Monday, May 28, 2007

A Diverse Nation

My American office mate, who grew up in New Jersey, claims she never met an American who literally believed in the Bible until she visited Michigan in her early 20s. Consequently, it irritates her to no end when people make assumptions about Americans. Here's a couple highlights from an interesting opinion piece by an Australian correspondent in Washington:

Some particularly wise person once said that if you are going to write about America, you should do so after a short stay, maybe a few weeks, before you are overwhelmed by its diversity and the sheer size of the place, with all its contradictions, excesses and complexities.

I fear that I have failed to convey the complexity of America, but if I have failed I am not alone. My view is that most of the reporting of the place by most foreign correspondents — British, European and, yes, Australian — fails the complexity test.

It is not without significance that, unlike Europe's Muslims, America's 2.5-million-strong Muslim community is highly assimilated, an economic success story and, overall, slightly more optimistic about America's future than the general population, according to recent research by the Pew Research Centre. And an overwhelming majority of American Muslims — more than 90 per cent — are opposed to Islamic extremism.

Much of American popular culture is trashy, of course, and much of its commercial media is mindless and fixated on celebrity, but the best of American journalism — print and broadcast — is better than anything I have found elsewhere, British journalism included.

America is a place full of contradictions that it would take a lifetime to unravel. For instance, while the Bush Administration's response to Hurricane Katrina and the drowning of New Orleans was inept and heartless, there was a great outpouring of generosity from Americans, who donated several billion dollars to support the mostly poor, black victims.
And tens of thousands of displaced people from New Orleans and the Mississippi coastal region were welcomed and resettled in cities in Texas that were not renowned for their history of great race relations.

That's not the first time I've read American journalism is ranked higher than that of the British - don't tell the poms though.

An interesting nation indeed. Pity the large number of Christian nutters give it a bad name.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Asexual Shark Birth

It must be a sign from above. Well, at least that's what some of the good people of Nebraska are thinking, I imagine:

A hammerhead shark has given birth to a pup without having mated. It is the first time that a shark or any other species of fish has been proved to be able to reproduce asexually.

The pup, a bonnethead shark from the hammerhead family of sharks, was born at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska.

The discovery means that of all animal groups, only mammals are unable to reproduce through parthenogenesis.

Researchers from Queen’s University Belfast and the United States were able to show that traces of paternal DNA were absent from the hammerhead pup, Sphyrna tiburo, which was later killed by another fish in the tank.

Asexual reproduction raises conservation concerns, however, because the birth fails to introduce a new genetic mix. Not only did the pup only inherit maternal genes, but the process was thought to be automictic parthenogenesis, in which only some of the mother’s profile is passed on.

Pity they allowed it to be killed. I'm glad mammals can't reproduce asexually. Some people simply shouldn't reproduce at all, let alone by themselves.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Water Propaganda

Toowoomba decided last year, amidst a severe shortage of water, not to puruse recycled water. If they want to perish, so be it, the daft fools. But why do they have to bother the rest of Queensland:

Scientists say they have been seriously misrepresented in material prepared for a campaign to undermine the Beattie Government's recycled sewage plan.

Brisbane will become the first capital to use recycled sewage for drinking by the end of next year, with recycled water to be pumped to the Wivenhoe Dam through the $1.7 billion western corridor pipeline, the biggest project of its kind in Australia.

Opponents of the plan have vowed to stop it. More than 500,000 copies of a glossy 20-page booklet -- called "Think Before You Agree to Drink" and costing $200,000 -- have been distributed in Brisbane in recent weeks.

The booklet refers to what it describes as scientific studies that support the case against drinking recycled water.

However, four experts quoted in the publication have told The Australian that they in fact support the use of recycled sewage as drinking water.

The publication was funded in part by John Dowson, a semi-retired land developer in the Darling Downs city of Toowoomba, where a referendum last June to introduce recycled water was defeated.

The campaign Mr Dowson funds is organised by Toowoomba councillor Snow Manners, who conceded that some experts quoted in the brochure may have been misrepresented. "They are all direct quotes but some may have been taken out of context," Mr Manners said.

Living in the past. And the irony, the stupid townspeople of Toowoomba will end up drinking Brisbane's recycled water anyway. If it's good enough for Singapore and London, it's good enough for me.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Hippie Pinup Boy

I nearly choked on my Ice Break yesterday when I saw a hippie flyer advocating the actions of Hugo Chavez. Sure, the Venezuelan president throws a little money here and there to the needed. However, nearly once a week I read about something stupid that Chavez has said or done. From threatening to privatise banks to preaching about the Kingdom of God on Iranian TV, the guy's stupidity has no bounds. And the irony, under a Chavez-like rule hippie dissidents would be first ones to be silenced. Well, I guess he's better than the Killing Machine Che.

Monday, May 14, 2007


The film "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" is coming out this week. I'm excited. And Die Hard 4 is coming out soon as well. Aren't sequels great? But I don't know why anyone would make a sequel to Point Break. Doesn't matter. As long as I can practise my pirate impersonation so I'll be ready for pirate-themed party in a month. Girls dig pirates, right? Right?

Friday, May 11, 2007

Standardised Tests

Call me old fashion, but I've always figured tests were the best way of assessing what a person knows. Apparently, that's not the case:

National literacy and numeracy tests are invalid measures of student ability because they cannot assess a child's "sense of wonder" and levels of cowardice or arrogance.

In a submission to the Senate inquiry into the academic standards of school education, the Australian Education Union argues against the use of standardised tests to measure student achievement and says "there is no crisis in standards".

"The AEU has long been cautious about the use of basic skills tests and other standardised tests as a means of measuring the wellbeing of Australian schools," it says.

"Much of what is important in schooling is not measured by standardised tests."

Right. Trying running a small business or passing uni with a "sense of wonder". I love the "just because it appears we're doing a bad job, doesn't mean we're actually doing a bad job..." mentality.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Beers and Blogs

There's something to be said about blogs. Actually, no there isn't. It's all pretty obvious, innit? Blogs are the electronic manifestations of the self-indulged and long-winded amongst us. But I digress.

I sit here on this lovely evening having just consumed a number of beverages of the beer variety. And what an eveninig it has been! Star Wars day leaves us, May the 4th, the only pun known to mankind that can be lethal in large doses. And this in the wake of the premier of Spiderman 3. What a nerd bonanza! I'm going to watch this film soon. And I don't care if it's worse than, say, um, well, to be honest, I've seen way too many bad films in my life to even begin to name them. Forgive me my lord, for I knew not what Streetfigher would wrought on my mortal soul.

Speaking of mortality, at least two characters have passed away in the last month. The first was a drunken Ruskie who, I believe, briefly led a former communist country, and liberalised its economy, probably, too rapidly - no doubt leading to "richer than god" bastards like the owner of Chelsea FC. The other was a satirical and black humour (the best type of humour) writer who witnessed the bombing of Dresden. Pity he lost the plot - no pun intended - towards the end.

Writing this entry seemed like such a "good idea in the beginning" - said the actress to the bishop. Now I lack the verbal capacity to end it all. Speaking of which, I was recently invited by a friend to join a Shakespearan acting society. Can you imagine it? Me trying to act in front of pretentious arts students? I should attend just for the laugh. Or perhaps I'd be better reading the regicidal machinations of Macbeth in my own home - with close access to beer.

Perhaps, semi-drunken rants on blogspot can become a regular thing. What do you say? Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel every week? I can't believe I just made a comic reference. It's not the comic reference that saddens me per se. It's the fact that it was a DC comic reference. I have sinned. That's ten comics of Wolverince that I must read in order to cleanse myself.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

New Uni Model

I am for once trying to do some actual work in my office today. However, moments ago I was distracted by a bunch of smelly students protesting against the new University of Melbourne model. And in The Age today there are more students whinging:

Creative arts students will lodge a formal complaint against Melbourne University, claiming they are being short-changed and not getting the degree they were promised as it shifts to a US-style model.

Creative arts is one of 96 degrees being cut as the university adopts the Melbourne Model, eventually teaching only six undergraduate courses and moving all professional programs to graduate level.

The university will continue to teach existing courses until all students finish, but creative arts students say the prestigious degree they enrolled in has disappeared, subjects have been cut, contact hours have been reduced and staff who left over summer have not been replaced.

Meanwhile our country has nobody doing science. That'll teach them for doing creative arts, I say.