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.

 

Advertisements

Sadly, a lot of “more of the same” on the global front. The rich and the powerful don’t seem to have enough money and power and are seeking to take as much as they can from everyone else. In other words, what’s new?

Look at Libya. Yes Gaddafi is a madman and a despot, but he also had Africa’s best interests at heart. As this article points out, he wanted to take Africa to a single currency, based on a gold standard. He wanted customers to pay for oil in gold, not dollars. He funded programs to free Africa from dominance by international corporations and organisations. If you’re thinking this sounds familiar, Saddam Hussein did a similar thing before being killed off. Also it looks like Dominique Strauss-Kahn was undermining the dollar by calling for a new global currency, before news surfaced of his arrest for assaulting a maid.

Take a look at Europe. Its policymakers are looking to extending the power of its financial institutions to taking over the governments of a member country if they can’t run things the way they like it. Watch out Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland….

Don’t forget America. As it slides slowly toward collapse, the President believes he’s above the law and able to order the assassination of anyone he likes, the government is destroying its education systemgiving itself more power than we are aware they have and fighting wars without end, the rich are taking everything they can, and destroying the country in the process.

News from China that in 2010 there could well have been over 180,000 protests and demonstrations. That’s an average of nearly 500 per day! Some have been quite large and violent. Seems like the Chinese growth machine isn’t helping a lot of people.

In Australia, while the media and politicians scramble over the treatment of illegal immigrants, the elephant in the room is the treatment of the Aboriginal population. You won’t read about it in the Murdoch press though, which owns most of the major daily newspapers. John Pilger at his best.

The Department of Homeland Security may soon be changing its name to the Ministry of Peace, since it is starting to roll out 1984-esque technology that is “designed to identify people who intend to commit a terrorist act”. That’s right: thoughtcrime.

It’s fairly well known that the state of the health of Americans is getting worse and worse. Having no access to decent health cover, hospitals and food is one thing, but the recent statistics show that life expectantcy in the USA is declining at a noticeable rate.

Before long, that may also have something to do with the Fukushima situation, which looks like it now ranks as the worst nuclear disaster of all time. ‘Hot particles’ of radioactive isotopes of strontium, caesium and even plutonium have been showing up in Tokyo and as far as the west coast of the USA. This article says that there has been a spike in infant mortality in the western US since the Fukushima nuclear plant entered meltdown.  There might be a link, there might not. The lack of coverage on the right-wing news might indicate that it is hooey, but then again, the Russian atomic energy agency is pointing out that a nuclear plant in Nebraska, currently in trouble due to floods, is leaking radiation. (Yes, that is ironic) The silence from the American news is deafening. The fact that the largest operator of nuclear facilities has very close financial ties to Obama may also have something to do with it. In March I said I wasn’t worried about the radiation from the disaster, but that was based upon what I knew at the time. I refused to be drawn into the speculation and panic going on. Now, I am even reconsidering plans to travel to Tokyo for a holiday. I know I’m going to die some day, but I don’t want it to be from cancer caused by a stray particle of plutonium that I could have avoided by staying on this side of Japan.

Here was something interesting, stemming from a German report that the nuclear workers in Japan are disproportionally drawn from the ‘rejects’ of Japanese society, for example, the homeless and the burakumin.

Meanwhile, radiation has started appearing in crops of green tea. This happened in Shizuoka which is a) one of the largest tea growing areas in Japan, and b) west of Tokyo – supposedly a long way upwind of the evacuated nuclear-devastated areas surrounding Fukushima. The Japanese tea industry’s response was worry that people might switch to other forms of tea. Gee, thanks fellas. Keep up the good work.

It might be more expensive to get anything to eat as commodity speculation is pushing up food prices again, along with population growth, environmental destruction and (maybe) climate change. Coffee isn’t immune either, with the cost of raw green beans doubling in the past year.

The humble consumer can’t do much. Even hailed ‘environmentally friendly’ products such as those tagged as ‘biodegradable’ turn out to contribute to the problem. They often end up in landfill where they release methane.

Maybe we aren’t heading for another mini-Ice Age. Maybe we are. Maybe we’re heading for a time of much hotter weather. Maybe we aren’t. I’m with Ernst Mayr, George Carlin and Bill Hicks on this issue now. Carlin said, that the planet is fine – it’s had to deal with things much worse than us and it’s come back fine. Hicks said that if you’re truly a committed environmentalist, you should kill yourself and set the example for all of us to follow. More quietly, Ernst Mayr put forward the idea in a debate with Carl Sagan that intelligent life is perhaps a lethal mutation. I believe we’ve gone past the tipping point now and something is going to happen which will make life for humans much harder and a lot of people are going to die. The rich and powerful will still have access to their caviar and fine wine, so they won’t care – and since they don’t, who else will?

One problem with all this going on is that we’re all too busy to notice. We’re either working way longer hours, trying to multi-task and failing miserably in the process, or so busy looking over our shoulders in case someone tries to steal our jobs that we can’t work effectively. Stress is a killer. If you’re too busy to watch what the rich and powerful are doing – and are dying in the process – then they’re free to continue doing what they want.

Today in “My Religion Is Crazier Than Your Religion” News: A poor dog is in danger from a Jewish rabbinical court due to the belief that it is the reincarnation of a lawyer cursed by the same court twenty years ago.  Religion is certainly a great moneyspinner though – just look at the crazies who predicited the end of the world earlier this month. They’d raised more than US$100 million in just the past seven years – tax free. I’m in the wrong business.

Just when the world went and got itself a dose of healthy optimism with a royal wedding (despite what you think about it, at least it was a positive news story), it had to turn back to darkness with the death of Osama Bin Laden. There was a Martin Luther King misquote that got started on Twitter and made its way to Facebook very quickly. Although I agreed with the sentiment expressed in the (mis)quote, it’s worth reading through this article on science hoaxes to put it into context.

Of course the conspiracy theories began swirling around, almost before Bin Laden’s body met the inky depths of the ocean. One word that has been used a fair bit by the US Government, as well as bandied about on the internet is ‘justice’. This old-world, wild west notion of justice concerns me, as it does a number of people. Despite Bin Laden’s alleged links to 9/11, extrajudicial killings are illegal under international law. The US government is shimming and shamming its way out of it by saying he tried to defend himself but reports are coming out (from sources such as Bin Laden’s daughter who was present during the raid) that Bin Laden was unarmed, taken alive, then executed by the special forces. They’re also claiming that he was an enemy combatant, so it was justified, but he was an international criminal, not a soldier. The legal linguistic gymnastics look set to continue for while to come. The sea of information and disinformation also looks set to widen and deepen, so what truth there is to the situation looks set to be lost anyway. I am not confident we will ever really know the truth about this.

One thing is certain, Bin Laden is going to be very much a prescence in US foreign policy for a long time to come. His assassination certainly played into his hands, and his legacy is certain to continue into the future. Geoffrey Robertson hit it right on the head, as usual, and Tom Engelhardt is always good to read for an insight into the bigger picture.

Oh, and it’s worth repeating, but you you’re really interested to know what the US government thinks about truth and free speech, then look at what happened to Ray McGovern. He was arrested and beaten up by security thugs for staging a silent protest at a Hillary Clinton speech – the one where she defended the right to free speech in Egypt, but obviously not to Americans – especially in a plutocracy. Oh, and Mr. McGovern used to work for the CIA.

That whole Libya thing is looking dodgier and dodgier by the day. Not so much about bringing peace and democracy and about getting their hands on (surprise!) oil, Libya’s sovereign funds as well as those funds to rebuild the pulverized country.

How’s that Guantanamo place going? Still a bastion of degradation and ongoing torture? Good… nothing to see here. Oh, and how’s Bradley Manning, by the way? Being treated as a citizen of the US..? No? Oh, how about as a human bei…. No? How about as an animal? No? Worse than that? Oh – nothing’s changed then. Congrats Obama, you’re a monster in my book. If they can’t schedule a war crimes trial for George W., maybe they will for you.

And since the next US election isn’t until next November, it’s time for the pundits to start lining up. One thing for sure is that the Republicans are going to make American Decline their theme, somehow trying to avoid bringing up that it happened on the watch of the last Republican president. How are they going to do that? Well, for a start, by bringing up as many crazy early candidates as they can, so by the time they get around to choosing someone seriously, they’ll look quite sane in comparison. Johann Hari’s excellent article in The Independent sums up the situation most elegantly. I love the opening paragraph, so I’ll quote it in full for you:

Since the election of Barack Obama, the Republican Party has proved that one of its central intellectual arguments was right all along. It has long claimed that evolution is a myth believed in only by whiny liberals – and it turns out it was on to something. Every six months, the party venerates a new hero, and each time it is somebody further back on the evolutionary scale.

Fatsen your seatbelts, it’s going to be a looong ride – maybe not so bumpy, but hopefully entertaining.

The last combat veteran of World War One has passed away. Claude Choules served with the Royal Navy in WW1 then for Australia in WW2. He passed away aged 110. There is one more veteran of the war left, a British woman, Florence Green, who served in a non-combat capacity. She is also 110. We shall remember them.

Of course the idea of ANZAC Day is remember the fallen and to hope for no more wars. It is not to continue Australia’s role as a supplicant to the USA. Australia’s current prime minister, who is starting to look more and more like John Howard as the days pass, may well have been installed to continue US interests. Just who are we serving?

Not each other, according to this article. It made me sad to think of returning to Australia…

Australia’s not the only country joining the ranks of the Bush copycats. I see Canada has now joined the ranks.

As the situation in Fukushima continues, it’s worthwhile remembering the world’s worst nuclear reactor disaster in Chernobyl. Here’s a piece about one of the photographers who went in to document the disaster in the midst of deadly radiation.

Skynet is with us, but don’t worry, those HD cameras are great for taking footage of surfing….

China’s economy is still growing strong, and it looks set to overtake the US in as soon as 2016 according to the IMF.

But, we’re running out of stuff. Not only are we running out of manual typewriters, we’re also running out of oil; not only the black stuff, but the oil we need to eat. We’re also running short of food, fresh water, helium, chocolate, medical isotopes, tequila and phosphorus. Stuff like tequila and chocolate we could probably reluctantly get used to, but no medical istopes means no cancer treatments, no phosphorus means no food, and no water, well, that’s pretty obvious.

With the buzzword being ‘cloud computing’ these days, it’s worthwhile thinking about the possibility of hackers having a field day, or perhaps they already are, right Sony?

An English teacher working in Australia won a case against unfair dismissal recently. That’s a good thing, especially when you consider his ‘crime’ was to teach a class of adults on the correct use of the ‘F’ word. In my opinion, if you’re going to participate fully in Australian society, a comprehensive knowledge of when to use – and not use – that word should be mandatory! 

Yahoo calls out the ten most overrated tourist destinations and, more importantly, gives alternatives. Some of  these I had absolutely no intention at all of going to, but it’s good to learn about other places that are equally awesome. You might also want to check out the site at Angkor Wat before it disappears under the heels of a million tourists. I went there a couple of years ago and aside from the central complex and Angkor, I’d recommend you take a few days and see the other temples around the area; there are far fewer tourists, fewer pedlars, often better preserved architecture, and a chance to help the locals more by shopping where they shop.

So when is a kilo not a kilo?

Einstein’s theories have been proved, yet again.

A list of names for things you knew had a name but didn’t know what they were.

One of the interesting things about living in an information age is that one simply doesn’t have to die. It is the stuff of science fiction to transpose one’s personality into a computer and to continue ‘living’ as a machine, but in the past, in order to achieve immortality one had to be a Hemingway or a Shakespeare, a Monroe or a Dean, a Warhol or a Picasso. Now, thanks to the available technology, our writings, videos, music and musings can live as long as the server permits. I came across this blog post, of one Derek Miller, who recently died from cancer. It is a marvellous, poignant and inspiring piece of prose. Even though the man is dead, his work can live forever, and thereby so can he. What an age we live in!

Enjoy it while you can.