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According to latest reports from the Philippines, the Red Cross workers kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf are still alive – though no ‘proof of life’ has been received, despite requests.

Abu Sayyaf has already shown it is willing to behead innocent people to further its aims, whatever they are. So nothing can be taken for granted in terms of the safety of the current hostages.

Refusing to give in to demands from terrorist groups like this is horribly hard when people’s lives are at stake. But governments must not give in. They must not give way at all. Terrorists must learn that kidnapping and murder will not gain them anything.

In what must surely count as one of the most bizarre turns of events in recent news, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, or MILF, another Philippine terror group, has come out in support of the hostages, saying that Islam does not allow harm or killing of civilians and non-combatants. Pardon? The MILF has a long history of doing just that, including kidnapping children and using them as soldiers. Maybe this is a change of heart for them. I hope so, and certainly hope and pray that this will make a difference to the actions of Abu Sayyaf.

Update

I’m not sure this is responsible reporting by Reuters – it seems foolish and dangerous to tell the enemy what you are planning to do – but they report that the Philippine military are retaking the positions they withdrew from in order to secure the release of the hostages (since withdrawing achieved nothing), the provincial governor has issued proclaimed a state of emergency, and that soldiers are preparing for a possible rescue attempt. Further updates as they arrive.

Update

As at Thursday morning, Philippine security forces have cordoned off a large section of jungle in Indanan on the West of Sulu province, cutting off the terrorists from outside aid. Lt. Gen. Nelson Allaga has been appointed to ensure the safe release of the hostages. Since the initial withdrawal of troops did not work, it seems likely that some sort of military operation is now inevitable. This is a dangerous time for the hostages.

Update

Friday morning and one of the hostages, Mary Jean Lacaba, has been released. She is a Filippina. Some media organisations suggested this made her more, rather than less, likely to be murdered. But she was dumped in a small village at about nine on Thursday night. She was picked up by the army and taken to hospital. She is good health. The good news is that the other two hostages, one Swiss, one Italian, were alive and well when she was released. The military are apparently still planning to attempt to rescue them.

Keep praying.

Update

Saturday, and Abu Sayyaf have renewed their threat to behead the two remaining hostages if Philippine forces do not withdraw completely from what they regard as ‘their’ territory. Philippine forces have stood down from further action for the time being, but according to their commander, this is only so the two hostages can be released in safety. The military cordon around the kidnappers camp remains in place, despite a land mine exploding under a truck transporting soldiers to the site. Three soldiers were injured.

Meanwhile, in nearby Basilan, where Abu Sayyaf claims numerous members, a bomb exploded outside a Jollibee restaurant, killing two people and injuring another eight.

Really? They have better paying jobs than I do, obviously.

Equal pay for equal work for men and women is mandated in Australia, as in most countries. So if this figure is accurate, what can account for the difference?

It is simple really. Men earn more than women over a lifetime because women have more choices about balancing work, home and leisure than men do.

Most women can decide whether they want to work full time in paid employment, work full time at home, or some mixture of the two. Men are expected to work full time in paid employment. The extra choices women have depend entirely on the fact that men do not have those choices. Women can choose because they can and do take for granted that the men in their life will produce enough income to allow them to decide whether to work or not, and how long for.

Men do not earn more than women because women are treated unfairly. If anything the reverse is true. Women will only earn as much as men do over a lifetime when men have the same choices women do about mixing home, work and leisure.

I am a bit confused about this whole story. Is it claimed hospitals were exaggerating their waiting lists in order to increase funding, or that they were understating them in order to look good? Like many news stories on this subject, this one from the Herald Sun is unclear about what actually happened, or is alleged to have happened.

This story from the Australian makes things a bit clearer. It claims that in the case of the Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne, staff falsely reduced the number of patients on waiting lists so that the hospital appeared to be meeting government targets for waiting times for elective surgery. Meeting those targets meant that the hospital received bonus funding to which it was not entitled. This means that the hospital was cheating other health care providers by taking more than its share of the health budget.

Hospital CEO Dale Fisher says that staff involved will be disciplined. But staff who admitted to auditors that they knew what was happening also said that they believed senior staff were aware of the practice, and that it was condoned.

I doubt very much that this kind of practice is unique to health services in Victoria. I know that at least some educational institutions in Queensland and South Australia, including child care centres and state schools, routinely overstate their enrolments in order to increase their funding. Again, this cheats honest schools and providers because it means less funding is left for them.

I thought proper auditing was a requirement for any government funding. How have these major government institutions been able to get away with cheating the public for so long?

The G-Ball. It measures your kick – velocity and direction, and transmits this data to satellites, from where it is sent to football scouts who are waiting to offer you a lucrative contract.

But this is not an April Fool’s Day joke: Sony PS2 new for under $100. That’s US$ of course, but still, it is a major price breakthrough, and even in the age of the XBox 360 and PS3, the PS2 is a great machine.

Ayatollah Mohammad Baqer Kharrazi is a member of the Iranian Guardian Council – according to some, the most powerful body in Iranian politics – and is also Secretary General of the Iranian Hezbollah. This is someone at the heart of power in Iran. His public statement that there will be no dialogue with the US until Iran has nuclear weapons has to be taken seriously.

Of course this means (shock, horror!) that Bush was right about Iran’s nuclear intentions. It also means that Iranian President Imanutjob’s indignant rage and repeated claims that the fact the great Satan made such accusations against the peace-loving state of Iran proved how evil the West was, were , well, porkies. And yes, I know the word pork will probably upset him as well, poor dear.

The deadline of 2pm Tuesday has passed with no further word on whether three Red Cross workers kidnapped by Philippino terrorist group Abu-Sayyaf are still alive.

The terrorists demanded the withdrawal of government troops from ‘their’ territory on the island of Jolo or the hostages would be killed today.

As Philippino Senator Richard Gordon has said, there is no glory or bravery in murdering people who have come to the Philippines to help.

My parents lived in the Southern Philippines for a few years, and Kathy and I visited them there. It is a beautiful country with beautiful, hopeful people. It was dangerous when we were there, and obviously is dangerous still. I have enormous respect for people like my parents, and these Red Cross workers, and aid workers in Iraq and Afghanistan, to name just a few, who accept this danger as the price of bringing new hope to impoverished people, and people who have already been victims of violence.

Please pray for safety for the hostages and hope for their families, and an end to the torture and murder of others as a means to an end.

Interesting news about the world’s largest laser becoming operational, and especially the hope that this will generate enough energy to achieve ‘fusion ignition.’ This could be an important step on the way to the use of fusion as a cheap clean energy source.

See my earlier post on cold fusion for more on the wider impact, including economic impact, of fusion technology.

But what happened here: ‘The facility, the size of a football field, comprises of 192 separate laser beams…’ No it doesn’t. Nothing ‘comprises of‘ anything.

The word comprise includes the ‘of.’ So it could be ‘composed of 192 separate laser beams’, or it ‘comprises 192 separate laser beams.’ Not some sort of horrible hybrid. If you don’t know how to use a word, don’t use it.

At least he spelled ‘separate’ correctly.

Also known as Downadup.

As I noted earlier, so far the worm has not caused any damage, except for giving scareware makers another way of cheating people out of their money, and well meaning friends sending annoying email warnings. But the worm is set to check with its masters on April 1st. If it downloads new instructions then, it could become nasty.

If you are already infected, get your anti-virus to run a pre-Windows start-up scan.

If you are not infected, and way less than 1% of computers are, just make sure you have all Windows updates, and that your anti-virus software is up to date, and you will have nothing to worry about.

That must be one of the dodgiest headlines I’ve seen for a long time.

The house was on fire and burning dangerously. Police stopped neighbours from entering the house. The chances are that anyone else entering the house would also have been killed. Can you imagine the fuss if police had let neighbours enter and they had also died?

One of the first things we learn in ambulance training is that you can’t help anyone else if you are injured yourself. If you get yourself into a situation where you need to be rescued you are adding to, not reducing, the risk to others. The loss of life was tragic, but I think police did the responsible thing.

Mind you, if it was my neighbours, or a neighbour’s child, and I really thought I could help, even if it meant endangering myself, I’d like to think I would still go.

For a different perspective on this, see John Ray’s Political Correctness Watch.

Kiwis clash over whether there should be an ‘h’ in Wanganui or not? I don’t think so.

I was in Wanganui at the time this issue was being debated. There was very little acrimony, and most locals, both Maori and more recent arrivals, agreed that the spelling of the name Wanganui should be retained rather than add the ‘h’ to make it Whanganui.

This NineMSN story is not right when it says early settlers made a spelling mistake. The Maoris had no written language. What is now written ‘wh’ at the beginning of Maori words was a way (invented by Europeans) of indicating that the word should pronounced with an aspirated ‘w’ – like that at the beginning of the word whistle. It is now commonly pronounced as an ‘f”, but this is whrong.

In any case, the name of the place has always been written Wanganui, for as long as the name of the place has been written. To change it now would just be a silly ‘PC’ decision which even most local Maori don’t agree with. So I am pleased the Wanganui Council has decided to leave it alone.

This is sad. Some ratbag by the name of Ronald Gander and his equally disgusting girlfriend (who is not named and does not seem to have been charged) lived in an expensive inner city apartment. They decided a teenage student living with them should prostitute herself to help pay the rent. She had run away from home, and they threatened to evict her if she did not produce sufficient income. She was not allowed to keep any of the money she made, and the only bonus or payment they gave her was an occasional box of chicken treats.

The sentence – two and a half years suspended after nine months, in other words, nine months in jail – seems woefully inadequate to me, especially considering Gander already had a criminal record and was on parole at the time. And what must the girl’s home life have been like if that kind of treatment was preferable?

In latest inventions by New Idea magazine (your celebrity news!) Bec Hewitt, wife of Australian tennis player Leighton Hewitt, is accused of having an affair with ‘minder Mark,’ a ‘special kind of guy’ who is a fitness trainer from Dallas.

Minder Mark is actually Bec’s brother. Bec and Leighton said:

The article is plainly intended to create the impression that Bec Hewitt has entered into a romantic relationship with ‘Mark.’

It is unashamedly designed to generate public interest and increase sales.

The truth is: there is no ‘Mark’. The person depicted in the photographs is Shaun Cartwright, Bec Hewitt’s brother.

 ‘Mark’ is a complete fabrication by New Idea.

There is no former fitness trainer from Dallas associated with Bec Hewitt or the Hewitt family.

No quotes were given to New Idea by Bec Hewitt or friends. The quotes are complete fabrications.

Check their website for more. Good to see Bec and Leighton standing up to these bullies.

A crime gang (OK, two guys) which stole over $800,000 from Brisbane city parking metres has been busted, according to Queensland police.

How do people think of these things? How did they do it? Why didn’t anyone notice before? And how much does the Brisbane City Council make from parking meters?

Andrew Bolt points out that Chinese born Australian business woman Helen Liu is a leading member of organisations dedicated to promoting the Chinese military and Chinese re-unification (which means the absorption of Taiwan).

Joel Fitzgibbon has lied about the extent of his links to her, and the gifts he has received from her. He is Australia’s Minister of Defence. The Opposition should, must, keep asking questions about this.

Fitzgibbon may genuinely have forgotten how well he knows Ms Liu, his visits to China with her, the functions he attended with her, and the gifts he has received from her. In that case he is an idiot and cannot be trusted with the Australia’s defences.

Or he lied about them. In that case, he thought he had something to hide. If he thought he had something to hide, he probably did.

The delightfully named Heidi Virtue, Australian Channel Nine’s director of publicity, has declined to comment on very un-ladylike behaviour by all but one of the stars of Aussie Ladette to Lady. This show takes ordinary sheilas who don’t have much idea of decorum, manners or what contstitutes lady-like behaviour, and puts them through a finishing school type process, where they learn to talk, dress, walk, and generally behave in a way which would be acceptable in society. A bit like My Fair Lady, except that Eliza, for all her rough edges, was really a lady to start with.

Despite all the effort, money, and publicity, these girls seems not be ladies even at the end of the process.

Far from being models of deportment, as Nine would have viewers believe, a hotel source confirms the ladettes drew at least a dozen complaints after having a topless romp in the hotel swimming pool at 1.30am, throwing objects from windows and trashing a hotel room, resulting in a cleaning bill worth several hundred dollars.

This was just after filming of the final episode, which was meant to show how far they had come. Not content with that, the girls then hit the night clubs, and bared their breasts to bus drivers in an effort to get free lifts back to their hotel.

You can take the girl out of Cunnamulla, but you can’t take Cunnamulla out of the girl. Sad, because most Australian women are not like this, and this kind of behaviour just confirms the stereotype of the loud, rude Australian.