Saturday, October 28, 2006

Lancet editorial blasts cluster bombs

In the wake of publishing the Johns Hopkins 2006 study of mortality in Iraq, The Lancet in an editorial this week condemns the use of cluster bombs, particularly as used by Israeli forces recently in southern Lebanon. I for one fully endorse The Lancet’s view as expressed here.

Yet another country infested with cluster bombs

After Vietnam, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq, southern Lebanon has become the latest horrific example of the consequences of international inaction over cluster bombs. In a report released last week, Foreseeable harm: the use and impact of cluster munitions in Lebanon: 2006, the UK organisation Landmine Action estimates, based on field research, that on average three or four civilians have been killed or injured by submunitions from cluster bombs every day since the ceasefire in August. 35% are children, who pick up these often brightly coloured, sometimes ball-shaped objects. In addition, farmers’ harvests are impeded, and schools, roads, houses, and gardens are still littered with unexploded munitions.

The UN Mine Action Coordination Centre (UNMACC) in south Lebanon has so far disposed of over 45,000 submunitions but estimates that there are 1 million in an area of about 650 000 inhabitants. The failure rate of cluster bombs depends on when they were made and on their type. Some argue that because newer variants have lower failure rates and self-destruct mechanisms, they are a legitimate weapon in modern conflicts. So it is all the more disturbing that the failure rate in Lebanon is estimated by UNMACC to be between 15% and 40% and that self-destruct versions were found among the unexploded ordnance. Who would accept such a failure rate for any technical equipment? With cluster bombs, it essentially means that up to 40% of them function as deadly landmines. Landmine Action has aptly named its campaign to ban cluster bombs Product Recall.

The growing unease has led a group of nations to call for discussions on an international treaty to regulate or ban cluster bombs at the Conference of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons to be held in Geneva next month. The opposing nations are largely those who have also not signed the Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty: the USA, China, India, Russia, and the UK. The legacy of Lebanon has shown again that hiding behind the argument of technological advance and precision is utterly inappropriate. Cluster bombs must be banned.

  • The Lancet, Vol 368, No 9546, 28 October 2006

Friday, October 27, 2006

Goat Friday

Why is ‘Clover’ trying to hide . . . ?

101 Uses for a Goat: #73

It was reported in the Sudan Tribune in February that “a man was caught having an intimate relation with a goat ... [and] was ordered to pay the goat’s dowry and take the animal as his wife.”

I certainly don’t want to dwell on the unfortunate details of this story, but it’s interesting to note that the order for the offender to pay the dowry and wed the poor animal was adjudicated by “some elders”. I’d be interested to know whether this judgement was based on a precedent, or whether perhaps it will become a precedent.

Such stories as this about men in ‘backward’ places ‘having an intimate relation’ with livestock, of whatever species, seem to crop up from time to time. In the last year or so, I recall hearing of at least one incident each in Afghanistan and Iraq.

While I’m sure this sort of thing also occurs in so-called modern democracies, it’s perhaps worth pondering how traditional practices, such as the requirement for dowries, and other impediments to matrimony, may tend to ‘force’ unattached men of limited means into seeking gratification by such desperate measures.

Oh, and just incidentally, how appropriate that the Google ads accompanying the above article are often about singles, dating, marriage and relationship advice! Adsense and sensibility...

(Via Richard Tonkin)

Tim Blair eats crow

A really good post from Tim Blair:

... I thought it fair enough to include Columbia University health professor Richard Garfield in a short list of Lancet critics. Turns out, however, that Garfield is a full-blown Lancet fancier [i.e., Garfield supports the Lancet/Johns Hopkins study]. My mistake.

Onya Tim! Bon appetit!!!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Pattern emerging?

This list posted by Tim Dunlop is kind of interesting.

As we know, George W. Bush has repeatedly put the number of Iraqis killed since the Iraq invasion at 30,000 “more or less”. Also, at various times, the President has put

  • the number of chemical weapons stockpiled by Saddam
  • the number of police in post-invasion Iraq
  • the number of new businesses started
  • the number of new teachers trained; and
  • the territory in square miles patrolled by Iraqi forces

. . . all at the nice round figure of 30,000.

Okay, it’s got to be coincidence, but the preponderance of the magic 30,000 number is a bit spooky.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Biggest zit in the solar system

[Click to Enlarge]

source jpl/nasa

Olympus Mons on the planet Mars, pictured above, was the largest zit in the solar system... Until August this year, when the one below erupted on my face. Happily all that now remains of Jacobus Mons is a depressed, extinct crater.

[Click to Enlarge]

image by jacob

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Apophis the Destroyer

Apophis was an ancient Egyptian deity, an evil dragon, the demon of darkness and chaos, who was vanquished every morning by the sun god, Ra.

How apt it is that his name should be given to a near-Earth asteroid, originally designated 2004 MN4, which in the not-too-distant future may cause calamity here on Earth. According to an article in the current November/December issue of Australian Sky & Telescope magazine, there is a chance that the 320-metres diameter Apophis may smash into the Earth in the year 2036, on Sunday April 13. (It will also pass very closely to the Earth seven years earlier, in 2029, on the very same date.)

At one point, the probability of a disastrous collision by Apophis with the Earth was calculated at 1 in 37. Why, you might ask, didn’t we hear about it? Well, at the time the news was swamped by a more immediate disaster, the Boxing Day 2004 tsunami. As further observation of Apophis has refined our knowledge of the asteroid and its orbit, that probability has improved recently to 1 in 48,000.

So, the good and bad news is... It may never happen – but this could be the big one.

Enfeeblification rampant

Tim Dunlop notes ironically “money well spent”:

The Federal Government forked out $12,000 to help fund right-wing Canadian commentator Mark Steyn’s visit to Australia.

Where else, he asks, could you get insights like this?

I think it’s simply a mistake to argue about whether a war is a mistake. Once you’re in it, I think the best thing to do is to win it.

Well, it seems that it’s now a symptom of the ‘enfeeblement’ of Western civilisation if ‘we’ fail to carry through a mistake to its logical conclusion. The crash-through-or-crash approach, I think it’s called.

As Steyn flagged in his C.D. Kemp lecture to the Institute of Public Affairs back in August, and as ably regurgitated by his panic elf, the Herald Sun’s Paul Gray:

The problem is that Western societies are not breeding at a fast enough rate, while the Muslim countries are breeding many more potential haters.

While Muslim countries and communities grow in size, European societies “will cease to exist in any meaningful sense” if current demographic trends continue, Steyn said.

Take note: human breeding-rates are “a more basic national security issue than what you spend on defence”, he argued.

See, it’s either us or them. Then there’s potential Islamicists in our prisons:

Aboriginal men in prisons are reportedly being converted to radical Islam at a rate causing concern within the prison community.

Consider it: young men in prison, with a background of deprivation and anger, linking up with an ideology that justifies waging serious violence against the society it claims is the cause of all their deprivation.

I call that scarier than snakes on a plane.

The end is nigh, folks, if we don’t reverse the enfeeblification of our glorious Western Civilisation. This must be stopped! Paul Gray’s gotten the message:

Steyn gave numerous important examples of the way affluent Western societies were indulging in self-amusements, which amounted to little more than sterile naval-gazing [sic].

Examples included the push for gay marriage in the West and the question of breeding the next generation.

These are dangerous times. We can’t be walking and chewing gum at the same time. That is to say, we can’t walk-the-walk and talk-the-talk at the same time. I mean to say, we can’t preach freedom and democratic values, and practice freedom and democratic values at the same time.

Doing stuff like that is enfeeblifying.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Rory scores another for Pluto

A well-written and tenaciously argued letter from our young friend Rory Burg has been published in the November/December issue of Australian Sky & Telescope magazine:

Letter of the Month
Pluto’s Sad Demise

I am in grade one and I am 7. I live in Australia and did you know that the Astronomers are taking Pluto out of our family of planets? I’m sad about it because it doesn’t really matter about how big a planet is, and planets can be big or small. I think the astronomers are being a big bully to Pluto and I was wondering if you could talk to other astronomers and tell them to stop being mean. I have loved the planets since Christmas time and I have lots and lots of books on them.

I think Pluto should be a proper planet because: 1) The Sun’s rays do reach Pluto and Pluto has an orbit away from Neptune. 2) The Sun holds onto Pluto and that means it’s definitely part of our Solar System. 3) Pluto is so interesting. It’s got a funny orbit. It gets closer to the Sun than Neptune for a long time but it doesn’t get caught by Neptune’s gravity. 4) Pluto has its own moon called Charon, AND it has Nix and Hydra too. 5) Pluto might even have things that are alive on it – we don’t even know that yet.

When I get big, I’m going to send probes and a shuttle to Pluto with a secret message saying “sorry Pluto that everyone is bullying you – I’ll make you a proper planet again.”

Please Mr Scientists, don’t let Pluto miss out on being a planet. Here is my poem I wrote when I heard about Pluto.

[Rory’s splendid poem has been posted here. Highly recommended!]

Wheelers Hill, Victoria

The AS&T editors responded thus:

Rory, your letter touched everyone at Australian Sky & Telescope. NASA has a probe, New Horizons, already on its way to Pluto. In 2015, we’ll see some great images.

Onya Rory!

Related Previous Posts
Losing it in Prague
211th planetish object discovered
Pluto belongs to everyone
Campaign for Pluto gathers pace
Rory’s call to action
Scared Pluto, but still so brave
Planets cry too