Friday, November 26, 2004

Summer is a-Coming In...

Sumer is icumen in,
Lhude sing, cuccu!,...'
In these parts, summer officially starts on Dec 1. Unofficially, a weather presenter once confided that Melbourne actually has 5-6 distinct seasons, without being specific (as if 4 in a day wasn't enough!)

For me, the transition from late spring to summer is marked, as it was last night, by a warm, balmy evening, with a few stars showing in a deep sapphire sky.

And the first chorus of cicadas.

I have heard that these little fellows are the biggest noise polluters of the insect world. I'd believe it... you don't want to be near a bush when even one of them strikes up.
And, taking their cue from the temperature changes, they all tend to strike up together.

As I've previously mentioned, Melbourne has been suffering from a drought for the last few years. Conditions this year have been better: the garden actually has some green, and the reservoirs are above 60% capacity for the first time in four years.

Another heartening sight: at the Warrigal Rd. exit ramp where I turn off the freeway to go home, there is an embankment where a lot of young eucalypts have been planted. Earlier this year, a fire seemed to have killed the lot off. However, they're all showing green again.

There's a way to go yet, but things are looking up.
'Sing cuccu nu, sing cuccu!
Sing cica da, sing cica!'

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Nice People...

This week's New Scientist (Nov 20, 2004) calls for a rather strong stomach; it had a special report on interrogation techniques and the effect it can have on the 'interviewee'.
If you've seen any of the Abu Nidal candid cam shots, you'll know what to expect.

As with all things, the definition of 'torture' appears rather malleable: no laying on of hands, or boots, apart from a few bracing slaps (indeed, we don't much like to use the 'T' word these days). Still, I can assure you that it would NOT be a pleasant experience.
Seems like there are paying jobs for clinical psychopaths after all... (a tough job, but someone's gotta do it!)
Once you've read that, you can find Amnesty International's website here.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Mappy Happy

'He who is not with me is against me...'
Following the US election, a number of people were commenting on the state level voting patterns, showing maps of the US states coloured a solid red and blue. It led to a few (generally tongue in cheek) suggestions that the west coast and NE should secede to Canada, and leave the bible belt to its own devices.
'When I was a child, I thought as a child...'
While a lot of this discussion was light hearted, and not intended to be taken seriously, it did display the level of simplistic black and white (red and blue?) thinking which has been put about recently.

Robert Winston, in his excellent series on the Human Body, pointed out that it is children who tend to view things in this manner; only when we achieve puberty do we start to appreciate that 'straightforward' issues may have more subtle aspects to them. (In the spirit of that observation, I must say that it's presenting a sharper edge to the case than is justified. Some children are quite capable of thinking through difficult moral issues. On the other hand, some of us never do manage it.)
'Now I am man, I think as a man...'
Back to those maps. You know what they say about lies, damn lies, and statistics? David Brin pointed out that a closer look at the voting spread could be found here.

It takes population density into account, breaks down the results by county, and displays the scale of the votes in varying shades of red and blue.

The result shows three things:
  • The actual mix of votes is a lot more evenly distributed: even 'devout' Bush (or, for that matter, Kerry) country is nowhere near pure red (or blue).
  • If there is any cut in the voting pattern, it is more a case of urban and country dwellers.
  • Seceding to Canada isn't a solution.
This made me reflect that it is the 'bible belters' who are usually depicted as having a one-eyed, simplistic world view. I thought it ironic that most of these maps were presented by people bewailing the Bush victory.

So, ladies and gentlemen of the 'back paddock', I suggest we all discover our contrast buttons, and learn to think in shades of grey.

...or purple!

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

In Future: Vote Early, Vote Often!

The electronic voting systems used in the recent US elections have been coming in for a serve concerning the lack of verification they provide (confidential systems closed to independent scrutiny, links to GOP etc.)

While I don't think the degree of rigging was particularly high (or the Democrats and > 49% of the American voters would be having conniptions), there is clearly an issue of public accountability here.
Who do you trust - for a voting system that's clearly fair and above board?
It occurs to me that this is something that's begging for an open source initiative!
Update (Nov 17): A quick Google turns up this year old 'Wired' review of eVACS, which is (hoist swaggies) an Australian product. Who sez America is democracy's last, best hope?
While e-voting may be full of furballs at the moment, think about the ease of voting it could provide to the voter, and take a look ahead.

How often do you get to exercise your democratic rights? Once every three/four years? OK, maybe that's still too frequent for some! But really, Is that truly democracy?

If ease of voting (and assessment) was available, people could vote on a wider range of issues.
Maybe they could vote on the bills being passed.
Maybe (sotto voce) they could do away with government?
(it's OK, all you Home Security lurkers, this is a speculation on evolution, not revolution!)
As an interesting example, the Brazilian firm Semco has, over the past 25 years, been experimenting with a level of corporate democracy that is unheard of. They seem to be doing pretty well, too. If 'true' democracy can be made to work at that level, maybe it can scale up to a national level, as well.

If parliament and the judiciary are one evolutionary step onward from tyrrany and the divine right of kings, perhaps it's time to contemplate one more.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Trampling the Daisies

So, we hear that Fallujah is 'all but liberated' from the militants, do we?

We also hear that said militants have dispersed to other parts of Iraq (living to fight another day)

And we also hear, from aid agencies, that conditions for civilians trapped in Fallujah are 'hell on earth'.

Oh, there's a lot of dust to settle yet from this weeding operation, and I'm sure that the US marines are proceeding with all due care and attention, despite having to deal with a horde of yokels with no such restrictions!

Nevertheless, when the dust does settle, I think that we'll find that a lot of daisies will have been trampled in the process.

Trampled, apparently, by marine boots.

And, I think, when history comes to view this affair, that that will have been the entire point.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Interlude: Three Months on

Well, waddya know? I posted my first blog just over three months ago!

As I recall, my reasons for starting this little exercise was to give myself a place to let off steam and let some of my thoughts run their course. That, and to get myself out of a rut at work.

What's happened since then?

Well, work's not quite as dire as it was three months ago: I've actually got something to do (not much, and I suspect there's a nasty surprise coming next week, but it'll do for now)

Depression makes one feel very insignificant and worthless. It tends to make you lock yourself away and stagnate. Not that I think I was that down in the first place, and spring weather has got to help, but I think the act of writing something forces the cogs to turn, and clears the blockages (unrelated reference to last posting)

Once I started, I found I had a lot more to say than I realised. I started off intending to write about anything that took my fancy, and am surprised at how political a number of my pieces have been. Probably a sign of the times.

Though I sez it myself, looking back at my entries, the results have been generally quite literate; even going so far as indulging in a bit of poetry. Oh, I'm not about to launch into a new career as a writer, and some of the stuff I've put down down is a truly ramblin' amble in need of an editor's lash. I can only plead the Pascal defense:
'I have made this [letter] longer, because I have not had the time to make it shorter.'
- Blaise Pascal

Otherwise, I think the key to a good blog entry is: keep it brief and to the point.

Indulging in a pastime like this, it's interesting to see how others go about it. Using the 'Next Blog' provides a random window onto what else is going on in the Blogosphere. Most of it's fluff: of interest only to the writer and confidantes. On the other hand, that's how I stumbled across 'News from Baghdad'.

I have found Tim Bray's ongoing narrative an inspiration in terms of both quality and quantity. How does he blog on about anything and everything, and still hold a full time job down?

What next? I suppose I could go and try my hand at the nanowrimo 'novel in a month' competition...nah! Not enough time. Besides, my word count in a week would have to equal my word count in the past three months!

Plus, I've still got those photos to publish!

And, to the speculative future sifter of the detritus of history who is plodding through these jottings? Other than the occasional nod, I shall ignore you.

After all, I think that is what you would want!

Monday, November 08, 2004

Goin' Down the Drain

An allegory could be made but, surprisingly, this isn't about last week's US election.
This is about drains, pure and simple...

Well, OK! Skip the pure bit. Our drains are a bit of a labyrinth, with no less than 5 households involved (prospective buyers of older dwellings take note!), and have been giving us intermittent trouble over the last 4-5 years. In the past, the suspicion has been a pen that some inquisitive junior has flushed away.

Things came to a head again (literally) a couple of weeks ago when it blocked up just before we went away for the weekend. Ominous gurgles from the latrine... you get to know the sound. One plumber call, and a few shekels later, and things seemed much improved...

However, the theme continued when we arrived at the place we were staying. the toilet was in a dark little room, with a noisy exhaust and an even noisier flush. The blockage, this time, was Little Missy, who categorically refused to use the 'noisy toilet', and reverted to disposable nappies.

Sea, sand, and a badly soiled nappy => 1 bad case of nappy rash. Other than that, a good time was had by all.

Meanwhile, at the drains back home: we get another blockage a week later (and again, with near perfect timing, on an evening just before a public holiday: Melbourne Cup, all those horses must mean something..!). Ominous latrine gurglings don't make a good accompinament to supper.
This time, the blockage was further down, into council territory (but the plumber decided to trespass for the common good). He recommended that we get a camera in to inspect the pipe, as the drop had a suspicious flex in it, and there could be a break. Haven't done it yet.

Now flash forward to last weekend. Having installed a couple of rainwater tanks in response to the drought that's been ongoing for the last few years, we have been experiencing a veritable deluge for the last week or two. I noticed that water was pouring out of the top of both tanks => the overflow was blocked. I investigated at the weekend during an unusual dry spell and, yes, some scum had clogged up the mesh. Clearing it was just a matter of rubbing one's finger across the mesh. Worked for the second tank too, except... what's all this water gushing 'round my feet?
Turns out that the stormwater drain to the street was also blocked solid by a meter or two of earth that has built up over who knows how many years! Shoved a broomstick up as far as I could, and still no joy. Looks like a job for a high pressure hose.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

...and America follows?

... That is, I suspect that Bush was Bin Laden's choice. But that's not to say that his recent little video stunt had much effect on the outcome of the US election.

Read the fine print: all the other issues people voted on, and voted on regardless of Al Qaeda propaganda. It sounds like conservatism would have been in the driver's seat good and proper, regardless of Sep 11.

Not all America took a jump to the right. It was a small but effective majority. I hope that the large minority who will probably now feel alienated for another four years can grit their teeth, and let the circus grind on. After all, the large minority were bound to be disappointed!

I hope it won't the trainwreck, that Len predicts. But if it is, I'm mindful that Australia re-hitched itself as the caboose a couple of weeks ago.

Meanwhile, I suggest that all those democrat minded folk out there take Fred Astaire's advice:
Pick yourself,
dust yourself down,
start all over again.
...Well, OK! Maybe in a day or two. Meanwhile, find a nice, friendly blog to kick!

...And hope the dance floor's still there, come next time.

Whilst we're using dance themes for analogies, I find the words to the chorus of the 'Time Warp' horribly apt:
It's just a jump to the left
And then a step to the right
put your hands on your hips
and bend your knees in time
But it's the pelvic thrust
That really drives you insane
Let's do the Timewarp again
Let's do the Timewarp again

Time to wind down...

Monday, November 01, 2004

Bin Laden Votes!?

So, in the tradition of halloween and the spirit of privilege supposedly afforded the Bin Laden clan (if you're a Moore conspiracy buff), the right horrible Osama Bin Laden has risen up in a recent video, and placed his support for...?

Well, on the face of it, he's given Bush the thumbs down.

But, remember, there are layers to this guy: he knows full well what his standings are in the US hustings, and surely knows that 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend'.
As I've mentioned previously, I think that Bush has a pretty good record of following Bin Laden's script to date, and I'm sure that Bin Laden would prefer to maintain a known and predictable quantity in the white house.
Saying 'boo!' and shaking his fist at GWB is bound to enhance the latter's standing in the minds of the US voters.

Or will it?

The timing of this video, on the eve of the election, is certainly no accident. A lot of people have commented on that, and have followed the same reasoning I have.

Who's right? How many layers are there to this message?

Ultimately, the thing to remember about Bin Laden is that what he wants is unlikely to be in the best interests of the US. So, my advice to any US voters who stumble across this posting before election day is to ignore his nibship. Ignore his threats, his comments. Put him from your mind when you vote.

Vote, and vote as you will!