Monday 31 January 2005

Tastes Like Chicken

From the New Scientist :
When the dinosaurs ruled the world, the mammals hid in the shadows, daring to grow no bigger than shrew-like insectivores that hunted at night. Or so we thought.

Repenomamus giganticusTwo stunning new fossils from China have overturned this preconception. Not only did large mammals live alongside their giant reptilian cousins, but some were big and bold enough to go dinosaur hunting.

Named Repenomamus giganticus and Repenomamus robustus, the sturdily built mammals lived in China about 130 million years ago, around 65 million years before we thought their kind inherited the Earth. At 1 metre long, R. giganticus was big enough to hunt small dinosaurs, and a newly discovered fossil of its smaller cousin, R. robustus, died with its belly full of young dinosaur.
Pictures of the fossils can be found at Pharyngula.
I’m also sure that the scientifically-literate readers of the Panda’s Thumb and Pharyngula won’t be terribly surprised by this—the mammal-like reptiles are older than the dinosaurs, and mammals were contemporaries of the dinosaurs. The surprise is that what was discovered was a bandy-legged brute that was relatively large (about the size of your average dog) and was so danged uppity that it had been eating dinosaurs. That’s a bit more temerity than had been expected from our long-lost relatives.
Of course some have a, er, different interpretation of the find.
While the discovery is a particular shock (from an evolutionary standpoint) because one part of the evolution model may need to be drastically changed, it isn't shocking for creationists. Creationists believe that man, mammals and dinosaurs originally lived at the same time.
While it is encouraging to hear evolutionists admit discoveries like this which challenge their way of thinking, the photos of the fossils and the description given in articles raise a caution flag. The dinosaur bones may only appear to be in the stomach of the dog-like creature when they really may just illustrate how the Flood waters would have buried one on top of the other.
Such a find in the fossil record, regardless of the cautionary flag raised with this discovery, still provides an excellent confirmation of the biblical model of a global catastrophe, which left billions of fossils in the rock layers all over the world.
Which is flat, right? I guess there's quite a few dinosaurs still left, after all.

All the News That Fits

Here's a hypothetical fly-on-the-wall account of 12 hours of goings-on at a fictional newspaper. You can tell it's fictional because no newspaper of note would engage in such shennanigans.
0900 : High Turnout in Baghdad Points to Early Success
Ed#1: What the hell is this crap?
Copy#1: It's what the reporters on the scene submitted.
Ed#1 : Look, we're supposed to be balanced here, objective, not some shills for Bush. RE-WRITE it and PRONTO!
Copy#1: Right you are, Sir

1000 : Amid Attacks, a Party Atmosphere on Baghdad's Closed Streets
Ed#1 : That's better, the "attacks" at the front balanced by the "Party atmosphere". Go with it
Copy#1: Yes, Sir!

1700 (Change of Shift) Editor #1 and Copy Editor #1 go home as their number 2's show up.

Ed#2 : What the HELL is this CRAP? "Party Atmosphere??" Jeez, give me a break. We're not a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Republicans! RE-WRITE it and PRONTO! I want some Numbers! If it Bleeds, it Leads, and don't you forget it!
Copy#2: Certainement, Sir!

1800 Insurgent Attacks in Baghdad and Elsewhere Kill at Least 24
Ed#2 : "At least 24"? What kind of shilly-shally stuff is that? Twenty-Freaking-FOUR? That's not nearly enough, the Republicans will be laughing at us. RE-WRITE and I want to see as many dead as you can scare up!
Copy#2 : Mais Oui, Mon Capitaine!

2000 Attacks in Baghdad and Elsewhere Reportedly Kill Several Dozen
Ed#2 : Better. Much better. Sure there's no more? No? Oh well, "Several Dozen", could be 40, or even 60. And we've covered our asses with that "reportedly" bit. Go with it.
Of course a real newspaper could never do anything like that.

On a completely different topic, here's the record of the headlines on an article in the New York Times, which remained unchanged over the period.

09:24 High Turnout in Baghdad Points to Early Success

10:24 Amid Attacks, a Party Atmosphere on Baghdad's Closed Streets

18:26 Insurgent Attacks in Baghdad and Elsewhere Kill at Least 24

20:50 Attacks in Baghdad and Elsewhere Reportedly Kill Several Dozen

Hat Tip Ann Althouse.

Giving Terrorists the Finger

From the Associated Press :
An Iraqi election official said Sunday that 72 percent of eligible Iraqi voters had turned out so far nationwide.
Or, more succinctly,

The Finger

From Sun Of Iraq via The Command Post :
He took this photo of his finger, after being inked at the polling place.
OK, now how many people you know would have braved mortar-fire and suicide bombers just in order to vote? And how many people are still saying "Arabs are not ready for Democracy"?

Sunday 30 January 2005

Coverage of the Iraqi Election

The Command Post has an extensive list of blogs, quite a few of them Iraqis who are posting about the event as it happens.

It may not be a complete list - but is probably so long that you won't be able to read every article.

Western Philosophy, Condensed and Abridged

Glyn Hughes' Squashed Philosophers :
The books which defined the way The West thinks now.
Condensed and abridged to keep the substance, the style and the quotes, but ditching all that irritating verbiage.
The Very Squashed Version of Rene Descartes "Meditations on First Philosophy" :
I: Many of the things I used to be certain of, I now know to be nonsense. To find some firm foundation for science, I must try to establish what is absolutely true. So, I'll imagine that some evil genie is deceiving me about absolutely everything.
II: I can't be sure of the things I know, but I can be sure that I know things. I think therefore I am.
III: All ideas have a cause. The cause must either be inside me, or something else. Infinity and perfection are not within me, so the idea of an infinite and perfect God must have come from something outside me, so God must exist.
IV: A perfect God would not cause the imperfection of deceit, so He is not deceiving me about the things of which I have clear and certain knowledge.
V: I am certain that I know material objects, inasmuch as I can define them by mathematics. This knowledge doesn't make things exist, but my knowledge of God makes me certain that they are something.
VI: I imagine that I have a body and that my knowledge comes from my senses. Using several senses together I can determine what is true. But we don't always have time for this, so we often make mistakes.
The Full (but still Squashed) version is somewhat longer, but really does condense what is said in the "Meditations" rather better than I could have done. Or rather, what I did when I took "Traditional and Modern Philosophy" back in 1976.

A useful link for Philosophy, which is something that everyone should study a little of.

Hat Tip : Eaglespeak.

Saturday 29 January 2005

Asteroid Douglasadams (Formerly 2001 DA42)

Via A Voyage to Arcturus, an article from MSNBC :
Asteroid Douglasadams was among the 71 newly named celestial objects announced Tuesday by the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Mass. Other honorees range from Ball Aerospace and the city of Las Vegas to the sometimes-overlooked co-discoverer of the DNA double helix, Rosalind Franklin.
It is asteroid given the provisional designation 2001 DA42, discovered by the Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research project, or LINEAR. It's a relatively unremarkable space rock, orbiting 224 million miles (358 million kilometers) from the sun in the main asteroid belt, between Mars and Jupiter. But its name held triple significance.

Not only did it memorialize the year of Adams' death (2001) and his initials (DA), but it also referenced the number 42
As well as being mostly harmless.

Operational Significant Event Imagery

From the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration OSEI site :
The Operational Significant Event Imagery team produces high-resolution, detailed imagery of significant environmental events which are visible in remotely-sensed data available at the NOAA Science Center in Suitland, Maryland.
Oil Fire Satellite Picture

Oil Fire in Iraq, 26 March 2004

Turn Of Phrase of the Week

From Tramtown :
Some people are sitting around surfing the web and one says "Apparently, you'll soon be able to own a radio station, TV station and newspaper in the same city...".

Another responds "Which blog did you read that on?".

"Some External Damage" update

Over at The Stupid Shall Be Punished, an excellent Submariners' blog, there's some first-hand data in the comments about the collision mentioned below.
Also, half an hour before the impact we had the sphere access open getting mooring lines preped for our shellback initiation, luck was on our side.
This would not have been good.
Our weapons handling Master Chief at PHNSY (I work in the next office) told me the port tubes are knocked off kilter, the shutters and muzzle doors are gone, and even the breech doors are jammed. Also heard the MBT vent valves were FUBAR, as well as ruptures in the MBT's, sonar dome is destroyed, and I have heard rumblings of decom. Of course, it will all depend on the assessment of damage (and I've heard nothing official, just a lot of speculation).

My hat's off and a salute raised to Captain Mooney and the crew for bringing the San Fran home...and to the designers, builders, and those who've repaired and maintained her over her life. It takes some real engineering and seamanship to bring a boat home with that sort of damage. I'll sail with those guys any day.
Amen. does from the picture like #2 muzzle door was gone; having the tubes knocked off-kilter was one of the things that always scared me, since if the welds crack on both sides of the pressure hull bulkhead, well, there ain't no flood control lever that'll fix that one.
As for the contents of the torpedo tubes :
There were two weapons loaded at impact. Both had bent pins but not otto breach and were offloaded last week. Amazing stuff, and thank God we don't use peroxide loads.
I suppose I'd better provide subtitles (pardon the pun) for the great majority of readers not totally familiar with Salty Nautical-type jargon.

1. A usually-sealed access hatch was open just half an hour before the collision - a hatch that led directly to the damaged area. At 500 ft, if it had been open, the boat would have been lost. The "shellback" initiation is a traditional ceremony dating back to when Noah was a boy.

2. The torpedo tubes on the left side of the ship (they're not in the nose) are wrecked. The outer doors are missing, the inner doors jammed, and the whole apparatus knocked out of alignment. The Main Ballast Tank valves are wrecked (F..d up beyond all recognition, not just wrecked, but totally smashed), the Main Ballast Tanks themselves have large leaks, the very-expensive spherical-array sonar at the bow is smashed, and the boat is so badly damaged it may be decomissioned - a write-off.

3. The torpedos tubes are wrecked (again), and if they'd been so badly damaged as to crack the pressure hull (which they penetrate), the situation would have been dire.

4. The Mk48/ADCAP torpedos carried by these boats contain a monopropellant called Otto fuel. Another name for monopropellant is "explosive", it burns without needing a source of oxygen. It burns rapidly too, one got dropped during loading a number of years ago, and a building 100 metres away was severely damaged by the resultant explosion. Anyway, the torpedos in the torpedo tubes were badly damaged, but not enough to cause a leak of this highly dangerous fuel. Had the US Navy used the same propellant as torpedos in the Russian Submarine "Kursk"... the outcome would have been similar to the Kursk's fate. Except that the San Francisco was already at 500 ft (the depth the Kursk finally came to rest), and it was another 5000 ft to the ocean bottom. She would have been lost with all hands.

Here's another first-hand report, that I got via a mate of mine.
To All,
I thought that I would put out a note since a lot of you have been calling and writing to find out how things are and if I'm OK and what happened. If you hadn't heard, my boat hit a uncharted submerged sea mount at the highest speed we can go at about 500ft below the surface.
There were about 30 of us that were seriously hurt and unfortunately one of my shipmates didn't make it.

First off I am OK. I am pretty beat up with my entire left side and butt as one big bruise. My shoulder is separated and may require surgery. They will evaluate later this week. I am very fortunate that I hit the wall and didn't go down a ladderwell that was right next to where I hit. If I had gone down that, I would have got really messed up. I took a tremendous shot to my left thigh from something. If it had been slightly lower in the knee area it would have been really ugly. But all in all I am in good shape.

We hit it at about noon right after field day (where all of us clean the boat for several hours). Thank God we didn't hit while we were doing this or it would have been much worse. We would have had flying deck plates through the air and such. Not good. As it was, it happened while chow was going on and most people were either sitting and eating or on watch.

I don't remember much of the collision. People describe it as like in the movie the Matrix where everything slowed down and levitated and then went flying forward faster that the brain can process. My mind has blanked it out exactly what happened. Adrenaline kicked in and I have no real memory of how I got down to middle level or what I did immediately following. I helped carry several shipmates to the crew mess deck (adrenaline is a wonderful thing - my shoulder was wrecked and I had no idea until about 4 hours later). I sat with several of my junior guys that had bad head wounds and talked with them to keep them conscious until doc could see them. It seemed like an eternity but I'm sure wasn't that long. For those Navy folks that ever wondered why Chief's stomp around and preach "Stow for Sea" This was a perfect example. It definately saved lives.

I am extremely proud of the crew to do damage control, help the wounded and get the boat safely to the surface (for the boat guys we blew the tanks dry on the emergency blow but unbeknownst to us we were missing some ballast tanks/some didn’t have integrity). The ship's control party did every thing exactly right even though they were hurt as well.

The Diving Officer of the Watch had just unbuckled his belt to update a status board and hit the Ship's Control Panel hard enough to break some of the gauges. To add insult to injury his chair came up right behind him. Several people were injured in the Engine Room Lower Level area. Lots of metal and sharp edges in the area as well as that's were the boat's smoking area is at. Several crew members are reevaluating that habit now.

Once again we got lucky in the fact that we had an extra corpsman onboard. One of our officer's was a prior enlisted corpsman that was a Fleet Marine Force medic so he was a Godsend for us. Our Corpsman did an outstanding job getting everyone stabilized and did the best he could for our fallen shipmate. I am surprised that he got him to hold on as long as he did. Our corpsman is definitely a hero in my book. He didn't sleep for 2 or 3 days. We finally put him down when the SEAL docs helicoptered in to help.

Like I said, I am extremely proud of my crew and how they handled themselves. My Chief of the Boat was an inspiration of what a leader should be and my Captain was as well. My XO took out an EAB manifold with his back but still managed to help coordinate things. No matter what happens later, these men did a superior job under difficult circumstances. I am humbled by the entire crew's performance from the CO down to the Seaman that I was checking in two days before.

For those of you wondering, I am sure there will be an investigation into what happened and no I was not part of the navigation preps for this voyage. I work on the inertial/electronic navigation and interior communications part of my rate and didn't have anything to do with the conventional navigation part of it. I will be lending support to my comrades who were to help them prepare for the pending investigation.

I thank you all for you concern and appreciate your prayers not only for myself, but for my shipmates. We are doing well, we band of brothers and will pull through just fine.


Brian Frie

Chief Electronics Technician Submarines USS San Francisco SSN 711
More data about the epic fight to save the San Francisco, from the Submarine Brotherhood blog :
With uncontrolled flooding in its forward ballast tanks, the USS San Francisco had to run a low-pressure air pump for 30 hours straight to maintain buoyancy on its trip home, Navy sources said. The pump is rated for only intermittent use.

In addition, the submarine ran its diesel engines, channeling the exhaust into the forward ballast tanks in an effort to force out more of the water and make the ship lighter.

"Based on the information I've seen so far, they're very lucky this ship didn't sink," said retired Navy Capt. John C. Markowicz. "Only through the heroic efforts of the crew did that ship survive."
San Francisco was on its way to Brisbane, Australia, just before noon Saturday when it ran into the seamount, crushing the front end of the submarine. At that depth, the water pressure was almost 250 PSI, or about 16 times atmospheric pressure, so the chief concern was to get to the surface as quickly as possible.

The crew executed an "emergency blow," forcing high-pressure air into the ballast tanks to make the submarine rise sharply.Once on the surface, though, the crew realized the ship was experiencing severe flooding into two of the three forward ballast tanks, and had to come up with some type of quick fix.

The low-pressure air system normally used for short periods of time was pressed into continuous service, and the ship started its diesel generators and used the exhaust to augment the blower to keep as much water as possible out of the ballast tanks.
Finally, an e-mail from the Commanding Officer of the San Francisco (courtesy of Submarine Brotherhood:
From: "Kevin & Avril Mooney"

Subject: Something you can do to help

Date: Fri, 28 Jan 2005 17:21:17 +1000

Dear family and friends,

Let me express my deep appreciation for the outpouring of support from you following the tragic grounding of USS SAN FRANCISCO. I cannot yet recount the details or explain my involvement because the investigation remains in progress. The news stories and recently released photos of the boat indrydock provide a basic description of what happened.

The saddest part of this event was the loss of my shipmate, MM2(SS) Joseph Ashley. This week, I had the pleasure of meeting his parents, who traveled to Guam courtesy of the Navy to meet his shipmates & friends. The Ashley's are wonderful people and their visit was memorable for all of us.

Many of you have offered me help in dealing with this crisis, and I am most appreciative. In addition to your continued prayers, I do have a special request for some help from all of you:

(1) please go to the attached website and send a note of condolence to MM2(SS) Ashley's family

(Click here for Guestbook Website)

(2) please send the attached link to other people, especially submariners, and ask them to do the same

The Ashley family frequently checks this website, and they read and cherish every word. They are honored that it currently stands at 33 pages. After all of you leave messages and continue this string of support, I dare not guess how long it will be. Thank you in advance for your support.

CDR Kevin Mooney
A CO's responsibility doesn't end just because his boat's in dry dock. With commanders (and crews) of this calibre, there's no wonder that the USN's submarine fleet is one of the best naval forces in history.

Friday 28 January 2005

"Some External Damage"

Cross-Posted from The Command Post :

From CNN of 11th January :
The U.S. Navy submarine accident that killed one sailor and injured 24 others occurred when the vessel -- traveling at high speed -- hit an undersea mountain head-on, Pentagon officials said Monday.

Saturday's accident near Guam caused part of the sonar dome, which is part of the submarine's nose, to flood, officials said.

The commander of the USS San Francisco, Kevin Mooney, has not been relieved of duty while the investigation of the accident continues.

Mooney could be relieved of duty if officials determine there is enough evidence that the accident could have been averted.

The investigation will look at the sub's speed, its location and whether the undersea formation was on navigational charts, officials said.

The submarine was traveling in excess of 33 knots -- about 35 mph --when its nose hit the undersea formation head-on, officials said.

The nuclear submarine docked Monday at a U.S. naval base in Guam, a spokesman with the U.S. Pacific Fleet said.

The San Francisco was escorted to port by U.S. Navy and Coast Guard vessels, according to Lt. j.g. Adam Clampitt. The submarine suffered "some external damage," he said.
From a German USS San Francisco website :
At 12 noon, January 8, Guam Time, the USS SAN FRANCISCO hits an unchartered undersea mountain while travelling at high speed about 500 ft below surface.
Just released picture (via Navy News) below :


The boat's pressure-hull begins just about where the missing bit ends. That the crew managed to recover and surface the boat after a head-on prang at 500 ft and 33 knots is miraculous.

60 Years On

From Normblog :
At the beginning of The Truce, Primo Levi tells of his own moment of liberation in January 1945, when the Russians - for him, 'four young soldiers on horseback' - arrived at Auschwitz:
They did not greet us, nor did they smile; they seemed oppressed not only by compassion but by a confused restraint, which sealed their lips and bound their eyes to the funereal scene. It was that shame we knew so well, the shame that drowned us after the selections, and every time we had to watch, or submit to, some outrage: the shame the Germans did not know, that the just man experiences at another man's crime; the feeling of guilt that such a crime should exist, that it should have been introduced irrevocably into the world of things that exist, and that his will for good should have proved too weak or null, and should not have availed in defence.

So for us even the hour of liberty rang out grave and muffled, and filled our souls with joy and yet with a painful sense of pudency, so that we should have liked to wash our consciences and our memories clean from the foulness that lay upon them; and also with anguish, because we felt that this should never happen, that now nothing could ever happen good and pure enough to rub out our past, and that the scars of the outrage would remain within us forever, within the memories of those who saw it, and in the places where it occurred and in the stories that we should tell of it.
This event happened only 13 years before I was born.

A Pair of Aces

Cross-posted from The Command Post :

Two MilBlogs, Husband and Wife.

She has just arrived with her unit in Kuwait.
He is a Combat Engineer Sergeant in the Ist Armored, preparing for his second tour in the Sandbox "in the fullness of time".

His :
The loss of 30 Marines and a sailor (their corpsman?) is tragic.

But here's my question: Where the fuck are all these vampiric reporter assholes when a helicoptor goes down in training? The only reason these cats are on the news at all is because it happened in Iraq and it is another wedge to take a shot at George Bush, the United States of America, and our Iraq mission. Let a bird go down at Ft. Campbell (as they do regularly) and there might be 3 inches of text on the back of page 31.

Flying a helicoptor through a sandstorm is dangerous, whether it be at NTC or in Iraq.
His friends - and I'm honoured to be one of them - don't call him "Full Metal Atkinson" for nothing. He's forthright, and frank.

Hers :
I'm trying to think of things to update with, and there's not much. I'm on a convoy to Doha tonight, and God only knows how long that will take. We've done not much of anything, and it's dusty here, as well as crowded. The lines for everything are unreal.

So far, I'm making it okay, although the silliness is starting to drive me crazy. Yeah, yeah. Short drive.

We have all sorts of folx working on the camp, from Middle Eastern to Latino, and mostly, they all *stare*. It's kind of unnerving. It's like they haven't seen any of us before. The ME men seem to stare at the female soldiers more than most, and it's almost as though they expect us to be ten feet tall or something odd.

Unbridled Competition

There's a complete ecology that few are aware of. A world of Tooth and Claw, where the "survival of the fittest" is a cut-throat competition for dwindling resources.

I refer of course to the Menagerie that is the Far Left in the UK. The article is dated (it's from 1988), but is a fascinating glimpse of a world that we RWDBs (Right Wing Death Beasts) know only second-hand and as fable.

Some highlights:
The Sparts' complete parasitism on other groups makes them very unpopular on the rest of the Left, so, regrettably, little attempt is made to understand the theory which explains their behaviour. The Sparts' core belief is that, in the forseeable future, it is impossible for revolutionaries to address themselves to significant sectors of the working class, as anyone open to revolutionary politics is already a supporter of one of the groups which, falsely, claim to be revolutionary. The key task of revolutionaries is, therefore, to win over supporters of these Ostensibly Revolutionary Groups (ORGs), by heckling their meetings and hoping to be thrown out. The Sparts will, in this way, achieve the primitive accumulation of cadres which is a necessary stage to be gone through before proceeding to a direct involvement in class struggle.
In the early 1980s as Tony Cliff was walking through Islington market he stopped to watch some of his supporters battling it out with the National Front, when something struck him as odd. His followers were on suspiciously good terms with the "enemy" and the battle was obviously being conducted according to recognised rules. When the whistle blew for half time the antagonists bowed to each other and went off to drink in the same pub (admittedly in separate bars). Cliff, a near teetotaller who genuinely detests Fascists, ordered an inquiry fearing that the local SWP had been infiltrated by the Sealed Knot Society, who dress up and re-enact historic battles. It transpired that, on a previous occasion, a rising young SWP intellectual had been recognised by his own comrades and beaten up when he refused to join in the fun.

The street fighters, who are known as "Squaddists" by other SWP members, and now serve as an inspiration to the currently fashionable Gay Nazi pop artists Gilbert and George, refused to admit that their behaviour amounted to revisionism. Cliff, who is historically well informed, had in consenting to their semi-autonomous existence been taking a leaf from the book of the Catholic Church which creates religious orders to channel the enthusiasm of particularly devout believers, while preventing them from getting in the way of the mainstream operation. Some "Squaddists" adopted the RCP line that Fascists are more honest than Labourites and Trotskyists, who, although equally racist, hypocritically refuse to go out and beat up Blacks. It was alleged that the SWP's inability to appreciate the rules of chivalry observed in the battles with the National Front were a proof of its pacifism and that many Front members were good types although politically mistaken. When the "Squaddists" were shown the door they set up the journal, Red Action, and denounced all other groups as incurably petty bourgeois because of their addiction to reading and discussion and refusal to engage in physical combat.
Fascists and Communist Thugs adjourning to the pub at "half time", and streetfighting with a strictly observed code of Chivalry. Only in England, Only in England.

As you can see from the exerpts, the article is written with tongue placed firmly in cheek, and with some affectionate humour from an insider's viewpoint.

One of the most loathsome features of Ultra-Leftism is its general inability to take itself anything other than completely seriously. It's inability to Laugh at its own absurdities. This type of fanatic devotion to The Cause has historically led to such Enormities as the "Cultural Revolution" and the "Red Terror".

But as the article shows, there are people, good humane and rational people, who exist in the upper echelons of movements that I wholly detest and despise, and with principles I'm in complete disagreement with. Now if there were more members like these, I'd be forced to re-consider my political position. But as they remain the exception rather than the rule, my prejudices opinions can remain safely, cosily and snugly unchallenged.

A word to the wise though, especially to the rabid and deadly-serious Libertarians and "Foaming-at-the-Mouth Capitalists and Proud Of it". If a member of something as discredited as the Ultra-Left can look at its fellow-travellers with a jaundiced, critical, and altogether irreverent eye, maybe we should do the same about our own (dis)organisation, lest we become what we're fighting against.

Hat (or rather, ClothCap) Tip : Socialism In An Age Of Waiting

Thursday 27 January 2005

Fossilised Wankers

I think these two take the cake. The recipe? Hypocrites garnished with Idiotarianism.

From the LA Times :
Internationally known artists Chris Burden and Nancy Rubins have retired abruptly from their longtime professorships at UCLA in part because the university refused to suspend a graduate student who used a gun during a classroom performance art piece, a spokeswoman for the artists said Friday.

"They feel this was sort of domestic terrorism. There should have been more outrage and a firmer response," said Sarah Watson, a director at Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills, which represents Burden and Rubins. "People feared for their lives."
The brief performance involved a simulation of Russian roulette, in which the student appeared before the class holding a handgun, put in what appeared to be a bullet, spun the cylinder, then pointed the gun at his head and pulled the trigger, according to one student's account that was confirmed by law enforcement sources. The weapon didn't fire. The student quickly left the room, then the audience heard a shot from outside. What ensued is not clear, but police said no one was hurt.
Burden made his name in the early 1970s with influential and controversial performance art. In his best-known piece, "Shoot," performed in a Santa Ana gallery while he was a graduate student at UC Irvine, Burden had an assistant stand 15 feet away and shoot him in the upper arm with a .22-caliber rifle.
Ah, a Student of Hermann Goering. Personally, when I hear the word "Gun" I reach for my Culture (as Irving J Good once said).
Burden, 58, and Rubins, 52, are married. He had taught at UCLA since 1978, and she since 1982. Burden stopped doing performance art in the late 1970s and transitioned to sculpture, often making pieces that reflect on political issues or creating erector-set-like works inspired by the world of civil engineering.
"Pieces that reflect on political issues"? Why am I not surprised.
Rubins is known for huge assemblage works made from parts of scrapped vehicles and appliances, including a sculpture of steel wire and old airplane parts that dominates an outdoor plaza at the Museum of Contemporary Art in downtown Los Angeles.
The student who did the performance is Joseph Deutch, 25, according to the campus police log entry on the case. Campus police said that in the course of the investigation, Deutch handed over a gun that was not a real firearm. Robison, the district attorney's spokeswoman, said there was "insufficient evidence to show a gun was discharged or any bullet fired."
Christopher Waterman, dean of the School of the Arts and Architecture, said Friday that he didn't foresee the art department losing stature despite the abrupt loss of professors he described as "world-renowned artists, great creative forces."

"Change is a natural thing, and we're looking forward to conversations" about strategy for shaping the department's future in the search to fill the two vacant professorships, he said.
In other words, don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Yes, you read it correctly. When they actually shoot someone with a rifle - that's Art. When someone else uses a toy gun - that's Terrorism.

I won't make any disparaging remarks about the sterility of the Professors' "artworks". I haven't seen the "sculpture of steel wire and old airplane parts" in question, and it's possible that such a thing could be a great creative achievement. I've seen great artworks made by people of talent that were made of such things. But the overwhelming majority of such junk is just that, junk. If the two Professors' creativity is on a par with their intellectual dishonesty, then it would be worth the journey to the Museum of Modern Art to see it. But my bet's on them being on a par with another bunch of wankers that I met 30 years ago.

UPDATE : Looks like I was right. From Artforum :
It's an understatement to note that the world changed profoundly between the completion of Nancy Rubins's latest work and its unveiling on September 13. The ways in which we relate to works of art have changed in varying degrees since September 11 but the effect is particularly clear in the case of the lone piece comprising Rubins's show--a gargantuan assemblage of jumpled airplane fragments.

The title of the work--Chas' Stainless Steel, Mark Thompson's Airplane Parts, About 1000 Pounds of Stainless Steel Wire, and Gagosian's Beverly Hills Space
Oh how Utterly Precious! And so, so Seventies!
--provides as good a nutshell description as any. Roughly twenty-five feet high and fifty-four feet wide at its broadest, the piece barely fit in the white--cube gallery, doing as great sculpture often does: claiming the space as its own and commanding it. The base and armature is a trussed column of welded stainless steel tubing--a relatively nimble footing for the mass that sprouts from it. Assembled from various stabilizers, wing sections, nose cones, pipes, fuselage chunks, and other random parts, all held tenuously in place by an improvised web of twisted wire, the piece is a monument of stored energy. Meanwhile, its dynamic form, which grows widest toward the top, is an inversion of the shape generated when a mass of parts is left to inertia and entropy: the pile.
A Pile. Rich. Brown. Steaming. Fragrant.
Two primary appendages thrusting outward and upward from the center and sweeping back suggest wings, and a reading of the work that includes references to the Nike of Samothrace is hardly a stretch, though it might be reaching beyond the artist's intention.
I throw my hands up in helplessness at this. I try to parody, but these people are so far up themselves they're beyond it.
Rubins's piece is made from what is immediately recognizable as salvaged scraps of small aircraft, not jets, but the work can't help but blur with the hijackings in the heavy associative haze hanging over virtually every aspect of culture. To see this work as a kind of phoenix figure or a quasi-anthropomorphic expression of triumph over tragedy may be indefensible, in light of its completion date, but to allow it to attain and bear its public meaning against the backdrop of a changed and ever-changing world is well within reason and, in fact, extends a challenge in which the work reveals its strength and significance.
Read that again. Slowly. Now try to extract a single microgramme of meaning.
It shows itself able to function as a flexible vehicle for themes and concerns both timely and timeless; it's as evocative of airplane disasters as of the fall of Icarus. Like many of Rubins's past works, this sculpture raps into far-reaching preoccupations and anxieties regarding production, consumption, destruction, and waste, as well as aspiration and failure in all their manifestations--concerns arguably as old as civilization itself, but lately boiling just under society's skin.
Like a particularly nasty pimple, or possibly scabies. Nice imagery.

As for The Winged Victory of Samothrace? The last time I saw that mentioned was in Harvard Lampoon's "Bored of the Rings". Ah yes, here it is :
..."Hello," said a gray lump behind them. "Long time no see."

"Goddam, old shoe," crooned Spam, and dropped a coin at Goddam's feet.

"Small world," said Frito as he palmed the Ring and clapped the surprised creature on the back.

"Look!" cried Frito, pointing to an empty sky. "The Winged Victory of Samothrace." And as Goddam turned to see, Frito looped the chain over his neck.

"Holla," cried Spam, "a 1927 indian-head nickel!" and dropped on his hands and knees in front of Goddam.

"Whoops!" said Frito.

"Aiyeee," added Goddam.

"Floop," suggested the tar pit.

Frito let out a deep sigh and both boggies bade a final farewell to the Ring and its ballast. As they raced from the pit, a loud bubbling noise grew from the black depths and the earth began to tremble. Rocks split and the ground opened beneath their very feet, causing the boggies much concern. In the distance, the dark towers began to crumble and Frito saw Sorhed's offices at Bardahl seam and shatter into a smoking heap of plaster and steel.

"Sure don't build 'em like they used to," observed Spam as he dodged a falling water cooler...
Now that is Great Art.

Hello Space, My Old Friend

From Reuters via the ABC :
The crew aboard the International Space Station (ISS) has slipped into spacesuits and floated out a hatch to begin a five-and-a-half hour spacewalk, the first since the men arrived at the outpost three months ago.

Wearing Russian pressurised spacesuits, NASA astronaut Leroy Chiao and cosmonaut Salizhan Sharipov opened the hatch on the station's Pirs docking module at 6:43pm AEDT as the outpost soared over the southern Atlantic Ocean.

"Leroy, careful there," flight directors at the Russian Mission Control Centre outside Moscow radioed to the crew as they prepared to open the hatch to leave the station.

"Just pull on it and that's it," the flight director said.
Mr Chiao, who has made four spacewalks during previous missions, and Mr Sharipov, on his debut outing, gathered the last of their tools and two bundles of equipment and slipped into the vacuum of space.

"Hello space, my old friend," Mr Chiao said.

"It's so cold and beautiful," added Mr Sharipov.

Topping the list of the half-dozen tasks on the spacewalkers' to-do list is the installation of a work platform to the outside of the Zvezda service module.

The platform holds a small German-built robotic arm called Rokviss.

The two-jointed device is intended as a technology demonstration experiment.

Once the platform is attached, the spacewalkers plan to attach telemetery equipment, a television camera and an antenna so the arm can be remotely controlled by ground-based teams or by crewmembers inside the space station.

Mr Chiao and Mr Sharipov also are scheduled to mount three canisters containing life science experiments, which will be retrieved during future spacewalks.

Before returning to the station's airlock, the spacewalkers will inspect some vents to see if they can pinpoint any debris that may be affecting the station's troubled oxygen generator.

The spacewalk is the first of two planned during Mr Chiao and Mr Sharipov's mission.

The next outing is scheduled for March.
The next "outing". I like that. Nice turn of phrase.

It's about Bloody Time

The Australian Taxation Law is in an irredeemable mess.

I've blogged about the similarities between programming and the law before - and rather than repeat myself, I'll wait till you've read that article, as it's still germane to the issue.

Read it? Good.

One very true epigram of programming is that
"In the long run every program becomes rococo -- then rubble."
- Alan Serlis.
A nice, well-behaved system with just a few things wrong with it gets modified slightly, then a bit more, then oops that introduced a new problem, so we fix that, and that leads to more problems with the original change, so we fix those.... until the whole ramshackle tottering edifice crashes in smoke, flame and ruin.

The Australian Tax Law is now Rubble. It's literally impossible for anyone to state with any certainty exactly what the law is, though for most purposes we have a pretty good approximation. That approximation is "Whatever the Australian Tax Office says it is today".

From The Australian :
The Tax Act now runs to something like 10,000 pages. The Productivity Commission's Gary Banks reports the Australian Tax Office employs 19,000 people and spends more than $3 billion. This is about two thirds of all the staff the federal Government employs and the money it spends to regulate our lives. And much of the ATO's activity goes on combating taxpayers looking for loopholes. A simpler system would reduce compliance costs. And reductions in income tax levied would reduce the national sport of avoidance and, far too frequently, evasion.
A year or so back, Mr Banks warned if the tax laws kept growing at their present rate they would account for 3 billion pages by the end of the century. "To tax and to please is not given to men," said Edmund Burke. But lower taxes, efficiently and fairly collected, can make all Australians a good deal happier than we are at the moment.
And from another article, also in The Australian :
The Howard Government has secret plans to use its Senate majority to dramatically simplify onerous tax laws, including stripping back the 7000-page tax act.

In a reform push that will be welcomed by business, Treasury has been quietly developing a plan that reverses the present approach to dealing with tax avoiders.

The plan will see the tax act set out broad principles rather than take the existing approach, which makes the law so detailed that it closes every loophole.
Former High Court Chief Justice Sir Harry Gibbs, in another article states the facts plainly, and pulls no punches.
There is, however, one reform which, if successfully implemented, should (in Macbeth's words) buy "golden opinions from all sorts of people", even one hopes from the officials of the Treasury and the Australian Taxation Office.

This reform may at first sight seem insignificant compared with other matters of great moment that will be considered by the Government, but in fact would be of very great benefit to business, trade and the community generally.

The reform to which I refer is the rewriting of the income tax legislation. This does not necessarily involve issues concerning levels of taxation. The laws relating to income tax are a disgrace. There is nothing new in that reproach – it has been true for at least a decade, the only change being that the situation is getting worse.

The legislation is absurdly voluminous compared with our own earlier legislation and with other tax systems, and the volume increases rapidly from year to year.

Much of the legislation is obscure to the point of being incomprehensible. It gives the Australian Taxation Office unacceptably wide discretionary powers, including those given by the anti-avoidance provisions of part IV(a), which were inserted in an overreaction to some earlier decisions of the High Court.

It is, I think, true to say that many practising accountants no longer try to unravel the mysteries of the legislation by reading its provisions. Rather they rely on the various documents and rulings issued by the Australian Taxation Office – a subordination of the rule of law to the opinions of the Executive. The uncertainty of the law is an impediment to business generally.

What is needed is a completely new statute of manageable size and clearly drafted. By clarity of drafting, I do not suggest that there should be a repetition of the ill-fated attempt to put the income tax law into "plain English". Without clarity of thought, there can be no clarity of expression. If the present obscurities of the law were removed, there would be no need to confer on the Taxation Office discretionary powers that are offensively wide.
He ends with a final point worth considering:
I have said that this proposal would not necessarily entail any considerations of taxation levels. One would hope that the taxation scales will be reviewed. However, that review should be a separate exercise from the rewriting of the legislation and should be kept separate from it because, whereas there are likely to be widely differing views as to what scales are appropriate, there should be general agreement that the tax law should be rendered clear and accessible.

The rewriting of the taxation law could provide simplicity; the achievement of equity is another question.
This Tax Reform is not about changing levels of Taxation, or re-distributing the existing burden : it's about making a Tax Law that's (largely) capable of Human Comprehension and (certainly) capable of successful Administration.

I did a brief mathematical complexity analysis on the Tax Law as it stood in 2000. It showed that the complexity of the Tax Law was far greater than the rest of Australia's Laws put together. The truly Byzantine Social Security legislation came a very distant second, then all other legislation complexity was too small to measure by comparison. Since then, the situation has only gotten worse. The Tax Law needs mending with a new 'un. Now.

Military Tattoo in Canberra

A few hours ago, Carmel, Andrew and I got back from the precinct of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, where we got an Australia Day performance from the bands of the Edinborough Military Tattoo. We got there a little late, as Andrew hadn't had his afternoon nap by 5pm (and he gets very rambuctious indeed when he's tired), so we missed the start. But not the Finale.

There's something about the skirl of a hundred pipers at sunset.

The most moving part for me wasn't the lone piper on the War Memorial, it was the playing of the National Anthems of our visitors from the UK, then our own.

When "God Save the Queen" started up, the crowd sang in a low murmer, almost a whisper. Most knew the words - for until the early 70's, it was our National Anthem too, and there were many, many Diggers and their families to whom this was still "their" anthem. "Advance Australia Fair" started up immediately thereafter, but the note of reverence continued. This time, there were somewhat more singers, but still singing in a low, almost shy murmur.

10's of thousands of people, of all ages, singing quietly under their breath, as the Sun slowly sank below the mountains.

After the performance was over, we hung around, taking our time getting back to the car, as there were quite a few tens of thousands of people on-site, and road access and egress was limited. So we got a good look at the Governor-General's party as it departed, followed shortly thereafter by the Prime Minister, John Howard.

There was some widespread but quiet applause as John Howard approached his car - and not a single catcall. The day was too special for partisanship. Security was tight (by Australian standards) too, there must have been almost a dozen police within a hundred metres. Certainly none near us, and we had an unobstructed view from about 10 metres away. The three "men in black" (actually one was female) with earphones and bulges under their coats that we'd spotted on arrival were well out of sight. The crowd just hung back, giving the official party space, with only the merest hint by the odd police officer in blue overalls as to where to stand.

I'm tremendously lucky, and very grateful, to be living in a country like Australia, and a city like Canberra. A place where there's still less security required for a major event than for a Church Fete in the UK, or a Hollywood party thrown by a third-rate celebrity. Maybe it was the Royal Marines, the Ghurkas, and the Brigade of Guards whose bandsmen were a hundred metres away, but I don't think so. It was the fact that Canberra is a pleasant backwater at the Arse end of the world, and we try to keep trouble at arm's length. We've donated billions to "our neighbours" in Indonesia, and indeed, we consider them our neighbours. But Aceh, and Bali, are as further away from Canberra as Baghdad is from London, or Paris from New York.

Wednesday 26 January 2005

Horse Laughs

I've personally met or talked over the phone with some of my readership, and I know there are both serving military, military historians, and herealdic scholars amongst you. This one's for you - but I've explained the significance of the picture and the extremely subversive "in joke" for everyone else.

Quoted from The Command Post :
Things MSM isn't reporting - again.

1cdinsig.gifUpdating a previous post, this from the blog of PFC Charles Maib, a US Army reporter in Iraq. He's in the 1st Cavalry, and took the intriguing photo below, so this one is literally "straight from the horse's mouth". :
No one ever sat at the table. The meeting was informal and took place with Kerry leaning against the table and other Soldiers surrounding him. Someone mentioned hockey, and Kerry said he had just been playing ice hockey the other day, and it had aggravated his knee. He ask the troops a few questions. He wanted to know how they felt about the "bait and switch about the WMDs." He wanted to know if we were angry. The Soldiers responded that they really didn't care about WMDs. Their mission was to protect and to rebuild. Kerry ask about quality of life and morale. The troops responded that it couldn't be better. They watch DVDs and hang out with friends in their spare time. They really have everything they could ask for. He then ask is there was anything that he could tell Congress for us, a message he could deliver. The troops said to spread the word that we are doing good work over here, but CNN, and ABC, and FOX doesn't want to show us rebuilding sewage stations and renovating schools and helping families. They only want to show death.

Military Mavens will note two things about this photo : the mirror-reversed 1st Cavalry patches authorised only in a combat area, "to show that the cavalry never retreats". And the second thing is that either Specialist Lacourse is quite coincidentally scratching her palm, or giving one of the POW signals for "I am acting under duress".

We report, you decide. Me, I'm cleaning tea off the keyboard and laughing my head off.

Hat Tip : Blackfive
Anyone who thinks that the Armed Forces of the "Coalition of the Willing" are a bunch of zombified robots without an independent thought in their heads, should look at this thoroughly subversive and disrespectful-to-the-Great-and-Powerful photo. People who are soldiers are still people, it's just that they're practiced in making swift decisions and making the most of opportunities, while not prejudicing good discipline. They're also not averse to making their thoughts and opinions about Politicians known, when they can get away with it, and sometimes even when they can't. Things like giving Hillary Clinton's helicopter the (unofficial) callsign "Broomstick One".
Update : I'm sure this is just a coincidence, too.


Hat Tip : Cumudgeonly and Sceptical

Tuesday 25 January 2005

The World Turned Upside-Down

Although I quite often do "research" and quote articles mentioned by other bloggers, It's not often that I plagiarise and quote an exact copy. For one thing, it steals traffic they should be getting.

But very, very rarely, one comes along that just has to be quoted in full.

From the LA Weekly via Normblog - a blog which IMHO you should go and read anyway.
We must reverse the great (and startling) historical flip-flop in our political iconography. Forty years ago, the left represented the future... while the right symbolized the repressive past, clinging to dead traditions like shards of a wrecked ship. Change means movement, said the great organizer Saul Alinsky, and during the '60s, the political counterculture had the passion to get things moving.

These days, all that has been stood on its head: In the wake of September 11, the right claims it wants to free oppressed people... while the left is too often caught saying "I told you so" about the mess in Iraq, even as that country speeds toward an election that any decent human being should hope goes well. In 1968, who would have believed it possible that the left would be home to the dreary old "realists" while the right would be full of utopians?
One of the left's glories has been its tradition of heroic internationalism, still alive in the anti-globalization movement's insistence on workers' rights around the world... But when it comes to foreign policy these days, the left appears lost. I get depressed hearing friends sound like paleocon isolationists or watching them reflexively assume that there's something inherently tyrannical about the use of American power... Just as the left lacked a coherent position on what to do with murderous despots such as Milosevic and Saddam - it won't do to say, "They're bad, but..." The left now needs a position on how best to battle a Muslim ideology that, at bottom, despises all the freedoms we should be defending. America should be actively promoting the freedom of everyone on the planet, and the key question is, how would the left do it differently from the Bush administration?
Norman Geras is a Marxist Academic at the University of Manchester, and is the kind of Marxist who would be a "premature Anti-Fascist", just as I (a Right Wing Death Beast) would. We're on the same side - the one of tolerance of political and religious differences without concomitent spinelessness in the face of evil. Against Dictatorships - even Dictatorships of the Proletariat, or for that matter Monopolistic Corporate States. Against Aristocracy and Oligarchy, be they formally titled Nobility, Nomenklatura, or merely "Socialist" Chattering-Class Elites. (Actually, I don't mind titled Nobility, as long as they don't have more actual power than anyone else.). We differ on relatively minor issues, the means to the end (I favour a mixed economy, heavy on the unfettered Capitalism, for example), not the ends themselves.

Any reader who automatically assumes Marxism = Evil (which I admit is a reasonable first approximation, if history is any guide) could do worse than visit Normblog. Or SIAW (Socialism in an Age of Waiting) for that matter. They're stronger meat. From the Declaration of Principles :
  • We are socialists, committed to the replacement of capitalism by a classless society in which common ownership, under democratic control, permits the realisation of the Enlightenment goals of universal freedom, equality and solidarity.
  • We remain intransigently loyal to the Marxist tradition – but for us, if not for most contemporary "Marxists", that means neither a routinised Marxism, subordinated to the interests of self-appointed leaders or authoritarian parties, nor a fossilised Marxism, reduced to academic introspection about ideas, but a Marxism that is still developing, still responsive to the new and unforeseen, and still capable of helping the working class and, along with them, all exploited and oppressed groups, to overthrow their rulers and build a better world.
  • We accept the need for dialogue and collaboration with non-Marxists, respecting the sincerity of their own convictions where they are sincere, while maintaining our independence.
Read that last paragraph again. Delete the "non-", and members of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy would do well to adopt it as a Maxim (the Gorky is optional).

When the cycle changes - as it inevitably does in history - and we RWDB's find ourselves trying to defend the indefensible (such as the current dictator in Turkmenistan simply because he's "Our Bastard") - then we should remember the "noughties" when Bush, Blair and Howard were at the vanguard of those trying to make other people's lives a little better through Democracy, and it was the Left that had lost its way. We should never let labels stop us from doing the right thing. Because when they re-discover their lost principles (and some like Norm have never lost them), the Right thing will sometimes be the Left thing.

It's an ill wind

...that blows nobody any good. Sometimes, if you look really hard, you'll see a microscopic silver lining in the darkest of clouds.

From the Sydney Morning Herald :
The tsunami that erased dozens of coastal communities in Aceh, Indonesia, killing more than 228,000 people in the country, may have taken a toll on another group that has dogged security officials in the region for years.

The gigantic wave could also have wiped out a band of pirates who prey on ships travelling through the Malacca Strait, according to a Malaysian agency that tracks attacks on global shipping.

"Since December 26 tsunami we have not recorded a single attack on shipping in the Malacca Strait," says Noel Choong, of the International Maritime Board (IMB) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
The IMB [International Maritime Bureau], a branch of the International Chamber of Commerce, reported 121 of the 445 attacks on commercial shipping in 2003 occurred in Indonesian waters, a 20 per cent increase over the previous year. Twenty-one seamen died, more than 350 were taken hostage and 70 remain missing.
As in the "walked the plank" kind of missing.
"One reason may be that the physical assets they (pirates) use, the boats and the weapons, were destroyed in the tsunami and of course the other possibility is that they themselves may have died. It's a big question-mark and we're watching the situation closely."
The more civilised pirates just boarded, emptied the ship's safe, and were on their way, not a lot more violent or painful than a particularly extortionate tax official. But often they'd shoot a few crew just to show they were serious, and rarely would hijack the ship and sail it to China. There a renegade PLA official would take charge, the crew sometimes being repatriated, but often just being "disappeared". From Modern High Seas Piracy :
In October the Japanese cargo ship M/V Alondra Rainbow was captured and had its 17 crew members set adrift on a raft.

In February the tanker M/T Global Mars was captured by Pirates and its crew set adrift for 13 days before being spotted off the coast of Thailand.

Also in February the cargo ship M/V HUALIEN was taken off Taiwan, but its 21 crew haven't been seen since.

You never know for sure where the crews go. When Chinese workers boarded the highjacked Australian freighter M/V Erria Inge a couple of years ago to cut it up for scrap, they smelled something foul. Searching for the source, they found ten members of the crew in a long unused refrigerator. The bodies had been splashed with gasoline and burned alive by the pirates who captured the vessel.
The tales from the boat-people who traversed these waters - those that survived - are particularly harrowing. The phrase "Buckets of Blood" may sound romantic when speaking about the Spanish Main in the 17th century, but when applied to the murder and rapine of children in small boats in the 1990's, it's quite different.

The expungement from the surface of the Earth of the Malaccan pirates would be a really, really good thing. Worth a quarter of a million innocents dead? Alas, no. I'd rather have the Pirates still in operation, slaughtering retail, rather than the wholesale massacre of the innocents by Mother Nature. Of course I don't have the choice, we must live with what is.

Toil and Trouble

From :
The White House has eliminated funding for a mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope from its 2006 budget request and directed NASA to focus solely on de-orbiting the popular spacecraft at the end of its life, according to government and industry sources.

NASA is debating when and how to announce the change of plans. Sources told Space News that outgoing NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe likely will make the announcement Feb. 7 during the public presentation of the U.S. space agency's 2006 budget request.

That budget request, according to government and industry sources, will not include any money for Hubble servicing but will include some money for a mission to attach a propulsion module to Hubble needed to safely de-orbit the spacecraft with a controlled re-entry into the Pacific Ocean. NASA would not need to launch such a mission before the end of the decade to guide the massive telescope safely into the ocean.

Sources said O'Keefe received his marching orders on Hubble Jan. 13 during a meeting with White House officials to finalize the agency's 2006 budget request. With both robotic and shuttle-based servicing options expected to cost well in excess of $1 billion, sources said, NASA was told it simply could not afford to save Hubble given everything else NASA has on its agenda, including preparing the shuttle fleet to fly again.
The Robotic Rescue Scenario was the only one that stood a chance of being affordable. If the budgetary estimation for that is over $1 Billion, then it is probably cheaper and easier to replace the Hubble with a new, improved model. Hopefully one with it's own de-orbit booster this time, for when it reaches obsolescence.

It's a matter of speculation and conjecture just how much the Hubble's technology owes to US Spy Satellites like Hexagon. The mirror-making equipment of Perkin-Elmer and Kodak was very quickly manufactured for Hubble. Very, very quickly indeed, unless they'd already had some experience making similar items. Of course, the errors in the Hubble's mirror shape meant that US space imaging technology couldn't be accurately assessed at the time, but only a truly paranoid conspiracy theorist would blame NSA sabotage for that. Overconfidence when making just another product like many successful others would be more likely.

All may not be lost for Hubble, however.
...sources, however, said they had not ruled out that the White House and NASA might be canceling the Hubble servicing mission as the opening gambit in the annual struggle that goes on every budget year, fully expecting that Congress will add money to the agency's budget over the course of the year to pay for a mission that has strong public support.
Without knowing the fine details - and I haven't done the extensive research needed - I can't tell whether a ~$1.2 billion rescue mission, or a ~$1.5 billion new telescope + ~$0.5 billion de-orbit mission would be better. But one model of the new telescope is under construction anyway - so buying a second one may be cheaper, as well as better.

This is all assuming the STS (ie the Shuttle) gets fixed adequately, of course. And that's one system that I know needs mending with a new one.

Monday 24 January 2005

Australian Blog Awards Voting Closes Soon

A reminder that the voting for the 2005 Australian Blog Awards closes on the 26th. I'd appreciate it if readers would have a look at the various blogs nominated in the "best tech blog" category, and cast a vote accordingly.

Things work better when you turn them on.

From the Seattle Times :
On Thursday, Idaho scientist David Atkinson said that someone failed to turn on a radio receiver for the instrument he needed to measure the winds on Saturn's largest moon. Because of that error, data transmitted by the gear on the Huygens lander was not received by the Saturn-orbiting Cassini spacecraft for relay to Earth.

"The story is actually fairly gruesome," the University of Idaho scientist said in an e-mail from Germany, the headquarters of the European Space Agency. "It was human error — the command to turn the instrument on was forgotten."

Atkinson spent 18 years designing the experiment for the unmanned space mission to Saturn. He did say Thursday there was a chance that some of the data that was beamed toward Cassini could be picked up on Earth.

Atkinson, who is still at the ESA working on the project, could not be immediately reached for comment today.
That's probably just as well : if it were me, the microphone would have melted. But all is not lost :
[Huygens mission manager Jean-Pierre] Lebreton said an investigation showed clearly that a remote control command to activate the receiver was not sent, which prevented the data from being collected by Cassini.

But he noted that the equipment on the Huygens probe worked perfectly.

"The probe sent a clean signal and this allowed us to do the experiment from the ground using radio telescopes," Lebreton said.

Because the data was collected on Earth, Lebreton said analysis will likely take longer and require more processing.
From a recent post :
... the most amazing thing to me as a systems engineer is that NASA and the ESA could co-operate so perfectly as to pull this whole thing off. Not so much them overcoming the myriad technical difficulties, daunting though they were, but that the management and inter-organisational rivalries didn't stuff things up.
The statement still stands - but I'm slightly less amazed than I was.

German Car Fails Martyr Test

Video here.

Sunday 23 January 2005

Shameless Namedropping

From the Washington Post :
Among this year's crop of coffee-table tomes -- celebrating four centuries of French armoires or the sun-drenched colors of Santa Fe style -- scurries a most welcome garden-party skunk.

The book, "Interior Desecrations: Hideous Homes From the Horrible '70s," is a full-throated rant against the decade of shiny op-art wallpaper, plaid upholstery and long-haired rugs in a palette dominated by orange, green and brown, everywhere brown.

For 176 pages, most featuring eye-jangling photos in full color that actually appeared in well-regarded design magazines of the era, author James Lileks ridicules an aesthetic he lived through and loathes. In prose by turns vulgar, blasphemous and hilarious, he takes no decorating prisoners.
There is one page in it - I won't mention it - that is a complete Aesthetic Abomination. An Atrocity. Now the book is filled with an aesthetic that is 99 44/100ths percent devoid of anything remotely resembling taste. But this goes beyond that.

I've been a fan of James Lileks, and his Gallery of Regrettable Food, for some years now. By coincidence, we have a mutual friend (not merely an acquaintance), Gnat Lileks' Nana (who incidentally makes the most fantastic caramels on the planet ). James has been introduced to some reasonably good plonk from the Canberra region, Gnat has a plush Platypus called 'Sydney', and me, I have both of the Lileks tomes, signed by the author.

I've never met James Lileks. I've never met Gnat. For that matter, I've never physically met Gnat's Nana, or her husband, Senor G. But one day, Andrew, Carmel and I may yet get to Minneapolis, Minnesotta. Or they may come to Downer, Australian Capital Territory. In the meantime, I'll bask (at a considerable distance) in a small iota of Reflected Glory.

Oh yes, you may find some illustrations from an early 60's edition of the "Australian Women's Weekly Cookbook" popping up in some future Lileks work. Australian readers may know the kind of thing I mean. The Horror... The Horror... You Have Been Warned.

Saturday 22 January 2005

The Devil can cite Scripture for his Purpose

So the Immortal Bard wrote in The Merchant of Venice.

A good example is to be found in the comments on a post by EvilPundit.
You must kill those who worship another god. Exodus 22:20
Kill any friends or family that worship a god that is different than your own. Deuteronomy 13:6-10
Kill all the inhabitants of any city where you find people that worship differently than you. Deuteronomy 13:12-16
Kill everyone who has religious views that are different than your own. Deuteronomy 17:2-7
Kill anyone who refuses to listen to a priest. Deuteronomy 17:12-13
Kill any false prophets. Deuteronomy 18:20
Any city that doesn't "receive" the followers of Jesus will be destroyed in a manner even more savage than that of Sodom and Gomorrah. Mark 6:11
Jude reminds us that God destroys those who don't believe in him. Jude 5
Don�t associate with non-Christians. Don't receive them into your house or even exchange greeting with them. 2 John 10
Shun those who disagree with your religious views. Romans 16:17
Paul, knowing that their faith would crumble if subjected to free and critical inquiry, tells his followers to avoid philosophy. Colossians 2:8
There's a lot in the comments that I know is incorrect, but a lot that to my surprise was correct when I checked it.

Worth a look - and certainly worth tracking down every quotation, as some are bogus.

Another comment led me to the (misnamed) National Hate Test. Here's my own reactions:

1. No idea. If forced to guess, I'd go with the old stereotype about the tallest player being the best at basketball. That's probably not the Asian, and the American kid is more likely to know more about basketball. But frankly, there's not enough information to say.

2. Curiousity - is she foreign or Australian? "Asians" differ as much as do "
Europeans". Hell, Chinese differ as much as do Europeans, just look at the 7 different classical styles of Chinese cooking, they're as different as Lutefisk is from Moussaka.

3. What's an American doctor doing here in Oz? How long has he been here, when did he emigrate from the US?

4. Thin, definitely. It's a sad fact that appearance is important in this particular job, and in current fashion dictates Elle Macpherson rather than Elle Macfeast.

5. The one who doesn't look like a hood. The one who's neater.

6. That he's a darn good coach. Good Lord, I'm Homophobic, but I don't take it to ridiculous extremes.

7. GREAT line! I'd probably burst out laughing.

8. Why would I ask for another trainer? I'm not about to swap and bodily fluids with him, share a needle etc.

9. Different case. 3 years olds can bite. I'd want to talk to my GP about this to get a risk assessment, I don't know enough. Until I talk, no contact.

10. Disgust. Then realisation that she's probably not consciously Anti-Semitic, it's just a loathsome figure-of-speech that I find personally offensive. A trifle though compared with the real anti-semitism found in, say, some parts of the ALP. I wouldn't say anything.

11. Depends if they're Wahabbis or not. But if they were Wahabbi, they'd hardly be talking to me, would they? Being Devout Muslims - and with both Husband and Wife present showing that they're not in a master-slave relationship, they'd probably be better neighbours than the average. Safer, anyway. I'd try to make sure they had access to a reasonably local Mosque - which could be tricky if they're Shi'a.

12. Long-term relationship would be fraught with difficulty. Do I want this person as a friend, or as a possible lifelong companion? If the latter, there would be practical problems, ramp access required at home etc. It raises the bar, but isn't a disqualifier.

13. DOH! How could I not have noticed? Then maybe switch to radio commentary, so we can both enjoy it. Describe the room, so he can manouver a bit more confidently.

14. Not enough data. The 55-yr-old may be more flexible, depending upon his past experience, number of jobs handled. But if he's been doing the same old same old, and so has the 35-yr-old, the younger bloke would get it. But again, personality as shown by talking in the interview is vastly more relevant.

15. A Female Mechanic? Unusual. Good, should be more of 'em. And I'm prejudiced enough to believe that enough of a glass ceiling still exists that she's probably better than the average male. Why? Because she must have a real passion for her job to resist the social pressure against doing Guy Stuff.

16. Why shouldn't I be?

Apart from question 10, I really don't see how much this has to do with "hate". Fear on the other hand, yes, there's some of that.

Friday 21 January 2005

Repulsive People

To mosquitos, that is.

From Reuters via the ABC :
British researchers have found chemicals produced by the human body that repel mosquitos, which could lead to a natural, odourless bug spray.

Scientists have long known that some people are more tempting targets for mosquitos than others.

James Logan, of Britain's Rothamsted Research centre, says until now it has not been clear whether those who are better protected actually produce a natural repellent of their own, or simply produced fewer of the chemicals that attract the insects.

"Other research groups have assumed that people who were unattractive (to mosquitos) might just lack attractive chemicals," he said.

"But we've come at it from a different point of view and suggested that they may have chemicals that make them less attractive."

His team has tested people to see how likely they were to attract mosquitos, then collected the chemicals the volunteers' bodies give off - their "liquid body odours".

The researchers have found certain chemicals are more common in people who are less attractive to the mosquitos.

When they spray those chemicals on people who normally do attract mosquitos, the insects are no longer interested.

"It basically masks the attractive chemicals. This chemical is telling the mosquito that there's nothing there," he said.

"I'm not saying it's one chemical. We've got several chemicals. It's likely to have something to do with different ratios of chemicals."

Best of all, the natural bug repellent is not detectible by human noses, so it would have no smell.

Mr Logan says the team is keeping its recipe secret because it wants to market what could be a new natural bug repellent that has no odour detectible by humans.
When I first came to Oz, I was plagued by mozzies. But after a few years, I had no more problems than the locals. I've noticed the same phenomenon with visitors from overseas, the Mozzies make a, well, bee-line for them. Based on those observations, it may be that it's something that gets triggered by being bitten.

Assuming the Aquatic Ape Theory is correct, (and I'm persuaded that it is, BTW), then mosquitos would have been a problem for Homo Sap's ancestors, since coastal areas and riverine estuaries are a haven for them. Having a natural insect repellent not found in the other two (non-aquatic) species of chimpanzee would be a plausible evolutionary adaptation. Obvious - in hindsight.

Hail to the Chief

From the ABC :
Storms have swept across southern New South Wales and the ACT, leaving about 23,000 houses without power and causing extensive damage to some homes.

Wind speeds of up to 120 kilometres an hour and large hailstones damaged more than 100 homes across the Riverina, ripped part of the roof off a TAFE [College of Technical and Further Education] at Griffiths and virtually destoyed a pub at Mattong, near Junee.
Homes and businesses were blacked out around Wagga, Griffith, Leeton and Temora, as well as in the Shoalhaven, while storms also passed through Yass and Braidwood.

Hail stones measuring 2.5 centimetres were recorded near Berrigan in the southern Riverina.
The SES [State Emergency Service] has also responded to a number of calls for help around Canberra, after a large hailstorm swept over much of the ACT.

Rain is continuing to come down across the region, with reports of hail the size of 20 cent pieces.
That's the size of a US Quarter, or a UK 10p piece.

I can confirm that the ones that hit us averaged that size, and the very largest ones were smaller than tennis balls - just. Most were the size of ice cubes you get from the fridge, coming down at what, 60-100 kph? Enough to leave serious bruises, anyway. The one I retrieved for Andrew (my 3 year old son) was only 3cm across, but was one of the smaller ones. It's just that it was also one of the nearest to the door, as getting hit by these things hurt. The things we do for our kids. OK, for me too.

Fortunately, the skylight glass we had put in a few years ago performed as advertised, and didn't shatter despite some very direct hits by quite large chunks of ice.

Then there's the subject of President Bush's second term, and his inauguration. A word which always suggests to me something painful involving a large, helical drill. Ewwww.

From the ABC again :
US President George W Bush embarks on his second term in office today with world leaders expressing hope that future relations with the US will be marked by more openness and greater consensus on the international level.

Mr Bush will take the oath today in the 55th US presidential swearing-in.
"Swearing-In"? That term's more applicable to Democrats, whose language will no doubt involve considerable swearing and many blasphemous oaths.
"It is not just France that must make concessions. A new relationship means that we respect each other. We are allies," French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier told CNN television.
And with Allies like them, who needs enemies.
"The French want to move on, and so do the Americans.
About 47% of them anyway. is a creature of the Democratic party, and has been since its inception.
Referring to the widespread criticism of France in the American press, he said: "It is not fair always to make a caricature of France.

"Just because the French say something, it doesn't mean it is wrong."
But that's what the smart money is betting on. Still, he did say it wasn't always fair.

Thursday 20 January 2005

Titan's Surface

From NASA :
Titan's SurfaceHuygens was designed to float in case it landed in a river or lake--but it didn't. After descending by parachute for two and a half hours, the saucer-shaped probe hit solid ground at a speed of 4.5 meters per second (10 mph), experiencing a brief jolting deceleration of 15 Gs. Huygens survived the impact and continued transmitting data for more than one hour after landing.

Among the measurements sent back to Earth were air temperature, pressure, composition and wind speed sampled at points ranging from the top of Titan's atmosphere to the ground. The temperature of the landing site itself was minus 291 degrees F. A "penetrometer" on the bottom of the probe poked into the ground. The soil, it found, has the consistency of wet sand or clay and is covered by a thin crust ... of something. Scientists are still analyzing all these data.
Abd from ESA, the European Space Agency, you can listen to the sounds of Titan.

I can't decide which is more wonderful - that the probe has managed to travel so far and over so many years to get this data, or that we're living in an age where the data is made so immediately available. No SF story even 20 years ago would have predicted that anyone on the planet with access to an "Internet Cafe" could listen to the sounds recorded by a probe as it entered Titan's atmosphere. Or even that "Internet Cafe's" would exist.

On second thoughts, the most amazing thing to me as a systems engineer is that NASA and the ESA could co-operate so perfectly as to pull this whole thing off. Not so much them overcoming the myriad technical difficulties, daunting though they were, but that the management and inter-organisational rivalries didn't stuff things up.

Finally, from Reuters :
Data sent back by the Huygens space probe from the Saturnian moon Titan show a frozen, orange world shrouded in a methane-rich haze with dark ice rocks dotting a riverbed-like surface the consistency of wet sand, scientists said on Saturday.
"We think this is a material which may have a thin crust, followed by a region of relatively uniform consistency," John Zarnecki, the scientist in charge of experiments on Titan's surface said at a televised news conference from the control center in Germany.

Zarnecki said one of his colleagues had suggested another analogy: creme brulee. "But I don't suppose that will be appearing in any of our papers," he said.
European Space Agency officials said they would investigate why a second, back-up radio channel failed to transmit some data back from the Huygens probe.

The loss of that signal made it impossible to get immediate results from an experiment that had been intended to track wind direction and strength in Titan's atmosphere, scientists said.

But using data from radio telescopes in Australia, China, Japan, the United States and Europe, Huygens scientists said they expected to be able to piece together similar information over time.
See what I mean about the degree of co-operation being amazing? Even more amazing than the surface being like 'creme brulee' (Titan being a Moon, Green Cheese would be more traditional, after all).

A Story below the Radar

An American Expat in SE Asia is covering an Important story that hasn't made more than a slight ripple in MSM.
If we [The USA] hoped to gain any possible goodwill from Indonesia with our massive show of support and generosity in their desperate time of need, then we are in for a very rude awakening. One man, Mr. Fred Burks is on a crusade to destroy any possible goodwill towards the United States and in the process is doing all he can to stoke the fires of Islamic fundamentalism.

Mr. Burks actions will cause long lasting damage to our relationship with Indonesia and will most likely also help to contribute to all the charges being dropped against Abu Bakar Ba'asyir. You read it first here.
The nut in question is a translator who has never even possessed a SECRET clearance. Where what he says is true, he's violating all standards of theics for translators. But it's what he's saying that is, um, "embroidered" that's really damaging.

A single nut in the right place can shift the world. See, for example, Mathias Rust.

Wednesday 19 January 2005

Stay Calm

Via A Voyage to Arcturus, here's the Titan weather report and breaking news from the Saturn Broadcasting Network, ZSBC News 2.

The Frivolity of Evil

In my Brilliant Career, I've had to read through court records of all reported cases in all Supreme Court jurisdictions of Australia for 5 years. (The things you do when you're checking the retrieval of data from a legal database).

Apart from the interminably boring corporate law cases, much of what I saw confirmed what Theodore Dalrymple, a Doctor practicing in "No Go" zones of the UK, has written in a recent article.

It's yet another article on the web that deserves not to be forgotten : The Frivolity of Evil.
My work has caused me to become perhaps unhealthily preoccupied with the problem of evil. Why do people commit evil? What conditions allow it to flourish? How is it best prevented and, when necessary, suppressed? Each time I listen to a patient recounting the cruelty to which he or she has been subjected, or has committed (and I have listened to several such patients every day for 14 years), these questions revolve endlessly in my mind.
Please go read the whole thing.

Tuesday 18 January 2005

Australian Blog Awards 2005

Keks is once more running the Australian Blog Awards, and this blog has been nominated in the category of "Best Australian Tech Blog".

I'd appreciate it if readers would check out all of the following :So why am I publicising all the other contenders, rather than just asking you to vote for me? Well, much as I'd like to win, I'd rather provide useful information. I mean, isn't that what tech blogs are for?

Oh yes, the voting is preferential, so you can rate them in order, you don't just have to pick the best. Voting ends on January 26th, so please don't delay.

How To Vote

Aurora Australis

From the ABC :
A solar flare is speeding towards earth, offering Australia's southern states and territory a rare opportunity tonight to witness the colours of the Aurora Australis.

A cloud of gas is expected to hit the upper atmosphere, causing a spectacular show of red and green lights.

Best viewing of the slow-moving coloured clouds will be from areas away from city lights from about midnight (AEDT).
I'll be up and watching for it in a few hours, an Aurora is something I've managed to miss so far.

Meanwhile, I'm wondering how it will affect the little satellite that could. I wouldn't be surprised if the ground station had to trigger failover of a mass memory bank - an additional little feature that I designed into the system "just in case" something like this happened, and the satellite took some damage. This wasn't in the original requirements, but was so easy to implement, while the danger was so high and consequences so drastic, that we upgraded the system accordingly.

For more on Fedsat, have a read of this 3.2 Mb pdf file. Although a bit light on substance, it has some quite neat pictures showing the bird under construction, and some data from the telemetry. The Gory details (mainly of interest only to professional Rocket Scientists) are a in a smaller pdf paper, but you can have a look at the latest data from the ground station online.

UPDATE: Just after midnight, I dodged 2 errant Wallabies, and did an emergency stop to avoid a Kamikaze Rabbit, and when I got to the lookout... beautiful clear night, except to the south, which was completely overcast. My 46-year aurora-missing-record remains intact.