Thursday, 31 July 2003

Cyborg Liberation Front

Well, that's the spin the Village Voice puts on the story.

But don't be put off by the sensationalist title ( memo : shoot the editor ). It's a good article, and there are real issues that must be faced in the coming years, decades or centuries. (My bet's on at most a couple of decades).

The story's about a conference of the "World Transhumanist Association" :
International academics and activists, they met to lay the groundwork for a society that would admit as citizens and companions intelligent robots, cyborgs made from a free mixing of human and machine parts, and fully organic, genetically engineered people who aren't necessarily human at all. A good many of these 160 thinkers aspire to immortality and omniscience through uploading human consciousness into ever evolving machines.
OK, a lot of them are as premature in their expectations as Cyrano de Bergerac was in predicting lunar voyages. Less kindly, they're harmless nuts who want to believe.

But amongst them are people like myself who know a little (no-one knows a lot at the moment) about AI ( Artificial Intelligence ), and/or Biotechnology.

And much of their debate is not about whether we can become artificially intellectually enhanced or not - it's taken as a given by even the most sceptical that eventually we'll be able to rather more than at the moment - but what we should be doing. Or not doing.

Should a fully realized form of artificial intelligence become in some manner enslaved, Hughes adds, "that would call for liberation acts - not breaking into labs, but whatever we can do."
I'm agin slavery (except possibly as a temporary punishment) as much as because of its morally corroding effect on the slaver as the effect on the slave. But how do we define "slavery"? And if your personal definition differs from that of the majority, do you have the right and/or responsibility to do something about it? Personally, I've always thought John Brown was a detestable Terrorist who besmirched a good cause. Gandhi's more my style, yea, and Dr Martin Luther King.

"All one has to do is read the science journals to know these issues are on the table today," says Australian High Court Justice Michael Kirby, who serves as a bioethics adviser to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and has, along with other dignitaries, discussed the posthuman prospect with French president Jacques Chirac.
I'd settle for an injection of human or even subhuman ethics into J.Chirac myself, but I digress.
"One thing I can say with certainty from my experience is that the wheels of law, of the legislative process, grind very slowly within nations and slower still internationally. The progress of science, on the other hand, is ever accelerating. If anything, we've been surprised at how quickly technology has progressed. It's worth taking on these issues intellectually now, rather than in crisis later."
Onya Justice Mike. It's worth taking on these issues intellectually now, rather than in crisis later.
Inventor and author Ray Kurzweil argues ... "By the time machines make a case for themselves in a convincing way and have all the subtle cues indicative of emotional reaction, there won't be a clear distinction between machine and human."
And I for one happen to agree with him strongly. We don't know how to make a true Artificial Intelligence, we are at a really early stage of knowledge. But we have been able to make neural prostheses for existing NIs (Natural Intelligences) that are surprisingly simple.
Natasha Vita-More, a founder of the trans-humanist movement, says there's cause for vigilance now. "To relinquish the rights of a future being merely because he, she, or it has a higher percentage of machine parts than biological cell structure would be racist toward all humans who have prosthetic parts,"
I wouldn't say "racist", but I would say "discriminatory". I find Ms Vita-More a little, er, over-enthusiastic. Maybe even as much as Tsiolkovsky was.
But progress toward these new beings is often overestimated by the transhumanist crowd, applied scientists caution. "Some of these transhumanists are pretty far out of touch with what's going on in the labs. When I tell them that, I feel like I'm smashing their dreams," says Steve Potter, the Georgia Tech neuroscientist behind the hybrot.
Yes, it'll be a couple of decades before we have these problems, not years. And much longer before we have a "Plastic Pal who's Fun to be with." But also not centuries.

UPDATE: Just had a look at Instapundit. Good Lord. This is getting ridiculous. FWIW this post was inspired by one at Slashdot which I have to monitor at work for professional reasons.

Wednesday, 30 July 2003


Or, "Great Minds Think Alike". As near as I can work out, there being a 14 to 17 hour time difference between Canberra and the USA, at the same time Glenn Reynolds was posting this, I was posting this. Gadzooks!

Mapping the Brain

From the BBC, via Marshall Brain's Newsblog :
The mysteries of how the brain controls everything from language to movement could be explained by a "map" created by scientists. The international team behind the atlas used thousands of images of the brains of people of all ages, and with a range of conditions.

They hope to create the most comprehensive picture yet of the brain's structures and functions.

Dr John Mazziotta, an expert on the imagery of the human brain from the University of California, Los Angeles, (UCLA) said: "No two brains are the same. Their shape. Their size. The way they are organised.

"You can't just point at an area and say, 'Here's the seat of language'.

Voices from the Left

Let's start with Norman Geras, someone a bit to my left. ( I can't imagine myself ever giving an address to the "Workers' Liberty summer school" ). But I'd gladly call myself a fellow-traveller of his, as he doesn't let any particular dogma interfere with his basic integrity. That's all too rare, on the left, right or centre.
For some, because what the US government and its allies do, whatever they do, has to be opposed - and opposed however thuggish and benighted the forces which this threatens to put your anti-war critic into close company with. For some, because of an uncontrollable animus towards George Bush and his administration. For some, because of a one-eyed perspective on international legality and its relation to issues of international justice and morality. Whatever the case or the combination, it has produced a calamitous compromise of the core values of socialism, or liberalism or both, on the part of thousands of people who claim attachment to them. You have to go back to the apologias for, and fellow- travelling with, the crimes of Stalinism to find as shameful a moral failure of liberal and left opinion as in the wrong-headed - and too often, in the circumstances, sickeningly smug - opposition to the freeing of the Iraqi people from one of the foulest regimes on the planet.
After getting to his site via Andrew Sullivan's blog, and reading the article ( long, but worth every word), I was going to put a link to his site immediately. Then I noted he already has a link to my blog. I'm honoured.

Now from a (former) member of "Voices in the Wilderness", the Idiotarian Radical Catholic Pacifist movement in Middle East Quarterly :
Voices' unwillingness or inability to criticize the regime effectively turned us into its unwitting apologists. It was tragically ironic: Voices and the regime did not share a single value. Voices was an attempt by Catholic radicals and their disciples to promote their vision of world peace; Saddam Hussein's only apparent desire was to maintain his iron grip over Iraq. Voices and the regime agreed only that the sanctions crisis was rooted in U.S. policy. Yet that single point of agreement became the fulcrum of Voices' venture in Iraq. This was yet another case of politics making for the strangest possible bedfellows.
To be perfectly frank, we were less concerned with the suffering of the Iraqi people than we were in maintaining our moral challenge to U.S. foreign policy. We did not agitate for an end to sanctions for purely humanitarian reasons; it was more important to us to maintain our moral challenge to "violent" U.S. foreign policy, regardless of what happened in Iraq. For example, had we been truly interested in alleviating the suffering in Iraq, we might have considered pushing for an expanded Oil-for-Food program. Nothing could have interested us less. Indeed, we even regarded the paltry amounts of aid that we did bring to Iraq as a logistical hassle.
I can remember the exact instant when I decided to leave the utopian fantasy world of Voices. I was on a train from Bellingham, Washington, where I lived at the time, to Portland, Oregon, to visit a friend. It was the spring of 2000, and I was reading a new article on sanctions by Amatzia Baram. Baram proceeded to shatter the myth that 1.5 million Iraqis had died of sanctions-related disease. He did it by checking Iraqi claims against recent Iraqi census data. Since 1991, Iraq's population, even by Iraqi figures, had grown way too fast for there to be anything near the number of sanctions-related deaths claimed by Iraq. Baram's conclusions contradicted everything I had heard in Iraq and from Voices:

How many people would do the research, look at the numbers, and let the facts get in the way of long-held beliefs? The man may have belonged to an Idiotarian organisation, but he's both intellectually honest and well-intentioned. To continue :
But my split with Voices was not simply the outcome of reading Baram's article. From the outset, I had expected that Voices would cultivate knowledge on all things Iraqi as we set about our task of ending sanctions. I expected the better academic works on Iraq—the landmark studies by Baram, Batatu, and Marion and Peter Sluglett—to be on the office bookshelf. Instead all I found were uninformed tracts by Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, and Edward Said.
So I left Voices, and I am no longer affiliated with it in any way. Perhaps it is poetic justice that I am now training to become a historian of Baathist Iraq. I now spend hours pouring over the documents of the defunct regime; perhaps this time I'll get it right.

With such plain human goodwill, the diamond-hard honesty to look for the flaws in one's own beliefs, and the courage to do something about it, there's no limit to what can be achieved.


: The article was found via Bargaz, thence from Damian Penny. Both blogs worth reading.

Tuesday, 29 July 2003

More on Cyborgs

One of my first posts was Cyborgs and Hybrots and Borg, Oh My!". Here's the latest from the BBC :
Meet the latest spaced out modern artist - a picture-drawing robot arm in Australia whose brain sits in a petri dish in the US.

Working from their university labs in two different corners of the world, American and Australian researchers have created what they call a new class of creative beings: "the semi-living artist".

Gripping three coloured markers positioned above a white canvas, a robotic arm churns out drawings akin to that of a three- year-old. Its guidance comes from around 50,000 rat neurons in a petri dish 19,000 kilometres away.

The "brain" lives at Dr Steve Potter's lab at Georgia's Institute of Technology, Atlanta, while the "body" is located at Guy Ben-Ary's lab at the University of Western Australia, Perth.

The two ends communicate with each other in real-time through the internet.

The project represents the team's effort to create a semi-living entity that learns like the living brains in people and animals do, adapting and expressing itself through art.
The latest initiative is a development of the SymbioticA Fish And Chips project, in which the artist-scientists grew fish neurons over silicon chips to control a robotic arm that produced drawings and music.
I for one would like to see some strict ethical oversight in this area. The possible pay-offs are huge, almost infinite. But the risks of causing untold suffering are equally large.

Fortunately, we're not quite at that stage yet. Also from the story :
"I would not classify [the cells] as 'an intelligence', though we hope to find ways to allow them to learn and become at least a little intelligent." said Dr Potter.
But enough about the Democrats.

UPDATE : For an example of the benefits - and ethical risks - see an earlier BBC article :
At first, the monkeys used a joystick to move the dots around. But after a while the joystick was disconnected, and the animals - who had not realised this - continued moving the dots around by thought alone.

The scientists said this was possible because an electrode - about the size of a small pea - had been implanted into the monkeys' brains.

This recorded signals from their motor cortex - an area of the brain that controls movement - as they moved the joystick.

The scientists then analysed the signals with a mathematical formula, "translated" them and fed the signals directly into the computer, where they were reconstructed into directions.
Mijail Serruya, who led the Brown University scientists, said: "Our goal is to make sense of how brain [signals] move a hand through space and to use that information as a control signal for someone who is paralysed.

"We want to provide some freedom to these individuals."

Thanks for the Memories

Today, after a spectacular innings, Bob Hope retired to the pavillion after scoring an unrivalled century.

And that was just at the first hole.

(Best I could do Bob - none of the rest of us have your talent. Happy Trails on the Road you're on now, and say Hi to Bing and Dorothy.)

Monday, 28 July 2003

What is best in Life

"To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of the women!"

Er, No.

To have a post quoted approvingly by Glen Reynolds ( again ), to have intelligent people commenting on your Blog, and to have a full Tip Jar.

My thanks to all who have contributed comments and/or cash. Two US Dollars will get you Three Aussie ones, so even a little goes a long way - and a lot goes even further.

A La Provencale

For those who think the Brits are sometimes a trifle - er - Insular, they don't hold a candle to the Corsicans. From the New York Times on a story about a certain Corsican Politician :
The sun-baked city of Ajaccio is the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte. It is also the place from where his great-great-grandnephew, Charles Napoleon, has decided to begin his political career.
"The Bonapartist movement represents the identity of Ajaccio, but Mr. Napoleon has lived abroad, I mean, on the Continent, and he may not be able to understand this."

Cargo Cult Science

Nobel Prize-winner Richard Feynmann wrote an excellent piece on Scientific Ethics, called "Cargo Cult Science". Although my career has been entirely in Systems- and Software- Engineering, my qualifications are in Science, and I try to apply some of the ethical principles embodied in this essay. Some quotes :
Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can--if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong- -to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it. There is also a more subtle problem. When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition.

In summary, the idea is to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgement in one particular direction or another.

The easiest way to explain this idea is to contrast it, for example, with advertising. Last night I heard that Wesson oil doesn't soak through food. Well, that's true. It's not dishonest; but the thing I'm talking about is not just a matter of not being dishonest; it's a matter of scientific integrity, which is another level. The fact that should be added to that advertising statement is that no oils soak through food, if operated at a certain temperature. If operated at another temperature, they all will--including Wesson oil. So it's the implication which has been conveyed, not the fact, which is true, and the difference is what we have to deal with.
But this long history of learning how to not fool ourselves--of having utter scientific integrity--is, I'm sorry to say, something that we haven't specifically included in any particular course that I know of. We just hope you've caught on by osmosis

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself--and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that. After you've not fooled yourself, it's easy not to fool other scientists. You just have to be honest in a conventional way after that.

I would like to add something that's not essential to the science, but something I kind of believe, which is that you should not fool the layman when you're talking as a scientist. I am not trying to tell you what to do about cheating on your wife, or fooling your girlfriend, or something like that, when you're not trying to be a scientist, but just trying to be an ordinary human being. We'll leave those problems up to you and your rabbi. I'm talking about a specific, extra type of integrity that is not lying, but bending over backwards to show how you're maybe wrong, that you ought to have when acting as a scientist. And this is our responsibility as scientists, certainly to other scientists, and I think to laymen.
One example of the principle is this: If you've made up your mind to test a theory, or you want to explain some idea, you should always decide to publish it whichever way it comes out. If we only publish results of a certain kind, we can make the argument look good. We must publish BOTH kinds of results.

I say that's also important in giving certain types of government advice. Supposing a senator asked you for advice about whether drilling a hole should be done in his state; and you decide it would be better in some other state. If you don't publish such a result, it seems to me you're not giving scientific advice. You're being used. If your answer happens to come out in the direction the government or the politicians like, they can use it as an argument in their favor; if it comes out the other way, they don't publish at all. That's not giving scientific advice.
Applicability to journalism, history and politics is left as an exercise for the reader.

Sunday, 27 July 2003

Mark Steyn on Idi Amin

Yet again from the Telegraph :
He never had a plan, he never had a point. So hundreds of thousands of Ugandans died for no particular reason, except that in the 1970s we were reluctant to do anything about anything in case a little local difficulty escalated into a proxy war between the big powers. And Amin's never been called to account for his bloody reign because he was shrewd enough to flee to the one rogue state no western nation ever puts any pressure on, even today.

Asked about his cannibal appetites, he liked to complain that human flesh was a little too salty. Hard to believe he'd have said that if he'd eaten bland, insipid Mr Callaghan instead of just metaphorically chewing him up and spitting him out on Sunny Jim's pitiful Kampala kowtow to get Denis Hills off the hook. Even in that pre-Thatcher, pre-Falklands era when anybody could cock a snook at the toothless British lion, the rise of Idi Amin remains a particularly extreme symbol of a great nation's paralysis. He came out of his coma a lot quicker than post-war Britain did.

Another Insider's View of the BBC

Yet another Dissident writing in the Telegraph :
I work for the BBC. There - I've said it. In spite of everything I have written in the past and am about to write now, you should know that a proportion of my income comes from the very news and current affairs operation that is taking a deserved hammering in the print media.

Along with a few other newspaper journalists, I cross the line regularly to act as a pundit for the comment and analysis programmes that constitute the BBC's outer fringe of broadcast opinion and argument.

I am a token Right-of-centre political voice, permitted to express my views provided that I am cancelled out by an acceptably Left-of-centre one (or two) and carefully framed by health warnings about my notorious political sympathies. I am often metaphorically backlit like something out of Leni Riefenstahl .
Anyone who wonders why the world view of the BBC seems so alarmingly homogeneous, unself-critical and smug - whether on tax-and-spend economics (good) or US foreign policy (bad) - should spend a few hours on the phone with BBC researchers. The most startling difference between them and their newspaper counterparts is that they have, almost invariably, never worked anywhere but the BBC.
Staff are recruited sometimes straight from university into the hermetically sealed environment of a corporation that is so huge and powerful that when you are inside it, you cannot see the edges.

What strikes you most about the BBC scene is what a closed world it is. Walk into a BBC newsroom and you will hear more talk about the BBC itself than about the outside world: more office and corporate politics than real politics. (The atmosphere always reminds me of a university: all bitchy, cliquey, internal gossip and personal rivalries on which the wider world scarcely impinges.)
BBC staff often say proudly that it is their responsibility to oppose whatever government is in power. Well, actually, it isn't. To question the Government with critical rigour, to be sceptical about its claims - yes. To oppose systematically everything that it does - no. Examination and analysis are the business of tax-funded journalism. Opposition is the business of mandated politicians. And there is a difference between scepticism (the Government may be wrong) and cynicism (all governments are always wrong).

Weird Wide Web

First in a series of news stories too strange to be false. After long, serious posts and pontification about weighty issues, sometimes we need to be reminded what an extraordinary and amazing place the Universe is.

From the ABC :
An armada of toy ducks is expected to make landfall in Britain within weeks, at the end of an epic 11 year voyage from the Pacific Ocean.

The little yellow ducks were washed overboard from a container ship in 1992.

They have since floated round the United States, through the Arctic and past Greenland.

The remnants of the fading flotilla are now heading down the eastern seaboard of the United States, although a break away group has been spotted heading for Britain.

The American company that made the ducks is offering money to anyone finding them onshore in the US, though the offer is not being made to any British duck finders.
Blatent discrimination.

Saturday, 26 July 2003

Mark Steyn on Spinning

Make sure you're not drinking anything near the keyboard, and that you have a spare area of floor to roll around laughing on. I'd suggest having some superglue ready to re-attach any pieces of anatomy that may fall off in the next few minutes.

Then go read this

Hearts in Baghdad

Everyone (at least in Europe) knows of the "cultural insensitivity" of Americans. Except.... From the Telegraph :
Whether the deaths of Uday and Qusay Hussein were self-inflicted or not, the military operation to capture them was immaculate. There were no American deaths, 10 minutes of warnings were given over loudspeakers, and it was the Iraqis who opened fire. So sensitive was the American approach, they even rang the bell of the house before entering.
I wish that more British reporters had gone into the streets with 3ID men such as Sgt Darren Swain, a no-nonsense soldier from Alabama who is loved in the Baghdad area his men call "Swainsville" because, off his own bat, he takes humvees out every morning to provide security at local schools.
More recently, American soldiers have been charged with the sensitive task of searching those who enter the Palace district of Baghdad. One Shi'ite mullah felt it a great dishonour to be searched. The soldier responsible, Captain Wolford, agreed to take him round the back of the building and search him in private. Once there, the mullah agreed to be searched. Captain Wolford refused then to search him - the agreement to comply was enough. The gentlemanly approach much pleased the mullah.
Remember, these are Soldiers, not diplomats. Still, on re-consideration, they're actually both, and darned good at it too.

More on this article at The Command Post

Friday, 25 July 2003

Shi.. Ju.. Ba..

From Space Daily comes some important news to watch for in coming months. The Orbitting of the first Taikonaut.
BEIJING (AFP) Jul 23, 2003
China is on schedule to launch its first manned spacecraft in October, becoming only the third nation to send a human into orbit, officials involved in the program said Wednesday.

"The current plan is that Shenzhou V will be launched in October but it is very hard to say the exact date," an official at the China Rocket Research Institute told AFP. "Many factors will affect the decision."


Space experts believe the Shenzhou is a copy of the Soviet-era workhorse, the Soyuz, albeit enlarged and updated in key areas such as the life-support and computer systems.

Chinese officials however have denied this, saying the spaceship is totally designed by China.
I believe the Chinese. The story of China's space program makes fascinating reading by the way. Blame Tailgunner Joe McCarthy for driving China's equivalent of Von Braun out of the USA.

As regards why I believe the Chinese, just have a look at the similarities between the Soyuz A design and General Electric's Apollo D module.

That particular shape is probably the best one for ballistic-re-entry spacecraft, and will no doubt be used and re-used in the future. A Soyuz-shaped design that is "enlarged and updated in key areas such as the life-support and computer systems" is a completely new design.

The Chinese Manned Space programme has proceeded slowly, carefully, one step at a time. And it has proceeded very successfully so far as the result.
Oh yes, the title of this post is a phonetic rendering of "Ten..Nine.. Eight.." in Mandarin, courtesy of this page on Chinese Numerals

Sound Arguments

The latest in reduced lethality weaponry :
Woody Norris, the CEO of American Technology Corporation and a pioneer in ultrasound technology, has developed a non-lethal acoustic weapon that stops people in their tracks.

"[For] most people," said Norris, "even if they plug their ears, it will produce the equivalent of an instant migraine. Some people, it will knock them on their knees."

The device emits so-called "sonic bullets" along a narrow, intense beam up to 145 decibels, 50 times the human threshold of pain. It usually doesn't take that much to stop someone, as we learned in a demonstration in the company parking lot. The acoustic "weapon," in the demonstration model, looks like a huge stereo speaker, except this one sports urban camouflage.

The operator chooses one of many annoying sounds in the computer - in this case, the high pitched wail of a baby, played backwards - and aims it at us. At 110 decibels, we were forced to walk out of the beam's path, our ears ringing. Had we stayed longer, Norris said our skulls would literally start to vibrate.
Imagine if you will, Max Bygraves Records played at "Stun". The Horror.... The Horror....

Thursday, 24 July 2003

Re-Inventing the Opposition

In previous posts, I've bemoaned the parlous state the US Democrats and Australian Labour party have gotten themselves into. Well, at least one person is attempting to do something about it.

Then again, there are some of the comments in one liberal Blog :
I also tend to get confused between homicidal maniac Hussein brothers on the one hand and Republican Bush brothers on the other. They all seem to blend into the same level of evil.
No comment.

Compare and contrast a comment to this post by Sean LaFreniere:
Well Joe, you can count myself as a Liberal happy to see the back of Uday and Qusay.

I am a born and raised Democrat. I switched to the Green Party when I finally realized that the Democrats were owned by the same corp interests as the GOP. But when the Greens came out in support of Terrorists this last year it left me homeless.
That sums up a lot of people's feelings. He goes on, and shows that he and I are of like mind:
I am still very Liberal... I believe that corporations should serve humans, not the other way around. I would protect the environment. And I would pay more to schools than to prisons. I also believe in Evolution and Gravity. I also support separation of church and state. I think this counts me as a Liberal.

But I also support fully our War On Terrorism, especially Afghanistan and Iraq, I believe they are perfect expressions of America's centuries long commitment to Liberalism, in fact.

And I, for one, am THRILLED that two murderous, rapacious, mental cases like Saddam's spawn are gone from the map... course I think they got off a bit too easy considering their past. ;)
Substitute Australia for America of course.

UPDATE : Yet more Homeless Democrats speak out on Michael J. Trotten's blog. Scroll down to Tuesday, July 22, 2003 1:09 AM. Title: "Suicide Watch".

More On the Beeb

An Insider in the BBC reports on its Corporate Culture in the UK's Daily telegraph:
Politically, I would call myself a conservative social democrat in Irish terms: I loathe the IRA, have a lot of time for David Trimble, and wanted to smash Saddam Hussein's regime. Yet I am forced to approach any appearance on current affairs programmes for the BBC as an appearance before a hanging judge. From start to finish I know the only way to survive is to accept that I am among enemies.

As I am usually going on to attack a terrorist organisation, defend a decent man like Trimble, or to support a war against a gangster like Saddam, you would think I could feel myself among people who, though they might want to put tough questions, basically shared my assumption that the IRA is morally delinquent, that Trimble is trying to do his best, and that Saddam should be shot on sight.

You would be wrong. By and large, the researchers and reporters I will meet in any branch of the BBC find these beliefs revolting.

That is not surprising. BBC current affairs is pretty much a closed cultural system. Peer groups tend to recruit people of similar political views. And if the odd conservative or social democrat scrapes in he either has to stay silent or succumbs to the Stockholm syndrome, by which the hostage comes to love his captors.


Let me make it clear that I am not accusing the BBC of anything so minor as not giving adequate air-time to the Government. BBC bias works by agenda- setting, by angle of approach and by ideological attitude. All you have to do is decide to do a daily update on, say, child casualties in Iraq, and put on a compassionate voice, and no number of government spokesmen and no amount of airtime will wipe out an indelible public image of dead children.

A culture of political bias cannot be countered by counting minutes of airtime. It is not susceptible to internal change because it is the ambient air that broadcasters breathe.


The BBC's antipathy to the war in Iraq is as palpable as its softness on Sinn Fein. At one point the sailors in Ark Royal asked for BBC broadcasts to be stopped so they could watch Sky. Far from wanting pap, soldiers and sailors hate propaganda and have a huge appetite for the truth and a profound sense of fair play.


The BBC is the big issue in the Iraq dossier affair. Like Iraq itself, it needs to be liberated from fundamentalists and ideologues and returned to those who love fair play - which includes the free play of ideas.
There's a danger in Blogging of suffering the same intellectual incest. But with greater power comes greater responsibilities. And the BBC has a charter that forbids such bias. It must be reformed in accordance with its charter, or the notion that it is anything other than a politically-biassed media group should be formally abandoned, and the charter ripped up.

Is it beyond repair? Probably. Despite such excellent reporters as John Simpson. A man who has been accidentally bombed by the US armed forces, and still managed to give a factual, unspun report of their tragic blunder. Compare and contrast with the usual medley of spin-doctors.

Where are the WMDs?

There's so much disinformation and sheer lunacy being emanated from the people who should be "keeping the bastards honest" as the (Australian) Democrats used to say with some credibility, that some inportant issues have been swept under the carpet.

The one that most worries me is the question of WMDs. Please bear with me here, it's not the issue that's been publicised.

The Forces that went into Iraq were fully equipped with what's called "MOP suits". MOP = Military Operational Posture, if I remember correctly. These suits are designed to provide some degree (not complete) protection against Chemical and Biological weapons. Wearing them in a hot environment greatly decreases the effectiveness of troops - a simple task that takes 5 minutes under normal conditions ( such as changing a Nitrogen bottle in a Fighter ) can take many gruelling hours while under anti-gas conditions, and leave the wearer of the suit exhausted with heat prostration.

That's the major effect of Chemical Weapons against military targets - not to cause casualties, but to cause them to lose efficiency, and slow everything down. It's only against unprotected civilians that you get large numbers of deaths.

Because of this increase in the "Friction of war", you don't have this gear worn and ready-to-use unless you absolutely have to. You have it nearby. Just look at the pictures from WW II, where the Germans often had a fluted cylindrical container as part of their battle dress. This contained their Gas Mask. The British and US had similar gear, but put it in cloth pouches (the Brits in both WW I and WW II wore theirs across the chest, for example). Nearby, but not worn.

But in Iraq, in the first few days, troops often looked like this ... which severely hampered their abilities.

We - including sometime professional military analysts like myself - expected either immediate use, or (as we hoped), deterrence of immediate use of chemical weapons. They were there, ready to fire, and in large quantities. We were as sure of this as you can be of anything amidst the "Fog of War."

Remember what UK Lt Col Collins said in a widely reported speech :
"It is not a question of if, it's a question of when. We know he has already devolved the decision to lower commanders, and that means he has already taken the decision himself. If we survive the first strike we will survive the attack."
"We know he has already devolved the decision to lower commanders." That is a sure indication of local SIGINT (signals intelligence) that messages had been transmitted and acknowledged ordering the readying of the WMDs. All modern military units have their own SIGINT sections, they can't rely on the often-delayed "Central Intelligence" sources such as NSA, CIA, GCHQ (that one's British), NRO etc for up-to-the-minute information about local conditions.

So what happened? Because the gas-filled rockets and shells that we were sure were with the Iraqi units... weren't. They may be buried out in the desert somewhere, they may be in Syria or even Iran. They may have been sold on the Black Market months ago. We know they existed - have even found a few - but not in large quantities and ready to use.

This indicates an Intelligence stuff-up of truly epic proportions. We were had - and not by Bush, or Blair, or Howard. Perhaps not even by Saddam. The most believable hypothesis is that somewhere between Baghdad and the Front, this gear got...lost. The commanders at the front were reporting all was well, everyone was fully equipped, while their troops were deserting in droves. The commanders get to pocket their troops' pay that way. This has been a common occurence throughout history - military parades were originally designed to prove to the paymasters that the troops actually existed and were properly equipped. It happens all the time today in many "developing" countries.

But... we should have known. We didn't. And that's a worry.

Wednesday, 23 July 2003

BBC World Servicing

I tuned in to BBC World this morning. And what did I hear?
Now, an interview with the author of "Saddam Hussein : America's Obsession"

Q: "Tell me, were Uday and Orsay really as bad as they've been made out?"

A: (Several minutes cataloguing Uday's bestiality and Orsay's Stalinist repression, amounting to "Yes")

Funnily enough, I don't think that was the answer they were hoping for. I mean, they carefully select the author of a book critical of US policy, set him up with a Dorothy Dixer, and he goes and lets them down.

Why do I say that? Well, have a look at the BBC Website on the issue.
Saddam Sons 'dead' and US celebrates 'good' Iraq news

Maybe someone should tell them that overuse of sneering quotes devalues them. Then there's the 'carefully selected' comments (anyone who's ever tried to post a comment on the BBC website knows how carefully the comments are selected for 'balance'):
Agree that the whole Hussein family are murderers but on what grounds US has that license to kill them? They should have been brought to the international court for their crimes. It's an assassination, just because our forces have the power there doesn't mean we can take law in our hands.

I do not understand the relevance of finding Hussein Ist, IInd or IIIrd. It is relevant only to those that see the Iraqi campaign as the necessary example of strength and power to the Arab world ("look at my army, is stronger than yours so watch out!".
Paolo, USA

.. with the first phrase highlighted in a sidebar. Anyway, to continue :
No. The death of Saddam's two sons is not the end of Saddam's dynasty. This is like igniting a fire. This is going to cause Saddam's loyalists to becoming more aggressive and suicidal towards the coalition forces in Iraq.
George Oyemu, Canada

Any premeditated and intentioned killing is a murder. No wonder USA is seeking to be excluded from war crime trial by ICC. They sought them to kill them. That's murder.
Henry Bedmoth, Uganda

Why not arrest them?
Robert van den Heuvel, Netherlands
...which says a lot about Europeans being disconnected from reality. It was a gunfight.
This event mean nothing for the Iraqi resistance, actually it will increase it. And that will make the resistance 'face' clearer, because the coalition forces theory of correlating most of the resistance actions to Saddam's loyalties will be disapproved if the resistance keep going. It would be better to stop over exaggeration of unimportant events like these, and be aware that the illegal coalition existence in Iraq will end one day, even if Saddam's DNA went away.
Ebiat, Palestine
The first sentence is carefully highlighted in a sidebar.
Would it be better if they were captured rather than killed?
Ming-Lam Choi, USA
Yes, it's all the US's fault.
The story and identification of the bodies come from the US military. There is no one else that can challenge this claim. As far as we know, this can all be false and fabricated just like the WMD claims. If the source is the US military, then I don't believe it until it can be confirmed by the UN.
Vito, US
At this point, maybe the BBC thought that they'd gone a bit Over The Top even for them. Time for some "balance", with an opposing view highlighted.
If the two bodies are definitely Uday and Qusay Hussein, then it was a good day for Iraq and its people. They no longer would need to fear these individuals. This does not make the war less immoral or illegal by international law, nor should it take the focus off the more important issue of US and UK leaders' misuse and fabrication of intelligence to dupe their people into support for the war. Nonetheless, these two brothers were cruel tyrants who did not deserve positions of leadership. Congratulation to our soldiers and to the people of Iraq.
Robert Furino, USA
So what's highlighted? "A good day for Iraq"? "Congratulations to the soldiers and people of Iraq? Nope. "This does not make the war less immoral or illegal by international law".
Non-judicial killings and target killings are against International law. I do not believe in the killing of human beings without trial. The US/UK forces had no legitimate reason to attack the people of Iraq and so the "intelligence" against Saddam's sons is questionable at best. It is sad when a human being is killed.
Arshad Khan, Canada

Celebrations may be taking place in Iraq due to the deaths of Uday and Qusay. But these celebrations are nothing compared to those when the American troops leave Iraq.
Tahir, UK

Their death still does not answer the fundamental question "was this invasion and occupation justified?" and if intelligence was "sexed up" in justifying the invasion.
Murali Ramaswamy, USA

I only hope that it will help put an end to the resistance in Iraq. Enough lives have been lost. Now that Bush can finally take credit for spilling Hussein blood, maybe he'll drop his macho foreign policy and allow the UN to take over.
Mike, USA
Again, the second sentence is carefully repeated and emphasised in a sidebar.

Now there are opposing viewpoints expressed as well. One even gets highlighted. But go read the thing for yourself, and decide if the comments that were so carefully selected bore any resemblance to the distribution of the range of views. Or whether the spin is in the thousands of RPM.

End of an Era

Matt Jefferies, Enterprise Designer, Passes Away

SyFy Portal - Designer Of Original Enterprise Dead At 82 - Matt Jefferies, Designer of the Starship Enterprise, Passes Away

TrekToday - Original 'Enterprise' Designer Matt Jefferies Dies

STARTREK.COM:News 07.21.03 Matt Jefferies, Enterprise Designer, Dies at 82

Acknowledgement - Hat Tip to Brooks Rowlett

Letter from a Leftie

One trouble with writing even a partly-political blog is that there's a strong tendency to only publish opinions you agree with. Bloggers link to other bloggers who they have a high opinion of - but this tends to mean they are of like mind. Given the arrant idiocy of many who spout political opinion - and neither left nor right have a patent on this - bloggers who link to one another tend to post alike, giving the same opinions and views. While good for the ego, this is sterile for finding out the truth.

Very fortunately for me, I know a number of people whose opinions are sometimes almost directly contrary to mine, and yet for whom I have the greatest personal respect. Here's a letter from Matt Quinn, a person who is of the highest ethical and intellectual integrity. I hope I meet his standard in this regard. But he's wrong. Or at least I think so, a priori. But will have to research - just occasionally a nasty fact comes in and slays a long-held and cherished belief of mine. Anyway, on to the e-mail:
Hi Alan,

There's a lot of stuff out there, but this is the best reasoned, referenced
and complete treatment I could find on the subject.

My take is that Chomsky desperately wanted to believe that the revolution his
country helped precipitate in Cambodia would turn out to be a viable antithesis
of it, as he had learned to despise everything his country had come to represent
as a leading opponent of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam war.

I think he does not, now, deny the existence of the killing fields. But, he
does, however, concentrate on his own governments role in facilitating them.
Coming from 'the devils accountant' this is not really too surprising. i.e. the
self-evident fact that post-war U.S. is directly and indirectly responsible for
more premature human deaths than the Khmer Rouge.

Having said that, it is puzzling to me that he can't just 'fess up and admit
that at the very least he made a bad call.

Oh well,

bedtime. cya

"the self-evident fact that post-war U.S. is directly and indirectly responsible for
more premature human deaths than the Khmer Rouge." ??

That's something I'll have to examine. Let's see, you could reasonably assign a large proportion of the Chinese and North Korean casualties in Korea to the USA (though that war was started by a North Korean invasion, so I'd argue every death can be laid at Kim Il Sung's door). It's arguable that all the casualties in the Vietnam war were "directly and indirectly the responsibility of the USA", though I'd argue against that too - but certainly a proportion of them were. Similar but less convincing arguments for US responsibility are true for Granada, Lebanon, Panama, etc etc.

But all of these war deaths pale into insignificance compared to the casualties of famine. It could be quite reasonably argued that US post-war agricultural policy has been indirectly responsible for tens of millions of premature deaths (especially in Africa) that need not have occurred. The distortion of world trade due to US (oh, and European too) protectionism of agribusiness is self-evident. That this leads to starvation is arguable. But it's an argument that I very reluctantly think is true on the balance of probabilities. That the deaths were not caused intentionally doesn't change the consequences. Now I can attempt to put it in a different perspective, arguing about the destructive effects of the Cold War and the pernicious and discredited philosophy of Marxism etc etc etc but that doen't change the ugly fact that he's right, despite me not wanting him to be. Noam Chomsky's credibility or otherwise is irrelevant in comparison.

Which leads me to think about the long-term effects of some of Australia's policies in the past, and what we should be doing in the future.

Tuesday, 22 July 2003

Wither the Left?

Some rare sense from the pen of Paddy McGuinness, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald :
Most policy differences which are not vitiated by ideology these days involve research. Which policies produce the best economic and environmental outcomes? When is privatisation or deregulation a good idea, and when is it not?

Equally, a central issue for centre-left and liberal democratic parties is whether trade unions do more harm than good these days, now that their role in determining working conditions is a function of legislation and government.

But the issues of the extreme left, whether ideological or religious, are different. They are matters of symbolism, far from the issues of national and domestic security. And their main manifestation is distaste for the majority of voters, who are continually denounced as racists, rednecks, or whatever suits the determined sense of moral superiority which is the motivation of the political and religious left.

There is also an infuriating irrelevance in the rhetoric of this group when dealing with commonsense issues. This was nicely illustrated in an anecdote related by the former New Zealand prime minister Mike Moore, in a piece in The Australian Financial Review, describing the Progressive Governance conference. He retold the story of the good Samaritan as a Labour candidate who bends down to the victim of violence and theft on the roadside and says, caringly, "Whoever did this to you needs real help."


The essential problem for the centre left - those who can be roughly described as social democrats (as distinct from former communists who now call themselves that) - is to distance itself from the exponents of moral superiority.
So, wither the Left? Because under the burden of the Ideological Moonbats and "caring and sharing" arrogant pseudo-intellectuals it's certainly withering at the moment.

It's all about...Dolphins

I was going to post about one of the major benefits of Australia and Co going in to the Solomons: that it will stop the export of live dolphins to various low-rent marine parks. As perhaps only one in ten survive the transport, the practice is ethically unsound, to say the least. PETA where are you when we need you?

But Murray of that excellent Kiwi blog Silent Running got in there first, and said it better.

So go to The Command Post for another good reason for us to go in.

Monday, 21 July 2003

Computer, Heal Thyself

Quoted verbatim from the ABC :

Scientists build self-sufficient space computer

In what is believed to be a world first, Australian researchers say they have built a computer that can repair itself in space.
The Cooperative Research Centre for Satellite Systems in Canberra says the computer recently detected a fault caused by stray space radiation, analysed the problem and restored itself to full capacity, all without human intervention.

The centre's principal research scientist, Anwar Dawood, says it is a major step forward.

"The computer, it keeps detecting any error during operation and whenever it detects these errors it reconfigures itself dynamically," he said.
That's the HPCE (High Performance Computing Experiment) payload on FedSat. Glad to see that that bit works - as does the comms with it from the main bus, and the mass memory that stores the results.*

For details on how FedSat is going, have a look at the University of South Australia website. There you'll be able to see the data streaming down from the next pass, live as it happens. Best time to look is at about 1030 Hrs AEST, or 0030 UTC (what used to be called GMT).

UPDATE : The CRCSS has an article with more details. And a catchy title. Great Minds Think Alike it seems, the date of the press release is the same as my original post.

* Which yours truly programmed - much of the data comms from the bus to the experiments, the mass memory that stored the data from them, and the Housekeeping which did all the diagnostics and status telemetry formation. Not the HPCE itself - that was the Uni of SA's baby.

It's Started

From the Sydney Morning Herald :
Despite what we're told, the war in Iraq looks very much like it's turning into another Vietnam, writes Anne Summers.
Maybe she should go read this first. It's turning into another Germany, late 1945.

A Credible Opposition essential for a Healthy Democracy. From the Weekly Standard:
God knows the Bush administration is not beyond criticism for either its prewar planning or its execution of postwar reconstruction efforts.

And it would be a valuable contribution to our politics if such criticism were mounted by the Democratic party--acting as an intelligent, loyal opposition. But it's a free country, and if the Democrats prefer instead to act as a pathologically disgruntled lunatic fringe, then it'll be their problem more than anyone else's.
Australian Labour Party, please copy. I want an alternative that I can vote for - not because the current mob are so bad, but because we need someone as an alternative for when they inevitably lose the plot. And for making sure that in the meantime they don't get away with the mistakes they do make. I don't agree with the author in one respect; it's not the Democrats/ALPs problem, it's the voting public's.

Sunday, 20 July 2003

Idi Amin

From the Sydney Morning Herald :
Idi Amin, whose 1971 to 1979 reign in Uganda was one of the bloodiest in Africa's modern history, is in a coma and on a life support system in Saudi Arabia, one of his wives said today.
"They have told me he is in coma and on a life support machine. We are still waiting for more information from there," Madina Amin said in a brief telephone interview with AFP.

By "they", Madina was referring to Amin's entourage in Saudi Arabia, where Idi Amin, a Muslim now in his eighties, has lived in obscurity for more than 10 years.
The Saudis, being very devout Muslims, do not believe in euthenasia. He may well be undergoing "heroic measures" to keep his heart beating, despite humiliation and helpless agony.

From "The Mikado" :
"Something lingering, with boiling oil in it, I fancy."
No Boiling Oil as such, (though some illnesses are even more agonising), but lingering, certainly. With luck, they may keep the heart still beating for months. With luck, he may live for a long, long, long time. With luck, despite being comatose and unable to communicate, he still has full awareness of what's being done to him.

I wish them luck, and to Idi, a long, long, long life.

UPDATE : I should of course have used his official title, which according to at least two sites is :
His Excellency President for Life Field Marshal Al Hadji Dr. Idi Amin, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular.

UPDATE: Looks like my wishes have been granted. Idi's out of a coma, possibly blind, possibly brain-damaged, certainly in intense discomfort from Renal Failure, and without a shred of human dignity. It doesn't fill me with joy, but I can't say I'm saddened by one scintilla. It couldn't happen to a nicer guy.


It's not well known - certainly amongst Germans who I've spoken to - but there was a Nazi guerilla movement in Germany in the months and even years immediately after WW2. There were called "Werewolves". The parallels with the current situation in Iraq are striking. So close that "truth is stranger than fiction.". For an article on the subject, go read The Command Post. (BTW The title of the article is from a book by Clifford Simak. Not one of my favourites.

UPDATE : It seems that Chuck Simmons was thinking along the same lines. <humour>How dare he so obviously plagiarise me, and do it at least 24 hours before I wrote my article!</humour>

UPDATE: And it seems that Hugh Hewitt of the Weekly Standard (who I've already quoted once before) got in even earlier, on the 10th. So at least one mainstream journalist "gets it". What about the others though?

UPDATE: Ralph Peters at the Washington Post does.

Why you can't tickle yourself

From a recent article in the New Scientist
Human brains are wired to underestimate the amount of force exerted on other people, a study of "tit-for-tat" experiments has revealed.

As well as qualifying the teary "she hit me harder" playground argument and explaining why we can't tickle ourselves, the discovery may provide insight into some self-delusional symptoms of schizophrenia.


When the body makes a movement a message is sent to the brain warning it what to expect. In this way, the brain predicts and already knows the outcome of an action before it is performed. This explains why you cannot tickle yourself - your brain already knows what to expect and de-sensitises the signal from your skin.

Wolpert says this may help to explain schizophrenic symptoms involving delusion of control. "Some schizophrenic people generate a movement but can't predict what is going to happen. They might claim the movements are generated by other beings, such as aliens, although they are made by themselves," he explains.

Tony Blair Video

It's come to my attention (courtesy of Andrew Sullivan ) that most media outlets in the USA ignored Tony Blair's speech.

For the benefits of those who missed it, here's the video. (ramgen compliant browser like IE required, dammit).

Lethal Force Authorised

From the ABC ;
The Australian-led intervention force going to the Solomon Islands this week will be allowed to use lethal force if they face life threatening situations.
So I should bloody well think.

Scary to think that this is news...

Saturday, 19 July 2003

New Addition to Politics List

The good people at Overlawyered have bowed to huge public pressure (well...) and installed a special page just for Australia. As their site has provided me with hours of harmless fun, and even more hours of wry musing at the Folly of the Law, it is with great pleasure that I add it to the Politics list.

Help the Palestinians

And the Israelis, Druze, and Bedouin too. I've often collected for the (Australian) Red Cross. Now you can help the "orphan" Magen David Adom. In the words of LT Smash :
I would like to remind everyone that MDA does not discriminate between Jews, Christians, and Muslims, treating all as human beings worthy of dignity and care. Unfortunately, due primarily to the objections of the Islamic Red Crescent Societies, they have been excluded from the International Committee of the Red Cross; unlike the medical charities in almost every other nation on the face of the Earth. So please consider donating to this worthy cause.
Just go here, and put your wallet where your mouth is.

When in Rome

From the weblog of LT Smash, an American soldier stationed in the general vicinity of Iraq :
I surveyed the food court, which boasted a surprising number of American fast food chains, including the mandatory McDonald's. There was one joint that served a variety of Arab and Indian dishes, but I was turned off by the monkey brains in the buffet (not kidding), so I opted for Pizza Hut instead.
A lost opportunity. When will he ever have the chance to try them again? Personally, I would have gone Indian. Mmmmm...Brains... Then again, some local shops do an excellent Pork Knuckle and Jellyfish. Crunchy. It helps that I live near Dickson, Canberra's Chinatown. Within 30 meters of each other there's Suschi, Turkish Pizzas, Kebabs, Kimchi, Rijstafel, Phad Thai, as well as even more foreign restaurants such as Pizza Hut, KFC and McDonalds.


Part of this blog was supposed to be about Interesting URLs that I've come across. And there will be more about this in later posts. But first, an explanation of the categories that should appear to the left of these words.

Rather than give a long list of blogs I regularly visit, just have a look at Little Green Footballs Anti-Idiotarians. Because that's what I do. The weblog itself is shrill in its pro-Semitism (the opposite of anti-Semitism). Sometimes it finds a lot of smoke without actual combustion, but all too often it drags out yet another Mad Mullah calling for the death of all Jews and other Infidel Dogs. Some of the commentary can be hateful at times, but the website itself is not, and I've always been treated with politeness by commenters there, even when I've expressed some very minority views.

But getting back to compulsory-reading that you'll find via the LGF list, just a few examples that stand out : Instapundit of course. The Original Blog. And I'm not just saying that because Glen Reynolds quoted admiringly some words of mine from The Command Post. Then there's James Lileks, who I first got introduced to via his Gallery of Regrettable Food many moons ago, before the word Weblog was coined. And,as they say, a thousand others. As Hugh Hewitt in the Weekly Standard says,
James Lileks, columnist for Newhouse News Service and the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and quite possibly the funniest guy you have never heard of.
At least we hope you've never heard of him, or his blog, The Bleat, because otherwise you have no excuse for having denied him to your readers while peddling Ellen Goodman or some other old-as-the-planets and dull as dirt culture-war left-over. Lileks is quite obviously the best generally unknown columnist in America, and among the top two in North America when you add in Canadian Mark Steyn.

Salem Pax "The Blogger From Baghdad" I corresponded with before he became if not Rich, then Famous. I tried to give him what advice I could regarding staying safe in the coming war. As my good mate Spider Robinson once said, "God is an Iron", and I ended up referring Salem Pax to an Israeli blog that managed to get him information on civil defence in Arabic. Thereby proving that common human decency can transcend such ephemera as states of war and national borders. Funnily enough, I used the same techniques against gas attack during our bushfires (see below ) when the smoke got too thick.

Letter from America is an antedeluvian primaeval proto-blog. Alistair Cooke has been giving weekly radio broadcasts trying to explain America to the British - and to the Americans - since 1948. He represents the best of what the BBC used to stand for, before the Pod People took it over. His weekly broadcasts have been available on-line for some years now, and are a Blog in all but name.

And I think I'll leave the rest till another post. Especially the intriguingly-named "space (alt)".

Talking the Talk and Walking the Walk

From an article published in The Age:
"Many people in media and politics promote a set of attitudes that are supposed to be 'moderate' and 'progressive': republicanism, harm minimisation, the elusive ideal of reconciliation and so on," Mr Ah Mat wrote.

"We fear that if you go, there will be a shift in public discussion.

"Otherwise the whole project will regress back to progressivist platitudes about symbolic reconciliation and walking bridges."


"Many of the conclusions we have arrived at in Cape York Peninsula are regarded as backward conservatism by the urban elites," Mr Ah Mat reports in his four-page letter.

"They believe in harm minimisation and social engineering as the solutions to the indigenous crisis.

"They can afford to adhere to their orthodox ideological prejudice, because they are far away from the suffering in remote areas and in the segregated underclass lives of many urban indigenous people."

The solution proposed by Mr Ah Mat is a new alliance with the right of politics.

"Conservative people at least have a relationship with indigenous people because of their closer relationship with the regional and remote Australia and with the primary industries," he says.

"There are many conflicts between us and the political right, but it is pointless to advance our cause as a 'progressive cause' in opposition to the right.

"Progressive people are clueless and can't get a majority."
The world is full of people who Talk the Talk. One of the reasons I'm a liberal is simply because I don't like to see beggars in the street, widows and orphans without hope nor sustainance. OK, so I'm patronising and arrogant. But it's my money, and if I want to give it to people who are disadvantaged, that's my right, just as it's yours not to.

What I see amongst the disorganised Left are people who are too caught up in ideology and dogma to have much in the way of ordinary human decency and compassion. Like Hamlet, who's so busy musing about whether or not to Kill the Usuper (and in the process leaving a trail of bodies, Polonius, Ophelia, Rosencrantz, Guilderstern...), they are so busy being "Compassionate" and "Caring" that they don't notice the real needs of people in society who are doing it tough. The Civilian Death Rate in Iraq actually went down during the war - fewer people were killed by stray US bombs and "collateral damage" than were being massacred by the Saddamites. But of course, the liberation of Iraq was "Not in my Name" to them. Well it was in mine.

The reason I'm not a Conservative is because they don't Talk the Talk. But very often - not as much as they should - they do Walk the Walk. Viz Clinton's words that provided comfort to much of Africa - but no actual help. And Bush's speaking softly and carrying a big wallet, not a lot of comfort, just actual, objective, practical help.

Maybe that's why John Howard leads the "Liberal Party". It's not half liberal enough in my opinion, but better than the partly-sane and wholly-directionless Australian Labour Party.

Update: I see that Tim Blair has gotten to this story before me.

Update : Karl Heinz Ranitszch very properly fact-checked me in the comments re Iraqi civilian death toll. Depending on who you believe, the civilian death toll from all causes (including executions by Ba'athists) over the 43 days of the war was between 40 and 200 per day. I think a figure of 85 is most reliable, but Karl Heinz's figure of about 120 is quite reasonable, we just don't have solid data yet. On the order of 100/day, anyway.

My figures for Civilian deaths due to the Ba'athist regime were at least 500,000 over 10 years (3650 days). We know of 100,000 Kurds, and at least 50,000 Shi'ites ( Amnesty International figures pre-war plus mass graves found since then ). As more mass graves are being found all the time, 500,000 is more likely to be an underestimate than overestimate.

At this point I'll stop: talking about mass slaughter sickens me.

Friday, 18 July 2003

Baboon or Buffoon?

A snippet from Alistair Cooke's Letter from America :
And the man, it says here, is highly regarded in countries as far apart as Australia and Nigeria. The man is Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Imagine then the increasing dismay with which our correspondent went along on a tour of Britain.

"Everywhere I go," he said, "Mr Blair is dismissed as President Bush's poodle." An influential paper says his critics see him as a "prime minister who's betrayed his country to a Texas gunslinger", otherwise characterised as "a buffoon".
That's pretty brutal talk from one ally to another. Not as bad, however, as that same paper's constant reference to a "baboon" presiding in the White House during another war.

Abraham Lincoln was the leader so called - most often and witheringly among what the early socialists called 'the ruling classes' in, of course, the South of England.
Whereas Bush is so characterised by the current "ruling classes" - the fashionable left. Just as disconnected from Reality, and just as morally bereft, as the landed Grandees of the 19th century. And just as influential. For every "Rotten Borough" that existed then, there's a Trotskyite Union cadre from the Rust Belt, or a Postmodernist pseudo-Intellectual who still hasn't got the message that Marxist Theory has been a proven failure. They are the new Aristocracy, and just as arrogant and stubborn as the old variety.

Tony Blair is no Winston S. Churchill, and George W Bush Jr. no Abraham Lincoln. But it wouldn't surprise me if history looked kindly on them in the coming years. And very unkindly on their clueless opponents.


From a speech given at Harvard University by a British Prime Minister:
The price of greatness is responsibility. If the people of the United States had continued in a mediocre station, struggling with the wilderness, absorbed in their own affairs, and a factor of no consequence in the movement of the world, they might have remained forgotten and undisturbed beyond their protecting oceans: but one cannot rise to be in many ways the leading community in the civilised world without being involved in its problems, without being convulsed by its agonies and inspired by its causes.

If this has been proved in the past, as it has been, it will become indisputable in the future. The people of the United States cannot escape world responsibility. Although we live in a period so tumultuous that little can be predicted, we may be quite sure that this process will be intensified with every forward step the United States make in wealth and in power. Not only are the responsibilities of this great Republic growing, but the world over which they range is itself contracting in relation to our powers of locomotion at a positively alarming rate.

But to the youth of America, as to the youth of all the Britains, I say "You cannot stop." There is no halting-place at this point. We have now reached a stage in the journey where there can be no pause. We must go on. It must be world anarchy or world order.

Throughout all this ordeal and struggle which is characteristic of our age, you will find in the British Commonwealth .... good comrades to whom you are united by other ties besides those of State policy and public need. To a large extent, they are the ties of blood and history.
Can you guess the Speaker? Now go have a look at Tony Blair's recent speech to the US Congress. Different times, Different Customs, but the lineage is clear.

Update : Looks like Joanne Jacobs noticed a certain Churchillian flavour too.

Get Out Of Jail Free Card

From the Boston Globe :
The police had nabbed Gonzales, who lives in the Tidewater area of Virginia, on a Las Vegas fugitive warrant on cocaine charges. The warrant said he was armed and dangerous.

Ambur Daley, 27, was arrested in a North Carolina airport as she returned from visiting her grandmother in Canada. The Staunton, Va., resident was booked, fingerprinted, and kept overnight in jail, accused of writing bad checks.

In fact, neither Daley nor Gonzales had done anything wrong. The crimes they were accused of were committed by phantoms -- identity thieves who have stolen their names, Social Security numbers, addresses, and telephone numbers. Dependent on electronic records in databanks, police across the nation were chasing the wrong people.

Both now have a Virginia Identity Theft Passport, the first two victims to participate in a program aimed at giving people such as Daley and Gonzales a fighting chance in convincing police of their innocence. A state law creating the program took effect July 1.

Issued by a judge and bearing the seal of Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore, the passport is intended to aid Virginia residents who are the victims of identity theft.

''An Identity Theft Passport will serve as a shield to law enforcement to take a pause and investigate those individuals who have filed a police report and attempted to straighten out their identity,'' Kilgore said.
Of course, correcting the data in the databanks would help too. But it seems that's just too hard.


This post based upon a report in the RISKS Digest, the Forum On Risks To The Public In Computers And Related Systems.

Thursday, 17 July 2003

In praise of McDonalds

When the first Mackers ( McDonalds, the Golden Arches etc etc ) opened here in Australia, I tried one of their products. I was less than favourably impressed. Their chips - "French Fries" - are OK, and the artificially coloured artificially flavoured non-dairy emulsified industrial fat "Soft Serve" is actually quite palatable. The meat's alright, not to my taste, but the bread is a culinary atrocity. But all this is a matter of personal taste. And I don't want to "Damn with Faint Praise", I want to genuinely give them credit where it's due.

You see, my son Andrew turned two the day before yesterday. And we held his party at Mackers. A dozen 2-year-olds, and about as many parents attended. And everyone had a great time. It was wonderful - and astonishing - to see a dozen rambuctious toddlers voluntarily sit down in a neat row and become very, very quiet. They concentrated entirely on the very serious business of hoeing in to the "Chippies" (french fries), and some battered gobbets of supposedly avian origin. Washed down not with healthful, natural Water but chemical concoctions in colours Nature never had in her palette.

The decor was loud, the whole atmosphere both plastic and kitsch. So naturally, they loved it. There were BIG RED BALLOONS! There was a WIGGLES VIDEO played REALLY LOUD! The staff had the patience of a whole panoply of Saints, the party room was set up to be quickly hosed down for the next group, and everyone, parents included, had a terrific time, with presents and ice-cream cake for all.

And that last phrase says everything : "Presents and Ice Cream Cake for All!".

This piece of Coca-Colonisation that anyone with two tastebuds in working order would shun has probably contributed to more personal happiness across the world than any other single institution. And if you're Two years old, it's Fun, Exciting, and Culture at its finest.

So thank-you Mackers. I can't pretend to like your Hamburgers, but I say this from the heart, not the stomach. Thanks for giving my little son a great time. Thanks especially to the staff at McDonalds, Dickson, ACT. And at a cost of about $80 Australian for 12 kids, including an extra Ice-Cream Cake to take home for Grandma, who was feeling poorly. As Jerry Pournelle says: "Highly Recommended."

The Clever Country?

From the Sydney Morning Herald :
A group of Australian students have finished runner-up in a global NASA competition to build a model space station.
The students from Brisbane's St Lawrence's College, All Hallows and the Brisbane Girls and Boys Grammar Schools became the first Australian team to enter after discovering the competition on the internet.
The objective was to design a space station for 10,000 people with complete infrastructure to support its inhabitants.
The students final brief was to construct a space station on Mars for 25,000 people and to create and grow a habitable environment that would eventually accommodate one million people in 100 years' time.
The students, eligible to enter again next year, are now VIPs at the NASA facility.
Those involved were disappointed the Queensland government declined a grant for the project despite its Smart State agenda.
The students funded the trip to compete in the final themselves through sponsorships.
<sarcasm>Ah, good to see both the Federal and State Governments giving their usual encouragement and support.</sarcasm>. Congratulations to all those who contributed, and especially to the students themselves.

Wednesday, 16 July 2003

History is Bunk

Or so said Henry Ford, though other sources indicate what he actually said is "History is more or less Bunk"; a subtle but perhaps crucial difference.

But that illustrates an important point about History, that it is often simplified, dumbed-down, or otherwise confused by people with ideological axes to grind, or who just don't care about historical accuracy.

Which brings me to the point of this post. While reading American Realpolitik (yet another somewhat-to-the-right Blog I regularly read and admire), I was directed to this quote from Sterling Rome.
In a continuing effort to discredit or minimalize inconvenient facts that obstruct their world view, many "progressives" have embraced revisionist history. It is not enough to shape the politics of today; they also must erase any knowledge of the past that might not correspond with their current argument.
Revisionist history in arcane publications or remote debating societies is a danger to no one in particular, but when the teaching of history is watered down to the point of obsolescence, teenagers get their history from only one source - the establishment media.

Although there are many wonderful and expert sources for accurate historical information in our society (like the library!), the establishment media does little to offset the growing trend of disregarding our past.

For every 'History Channel' there are ten channels devoted to music videos or celebrity gossip. For every thousand who deem a series like "The American President" entertainment, there are millions who deem Oliver Stone's film "JFK" a documentary.

The crux of the dilemma over teaching, understanding, and honoring history is the inherent difference between liberal and conservative.

Many conservatives have great regard for history as a guide and as an indication of what to expect from the future, while many liberals have a utopian view of society that requires a suspension of disbelief in order to be seen as practical.

Because much of current liberal politics is built on theory rather than practice, history can be an awful inconvenience.
So-called 'Progressives' can ill afford an electorate versed in political and cultural history, so their only option is to debunk historical truths that contradict them, or to argue that history is always relative to interpretation.

Herein lies the real danger to society as a whole. Questioning history in an effort to uncover the truth is healthy. Refuting a truth (regardless of its validity) because it doesn't support a political theory is the death-knell of liberty.
If he's right, I'm a conservative. I always tell my students "At least be original with your mistakes." As I teach safety-critical software development, programming where (quite literally) lives are at stake, the concepts of checking the literature and avoiding the problems other poor devils have encountered is ingrained in my very being.

But today, I see the punditocracy constantly being surprised by events that have been perfectly predictable. Consider the current Crisis in the New World (Dis)Order, including the Psychotic North Korean Nuclear programme, Weapons of Mass Destruction, Anthrax attacks, and the recent war with Iraq involving Cruise Missiles. Well, have a read of this
May there not be methods of using explosive energy incomparably more intense than anything heretofore discovered?

Might not a bomb no bigger than an orange be found to possess a secret power to destroy a whole block of buildings - nay, to concentrate the force of a thousand tons of cordite and blast a township at a stroke?

Could not explosives even of a conventional type be guided automatically in flying machines by wireless or other rays, without a human pilot, in ceaseless procession upon a hostile city, arsenal, camp, or dockyard?

As for Poison Gas and Chemical Warfare in all its forms, only the first chapter has been written of a terrible book. Certainly every one of these new avenues to destruction is being studied on both sides of the Rhine with all the science and patience of which man is capable.

And why should it be supposed that these resources will be limited to Inorganic Chemistry? A study of Disease - of Pestilences methodically prepared and deliberately launched upon man and beast - is certainly being pursued in the laboratories of more than one great country. Blight to destroy crops, Anthrax to slay horses and cattle, Plague to poison not armies only but whole districts - such are the lines along which military science is remorselessly advancing.
The author? One Winston Spencer Churchill. In his book, "History of the Second World War", written in the late 40's, he repeats these words, asking why we haven't learnt from them. Because they were first published in 1925. That's 78 years ago from the time I'm writing this.

Let's at least be Original in our mistakes.

One less thing to worry about

From Jim Dunnigan's Strategy Page
July 15, 2003: The Department of Defense is spending several hundred million dollars to upgrade the computer and communications systems used to control the use of nuclear weapons.....
The system will not be connected to the Internet or use Microsoft software.

Yet another Phrase worth repeating

From Perry De Havilland at Libertarian Samizdata, yet another OTT website that's compulsory reading.
There are hypocrites and then there are French hypocrites. Do not let anyone ever tell you that there is nothing at which the French are truly world class.

Tuesday, 15 July 2003

Turn Of Phrase of the Week

The esteemed Tim Blair is rather too Over The Top for my tastes. He enoys being an enfant terrible, puncturing sacred cows and smashing leftist icons with rather too much glee. His aim is sometimes a bit too all-encompassing, with infants and bathwater sometimes mixed. But I read him constantly, he often hits the bullseye and he sometimes has a fine turn of phrase. As in this post:
Crazy Kim Myong-Chol puts down his spaniel burger for a few minutes to threaten Australia with atomic death:

Monday, 14 July 2003

Canberra Bushfires

Canberra ( pronounced CAN-bruh ) is a relatively small city of 300,000 people, spread over an area somewhat larger than Luxembourg. Earlier this year, just before the Iraq war, we had the dubious honour of joining a very select list. The list of cities that have experienced a Firestorm. That's a very select list indeed. Hamburg, Rostock, Dresden, Hiroshima, and Canberra. Neither Nagasaki nor Oakland quite qualify, though by all accounts the latter was very similar to the situation in Canberra. About 5 square miles burnt out in Oakland, compared with over a hundred in Canberra. Fortunately, it only nibbled at the edges: it destroyed some 500 houses, plus sundry schools, medical centres, and observatories. But thankfully, it only claimed 4 lives.

Telegraph poles blown over

The Firestorm is a meteorological phenomenon, where the conflagration makes its own local weather pattern. To anyone who's experienced it, it's simply this : a Hurricane of Fire, that picks up trees and flings them burning across the landscape, bowling down powerpoles and often freakishly leaving surrounding areas intact.

The sun grew dark.

Broad Daylight turned into a Red Haze, then as Black as the deepest Midnight. The winds grew stronger and stronger, the stench of woodfire turning into thick, choking, rolling clouds of smoke. Amidst it all, burning embers fell here and there, and to the unlucky, turning into an avalanche of fire.

The Firestorm approaches

As for the residents - we were given the choice, evacuate or prepare to fight. The choice was ours, and to be made on the basis of cold calculation of our chances. Could we get away if things turned to custard? What about dependents? I, like most others, prepared to fight. There are many elderly in our street, and they would have needed time to get away. As it was, the worst thing that happened was a few burning twigs and leaves causing spotfires in our suburb - nothing to worry about, we doused them quickly.

A Hose vs the Firsetorm

In all honesty, it was no big deal for us, unlike for many. We were prepared, with hoses, buckets and tubs at the ready, gutters blocked and filled with water. But I'd rather not go through it again, thanks very much.


All photos are links to some found in the Canberra Bushfire Photos page.

Every Cloud

...has a silver lining. From The Australian
The Bali bombings that killed scores of Western holidaymakers attack had "positive aspects" because they turned people back to religion, a key suspect said today.
<sarcasm>Oh, that's alright then.</sarcasm>

But wait, there's more! In fact, the whole thing was... (you guessed it)... a plot by the Americans and Jews! From the ABC
Amrozi admitted he had sent 600 kilograms of explosives and a van to Bali, but he denied he had been involved in planning meetings or that he had ever heard of Jemaah Islamiah.

Instead he suggested America or Israel might have detected the car by satellite then planted a nuclear bomb outside the Kuta club instead.
Obviously he's been reading the We Control America website. Published by the Indefatigable Joe Vialls, author of such <sarcasm>well-researched masterpieces</sarcasm> as "Electronically Hijacking the WTC Attack Aircraft" and "Mossad's Subliminal Mind Control". And contributor to "The Truth Seeker" along with fellow luminary, Robert Fisk.

OK, why do I link to these -er- "progressive?" -er- "revisionist?" -er- "Psychotically Anti-Semitic" (that'll do) sites? Because I believe that such things should be exposed at every turn. Ignore them, and they fester. Drag them out from under their rock and into the sunlight, and they lose their power. Had we done the same for Al Qaeda, much harm might have been prevented. One thing that Amrozi said is quite true:
"For the foreigners, I said, you have learned your lesson."
Yes, we have, Mr Amrozi, Yes we have.

Cry 'HAVOC!'

And let slip the Dogs of War. Or at least, track down a Spam Artist. These people are performing a public service, there should be a way of lending them some financial support.

A reasonable Business Model:
  1. Form 'Spam Hunters Inc.'
  2. Solicit donations and worthy quarry.
  3. Pursue Spammers with dogged persistence.
  4. Profit.
(BTW the phrase is from Shakespeare's 'Julius Caesar' and refers to the twin dogs of Mars, Phobos (Fear) and Deimos (Panic). Ehu, the benefits of a Classical Education.)

Sunday, 13 July 2003

Cyborgs, Hybrots and Borg, Oh My!

Something that's coming up over the next decade or so is the fusion of organic and inorganic components into something that is both and neither. No, I've not put on my patented Tinfoil Hat, I'm talking about stuff that's already happened. Consider that in the labs, we already have a Robot controlled by a Lamprey Eel's brain.
"We are getting the engineering tools that allow us to plug into living systems," said Alan Rudolph of the federal government's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which has funded a number of studies into the interaction between animals and electronics. "We are asking the question, 'Can we make machines with living components and make them work?'"
A full-blown Academic Paper is available, as a PDF. Such Hybrid Organic/Inorganic Robots are called "Hybrots", and are not confined to primitive organisms. For example, foetal rat tissue has been used.
In his experiment, Potter places a droplet of solution containing thousands of rat neuron cells onto a silicon chip that's embedded with 60 electrodes connected to an amplifier. The electrical signals that the cells fire at one another are picked up by the electrodes which then send the amplified signal into a computer. The computer, in turn, wirelessly relays the data to the robot.
The robot then manifests this neuronal activity with physical motion, each of its movements a direct result of neurons talking to neurons. And the robot also sends information back to the cells. Equipped with light sensors, the robot receives input about its location in the playpen from infrared signals lining the borders.
But what about Cyborgs, organic creatures with inorganic neural components? It's now been several years since the UCSD managed to replace one of a Spiny Lobster's Neurons with a few dollars worth of Radio Shack parts.

"We built an electronic neuron that is able to work as a member of a neural framework," said Abarbanel, director of INLS. "It's science fiction, except that we did it."
The finding comes after two years of research, using $7.50 worth of circuit parts from a Radio Shack store and dozens of spiny lobsters from La Jolla Cove purchased from a local fisherman.

Closer to home, we have the New Scientist report on the first artificial Brain structure, a partial "Brain Prosthesis".
The world's first brain prosthesis - an artificial hippocampus - is about to be tested in California. Unlike devices like cochlear implants, which merely stimulate brain activity, this silicon chip implant will perform the same processes as the damaged part of the brain it is replacing.
<humour>I know quite a few Green and Democratic politicians who could do with some rather more extensive treatment, of course...</humour> The Ethical issues raised by this new area are staggering. Stay Tuned for more on this as time goes by.