Saturday, September 16, 2006

Campaign for Pluto gathers pace

Here’s the latest from Rory Burg over at Save Pluto HQ:

Guess what! They are going to put one of my letters and my poem in Australian Sky and Telescope magazine next issue. Did you know that then all the astronomers in Australia will read it!!? Soon they will have to make Pluto a planet again.

Between Rory and the International Astronomical Union, my money’s on the kid!

Rory’s call to action

As hinted earlier, I’ve received an email from Rory Burg, the young man who has taken former planet Pluto’s cause to his big heart. Courtesy of his really cool Mum, he writes:

I am glad and I feel proud that some people are reading my poem about Pluto. I am very worried and I know that Pluto should be a planet again because I have read lots of books.

I know about why the astronomers decided. But Pluto has cleared its planetary field. It has real moons, not asteroids. And did you know that Saturn has 22 moons? So, that means that the astronomers think the wrong thing.

I have sent some letters to Mr Howard too, and even NASA. I will send lots so everyone will listen. And then I will fly to Pluto when I get big, and there will be a secret message saying, “Sorry, Pluto, about the mean bullies.”

Could you tell your friends about it because I am 7 and I know if I try hard I might be able to save Pluto.

Rory’s Mum has advised that her son plans to set up a “planet club especially for Pluto” at his school over the holidays. And eventually he’ll likely be setting up his own website to pursue this and other interests.

So watch out for our young friend Rory in future, he’ll very likely be a force to be reckoned with.

Go Rory, go mate...!

. . .

Incidentally, Jeremy has some deep background on the Pluto controversy in comments here.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Goat Friday

More than mere goatery, the following would seem an example of what’s sometimes called reverse Darwinism in action...

A bungling German thief stole a pair of shoes in two different sizes and was caught when he went back to the shop to fix his mistake, decked out in the clothes he had also stolen, authorities say.

Police in the western city of Bielefeld say the shop owner recognised the 20-year-old shoplifter because the white shoes and sports jacket he wore were available only in his shop, and had been stolen just two days earlier.

I’ve printed out a copy of this story to give to my father-in-law, who has a rather similar story about a mate of his in London (circa early 1960s), called Wally.

The story goes that Wally one night forced entry into a shoe store by way of a skylight. He collected all the shoes in the display window into a sack and made good his escape. Upon examining his loot, he discovered that all the shoes were for left feet.

Wally then hatched a diabolical plan to liberate the matching right-footed shoes. He returned to the same shoe shop the following night... Entered through the same skylight...

And suddenly found himself in custody of the local constabulary, who were there waiting to ‘nick’ him, of course.

Poor old Wally, says my father-in-law, shaking his head.


The above ‘welcome party’ of stuffed toys, etc., has been put together by some of us at the office to welcome back one of our colleagues. He is returning after ... having taken an RDO yesterday.

Yep, just a bit of Friday goatery, folks.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Scared Pluto, but still so brave

Rory Burg will not be at all happy about this latest treachery of the International Astronomical Union against our disenfranchised friend, the former planet Pluto. Talk about adding insult to injury!

Once the proud outermost planet of the solar system, Pluto has been consigned to the status of a small-town telephone number after the world’s paramount astronomical body tore up its membership of the cosmic A-list.

The enigmatic, icy world spotted in 1930 has been given the official moniker of 134340 Pluto.

It has been lumped among 136,562 asteroids and other small bodies by the Minor Planet Centre (MPC), which is part of the Paris-headquartered International Astronomical Union (IAU).

Pluto’s satellites, Charon, Nix and Hydra, have been numbered 134340 I, 134340 II and 134340 III respectively under the latest minor planet list, which was compiled on September 7.

I have it on good authority that Rory intends to remain very active in this matter. And I’ve given my word that I will be lending whatever assistance possible towards righting this grievous wrong.

The IAU should regard itself as on notice.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Bitchslapping administered

Christopher Hitchens was interviewed last night by Tony Jones on ABC-TV’s Lateline program. Hitchens looked ill, but was as arrogant and combative as ever. He chided Jones as a schoolmaster would a dull schoolboy. By some accounts, Hitchens gave Jones a fair old ‘bitchslapping’.

But what exactly was Hitchens’ point again? Well, ostensibly it all went to supporting President George W. Bush’s case for a ‘linkage’ between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks. He referred approvingly to GWB’s own dull-schoolboy assertion featured in the previous segment:

REPORTER: What did Iraq have to do with that?

GEORGE W. BUSH: What did Iraq have to do with what?

REPORTER: The attack on the World Trade Center?

GEORGE W. BUSH: Nothing, except for it’s part of – and nobody’s ever suggested in this Administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack – Iraq was a ... Iraq ... the lesson of September the 11th is take threats before they fully materialise, Ken.

Or, as Hitchens then himself somewhat clumsily paraphrased it: “The removal of Saddam Hussein was for the next attack so that it wouldn’t come.” (Does Hitchens moonlight as GWB’s speechwriter?)

Anyway, Jones put it to Hitchens that...

At least one key witness to the events within the White House immediately after the 9/11 attacks, the former counter-terrorism chief, Richard Clarke, says that advisers in the White House were bent on attacking Iraq in retaliation, whether or not Saddam Hussein had anything to do with al-Qaeda.

Hitchens roundly rejected Clarke’s view that there was no linkage between Saddam and al-Qaeda, pointing out that Clarke had previously said in 1999, in relation to the US attack on a chemical facility in Sudan, that there was indeed a link.

Anyway, said Hitchens, Clarke is now being partisan and is not to be trusted. The bottom line is that even Clarke said there was a linkage, and although he has since repudiated that view, he just can’t be trusted anyway.

So there! That stitches up Clarke – to Hitchens’ satisfaction, anyway.

Jones then cited the recent US Senate committee report that found no linkage between Saddam and al-Qaeda. Hitchens made even shorter work of that – notwithstanding he doesn’t appear to have actually read the report itself, but rather “at least one very trenchant critique of this report”. He nevertheless witheringly dismisses the report as “half-baked and unfinished”, based apparently upon what he has read by an indeterminate number of unnamed critics of an only partially-released report.

Hmm... Perhaps the only ‘bitchslapping’ was of the viewers’ entitlement to honest and objective analysis.

Monday, September 11, 2006

jungle 2 jungle 2

Further to this stuff, Jeremy is curious as to why the phrase “Law of the Jungle is the Best regulator” is being searched so regularly. He keeps getting Google hits from searches for that phrase.

I’d really like it if someone who finds this post by searching for that phrase could clear this up for me! Is this article being studied at schools/universities? Is there a book or something with that as the title?”

If anyone can help Jeremy with this matter, leave a comment at his place.


UPDATE 13/09/2006

Mystery solved – see comments...

Private hospitals extolled

Health Minister Tony Abbott seems to want Australian public hospitals to either contract out their management, or at least to adopt management practices more in step with private hospitals.

Speaking at a seminar of state opposition leaders at the weekend, Mr Abbott said he had “rarely spoken to a doctor or nurse with current personal experience of public and private hospitals who didn’t prefer the private system”.

One can certainly understand why many health professionals would rather work in a smoothly-run, profit-oriented environment – i.e., a business – where such things as ‘casualty’ and emergency departments do not exist.

Well, obviously (hello, Tony!) this points to a fundamental difference between public and private hospitals. Public hospitals have a social welfare function, with which private hospitals clearly are not significantly hampered.

Private hospitals are, virtually by definition, profit-making enterprises. Theoretically one may bleed to death in the carpark unless one has private health insurance. To point all this out is, of course, to labour the bleeding obvious.

Okay, to be fair Mr Abbott was only trying to flag, albeit in his idiosyncratic boofhead style, the fact that the crisis in public hospitals points to a need to study alternative management models for these institutions. “Those running public hospitals,” he said, “ought to consider how they can learn from the private sector and the extent to which the need for government to pay for public hospital services really makes it necessary for bureaucrats to run them too.”

Well and good, but the fact remains that bureaucrats who run public hospitals operate under a significantly different set of priorities and obligations than do bureaucrats who run private ones. Please do give it a little more thought, Mr Abbott.

Hoodwinking for Australia

Australian Reserve Bank governor Ian Macfarlane has revealed that the Bank, in cohoots with the Australian Government, ‘conspired’ to spread disinformation during the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis in order “to hoodwink foreign exchange markets”.

Mr Macfarlane said the “unusual” collaboration was intended to prevent interest rates rising, in response to a worrying plunge in the value of the Australian dollar.

In the panic of the Asian financial meltdown, foreign exchange markets spread “contagion” to most Asian currencies, dragging down the Australian dollar from 73.91 US cents on October 13 to 58.45 US cents eight months later. At one point the dollar fell by more than 5 US cents in a fortnight. It then had several more sustained falls before turning back up.

Mr Macfarlane said in most other countries whose currencies were falling, central banks had raised interest rates to try to shore up the currency. But the Reserve, which had cut cash interest rates from 7.5 per cent to 5 per cent over the previous 15 months, thought this would be ineffective and decided to try another strategy: “to make sure that a lot of people thought interest rates might go up”.

“It was very important to get the rhetoric right,” he said. “Canberra was very helpful. We sat down and talked to the Treasurer and the Prime Minister, and we all agreed on various things that should be said, and should not be said.

“We agreed — and it’s an agreement which by and large has held very effectively since then — that the Treasurer and the Prime Minister do not talk about the value of the Australian dollar.”

They could, however, always hint that rates could rise.

This seems a rather frank and unabashed admission of the kind of behaviour that would land the average CEO in hot water, were they to engage in similar behaviour on behalf of their companies.

And it all makes one wonder more generally about central banks in the Free West, whose role seems to be to actually mediate those free-market forces in which government’s otherwise have so much faith.

Please define ‘better off’

Australian Prime Minister John Howard yesterday: “Iraq is a better place for Saddam having been gone.”

In the papers today: “Prisoners released from [Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison] last week spoke of routine torture of terrorism suspects. On Wednesday, 27 prisoners were hanged in the first mass execution since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime.”

And last week:

As new figures show the numbers of civilian deaths in Iraq spiralling sharply upwards, the nation's most influential moderate Shiite leader has abandoned attempts to restrain his followers, admitting there is nothing he can do to prevent the country sliding towards civil war. ...

In a dismal assessment, a new Pentagon report has revealed that the numbers of attacks and civilian casualties in Iraq have risen sharply in recent months as sectarian violence has engulfed larger areas of the country. Deaths have risen by 1000 a month.

The quarterly report shows that the number of attacks over the past four months increased by 15 per cent and the number of Iraqi casualties rose by 51 per cent to more than 3000 violent deaths a month.

Over the longer term, the surge is even more grim. Weekly attacks have doubled from about 400 in the northern spring of 2004 to nearly 800 in recent weeks. The number of daily casualties has increased from fewer than 30 a day in 2004 to more than 110 a day in recent weeks.

Mr Howard’s propensity for viewing the situation in Iraq through rose-tinted glasses has become legendary. But what dark vision assails him as he waddles through the streets of Sydney on his regular morning walks?

After reminding reader’s - once again - that Mr Howard “was in Washington at the time of the [Sept 11] attacks”, the first article notes that “he fears a similar attack on towering office blocks in downtown Sydney.”

“An attack on a major sporting event, a plane, a big building. Every time I go for a walk in the morning I see those buildings and thoughts go through my head. I have to be honest and say that,” he said.

The man has been spooked. And he may well be deluded. He should retire.