Wiggles go gangsta

This photoshopped image has been shamelessly stolen from Something Awful.


These stories interest me:

Dolly the sheep pioneer knighted (actual headline)

Wow. The Queen is now knighting enterprising sheep these days? (boom tish)

US town escapes 666 phone prefix.
A town in the US state of Louisiana is to be allowed to change its telephone prefix so that residents can avoid a number many associate with the Devil.

Christians in Reeves have been unhappy since the early 1960s about being given the prefix, 666 - traditionally known as the Biblical "number of the beast".

For the next three months, households will be able to change the first three digits of their phone numbers to 749.

Mayor Scott Walker said CenturyTel's decision was "divine intervention".

However, he admitted it helped that Louisiana's two senators had also lobbied for the change with the phone company and the state Public Service Commission.
Totally ridiculous. Poor exegesis + superstitions = irrational fear of numbers. I wonder if any of these people have read what is on page 666 of their bibles? Or ever read Isaiah 66.6 and wondered if they should ask their pastor if this is the Bible's "evil verse" or "evil page"?


Know your Global Warming Facts #1

The 8.2 kiloyear event is the term that climatologists have adopted for a sudden decrease in global temperatures that occurred approximately 8200 years before the present, or c. 6200 BCE, and which lasted for the next two to four centuries. Milder than the Younger Dryas cold spell that preceded it, but more severe than the Little Ice Age that would follow, the 8.2 kiloyear cooling was a significant exception to general trends of the Holocene climatic optimum.

The strongest evidence for the event comes from the North Atlantic region; the disruption in climate shows clearly in Greenland ice cores and in sedimentary and other records of the temporal and tropical North Atlantic. It is less evident in ice cores from Antarctica and in South American indices. The effects of the cold snap were global, however, most notably in changes in sea level during the relevant era.

The cooling event of 6200 BCE may have been caused by a large meltwater pulse from the shrinking but still massive Laurentide ice sheet of northeastern North America—most likely when the glacial Lake Ojibway suddenly drained into the North Atlantic Ocean. (The same type of action produced the Missoula floods that created the Channeled scablands of the Columbia River basin.) The meltwater pulse adversely affected the Gulf Stream and the global thermohaline circulation regulating the Earth's climate regime (an instance of warming causing cooling). Cooling occurred by 5 to 6 °C (9 to 11 °F) in the temperate zones, and 3 °C (5 °F) in the tropics: "cores drilled into an ancient coral reef in Indonesia show an abrupt sea surface cooling of about 3 degrees Centigrade." Cooler and drier conditions prevailed, again as in the Younger Dryas though less extreme. Yet the changes were severe enough to impact the earliest settled human communities: the first phase of Catal Huyuk ended during the 8.2 kiloyear event. The site was abandoned and not re-occupied until about 5 centuries later, when climate conditions had improved markedly.

Drier conditions were notable in North Africa, while East Africa suffered five centuries of general drought. The initial meltwater pulse raised sea levels by as much as 1.2 meters (4 ft), but the cooling that followed allowed a glacial advance and consequent marine regression. After 2 centuries, or by 8000 ybp (6000 BCE), global sea level had dropped by 14 meters (40 ft.). After that point, however, milder climate conditions re-asserted themselves; by 7800 ybp (5800 BCE) the global climate returned to the clement conditions that prevailed during the Holocene climatic optimum.
Yeah okay I copied and pasted this from Wikipedia, which means that I have to point out that the text above is available under the GNU Free Documentation Licence.

The important bit to note is the part I underlined. The result of the meltwater pulse was simultaneously a rise in sea levels of 1.2 metres and a global cooling effect. The reason is obvious - the cold water from Lake Ojibway lowered sea temperatures enough to cause global cooling.

The reason why Lake Ojibway drained into the ocean is probably the result of normal global warming - ie, the ice dam that kept the waters of Lake Ojibway above sea level eventually melted enough for it to disintegrate and caused a massive influx of cold, fresh water into the Atlantic Ocean. What we need to realise is that, although this event caused a "cold snap" for many centuries, eventually temperatures warmed up again.

What can we learn from the 8.2 kiloyear event?

If predictions of the melting of ice sheets are correct, then the water trapped as ice above sea level (in places like Greenland and Antarctica) will eventually melt and mix with seawater. Whether this melting will be gradual or sudden, it means that some cooling effect from the meltwater ice will be experienced at the same time as sea level rise. Thus if we end up in a situation where sea levels do rise as Greenland Ice sheets begin to melt, we will probably experience some level of global cooling and maybe even a drop in sea levels over time. Nevertheless, the already high levels of CO2 in the atmosphere will continue to act as a warming affect, which means that the length of the cooling will only be temporary.

US House prices continue to plummet

From the Department of even-faster-this-time:
Dec. 26 (Bloomberg) -- Home prices in 20 U.S. metropolitan areas fell in October by the most in at least six years, a private survey showed today.

Property values fell 6.1 percent from October 2006, more than forecast, after dropping 4.9 percent in September, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller home-price index. The decrease was the biggest since the group started keeping year-over-year records in 2001. The index has fallen every month this year.
The really bad thing about this report is not the 4.9% drop, but the fact that prices have been dropping every month this year. It all adds up.

Put simply, rising house prices in the US increased domestic consumption while also increasing debt. A long term decline leads to less consumption and more people paying back debt (those who can afford it). Thus we have a recipe for a recession.

But then again you already knew that.

And, in related news, the US Dollar is down again, Oil Prices are up again and US Oil inventories have declined for the sixth straight week.


Sol Invictus, the Winter Solstice, and Christmas

There's no doubt that the religious festival of Christmas has pagan origins.

No, it's not a result of Saturnalia being Christianised by the early church (though it probably did influence Christmas in some respect, such as the exchange of gifts), but rather it is the inevitable syncretism of Christian and pagan beliefs.

Christianity grew in the Roman Empire much more slowly than Kudzu, but, once established, it was impossible to eliminate. From being the butt of persecution in the early days (Nero, Domition, the lions and all that), Christianity was inevitable thrust into the mainstream of Roman politics after the conversion of Emperor Constantine and the eventual law under Theodosius that made Christianity the official state religion (the same law made traditional paganism illegal).

When two religions co-exist, there is no doubt that elements of one would end up in elements of another. It was in 274 AD - before Christianity was fully accepted into the Roman empire - that emperor Aurelian instituted the worship of the Sun God. The idea was simple - the Sun God essentially became the main pagan deity at the time and was probably seen by many pagans as the god above all gods, which, in turn, would have encouraged some form of monotheistic understanding amongst pagans. The Sun God could not be conquered, even in the midst of winter.

And that, of course, leads us to the winter solstice. At the winter solstice, the day is the shortest of the year in terms of sunlight. It was, in many ways, the weakest the sun gets on any day of the year. But still the sun shines. Even when it is diminished, the sun is "never conquered".

Back in those days, the Winter Solstice was celebrated on December 25th. To encourage worship of the Sun God, Roman paganism held a festival on that day. This festival increased in importance as the years went by.

When Theodosius made Christianity the state religion in 391 AD, the annual Winter Solstice celebration was not halted. Despite it being a pagan festival, and despite paganism now being outlawed, the December 25th festival continued to be celebrated. Why? Well, it was because the original deity - the God of the Sun - had been replaced with Christ. The pagan festival had been slowly Christianised as Christianity became more prevalent in the Roman Empire.

The yellowy image you see above is an example of this syncretism. The image is a mixture of paganism and Christianity and was made during the 4th century AD (it is located under St. Peter's Basilica ). The image is of the Sun God, unconquered as he rises in the sky. Yet the face of the God is that of Jesus Christ.

Of course, many things have been added to our understanding of Christmas over the years, such as Santa and sleighs and all that nonsense. It isn't wrong for us as Christians to celebrate Christ's birth, since it is one of the most wonderful events in all of history. But as we celebrate this Christmas, we must remember that there is nothing really at the "heart" of Christmas that is somehow originally Christian. Even though the birth of Christ has been at the centre of Christmas celebrations for over a millennia, we can't forget its pagan origins. It's certainly nothing we should "fight" over, it isn't something that we should feel we "own", and it isn't something that unbelievers can't interpret for their own sake.


This photoshopped image has been shamelessly stolen from Something Awful.

Kossacks cool on Clinton

Daily Kos, a popular political blogsite that is involved in trying to change the culture of the Democratic Party, is not too impressed with Hillary Clinton.

Kossacks have been working for a number of years to change the Democratic party. They have butted heads with the traditional "power brokers" in the party while at the same time raising money for Democratic candidates around the US. While Daily Kos is certainly a partisan site, it will not shrink back from criticising the Democrats when they stuff up or do things they don't want to do.

An indication of the independence of Kossacks is a recent "straw poll" of members as to who their most favoured Democratic candidate is. Presently, 41% of Kossacks support the candidature of John Edwards while 27% support Barack Obama. 11% support Dodd while a paltry 6% support Hillary Clinton.

Moreover, the poll is taken monthly to allow analysis of any trends amongst Kossacks over the year. John Edwards' candidature has been strong and has gotten stronger throughout the year, while Obama's has remained stuck at around 25%. The bad news for Clinton is that her support amongst Kossacks peaked around 11% a few months ago, and has declined ever since.

The Kossack straw poll is in contrast with mainline polls, which suggest that both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are the Democratic frontrunners while John Edwards is a distant third. But, as I pointed out a few days ago, polling data showed John Edwards being the only Democrat candidate who looks capable of beating every major Republican candidate.

If Hillary Clinton ends up as the Democratic nominee, there will be a solid block of conservatives in America who would rather vote for a flat-earth espousing Neo-Nazi, such is their distaste for the woman. That, however, is to be expected. What is important to realise is that there is a solid block of political progressives in America who don't like Hillary Clinton either and who will make it very difficult for her to become the Democratic nominee in the first place.

(Disclosure: I am a registered member of Daily Kos but did not contribute to the poll)

Cults, the Iraq War, Global Warming and Evaporative Cooling

Why is it that when cults fail in their prophecies, they can still retain a strong community?

One example of this is the failed 1975 prophecy by the Jehovah's Witnesses. Despite the complete failure of Jesus to return on that date, and despite a large amount of people leaving the movement as a result, quite a lot of people remained in the faith. Why?

Traditionally the explanation has been "cognitive dissonance", the ability of the group to keep a strong influence upon individuals within the group who are beginning to doubt. This no doubt provides some explanation.

However, in an interesting article entitled Evaporative Cooling of Group Beliefs, blogger Eliezer Yudkowsky has come up with an alternative explanation - or at least one that can fit neatly alongside cognitive dissonance.

It's a really strange idea since it takes into account the scientific process of examining how evaporative cooling works - yet it applies very well to the group situation.

Let me start off by quickly explaining how evaporative cooling works.

Basically, when a surface is covered with water (like human skin with sweat), the evaporation of this water from the surface causes it to cool down. In other words, the heating process of evaporation of something small results in the cooling of something big.

Now let's apply this to a group - say a religious cult with prophecies. Members of this group are not all equal in their adherence to the faith. Some are complete wackos, while some have the semblence of objective thinking. Altogether they represent the cult group. Now let's say that the prophecy passes without being fulfilled. What happens then? Well, all the objective, thinking group members leave, while all the wackos remain. Because the percentage of wackos in the group increases, the effect of the unfulfilled prophecy results in stronger belief amongst those who remain faithful, or at least giving the group a chance to exhibit cognitive dissonance, thus making it difficult for others to leave the group.

In other words, "heat" is applied to the group, and those who "heat up" end up leaving, while the ones left behind get "cooler".

It's a fascinating idea, and one which can also be applied to the Iraq War.

Back in 2003, the majority of Americans wanted to invade Iraq. A noisy minority protested, but the majority essentially gave Bush the impetus to invade. Years later, however, and the "heat" has been applied. The WMDs have not been found, statistical studies are now estimating the death toll at over 1 million Iraqis, and US troops are in harm's way without any real military objective except to shoot those who shoot at them.

You'd think that things like facts would change people's minds. Of course, facts have changed people's minds - just not all of them. As the majority of Americans slowly realised that the Iraq War was the wrong thing to do, they began to no longer support the war - "heat" was applied. With dwindling numbers, the pro-war side becomes even more committed to their cause - they begin to "cool" as they become smaller.

And, of course, "wackos" are less likely to use things like reasonable arguments to back up their cause. Instead they begin to use "ad hom" attacks upon their opponents, and even lie about them in order to keep their side "strong".

Interestingly, the same sort of thing is happening in the world of environmental science - specifically regarding global warming. Strangely enough it is not the global warming "believers" who are ending up being the wackos but the global warming deniers. Again, this is because of the evaporative effect. As more and more people begin to believe in the science of global warming, those who remain behind become more "wacko" in their denials and begin to "cherry pick" evidence, while at the same time accusing their opponents as being "wackos" who "cherry pick" evidence, thus exhibiting Psychological projection - seeing in other people their own faults and behaviour.

Depending upon the "faith" that these people have put their trust in, it is quite reasonable to expect that a minority of people will continually remain true to the "faith". Just as Southerners in the Civil War have been able to transfer their misguided feelings of injustice upon their descendants (who make up the Neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan of today), so will there be people in decades to come who will still think that the Iraq war was justified and Bush was the greatest president ever. Global warming deniers will probably change their minds in the future, but only when evidence goes against them and only if it suits them. They may say "Yes it is undeniable that the world is heating up and that millions of people have now lost their lives, and I also agree that previous attempts at explaining global warming were incorrect (that is, theories which said that is merely cyclical or based upon sunspots), but I would still argue that it is not due to CO2 based human activity but to something else yet to be determined by science."

Another innocent man jailed... and then freed

From the department of amateur-policing:
A Northern Ireland man has been cleared of the murders of 29 people who died in the Omagh bomb attack in 1998.

Sean Hoey, 38, of Molly Road in Jonesborough, was found not guilty of a total of 58 charges, including those not directly linked to the bombing.

Speaking at Belfast Crown Court, Mr Justice Weir was critical of police evidence and said they were guilty of a "deliberate and calculated deception".

He said transcripts of the trial had been sent to the police ombudsman.

In delivering his verdict, Mr Justice Weir referred to "a most disturbing situation exposed by the defence".

The judge said he was not satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that prosecution submissions showed that all explosive devices were made by one person.

Speaking after Thursday's verdict, Mr Hoey's solicitor, Peter Corrigan, said his client was an innocent man who had been completely vindicated.

"Today's judgement - a reasoned, lengthy and well considered judgement - completely vindicated this position that he maintained. Sean Hoey is an innocent man," he said.

Outside the court, Mr Hoey's mother Rita said: "I want the world to know that my son Sean Hoey is innocent.

"The authorities north and south have held two separate trials, but one witch-hunt."

"It was concluded that the evidence was sufficient to provide a reasonable prospect of obtaining a conviction"

Lawrence Rush, whose wife Elizabeth died in the explosion, said the case had been handled disastrously by the police.

"I wouldn't have liked the wrong man to be charged," he said.

Michael Gallagher, whose son Aidan was killed in the bombing, said a cross-border inquiry into the bombing should be set up by the British and Irish governments.
I have a great deal of time for police officers. They have a hard job. They deal with the worst people in society every day and never get a break.

But we all trust that police officers will, because of law, treat their job with seriousness, prudence and judiciousness. When they don't, innocent people end up suffering while the guilty go free.

While Sean Hoey sat in prison, knowing his innocence and suffering because of police incompetence, the real perpetrators of the bombing were walking freely around the streets. More than that, they were walking around happy in the knowledge that the police weren't looking for them since someone had been convicted of the crime already.

The tragedy behind police incompetence is often the dual result of an innocent man imprisoned (or, in the case of the US, occasionally executed) while the guilty are safe to resume their "normal" life.

So what's the solution? Better police officers for a start. Those entering the force/s must have already demonstrated their intelligence. More than that, police officers need to be paid well to ensure that they do not fall victim to bribery. Professional conduct must be drilled into them to ensure that mistakes like Omagh never happen again.

The Republicans in Congress

From the department of maybe-this-is-why-no-one -likes-them:
For quite a while, many of us have wondered whether Republican officials in Washington have any apparent talents at all. Governing is clearly not their strong suit, but are they completely without skills?

Absolutely not. The 49-member Senate Republican minority has done something no Senate minority in American history has ever done: they’ve filibustered more bills than any Congress ever has — and they broke the record with a full year to spare.

The latest came this morning, when the Senate GOP filibustered an omnibus budget bill, the 62nd Republican filibuster since the 110th Congress began in January.


The Spears family

From the Department of Ironic punishment:
A book about parenting by Britney Spears's mother has been delayed indefinitely, her publisher said.

Lynne Spears's memoir was put on hold last week, Lindsey Nobles, a spokeswoman for Christian book publisher Thomas Nelson Inc, said. She declined to comment on whether the delay was connected to the revelation that Spears's 16-year-old daughter, Jamie Lynn, is pregnant.

"I can tell you that we are standing behind Lynne and supporting her decision to be with her family at this time," Nobles said.

'Pop Culture Mom: A Real Story of Fame and Family in a Tabloid World was initially scheduled for release May 11, Mother's Day in the United States.

Spears, the mother of three children with ex-husband Jamie Spears, had been working with a Michigan-based freelancer since March on the memoir chronicling her experiences raising a family in the public eye.

Jamie Lynn Spears, star of Nickelodeon's Zoey 101 and sister of Britney, told OK! magazine in its new issue that she is expecting her first child and the father is boyfriend Casey Aldridge.

Nobles and representatives for Britney Spears said they did not know how Lynne Spears could be reached for comment about the status of her book.
I don't know what's worse - the fact that Lynne Spears could actually write a book about parenting... or the fact that it was going to be released by a Christian publishing company.

The Secret Speech

Since I'm into all things Russian today, I have been reading up on Nikita Khrushchev's "secret speech" that he gave in 1956. This speech was instrumental in changing the Soviet Union after Stalin's death, mainly because it was a fair and honest assessment of the massive damage that Stalin did not just to Russians, but to Communist Ideology.

It was a very brave move on Khrushchev's part, and it amazes me even today to think that the guy ended up being the Soviet Union's no. 1 man.

What I find interesting is this quote from the speech:
Stalin originated the concept 'enemy of the people.' This term automatically made it unnecessary that the ideological errors of a man or men engaged in a controversy be proven. It made possible the use of the cruelest repression, violating all norms of revolutionary legality, against anyone who in any way disagreed with Stalin, against those who were only suspected of hostile intent… On the whole, the only proof of guilt actually used, against all norms of current legal science, was the 'confession' of the accused himself. As subsequent probing has proven, 'confessions' were acquired through physical pressures against the accused. This led to glaring violations of revolutionary legality and to the fact that many entirely innocent individuals… became victims."
Given the current debate about "waterboarding" in the US, it seems striking to consider that 50 years ago, the Soviet Union realised that torture simply did not work.

Putin - Man of the Year

Vladimir Putin has been awarded Time Magazine's Person of the Year.

Ever since I studied Russian history at University, the land of Rus has been of great interest to me. Russia's rise to superpower status under the Soviet regime was not without devastating brutality but it was certainly effective. Through their own hard work and careful intelligence, Russia sent the first satellite into orbit, the first man into orbit, posed a viable threat to the US, and had a standard of living that rivalled anywhere in the West... up until the 1970s that is.

It was China who first discovered that pure communism - even that which arose from its own ranks - was not going to work. The multitude of deaths that occurred during the "great leap forward" - as ironic as any term in history - convinced the Chinese communists to put aside pure ideology and instead focus upon what actually worked. And if that meant returning some of the economy to capitalism, then so be it. In years to come, the name Deng Xiaoping will be respected the world over for his influence in developing "Socialism with Chinese Characteristics" - a code word for economic reform. Under Deng's leadership, China moved from being a poverty-stricken third world nation into what it is today, an industrialised and prosperous society. Deng's reforms so changed China that it could be argued that he saved the lives of countless millions of his countrymen, and reduced poverty more effectively than anyone else in history.

But what of Putin and Russia? Gorbachev did, I think, try to reform the economy much in the same way as Deng, but he was not always popular. When Russian communism collapsed in 1991, the resulting social and economic chaos was not what supporters of democracy and capitalism wished. In fact, Russia was in terrible danger of repeating the post-revolutionary conditions of the 1920s where no one in power really knew what to do while the population starved.

The United Nations Human Development Index paints a very stark picture of Russia after communism collapsed. The index, which takes into account three equal measures of development - GDP per capita, educational attainment and average life expectancy - shows a frightening decline from 1990 (HDI of 0.818, which is equivalent to a first world nation) to 1995 (0.771, a second world nation). With this evidence in hand we can pretty much assume that the 5 year period between 1990 and 1995 saw massive financial losses, higher levels of poverty and higher death rates amongst ordinary Russians. By the year 2000 - and the end of Boris Yeltsin's reign - Russia's HDI had risen only slightly (to 0.785), which indicates a recovery of sorts, but certainly not enough to erase the devastation of 1990-1995.

The last time Russia's HDI was measured was in 2004 (0.797), which indicated that Russia's standard of living was continuing to improve. Moreover, Russia's GDP continues to grow at around 7% pa, showing that the economic reforms that were implemented are now beginning to bear fruit.

Putin will not be thought of in the same way as Deng. Putin's reforms were never as widespread or as effective or as life changing as Deng's. Yet there is no doubt that under his rule, Russia has become more peaceful and more prosperous. Election oddities aside, Putin remains a popular figure in his country and they will not soon forget him.

It's not that Putin is somehow saintly. All the evidence points to him lining his own pockets from ventures like Gazprom. He won't be remembered for being a democracy lover either, with evidence pointing to electoral corruption and even the "elimination" of political threats. What he won't go down in history though is as a military dictator - the conflicts in Chechnya and other places in the Caucasus were never resolved under his rule, but they were never expanded either. Moreover, he won't go down in history as a person who ruined the economy because of his own stupidity, like Stalin in the 1930s and Mugabe today. Certainly Moscow and other cities are still plagued with crime, but the foundations of civil society are still being laid which means that things are more likely to get better.

Putin is smart. Lacking the charisma of previous leaders, Putin fought for respect based upon his competence and his connections. If you look at world leaders, Putin is probably the most corrupt, yet you cannot argue that he lined his pockets by doing the right thing.

I believe that democracy is the best form of government around. Russia under Putin is hardly a functioning democracy. Yet I would also argue that for democracy to succeed and grow it needs a peaceful and prosperous populace. Putin has provided this foundation, let's hope that subsequent leaders can build upon what he has laid.


Shrek 3

Score: 5/10 The Shrek franchise is losing its freshness. The move from singleness (1) to marriage (2) to parents (3) appears to be too sentimental. What's next? Divorce? Death?

Character Analysis
  • Shrek. The guy LIED to Arthur. More than that, he didn't apologise for it. Usually this sort of thing leads to a moral in the story but it didn't.
  • Fiona. How many women leave the good news of pregnancy to the extreme last minute of their husband's departure?
  • King Harold. We sort of liked this guy in 2. When he "croaks" in 3 there is this painful joke filled scene. It was very difficult to feel anything for him after that. When people ask when the Shrek franchise jumped the shark, it was when King Harold croaked.
  • Merlin. Probably one of the better new characters. Played by Eric Idle who seemed to be above such a part.
  • Prince Charming. In 2 he was good, in 3 he was just plain annoying.
  • Donkey and Puss. Reduced to wise-cracking sidekicks.
  • Any ditzy, valley-girl like female, including the girls at the school and Fiona's princess friends. We all hate Paris, Britney and others. Why ruin a good film with them?
  • Arthur. Why not actually hire a real teenage boy to be the voice actor rather than getting Justin Timberlake to do it? He wasn't likeable. Being named Arthur Pendragon was a good move - but where's the sword in the stone? You might as well name him Superman and not have him leap tall buildings.
  • Rapunzel. For a while there I thought she would end up being a Mirage type character but she just ended up wearing a wig.
Best moment: Snow White doing her singing routine with the cute woodland creatures which is then suddenly changed by the onset of Led Zeppelin's Immigrant Song, while the cute woodland creatures are sent forth to attack from a very evil looking Snow White (Actually every time I hear snippets of the Immigrant Song in films it always does well. Obviously Page / Plant / Jones / Estate of John Bonham didn't allow the producers to use more than a small snippet. Perhaps they needed Jack Black to help).

Worst moment: The believe in yourself moral at the end of the story.

Tasmania is Green

Tasmania, Australia's smallest and poorest state, is the state in which most people vote for the Green party.

In the 2007 Federal Elections, 7.8% of Australia's population voted Green.

In the seat of Bass it was 15.3%
In the seat of Braddon it was 8.1%
In the seat of Denison it was 18.6%
In the seat of Franklin it was 14.4%
In the seat of Lyons it was 11.2%

Total first preference votes from Tasmania: 334,938
Total Green votes from Tasmania: 43,893
% of Tasmanians who voted Green: 13.1%

That's almost twice the national average. In other words, if you live in Tasmania, you are almost twice as likely to vote for the Greens as anywhere else in Australia.

This is not surprising since, in 1972, the United Tasmania Group formed, which was the first Green political party in the world. One of the leaders of the UTG was Bob Brown, who is now the leader of the Australian Greens.

Two mainland lower house seats had greater Green votes than Denison: Melbourne (22.8%) and Sydney (20.7%). Craig Schwarze lives in the Sydney seat, which is ironic considering his environmental stance (or maybe it's appropriate!). The Queensland seat of Flynn is the least "Green" of all lower house seats, gaining a mere 2.0% of the primary vote.

It was the Victorian seat of Melbourne (which I mentioned above) which nearly resulted in the Greens getting more votes than the Liberal party (19,967 vs 20,578). Had the Greens gotten more votes it would have resulted in a run-off between the ALP candidate and the Greens candidate (which would've been won by the ALP for sure). I am reasonably certain that by the next federal election, at least 3 lower house seats will involve the Greens as part of the 2-party run-off (but probably not win any of them).

Cheap Solar on its way

From the department of technological-cornucopia:
While many photovoltaic start-up companies are concentrating on increasing the efficiency with which their systems convert sunlight, Nanosolar has focused on lowering the manufacturing cost. Its process is akin to a large printing press, rather than the usual semiconductor manufacturing techniques that deposit thin films on silicon wafers.

Nanosolar’s founder and chief executive, Martin Roscheisen, claims to be the first solar panel manufacturer to be able to profitably sell solar panels for less than $1 a watt. That is the price at which solar energy becomes less expensive than coal.

“With a $1-per-watt panel,” he said, “it is possible to build $2-per-watt systems.”

According to the Energy Department, building a new coal plant costs about $2.1 a watt, plus the cost of fuel and emissions, he said.

The first Nanosolar panels are destined for a one-megawatt solar plant to be installed in Germany on a former landfill owned by a waste management company. The plant, being developed by Beck Energy, is expected to initially supply electrical power for about 400 homes.
Even if the costs are 50% higher than coal ($3 per watt) it would still be competitive since many people wish to have completely green energy. But what happens when the sun goes down? What about all the baseload crap that semi-informed people seem to go on about. Click here.

December Solstice

Some oil stats for you

This photoshopped image has been shamelessly stolen from Something Awful.

More plaudits for Al Gore

From the department of what's-really-important:
STOCKHOLM—2007 was an extraordinary year for former vice president Al Gore, who received the highest honors in both film and humanitarianism for his tireless efforts in creating a visually pleasing, hour-long slide-show presentation using the popular computer program Keynote.

The slide show, which features approximately 80 full-color pictures of landforms and people, as well as a vast array of detailed line and bar graphs, proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that a successful visual presentation must utilize both an application's audio and graphic capabilities. Furthermore, Gore effectively silenced many of his critics by incorporating short videos.

"The Nobel Committee was deeply moved by Mr. Gore's passion for making a clear, concise, easy-to-watch slide show," Professor Geir Lundestad, director of the Nobel Institute, told reporters in late October. "[The slide show] truly displayed how well-placed transitions—be they dissolves, wipes, or splits—can really tie a presentation together."

Added Lundestad: "Also, the slides with multi-image animation were cool."
Another great plaudit from America's finest news source.


Who said this?

Abortion, environmentalism, AIDS, pornography, drug abuse, and homosexual activism have fragmented and polarized our communities.
Hint - They're American, and it's not someone left wing.


Yes Ron Lankshear got it right (he probably did a Google search) it is, indeed, Republican presidential candidate and evangelical Mike Huckabee who is quite happy to label people who care for the environment as being just as bad as AIDS.


Some interesting US poll data

  • 57% of Americans think the country is in recession. Source. Obviously people are feeling scared.
  • 61% of Americans think that some tax cuts should be reversed. Source. This is mainly repealing tax cuts for the rich, rather than the mainstream.
  • 52% of Americans think that the Democrats are best suited to handle the budget deficit, while 29% think that the Republicans are best suited. Source. The idea that Republicans are good economic managers has been shot to pieces.
  • 50% of Americans think that illegal immigrants have made no negative impact on their community. Source. A substantial minority do have problems, but I think this shows that many Americans see the issue as being overstated.
  • 73% of Americans think that Global Warming will be a major problem in 50 years. Source. Obviously they don't think it is a problem now, but believe it will be in the distant future.
  • 18% of Americans think Iran should be bombed. 73% of Americans think that diplomatic and economic efforts should be used to address problems with Iran. Source. Americans don't want to bomb Iran. They want this fixed up the old fashioned way - by talking.
  • 68% of Americans oppose the US war in Iraq. 59% believe that neither side is winning. Source.
  • 61% of Americans are not too worried about the chances of being directly harmed by terrorists. Source. The further we get from 9/11 without any further terrorist attacks, the safer average Americans feel.
  • 81% of Americans are unhappy with the nation's health care. Source. The next president and the 2009 Congress should act on this straight away.
  • 79% of Americans approve of marriage between blacks and whites, while 15% disapprove. In 1994, the approval rating was 48% and the disapproval rating was 37%. In 1983, 43% approved while 50% disapproved. In 1978, 35% approved and 54% disapproved. In 1972, 29% approved and 60% disapproved. In 1968, 20% approved and 73% disapproved. In 1958, 4% approved and 94% disapproved. Source. More than anything else, this poll, dating back to 1958, shows just how much American society has changed in 50 years.
  • 70% of Americans are dissatisfied with the country's direction. Source.
  • 64% of Americans disapprove of how George W. Bush is doing his job. It has been around this percentage for at least 12 months. Source. The same disapproval percentage is seen with the Democrat controlled Congress. Source. I would argue that the reason why Americans don't like the Democrat controlled Congress is because they haven't made a stand against George Bush.
  • 53% of Americans would probably vote Democrat in the 2008 congressional elections. Source.
  • 50% of Americans have an unfavourable attitude towards Hillary Clinton. Source. This is an important statistic. Obviously there are people out there who can't stand her.
  • 16% of Americans have an unfavourable attitude towards Mike Huckabee. 33% have a favourable attitude. 33% don't know who he is. Source. Huckabee is suffering because of voter ignorance. Who knows what will happen when he becomes better known?
  • 53% of Americans have a favourable attitude towards Barack Obama. 33% unfavourable. Source. Shows again how much America has changed regarding race.
  • 36% of Americans have a favourable attitude towards Mitt Romney. 30% unfavourable. 20% don't know who he is. Source. Not a good start for a potential Republican candidate.
  • 52% of Americans have a favourable attitude towards Rudy Guiliani. Source. Obviously he is still held in highish regard after 9/11.
  • More Americans would vote for John Edwards over Rudy Guiliani, Mitt Romney, John McCain or Mike Huckabee. Source. This is interesting since Clinton and Obama don't run as well against these Republicans. It probably shows that Edwards has some level of public trust that other Democrats don't have.
  • Whichever candidate ends up running, 48% of Americans would probably vote Democrat while 31% would probably vote Republican. Source. Even though lots of people are undecided, such a big spread essentially guarantees a Democrat in the White House in 2009.
  • 46% of Americans have a favourable attitude towards Al Gore, while 29% do not. In June it was 34% favourable and 40% not favourable. Source. This shows that Gore's Nobel Prize turned many Americans to favour him.

Catching the Subprime Flu

From the Department of Economic-Influenza:
Centro Properties Group has become the biggest local victim of the US sub-prime mortgage crisis after higher funding costs forced it to downgrade of its distribution guidance, causing its shares to plunge by more than 70 per cent.

Australia's second largest shopping centre owner today downgraded its full year distribution guidance by 14 per cent to 40.6 cents, from 47 cents.

It also announced it would not pay a distribution for the first half of the 2008 financial year as it revealed it had failed to refinance $1.3 billion of maturing debt although.

Centra has obtained an extension until February 15 to refinance the debt.

Centro Properties Group says its business is still solvent, at least until February, and says that up until late last week, it believed it could refinance its longer term debt.

Centro said today in a statement: "We never expected, nor could reasonably anticipate, that the sources of funding that have historically been available to us and many other companies would shut for business.''

The market was already expecting bad news from Centro, which went into a trading halt last Thursday, citing the need for ``revised earnings guidance.

But today's announcement was far worse than investors expected.
Yep, we Aussies are beginning to catch the flu too. While our housing market here is probably not as structurally unsound as the US market is, it has been overpriced for years, which means that we'll probably have a "market correction" as well. Although we don't have the same extent of subprime mortgages (either in number or in proportion), our economy has been drifting quite a bit on the breeze of the international housing bubble.

The Australian Share Market shed around 3.5% - losing about $54 Billion in value - in one day as a result.

Look forward to a very depressing 2008.

Reducing CO2 output through market regulation

When the market cannot produce a positive outcome, oftentimes it is left up to government to change market behaviour. One way is through what I would term "old socialism", in which entire markets are nationalised and the goods and services they produce are determined by a committee rather than the marketplace.

"Old Socialism" has pretty much failed to deliver over the years but there are some segments of the marketplace that require complete government control. This would include national defence (the army, navy and air force), as well as law enforcement (police) and the judicial system (courts and judges). Moreover, it is increasingly obvious that health care outcomes under a government health system are superior to a completely market based system.

Electricity Generation - once the responsibility of government - is now increasingly seen as something which the market can provide. My father, an electrical engineer, used to work for the NSW Electricity Commission. In the decades that he worked there, he was responsible for designing some of the most important coal-fired power stations in NSW. From about the year 2000 onwards, people around NSW (and Australia) have been able to pick and choose which power company they get their electricity from. The electricity flows through the same grid, but each company raises revenue from their own power generation facilities. Many of the power stations that my father helped design are now being run by companies like Origin Energy, Energy Australia, Eraring Energy and Delta Energy. Some of these companies are fully owned by the NSW government, but only until the government has the chance to sell them off or privatise them.

But although I believe very much that electricity generation is best left to the market, I also believe that government is essential in regulating this market. When it comes to reducing CO2 levels, government regulation - rather than government spending - is probably the best way to go.

The regulation could be quite simple, say, a law which states that no electricity generated beyond 2020 is allowed to generate carbon dioxide. With such a law in place, all coal-fired power stations have essentially been given a "death date" - a date beyond which they are no longer allowed to operate. But since the timeframe is reasonably long - 12 years - it will allow energy companies time to develop, build and install power generators that emit no carbon dioxide. These would include solar panels, wind turbines, tidal generators... you name it. Moreover, by leaving the market to choose, it allows individual generating companies to make decisions based upon cost and efficiency.

Of course there is one problem with this - the electricity will cost more. That is, literally, the price we have to pay in order to reduce carbon emissions. I've always felt that, if electricity supplies are privatised, that consumers require a clear understanding of how much their electricity costs. It seems obvious that an in-house electricity meter be installed (say, near the front door), which can provide householders with an ongoing reading of how much money their power use is costing. In other words, a householder can simply check the reading every so often and see how much money his/her electricity use is costing. This will result in more judicious electricity usage, as people will turn off lights, heaters, air conditioners and appliances when required in order to save money. Since reducing electricity usage is a good thing, such meters would be mandatory in every household.

At the same time as these regulations are set up, laws would also be relaxed that would allow electricity generators (like wind and solar) to be set up easily and quickly. Electricity companies would be allowed to purchase land and use it to build generators with the minimum of fuss and red tape.

So, that's electricity generation. What about motor vehicles?

CO2 emissions from motor vehicles are not as great as those produced by electricity generation, but it still represents a significant amount. Reducing CO2 from motor vehicles is essential, not least because it will also wean us off oil.

The best regulation I can think of is to set a date whereby no new vehicles are allowed to be registered if they emit CO2. For example, say that no new vehicle can be registered that emits CO2 from 2014 onwards. This gives the market six years to prepare, and six years for mass produced battery powered vehicles to be designed. The good thing about this plan is that petrol-powered cars and other vehicles can still be owned and run after the 2014 date. But, as the years go by, more and more of these cars will be scrapped and replaced by electric ones. It also allows people who love cars and love souping them up to keep driving them for pleasure - much in the same way as vintage cars kept lovingly in a garage.

Again, this sort of regulation requires very little in terms of government spending and little in terms of taxation. It is simply a rule that the market must follow.

Of course, after 2014 and after the introduction of electric vehicles, it will become increasingly obvious that travelling the same distances to work by car will cost more. This will result in people wishing to live in more urbanised communities and ride bikes around. It will essentially become a new urbanism created and designed by the market according to people's needs (rather than being centrally planned by government).

These ideas of mine do not mean that government can't help out financially. Giving millions of dollars of grants to energy companies to help them design, build and install alternative energy generators would certainly not go astray, as would giving tax breaks to these companies.


This photoshopped image has been shamelessly stolen from Something Awful.

Ex mas

Aiden came up to me after church this morning and said "Dad! I know what the wise men gave Jesus!".

"Okay, what were they?" says me

"Gold, Frankenstein and Myrrh!"

And he was serious too...

Reminds me also of when I was a lad I was in 5th Grade (about 10 years old) and was singing in the school spectacular at the Opera House. We sang this song which included the phrase "Hosanna in excelsis".

Not knowing much about the Bible at the time, and knowing that this was a somewhat religious song, I always wondered who this Hosanna guy was and where this place called Excelsis was that he was in.


Something for you Alien fans

This photoshopped image has been shamelessly stolen from Something Awful.

NYSE adopts Linux

From the department of it-makes-perfect -business-sense:
The New York Stock Exchange is investing heavily in x86-based Linux systems and blade servers as it builds out the NYSE Hybrid Market trading system that it launched last year. Flexibility and lower cost are among the goals. But one of the things that NYSE Euronext CIO Steve Rubinow says he most wants from the new computing architecture is technology independence.

"What we want is to be able to take advantage of technology advances when they happen," Rubinow said. "We're trying to be as independent of any technologies as we can be."

The Hybrid Market system lets NYSE traders buy and sell stocks electronically or on the exchange's trading floor. The NYSE has been turning to x86 technology to power the trading system, largely using servers from Hewlett-Packard Co., the two companies announced this week.

The NYSE has installed about 200 of HP's ProLiant DL585 four-processor servers and 400 of its ProLiant BL685c blades, all running Linux and based on dual-core Opteron processors from Advanced Micro Devices Inc. In addition, the stock exchange is using HP's Integrity NonStop servers, which are based on Intel Corp.'s Itanium processors and run the fault-tolerant NonStop OS operating system, as well as its OpenView management software.
Of course it'll be wonderfully ironic if Microsoft Shares are bought and sold on Linux software, but they list on the Nasdaq.

Evolutionist kills Creationist in argument

The argument was about evolution vs creationism. I don't have a link to it though because I made the story up in my mind.

I have another link though which creationists won't like.


One for you Star Wars fans...

This photoshopped image has been shamelessly stolen from Something Awful.

The importance of cold, hard, facts

What drives you? Ideology? Pragmatism? Or maybe a bit of both?

When it comes to issues of faith - which arguably could be defined as ideology - there is much that can't be tested or prodded scientifically. God can't be proven to exist in a lab, or via some form of empirical testing. Of course the fact that God can't be proven to exist in this manner does not mean he doesn't, since there are limits to what science can achieve (although it can achieve quite a lot).

It's when ideology (not faith) hits the real world that its advantages and disadvantages are shown up. Imagine ideology like a tyre built for motorcycles in the MotoGP - if built correctly it serves brilliantly, but one small mistake could end in a crash.

Communism is a classic case of ideology driving a society into poverty. Soviet central planners, in their desire to remain ideologically pure, instituted economic processes that fitted with their ideology - namely, that supply, demand and price is set by the planner rather than the horrible "market" that those dreaded capitalist countries used. The problem was that central planning just didn't work. Too much of one thing was made, resulting in warehouses full of unused products (like spare parts for steam trains), while too little of other things were made, resulting in shortages, and prices were set by committee, resulting in queues and black market profiteers.

Soviet Communism worked quite well from about 1950 until 1970. But from 1970 onwards, it was obvious that a limit had been reached. Economic growth stagnated, people's standard of living drifted downwards and ordinary Russians began to quietly grumble. It took the Soviet Union about 15 years to realise that its ideological practices were simply not working. A change was needed. Then Gorbachev arrived, Perestroika was introduced, and the rest is history.

Ideology that is unsupported by cold, hard, facts becomes useless. One of the reasons why economic neoliberalism (a freeing up of markets) has become so popular over the years is that it has worked. Yet, even now, free market ideology is blinding many people as to its limits. Facts - cold hard facts - need to be assessed and digested in order for ideology to work. Ideology itself needs to change by the presentation of objectively sourced facts.

Back in either 1981 or 1982 a group of Greenies came to Epping Boys High School. These greenies were worried about oil. Our teacher allowed them into our class where they presented their facts and got us to discuss them. The facts were obvious - oil was running out and there may not be enough oil to power our cars by the year 1990. They presented graphs and gave compelling evidence that this was occurring. Of course, I was about 13 at the time so I wasn't really looking ahead to 1990 and the international calamity that was going to befall us.

It was in 1990 that I vaguely remembered those strange greenies. "These guys said we were going to suddenly run out of oil" I said to myself, "What a bunch of losers! There's plenty of oil out there". And so was my opinion - my ideology - created out of cold, hard, facts.

So when in 2004 my friend Dave emailed me about this thing called "Peak Oil" that the world was running out of oil, I was scarcely in the mood to listen. I had read in the Economist magazine that the world had about 100 years of oil reserves left in the ground. While Dave was going psycho, I was just nodding my head and telling him what I knew.

In hindsight, Dave's refusal to give up his argument was the best thing to happen. The reason was (and still is) that I am a firm believer in cold, hard facts. So rather than just dismissing Dave as a raving looney, I sought to discredit his argument. I read up about Peak Oil. I visited the ASPO site. I eventually came to grips with the science behind Hubbert's Peak.

And, armed with all this information, what did I do?

I changed my mind.

Why? Why did I embrace the idea of Peak Oil when my first experience of oil doomers was so negative? Well, first of all, was the removal of an important assumption - that these people were saying that the world would suddenly run out of oil. No. After looking at Peak Oil and understanding the concepts behind it, I realised that the world was never going to suddenly run out of oil - it was going to slowly run out of oil.

It was then that I realised that those greenies back in 1982 were actually correct in theory, but wrong in their predictions. The reason why their predictions were wrong was that the facts they relied upon were going out of date. These greenies were looking at proven oil reserves and average oil consumption at the time - both of which changed drastically during the 1980s (oil reserves grew, oil consumption dropped). These early peakniks may have left me (and others) with the impression that oil was going to suddenly run out, but, the truth was, that they were early adopters of a real problem, but had not been given the correct information. In other words, cold, hard facts.

These days it is different. Peak Oil has entered the mainstream. Moreover, there are cold, hard facts behind it. Oil production levels worldwide have been at a plateau for the past 12-18 months while the price of oil has skyrocketed - proof that something is preventing oil supplies meeting demand. Then there's the cold, hard facts about American oil production, which peaked in the early 1970s and has been in decline ever since - empirical proof that Hubbert's Peak is good science.

This same phenomenon - cold, hard, facts - is what has also turned me into a "believer" in anthropogenic global warming.

The thing is, I was interested in global warming and its potential effects long before it became a political issue. Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s I remember examining all the potential explanations - that warming was a cyclical phenomenon, that sunspots were to blame, that "urban heat islands" were distorting temperature measurements. I looked at them all and still came away convinced that, while world temperatures were affected by exogenous phenomena (sunspots, Milankovich cycle), there seemed to be very clear evidence that a) CO2 levels in the atmosphere affect global temperatures (the more CO2, the warmer it is), and b) that CO2 levels in the world's atmosphere have been rising substantially since the industrial revolution. Years before Gore did his film, I was a believer.

And it wasn't as though I didn't go through doubts - I did. For a time I became a denier - but, again, this was before the whole issue became political. Talking to science teachers helped too. In fact, one science teacher in a science staffroom spoke out in favour of global warming, arguing that it was a good thing and created life - much to the surprise of the rest of the staffroom, who couldn't believe that the guy's arguments were anything but bunkum. But all this was before it was political. The science teachers who were "believers" so many years ago were not left-wing communist greens, and the science teacher who was a "denier" was not a free-market, small-government conservative.

These days it is much more difficult to maintain a position on global warming without somehow siding on one side of the political fence, or at least being accused of doing so.

One problem, of course, is the Green movement itself. Back in the 1990s, Greenies had a broad environmental agenda. They were more cognizant of global warming than the rest of the population, but they also focused upon the Ozone layer, the extinction of plants and animals, as well as encouraging people to become vegetarians. So, as global warming became more part of international consciousness, those who spoke up about it were generally greenies - which meant that they automatically alienated a significant portion of the population to the message since it then became political. These days greenies focus very strongly on global warming.

Back when John Howard came to power, I was very much a hater of greenies and lefties, strange as it might seem. This view was backed up by my very limited exposure to university politics at Macquarie University. In the late 1990s, Australia was definitely moving in a conservative direction, and all the whining, bleating, feminists and environmentalists and political activists were yelling the most at Uni. For a while under John Howard I became quite politically conservative as well (and I voted for him).

It seems strange now that I vote for the Greens when I have such bad memories of them. There is something quite uniquely distasteful about leftist political protesting. I remember when a bunch of feminists protested against the introduction of the GST by complaining that tampons would be taxed - they turned up at a political meet wearing women's underpants on the outside of their jeans, with red paint smearing the nether regions of the underwear as they claimed that the GST would make tampons less affordable, thus making the GST anti-women. It was a very low point in my opinion towards lefties.

But the reason why I vote Green these days is not because of these strange anti-GST feminists, or the freeway protester who flipped her middle finger at me as I rode by on my motorbike (they were protesting against the freeway's existence on a pedestrian bridge. As I rode closer to them I waved and the woman flipped me off in response). No. Even though I don't like their choice of clothes or even the fact that their economics is too left wing for me, they were right about global warming. They were convinced by the cold, hard facts and came to the same conclusion that I did.

I'm not a "greenie". I eat meat, I drive a car, use disposable nappies and think that capitalism is not all evil. But I can't get away from cold, hard, facts.

I contacted a friend of mine last week. He's a godly man from my old church. He's just completed his M.Div and is currently looking to join a missionary organisation. The idea is that he go to a developing nation as an academic and become a tent-maker. What sort of academic is he? He has a Ph.D in earth sciences, specifically in studying the effects of tropical cyclones in flooding Fiji. Not only is this guy a conservative evangelical who knows his Koine Greek and has an M.Div from Bible College, but he is also a climatologist with a doctorate. When I asked him about anthropogenic global warming, he comes down firmly on the "believer" side. I don't know what party this guy votes for, or whether he considers himself politically left or politically right. What I do know is that his opinion on global warming matters, and his expert opinion matches the opinion of my own - "informed amateur" I may be.

Let me finish by talking about Al Gore quickly. Al mentioned in his film that there were no peer reviewed scientific papers that disagreed with anthropogenic global warming. This statement is based upon a paper released by Naomi Oreskes (link, pdf, 71.2kb), in which she examines every single peer reviewed scientific paper on climate change between 1993 and 2003 - a total of 928 articles by climatologists and other experts - and finds that none of them expressed any doubt whatsoever that the current phenomenon of global warming has human activity at its basis. Moreover, reputable scientific bodies all over the world have released statements affirming their belief in anthropogenic climate change (read more here).

Al may be a Democrat. Al may have his own political ambitions. Al may even have ulterior motives behind his film. But he is right. Global Warming is a truth that is very, very inconvenient.


No Escape

From the department of more-bad-news:
Oil prices rebounded on fresh hopes that the global economy could remain robust after unprecedented action taken by a number of key central banks.

The plan to make available billions of dollars worth of loans to cash-strapped banks pushed a barrel of New York light crude up $4 to $94 a barrel.

A US government report showing an unexpected fall in crude stocks and heating oil also lifted supply fears.

Brent crude also hit $94 a barrel after sinking to $88 a barrel last week.

By the end of last week, world oil prices had fallen more than $10 from their November peak on worries that the US economy - the largest oil consumer - was heading toward a recession, induced by a severe housing market slowdown and prolonged turmoil in the financial markets.

But a quarter point cut in US interest rates to 4.25% from 4.5%, delivered by the Federal Reserve after its meeting on Tuesday, persuaded energy traders that the Fed was focused on relieving the pressures facing the US economy and put oil back on the front foot.
I have to laugh at the behaviour of world markets. With a "plan" to bring about economic growth, oil spikes again to the mid 90s. The Fed cuts interest rates a few months ago and the sharemarket booms while the US Dollar collapses. The Fed cuts interest rates the other day and the sharemarket collapses while the US Dollar does nothing.

There's no escape. Once the iceberg hit the Titanic was going to sink. Rearranging deckchairs aint gonna to a thing.

Ike Turner Dead

Sure, I've slapped Tina... There have been times when I punched her to the ground without thinking. But I never beat her.
- a quote from his autobiography.

There are no megachurches in Vermont


Insufferable smugness

From the department of I-told-you-so-two-years-ago:
Morgan Stanley has issued a full recession alert for the US economy, warning of a sharp slowdown in business investment and a "perfect storm" for consumers as the housing slump spreads.

In a report "Recession Coming" released today, the bank's US team said the credit crunch had started to inflict serious damage on US companies.

"Slipping sales and tightening credit are pushing companies into liquidation mode, especially in motor vehicles," it said.

"Three-month dollar Libor spreads have jumped by 60 to 80 basis points over the last month. High yield spreads have widened even more significantly. The absolute cost of borrowing is higher than in June."

"As delinquencies and defaults soar, lenders are tightening credit for commercial, credit card and auto lending, as well as for all mortgage borrowers," said the report, written by the bank's chief US economist Dick Berner. He said the foreclosure rate on residential mortgages had reached a 19-year high of 5.59pc in the third quarter while the glut of unsold properties would lead to a 40pc crash in housing construction.

"We think overall housing starts will run below one million units in each of the next two years -- a level not seen in the history of the modern data since 1959," he said.

Although the US job market has apparently held up well, an average monthly fall of 138,000 in the number of self-employed workers over the last quarter suggests it may now be buckling. "Consumers face what could be a perfect storm," said Mr Berner.
He even uses the phrase "perfect storm". Have you been reading my blog Dick?

If only I could make money from getting predictions like this right.

Just watched a DVD

I just watched Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.

Complete tripe, as I expected.

And what about Jessica Alba? The only reason she's in films these days is to be eye candy and be risqué with clothing or lack of it.

Just discovered that the guy who played Dr Doom is the Australian actor Julian McMahon, whose claim to fame is being the second son of William McMahon, the 20th Prime Minister of Australia.


A two-year-old boy has died of a heart attack, caused by croup, shortly after arriving in Sydney on an international flight from Thailand, police say.

An ambulance spokesman said the boy had croup, a respiratory disease that leads to continued coughing that affects toddlers.

The boy fell ill during a Thai Airways flight from Bangkok, which landed about 9.30pm yesterday.

An ambulance was called at 9.35pm and arrived at 9.41pm, a spokesman said.

The boy was taken to Sydney Children's Hospital at Randwick and later died.

A spokeswoman for the hospital said he was "pretty close to death" when he arrived.

The boy's family are not Australian citizens but are living here, a spokeswoman for the Swedish embassy in Canberra said. - SMH
Aiden has had croup on a number of occasions. It's a very distressing condition. To have your kid die of it would be horrendous.

Why Creepy? Last night Aiden woke us up with croup. We had some steroids so he was okay after a while.

Good customer service

These are three examples of good customer service I have had recently.

On the weekend, my son lost his wallet at K-Mart. He came home very upset because he was going to use the money in it (about $10-$15) to buy some toys or cards or whatever. He had simply put the wallet down and forgot about it (he's only 7). I went to the customer service desk, asked them if they had any missing wallets handed in. They didn't, but asked me to leave my name and number in case they do find it (his details were not in it). A man standing behind me in the queue said "good luck!", meaning there was more chance of the Beatles reforming with cloned and quickly-aged copies of John Lennon and George Harrison than there was of my son's wallet being returned. Well, an hour ago K-Mart called. The wallet's been found. Not only did they keep my slip of paper with my details, but someone remembered. And that was a day when the queue at the customer service counter was longer than the check-out queue.

Cricinfo is nice to me too - especially when I fill out their contact form. Of course there is the obligatory computer generated we-love-you-more-than-anything response. What I am continually amazed about, though, is that I have sent a couple of emails to Steven (of ask Steven) and Peter English, who both have replied personally. Moreover, I had an issue with the site recently (a dead link) and not only was I contacted immediately about it but the problem was solved almost immediately. I've even had a few Cricinfo staff write in response to some of the more crazy cricket ideas that I have sent them.

The final one is the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. Last year when I complained about a non-updated weather station, not only did I get a response straight away but when the page was finally updated I was emailed to let me know it was working again. This sort of service is not unheard of from the BOM - a teacher at Griffith told me last year that he once contacted the BOM about their weather radar page and suggested it would be best if the map of Australia showing the radar sites was at the top of the web page rather than at the bottom. They listened to him.

So remember, if you are dealing with customers - not even paying ones - you can make an impact.

Matthew J. Murray and YWAM

Matthew J. Murray, the shooter in the recent spree killings in Colorado, had some interesting history.

His parents were deeply religious; they homeschooled him; and he attempted to join a 12 week YWAM course.

I've seen YWAM at work. I was once moved to tears by a gospel presentation they did in a local high school many years ago. I was also led into spiritual confusion in my early Christian days by a YWAMer who got us to do some form of "Prayer visualisation" which was pretty much a Christianised version of guided meditation.

Sadly, YWAM has a reputation as a hotbed of bad theology and emotional abuse. Click here to read more about them. I wouldn't be surprised if Murray's actions had some basis in his experience with YWAM.

I'm not blaming YWAM for this of course - personal responsibility and all that - but when you abuse people for as long as YWAM does, it's only a matter of time before something or someone cracks.

And as for home-schooling, this is this second time I have read of a home-schooled "evangelical" taking up arms and committing murder, David Ludwig being the first.

Homeschooling only works if the parents are godly and knowledgeable. Both Ludwig and Murray didn't suddenly turn into killers, their actions were likely the result of emotional abuse that they had been put through. Homeschooling parents - especially evangelicals - should have some level of accountability.

Personal responsibility? Certainly. But also community responsibility as well.

The Fed's latest rate cut

The US Federal Reserve has cut interest rates again, from 4.5% to 4.25%. Not unexpected, but obviously the market wanted more.

Ah yes, but which market wanted more?

The response to the cut by the sharemarket was swift. The good 'ol Wilshire 5000 dropped 2.53%, wiping out about US$387 billion in the process, which is a pretty big drop for the day.

The response by the foreign exchange market was similar - the US Dollar dropped like a rock but then bounced up like a very bouncy rock and finished the day higher than what it was.

So what do we learn from this?

Well, we learn that two markets wanted two different things. The sharemarket - essentially American investors - often see rate cuts as being good things. The last time the rate was cut, to 4.5%, the market responded in its usual euphoric and utopian way, indicating that such a rate cut was a sign that heaven on earth was possible. So why was their reaction to this rate cut, from 4.5% to 4.25%, accompanied by the market's usual pessimistic, dystopian attitude that indicates that the world will end?

Well it seems as though the sharemarket was factoring in a greater cut. And when they didn't get it, they went gaga and people were yelling "SELL!!! SELL!!" into their phones while simultaneously ripping out hair from their already balding scalps.

The Forex market - basically those people who buy and sell currencies around the world and who represent the international market - seemed, after getting a fright, to be reasonably pleased with the outcome. In other words, the Forex market had expected this rate cut and had already factored it in - which is why the US Dollar went nowhere - while the sharemarket expected more and was sad that it was disappointed.

But, had the Fed reduced rates by 50 basis points - from 4.5% to 4.0% - what would have happened? Well, the sharemarket would have been quite happy and share prices would have gone up - not as much as 2.53% but probably between a 1% and 2% gain. The Forex market would have gone gaga and people all over the world would be yelling "SELL!! SELL!!" into their phones while simultaneously ripping out hair from their already balding scalps.

But let's suppose the Fed did something different. Rather than dropping rates by 50 basis points, what would've happened had they reduced them by 75 basis points - from 4.5% to 3.75%?

Well, of course, the Forex traders would be yelling sell sell sell sell and ripping out twice as much hair from their heads and maybe even creating negative amounts of body hair on their person.

But would the sharemarket react happily? No. They probably would've said "OH NO! THE PROBLEM MUST BE WORSE THAN WE THOUGHT! ARGGH!!!", accompanied by loud selling on the phone and negative levels of body hair.

But now let's suppose that the Fed increased rates, from 4.5% back to 4.75%. Obviously the Forex traders would be floating on cloud nine, looking forward to utopia and heaven on earth, while the Sharemarket would've been saying "OH NO! INFLATION MUST BE A HUGE PROBLEM! ARGGGHH!!", accompanied by overuse of the sell word and a bunch of Patrick Stewart lookalikes.

Lesson - lots of people with lots of money can go crazy.


This photoshopped image has been shamelessly stolen from Something Awful.

Don't worry, it was photoshopped in

Christians + Gun Culture + Insanity + Colorado =

From the department of do-any-evangelicals -want-stricter-gun-laws-in-the-US?:
A gunman walked into a dormitory for young Christian missionaries in training in the US state of Colorado early on Sunday and opened fire, killing two people and wounding two others.

The gunman is still missing.

The shooting occurred just after midnight at the Youth With a Mission centre, police spokeswoman Susan Medina said. About 45 people were evacuated from the dormitory in this Denver suburb.

Medina said a man and a woman in their mid-20s died, and two men aged 22 and 23 were wounded.

Paul Filidis, a spokesman for Youth With a Mission, said all four of the victims were staff members. One of the injured men was in critical condition, he said.

Witnesses told police the gunman was a 20-year-old white male, wearing a dark jacket and skull cap. He may have glasses or a beard.
But wait, there's more!:
A gunman opened fire in the parking lot of a Colorado Springs church on Sunday, striking four people, the church's pastor said.

The conditions of the people shot outside the New Life Church were not known, El Paso County Sheriff's Lt Lari Sevene said.

Lance Coles, a pastor at New Life Church, said he received a report that a man was shooting at people in the church parking lot and that the gunman may have entered the church.

It was not immediately known whether the shootings were related to an earlier shooting about 100 kilometres away in the Denver suburb of Arvada.
Two shooting incidents on the same Sunday in the same state known for its Christian subculture. I blame it on atheism and the rise of militant Islam.

Five confirmed dead in the Colorado Springs shooting. The New Life Church where this shooting occurred was Ted Haggard's church before he left.


Some COOL books I want to write

Well, the first book is all about the global warming debate.

The fact is that those who oppose global warming are COMPLETELY NUTSO. They hate our world with a passion and want us to all die. These people are all part of a RIGHT WING CONSPIRACY to take over our world so that corporations and rich people run it.

So what happens is this - a bunch of these planet-hating corporate saps go around murdering reputable scientists and changing scientific results in order to discredit the global warming movement. Since these people are allied with the military industrial complex, they receive up-to-the-minute weaponry that they can use with devastating effect. Faced with an important vote in the United Nations, they decide the best thing to do would be to play up the "terrorist threat" and place briefcase size nuclear weapons throughout European countries that are "Green" and who don't like the US. They settle on France.

Fortunately, the nukes are reprogrammed by the glorious and wonderful secret agency that Interpol runs, and all the nukes go off at the headquarters of this anti-ecological movement - which happens to be in rural Texas.

What. What's that you're saying? That such a novel would be complete garbage and deliberately takes sides and serves to merely promote a radicalist agenda? You're right. No one on the left would write such nonsense. On the right, however...

Alright, okay, so that first book was crazy to suggest. Let me suggest another one.

How about a world in which radical right wing members of American politics, including Neo-Nazis and the James Dobsonites, took up arms against their oppressor (the Democrat controlled Congress) and instigated a fascist coup in America. And what if a bunch of hippies and liberals were able to give up their distaste for the right to bear arms, and created a resistance movement against these American fascists? A great scene would involve an F-16 crashing into the Statue of Liberty.

Good story. Yes? What? No? What do you mean its rubbish? Wouldn't the depiction of the American right wing as being Neo-nazi freedom haters be a good thing? Surely I would have a readership amongst lefites everywhere?

Well, I suppose you're right. No one on the left would be able to get away with writing such nonsense. On the right however...