French soldier died of his wounds, said France's U.N. Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere before the emergency council meeting. Council diplomats said the American who was killed was believed to have worked for a non-governmental organization and been at the French base.

U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Ergibe Boyd in Abidjan said they've been told of the death by the French but haven't confirmed it. She said the American was likely a missionary, since there is no U.S. military or diplomatic presence in the area.

In response to the strike, French infantry destroyed the Russian-made Sukhoi fighter jets on the ground at an airport in Yamoussoukro, 75 miles to the south, French military spokesman Col. Henry Aussavy said. The jets were believed to be the ones that carried out the strike.

"Our forces responded in a situation of legitimate defense," Bureau, the spokesman, said. "Now the priority is the immediate end of combat."

France deployed three Mirage fighter jets to nearby Gabon, French military spokesman Col. Henry Aussavy said. France also ordered two additional companies to Ivory Coast.
The forces that commanded the airstrike could be forgiven for believing that there would be no comeback. Just look at what France has been saying about US "Unilateralism" over Iraq. Or take a look at what the UN Peacekeepers did in Bosnia - they let massacres occur simply because they were under orders "not to get involved". An "accidentally-on-purpose" strike on French Peacekeepers would send a powerful message, or so they thought.

But there is a double standard at work, one the Ivory Coast military didn't understand. A "hyper-puissance" like the US always works under the spotlight of a "hyper-critical" (and hypocritical) media glare of publicity. Second- or Third- rank powers like France can do a lot more in the way of direct action without being criticised over-much. They don't have to wait for a UN resolution, they can go in and de-fang the attackers immediately. What's more, they struck the aircraft on the ground, causing minimum casualties yet permanently removing the threat.

The French government must ask itself a question though : if they hadn't been so hyper-critical of the US and others in the past, would their soldiers still be alive today? Still, I'm sorry to say that I doubt the Aristocrats on the Quai D'Orsai care all that much. But the French military does, that I'm sure.

But at least one lesson has been learned, sort of. Continuing the CNN report:
After nightfall, state TV ran a nonstop crawl across screens, asking for restraint: "We are asking all patriots and Ivorians to not attack, and to not attack the property, of French people or the international community."

A senior member of Ivory Coast's government -- Sebastien Dano Djeje, Cabinet member for National Reconciliation -- said the bombing of the French position in the north "was a mistake. We didn't aim to hit them."

But then he questioned whether the government air force was really behind the strike. "But what proves it was Ivorian planes? We have to do an investigation," he told The Associated Press.
The old "OBL gambit". That tactic didn't work so well for the Taliban.
Ivory Coast, the world's top cocoa producer, had been the pride of France's former colonial empire for prosperous decades after independence in 1960. A downturn in commodities prices and political change in the 1990s helped bring instability, and the country suffered its first-ever military coup in 1999.

Turmoil and regional, ethnic and political hatreds have reigned since. Civil war erupted in September 2002. A power-sharing deal brokered by the French ended major fighting in 2003, but otherwise failed to take hold.
Can the cries "It's all about Chocolate" be too far in the future?

Monday 8 November 2004

The America's Plate

Carmel and I were talking yesterday about how the world is changing, slowly, imperceptably, yet surely.

We both tasted Pizza for the first time around 1973, for example. Before then, we'd been aware that it existed from US TV shows, but weren't exactly sure what the heck it was.

Considering some of the stuff served at the local pizza joints, we're still not certain.

But now, Australia shows once again its culinary superiority (!) having won the America's plate. From The Australian :
Australia today can boast being home to the best gourmet pizza in the world, after taking on the rest of the globe at the America's Plate competition in New York, and coming out on top.

The double team of Theo Kalogeracos from Mundaring in WA, and Andy Parisi of La Trattoria restaurant in Adelaide, concocted a bewildering array of recipes to beat the best of the rest, including teams from Italy, the US, France and New Zealand.

The America's Plate competition – known as the America's Cup of pizza – has been traditionally held for more than a century between Italy and America, but for the first time this year other countries were allowed to enter.

Held at the inaugural New York Pizza Show, the Australian pair cooked up an Oyster Kilpatrick Pizza, a chocolate pizza known as Mud Honey and a pizza based on the traditional American desert Pecan Pie to take out the prize.

Mr Kalogeracos, who runs the Little Caesar's restaurant in Mundaring, 30km east of Perth, said fresh ingredients as used in Australia were the key to their victory.

"I think the difference in Australia is that we really rely on fresh ingredients. Over here, no offence meant, but the New York pizzas are terrible," Mr Kalogeracos told ABC radio in Perth.

"They are nothing compared to what we do. They fold them in half and oil dribbles out of them – if I served that in my shop, I wouldn't make any money like that.

"We don't realise how lucky we are in Australia to get fresh produce at a really good price."
Hmmm... might just slip down to one of the local take-aways after writing that. Turkish Pizza with Beetroot and Lamb, a Quatro from Zeffereli's, or the traditional Aussie Bacon, Egg, Chilli, Mushroom, Olive, Ham and Pineapple?

BTW the best pizzas in Sydney are over at Alex Cordobes, in Newtown near Sydney University. Whenever we go up there, we often stop off just to buy a half-dozen to take back to Canberra. The only pizzas as high as they are wide, 95%+ filling on a thin but tasty base.

The Sydney Eating guide is accurate : "Food 10, Atmosphere 6, Service 8, Value 9".

A Retraction

In a previous post, I repeated what has turned out after further research to be a baseless calumny on Shaikh ‘Abdul-‘Aziz ibn ‘Abdullah ibn Baz.

Here is what I believe to be the correct situation, from over at the Islamic Forum :
"In recent years, controversy flared up due to statements falsely attributed to the great scholar, Shaikh ‘Abdul-‘Aziz ibn ‘Abdullah ibn Baz [1]. He was alleged to have said that the earth is flat, and that one who denies this is a disbeliever in Islam. These unfounded allegations were picked up by Cornell astronomer Carl Sagan [2], and also reported in The New York Times [3]. Such high profile sources in turn provided fodder to a host of anti-Islamic writers, with which to label Islam as a backward and anti-scientific way of life. There was also much delight amongst followers of various heretical sects, who used these statements to attack Shaikh Ibn Baz – known throughout his life as a tireless defender of Islamic orthodoxy.

In the letter presented below, Shaikh Ibn Baz affirms his agreement with the position of the classical Islamic scholars on the spherical nature of the earth. He also categorically denies that he said that a person who says the earth is round is a disbeliever.

The letter represents a challenge to all those who have attributed these lies to Shaikh Ibn Baz. Whether they failed to verify sources due to sloppiness, or chose not to due to malice, they are required to retract their statements if they want to salvage any semblance of intellectual integrity.

Text of the Letter

From ‘Abdul-‘Aziz ibn ‘Abdullah ibn Baz to the honoured brother May Allah direct you to what pleases Him. Aamin

Salamun alaykum wa rahmatullah wa barakatuhu…

… As for what the magazine, as-Siyasah has published about me quoting from al-Bayan that was written by the writers of at-Tajamu’ at-Taqadumi in Egypt in regards to me denying the landing of man on the moon and me making takfir [to declare a person a disbeliever] of the one who says it or says that the earth is round or rotates - then it is a pure lie; it has no basis of authenticity. And perhaps the one who quoted it did not intend the lie but failed to verify the quote.

My statement is published and distributed and I explained the response to the one who denies the landing of man on the moon and the kufr [disbelief] of one who says it. Furthermore, I clarified that it is an obligation on the one who does not have knowledge to withhold and not to affirm or deny until some knowledge is attained which necessitate affirmation or denial.

Also, I affirm in the statement what I have quoted from the Allamah Ibn al-Qayyim, may Allah have mercy upon him, that which proves the affirmation of the roundness of the earth.

As far as its rotation, then I have denied it and explained the evidences denying it. However, I did not declare kufr upon the one who upholds it. I only declared kufr upon the one who says that the sun is stationary and does not run on a course because this statement collides with the clarity of the Noble Qur’an and the pure authentic Sunnah which both prove that the sun and the moon both run on a course…

Was-Salamu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu

General Director of the Offices of General Research, Verdicts, Da’wah, and Guidance

(Ibn Baz)

This letter was issued from the office of the noble shaikh with the number: 1/2925 on 7/11/1397.

Translator’s Afterword

Also see The Collection and Sayings of Ibn Baz, Vol. 9, where the shaikh makes similar statements in regards to similar lies published in the magazine al-Musawir issue #2166 p.15 of the year 1385 corresponding to 4/15/1996.

Foreword References
[1] Abu 'Abdullah Shaikh 'Abdul-'Aziz ibn 'Abdullah ibn 'Abdur-Rahman Aal-Baz was born in the city of Riyadh in Dhul-Hijjah 1330 A.H./1909 C.E. He held the position of Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, the Presidency of many Islamic committees and councils, the prominent among these being: Senior Scholars Committee of the Kingdom, Permanent Committee for Islamic Research and Fatawa, the Founding Committee of Muslim World League, World Supreme Council for Masjids, Islamic Jurisprudence Assembly Makkah; and the member of the Supreme Council of the Islamic University at al-Madinah, and the Supreme Committee for Islamic Propagation, until he passed away on Thursday 27 Muharram 1420 A.H./May 13 1999 C.E. [Source: http://fatwa-online.com/scholarsbiographie...ury/ibnbaaz.htm]

[2] Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science As a Candle in the Dark, p. 325
[3] Youssef M. Ibrahim, “Muslim Edicts take on New Force”, The New York Times, February 12, 1995, A-14
He didn't believe the world was flat after all. Of course, he did believe the Sun goes round the Earth, and that anyone who says differently is an Unbeliever or Heretic. But he may not have said so authoritatively. Neither did the Catholic Church 350 years ago :
Heliocentricism was never declared a heresy by either ex cathedra pronouncement or an ecumenical council. And as the Pontifical Commission points out, the sentence of 1633 was not irreformable. Galileo's works were eventually removed from the Index and in 1822, at the behest of Pius VII, the Holy Office granted an imprimatur to the work of Canon Settele, in which Copernicanism was presented as a physical fact and no longer as an hypothesis.
- Catholic Education - The Galileo Affair
Another quote from the same source (which BTW is worth reading in toto), about Pope John Paul II's role in re-opening the case:
In 1979, he expressed the wish that the Pontifical Academy of Sciences conduct an in-depth study of the celebrated case. A commission of scholars was convened, and they presented their report to the Pope on October 31, 1992. Contrary to reports in The New York Times and other conduits of misinformation about the Church, the Holy See was not on this occasion finally throwing in the towel and admitting that the earth revolves around the sun. That particular debate, so far as the Church was concerned, had been closed since at least 1741 when Benedict XIV bid the Holy Office grant an imprimatur to the first edition of the Complete Works of Galileo.
One thing everyone can agree on : The New York Times got it wrong. And in this matter, so did I.

Sunday 7 November 2004

A Familiar Ring To It

Although it's not my primary, er, field, this one's for the Pure Mathematics Groupies out there. It's a pdf of a fairly abstruse paper on Trees and Rings - mathematical entities which along with Groups and Fields are to do with permutations of finite elements, like how many different poker hands there are, how many different legal chess games are possible, how many anagrams there are for a set of letters, and so on (to grossly over-simplify).

It's a fairly advanced paper, far beyond my skills (which have rusted after 20 years of disuse), so I could only understand about 10% of it without consulting old textbooks. Even then, I'd have to become familiar with advances and terminology in maths that have only become current in the last two decades. For most people, it would appear as mystifying as, say, Derrida at his worst. Just read the Abstract (below) to see what I mean.

Abstract. We develop the theory of “branch algebras”, which are infinite dimensional associative algebras that are isomorphic, up to taking subrings of finite codimension, to a matrix ring over themselves. The main examples come from groups acting on trees.
In particular, we construct an algebra over the field of two elements, that is finitely generated, prime, infinite-dimensional but with all proper quotients finite, has a recursive presentation, is graded, and has Gelfand-Kirillov dimension 2.
Alas, some of the concepts really do require their own special terminology: the object is not to Blind with Science, or Baffle with BS, it's to communicate very exact and abstruse ideas to people who have the right background.

The interesting thing about it is the first line :
Rings are powerful tools, and those arising from groups have been studied in great length [32, 39, 40]. The first author’s long-awaited monograph on the topic should prove illuminating [5].
The references,
[5] Bilbo Baggins, There and Back Again. . . A Hobbit’s Tale by Bilbo Baggins, in preparation.
[32] Donald S. Passman, The algebraic structure of group rings, Wiley-Interscience [John Wiley & Sons], New York, 1977, ISBN 0-471-02272-1, Pure and Applied Mathematics.
[39] John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002.
[40] _________, The Hobbit , Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999.
And, of course, the co-authors.
Seen via Yet Another Weird SF Fan.

Saturday 6 November 2004

The Voice of Middle America

And a lot of other people as well. Over at The Command Post, I quoted a long note expressing feelings that have been bottled up inside a lot of people in Middle America and elsewhere. I didn't originate it - but I do endorse what it says.

It appears to have come from a post a few months ago on American Beacon. The US Democratic party could do worse than to heed what it says. a healthy Democracy needs at least two parties capable of governing effectively.

UPDATE: the original, and somewhat less salty, version is by Mike Hendrix over at Cold Fury.

A Tricky Question

From Andrew Edward Brain, age Three-and-a-quarter :
Daddy, where do planets come from?
Personally, I blame the Discovery Science Channel for this.

Friday 5 November 2004

You Can't Make Stuff Like This Up

Sometimes, not always, but sometimes, pompous self-important twits manage to make a public spectacle of themselves that exceeds all bounds of rationality and reason. Their arrogance is punctured so completely when Reality comes and bites them on the fundament that the only thing a spectator can do is roll on the floor, laughing uncontrollably.

I therefore give to you, for your edification and amusement, one Jimmy Breslin (formerly) of Newsday, and his finest achievement, his swan-song.
One day last May, I assigned the election to John Kerry. I said it early, and often. As I looked more, I saw that it shouldn't even be close. I said that in this space more than once. Now I am so sure that I am not even going to bother to watch the results tonight. I am going to bed early, for I must rise in the darkness and pursue immediately an exciting, overdue project.

Besides, if I was up, so many people, upon seeing every word I said of this election coming true on television in front of them, would be kissing my hands and embarrassing me with outlandish praise. So I go to bed with total confidence.
Ah me. You really can't make stuff like this up.

For non-US readers, who may not be quite aware of exactly how totally, utterly, gloriously 180-degrees off-course he was, here's Mark Steyn in The Spectator :
But just to run through what happened: in the House of Representatives the Republicans have picked up five seats; in the Senate they’ve picked up at least three, maybe four, including David Vitter winning a Louisiana seat that’s been Democrat since post-Civil War reconstruction; it looks like they’ve knocked off their chief obstructionist in the Democratic caucus.

And, oh yes, the most hated man in the world has become the first President since 1988 to win over 50 per cent of the popular vote.

In other words, it’s the perfect hat trick: a Republican President, a Republican Senate and a Republican House have been re-elected for the first time since President McKinley and the GOP Congress of 1900.

Thursday 4 November 2004

News Ticker

The Currency Lad has put up another News Ticker. As with the previous one, it's side-splittingly hilarious.

Some examples:

Michael Moore Explodes, gizzards reported incoming from as far away as French Polynesia...
Al Gore observes "I blame all this on Powerline and LGF. This is not why I invented the Internet"...
Hillary Clinton : "Yessss!"...
INTERNATIONAL:Tehran takes another look at Fossil Fuels...

Wednesday 3 November 2004

US Presidential Results

I think Nicholson of "The Australian" newspaper puts it best.
Kerry's Exit by Nicholson

Of course, Kerry hasn't conceded. A veritable killer-swarm of hungry attack-lawyers has converged on the US state of Ohio, trying to take on the awesome task of parlaying an estimated 155,000 postal, absentee and provisional ballot papers into 177,000 votes for Kerry, and none for Bush.

Meanwhile I feel wrung-out due to manning The Command Post for a few hours, between about 3am and 6am US Eastern Standard Time, while the main protagonists grabbed a little shut-eye.

Here's what I wrote in a private e-mail to Michele Catalano, one of the aforementioned TCP founders (slightly editted for clarity).

MC : Oh, it went very well. Electoral vote, popular vote, huge turnout. All we need is a concession speech, which isn't bloody likely for days.

AEB : Why? I mean, why would we need one?

Seriously, who cares what Kerry does or does not do?

Barring an extra 1/2 million provisional votes from the cemeteries running 70:30 for Kerry - not unbelievable in Illinois, but straining credulity in Ohio - he's as relevant as Al Gore is today.

Everyone knows who's won. Even the people at Democratic Underground, though of course, it's all a fascist plot by Bush=Hitler etc etc. But their heart isn't in it.

Edwards is acting like a Trial Lawyer always does, win at all costs, never say die. Wish he took the same attitude towards the war, but nonetheless, he's just swimming in a sewer. That is, going through the motions. Also subpoenas, writs etc. It's what Trial Lawyers do, and you can no more blame him for it than blame a leech for sucking blood.

Who *was* Al Gore's running-mate for VP BTW? That's his future.
Oh well, that's over, all bar the shouting. And talking about shouting, Four More Beers!

Tuesday 2 November 2004

Teleportation Taken Seriously

There's a 1.7 Mb .pdf file that leaves me lost for words.

The Teleportation Physics Study by by Eric W. Davis of the Air Force Research Laboratory in August 2004.

Amidst the scary-looking mathematics, (my bachelaureat is in Pure Maths and Computer Science, and I found it daunting), there's a lot of well-written words describing the consequences of the maths.
The characteristics of teleportation were defined, and physical theories were evaluated in terms of their ability to completely describe the phenomenon. Presently accepted physics theories, as well as theories that challenge the current physics paradigm [ie the Crackpot Theories - AEB] were investigated for completeness. The theories that provide the best chance of explaining teleportation were selected, and experiments with a high chance of accomplishing teleportation were identified.
If that doesn't get you itching to read it, nothing will. I remain sceptical about Chapter 5, but the rest isn't just Dynamite, it's Antimatter.

As for my scepticism about Chapter 5?
Therefore, the results of the Chinese p-Teleportation experiments can simply be explained as a human consciousness phenomenon that somehow acts to move or rotate test specimens through a 4th spatial dimension, so that the specimens are able to penetrate the solid walls/barriers of their containers without physically breaching them. No real dematerialization/rematerialization of the specimens takes place. The intensity fluctuations of the radio micro-transmitter specimen’s electromagnetic signal, and the apparent blending of the other specimens with the walls of their containers, represent the passage of the specimens through a 4th spatial dimension.
As I said, I remain sceptical. But not to the point that I think further work is useless, just that I'm not convinced. Now the other stuff, I find convincing, as the data sources are more trustworthy, and the maths easily checkable. But the conclusions in parts 1-4 are even more startling than the 4-th dimension bit in part 5.

Hat Tip : Reader Shaun Bourke