A break from Blogging

I'm going to take a short break from blogging. Not for any reason - just think I need a break. I'll still be looking at other blogs and commenting though. Back next Monday (3 September 2007).


The advantage of county cricket

All hail the Sheffield Shield. Nevertheless, county cricket is up there with the best.

Currently, Lancashire and Hampshire are battling it out. If you go to that match you would see the following players:

There is no other place on earth where you can get so many top-class cricketers playing with and against each other so often. It is in this sort of atmosphere that young English players are being exposed to. Don't tell me that having overseas players is bad for English cricket!

Overseas players:
  • Make County cricket more watchable.
  • Make County cricket stronger.
  • Make Young English players more likely to succeed at international level.


Amateur unmanned ballon flight

These guys filled a balloon up with helium and attached a box to it. Inside the box was an ordinary digital camera set to take a photo every minute, as well as an electronic tracking device. The balloon got to 35.84km (117,597 ft) before it burst. The pics include those taken as it fell to the ground.

This photoshopped image has been shamelessly stolen from Something Awful.

Comment at Economist's View

Just posted this:

Back in 2001 we suffered because of the tech boom and now we will suffer because of the subprime meltdown.

In both cases, inflation remained (relatively) benign and the Fed kept rates low... until inflation began to be a problem and the Fed raised rates. A bust followed.

It is obvious that current monetary policy is unable to solve this problem. The Central Banks focus upon Consumer prices as the key to adjusting monetary conditions. The problem with this is that, in both 2001 and 2007, a massive asset-price increase preceded the bust. Even though inflation remained low, the massive rise in stock prices (the years up to 2000) and the massive rise in property prices (the years up to 2007) did not figure in inflation. Therefore the inflation that caused both busts (I am talking in the past tense about the bust we are undergoing now) was not factored into the Fed's monetary actions.

The best solution is, to my mind, having a stricter inflation target that the Fed (and all central banks) aim for. If increased rates were needed between 2001-2004 then, in hindsight, the only way the Fed could have acted to achieve this would be to have a lower target. In other words, rather than acting only when inflation starts heading above 2.5%, it may have been more prudent to act when inflation starts heading above 1.5%, or even lower.

Of course, having higher rates between 2001-2004 would have stifled economic growth - but the result would have been lower growth over a longer period, rather than having boom and bust all over again.

As we all know, monetary policy was introduced as an inflation controller because of the booms and busts of the 1970s. Although much of the 1970s was a result of oil shocks, inflation figures between 1964 and 1970 were too high by modern standards, so the recession in the early 1970s was going to happen, oil shock or not.

It now seems that monetary policy, in its current form, has not solved the boom/bust problem. Indeed, the world has suffered three major economic crises since the early 1990s recession - the 1997 Asian economic crisis, the tech-bust of 2000 and the Subprime meltdown of 2007.

Unless central bankers are willing to set harsher inflationary targets, and restrict monetary growth such that Consumer prices do not increase annually by 1% or more, I would say that this boom/bust situation will continue.

Fiscal Surplus and Foreign Debt

So, the Federal Government has a $17.3 Billion surplus. What to do with it?

In the past I have advocated using it to pay off government debt. This has been done, so what now?

One good way to use it is to help reduce our foreign debt.

Australia's current account deficit is around $56 billion (annual). Australia's net debt that it owes the world is around $532 billion.

If the government used this surplus by buying Yen or Euro (not USD, that's a falling currency) then it would reduce our current account, reduce our net debt and increase our foreign exchange reserves. In the short term it would depress the Aussie dollar but, as the interest comes back, it would act to increase its value.

Abortion and The Australian

Craig linked to this article in today's Australian. This is the offending paragraph:
The US state of South Dakota voted in February 2006 to ban all abortions, followed by the African nation of Kenya. Isolated instances, sure, but in many places, for the first time since the turbulence of the 1960s and '70s, clear majorities have indicated a deep unease about abortion.
Two points to make:
  1. South Dakota repealed the law in November 2006 after massive public outcry led to a referendum that was 56%-44% against the new law.

  2. A majority of Americans have supported abortion for a long time.

The Australian is owned by Rupert Murdoch, the same guy who owns Fox News. Fixing facts around conservative politics is their speciality.

Check my FAQ for my view on abortion.

New IR laws liked by employees?

From the department of the-devil-is-in-the-details:
A study has found many people believe the Federal Government's controversial WorkChoices policy has provided a better balance between work and family life.

About 40 per cent of those surveyed by Deakin University said they were allowed more personal carer days since the inception of WorkChoices last year, and 27 per cent said their sick days had increased.

Fifty-five per cent of the survey respondents complained of an increased need to seek legal advice about their work agreements.

The findings were the result of a survey of just over 1000 companies, all members of the Australian Human Resources Institute.

The University says four-fifths of the survey respondents would have had direct experience with the Work Choices legislation.

The companies said that negotiation with individuals on pay and conditions had risen by 25 per cent, while union involvement in settling grievances had decreased by 12 per cent.
Okay, the fact that this study has been released by Deakin University gives it credibility. If it was released by some organisation representing employers I would doubt the veracity. Nevertheless, the way the media is reporting it is problematic.

The important thing to note in the story is that it took a sample of employees from companies which are members of the Human Resources Institute. From the institute's website, we find this quote:
The AHRI vision people leading business recognises the changing requirements of Australian business against a background of considerable economic challenge. It also acknowledges the continuing opportunity for the HR profession to actively contribute specialist knowledge for the delivery of people management solutions to business.
In other words, the employees in this study who are happy with the IR laws work for companies that employ Human Resource managers and have expertise in people-management.

I'm all for the importance of Human Resources. Companies that have HR managers understand the relationship between employee productivity and employee needs. It is good to hear that these new IR laws have allowed such companies to use the new laws to further productivity and work more closely with their employees.

Of course, the simple fact is that most companies around Australia do not have a HR department. Many employees work for small-medium sized businesses that don't have the luxury of having HR. It is in these companies that employees will have the most dissatisfaction.

The media have unintentionally "spun" this news to create the impression that large percentages of the workforce are happy with the new IR laws. What the media should have done is be more judicious in its reporting, and titled it "Some employees are happy with IR laws".

Attacking Iran?

Would Bush have the guts/stupidity to attack Iran?

I keep having this horrible vision of Bush launching Nukes at them.

Sausage Assault

From the Department of sausages-don't-kill-people-guns-do:
A 12-year-old boy was charged with assault and taken before the courts - for throwing a cocktail sausage.

The boy was accused of throwing the pork snack at a 74-year-old man in Woodhouse Park, south Manchester.

He denied the charge in a hearing at a Manchester Youth Court, where the judge questioned the decision to prosecute.

Greater Manchester Police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) are now reviewing the case, which the boy's mother described as an "utter joke".

Iraq vs Vietnam

George Bush has compared Iraq to Vietnam.
President George W Bush has warned a US withdrawal from Iraq could trigger the kind of upheaval seen in South East Asia after US forces quit Vietnam.

"The price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens," he told war veterans in Missouri.

Mr Bush said the Vietnam War had taught the need for US patience over Iraq.
First of all, let me make the point that Bush was speaking at the annual convention for the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) group, which is made up, these days, of Vietnam veterans. Therefore his invocation of Vietnam isn't as surprising as some may say.

Bush appears to support an historical view which said that America could have won in Vietnam had it the testicular fortitude to do it. Bush said that millions died as a result of America's pull-out. I don't think this is necessarily a good argument for a number of reasons:
  1. Given the high casualty rate of Iraqi civilians since 2003 (over 655,000 dead) it seems reasonable to assume that, given the higher level of ferocity of the fighting, Vietnam had a higher civilian casualty rate. Some figures put this at 5.1 million up until the end of the war. In other words, America killed more Vietnamese through their action than through the result of their withdrawal.

  2. One of the reasons why America was not able to win the Vietnam war was because of restrictions placed upon the US military. In practice, this meant that they were prevented from waging war in Cambodia and prevented from invading the North. In a similar way, America has failed to completely pacify Iraq because Bush essentially limited the amount of troops to a couple hundred thousand. If Bush wishes to win the war, he should, at the very least, quadruple American forces there.

  3. The lesson from Vietnam was that the "domino theory" was flawed. Communism did not spread throughout Asia as a result of Vietnam's fall to Communism. In the same way, if America withdraws from Iraq it will not result in a takeover of the region by the dreaded Islamofascists.

Zimbabwe on a high

From the department of at-least-Hitler-was-able-to-control-hpyerinflation:
Zimbabwe's inflation rate has leapt to a record high, official data showed, raising pressure on President Robert Mugabe to ease an economic crisis that foes hope will weaken the veteran leader.

Zimbabwe's inflation - already the highest in the world - hit 7,634.8 per cent in July, reminding Zimbabweans there is no relief in sight from daily hardships including chronic food, fuel and foreign currency shortages.

Although the Government says the inflation figure is correct, many analysts and critics say it is likely much higher. The International Monetary Fund said last month inflation may reach 100,000 per cent by year-end.


Believer's Baptism

As many of you know, I'm a baby-dunking Pressie, having moved from being an asacramental Sydney Anglican some years ago. One of the joys of being Reformed is having a well thought-out view of Baptism, as well as understanding the reasons behind pedobaptism.

However, Fide-O has just blogged about a recent debate between pedo and credo baptists. What caught my eye is this statement:
Over all it was a victory for the credo-baptist position, not because credos are smarter than paedos, but because of the clarity of the New Testament scriptures on the constitution of the New Covenant i.e. consisting of believers only. Of note was Gene’s exegesis of Hebrews 8; proving that the New Covenant is entirely salvific, consisting only of true believers.
Slightly arrogant to claim victory in a "contest" that doesn't involve quantifiable outcomes but qualitative ones - nevertheless I decided to turn to Hebrews 8 and the relevant bit says:
But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.
And then, to underscore the point, the writer to the Hebrews then quotes from Jeremiah:
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
The argument therefore is that those under the new covenant will actually be regenerate.

I'm not ready to give-up being a pedobaptist just yet, but this is a very compelling argument for credo-baptism.

New Zealand keeps tabs on us

It's always my belief that, around the world, you have "big country - little country syndrome", or "big city - little city syndrome". Such a syndrome would manifest itself in this way:
  • People in Melbourne know what goes on in Sydney, but people in Sydney have got no idea what goes on in Melbourne.

  • People in New Zealand know what goes on in Australia, but people in Australia have got no idea what goes on in New Zealand.

  • People in Australia know what goes on in the United States, but people in the United States have got no idea what goes on in Australia.
And so on. This sort of syndrome can often be proven. For example, what is today's main discussion in The New Zealand Herald? Does a politician's strip club visit lower your opinion of that person?

This photoshopped image has been shamelessly stolen from Something Awful.


Disturbing Simpsons scene

From the second episode:

Homer chases a naked Bart up the stairs. Bart runs into his room and locks in. Homer slams his fists on it.

HOMER: You can't stay in there forever.

BART: I can try.

HOMER: March your butt right out here, now!

BART: No way, man.

HOMER: But--Son, if you don't come out I can't hug you and kiss you and make you feel all better.

Naked Bart sits on the bed, reads a comic book and takes out a can and begins to suck the straw.

BART: You think I'm dumb enough to fall for that? I'm insulted.
Anyone else disturbed by this scene?

Trickle Down - the reality

From the department of human-nature-is-common-sense:
Americans earned a smaller average income in 2005 than in 2000, the fifth consecutive year that they had to make ends meet with less money than at the peak of the last economic expansion, new government data shows.

While incomes have been on the rise since 2002, the average income in 2005 was $55,238, still nearly 1 percent less than the $55,714 in 2000, after adjusting for inflation, analysis of new tax statistics show.

The combined income of all Americans in 2005 was slightly larger than it was in 2000, but because more people were dividing up the national income pie, the average remained smaller. Total adjusted gross income in 2005 was $7.43 trillion, up 3.1 percent from 2000 and 5.8 percent from 2004.


Robert S. McIntyre, the director of Citizens for Tax Justice, said that even though he expected a few very wealthy people to reap most of the tax savings generated by lower tax rates on dividends and capital gains, the size of the savings “still takes your breath away.”

He said the tax savings at the top, combined with lower average incomes after five years, “shows that trickle down doesn’t work.”


Supermarket discount fuel vouchers 'a sham system'
The national body representing grocery retailers has told an inquiry the discount fuel vouchers offered by the major supermarket chains are being subsidised by higher grocery prices.

Their concerns were raised at an inquiry into the cost of unleaded petrol, being conducted by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

Washington Post on Howard and Australia

By E. J. Dionne Jr:
MELBOURNE, Australia -- In describing the average voter's view of the economy, which opposition party politician said, "If things are going so well, why am I finding it so tough?"

Guessing Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama or John Edwards would be reasonable but wrong. The words are those of Kevin Rudd, the leader of the Australian Labor Party, who, if current polling numbers hold, will be elected this fall as Australia's next prime minister.

The "if" is important -- the 11-year incumbent, John Howard, is one of the toughest politicians in the democratic world and will not go down without a fierce fight. The election campaign here is an important test of whether good economic numbers are enough to reelect an incumbent party when, even in the midst of affluence, voters feel stressed, overly in debt and time-poor in their personal lives.

Julia Gillard, the Labor Party's deputy leader, cites all these factors in casting the campaign as a choice between the Howard government's economic record and "fresh ideas, a government in touch with people's needs and fairness at work." She and just about everyone else expect the government to run "a fear campaign based on the economy," as she puts it, a strategy rooted in the claim that Rudd's Labor Party would wreck what Howard has achieved.

New Zealand's secret weapon

From the department of one-rule-for-me-another-rule-for-you:
Australian apple and pear growers say New Zealand will fail in its attempt to gain permission to export apples and pears to Australia.

New Zealand will ask the World Trade Organisation to overrule a decision to block its apple and pear sales here, because of the disease fireblight.

But the Chairman of the Australian apple and pear growers fire blight taskforce, John Corby, says fireblight will destroy the domestic industry.

"Bacteria will come in on the apples being imported into Australia," he said.

"This is a bacteria that essentially wipes out pear indutries and has a devastating effect on apple industries," he said.
Those horrible, horrible Kiwis! Threatening to Export their disease infested fruit to our pristine shores! What were they thinking?

Amazing Archaeological find

In Egypt:
AL JIZAH, EGYPT—A team of British and Egyptian archaeologists made a stunning discovery Monday, unearthing several intact specimens of "skeleton people"—skinless, organless humans who populated the Nile delta region an estimated 6,000 years ago.

"This is an incredible find," said Dr. Christian Hutchins, Oxford University archaeologist and head of the dig team. "Imagine: At one time, this entire area was filled with spooky, bony, walking skeletons."

This photoshopped image has been shamelessly stolen from Something Awful.

Good morning Lemmings

Windows Error Messages

Dying with unconfessed sin

Michael Spencer discusses major problems in the modern evangelical church - namely the belief that we "add" to our salvation, or that if we die without confessing a major sin then we go to hell.

Cyclone developing off Queensland

I'm glad it's not the cyclone season:
A deep low-pressure system developing off Queensland's Gold Coast is expected to generate 90 kilometres per hour winds and knock down tree limbs and cause power cuts later today.

The Weather Bureau's Jeff Callaghan says the low is equivalent to a category 1 cyclone and is expected to bring dangerous seas and damaging wind gusts of up to 90 kilometres per hour along coastal areas and higher ground out to the Darling Downs and Granite Belt later this morning.


Abdur Razzaq quits international cricket

From the department of Pakistani-cricket-is-in-crisis-yawn:
All-rounder Abdul Razzaq has announced his retirement from international cricket, saying he had taken his decision in protest at his omission from the Pakistan national team.

"I have taken this decision under protest because I am mentally disturbed over the treatment meted out by the selectors who dropped me like a new player," Razzaq told a private television channel from London.
Mentally disturbed?

Sharemarket blah blah blah

Stocks up blah blah blah federal reserve blah blah blah isn't capitalism wonderful hidden message blah blah blah.

This photoshopped image has been shamelessly stolen from Something Awful.

Air Conditioned Clothes

From Japan - where else?
Kuchoufuku has a wide range of products including jackets, pants, white shirts (for both men and women), and workshirts with dual fans that create constant air flow. Combined with the bed, it’s now possible to spend nearly every second of your day being fanned with cool air for those hot and humid summers.


Dhal is best eaten fresh. It's okay to fridge it and microwave it, but it tastes so much better just after you've cooked it.

What to make of Kevin Rudd's sin

Kevin Rudd - leader of the ALP and potentially Australia's next Prime Minister - has admitted to getting drunk and visiting a strip club in New York four years ago.

As I have made clear over at Craig's blog, I personally don't think this behaviour is somehow more immoral than John Howard's decision to join America in invading Iraq - an action that has caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.

Having said that I certainly don't want to be understood as accepting Rudd's behaviour. The reason why I hesitate is because part of Rudd's public persona has been his Christian faith. This is unusual in many ways because Christians tend to move on the more conservative side of the political spectrum while Rudd is on the left. Moreover, Rudd has been making an effort over the years to communicate with Australian Christians and has had his thoughts discussed at many Christian forums as a result.

If Rudd is calling himself a Christian then his actions in getting drunk and visiting a night club are concerning. If Rudd was just another Bob Hawke - an alcoholic atheist - his behaviour would probably be more understandable, mainly because at least with atheism there is a certain level of moral ambiguity that can be accepted. Once a public figure aligns himself with a certain moral and/or spiritual belief, any action that he or she does which contradicts it is up for scrutiny. It is therefore far more concerning - and far more newsworthy - for a "Christian" to be guilty of the sins that a non-Christian commits.

To his credit, Rudd has never positioned himself as a social conservative - his political platform is not based upon personal Christian morality. Unlike many American Republicans, Rudd has not railed against sexual sins and aligned himself with the conservative movement. Politically, therefore, Rudd has little to lose - in the eyes of the world his actions, while questionable, are not contemptible.

But what are we as Christians to make of this - especially when Rudd has spoken of his Christian faith?

First and most obviously, it is not for us to cast the first stone. Rudd's sins have been exposed while our own have not. Yes, let us be critical but be balanced. There are Christians out there who have done far worse than what Rudd has done.

Secondly, we need to question whether Rudd's overtures to Australian Christians are now worthwhile. It is hard to not separate politics from politicians - but if Rudd has made overtures to Australian Christians and has identified himself as one, then we are to call into question his motives now that this sin has been revealed. Having not read much of Rudd's Christian comments, I would like to know if he has spoken of his own personal shortcomings. Has he, in his dealings with Australian Christians, presented himself as a model of ethical behaviour or has he admitted (in a broad sense) his own shortcomings and sins? If he has done the former then his overtures to Australian Christians must be severely questioned. But if he has admitted his own shortcomings to Australians, then this current news story should not affect Christians' view of Rudd.

Thirdly, we need to realise that, while God desires godly leadership, we cannot demand or expect godly behaviour from politicians. Church leaders, on the other hand, should be closely examined - but political leaders should not. That Kevin Rudd has been exposed as a sinful human being should startle no one. Note: I am not saying that Christians should ignore the sins of politicians, but I am saying that we should be more willing to tolerate sin in unbelievers than in Christians and Christian leaders. I'd like to explain this further but it would dominate the article.

Fourthly - we need to see how Rudd handles this revelation. Publicly Rudd has expressed remorse for his action and admits that it was the wrong thing to do. Moreover, Rudd has also made it clear that his wife was aware of his indiscretions. It was even reported on radio this morning that Australian journalists have been aware of Rudd's night-club event for some years. The important thing about this revelation is that Rudd has not attempted to hide it - at least from those who are closer to him that the general public. Even Rudd's political opponents have not chosen to use it (until now presumably) and even now are tight-lipped about it.

I personally like Kevin Rudd. I won't be voting for him but, so far, nothing about his beliefs or actions makes me question his suitability to be Prime Minister. I felt the same about John Howard up until about 1999 or 2000 - which means, of course, that I may change my mind about Rudd one day.

If Rudd becomes PM one day - and I hope he does - he will eventually disappoint me. The political system that Australia has creates politicians who are cynical and bloody-minded and I am certain that Rudd will one day fall into that trap. Until then, I like what I see.

Update: The BBC has a good article on this.

Anakin and Padme, sitting in a tree

Star Wars couple Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen have been voted as having the least plausible on-screen chemistry by film fans.

The pair beat Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez for their performance in Gigli into second place, which was made when they were a real life couple.

Rain, rain, come to stay

42mm so far in Newcastle today.



Oil at $100 per barrel?

Peakniks (those interested in Peak Oil), have often used the spectre of $100 per barrel of oil as a potential outcome of the Peak. "Look at the price of oil", they would say, "you think it's high now? Wait until it hits $100 per barrel".

The "$100 per barrel" argument is an interesting one, mainly because it represents a landmark - an important sign along the way that proves Peak oil to be both scientifically and economically correct. After all, if oil production begins to decrease (as Peak Oil argues will happen), then the result will be higher prices.

One of the landmarks that has been approached twice - but never passed - is the $80 barrel mark. I have read elsewhere (and please forgive my not linking because it would take too much time) that $80 is the inflation adjusted price of oil that is comparable to the highest price reached during the oil shocks of the 1970s. Twice in the last few years the price of oil has been above $79 but has never gone past the magic $80. As a landmark, such a price indicates that the world is, indeed, in an oil shock.

But will the price ever reach $100? I was chatting with Dave about this recently and I pointed out that the chances of this occurring were quite slim. At the moment, the United States is undergoing the "Subprime meltdown", which is a severe economic shock. I am fairly confident that this event will plunge America into a recession and maybe take parts of the world with it. Moreover, I am of the opinion that the oil price has been so high for so long that the knock-on effects - namely inflationary pressure and higher interest rates - have been in many ways responsible both for the recent US housing bubble "popping" and the Subprime meltdown which has followed.

This being the case, the fact is that with a recession now already in the works the chances are that inflationary pressures will drop markedly. With a recession reducing the power of Americans to purchase goods and services, one natural decrease will be a drop in oil demand - an event that will result in lower prices.

So, my argument went, the chances of oil reaching $100 - at least within the next 3-5 years - is actually quite slim. Had things remained more or less the same, I would stand by this prediction.

However, I have since changed my mind - quite quickly I might add - because something happened that I did not predict that messed up my thinking on this issue. What was that "something"? It was Ben Bernanke.

Ben Bernanke is the chairman of the US Federal Reserve Bank - a post once occupied by Alan Greenspan. Last week, as you probably know, US Sharemarkets were taking a hammering from the Subprime meltdown - the market was unwilling to lend struggling mortgage brokers the money they needed to keep their businesses running, a process called a "credit squeeze". With the market in trouble, Bernanke came to the rescue by lowering a key federal funds rate, a process which essentially communicated to the market that the Fed's monetary stance is now expansionary. In other words, the Federal Reserve will increase the money supply, thus making money cheaper, with the result being an easing of conditions for the entire marketplace.

When Bernanke made this announcement, I could scarcely believe it. I posted my thoughts on this the other day and I am still in shock.

Back when the Asian financial crisis was unfolding a decade ago, Alan Greenspan responded to the situation in much the same way - by an aggressive lowering of US interest rates. Greenspan has been cre
dited with preventing a world recession as a result. This time, however, rather than the United States Economy rescuing the world from recession, it is more likely that the US will drag the world into a recession. Overseas investors have been slowly selling off their US Dollar assets for 2-3 years now - the result being an increasingly weak US Dollar. This weak dollar has been partly responsible for the rise in US inflation and a rise in US interest rates - both of which have exacerbated the current Subprime meltdown.

What I am trying to say is that the Fed's action in lowering interest rates and expanding the money supply is exactly the wrong solution. The Subprime meltdown started because money was too cheap - so making money even cheaper will not solve the problem. Oh, it may give the market a temporary fillip, but the medium-long term outcome will be increased inflation, a weaker US Dollar and increased pressure to raise - not lower - interest rates.

So what's all this got to do with the price of oil?

If the US Dollar devalues then the price of oil will go up accordingly. International markets have responded to the Fed's lower rates by selling off the US Dollar - and they will continue this process. With an ever-devaluing US Dollar, the only way is up for the price of oil.

On Thursday last week I predicted that oil would not go over $100. Since then Ben Bernanke has messed up my calculations and basically said to me (and the rest of the world) that the US Dollar is not worth owning at its current price. With a devalued US Dollar now an almost certainty, the chances of oil breaking the $100 mark is now much more likely.

When the news of the Fed's action hit, I immediately went to an economics blogsite called "Calculated Risk" where I was able to read and contribute to the discussion about the Fed's action. Most of the commentators at the blog were of the same opinion as mine - that the Fed had made a huge mistake. I left this comment which I think sums up the potential future:
Imagine - America is in recession and the Fed has to increase rates to battle inflation. Not good.

© 2007 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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Dave's a blogger now

I heartily recommend you visit Dave's blogsite where he talks about the world, theology and Peak Oil.

Thousand-yard stare

This is a real picture taken during World War I in an Australian First Aid station somewhere on the western front in Europe. Check out the guy at the bottom left - he has the Thousand-yard stare. He looks spooky too.

Bizarre conspiracy?

My red alert signals go off big time when I read stories like this:

  • The Cuban news service reports that George W. Bush has purchased 98,840 acres in Paraguay, near the Bolivian/Brazilian border.
  • Jenna Bush paid a secret diplomatic visit to Paraguayan President Nicanor Duarte and U.S. Ambassador James Cason. There were no press conferences, no public sightings and no official confirmation of her 10-day trip which apparently ended this week.
  • The Paraguayan Senate voted last summer to “grant U.S. troops immunity from national and International Criminal Court (ICC) jurisdiction.”
  • Immediately afterwards, 500 heavily armed U.S. troops arrived with various planes, choppers and land vehicles at Mariscal Estigarribia air base, which happens to be at the northern tip of Paraguay near the Bolivian/Brazilian border. More have reportedly arrived since then.

Here’s a fun question for Tony Snow: Why might the president and his family need a 98.840-acre ranch in Paraguay protected by a semi-secret U.S. military base manned by American troops who have been exempted from war-crimes prosecution by the Paraguyan government?
One way to interpret this is that it is merely a mashing together of unrelated news stories. Another way to interpret this is that Bush is going to flee to South America to be protected from international war crimes. I admit, it sounds very juicy - it's a wonderful rumour. But the rational part of me is still there saying "no way in the world!"


Panic at the Fed

I don't believe this. The US Federal Reserve Bank has just cut interest rates from 6.25% to 5.75%.

The markets are going wild with excitement. Wilshire 5000 has jumped up 2.38% in about half an hour of trading. That's actually quite a lot.

By doing this, the Fed is essentially pouring money into the market. They did a similar thing back during the 1997 Asian currency crisis to ward off a world recession. The difference this time is that the contagion is in the USA rather than Asia.

I think you're going to see a sell off of US Dollars. This will push up inflation... and the Fed will have to raise the rates again.

To me, this is panic. The New York Times today published an editorial stating that the Federal Reserve should NOT cut rates and instead focus on inflation while letting the market sort itself out. Cutting rates and increasing the money supply is an easy way out... it works in the short term but in the long term it will suck badly.

This is going to backfire - mark my words.

Update: USD has dropped 0.5% against the Euro since the Fed's announcement.

Update 2: The actual cut in interest rates was not the official "fed funds rate" but the "discount window rate". I think the market, like me, thought it was the official rate. As a result the sharemarkets have pared back a bit. Nevertheless, the problem with this move is that it is an effective loosening of monetary policy and will have an inflationary effect.

Update 3: Saturday Evening here and just a quick further explanation of why I think this decision stinks. Basically the entire subprime mess was caused by Monetary policy that was too loose - ie too much money sloshing around trying to find somewhere to go to increase in value. But if the problem was loose monetary policy then the solution shouldn't be loose monetary policy, which is what this announcement by the Fed has actually done.

This photoshopped image has been shamelessly stolen from Something Awful.

Realism is Pessimism

Think the worst is over? The Economist thinks it has only begun:
The retreat to a new level of risk was never going to be orderly or free of casualties. Neither should it be. Bankers and investors need to suffer precisely because the methods of modern finance have been found wanting. It sounds Darwinian, but the brutal demonstration that you pay for your sins is what leads the system to evolve. Markets learn from their mistakes. Only fear will spur investors to price risks better and get them to put more effort into monitoring their counterparties.

If these lessons are to sink in, central bankers must stand back—as, by and large, they have done. Every intervention now will be taken as a sign of what the regulators will do next time. If they bail out banks that have mispriced risk, the mispricing will continue. And when the central banks do step in, it should not be to save the financiers. The cost of intervention is warranted only to save the rest of the economy from the financiers' folly. By that test, central banks were right to lend money to the banks in recent days, because it ensured that a liquidity crisis did not become a solvency crisis. They may yet have to take over a failed bank, though only if that is needed to stop a run. It is still far too soon to cut interest rates.
I personally think that central banks should step in... by tightening monetary policy over the long term. This will increase personal savings which will, in turn, become the basis for further economic activity. If cash is valuable, and if the central banks keep it valuable (by keeping inflation non-existent), it provides a secure footing for future economic growth. It'll be far better than debt.

A wicket-keeper who can keep

Ever since Adam Gilchrist burst onto the scene for Australia, the world of cricket has been experimenting with the idea of selecting Wicket-keepers who have batting skills rather than selecting the best "gloveman" regardless of his batting ability.

Obviously there is some trade-off where a certain level of risk and reward is examined. It would look like this:

If (runs scored) - (runs conceded) of the keeper-batsman is greater than (runs scored) - (runs conceded) of the specialist keeper, then the keeper-batsman is preferred:

Select KB if KB(RS-RC) > SK(RS-RC).

Note: Runs Conceded = byes + runs scored due to direct misfielding + runs resulting from missed chances (that is, additional runs scored by batsman who should have been out, caught, stumped, run out etc by the Wicket-keeper)

Sounds all nice and mathematical except of course cricket isn't like that. Adam Gilchrist has the advantage of being a world-class batsman and a competent keeper, which means that the equation for him is simple. Lesser players in lesser teams are more problematic and the risks of selecting the wrong player are more dangerous.

The equation doesn't seem to working out for England, though. Matt Prior is the current Wicket-keeper - and he replaced Geriant Jones. Both of these players are keeper-batsmen, with Prior having a first class batting average of 38 and Jones with 30.

Prior's glovework has come under fire from two important cricket figures. The first critic is Ian Chappell:
Ian Chappell, the former Australian captain, has delivered a withering verdict on the standard of English wicketkeeping, and believes that England will never regain the Ashes so long as men of the standard of Matt Prior and Geraint Jones are selected in the Test side.

Prior endured a desperate match in the series decider at The Oval, dropping both Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman in the course of India's first innings of 664, and speaking to Cricinfo at the end of the match, Chappell was scathing about his abilities.

"I cannot see how England are going to win against decent sides with a wicketkeeper who is woeful," said Chappell. "An old skipper of mine, Les Favell, said that once a wicketkeeper starts costing you games, he's got to go, Matthew Prior is in that category for me."

For Prior, it is a far cry from the acclaim he received at the start of the summer, when he scored a flamboyant debut century against West Indies and was being seen in some quarters as the answer to England's prayers. Chappell, however, did not pretend to be one of his admirers.

"It's alright for some ex-players and scribes to say anyone can have a bad match, but you've got to see something there for the future, and I think Prior is so far off being an international wicketkeeper at Test level. One-day matches, he'll probably be terrific and that's fine, but Tests? Forget it."
The second critic is former England wicket-keeper Bob Taylor:
Bob Taylor, the former England wicketkeeper, has criticised the modern tendency of picking batsman-wicketkeepers and blamed the trend for the poor quality of wicketkeeping during the England-India Test series.

"You pick a wicketkeeper for his wicketkeeping ability," Taylor said in an interview to Cricinfo. "When you've got somebody like Adam Gilchrist who can bat and keep wicket then you are very lucky, but if the decision is marginal I'll always go for a wicketkeeper-batsman rather than a batsman-wicketkeeper."

The England-India Tests have been marred by poor keeping from both sides, especially by Matt Prior, the England keeper. "An inferior wicketkeeper is always found out," Taylor said, "and there can be a costly miss, like Prior's drop of Tendulkar in the first innings at The Oval last week."

Prior's poor run with the bat against India probably had a part to play in his problems behind the stumps, Taylor said. "That is definitely playing on his mind."

Taylor pointed out that it came as a bit of a surprise that Prior struggled in English conditions. "If it is an overseas wicketkeeper, like Dhoni, who hasn't had a lot of experience keeping in England, then you can understand it because the ball definitely deviates off the seam and through the air more in England than it does abroad, due to the atmospheric conditions."

Prior's lack of footwork has been among his biggest problems, Taylor said. "When you stand back to seam bowlers, you've got to move your feet and get your body behind the line of the ball."
Two players who come to my mind who have been high-class keepers who also have good batting ability are Alan Knott (who kept Bob Taylor out of the England side) who averaged 32.75 in tests, and Jeffrey Dujon (West Indies) who averaged 31.94 in tests.

I would agree with both Chappell and Taylor that only high-class wicket-keepers should be selected to play for their countries. Obviously Jones and Prior do not fit the bill. Nevertheless I would also give some selection room to high-class wicket-keepers who can also bat.

For example, let's say I have a choice between selecting Adam Gilchrist or some other player who is "10% better" as a wicket-keeper than Gilchrist but averages 20 with the bat - Gilchrist averages 48. In that situation I would still pick Gilchrist because the advantage of having a superior wicket-keeper is outweighed by taking an average of 28 runs from each innings Australia bats.

The solution is to take the top first-class wicket-keepers at your disposal and then pick the one who is the best batsman. First of all, set up a series of quantifiable wicket-keeping outcomes that you can measure, such as average amount of dropped catches per game, average amount of byes conceded, and so on. Obviously if you want a top class keeper you set high standards. If only one first-class player out of all the ones available meets these minimum standards, then you select him regardless. But let's say you have two, three, four, six (etc) players who meet those minimum standards - If that is the case then you pick the one who is the best batsman from the field of top contenders.

The advantage with this solution is that it is able to adequately quantify the skills required for the top keeping position without ignoring the advantage of having a keeper who can bat well.

© 2007 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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Collatoral Damage

US army suicides hit 26-year high:
At least 99 American soldiers killed themselves last year, the US army's highest suicide rate in 26 years, according to a new report.

The rate of 17.3 suicides per 100,000 soldiers compares with 12.8 in 2005, officials said.

Twenty-eight of the soldiers who took their own life last year did so while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The army listed failed relationships, legal and financial issues and work stress as factors behind the suicides.

Two soldiers' deaths from last year are still being investigated. If confirmed as suicide, the figure for 2006 will climb to 101.

The highest number recorded was 102 in 1991, the year of the Gulf War - but more soldiers were on active duty then, meaning the rate per 100,000 soldiers was lower than in 2006.
Liberal bloggers have been all over this, rightly arguing that continual combat stress can only have destructive results for soldiers. The question I want to know is... what was it about 1981 that made life so difficult in the US military?

A380 flies in October

From the department of I-thought-it-would-take-another-ten-years:
The first commercial flight of Airbus' A380 super-jumbo will take place on 25 October, Singapore Airlines has said.

Singapore, which will be the first airline to receive the giant twin-deck plane, said the jet will fly from its home airport to Sydney, Australia.

The flight will mark the end of the A380's long-delayed journey towards commercial operation.

Hit by wiring faults, the A380 is two years late, which has hit the finances of Airbus and its parent firm EADS.

Airbus is now continuing with cost-cutting plans that will remove 10,000 jobs.
I hope it kicks Boeing's butt.


This photoshopped image has been shamelessly stolen from Something Awful.

HUGE Sharemarket correction

I've been sitting here watching the rout. The ASX200 (the Australian Share Index) has fallen 5.25% so far today. That is a huge fall. Huge, huge huge.


Somebody's already done it

The really bizarre thing about the internet is that there are people out there who come up with ideas and points of view long before you or I do. For example, there is, already, a group of people who have said "Wow! Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails looks just like Severus Snape from Harry Potter":

Then there's the stuff you didn't know about until you discovered it, and laughed loud when you did, like the groups of people who like to draw Severus Snape pregnant:

Then there's the obligatory photoshop based on an exchange of consonants:

Why not draw Snape auditioning for Eurovision?

Why not other unmentionable things to the poor guy?

Or associate him romantically with other members of staff while invoking Fleetwood Mac?

Or mix Dali and Snape together?

A star with a tail

A distant star that hurtles through space at extraordinary speeds has a huge, comet-like tail trailing in its wake, astronomers say.

The appendage, which measures a colossal 13 light years in length, was spotted by Nasa's Galaxy Evolution Explorer (Galex) space telescope.

The researchers said that nothing like it had ever been spotted around a star.
If you look carefully you can see the Bow shock as well.

Al Mohler still wants us to have more babies

Here's the link, but I'm not going to quote anything.

Basically, Mohler makes the following assumptions:

  1. Having less babies will inevitably lead to economic crisis.
  2. Europe's birth rate is low while its Muslim population has high birth rates, leading to an Islamic Europe.
  3. The choice to not have babies is essentially a selfish one.
  4. That childlessness has at its basis a form of pseudo-science that originated with Hitler.
  5. America's relatively high birthrate is because of altruistic efforts to make the world a better place.
  6. Modern Europe will decline like the Roman Empire.
Let me point out some simple rebuttals, each numbered according to Mohler's assumptions above.
  1. Countries with low birthrates (below 2.1 children/woman) will eventually begin to shrink. There are substantial savings to be made, especially in the area of infrastructure (roads, electricity, water, rail) and housing. With less people inhabiting the same space as a previous generation, there will be no need to build major infrastructure projects and housing will be relatively cheap.
  2. First generation immigrants will often reflect the birth-rates of their land of birth. Thus women from a high birth-rate country will still have lots of babies in their new country (such as Europe). However, their children and their grandchildren will have babies at the same rate as the nation around them. Muslims in Europe now may be having lots of babies... but the next generation of European-born Muslims won't. (Iran, btw, has a low birthrate - below replacement level. Iranians are mainly Islamic and do not live in a rich country... yet their birthrate is low)
  3. There is no passage in the bible which directly commands human beings to have a minimum of 3 children. Moreover, scientific studies into animal birthrates show that many animals choose to put off reproduction when times are "tough".
  4. I won't even bother to argue this one. Mohler breaks Godwin so he loses.
  5. *Choke*. America is wonderful and unselfish because the people have lots of babies? What sort of argument is that? Besides, US birthrates are on their way down... which, for Mohler, would probably indicate the growing godlessness of America. It's sad to see that the same guy who signed The Cambridge Declaration - which states that the inerrant Scripture to be the sole source of written divine revelation, which alone can bind the conscience - is binding the consciences of Christians with the unbiblical drivel he espouses here.
  6. As I mentioned a few days ago, invoking the fall of the Roman Empire to bolster your argument is getting to be as bad as Godwin these days.

The Endarkenment

The Guardian argues:
The past 30 years or so have been an age of endarkenment. It has been a period in which truth ceased to matter very much, and dogma and irrationality became once more respectable. This matters when people delude themselves into believing that we could be endangered at 45 minutes' notice by non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

It matters when reputable accountants delude themselves into thinking that Enron-style accounting is acceptable. It matters when people are deluded into thinking that they will be rewarded in paradise for killing themselves and others. It matters when bishops attribute floods to a deity whose evident vengefulness and malevolence leave one reeling. And it matters when science teachers start to believe that the Earth was created 6,000 years ago.

A minor aspect of the endarkenment has been a resurgence in magical and superstitious ideas about medicine. The existence of homeopaths on the high street won't usually do too much harm. Their sugar pills contain nothing and they won't poison your body. The greater danger is that they poison your mind.
Naturally I don't endorse everything this quote states - but I will point out that suspicion of facts and an adherence to subjectivity for guidance is one of the hallmarks of our age. We are no longer living in the secular, modernist society that came about in past decades.

The problem with being an evangelical Christian in this environment - and evangelicals DO believe in divine miracles and spiritual powers - is that we can go beyond what the Bible says and dismiss any form of scientific or objective inquiry as being somehow unspiritual.

A friend recently told me of a Christian woman whose child has been diagnosed with quite severe diabetes. Weeks before this diagnosis, the woman and her husband declared their belief that God will give them "good things". Time will tell whether their belief in God's gifts to them* can cope with the suffering they will now go through.

* Note: I do believe that God gives good things to his people, but the good things he gives us are often things we may take for granted or are unaware of - such as food, clothing, shelter, living in a safe country. I also believe that Christians suffer as much as anyone else in society - and that suffering and blessing often coexist.

George Bush as antichrist?

An interesting argument:
Yet, conservative Christians are still so infatuated with President Bush that they actually believe that anyone who resists the President is resisting God. They further believe that if anyone votes for any candidate who is not a Republican (Bush's party), they are fighting against God. They gladly surrender their constitutional liberties and safeguards. They enthusiastically support an unconstitutional war in Iraq and would no doubt support expanding the war to wherever Bush decided. They happily cede Bush the power to tap their phones, read their emails, or open their mail (without warrant or court order, no less).

Regardless of one's politics or religion, the spirit of Big Brother, the spirit of military aggression, the spirit of occultism, the spirit of a police state mentality, the spirit of deception are all part of the spirit of antichrist.

Therefore, whether one identifies himself as a premillennialist or a postmillennialist or anything in between; whether we believe in a Rapture or not; no matter what our understanding of Eschatology might be, every Christian has a duty to "resist the devil" in any form in which he reveals himself. And that certainly means that any political leader, regardless of party, who embodies or exemplifies the spirit of antichrist, must be resisted. Anything less means to accept, in a way, the mark of the beast.
Some interesting points, however the writer goes a bit too "Godwin" in his argument here which takes away much of its impact. I'm no fan of George W. Bush, but to make Hitler/Nazi comparisons as he has done is not warranted. He also spends too much time mulling over "dark conspiracies" - although in a reasonably neutral and judicious manner. He really should have spent more time examining the evil acts of the Bush Administration and then using them as a springboard to critique Bush.

I've often said to myself in the past that if I were premillennial then, looking at the acts of Bush and then looking at the adulation American Christians give him, I would want to identify Bush as a potential Antichrist.


Air New Zealand carried troops to Iraq

This is the big story in NZ at the moment:
(New Zealand) Defence Minister Phil Goff has confirmed Air New Zealand carried troops to Iraq.

He expressed his anger at the move saying it was not appropriate for the flag-carrying national airline to be used to cart troops to a war New Zealand did not approve of.

Mr Goff said he understood Air NZ had operated two charter flights carrying troops from Australia to Iraq in Kuwait.

Investigate magazine broke the story, saying Air New Zealand had been flying United States and Australian combat troops across the Pacific to the Iraqi border.

Air New Zealand said it was a commercial operation but as a courtesy had told government officials about the flights, the magazine said.

But Mr Goff told reporters that while Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials had been told, they had not passed this on to the Government.
New Zealand, to their great credit, opposed the invasion of Iraq. For Air NZ to have carried Iraq-bound troops is unfortunate. Moreover, while I'm happy for Australian troops to be transported off to war on high quality New Zealand planes, I find it strange that Aussie ones couldn't be found to do it.

15 August, 1057

He dies:
I will not yield,
To kiss the ground before young Malcolm's feet,
And to be baited with the rabble's curse.
Though Birnam wood be come to Dunsinane,
And thou oppos'd, being of no woman born,
Yet I will try the last. Before my body
I throw my warlike shield: lay on, Macduff;
And damn'd be him that first cries, "Hold, enough!"

This photoshopped image has been shamelessly stolen from Something Awful.

Newcastle Uni still sucks

From the department of reaping what you sow:
Newcastle University vice-chancellor Nick Saunders says he is not surprised at the institution's disappointing ranking in the latest Good Universities Guide.

Compared to previous years, the university, in the New South Wales Hunter region, had a higher ranking for research performance and for graduates' chances of getting a job.

But the rankings slipped in the categories of educational experience and student outcomes.

Professor Saunders says the survey is based on information from graduating students in 2005 and things have improved a lot since then.

"This was a very difficult year for the university, so I think it's not surprising that the students have rated their experience overall at the university down on previous years," he said.

"On the other hand we've had an increase in our rating with regards to positive outcomes for graduates, like getting a job and starting salaries and the like, so that's a positive finding."

Higher interest rates for Aussie mortgages

Interest rates are set to rise for hundreds of thousands of mortgages - regardless of official increases by the Reserve Bank - because lenders are struggling with a global credit squeeze caused by the crisis in the US housing market.

The big banks could follow non-bank lenders such as RAMS Home Loans, which yesterday flagged its financial distress, leading to predictions that it may have to pass higher borrowing costs onto customers.

Non-bank lenders such as RAMS account for 30 per cent of the $830 billion mortgage market, and have been able to offer low-cost mortgages by borrowing cheaply out of the US.
With so much focus upon the Reserve Bank's interest rate (currently at 6.5%) we can often forget that the market itself sets its own interest rates. Basically this means that, with this "credit crunch" going on, all forms of lending (mortgages, personal loans, credit cards) will increase their interest rates higher than what the reserve bank has set.

Pay off those debts. Put your money into cash management accounts or government bonds.

How's that bear going?

Just another day in the sharemarket:
Yesterday's respite on Wall Street looks to have been only momentary.

US stock prices have headed sharply lower again amid more indications of distress in credit markets.

Sentinel Management Group is looking to freeze redemptions on its investment funds in an effort to avoid liquidation.

And the giant Swiss bank UBS has warned that the market problems are likely to hurt its investment banking business in the second half of the year.
As for my reckonings for the Wilshire 5000:

High: 15,700.95 (13 July 2007)
Close: 14,360.33 (14 August 2007)
Difference: -1,340.62
Loss: -8.54%

The "Surge" is working

A "surge" in deaths. More people than ever are dying in Iraq:
At least 175 people were killed when three suicide bombers driving fuel tankers attacked a northern Iraqi town which is home to an ancient minority sect, in one of the worst single incidents in the four-year-old war.

Iraqi army Captain Mohammad al-Jaad said at least another 200 people were wounded in the bombings in separate Yazidi neighbourhoods in the town of Kahtaniya, west of Mosul.


Feed Changed

If you get blog posts by feed then be aware that I have changed it to send the entire blog rather than a short one. If you have any problems let me know.

America as the New Roman Empire

I was talking to a friend the other day who remarked that the decline and fall of the Roman Empire had some unusual parallels with the current situation in the United States of America.

I'm not going to agree or disagree with this notion, however I must point out that the analogy of the Roman Empire being used to describe modern America is a common one, and one that is present in both sides of political discourse.

Fundamentalist Christians, for example, point to the moral decadence of Rome and then use that as a springboard to condemn homosexuality, abortion and atheism.

Left-wingers will point to an over-extended military, decaying public infrastructure and greater disparities between rich and poor.

But there are some important things we need to remember as we compare the US to Rome:

  1. The United States has not been invaded by hordes of vandals and barbarians destroying outlying cities of the Empire.
  2. The United States has not suffered massive and protracted deaths because of plagues.
  3. The United States has not needed to split itself into two distinct sections in order to maintain governance.
  4. The United States has not gone through periods of great famine that have resulted in the deaths of large swathes of the population.
Of course, the truth of the matter is that America is different to ancient Rome. Moreover, the broad message we get about all empires is that they eventually decline and America is no exception to this - in which case, arguments about poverty, infrastructure, the military and morals are important as general indications of decline without it needing a direct comparison. The British Empire, for example, has shrunk quite considerably from what it was hundreds of years ago but you can't really make the case that further decline is inevitable.

Sadly, I think that, just like Godwin's Law, we need to be judicious in our use of the Roman Empire in our discussions about America and its (so called) decline.

Reasons why American Christianity is failing

14 August, 1912

US Marines invade Nicaragua. Nicaragua was not a threat to the world at the time and American intervention led to political instability over a long period. Sound familiar?

This photoshopped image has been shamelessly stolen from Something Awful.

South Australia is in recession

From the ABC:
An ANZ Bank report shows South Australia is in technical recession.

The ANZ Australian Property Outlook report shows Gross State Product has been negative for the past two quarters.

The report says the rising Australian dollar is hurting manufacturers and the drought is hitting farmers.
The only question I have is - what is unique about SA's economy that has caused it to go into recession?

Atheists in Massachusetts

From the department of God's law = civil law.




Chapter 272: Section 36. Blasphemy

Section 36. Whoever wilfully blasphemes the holy name of God by denying, cursing or contumeliously reproaching God, his creation, government or final judging of the world, or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching Jesus Christ or the Holy Ghost, or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching or exposing to contempt and ridicule, the holy word of God contained in the holy scriptures shall be punished by imprisonment in jail for not more than one year or by a fine of not more than three hundred dollars, and may also be bound to good behavior.

All this essentially means that, by law, an atheist who publicly declares that God doesn't exist and the Bible is wrong can be jailed for up to a year.

I mean, I think atheists who deny God and those who deny the Bible will get their comeuppance in eternity - but actually punishing such people in civil law is surely not what the NT speaks about.

After all, adultery is a sin (Exodus 20.14). Adultery resulted in capital punishment in OT Israel (Leviticus 20.10). But Jesus forgave the adulterous woman and prevented her from being executed (John 8.1-11). The legal outcomes of OT law are no longer in effect with the coming of Jesus because the New Covenant is different from the Old.

Taking on Linux... and losing

Back in 2003 when I first started using Linux there arose within the Linux world the spectre of SCO. SCO, and its head, Darl McBride, announced to the world that it owned quite a lot of the Linux software code, and that it was going to court against IBM (and others) for distributing this code under the GPL.

In the world of business, this action was seen positively. Even The Economist wrote an article praising McBride's actions. Share prices of Linux-based corporations shrank as the danger of Linux being "contaminated" by unfree code led many to believe that lawsuits against users could be a possibility.

In the midst of this, the Linux people reacted strongly. "If we have your code" Linux developers said, "then tell us what it is and we'll remove it". SCO declined, arguing that to reveal it would reveal trade secrets. The case went to court and has been dragging on ever since.

That is, until now. The US court has definitively ruled that SCO does not own the copyright of Unix (and thus Linux). SCO's share price has dropped over 71%. Linux has essentially been declared free.

Injecting liquidity into the market

Central banks around the world, including the ECB, the Fed and the Australian Reserve Bank, have been busy "injecting liquidity" into the marketplace.

I'm still trying to work out what all this means, but from what I can gather, this action is designed to prevent market panic attacks by allowing banks and other financial institutions to borrow money from the central bank. Normally, these financial institutions would borrow from the marketplace, but the "credit crunch" that is going on (as a result of the "subprime meltdown") means that this sort of thing is necessary.

From what I can gather, it basically means that these central banks are lending money to institutions that the marketplace finds very difficult to lend money to.

There's a few problems with this that I am running around my head.

The first is that these injections of liquidity are akin to money printing. Central Banks have the ability to create money out of thin air and these "liquidity injections" are a result of this. Done too often and too loosely, such actions are inflationary. This is a problem at the moment because inflation in the world economy is pressuring upwards and central banks have been increasing interest rates to reduce this pressure. The recent "liquidity injections", however, are actions which exacerbate inflationary pressures - which means that the central banks are pursuing two mutually contradictory policies.

The second problem is that these "liquidity injections" are preventing the marketplace from functioning properly. I'm no fan of "the market is God" philosophy, which means that limits do need to be placed on market actions... yet in this case I'm not so sure. The market has reacted against the "subprime meltdown" by punishing those responsible for it... yet when central banks "inject liquidity" they are limiting this punishment. I suppose so long as the central banks eventually reverse their actions by removing liquidity from the marketplace over the long term then that should be fine.

The third problem is that there is only so much central banks can do. They can't keep on "injecting liquidity" all the time. Eventually the market has to correct itself and that means that certain institutions have to go bankrupt. What we're seeing at the moment is merely short-term actions and reactions. "Injecting liquidity" will hopefully result in a softer landing, but the plane still has to get damaged on the way down.

The Watercone

From the department of concepts-so-simple-that-they-shock-you:
The Watercone is an ingenious device that can take salty water and turn it into fresh water using only the power of the sun. The nice thing about this device is it is bone simple, uses the sun instead of fossil fuel, and is cheap to make and easy to use.

The Watercone is surprisingly a cone, that you place over a pan of salty water (or over a marsh, or any damp ground) leave it out in the sun, water evaporates, the condensation trickles down the side of the cone, at the end of the day you flip it over, remove the cap at the top and drink the water.
Just visit the link. Concepts this simple prove that humanity is too complex for its own good.

England lose Test series

India and England drew the final test, giving India a 1-0 series victory.
Kevin Pietersen hit his 10th Test ton to help England claim a draw at The Oval, but India still secured a first series win in England since 1986.

Resuming on 56-0, England never made a push for the 500 needed to level the series, Andrew Strauss's 113-ball 32 indicative of the hosts' approach.

But Pietersen (101) was in superb form and shared in stands of 66 and 144 with Michael Vaughan and Paul Collingwood.
This is not good news for England for obvious reasons. England have been relatively unbeatable at home for many years. The last time England lost a test series in England was the 2001 Ashes, so this loss is a bit of a shock.

England's problem seems to be their bowling, with only debutant Chris Tremlett being effective (13 wickets at 29.69). Panesar was disappointing. In their batting, only Vaghan (295 runs at 49.16) and Pieterson (345 runs at 57.50) stood out.

By contrast, India was very effective. Dhoni, Laxman, Ganguly and Karthik scored runs at a decent average without hitting a century. Paceman Zaheer Khan was the player of the series, with 18 wickets at 20.33 (who would've thought that an Indian paceman would be so dangerous?). Khan was ably assisted by fellow paceman RP Singh who took 12 wickets at 28.91 (Singh is also only 21, which is a good sign).

Overall, India deserved to win this series. Weather saved them in the first test, but their hold over England in tests 2 & 3 were decisive.

Japan's growth slows

Not good news:
Japan's economy grew by just 0.1% from April to June, increasing speculation that the central bank will delay an interest rate rise until September.

The Bank of Japan had been expected to raise rates from 0.5% to 0.75% this month, but analysts said the weak data would probably delay the move.
This is not good news. Japan's economy depends upon exports and any weakness in world consumption (especially the US) will result in lower growth for Japan.

Considering the trade imbalances already inherent between Japan and the US, it stands to reason that a better solution would be a rise in the Yen to allow Japanese domestic spending to grow, drawing in goods and services from outside, including the US.

Rove goes

From the department of rats and sinking ships:
Karl Rove, George W Bush's most trusted and senior adviser, has paid tribute to the US president as he confirmed his intention to leave the White House.

Mr Rove, who will step down at the end of August, said he was "deeply proud" to have served Mr Bush and the US.


Happy 81st Fidel Castro!

It's his birthday today!

Some memories:

Going for a big walk!

Friends! "I can trust my friends. These people force me to examine, encourage me to grow." -Cher

Reading the newspaper in a cute top!

Looking like Liam Neeson!

This photoshopped image has been shamelessly stolen from Something Awful.

Signposts is now closing

Accurate Wikipedia warnings

More here (Warning! Profanity!).