Solar Schools

From the department of uncommon-sense:
Federal Labor has pledged to install solar panels in every primary and high school across Australia.

Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd says schools would be able to apply for $20,000 grants to install solar power, under the $489 million commitment.

He says the move would help to significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions.

"Then we'd be reducing by the equivalent of 2.8 tonnes, of CO2 equivalent for the year in question," he said.

"That's an important contribution to the community, and an important contribution to the planet."

John Conner from the Climate Institute has welcomed Labor's solar schools announcement and the Coalition's renewable energy fund.

But he says both parties will need to commit significantly more money before they will seriously address the problem of climate change.

"I'm hoping that this is an opening salvo and a whole range of other initiatives, so we look forward to those there," he said.

"In its own right it's an important step, and I guess what we'll need to do is just continue to assess the other policies."
It would interesting if Kevin Rudd follows through with this promise. $489 million is actually a lot of money and there are a lot of roofs out there that can be covered with solar panels.

It's a good move and a step in the right direction - but only a step.

Recession Watch

  • September new house sales in the US fell 23% compared to the same month in 2006.
  • After pausing, ABX indices keep falling, possibly predicting yet another Sharemarket tumble.
  • NY Times predicts US $4 TRILLION decline in US Household Real Estate value.
  • Calculated Risk study and graph shows that a recession is highly likely and we are probably in it already.
  • US Light, sweet Crude reaches $90.60.
  • Oil inventories in the US fall 5.29 million barrels to 316.6 million barrels. That's a drop of 1.6% over a one month period.
  • NYBOT reached historical low of 77.237 yesterday. NYBOT measures the strength of the US Dollar against its major trading currencies. This historically low figure indicates that the US Dollar is lower now that at any point since 1973. This will cause inflation and, eventually, higher interest rates.
  • Aussie Dollar "punches through 91 cents"
  • Two-thirds of Americans believe a recession will happen in 2008.
  • Sales Tax figures in Georgia (US state, not former Soviet province) show a 10.6 percent annual decline between the 2006 figure and the 2007 figure. A decline in sales tax revenue indicates, quite obviously, a decline in consumer spending. This drop in sales tax revenue indicates that Georgia is in recession.

Science in San Francisco Elementary Schools

From the department of electricity-comes-from-this-wall-socket:
About 80 percent of those teachers said they spent less than an hour each week teaching science, according to researchers from the Lawrence Hall of Science at UC Berkeley and from WestEd, an education think tank based in San Francisco.

In contrast, a national study seven years ago found elementary school science instruction averaged more than two hours per week, said Rena Dorph, the lead researcher on the new study.

"It's alarming because it's a very short amount of time per week dedicated to a subject that's considered a core subject in schools," said Dorph, who is director of the Center for Research, Evaluation and Assessment at the Lawrence Hall of Science.

Understanding science helps children learn to think and solve problems while questioning the world around them, Dorph said.

There is also evidence that people who go into scientific fields generally learned to love science as children, she said.


-- About 16 percent of the elementary teachers said they spent no time on science at all. (Most taught at schools that had missed the reading and math benchmarks of No Child Left Behind and were trying to catch up.)

-- Most kindergarten to fifth-grade students typically had science instruction no more than twice a week.

-- Ten times as many teachers said they felt unprepared to teach science (41 percent) than felt unprepared to teach math (4 percent) or reading (4 percent).

-- Fewer than half of Bay Area fifth-graders (47 percent) scored at grade level or above on last spring's California Standards Test in science. (Only fifth-graders are tested in science at the elementary level.)
It's interesting to compare this situation with the NSW Department of Education Primary School Curriculum, which mandates around 1.5 to 2.5 hours per week studying science and technology, and allows room for more. Moreover, because Primary teachers have to hold a teaching degree in Primary Schooling, they have been trained in some aspects of science.

I have to point out, though, that studying science needs proficiency in both mathematics and literacy, which means that primary/elementary school science has to be quite brief. Secondary school science, like virtually everything in secondary school, depends greatly upon the skills learned in primary school. Thus a student who succeeds in secondary school science is likely to be a student who excelled in mathematics and literacy in primary school.

So while this report is concerning, it is not as bad as some might think.

Fox News is Propaganda

From the department of lies-will-set-you-free:
For the second straight day, Fox News stood virtually alone in advancing thinly supported speculation to raise fears that the wildfires ravaging California are not the result of a confluence of arid heat and high winds but were set deliberately by al Qaeda terrorists bent on destroying America.

Fox & Friends, the conservative cable channel, was panned Wednesday for breathlessly reporting a sketchy, four-year-old FBI memo as if it offered new information linking America's enemies in the "Global War on Terror" with a plot to burn down southern California.

The morning team was back at it Thursday, as anchor Alisyn Camerota introduced a segment on the fires that again mischaracterized and over-inflated warnings from a 2003 interview with an al Qaeda detainee.
I'm sick of this whole "war on terror" and the communists fictional "islamofascists" who threaten world peace by spreading communism a caliphate around the world.

Organisations like Fox reinforce the lie that Al Qaeda and Osama have almost mythical powers to attack and damage America freely. The reality is that they don't even control a single nation, let alone have amazing power to hurt America.

It's obvious now, six years later, that 9/11 was a complete fluke, a mixture of good planning and good luck by Osama and sleepy incompetence by America. Since then the US has not had a single terrorist attack within its border. Why? Because Osama and Al Qaeda cannot rely upon good luck and American incompetence any more.

There have been, of course, terrorist attacks elsewhere - Bali, Barcelona, London - but when you look at the history of terrorism since 1970 there has been nothing "special" going on. The IRA killed more people in Britain than unhappy Muslims ever did, and ETA killed more people in Spain over the years than the Islamic terrorists in Barcelona.

Fox, and other unworthy media channels, are promoting fear. Fear, of course, sells. If it wasn't for fear, people wouldn't have stopped immunising their kids and some kids would still be alive today. Irrational fear, based not upon factual information but upon impressions and falsehoods, is what leads to many wrongheaded actions. The Iraq war, for example, was waged because Americans feared that Iraq would give chemical, biological or nuclear weapons to terrorists who would then use them against America. Fear led America to invade Iraq, even though there was no real evidence WMDs existed, which is what has subsequently been found out.

The fact that fear sells is one of the problems with modern media. Since media is owned by profit-making corporations, the reporting of objective, truthful news is hardly going to be a priority. Fear is profit for the media.

This is yet another example of market failure. Steps need to be taken to punish news organisations for peddling lies and half-truths, and rewards need to be given to such organisations for objective, dispassionate and accurate reporting. The marketplace is not going to do this, so the government must step in.

Crikey! Americans are now using Crikey!

It seems that the world's best known Queenslander, Steve Irwin, has become more influential than many Australians thought.

Irwin's catchphrase, "Crikey!", was never very noticeable to us Aussies but obviously had a big impact upon Americans. I've just noticed the phrase being used by a commentator at a Left Wing website. More than that, the comments thread - pretty much all Americans - did not comment at all about his use of the phrase but rather the content of what he was writing about.

The fact that "Crikey" has now been used by an American, and has not been noticed by an American, possibly shows that the phrase is entering the vernacular in much the same way as "D'Oh!" has around the English-speaking world.

I occasionally use the phrase - but then I'm an Australian, and it is usually synonymous with saying "For crying out loud" or "dammit!", though it is not considered offensive in any way.

At least the Yanks haven't begun to use the word "Drongo"... yet.


This photoshopped image has been shamelessly stolen from Something Awful.

The Good German

As the commentator at imdb said, "as with Solaris, it just doesn't pay off."

The Good German
is a film by acclaimed director Steven Soderbergh. Soderbergh is a reasonably respected director who mixes up "arty" films (Bubble, Full Frontal) with profitable mainstream ones (Oceans Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen, Erin Brockovich).

The film is a recreation of the film noir style of the 1940s and is filmed in black and white. Moreover, the technology used in the production process, such as lighting and sound, was of 1940s vintage. In many ways the film is a homage to Casablanca, complete with an awkward relationship between the male lead (Clooney) and the female lead (Blanchett) who is married to an idealist being tracked down by hidden powers. There's even a dark airport with a DC-10 at the end of the film, such is the Casablanca influence.

The Production Code that influenced (or beset) the film industry at that time prevented films from displaying overt violence, swearing and nudity. The Good German manages to include all three, including a scene where Tobey Maguire punches Cate Blanchett in the stomach in an alleyway - hardly the sort of thing you'd expect to see in a 1940s style film.

But while Casablanca clearly portrays the Nazis as the hidden powers trying to grab the good guys, in The Good German it harder to discern. Set in Berlin in the months following the fall of Germany, The Good German recreates the chaos, the opportunities and the terror in the city as the allied powers (Britain, America and Russia) meet in Potsdam to determine the future of Europe.

Clooney plays Jake Geismar, a war correspondent who has been sent to cover the Potsdam conference. His official army driver is Corporal Tully, played by Tobey Maguire, who is involved in the growing black-market economy in post-war Berlin. Tully has a girlfriend, a German woman named Lena Brandt, played by Cate Blanchett, who is desperate to escape Berlin... but not to Russia.

The film incorporates an investigation into Nazi war crimes, and includes a character who was subjected to human experimentation, as well as insights into the German rocket program and the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp. The moving of German scientists to America for rocket research, Operation Paperclip, is also mentioned.

Yet despite all this the film is somewhat hollow. It is all very well to use the technology of 1940s film-making and incorporate it in a film-noir style, but adding modern day sex, violence and swearing only takes away from the film, rather than adding to it. As I watched the film I tried to put myself in the place of a 1946 movie goer to see what would shock me or interest me. Apart from the sex, violence (including blood) and swearing, I would also be shocked by the film's "cleanness". Modern film-making, with its digital cameras and CGI special effects, amongst others, is very distinct from films made sixty years ago or more.

Remember when you saw Forrest Gump the first time and saw him bumble around in front of real footage of Lyndon Johnston? We all laughed at the marvels of modern technology, but after a while we were able to discern and identify attempts to "age" modern film into the past. The same can be said with The Good German. Casablanca, a film I have seen and respect (but not love), has imperfections and limitations of sound and technology that become part and parcel of films that were actually made during that era. The Good German, however, is just too clean. There's a "freshness" to the way the film looks, even though it incorporates darkness. Casablanca, and other films of that period, have what I would describe as a murkiness that is missing in The Good German.

I think it may have to do with the actual film used, and the way film has aged. In The Good German, there are very sharply defined lines between objects that are dark and light. For example, George Clooney's face against a dark background shows a sharp contrast between the face and the dark. Pores can be seen on Clooney's skin. But in films from that period the contrast between these two objects, while stark, is not so clearly defined. There is a "muddiness" or "slightly out of focus" feel in films from that era that just isn't there in Soderbergh's film.

As regards to sex and violence, I have always believed that it is far more effective to understate these aspects of a film story and give the audience enough information to make their own minds up. In Casablanca, the sexual tension between Humphey Bogart's character and Ingrid Bergman's character is obvious, as is the bind they are both in when it is revealed that she has a husband. This portrayal was, to put it mildly, quite scandalous in nature for audiences in 1942, but the film was able to communicate this without showing anything untoward. By contrast, Cate Blanchett's character comes across less a Femme Fatale and more of Hooker with a (frozen) Heart of Gold. Soderbergh's movie could have been better without the sex, nudity and violence. In fact, George Clooney gets beaten up and bloodied so many times in the film that it becomes unintentionally funny.

The film is, like many Hollywood releases, professional, well organised yet soulless. Like many of Soderbergh's "arty" films, it is not arty enough to please art-film fans (like myself) and yet not mainstream enough to please the box-office. Soderbergh seems to be trapped in some sort of "no man's land" between mainstream success and critical acclaim. He obviously doesn't want to end up becoming a Hollywood whore like Michael Bay, but can't seem to get to the point where people see him as an auteur worth following. It's almost like he is a robot that has been programmed to create arty-films.

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

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This photoshopped image has been shamelessly stolen from Something Awful.

Bush - wrecker of American Conservatism

From the department of straying-from- basic-principles:
Once again, major fissures in American conservatism have appeared. Leaders of the Christian right, appalled that a pro-choice, thrice-married candidate, Rudy Giuliani, is leading in the polls, have threatened to lead a mass defection from the GOP ranks and support a third-party presidential bid in 2008. Few expect them to make good on their threat. If they leave, they'll cost the Republicans the election; loyalty will almost certainly prevail. But the real issue isn't the loyalty of the hardcore religious right, who may never find another candidate so congenial as Bush to their fundamentalist beliefs and reactionary agenda. It's the inexplicable loyalty of that majority of American conservatives who are not driven solely by biblical fervor. The real question is: After seven years of George W. Bush, why would any genuine conservative still support his party?


Bush's unprovoked war on Iraq provided a satisfying catharsis for American conservatives, an opportunity to play Winston Churchill and fight the good fight against Evil. But the satisfaction of urging on a Manichaean struggle from one's armchair should only go so far before reality kicks in. Just as most conservatives during the Cold War realized that attacking the Soviet Union was not in America's interests, so one would think that today's conservatives would realize that Bush's "war on terror" is not only unwinnable, but both unnecessary and counterproductive. By now, it's obvious to all but myopic ideologues that attacking the Arab world to teach it a lesson was like kicking a vast wasp's nest while wearing a Speedo. We want to win the "war on terror," not strike heroic poses while being stung to death. No one disputes the virtue of moral clarity, but without intelligence, moral clarity is useless. Where is it written that conservatives have to be stupid?

In the age of Bush, even the conservatives' much-vaunted moral clarity does not always bear close inspection. A Pew poll taken in March found that only 18 percent of self-described conservative Republicans believed that torture was never justified. Who was it who said, "Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all ... Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good"? It must be one of those damn liberals.*

Of course, it isn't surprising that those who hold a given set of political beliefs, whether liberal or conservative, will support the party and leader that purports to represent those values. Party loyalty is based on a willingness to support even a flawed leader and party in the interests of a higher goal. But there can be times when that leader and party are so injurious to one's deepest moral values and beliefs that it becomes irrelevant what banner they march under. At such moments, those who think for themselves, who are guided by principle and not mere expediency, who are true conservatives -- or liberals -- and not just partisan hacks, will break with their leaders. They will rebel.
As Beamer has pointed out, it wasn't just Bush that did it but the entire Republican party. Bush, however, was the real icing on the cake to my mind. Even with a corrupt Republican controlled congress, a competent and judicious Republican president would have garnered the respect of both grassroots Republicans and independents. More than that, it would also have gained the grudging respect of Democrats, whose history is not exactly spotless either.

As Kamiya points out in the article (which I commend to your reading), the complete disregard for basic conservative principles amongst supposed conservatives has shown how hollow the movement really was.

American politics has a structural flaw - it is a system that rewards confrontationalism, nepotism and corruption. It afflicted the Democrats in the decades prior to 1994 and it afflicted the Republicans since 1994 and it will continue to afflict the Congress of the future no matter which party prevails. If Americans are heartily sick of the way politics runs (and I would assume that most are), then they need to come up with some constitutional amendments that will reward bipartisanship, judicious decision making and long-term planning.

These would include:
  • Abolishing the Electoral College and determine who wins the presidential election by popular vote alone.
  • Incorporate a Preferential voting system for the election of local, state and federal representatives, senators and executive candidates (President / Governor / Mayor)
  • Ensuring that the conduct of elections is controlled by the body being elected. Thus the manner of voting around the country is uniform in nature.
  • Letting bureaucrats determine electoral boundaries based upon statistical and mathematical rules, rather than having one party or another determine these electoral boundaries.
  • Term limits on Senators and Representatives.
  • Abolish mid-term elections and have elections every four years (thus giving Representatives a four year, rather than two-year, term)
  • Determine membership of the Supreme Court by randomly selecting Federal Judges to sit a four year term there (who then return to lesser duties when their term is up).
  • Giving statehood to Washington D.C., and either statehood or independence to Puerto Rico.
  • Seriously consider Demarchy as a means of determining politicians instead of elections.

Tipping Point?

From the department of whatever-the-opposite- of-virtuous-cycle-is:
Carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the atmosphere have risen 35% faster than expected since 2000, says a study.

International scientists found that inefficiency in the use of fossil fuels increased levels of CO2 by 17%.

The other 18% came from a decline in the natural ability of land and oceans to soak up CO2 from the atmosphere.

About half of emissions from human activity are absorbed by natural "sinks" but the efficiency of these sinks has fallen, the study suggests.

The research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), was carried out by the Global Carbon Project, the University of East Anglia, UK, and the British Antarctic Survey.

It found that improvements in the carbon intensity of the global economy have stalled since 2000, leading to an unexpected jump in atmospheric CO2.

"In addition to the growth of global population and wealth, we now know that significant contributions to the growth of atmospheric CO2 arise from the slow-down of natural sinks and the halt to improvements in the carbon intensity of wealth production," said the study's lead author, Dr Pep Canadell, executive director of the Global Carbon Project.
Looks like our house will be beachfront property at some point.

500,000 America haters evacuated

From the department of God-is-punishing-those -who-support-terrorism:
More than half a million people have been ordered to evacuate parts of the US state of California being engulfed by massive wildfires.

Fierce winds are fanning at least 16 fires that have razed land from Santa Barbara to the Mexican border.

The blazes have left two people dead and destroyed more than 1,200 homes and businesses, say officials.

President George W Bush will visit the state on Thursday, after declaring a state of emergency in seven counties.

A White House spokeswoman said Mr Bush, whose administration was accused of a sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina two years ago, wanted to "witness first-hand" the crisis.

Up to 300,000 acres (120,000 hectares) of land have been scorched - an area bigger than New York City.
Burn baby burn! Let those America haters suffer.

Meanwhile, in North Carolina, terrorists continue to prevent rainfall from watering the promised land...


Ecuador wants a military base in Florida

From the department of it-has-eventually-come-to-this:
Ecuador's leftist President Rafael Correa said Washington must let him open a military base in Miami if the United States wants to keep using an air base on Ecuador's Pacific coast.

Correa has refused to renew Washington's lease on the Manta air base, set to expire in 2009. U.S. officials say it is vital for counter-narcotics surveillance operations on Pacific drug-running routes.

"We'll renew the base on one condition: that they let us put a base in Miami -- an Ecuadorean base," Correa said in an interview during a trip to Italy.

"If there's no problem having foreign soldiers on a country's soil, surely they'll let us have an Ecuadorean base in the United States."
At some point we can also expect foreign nations operating inside America to capture and detain American citizens there, then take them out of the country for "questioning". After all, it's what America does to other nations.

Elrond Hubbard

This photoshopped image has been shamelessly stolen from Something Awful.

Al Mohler - Conservative

Here's a summary of Al Mohler's latest diatribes:

Atheists are a threat!

Environmentalists are a threat!

Secular universities are a threat!

Evolutionists and Europeans are a threat!

Europe and childless people suck

Books are cool

Biblical preaching is cool

To all Christians who don't go to a Christian university, let them be anathema

Euthanasia is a threat!

State run school education is a threat!

Blacks who blame other blacks are cool
I would agree with the Biblical preaching is cool bit, but little else (maybe books are cool)

Most of Mohler's messages here are essentially politically conservative talking points that he willingly disseminates amongst Grassroots Republicans American Evangelicals. Mohler, an influential Christian leader, is, I believe, guilty of mixing conservative culture with Biblical Christianity. A person who signed the Cambridge Declaration, which contains the phrase We reaffirm the inerrant Scripture to be the sole source of written divine revelation, which alone can bind the conscience, should know better.

Mohler should spend his time trying to bring the church back to biblical faith and practice rather than what he does now, which is to get angry that non-Christians don't obey the Bible or vote Republican.

Please pray for my Mother-in-Law

Judy is very sick at the moment and in hospital. It appears that her cancer is back. Please pray this prayer in your head:
Our gracious heavenly Father, please heal Judy. Please make her stay in hospital comfortable but short. Give the doctors and nurses wisdom and compassion. We ask that you take away her cancer and bring her to wholeness. We know that you do not promise healing in this life, and we ask that in all things you may keep Judy safe in your love. Amen.

Riverbend blogs again

From the department of war-has-a-human-face:
Syria is a beautiful country- at least I think it is. I say “I think” because while I perceive it to be beautiful, I sometimes wonder if I mistake safety, security and normalcy for ‘beauty’. In so many ways, Damascus is like Baghdad before the war- bustling streets, occasional traffic jams, markets seemingly always full of shoppers… And in so many ways it’s different. The buildings are higher, the streets are generally narrower and there’s a mountain, Qasiyoun, that looms in the distance.

The mountain distracts me, as it does many Iraqis- especially those from Baghdad. Northern Iraq is full of mountains, but the rest of Iraq is quite flat. At night, Qasiyoun blends into the black sky and the only indication of its presence is a multitude of little, glimmering spots of light- houses and restaurants built right up there on the mountain. Every time I take a picture, I try to work Qasiyoun into it- I try to position the person so that Qasiyoun is in the background.

The first weeks here were something of a cultural shock. It has taken me these last three months to work away certain habits I’d acquired in Iraq after the war. It’s funny how you learn to act a certain way and don’t even know you’re doing strange things- like avoiding people’s eyes in the street or crazily murmuring prayers to yourself when stuck in traffic. It took me at least three weeks to teach myself to walk properly again- with head lifted, not constantly looking behind me.

It is estimated that there are at least 1.5 million Iraqis in Syria today. I believe it. Walking down the streets of Damascus, you can hear the Iraqi accent everywhere. There are areas like Geramana and Qudsiya that are packed full of Iraqi refugees. Syrians are few and far between in these areas. Even the public schools in the areas are full of Iraqi children. A cousin of mine is now attending a school in Qudsiya and his class is composed of 26 Iraqi children, and 5 Syrian children. It’s beyond belief sometimes. Most of the families have nothing to live on beyond their savings which are quickly being depleted with rent and the costs of living.


We live in an apartment building where two other Iraqis are renting. The people in the floor above us are a Christian family from northern Iraq who got chased out of their village by Peshmerga and the family on our floor is a Kurdish family who lost their home in Baghdad to militias and were waiting for immigration to Sweden or Switzerland or some such European refugee haven.

The first evening we arrived, exhausted, dragging suitcases behind us, morale a little bit bruised, the Kurdish family sent over their representative – a 9 year old boy missing two front teeth, holding a lopsided cake, “We’re Abu Mohammed’s house- across from you- mama says if you need anything, just ask- this is our number. Abu Dalia’s family live upstairs, this is their number. We’re all Iraqi too... Welcome to the building.”

I cried that night because for the first time in a long time, so far away from home, I felt the unity that had been stolen from us in 2003.
Riverbend is an Iraqi woman who blogged about the invasion and occupation until she and her family left Iraq for Syria recently.

Quotes for the day

I think there is a handful of people who hate America. Unfortunately for them, a lot of them are losing their homes in a forest fire today.

-- Glenn Beck, The Glenn Beck Program

Stay out of Malibu, beatnik!

-- The Big Lebowski

Oil prices are high because oil prices are high

It's not because the US Dollar is falling - although that does influence it.

Click here to view this revelation from The Oil Drum.

Basically the article from The Oil Drum compares the price of oil to all major currencies, ranging from the Euro to the cute little New Zealand dollar. What it shows is incontrovertible - oil prices are going up relative to ALL major currencies.

George Orwell exposed!

George Orwell was a leftist, specifically a Democratic Socialist. He was certainly very much against totalitarianism and his best-known books, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, were polemics against it (specifically Stalinism in Communist Russia).

But - he was a leftist. This means that he desired some form of central planning in an economy, and less influence given to private business.

The reason I bring this up is because Orwell is often used by those on the "conservative" or "right wing" of politics to argue against anything left-wing. Any attempts by leftists to, say, increase public spending for health care or education or easing poverty is criticised by the right wing. This is normal and to be expected. However, some conservatives wrongly use Orwell as a means to bolster their argument. "Increasing the size of government" they would argue "inevitably leads to an intrusive state. Do we really wish to ignore George Orwell's warning and set up a 'big brother' to control us?"

When it comes to reading literature I fall very much into an "author"-based interpretation. In other words, to understand the meanings behind texts it is important to understand the background of the writer. Orwell, for all his criticisms against totalitarianism, still believed in what right-wingers today would call "big government". Animal Farm and Nineteen-Eighty Four were not critiques of centrally planned economies, but of totalitarianism.

Conservatives and other right wingers need to stop invoking Orwell and start invoking Friedrich Hayek, the Austrian Economist who authored The Road To Serfdom. It is that particular text that has influenced much of conservative thinking and argues very persuasively against central planning by linking it to the rise of totalitarianism in Germany and Russia. Orwell does not make this link, but Hayek explicitly does. Personally I think Hayek is wrong but I would have far more respect for conservatives if they stopped using Orwell and started using Hayek as the basis of their arguments.

Exodus 21.22

This is a cartoon doing the rounds amongst non-Christian / progressive thinkers. They apparently see Exodus 21.22 as being contradictory to the idea that Abortion is the killing of a human being.

Usually I'm the one telling Christians that they're reading the Bible improperly, but in this case I've got to pick a rather large hole in this argument from unbelievers.

It's important to read not just verse 22, but the surrounding verses that continue on the line of thought. Here we go, Exodus 21.22-25:
When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
One important thing to understand here is what it means by "her children come out". The comic above translates it as miscarry, but the word can mean both miscarry and premature birth.

The other important thing to understand here is when it says "harm". Who is being harmed here? The woman or the baby?

Let's assume a pregnant woman is attacked by men and then gives birth prematurely. But let's also assume that the baby lives. In that case, "there is no harm", and only a fine is required. However "if there is harm", then we get the "life for life" phrase.

Notice that there are two consequences of this action: a fine set by judges if there is "no harm", and death if there "is harm". It is illogical to assume that the "harm" being described here is harm to the pregnant woman, since it is obvious that she has been beaten up and given birth prematurely. The issue of "harm" therefore has to do with the baby, since it is the only person that has a chance of being unharmed.

All this, of course, reinforces the belief that the Bible views an unborn baby as a human being.

Cancer vs Positive Thinking

From the department of negative-thinking-researchers- who-don't-have-enough-faith:
Cancer patients' state of mind has no influence on their survival chances, according to a US study that contradicts a widespread belief in the power of positive thinking.

Researchers led by James Coyne, professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, found no correlation to a cancer victim's mental wellbeing and their ultimate chances of beating off the disease.

"The belief that a patient's psychological state can impact the course and outcome of their cancer is one that has been prominent among patients and medical professionals alike," Professor Coyne wrote in the study.

"While there can be lots of emotional and social benefits of psychotherapy, patients should not seek such experiences solely on the expectation that they are extending their lives," he said.

The study analysed 1,093 sufferers of cancer in the head or neck, of whom 646 died before the research period ended.

The researchers found no link to suggest that those who lived owed their survival to a positive frame of mind, whatever their gender, type of cancer or the stage of their disease.

"While this study may not end the debate, it does provide the strongest evidence to date that psychological factors are not independently prognostic in cancer management," Professor Coyne said.
Belief that down is up does not make it so. Behold the power of that which is not the human mind.

Shorter men more likely to be paedophiles

From the department of I-am-190cm- which-means-I'm-safe:
Shorter men are more likely to be sexually attracted to children than their taller peers, according to a new Canadian study of the biological roots of paedophilia.

This is likely the result of exposure to "pre-birth conditions" that affected paedophiles' physical development, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health reported in Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment.

"This research does not mean that paedophiles are not criminally responsible for their behavior," said lead researcher James Cantor.

"But the discovery of biological markers for paedophilia has important implications for future study and possibly treatment."

By analysing the files of over 1,000 men who were assessed for paedophilia or other sexual disorders in Toronto between 1995 and 2006, researchers observed that paedophilic males were two centimetres shorter on average than males who were not sexually attracted to children.

This height difference is a trait found in other illnesses with biological links, similar in scope to the shorter height associated with schizophrenia or Alzheimer's disease, the researchers said.

The same scientific team previously found that paedophiles "have lower IQs, are three times more likely to be left-handed, failed school grades significantly more frequently, and suffered more head injuries as children."
This is not a joke article either. I don't know what else to say except that Randy Newman was right.


Holy Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty!

This photoshopped image has been shamelessly stolen from Something Awful.

It's halfway through spring

And we have another scorcher. 33.5 Celcius (that's 92.3 Farenheit). So far this month we've had nine 30+ days here in Newcastle, which is a bit bigger than the average 2.8 we normally get.

Can't wait for summer, and I mean that most sincerely.

And, obviously, this is just some radical anomaly in climate and nothing to do with the pseudo-science of global warming and the conspiracy behind it to increase government spending and turn us all into serfs (Belief in Global Warming = adherence to Nazism). Thankyou Friedrich Hayak for making this link.

Charles Schulz - a depressed cartoonist

From the department of why-is-this-shocking?:
The creator of the beloved Peanuts comic strip was a shy, lonely man who used his child-like drawings to depict a life of deep melancholy, according to a controversial new biography.

The book is based on six years of research, unlimited access to family papers, more than 200 interviews and a close reading the 17,897 strips Schulz wrote and drew. It portrays Schulz as a man who felt unseen and unloved even if his readers numbered in the hundreds of millions.

Biographer David Michaelis, author of Schulz and Peanuts, said the cartoonist was also a man who could neither forget nor forgive any slight or lonely moment.
Charlie Brown and the other characters of Peanuts have been part of my entire life. As a child it was my favourite comic strip. At some point when I was younger, Mum or Dad bought a book for me celebrating 25 years of Peanuts. Most of the book was written by Charles Schulz and had comics interspersed between lots of text outlining, essentially, the guy's life.

Schulz, for whatever reason, was a depressed man. When I was old enough to read the 25-year celebration book, I became quite interested in the guy's life. He was a soldier during World War II and passed the time in Europe by doing illustrations. Some time after the war he began a relationship with a young woman and asked her to marry him. She refused and married someone else. The pain of that rejection was evident in what Schulz wrote, as well as illustrated - the woman became the basis of "The Little Red Haired Girl" that Charlie Brown had a crush on but was never able to win.

So, for me, this report about Schulz's depression is not news at all. I knew that Schulz struggled with his inner demons - a process which resulted in the finest comic strip of the 20th century.

Billions wasted in Iraq

From the department of cash-from-chaos:
Between April 2003 and June 2004, $12 billion in U.S. currency—much of it belonging to the Iraqi people—was shipped from the Federal Reserve to Baghdad, where it was dispensed by the Coalition Provisional Authority. Some of the cash went to pay for projects and keep ministries afloat, but, incredibly, at least $9 billion has gone missing, unaccounted for, in a frenzy of mismanagement and greed.


There is no true method of calculating the human cost of the war in Iraq. The monetary cost, grossly inflated by theft and corruption, is another matter. One simple piece of data puts this into perspective: to date, America has spent twice as much in inflation-adjusted dollars to rebuild Iraq as it did to rebuild Japan—an industrialized country three times Iraq's size, two of whose cities had been incinerated by atomic bombs. Understanding how and why this happened will take many years—if understanding comes at all. There has been no rush to explain even this one small part of the story, that of the missing Iraqi billions.
And America has the temerity to criticise the United Nations and overseas aid programs for being ineffective.

The Gay Wizard

From the department of forbidden-magic:
Harry Potter author JK Rowling has revealed that one of her characters, Hogwarts school headmaster Albus Dumbledore, is gay.

She made her revelation to a packed house in New York's Carnegie Hall on Friday, as part of her US book tour.

She took audience questions and was asked if Dumbledore found "true love".

"Dumbledore is gay," she said, adding he was smitten with rival Gellert Grindelwald, who he beat in a battle between good and bad wizards long ago.

The audience gasped, then applauded. "I would have told you earlier if I knew it would make you so happy," she said.
As someone who has yet to read the final Harry Potter Book, I am annoyed at the fact that PEOPLE TALK ABOUT DUMBLEDORE IN THE PRESENT TENSE!



The rise of a true Charismatic Prophet

J. Lee Grady, the editor of Charisma magazine, is one of the best things to happen to the Charismatic/Pentecostal church for decades. This is a fearless man who calls upon Christians to live Godly lives and who is not afraid of revealing the truth behind various scandals. This man is using his weekly blog - which is then published in Charisma Magazine itself (which is, as I understand, the most popular Charismatic magazine in America) - and he uses it to call God's people to holy living and to move away from hypocrisy.

Here is Grady's latest posting, which I provide for you in full:
When I started my job at Charisma in 1992, one of my first assignments was to sort through dozens of files of disturbing allegations made against one of the largest charismatic churches in the country. A group of women had contacted our magazine with shocking claims that Bishop Earl Paulk Jr. and other staff pastors at the 15,000-member Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Atlanta had sexually abused them. These frustrated women came to the Christian media because no pastors in our movement would listen to their horror stories.

Despite the fact that several women had the same experience with Paulk or other men on his staff, he insisted he was innocent and even brought legal action against a group of the women after they staged a press conference to make their grievances public. He also put a guilt trip on his followers, warning them that anyone who accused him of wrongdoing was “touching the Lord’s anointed.”

Today, people are finally admitting that Paulk was a wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing. He was the liar and we were the naive dupes who fell for his act.

This became obvious last year when former Cathedral staff member Mona Brewer filed a lawsuit claiming that Paulk coerced her into a sexual relationship that lasted for years. Her suit forced Paulk, other staff members and numerous Paulk relatives to give depositions in court—and the ugly truth began to unfold. The church quickly shrank to a few hundred people, and today the congregation can’t afford to maintain their 7,000-seat gothic building.

The most revolting side of the Paulk scandal hit the fan last Sunday. The Cathedral’s current senior pastor, Donnie Earl Paulk—who has been known his entire life as Earl Paulk’s nephew—admitted to his congregation that he is actually Earl Paulk’s son. A DNA test required by the court has proved that Donnie Earl is not the son of Earl’s brother, Don. He is actually the product of a relationship between his mother, worship pastor Clariece Paulk, and his “Uncle Earl.”

I know it’s beyond outrageous. But as repulsive as the Paulk scandal is to us, we should try to imagine how grieved God is that such blatant immorality was allowed to thrive unchallenged for so long in a church that dared to call itself “Spirit-filled.” Why have some staff members remained at the Cathedral to this day when they know the truth? Why didn’t national charismatic leaders listen to the countless people who left the Cathedral years ago when they learned about the wife-swapping and debauchery? We should be ashamed that our spiritual fathers ignored the whistle-blowers, withheld biblical discipline and allowed Paulk to ruin the lives of countless people.

When the apostle Paul learned that incest was occurring among Corinthian believers (“immorality of such a kind that does not exist even among the Gentiles,” he said), he rebuked the church for refusing to bring correction and gave them a clear directive: “Remove the wicked man from among yourselves” (1 Cor. 5:1-2,13, NASB).

Paulk and his cohorts at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit created a bizarre environment full of mind control and emotional manipulation. We charismatics, who claim to have the gift of discernment, should have smelled this cultic deception a mile away. But instead, even though the list of allegations grew year by year, leaders in our movement continued to allow Paulk to air his broadcasts on national television.

We are now reaping the consequences of this sloppy grace and misdirected mercy. Throughout our movement today, ministries and marriages are imploding because we built our spiritual houses on the shifting sands of “anointing” rather than on the solid rock of character and integrity. The embarrassing scandals of 2007—from the high-profile divorces to the parking lot wife-beatings to the Oral Roberts University fiasco—should prompt us to cry out to God for a biblical reformation that will restore genuine holiness in a wayward church.
I cannot give a loud enough Amen to this posting. Grady is probably a typical Pentecostal. He probably speaks in tongues, believes in the second baptism of the Holy Spirit, believes in extra-biblical prophecy, believes that God has some special plan for us that we have to somehow discern. In other words, Grady believes stuff that I think is quite unbiblical and is one reason why the movement is so seriously wrong in many ways. Yet I have to admit that God is using this man powerfully as he uses his position as a prophetic voice (not predictive but courageous) to bring the church back to holiness and obedience. Praise the Lord!

Guest Bloggers anyone?

Would anyone like to write an article? I'm not short on writing them myself but if anyone out there wishes to write in a blog post about something then I'll seriously consider it. Ron, Dave, Beamer that means you.

Are Pentecostals vote-stacking Australian Idol?

From the department of low-culture:
Australian Idol finalists have been gagged from talking about Christianity.

The final six, who made a public appearance at Sydney's Motor Show yesterday, may not answer questions about their religion or personal beliefs.

Channel Ten's publicity team, acting on instructions from the show's maker Fremantle Media, has cancelled media interviews that broach the subject.

After television reports suggested some finalists were being supported by a huge Christian voting audience, the makers of the show have tried to distance themselves from the issue.

Although no wrongdoing has been proved (most Idol contestants have huge communities supporting them, whether it be a country town or a church community) television chiefs are concerned about the effect of the stories on the "street cred" of the show.

"They promised the Idols they wouldn't have to talk about Christianity," a spokeswoman for Channel Ten said.
The only group of Australian churches who would support a TV show that glorifies vacuous, talentless and soul-destroying pop music would be the Pentecostals.

And that includes you Ron ;).


Revaluing the Yuan (and also the Yen)

From the department of realignment:
Finance ministers from the G7 group of leading industrial countries have called on China to allow its currency to rise in value more quickly.

This would make Chinese goods less competitive and could help curb China's international trade surplus.

The G7 said it could also help reduce inflationary pressures in China because it would make imports cheaper.

The deputy governor of China's central bank said it was committed to gradual revaluation alongside economic reform.

But, added Wu Xiaoling, "moving the exchange rates in the absence of economic restructuring policies will hurt China".

In a statement issued after a meeting in Washington, the G7 also said their own economies remained fundamentally strong but there was an acknowledgement that oil prices and the US housing market are potential problems.
I believe that one of the most fundamental principles of economics is balance. Economic imbalances include things like hefty current account deficits and government debt. However, imbalances can also be hefty current account surpluses and large government savings.

China has a massive current account surplus - nearly US$250 billion. What this means is that China sells more than it buys, and it invests more than it borrows. This sounds like a good thing but it's not. This is because for every dollar that China saves, someone else borrows it. Japan is in a similar situation with a current account surplus of nearly US$200 billion. Both China and Japan have hefty current account surpluses and that is not good.

The reason it is not good is because both China and Japan have helped create a situation in which the United States runs a hefty current account deficit - nearly US$800 billion. One nation's deficit (US) is another nation's surplus (China and Japan). In order for the world economy to be put on an even keel, these hefty deficits and surpluses need to be made neutral. In other words, both China and Japan need to save less and spend more, while the United States needs to save more and spend less.

At this present moment in time the United States is the world's biggest consumer. Although the US is also a producer, the economy is geared more towards consumption than production. China and Japan's economies are geared more towards production than consumption.

The world economy therefore needs the United States to consume less, and for China and Japan to consume more. This is more difficult than it sounds, though, since it needs a currency realignment - that is, the US Dollar needs to depreciate against the Yuan and the Yen.

It is not Congress or the President or even the Federal Reserve who determines the value of the US Dollar, but that amorphous thing called the "Marketplace". The Forex market essentially determines the value of the US Dollar against all other currencies. But while the US Dollar's value is not controlled by the US government, it is influenced very powerfully by the governments of China and Japan.

China's Yuan is a "pegged" currency, which means that its value is set by the Chinese government. The Chinese government, which has been steadily industrialising the country for the past 25 years, set the Yuan quite low in order to make Chinese industrial products cheap and competitive. To prevent black-market trading between the Yuan and the US Dollar, the Chinese government has essentially ensured that large amounts of money are invested back into the United States. To put it simply, China is lending America the money it needs to purchase Chinese goods.

The Japanese Yen is not pegged, but the Japanese central bank has been buying up billions in US government bonds for some time. The practice is essentially the same as China - Japan lends America the money it needs to buy Japanese goods.

The governments of Japan and China have essentially entered into the Forex market and are major influencers in how it is run. The continual purchase of US bonds by the governments of China and Japan has meant that the US Dollar is overvalued while the Yuan and the Yen are undervalued.

If China and Japan are to increase their consumption of goods and services, then both the Yuan and the Yen need to appreciate in value. The first thing that both countries need to do is to stop buying US bonds. The second thing that needs to be done is for China to unpeg its currency and let the Yuan's price be set by the Forex market.

Of course it would be remiss of me to point out that the United States is not guiltless in this process either. It has been government policy for some time to have a strong dollar and to gear the US economy towards consumption over and above production. This has resulted in a large current account deficit which has, eventually, led to a plunging US dollar. The US could've quite easily chosen to rebalance things out by buying up Yen or other currencies but they chose not to. Even basic actions like refusing to sell bonds to the Chinese and Japanese governments were not thought up.

The problem with this sort of realignment is that the move from imbalance to balance will require time to adjust. For Americans, it will require higher rates of saving and lower rates of consumption. For China and Japan it will require higher rates of consumption and lower rates of saving. Rebalancing a global economy - a process which is already underway with the plunging US Dollar - will produce pain long before it produces gain.


Gutsy Gibbon

I'm currently upgrading to Kubuntu 7.10 - Gutsy Gibbon. Downloading 800+ megabytes over a 64kbps connection takes a loooooong time. Will be back blogging once 7.10 is safely installed.

Done well. It took about 24 hours to completely download and another hour to install itself. Everything seems to be working fine at the moment.

OIl $90

From the department of I-like-listening- to-Faith-No-More:
Crude oil breached $90 a barrel in New York for the first time as the dollar traded near a record low against the euro, enhancing the appeal of commodities as an investment.

Investors purchased oil on speculation the Federal Reserve will cut borrowing costs to bolster the U.S. economy when policy makers meet on Oct. 31. Oil futures set records the past four days on concern supplies from northern Iraq may be disrupted if Turkey takes military action against Kurdish rebels.

``The weak dollar is pushing the price higher,'' said Simon Wardell, energy research manager with Global Insight Inc. in London. ``It's hard to see how this is going to turn around quickly.''
The move between $80 and $90 is too fast for my liking. I think there's some speculative activity going on in addition to supply issues and geopolitical annoyances.



From the Oil Drum:
1) Crude oil - Latest available figures from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) show that crude oil production including lease condensates increased by 455,000 b/d from June to July. Total production in July was estimated at 73.28 million b/d, which is 1.01 million b/d lower than the all time high crude oil production of 74.30 million b/d reached in May 2005.

2) Total liquids - In September world production of total liquids increased by 450,000 barrels per day from August according to the latest figures of the International Energy Agency (IEA). Resulting in total world liquids production of 85.10 million b/d, which is 1.03 million b/d lower than the all time maximum liquids production of 86.13 million b/d reached in July 2006.

3) Status of the production plateau - Both the International Energy Agency (IEA) and Energy Information Administration (EIA) figures show that global liquids production has been on a plateau since 2005. The IEA figures result in an average global production in 2007 up to September of 85.03 million b/d, almost to the same as the average 2006 production of 85.00 million b/d and higher than the average 2005 production of 84.10 million b/d. The EIA puts the average global 2007 production up to July at 84.40 million b/d, slightly lower than the average 2006 production of 84.60 million b/d and the average 2005 production of 84.63 million b/d.

The "market" is made up of people throwing billions upon billion of dollars around, yet they have no knowledge of these statistics. Peak Oil will be a classic example of "Market failure" in the economics textbooks of the future. Had oil been priced appropriately these past 5-10 years by an informed market, the negative effects of such a correction would have been easier to bear and alternatives would have been sought by the market to mitigate the coming peak. Why was the market blind to this? There are many reasons, but the major one is that markets do not always make decisions based upon rational thinking - even markets that have trillions of dollars at their disposal.

As Bill Paxton said in Aliens: "Game Over Man!"

The mystery of the 1980 oil price

From the department of unreliable reporting:
Despite the gains, oil is still below inflation-adjusted highs hit in early 1980. Depending on the adjustment, a $38 barrel of oil in 1980 would be worth $96 to $101 or more today. - AP 15 October
The cost of oil is still below the inflation-adjusted level of about $90 a barrel seen in 1980, when spiralling prices helped contribute to a recession in the US. - BBC 17 October.

US Dollar trading at 34 year low

From the department of how-low-can-you-go:
The dollar fell to a record low against the euro on speculation the worsening growth outlook in the U.S. will push the Federal Reserve to cut borrowing costs at the end of the month.

An index measuring the dollar against six major currencies sank to an all-time low after Bank of America Corp. said profit missed analysts' estimates, stoking concern a housing slump is hurting corporate earnings and growth. The yen rallied as investors trimmed riskier investments funded by loans in Japan. European equities and U.S. stock futures declined.

``The Fed needs to cut rates sooner rather than later,'' said Steven Butler, director of trading at Scotia Capital Inc. in Toronto. ``The risk of a U.S. recession is ever increasing, and the dollar can still fall a lot further.''

The dollar declined 0.6 percent to $1.4294 per euro, after earlier reaching an all-time low of $1.4305. The previous record was $1.4283 set on Oct. 1. The U.S. currency fell 1 percent to 115.46 yen at 8:47 a.m. in New York. It earlier reached 115.29, the lowest since Oct. 2. The dollar has dropped 7.7 percent against the euro and 3 percent versus the yen so far this year.

The New York Board of Trade's dollar index touched 77.5, the weakest since the index began in 1973.
Many Americans, especially those who hold to the idea of American exceptionalism, believe that economic rules don't apply to them the same way as other nations. These folk will be shocked when inflation, and high interest rates, start to choke an already injured US economy.

Proof that Country Music should be eliminated

From the department of I-knew-my- instincts-were-right:
According to the authors, Steven Stack and Jim Gundlach, the paper "assesses the link between country music and metropolitan suicide rates. Country music is hypothesized to nurture a suicidal mood through its concerns with problems common in the suicidal population, such as marital discord, alcohol abuse, and alienation from work. The results of a multiple regression analysis of 49 metropolitan areas show that the greater the airtime devoted to country music, the greater the white suicide rate. The effect is independent of divorce, southernness, poverty, and gun availability. The existence of a country music subculture is thought to reinforce the link between country music and suicide. Our model explains 51% of the variance in urban white suicide rates." The paper can be found online.
My advice to people - just don't listen. Get into heavy metal or grunge or shoegazing instead.

Hitler was not an Atheist

From the department of exposing-urban-myths:
Author Doug Krueger notes that "so many Germans were religious believers that Hitler, if not religious himself, at least had to pretend to be a believer in order to gain support." He adds, "If the [Christian] message won converts, it would seem that most Nazis were probably [Christians] too. After all, would appeal to divine mandate win more theists or atheists to the cause?" He also points out that "Even if Hitler was not a [Christian], he could still have been a theist. Or a deist". Remember that being a non-Christian is not equal to being an atheist.

When all is said and done, Krueger says that anecdotal evidence from those close to him near the end of his life suggests that he was a at least a deist, if not a theist. Krueger concludes: "So here's what evidence we have. There is a certain worldview, Nazism. Its leader, Hitler, professes on many occasions to be religious, and he often states that he's doing the will of god. The majority of his followers are openly religious. There is no evidence anywhere that this leader ever professed to anyone that he is an atheist. He and his followers actively campaign against atheism, even to the point of physical force, and this leader allies himself with religious organizations and churches. This is the evidence. So where does atheism fit in?" As Krueger notes, there seems to be no real evidence that Hitler was an atheist. On the other hand, since one could never be sure when he was speaking his real thoughts and when he was simply riling up the masses, it's difficult to say for certain.
I still believe that the fool says in his heart that there is no God. But equating atheism with Hitler? I don't think so.

Hitler did say, however:
So it's not opportune to hurl ourselves now into a struggle with the churches. The best thing is to let Christianity die a natural death. A slow death has something comforting about it. The dogma of Christianity gets worn away before the advance of science. Religion will have to make more and more concessions. Gradually the myths crumble. All that's left is to prove that in nature there's no frontier between the organic and the inorganic. When understanding of the universe has become widespread, when the majority of men know that the stars are not sources of light but worlds - perhaps inhabited worlds like ours - then the Christian doctrine will be convicted of absurdity.
This, of course, just makes him opposed to Christianity. It doesn't mean he is an atheist. In fact, such a statement is consistent with Deism.

I propagated this myth in a sermon I preached on 1 John 1.5-7.

Another round of Housing defaults about to hit?

Over at Calculated Risk there is a daily report on something called the ABX indices. I still don't fully understand it, but these indices measure Derivatives, a form of financial tool that reduces risk for one party while offering high returns for another. It's a form of insurance as well, though it is dependent upon the whims of the market rather than anything scientific.

I'm assuming that when the price of these derivatives, as applied to the ABX index, goes up, it means that the housing market is more secure and its investors are getting a good return. When the index goes down, it means that the housing market is less secure and the market believes that it is not worth investing in.

That's my assumption anyway. The mavens over at Calculated Risk are using the index as a predictive tool to see where the market is heading next. At the moment the ABX indices have basically plunged off a cliff and have lost nearly one-third of the value since October 11. I'll say that again - a 33% drop in 7 days.

Earlier drops in the index in July presaged complete market chaos in August. Back then the ABX drops were not as severe. The economics-trained Calculated Risk writers and commentators are sounding like religious nuts going on about the end of the world.

Hammer Time in Middle Earth

This photoshopped image has been shamelessly stolen from Something Awful.

Was David Kelly Murdered?

From the department of murder-investigations:
Newly released evidence adds to the theory that MoD scientist Dr David Kelly was murdered and did not commit suicide, an MP has claimed.

Norman Baker revealed that the penknife Dr Kelly apparently used to slash his wrist did not carry his own fingerprints.

Lib Dem Mr Baker said: "The angle you pick up a knife to kill yourself means there would be fingerprints.

"Someone who wanted to kill themselves wouldn't go to the lengths of wiping the knife clean of fingerprints.
David Kelly was an expert in biological warfare who supplied the BBC with information that questioned the government's claim that Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction prior to the 2003 invasion. Kelly was later found dead and an investigation ruled that it was suicide.

There's always been a conspiracy theory that contended that Kelly was murdered. Norman Baker, a Liberal Democrat member of parliament, has been arguing that Kelly was murdered for some time now.

While I am not an avowed conspiracy theorist, the revelation that the knife allegedly used by Kelly to cut his wrists did not have his fingerprints on it is certainly interesting.

Moreover, if Kelly was murdered, then the murder was obviously unprofessional since it would have been quite easy for the murderer to daub Kelly's fingerprints on the knife. But, then again, the whole "case for war" that was created at the time contained errors and forgeries so blatant as to be unprofessional.

South Africa's AIDS toll

From the department of shrinking-populations:
South Africa is in danger of losing the battle against HIV/Aids, the United Nations children's agency has warned.

Unicef's South Africa representative Macharia Kamau said that infection and death rates in the country are outpacing treatment.

This was having a devastating effect on children whose parents die of Aids and sent out a dire message for the future.

Mr Kamau said if present trends continued there could be five million orphans in South Africa by 2015.

South Africa is one of just nine countries worldwide where infant mortality is rising - from 60 deaths per 1,000 births in 1990, to 95 deaths today.

The main reason, Unicef says, is HIV/Aids.

The average infection rate is almost 30% of the population - in some regions it is closer to 50%.
South Africa's population has been shrinking for some time. The CIA World Factbook shows a birth rate of 17.94 births / 1000 people and a death rate of 22.45 births / 1000 people. Most of the AIDS in South Africa is spread via heterosexual sex. I expect South Africa's population to shrink for some years before the effect of AIDS is reduced.

Oil $89

From the department of its-drying-up:
Oil prices have pulled back from record highs after a minister for producers' cartel Opec said the group may now consider boosting output.

Following the comments by Nigeria's oil minister Odein Ajumogobia, US light crude fell 27 cents to $87.34, while Brent pulled back 51 cents to $83.04.

Earlier on Wednesday, US light had touched as high as $89, while Brent crude had hit $83.80.

Oil prices had risen due to tensions between Turkey and Kurdish rebels.

Mr Ajumogobia said Opec leaders could now meet as early as 17 November, three weeks ahead of their next planned meeting.

"We are still a month away and it depends what transpires before then," he added.

A report showing higher than expected US crude reserves also helped take the heat off oil prices.
A potential Turkish invasion of Iraq is sending jitters throughout the market, although I am still shaking my head that the market continues to believe OPEC can boost output.

It's only been a matter of weeks since oil broke through the $80 barrier. Now it is nearer $90. Although I believe that the price of oil will go ever higher, the speed at which it has gone from $80 to $89 is worrying.

Turkey is not helping

From the department of just-calm-down-everybody:
Turkey's parliament has given permission for the government to launch military operations into Iraq in pursuit of Kurdish rebels.

The vote was taken in defiance of pressure from the US and Iraq, which have called on Turkey for restraint.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the motion does not mean a military operation is imminent.

But he said Turkey needed to be able to respond to a recent rise in bomb attacks blamed on PKK rebels from Iraq.

Turkish MPs backed him overwhelmingly, by 507 votes to 19.
This sort of thing is not going to help anybody. I don't know whether the Turkish Parliament made this decision based upon the recent US congress decision to recognise and condemn the Armenian massacre, or whether this has been a long time coming.

Turkey really needs to look at how to defuse the situation with its Kurdish minority. Sending out troops to attack Kurds in Iraq is hardly going to please Kurds living in Turkey.

If Turkey wishes to join the European Union (which I earnestly hope they will), they need to start acting like a civilised European nation. They should do the following:
  • Secure their borders much more that what they are now.
  • Publicly denounce any sort of violence against Kurds in Turkey and reiterate that they are part of Turkey's people.
  • Set up health and education programs amongst Turkish Kurds (who I understand are living in poverty compared to the rest of Turkey).
  • Ask the United Nations to send troops to the Iraqi side of the border to act as peacekeepers. Using Turkish troops to do this would constitute an invasion.
  • Ask the United Nations to set up poverty-reducing measures amongst Kurds in Northern Iraq that is funded mainly by Turkish money.


Shaun of the Dead

Shaun of the Dead is, according to the DVD cover, a "Romantic Comedy, with Zombies" (OrRom Com Zom for short). And that is pretty much what it is.

Zombie flicks have, over the years, been alternatively scary, mysterious, funny and sometimes boring and predictable. They have been a staple of horror films for decades now, starting with George Romero's Night of the Living Dead in 1968. In fact the title of this film is based upon the Romero film Dawn of the Dead.

My own experience of Zombie-horror films is quite limited. Back in the 1980s I saw half of Return of the Living Dead before the friends I was with decided that watching Doctor Zhivago was a better bet (it was midnight before Zhivago finally lost Lara). I found the film hilarious, especially when the Zombies were walking around crying out for brains and, after killing and eating the occupants of a police car, grabbed the police radio and said "Send more cops".

The next film that I watched with a Zombie flavour was Army of Darkness, an absolute comedic classic about a retail employee named Ash who has removed his right hand and replaced it with a chainsaw, who is mysteriously sent back in time to battle a Zombie army in the Middle Ages, armed with his chainsaw, a shotgun, his car and some handy engineering textbooks. The film was an instant classic and made Bruce Campbell into a cult movie star, and allowed its Director, Sam Raimi, to direct bigger and better things.

On the other hand, Resident Evil, starring Mila Jovovich, is a humourless Zombie flick that nevertheless does a good job at recreating the plot of a popular computer game (better, in fact, than Tomb Raider, Doom or other comparable film). It is a tense film and contains special effects that are designed to horrify rather than make you laugh. What made this film attractive to me was the futuristic aspect of it all, as well as having Zombies being mown down by a highly-trained paramilitary unit. The sequel to this film is, unfortunately, almost unwatchable.

Another great Zombie flick is Braindead, possibly the greatest film ever made by Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson. Put simply, the film is about a mild-mannered New Zealand man named Lionel trying to save 1950s Wellington from being over-run by Zombies.

Shaun of the Dead, therefore, comes to me out of this rather limited experience. And it works. Simon Pegg, the film's star, starred in Big Train, one of my favourite BBC comedy shows, so his comedic style is known by me. The film also stars Pegg's comedy friend Nick Frost, and a cavalcade of British comedians such as Lucy Davis (Dawn in The Office), Dylan Moran (Bernard in Black Books) as well as bit parts by Martin Freeman (The Office) and Matt Lucas (Little Britain).

Needless to say, with a cast heavy with British Comedians, Shaun of the Dead is most definitely a comedy. It is not a satire, not is it a even a parody of Zombie flicks. It is, as the DVD cover suggests, a Romantic comedy, with Zombies.

Pegg plays Shaun, a 29-year old unmotivated Englishman who spends his days in a dead-end job selling televisions and his nights either at the local pub or on the Playstation with his house-mate, the unemployed and shambolic Ed. These two live with Pete, a clean living and organised person who is nevertheless a complete jerk.

In effect, the house that Shaun lives in is a allegory of his life. He is torn between the need to be relaxed and have fun - as personified by the disgusting, lazy and irresponsible housemate Ed - and the need to be responsible and make something of his life - as personified by the successful, competent yet highly strung and humourless Pete. Neither choice fills Shaun with hope. On the one hand, he knows that Ed's influence on his life is holding him back. But, on the other hand, he cannot bear to change into the ugly, soulless being that Pete has become.

Normally this would not bother him. Shaun's girlfriend, Liz, however is sick of him. She is sick of Shaun's inability to progress in life and his exceptionally small dreams. Moreover, Shaun's social life consists almost entirely of going to the Winchester, a local pub. When he forgets to book a table at a fancy restaurant and suggests a drink at the Winchester instead, Liz dumps him. After being dumped, Shaun discovers that he truly loves Liz, and decides to try to win her back.

As you have read this so far, you're probably wondering where the Zombies come in. Eventually they do. For whatever reason (the film does not explain it), people begin to turn into Zombies and begin killing and eating the living. Shaun, realising that both his mother and his ex-girlfriend are in mortal danger, then decides to try to rescue them.

It is Shaun's decisive actions in acting as the rescuer and main zombie-killer that transforms him from an unmotivated peon into a genuine hero. In many ways, the character of Shaun is the same as that of Ash from Army of Darkness. Ash, played by Bruce Campbell, begins his life as a lowly store-worker at "S-Mart", a dead-end job that involves pricing goods and dealing with customers at the till. Similarly, Shaun works at an electronics retail store selling Televisions and DVD players, working alongside 16 year olds who are at least as competent as he is. This link between Ash and Shaun is made explicit as an in-joke for careful viewers when Shaun, as acting manager, tells the staff that "Ash" was sick and couldn't make it to work that day.

Shaun is also like Ash in that he is constantly warring between his "responsible" side and his "irresponsible" side. Yet while Ash swings from confident and arrogant hero to craven coward every few minutes, Shaun's swings are more human, more believable and less contrived (although I must point out that the contrived hero/coward behaviour of Ash in Army of Darkness is one of that film's greatest strengths. The humanness of Shaun is simply different to, rather than better than, Ash). Forced into action by the most ridiculous of premises (a sudden invasion of Zombies), Shaun moves from being immature to being mature, from being ridiculed to being respected, and from being cowardly to being heroic.

Shaun can also be compared favourably to Braindead's Lionel, whose zombie-killing frees him from the clutches of his domineering mother. In a sense, Shaun is freed from his self-imposed shackles in the same way as Lionel is "freed" from the shackles imposed on him by his mother.

It is thus through the bloody dismemberment of undead flesh that the unremarkable, shackled and disgraceful can conquer their faults and rise to prominence and power. It is as though the Zombies represent the protagonists in all their faults - and the death of the Zombies by these protagonists is necessary in order for them to become heros. In a sense it a battle against the self, and one which requires the death of the head (in much the same way as the guillotine recreated France during the revolution).

Gee, that sounded really intellectual.

What gives the film an added "vibe" is its setting. Rather than being in Middle America or the Middle Ages (which, of course, was what we were to believe in Army of Darkness, though it was obvious that they were filming in California scrubland), Shaun of the Dead is set in suburban London. By having the setting in London, and having to deal with Londoners, is what separates the film from other Zombie films. In suburban London we have a corner store run a Pakistani immigrant, a neighbourhood youth who kicks a football all the time, colourful and traditional pubs in abundance, cramped but well-kept backyard gardens, narrow streets being driven along by cheap 4-cylinder cars or expensive Jaguars - and it is here that we view the mysterious Zombie invasion. It is this setting, along with the cast, that makes Shaun of the Dead a quintessentially English film, despite its reliance upon American based themes. Zombies will always be Zombies, but the way ordinary English people respond to the threat would be different to the way Americans act. So while Americans may barricade the doors or pull out firearms allowed by the US constitution, the English have a sit down or throw cups and saucers at their antagonists - well, at least English portrayed by English comedians.

Incidentally, it is this style of setting - remaining true to a particular locale and culture - that makes all comedies work well. Think of the Britishness of Monty Python for example. Braindead was so good because it remained true to New Zealand culture and thus became entertaining to those outside of New Zealand. Any Rom Zom Com will work internationally if it is kept within the bounds of a particular culture. I'd really like to see a Zombie Comedy from, say India, or Minnesota, or Mexico, or Russia.

One of my favourite parts of the film occurs when Ed and Shaun discover that the only way to permanently kill Zombies is to either cut off their heads or destroy their brains. Armed with this information, they then attempt to kill two zombies by hurling LP records at them (in the hope that decaptiation would result). After Ed inadvertently hurls an original copy of Blue Monday at the advancing Zombies, the two then discuss which albums can be thrown and which deserve to be kept - Dire Straits and the Batman Soundtrack are dispatched at their undead foes, while the two albums by The Stone Roses are kept. Moreover, when Shaun is first attacked by a Zombie, both Ed and Shaun think that the Zombie, a woman, is merely very drunk and amorous, resulting in Ed taking a picture of the two of them struggling away.

The Zombie-killing motif in the film is represented by Shaun's cricket bat, which he uses to bash in the heads of the undead. Cricket is an English sport, so the use of a cricket bat makes the Zombie-killing motif as much English as the chainsaw/shotgun combination makes Ash's motif American (or the Sub-machine-gun makes Alice's motif American in Resident Evil, or the underpowered lawnmower makes Lionel's motif New Zealander in Braindead). When he loses the bat, Shaun then uses the Winchester rifle that he finds in the Winchester pub - almost identical to the Winchester Ash uses in S-Mart at the end of Army of Darkness. Unlike Ash, however, Shaun has no experience firing rifles apart from his time on the Playstation, so his use of the Winchester is haphazard. The Winchester is also used by David (Dylan Moran) a university lecturer and an avowed pacifist (what irony) to threaten the life of a another cast member who is changing into a Zombie.

Music also has its place in the film. While Resident Evil has an appropriately dark and industrial-metal soundtrack, Shaun of the Dead includes a memorable rendition of Queen's Don't Stop Me Now (a song glorifying Freddie Mercury's outrageous libido) playing as the characters attempt to kill a Zombie by beating it with Pool cues in time with the music. The use of this song, which is resplendent in images of excitement and boasting, is subverted by the scene of killing a Zombie - similar to the way the ear-removal scene in Reservoir Dogs subverts the 70s pop tune Stuck in the Middle with You (although this scene in Shaun of the Dead is hardly ruinous).

As I stated earlier, Shaun of the dead is not a parody of Zombie films. Zombie-comedies like Army of Darkness, Braindead and Return of the Living Dead are well regarded in the genre, which means that Shaun of the Dead can actually be labelled a Zombie horror film (the way Dylan Moran's character dies in the film is simultaneously horrible and incredibly funny). Unlike these two Zombie-Horror films, though, the film's humour lies in the way in which the characters respond to the Zombies, rather than poking fun at the Zombies themselves (something which Shaun of the Dead only does at the conclusion of the film). It is one thing to rip zombies apart with gigantic fan attached to the front of a steam powered car (as Ash does in Army of Darkness), it is another thing to skewer a Zombie with a Totem Tennis pole (as what happens in Shaun of the Dead). The former is humourous because it is overstated, the latter is humourous because it is understated.

With the success of Shaun of the Dead, along with the history of previous Zom Coms, I would hazard a guess that future films starring Zombie invasions gore and humour are likely to continue. I'm glad, though, that the creators of Shaun of the Dead (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) were talented enough to get away with a quality picture when there is always a chance that something only mediocre could be created. The success of this film, along with their later Hot Fuzz, shows a talented pair of British comedians willing to try new things.

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

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