Saturday, March 17, 2007


In comments here, I wondered about the reactions to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s confession of his victims and/or their families. Here’s one response:

The only way to fight terrorism is to exercise self-control over the natural feelings of disgust and horror that his declarations provoke.

I clearly see Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s motives when he proudly volunteers a graphic description of the murder of my husband Daniel Pearl.

Because I understand his intentions I can also deny their effect on me.

The more people like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed spread fear, the more determined I am to resist by celebrating values of humanism and dignity.

  • Mariane Pearl


I had to rush off, but I meant to add that Mariane Pearl, according to the above news item, is reported to have said she thought it “unclear” whether Mohammed was actually behind the killing of her husband.

A fuller account of Ms Pearl’s statement can be read here. Daniel Pearl’s father, Judea, also doubts Mohammed’s confession.

Elsewhere, Caz over at Avatar Briefs has some further thoughts on ‘Gabby’ Mohammed.

We loved the earth...

Another Lancet lot

According to the latest Pentagon assessment, in late-2006 the Iraq bloodbath worsened considerably:

Weekly attacks in Iraq rose to more than 1000 during the period and average daily casualties increased to more than 140, with Iraqi civilians bearing the brunt of the violence — nearly 100 killed or wounded a day, according to statistics in the Pentagon’s latest quarterly report on security in Iraq.

Lancet-sceptics might like to note that:

Those figures may represent as little as half the true casualties because they include only violence observed by or reported to the US-led military coalition, the report acknowledged.

It cited a United Nations estimate, based on hospital reports, that more than 6000 Iraqi civilians were killed or wounded in December alone.

And we already know how reliable are data from the battered Iraqi health system.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Rap sheet or laundry list?

In a hearing at Guantanamo Bay, alleged terrorist mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has ‘confessed’ to the commission of, or involvement in, more than thirty terrorist plots, from the September 11 2001 atrocities in the US, to a plot to kill the late Pope John Paul II.

It’s been remarked that this is not so much a rap sheet as a laundry list. Scepticism about the reliability of Khalid’s confession is understandable in consideration of the opaque quasi-judicial proceedings of the Guantanamo military commissions.

Doctoral candidate Dylan Kissane appears to accept the reliability of the confession implicitly, while his nemesis, Flinders University doctoral student Damian Lataan, characteristically rejects it in entirety as “garbage”.

Likely the truth lies somewhere between the entrenched positions of Loony Lataan and Credulous Kissane. Meanwhile, we may wonder at the state of ‘higher learning’ generally.

Esperance ‘silent summer’ update

Authorities in Western Australia seem to be zeroing in on the cause of the mass-deaths of thousands of birds around the port city of Esperance since December.

Strangely, it appears that pigeons have been unaffected by the “catastrophic” event. So, the authorities have been shooting local pigeons, evidently in order to verify that they haven’t been harmed, and to discover the reasons for their apparent immunity.

One common denominator that may help them identify the source of the problem — believed but not confirmed to be the port, which has shipped out more than 100,000 tonnes of lead carbonate in 18 months — is that the dead birds were all nectar feeders.

That would strengthen the most popular theory that prevailing afternoon sea breezes were blowing the dust back over the town and on to a variety of trees and plants visited by the birds.

  • The Australian, 16 March 2007

This is all part of “a major review of the Esperance Port Authority’s licence and facilities” now underway, and the WA Health Department will also “review more than 100 blood tests taken from Port Authority workers and residents in the past two days.”

It’s gratifying that the people of Esperance may soon have some answers regarding this worrisome event. And, even more importantly, a remedy.

Goat Friday

image source

... Nice ...



For shadowy goatery of the most darkly sophisticated kind, what about this John Rendon character, eh?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Dino update

Australian blogger gives birth after hosting dinosaur DNA in foot for several days.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Dinosaur bites man?

image by jacob — click to enlarge

“The Caves” — near Inverloch, Victoria, Australia

Whilst walking barefooted on the beach on Monday, I stood on a tiny fragment that lodged in the sole of my foot. After being plagued by it for a couple of days, I finally went to my GP today to have it surgically removed. The tiny, black and brittle fragment may well have once been part of a dino tooth!

The Dinosaur Dreaming site at “The Caves” beach was discovered in 1991 by a group from Monash University who discovered 30 small bones weathering out of the rock. Now more than 6,000 fossil bones and teeth have been found. Each summer a team of palaeontologists and volunteers from Monash University return to the site working from Australia day to the second weekend in March. You can join guided walks around the site and learn about the extraction and identification process. as well as the type of dinosaurs that lived in the area.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The ‘right kind of monster’

An informative and concise overview and background of the ICJ’s recent Bosnia v Serbia ruling noted an interesting dimension to the judgment, observing that it “backed up a previous judgment which found that the United States was not responsible for the actions of the contras in Nicaragua in the 1980s.”

This was from the same Nicaragua v United States ruling of 1986 in which the USA was ordered to pay reparations to Nicaragua, but of course did no such thing.

More importantly, however, the article noted a serious deficiency in the Bosnia v Serbia proceedings, namely the withholding of crucial evidence which was freely available to the ICTY prosecution of Slobodan Milosevic. This is a salient detail that stinks to high heaven, and clearly disturbed those judges who dissented from the ICJ ruling.

Regarding the actual judgment, it’s also interesting that Court Vice-President Awn Shawkat Al-Khasawneh (Jordan) was, with Judge ad hoc Mahiou, a fairly consistent dissenter to many of the key findings. Al-Khasawneh’s dissenting opinion is also illuminating in its specific, albeit somewhat technical, discussion of the issues.

It’s notable, however, that the margin of dissent in the findings was quite small, so critics of the decision may be disappointed that the court could not be said to have been ‘split’ by any stretch.

Mainstream reaction in Australia to the ICJ ruling has been rather muted, but a recent article by Natasha Cica was unambiguous about the correctness of the ruling:

Fortunately in this, its first-ever ruling on an accusation of genocide — the most horrible of crimes — the court rejected those lazy leaps [of conflating ethnic cleansing with genocide] in favour of the rule of law. It offered painstaking application of relevant legal instruments and principles to the Bosnian facts, while recognising these involved human suffering on an ineffably great scale.

Cica also suggested that the correctness of the ruling is vindicated by the fact that “no partisan player felt completely vindicated.” Noting protestations of justice denied to the victims of Srebrenica, Cica waxes philosophical:

But what if we don’t get the answers we want or witness the punishment we expect? What if that’s partly because of our own unrealistic justice fantasies? Do we blame the accused for not shaping up as the right kind of monster?

These are interesting questions that would take reams to provide some kind of adequate response. Certainly the perpetrators of the Srebrenica massacre “shape up” as monsters in anyone’s language. Yet we’re to accept that the Serbian authorities’ ambiguous command relationship with the Bosnian Serb forces technically qualifies, and therefore mitigates, the former’s monstrousness.

One way or another, this ruling will probably not be the end of the matter.

Clue to ‘silent summer’ in Esperance

In a sort of grim nod to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, the birds of Esperance, Western Australia, have been dropping out of the sky in their thousands since December — “and no one knows why.”

Locals were dismayed to find that their “dawn chorus” had disappeared.

The main casualties are wattle birds, yellow-throated miners, new holland honeyeaters and singing honeyeaters, although some dead crows, hawks and pigeons have also been found. Wildlife officers are baffled by the “catastrophic” event...

Dr [Fiona] Sunderman [of the WA Department of Agriculture and Food] said there were no leads yet on which of potentially hundreds of toxins might be responsible. Some birds were seen convulsing as they died.

  • The Australian, 10 January 2007

Speculation about unknown toxins in the environment around Esperance led to concerns for public health — but evidently not to the extent of a similar and concurrent event in Austin, Texas, where “police shut 10 city blocks as workers in hazardous-materials suits tested for contaminants that may have killed grackles, sparrows and pigeons.” (The Australian, 11 January 2007)

Now preliminary findings have led the WA Department of Environment to suspect lead poisoning as the likely cause of the massive die-off. The possible source of the contamination may even have been identified.

Department of Environment spokesman David Mell said there was still no direct evidence of a lead source, although lead carbonate transported into Esperance for shipping through the port is the main suspect.

The department has already ordered an upgrade of the Esperance Port Authority's air-quality monitoring after lead particles were identified in dust at some monitoring stations.

  • The Australian, 10 March 2007

It’s good to be cautious in matters of empirical science, but if I were a resident of Esperance and surrounds, I would be urgently asking about the extent of the problem.

That crows and hawks seem to have fallen victim in this “catastrophic” event suggests that the poisoning may have extended through the foodchain. Where might it end?