Blog Archives

Missing persons report

Although we’re getting say a 20 per cent decrease in rainfall in some areas of Australia, that’s translating to a 60 per cent decrease in the run-off into the dams and rivers. That’s because the soil is warmer because of global warming and the plants are under more stress and therefore using more moisture. So even the rain that falls isn’t actually going to fill our dams and our river systems, and that’s a real worry for the people in the bush.

Professor Tim Flannery, February 2007
(ABC Landline interview)

My house is under water here. Where the fuck is all this water coming from? Did someone say the dam’s full? Nah, can’t be. Can it?

(Probably) someone living downstream of the
Warragamba Dam in NSW, this weekend

The noted environmentalist and warble gloaming activist Professor Tim Flannery is currently presumed missing.

Concerns for Professor Flannery, named Australian of the Year in 2007 and appointed head of Prime Minister Gingery Dullard’s Climate Change Commission, have arisen since he can normally be relied upon to talk very loudly about warble gloaming whenever the weather does anything. His failure to put in an appearance and speak at length on how the rain currently falling and filling the dams proves his point that even the rain that falls won’t fill the dams has been described as ‘deeply worrying’.

Many have suggested that heavy rainfall filling dams in fact disproves Flannery’s prediction and that this may be the real reason for his silence. Meanwhile meteorologists have said that just possibly a mammologist/palaeontologist, even one who’s written books about warble gloaming and has campaigned very publicly on the issue, should leave the weather predicting business to them.

In response a Commission spokeswoman said that Professor Flannery, who is reportedly paid $180,000 a year for a three day week role as the impartial Chairman of the absolutely neutral body set up to sell the need for a carbon tax to the Australian public, is currently in Germany. Whether this was a particular part of Germany with no access to phones or internet and thus leaving him unable to explain why the rain has been caused by the drought was not said. The recent series of cold European winters has been ruled out as a possible cause of being unable to communicate from Germany, allowing speculation as to Tim Flannery’s whereabouts to grow.

Okay, joking aside now. I have to be fair here and say that Flannery is no doubt very busy on something or other in Germany and anyway it is only just the one dam that’s fil… oh.

Yeah, that’s a bit more of a problem, especially as this is of course the second year in a row that parts of Australia have experienced the kind of flooding rains that we were told wouldn’t happen again because of the kind of droughts we were having instead. Perhaps we shouldn’t be listening quite so much to predictions of future doom without bearing in mind voices of past observers, such as one I’ve mentioned here once or twice before.

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror –
The wide brown land for me!

Core of my heart, my country!
Her pitiless blue sky,
When sick at heart, around us,
We see the cattle die-
But then the grey clouds gather,
And we can bless again
The drumming of an army,
The steady, soaking rain.

Core of my Heart, aka My Country – Dorothea Mackellar, 1911

Obviously there’s a difference between careful scientific observation (a whole other argument which I’m happy leave to folks such as Anthony Watts) and poetry, but really it doesn’t sound as if in a country supposedly ravaged by warbly gloamed climate change things have actually changed much at all. Droughts, check. Flooding rains, check. Cattle dropping dead, check. Steady soaking rain, check. Mackellar’s words are as relevant a century on as they were when she wrote them, whereas Tim Flannery’s talk of what rain we are going to get being inadequate to fill the dams seems debatable after only five. It wasn’t a prediction involving a specific date but nonetheless I’m adding it to the list of warble gloaming dates for your diary.*

It’s been a few months since this list was updated and in all fairness to Tim Flannery it must be said that with a claim that four or five billion people will be dead by the end of this year his prediction is actually one of the more sensible ones on there.

 

* This is actually a double update because I’ve just noticed that I haven’t got that one about British kids never seeing snow again.

Advertisements

Fireworks – next in the banners’ sights? – UPDATED

Despite the distance from Westminster Australia used to celebrate Guy Fawkes night as well but these days it’s fallen by the wayside, and I suspect the reason is simple: you can’t buy fireworks anymore in most parts of Oz. I’d assumed that this was mostly because of the bushfire risk but I’ve since been told that it was also to do with idiot behaviour involving fireworks, and we all know that governments unable to deal effectively with idiots will often try instead to ban whatever it is the idiots want to play with and never mind the responsible users.

And of course firework idiocy is far from unknown in Britain. Every November for as long as I can remember there have been ad campaigns warning of the risks of handling or throwing lit fireworks, and every November there’s a handful of idiots who take no notice and end up being able to count up only to nine in future. Even if you could somehow eliminate firework idiocy there are still risks involved, even at professional displays. What goes up must come down, and all those rockets exploding up there are showering the ground beneath with bits. It’s inevitable that now and then some land on people or property. Mostly harmlessly, sure, but I once got up the day after Guy Fawkes night and found the stick from a large rocket a few feet from my car. Had it hit the car I expect I’d have had some bodywork damage, and had it hit a person I’m sure it would have been a nasty injury.

But such things are rare, incredibly rare given the amount of fireworks set off around Guy Fawkes night, and since most people enjoy the celebration and the fireworks and the bonfires they’re prepared to accept the risks, doubtless to the dismay of the nannies and banners. To get fireworks banned there needs to be a sea change in public attitudes, and that’s most likely to be achievable if something really nasty, some incident that harms a lot of people, involves fireworks.

With that in mind let’s turn to the tragic multi-vehicle crash on the M5 and the speculation that a fireworks display at a nearby rugby club may have had something to do with it.

The rugby club’s “spectacular” fireworks display is being investigated to see if thick smoke drifted on to the motorway.
[…]
The cause of the crash was being investigated last night but police confirmed they were looking at the possibility that a pall of black smoke from a firework display at Taunton Rugby Club, 300 yards from the scene of the crash, may have drifted on to the motorway.
Mr Bangham said: “We are aware there was a fireworks display nearby happening at a similar time and we will also be looking closely at that and at what kind of planning was looked at ahead of that event.”
A member of the public who attended the display said: “The fireworks display was massive and caused a huge amount of thick black smoke that drifted towards the motorway less than 10 minutes before the crash. Before the display I could see right across the pitch and see the headlights of traffic on the motorway. After the display the visibility dropped to less than 30ft, I couldn’t even see the huge floodlights positioned around the pitch.”
Sam Kotvics, who was at the display, said: “I think the fireworks had a contributory effect. It was a spectacular display. Anything could have happened to cause the accident though.”
Weather forecasters said that smoke from bonfires encourages fog, especially in damp conditions.

And…

Click for linky

Police fear the M5 disaster that claimed the lives of at least seven people may have been caused by heavy smoke drifting on to the motorway from a nearby fireworks display.
[…]
Senior officers investigating the cause of the crash, on the northbound carriageway near Junction 25, said they were focusing ‘very closely’ on a fireworks event at Taunton Rugby Club, located near the carriageway.
Forensics teams arrived at the club yesterday afternoon and sealed off several pitches.
The display at the club finished at about 8.15pm on Friday, minutes before the crash. Experts believe a lack of wind allowed intense black smoke from the finale, when the largest and most spectacular rockets were fired, to hang in the air and render visibility poor. There had already been reports of wet conditions and patchy fog.
Last night no one from Firestorm Pyrotechnics, the Somerset firm that organised the display, was available for comment.
But another fireworks company boss told The Mail on Sunday that he turned down the opportunity to stage a display at the rugby club two years ago because of concerns about safety.
‘It is a very difficult site. My concern straight away was the distance from the motorway,’ he said. ‘It makes it a very difficult site to fire from. You would look closely at the flight line [of the rockets]. Are they going to make drivers look up?’
Taunton Rugby Club secretary Oli Massingham said the organisers had liaised fully with police.
[…]
Meanwhile witnesses spoke of bonfires in other areas nearby also spreading black smoke, including one in particular at a smallholding.
As well as the smoke itself blinding drivers, one expert said it could have caused further visibility problems by encouraging fog to form.

I’m not saying the fireworks display did or did not have anything to do with it. For all I know right now it might have, but that’s not what I’m getting at. My point is that almost certainly someone somewhere is secretly hoping that the investigation does end up blaming the crash largely on the display, and parts of the reporting already make it sound like some of the media is sold on the idea. “Firework fun as displays turn deadly for drivers” – it’s a headline writer’s wet dream, isn’t it? And of course for the banners and nannies the first step to restrictions and prohibition is a scary headline or two.

As I said, I’m not trying to claim that the fireworks display is blameless as I have no idea whether it is or isn’t, and I’m not going to form an opinion either way while it’s still being investigated or second guess the people doing the investigating. This post isn’t about trying to blame or shield from blame anything in particular. It’s just making a prediction: that whatever else was involved if the fireworks display is determined to have contributed even in a small way there will be calls to restrict or even ban fireworks, and even if the club’s display is exonerated there will still be calls for at least tougher regulations.

And I haven’t even looked at The Daily Mail comments section yet.

UPDATED – five minutes after finishing the post I’ve just looked at the comments at the Mail, and while they’re in the minority just as I predicted…

With all the controversy about cutting pollution from things like industry and car emissions we should now be banning bonfires . If fireworks are going to be allowed then it should only be in a properly managed display and away from any major road or built up area…

Are there any regulations covering bonfire and firework displays near motorways and main roads? I was travelling on the M61 near Bolton a couple of years ago on bonfire night and suddenly drove into thick black smoke, which meant I couldn’t see 10 yards in front of me and when this happens to you whilst travelling at 70-80 mph it is incredibly disorientating and frightening. Once through the smoke (I thought it was better to carry on rather than just stop) I pulled over onto the hard shoulder. I realised that the smoke was coming from a bonfire in a field less than 100 yards from the carriageway, at a pub adjacent to the motorway. I rang 999 to report it, it was incredibly dangerous. The organisers of that bonfire were incredibly irresponsible and should never have been allowed to set a bonfire that close to the motorway. If there aren’t any regulations then there need to be before this happens all over again next year.

Time all fireworks were banned, they cause untold harm.

Completely possible. Bonfire night/fireworks are the worst offenders of filling the atmosphere full of smoke. I remember driving this time last year and I could not see a thing, it was like driving with a fogged up window. Especially with the fireworks display being so close to the motorway, it would explain why the ‘fog’ had cleared up by the time emergency services arrived. It doesn’t help with the wet floor and speeds of a motorway, even if all of the vehicles were obeying the speed limit. The fog probably came out of nowhere/was unexpected.

And over at the Tele:

I have listened to the radio media and I hope there is a law against holding a firework display next to a motorway. Clearly the reason for the crash may never be known. However a distraction on a wet dark motorway by a firework for less than five seconds is enough to cause this course of tragic events…

It might have been better if health and safety jobsworths spent less time stopping kids playing conkers and more time giving serious consideration to issues like a firework display next to a motorway…

Obviously the fireworks were a distraction and the smoke reduced visibility. It was a bad idea to have a display like that at the side of a motorway. I noted on the way home, there was strange dense patches of fog around Mid Devon.

Again, a minority (most commenters there seemed to be into the Afghanistan comparison), but you can expect the same things are being said by people with the ear of those with the clout to do something. Don’t be surprised if the question of a fireworks ban or tougher regulation pops up in Parliament over the coming weeks.

Heh

Via the Von Mises Institute blog.

Predictable attack on private ownership

Not a recent sign in Ohio as far as I know,
but don’t you just wish it was? 

The slaughter of dozens of lions, tigers, bears and wolves set free from a private Ohio farm has sparked calls for restrictions on the largely unregulated ownership of exotic pets in several US states.
Police in Ohio shot dead almost 50 animals in a frantic hunt after the owner of an exotic farm freed the dangerous animals and then killed himself.
The bloody toll – which included 18 endangered Bengal tigers – has sparked outrage from conservationists, who say it should be a call to action against private ownership of exotic animals.

No argument from me, this is sad. I don’t know the ins and outs of this story, why the guy kept all these dangerous animals or why he set them loose before topping himself, but the unnecessary loss of 18 individuals of a species numbering only a couple of thousand or so – plus the other animals – is a bloody shame. That said I don’t think I agree with the conversationists and anyone else whose knee jerk response is not just sadness but outrage and the stock statist cries of ‘It shouldn’t be allowed’ and ‘There ought to be a law against it’. Yes, there are all sorts of practical problems to keeping an animal in captivity, and the bigger and stronger and more fearsomely armed it is the greater the problem and the expense needed to tackle it. A dog and two cats? Easy. Fifty or so assorted large predators? Different ball game.

Easy? You’ll pay for that in your sleep, Exile.

And yet should that alone be a barrier if someone has the resources needed? Sure, if you live near a private zoo and the lion keeps coming over your fence and taking a dump in your veggie patch there’s an issue, but isn’t that sort of thing what tort law is for? Wouldn’t it still be an issue if an animal escapes from any other zoo, private or public owned?

Not only that but banning private ownership means losing one of the advantages of private ownership – property rights. Think about who owns all the endangered species in the world. Generally it’s nobody, isn’t it? Oh, states and governments and maybe monarchs might claim ownership but even then for all practical purposes there’s no real owner, and if the animal is either a resource itself or getting in the way of a resource someone else wants to get at then tough. This is tragedy of the commons stuff, and the way to avoid it is private property rights and the threat of someone coming along and suing the arse off anyone who causes damage or loss, i.e. hurts or kills, that animal.

Take the unfortunate Bengal tiger, for example. Wikipedia suggests that the principle threat to its survival is poaching for skins and body parts, which sounds plausible enough. But what if the tigers were all or mostly privately owned? Wouldn’t the owners take steps to protect their property, and if the tigers had value (this is distasteful but presumably the tiger doesn’t need its skin, teeth, bellend or whatever after it’s carked it from natural causes, so is there still a problem with trading in parts then, and if so is it different from telling the doctors they can harvest a dead relative for organs even though they didn’t have a donor card) wouldn’t they also encourage the tigers to make lots of little tigers and feed them up to make even more little tigers, and so on? Yes, you could simply hack up all your tigers now for a quick buck, but every half competent owner would be aware of the downside of killing the goose that lays gold eggs or at least understand the principle. Most owners would want to maximise their return and keep up the supply, which in turn means wanting there to be as many tigers as the market can cope with (and can safely be accommodated without eating said private owners, of course).

Now I agree that it’s a little weird and not a little nasty to think of encouraging a trade in tiger bollocks or rhino lips or shark earlobes or whatever, and certainly my inner and not quite dead lefty is wailing something about the humiliation of noble beasts for profit, but you know what? Fuck it. If it means not seeing the Bengal tiger go the way of the Tasmanian tiger wouldn’t it be worth it?

Really the only concern should be whether or not private ownership would work, and for that I suggest we look at species which are largely in private ownership and see if any are endangered. And as far as I can tell the world isn’t exactly short of cats, dogs, horses, sheep, cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys…..

Rubbish ideas

A week ago I posted here on the subject of unintended but not unforeseeable consequences, and how the decision in South Australia to ban supermarkets from giving or selling polythene carrier bags to their customers, many of which would go on to line small bins around the house or be put in pockets to pick up dog muck, inevitably and predictably led to an increase in sales of bin liners which take up more landfill volume than the thin supermarket bags that were banned. As daft as the South Australian government was doing this it’s been trumped by a British council which has come up with an even dafter idea.

Doorstep rubbish collections have been scrapped in Britain for the first time since they were introduced more than 130 years ago.
Rossendale council in Lancashire has stopped the service for hundreds of residents in rural areas who now have to drive or carry their rubbish down narrow country lanes to “collection points” up to a mile away from their homes.
[…]
The new system, introduced this month, means that large piles of rubbish bags left at roadsides overnight for early morning collections will be attacked by foxes, badgers and other animals, leaving refuse strewn over the road, residents say.
There are also concerns that the waste poses a health and safety risk, especially to children and the elderly, and will deter tourists from an area popular with walkers and horse-riders.

Now I’m sure that Rossendale council didn’t intend for wild animals to rip the bags open and spread rubbish all over the collection point, but perhaps it’s something they should have expected in a rural area. I’m sure they don’t intend for fly tipping to increase either, but I’d be surprised if people don’t soon learn when and where the rubbish piles up and go and dispose of their own at someone else’s expense by dumping it on the same pile.

A council spokesman said: “We have to make £2.6m of cuts over four years and we calculate that the change will save £92,000.

Is that all? Is that in total or per annum? And is it before or after you include the costs of cleaning up the collection points every week and dealing with rubbish left there by non-residents who’ve fly tipped their own in the night? You did think about that, right? Because if it’s before new costs and over the same four year period it might not save anything at all.

Still, let’s assume it’s net and p.a., that makes it just under 15% of the necessary saving and leaves a very long way to go. Can we ask how much the people who thought of this idea and those who approved it are paid, including benefits and employer’s NI etc? More or less than £92,000 a year between them? Is it anywhere near 650 grand a year, or £2.6 million over four years? Just out of interest.

Still, at least we can expect a typically fair minded council not to carry on charging residents for a doorstep collection they no longer get, just as the more than 50% of council tax payers whose rubbish is collected fortnightly saw their bills redu… oh, who am I kidding?

Residents losing the doorstep service will not receive a council tax rebate.

You saw that coming about 400 words ago, didn’t you?

Ooooh, there’s a surprise

Last month I wrote that there seemed to be a bizarre game of international keeping up with the Joneses going on in that every nation with a significant News Corp presence seemed determined to be able to say “Yes, yes, those evil Murdoch hacks have, er, hacked our phones too”. 9/11? Yes, they must have done it then, surely. If they did for the London bombings four years later then they’re bound to have done it for the much bigger 9/11, right? Cue investigations carried out by people who almost certainly have something better to do despite the phone hacking not being known outside the UK and not actually being hacking at all and, to me at least, not all that likely to begin with.

… in the immediate aftermath there was a lot of confusion and some estimates of the number of dead were as high as ten thousand, more than five times what it turned out to be (correction: 10,000 is not five times 3,000 – my mental arithmetic was clearly not all that flash when I originally wrote this – AE). Nobody knew who was missing, who was dead and who was lucky enough not to have been anywhere near the place after all, and in all that confusion and not really knowing it seems like use of the NotW style not-hacking voicemails would have been much trickier than the 7/7 bombings in London in 2005. I might be wrong but I can’t help thinking that the identities of the dead in an incident that killed so many more people… well, where would you even start? Supposedly someone from the NotW tried to bribe a cop or an ex-cop for phone records, but that seems a little odd. If it happened in 2001 or maybe 02, which is when it would have been newsworthy, then how come it’s only now that we’re hearing about it?
[…]
On the other hand if this is supposed to have taken place more recently then you have to wonder about the sanity of the NotW still playing the same games when they’d already been caught once and were under the spotlight. You’d also have to wonder at how slow a news day it must have been to go on that kind of fishing expedition perhaps five or six years on and, if they were going to do the not-hack of voicemails again, whether there’d even be anything there after all that time. Obviously the idea is out there now and of course it needs to be looked into but if I was a betting man I’d put a few dollars on it being all smoke and no substance.

And I’d be feeling confident about those dollars coming back with company having seen this Wall Street Journal headline in The Australian yesterday.

Click for linky

INVESTIGATORS haven’t found hard evidence so far in probing whether News Corporation’s UK-based journalists might have hacked the phones of 9/11 victims, but US authorities have expanded their query to see whether they can establish a broader pattern of more recent misconduct at the company’s US operations, say people familiar with the matter.

British police investigating the sweeping phone-hacking scandal at the company’s now-closed News of the World tabloid have told the Federal Bureau of Investigation there are no names or telephone numbers of September 11 victims among the evidence they have gathered to date, according to people familiar with the case.

London’s Metropolitan Police Service, known as Scotland Yard, has examined voluminous phone records of what could be thousands of potential phone-hacking victims, but those records don’t suggest 9/11 victims were among the targets of the hacking, according to the people familiar with the case. A Scotland Yard spokesman declined to comment.

The New York Police Department also has told the FBI it has no indication such attempted violations occurred, and the FBI’s own crime-victims assistance office has said the same. Attorney General Eric Holder plans to meet later this month with some September 11 families, to discuss their concerns about the issue.

So they’ve looked, and for the time being will continue to do so, but there’s not a shred of evidence that any not-hacking went on in relation to 9/11. This should not come as a surprise, not because we have any reason to think that the people covering that story must have been saintly types who would never stoop to but because it would have been extremely difficult while it was still worth doing and no longer worth doing by the time it became a lot easier. Now I realise that both the WSJ and The Aussie are owned by News Corp itself and that they may be a little biased in favour of reports that don’t drag their parent company further down the swannie, but news is a competitive industry and the same holds true, though in reverse, for their opposition. Despite The Age running a couple of related stories yesterday Fairfax Media doesn’t seem to have covered it yet, and nor has the Graun/Indie/Obs. Why should they be in a rush to see their rival off the hook a femtosecond sooner than absolutely necessary? As for the grubbier end of the market, and again turning to the WSJ/Aussie piece for lack of anything else, let’s not forget where the 9/11 hacking thing came from.

Cowboys,
apparently

The allegation stemmed from an article in the UK’s Daily Mirror, based on unnamed sources, that reported News Corp journalists tried to hack the phones of 9/11 victims. It was among the most serious allegations made in the high-profile scandal that hit News Corp’s UK operations involving widespread phone hacking that targeted celebrities, politicians and a murder victim.

I’m not saying they made it up because for all I know those unnamed sources were real and otherwise reliable. I’m not even saying that this unnamed source wasn’t telling the truth that he’d been approached by NotW journos offering to pay for access to the phone records of 9/11 victims, though as I said last month it seems a little surprising that this has taken almost ten years to come out when the phone not-hacking scandal has been simmering away for the best part of the last five. I am saying that The Mirror’s article – in which they use a photo of Murdoch arriving in London wearing a Fedora and describe it variously as a ‘cowboy style’ and a Panama – was mainly a rehash of what was already known with a dash of shit stirring about 9/11 mixed in. Nothing solid, no names, no actual facts beyond ‘he alleges’ and ‘he said’, and for damned sure nothing at all about why it’s taken ten years for this to come out despite phone not-hacking first coming to light in 2005, how odd that appears and what might be a reasonable explanation for it. Nada. And fair enough because if the Mirror was paying me to write I’d be tempted to help kick the competition while they’re down.*

But of course investigations will continue, and the while the original one about 9/11 looks like it will be the dead end I thought it seems the powers that be aren’t content to let it lie there.

Now, US authorities are trying to determine whether they can find a broad pattern of misdeeds at News Corp that continued into 2006 or more recently, according to the people familiar with the matter. If they find evidence of such conduct, which could include rewarding executives accused of wrongdoing, for example, that would open the door to pursuing matters beyond the five-year time frame [of the statute of limitations].

As I said last month, if a government constitutionally bound to protect press freedom wanted to be able to bring the media more under its own control it needs a bloody good dose of public outrage and preferably a few people jailed for breaking the law, since breaking existing laws is the favourite pretext of most governments for making up some new ones. I’d hope that the Americans’ reverence for their Bill of Rights combined with the fact that the area of main outrage, the allegations about 9/11, appears to be a dud will prevent things going that far, but here in Oz and in the UK the governments have greater power to muzzle the press. In their desire to give their News Corp competition the shoeing the bastards so thoroughly deserve the other media groups seem to be forgetting this.

I hope it doesn’t come back to bite them, because if it does it’ll bite everybody.

* Nobody pays me, which is why I’m not fussy who I kick.

Carbon taxing questions

Click for linky

That’s rather presupposing that it can, isn’t it? The thing is that still nobody has answered the question that sceptics have asked over and over – by how much will the carbon tax reduce global temperature? Alternatively by what year will it have produced a measurable – not necessarily meaningful, just measurable – effect on temperature? Year a bit specific? Okay, decade then. You can couch it any other way you want if it helps produce a straight answer, and I do feel a straight answer is pretty important because without it how the fuck is anybody supposed to know if it’s succeeded? And before anyone shouts ‘denier’ at me think about this from the warmist point of view. If you don’t know how well a measure to combat warble gloaming is working, or even if it is working, how can you tell whether or not you need to do more of it? Sceptic or believer, it doesn’t make sense either way.

Of course I realise that this is probably not a bug but a feature. What the carbon tax is not supposed to do is give opportunities to sceptics to add some Environment Minister’s or Big Eco Rent-a-mouth’s predictions to a list and hold them to it. In the highly unlikely event we ever get those answers I’ll add them to the Warble Gloaming Dates For Your Diary, but I wouldn’t hold your breath.

Meanwhile opposition to the carbon tax grows in Labor’s own constituency. Marvellous.

Questions, questions redux

And now the lily is being de-gilded. Contrary to what was being reported earlier it now turns out that Bin Breathing did not use his wife as a human shield and being apparently unarmed nor did he return fire. I appreciate that this is still soon after the raid in which he was killed that the ink labelling his DNA test has barely had time to dry and that details can easily be misreported at this early stage, but it’s a pretty big detail to get wrong, isn’t it?

I’d bet the guys who actually dropped the bastard knew perfectly well which of those was closest to what actually happened and the info from their first hand reports is now starting to come out and contradict the earlier stuff. The whole cowardly hiding behind others while fighting to the death thing was just too like the story that Hollywood would have told. Embellishment, perhaps not deliberate, added by someone who wanted to believe it happened that way? Who knows, but it sounded a bit too comic book villain to be reliable enough for the papers to jump all over right away.

A new interpretation on the 2012 Olympics logo

Oh, that bloody logo again. Apparently it now spells out a racist word.

IRAN threatened to pull out of the London 2012 Olympic Games, saying the event’s already controversial logo is racist and spells the word “Zion,” the ILNA news agency reported today.

Wait, what? How is the word “Zion” racist? If it said “Zionism is brilliant and everything else is really crap” then I could maybe see racist overtones, though we need to remember that free speech thing. If the clever sod who got paid – and this is reason enough for someone to fucking apologise – four hundred grand for that wants to make it a statement supporting Zion he can, and he can be far more open about it if he wants. And everyone else can tell him what they think of it. Mind you, they’ve been doing that anyhow.

So do they ban everything that mentions “Zion”? No Bob Marley singing Iron Lion Zion? No Lauren Hill or David Bowie? Has Iranian culture benefited by avoiding the Matrix sequels?* Well, yeah actually, but not necessarily because of the Zion references. Just being western is enough by the sounds of things.

And anyway, how the hell do you get “Zion” from that logo in the first place? Headaches and epileptic fits I can just about believe, and nausea and incoherent rage more or less go without saying. But “Zion”? Seriously? It must be some fucking effort if they’re only just kicking off about it three and half years after the eyesore was launched to at the public.

Jesus, you’re really really got to want to see it, haven’t you? And of course none of that effort with rearranging and rotating the bits is needed for the older blowjob interpretation.

So what are we supposed to believe? That the logo is representative of a shadowy Zion obsessed felationist conspiracy or a fellatio obsessed Zionist conspiracy? And what would be the point? To so offend Iranian sensibilities that they have no option but to boycott the games, and thus removing any opportunity for Iran to claim a victory over the west as their star athletes explode out of the blocks?** Because they didn’t do a very good job of it if it’s taken nearly four years for the intended recipient to spot it.

I fancy a laugh. Shall we tell the Iranians that Cockslot and Manlove (or Fucknuts and Anal if you prefer Obonoxio’s nicknames) are subtle digs at the revolution and ayatollahs? Just to see what they do? I’m happy to supply some of the stones.

Silence! I keeeeel you!

* Which just goes to show how hard it is for any country’s government to have absolutely no redeeming features at all, though I bet Kim Terminally-Ill has both movies on Blu-Ray.
** I’ll get me coat.

What did you learn in school today, hon?

Unusually for me I can’t make my mind up about this one.

[Smithereens,] a book of gruesome short stories, which includes a task asking students to write two suicide notes, is being taught to 13-year-olds at some schools, prompting adolescent health experts to warn it could encourage vulnerable teens to self harm.

Australian Childhood Foundation chief executive Joe Tucci said schools should not be asking students to rehearse potentially harmful behaviour. ”When you encourage adolescents to undertake activities that blur the line between fantasy and reality … it might tip them into undertaking that activity,” he said.
Childhood pyschologist Michael Carr-Gregg said Smithereens should be immediately removed from schools.
”It could give them ideas about self harm and potentially lead them to believe the world is a bleaker, darker, more miserable place than it actually is,” Dr Carr-Gregg said.

Well, actually I’m settled on one or two things, chief of which is this paranoia that children and adolescents are so fucking fragile these days that almost anything is seen as liable to tip them over the edge in some way, is probably a bit over the top. Newsflash: at school we did Lord of the Flies without becoming savages (well, more savage than teenagers are naturally), To Kill A Mockingbird without instantly becoming racists, lawyers or Gregory Peck, and a couple of Shakespeare romance comedies without anyone expressing a desire get into any item of female attire except in the sense that teenage boys normally want to. My teenage years are not so far behind me that I don’t recall them quite well, and I can say without any hesitation that we were able to tell the bloody difference between the written word and the real world. Teenagers don’t shatter when they read something depressing. No, probably not even the emos.

On the other hand it does seem like the kind of book I’d have hated to get in English class. Lord of the Flies was depressing and bored my arse off so thoroughly that I used to fall over sitting down. Part of its educational effect on me was that I didn’t learn what a good book it is until school was a few years behind me, but at the time I had to read it I did not actually read it at all. I read just enough of it to get the homework done without too many really crap marks, and not a single sentence more. What I’d like to have read would have been some Tom Clancy or something. Or perhaps Alastair MacClean or Ian Fleming if it had to be something a bit older.* Something with some bloody excitement in, for Christ’s sake. So if at the start of a new term the English teacher had plopped a copy of Smithereens on my desk it might have induced feelings of suicide, though not for the reasons that have been suggested, but they would quickly have given way to narcolepsy and catatonia.** And that’s it.

Maybe it’s different if you’re a parent. Maybe I’d also send my offspring off each day with a little part of my mind gibbering and fretting about their safety and their wellbeing until I saw them again each evening. Actually I’m sure I would, but I hope I’d also recognise that they’re likely to be little different from the rest of us at the same age. So despite the headline that made me think it’d be more of this or this the thing I’m really unsure about is just the appeal to kids of that age and wether it can tear them away from fluffy and non-violent things like World of Modern Zombie Warfare Combatcraft 2. And Facebook.

So why the hell are they actually bothering? Ah, silly me, the answer has been staring me in the face all the time. Looks like they’re afraid of someone suing for compo.

If a student harmed themselves after reading it, the school could be in breach of its duty of care.

And they’re worried about the stuff in the book making people depressed? What the fuck do they think their reaction to it is doing?

* Just about everyone read Lord of the Rings themselves. Boys’ school. I imagine it’s normal.
** The thought of Cerys Matthews might have woken everyone up again. Boys’ school. Probably normal as well.

Un expected news: the BBC caves in.

Twice in quick succession, in fact. Most recently to Mexico, of course, because a proud nation can so easily be brought to its knees by jibes about its cuisine from some shortarse Brummie TV presenter with a famous dislike of any food that looks like it comes from further than Kent, along with some old stereotypes that nobody takes seriously anymore.

The BBC said it had now written to the ambassador to say it was sorry if the programme caused offence.

And also to Japan because of the A-bomb comments on QI, because sixty-five years is too soon even for what were very light hearted remarks.

We are very sorry for any offence caused.

The usual format non-apology apologies again, you’ll have noticed. Why can’t a ‘spokesperson’ just be fucking honest one day and say that they’re not bloody sorry and that this culture of offence seeking is the worst kind of one-sided, passive-aggressive, bullshit control freakery, and it says far more about the people who practise it than those whom they seek to silence. For Christ’s fucking sake, Stephen Fry has had to cancel plans to go to Japan because of this! Watch the fucking clip – the poor bastard is being nailed to a fucking cross despite the fact he barely said anything beyond Yamaguchi being either the luckiest or unluckiest man ever depending on how you looked at it. And what the fuck’s wrong with that? Yamaguchi was unarguably very unlucky to have been present and on the receiving end for both hostile uses of a nuclear weapon, yet he was also incredibly lucky to have survived both. An entirely factual remark delivered with no hint of disrespect (a word I don’t like to use because it’s one of the favourite verbal whores of the professionally offended). Is it because Fry hosts the show and sits in the middle that some Japanese are blaming him for the less sensitive (but still very lightweight) comments of other panelists, or does the translation into Japanese imply something beyond Fry’s fairly neutral and factual remark? Could be the latter.

Roland Kelts, a half-Japanese author who had been due to work on the parts of the production due to be filmed in the country, suggested the reaction to the QI comments had been over the top.

“In video footage, one can easily see, if one speaks and understands English fluently, that the hosts are tiptoeing around the obvious offence, trying to strike a balance between humour and respect.”

He added: “In this age of instantaneous visual language, all subtlety was lost, especially on reactionary right-wing Japanese folks keen to kick up a fight.”

Maybe, but I also worry that the 21st Century is becoming the age of the professional offence seeker and the professional apologiser (usually know as an unnamed spokesperson for the offending organisation).

Well I’m offended too. I’m offended by the way these constant apologies make my native country look like a bunch of weak-kneed, insecure, spineless, contemptible softcocks who are so pathetically worried about what other people think that they don’t dare have an opinion or a thought of their own in case someone else doesn’t agree, takes it the wrong way or finds it even vaguely upsetting for almost any reason whatsoever. It reflects poorly on… ancient nation… noble… proud history… national pride… particularly disappointed that apparent admission makes Britons look guilty of accusations made… implies we are ignorant and xenophobic savages… deeply hurtful…  cultural values…  etc, etc, etc.
Fill in the fucking blanks and send me a cheque.*

Alternatively just harden the fuck up next time and explain to whoever complains that the right to free speech means accepting that in return for being able to say what you wish you must accept that you may not always like what you hear, that there is not and cannot be a right not to be offended, that how one person chooses to interpret and react to the remarks and opinions of another is their own choice, and above all that if any of this might lead to problems then not watching the TV, or indeed not ever even leaving the fucking house, is the only practical course of action.

And if that offends anyone, that’s too fucking bad. I try to be honest enough to let you know that I’d be lying if I said I was sorry.

* Actually I will think seriously about drafting a letter taking offence at the constant capitulation to offence seekers. It might be interesting to see what sort of response it gets.

Sticks and stones – UPDATED

I rarely watch Top Gear these days as it’s been especially ruined for the Australian audience by a commercial channel that appears to have no idea how to cut it for ads, but I do appreciate the public service they still provide by highlighting offence seekers for the rest of us. This time the professionally offended is the Mexican ambassador to Britain.

Eduardo Medina-Mora has written to the BBC about “insults” made by Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May in the show broadcast in Britain on Sunday.

In a discussion about a Mexican sports car, Hammond said vehicles reflected national characteristics so “Mexican cars are just going to be lazy”.

Not his best effort at schoolboy humour, I have to say. I’ve seen motoring reviews before where a car has been described as lazy so on it’s own that could be read as meaning underpowered or perhaps a very relaxed and indulgent ride. A little more context would be… ah.

Reviewing the Mastretta, Hammond said: “Mexican cars are just going to be lazy, feckless, flatulent, overweight, leaning against a fence asleep looking at a cactus with a blanket with a hole in the middle on as a coat.”

The presenters then described Mexican food as “sick with cheese on it”.

Later in the exchange, Clarkson said “we won’t get any complaints about this because the Mexican ambassador’s going to be sitting there with a remote control like this” – and he slumped down in his chair and faked a snore.

And that’s raised the offence seeking level to DEFCON 1 just fine.

The “outrageous, vulgar and inexcusable insults” risked stirring “bigoted feelings against the Mexican people”, the ambassador wrote.

No they don’t. Most people take these comments for what they are: schoolboy type banter for cheap laughs. It’s to be taken no more seriously than the Stig intros when they say he doesn’t understand stairs and once punched a horse to the ground. Or for that matter when they insult people from parts of Britain – I vaguely recall suggestions that people from Norfolk are so backwards they all stop and point when an aircraft flies over and that the West Country is fond of incest. Or some of the abuse they pile on your northern neighbours in the US. Nobody, with the obvious exception of the increasing numbers of professional offence seekers, treats it with any seriousness.

And even if they did risk, what was it again, “stirring bigoted feelings,” well so what? Just feelings, man. That’s all they are. Someone else’s feelings have never done me any harm, and I’m not quite sure I see how they can possibly affect a country much larger, nearly twice as populous and five thousand miles away from the UK. Feelings are as substantial as the breeze and affect someone only as much as they choose to let them. Even if you believe – and personally I doubt that you or any other offence seeker really does – that feelings and thoughts are somehow directly harmful it’s still incredibly unlikely to have any effect when the total number of Mexicans most British people have ever met hovers around zero. I’d even bet that a large majority can’t even name anyone from Mexico apart from Speedy Gonzales.

So true about the boy bands.

So no, Eduardo, this risks absolutely nothing of any substance happening at all. People are not really going to believe that all Mexicans are fat or lazy or wear blankets or eat sick with cheese on, they’re really not. In fact, and in some ways this ought to upset you more, most Brits watching the show probably wouldn’t think of Mexicans at all afterwards for the reasons I gave above: it’s far away and its people are rarely encountered by the average Brit. Or at least that’s what almost certainly would have happened, but of course now a lot of them will be thinking that the Mexican ambassador is thin-skinned and easily upset, and possibly wondering if that is typical instead.

It’s just a few words from some middle aged TV presenters on a poky British motoring show, not the fucking end of the world (that’s next year, isn’t it?). Harden the fuck up.

UPDATE – A point raised by the inestimable Mrs Exile: it really shouldn’t be all that difficult for Mexicans to laugh that off when they could simply point out that they were building the largest stone monuments ever at a time when Britons were still constructing huts out of twigs stuck together with shit. I think there may have been some cathedrals as well but I get her point.

We’re all doooooomed. Yet again.

Or so some say. However, I’m not going to rush out and blow every cent I have on every single legal and illegal high just to try them all before the whole place goes splat since one of them is the knobber responsible for Jar-Jar Binks.

Seth Rogen, a comedian and actor, said that he was left speechless by a recent conversation in which George Lucas, the producer of Star Wars and other Hollywood hits, told him of his belief that the world would end in 2012.

Rogen told the Toronto Sun: “George Lucas sits down and seriously proceeds to talk for around 25 minutes about how he thinks the world is going to end in the year 2012, like, for real. He thinks it.
“He’s going on about the tectonic plates and all the time Spielberg is, like, rolling his eyes, like, ‘My nerdy friend won’t shut up, I’m sorry …’

No, George. It won’t, but watching the six and a half hours of furniture advertising you called the Star Wars prequels all in one go might make it feel like the world is ending.

Nor is George Lucas the only one.

Actor Ashton Kutcher is preparing for the end and has ramped up his workout routine to protect his family.
“I’m going to be ready to take myself and my family to a safe place where they don’t have to worry,” he told Men’s Fitness. “All of my physical fitness regimen is completely tailored around the end of day,” he explained. “I stay fit for no other reason than to save the people I care about.”

And that extra fitness will come in handy, because when the sun rises on December 22nd it will no doubt shine down on Ashton Kutcher running around the shops doing all the Christmas shopping that he didn’t see any point in doing up ’til then. Never mind, Ashton. You’ll be able cheer yourself up by dropping the fitness kick, letting go and having extra Christmas pud instead.

Rapper Lil Wayne agrees with Lucas that 2012 will be the end of the world.
“The world is about to end in 2012,” he told Bender magazine. “The Mayans made calendars, and they stop at 2012 … The world is about to end as we know it.”

Yes, they made calendars. So what? Ryan Air, who trump the ancient Mayans by knowing how to fly in big metal tubes even if they’re not so clued up on landing the fucking things near the place you want to be, keep making calendars which stop at December 31st, but nobody – not Ryan Air and certainly not the Mayans – says that they believe this means the end of the world happens then. What they usually say is something like: “A little less clothing next year, please.” And I feel this is partly because there’s no logical reason it would, partly because, as Sadbutmadlad points out over at Anna Raccoon’s, apocalypse theories come and go but as far as accuracy goes they’ve not got a great track record, having so far predicted precisely square root of fuck all, and partly because the Mayans say all this is bullshit.

… the prophecies are news to the modern Maya of Guatemala and Mexico who use a different calendar system and are scornful of what they see as a sensational Western hijacking of their culture and traditions.
They believe that the end of the Long Count cycle – if it indeed does end in Dec 2012 – is simply the closure of one particular system of calendar measurement.
“There is no concept of apocalypse in the Mayan culture,” Jesus Gomez, head of the Guatemalan confederation of Mayan priests and spiritual guides, told The Daily Telegraph…

No doubt what will really happen on Dec 22nd next year is that George, Ashton, Lil Wayne and everyone else in the Make-Tom-Cruise-Look-Sane club who thinks that the ancient Mayans could predict the end of the world, even though if shown a block and tackle would have complained that it was too blunt to sacrifice anyone with, will convince themselves that the calculations are off and the end is coming later than thought. Doomsayers are known to do that sometimes. So here’s my prediction. In 698 days time when the world wakes up as normal up to 35,000 books are going to start to be re-written, possibly arguing that our stupid advanced society miscalculated the records of the wise and all-knowing Mayans and that they actually meant 2020, or 2062 or maybe even later.

Mark it in your calendars, folks.

Wrong, but at least honest.

I’ve just come across this anti-free trade campaign in the US, which is demanding barriers and protectionism so as to bring exported jobs back to the US from places such as China. I have to admit I did gape slightly at the idea that there are people who actually want their countrymen to have to pay higher prices for things and expected to find a denial that that would happen, but actually their FAQ is refreshingly honest about it.

Is stopping imports “Protectionism”?

Yes, absolutely. We have no other choice. This is the only way that we can “protect” the American worker from the onslaught of cheap imported goods.

I’m no economist but it seems to me like there is literally a price to be paid here, which is that it instead exposes the American consumer to an onslaught of expensive domestically made goods. This is relevant because American consumers and American workers are actually one and the same. The worker must sometimes buy things and the consumer must sometimes work, yes? In other words the people Jobs Back want to protect will be hurt in equal measure by the higher prices, and to be fair they admit this.

Without cheap imports, won’t goods cost more in the stores?

Yes, the sticker-prices will be higher for many items in stores. But, incomes will also rise
because of an economic boom..

Ah, so they want to protect inflation as well. Isn’t that what it’s called prices and wages both rise, making every unit of currency in the economy worth a less than it had been? Granted it will probably find an equilibrium at some point but in the near term at least this sounds inflationary. But Jobs Back claim it’s necessary and free trade harms them.

Why is “Free Trade” bad for the US economy? How does it cause jobs to be lost in the US?

With Free Trade, an American company can move a factory to China, hire cheap Chinese workers, and then bring the manufactured products back into the United States to sell at any price the Americans will pay.

“At any price the Americans will pay.” An important condition which Jobs Back swiftly forget about.

Once the factory has moved to China, the American factory worker no longer has a job.

But, common sense dictates that Americans need jobs in order to keep buying the cheap imported goods and products.

When American workers lose their well-paying jobs, they have no income. They are forced to look for a new job.

Many times, if they are lucky enough to get a new job, it is often a lesser-paying job.

The only way to keep buying at the same level is to use a credit card, refinance their house, etc. Even this is only a short term solution.

Eventually, the unemployed or underemployed worker will have to cut back on his or her spending, lowering their standard of living.

In other words the magic number that defines “any price the Americans are willing to pay” has just gone down. They said the company sells the imported goods at any price Americans are prepared to pay, and if that’s not as high as it used to be because of lower incomes… Well, surely if my income goes down 10% and general prices go down by a similar amount the standard of living doesn’t change? Surely it won’t until the price reaches a level where the factory in China can’t make a profit anymore and can no longer reduce it, at which point it’ll be worth making the product in the US again? As I said I’m not an expert but I generally find my standard of living is best when my money goes further, not when everything costs more. I feel Jobs Back are thinking in absolute dollar terms rather than what a dollar is worth in terms of goods and services.

Or maybe they’re just pissed off because the Chinese may turn out to be better capitalists.

How criminals and nutters can get around gun laws.

Lie.

In news story after news story, I see the claim over and over again that Jared Loughner legally obtained his Glock 19 9mm handgun from Sportsman’s Warehouse on November 30th, 2010.

This is false. Jared Loughner obtained his gun by means of a felony.

Sportsman’s Warehouse is a Federally licensed firearm dealer (FFL). They are required to obtain an ATF form 4473 for every firearm transaction they have. This form captures personal data about the purchaser, and that data is then used to preform a NICS (National Instant Criminal System) background check.

Jared Loughner lied on this form.

Question 11 – E on the current ATF Form 4473 is as follows:

Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, or narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance?

Loughner MUST HAVE answered “No” to this question in order to process the background check.

We know by the testimony of those close to him, Loughner was described as a “pothead” and was rejected by the US Army because of his admitted marijuana addiction.

It goes on to explain how the same application form clearly states that anyone answering yes is prohibited from buying a gun and that making a false statement is a felony. Sound familiar? It ought to to Brits: Thomas Hamilton, the man responsible for the Dunblane massacre, also lied on his firearms certificate application form.

At the time the police were supposed to check that the applicant was a member of an approved gun club which had suitable facilities for the type and calibre of gun being applied for, and that the applicant had shot there under supervision for a probationary period of at least three months, before granting a firearms certificate for handguns. Hamilton apparently lied on his first application – he was not a member of the club he named on his application and that club did not have an appropriate range for use with the calibre of gun for which Hamilton applied. He fucking lied and it could have been stopped there if anyone had made the appropriate checks. Hamilton would not have had a firearms certificate granted in the first place. Subsequent lies were told on subsequent applications and Hamilton was able to renew his right to keep guns time and again when cursory checks by the authorities would have given ample reason to withhold the renewal of a firearms certificate that should never have been granted in the first place.

Does it become legal simply because the paperwork was accepted? Does dishonesty when completing applications, particularly when failing to answer honestly is an offence, not negate the legal status? It normally would for passports and immigration visas, though of course that would only get you deported from practically everywhere apart from Britain, and I believe it would for something like a driving licence. So surely it would also apply for licences and permits for a firearm.

Yet the MSM would rather report that Loughner’s gun was legally held, just as they did in the UK with Hamilton.

Draw your own conclusions.

H/T to feline enumerator, Sam Duncan.