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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.

Stimulus Package Worse Than Useless

Professor Neal Stoughton, head of Banking and Finance at the Australian School of Business at the University of New South Wales, has come out in support of my argument of several weeks ago that the stimulus programmes proposed by US and Australian governments are likely to do more harm than good.

Well, he didn’t specifically name me, but anyway…

Basically what he says is that what is needed is not simply increased spending, especially if that puts us further into debt, but increased employment and increased production. Of course. That’s exactly what I said. This Stoughton’s obviously a pretty bright chap.

“When you get into situations where government makes decisions where to spend money rather than leaving it up to the private sector, it usually is on the basis of influence and politics rather than the basis of sound economics.”

And it’s politics, not economics, that is driving the massive round of cash handouts according to Professor Stoughton.

Essentially, he says, the government has neither the information nor the skills needed to direct tax payer funds to where they will do the most good to improve employment and production, so they would be better off leaving the money in the hands of tax payers, who are already employing, working, producing.

Of course, Mr Rudd has a different perspective, one he feels quite strongly about. Though perhaps not as strongly as he feels about having his food exactly as he wants it.

So to be fair and balanced, I have written a poem about Mr Rudd’s achievements at the G20 Summit.

Our PM

‘Oh gosh, oh golly, gee, oh heck!
All our economies are wrecks.’
The blokes at the G20 sighed
As into their champagne they cried.
‘If only there was someone who
Could tell us all just what to do’
For cold despair had grasped the meeting
Despite Obama’s balmy greeting.
But at that moment – oh what rapture!
A joy no human words could capture.
For in a heavenly flash of light
The mighty Kevin hove in sight.
‘Now listen chaps,’ he sternly said.
‘You’ve stuffed it up, you’re in the red.
But if you promise to be good
I’ll tell you what to do you should.’
(He sounds like Yoda in disguise
Because he’s so supremely wise.
And though to mention I’d forebear
There is a certain likeness there.)
‘You chaps have all spent far too much
You’re with your people out of touch.
So all the debts that cause you worry
You must get rid of in a hurry.’
Delegates the world around
Were stunned and rooted to the ground.
Economists all said with smiles
‘He’s cleverer than us by miles.’
‘Oh Kevin of the mighty mind
And equally enlarged behind
Now we know just what to do
Please tell us how to do it, do.’
The mighty Kevin’s eyebrows lifted
As is quite right in one so gifted
‘You chaps are pretty slow I see
But I’ll be kind, because I’m me.
To get rid of the debts you had
you must go out and spend like mad.’
The delegates all gasped with glee
‘We were all blind, but now we see.
By our advisors we were dudded
But all is clear now we’ve been Rudded.’
By which they meant enlightened then
By thoughts beyond the ken of men.
Then Kevin to the sunset rode
With Caty in his blanket stowed.
And the G20 ended well
Between the nations things are swell
No more economies asunder
Thanks to the PM from Down Under.

End of the Line for Tamil Tigers

I have blogged about the Sri Lankan civil war before.

There are reports that some 20,000 people have fled conflict zones in March. About 30,000 fled in February – but fighting was more widespread then.

The rebel Tamil Tigers have been beaten back to a tiny area of only about 20 square kilometres.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has said there will be no cease fire, because this would just give the Tigers a chance to regroup and call in reinforcements.

The Tamil Tigers will not want to surrender, because this will be a defeat from which they cannot recover.

Things could get nasty over the next few days.

Update

As at Thursday evening, fierce fighting is continuing, with both sides claiming they have inflicted heavy losses on the other. According to the Sri Lankan military, the battle has entered its final phase.

Once the fighting is over, the majority Sinhalese government in Colombo must start to treat its Tamil citizens as real people with the full rights of citizens. If it does not, the same anger will continue to grow until to some, at least, it seems as if violence is the only option. An interesting perspective on this from British/Tamil rapper MIA, who was a child refugee from Sri Lanka.

Of course she does not mention that much of the violence and destruction in the North has been caused by the Tamil Tigers, nor that you cannot expect government personnel to go and rebuild roads and hospitals when it is likely they’ll be shot or kidnapped if they do.

Body Part Dropped in Neighbours Yard

But the police won’t say what body part.

Apparently the killer got into a fight with an older drinking buddy and attacked him with a hatchet (small axe, tomahawk, whatever). During the attack, the older guy was killed, and a body part severed.

The younger guy left his mate’s body in his (the mate’s) house, but took the body part to another neighbours house and dropped it there. Then returned to the older guy’s house (sorry if this is getting a little complicated) and set fire to it. He then died from asphyxiation caused by smoke inhalation.

I can’t work out why he dropped the mysterious body part at the neighbours. Was it a gift, like a cat bringing home a lizard’s head? Or a warning – if you don’t buy the next round this could be you? Or was he asking the neighbour to watch over his souvenir while he went back and got rid of the evidence? No doubt these are the questions Tasmanian police are asking themselves at this very moment.

I like having interesting neighbours, but axe murders, fires and severed body parts sound a little too interesting.

Bishop Backs Rudd on Bushfire Climate Lessons

I know George Browning slightly. He is a a personable and apparently intelligent man. He has also been pushing the global warming agenda pretty relentlessly for the last ten years. Understandably, since he is convenor of the ‘Anglican Communion Environment Network.’ I assume the right (that is, the wrong) views are required, before anyone is invited to occupy this position. I make that assumption having looked through their website for any sign of even the remotest awareness of scientific issues which should inform the global warming debate, or indeed any sign of being aware of anything that could not be found in the Sunday Sun.

Before the last Australian Federal general election George Browning wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Howard saying he could never encourage people to vote for any party which did not have clear policies in place to deal with climate change. In other words, unless the liberal party immediately implemented the pointless and harmful policies he had in mind, Bishop Drowning would tell people to vote Labor (which, of course, it would never have occurred to him to do otherwise).

I was then Dean of The Murray, and wrote in our diocesan newsletter that there was no evidence of any unusual changes in climate over the last 100 years, that there had been no increases in the rate of sea level rise, that minor fluctuations of less than 1 degree Celsius were well within the bounds of natural change, that periods of change in global temperature over the last century did not correlate with levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, and that if the Church was going to encourage governments to spend billions of dollars solving problems, we had jolly well better have done our homework first, and made sure there really was a problem, and that the solutions we were asking for really would solve it.

But alas. I got no response from Bishop Drowning, and only one from another bishop telling me I was undermining the credibility of the Anglican Church.

I did not reply. There is such a thing as invincible ignorance. Mind you, once the media changes its mind about global warming, and we move on the next big scare, those same bishops will all be denying they were ever worried about global warming. ‘That was just a passing fad,’ they’ll say. ‘I always had my doubts about it.’ Yeah right.

It is that kind of desperate bouncing from one popular issue to another, trying to find something relevant to say, that undermines the credibility of the Church. The Church has something relevant to say. It’s called the Gospel.

Sadly, busy bouncing bishops will always have their uses, especially to politicians and to the media. But as Cardinal Pell said in reponse to an attack on him by Bishop Drowning,  ‘Church leaders should be allergic to nonsense.’

“My task as a Christian leader is to engage with reality, to contribute to debate on important issues, to open people’s minds and to point out when the emperor is wearing few or no clothes,” he said. “Radical environmentalists are more than up to the task of moralising their own agenda and imposing it on people through fear. They don’t need church leaders to help them with this, although it is a very effective way of further muting Christian witness,” he said.

Amen.

Banks Funding Virus Creation (or Forcing You To)

In an article on the Australian ABC website, Patrick Gray suggests that the major motivation for writing viruses is financial. This is certainly true with ‘key logger’ type infections, but I am not sure it is true with the ‘I’m cleverer than you’ type viruses, which Conficker seems to be, nor with the ‘Cause as much damage as possible’ type.

Gray makes some interesting points about banks leaving most of the liability for online ‘card not present’ transaction fraud with merchants. He suggests that if banks were liable, or carried a greater share of liability for online fraud, they would instantly increase credit card security, and this would make writing keyloggers less profitable.

I think he overestimates the percentage of viruses which are of the ripoff – key logger type, and that he underestimates the speed with which profit seeking programmers are able to respond to changing security measures. Consider for example how quickly hackers were able to work around DVD and then Blu-Ray copy protection.

Also, putting further security measures in place to protect against online fraud may make it more difficult and time-consuming for both customers and merchants to conduct legitimate transactions. VeriSign’s chief technology officer Ken Silva has said: “If all the security measures were deployed that should be deployed, they would become too annoying and too difficult for most consumers.”

Nonetheless I agree that present security measures are inadequate, and that banks should take a greater share of responsibility, instead of leaving merchants to carry any losses. SMS authentication and portable keys (like a USB drive you put into your computer to confirm your identity) are two methods which could be implemented without too much extra fuss or cost.

Sayyaf Hostages Still Alive

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.

Men Earn $1 Million More than Women Over a Lifetime

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.

Hospital Waiting List Fraud

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?

This is an April Fool’s Day Joke

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.

Senior Iranian Official – No Dialogue Till We Have Nukes

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.