Sunday, April 30, 2006

If it looks human, it should have rights...

Spain's governing Socialist Party is promoting a controversial parliamentary initiative to grant rights to great apes on the basis of their resemblance to humans, news reports said on Wednesday. If the initiative is approved, it would make Spain one of the first countries to officially protect the rights of apes, said a spokesperson for the animal rights association Adda.

The socialists want to prohibit the "enslaving" of gorillas, chimpanzees, orang-utangs and bonobos. Spain would thus adhere to the international Great Ape Project, granting the animals the rights to life and freedom and to not being tortured. "We are not talking about granting human rights to great apes," but about "protecting (their) habitat, avoiding their ill-treatment and their use in various circus activities," environment minister Cristina Narbona explained.

No update on whether abortion rights are being questioned...

Don't point that thing at Mecca!

UK Jail bosses are rebuilding toilets so Muslim inmates don't have to use them while facing Mecca.

The Islamic religion prohibits Muslims from facing or turning their backs on the Kiblah - the direction of prayer - when they visit the loo. Muslim inmates claimed they have had to sit sideways on prison thrones. After pressure from faith leaders the Home Office has agreed to turn the existing toilets 90 degrees at HMP Brixton in London. The Home Office refused to reveal the cost of the new facilities - part of an "on-going refurbishment".

One Muslim former inmate said: "The least the Prison Service can do is make sure people can practise their religion correctly in prison." But a Brixton jail officer said: "If they didn't get locked up for committing crime they would not have this problem. Yet we have to sort out their loos. If we weren't paying for it as taxpayers I'd laugh my socks off." Around a quarter of prisoners at the Category B jail are Muslims.

Labour MP Khalid Mahmood said: "As far as I understand this rule only applies in a place of worship." Tory MP Ann Widdecombe said: "Some common sense needs to be applied."

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Hiatus

The hockey playoffs are on. Compiling a blog is on hold for a few days.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Ecochondriacs


As a keen climatology student in the early 1970's I dutifully quoted the peer-reviewed journals in their conclusions that the planet was doomed unless industry could be stopped from emitting all those particulates and aerosols which were blocking the sun's saving warmth from penetrating the atmosphere. One scientist took pains to demonstrate that no foreseeable amount of increased CO2 would be enough to offset the fatal trend that we were on.

A generation later, that same scientist and thousands like him have embraced the opposite "consensus", and I suppose if I looked long and hard enough I could find someone claiming in a peer-reviewed paper that no amount of emission of particulates and aerosols would be enough to offset the new, opposite fatal trend.

Adapt, move or perish. Those have been mankind's choices as the world's climate has cycled between cooling and warming, as it always has. The self-righteous ecochondriacs fantasize that if others would only embrace their prescribed brand of self-denial the planet would reach climatic equilibrium for the first time ever. Self-abasing guilt-ridden consumers and opportunistic politicians seem willing to substitute this new religion for the inconvenient old one of being good stewards mindful of the ten commandments. And why not? A little sacrifice on my part, perhaps nothing more than spending an extra $5000 on a hybrid SUV which will never recoup in fuel savings the extra money that I spent, and I can feel more holy than my neighbors, and do so publicly.

The futility of our little gestures is never calculated against the sheer volume of CO2 in the carbon cycle, the uncertainty in the climate models of everyday forcings such as cloud cover, changes in vegetation and water vapour, or the increased CO2 emissions that will accompany the use of coal from the 200 new coal mines China is opening in the next 5 years. The fact that the rate of temperature change in the last 30 years matches the rate of change that preceded the mid-century cooling anomaly is ignored.

Worshipping at the altar of climate change seems to require earnestness and genuine sacrifice, but the fruits of this religion will amount to nothing more than the satisfaction of having done something purely symbolic. Requiring genuine sacrifice for merely symbolic ends isn't much of a basis for public policy.

A couple of more cold winters in Europe and eastern North America will cool the global warming zealotry. I predict it will be replaced by fears of "extreme weather", fueled by clashes between warmer air over here caused by CO2, and colder air over there caused by particulates and aerosols. All bad weather can be blamed on this phenomenon, and so it will be.

Sadly, due to other societal changes we are running out of virgins to throw into the volcano.


Saturday, April 22, 2006

Australian greens in a pickle

Environmentalists in Australia are being forced to choose between climate change and protection of endangered species.

A fortnight ago federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell sparked a media frenzy when he blocked a proposed $220 million wind farm at Bald Hills in Victoria's Gippsland - ostensibly because it threatened the endangered orange-bellied parrot.

This story chronicles how wind power projects are stalled in the land down under, and growing demands for electric power will be met with new nuclear facilities.

Malaysian govt to define indecent behaviour

The Malaysian government is coming up with a clear definition of what constitutes an act of public indecency.

This comes after the Federal Court ruled that local authorities have the power to enact bylaws to prosecute those guilty of indecent public behaviour.

It all started with an arrest at the central park next to Kuala Lumpur's Petronas Twin Towers.

A young Chinese couple was allegedly caught holding hands and kissing and charged with breaking city bylaws which stipulate prosecution for indecent public behaviour.

The couple challenged the local authorities' power to enact such bylaws but Malaysia's highest court ruled in favour of City Hall.

Not surprisingly, the judgement sparked heated debate in the multi-racial country.

Even parliamentarians had mixed reactions to the incident. Some lawmakers support the couple's argument that local authorities should not take the law into their own hands.

"We already have Penal Code Section 377 which provides that it is an offence if you commit gross indecency in public or private places. I think that's sufficient," said opposition MP Fong Poh Kuan.

The minister in charge of local authorities has been asked to produce a clear definition of what constitutes an act of public indecency.

"We are a traditional and modern society, I think everything in moderation we have our culture here, our people are free but we live in a society. Here in Malaysia, we have freedom of religion and the right of community. So, whatever the decision government makes, it will take in to account all sensitivities," said Women, Family and Community Development Minister Shahrizat Abdul Jalil.

Some Malaysians feel that as Malaysia is a Muslim-majority country, behaviour that Muslims frown upon should also be discouraged among non-Muslims.

"Even if it's your wife, you're not supposed to hug passionately in public. In Islam you are not supposed to do that. Why? Because you are encouraging others to do it as they might not know that you are husband and wife," reasoned Alwi Mohamad, Kelantan MP.

As the country waits for the government to come up with the final definition on what constitutes an act of public indecency in a multi-racial and multi-cultural society, many among the non-Muslim community are voicing their concerns over the growing influence of Islam in their lives.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Dealing with that tiger in your garage

CAR owners can keep calm by parking their "tiger-like" vehicles facing away from their homes, a study of feng shui techniques for motorists suggests.

Drivers would also do well to sprinkle sea salt crystals inside their vehicles, and tie a blue ribbon around the rear view mirror, said the study from high-end British insurance provider Aon Private Clients.

Raymond Catchpole, an expert in the ancient Chinese art of feng shui, and chairman of Britain's Feng Shui Society, examined a Nissan Micra, a Volkswagen Passat, a Porsche Boxster and a Lexus SUV for Aon.

He came up with these tips:

  • Drivers should park their cars facing away from their homes as cars are "predatory tigers" and could threaten the occupants of a house if they are parked facing the building.
  • Clutter should be removed from a car as it "sucks the life force out of the driver".
  • To get rid of negative energy inside the car, which could affect the driver's mood, the owner should sit in the car and sing, clap their hands or play music.
  • Keep the windows clean. This allows chi energy to enter the car from outside. In feng shui terms, the windows are the eyes for the car.
  • Tie a small blue ribbon on the satellite navigation system or the rear view mirror. Blue represents the element of water, which in turn induces a perfect driving state of mind: clear, thoughtful, flowing and clear.
  • Sprinkle sea salt crystals on the carpets. They absorb passengers' negative energy and can be cleaned out regularly to take the negativity with them.

"It may seem unusual for our company to be interested in something like feng shui, but we believe it's worth investigating," said Ian Cullen, a director of Aon Private Clients.

"Feng shui is about the way in which our environment affects our behaviour and our mood – be it a building or a car. If some of the information in our report helps drivers keep calm and alert, then we feel it's a useful exercise."

It's official: Beans make you f*rt

It's a "factual reality" that beans make you break wind, South Africa's advertising watchdog has confirmed.

A TV advertisement for sweet onions showed a rugby player eating beans that made him smell "stinky."

The ad claims that "with sweet onions there are no tears, no burn and definitely no stink".

The country's Dry Bean Producers Organisation complained about the ad on the basis that the "stinky" charge was untrue, but the Advertising Standards Authority threw out the charge and said it was widely known that beans produce gas.

"It plays on an objectively determinable factual reality which cannot be denied," the ASA said on its website.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

William Gairdner on Atheism

I used to be a cocky atheist... So now whenever I hear a committed atheist say triumphantly, “I don’t believe in God!” I immediately ask: “How did you come by your faith?” After a bit of a stunned silence, and often also with a bit of a self-confident smirk, the fellow then says “What do you mean ‘my faith’? I just said I don’t believe in God.”

To which I reply: “Well, I believe in God, but I can’t prove He exists. And you don’t believe in God, and you can’t prove He doesn’t exist. So my point is that we are both arguing from a faith position." That is usually followed by an even longer silence, and then I say that what I want to know is: "How did you come by your faith?”

“What do you mean how did I come by my faith?" (Now my opponent is a little upset).

Well, I go on, I think existence is pretty close to a miraculous thing, and I have no natural explanation for it or for the universe itself, other than that it must have been the work of some almighty power the direct knowledge of which I am denied by my inadequate nature. That is my faith position.

You, on the other hand – I have heard you say this before – believe that the universe created itself from nothing, even though you cannot explain how something can come from nothing, and that life also created itself by some kind of chemical or biological necessity which you cannot demonstrate either. It’s all faith. And furthermore, I think it is far more bizarre than mine. For to believe that all sorts of miraculous things we cannot explain or replicate, from the incredible complexity of the single cell to our vast cosmos, simply sprang into being by themselves one day for no reason whatsoever, is a much crazier idea than to believe they were caused by some almighty agent. I understand why you call my faith primitive, and so on. But yours seems to me even worse - it is a belief in magic. At least I propose some possible cause, whereas when I ask you about causes you give me mumbo-jumbo about mathematical “singularities” in physics, and “pre-biotic soup.”

After all, you cannot even explain the difference between your own brain and your mind. What? Yes, I go on: the very instrument you are using to think, your brain, is a solid thing. But all day long it produces non-things we call ideas and feelings (what contemporary “philosophers of mind” call qualia, or qualities). Now tell me, how can a thing produce a non-thing? If I say, lift your little finger, and you do so, I then ask you how that is possible, and you say “it’s a nerve impulse traveling from my brain to my finger at so and so miles per hour.” But does the “nerve” itself simply decide to get up and travel? Or was it told to travel? And if so, who or what told it to do so? Was it another impulse? If you say yes, I deny that this is possible on the ground that a material thing cannot motivate another material thing to do anything. So it must have got started by a non-thing. In this case, by your Will. It’s the same with all existence, something willed it.

And then we go drink some beer together.

Link to original

I wish you all a reflective time at the foot of the cross, followed by a Happy Easter. Back next week...

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Spider-killing nudist burns buttocks

A RED-FACED Australian nudist who tried to set fire to what he thought was a deadly funnel web spider's nest ended up with badly burned buttocks, emergency officials said.

The 56-year-old man was at a nudist colony near Bowral, southwest of Sydney, when he spotted what he believed to be a funnel web spider hole.

Ambulance workers, including a helicopter crew, were called to the scene after the man poured petrol down the hole and then lit a match in an attempt to kill the offending arachnid. "The exploding gasoline fumes left the man with burns to 18 per cent of his body, on the upper leg and buttocks," the NRMA Careflight helicopter rescue service said in a statement.

"The fate of the bunkered spider was unknown, although other guests at the resort thought it was probably a harmless trapdoor spider and not a deadly funnel web," the statement added.

NRMA Careflight said it was called to a property in the same area in January when another man kicked a spider that was crawling up the wall of a friend's cabin. The man broke his leg in two places, it said.

Halfwise comment: "Buttocks?" Wouldn't he have been facing the hole when he lit the match? Yikes.

Is milk bad for you?

I was commenting on a climate change post over on Small Dead Animals when the analogy of "Dairy products are bad for you" occurred to me. I was challenged by another commenter, and produced this link in my defense.

Holy cow.

A little climate change debate

[As mentioned in the post above, from Small Dead Animals]

Conservatives just pretend to be confused by this stuff, right? I mean, after all, Albertans would be on welfare if not for Petrodollars, so its in their narrow self-interest to go around saying that the science is confused and the best bet is to keep pumping.

The idea that the effects of global warming might be counteracted by pumping certain kinds of (light reflective) particulates into the atmosphere is hardly new, nor the idea that as air pollution lessened the effects of global warming might be exacerbated. These are more like predictions of climatologists being born out by actual research than any "refutation" of the notion of global warming.

It isn't really that hard to understand. Neither is the idea that an increase in temperatures might, through various mechanisms, cause changes to the Gulf Stream that might bring colder weather to Europe and North America. In fact, there are historical precedents for just this occuring.

It's significant that Republican Pollster Frank Luntz claimed that the "science was closing the book" on the global warming issue as a political issue for Republicans. Basically, arguing against the reality of global warming is becoming alot like arguing for Intelligent Design. In fact, if you look at alot of the Conservative Think Tanks (in the U.S., they) "do" both Global Warming as myth and Intelligent design as science.

Posted by bigcitylib at April 8, 2006 11:54 AM

Bigcitylib,
There's a theory that milk causes health problems. Just in case it does, but without being really sure whether milk or something else is the cause, we should all stop drinking milk and eating dairy products. Dairy herds should be destroyed. Cheese should be disposed of safely.

Those who disagree with this strategy must be reviled for acting in their narrow self-interest, and accused of being in the pockets of the dairy industry if they point to any evidence countering the arguments of the true believers. And those whose health might suffer because they can no longer have dairy products should be grateful that they have the opportunity to sacrifice themselves to such a noble cause.

Please understand three truths about climate change. First, climate has always changed; it is a system of remarkable complexity. Second, according to IPCC scientists, nothing in the Kyoto accord will have any measurable effect on the rate of warming. Third, if you imagine a world in which CO2 is not emitted from human sources, you have just described a planet without people.

What is 'hard to understand' about climate - at least for me - is that facile theories which reduce its genuine complexity down to a sound bite or two are taken so seriously by so many otherwise intelligent people. I can only conclude that Mother Nature is replacing God as an object of societal worship. And why not? We can feel as if we are appeasing this new god by actions we can take individually, and we can feel superior to non-believers without actually sacrificing very much. She doesn't demand much from us in terms of intrusive commandments that limit our rights to self-expression.

The environment deserves to be treated with respect. Please do not confuse CO2 with actual pollutants. It is a sad irony that the Kyoto Accord has served to divert so much attention and funding from genuine environmental problems, the solution of which would change lives today.

Posted by Halfwise at April 8, 2006 02:07 PM

The one certainty is that no one can be 100% sure that:

1. global warming is a long-term trend

2. That it is caused by man-made factors.

Those who assert pro or con to be absolute fact (suzuki et al) are not scientists but preachers of intolerant political dogma.

Posted by Gord Tulk at April 8, 2006 02:09 PM

Dear Halfwise,

Produce for me some theory that says milk causes health problems. Otherwise admit that the first half of your post is bullshit.

As for the otherwise intelligent people, well most of us have some scientific training, or are at least willing to defer to those who have scientific training. The leader of the anti-global warming forces right now happens to be a bad sci fi writer, who in the past has argued that feminists secretly rule the workforce and that the Japanese are coming to take over America.

Your point about CO2 and pollutants is well taken. Global warming is not our only environmental problem.

Posted by bigcitylib at April 8, 2006 02:24 PM

Bigcitylib,
I don't believe the dairy-is-bad argument, but lots of people seem to. Check out http://www.notmilk.com/milkatoz.html for a list of afflictions (A to Z) blamed on milk, and the various papers cited for the causality.

I studied climatology in the 1970s when the big deal in all the refereed journals was anthropogenic global cooling, and I paid enough attention to graduate in a related field. I know that Crichton gets press, for being as media savvy as some of the global warming types, but he is hardly the 'leader' of any research - this is about science not politics, or at least it should be. Research should just happen; my suspicion is that research IS being led, but sadly, led by funding which is conditional on reporting a preconceived 'right' answer that aligns with the ideology of the funding source.

Here is a quote that provides a different perspective:
"Global warming is not equivalent to climate change. Significant, societally important climate change, due to both natural- and human- climate forcings, can occur without any global warming or cooling."

You can find reasoned non-Crichtonian research all over the place, performed by people who set aside the dogma of the global warming alarmists and get down to the real science. May I suggest http://climatesci.atmos.colostate.edu/, the source of the quotation above.

Bigcitylib, let me say thank you for at least taking the time to engage in a discussion about this. I wish more people would.

Dear Halfwise,

Let me just focus on one thing, your claims re
"anthropogenic global cooling". You're quite right, in the '70s there were a number of scientists who felt that the planet might be getting colder, perhaps because of an increase in industrially emitted particulates. This was advanced as a hypothesis, and was fairly quickly disproven. That's how science often works. There was an interesting article in the New Scientist about a month ago where one of the scientists who advanced this hypothesis back in the 70s(Sorry, don't have a link and can't remember the name)complained that this was now taken to be evidence against global warming. He long ago changed his views and has now joined the concensus view.

On the other hand, I myself first heard the term "Global Warming" in one of Ursula K. Le Guin's novels (maybe "The Left Hand of Darkness")from the 1970s. It entered the Global conciousness in the late 80s, and since that time the ranks of legitimate dissenters like your Pielke has diminished. That's also how science works.

Can't write more today. Am currently working on a post about the Best Rock Band on the Planet back at my Blog. Come see for more details.

Posted by bigcitylib at April 8, 2006 08:23 PM

Bigcitylib,
I'm in favor of debate, and don't mind being on the 'minority' side on this one, since climate doesn't respond to polls regardless of their outcome.

In this debate I'm not even so sure about the minority vs majority numbers - in the late 1990s over 19,000 scientists signed the Oregon Petition challenging the so-called consensus that you refer to.

We could debate the cause of global warming based on examining its rate. The rate of arctic warming over the last three decades is virtually the same as the rate of arctic warming over the first 4 decades of the 20th century, before that 30 year cooling period whose cause remains troublesomely elusive. If increased anthro CO2 is the driver of warming, I would expect that rate to have accelerated not remained the same. This is the kind of evidence that makes me doubt the self-assured conclusions about the cause of warming.

But my real problem with the Kyoto machine is the fact that WHATEVER we do about 'global warming', it will amount to nothing more than a symbolic gesture. The claimed benefit of full compliance with Kyoto won't even be measurable.

I can't help but conclude that something other than objective reality is driving this mass movement. Hence my thoughts about the new religion of Mother Earth worship. Mankind seems hardwired to feel guilty about stuff, and offer sacrifices while seeking forgiveness, all the while looking around to see whether we are being more holy than our fellow sinners. For me, those instincts ought to be directed towards Someone with a better track record than a bunch of climate scientists and their models.

Posted by Halfwise at April 8, 2006 08:55 PM


Friday, April 07, 2006

Rampaging hippos

(who could resist a headline like that!?) This story ties together subsidies, fuel allowances, national symbols and claims against the government of Zimbabwe for not doing enough. It's a victimfest!!

HARARE - Rampaging hippopotamuses have destroyed crops of resettled and communal farmers in Masvingo in the past few weeks, Zimbabwe's Herald newspaper reported. It said some farmers had now lost all hope of harvesting anything this season.

"In some of the plots the animals destroyed almost all the crops and now we do not know how we are going to repay the loans that we got last year to finance farming programmes," said farmer Emmanuel Matuma.

Affected farmers accused the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority of not doing enough to tame the hippos. "We have been informing the parks people about the problems here but they never came here as they were arguing that they did not have fuel," said Charles Dzingirayi of Zano.

"We are now demanding compensation for our destroyed crops,"

Wildlife management spokesman Edward Mbewe ruled out paying any compensation to the affected farmers saying the authority was not liable to compensate farmers.

"Hippos are our national heritage like other wild animals and there is nothing which ties us to compensate those farmers whose crops were destroyed by these animals. Only last week, we actually shot one hippo in the area and this really shows our desire to contain the situation but we cannot be everywhere at the same time."

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

This is grisly

The most senior British agent to have been exposed for spying inside Sinn Fein was found dead at his remote hideaway April 5 with two bullets in his head, and his right hand nearly severed.

Denis Donaldson was found murdered in the cottage in County Donegal where he had been living since he was exposed as a British spy last December.

The Provisional IRA said in a statement yesterday it was not responsible for killing Donaldson, but suspicion will inevitably fall on the organisation, of which he was a former senior member.

Ian Paisley, leader of the hardline Democratic Unionist Party, said "I have heard his hand was chopped off in this murder. We don't know who has done this, but the finger must be pointed towards those who were angry at what this man had done."

Halfwise comment:
I do wish Mr. Paisley had used some other turn of phrase.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Kuala Lumpur: a big no-smooching zone

The Federal Court of Malaysia has ruled that local governments have the authority to outlaw public hugging and kissing. The case was appealed to the high court by a couple who were charged late one afternoon in 2003 in City Centre Park.

The couple believes they were charged because they failed to properly bribe the policemen who arrested them, but based their appeal on challenging Kaula Lumpur's jurisdiction to enact the bylaw.

The debate surrounding the ruling pits Muslim voices of "how proper societies should behave" against non-Islamic proponents of personal freedom.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Non-Muslim police forced to wear headscarf


IT WAS an unusual sight last month when non-Muslim police recruits donned the Islamic headscarf for a parade during Malaysia's Police Day celebrations.

Ms R. Ratnacristinavany, 19, a Hindu, told the Star newspaper that she did not mind because it was for an official function, and she had had her orders. A Christian, Ms Katherine Minis Kueh, 21, described it as 'only a piece of cloth'.

But although they appeared not to mind, their new dress code has become a bone of contention among non-Muslim MPs who say it is an imposition of religious values.

Inspector-General Bakri Omar had issued a circular making it compulsory for all female officers to wear the headscarf, or tudung, during marchpasts, graduations and the National Day parade.

Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi has come out in support of the dress code. Speaking at the Police Day celebrations on March 25, he said the tudung was compulsory only because it had been made part of the parade uniform.

Halfwise comment:
Canadians will remember the fuss over whether Sikh Mounties could wear a turban in place of the uniform's Stetson. Clearly, not all societies deal with this sort of issue the same way.