March 31, 2012

American intelligence (is ours any better?)

This opaqueness, unsurprisingly, has not improved performance. Wisely concentrating on the F.B.I.’s secret intelligence operations, Weiner lays bare a record of embarrassing, even stunning failure, in which the bureau’s lawlessness was matched only by its incompetence. 

The F.B.I. conducted huge raids against pacifists, labor leaders and other dissidents during World War I, directing the arrest of tens of thousands of individuals. Yet it failed to uncover a single enemy spy, even as a nest of them blew up the enormous Black Tom munitions dump in Jersey City, riddling the Statue of Liberty with shrapnel. Combating Nazi agents before and during World War II, the F.B.I. was, by its own assessment, “a laughingstock.” During the cold war, a Soviet spy said its agents were “like children lost in the woods.” ...

Yet by the 1960s, the F.B.I. seemed just as lost combating domestic revolutionaries as it was battling foreign spies. The bureau failed utterly to stop the lunatic amateurs of the Weather Underground, even as they planted a bomb in the Capitol. “Four or five” of the agents charged with infiltrating the antiwar movement “liked their new lives so much that they never came back.” The Puerto Rican terrorist group F.A.L.N. carried out a hundred bombing attacks and “pulled off the most lucrative armed robbery in the history of the United States” without a single member being apprehended. 

In 1971, the bureau got black-bagged itself, as a group calling itself the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the F.B.I. broke into a field office and made off with documents exposing some of its most notorious activities. Untold resources were wasted over decades surveilling the tiny Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party, without turning up a trace of sedition. By 1976, 53 F.B.I. agents were under criminal investigation for such activities, and the bureau was forced to raid its own ­headquarters. ...

Small wonder that Thomas Kean, the Republican chairman of the 9/11 Commission, concluded: “We can’t continue in this country with an intelligence agency with the record the F.B.I. has. You have a record of an agency that’s failed, and it’s failed again and again and again.” 
 Book review - Foiled Again ... Enemies: A History of the F.B.I by Tim Weiner

Harvesting body parts

I have no intention of donating organs, for the simple reason that I don't believe any person is entitled to demand the body parts of another individual - it's not a right, it's not an obligation. 

I don't care how great the need or how dead the donor, there will never be an obvious case for bleating over the low rates of organ donations (in Australia, not all countries). Donation depends entirely on an individual dying in exactly the right circumstances to allow successful harvest of spare parts, and even then, a good match has to be found.  One easy way, for example, to increase donations is to tell everyone to stop wearing seat belts in cars - problem solved!  Many hundreds more dead / undead people would suddenly be eligible to donate.  

The practice of organ transplants is so common place, so normal, that the debate around what it means to be dead, the ethics and provable science around taking organs from people (thus ensuring their death) is not even aired - it's not up for debate, yet it should be.
Adopted in 1981, the Uniform Determination of Death Act states that in order to pronounce brain death, “the entire brain must cease to function, irreversibly.” But the act is silent on how this function is measured (in one study, 65 percent of physicians and nurses couldn’t identify the established criteria for brain death). Most physicians look at the brain stem, which controls heart and lung functions, but not the cortex, which coordinates consciousness. Teresi reports on an apparently unconscious patient who “could have been calculating the cross section of the bottom quark using Heisenberg’s matrices, and no amount of ice water squirted into her ear would have detected it.” The patient was unplugged, her organs harvested. 

The Harvard criteria assume that the brain-dead will quickly move to conventional heart-lung death. But Teresi learns that the brain-dead can maintain a long list of bodily functions, including some sexual responses, stress responses to surgery and the ability to gestate a fetus. 

After making a case that brain death is easily misdiagnosed and that death can be a construct of convenience, Teresi next places his body between the transplant team and patients who exist in a sort of “death lite” netherworld, with a non­responsive cortex but a functioning brain stem. And now things get really creepy. A tiny minority of patients in minimally conscious or persistent vegetative states have been known to sit up and speak. And one “locked in” patient (with a brain stem irreparably damaged but a healthy cortex) even wrote a best-selling book about his condition, “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.” But the onus is on patients to prove they are aware or in pain. “We would all sleep better at night if we could believe that patients in unendurable situations were unaware, but that does not make it so,” Teresi writes. Off they go to be harvested, despite the potential for surgeons to be distracted by their “screaming during organ retrieval.” 
Book review - Signs of Life ... The Undead by Dick Teresi 


Bloggers worthless - it's official

The Huffington Post was sold off for a few hundred million dollars last year, but the bloggers still don't - and won't - get paid for their contribution to the value of the news site. 

A judge has ruled that they knew they were accepting "exposure" only, and they shouldn't expect to be paid.

Bloggers lose in Huffington Post payment suit

Foolish fetishes

So as to prove their sterling economic management credentials to an indifferent public, the Federal Labor Party is pushing on with the goal of having a budget surplus by next year (even if it is only $1.50).  They are determined to destroy the Australian economy, so as to keep a stupid promise and despite all new facts, which should have taken this arbitrary goal off the agenda.  They are determined to destroy the Australian economy to demonstrate they can be trusted to manage the Australian economy.
Treasury's estimates, that would take at least 2.6 per cent of GDP out of the economy in 2012-13. That is equivalent to shutting down the entire electricity industry, all arts and entertainment venues and all airline travel for a year. 

Why on earth would you do this in an economy that has added just 10,000 jobs in the past year, where the growth rate is just 2.5 per cent, and most of that is in mining and related industries, and with Victoria and south-eastern Australia on the verge of recession?

What Swan is planning for 2012-13 goes far beyond any previous budget cuts. In 1986, the hairshirt Hawke-Keating budget cut away 1.1 per cent of GDP. The first Howard-Costello budget in 1996 took out 1 per cent of the economy.

Labor now pledges to deliver cuts two to three times as large as those landmarks of fiscal austerity - at a time when most sectors of the economy are already going backwards or sideways under pressure from the high dollar and low demand.

Swan says it will be OK because ''the economy is moving back towards trend growth''. Not if you take away 2.5 per cent of it, it won't be.
Compounding this dire situation is a bunch of Liberal governments across the states, equally obsessed with slashing and burning so as to artificially induce budget surpluses. 

Let's not forget that Gillard's post-hoc justification for the carbon tax was that when presented with new facts she changed her mind.   Apparently that logic only applies if Bob Brown and the Greens have their grubby little hands all over it.

Swan's foolish surplus fetish

March 29, 2012

Tearoom trade alive and thriving

Way back when - decades ago - I read Tearoom trade: a study of homosexual encounters in public places, by Laud Humphreys, as part of a sociology major.

One of the most interesting things about the research (originally a PhD - summary of the controversy) was that it  would never have been permitted when I read it, even less so now.  It was condemned back then too, and we're all the poorer for this state of academic policing (at least in some instances).

You might think that (notwithstanding George Michael) iEverything and apps have sounded the death knell for men (gay men, straight men, married men, single men) hooking up for anonymous sex with other men in public places.  Not so, apparently.

It seems the Tearoom Trade is alive and flourishing.

Rest stop confidential:  Across America, countless men are meeting up for sex in highway bathrooms. I'm one of them. Here's why.

How to get a book deal

How could a story that Jezebel last week declared  “The Worst Vogue Article Ever” get even more terrible? By becoming a book.

It began with a feature called “Weight Watchers” in the April Vogue, written by Dara-Lynn Weiss. In it, Weiss chronicles her then 7-year-old daughter Bea’s dieting odyssey after the child had “grown fat.” It was a tale that involved putting Bea — who at 4-foot-4 and 93 pounds was veering toward childhood obesity — on an intense regimen of calorie restriction and public shaming. “I once reproachfully deprived Bea of her dinner after learning that her observation of French Heritage Day at school involved nearly 800 calories of Brie, filet mignon, baguette and chocolate,” she writes. “And there have been many awkward moments at parties, when Bea has wanted to eat, say, both cookies and cake, and I’ve engaged in a heated public discussion about why she can’t.”

Ultimately, after an “exhausting” year with her often “humiliated” daughter, Bea dutifully dropped 16 pounds, and just for lagniappe, grew 2 inches. Unsurprisingly, her mother, who admits, “I have not ingested any food, looked at a restaurant menu or been sick to the point of vomiting without silently launching a complicated mental algorithm about how it will affect my weight,” was pleased — and turned the story into glossy magazine fodder.
And then a book deal.

Yes, we should all throw-up, just a little bit.

Fat shaming a child leads to book deal 

Telltale signs that footy season is back

The short-beaked Cousins bird migrating towards a police van is the surest sign of the season.
Nice little piece over at The Punch 

Ben Cuzz arrested with drugs up his bottom 

March 28, 2012

UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record


The study of UFOs has long been consigned on the fringes of the research community. Although the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) project is regarded as a serious scientific effort, Ufology suffers from a sizable credibility gap despite the fact that nearly 80 percent of those Americans surveyed—according to a CNN poll conducted in 1997—believed that the government was hiding knowledge of the existence of alien life forms. The failure of Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs) to be taken seriously in academia can be ascribed in large part to a dearth of physical evidence and the questionable reliability of UFO claimants. In UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record, Leslie Kean, an investigative journalist, attempts to break with this pattern by relying on accounts from numerous credible eyewitnesses to UFO encounters and authoritative sources. ...

Why, Kean asks, is there such a strong taboo against taking the UFO subject seriously when there is so much evidence for it? Rather than an intentional conspiracy, Kean speculates that the U.S. government might be as baffled as everyone else on the UFO question. In an interesting essay included in the book titled “Militant Agnosticism and the UFO Taboo,” two political scientists, Alexander Wendt and Raymond Duvall, advance a theory as to why the U.S. government has supposedly been less than forthcoming on the UFO question. As they point out, skeptics cite a number of seemingly intractable obstacles to interstellar travel to argue against the extraterrestrial hypothesis. Nevertheless, Wendt and Duvall argue that the origins of the UFO taboo are political, not scientific. As they see it, the prospect of UFOs presents three major challenges to the sovereignty and credibility of the state. First, if UFOs are accepted as truly unidentified, then that proposition would acknowledge a potential threat, which could undercut the legitimacy of the state insofar as protection against potential threats is the most elemental function of the government. Second, a confirmation of the presence of UFOs would create tremendous pressure for a world government that today’s territorial states would be reluctant to form. Third, and most important, the extraterrestrial possibility would call into question the anthropocentric model of modern sovereignty, which as they explain, forms the basis of the authority of states to command the loyalty of their subjects. The arrival of extraterrestrial aliens, they assert, would be something analogous to the Christian “Second Coming.” In such a scenario they ask, to whom would people give their loyalty? Could states survive if such a question became salient? 

In sum, Wendt and Duvall argue that the presence of UFOs creates a deep, unconscious insecurity in which certain possibilities are unthinkable because of their political implications. As a consequence, the taboo emerges not so much from a vast conscious conspiracy seeking to suppress “the truth” about UFOs. Rather countless undirected practices that help us “know” that UFOs are not extraterrestrial in origin and can therefore be disregarded are carried out by the government, but not in the style of a covert conspiracy.
The consensus among the researchers cited in the book is that 95 percent of UFO sighting can be explained by earthly sources. However, the other 5 percent cannot be attributed to secret military exercises or natural phenomena. The witnesses maintain that the UFOs appear to make exceptional performance maneuvers that are beyond the capabilities of know aircrafts. Moreover, they insist that they are guided by some intelligence.
Kean endorses Wendt’s and Duvall’s call for a “militant agnosticism” in pursuit of UFO investigations. By agnostic, they mean not rushing to ascribe UFOs to extraterrestrial sources. If, however, the eyewitness accounts presented in Kean’s book are to be believed, then one would be hard pressed to conclude otherwise. Other explanations proffered in the past would be at least, or even more mind-boggling, such as time travelers, Nazi flying saucers from underground bases in Antarctica, or visitors from other dimensions. What is most compelling about Kean’s study is the number of seemingly credible and authoritative first person sources who go on the record for her with their positions on UFOs. None of them claimed to have experienced any repercussions from the government or men-in-black visitations. 

Alas, despite the impressive case she makes, smoking gun evidence remains elusive. Moreover, there appears to be little to no corroborative evidence outside of UFO studies that would support the extraterrestrial hypothesis. As Kean concedes, there have been no deathbed confessions or willed documents from any government scientists or officials that have revealed the truth about special access programs on UFOs. Moreover, she points out that we have not seen any fantastic reverse-engineered military technology that might have been retrieved from captured UFOs, despite rumors to the contrary. Numerous memoirs of past presidents and other prominent leaders often reveal embarrassing details of their lives, but so far, none have provided any insight about their secret relationships with extraterrestrial representatives. 

Furthermore, although Wendt and Duvall dismiss the notion of a “vast conscious conspiracy” on the part of the U.S. government that prevents information on UFOs from reaching the public, it is hard to see how otherwise an issue of such earth-shaking significance could be withheld. Instead, the world’s leaders seem to go about their day-to-day business and decision-making without considering the influence of extraterrestrial visitors, who if they were so magnanimous, might at least give us some advice on how to find alternatives to fossil fuels, considering their ability to master interstellar travel. As others have noted, contact with extraterrestrials would be a transformative event, yet if it has already occurred, the world’s leaders seem startling aloof and amazingly tight-lipped—a remarkable adherence to security protocol in an age of exposé journalism. At least from surface appearances, public officials do not seem to take into account the presence of aliens, with few exceptions. For instance, far from shunning the prospect of extraterrestrial life, in August 1996, President Bill Clinton enthusiastically announced that NASA scientists had found evidence for life on Mars in the form of microscopic features inside a meteorite recovered from Antarctica in 1984, though subsequent analysis chipped away at that conclusion. 
 
... Kean’s book is a welcome addition to the topic of UFOs, which heretofore, suffered from a lack of reliability and academic rigor. Kean advises that UFO cases should be investigated utilizing scientific techniques that evaluate physical evidence rather than relying exclusively on subjective eyewitness accounts. To that end, she calls for the creation of a small agency within the U.S. government to handle appropriate UFO investigations and coordinate with other countries and the scientific community. With the ubiquity of digital cameras and cell phones, there are now more opportunities for witnesses to capture UFOs in pictures which could be exciting, for as it still stands, the burden of proof is still on the UFO claimants.


Bob Brown was loopy all along

There really are aliens out there, or were out there.

According to Bob Brown, Federal Senator and leader of the Australian Greens, the aliens killed themselves off, and humans are about to do the same here on Earth.

We know that Bob is not a scientist, and that his lack of scientific understanding is often on show, but he's never before revealed just how fruit-loopy and fairytale-like are his political and scientific underpinnings. 
Could climate change have already killed off aliens from outer space?

That was the big hint of Senator Bob Brown’s speech at the Greens’ 40th anniversary conference in Hobart last week.

"Why aren't the intergalactic phones ringing?” Senator Brown quizzed in the interstellar speech.

“Here is one sobering possibility for our isolation: maybe life has often evolved to intelligence on other planets with biospheres and every time that intelligence, when it became able to alter its environment, did so with catastrophic consequences. Maybe we have had many predecessors in the Cosmos but all have brought about their own downfall.”

“That's why they are not communicating with Earth. They have extincted themselves. They have come and gone. And now it's our turn.”
This was from the big speech in which we were forewarned that  Bob would discuss his ideas for global government.  Obviously he over-reached, and went for the entire universe. 

If only the aliens had a Bob Brown on each of their planets, we might be enjoying a latte with some of them right now, or if not a latte, we'd at least be exchanging emails and "liking" peculiar life forms on Facebook. 

Way to frighten the kiddies, Bob. 

Bob Brown suggests that alien life forms were killed off by climate change on other planets

Non-political interlude

Sir—” remarked Samuel Johnson with droll incredulity to someone too eager to know whether he had finished a certain book—“Sir, do you read books through?” Well, do we? Right through to the end? And if we do, are we the suckers Johnson supposed one must be to make a habit of finishing books?

Schopenhauer, who thought and wrote a great deal about reading, is on Johnson’s side. Life is “too short for bad books” and “a few pages” should be quite enough, he claims, for “a provisional estimate of an author’s productions.” After which it is perfectly okay to bail out if you’re not convinced.

But I’m not really interested in how we deal with bad books. It seems obvious that any serious reader will have learned long ago how much time to give a book before choosing to shut it. It’s only the young, still attached to that sense of achievement inculcated by anxious parents, who hang on doggedly when there is no enjoyment. ... One can only encourage a reader like this to learn not to attach self esteem to the mere finishing of a book, if only because the more bad books you finish, the fewer good ones you’ll have time to start.

But what about those good books? Because Johnson certainly wasn’t just referring to the bad when he tossed out that provocation. Do we need to finish them? Is a good book by definition one that we did finish? ...

Kafka remarked that beyond a certain point a writer might decide to finish his or her novel at any moment, with any sentence; it really was an arbitrary question, like where to cut a piece of string, and in fact both The Castle and America are left unfinished, while The Trial is tidied away with the indecent haste of someone who has decided enough is enough. The Italian novelist Carlo Emilio Gadda was the same; both his major works, That Awful Mess on Via Merulana and Acquainted with Grief, are unfinished and both are considered classics despite the fact that they have complex plots that would seem to require endings which are not there.

Other writers deploy what I would call a catharsis of exhaustion: their books present themselves as rich and extremely taxing experiences that simply come to an end at some point where writer, reader and indeed characters, all feel they’ve had enough. The earliest example that comes to mind is D H Lawrence, but one thinks of Elfriede Jelinek, Thomas Bernhard, Samuel Beckett, and the wonderful Christina Stead. Beckett’s prose fiction gets shorter and shorter, denser and denser as he brings the point of exhaustion further and further forward.

All these writers it seems to me, by suggesting that beyond a certain point a book might end anywhere, legitimize the notion that the reader may choose for him or herself, without detracting anything from the experience, where to bow out (of Proust’s Recherche for example, or The Magic Mountain). One of the strangest responses I ever had to a novel of my own—my longest not surprisingly—came from a fellow author who wrote out of the blue to express his appreciation. Such letters of course are a massive pep to one’s vanity and I was just about to stick this very welcome feather in my cap, when I reached the last lines of the message: he hadn’t read the last fifty pages, he said, because he’d reached a point where the novel seemed satisfactorily over, for him.

Naturally I was disappointed, even a little angry. My leg had surely been pulled. Wasn’t this damning criticism, that I’d gone on fifty pages too long? Only later did I appreciate his candor. My book was fine, for him, even without the ending. It wasn’t too long, just that he was happy to stop where he did.

What, then, since clearly I’m talking about books with aesthetic pretensions, of the notion of the work of art as an organic whole—you haven’t seen its shape unless you’ve seen all of it—and what, since again I have mainly referred to novelists, of the question of plot? Doesn’t a novel that is plotted require that we reach the end, because then the solution to the tale will throw meaning back across the entire work. So the critics tell us. No doubt I’ve made this claim myself in some review or other.

But this is not really my experience as I read. There are some novels, and not just genre novels, where plot is indeed up front and very much the reason why one keeps turning the pages. We have to know what happens. These are rarely the most important books for me. Often one skims as heightened engagement with the plot reduces our attention to the writing as such; all the novel’s intelligence is in the story and the writing the merest vehicle.

Yet even in these novels where plot is the central pleasure on offer, the end rarely gratifies, and if we like the book and recommend it to others, it is rarely for the end. ... With novels, the endings I’m least disappointed with are those that encourage the reader to believe that the story might very easily have taken a completely different turn.

To put a novel down before the end, then, is simply to acknowledge that for me its shape, its aesthetic quality, is in the weave of the plot and, with the best novels, in the meshing of the writing style with that weave. Style and plot, overall vision and local detail, fascinate together, in a perfect tangle. Once the structure has been set up and the narrative ball is rolling, the need for an end is just an unfortunate burden, an embarrassment, a deplorable closure of so much possibility. Sometimes I have experienced the fifty pages of suspense that so many writers feel condemned to close with as a stretch of psychological torture, obliging me to think of life as a machine for manufacturing pathos and tragedy, since the only endings we half-way believe in, of course, are the unhappy ones. ...

And finally I wonder if it isn’t perhaps time that I learned, in my own novels, to drop readers a hint or two that, from this or that moment on, they have my permission to let the book go just as and when they choose.
Why finish books?  Tim Parks - New York Review of Books 

The comments are worth a read, also.

Wednesday Wisdom

Man with one clock know the time, man with two, never sure. 

Confucius

March 27, 2012

Groan: most embarrassing PM ever

She has travelled 10,000 kilometres to find Koreans asking the same questions that Australian voters are asking back home.

"Why do you think she didn't answer my question?", asked a law student, Yoon Hye In, after Ms Gillard's speech at Yonsei University yesterday afternoon.

Ms Gillard had stuck word-for-word to her script on "Australia and Korea, Partners and Friends" and Ms Yoon had asked her an on-topic question about racial discrimination faced by her relatives and friends in Australia.

Ms Gillard answered that "we do stand resolutely with you on security challenges", leaving the student bewildered, and a little upset.

Ms Gillard's second question was from Ken Yun, head of the Korean arm of accounting firm KPMG.
Mr Yun's father in law founded the steel mill POSCO, which is a major investor in Australia and probably the single largest buyer of Australian exports, thanks to its hunger for Australian coal and iron ore. The current POSCO chief was sitting next to him, in the front row.

Mr Yun had asked Ms Gillard what she thought about the matter closest to his heart: the plight of 100,000 North Korean refugees who have crossed the border into China, many of whom are repatriated and shot.
He had expected Ms Gillard would have a view on one of the world's great refugee dilemmas, or at least shown some curiosity, given she had been talking about the impoverishment that has caused it.

Instead, Ms Gillard told him that Australia shares South Korea's concerns about security. Then she gave a long answer to another question that was not asked to explain that she had entered politics because of her values and beliefs.

"It was disappointing," said Mr Yun.
Humiliating - for Gillard and for Australia.

Gillard strikes wrong not with ordinary Koreans

Not you cup cake!

Julia is reclaiming her sense of humor, BIG time:
A defiant Julia Gillard says she is happy to face the voters on her Achilles heel issue of ''trust'', asking people who they trust on the economy.

... ''I'm happy now, and in the 2013 election, to say, who do you trust to manage the economy in the interests of working people?

''Who do you trust to understand the needs of the future and the building of that future economy? Who do you trust to spread the benefits of the mining boom to make sure they are shared by all Australians? Who do you trust to improve your local schools and local hospitals?''
PM adopts Howard 'trust me' line

Now for the numbers:  

Today's poll is almost all bad news for the ALP. The two-party-preferred vote has gone backwards from 47-53 to 43-57, while Labor's primary vote has dropped from 31 to 28 and the Coalition's has surged from 43 to 47. If there is a crack of light for the PM - who is facing a Queensland-style rout on the current numbers - it's in the small rise in her satisfaction rating, up from 28 to 31 and a one point increase as preferred PM over Tony Abbott.

March 26, 2012

Julia: the community is shouting again

Bureaucrats spent almost $370,000 for focus-group testing and a research paper used by the Government to guide 2015 commemoration plans, which listed multiculturalism under "risks and issues" that should be considered to avoid "unexpected negative complications."

The report also called on organisers to avoid any reference to current military action because they are "unpopular with young people".

The research paper states: "Commemorating our military history in a multicultural society is something of a double-edged sword.

"While the 100th anniversaries are thought to provide some opportunity for creating a greater sense of unity, it is also recognised as a potential area of divisiveness.
"Bureaucrats" did not spend that absurd amount of money on this superfluous focus group research:  the Gillard Government spent that money.

Why the fuck was any research initiated, seemingly seeking permission to hold a 100th Anzac Day commemoration?!

Divisive?  You bet.  Just check the number of comments and the unanimous message. 

Anzac centenary could be divisive 

The deluded leading the deluded

The Prime Minister today admitted she was surprised at the extent of the Queensland result - which has left Labor with as few as six MPs in the state - but she said the poll was overwhelmingly fought on state issues.

“There was clearly a major 'it's time' factor after Labor having been in government for so long,” Ms Gillard said ...

She said Queensland voters had “shouted” their disapproval of the Bligh government and their will had to be respected.

“For Queensland Labor it will be about listening to that message, getting out and about, in the community, forging the community bonds and links and renewing Labor in Queensland,” Ms Gillard said.
'Cause Julia knows all about how to listen to the shouts of the community and connecting with voters. 

Also the only person out of 22 million (excluding domestic animals) who was "surprised" at the dimensions of the Queensland Labor loss.

Gillard surprised at Queensland results


March 25, 2012

Beetroot

There are only a few beetroot growers remaining in Australia.  True! 

One farmer isn't convinced he'll continue growing beetroot, but for now will supply under one of those dreaded home brand labels, which breed unrelentingly on the shelves at Coles and Woolies.

Dick Smith bought some of his last crop, rather than see the whole lot ploughed back into the ground - no local buyer wanted it.

I love beetroot, with salads, and mandatory on hamburgers, of course. 

My Golden Circle beetroot (in the kitchen cupboard, as we speak), claims to be "Made in Australia".  I don't know what that means:  canned here; grown here?  If it was grown overseas, why?  We can grow perfectly good beetroot here.
Mr Smith said he offered to sell the beetroot to the supermarkets [Coles and Woolworths] for 90¢ a tin but they were not interested.
So, now Dick Smith is giving away tins of beetroot.

It's insane. 

Dick Smith sees red over beetroot

March 24, 2012

Bligh has already conceded defeat


I don't think this is pathetic, nor does it resemble begging, per se.  It's unfortunate that this "unprecedented" sliver of honesty in politics is being ridiculed. 

March 23, 2012

They're all just folks and families

 Promoting love not politicians:
Hoping to counter the views of their respective governments, some Israelis and Iranians have started an online campaign to exchange simple messages of friendship and love.

The initiative, which began with Israeli couple Ronny Edry and Michal Tamir, calls for residents of each country to exchange photographs with the words, ''We love you''.

''I'm not an official representative of my country. I'm a father and a teacher,'' Mr Edry wrote on his blog, israelovesiran.com. He included a photo of himself and his son. ''I know the streets of my town, I talk with my neighbours, my family, my students, my friends and in the name of all these people … we love you. We mean you no harm. On the contrary, we want to meet, have some coffee and talk about sports.''

Within days, the first responses from Iran began to appear. The images posted by Israelis and Iranians are strikingly similar, showing people in the midst of daily activities, posing with their children or favourite book. Some include messages such as ''We don't want war'', and ''I wish we both get rid of our idiot politicians''.
Love not war says Israel to Iran 
 
---------------------------------------------

 Versus the usual insidious approach:
A radical Islamist in the beautiful, almost magical, city of Toulouse, France, murders three Jewish children and a teacher in front of their school. Various VIPs issue statements about how terrible is this deed.
Yet at that very moment, the next round of killings is being prepared by slanderous anti-Semitic lies from respectable people and institutions. There is no serious examination about how anti-Israel and anti-Jewish hysteria paves the way for murder. Fanatics pull the triggers but the distinguished, powerful and honoured provide the ammunition.

Here are three examples of such deeds that took place within hours of the Toulouse attack:
First, Mahir Zeynalov, an editor at Today's Zaman, a Turkish Islamic newspaper close to that country's government, tweets in response to the murders: "Gunmen attack Jewish school in France, vandals attack Jewish cemetery in Poland, Jews burn mosques and (Koran) in Tunisia. What's wrong?" In short, he's saying: how can it be wrong for gunmen to murder Jewish children or vandals to attack a Jewish cemetery in Poland if Jews are burning mosques and Korans in Tunisia. One act balances the other.

Yet Jews are not burning mosques and Korans in Tunisia. As we know from many experiences -- including Afghanistan right now -- anyone who damages a Koran, much less sets fire to a mosque, triggers massive riots and bloody killings. If such a deed ever happened it could result in the massacre of every remaining Jew in Tunisia. These terrified people would never think of committing any such action.

Zeynalov has committed a "blood libel", a lie that might lead to the murder of Jews. A Muslim believing Zeynalov's tweet might feel justified in murdering Jews, say children standing in front of their school.
Second, De Volkskrant, a leading newspaper in The Netherlands, has just run a cartoon showing Geert Wilders, leader of a conservative party that is very critical of Islam, getting loads of cash from Jews or Israel. In this respected newspaper we have the old anti-Semitic libel about Jewish money conspiring against people, in this case both Muslims and the Dutch.

This, too, is a total falsehood. Few Jews support Wilders; there is no Jewish or Israeli financing of his party.
What is the message here? That Jews and Israel are trying to destroy Islam -- as in the Turkish tweet -- and are nefarious plotters attacking innocent people. Isn't it proper, therefore, to murder Jews and Israelis in self-defence?

Exhibit three is Catherine Ashton, the EU's high representative for foreign affairs. On the day of the shooting she gave a speech that spent more time on the death of children in the Gaza Strip than it did criticising anti-Semitism. Left out was that Gaza is ruled by the openly anti-Semitic Hamas, which calls for the destruction of Israel, advocates genocide, carries out terrorist attacks against Israelis and Jews, and glorifies those who commit the murders. Yet the only reason Hamas can rule Gaza is that Israel voluntarily withdrew from the territory in a gesture intended to promote peace, something Ashton doesn't mention.

When Hamas maintains a war with Israel, firing rockets, missiles, and mortars, Israel defends itself. Hamas also deliberately sites military arsenals in residential areas. Thus, civilians and even children are accidentally killed by Israel in the fighting. This is what happens in other wars, including those being waged by EU countries.

In her speech, Ashton put the priority on erasing terrorism. And like the Turkish and Dutch examples, she states falsehoods. For while Palestinian children have been killed during fighting in Gaza -- fighting always provoked by the actions of Hamas -- the main alleged cases of these deaths in the past week were fabrications.

The most notorious was the story of seven-year-old Baraka al-Mughrabi, reported to have been killed by Israeli military action. In fact, it is now proven that he died from a bullet fired into the air by Palestinians during a funeral.

The subtext is that if Israel is so horrible that it makes little children in Gaza suffer for no reason shouldn't Israelis and Jews be attacked and murdered as revenge?

These three examples are only a small sample, from Sweden's largest newspaper claiming Israel murdered Palestinians to harvest their organs, to a Harvard professor's tales of Jewish-Zionist conspiracies to control US foreign policy, to the dozens of "academic" conferences on Western campuses that demonise Israel.
What is needed is not expensive conferences and long speeches about the evils of anti-Semitism. The real solution is a change in the behaviour of media and academics who slander and distort, and governments that refuse to stand by a democratic country and people beset by terrorism and the world's oldest hatred.
One more thing is needed: the admission that the greatest threat of hatred, "racism", dehumanisation of the "other" and threat of persecution today -- as statistics for Europe and North America show -- is not "Islamophobia" but anti-Semitism.

None of those things will happen because hating and lying about Israel and the Jewish people are too entwined with left-wing ideology, Islamism and the dominant interpretation of Islam.

The principal inspiration for popular anti-Semitism is trendy leftist ideas that now dominate much of Europe and are spreading in North America, and that lay the groundwork for more hatred and more murder.
Trendy slander incites murder


Duck Friday


March 22, 2012

The barbarians and dolts have broken through the gates

 As in America, so too Australia (but with a different list of commonplace delusions):
In the past, if someone knew nothing and talked nonsense, no one paid any attention to him. No more. Now such people are courted and flattered by conservative politicians and ideologues as “Real Americans” defending their country against big government and educated liberal elites. The press interviews them and reports their opinions seriously without pointing out the imbecility of what they believe. The hucksters, who manipulate them for the powerful financial interests, know that they can be made to believe anything, because, to the ignorant and the bigoted, lies always sound better than truth:
Christians are persecuted in this country.
The government is coming to get your guns.
Obama is a Muslim.
Global Warming is a hoax.
The president is forcing open homosexuality on the military.
Schools push a left-wing agenda.
Social Security is an entitlement, no different from welfare.
Obama hates white people.
The life on earth is 10,000 years old and so is the universe.
The safety net contributes to poverty.
The government is taking money from you and giving it to sex-crazed college women to pay for their birth control.

One could easily list many more such commonplace delusions believed by Americans. They are kept in circulation by hundreds of right-wing political and religious media outlets whose function is to fabricate an alternate reality for their viewers and their listeners. “Stupidity is sometimes the greatest of historical forces,” Sidney Hook said once. No doubt. What we have in this country is the rebellion of dull minds against the intellect. That’s why they love politicians who rail against teachers indoctrinating children against their parents’ values and resent the ones who show ability to think seriously and independently. Despite their bravado, these fools can always be counted on to vote against their self-interest. And that, as far as I’m concerned, is why millions are being spent to keep my fellow citizens ignorant. 
Age of Ignorance

Someone is paying attention

Thankfully, at least one mug punter is paying attention; from Brian O'Brien, Floreat, WA, letters to The Australian, March 21, 2012:
Will Steffen writes that it is "more likely than not" that heavy rainfall events will become more frequent across much of Australia ("We're likely to be a land of increasingly severe droughts and floods", 19/3).
 
While "more likely than not" is a very weak forecast, he provides no scientific evidence for it in his article or in the recent Climate Commission report that Steffen signed as a commissioner.

He repeats this weak assertion, that the "rain is more likely to fall as heavy downpours than as extended drizzle". But in May 2011, his first Climate Commission report, he said the floods across eastern Australia were the consequence of a strong La Nina event, and not the result of climate change, but that there is no evidence the strength of La Nina events is increasing due to climate change.

His Climate Commission quoted the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2007) that for much of Australia there is no strong consensus across models on the direction of change (increase or decrease in rainfall), or on the magnitude or seasonality. Steffen contradicts this.

His commission quoted the Australian Academy of Science (2010) on "how climate change will affect individual regions is very hard to project in detail, particularly future changes in rainfall patterns, and such projections are highly uncertain".

Steffen is contradicting himself, the IPCC and the Australian Academy of Sciences.

Brian O'Brien, Floreat, WA

March 21, 2012

You can't: exhibit A - the Gillard Government

The biographies of Gillard ministers read like carbon copies of each other: former unionists, political staffers, lawyers with union law firms, party apparatchiks, a few teachers, more union organisers, more political staffers, the odd academic. The one closest to being self-employed is a former musician with Midnight Oil. Disconnected from the life experiences of most Australians, these ministers seem to stumble from one mess to the next, not comprehending the nature of their mistakes.

Trying to explain Labor's malaise in the polls, plenty of senior Labor people have mulled over the narrow gene pool in Canberra. Last year former NSW Labor premier Neville Wran, whose first cabinet included a pharmacist, a car salesman and a bricklayer, to name just a few of the occupations of his ministry, said that Labor no longer represents its traditional base. Last November former federal senator Stephen Loosley called for the apparatchiki to be "dramatically reduced at the next round of ALP preselections". Paul Keating has said the problem with Labor is it doesn't like the working class much anymore.

The party's raison d'etre was that only a party of the workers could truly represent workers. As [Nick] Dyrenfurth wrote last year, "it beggars belief that federal Labor's ranks contain no self-employed tradies". Contrast the Hawke ministry, which included a "doctor, shearer, farmer, policeman, teachers, lawyers, two businessmen, a priest and an accountant" with the Gillard ministry, chock full of political careerists. "These folks aren't bad people," wrote Dyrenfurth, "but their narrow life experiences have arguably contributed to the party's inability to sell its policies to the electorate".

And the Liberal Party can ill afford to gloat about Labor's incompetence. At a dinner in Melbourne a few weeks back, former Liberal prime minister John Howard lamented the rise of an insular, inexperienced political class within his own beloved party. It may be that the only difference between the two parties on this front is that right now Labor's political careerists are running the country. The same problems may well emerge when the Coalition is in the driver's seat.
How can you run a country if you've never lived in the real world?

Wednesday Wisdom

When a man knows he is to be hanged … it concentrates his mind wonderfully.

Samuel Johnson

(And a shout out to our friends in the federal Labor Party!)

March 20, 2012

Extreme slow learners

Another one of those "only in America" bits of legislation ... chipping away at the minimal regulation of the finance industry in the US. 
The legislation is the JOBS Act, or Jump-Start Our Business Start-Ups Act, which passed the House with White House support this month and will be voted on this week in the Senate. JOBS, named in Orwellian fashion, is not about jobs. It is about undoing investor safeguards in federal law, including parts of the Sarbanes-Oxley law and other landmark protections, so that companies can raise money without having to follow rules on disclosure, accounting, auditing and other regulatory mainstays. 
What economic crisis, hey?

You scratch my back ... 

March 18, 2012

Gina remembers the good old days

Current legal battles with three of her children must bring back fond memories for Gina Rinehart; those warm fuzzy days when daddy Hancock was still alive, offering a strong shoulder and sound business advice to his only child.
She had described her father as "nearly perfect" when interviewed for a BBC documentary at age 12. But when they fell out over Hancock's decision to marry his Filipino housekeeper Rose Lacson, Lang's attack on Gina was savage and highly personal.

In a letter to her, Hancock said he wanted to remember his daughter as the "neat, trim, capable and attractive young lady" she had been, rather than "the slothful, vindictive and devious baby elephant" that she had become. Rinehart responded by calling her father's bride a "Filipina whore".
Those innocent, happier days are long gone.

Battle of the disappointed billionaires 


Stellar Wind

 “We Are This Far From A Turnkey Totalitarian State" - Big Brother Goes Live September 2013
In its April cover story, Wired has an exclusive report on the NSA's Utah Data Center, which is a must read for anyone who believes any privacy is still a possibility in the United States: "A project of immense secrecy, it is the final piece in a complex puzzle assembled over the past decade. Its purpose: to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks.... Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital “pocket litter.”... The heavily fortified $2 billion center should be up and running in September 2013." In other words, in just over 1 year, virtually anything one communicates through any traceable medium, or any record of one's existence in the electronic medium, which these days is everything, will unofficially be property of the US government to deal with as it sees fit.

The codename of the project: Stellar Wind.

As Wired says, "there is no doubt that it has transformed itself into the largest, most covert, and potentially most intrusive intelligence agency ever created."

And as former NSA operative William Binney who was a senior NSA crypto-mathematician, and is the basis for the Wired article (which we guess makes him merely the latest whistleblower to step up: is America suddenly experiencing an ethical revulsion?), and quit his job only after he realized that the NSA is now openly trampling the constitution, says as he holds his thumb and forefinger close together. "We are, like, that far from a turnkey totalitarian state.

There was a time when Americans still cared about matters such as personal privacy. Luckily, they now have iGadgets to keep them distracted as they hand over their last pieces of individuality to the Tzar of conformity. And there are those who wonder just what the purpose of the NDAA is.

In the meantime please continue to pretend that America is democracy...
At length, here - or go to the Wired article, linked above.

Update:  More disturbing stuff (again c/o Justin), of a near, present and not at all covert nature: 
President Obama signed an interesting Executive Order on Friday that should sound the alarm for all Americans. The order, called 'National Defense Resources Preparedness' is actually an amendment to the 'Defense Production Act of 1950' and gives the office of the President total control over all of the resources in the United States in the event of a war or an emergency. What constitutes an emergency and who makes that decision? With so many citizens unhappy with the current administration, it's a question people may be asking in the coming days.
If that sounds deeply disturbing (what are they anticipating?!), the comments help to explain why this stuff happens, with a whimper, followed by howling stupidity.  Mostly, the neanderthals can't wait to vote Obama out, because, well, this would only happen under Obama, wouldn't it ... and the GOP would immediately get rid of the Executive Order, wouldn't they ... hee, hee, yeah, right.  And, you know, Obama is going to concoct a "crisis" so that he can control all resources, which, by the way, includes labor.

America - National Defense Resources Preparedness




India: more mobile phones than toilets

This isn't new, so it isn't news:  India, with a population of around 1.2 billion people is home to more mobile phones than toilets, and more mobile phones than people who have easy access to clean drinking water.

These statistics are announced every couple of years (see links below, from the UN in 2010), as if the finding is astonishing.  It isn't.

Mere lack of sanitation, no big deal?  Well, it is if you don't want to die young from easily avoidable diseases.  Or if you're a girl wanting an education, but not getting one, because the school has no toilets, so rather than be embarrassed, you don't go to school.

There are a lot of big myths, about emerging superpowers - you know, the countries that are or will knock America off the perch.  China, India, Russia, or how about Brazil?

Yes, those countries are all growing in wealth, and have humongous populations, but the dizzying heights of their wealth and superpowerdom entail average annual incomes increasing to a few thousand dollars a year  of  rather than a few hundred or a few dollars.  See, it doesn't matter how big the total, nor even the average, these emerging economies remain a few lifetimes away from the wealth of first world countries.

That India or China are touted as economic giants bound for world domination is conceit and deceit.  Not to mention a bit perverted.

It's almost comical that ownership of mobile phones is touted as making the world smaller, bringing prosperity to poor countries, opening up business opportunities - all true, in some small manner; however it is small, very small. 

Around 700 million Indians do not have access to toilets:  that's two thirds of the population.  That means they piss and crap in the open, all over the country.  Clean drinking water?  You don't even want to think about what they're drinking.  Access to cheap Coke would be a better option. 

If you think "mobile phone" equates to Internet access, you'd also be misreading things:  only three per cent of Indians have access to the Internet at home.  While we're at it, only 2.3 per cent of Indian households have a car - no bad thing, given they have no roads upon which to drive them. 

Is it any wonder that the first world gets twitchy over emerging economies?  Just think of the carbon dioxide levels if even 50 per cent of Indian or Chinese households had a car, or electricity at home? 

Oh, but we clever humans are going to "reverse" the temperature by one or two or three degrees, in 100 years time, despite being so stupid, so politically, socially and economically illiterate, so wantonly inequitable in the distribution of basic resources, that a country with more than a billion people living in their own shit is touted as an economic powerhouse, a modern success story. 

When, I wonder, do we stop kidding ourselves?

Why India is not a superpower 

Experiencing India's bathrooms first hand 

2009 - In India, more women demand toilets before marriage 

2010 - UN reports - India has more mobile phones than toilets 

2012 - yes, big surprise - India still has more mobile phones than toilets (The Australian, behind paywall) 

March 17, 2012

Mittens odds on for GOP

No one understands caucusing, so no one in the Republican Party can say how many delegates each of the GOP potential presidential candidates has accumulated so far; however, someone with an abacus and a crystal ball has determined that Mitt Romney pretty much has the Republican nomination in the bag.

We can look forward to finding out who he nominates as his "running mate", with memories of Sarah Palin not yet buried deeply enough in the global sub-conscious.

Romney looks sure bet 

All things Mitt Romney c/o Wikipedia

Assange to run for senate

This should be fun - Julian Assange has announced he will run for a senate seat in the next Australian federal election, and Wikileaks will field a candidate against Julia Gillard, for good measure.

At least we'll have something to talk about other than Gillard, Abbott and Brown.

Assange might find campaigning a challenge if he's still under house arrest in the UK, but the physical absence of  the candidate could be a bonus when running for the upper house (do would-be senators ever bother to canvass for votes?).

Anyone dreaming of the day that the Greens will no longer hold the balance of power, and thus no longer be holding the country to ransom (with no actual demands, other than power for the sake of it), you'll have to continue to dream, curled up in your comfy chair - only one third of the Green seats are up for grabs next time, which, unless something really wacky happens, means the Greens will continue wrecking political and economic havoc for many years to come. 

March 16, 2012

March 15, 2012

Sarkozy hits the low road to winning

A New York Times editorial expresses extreme distaste for the tactics of Nicolas Sarkozy in the French elections, and particular distaste for all things anti-Muslim.
Mr. Sarkozy now pledges to protect French consumers from unknowingly eating halal meat, slaughtered in accordance with Muslim dietary codes. He called for legislation requiring all meat labels to note the slaughtering methods used. This proposal originally came from Marine Le Pen, the presidential candidate of the unabashedly xenophobic National Front. Mr. Sarkozy first rightly called it frivolous. Then he adopted it. 
What's interesting here is the word "frivolous", and the editorial's insistence that Sarkozy is now being frivolous himself, and that anything anti-Muslim is deeply offensive and racist.

I eat meat.  I don't like the halal killing method and animals being bled to death*.  Nor do I feel comfortable about being deceived into eating a dead animal killed in the name of Allah. 

Just as Muslims would not want to be deceived about the preparations of meat they eat, why should I, or you?  Clear labeling is not frivolous, for any of us.

Frivolous of me?

(*Yes, I know, there is  no pleasant way for our food-stuff to be killed.)

Always, always

As always, when a seemingly normal, sensible person speaks a few truths - jumps out from the herd - his or her character and motives are promptly questioned, along with dire warnings to that person (but really the warnings are aimed at the rest of us) that they are unlikely to be hired by anyone, ever again, because ... well, being moral, having a modicum of personal integrity, is not attractive to prospective employers.

Meet Greg Smith, form employee of Goldman Sachs, who decided to resign in the pages of The New York Times (ok, he did resign by email, 15 minutes prior to publication in the NYTs). 

And more commentary - A public exit from Goldman Sachs 

Penny Wong lies too

Birds of a feather ...

Who to believe?

I told Labor 'Future Fund board wants Peter Costello' but they chose me - David Gonski


March 14, 2012

I don't get it

So, Wayne Swan walks into a bar and offers large and small businesses a one cent tax cut, from 30 cents down to 29 cents, to be funded with the new mining tax.
Mr Swan said the cuts would increase productivity, promote broad-based economic growth and encourage more investment and jobs across Australia's entire economy.
Where's the punchline?

Draft company tax laws released

Tim Flannery"s crystal ball still broken


Every NSW town visited by Professor Tim Flannery or his Climate Commission colleagues for community forums where residents were told they were in a "drying trend" has been deluged by rain up to three times the annual average.

An academic who specialises in climate science has accused Prof Flannery of getting predictions "spectacularly wrong." Writing for education publication The Conversation, Associate Professor Stewart Franks from the University of Newcastle's School of Engineering said he believed Prof Flannery was no better than an "amateur enthusiast" at climate science.

"The most obvious factor could well be Flannery's lack of background in a climate science. He is an academic, however his background is mammalogy - he studied the evolution of mammals," wrote Prof Franks who researches climate variability, particularly flood and drought risk, and the predictability of natural climate variability across NSW.

"He is perhaps best described as an amateur enthusiast, in which case I could actually have a little sympathy for him getting it so wrong."

The Climate Commission claims the media is getting confused between "climate and weather".
Professor Lesley Hughes said there were plans to hit back at criticisms this week with a new report on rainfall "to further clarify this issue for the community".

Prof Hughes, who gives region-specific information at the forums hosted by Prof Flannery, said the climate was drying, although climate change could also cause intense bursts of rain [and everything else, which is handy - Ed].

"The climate in southeastern Australia has been changing over the past few decades, overall becoming hotter and drier," she said. "Climate models indicate that this drying trend may continue in the long term, increasing the risk of droughts and fires."

"However, we still expect variability from year to year in temperature and rainfall." [Really?!  Because the Earth has never had variable temperatures and rainfalls until now ... Ed]

Prof Franks said the CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology had mistaken the drought this decade as climate change-related, when the dry spell and now rain was a long-term La Nina and El Nino weather pattern. He said the weather events occurred in 20 to 40-year clusters.
More Tim Flannery predictions go unfulfilled