Wednesday, 31 August 2005

Unclear on the Concept

From Space Daily :
The ex-Soviet Central Asian republic of Turkmenistan claimed to have joined the ranks of the world's space powers by sending a container into Earth's orbit carrying a spiritual guide written by the country's idiosyncratic leader, newspapers reported Friday.
"Idiosyncratic" is a polite way of saving "Stark Staring Bonkers".
"The book that conquered the hearts of millions on Earth is now conquering space," said the official daily Neitralnyi Turkmenistan.

"The sacred text of Rukhnama was chosen because it contains all the wisdom of the Turkmen people, thanks to its creator, Turkmenbashi," the article said, using the name the country's president, Saparmurat Niyazov, has given himself, meaning "Guide of All Turkmens".
Can proclaiming his own Divinity be far behind? There's plenty of precedent, from Caligula to Idi Amin, not forgetting Kim Jong Il. This appears to be a common affliction of humankind. Give someone absolute power and they become a little... odd. Power tends to corrupt : Absolute Power corrupts Absolutely. And that's been true for so long it's boring and cliched. The process of descent into madness and chaos can be long and drawn out though. Once even Zimbabwe's President Mugabe was an evil little man, but not actually psychotic.
The container was launched on Wednesday aboard a Russian Dnepr rocket that blasted off from the Russian launch facility at Baikonur in Kazakhstan on a mission to place two Japanese research satellites into orbit.

In addition to the Turkmenbashi's book Rukhnama, or Spiritual Guide, a Turkmen flag and a presidential standard were also placed in the container, a new "artificial satellite" for the planet, Neitralnyi Turkmenistan reported.

The project "confirms that Turkmenistan has joined the club of space powers," it added.
The Glorious Turkmenistan effort can be contrasted with the Japanese contribution, two satellites that actually do boring Science Stuff. But wait, it's worse.
Niyazov, the object of a personality cult, has also penned several collections of poetry.
Typical Vogon. And need I mention:
The president also holds the posts of prime minister, commander-in-chief of the armed forces and leader of the Democratic Party, the only legal political party in the country.
The Democratic Party. Oh Dear, Oh Dearry, Dearry Me.

The Triumph of appearance over substance. A bit like the Democratic Party in the US these days.

Male Mail Difficulties

My ISP has had a major meltdown of its mail system, and I haven't been able to reliably send or recieve at all for the last 18 hours or so.

Normal Service will be resumed as soon as possible.

Tuesday, 30 August 2005

Ego Boo Made Easy

Bloggers get few rewards, apart from the knowledge of a job well done. But you can get some Ego Boo (short for Boosting) by finding out who's been reading your posts, who's been linking to them, and who's been quoting them.

Now there's a one-stop shop for all your link-finding needs : Clusty.com. :
You may ... search by URL to see which blogs are linking to a particular site and Clusty will automatically send your query to each search engine's link search.
It managed to find a few that linked here that even I, monster of arrogance and ego that I am, didn't know about. Some of which will be making it into my blogroll, they're worth reading.

Sunday, 28 August 2005

MSM Bias and Conspiracy Theories

From James Lileks :
Please get this straight: there are no marching orders. There is no RoveHive to which everyone buzzes in the morning for a scrap of Royal Jelly we carry off to our blogs. If there sometimes appears to be a unaniminity of subject matter, that'™s because certain ideas appear, flower, bloom, take root, and spread. Like kudzu. But kudzu is not taking orders from some dark shrouded mastermind made entirely of cellulose and chlorophyll. If you honestly think that everyone to the right of Noam Chomsky is part of some dark soulless cabal dedicated to extirpating all photons and replacing them with negative matter that strips the flesh from the bones of the poor, I envy you; the world must make perfect sense.
A similar argument applies to MSM - Main Stream Media. The reasons why there's such seeming unanimity in only reporting stories with an anti-Bush spin are:
  1. Most newspapers just get their foreign stories from a few sources: AP, AFP, BBC, Reuters. What appears to be a thousand different independant outlets is just the same half-dozen, or less than half dozen, sources re-badged and repeated endlessly.
  2. Corporate Culture : I forget the exact figures, but well over 75% of US journalists identified themselves as "progressive", "liberal", or "Democrat". A similar survey in Australia would find a far more diverse mix - all parties, "Labor", "Green", and "Democrat". Well, that's all the parties that matter, surely? Opinion is divided on Howard being a Coward, a Liar, an Incompetent, or a Murderer. That's enough diversity, right?
  3. And finally, "if it bleeds, it leads". The story of a thousand schools being rebuilt is boring. The story of a suicide bombing isn't, even if the only casualty is the hapless bomber. Especially if it can be spun to show that "The Iraqi War continues, as Bush's popularity plummets amidst growing outrage at his false reasons for going to war, yada yada."
There is no "conspiracy", just a group of like-minded individuals getting the data from a tiny handful of sources, all of which is written by people who think just like them. Any contradictory data is obviously the result of bias, corporate groupthink, or ignorance. I mean, no-one they know thinks like that.

Let's not fall into the same trap as the Looney Left has. Anyone who thinks the systematic MSM bias is the result of some vast nefarious conspiracy really should take a look at how the Left sees the Right, and learn from their mistakes.

That involves reading things other than Right-Wing blogs. You can learn a lot - sometimes your opinion can be changed, sometimes you find it confirmed because the opponents are far more reality-disconnected than you'd possibly imagined. Either way, don't just read the opinions of people who agree with you.

Saturday, 27 August 2005

The Prehistoric Simpsons

Before they became rich-and-famous, the Simpsons appeared in a series of shorts on a US TV show, the Tracey Ullman show, between 1987 and 1989. Well, Bart was in shorts, anyway.

Now, thanks to the Wonders of the Steam Age Internet, these are now available for download. Enjoy.

(Goon reference here)

Friday, 26 August 2005

It was 20 Years Ago Today

Seen via Utterly Boring : the cutting edge of gadgetry and hi-tech toys, circa 1985. The Engadget BBS.


 _____               ___           _
/ _ / ___ ___ / __\_ __ __ _(_)_ __
\// / / _ \ / _ \ /__\// '__/ _` | | '_ \
/ //\ (_) | __/ / \/ \ | | (_| | | | | |
/____/\___/ \___| \_____/_| \__,_|_|_| |_|


Ascii Art by the Ascii Generator.

Thursday, 25 August 2005

This is a Satire

From the Marxist blog Harry's Place :
Back in Autumn 2001 some of the Comrades on the editorial board of the Leninist Vanguard went for a coffee with their fellow protesters after the demos against the disgraceful imperialist intervention against the sovereign state of Afghanistan. They had some interesting things to report afterwards. According to them a worldwide movement for change had been developing over the last decade or so, almost unnoticed by the Western Left. Implacably hostile to US Imperialism, it was also anti-Zionist and believed in spectacular direct action to change the rotten society we live in. At the time I didn’t really see the opportunities for much beyond joint activity with the new social force these people represented because I had failed to understand the movement of the dialectic amongst semi-imperialist neo-colonies since the fall of Stalinism. After a protracted political struggle at the Vanguard, threats of a split by others on the editorial board, and a series of self-criticism sessions I finally saw the light and am pleased to announce some exciting new changes at the journal which will be printed by Mr Desmond just as soon the latest print run of Dusky Tottie is ready for the shops.

From September’s edition the Leninist Vanguard will be renamed ‘Jihad Today‘. ‘Jihad’ means, er, ’Struggle’ in Arabic which I am sure you know is the contemporary language of the oppressed and insurgent worldwide. There will be a wider focus to the contents at the magazine and we have dispensed with our previously narrow understanding of what the working class actually consists of. From now on if you are against the incursion of infidels into the Dar al Islam you are a member of the proletariat. Readers will also notice a less dogmatic attitude to questions of faith in the pages of the magazine and I’m sure you will all welcome our new guest contributors who write deliberately provocative articles on the place of women , Jews and non-believers in post-capitalist societies. I’m sure most readers will welcome the new look journal - those who don’t are kindly requested to keep their mouths shut, please, as we have invested a significant amount of political capital in the relaunch and we don‘t want anyone rocking the boat.

On a sadder note I have to announce the departure from the editorial board of my long time political and life partner Josephine Tamara De Bourgeois who has been involved in various capacities with the Vanguard since she was sent down from Lady Eleanor Hall back in ‘68. Jo was not able to grasp the exciting possibilities of the new political terrain and has decided to join the Labour Party instead of continuing her work at the renamed journal. It wasn’t as if she had to wear the headscarf all the time I explained to her - only when our friends from our new sister magazines visited.

Anyway, let’s not live in the past - onward to the future.

Until Victory, Until Victory, Until Victory in Jerusalem !
But if I hadn't of told you, would you have known?

As I stated in a previous post, there are two Civil Wars going on at the moment. The one within Islam, between the sane and the bloodthirsty fanatics, and in the Far Left, between... the sane and the "objectively pro-Fascist" anti-US fanatics.

Just as John Howard's Muslim Summit is an attempt to enrol the great majority of the sane against the Islamofascists, so those on the right should make common cause with those on the left who have proved their credentials. They may be wrong, but they're ethical. Worth listenining to and learning from. Because amongst the left these days, the Lunatics have taken over the Asylum, and the still, small voices of reason are very small indeed.

I'll start by remedying an oversight, long overdue for correction: Harry's Place is now on my blogroll.

Tuesday, 23 August 2005

New Image

Zoe FaceTaken from my Driving Licence.




B4 and After

Cutting Remarks

From the New York Post :
DESPERATE housewife Eva Longoria says she only discovered her sexual self after she got some pruning done in an intimate area.
Funnily enough, a lot of transsexual women say the same thing...

This is too serious not to, er, crack the odd joke about it.

Monday, 22 August 2005

B-B-B-B-Bang!

From Space Daily :
Scientists using NASA's Swift satellite say they have found newborn black holes, just seconds old, in a confused state of existence.
I can relate to that...
The holes are consuming material falling into them while somehow propelling other material away at great speeds.

These black holes are born in massive star explosions. An initial blast obliterates the star, yet the chaotic black hole activity appears to re-energize the explosion several times in just a few minutes. This is a dramatically different view of star death, one that entails multiple explosive outbursts and not just a single bang, as previously thought.

"Stars are exploding two, three and sometimes four times in the first minutes following the initial explosion," said Prof. David Burrows of Penn State, University Park, Pa. "First comes a blast of gamma rays followed by intense pulses of X-rays. The energies involved are much greater than anyone expected," he added.
[...]
Until this latest Swift discovery, scientists assumed a simple scenario of a single explosion followed by a graceful afterglow of the dying embers. The new scenario of a blast followed by a series of powerful "hiccups" is particularly evident in a gamma-ray burst from May 2, 2005, named GRB 050502B.

This burst lasted 17 seconds during the early morning hours in the constellation Leo. About 500 seconds later, Swift detected a spike in X-ray light about 100 times brighter than anything seen before.
[...]
"The newly formed black hole immediately gets to work," said Prof. Peter Meszaros of Penn State, head of the Swift theory team. "We aren't clear on the details yet, but it appears to be messy. Matter is falling into the black hole, which releases a great amount of energy. Other matter gets blasted away from the black hole and flies out into the interstellar medium. This is by no means a smooth operation," he added.
With planet-sized chunks of matter being annihilated, it would be fairly energetic too.

there's so much about the Universe we don't know. And that's just the physical bit, let alone the answer to the ultimate question about Life, the Universe, and Everything.

Sunday, 21 August 2005

Monty Python meets Star Trek

Here.
...LT. CMDR. JADZIA DAX towelling off and revealing a cream leopard-spotted bikini connected with a strip of cloth down the navel;

LT. BELANNA TORRES buckling on a yellow halter top and wearing bikini shorts;

and finally, NEELIX lying across a table and wearing a two piece lacey bikini.

NEELIX

And now for something completely different ...

CUT TO ADMIRAL McCOY wearing an itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny yellow polka-dot bikini.

ADMIRAL McCOY

It's ...

CUT TO animation and music, Dennis McCarthy arrangement of The Liberty Bell Overture over scenes of starships getting squashed by giant feet and 16-ton weights. Somewhere in there is the title:

PYTHONTREK VI:
THE UNDISCOVERED CONTRACTUAL OBLIGATION

Saturday, 20 August 2005

Mother Sheehan in a Nutshell

Cindy Sheehan, or Mother Sheehan to her friends, had her son killed in Iraq.

A life-long Democrat, here's what she had to say the first time she met President Bush :
Bush Sheehan Meeting"We haven't been happy with the way the war has been handled," Cindy said. "The president has changed his reasons for being over there every time a reason is proven false or an objective reached."

The 10 minutes of face time with the president could have given the family a chance to vent their frustrations or ask Bush some of the difficult questions they have been asking themselves, such as whether Casey's sacrifice would make the world a safer place.

But in the end, the family decided against such talk, deferring to how they believed Casey would have wanted them to act. In addition, Pat noted that Bush wasn't stumping for votes or trying to gain a political edge for the upcoming election.

"We have a lot of respect for the office of the president, and I have a new respect for him because he was sincere and he didn't have to take the time to meet with us," Pat said.

Sincerity was something Cindy had hoped to find in the meeting. Shortly after Casey died, Bush sent the family a form letter expressing his condolences, and Cindy said she felt it was an impersonal gesture.

"I now know he's sincere about wanting freedom for the Iraqis," Cindy said after their meeting. "I know he's sorry and feels some pain for our loss. And I know he's a man of faith."
[...]
The trip had one benefit that none of the Sheehans expected.

For a moment, life returned to the way it was before Casey died. They laughed, joked and bickered playfully as they briefly toured Seattle.

For the first time in 11 weeks, they felt whole again.

"That was the gift the president gave us, the gift of happiness, of being together," Cindy said.
But after a while, and some little thought about how to really make a political point, this is what she said on CNN :
In an interview on CNN, she claimed Bush "acted like it was party" when she met him last year.

"It was -- you know, there was a lot of things said. We wanted to use the time for him to know that he killed an indispensable part of our family and humanity. And we wanted him to look at the pictures of Casey.

"He wouldn't look at the pictures of Casey. He didn't even know Casey's name. He came in the room and the very first thing he said is, 'So who are we honoring here?' He didn't even know Casey's name. He didn't want to hear it. He didn't want to hear anything about Casey. He wouldn't even call him 'him' or 'he.' He called him 'your loved one.'

Every time we tried to talk about Casey and how much we missed him, he would change the subject. And he acted like it was a party.

BLITZER: Like a party? I mean...

SHEEHAN: Yes, he came in very jovial, and like we should be happy that he, our son, died for his misguided policies. He didn't even pretend like somebody...
You see, the "sincere" image of Bush just didn't fit the party line (so to speak). Naturally, history had to be re-written and the photos of Mother Sheehan being kissed by President Bush had to be removed from public view. But not from Google's cache...

And now from the Washington Post's Dana Milbank :
Baltimore, Md.: Do you think its wise for the antiwar movement to rally around someone who has made so many strange comments about the Iraq War being a war for Israel?
For "strange" read "anti-Semitic" by the way. Not just about how Israel should give Palestine back, all of it, but that Israel and the Joos control the US Government...
Dana Milbank: Certainly it's a risk. And Sheehan has, whatever her current position, taken some highly controversial stands regarding Israel. They key for the antiwar movement is to use Sheehan as a symbol but not to make the movement about her. Last night was an effort to broaden beyond Sheehan to other parents. That's why MoveOn told people to bring pictures of children even if they aren't in the military, and organizers handed out stickers saying 'mom' and 'uncle' and so forth, even if the 'son' or 'nephew' wasn't in Iraq.
New Headline : MoveOn hits Rock Bottom, Digs!
San Francisco, Calif.: Why so little coverage on the candle-light vigils throughout the U.S. yesterday evening? I could not find an article on The Washington Post Web site, or the NYTimes. Thousands of San Franciscans met in quiet groups of 100 to 1,000 in neighborhoods throughout the city, as I assume other citizens did elsewhere - not only to support Sheehan in her request for a meeting with our vacationing president, but also to encourage an end to the war. But mums the word, at least on the WP Internet edition. The Dana Milbank video I just watched offered no coverage. What's up?

Dana Milbank:

Well, I had 22 column inches of coverage on Page 3, and the story is on this very Web site for you to peruse.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: Have Bush foes really turned Cindy Sheehan into the symbol of the antiwar movement? Seems to me like the media has done that. The extent to which the media has gone to promote her has been sickening. The extent of fawning coverage she has gotten (and absence of reporting on her past statements) is out of all proportion. One almost begins to wonder if the media doesn't like the current administration. Moreover, has anyone even bothered to ask her how her proposed solution (pulling out of Iraq now) would impact the U.S., much less Iraq?

Dana Milbank: Maybe you and San Francisco can sort this out. Has the media been "mum" or "sickening" in its excess?
Well, on one hand, you have "22 column inches", and on the other hand, you have... Zip. Nada. Tiddly-squat.
The extent of fawning coverage she has gotten (and absence of reporting on her past statements) is out of all proportion. One almost begins to wonder if the media doesn't like the current administration.
Yes one does, doesn't one? Almost.

As for Mother Sheehan's past, er, controversial statements, there's this one :
“And the other thing I want him to tell me is ‘just what was the noble cause Casey died for?’ Was it freedom and democracy? Bullshit! He died for oil. He died to make your friends richer. He died to expand American imperialism in the Middle East. We’re not freer here, thanks to your PATRIOT Act. Iraq is not free. You get America out of Iraq and Israel out of Palestine and you’ll stop the t─Śrrorism,” she exclaimed.

“There, I used the ‘I’ word – imperialism,” the 48 year-old mother quipped. “And now I’m going to use another ‘I’ word – impeachment – because we cannot have these people pardoned. They need to be tried on war crimes and go to jail.”
And this one, as quoted admiringly by one of hr supporters, Neo-Nazi and Jewbaiter extraordinaire, David Duke :
Am I angry? Yes, he was killed for lies and for a PNAC Neo-Con agenda to benefit Israel. My son joined the Army to protect America, not Israel. Am I stupid? No, I know full-well that my son, my family, this nation, and this world were betrayed by George [W.] Bush who was influenced by the neo-con PNAC agenda after 9/11. We were told that we were attacked on 9/11 because the terrorists hate our freedoms and democracy… Not for the real reason, because the Arab-Muslims who attacked us hate our middle-eastern foreign policy.
Of course, she now denies it :
Another "big deal" today was the lie that I had said that Casey died for Israel. I never said that, I never wrote that. I had supposedly said it in a letter that I wrote to Ted Koppel's producer in March. I wrote the letter because I was upset at the way Ted treated me when I appeared at a Nightline Town Hall meeting in January right after the inauguration. I felt that Ted had totally disrespected me. I wrote the letter to Ted Bettag and cc'd a copy to the person who gave me Ted's address. I believe he changed the email and sent it out to capitalize on my new found notoriety by promoting his own agenda.
Using her e-mail address of course. I wonder who forged the CNN videotape, where she expressed similar sentiments?
Then there's this :
We have no Constitution. We’re the only country with no checks and balances. We want our country back if we have to impeach George Bush down to the person who picks up the dog sh-t in Washington! Let George Bush send his two little party animals to die in Iraq. It’s OK for Israel to have nuclear weapons but we are waging nuclear war in Iraq, we have contaminated the entire country. It’s not OK for Syria to be in Lebanon. Hypocrites! But Israel can occupy Palestine? Stop the slaughter!
Also appearing at the same function, various luminaries, such as Lynne Stewart
The terrorist lawyer, who billed herself as a “Civil Rights Lawyer and Political Prisoner,” was recently convicted of conspiracy and for passing along fatwas (Islamic religious edicts) from Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman to his terrorist followers in Egypt’s Islamic Group. Rahman is the blind sheikh responsible for the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993 that left six Americans dead and more than 1,000 people injured.

Her trial lasted seven months, and the jury deliberated 13 days before convicting her and two co-conspirators, one of whom (Ahmed Abdhel Sattar) was wiretapped making calls to al-Qaeda while the other (Mohammed Yousry) translated messages to be sent to a terrorist leader overseas.
[...]
Pointer was convicted of assaulting some Jewish women during the attacks carried out by black militants in New York in the late 1960’s during demonstrations in the Oceanville-Brownville area demanding that Jewish teachers not be allowed to teach black inner city school children. Lynne Stewart married him afterward, but voiced approval of his physical attacks on Jews.

Any questions?

Friday, 19 August 2005

I want to be a Presbyterian

...like my Father.



The complete story of how a copy of "Revenge of the Sith" was translated into Chinese, then back again to English, is courtesy of Matthew in Beirut


Exactly.

Global Warming Proved!

There's even pictures taken over 40 years showing the ice-caps are shrinking.

On Mars.

Wednesday, 17 August 2005

Their Germans are better than Our Germans

That's what President Eisenhower was supposedly told when he asked about why the Russians were ahead in the space race. ( Source : entry for VfR )
There was a joke going around after the shock of Sputnik in 1957 -- the President of the United States called in his experts and asked ``What happened? How did the Russians get so far ahead of us in rocket technology?'' His advisors answered:
``Their Germans were better than our Germans.''
This was mirrored in the Movie The Right Stuff when the Russian Grand Designer said "Our Germans are better than their Germans.".

Anyway, the contribution of the German Rocket Scientists and Engineers to the space programmes of 3 nations - the USA, USSR, and oddly enough, France, is revealed over at the Encyclopedia Astronautica. As is how the UK managed to lose a golden opportunity. :
Von Braun led a group of 108 leading engineers who chose to surrender to the Americans...
[...]
29 of the team moved to private industry in the United States, 21 returned to Germany. A few new engineers were recruited from Germany, having stayed behind to complete war-interrupted education.
[...]
There is no complete documentation, but at least 234 rocket engineers and technicians went to the Soviet Union

The largest contingent, over 129, worked in Filial 1 of NII-88, creating rocket designs in competition with those of institute leader Korolev. They also provided advice to the Russian engineers ordered to copy the V-2 rocket. 23 others worked within Glushko's OKB-456, transferring V-2 propulsion technology and building a subscale prototype of the advanced engine that would later power Soviet ICBM's. Small groups of others were working in other design bureaux and offices of the Aircraft Ministry, transferring technology related to other specific missiles or rocket aircraft.
[...]
The British staged an enormous effort in firing three V-2 rockets from Cuxhaven in Cuxhaven in 1946, then lost all interest in pursuing ballistic missiles until the mid-1950's. By late summer 1945 some two hundred Peenemuende scientists, 200 V-2 firing troops, and 600 ordinary POWs were transported to Cuxhaven. Upon arrival, they were split into two groups and interrogated. The information given by each group was then compared to ensure inaccuracies and deceptions were eliminated.
[...]
After this event, the British government lost all interest in ballistic missiles. Some of the leading experts they had detained were employed by the French. It was only in the late 1950's that Britain decided to pursue a ballistic missile, the Blue Streak.
[...]
The V-2 launch bunker at Wizernes had been dynamited by British commandos on 9 May 1945 in order to keep the French from ever being able to put it to use. The French began to recruit German experts then working for the British at Project Backfire at Cuxhaven. By 15 May 1946, Herbert Weiss had convinced 35 German engineers at Cuxhaven to 'defect' to the French. Others soon followed, signing contracts to work in France. By October 1946 the French employed nearly 90 German experts, working in groups at Emmendingen and Puteaux in the French zone.
There's more, with many more links, over at Slashdot.

Lest anyone think this is all Ancient History, there's this:
Baum and Groettrup's engine and rocket designs led directly to the Soviet R-7 ICBM. This awesome rocket started the space race, and is still in use today as the Soyuz 11A511U space launcher.
[...]
Although many of the German team were laid off in 1952 and returned to Germany, others, notably Bringer, continued to work for LRBA and its successor organisations, developing the Viking 2 engine that would power the Ariane.
And the Canadian Arrow X-Prize contender is basically a crewed V2.

Early Retirement

...for the Shuttle? From Space Daily :
On Wednesday, NASA said that the fuel tank needs to be redesigned, scratching a planned launch of Atlantis in September.

If the shuttle becomes too difficult to repair or too expensive to fly, many experts, former NASA engineers and members of Congress want to rethink current plans to retire the shuttle in 2010 -- and possibly even mothball the three surviving shuttles immediately.

"When your design stinks, Engineering 101 says admit your mistakes and go back to the drawing board," said retired NASA engineer Homer Hicham.

"The space shuttle is ... never going to be reliable no matter how much money, time and engineering careers your throw at it. Let's put the shuttle on the shelf right away and give engineers the gift of designing new ships to carry humans into space," he said.

Roger Pielke, director of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado, Boulder agrees.

"NASA is rolling the dice with the future of the US space program by continuing to hold unrealistic expectations for shuttle performance.

"If history is any guide, then we should expect that the shuttle will fly less and cost more than we think. It is unclear what would be gained by continuing to fly the shuttle rather than moving to the next phase of US space policy sooner rather than later," he said
[...]
"There is going to be no room for margin of error in terms of flying again if there is not a high level of confidence that the problems we know about are solved," said Representative Bart Gordon, leading Democrat on the House Science Committee.

His Republican counterpart, Sherwood Boehlert, who chairs the committee, said the tipping point comes when problems take too long to fix.

"Then we have to rethink everything. Maybe the shuttle will be no more," he said.
Of course, there's a little matter of the replacement, and that the ISS (International Space Station) was deliberately engineered to require Space Shuttle launches for it to be completed.

Bluetooth EnDisabled

Courtesy of reader Shaun comes a worrying article illustrating just exactly how insecure WiFi communications such as Bluetooth are. How To Build a BlueSniper Rifle
With some basic skills and a couple hundred bucks, you can build your own Bluetooth rifle, just like the guys at Flexilis.
[...]
We will also interview the Flexilis staff on what their custom software is capable of doing. As John Hering says, "Our goal is to make the public more aware of wireless security issues and bad policies. Bluetooth is wide open and most people have no idea what can be done to their devices."
The reaction of the Bluetooth SIG (Special Interest Group)?
If they are concerned about that their device is vulnerable to security threats, check with manufacturers and possibly request a software upgrade to a version without vulnerabilities. Following this advice, they are in no more danger of exposure by a long range antenna than with a normal range hacking device. As a general rule, we also recommend that users not keep confidential information on mobile devices since the most common security threat is actually the many thousands of devices stolen or lost every day across the globe.
So you can't say you haven't been warned.

Monday, 15 August 2005

MSM Catches Up

Or Two Civil Wars Parte Deaux.

An article by Leftist Neil Cohen, in the Guardian, which reads in part:
The liberals who say I have deserted the left should ask themselves where they stand on Islamism
[...]
Auden noticed a retreat from universal principles in the 1930s - communism was fine in 'semi-barbaric' Russia but would have been a screaming outrage in a civilised country. He should have been alive today. With no socialism to provide international solidarity, good motives of tolerance and respect for other cultures have had the unintended consequence of leading a large part of post-modern liberal opinion into the position of 19th-century imperialists. It is presumptuous and oppressive to suggest that other cultures want the liberties we take for granted, their argument runs. So it may be, but believe that and the upshot is that democracy, feminism and human rights become good for whites but not for browns and brown-skinned people who contradict you are the tools of the neo-conservatives.

On the other hand when confronted with a movement of contemporary imperialism - Islamism wants an empire from the Philippines to Gibraltar - and which is tyrannical, homophobic, misogynist, racist and homicidal to boot, they feel it is valid because it is against Western culture. It expresses its feelings in a regrettably brutal manner perhaps, but that can't hide its authenticity.

The result of this inversion of principles has been that liberals can't form alliances with the victims of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan or Iraq any more than the Auden generation could form alliances with the victims of Stalinism.

This isn't simply about international relations. Who is going to help the victims of religious intolerance in Britain's immigrant communities? Not the Liberal Democrats, who have never once offered support to liberal and democrats in Iraq. Nor an anti-war left which prefers to embrace a Muslim Association of Britain and Yusuf al-Qaradawi who believe that Muslims who freely decide to change their religion or renounce religion should be executed. If the Archbishop of Canterbury were to suggest the same treatment for renegade Christians all hell would break loose. But as the bigotry comes from 'the other' there is silence.
Obviously a premature Anti-Islamist.

Why the title "MSM catches up"? Because it was obvious to even a blogger on the other side of the world several weeks ago that a split like this was happening. I didn't create it, I just observed it. And it wasn't as if I had nothing else on my mind at the time. But at least it only took weeks, not years, for the Guardian to do the same. They're getting better.

Brain development: The most important sexual organ

That's the title of an article in Nature dated January 2004. Funnily enough, I'd missed it, it didn't seem to have much relevance at the time....
New evidence suggests that the brain begins to develop differently in males and females much earlier than was thought — before sex hormones come into play.
[...]
...biologists are now starting to realize that hormones aren't the only significant determinant of the brain's sexual destiny. Indeed, male and female brains may even start moving down different developmental paths before sex hormones are produced in significant quantities. "There is plenty of evidence that hormones organize the brain sexually, but it's not the whole story," says Eric Vilain, a geneticist at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

New findings about the genetic and other factors that influence the brain's sexual development could do more than simply rewrite the textbooks. They might provide insights into conditions such as transsexualism — and perhaps eventually lead to tests that could determine whether a baby with an intersex condition is more likely to grow up thinking, feeling and behaving like a man or a woman.
[...]
Studies of the non-hormonal influences on the sexual development of the mammalian brain are at an early stage. But Vilain is already trying to apply this emerging knowledge to the phenomenon of transsexualism — where individuals are physically and genetically one sex but perceive themselves to be members of the other. Reports of the condition sometimes running in families11 have led some researchers to speculate that genetic factors may be involved. "Some of the genes differentially expressed in the brains of male and female mice may be altered in transsexuals," Vilain suggests.

He is now collaborating with Vincent Harley, a molecular biologist at Prince Henry's Institute of Medical Research at the Monash Medical Centre in Melbourne, which runs the largest transsexual clinic in Australasia. They are looking for variants in the sequence of these genes to see if some are more common in transsexuals than in the general population. Their initial analysis will focus on three genes, located on the sex chromosomes, that are known to encode proteins that regulate the activity of other genes.

Such research into the genetics of gender identity is inevitably controversial — especially given the dark history of the eugenics movement, which viewed conditions such as transsexualism as 'diseases'. But Harley has been overwhelmed by the positive response from the transsexual community since the study began. "I've had people e-mailing me to offer their help," he says. "There is a stigma that transsexualism is a lifestyle choice. It may be very liberating to them if we can show that there is a genetic or biological basis." Indeed, Harley has been invited to give talks about his research to transsexual groups in Melbourne.
Hmmm... sounds as if I should give them a call....

Saturday, 13 August 2005

A Very Personal Note

A Brain Link, this one. In more ways than one.

To the best of my knowledge and belief, this is what has been happening to me in the last 3 months. Please bear in mind that I can't possibly be objective here, being "in the middle of it" as it were, and later data may change the picture. But I'm fairly confident of the basic situation now, enough to blog it, even though some of the details may turn out to be partly incorrect.

On May 4th, I suffered what is known as a GD Crisis.
At some point, the defense mechanisms and barriers that let the Transsexual function break down and it is impossible for the person to reestablish the shell that they have projected to others. This usually happens about ages 30 to 45.
(OK, I'm a late starter) At about the same time, my endocrine system went a little haywire. Whether there is a causal connection isn't known, neither is it known which caused which. My bet's on the endocrine system being causal, but there's no evidence either way.

What this meant psychologically was that feelings I'd had for a long time, but which hadn't ever caused me any particular misery or anguish, suddenly intensified to the point that I was dysfunctional.
The discrepancy between what their mind and soul is and what they see in the mirror produces the Dysphoria. The symptoms are
physical pain, agitation, and debilitating depression. Things that used to be meaningful diminish to extinction. The pain is like what is felt when a loved one dies. Eventually, the individual has to address the problem or become nonfunctional. Twenty percent attempt suicide. It is clearly not a choice one makes or wants.
Could I have gotten over it, or at least lived with it? The scientific evidence of others' experiences says not, at least, not in the long term, but I'm not so sure. The physical changes weren't as great as I'd thought, quite, and anyway plenty of Female-to-Male Transsexuals manage quite adequately with worse. Physically, I could have done it, as long as the feminisation didn't continue. Mentally... I don't know.
There is no cure, therapy, or medication to cure the Dysphoria once it breaks into the open. Treatment is directed towards options. The brain cannot be changed so the body image has to be altered. Some live part time in the gender of their mind and that may be sufficient. For most, about 99%, treatment is directed towards changing the body to match the mind. This involves hormonal therapy to match the brain, psychotherapy to deal with the stresses of transitioning from one gender to another, and eventually sex reassignment surgery. The Harry S. Benjamin Institute determines the standards and protocols for treatment. It is a worldwide illness.
Anyway, when it happened, I thought "Time to see a Doctor", to either get some biological treatment, or psychiatric therapy to "cure" my intense discomfort. Rationally, the latter would have been preferred, I had a wife, a son, a career, a place in society, all of which would be at grave risk should I make any change. But I just couldn't see not changing as an alternative, though I was looking to see if it might be possible. Mixed hope (for security and a return to safety) and fear (that my impossible dreams would be shattered). It was also my duty to see what alternatives there were, there were people other than myslf to consider, in particular, a 4 year old boy.

It's important to realise that unlike most sufferers of GD (Gender Dysphoria), I hadn't lived an unrelenting life of misery and discomfort just because the body was wrong. I'd been, if not exactly ecstatic, at least content with my lot. Who wouldn't be, with such an interesting life so far, and with such a wonderful family?

I dodn't blog about this, for obvious reasons.

No-one was more surprised than I when the blood test results and somatic (body) changes which preceeded me getting those results showed that my body was already changing to some degree. I got the changes well before I'd researched what Hormone Therapy could do to a male body, but it all matched up. For example, the changes to skin texture and sensitivity, the oil content of the scalp, changes to perception, all of which I blogged about at the time. What didn't, and still doesn't, make any sense is the rapidity of the changes, far too fast to be within the possibilities of normal short-term hormonal imbalance. They weren't as extensive as I thought at the time (and body self-image is notoriously subjective), but objective witnesses were there to reassure me that they were there, nonetheless.

This stuff I could blog about, a bit of a detective puzzle, trying to find out exactly what the heck was going on. I mentioned in passing that this was no great tragedy for me, as indeed it wasn't, but that was all.

As time went by, the mystery deepened. Hypotheses and theories were formulated and discarded as the results of each new test came in. The results of the latest blood test series can be summarised as follows (and bear in mind I'm emphatically not an endocrinologist):

Oestrodiol level 195 - but levels of up to 250 have been recorded in "normal" males, so although it's high, on it's own it's no great drama. As part of a pattern dating back several months, perhaps of concern, but not overly so. As long as SHBG was low or normal, and Testosterone high, there wouldn't be many effects.

Tetosterone level borderline abnormal. Very low indeed, 19 out of 20 males of all ages have more. More appropriate for 97 than 47, but still, on its own, no big deal. In conjunction with a high oestrodiol level, well, as long as SHBG was relatively low, still no great problem.

SHBG - Definitely abnormally high. Not grossly so, 20% over maximum normal, maybe double or triple the average. This meant that my FAI - Free Androgen Index - a measure of how much "effective" testosterone I had - was grossly abnormally low, and the high oestrodiol level was uninhibited.

Other indicators of adrenal and pituitary activity showed low figures for my age. These levels would be elevated (or at best, normal) if there was any neoplasm (tumour) causing the hormonal weirdness. I'm no endocrinologist, but I think it's possible that the body's normal feedback mechanisms were trying to stem the hormonal tide by cutting down glandular activity. Anyway, if so, it wasn't working.

I don't know what convinced probably the leading endocrinologist in the country to immediately prescribe a course of Hormone Replacement Therapy. Perhaps it was the 1-hour interview he had with my partner, where she confirmed both the somatic changes, and my longing to correct Nature's mistake now I had a chance. Perhaps it was the photos I brought, illustrating the change, because somatically I was still within "male norms", just. 30% of men eventually get some form of gynacamastea for example. Perhaps it was me having adopted a permanent female presentation the previous week, when someone comes in wearing a skirt, blouse, high heeled boots and looks reasonably natural in them, a diagnosis of GD is not unlikely. Or perhaps it was the blood chemical indicators that (if I've read them rightly - I'm no endocrinologist) showed my system was in serious trouble.



The point is, I'm now on feminising HRT, and have been since the 5th. I changed my name officially to Zoe Ellen Brain (from Alan Edwin Brain) last week, today I just got my new drivers license (with a very flattering photo) and car registration details were updated, my new medicare card will be sent to me soon, and now all I've got to do is change the name on the title deeds to the properties we own, bank accounts, credit card accounts, electoral roll, tax file, electricity/sewerage/water accounts, ISP account, Broadband/Phone/Cable TV account, oh yes, and a "change of circumstances" security form.

I've still yet to get a bra that fits. And I've found zero correlation between the size marked on women's clothes, and how big they actually are.

As the young lady at the motor registry said when I put in the change-of-name details, "You look really great! Welcome to Womanhood!"

Who Guards the Guardian?

Facts
  1. On August 11th, The Guardian published an opinion piece by Dr Saad al-Fagih highly critical of the Blair Government's new hard line against Islamofascist propagandists and backers. In it, the Guardian describes the author in the following terms
    Saad al-Fagih is a leading exiled Saudi dissident and director of the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia
  2. The Good Doctor is also described as a "leading Saudi dissident based in London" by the BBC, who then go on to say :
    Osama Bin Laden, the world's most wanted man, has connections to a leading Saudi dissident based in London, BBC Radio's Five Live Report has revealed.

    The programme provides evidence that Saad Al-Fagih, a key figure in the London-based campaign opposed to the Saudi regime, bought a satellite phone that was later used by Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda organisation.

    On 30 July 1998 one of the suicide bombers who blew up the US embassy in Nairobi telephoned the satellite phone number: 00 873 682 505 331.

    Eight days later the suicide bombers struck in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam killing 247 people.

    The satellite phone was the very same one that had been bought by Saad Al-Fagih in November 1996.

    Al-Fagih was also involved in a campaign to stop the deportation of another Saudi dissident, Mohammed Al-Masari, from Britain.

    The campaign to stop Al-Masari's removal by then Conservative Home Secretary Michael Howard finally succeeded in early 1996.

    Al-Masari admits he has talked with and helped Osama Bin Laden in the past and would do so again, telling Five Live Report: "Yes, why not?"

    The programme asked Al-Masari why he had helped Osama Bin Laden in the past, he said: 'It's the same cause." When asked if he would still help him he replied: "Yeah, if we can help anything, why not?"

    Labour MP George Galloway was also part of the campaign to keep Al-Masari from being deported to the Caribbean island of Dominica in 1995.

    The MP - who had a blazing row at Westminster this week after he was called an apologist for Saddam Hussein by a government minister - told the programme: "I have never seen any evidence that either Al-Masari or Al-Fagih were in any way connected to violence and if you have uncovered any I will listen to your programme with interest.'

    "To attempt a smear by association with that widely supported campaign is disreputable," Mr Galloway said.

    There is no suggestion that the MP knew about the purchase of the satellite phone.

    Evidence that Saad Al-Fagih bought the satellite phone later rung by one of the men who blew up the US embassy in Nairobi emerged during a New York trial in 2000, when four al-Qaeda suspects were found guilty of the African embassy bombings.

    United States attorney Kenneth Karas told a grand jury what was in Exhibit 1623: an order form for an Exact-M 22 Satellite Telephone, dated 1 November 1996: "and for the record, payment portion, Saad Al-Fagih." The order was signed 'S. R. H. Al Fagih.'

    When asked about the purchase of the satellite phone, Al-Fagih said: "Go and ask anybody else. I do not confirm anything here.

    "I do not even confirm there have been any details about purchase or not purchase.....I have no comment on this."

    He told the programme: "Everybody knows that I am totally committed to peaceful agenda."

    In 1997 the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges investigated a complaint that George Galloway had not declared an interest when speaking on Saudi Arabia the year before.

    MPs threw out the complaint but looked more closely into the question of Galloway acting as a financial intermediary.

    Mr Galloway was paid £5,000 in cash by Al-Fagih in late 1995 to early 1996 to repay costs incurred on behalf of others during the campaign to prevent Al-Masari's deportation.

    He was also given £1800 in cash by Al-Fagih to pass on to academics to help with the same campaign. Mr Galloway has never identified the academics.
  3. Dr S al-F is named by the UN's 1267 Committee on the C. The list of individuals belonging to or associated with the Al-Qaida organisation.
  4. On July 12th, a US Treasury Department report stated :
    The U.S Department of the Treasury today designated the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia (MIRA), a U.K.-based Saudi oppositionist organization, for providing material support to al Qaida. MIRA is run by al Qaida-affiliated Saad al-Faqih,
    [...]
    Information shows that statements on the MIRA website, including messages from Usama bin Laden and Abu Mus'ab al Zarqawi, are intended to provide ideological and operational support to al Qaida affiliated networks and potential recruits
    [...]
    Al-Faqih has maintained associations with the al Qaida network since the mid-1990s, including with Khaled al Fawwaz, who acted as UBL's de facto representative in the United Kingdom and was associated with the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings.
Draw your own conclusions.

Links to all the evidence, documents and reports are neatly packaged together on the far left blog Harry's Place:

Monday, 8 August 2005

What you see

...may not be what you think you see.

File this one under "Brain Links", as it demonstrates just how much the way our nervous system operates determines how we perceive reality.

I found the first example particularly fascinating.

Sunday, 7 August 2005

Break out the Vodka!

I have no idea what "Splice the Mainbrace" is in Russki. But whatever it is, consider it said. Also a big BRAVO ZULU.

The 7-man crew of the Russian Pris minisub AS-28 are now safe, thanks to a multinational rescue effort and a British remotely piloted rescue vehicle.

All submariners, regardless of nationality or allegiance, are members of a very special group. Associated with them are a few others, people who aren't bubbleheads, but have spent too much time in their company at depth for some of it not to have rubbed off.

I know that when I first read the news a few minutes ago, it was like hearing that members of my family had been rescued. Given the deadline - and in this case, deadline was an appropriate word, because time was of the essence. The Cold Equations stated exactly how long they had to breathe before the O2 ran out, and that amount of time was in hours, not days.

For such an effort to have been mounted so quickly, and for the Russians to have assented to outside help so speedily, speaks volumes for all concerned. Everyone had to do exactly the right thing, and without the merest pause for consideration. They did, and 7 of my comrades (whose names I don't know, and who in other circumstances I might have done my best to kill) are now alive. Their sons and daughters are not orphaned, their wives not widowed.

I'm not a submariner (though I've spent some time on board various subs). But assuming over a dozen boats are in service with the IDF, Bundesmarine, Armada de Chile, Royal Swedish Navy, Hellenic Navy, Italian Navy, and others, all of which carry the ISUS-90 or CSU-90 systems on board, and assuming 1 in 3 are at sea, each with about 60-70 crew on each, then 200 submariners at any one time are reliant for their very survival on me and my erstwhile colleagues having done our jobs adequately. I've never met more than a handful of these men (and none of the few women), but I think about them every day, and pray "Dear God, Please May I Not Have Screwed Up Ten Years Ago".

Anyone who doesn't think the same way has no place in making Safety-Critical systems.

A Timeline of the rescue is over at Gateway Pundit

For more details, see Ultraquiet No More, and The Stupid Shall Be Punished, both blogs by submariners (you're never an ex-).

There's also stories on MSM. From the New York Times :
As the British sailors worked, Russian officials said the submarine's crew of seven men were alive and had donned thermal suits, huddled together in a single compartment and were minimizing their movements to conserve their remaining air.

Power had been all but shut down inside the sunken vessel and its heater turned off to save its dwindling energy reserves, rendering the titanium-hulled craft a chilled, dark tube.
But they made it. Freezing, oxygen running out, professionally conserving their energy and waiting there in the darkness for rescue or death (whichever came first), and they made it.

And now I'm off to the cupboard to get some Vodka, and toss off a shot to the rescued, the rescuers, and all those involved. Schast'ya i zdorov'ya!

Saturday, 6 August 2005

Judenhass Spammers

From the "look what crawled out from under a Rock" Department:

The Straight Gate Ministry.

From the Spam that slithered into my "Toxic Waste" folder :
In 1908 British central bankers financed a new Book named The Scofield Reference Bible for sale in America. A generation later it had become the theological underpinning for a new religion-a neo-Christianity that soon flooded the seminaries and bible bookstores with its interpretation. Today, LEFT BEHIND sells side-by-side with HARRY POTTER, and SCOFIELD'S HERESY HAS BECOME THE PRIMARY JUSTIFICATION AMONG CHURCH GOING AMERICANS FOR PERPETUAL WAR IN THE MIDDLE EAST.

Those who bankrolled the Book in the early years of the 20th Century provided what appeared to be limitless financing and technical support, as would be expected when the prize is the conquest of the world's greatest and most "Christian" superpower. This neo-Christianity coincided with the rise of the World Zionist movement in Europe. The two movements had common participants, common financiers, and seemingly common objectives. THE NEW RELIGION WAS FUNDED TO INSURE THAT AMERICA'S ORGANIZED CHURCHES WOULD NOT SERIOUSLY INTERFERE WITH THE AIMS OF THE WORLD ZIONIST MOVEMENT.

Scofieldism was also a British import, first seen in America in the last half of the 19th Century.....
[...]
The Empire has achieved its goal of controlling America with unending serial wars, a central bank, called The Federal Reserve, which created the illusion of paying for each war, while in fact, diluting the dollar.....
Etc Etc Etc. The usual conspiracy of Powerful Vested Interests, this time an alliance of Joos and the British Empire, aimed at World Domination and the pollution of the purity of our bodily fluids, simply because they're Evil, Evil, Evil.

And from their website :
Pat Tillman is a War Hero
By Charles E. Carlson (May 28,2005)
Tillman died because he was fooled by the very military he sought to serve. If any good can come of Tillman's death or that of Rachael Corrie, who was crushed under a Caterpillar dozer probably given to Israel by our government, that good can only be if the truth comes out about them, causing millions to think....
Co-opting both genuine heroes and pre-fab ones like Our Lady Of Flagburning, Saint Rachel Currie. Yes, there really is no depth to which these people won't sink, HY120 at least (sorry, a bubblehead in-joke).

So around the circle we go. On one end, Grassroots Far Leftists like Norman Geras, and Right Wing Death Beast Neocons like myself, who think that Genocidal Dictators are a Bad Idea. Directly opposite, Conspuracy-theorist Paeleocons and the Loony Left, represented by the likes of millionaires such as Michael Moore, George Galloway, and George Soros.

Friday, 5 August 2005

A Point to Ponder

From Computer Risks Digest, which has just celebrated its 20th birthday :
A $1 lottery ticket is serially numbered, with UV-encoded information, on tamper-evident paper, and tracked with a heavily- audited central system.

Reasonable, since that ticket could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Your ballot has a level of protection equal to its projected value: Zero.

Until votes are worth something, they will continue to be worthless.

- Stanley F Quayle
Disclaimer: I'm currently working on a project connected with open-source electronic voting systems.

Heavy, Man (and Woman)

A Useful URL for anyone whose body is changing : the Body Mass Index Calculator.

Brain links

Here.

Hat Tip : Fred Kiesche, of The Eternal Golden Braid

Thursday, 4 August 2005

Debugging the Nervous System

An Interactive Online Guide to the Neurological Examination.

Hat Tip : Keats Telecope, a Science Blog sans pareil

Wednesday, 3 August 2005

Monday, 1 August 2005

Six Figures

Just had the 100,000th visitor to the site.

Domain Name directcorp.net.au
IP Address 203.142.146.#
ISP Primus Telecommunications (Australia) Pty Ltd
Language English (Australia)
Operating System Microsoft WinXP
Browser Internet Explorer 6.0
Javascript version 1.3
Monitor Resolution 1400 x 1050
Monitor Color Depth 16 bits
Time of Visit Aug 2 2005 12:43:50 am

Visit Number 100,000

10th planetWhile in other news, a Tenth Planet has been found in our Solar System.
You could call it the tenth rock from the sun. Scientists yesterday made the dramatic announcement that they had found the first new planet in the solar system in three quarters of a century. The planet - a giant lump of rock and ice, more than nine billion miles from the Sun - is the first to be discovered since Pluto in 1930. The breakthrough will cause the redrawing of the maps of our corner of the universe.
[...]
Dr Brown and his team have christened it Xena, after the warrior princess in the old television series, "... because we always wanted to name something Xena". But the formal decision on a name will be made by the International Astronomical Union.

Xena - if such it formally becomes - is the biggest object to have been discovered in the solar system since Neptune in 1845. More important, at about 2,000 miles across, it is considerably bigger than Pluto, which is what gives it the right to be considered our 10th planet.
Which rather puts things into perspective. I hope the IAU, a notoriously humourless body, Okay's the name, but I have my doubts. Still, I like the concept of a planet named after a fictional Warrior Princess.

Triumph and Tragedy

I've recently had to do a lot of research on subjects I never thought I'd have to.

First, please read what at least 30,000 people in the USA have gone through. The Tragedy.

Now read about some of those who have Triumphed.

Before May, I never knew about either.