Saturday, November 15, 2008

'Housing Affordability Crisis' Hits Home

On the whole, 2008 has been a pretty good year for me. I enrolled in a post-graduate course at Melbourne Uni - if I keep it up I'll be a licensed Master of Publishing and Communications. Hell, I might even go do the mortarboard and gown thing for the first time when I finish this one. By dint of not so persistent practice and application my drawing steadily improved to the point where I felt up to hanging a few of the better ones on the study wall. Things were looking good, as long as I ignored the 'housing affordability crisis' - in plain English, Australia's chronic housing shortage.

Then in late October, when I was out in the outer leafies, dog-sitting again, the usual happened: that cantankerous old bastard in the sky, the one in whom I refuse to believe, dropped a big, fat jobbie into my life. I came home for an overnight stay, after a class, and Zeppo Bakunin showed me the notice to quit that we'd received from the agents. Our landlord and landlady were splitting up and the landlord and his daughter needed a place to live. Moving us out, so that they could move in, was cheaper than moving into a rented house, in a tight rental market, and keeping up the mortgage payments on this place, regardless of the rental income and negative gearing. I used to like our landlords but, sooner or later, this country's housing market forces everyone involved in it to act like a bastard.

So now Zeppo Bakunin and I are looking for the opportunity to perform our own little act of bastardry - we're looking for a house we can move to. Whatever we look at, there's bound to be at least one young family looking at the same place. People who'll use the extra bedrooms for sleeping in, rather than accomodating desks, computers, books and assorted stuff.

Since the market is very tight at the moment, it's wise to have back-up plans. My plan B is to get really active on internet dating sites, and try to find someone with really low expectations with a bungalow in the backyard. Plan C is to pack up all or most of the stuff, put it into self-storage and use my pensioner Christmas bonus to do a bit of travelling: the way the economy is heading, I reckon the first edition of The Rough Sleeper's Guide to Australia will find a ready market.

At times like these, I envy the Swedes. Back in 2002, I read a World Bank report which gave the Swedish government a slap on the wrist for allowing a surplus of public housing to develop. This was, of course, a waste of economic resources and therefore economically irrational, if not irresponsible. Given the choice between economically responsible government and a roof over my head, I know which one I'd take right now.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Enter at Your Own Risk

A couple of my real-life friends decided to go ex-pat last year; they're now in London, doing what ex-pats do. In this case, getting sucked into a Movieum of London short film contest, where entrants had 48 hours to produce a slasher horror film for screening on Halloween. You can read a bit about the making of here, or you can just take a look at the finished entry. An extended version with more slashing is in the works.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

300 Journalists

I noticed a couple of new posters advertising The National Rupert at a couple of tram stops the other day. I didn't have a camera handy, so when I got home I drew a copy from memory, for anybody out there who hasn't seen them yet.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Almost, But Not Quite, A Retraction

On September 10, reluctant culture warrior Kevin Donnelly declared, in the National Rupert, that his worst fears for the future of education had been realised:
LEADING up to the federal election, I welcomed the ALP's policy calling for a national curriculum based, as it was, on a conservative agenda very much like the Howard government's approach to reshaping the teaching of history and English.

The fear was that the devil would be in the detail and, given the cultural-Left's control over the curriculum, that the agenda would be captured by those opposed to the more academic and balanced approach.


The second appointment proving that the national curriculum has been captured by the usual suspects is that of Professor Peter Freebody, from the University of Sydney, who will oversee English as a subject.
Today, Kev's pleased to announce that:
THE release of the national English curriculum initial advice paper will lead to Australia's education progressives suffering apoplexy.
There's no prize for guessing who wrote the initial advice paper, and the new curriculum that has Donnelly so chuffed. If you can't guess, this report from The National Rupert has the answer.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

'Age of Bastardry Over' - Bastard

HERE is the latest, shocking fashion news: nasty is out and nice is in.

Bastardry is suddenly so last season - just like Big Brother - that all the best stars must now switch their sneers to smiles.

The sooner this trend spreads from TV and radio to those newspapers, the better.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Word of the Day: Thingo

With nothing significant to report from Canberra, the front page of today's Hun is devoted to the dastardly 'West Gate Bomb Plot' of recently convicted terrorist wannabe Abdul Benbrika. According to The Hun's Keith Moor:

One of the most chilling conversations taped by police was between Benbrika terror network member Fadi Sayadi and an associate as they discussed destroying the West Gate Bridge...

Sayadi suggested it would be possible to snorkel or scuba dive under the bridge and plant "thingos underneath".

Obviously Sayadi wasn't talking about water-lilies; nonetheless he sounds completely clueless. Anyone wanting to plant thingos under the Westgate Bridge need only take a walk through Westgate Park in South Melbourne. Once you had your thingos in place at the base of the Eastern pier you could hop on the ferry to Science Works, where a short walk will take you to the Western pier with its memorial to the workers who died when the bridge collapsed during construction.

If Sayadi had ever made that little trip he might have seen how difficult it would be to bring down the West Gate Bridge with thingos, however well placed. Still, it's a good excuse for THe Hun to milk the story for another day while they wait for the man who would be Prime Minister eventually to make his move on Malcolm Turnbull. Since that's going to take at least six years we can all look forward to a lot more well beaten-up crap on The Hun's front page.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Anti-PC Beat Up of the Week

Culture Warriors Demand an End to Culture Wars

Two new appointments to the National Curriculum Board have angered the journos and pundits at The National Rupert Daily. According to Justine Ferrari, 'Education writer' at the National Rupert, the appointments of Stuart MacIntyre and Peter Freebody to prepare draft curriculum outlines for history and literacy have re-opened the history wars and the reading wars.

Former Howard hack and literary canoneer Kevin Donnelly declares that his worst fears have been realised, and an anonymous editorialist wonders if MacIntyre and Freebody were really the best available.

Next they'll be demanding that the jobs to go to Keith Windschuttle and Kevin Donnelly.

Another Day, Another Furphy

Dr Jennifer Marohasy, whose work at the IPA involves examining and critiquing the scientific claims of others, produced an amusing piece on glaciers yesterday. She claimed that:
A study of sea level rise from ice melt in Greenland and western Antarctica has just been published in Science and concludes that a rise of 0.8 metres is possible by 2100, but even 2 metres “physically untenable”.
If, like Dr Marohasy, you strive to be inquiring in your blogging, you might click through that link and read the abstract of the study report 'Kinematic Constraints on Glacier Contributions to 21st-Century Sea-Level Rise'. Here's what it actually has to say:
We consider glaciological conditions required for large sea-level rise to occur by 2100 and conclude that increases in excess of 2 meters are physically untenable. We find that a total sea-level rise of about 2 meters by 2100 could occur under physically possible glaciological conditions but only if all variables are quickly accelerated to extremely high limits. More plausible but still accelerated conditions lead to total sea-level rise by 2100 of about 0.8 meter. These roughly constrained scenarios provide a "most likely" starting point for refinements in sea-level forecasts that include ice flow dynamics.
It looks very much like Dr Marohasy has misread the abstract - a sea level rise greater than two metres is rise by 2100 is physically untenable, a rise of two metres is tenable but unlikely, a rise of 0.8 metres is plausible. Despite a comment pointing out this error, the post remains uncorrected.

The abstract page for the Science article has links to the full report (pay per view and to a podcast of September 5. If you're inquisitive enough to download the transcript of the podcast you can read what Tad Pfeffer, the report's lead author, had to say about the study:
Interviewer - Robert Frederick
What do you mean by dynamics?

Interviewee – Tad Pfeffer
Dynamics is the part of discharge of ice, from glaciers into the ocean, which is accomplished not by melting the ice and letting it run off as water, but by pushing ice as icebergs, right out into the ocean. So it’s accomplished by the flow of the glacier, and what we call the dynamics, rather than melting of glacier ice on the surface. When the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment was published, they left out dynamics, and they were very up front about it – they said, “This is an important process, but we don’t understand it well enough to make the kind of consensus statement about dynamics that is, you know, up to the standard of the IPCC.” So they said, “Since we can’t really deal with this in anything resembling a confident fashion, we’re going to leave it out.” And so, as a consequence, the sea-level estimates, they were known to be low because that process wasn’t taken into account, and since that time there have been a number of different groups and individuals who’ve tried to get a handle on what that dynamic contribution might be – how rapidly outlet glaciers might be able to move ice into the ocean, by having these outlet glaciers speed up.

Interviewer - Robert Frederick
How high do those estimates get in the published literature?

Interviewee – Tad Pfeffer
In the published literature, you can find estimates as high as 4 to 6 meters of sea level rise at rates occurring at something like 2 to 5 centimeters per year. Now that's very high sea level rise. It's based on analogies with past conditions, particularly at the last interglacial, when sea levels were at least 4 meters higher, and possibly a great deal higher. And those were conditions that were very analogous to what we're coming into today. And, in fact, in the next century, we may be in climate conditions that are more or less identical to the last interglacial, 125,000 years ago. But the timing of that sea level rise back then is very uncertain. And that was what our analysis is really about, is the question of, 'OK, sea level rise may be big, but how fast is it going to occur?

...we publish a range, we present a range of total sea-level rise, ranging from about eighty centimeters up to two meters. And there’s a great deal of uncertainty in there, again because we still don’t know the processes, but there are some very simple concepts that you can use to place brackets or bounds, if you like, on what outlet glaciers might do, how rapidly outlet glaciers might deliver ice to the ocean in the future. And, the reasonable values fall within about 80 centimeters to 2 meters – that’s not to say that it’s physically impossible that we could have a total sea level rise of greater than 2 meters in the next century. But to do so would require processes to come into play and things to happen in glacier systems that we’ve never seen before – it’s not impossible, but it’s not something that I would recommend that we adopt as a working hypothesis. If we’re going to try to make predictions based on our best understanding of glacier physics, it should be based on the range of values and processes that we know best.
If, after reading that, you remained in any doubt about the findings of Pfeffer and his colleagues, you might get inquiring enough to e-mail him (his e-mail address is on the abstract page too); that way you might avoid the embarrassment of mis-stating Pfeffer et al's findings in a public internet forum and having the error picked up and reproduced by Andrew Bolt. That sort of thing is no good for anyone's credibility.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Own Goal of the Week

HarperCollins has announced that it will remove a chapter on how to play the didgeridoo from the Australian edition of The Daring Book for Girls. The company has also issued a statement apologising for the inclusion of the chapter.

The chapter's removal follows accusations from Dr Mark Rose, general manager of the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association, that the inclusion of the chapter was culturally insensitive. Dr Rose's comments, and HarperCollins response, gave Hun columnist, Andrew Bolt, a perfect opportunity to launch a fulminating attack on Dr Rose in particular, and aboriginal activism in general.

Bolt was also able to score points off Dr Rose by citing sources who said that, contrary to Dr Rose's belief, there was no traditional prohibition on women playing the didgeridoo.

Nice one Mark.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Gutless Bolt Has a Bob Each Way on Freedom of Expression...

... and he's not the only one.

Emily Mapfuwa, a devout Christian, has launched a private prosecution against an art gallery for displaying a statue of Jesus Christ with a beef bugle. According to the good Emily's lawyers, the Baltic Centre for Conteporary Art committed an ‘act of a lewd and a disgusting nature and outraged public decency contrary to Common Law’ by displaying the statue.

The private prosecution is funded and supported by the Christian Legal Centre, an organisation whose aims include:

To promote and protect the freedoms of Bible believing Christians in the United Kingdom; to promote religious freedom as a fundamental right by means of legal action and public promotion.

The Centre's support for freedom of speech is evidently highly qualified and selective in its application, as this private prosecution shows; the Centre will obviously defend the right of Christians to 'freedom to speak and live in accordance with truth'; they take a very dim view of the right of unbelievers to depict their personal saviour with a boner:

The Christian Legal Centre believes in freedom of expression but this statue served no other purpose than to offend Christians and to denigrate Christ.

In plain English, the Christian Legal Centre believes in freedom of expression for Christians only. A private prosecution on criminal charges remains an option for those who offend Christians and, in doing so, infringe on their 'biblical freedoms'.

Andy Bolt isn't too keen on the court action, but with all those adoring Christian readers and fans to pander to, he'd much rather 'despise the cheap shot cowardice' than defend freedom of expression. Once again, it's 'Where are all the blasphemous pictures of Mohammed' time.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Recalcitrant Ice Finally Gets Its Arse Into Gear

The Arctic Ice that only a couple of weeks ago was refusing to melt seems to have woken up to itself and its obligations to the 'AGW supporters', 'hysterics' etc. It now looks set to beat last year's record low easily - as long as its stamina holds up between now and mid-September.

I wonder what keen ice watcher, Andrew Bolt, will make of this? In any case, if you need images of the arctic ice cap looking at least a bit bigger than last year, to allay your kids' fears so that they'll sleep at night you'll need to be quick. Here are today's pictures from the University of Illinois:

Friday, August 22, 2008

Over the Top

I got sucked into reading this piece in yesterday's Age by the first paragraph:

EVEN though it was just a skeleton, there was still something that said Australian larrikin about the soldier's remains that lay as he fell on a shell-blasted Belgian battlefield 91 years ago.
I just had to know what it was about this skeleton that alerted its finders to its nationality. Was it the cheeky, devil may care grin on its face? A certain louche set of his broad manly shoulders, relaxed but not slouched? The straight spine of a man not burdened by class distinction? Loose hips and rangy legs used to taking long, loping strides over a wide brown, sunburnt country? The answer came in the second paragraph:
In the green summer fields the archaeological team that uncovered him last week, was able to identify his nationality by the rising sun badges in the earth beside him.

Plimer Throws Debate, Wins Plaudits

Ian Plimer took to the hustings in Sydney on Tuesday, to defend religion against the charge that we'd be better off without it. As third speaker for the negative team, Plimer used the occasion to denounce the 'new religion' of environmentalism. Plimer's speech has been reproduced at Andrew Bolt's blog and at Jennifer Marohasy's blog of socratic irony.

I suspect Plimer's team-mates were a lot less impressed with Plimer's performance than Bolt and Marohasy.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


This time from Andy Bolt, giving a bit of stick to another irresponsible journalist creating another 'wild warming scare':
CLIMATE change could threaten the safety of blood used for life-saving transfusions, Australian experts have warned.

A report by West Australian researchers has raised concern that rising temperatures will increase the prevalence of viruses, like dengue and Ross River, already circulating in the northern regions of the country.
Really, whichever News organisation ran that story should be looking long and hard at its recruitment policies; their journalists and editors are just woeful.

Update: you can read the abstract of the research report here. On dengue fever, it says:
[D]engue is currently of most concern to blood safety because; it can cause fatalities, there are regular seasonal outbreaks in Northern Australia and, in contrast to other viruses mentioned above an overseas case of transfusion transmission has already been documented. Notably, despite the lack of a suitable dengue screening test the ARCBS [Australian Red Cross Blood Service] already implements supplementary measures to protect the blood supply during outbreaks. (my emphasis)
Oddly enough, the fact that the ARCBS already has measures in place to protect the blood supply from dengue wasn't newsworthy enough to include in the News report.

Sound Bite Snake Oil

It seems that since two global warming 'sceptics' appeared on Sunday's Sixty Minutes, mainstream opinion on global warming has shifted back to the 'it ain't happening and even if it is, it's not man made' position. Maybe - no-one's done the polling yet.

The Sixty Minutes report 'Crunch Time', included this sound bite from Richard Lindzen, Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology, Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at MIT:
PROF. RICHARD LINDZEN: We need CO-2. It's not a poison, it's not a pollutant. It's essential for life on earth. I mean how much are we going to depend on people's ignorance in order to produce panic?
Lindzen's position, stated as a logical syllogism is:
Nothing that is necessary for life can be a pollutant.
CO2 is necessary for life. ergo:
CO2 cannot be a pollutant.
Or, more generally:
Nothing that is necessary for life can be an environmental problem.
CO2 is necessary for life. ergo:
CO2 cannot be an environmental problem.
Is this reasoning correct? Let's try applying it to some other chemical compounds and elements that are necessary to life and see:
Nothing that is necessary for life can be a pollutant.
Phosphorus is necessary for life. ergo:
Phosphorus cannot be a pollutant.
So, even though an excess of phosporus in freshwater occasionally causes algal blooms, it's wrong to call phosphorus a pollutant. And distinctly unAustralian if the source of the phosphorus is agricultural run-off.

Now let's take the general case:
Nothing that is necessary for life can be an environmental problem.
Sodium and chlorine are necessary for life. ergo:
Sodium and chlorine cannot be an environmental problem.

And that about wraps it up for salinisation of soils - it just can't be a problem.

There's something obviously wrong with Lindzen's reasoning: his major premise - that necessities of life can't be pollutants. What has me puzzled is how an environmental scientist could overlook his error and lavish praise on Sixty Minutes for including him in their report.


It's time for an Australian Enlightenment, where once again reason and facts prevail over mysticism and ignorance...

An Australian Enlightenment would restore ideas to the place they have occupied over the last 5cm of the football field...
Craig Emerson, Minister for Small Business, in The National Rupert Daily.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Mor LOL Denylists

"Dunno muj thrmodynamix but I no wut I like!"

Global average energy budget of the Earth

As a follow up to Alan Siddons's refutation of the quaint nineteenth century notion of 'radiative equilibrium' - a theory now as thoroughly passe as Pythagoras's quaint idea that the Earth is spherical* - Jennifer Marohasy has posted this 'proof' from Bill Kininmonth that greenhouse gasses actually cool the earth.

Kininmonth's argument starts with the diagram above and this howler:
At the surface there is a net accumulation of radiation energy because the incoming solar radiation (168 units) exceeds the net loss of longwave radiation (66 units).
The units that Kininmonth is talking about here are Watts per square meter. As commenters on Siddons's post Chez Marohasy pointed out, the Watt is a measure of power, not energy. A 100 Watt lightbulb converts one hundred joules of energy to light and waste heat every second. What's measured in Watts per square meter is either heat flux density or irradiance - that is, the number of joules that pass through a square meter of an object's surface in one second.

So, in the diagram, we have 168 joules per second reaching each square metre of the Earth's surface in an average year. To find out how much energy that is, we'd need two more pieces of information: the total surface area of the Earth, and the number of seconds in a year. That would produce a very large and intimidating figure, but the calculation is otherwise irrelevant. Let's look instead on what would happen if there really was a net accumulation of 'radiation energy' at the Earth's surface.

The joule, the unit we use to measure energy, is named after James Prescott Joule who came up with another of those quaint nineteenth century ideas that still plague modern science - the idea that heat and mechanical work are equivalent. He also had the gall to claim that he had proved it experimentally. It's in part thanks to Joule that modern physicists treat energy as just energy rather than radiation energy, heat energy, electrical energy etc. Energy is energy, however you get it.

If every square meter of the surface of the earth actually were accumulating 102 joules of energy every second, its temperature would rise. It's as simple as that. Let's look at what would happen to the temperature of a cubic meter of water, accumulating 102 joules of energy each second over an average day.

Ignoring leap seconds, each day has:
24 * 60 * 60 = 86400 seconds
So our cubic meter of water will accumulate:
86400 * 102 = 8 812 800 joules of energy
4.2 joules of energy will raise the temperature of 1 millitre of water by 1 degree Celsius; there are 1 million millitres in a cubic metre. So the temperature of the water will increase by approximately:
8.8 million/(4.2 * 1 million) = 2.1 degrees Celsius
In less than 50 days it will reach boiling temperature. Imagine that happening over every square metre of the Earth's ocean surfaces. Thanks to heat transfer from the surface waters it would take longer for the water to reach boiling point but they'd still get very hot.

Where Kininmonth has gone so hilariously wrong is that he has overlooked two heat flows out of the Earth's surface that account for the 102 'units' of 'radiation energy' that he thinks are accumulating there. They are the heat losses due to thermals - 24 W/m2, and evaporation and transpiration (evapotranspiration) - 78 W/m2. That's a total of 24 + 78 = 102, leaving no energy accumulation at the earth's surface and nothing that has to be explained away by asserting that greenhouse gases actually cool the atmosphere.

* Since this 'scientific' theory is so thoroughly past its use by date, nominations are now open for a replacement theory of the shape of the Earth. This is my first preference:

Update: Dr Marohasy is now hinting that her most recent blog posts have been exercises in Socratic Irony. I wonder who she thinks has been fooling whom.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

But Would You Buy a Used Car From This Man?

A FORMER male model who ran an illegal steroid and human growth hormone business now realised he could make more money as a legitimate Gold Coast real estate agent, a court was told yesterday.

Brendan James Brophy, 28, pleaded guilty to 13 offences including importing and trafficking a variety of banned substances from his Ashmore home base from July, 2006, to March, 2007. He was sentenced to two years and six months' jail...

His defence lawyers tendered documents showing Brophy, a high achiever at school, was a promising model and keen gym goer before his arrest.

The court was told that after being caught Brophy became a successful real estate agent at Broadbeach.

Justice John Byrne ordered Brophy to serve six months of the sentence before being released.

(Gold Coast Bulletin)

Saturday, August 16, 2008

If I Hadn't Been ROFLMAO, I Might Have Got Angry About This

There's one thing I've learnt to like about global warming obstructionists like Dr Jennifer Marohasy: their intellectual clowning on the subject is sometimes hilariously funny. Today (Saturday, August 16) excels herself by reproducing this argument from Alan Siddons of Holden, Massachusetts:
Radiative equilibrium is one of the foundation stones of radiative forcing theory. But it is not a law of physics, only a rather archaic and untested supposition found in climatology textbooks alone.

"For the Earth to neither warm or cool, the incoming radiation must balance the outgoing."

Not really.
Yes, really. If the Earth were to cool without radiating energy to some other part of the universe, or to warm without receiving additional energy from elsewhere, that would break a very basic law of physics: the law of Conservation of energy.
It’s best to regard radiant energy simply as a finite power source — indeed, that power is expressed as watts per square meter. An object is said to "cool" by radiating, yet this would seem to imply that restricting its radiation will make it get hotter and hotter. That’s the very premise of greenhouse theory, of course, that by disturbing outgoing radiance any magnitude of temperature gain is possible. But this is easy to test.

Confine a lightbulb inside an infrared barrier (like a globular mirror) and electrically feed one watt to it. After a while, will it be generating the heat of a thousand watt bulb? No.

When its temperature is consistent with the input, further heating stops.
This is complete codswallop, written by someone whose technical vocabulary exceeds his technical understanding. Stripped of the technobabble and trivia, the question posed, and then answered incorrectly, is "What happens if you put a light bulb in an enclosed environment and turn on the electricity?"

The correct answer to that question is that the light bulb will radiate light and heat, any air in the environment will be heated by the bulb, then whatever enclosure you've put the light bulb in will start to heat up. At that point the whole system - light bulb, air and enclosure - starts to lose heat to the outside environment and reach a thermal equilibrium where the energy it loses is equal to the energy being put in. Turn off the electricity and it will cool down again.
It’s like water seeking its own level. Lacking any means to radiate to its surroundings the lightbulb ...
The whole purpose of a light bulb is to radiate energy to its surroundings. That's what makes them useful. All that putting a lightbulb inside a reflective enclosure achieves is to make the surroundings smaller.
... merely gets as hot as a watt of power can make it, which is not much hotter than what it would be in the open. If not, we’d be able to generate incredible temperatures very cheaply. Just confine, wait, and release.
See above.
Conservation of energy: it’s not just a phrase...
Indeed not - it's a law of physics which Alan Siddons has misunderstood, at best.
The theory of radiative equilibrium arose early in the 19th century, before the laws of thermodynamics were understood.
The truth of a scientific theory isn't determined by how old it is, bnut by how well it fits the observed facts. And it appears that the laws of thermodynamics aren't universally understood, even today.
From The Analytical Theory of Heat:
The radiation of the sun in which the planet is incessantly plunged, penetrates the air, the earth, and the waters; its elements are divided, change direction in every way, and, penetrating the mass of the globe, would raise its temperature more and more, if the heat acquired were not exactly balanced by that which escapes in rays from all points of the surface and expands through the sky. — Joseph Fourier (1768-1830)
Fourier got that exactly right - later developments in thermodynamics haven't changed that one iota.

Update: more at Deltoid and Atmoz.

Of (Hairless) Mice, Men & Moisturisers

Sometimes it's what the reporters and editors leave out of news stories that makes them interesting - and alarming.

Yesterday's Age included this story by Nick Miller:
Mice moisturiser link to skin cancer criticised

COMMON moisturiser creams including one sold in Australia have been shown to double the risk of skin cancer, in new US research. (original punctuation)
The Age wasn't the only news outlet to carry the story. Here's The Daily Mail:
Moisturisers used by millions of women every day could increase risk of skin cancer

Moisturisers used by millions of women every day may raise the risk of skin cancer, scientists have warned. (original punctuation)
Here's The Daily Telegraph (UK):
Common moisturiser 'could cause skin cancer'

Moisturisers used by millions of people each day could be responsible for causing a variety of skin cancers, according to a study. (original punctuation)
Here's The National Rupert:

Study: Moisturisers cause skin cancer

From correspondents in Paris

MOISTURISERS used by millions of people have induced skin cancer in experiments on mice, a new study says. (original punctuation)
Here's ABC Online:
Skin moisturisers may increase cancer risk: research

Australians have long been told by cosmetic companies that the best way to reduce skin damage from the sun is to apply moisturising cream, but some US biologists say some common moisturisers may promote skin cancer.
I'll finish the roundup with a shot of sanity from The New Scientist:
Moisturisers cause cancer in mice - but don't panic

Research on mice suggests that moisturising creams increase the risk of common skin cancers – but there's no need to throw away your moisturiser just yet.
Predictably, this is the least garbled of the reports I've read. It continues:
"We don't know whether or not there's an effect in people," says Allan Conney of Rutgers University, Piscataway, New Jersey, who carried out the study.
Elsewhere - in the tabloids, the larger tabloids and at Aunty on-line - the story was reported with the same two-part narrative:
  1. Play up the findings of the study.
  2. Obtain a local expert (or experts) to pooh-pooh the study.
First alarm the readers then find a local expert to tell them not be alarmed. The huffier your local expert gets about the issue the stronger the air of controversy:
Gavin Greenoak, director of the Australian Photobiology Testing Facility at the University of Sydney, said the potential for alarmism was high and the paper should not have been published.

"The acknowledged need for more research is an understatement bordering on irresponsibility," he said. There were technical reasons why parallels could not be drawn with moisturiser on human skin. (Nick Miller in The Age)
If Greenoak was quoted accurately, he goes a little too far in suggesting that the paper should not have been published - unless his objection was to the experimental design of the study, rather than its potential to create alarmism. If alarm has been created, the responsibility for it belongs with the journalists and editors who chose to play the alleged risk.

One thing that makes hairless mice very different from normal humans is that hair isn't the only thing that normal mice have that's lacking hairless (or nude) mice. Hairless mice also lack a thymus, the organ that turns ordinary lymphocytes into t-lymphocytes or 't-cells'. Lacking t-cells, hairless mice are a pushover for cancers of all kinds. Unfortunately, you won't find this information by Googling 'hairless mice' - the first page you'll find is this one, a pet-owner's guide apparently written by someone ignorant of this fact.

To learn why hairless mice are so different from normal humans you'd have to take the time to ask the right expert the right questions. But then you might discover something truly alarming to a journalist - that your story had no real news value at all.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Who Needs State Controlled News Media?

When your morning newspaper devotes the top half of every front page to the latest "Gold! Gold, gold, gold for Austraya!" moment and every television news broadcast begins the same?

Anti-PC Beat Up of the Week

In today's Age, Bridie Smith reports:
VICTORIA'S curriculum is left-wing and is pressuring students to conform to the politically correct views held in school texts and by teachers to enhance their chance of academic success, a Melbourne tutor has warned...
Why isn't the main clause of this sentence up the front where it belongs? Because that would make it too obvious that Smith is passing on an opinion, not news.
In a submission to a federal inquiry into academic freedom, Mark Lopez argues that — in year 12 English in particular — students with non-left views face "additional challenges" and are often disadvantaged if they "cross the teacher's bias".

Dr Lopez, a humanities tutor of 18 years, told the Senate inquiry that, in part, he set up his tutoring business to tackle issues of ideological bias, teacher quality and the "subjective" assessment of students' work.
In fact, Lopez doesn't argue anything - he merely asserts it. Here's what his submission actually says:
5th August 2008

To: Mr John Carter Committee
Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Committee Department of the Senate
PO Box 6100
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600
Phone: +61 2 6277 3521 Fax: +61 2 6277 5706

Dear Mr Carter & Committee members,
I welcome the opportunity to provide a submission to your Inquiry. I have long been concerned about this issue and I have been doing something about it, helping students deal with the problem of bias through my private tutoring business. To some degree, you could say that I set up my business to address the issues of ideological bias and teacher quality.

Recently, I have published two articles that address precisely the concerns of this Inquiry. I am presenting them to you as a submission: 'This bias: the left-wing domination of Year 12 English' (December 2006), and 'Surviving ideological bias in the classroom' (October 2007).

The first article (This bias) analyses the bias in the curriculum and reflects upon its implications. I focused on the Year 12 English but I could have spoken about any of the humanities subjects since the problems outlined for this compulsory subject are replicated in the others. This article first appeared in the IPA Review with an extract published in The Australian. The second article, written as a sequel, looks at the practice of bias by teachers in the classroom. This article originally appeared in News Weekly with a shorter version published in The Australian.

The problem of bias is much worse than many assume. Through my business I have a superb opportunity to observe and scrutinise, though the experiences of my students, the curricula and what really goes on in school classrooms and university tutorial rooms. I have extensive experience dealing with this, 18 years, covering dozens of school and university subjects in the English and humanities areas, where assessment is, as you know, subjective. I am about to bring a book out on this subject, The Little Black School Book, which analyses the problem in depth and shows students how to deal with it.

I am willing to be contacted for more information and I would be more than happy to be a witness at the public hearings.

Dr Mark Lopez (my emphasis)

The headline to Smith's reoprt (which goes on to canvass the opinions of seasoned culture warrior Kevin Donnelly) is Conservative students suffer from 'left bias'. The actual events of the story warrant something more like Political Hack Uses Senate Inquiry to Plug His New Book.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Greer Nails It

Last night's Lateline included a report on Germaine Greer's latest essay on Aboriginal men, and an interview with Greer herself. Greer was on song throughout the interview - interviewer Leigh Sales wasn't, right from the start:
LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: And with me in the studio now is Professor Germaine Greer. Thank you for coming in. What I would like to do is take you through points raised in [the story we just aired] so we could hear your responses. But if I could start more generally, for people who have not read your book, what is your central objection to the Federal intervention?

PROFESSOR GERMAINE GREER, ACADEMIC AND AUTHOR: [My book] is not about the Federal intervention. It is about rage, it's an essay on rage itself. It begins with a white example of somebody who feels his people have been unfairly discriminated against by government policy... (my emphasis)
If you missed it last night because the household remote control hog couldn't bear to miss the Olympic Pole Dancing, Thai Ping-Pong Ball Target Shooting or whatever it was that Channel Seven was showing, it's worth catching up on the interview at the Lateline web-site.

A few more great moments:
LEIGH SALES: If I can look at some of the points raised in the package and have you respond to them. You write that Aboriginal women humiliated their men by seeking the white fellas help in the intervention.

PROFESSOR GERMAINE GREER: Hang on a minute. That is not how it's put...

LEIGH SALES: Alright, let's talk again about something they would like you to respond to. In that package that we [just] saw, both Des Rogers and Judy Atkinson, while they agreed with some of your views, disagreed with you that Aborigines can't overcome the trauma of history. By saying.

PROFESSOR GERMAINE GREER: I never said that I don't know why they thought I did. But I don't know who spoke to them or what they said I said...

LEIGH SALES: Well again the quote is that 'rage is the inevitable consequence of a series of devastating blows inflicted on a victim who is utterly powerless to resist'. You are suggesting that Aborigines are powerless to resist this rage that engulfs them?

PROFESSOR GERMAINE GREER: No, it's their powerless to resist us...

LEIGH SALES: But at what point do you say, yes, I have suffered victimisation but I will not allow that to make me a victim?

PROFESSOR GERMAINE GREER: Isn't it curious thing [- I] write about the pathology of rage in this situation and it's suddenly turns into a conversation about whether or not these people can get over it. What I am saying is they can't get over it and it's inhuman to ask them to get over it. It has to be recognised that they have undergone a series of the most appalling outrages and abuses...

Update: I've just sat through the whole of Tony Jones's Q & A for the first time ever. Kudos to the floor manager who seated Germaine next to Julie Bishop. Pure genius!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Milli Vanilli to Stage Comeback in 2012?

Sources inside the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games revealed today that 1980s lip-synch wonders Milli-Vanilli have been booked to perform at the opening ceremony of the London Olypics in 2012.

It is also rumoured that the London opening ceremony will feature 2012 Boy Scouts and Girl Guides recreating the Blue Screen of Death displayed at the Beijing opening ceremony with flash cards. This rumour remains unconfirmed.

Hobson's Choice

Here's a conundrum - is it better to be Janet Albrechtsen and happy, or Clive Hamilton and unhappy?

Friday, August 08, 2008

Socialised Medicine - It's Actually Good For You!

The New Yorker has a feature on 'superbugs' - antibiotic and drug-resistant bacteria such as multiply resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). On page 4, you'll find this:

[Studies on how often, and for how long, antibiotics should be prescribed] are much easier to conduct in countries where medicine is largely socialized and prescriptions are tightly regulated. Recently, researchers in Israel, where most citizens receive their care through such a system, showed that refraining from empirically prescribing antibiotics during the summer months resulted in a sharp decline in ear infections caused by antibiotic-resistant microbes. (In the United States, a 1998 study estimated that fifty-five per cent of all antibiotics prescribed for respiratory infections in outpatients—22.6 million prescriptions—were unnecessary.) In Sweden, the government closely monitors all infections, and has the power to intervene as needed. 'Our infection-control people have a lot of authority,' [Dr. Christian Giske, a clinical microbiologist at Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm] said, 'This is power from the legislation.' Once a resistant microbe is identified, stringent protocols are put in place, with dramatic results. Fewer than two per cent of the staphylococci in Sweden are MRSA, compared with sixty per cent in the United States. 'Of course, it’s only around ten million people, so it’s possible to intervene because everything is smaller,' Giske said, adding, 'Maybe Swedes are more used to this type of intervention and regulation.'

We're All Political Editors Now

So says Dennis Shanahan:
On Wednesday I raced to the new [GroceryChoice] website to see how I was to be empowered as a consumer and use detailed information to save money on my weekly grocery bill. Unfortunately, like so many other consumers ... I was disappointed as a shopper and vindicated as a political editor.
Status at last!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Herbert Spencer (1820 - 1902)

Another Great Dickhead of History

Thanks to the internet, the ideas, and reputation, of Herbert Spencer have been enjoying a modest revival recently. According to Damon W. Root, at Reason On-Line (hat tip to Jason Soon), Spencer's reputation as the father of Social Darwinism is undeserved - Spencer was fitted up by ideological opponents who misread and misquoted his works, particularly his first book Social Statics: or, The Conditions essential to Happiness specified, and the First of them Developed.

Social Statics begins with a rebuttal of Jeremy Bentham's utilitarian philosophy - that the basis of morality, and law, should be to secure the greatest happiness for the greatest number. Spencer produces some astute, and telling, criticisms of Bentham's philosophy then begins expounding his own theory of morality:
There is no way of coming at a true theory of society, but by inquiring into the nature of its component individuals. To understand humanity in its combinations, it is necessary to analyze that humanity in its elementary form—for the explanation of the compound, to refer back to the simple. We quickly find that every phenomenon exhibited by an aggregation of men, originates in some quality of man himself...

This fact, that the properties of a mass are dependent upon the attributes of its component parts, we see throughout nature. In the chemical combination of one element with another, Dalton has shown us that the affinity is between atom and atom. What we call the weight of a body, is the sum of the gravitative tendencies of its separate particles. The strength of a bar of metal, is the total effect of an indefinite number of molecular adhesions...

This consideration, though perhaps needlessly elaborated, has an important bearing on our subject. It points out the path we must pursue in our search after a true social philosophy... it hints that the first principle of a code for the right ruling of humanity in its state of multitude, is to be found in humanity in its state of unitude — that the moral forces upon which social equilibrium depends, are resident in the social atom — man; and that if we would understand the nature of those forces, and the laws of that equilibrium, we must look for them in the human constitution. (Social Statics, Introduction: 'The Doctrine of the Moral Sense'
After examining the human constitution, Spencer concludes that each of us - each 'social atom' - is endowed with a 'moral sense'. The way to a happy society lies in each man pursuing his own happiness, according to the dictates of his moral sense and reason. If each pursues his own happiness in this way, the happiness of society as a whole is guaranteed. Unhappiness is nature's punishment on those who do not live according to the dictates of good moral sense and sound reason. Later, Spencer devotes a whole chapter (Chapter 2: 'The Evanescence of Evil') to elaborating this idea with illustrative examples, without adding much to it, beyond the complacent assurance that, in the long run, nature will find a way to get rid of those of defective moral sense and reason.

The conclusion of Spencer's musings on morality is that the only morality worthy of the name is the morality of the perfect man:
... the moral law must be the law of the perfect man—the law in obedience to which perfection consists. There are but two propositions for us to choose between. It may either be asserted that morality is a code of rules for the behaviour of man as he is—a code which recognises existing defects of character, and allows for them; or otherwise that it is a code of rules for the regulation of conduct amongst men as they should be. Of the first alternative we must say, that any proposed system of morals which recognises existing defects, and countenances acts made needful by them, stands self-condemned; seeing that, by the hypothesis, acts thus excused are not the best conceivable; that is are not perfectly right—not perfectly moral, and therefore a morality which permits them, is, in so far as it does this, not a morality at all. To escape from this contradiction is impossible, save by adopting the other alternative; namely, that the moral law ignoring all vicious conditions, defects, and incapacities, prescribes the conduct of an ideal humanity. Pure and absolute rectitude can alone be its subject matter. Its object must be to determine the relationships in which men ought to stand to each other—to point out the principles of action in a normal society. By successive propositions it must aim to give a systematic statement of those conditions under which human beings may harmoniously combine; and to this end it requires as its postulate, that those human beings be perfect. Or we may term it the science of social life; a science that, in common with all other sciences, assumes perfection in the elements with which it deals. (Social Statics, Chapter I: 'Definition of Morality.')
Spencer's morality of the perfect man has one first principle 'the law of equal freedom':
Every man has freedom to do all that he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man. (Social Statics, Chapter VI: 'First Principle.')
This is similar to the definition of liberty given by John Stuart Mill in his essay On Liberty but Mill's topic in that essay was political, or civil liberty, not morality. At first sight, Spencer's 'law of equal freedom' - do what you want, so long as you leave others free to do what they want - doesn't look like much of a basis for a moral system.

Suppose I get up one day and take it into my head that it would be a good day to wander the streets, kicking random strangers in the testicles. Would this violate Spencer's law of equal freedom? Not as long as I am prepared to accept the possibility that others might exercise their equal freedom by kicking me in the testicles. True, that would have incapacitating results, leaving me unable to pursue my freedom to kick others in the testicles, but that incapacity would only be temporary - there would be nothing to prevent me, at a later date, from seeking out my attacker and returning the kick. While this example might suggest that the 'Law of equal freedom' might need a little modification, Spencer gives short shrift to the idea that there is anything missing in this first principle of his moral system:
Upon a partial consideration this statement of the law will perhaps seem open to criticism. It may be thought better to limit the right of each to exercise his faculties, by the proviso that he shall not hurt any one else—shall not inflict pain on any one else. But although at first sight satisfactory, this expression of the law allows of erroneous deductions. It is true that men, answering to those conditions of greatest happiness set forth in the foregoing chapter, cannot exercise their faculties to the aggrieving of one another... The giving of pain may have two causes. Either the abnormally-constituted man may do something displeasing to the normal feelings of his neighbours, in which case he acts wrongly; or the behaviour of the normally-constituted man may irritate the abnormal feelings of his neighbours; in which case it is not his behaviour that is wrong, but their characters that are so. Under such circumstances the due exercise of his faculties is right, although it gives pain; and the remedy for the evil lies in the modification of those abnormal feelings to which pain is given.(Social Statics, Chapter VI 'First Principle.': (original emphasis))
So, if one day you're walking down the street and a complete stranger bounces your knackers off your tonsils with a well placed size 11 Blunny there are two possible explanations: your assailant is a person of defective moral sense and you have every right to feel aggrieved, or your own character is so defective that you cannot recognise the rightness of his action. In view of the latter possibility, we must regard the various laws prohibiting assault as an affront to morality, as Spencer defines it. Unless the assault results in the death of the victim; that would deprive him of the right to life which is such an obvious corollary of his first principle 'as scarcely to need a separate statement'. What, exactly, society should do to uphold and protect your right to life, Spencer declines to say:

Into such questions as the punishment of death, the perpetual imprisonment of criminals, and the like, we cannot here enter. These implying, as they do, antecedent infractions of the law, and being, as they are, remedial measures for a diseased moral state, belong to what has been elsewhere termed Therapeutical Ethics, with which we have now nothing to do. (Social Statics, Chapter VIII: 'The Rights of Life and Personal Liberty')
In fact, looking to part III of Social Statics, there are good grounds for thinking that Spencer's 'law of equal freedom' prohibits the state from doing anything to protect your right to life, if that involves the use of punishment to deter criminal behaviour:
Derived ... as it is, directly from the Divine will, and underlying as it does the right organization of society, the law of equal freedom is of higher authority than all other laws. (Social Statics, Chapter XVIII 'Political Rights')
So high is the authority of the 'law of equal freedom' that every individual has the right to ignore the state (Chapter XIX) and become an outlaw, voluntarily giving up the protections of the state. This might be the proper thing for any perfect man who finds himself living in our society to do because government is 'essentially immoral':
Is it not the offspring of evil, bearing about it all the marks of its parentage? Does it not exist because crime exists? Is it not strong, or, as we say, despotic, when crime is great? Is there not more liberty, that is, less government, as crime diminishes? And must not government cease when crime ceases, for very lack of objects on which to perform its function? Not only does magisterial power exist because of evil, but it exists by evil. Violence is employed to maintain it; and all violence involves criminality. (Social Statics, Chapter XIX: 'The right to ignore the state')
So it appears that in a properly constituted moral state - one which doesn't use criminality to maintain magisterial power - you'd just have to cop it sweet if a random stranger made you the victim of a random act of violence as you were walking along the street. Any punishment for murder which involved depriving the offender of life or liberty would be equally criminal - a truly moral state which upholds Spencer's law of equal freedom would do nothing about it. But nor would it interfere if someone decided to exact a private revenge - in fact, the private revenge, in Spencer's terms, can be justified as the natural penalty for being so deficient in moral sense and reason as to assault or kill someone.

The state's duty - its only duty - is 'to protect — to enforce the law of equal freedom; to maintain men’s rights, or, as we commonly express it—to administer justice.' (Chapter XXI).Beyond this it should not go (Chapter XXII). In particular, it should not infringe on trade by regulating commerce (Chapter XXIII), support an established religion (Chapter XXIV), provide relief for the poor (Chapter XXV), Run schools (Chapter XXVI), establish and administer colonies (Chapter XXVII), come between charlatans and their dupes (Chapter XXVIII) regulate the currency, run a post office, or build lighthouses and other public works (Chapter XXIX).

All these activities are prohibited by 'the law of equal freedom'. They also interfere in the natural process which punishes the immoral and unreasonable for their moral and intellectual deficiencies and weeds them out of the population bringing us ever closer to the perfect society of perfect men. Here's Spencer's argument against preventing the sale of quack medicines ('empirics'):
Inconvenience, suffering, and death, are the penalties attached by nature to ignorance, as well as to incompetence — are also the means of remedying these. And whoso thinks he can mend matters by dissociating ignorance and its penalties, lays claim to more than Divine wisdom, and more than Divine benevolence. If there seems harshness in those ordinations of things, which... visit a slip of the foot with a broken limb — which send lingering agonies to follow the inadvertent swallowing of a noxious herb — which go on quietly, age after age, giving fevers and agues to dwellers in marshes — and which, now and then, sweep away by pestilence tens of thousands of unhealthy livers... be sure it is apparent only, and not real. Partly by weeding out those of lowest development, and partly by subjecting those who remain to the never-ceasing discipline of experience, nature secures the growth of a race who shall both understand the conditions of existence, and be able to act up to them. It is impossible in any degree to suspend this discipline by stepping in between ignorance and its consequences, without... suspending the progress. If to be ignorant were as safe as to be wise, no one would become wise. And all measures which tend to put ignorance upon a par with wisdom, inevitably check the growth of wisdom. Acts of parliament to save silly people from the evils which putting faith in empirics may entail upon them, do this, and are therefore bad. Unpitying as it looks, it is best to let the foolish man suffer the appointed penalty of his foolishness... [T]o guard ignorant men against the evils of their ignorance — to divorce a cause and consequence which God has joined together — to render needless the intellect put into us for our guidance ... must necessarily entail nothing but disasters. (Social Statics, Chapter XXVIII.: 'Sanitary Supervision')
It's thanks to passages such as that one, that Spencer is quite justly regarded as the founding father of Social Darwinism. As remarkable as the fact that he wrote this book in earnest is that he still has his earnest defenders. That they should be on the internet isn't so remarkable.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Botticelli's Dismembered Zephyr

The Birth of Venus, Sandro Botticelli c 1482 - 1486

Despite months of practice, I still have moments when I think I'll never be able to draw good. The other day, while I was copying the figure of Venus from that famous Botticelli painting - with a view to producing a piss-take of the image - I made a heartening discovery. Sandro Botticelli wasn't all that good at it either.

When you look at Botticelli's painting, your eye is drawn first to the central figure of Venus, then to the woman on the right (a Horae, according to Wikipedia), holding the robe. Then maybe you glance to the left, at the two winged Zephyrs. Give them more than a glance, and you'll find there's something very dodgy about the figure of the female Zephyr, tucked into the male Zephyr's armpit.
It's easier to see if you trace the main visible outlines and contours of the two figures separately, to disentangle those legs. Here's the male:
He's facing the right of the picture, with his right hand side is turned towards us. Now here's the female:
I've labeled her feet, as indicated by the position of the big toe on each. It's the first hint that there's something distinctly wrong with her anatomy. Just how wrong becomes clear if you try to fill in the gaps, by extending the line of the right thigh and the torso, which we're seeing from her left side. Her left arm is in the forground, with her right hand held over it; the right arm passes behind the male figure.

To start with, we'll need some guidelines:
The red lines indicate the major anatomical constraints on drawing her torso - the line of the shoulders, the spine and, in the 'arrowhead' to the left, key points of the pelvis - the juncture of the spine and sacrum, the left and right iliac crests and the pubic symphisis. The blue lines follow the major bones of the leg - the tibia from ankle to knee and the femur from the knee upwards. Neither of these lines hits the pelvis where it ought to. They could be made to hit the pelvis by shortening the length of the femur but that would still leave problems with the head and neck of the femur and the insertion of the femur into the hip socket.

To finish, here's a reconstruction of the torso and legs, using those red and blue lines as guides to the placement of the outlines.
Disturbing at so many levels.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Thursday, July 10, 2008


Every global village has one. This week it's Age art critic Robert Nelson's turn to take a spell at the wrong end of the brickbats.

Andy Bolt, leader of the outraged mob, wouldn't actually go so far as to say that Nelson's a pedophile: he just writes like one. And Nelson wears bow ties and colourful shirts - there's definitely something a little suspect about that.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008


Politics is about conviction, you sometimes get the impression that my successor is more interested in the process of government than the opportunity of leadership that government provides. (John Howard)
Maybe it's time for someone in the Liberal Party to take the Gnome of Steel aside and explain, politely but very firmly, that his opinions on the political process are no longer relevant or required.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Word of the Day - Expert

expert n: 1. (obs) a person with special knowledge or skill; 2. A single-issue lobbyist or agitator.

Sick of It

I spent a few minutes watching kiddie-pawn on Saturday night. Not on the computer - on the television in the lounge. I was a doped out on panadol and temazepam (for post-dentistry pain and agitation), surfing the free-to-air: sports news on 2, ad break on 7, ad break on 9, ad break on 10, world news on SBS, who knows what on 31, AV blue screen, sports news on 2, ad break on 7, Australia's Funniest Home Videos on 9 - just in time for the last montage of funny videos, every one of them featuring a toddler in the nuddy. Toddler in the nuddy pushes a lawnmower, toddler in the nuddy gets tipped on her arse when the wind blows her inflatable paddle pool over, toddler in the nuddy eviscerates the neighbour's cat with dad's chain saw - that sort of thing.

The producers of the show are clearly aware that images of nekked infants of are a potential turn on for some sexual deviants - a discrete blur was placed over any exposed genitalia. But there were still plenty of perky, smooth baby buttocks on parade; and the whole set up stinks of child exploitation.

Firstly, it's impossible that any of the toddlers in these videos consented to the nude filming. What toddler would have the nous to say 'no way' to being filmed naked so that later in life, when the time came to introduce her fiancé to the family, Dad could embarrass her by bringing out that DVD of the time she went arse over tit while playing Lady Godiva on her rocking horse? Only one born with a prodigious natural talent for legal negotiation.

We can be equally certain that the toddlers in these film clips didn't have any say in whether the videos would be sent to one of the Funniest Home Videos national franchises for possible broadcast. No way. When Little Leather Face's old man put the video tape in the post, he wasn't thinking of the effect that broadcasting his kid's exploits with the chain saw would have on his future, he was thinking about his chances of winning at least the weekly prize, if not the grand end of season prize.

Nonetheless, the show has redeeming social importance - it makes people laugh. At least those in the studio audience. So it's comedy and, therefore, entertainment. Definitely not art, or worse yet, 'Art'. Which is why Hetty and Kevvie and Brendon and Andy won't be getting on their high horses about 'child protection'. The kids in these videos will be left alone to get on with being kids, their parents will be left alone to get on with being the weird kind of parents who think there's something funny about nekkid toddlers giving themselves head injuries and the network execs will be left alone to get on with being network execs and broadcasting this guff.

Of course it would be an entirely different story if you put it in an art gallery and called it a video installation.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Just Sayin'

QR codes are just over-hyped gimmickry but they present interesting possibilities for anyone seeking a way to get round that NSW ban on t-shirts offensive to WYD organisers and participants (and Morris Iemma).

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Friday, June 27, 2008

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Name Ten, Andrew. Just Ten.

Andrew Bolt - who evidently can't be bothered learning about any art, or artist, whom he decides to denounce - has cranked out another fulmination against an artist who makes 'mock of a faith which guards him while he sleeps'. This time the object of Andy's outrage is Argentinian artist Leon Ferrari, whose 1965 sculpture la civilización occidental y cristiana (picture) is on display in the Sydney Biennale.

So far this year, Bolt has tied his knickers - and those of his fans - in a knot over the following artists who've dared to blaspheme against Christianity but haven't the guts to blaspheme against Islam:
  • Alfred Hrdlicka whose 1984 etchings in tribute to Pier Paolo Passolini featured in a controversial retrospective exhibition in Vienna this year.
  • Martin Kippenburger, who died in 1997 but not before he produced a 'self-portrait' depicting himself as a crucified, beer-drinking frog (in 1990).
If, as Bolt maintains, the art world is infested with moral cowards who will quite happily blaspheme against Christianity but not Islam - because that's too dangerous - he ought to be able to name ten, just ten - career artists who have produced and publicly displayed such works in the past year.

Failing that, a little research into the careers of the next artist he lines up for denunciation might spare him a little embarassment. Wikipedia's stub biography of his latest target includes this note:

Ferrari has also written articles for left-leaning newspaper Página 12. His work and his politics have brought him into some controversy and notoriety. He was forced into exile in São Paulo, Brazil from 1976 to 1991 following threats by the military dictatorships.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Headline of the Day

Iguanas witness cover-up

What I want to know is - who lagged on the iguanas? Will they come forward to give us their account of events?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Word of the Day: Scuppie

The News Limited web-site has reproduced this report, from the Townsville Bulletin on the rise of a new consumer demographic:

Standing for Socially Conscious Upwardly Mobile Persons, scuppies are the most influential consumer group of our time. Just like hippies, they care about society and the environment -- but, just like yuppies, they care about their quality of life and bank balance, too.

The term was coined by the self-confessed American scuppie Chuck Failla: "I'm a professional. I'm ambitious, I like nice things. I want security and a degree of wealth. But I don't like to go after those goals in anything other than a socially conscious way.''

This little news item has the makings of a very entertaining Anti-PC beat-up. For Andrew Bolt and his readers there's the joy of finding another group of PC hypocrites to denounce. For the rest of us there's the pleasure of watching Andrew and his readers completely miss the joke:

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Whitewash of the Week

The Extraordinary Rendition of Mamdouh Habib

Today, Chris Hammer of The Age reports:

THE United States sent Australian terror suspect Mamdouh Habib to be interrogated in Egypt in defiance of repeated pleas from Canberra not to do so, Australia's top spy has revealed.

ASIO director-general Paul O'Sullivan said the US was told several times that Australia opposed sending Mr Habib to another country for interrogation — a process known as rendition — after his arrest in Pakistan in 2001.

Mr O'Sullivan told a Senate hearing he believed Australia's concern at the time was that Mr Habib would be tortured, a fear later backed up by Mr Habib, who says he was brutally treated in Egypt.

Mr O'Sullivan made that revelation at the estimates hearing of the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs. You can access the Hansard record of the committee proceedings here (PDF format) and here (Parlinfo web page).

According to Hammer's report:

Mr O'Sullivan said Australian officials in Pakistan formed the view on October 22, 2001, that Mr Habib might be "rendered" — transferred to a third country for interrogation — and conveyed concerns to Canberra.

A meeting in Canberra the next day — attended by then ASIO director-general Denis Richardson and senior representatives of the Federal Police and three government departments — decided that Australia would oppose his rendition.

This is a bit of a distortion of O'Sullivan's actual account of events, given in answers to questions from NSW Greens Senator, Kerry Nettle:

Senator NETTLE — I want to ask questions in relation to the rendition of Mamdouh Habib. I want to start with an answer that this committee received last week from the Attorney-General’s Department, which refers to a meeting that, we found out this morning, was on 23 October in 2001. In the answer from the Attorney-General’s Department it states that senior officials from ASIO, AFP, Foreign Affairs, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Attorney-General’s Department agreed that the Australian government could not agree to the transfer of Mr Habib. I want to start by asking you who represented ASIO at that meeting.

Mr O’Sullivan — Of course, I was not involved at that stage but, if I understand correctly, there was a meeting on another matter in Canberra. I do not know what that other matter was but at the end of it there was a pull-aside, to use an American expression, and Mr Richardson, my predecessor was the ASIO person at that meeting.

In plain terms, and contrary to the impression conveyed by The Age's report, there was no formally convened meeting between ASIO, the AFP and other departments about Mamdouh Habib's detention in Pakistan. It was discussed informally after 'a meeting on another matter'.

O'Sullivan's answers to further questions from Senator Nettle seem a little confused:

Senator NETTLE — The answer from the Attorney-General’s Department says that the senior officials from those various departments that I mentioned agreed that the Australian government could not agree to a transfer of Mr Habib to Egypt. Was there a request to transfer Mr Habib to Egypt?

Mr O’SullivanI believe no is the answer.


Senator NETTLE — The reason that I was asking Mr Keelty about this this morning was that he previously provided information to this committee that the AFP liaison officer in Islamabad was present at a meeting in Pakistan on 22 October, the day before, at which the transfer of Mr Habib to Egypt was discussed. So, I thought that when we were here this morning with the AFP, perhaps that pull-aside or discussion had been initiated by the AFP. At that point I was told that it was not the Australian Federal Police but ASIO. Can you tell me if that is correct?

Mr O’Sullivan — I am not sure exactly what the dynamics of the arrangement were, but I think you might be overformalising it when you talk about who convened or chaired it? It is clear that a meeting took place and it is clear that Mr Richardson was a central figure in that discussion. Whether he convened it in the sense that you are using that word, I am not sure, but there was a pull-aside at the end of a meeting on another matter and he was centrally involved with it for sure.

Once again, O'Sullivan reminds us that there was no formal, minuted discussion of Habib's possible transfer to Egypt - merely a 'pull-aside' involving interested parties from various departments.

Senator NETTLE — Was it information from ASIO that led to that discussion occurring?

Mr O’Sullivan — I do not think it was information from ASIO exclusively. I think there had been a meeting the previous day — if I have got the dates correct — in Pakistan, that you are referring to, and one of the things that happened at that meeting in Pakistan was a discussion of hypothetical possibilities. One of those possibilities was that Mr Habib could be transferred from Pakistan to Egypt. What happened then at the meeting of 23 October in Canberra was that the officials, including Mr Richardson, considered that issue and came to the conclusion that you have described — that is to say that the Australian government would not give assent to such a process of rendition, if that is what you want to describe it as.

Senator NETTLE — What did ASIO do after that meeting to ensure that the decision of that discussion was conveyed and to whom?

Mr O’Sullivan — Mr Richardson conveyed that information to the United States.

And there's the only basis for the assertion that the US defied Australia's wishes when they transferred Mamdouh Habib to Egypt. The current head of ASIO has told a Senate Estimates hearing that the former head of ASIO conveyed the decision of an informal discussion of Canberra bureaucrats to the United States - somehow.

An interesting question arises here: was then Prime Minister John Howard told about this decision? That depends:

Senator NETTLE — Did ASIO brief the Prime Minister about that discussion?

Mr O’Sullivan — I do not know what conversations Mr Richardson may have had privately, but the essence of the meeting was conveyed to senior people in Canberra, including all those who had a need to know. I do not have the list of people in front of me, but it was a piece of intelligence reporting that was distributed appropriately in Canberra.

Unfortunately, because the information was highly classified, O'Sullivan refused to discuss who was on the 'need to know' list. There's also the small matter of the difference between 'need to know' and 'want to know' and John Howard's preference for governing on the latter basis.

Senator NETTLE — Can I ask you what ASIO did, beyond conveying to the United States the decision of that meeting, to ensure that an Australian citizen was not transferred to Egypt?

Mr O’Sullivan — Essentially, the issue of the transfer and treatment of an Australian overseas is a matter for the department of foreign affairs. ASIO’s job is to make sure that that department has that information, and that is what happened in this case.


Senator NETTLE — This morning — again, it is other people’s descriptions of ASIO’s role — I asked the AFP and I asked Attorney-General’s Department what action they took to ensure that the decision of that pull-aside was implemented. Their indication was that they did not take action and it was ASIO’s responsibility. I want to make clear what ASIO did, apart from telling the Americans.

Mr O’SullivanAs I said, the Director-General of ASIO informed the United States authorities that it was not the Australian government’s policy and position to engage in practices of rendition. (emphasis added)

Later, under further questioning from Senator Nettle, O'Sullivan identifies those 'United States authorities' as people at a senior level in the US State Department and the intelligence community. If what they were told was as wishy-washy as O'Sullivan says then no-one in any level of the US government was told, clearly and unambiguously, that Australia didn't want Mamdouh Habib sent to Egypt.

What a cock-up.