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Government to Spend $43 Billion On Internet Infrastructure

National broadband gets the go ahead, but the government will do it itself. There are already some criticisms.

 No time to write in detail about this today, but a few questions spring to mind.

If the Federal Government has over $2,000 to spend for every man, woman and child in Australia, is this the best way to spend it?

Why does this require government intervention at all? If the government couldn’t find any corporate groups willing to invest in optical fibre technology on this scale, what makes them think they can do it 1) at all, and 2) at a profit?

When other nations are moving to high speed wireless (or satellite for remote regions) why are we even considering embarking on massively costly door to door fibre optic cabling?

This would have been exciting ten years ago. Or even five ears ago. But now – this is a horribly overpriced sytem which will be out of date before it is even completed.

New Zealand’s Murder Rate Halved in Last 20 years

Murder rates in Australian have moved up and down at about the same time, in about the same way. 

That’s interesting, because as this NZ Herald article points out, most people believe that crime rates, and especially rates of violent crime, are increasing.

People think there is more violent crime because we see so much more violence than we did. Without the media you could live a lifetime and never hear of anyone being murdered. Most of us will go through our lives without anyone close to us being a victim of violent crime. But we see violent crime everyday on the news and in TV shows and movies. So our perception is that the world around us is much more dangerous than it is.

These results confirms that media has a strong influence, compared with our own experience, on our beliefs about levels of crime:

An institute survey of 1400 people in four parts of New Zealand – including South Auckland – found that 80 per cent agreed or strongly agreed that the country’s crime rate was rising. Only 4 per cent disagreed. Yet the same survey – which has yet to be published – found that only a quarter of the people surveyed believed crime was rising in their own neighbourhoods.

Increasing urbanisation, and desensitisation to violence with the rise of TV, may have contributed to the rise in murder rates from about 1970. But what has caused the recent decline?

Heat Wave but no Global Warming?

Interesting…

Several stories on major Australian media sites about extra deaths possibly caused by the Victorian heatwave in January.

But so far, not a single mention of CO2 or global warming.

Quite rightly, of course, because individual weather events, even unusual weather events and their consequences, should not be blamed on global patterns without some evidence that the two are connected.

But it is hard to imagine that some journalists, even a year ago, would not automatically have claimed these deaths as adding weight to the global warming thing.

NSW MPs Putting State in Darkness

But I thought that’s what everyone wanted?

Surely that couple of extra Earth Hours didn’t bother anyone? Where are your priorities?

Pretty obviously, if your population increases, and you don’t build new power production infrastructure, you are going to get some shortages of electricity. So this must be some sort of cunning NSW Labor plan to force everyone into reduced power consumption for the sake of the planet.

Holden Cuts Production to Half – Good News?

According to PM Kevin Rudd, Holden is the bright star in the GM firmament, the only good GM news anywhere in the world. This because a new four cylinder car is due to come into production in 2010.

But Holden’s Australian sales fell by 20% in the first quarter of this year, with sales to some export markets falling by 80%. An entire shift at the Adelaide factory is being cancelled. Staff have the option of losing their jobs or working one week on, one week off, at reduced pay. Production is forecast to be about 310 vehicles per day, down from a peak of about 600.

This is good news?

OK to Pick on Christians

I read the latest Adelaide Church Guardian this morning. It’s dismal, of course. More breast-beating about no-one going to church. The yawn-inspiring PC nonsense the Guardian constantly parrots might give church leaders some clues about declining attendances if they were really interested.

But there is an article about ‘Jesus Week’ at the University of Adelaide and Uni SA. It’s a pretty harmless event. A BBQ here, a prayer meeting there, Christians wearing t-shirts or jumpers that advertise the week and their faith, invitations to church, or to studies that will give students a better understanding of Christianity and who Jesus is. In that one week they were asked to take down a banner (because of OH&S concerns), declined permission to hold a free BBQ (no problem for other groups) and a lecturer told a student to take off her Jesus Week jumper on the grounds that it was offensive.

So I was already thinking about this when I saw Andrew Bolt’s post about ‘Finger-pointing at the faith.’ An English (government sponsored) charity has produced a magazine for children in care, which encourages them to ‘Stand up for what they believe in.’  As long as they are not Christians.

The magazine shows a boy wearing a cross verbally attacking a young muslim woman. He is portrayed as a racist thug. She, of course, is all sweetness and light.

Who Cares? Trust chief executive Natasha Finlayson said she had no intention of withdrawing it, describing the cross as ‘bling’ rather than a religious symbol. That’s insulting enough – start describing the central symbols of other religions as ‘bling’ and see what sort of reaction you get. But it is also untrue. The cross the boy is wearing is meant to be a symbol of his religious faith. The magazine itself says so – when the bully wearing the bling asks the girl about her hijab, she replies that it is ‘part of her religion, like the cross you are wearing.’ 

If the roles were reversed, and a Muslim boy was shown picking on a Christian girl, humans rights groups would be pouncing. And they would be right to do so. Publishing that kind of sneering portrayal of any religious group under the heading ‘Stand up for what you believe’ is sheer hypocrisy.

The Shroud of Turin and the Knights Templar

Whatever one thinks about its authenticity, the Shroud is a fascinating object.

Carbon dating tests conducted in 1988 indicated the Shroud could not be dated any earlier than 1260. That figure was immediately disputed (and not just by Shroud believers) because it was claimed that the very small parts of the Shroud removed for dating had been taken from a place where repairs had been carried out in the Middle Ages.

Last year John Jackson, a Colorado physicist working with Oxford University, said that because of high Carbon Monoxide levels, those dating results could have been skewed by as much as 1300 years. Christopher Ramsey, head of the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit (the group that tested the Shroud in 1988) said ‘There is a lot of other evidence that suggests to many that the shroud is older than the radiocarbon dates allow and so further research is certainly needed.’

The other evidence includes matches with the Sudarium of Oviedo, and pollens, cloth and weave types that are a perfect fit to 1st Century Israel.

One of the problems has been a gap in the Shroud’s history.

The Shroud, or something like it, had been known in the Eastern Church until the sack of Constantinople in 1204. But there was no record of its existence between then and the appearance of the Shroud we have now in France in 1353. The Shroud was in the possession of a family descended from a Knight Templar who had been in the Middle East. This led historian Ian Wilson to propose that it had either been in that family’s possession, or in the possession of the order of Knights Templar between 1204 and 1353 – and therefore that this was the same cloth and image that had been known in the East.

Now Dr Barbara Frale, an historian researching the Templars in the Vatican Archives, reports finding a Templar document which confirms Wilson’s theory.

Even now, no one understands how the image came to be made on the cloth. The negative image, wounds in the wrists rather than the hands, realistic blood flow patterns and a multitude of other factors make it unlikely in the extreme that it is a medieval forgery. So what is it?

Probably the two best books on the Shroud are Ian Wilson’s The Blood and the Shroud: New Evidence That the World’s Most Sacred Relic Is Real and John Iannone’s The Mystery of the Shroud of Turin: New Scientific Evidence.

President Barack Obama, Britney Spears and Paris Hilton

No that’s not just a grab for more visitors by using three of the most requested search terms in one heading. Though I’d be quite happy if it worked that way.

Remember the McCain ad that basically said Barack Obama was an empty headed celebrity like Britney Spears or Paris Hilton?

I’m now quite sure that was unjust to both Britney and Paris. Well, to be fair, I’ve always thought so. Britney Spears has, after all, achieved a thing or two. She came from nowhere, and has become a world famous multi-millionaire through a mixture of hard work and talent. Paris, despite her occasional quirks, some of them still available on the internet for those who like that sort of thing, is no airhead. And her ‘let’s try everything and do what works’ policy on energy was better than anything either McCain or Obama came up with.

Barack Obama, on the other hand, has zero leadership or management experience. His only real claim to fame is an autobiography that he almost certainly did not write.

He looks great, of course, and he sounds great. Get him to read your last MacDonalds order and you’ll have crowds of foreign journalists applauding.

But if you take away the teleprompter, and Obama has to think for himself and use his own words, what you hear is disturbing when you consider that this is the most powerful man in the world.

Paris and Britney don’t have that problem. What they say is their own words, and they seem to say what they think and mean. Themselves. Without help.

Bad Behaviour in the Class Disrupts Learning – Well Done Sherlock!

Via John Ray’s Education Watch, this article from The Age about the damage caused by bad behaviour at school.

My wife is a teacher, as are many of my friends. Disruptive behaviour is endemic in Australian schools. Not the slightly cheeky, have a bit of fun at the teacher’s expense stuff that I remember, but outright bullying, and violent or abusive behaviour that means schools are not safe places for either students or staff.

There are many reasons for this decline in behaviour. One is poor behaviour by staff. You’ll see posters about bullying and class rules everywhere. But teachers often do not model safe, considerate behaviour. Teachers who are new or do not fit the mould are frequently isolated, denied access to resources, not given information about meetings or events, etc. Students see this behaviour from staff, so they assume it is all right, no matter what the posters say.

It’s more than just bullying of staff by staff of course. I have known teachers who get drunk on the weekends, get into fights, commit acts of vandalism, use drugs, and then turn up on Monday expecting their students to respect their authority and do what they are told.

Good teachers do model good behaviour, and try to make a difference by setting rules about acceptable behaviour and encouraging students to follow them. But they are frequently undermined by senior staff who are either lazy, or more concerned about their careers or placating parents than making classrooms places where real learning can take place.

Then there are ‘counselors’ who insist students should not have to face the consequences of their behaviour because they come from a ‘troubled background.’ Instead students who are disruptive, even violent, are pampered, given ‘supportive’ one on one attention, taken for treats, etc. Nonsense of course. Whatever your background or feelings, you are still responsible for how you act. Rewarding bad behaviour does even more to discourage the good students.

Students who by any standard should be suspended or expelled are not, because ‘We have a responsibility for them, and they have nowhere else to go.’ Yes, but schools also have an equal or even greater responsibility to the majority of students who want to listen, participate and learn. What about their rights, and the rights of teachers – the right to be able to learn and to teach in a safe environment? Those who are violent or abusive, even if it is true that ‘they have nowhere else to go’ can solve the problem any time they like simply by changing their behaviour. Conscientious students do not have that choice. They are stuck with the problem till someone fixes it.

It is absolutely true, as The Age article notes, that an unfair burden is placed on teachers, who are expected no longer just to teach (actually, I’m sure good teachers always expected to do more than just teach)  but to ‘solve society’s problems,’ including diet, manners, self-esteem, etc.

If parents have not been willing or able to instil some sense of the value of learning, to teach good manners and respect for others, and to set and maintain fair boundaries for behaviour, then by the time a child gets to school it is probably too late. Children who won’t take responsibility or are angry, or see no point in being at school, frequently have parents who won’t take responsibility, or are angry, or see no point in education. So they are unlikely to be supportive of school or teacher efforts to get the child to do what they don’t value themselves, and will sometimes be actively hostile.

Good teachers will try to help. But constantly badly behaved children in a class take up a vastly disproportionate amount of a teacher’s time, which means less time for the good students, the ones who want to learn. Also, and obviously, the more time a teacher has to spend correcting and controlling bad behaviour, the less time there is to spend on teaching and learning, and the more difficult it is for a teacher to build a positive relationship with the class as a whole. And then, equally obviously, noisy, argumentative, rude or violent students create an environment which is not conducive to learning, either because other students (and often the teacher as well) do not feel safe, or simply because of constant noise and interruptions.

So yes, enough is enough.

Teachers and other staff are right to expect and demand that parents take more responsibility, both for teaching values and manners, and for correcting bad behaviour when it does occur. But the fact that many parents have not done so and won’t do so is at least partly the fault of teacher organisations, which have trodden over parents’ rights and concerns.

School documents may say parents are the primary teachers, and that the school works in partnership with them, but the reality is often very different. Parent concerns about curriculum are treated as a joke, and schools have insisted, often against strong resistance from parents, that they have a ‘duty’ to teach sex education, morals, politics, and ‘childrens rights’ – frequently in ways that parents find offensive or counter to their own values. So it is a bit rich for teacher organisations, which by their actions have told parents they are incompetent and should stay out, now to start blaming parents for not taking more responsibility.

I have often seen the signs at hospitals that say something like “We are obliged to provide a safe environment for patients and staff. Abusive behaviour will not be tolerated.”

If the same kind of zero tolerance policy were put in place at schools, if education departments took seriously their responsibility to provide a safe work environment for staff, and a safe learning environment for students, our schools would be very different.

North Korea Fires Rocket Over Japan

North Korea has fired a rocket over Japan. Pyongyang says this is part of North Korea’s ‘peaceful space development,’ and was intended to launch a satellite.

Right. Why fire it over Japan then?

It is hard to believe this was anything other than a threat, or at least a public display of ability to threaten. That is certainly what Japan and South Korea believe.

Japan did not act to intercept the rocket, as it had said it might, saying (correctly) that it had every right to protect its borders. North Korea said in response that it would take any such action by Japan as: “the start of Japan’s war of re-invasion.”

North Korea’s military has threatened immediate retaliation if “even the slightest effort” is made to intercept its rocket. The North’s official Korean Central News Agency quoted the military as specifically mentioning Japan, the United States and South Korea, threatening Japan with a “thunderbolt of fire” if it interfered with the launch.

Australia is in range of the new North Korean Advanced Taepodong-2 missile. (Thanks to Tim Blair for that link)

Kim Jong-il is unstable. And that makes this worrying.

Another Baby Dead in a NSW Hospital Toilet

How can this keep happening?

The woman did not know she was pregnant. Well, OK.

But she is not a medical professional. She doesn’t work at the hospital in New South Wales. But heck, why not, given the apparent skill level of some of the staff they already have?

Whatever she thought was happening to her, she was a young woman about to give birth. Staff suggested she was constipated and asked her wait while they organised some x-rays. After a while she took herself off to the toilet where she had her baby, which then died.

Opposition Health spokes person Jillian Skinner has asked Health Minister John Della Bosca to look into the incident. That’s a start.

But surely there needs to be a much wider enquiry into emergency department culture and procedures, and some serious checking done about whether NSW (and the rest of Australia for that matter) are making any effort to keep up with best practice in ER care delivery.

And what gives John Della Bosca, of all people, the right to say the mother is receiving all the support she needs? I’d be more interested in knowing what she thinks of the care and support she’s received so far. 

Wilkins Ice Shelf Collapsing (Again)

The media has been blabbing on about how the Wilkins Ice Shelf is in imminent danger of disintegration because of global warming for years. Now, yet again, scientists are alarmed at the extent of rapid changes. Poor dears. They must spend their lives in a constant state of stress.

Of course, the Wilkins Ice Shelf will collapse someday, maybe someday soon. Climate changes. Ice changes. Everything changes. Things are not going to stay the way they were when you were twelve years old forever.

Record breaking increases in ice in the Antarctic were completely ignored by the media, who at that time focussed their attention on the Arctic, where ice appeared to be reducing. When the Arctic recovered, well let’s just say that wasn’t scary enough to be newsworthy. But hey, thank the heavens, something nasty might be happening in Antarctica after all. This might convince those nasty sceptics (scepticism is actually the essence of science, but let’s not spoil anyone’s fun) that global warming is real. Or at least be a good photo opportunity.

Except that when the Wilkins Ice Shelf does collapse, it could be for any number of reasons. It could be because the world is getter warmer (except that it isn’t). It could be because of local changes in climate unrelated to CO2 levels or global patterns. It could be because of wind and wave action. It could be because of heat generated by friction caused by ice movement, or new ice generation. Or it could be because of undersea volcanic activity.

So dear alarmists, don’t start celebrating yet. This time, let the facts get in the way of the story, at least until there is a story to report.

Climate Sceptics Invited to UN Conference

Alas, not so.

The fact that Jennifer filed this under ‘Humour’ and posted it on April 1st should have been a giveaway.

The references to Irving Janis are entirely accurate, and that, along with references to real people such as Vaclav Klaus and William Kininmonth give the blog post a high degree of verisimilitude.

I knew it could not be true when I got to this: In order to avoid groupthink the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, has accepted the recommendation from President Klaus in particular that the IPCC adopt Janis’ nine principles including that several independent groups work on the same problem, that alternatives be properly examined, and at least one member of every working-group be assigned the role of Devil’s advocate.

Would that it were so! 

Well done, Jennifer, and thanks for the laugh.