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Good day to you, my fine reader.

Time to take a break from the chaos and stupidity sweeping the globe. (But then again, when hasn’t there been stupidity and chaos sweeping the globe?)

As William Shatner said, “Live life like you’re gonna die – coz your gonna.” I try to remind myself every day that there’s still room in the darkness for truth and beauty.

They’ve been replaying “The World At War” on the History Channel here in Japan to coincide with the anniversary of the end of World War 2. That was 66 years ago. I am continually impressed by the scope of that documentary series, as well as its timeliness. It was released in 1974, so it includes a lot of eyewitness accounts and interviews with some of the protagonists. For historians, you always try to find primary sources, and this series is chock full of them. As the generation that experienced that war is passing away, it makes it all the more poignant. A lot of the remaining survivors of Hiroshima were infants at the time. Watching the episode on how Russia endured invasion by the Nazis and eventually turned them back, losing 20 million people in the process (basically the entire population of Australia killed in two years), I was amazed at how the Russians kept their spirit and determination alive through all that suffering.

There also lighter amusements keeping my interest in good things alive and well.

“You Are Not A Photographer” highlights the worst of so-called ‘professional’ photography done by spare-room hacks with a digital camera and free software. It’s hard to believe people get paid for churning out this stuff. I really like the use of their terms, “fauxtographer” and “fauxtography”. May it inspire us all to better and brighter things.

Some 153 photos of teeny tiny things. Gizmodo often has neat photo compilations.

Sand magnified to 250 times normal size looks cool. So do air bubbles frozen in ice.

There’s tilt shift photography, and then there’s tilt shift photography. I might have to go into making giant mockups of small things for fun and profit.

The cast of The Big Lebowski got together at Lebowskifest. How I wish…

Australia will soon have a boneyard of its very own. Time to rent a helicopter and a super 70mm camera and make my own version of Baraka…

Some very cool time lapse video.

The history of villains in American films makes for some interesting reading.

Japan hasn’t run out of cute girls, but the handlers of AKB48 decided to use computers to piece together bits of their stable to make a new one.

Faking it is huge in fashion photography, but I never realized how much models contorted and abused their bodies until I read this article.

Astronomers have found another moon around Pluto. That’s four, if you’re counting. 

A whole bunch of man-made passages have been found in Bavaria.

Somehow I keep alternating between Middle School and College.

Home made cola. I wouldn’t mind trying this out sometime. Just dump half the sugar and the colouring and I’ll be there.

Imagine batteries that last forever. Not oo far away, hopefully.

The key to longer life might lie inside cancer. What? Yes, cancer. There’s a mutation in the genes of pancreatic cancer that can lengthen the telomeres on the ends of DNA, thought to control when cells die.  

So, we can’t currently actually travel to another universe. However we could perhaps detect evidence of the multiverse in the Cosmic Background Radiation.

Closer to home, the recent discovery of fossilized life from 3.4 billion years ago that lived by metabolizing sulphur gives hope to finding evidence of life on Mars.

On a personal note, I would really appreciate a new spine.

 

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No thanks for the memories, or the legacy for that matter, but thanks for making an amusing mockery of the English language.

Courtesy of the VERY not-safe-for-work ORSM.

“For NASA, space is still a high priority.”
“If you say you’re going to do something and don’t do it, that’s trustworthiness.”
“One word sums up probably the responsibility of any Governor, and that one word is “to be prepared”.”
“Justice ought to be fair.”
“A low voter turnout is an indication of fewer people going to the polls.”
“If the terriers and bariffs are torn down, this economy will grow.”
“Quite frankly, teachers are the only profession that teach our children.”
“Reading is the basics for all learning.”
“We are ready for any unforeseen event that may or may not occur.”
“Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?”
“September the 4th, 2001, I stood in the ruins of the Twin Towers. It’s a day I will never forget.”
“It isn’t pollution that’s harming the environment. It’s the impurities in our air and water that are doing it.”
“I have opinions of my own -strong opinionsbut I don’t always agree with them.”
“If we don’t succeed, we run the risk of failure.”
“When the governor calls, I answer his phone.”
“For every fatal shooting, there were roughly three non-fatal shootings. And, folks, this is unacceptable in America. It’s just unacceptable. And we’re going to do something about it.”
“(The Taliban) have no disregard for human life”
“I can press when there needs to be pressed; I can hold hands when there needs to be… hold hands.”
“The problem with the French is that they don’t have a word for entrepreneur.”
“Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.”
“It’s a time of sorrow and sadness when we lose a loss of life.”
“I have made good judgments in the past. I have made good judgments in the future.”
“I’m honoured to shake the hand of a brave Iraqi citizen who had his hand cut off by Saddam Hussein.”
“The vast majority of our imports come from outside the country.”
“I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family.”
“I recently met with the finance minister of the Palestinian Authority, was very impressed by his grasp of finances.”
“Will the highways on the Internet become more few?”
“We’re going to have the best educated American people in the world.”
“Too many good docs are getting out of the business. Too many OB/GYNs aren’t able to practice their love with women all across the country.”
“General, I want to thank you for your service. And I appreciate the fact that you really snatched defeat out of the jaws of those who are trying to defeat us in Iraq.”
“I think we agree, the past is over.”
“America stands for liberty, for the pursuit of happiness, and for the unalienalienable right of life.”
“There’s an old saying in Tennessee I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee that says, fool me once, shame on shame on you. Fool me you can’t get fooled again.”
“I don’t particularly like it when people put words in my mouth, either, by the way, unless I say it.”
“One of the great things about books is sometimes there are some fantastic pictures.”
“You wake up at the high school level and find out that the illiteracy level of our children are appalling.”
“My job is a decision-making job, and as a result, I make a lot of decisions.”
“Sometimes when you study history, you get stuck in the past.”
“It’s in our country’s interests to find those who would do harm to us and get them out of harm’s way.”
“We have a firm commitment to NATO, we are a part of NATO. We have a firm commitment to Europe. We are a part of Europe”
“There is distrust in Washington. I am surprised, frankly, at the amount of distrust that exists in this town. And I’m sorry it’s the case, and I’ll work hard to try to elevate it.”
“I’m looking forward to a good night’s sleep on the soil of a friend.”
“It’s very important for folks to understand that when there’s more trade, there’s more commerce.”
“I think it’s really important for this great state of baseball to reach out to people of all walks of life to make sure that the sport is inclusive. The best way to do it is to convince little kids how to… the beauty of playing baseball.”
“One year ago today, the time for excuse-making has come to an end.”
“You know, when I campaigned here in 2000, I said, I want to be a war president. No president wants to be a war president, but I am one.”
“I promise you I will listen to what has been said here, even though I wasn’t here.”
“You teach a child to read, and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test.”
“(I will) keep good relations with the Grecians.”
“I am here to make an announcement that this Thursday, ticket counters and airplanes will fly out of Ronald Reagan Airport.”
“We had a chance to visit with Teresa Nelson who’s a parent, and a mum or a dad.”
“The future will be better tomorrow.”
“I know the human being and fish can coexist peacefully.”
“I’m sure you can imagine it’s an unimaginable honour to live here.”
“I couldn’t imagine somebody like Osama bin Laden understanding the joy of Hanukkah.”
“I stand by all the misstatements that I’ve made.”
“They misunderestimated me.”
“I’ve coined new words, like ‘misunderstanding’.”
“Public speaking is very easy.”

And so it’s very likely that this will be my final post for this year as I’ll be exploring the temples around Angkor Wat in Cambodia followed by tramping around Hong Kong until after the New Year has dawned. It promises to be an excellent holiday.

Time for a few parting shots and links to tide you, dear reader, through the next few weeks until I get my butt into gear again.

This article neatly summarizes all the bad things that George Bush has done throughout his presidency – saves you buying any books if were interested at all. I wish that Odin existed instead of his elderly and less wrathful cousin, Santa Claus / Father Christmas. In short, Odin whisks off bad children in his sack while riding an eight-legged flying horse. Where they go – who knows? If only Bush could be whisked off by a vengeful god… too late now anyway. The guy just doesn’t know when to stop.

That leads to a quote of the day. It’s been a while since I had one, and it comes from the lips of George Bush – and superbly sums up his attitude to anything he’s done that’s turned out badly: “So what?” Here’s the transcript of the interview which also demonstrates how he really does believe his own bullshit:

BUSH: One of the major theaters against al Qaeda turns out to have been Iraq. This is where al Qaeda said they were going to take their stand. This is where al Qaeda was hoping to take–

RADDATZ: But not until after the U.S. invaded.

BUSH: Yeah, that’s right. So what? The point is that al Qaeda said they’re going to take a stand. Well, first of all in the post-9/11 environment Saddam Hussein posed a threat. And then upon removal, al Qaeda decides to take a stand.

My response? As the Austrians say: “Du kannst mir gern den buckel runterrutschen und mit der zunge bremsen.” (final phrase – scroll down)

The knives continue to come out for Barack Obama a month from his inauguration.

Afghanistan is going the way that it did under Russian rule in the 80s. The smart thing would be to get out – but Australia’s PM is going the middle road – neither pulling out or putting in extra numbers to ‘get the job done’. (Although the elephant in the room is the reason we’re there in the first place….) I think we can call Rudd “Sit On The Fence Kev” as that’s what he seems to do on most issues; take the environment for example. I guess that’s what you get when you have a career public servant who wants to please everyone running the country: insipid, dull and risk-free ‘management’. And by the way Kev, we DON’T want Howard’s policies back – like detention centres, for example.

Like Greece, like America, like Europe.

The kanji for this year in Japan is ‘nise’, meaning ‘fake’, in the wake of a number of scandals that hit the country this year. Scandals are a weekly phenomenon in Japan. If it doesn’t involve the government, then it’ll be companies doing something hideous – or both – or just something weird and cruel.

In slightly related news, I’m never having sex with Japanese girls again, unless they’re fully tested – twice.

This financial crisis isn’t the same at all as the one in the 1930s and we’ve learned from our mistakes. OK, so I was being sarcastic. The politicians are leading the way of course, by voting themselves a pay rise. Buy stock in Spam though.

According to this, I should live forever.

Goodbye oceansgoodbye life as we know it. Maybe I’ll move to Sweden where energy policy really is of and for the people.

In the USA there are currently 73 children between 13 and 14 years old who have been sentenced to prison for ‘life without possibility of parole’. Regardless of what crimes they’ve been convicted of – these are children who will never see life outside of a prison for the rest of their lives. The USA is the ONLY country in the world that is known to do this.

Of course we’re all so distracted to notice what’s going on around us.

Naqoyqatsi indeed. See it, and above all, THINK dammit!

The 2008 P.U.-litzer Prizes are out.

When you’re bemoaning the lack of decent movies to rent these holidays, thank your lucky stars that none of these have been made – yet. Quentin Tarantino’s in currently in production.

Another case of life imitating art. Scientists have developed technology that can map people’s dreams. It’s one step from the technology explored by Wim Wenders in ‘Until The End Of The World’ in 1991.

Here’s a guide to the latest in Japanese slang. My 13 year old students often use “KY” when they’re talking about me. I’ve got them fooled that I can’t understand Japanese at all. 🙂

I don’t usually post links to The Smoking Gun’s mugshot galleries, but this one is particularly festive. Merry Christmas – don’t end up like this lot –  good luck with the holiday romance, and have a safe 2009.

And it’s all over bar the shouting (and perhaps a lawsuit or two, if any past US elections are anything to go by…)

Hopefully it’ll be the end of Sarah Palin’s time in the limelight, but unfortunately I fear it is only the beginning. It seems certain that she’ll be running for the top job at the next election, and Americans may have to put up with her on their TV screens in the meantime. Another good reason not to live in the US.

I was chuffed to see the Canadians got her a good one though. Close the door on your way out, Sarah dear…

I joined a group on Facebook concerned with the effects on depleted uranium and within 24 hours I’d received a message from a certain Roger Helbig. This was what he said:

Mark,

Why are you a member of the anti-DU group? Do you know that the leaders of the anti-DU crusade are scientific charlatans and con artists?

These are the people who are behind the video “Beyond Treason” posted by Paul Haynes

Neo Nazi American Free Press/The Barnes Review convention http://www.chairmanofnordwave.blogspot.com

A good place to learn a lot about DU is http://www.depletedcranium.com

For a nice neutral Swiss view, go to
http://www.labor-spiez.ch/en/dok/hi/pdf/depleted_uranium_en_kurz.pdf

Roger .

Now I appreciate a lucid and intelligently written piece of argument as much as the next person. And if I’m going to be mistaken about something – especially when I think I’m on the right side of the argument – then I want to know. I had a look at the Depleted Cranium site (great name by the way) and I was on my way to replying to Roger when I noticed a couple of things that got my spider-sense tingling. So I Googled the guy – and voila – he’s an ex-Pentagon official who’s made a career out of hassling anything and anyone who’s shown an interest in depleted uranium and any negative effects of it. Replying to him would have opened up my Friends List to him for a month. Needless to say, I did not reply to him.

Another thing that has raised alarm bells this week has been the upcoming blanket censorship of the internet in Australia. The program that the federal government wants to implement will put Australia into the same group as Iran and China when it comes to online freedom of expression. Even though the heads of Australia’s major online providers universally agree that the negatives outweigh any possible positives of such a program, it seems that the government is determined to go through with it – sending the country back to the Dark Ages of the internet in one fell swoop.

Enough darkness. Next, there will be light, I promise.

Yep, took a good friend’s advice and shifted the blog over to WordPress.

I have to tells you, I really do! But for now this is Captain Fnersh saying, “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid!”

Yup, they just keep on coming.

Looks like I’m going to can the planned trip to Hong Kong after all. I’ll try to get there next year instead – at least it should be easier to catch up with my Hong Kong buddy then.

Instead I’m going to meet another friend in CAMBODIA!!! Yerrrsssss!! After the debacle that was my life last year, it look like I’ll finally live out one of my dreams and watch the sun rise at Angkor Wat – at Christmas instead of New Years though.

At the end of last week it was all doom and gloom on the markets, but this morning they’re up in Australia after the government guaranteed all bank deposits for the next three years. We’ll see how long this lasts. Whatever happens, the lessons from history are hardly soothing…

For Japan, the outlook is not good at all. The yen has soared against most major currencies, meaning bad news for exporters, and therefore everyone who works for them. Already tight belts will tighten even more, spelling problems for businesses that have already cut back as much as they can. Look for the continued growth of part-time and casual work and more hardship.

Things are starting to get a bit heated in the former Yugoslavia.

The great Australian drought isn’t over by a long shot.

Dirty tricks are back with a vengeance with less than a month to go in the US election. Voters are being purged illegally in six battlefront states. No guesses as to which party stands to benefit the most…

McCain would do well to push his Wall Street buddies to get the market back on its feet in a hurry if this chart is anything to go by.

Sarah Palin Watch continues. This article looks at how Palin is mirroring (and even outdoing) Bush in her use of sports to mask her faults. That’s quite tame compared to how this one compares Palin’s politics to that of the Khmer Rouge. It’s actually compelling and scary reading.

As much as I don’t trust Obama, I’d take him and Biden over McCain and Palin any day of any week.

In Afghanistan, the amount of opium grown has surged in recent years, but global heroin supply (and price) has been constant. The question international investigators are asking is, what’s happened to all that excess heroin? The answer could be is that it’s being stored close to the fields in case it’s needed. Another possibility is that certain countries (Russia, Iran, Khazakstan, etc.) have understated the heroin problems that are in their countries.

In recent weeks in Australia there’s been an explosion of public hysteria over teenage sexuality, especially that of young girls. At the centre has been the photography of Bill Henson (you can Google him yourself, and the pix are freely available on the Net) and controversy following his motivations and methodology. With films such as Juno and Towelhead also exploring this topic, now should be a time for carefully considered and calm, realistic discussion of this topic. This article goes into the topic a little and makes some good points; in a world saturated by sexualised images of women, especially young women, and where women admit to strong sexual desires, there is a need for open and honest discussion of young sexuality. My thoughts that once people are comfortable with themselves, and can talk about their feelings in a way that is open and safe, then the chances of repression and dangerous secret acts become less. In a country where 97% of girls and 100% of boys under 15 have seen porn and 1/3 of 13 year-old girls admit to having a sexual experience, the time is most definitely now.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and having two close family members lose their lives due to the disease, I’m always interested and supportive of new research and treatments in this area of medicine. A timely piece of news is about a robot that can detect and destroy breast cancer cells. It kinda bring up images from horror movies – having a robot perform surgery – but if this works, then the precision this new technique could bring could help women worldwide.

It looks like they’re going to be tinkering with the teaching of Australian history with the new curriculum. I hope they heed the warning that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Mercury… wow!

Sydney as you’ve never seen it before. These videos (and this photographic technique) are very, very cool!

.. for the little bit of creative writing. We’ll get back to the ranting and links for a bit.

A lot happens in a week, especially when the world is teetering on the brink of a global financial mess that we haven’t seen the likes of in my or my parents’ lifetime. Some things are clear though. There is a fantastic amount of debt involved here: trillions of dollars. US$700 billion is a lot of money, but it isn’t going to settle that debt by a long way. The phrase “shuffling the deckchairs on The Titanic” comes to mind. The US economy has been weak for a long time. The growth of the past few years was leveraged on a speculative growth in the value of real estate which could only end. (It all sounds familiar, eh Japan? and things aren’t getting any better.) Ireland declared it was in recession, followed by some Eastern European countries. Britain’s troubles are getting worse. Iceland’s economy is on the brink. The European Community started bailing out and shoring up its banks. The crisis has spread – and it’s nothing like others we’ve had to deal with before.

Australia’s strength has also diminished. Relying on the strength of the commodities market is putting a lot of eggs into one basket, and who says that market is immune from the weaknesses in other parts of the economy? As the Reserve Bank looks to lower interest rates, Australia’s attractiveness to foreign investors will dip. Then again, with the Aussie dollar weakening, it may be time to send some money home… if I had some.

What is it going to take to sort out this crisis? For a start, it’s going to require a lot of government intervention and oversight; the kinds of projects that haven’t been seen in the US since the last Great Depression. I can’t see John McCain doing that. People need jobs, something that hasn’t been happening in the US for quite a while now. A massive public works program would go a long way to solving that problem. It would also shore up US infrastructure; something that the country needs urgently – before another bridge collapses. The government should help those who are struggling to pay their mortgages, not help the bankers who got us into this mess. No, really. Help those who are actually struggling. Maybe foreign governments should just refuse to help the US and let the government lapse into bankruptcy. At least the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would creak to a halt. Of course that would lead to a lot of bad, as well as perhaps some long term good.

One thing that I’m sure of, is that we are all going to suffer – especially women. Things will get worse before they get better.

The Pope blames the pursuit of wealth for the crisis. Hey, Benedict! Then you should sell off all the assets of the Catholic Church (how many billion would that get?) Just melting down and selling off the gold in that staff he’s holding would bail out a few mortgages, I’m sure. Yeeesh.

This has to be the best anti Sarah Palin rant I’ve read so far. It contains gems from start to finish, including, “she’s the tawdriest, most half-assed fraud imaginable, 20 floors below the lowest common denominator, a character too dumb even for daytime TV”, “rifle-toting, serially pregnant moose killer who thinks God lobbies for oil pipelines”, “(i)t was like watching Gidget address the Reichstag”, and “(s)he’s a puffed-up dimwit with primitive religious beliefs”. But perhaps, even better, is a blog, “Things Sarah Palin Can Name”. You could always try and interview Sarah Palin yourself, if you dare…. But one thing is certain, John McCain (as well as the rest of us) has a lot to fear from Palin’s naked ambition. A Palin presidency would make George W. Bush’s reign of ignorance seem like the good old days.

Apparently static electricity caused 1500 votes to mysteriously appear on a voting machine in a recent US election. No word on which party they supported, but you can guess.

Oops.

In Africa, China is succeeding where Britain, Germany, Belgium and Italy could not; creating a colonial system that works, and enslaving the native population. It is an amazing and scary read. I thoroughly recommend it.

Sssssh! The Arctic permafrost has been melting and releasing millions of tons of methane into the atmosphere!

A British school has stopped giving its students lists of words to learn to spell because it “distresses” them. Boo Flippin’ Hoo. I hope those same kids will be able to sue the school after they are rejected from jobs because they can’t spell on their application letters.

I’d like to go to Okunoshima in Hiroshima Prefecture – a beautiful island with a dark past.

10 people from your past who will haunt you on Facebook. It really more truth than humour…

What happens when you put a McDonald’s burger from 12 years ago next to one from yesterday? It’s hard to tell the difference between them….

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