Friday, March 09, 2007

Howard snatches win out of mouths of babes

A photo-op for Australian Prime Minister John Howard at a school in outer-Melbourne seems to have produced an awkward moment for the master politician. During a play radio interview with a panel of Year 6 students, a young boy threw a question to the PM straight out of left-field.

“I recently heard that a plane crashed,” said young Mitchell. “Are you ready to fly on Garuda Airlines?”

It’s reported that the watching press gallery “let out a collective gasp and dropped their gazes to the floor.” As indeed one would at witnessing a question of, under the circumstances, such poor taste. Of course, the lad was apparently oblivious of his faux pas, as much as of the potential he had innocently created for an international incident.

What would the PM do or say? Even the most hardened Howard-sceptic might have forgiven the man if he’d gently but firmly admonished the little whippersnapper. But if the PM misjudged the situation, it could so easily result in an untoward headline, such as:

PM reduces 11 year-old boy to tears

Happily — for Mr Howard, the kid, and our relations with our nearest neighbour — the PM finally marshalled his native weaseling abilities to skillfully and studiously avoid answering the question at all...

“When I travel overseas I tend to go on a VIP airline,” Mr Howard explained.

“I wouldn’t put a total prohibition [JAS: canny vocab technique, considering the audience] on any airline, it depends on the circumstances. I think it is fair to say though that the safety record of our airline Qantas is a wonderful safety record.”

The kid hadn’t noticed that his question remained unanswered, so it may be safely assumed that a glittering career in Australian journalism awaits.

Goat Friday

image source


Note: Until further notice, this blog has determined to avoid featuring any further items from the Google Goat Newsfeed, as there doesn’t seem to be much else apart from reports of various incidents of the most dreadful goat abuses. Where are all the good goat news stories, anyway?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Signs of the times

Until recently, Exit Signs have been reassuring in their blandness...

bland reassuring exit sign

In the ‘age of terror’, however, Exit Signs seem to have assumed a new urgency and drama...

new age exit sign

So, we may forget evacuating our workplaces in an orderly fashion — just go hell-for-leather out that door.

But where there are multiple exits, we may one day be faced with a very stark choice...

stark choice

Perhaps Exit Signs should now specify distances.

And soon perhaps we may even see something like this on the budget flight...

passenger bracing positions


Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Anthropic Principle just a stupid observation

The Anthropic Principle may be loosely described as set of hypotheses which hold that the Universe is constituted such that intelligent entities will inevitably arise who are able to observe said Universe.

Hey, just like us!

This soft and cuddly conception of a sort-of-benevolent cosmos seems to have animated a lot of both religious and scientific discussion in recent years. Not to mention quasi-religious and pseudo-scientific discussion.

I’m not sure whether the following remarks on the Anthropic Principle, by Burton Richter of Stanford University, might be classed as profoundly deep, or just plain commonsense. Perhaps sometimes it takes a certain depth of contemplation to arrive at a commonsensical view...

The anthropic principle, I think, is one of the most stupid ideas ever to infect the scientific community. Look, the anthropic principle is an observation not an explanation.

It is perfectly true that if the electromagnetic force had a significantly different strength, then atoms as we know them and molecules as we know them couldn’t exist and we couldn’t exist.

This is an observation, it doesn’t tell you anything about how the electromagnetic force got to be that way. Sure we’re here, we’re having an interview, that means the electromagnetic force is constrained to be within a certain narrow boundary. But the physics is; why is it in that narrow boundary?

Now, you can beg that and you can go back to the scholastics in the Middle Ages and their answer would be “God made it so”. That may turn out to be the only thing... we may never find an explanation.

If we don’t find an explanation then it’s just an arbitrary constant.

So, Burt, what about alternative universes, then?

... This is a speculation that says there is no reason why disconnected regions of space can’t have universes with different properties than ours.

It may be that there is a reason why, and I always think that Martin Reece and others are giving up. They’re simply saying, “We can’t figure out why the electromagnetic coupling constant is the way it is, and therefore it must be arbitrary and there must be other universes where it’s allowed to be different.”

I’m not ready to give up yet.

There seems to be lots of no-bull commonsense here, so I tend to agree with the tenacious Professor Richter’s approach to these questions.

Trouble is, these views he espouses don’t seem very much fun.

UPDATE: Despite repeated requests from this blogger, I regret to report that the Universe still declines to comment.

Monday, March 05, 2007

‘Tip’ Costello does Hannibal Lecter


Behind Kevin Rudd are all sorts of influences that are going to come to the fore if he ever gets anywhere near the seat of power.

  • Peter ‘Tip’ Costello, Lateline, 5 March 2007

Sounds serious, yes?   But, um, what's this...?

I’ll eat Rudd’s liver, with some fava beans and a nice chianti.  ... fssshhhrrrrppphhh ...