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.