Saturday, 15 December 2007

Random wierdness to lighten the mood

Well, with all the bad news, perhaps we need to be cheered up with something completely off the wall:

(Lyrics here)

Monday, 10 December 2007

The Magical Negro theory of American Politics

[In which PiaToR talks completely out of his ass. Again.]

So I'm finally watching _The Wire_, Season One. Slow of me, I know, but I'll get round to the rest of them on DVD when I get the time. And at a certain point early in the series, I saw a certain character get up and calmly do something pretty damned clever. And I thought to myself "Oh shit, another magic negro."

Not quite that simple, of course, but the trope was definitely tweaked there.

It turns out, on reading some of the stories on Obama, that I didn't quite have the same grasp as Americans on this (comes from growing up outside the culture, I guess). I'd always associated the idea with an archetype of a calm father-figure type who knew instinctively what to do, rather than a way of dealing with white liberal guilt over race relations. In NZ we don't do stereotypes of Maoris in popular culture as a way of dealing with white liberal guilt - we do arguments over land with real Maori as a way of dealing with white liberal guilt.

But, hell, I figure my version of the "Magic Negro" is probably just what the American populace really want right now, after the trauma of the last eight years (and teh impeachment beforehand). They don't want a policy wonk (Gore). They don't want a ladykiller (Clinton). And they sure as hell don't want a smarmy proud-to-be-dumb fratboy anymore (figure it out). They want someone who they believe will know what the hell he is doing, without being arrogant, and without the likelihood of scandal. Obama doesn't really cut it.

Which leads me to my Magic Negro Theory of American Politics: "The chances of a black man being elected President are directly correlated with that black man's resemblence to Morgan Freeman".

And the First Corollary To The PiaTor Magic Negro Theory: "Nominating Morgan Freeman is a no-brainer, for either political party".

The problem of getting a black woman elected President is, surprisngly enough, much much simpler. One word, starts with "O". The real problem would be getting her to accept the drop in status being elected President would entail.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Closing Time in the Pub at the End of the Mind

Closing Time in the Pub at the End of the Mind (Laura Solomon)

We are the dregs. We are what’s left over when all the sane, the normal people,
The people who instinctively know
How to keep away the wolves,
Have gone home to their wives, their lives,
Their mortgages and their other illusions of safety.

We have no nets. Beer is our high wire; our tightrope.

Drink up please.

See that one there, at the end of the bar
There’s a shadow that’s woven itself through all his days,
All his could have beens that never were,
There’s a darkness that’s woven itself
Into the very fabric of his being
There’s a hole where his soul should be
And nothing could ever fill it.
He defines the word ‘insatiable’.
Don’t we all?

Drink up please.

We are what’s left over. Scraps of people, walking clich├ęs,
Ordinary statistics in an ordinary world,
The others feed on our misfortune. It makes them feel better about their own lives,
To see us drowning in each pint of beer.

Drink up please.

Greatness dribbles away. We let it leave.
It exits via the gaps in between our fingers
And we know better than to attempt
To clutch at it as it departs.
You might as well clasp at empty air.

Maybe if we’d made it to Finishing School
We wouldn’t feel so unfinished. Unmade, incomplete.

Somebody just had his pacemaker fitted.
Heart was beating irregular
But now he’s back in time, two-four,
And we’re all back under the table
Which is where he drank us to.

Well, we would say, hurry up,
But what is there anyway to hurry up for?
Nothing but it’s fine.

It’s dark outside but in here there’s light.

The captain bailed overboard decades ago,
But the ship sails blithely on.
Are there icebergs? Is there ice?

Yes, we are the ones who forgot to think twice.
I’ll only say this one more time.

Drink up please.

Who was it that turned water into wine?
Well, I never saw him
Don’t believe all that shit,
That gliding across the surface of things.

We sink.

We’re ten truck pile-ups on high speed motorways
We’re decades collapsing into days
We’re full of everybody else’s ways
We’re all the things that’ll never fit.
We’re not really alive
We just resemble it a little bit.

Drink up please.

We’re every book you never read
We’re fucked in the heart and we’re fucked in the head
We’re all the things that are left unsaid
We may as well be the living dead
O yea we’re doing fine.

We’re what’ll be left at the end of time
We’re staccato rhythm and a corny rhyme.
We’re all the things you’d never want to find.

Closing time in the pub at the end of the mind.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

So near and yet so lame...


First there was Adam and Eve, now there's just Eve - the sultry new face of online education developed to hold the attention of pupils and to respond to their emotions.

I'm not sure what's more troubling here - that the media (or, God help us, the researchers involved) are marketing a teacher-bot as "sultry", or that the researchers concentrated on facial recognition and seem to have forgotten to hire a good animator and voice actor...

Monday, 5 November 2007

Gitmo here I come...

I have a very, very vague association with one of the people arrested in the farcical "anti-terror" swoop. Mutual acquaintances, who shall remain nameless. Actually, I'm a bit jealous - I always wanted an assault rifle, and it turns out Valerie had one. It would have made contract negotiations so much more entertaining.

Lessee - the US already kidnaps foreign nationals, holds them without trial and without rights, and denies them access to the courts - and I've been pretty loud in criticising the US over the past few years. If I go off the Internet, look for me near Cuba...

(Oh, and U. - keep your head down, dear - I imagine Echelon has tagged everyone Valerie ever sent email to, or who they ever sent email to, and Indymedia is probably listed as a "pro-terrorist organisation" somewhere in Homeland Security's addled collective brain)

Friday, 2 November 2007

The uselessness of being human

I dreamed last night that
you were weeping and that I
held you helplessly

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

A brief note on certain recent terrorist arrests

When you have someone buying army camo pants, this is a pretty dubious indicator that he's dangerous.

When he's buying them on line with his home address, this is an even more dubious indicator of his intended crimes against the state.

When it emerges that he was looking for size XXXXL, your case against him as a dedicated urban revolutionary has just taken a massive credibility hit...

"I blame that lot over there!"

The Listener points out a certain aspect of nationalism:

- The Italians called it “the French disease”.
- The French called it “the Italian disease”.
- The Dutch called it “the Spanish disease”.
- The Russians called it “the Polish disease”.
- The Tahitians called it “the British disease”.
- The Turks, covering all possible bases, called it “the Christian disease”.

We are, of course, talking about syphilis. Can anyone think up a justification for calling it the Australian disease, off-hand?

Saturday, 27 October 2007

Get 'Miles' away.

One thing I'm irritated by is "Buy New Zealand" campaigns. We have a persistant balance of payments problem in this country but, in a world of floating exchange rates, it's not to be cured by attempting to substitute domestic production for imports. It is due to our capital flows - we need investment, we need to pay off profits to overseas owners of assets, we don't save enough. Therefore we must import other people's currency, and therefore we run a trade deficit.

Little New Zealand flags on boxes won't solve this. KiwiSaver might.

Environmentalism can serve a similar purpose to nationalist campaigns. One of the current fads in Europe is the idea of "food miles", that consumers should attempt to eat produce produced locally because transporting it has less of an impact on the environment - most importantly CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions. It's big in the UK (although Walmart in the US is making noises about it) and, as you might imagine, is enthusiastically supported by British farmers.

It also has obvious implications for NZ exporters - and if your image of NZ mostly involves 40 million sheep, consider that New Zealand is expected to earn more this year by exporting wine than by exporting wool.

Problem is, it doesn't work.

Check it out - research from Lincoln University (pdf) and a report on UK research - when you take into account efficiency of production, greenhouses vs fields, transport on trucks vs shipping, integrated production chains - food produced in NZ, in Southern Europe, in Africa still has less of a carbon footprint than food produced in the UK. The same probably applies to the US, which I would imagine has even more carbon intensive farming techniques than the UK, given the size of the country and the reliance on mechanical inputs.

How the CO2 emissions compare:
UK New Zealand
2,849kg CO2 per tonne of carcass 688kg CO2 per tonne of carcass

Lettuce (winter)
UK Spain
3,720kg CO2 per tonne of lettuce (indoor production) 3,560kg CO2 per tonne of lettuce

Apples (in May when off season in UK)
UK New Zealand
271kg CO2 per tonne of apples 185kg CO2 per tonne of apples

Netherlands Kenya
35,000kg CO2 per 12,000 stems 6,000kg CO2 per 12,000 stems

More resources here.

Assessing carbon emissions is a useful exercise, and one which puts environmental decisions in the hands of buyers. Various exercises are being taken to standardise these sorts of calculations - I know that MAF is working on it. But "food miles" is a misleading simplification that seems to be a greener looking equivalent to waving the flag or slapping packages with pictures of kiwis, or bald eagles, or Lizzie Windsor. If someone tries pushing the idea on you, ask who is sponsoring it and whether the science adds up.

On the other hand, it's Saturday morning, and I'm off to the Waitangi market to see if I can pick up some cheap veges directly from the farmers at the stalls...

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Medieval Scandinavians had their priorities right

Little known fact for the day:

The Finnish epic poetry saga, the Kalevala, dedicated 200 verses towards the creation of the Earth. It dedicated 400 verses towards beer.

This probably explains the Winter War - the Soviets annoyed them in the middle of a really bad hangover...

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

"It's got what plants crave!"

Okay, so I'm weeks behind the times, and only about a million people have made this connection first, but I contend that I, also, made the connection by myself as soon as I saw the story.

Atlanta is suffering a drought. They have something like three or four months of water in the reserves, and that's it.

And the biggest user of water in the place, one which they're having problems getting to cut back, is a Gatorade factory.

Gatorade - it has electrolytes!

If you don't understand the reference, hie thee to your video store and ask about this...

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Spring - and too much information from women

Just a couple of brief notes for two women who shall remain anonymous:

i, I don't want to know about you, Person A, sloping off into the bathroom to jill off because of your boyfriend's texts. It just makes me dubious about my project of trying to get you to read books - if there's fingerprints on them when they return, I'm going to be very annoyed.

ii, And while I appreciate emails from you, Person B, mentioning you're not wearing knickers as much as the next guy who's spent a lot of time trying to get into them, you had to spoil it by going on to mention why, didn't you? Okay, okay I started it by suggesting the bed pictured looked too fragile for your, uh, needs - but we both know you're grosser than I am. You win!

I mean, Jesus, I spend my time trying to develop a reputation as a pervert and as soon as spring rolls around, women show they can effortlessly outdo men in this field without even trying.

Scene from Oriental Bay today

It's spring. If you've never been to Wellington, Oriental Bay is a main promenade along a bathing beach - it soaks in the sun for most of the day and is a favourite spot for Wellingtonians during the few days with tolerable weather.

This is one of those days. It's warm as spring starts finally breaking in. There's a breeze from the ocean, and the sky is a deep blue with the sun coming through well. I'm getting the walking in after work, and enjoying the day. Work is on a roll, my health is on a roll, everything is pretty good.

There's a young couple kissing on a bench overloking the bay. He's kissing her neck, and she's laid her head on his shoulder, with her eyes closed.

She looks almost exactly like a girl I was in love with back in college.

There's no way to express the look on her face. Incredible tenderness mixed with contentment. At that moment, I think, she was feeling what we all know we live for and want. If I was an artist, I could spend a decade trying to capture it.

I don't think I've ever felt that way.

And the Beth Orton swells up in the headphones:

"If I lose you, could you find me,
or would you walk right by me?
The soul and the spirit
Each have got their own limit.

And I can't waste another second,
Living in hell like it's some kind of heaven..."

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Your vagina is a public good

One of the reoccuring issues I keep seeing in the intersection between politics and economics is that of private choice vs public good. Individuals make decisions all the time based on their own private welfare - and it is essential to freedom that they do this - but the consequences of these decisions are not so great when aggregated in a community.

I noted recently in a local paper (Sunday Star Times, 30 Sep 2007, p.A6) an article which illustrates this in a pretty stark fashion. Training in New Zealand medical schools is suffering problems because students, especially male students, are being banned from delivery suites by women giving birth. The requirement used to be attending fifteen normal births during training; this has been reduced to five, and even here students are finding it impossible to make the grade - especially as they have to compete with midwifery students. In the US, many universities are using birth simulators. Think about that - training doctors on birth simulators!

Now, from the point of view of the individual woman and family, banning students makes sense. I'm pretty sensitive about who gets to stare at my genitals, and I'm not pushing a baby through them at the time. Not to mention the blood, the pain, the shit and sweat - you really do not need a bunch of young strangers standing around and taking notes while you go through it.

But medical practice is just that - a practice. If your doctor is in charge of a birth for the first or second time (and face it, doctors will have to go through their first or second times), how many other women's births do you want them to have attended as a student?

That answer is simple - as many as possible. Fifty or sixty. You want them to know the subject backwards and forwards, to know precisely what to do, to have bloody marinated in the subject. You want those fifty or sixty unknown women to have let a medical student to take a good hard stare at their vaginas before he or she gets any responsibility for what happens to yours.

You just don't want to let medical students do it to you.

Which illustrates the continual social problem of balancing individual freedom against a functioning society. One answer would be to have women ban students without condiering the consequences - and then scream about liberals causing medical training to deteriorate based on political correctness. Another would be to run students through without asking the woman or family involved, or to browbeat them into allowing it. Or you could muddle through - perhaps. Or you could export your problem with freedom - let students stare at many overseas poor vaginas before they touch your rich one in solitude. Or perhaps offer serious discounts at teaching hospitals for maternity cases where the woman is willing to provide live theatre.

Do people have the freedom to drive whatever car they want? Should people be allowed to eat whatever they like? Can society forbid you from smoking crack, from smoking pot, from smoking tobacco? If you won't get off your fat ass, should we make you? If you like looking at pictures of naked people who got paid to take their kit off, should society stop you?

We can dismiss questions like gay marriage - nobody has yet to show any credible damage that would occur if Larry and Barry tied the knot, despite all the huffing and screaming.

But on what principles should liberals advocate drawing lines when there is a cost to society from exercising individual freedom?

Friday, 5 October 2007

October pessimism - the reasons

The reason to bomb Iran (from Steven Ruggles - it might allow a boost for whichever Republican candidate best suits Bush. It would require a hell of a boost, but I'm sure if the media pundits have enough orgasms over the event, it will do the trick well enough for the Diebold factor to look plausible.

The reason not to invade Iran - Congress is already shovelling the maximum amount of US taxpayer money (or, rather, US taxpayer future money) towards tax cuts for the rich and government contractors that it can. It doesn't need another reason - such as sending soldiers to occupy yet another chaotic clusterfuck of American creation where they are not wanted. Iraq is quite adequate for that.

Reasons not to be cheerful, part 1 - the range of the Chinese Silkworm (obsolete now) is 95 km. The Straits are 21 km wide at their narrowest.

Why people flee across the Tasman

With thanks to Bekitty, the difference between Australia and New Zealand.


Thursday, 27 September 2007

I'll be in my bunk

Okay, this has to be due to morphic resonance or something:

'Brady Bunch' Star Reveals All About Lesbian Fling With TV Sister?

You know, now that I come to think of it, Marcia Brady may well have been the first round-faced blonde on whom I developed an obsession. She wasn't the last. Stop laughing, Bekitty.

Mind you, at the same time I also thought Abba was the epitome of cool...

(Probably not true, mind you, but why let facts stand in the way of a good story?)

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Let the bullshitting commence

Latest poll:

September 2007 - More than 1,000,000 Iraqis murdered

In the week in which General Patraeus reports back to US Congress on the impact the recent ‘surge’ is having in Iraq, a new poll reveals that more than 1,000,000 Iraqi citizens have been murdered since the invasion took place in 2003.

Previous estimates, most noticeably the one published in the Lancet in October 2006, suggested almost half this number (654,965 deaths). These findings come from a poll released today by O.R.B., the British polling agency that have been tracking public opinion in Iraq since 2005. [...]

Detailed analysis (which is available on our website) indicates that almost one in two households in Baghdad have lost a family member, significantly higher than in any other area of the country. The governorates of Diyala (42%) and Ninewa (35%) were next.

The poll also questioned the surviving relatives on the method in which their loved ones were killed. It reveals that 48% died from a gunshot wound, 20% from the impact of a car bomb, 9% from aerial bombardment, 6% as a result of an accident and 6% from another blast/ordnance. This is significant because more often that not it is car bombs and aerial bombardments that make the news – with gunshots rarely in the headlines.

As well as a murder rate that now exceeds the Rwanda genocide from 1994 (800,000 murdered), not only have more than one million been injured but our poll calculates that of the millions of Iraqis that have fled their neighbourhoods, 52% have moved within Iraq but 48% have crossed its borders, with Syria taking the brunt of refugees.

I am now taking odds on what the prevailing wisdom will settle on as the best way to deal with this:

a) I didn't see a million Iraqi obituaries in the LA West Shopper, therefore a million Iraqis cannot be dead.

b) The graveyard in Al Jahkarb St in Baghdad is, like, really really small, therefore a million Iraqis can't be dead.

c)The Opinion Research Bureau is a Chomskist front which doesn't know anything about sampling, therefore a million Iraqis can't be dead.

d) Al Qaeda is really really nasty, and the US Army only uses targetted pillows whereever civilians might be involved, therefore if a million Iraqis are dead due to us choosing to launch a war against a country that didn't attack us, it still isn't our fault - it's Osama's!

e) Look - O J Simpson!

Monday, 27 August 2007

Okay, someone cue the "Yakkity Sax"...

Kung fu hustle as thief flees on bike

A thief in Nelson chose the wrong place to break into a car and ended up fleeing from 110 uniformed martial arts experts, in town for Chan's Martial Arts School's annual training camp.

I don't mind life imitating art, but when it starts imitating bad farce?

Sunday, 19 August 2007

A confession - my Mum had sex

Admittedly, this is not a huge surprise. We're of Irish descent, not Jewish; it is unlikely that any of us deriving from the Emerald Isles were immaculately conceived. But here comes the shocking bit - she had it before she was (gasp) married. In fact, I was a healthy slightly larger than normal baby born "premature", if you know what I mean. My grandad was a farmer; he owned a shotgun.

Now in NZ, better than half of children are "illegitimate". Back then, the sequence of events was very very far from unusual. There's not that much to do in the Wairarapa. So she got knocked up, they got married, they split five years later. Not much of a story, really.

However, my maternal grandparents raised sheep. They didn't make a living pandering to the religious right nutbars who believe unmarried sex is Teh Evil.

"Miss Bush and Mr. Hager became engaged Wednesday 15 August 2007."

Now, let me see - nine months from 15 August will be, oh, about mid May 2008...

Please note, I am not lambasting Jenna. From what I can see, she appears to be a relatively normal fun-loving young woman, if shallow and moderately spoiled (and it is the privilege of the young to be shallow). I'm pointing a finger at Bush and the Family Values crowd that have let him lead the US into a moral abyss involving killing people over the last six years because they believe he shared their obsession with who sticks what into whom.

Jenna seems to have fucked her boyfriend. Bush has fucked his country. Go, Jenna.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

The difficulty with being a political spouse...

You have to make lame excuses and get the media speculating you're a flake.

The simpler explanation is that Cecilia Sarkozy is relatively normal, and simply can't stand being in the same room as the man. Or, for that matter, has a sense of conscience and believes screaming and attempting to strangle a President might not be conducive to international relations.

Friday, 10 August 2007

Tell us again how noble the USA is (part 2)...

And another story:

SANGIN, Afghanistan — A senior British commander in southern Afghanistan said in recent weeks that he had asked that American Special Forces leave his area of operations because the high level of civilian casualties they had caused was making it difficult to win over local people.

Other British officers here in Helmand Province, speaking on condition of anonymity, criticized American Special Forces for causing most of the civilian deaths and injuries in their area. They also expressed concerns that the Americans’ extensive use of air power was turning the people against the foreign presence as British forces were trying to solidify recent gains against the Taliban.

The US army is very very good at breaking things and killing people. This is, in general, a good thing for an army to be - it's considerably better than not being any good in these tasks.

It does not make an army noble. It does not make an army a suitable tool for all political tasks. It does not make every given goal possible by the use of military force.

And it certainly does not prevent war from being evil, those that take part in it from being drawn into that evil, and those condoning it from engaging in a moral evil.

I think this post is mostly filler...

I figure I better throw this in as some kind of break between the last and the next, otherwise I'll be accused of being too negative. And so...

(Blame The Poor Man)

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Tell us again how noble the USA is...

The Black Sites - A rare look inside the C.I.A.’s secret interrogation program

Confidentiality may be particularly stringent in this case. Congressional and other Washington sources familiar with the report said that it harshly criticized the C.I.A.’s practices. One of the sources said that the Red Cross described the agency’s detention and interrogation methods as tantamount to torture, and declared that American officials responsible for the abusive treatment could have committed serious crimes. The source said the report warned that these officials may have committed “grave breaches” of the Geneva Conventions, and may have violated the U.S. Torture Act, which Congress passed in 1994. The conclusions of the Red Cross, which is known for its credibility and caution, could have potentially devastating legal ramifications.
The C.I.A.’s interrogation program is remarkable for its mechanistic aura. “It’s one of the most sophisticated, refined programs of torture ever,” an outside expert familiar with the protocol said. “At every stage, there was a rigid attention to detail. Procedure was adhered to almost to the letter. There was top-down quality control, and such a set routine that you get to the point where you know what each detainee is going to say, because you’ve heard it before. It was almost automated. People were utterly dehumanized. People fell apart. It was the intentional and systematic infliction of great suffering masquerading as a legal process. It is just chilling.”
According to sources familiar with interrogation techniques, the hanging position is designed, in part, to prevent detainees from being able to sleep. The former C.I.A. officer, who is knowledgeable about the interrogation program, explained that “sleep deprivation works. Your electrolyte balance changes. You lose all balance and ability to think rationally. Stuff comes out.” Sleep deprivation has been recognized as an effective form of coercion since the Middle Ages, when it was called tormentum insomniae. It was also recognized for decades in the United States as an illegal form of torture. An American Bar Association report, published in 1930, which was cited in a later U.S. Supreme Court decision, said, “It has been known since 1500 at least that deprivation of sleep is the most effective torture and certain to produce any confession desired.

Under President Bush’s new executive order, C.I.A. detainees must receive the “basic necessities of life, including adequate food and water, shelter from the elements, necessary clothing, protection from extremes of heat and cold, and essential medical care.” Sleep, according to the order, is not among the basic necessities.

In addition to keeping a prisoner awake, the simple act of remaining upright can over time cause significant pain. McCoy, the historian, noted that “longtime standing” was a common K.G.B. interrogation technique. In his 2006 book, “A Question of Torture,” he writes that the Soviets found that making a victim stand for eighteen to twenty-four hours can produce “excruciating pain, as ankles double in size, skin becomes tense and intensely painful, blisters erupt oozing watery serum, heart rates soar, kidneys shut down, and delusions deepen.”

Words fucking fail me. I will have no sympathy for the Americans killed in the next terrorist attack - by re-electing this criminal administration, Americans - the average Joe Anybody American - have made themselves culpable to torture as an instrument of state policy. Everybody who thinks it was okay to bomb Hiroshima or drop bombs on Berlin should understand precisely why American civilians have no claim to innocence from their government's actions anymore, regardless of which assholes decide to commit the next act of mass murder.

The poodle bites back

UK to ask US to free residents from Guantanamo:

Britain, in a change of policy, has said it would ask the United States to release from Guantanamo Bay five men who were legally resident in Britain before they were detained but were not British nationals.

The decision by new Prime Minister Gordon Brown's government marks a departure from the policy of former Prime Minister Tony Blair's government, which generally held that it was not obliged to seek the release of Guantanamo inmates who had lived in Britain but were not nationals.

It's almost as if Gordon Brown, leader of a sovereign democracy, is putting the wishes of his people before those of the Bush Administration. Is this legal?

But remember - it's all a conspiracy

Extreme weather breaks records in '07:

The world experienced a series of record-breaking weather events in early 2007, from flooding in Asia to heatwaves in Europe and snowfall in South Africa, the United Nations weather agency said.

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) said global land surface temperatures in January and April were likely the warmest since records began in 1880, at more than 1 degree Celsius higher than average for those months.

There have also been severe monsoon floods across South Asia, abnormally heavy rains in northern Europe, China, Sudan, Mozambique and Uruguay, extreme heatwaves in southeastern Europe and Russia, and unusual snowfall in South Africa and South America this year, the WMO said.

Now, you must remember that any scientists mentioning "climate change" are doing so so they can get their hands on those sweet, sweet research grants, and there is absolutely no evidence to support these wild accusations.

And you'd be a fool and a Communist to say otherwise...

Sunday, 5 August 2007

Getting away with terrorism in the UK

Nuclear Explosions (Prohibition and Inspections) Act 1998:

1. - (1) Any person who knowingly causes a nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for life.

"I had no idea that would happen, officer. I swear, I was just trying to get all my plutonium in one place for storage purposes."

Saturday, 4 August 2007

Immigrating to New Zealand - some links

For those interested in further research on immigrating to New Zealand:

The first place to look is here - Immigration New Zealand.

It's possible to get a working holiday in New Zealand - for visitors from the Excited Snakes, this boils down to:

* be at least 18 and not more than 30 years old
* hold a return ticket, or sufficient funds to purchase such a ticket
* have a minimum of NZ$4,200 available funds to meet your living costs while you’re here

Plus some miscellaneous administrative requirements - drug dealers, terrorists and street mimes may have a problem.

For permanent immigration, you can join family here, bring a business here or invest a couple of million, or study here. For skilled migrants, you can work here towards residence or qualify as a skilled migrant. If you're interested in the last category, you may also want to take a look at the immediate skill shortage list or long term skill shortage list. Or you can be an Australian.

As regards New Zealand itself, there's always the official line and the unofficial line.

Hope that helps.

Thursday, 2 August 2007

On insufferably smug SF authors

Charlie Stross, late March 2007:

At the same time, some random gamers in places like the Swedish Foreign Ministry or the French Nazi Party decide they can get some free publicity by staking out some territory and figuratively mooning the straights. Exploding pigs, flying lutefisk, and other whackiness ensues.

And then the tidal wave of mass media awareness arrives, complete with the usual foaming mess of sewage, uprooted trees, and general crap turned out by the tabloid press and cheap news channels as they try to spew one lurid scenario after another through the playground. "It encourages pedophiles! Or terrorists! Kids get into Whizzumajig and fail their college exams! Users get hair in their palms and go blind! Ban Whizzumajigs now, before it steals our precious bodily fluid!"

This is followed by the most desperately attention-hungry members of the political class picking up the stupidest articles written by the most misguided members of the fourth estate, and proposing legislation so jaw-droppingly idiotic that their sane colleagues usually strangle it in the cradle. (See also: the internet, blogs and social network software, YouTube, MP3s, and probably papyrus back in Ancient Egypt. So has it ever been ...)

And now, that Titan of Journalism, the Murdoch empire:

In SL people create their own characters, known as avatars, and live an alternative life, buying goods, real estate and living in a community of more than eight million people from across the world. They go about their lives, attending concerts and seminars, building businesses and socialising.

On the darker side, there are also weapons armouries in SL where people can get access to guns, including automatic weapons and AK47s. Searches of the SL website show there are three jihadi terrorists registered and two elite jihadist terrorist groups.

Once these groups take up residence in SL, it is easy to start spreading propaganda, recruiting and instructing like minds on how to start terrorist cells and carry out jihad.

One radical group, called Second Life Liberation Army, has been responsible for some computer-coded atomic bombings of virtual world stores in the past six months.

More details on Charlie's diary.

The very worst thing about this is that we don't dare annoy Stross even if he is an insufferable know-it-all. It's a bad idea to piss off the man voted Most Likely To Evolve Into A Posthuman Weak Deity-Like Entity.

Tuesday, 31 July 2007

The newest enemy of America - Oxfam

Press release from Oxfam, 30 July 2007:

Nearly a third of Iraqis need immediate emergency help as conflict masks humanitarian crisis , say Oxfam and NCCI

The violence in Iraq is overshadowing a humanitarian crisis, with eight million Iraqis – nearly one in three - in need of emergency aid, says a report released today by international agency Oxfam and NCCI, a network of aid organizations working in Iraq.

The agencies' report "Rising to the Humanitarian Challenge in Iraq" says although the appalling security situation is the biggest problem facing most ordinary Iraqis, the government of Iraq and other influential governments should do more to meet basic needs for water, sanitation, food and shelter.

According to the report:

* Four million Iraqis – 15% - regularly cannot buy enough to eat.
* 70% are without adequate water supplies, compared to 50% in 2003.
* 28% of children are malnourished, compared to 19% before the 2003 invasion.
* 92% of Iraqi children suffer learning problems, mostly due to the climate of fear.
* More than two million people – mostly women and children - have been displaced inside Iraq.
* A further two million Iraqis have become refugees, mainly in Syria and Jordan.

Jeremy Hobbs, director of Oxfam International, said: "The terrible violence in Iraq has masked the ongoing humanitarian crisis. Malnutrition amongst children has dramatically increased and basic services, ruined by years of war and sanctions, cannot meet the needs of the Iraqi people. Millions of Iraqis have been forced to flee the violence, either to another part of Iraq or abroad. Many of those are living in dire poverty.

"Despite the terrible violence the Iraqi government, the UN and the international community could do more to meet people's needs. The Iraqi government must commit to helping Iraq's poorest citizens, including the internally displaced, by extending food parcel distribution and cash payments to the vulnerable. Western donors must work through Iraqi and international aid organizations and develop more flexible systems to ensure these organizations operate effectively and efficiently.

"The fighting and weak Iraqi institutions mean there are severe limits on what humanitarian work can be carried out. Nevertheless more can and should be done to help the Iraqi people."

While there is an urgent need for greater humanitarian assistance, Oxfam and NCCI believe that ending the conflict must be the top priority for everyone involved in Iraq. The Iraqi government and multi-national forces must also ensure their troops respect their moral and legal obligations not to harm civilians and their property.

The Iraqi government should immediately extend its food parcel distribution program, increase emergency cash payments and support local aid organizations. The government should also take a more decentralized approach and allow local authorities to deliver aid. Foreign governments, including the USA and UK, should support Iraqi ministries in implementing these policies.

Oxfam had staff working inside Iraq but withdrew them due to chronic security problems. It now supports domestic and international aid agencies which are able to operate in Iraq. Although violence and insecurity restrict aid workers from helping Iraqis in need, an Oxfam survey in April 2007 found that over 80% of aid agencies working in Iraq could do more humanitarian work if they had more money.

Many humanitarian organizations will not accept money from governments that have troops in Iraq, as this could jeopardize their own security and independence. Therefore the report urges international donors that have not sent troops to Iraq to provide increased emergency funding for humanitarian action.

There's not really much to say about this.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

High dynamic range photography

You tend to run into interesting stuff in a busy library.

This is an example of high dynamic range photography. It's a technique for creating composite images to capture a wider range of exposure information than conventional photography. Being completely ignorant of the technicalities of taking photos, I had no idea why photographs never looked the way I saw the landscape.

I'd always thought wistfully that it was impossible to actually show the true washed-out white and blue beauty of the Wellington Harbour as seen from Mount Victoria on a clear winter morning. Now I know that one reason why I haven't seen this done is because our eyes capture far more information than can be captured by a camera.

See here on Flickr for far more examples of HDR photography.

Monday, 23 July 2007

Remember what we said about "moral credibility"?

Iran says 'confessions' unveil US plot

Iran's Foreign Ministry says that televised "confessions" of two detained American-Iranians unveiled a US-backed plan to topple Iran's clerical establishment.

State television aired a programme called "In the Name of Democracy" on Wednesday and Thursday, featuring interviews with Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh, who Iran accuses of being involved in a US-backed plot to stage a "velvet revolution" in the Islamic state.

Washington has called the programme illegitimate and coerced, urging Iran to immediately release the two dual nationals, arrested separately in May while visiting Iran from the United States.

So sorry, but the US government gave up the right to complain about "coerced" statements a while back. Now it is just embarrassing itself and America proper - not that that's new.

Perhaps a country like Switzerland or Sweden - or anyplace they don't fucking torture people - could put in a good word for these people.

Saturday, 21 July 2007

Does Kara Thrace wear a corset?

I've noticed this about the Battlestar Galactica series - it's interestingly retro in the technology. Not the big "gee whizz" stuff - they have fighters that can go from the surface to space *and* jump FTL - but in the little things. The telephones are clunky landlines. The bunks are spartan and uncomfortable. There don't appear to be any computers save of the gesblinkenflashinlights variety. And so forth.

Futurismic, in fact. See this article by Cory Doctorow.

But also note these points Doctorow makes:

Lapsarianism — the idea of a paradise lost, a fall from grace that makes each year worse than the last — is the predominant future feeling for many people. It's easy to see why: an imperfectly remembered golden childhood gives way to the worries of adulthood and physical senescence.


Running counter to Lapsarianism is progressivism: the Enlightenment ideal of a world of great people standing on the shoulders of giants. Each of us contributes to improving the world's storehouse of knowledge (and thus its capacity for bringing joy to all of us), and our descendants and proteges take our work and improve on it.

There's a thought here - these are the ur-myths of conservatism and progressivism. Now, I'm engaging heavily in my own prejudices here (and more than a little from TV and pop culture rather than memories), but in my very limited experience, there is a correlation between the conditions of childhood and later political belief.

If you were bought up in an idyllic world where you were a special little prince or princess and everybody catered to you, in my experience, you hit high school and become an asshole. A jock. A frat boy. A heather. And if you don't grow out of that, you wind up as a conservative. Everything has gone to shit since people expect you to take responsibility and perform, and nobody seems to understand that you're a Special Little Snowflake AS OF RIGHT. You're mad because somehow, someone has taken away your place in the world.

If you were bought up with a low grade shitty childhood (and I was, as were far too many of my friends) then you realise quickly that the world is unfair. I'm not talking about the real nightmares of abuse, I'm talking about the fat kids. The geeks. Those who didn't fit in, who stuttered, who had weird hobbies, who moved at the wrong time and never quite clicked into place in their new social jigsaw. And so you develop empathy. And when you start getting into high school and then the real world, you realise that you can change. People can change. By taking responsibility, by growing, you can become better. Things can become better. That people have the ability to overcome, and that one of the best things in the world is helping people realise that ability.

So I'm speculating that the ur-myth we accept might be based on the trajectory of our lives - whether we find ourselves thrust out of some Eden to get by as an adult in a cold hard world and mad as hell about it, or whether we find ourselves reaching for our potential by overcoming our pasts.

Or perhaps I'm just masturbating in public again. Kara Thrace does that to me.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Becoming evil - a short note

Via Austin Cline at Jesus's General, I note the following book:

Sociologists, psychologists, anthropologists, and other scientists have actively sought out various competing and complimentary explanations for human evil. The amount of research which has been produced would be daunting to even the most committed student. Fortunately for the rest of us, a recent book from James Waller, a social psychologist and chair of the Department of Psychology at Whitworth College, provides a fascinating and thorough introduction to these questions and research.

Written for both scholars and lay people, "Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing" has both a negative and a positive agenda. On the negative side, it explains the flaws in many of the most common explanations for human evil; on the positive side, it agues for a more comprehensive understanding which draws from the insights provided by the explanations Waller shows are unable to stand on their own.

Damn - yet another volume to add to my groaning "must read" pile.

Cline also notes the following list of authoritarian personality attributes from the book:

Conventionalism: Rigid adherence to conventional, middle-class values.

Authoritarian Submission: Submissive, uncritical attitude toward idealized moral authorities of the ingroup.

Authoritarian Aggression: Tendency to be on the lookout for, and to condemn, reject, and punish people who violate conventional values.

Anti-intraception: Opposition to the subjective, the imaginative, the tender-minded.

Superstition and Stereotypy: The belief in mystical determinants of the individual's fate; the disposition to think in rigid categories.

Power and "Toughness": Preoccupation with the dominance-submission, strong-weak, leader-follower dimension; identification with power figures; overemphasis upon the conventionalized attributes of the ego; exaggerated assertion of strength and toughness.

Destructiveness and Cynicism: Generalized hostility, vilification of the enemy.

Projectivity: The disposition to believe that wild and dangerous things go on in the world; the projection outwards of unconscious emotional impulses.

Sex: Exaggerated concern with sexual "goings-on."

Remind you of anyone you've read on the Internet recently?

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Yeah, so how come I don't look like Wolverine?

From here:

The haploid human genome is about 3 × 109 base pairs in size. Every time this genome is replicated about 0.3 mutations, on average, will be passed on to one of the daughter cells. We are interested in knowing how many mutations are passed on to the fertilized egg (zygote) from its parents. In order to calculate this number we need to know how many DNA replications there are between the time that one parental zygote was formed and the time that the egg or sperm cell that unite to form the progeny zygote are produced.

In the case of females, this number is about 30, which means that each of a females eggs is the product of 30 cell divisions from the time the zygote was formed (Vogel and Rathenberg, 1975). Human females have about 500 eggs. In males, the number of cell divisions leading to mature sperm in a 30 year old male is about 400 (Vogel and Motulsky, 1997). This means that about 9 mutations (0.3 × 30) accumulate in the egg and about 120 mutations (0.3 × 400) accumulate in a sperm cell. Thus, each newly formed human zygote has approximately 129 new spontaneous mutations. This value is somewhat less than the number on most textbooks where it's common to see 300-350 mutations per genome. The updated value reflects a better estimate of the overall rate of mutation during DNA replication and a better estimate of the number of cell divisions during gametogenesis.

Remember that the next time you start arguing with creationists about evolution or the fetus worshippers about what is or is not human - "the human species" is an amorphous concept. We are all mutants - a hundred times over.

Except that I seem to have missed out on the nifty powers and cool leather outfits.

Friday, 29 June 2007

How to say you love someone - properly

In 1917, a 41 year old man named Alf Reed took his Easter leave off from the Featherston military camp, and hiked for five days, covering 193 kilometres through the central North Island, not easy even today.

When he got back to camp he wrote about it, by hand. For 124 pages. It took months.

The manuscript was in different shades of ink, with illuminated capitals and embellished headings. It contained maps and photographs fitted with text. The pages, 15 x 10 cm, were bound in leather. "In and Around Featherston Military Camp And (Mostly) Elsewhere" was the first book produced by Alfred Hamish Reed, who formed what would become Reed Publishing, still one of the most significant players in the New Zealand publishing market.

Only one copy of this book was ever produced. It was given as a gift to his wife Isabel, and she kept it until she died in 1939.

(Source: Heritage New Zealand, Winter 07, "First Edition" by Jack Leigh)

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

"The Gulag of our times"

You may recall a while back the outrage that poured from the right-wing of the Internet over this quote from Amnesty International regarding the US imprisonment of so-called "terrorists" while denying them basic civl rights. That sorta fell flat after it was found that the US was, literally, using parts of the old Gulag system in Eastern Europe to imprison some of these prisoners. Oops.

Perhaps one of the more disgusting bits of the Soviet system was the use of sham court trials. It spoke volumes about the disjunction between their official image and the essential evil of the system - they knew what they were doing was wrong, so they had to paint a veneer of legalistics over the proceedings to hide it from themselves. They didn't even have the nobility to embrace their evil openly (witness the Chinese billing families of executed prisoners for the cost of a bullet); this may be one reason why the system decayed out in a whimper.

Now, consider this summary of the David Hicks' case from Glenn Greenwald:

"So, to recap: we imprison someone for life with no charges, muffle their claims that they were tortured in captivity, agree to let them go after five years provided they sign a statement "stipulating" they were treated properly and vow to remain silent about the mistreatment to which they were subjected, and then send military official parading in public, waving the signed "stipulation" around in the air as proof of the sterling, professional and humane conditions at Guantanamo."

Well done, America - you've slipped past China and have now drawn equal with the Soviet Union when it comes to slapping a tawdry veneer on your actions to hide what you're doing.

Monday, 25 June 2007

I wonder if this was in Il Papa's job description?...

From the New York Times (this link probably won't work unless you subscribe to ProQuest):

Library Repair Causes a Plea to the Pope

Normally a sanctuary of scholarly meditation, the Vatican Library has been the scene of unusually hectic activity lately, as word has spread that it will close in July for a three-year renovation.

Since the Vatican announced the impending shutdown, dozens of scholars have been lining up each day at ever earlier hours to snatch one of the 92 available spots in the manuscript room, where they can pore over archaic texts in forgotten languages. The library staff, traditionally prompt in responding to requests, has been struggling to keep up with the demand.


Petitions addressed to Pope Benedict XVI, the ultimate authority on Vatican matters, are circulating among scholars. Some ask that the manuscript division at least remain accessible to the public during the three-year renovation. Others request that the closing be delayed until 2008 so that scholars will have time to wrap up research and meet publishing or teaching deadlines.

Personally, I'm thinking that they might get it done a lot faster if they simply hire a team of people with rollers to do the ceilings rather than waiting for one guy to finish his fresco, no matter how talented he is, but that's just me...

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Gentlemen - kindly go forth, reproduce and expire.

What the heck? Via the Dark Wraith - am I really that mother-relating tame? There are reproducing Disney movies with this rating, you oral-pleasurers!

What's My Blog Rated? From Mingle2 - Online Dating

Update: You have to be excrementing me - Bekitty is PG-13:

What's My Blog Rated? From Mingle2 - Online Dating

She may be many things, but "PG-13" is not one that immediately springs to mind.

Now, that's just all kinds of reproducing-upped, right there. I really don't understand why those vee-jay-jays have me down so wrong.

Thursday, 14 June 2007

Canticle From The Book Of Bob (Lucia Perillo)

We hired the men to carry the coffin,
we hired a woman to sing in our stead.
We hired a limo, we hired a driver,
we hired each lily to stand with its head

held up and held open while Scripture was read.
We hired a dustpan, we hired a broom
to sweep up the pollen that fell in the room
where we'd hired some air

to draw out the stale chord
from the organ we hired.
And we hired some tears because our own eyes were tired.

The pulpit we hired, we hired the priest
to say a few words about the deceased,

and money changed hands
and the process was brief.
We said, "Body of Christ."
Then we hired our grief.

We hired some young men to carry his coffin,
we hired a woman to sing for his soul -
we hired the limo, we hired the driver,
then we hired the ground and we hired the hole.

(_New Yorker_, Feb 12 2001, recently found while shuffling old papers)

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

A possible explanation for recent US foreign policy...

Back in 1947, there were reports of UFOs - alien grey-headed scum running around various parts of the States molesting cattle and conducting sordid sexual experiments on rural Americans (this was before meth addiction and the Internet, mind you, which led to the adoption of sordid sexual experiments for recreational purposes). All of this supposed alien activity culminated in the Roswell Incident, July 8 1947.

Supposedly, nothing ever came from this.

However, if I told you that George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and Condolezza Rice were all born in March 1948, nine months after this period of activity(*), would you start to draw any conclusions...?

Think about it.

* They weren't - but I have to admit, I had to look it up myself. This confirms a conclusion I drew a long time ago, which wingnuts never seem to get, that you should always attempt to verify a factoid before relying on it in a discussion

Friday, 8 June 2007

Computers and feminism

I thought that, in the interests of consciousness raising, it might be worth repeating this comment on my own blog.

On this thread, an insufficiently politically aware commentator made light of a structural gender inequity embedded in binary thinking. Since this paradigm has rendered hegemonic by the male power hierarchy that dominates computer science, it is necessary to explicitly point out the chauvinism here:

The use of “1″s represents a phallocentric privileging of the upright over the inherently feminine “0″. In a typical male valuation embedded at the very heart of biased mathematics, a “1″ is considered to be of infinitely more value than a “0″. This is a form of intellectual fascism made almost transparent by a lack of criticism.

A truly feminist binary system would use nothing but “0″s to make up for decades of domination by male-centered misogynist mathematics. That this hasn’t been implemented yet just goes to show just how entrenched the patriarchy really is.

Thursday, 31 May 2007

Why my recycling bin is currently swimming Cook's Strait.

From Jane Clifton's Political Animals:

Wellington's weather is not exaggerated by its detractors. It can be absolutely atrocious. It's the last place anyone of a nervous disposition should be expected to fly into. Nine times out of 10, MPs arrive in town with sour, queasy stomachs from what pilots insist on calling 'air pockets' and 'turbulence'. what it really is, is that Wellington's wind has tried very hard to knock the plane from the sky. It's as though no plane can land at Rongotai before King Kong has had a good play with it. We must all pray, now that the real King Kong has come to Wellington, that Weta Workshop never allows the beast to drop one.

Speaking as someone who adores Wellington and would have to be gassed out of the place, there is definitely something personal in the way the wind here biffs you. It positively boxes your ears. It slaps your chops; it tries to rip your clothes off and tear your shopping from you; it pushes you down the street and into the path of buses, then it tries to suffocate you. Wear too voluminous a coat and you become a land yacht. It's no wonder so many Wellington women have those boring wash-and-wear short haircuts, because any hairdo not constructed to Eiffel Tower specifications has absolutely no chance. Anything longer than a bob to the cheekbone will blow in your face and stick to your lipstick, which is a peculiarly irritating sensation. In the big-jewellery 80s, I nearly cracked a tooth when a big drop-earring I was wearing got wind-hurled against my face. Men in Wellington may as well have their ties stiffened with wire to stream horizontally over their shoulders, because that's the way you wear your tie most of the time in this town.

As a hardy, perseverant gardener, I've grown quite resigned to cultivating horizontal delphiniums and producing not so much rose bushes as regular snowstorms of fugitive rose petals. With its greeny-mauve hills and its petrol-blue, choppy harbour, Wellington is extremely picturesque, and many of its houses have sublime views. but they're always views of things - trees, people, buildings, cars - leaning to the north, or leaning to the south, or having the crap beaten out of them from every direction by that invisible thug, the wind. So even Wellington's beauty is not that restful.

But, Jane, that's why we love the place. Anyone can live with calm; it takes a special breed of man or woman to pick themselves up, shore up a broken window, and buy a new umbrella on the way to work the next morning - with a smile on their face. Or possibly an expression of the lips caused by air pressure, I'm not too sure. A special breed; possibly masochistic, definitely well-insulated.

And if anyone in the South Island finds my recycling bin, can I have it back, please?

Sunday, 27 May 2007

Botany, and the use of same in alternative world campaigns

How come nobody ever told me about this little bit of history before? I have an interest in the GURPS Infinite Worlds setting - competititon between two alternative world travelling groups - and I really have to figure out a scenario based around a "Go to this Roman province and steal this controlled herb" directive.

The "Damn Interesting" site goes up on the bloglist.

Friday, 25 May 2007

New Zealanders and war crimes

Not too sure what to make of this bit of history.

The battle of Crete was one of the three memorable campaigns Kiwis were involved in (the other two being North Africa and the battle for Monte Cassino). During this invasion, the Germans dropped their vaunted paratroopers on Crete, only to find them carved up before they reached the ground and while organising, before they could seize the airports and bring in reinforcements. Eventually they pushed the British forces out (Freyberg pulling off an excellent example of the difficult, if greatly underappreciated, military problem of a strategic retreat under fire), but the Germans never again used their paratroopers in large numbers.

During this battle, Clive Hulme earned himself a VC.

I've just come across a description of his deeds. Notably, he served as an anti-sniper sniper. One action during this battle involved him dressing in the uniform of a German paratrooper he'd shot, taking a vantage point behind the Germans, and wiping out the snipers firing on his brigade. When the Germans looked around to see what the hell was going on, he did precisely the same thing. And when they turned back to the main fight, he continued to snipe. He killed five snipers.

This is, of course, a war crime. It was also pretty clever, and done in a context of open warfare against a superior enemy. He won a VC for it and other acts of courage.

So should it be condemned?

The New Wasteland

Lieberman the Politician, six months elected,
Forgot the cry of the grieving, and the deep electoral swell
And the voting and criticism.
An encrusted shard of ego
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
He passes the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.
Democrat or Republican
O you who stroke the base and look electorateward,
Consider Lieberman, who was once accepted and honoured as you.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Another reminder about heroes

As part of the job, I've just been reading an account of a Wellington couple who have fostered nearly 40 babies over the last 6 years. These kids come in from broken homes, some of them battered, some of them with drugs in their systems. The couple look after them for a week, a month, maybe three, and then pass them on to their parents, elsewhere in the family, or into adoptive care.

It's not a job that can be left to a bureaucracy - babies need love. This couple has to bond with these children, again and again and again - and then give them up, again and again and again. And what they get paid to do so barely covers baby clothes and gear - they lose money doing the job.

It's not glamorous; it's not lauded; it's not publicised. None the less, and for the benefit of forty lives and counting, what they do is an act of quiet heroism, an act of continuing low level bravery that gets done again and again and again by quiet people throughout society.

Just to recap - these people are in a very real sense heroes. This is not a hero.

Hey! I think I figured out how to afford a new house!

And in the news today, an American eight grader and family are suing for $400,000 because a teacher inflicted the movie "Brokeback Mountain" on her. Other reports indicate the family had complained because words in other assigned reading had gone against their faith - which leads me to suspect, yet again, that these are poor victimised fundamentalists.

Now, I've seen Brokeback Mountain. It was okay - but I dozed off a little half way through. That's life.

When I was twelve, my English teacher forced us to read Janet Frame's Owls Do Cry - and then quizzed us on it. THAT was trauma. And I couldn't sleep half way through it, either.

New Zealand Education Department - prepare to be sued...

Friday, 4 May 2007

Rarer than diamonds, and more colourful.

I hadn't realised this, but it appears that New Zealand has a claim to fame in the minerological world. The Westland is the only place in the world where you can find Goodletite, a combination of ruby, sapphire and tourmaline crystals in a fuchsite matrix. It's the only precious stone found in New Zealand (I'm wearing pounamu myself - greenstone or nephrite jade - for personal reasons, but that's classified as semi-precious).

There's a story in a magazine here about it being marketed as "Ruby Rock", and they note that its singular location makes it considerably rarer than diamond - "a million times more unique than Opal" in enthusiastic if incorrect prose.

There's an opportunity here for those who value the unusual to steal a march on people who look to other stones first and foremost, and to do it before demand drives the price of the gem up...

Wednesday, 2 May 2007

The cost of Iraq - in context

From The US Civil War Centre, a comparison of costs for the various wars America has been in:

III. Financial Cost

Conflict Cost in $ Billions Per Capita
Current 1990s (in $1990)
The Revolution (1775-1783) .10 1.2 $ 342.86
War of 1812 (1812-1815) .09 0.7 92.11
Mexican War (1846-1848) .07 1.1 52.13
Civil War (1861-1865): Union 3.20 27.3 1,041.98
: Confederate 2.00 17.1 2,111.11
: Combined 5.20 44.4 1,294.46
Spanish American War (1898) .40 6.3 84.45
World War I (1917-1918) 26.00 196.5 1,911.47
World War II (1941-1945) 288.00 2,091.3 15,655.17
Korea (1950-1953) 54.00 263.9 1,739.62
Vietnam (1964-1972) 111.00 346.7 1,692.04
Gulf War (1990-1991) 61.00 61.1 235.00

The table compares the cost of America's principal wars since 1775 on the basis of then current and 1990s dollars. Current dollars are the actual numbers spent at the time. Thus, a 1775-1783 dollar had the equivalent purchasing power of $10.75 in 1990s terms. Actually this conversion is only a very rough guide, but at least gives some idea of the relative costs of the ten wars on an adjusted basis. However, it is not possible to take into account drastic changes in social structure (most Americans were farmers in 1775, and didn't use much money), and the increasing affluence of American society over the two centuries covered by the table.

Note that the figures are for direct costs only, omitting pension costs, which tended to triple the ultimate outlays. The table also omits the cost of damage to the national infrastructure during those wars waged on American soil. Confederate figures are estimated.

For the Gulf War it is worth noting that various members of the allied coalition reimbursed the U.S. for 88-percent ($54 billion) of the amount shown, so the actual cost to the taxpayer was only about $7 billion, roughly the same as for the Spanish-American War, and on a per capita basis only $26.92, arguably the least expensive war in the nation's history.

Today, we find this story:

WASHINGTON - The bitter fight over the latest Iraq spending bill has all but obscured a sobering fact: The war will soon cost more than $500 billion.

That's about ten times more than the Bush administration anticipated before the war started four years ago, and no one can predict how high the tab will go. The $124 billion spending bill that President Bush plans to veto this week includes about $78 billion for Iraq, with the rest earmarked for the war in Afghanistan, veterans' health care and other government programs.

Congressional Democrats and Bush agree that they cannot let their dispute over a withdrawal timetable block the latest cash installment for Iraq. Once that political fight is resolved, Congress can focus on the president's request for $116 billion more for the war in the fiscal year that starts on Sept. 1.

The combined spending requests would push the total for Iraq to $564 billion, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

A quick look at the Bureau of Labour Statistics suggests that $1 US 1990 is worth $1.57 US 2007. This implies that the requests will push the cost for the invasion of Iraq - so far - to about $360 billion in 1990$ terms, for comparison purposes.

The invasion and occupation of Iraq so far, therefore, has cost the US more than Vietnam, almost half as much again as Korea, and almost twice as much as WWI.

Monday, 30 April 2007

Apparently, it was a *very* happy meal

Condom find makes for an unhappy meal (Waikato Times, 26 Apr 2007)

It's called a happy meal. But the grandparents of a Wellington girl are less than pleased that the toy which came with her McDonald's meal was a condom.

Seven year old Maia Whitaker's grandparents, Suzanne and Rowan Hatch, went to the fast food chain's Courtenay Central outlet on Tuesday night.

Mr Hatch said fortunately his wife was first to look in the small sports bag that came with the meal and was aghast to find the green Durex condom and packet.

[Elided - horrified puffing, McDonalds apologies, inquiry launched]

You know, I've *always* been a bit dubious about their "special sauce"...

Saturday, 28 April 2007

Suddenly I feel a lot better about funding government hip-hop research tours overseas...

A while back, there was a story about a couple who persuaded the Department of Labour to fund a research tour overseas - so they could study hip-hop and rap music. Necessary to help improve employment in the music industry, you understand. This was rightfully panned in the press as a boondoggle, and a waste of taxpayer money.

I came across this graphic today:

Total Outlays ([US] Federal Funds): $2,387 billion
MILITARY: 51% and $1,228 billion
NON-MILITARY: 49% and $1,159 billion

The Yanks got Top Gun out of the money wasted, we got Scribe. Quite frankly, I think we've managed to achieve a far more efficient entertainment-value-per-taxpayer-dollar here.

Thursday, 26 April 2007

The truth behind global warming...

Letter to the Editor, Arkansas Democrat Gazette:

Daylight exacerbates warning

You may have noticed that March of this year was particularly hot. As a matter of fact, I understand that it was the hottest March since the beginning of the last century. All of the trees were fully leafed out and legions of bugs and snakes were crawling around during a time in Arkansas when, on a normal year, we might see a snowflake or two. This should come as no surprise to any reasonable person. As you know, Daylight Saving Time started almost a month early this year. You would think that members of Congress would have considered the warming effect that an extra hour of daylight would have on our climate. Or did they ? Perhaps this is another plot by a liberal Congress to make us believe that global warming is a real threat. Perhaps next time there should be serious studies performed before Congress passes laws with such far-reaching effects.


Well, that's convincing. But, um, Connie - it was a Republican Congress that introduced Daylight Savings to the US...

UPDATE: Intended as satire - I swear, the smart and the stupid are so difficult to tell apart these days...

Why I wouldn't have survived the Middle Ages

The scene: A hall at the Abbey of Bec, around 1080. A lecture is taking place. Presenting his ideas, the Abbot, later to be Saint Anselm of Canterbury.

Anselm: Let us contemplate that of which nothing greater can be conceived. Now, should this thing exist only in the intellect, it would not be that of which nothing greater can be conceived, since to exist in reality is greater than not to exist. It follows, then, that that of which nothing greater can be conceived must actually exist in reality. It is this which we call God.

Brother PiaTor, a rather lazy and smart-assed monk: But I can think of an Entity greater than your God.

Anselm: What? What is this you say, brother?

PiaTor: Well, it follows that your God cannot think of an entity greater than itself. All I must do is posit an Entity which has all the attributes of your God, but with one additional capability - It can conceive of a yet greater Being. It follows that my Entity, sharing in the attributes of your God, must also exist, and must be greater than your God.

Anslem: Hmmm.

PiaTor: Come to think of it, that greater Entity of which my Entity can conceive must also exist. Hey - we've just refuted monotheism. There's an infinite number of Gods, all all-perfect! This is - wait a minute! Put me down!

Anselm: We shall never speak of this again. Scribe, burn the record of the lesson.

Anonymous Brother: And the heretic, Lord Abbot?

Anselm: The rose garden is looking a bit under-nourished this season...

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Why the Internet would have never worked with Victorian literature

Original title: "A thought on a point in time sitting isolated on a bus, listening to Radiohead's "Fake Plastic Trees" on a remarkably clear set of stereo headphones, and thinking about a woman who you haven't seen in months and was never yours to begin with."

I can't figure out if this was a perfect moment or a particularly refined piece of hell.

Saturday, 21 April 2007

On an essential difference between male and female

The Senior Female Relative, in her ongoing project to turn me into a civilised person, or at least one that can pass for same in low lighting conditions, has bought me and insisted I use a valance. For those of you lucky enough to not know what this is, it's a fringe to hide a mattress base - essentially a knee-length skirt for a bed.

It is complete and utter frippery with no redeeming utility value whatsoever.

I have no doubt it was invented by a woman. And probably a Senior Female Relative.

Thursday, 19 April 2007

Why are people stressed? Only 300 people died on Sept. 11th...

Recently, I've been annoyed by seeing the same argument pop up on wingnut blogs. It goes something like this

"If the Lancet study (predicting multiple hundreds of thousands of excess deaths due to the bombing, invasion and occupation of Iraq) had any truth, we'd see reports of these. Since the media in my own home town isn't publishing obituaries of dead Iraqis in sufficient numbers, I must conclude the Lancet study is wrong"

You may argue that this is so stupid, that they can't possibly think it invalidates the study. But they do.

"Show me media reports backing it up. Where are the reports of these extra bodies?"

Eat this, assholes:

Iraq's hospitals buckle under conflict pressure

At least 100 people a day are killed each day, and many more are seriously injured, by the ongoing violence in Iraq. Even if the injured make it to hospital, they face a 70% chance of dying in the emergency room, according to the World Health Organization.

This is because Iraq’s hospitals lack staff, drugs and equipment – and things are getting worse. “The daily violence coupled with the difficult living and working conditions are pushing hundreds of experienced health staff to leave the country,” says the WHO, despite efforts by the government and aid agencies to keep hospitals supplied with medicines, water and electricity.

And the real numbers of violent deaths might be worse than the official figures cited by the WHO. Those are about one-tenth of the estimates made in 2006 by Iraqi and US scientists. At the time, the UK government denied the toll was so high, but in March 2007, official documents revealed that senior UK officials considered the study valid.

I hope those making these sort of false arguments enjoy themselves in this life. If Dante is right, they're going to have a really bad afterlife, disease-ridden in the 10th Bolgia of the Eight Circle of Hell.

Addition: this story:

One of the documents obtained by the BBC is a memo by the Ministry of Defence's chief scientific adviser, Sir Roy Anderson, dated October 13 2006, two days after the report was published.

"The study design is robust and employs methods that are regarded as close to 'best practice' in this area, given the difficulties of data collection and verification in the present circumstances in Iraq," he says.

Another item is an exchange of emails between officials in which one asks: "Are we really sure the report [in the Lancet] is likely to be right? That is certainly what the brief implies."

Another replies: "We do not accept the figures quoted in the Lancet survey as accurate." Later in the same email, the same official writes: "However, the survey methodology used here cannot be rubbished, it is a tried and tested way of measuring mortality in conflict zones."

We will now watch the handwaving and fingers in the ears continue.

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

On asking a silly question...

From an assignment in an introductory statistics course I'm taking (I've probably done bonehead stats twice before, but they don't ask me to write programme requirements, and, what the hell, it's easier than something that requires actual research):

"When your experiment is complete, describe a simple way of presenting your results to management."

I couldn't restrain myself.

A simple way of presenting results to management after the experiment will probably involve Powerpoint, heavy on the graphics and animation, and light on actual data or content, produced by some idiot who gets paid more than me, or so experience suggests. Leaving this completely aside for the moment...

I wonder if I'll get any credit for throwing realism into my answers...

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Two predictions about Virgina Tech

The reports are coming in over the news about the shootings in Virginia Tech. The as yet unidentified gunman seems to have killed at least a reported 32 people, managing to leap into the lead in the competition to make your name by taking people out with you, subcategory guns.

No America bashing on this - after all, Aramoana and we're 100th the size. However, please spare me any sanctimonious crap about displaying a lack of appropriate horror around this massive tragedy in days to come; 32 dead is a good day in Baghdad.

I will, however, make two predictions.

i, The CNN report notes Whitman was an ex-marine, and also mentions Klebold and Harris. When this person is identified, his personal characteristics will immediately be seized on by the Right, the Left or both and used as a club to bash people over the head about specific agendas only loosely related. Feel free to cite this early post (about 5 hours post event) as a rebuke to monomaniacs fixated on their own obsessions to the point where all of reality is distorted to fit that filter.

ii, If he turns out to have been a wingnut, then I will not be able to resist the temptation at some stage to join in. God help me.

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Chlorophyllictricty - green energy

[Reprinted from "New Zealand Education Review", vol. 12 no. 12]

Massey University researchers have developed a way of generating electricity using coloured dyes to create solar cells that they say could provide power at one tenth of the cost of current silicon-based solar technologies.

Pictured is Massey researcher Wayne Campbell with synthetic chlorophyll, one of the dyes used by the university's Nanomaterials Research Centre. Other dyes being tested are based on haemoglobin, the compound that gives blood its colour.

Campbell says that unlike the silicon-based solar cells currently on the market, the 10x10 cm green demonstration cells generate enough electricity to run a small fan in low-light conditions - making them ideal for cloudy climates. The dyes can also be incorporated into tinted windows that trap sunlight to generate electricity.

He says that the green solar cells are more environmentally friendly than silicon-based cells as they are made from titanium dioxide - a plentiful, renewable and non-toxic white mineral obtained from New Zealand's black sand.

"the refining of pure silicon, although a very abundant mineral, is energy-hungry and very expensive. And whereas silicon cells need direct sunlight to operate efficiently, these cells will work efficiently in low diffuse light conditions,: Campbell says.

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Naturally, I'm not the first to make this comparison...

See this article from Rolling Stone on Battlecry, a militant evangelical teenage movement in the States.

Let's compare and contrast a little from that most obvious of sources, Wikipedia:

Battlecry: They're the base. Of that number, Luce has sent 53,000 teen missionaries around the globe to preach spiritual "purity" -- chastity, sobriety and a commitment to laissez-faire capitalism -- in Romania, Guatemala and dozens of other "strongholds" that require young Americans to bring them "freedom" -- a Christ they believe needs no translation. Luce selected more than 6,000 for his Honor Academy, some of whom become political operatives, media activists and militant preachers who then funnel fresh kids into the Academy. It's a vertically integrated movement, a machine that produces "leaders for the army," a command cadre that can count on the masses Luce conditions as its infantry.

Hitler Youth: The HJ was organized into local cells on a community level. Such cells had weekly meetings at which various Nazi doctrines were taught by adult HJ leaders. Regional leaders typically organized rallies and field exercises in which several dozen Hitler Youth cells would participate. The largest HJ gathering usually took place annually, at Nuremberg, where members from all over Germany would converge for the annual Nazi Party rally. The HJ maintained training academies comparable to preparatory schools. They were designed to nurture future Nazi Party leaders, and only the most radical and devoted HJ members could expect to attend.

Battlecry: "When you enlist in the military, there's a code of honor," Luce preaches, "same as being a follower of Christ." His Christian code requires a "wartime mentality": a "survival orientation" and a readiness to face "real enemies." The queers and communists, feminists and Muslims, to be sure, but also the entire American cultural apparatus of marketing and merchandising, the "techno-terrorists" of mass media, doing to the morality of a generation what Osama bin Laden did to the Twin Towers.

Hitler Youth: The HJ were viewed as future "Aryan supermen" and were indoctrinated in anti-Semitism. One aim was to instill the motivation that would enable HJ members, as soldiers, to fight faithfully for the Third Reich. The HJ put more emphasis on physical and military training than on academic study.

Battlecry: "This is a real war," Luce preaches. When he talks like that, he growls. "This is not a metaphor!" In Cleveland, he intercuts his sermons with videos of suicide bombers and marching Christian teens. One of the most popular, "Casualties of War," features an elegiac beat by a Christian rapper named KJ-52 laid over flickering pictures of kids holding signs declaring the collapse of Christendom: 1/2 OF US ARE NO LONGER VIRGINS, reads a poster board displayed by a pigtailed girl. 40% OF US HAVE INFLICTED SELF-INJURY, says a sign propped up over a sink in which we see the hands of a girl about to cut herself. 53% OF US BELIEVE JESUS SINNED, declares the placard of a young black man standing in a graffiti-filled alley.

Hitler Youth: After the boy scout movement was banned through German-controlled countries, the HJ appropriated many of its activities, though changed in content and intention. For example, many HJ activities closely resembled military training, with weapons training, assault course circuits and basic strategy. Some cruelty by the older boys toward the younger ones was tolerated and even encouraged, since it was believed this would weed out the unfit and harden the rest..

Now, that comparison is obvious to anyone with a sense of history. There's a reason why we dislike people organising teenage fervour into war-like activities; another obvious modern comparison is the Taliban. This isn't fascism, but it's another step towards that state for the US.

And where does it go from here?

"When tyranny and oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy." - James Madison

"A fascist is one whose lust for money or power is combined with such an intensity of intolerance toward those of other races, parties, classes, religions, cultures, regions or nations as to make him ruthless in his use of deceit or violence to attain his ends." - Henry A. Wallace

"When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the American flag." - Huey Long

"The symptoms of fascist thinking are colored by environment and adapted to immediate circumstances. But always and everywhere they can be identified by their appeal to prejudice and by the desire to play upon the fears and vanities of different groups in order to gain power." - Henry A. Wallace

"If fascism ever comes to America, it will come wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross." - Upton Sinclair

"American fascism will not be really dangerous until there is a purposeful coalition among the cartelists, the deliberate poisoners of public information, and those who stand for the K.K.K. type of demagoguery." - Henry A. Wallace

We live in interesting times.

Saturday, 7 April 2007

On the unfortunate obsessiveness of selective bibliophilia

Damn. I've bought and lost three copies of this book already, and it's almost impossible to find. I keep pressing it on people and never getting it back. I think my last copy may be with a certain Goth [friend] of mine, but the problem is he probably needs it more than me.

I just found a fourth copy sitting in a local second hand bookstore. So I got them to put it aside for me while I desperately try to chase down the Goth and figure out if it's in the two or three shelves of books he has of mine.

But if not, I'm going to buy it - again. And will continue to buy it in order to have it on the shelf. If you have not read it yet - do so. And if you don't like it, feel free to bite me, because you're a barbarian ignorant of the literary heritage of mankind.

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

Say, has anyone told the Libertarians about this?

Noted recently - a new island has appeared near Tonga.

The New Zealand Geographic reports that as yet no-one has claimed it - King George V of Tonga has more important things on his mind what with riots in Nuku'alofa and all.

So... what we have is an unclaimed island just screaming for the worshippers of Galt's Gulch to show up and establish the Objectivist Paradise On Earth they keep claiming they can build, if only those nasty States would get out of their way.

Bags me the TV rights. My prediction is that a colony of Libertarians will be eating each other, literally, within a year. It'll be better than Survivor.

UPDATE: How foolish of me to forget the classics...

Thursday, 29 March 2007

Credo, Leo Rosten.

A comment on another blog recently prompted me to dig this out of storage. This is perhaps the public statement I've yet seen closest to some of my own thinking and experiences, and much better put than I'm capable of.

From Leo Rosten, condensed by Geoff Spencer of the Alcuin Society, 1989 (1999 reprint, paras inserted for clarity).

Credo, Leo Rosten

I BELIEVE that you can understand people better if you look at them as if they are children. For most of us never mature; we simply grow taller.

I have learned that everyone - in some small, secret sanctuary of the self - is mad. If we want to stay sane we must moderate our demands - on ourselves and others.

I have learned that everyone is lonely at bottom, and cries to be understood; but we can never entirely understand someone else, no matter how much we want to; and each of us will forever be part stranger - even to those who love us most.

I have learned that it is the weak who are cruel and that kindness is to be expected only from the strong.

I have had to learn that life - so precious, so variable, so honeycombed with richness and delight - is held cheap in the scheme of impersonal events. When a human life is snuffed out in an instant, without meaning, without reason, without justice, how can one deny that all our lives hang by threads of nothing more than luck? I cannot escape the awareness that in our last bewildered moment just before we die three simple, awful questions cry out from our souls: 'Why me? Why now? Why forever?'

I have come to see that every person is subject to fantasies so obscene, yearnings so mendacious, drives so destructive that even to mention them shakes the gates we have erected against the barbarian within.

I have been driven to believe that no despotism is more terrible than the tyranny of neurosis. No punishment is more pitiless, more harsh and cunning and malevolent, than what we inflict upon ourselves.

Most men feel cheated if happiness eludes them. But where has it been written that life will be easy, our days untroubled by suffering, our nights unfouled by the beasts within our nature? Where, indeed, is it guaranteed that life will be at the very least fair?

People debase 'the pursuit of happiness' into a narcotic pursuit of 'fun'. To me this is demeaning. I would question the sanity of anyone not often torn by despair. Euphoria is the province of lunatics. I cannot believe that the purpose of life is to be 'happy'.

I think the purpose of life is to be useful, to be responsible, to be honourable, to be compassionate. It is above all, to matter: to count, to stand for something, to have it make some difference that you lived at all.