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Fascinating And Sad

That could be the headline for a story about Michael Jackson, but it isn’t.

There is an interesting and moving story here of the women’s orchestra at Auschwitz.

In August 1943, the Austrian musician Alma Rose was coincidentally discovered at the experimental medical station. She was named as the new conductor, despite the fact that she was Jewish. The thirty-seven-year-old violin virtuoso was the daughter of Arnold Rose and the niece of Gustav Mahler.

Rose’s fellow prisoners described her as an extremely charismatic woman. The SS treated Rose with respect, often referring to her as Frau Alma (Mrs. Alma). From the beginning, Rose was the protégé of Hoessler and
Mandl. They placed an entire barrack at the musicians’ disposal for their personal and work use. Alma Rose was even allowed to exchange the old instruments for newer ones with better tone; she herself was given a particularly valuable instrument.

Through diplomatic maneuvers, Rose was slowly able to obtain better living conditions for all members of the orchestra. Each woman had her own relatively clean cover, straw mattress, sheet, and slept on her own plank bed. The musicians were able to wash daily and use the provisional toilet.

Nonetheless, music was forced labour, and Rose died before the war ended, probably by poisoning.

But music was also a means of survival, both in the sense of providing some security or (minimal) protection when surrounded by sudden death and unsepakable horror, and as way of finding hope and humanity and beauty.

Numbers Prove Nothing

Numbers can prove lots of things. But not in the case of supposed election fraud in Iran.

Bernd Beber and Alexandra Scacco’s  Washington Post story of statistical anomalies seems at first read to prove the Iranian election was a fraud. I would have been happy to have been convinced. Sadly (because having that proof would have made complaints of a lack of concern for democracy against the government of Iran much stronger) the numbers prove nothing of the sort.

John Graham-Cumming explains (from a statistician’s point of view) why the Washington Post’s analysis is faulty. I found his article hard going in places (I did stats at university when I studied psychology, but only one semester).

Hannah Devlin’s article on Times Online is a bit easier to follow.

This doesn’t mean the election was OK. I still think it probably was not. It just means statistics based on oddities in the count are not going to give us a definitive answer.

Cap And Trade US Self-Sabotage Bill Passed

Possibly the most monumental piece of economic lunacy ever proposed by any government anywhere (and I include the collectivisation of farms in Stalinist Russia) has passed through the US Congress.

This despite the fact that members of congress could not have read the bill for the simple reason that no complete, updated copy existed at the time of the vote. (Via Hyscience). As David Freddoso points out, global warming is apparently so urgent that politicians do not even have time to know what they are voting for.

Senator James Inhofe is not a brilliant speaker. But he is a clear thinker who does his homework. This video of his speech to the US senate illustrates the horrifying cost of this utterly pointless scheme. His criticisms apply  equally well to Australia’s equally disastrous proposed Cap and Tax legislation:

In related news, Polar Bear expert Mitchell Taylor has been told by the global warming alarmists preparing for the Copenhagen conference that because his research does not support the cause, his views are not helpful, and he is not welcome.

Copenhagen is not a science conference, it is a religious revival meeting.

Trading Stocks

Some tips from someone who has never made any money out of shares.

But I bet it is as good as any advice you will get from a broker or multi-thousand dollar charting package.

1.  Unless you invest in blue-chip stocks and plan to leave your money in the same stocks for years, trading in stocks is gambling. As in any form of gambling, don’t put in more than you can afford to lose.

2.  Buy when everyone else is selling, sell when everyone else is buying. The same applies to real estate.

3.  Stocks at historic low prices may be a great investment if the company is financially sound. But keep in mind, dead cats don’t bounce.

4.  Don’t panic over minor day to day price variations.

5. Low value stocks (penny stocks) may give high profits. If you invest $1,000 in a stock at 2c and it goes up 1c, you have made $500. But if it goes down 1c, you have lost $500.

6.  Tracking stock price cycles through charting is a bit like following the racing form guide. Don’t put any more faith in it than that. It isn’t science.

7.  Despite all the above, if you watch the news, think about what is happening in the world, what the weather is doing (this affects grain and exploration, amongst other things), and where the cycles are in stock prices (both general trends and the price cycle for the particular stock you are considering), it possible to make a better return on capital trading stocks than any other legitimate investment.

Farah Fawcett And Eternal Life

I never paid much attention to Farah Fawcett. I wasn’t fond of Charlie’s Angels, and when I did watch it, enjoyed Kate Jackson more.

Farah was indeed beautiful, and was an actress of considerable ability. But those are not the most important things about who she was.

Years ago I watched Brideshead Revisited with Jeremy Irons and Laurence Olivier. I had read the book as a teenager and loved it. The series was as good as the book – and that is saying something.

The climax of the story is when Lord Marchmain, who has violently rejected the Catholic faith in which he was raised, is lying on his death bed, and at the last moment, makes the sign of the cross.

That scene brought tears to my eyes. It told us that hope and redemption were possible, only a step away, no matter how far we might have strayed.

Now watch this video news story about Farah Fawcett:

Tears again, even though I did not know her. Hope and redemption and joy.

The most important thing about Farah Fawcett was that she was a woman of faith.

Rest eternal grant to her, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon her.

Nothing Changes In Iran

After two weeks of protests over the possibly rigged re-election of Iranian President Imanutjob in which twenty people were killed and hundreds arrested, things are back to normal in Iran.

Irans’ supreme executive body, Guardian Council, has refused to annul the elections. A spokesman for the council said they were “among the healthiest elections ever held in the country”.

Given Iran’s history, that may well be true.

G8 foreign ministers have issued a statement saying they intend to write a letter saying how angry they are.

Oh, sorry. I was almost right. The statement says they deplore the post-election violence, and urge Iran to resolve the crisis through democratic dialogue.

Seinfield should find out who their writer is and give him a job.

Meanwhile President Obama has issued a stern warning that if the violence keeps up, he may be forced to consider using adverbs.

But there are some possible positives:

Regardless of any change in Iranian domestic politics, the crackdown could influence the Middle East by undercutting public support for Islamist groups and perhaps by pushing others to reevaluate their ties with the country.

The scenes of Muslims being killed by other Muslims for voicing their beliefs will “weaken the argument of Islamists in the region who have been holding Iran up as a model,” Palestinian analyst and pollster Ghassan Khatib wrote in the online publication Bitterlemons.org. “The damage is irreversible regardless of the outcome” and could affect debate within Palestinian society divided between Hamas and the more moderate (read, slightly less nasty) Fatah movement.

And then, like Neville Chamberlain, Barack Obama may begin to realise that being nice to dictators does not mean that they will be nice to you.

Michael Jackson Dead

Michael Jackson has died of a heart attack. he was fifty. The same age as me.

He was a bit of a Peter Pan, always seeming young, despite the ghastly plastic surgery.

The last several years have been difficult for him, with accusations of child abuse followed by declining income.

People with high public visibility are easy targets. An accusation of child abuse is enough to destroy a career.

This gives money seeking predators enormous power. All that is needed is to arrange for a child to be alone with the star for a few minutes, and that is enough to have a basis for blackmail.

‘Give me $2 million or I’ll go to the police.’

Because there is no way to prove something did not happen, and people are so willing to believe the worst, it may seem easier for a high profile personality to pay the money. Then if that gets out, the celebrity magazines take it as proof of guilt.

Of course some celebrities really are drug abusing, child molesting monsters. I don’t think it is fair to Michael to assume he was – there is not enough evidence to make that judgment.

But there is enough evidence to be thankful for his contribution to music and dance.

It became fashionable to dislike his music after ‘Bad’ (which really wasn’t). But you only have to watch the videos of ‘Beat It’  (from ‘Thriller, the biggest selling album of all time) or ‘Black or White’ (the biggest selling single of the nineties), to realise that he was an entertainer who was genuinely creative, and genuinely entertaining.

Requiscat in Pace.

Obama, Iran, Inspectors General

I am not sure that some of the criticism directed at President Barack Obama over his reticence to comment on the Iran election is entirely fair.

He can reasonably comment on the brutal suppression of dissent, and he has recently done so.

But given the lack of clarity about the election result, and the West’s history of poor understanding of popular feeling in Iran, it seems wisest to restrain (as Obama has done) from making any public statements questioning the way the election was run, or its result.

Some organisations have claimed there is evidence the election was fixed. They might be right. But without clear evidence, claims that this is so by governments are likely to do more harm than good.

Whether we like it or not, Imanutjob is a popular figure in Iran, not least because he is percieved to have stood up to the US. For the US to interfere, even to make public comment, is as likely to strengthen conservative elements in Iran as to give comfort to the protestors and others who want a more liberal regime.

Meanwhile, violence continues, and Iran makes progress towards the development of nuclear weapons.

On the other hand, Obama deserves far more criticism than he has so far received for the sacking of Inspector General Gerald Walpin.

Inspectors General have wide powers to investigate corruption, and are supposed to be free from the threat of politcally based dismissal. The president is obliged to give an IG 30 days notice, and to advise Congress of specific reasons for a dismissal. Obama did neither of those things.

Gerald Walpin was investigating possible misue of charity funds by a major Obama campaign donor. He was doing his job. He was fired. As far as I can tell, this story, which broke  a week ago, has only appeared on Fox News and on right-wing blogs. Why?

Children At Work, Infants In The Senate

Kathy and I cared for foster children over a number of years, including babies and toddlers.

I well understand the diffculties of blending work and the responsibilities of caring for children. There are a number of worksplaces and public facilties which are not supportive of people with children. Whether it is appropriate to expect that they should be or need to be is another question.

The Australian Federal Parliament is not a child-unfriendly place.

The work that senators do is serious. They review legislation which potentially affects the lives and well-being of every Australian. They are paid well to do so. Parliament is set up so they can do their work in an atmosphere free from distactions and unnecessary annoyances.

Senators come from all walks of life. I am glad that amongst the business men and women, unionists and career politicians, there are some people with young children.

As well as personal staff, members of parliament have access to tax-payer funded child care services, and quiet rooms where they be with their children without disrupting discussion in the house, where they can hear any debate, and from where their vote can be recorded.

So with all this support, and other options available, why did Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young insist on taking her two year old daughter Kora into the Senate chamber?

As Wendy Hargreaves pointed out in yesterday’s Herald Sun:

Infantile screaming is nothing new to our Federal Parliament. Political bawlers come in all ages and political colours.

But this week’s wah-wah effort by Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young takes political mewling to an all-time low …

It’s not enough that they make us feel guilty for turning on a heater. Now they’re sending the Senate into a guilt trip for refusing infants.

This isn’t a play centre. This is the Upper House of Australia’s Federal Parliament.

Australian parents know the difficulty and the cost of arranging child care, and the pain of leaving a child to be looked after by someone else. They do it day after day without complaining.

By all means let Senator Hanson-Young take her daughter to Canberra. And to parliament if she cannot organise anything else.

But please Senator, don’t tell us you are hard done by if you don’t follow the rules, and won’t use the resources we pay for to help you do your job.

To Wasting Billions Of Dollars, Fielding Says No

Senator Steve Fielding says he believes it would be irresponsible for any member of parliament to vote for the Australian Federal Government’s carbon emission trading scheme, given that it will cause substantial damage to the economy, and that the environment minister and her chief scientific advisor are unable to answer simple questions about the causes and extent of climate change, and the effect on climate of the proposed legislation.

In related news, local councils are saying that a carbon tax of $20 per ton will add $344 million per year to their operating costs. If that money cannot be raised from rate-payers or additional government grants, there will be drastic reductions in council services.

That will bite hard. Local government is the level of government in which most people are least interested, but which arguably has the greatest impact on day to day life – provision of local roads, community facilities, parks, street lighting, libraries, etc.

This Cap and Tax Maze from the Carbon Sense Coalition illustrates the questions that would need to be answered before the legislation could responsibly be enacted:

Cap and Tax Maze
Cap and Tax Maze

Added to all this is the fact the proposed legislation won’t even come into effect until 2011. There is plenty of time to do more research, to ask more questions, to consider the costs of the scheme and other options more carefully.

So why is the government in such a rush to ram it through before the end of this week?

Wives Becoming More Violent?

I seriously doubt it.

This article in today’s Australian points to a 159% increase in the number of women facing dometic violence charges over the last eight years as an indicator that women are becoming more violent.

It is more likely simply that police and care groups are beginning to take complaints made by men about domestic violence more seriously.

For a long time I have been concerned about campaigns which say something like ‘To violence against women, Australia says no.’  Why single out women in particular? Is violence against everyone else OK?

Such campaigns are based on the assumption that violence aginst women needs to be targeted because women are more frequently the victims of violence. But this is simply untrue. Outside the home, men are far more likely to be victims of violence than women.

But what about inside the home?

There is a vast body of research to show that women are just as likely as men to be perpetrators of domestic violence as men. There is a substantial online bibliography collected by Martin Fiebert of the Department of Psychology at California State University. Some research suggests that women are more likely to be the initiators of violence, and are more likely than men to use a weapon against their partner or children.

Erin Pizzey, the pioneer of shelters for victims of domestic abuse, points out that research suggests violence is a learned behaviour. When children see adults using violence as a means to resolve disagreements they learn those behaviours, whether the violence is used by male or female or both.

Women’s violence against men has frequently been treated as joke, both in entertainment (see the film ‘Stakeout’ for example, in which the character played by Richard Dreyfuss is viciously assaulted by his partner in what is meant to be, and to female members of the audience clearly was, a vastly amusing scene) and in real life, where male victims of domestic violence who report such violence to police are belittled or told to be a man and stop complaining.

If feminists and policy-makers are serious about ending domestic violence, they must take violence against men and children as seriously as they do violence against women.

In domestic violence, just as in economic and foreign policy, effective action must be based on facts, not on ideology.

The ABC (pleasant surprise!) has just posted a remarkably fair article on this story, with some interesting comment by Sue Price, co-director of the Men’s Right’s Agency.

Work, Time, Sisters

The last few days have been the longest break without a post since I began this blog.

There used to be two IT businesses on Kangaroo Island. Two weeks ago my only competitor closed down. I am glad to have the extra business, but it means less time for other things. I think I have always been reasonably good at time managment, but I am going to have to find some new strategies!

Also, as regular readers would know, my sister Amanda has been unwell. She was flown over to Adelaide by the flying doctor just over a week ago. Kathy and I were able to travel to Adelaide and visit her this last Saturday and Sunday. That meant that time we would normally have spent doing other things – work around the house, sleeping, taking the dogs for a walk, doing research for the blog, playing WoW – didn’t get done.

Lots of catching up to do!

They Got Her In The End

But Carrie Prejean is still a lady:

I worked in good faith to meet my responsibilities as Miss California USA. I have met every scheduled appearance, and responsibility, as recently as May 31st. I have followed the proper protocol requested of me and haven’t made any appearances or speaking engagements without the consent or approval from the Miss California USA or Miss Universe Organizations. I have not signed with any book publisher or taken on any business proposals. As of today, June 11, 2009, I have done everything possible to honor my contract.

I hope Americans watching this story unfold, take away the most important lesson I have learned through all of this: nothing is more important than standing up for what you believe in, no matter what the cost may be. I’ve done my best under the difficult circumstances to handle the vicious attacks with integrity and show respect to others, even those who don’t agree with me.

A pity that some of those around her did not share her beliefs. No not that one (though I agree with her and so does the new Miss California), the one about acting with integrity and showing respect even to people who disagree with you.