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...