Wednesday, 30 September 2009

What fresh hell is this?

Asylum seekers are to be subjected to DNA tests in an attempt to confirm their true nationalities

I am sat here, agog.

What the blue buggering fuck is this?  Are they just throwing out press releases designed to provoke as much as public outrage as humanly possible?
I am at a loss as to how this would even function.
Even if we assume that ancestry can be reliably traced using this technology, it surely cannot address the pragmatic legal questions of nationality. Imagine a British citizen wanting to enter, say, the US: Imagine they have a South-African father and a Chinese mother, oh and the dad has Dutch ancestry on his dad's side, what are you left with? An immigration situation that no amount of genetic analysis would help in clarifying.

And aside from the very obvious scientific flaws, this strategy seems to indicate that the UK borders agency think genotype defines nationality.  Just like the BNP do.

Bit of a recurring theme, these days...

Cure for Cancer

A quick one, as I'm off doing magnet stuff today:

Via a tweet from Gimpy, I've found this brilliant comic explaining why we will likely never find a cure for cancer, at least not a pill or procedure that will solve all of our oncological ills.

So if you've asked recently: Why have we not yet found the cure to cancer? You probably won't like the answer, but that's possibly because you don't fully understand the question.

Update: I forgot what prompted this post.  It was Brown during his speech:

And so with three major steps forward – early diagnosis, early treatment and our historic investment in research for cancer cures, we in Britain can transform cancer care; and our ambition is no less than to beat cancer in this generation
Best of luck with that, champ.

Oh and heads up, I'll be throwing out another LHC post soon. This time we're talking engineering and issues -the real stuff.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

HPV Vaccine

Al Jahom prompted me to comment on the tediously predictable tabloid and beeb coverage of the young girl who died subsequent to receiving the last of her three HPV vaccinations. I spammed his comment thread accordingly, but here is my reckon:


Until the coroner comes back and tells us that a reaction to the vaccine killed her, there is about as much correlative evidence for saying it was her breakfast that did it, because she died after she ate it. So we should wait and see what he says before we go nuts, MMR-scare fashion.


That said, from the sound of it something happened shortly after vaccination took place, and it is feasible that it was a vaccine reaction. The official guidelines have the rate of adverse (normally allergic) effects to the vaccine at about 1 in a million (which would figure, since there have been about 1.5million girls who've been vaccinated so far).  For comparison; Penicillin causes serious reactions in 1 in 100000. 

This all remeniscent of the case of Anna Duncan who died after her MMR vaccination a few years ago. The Daily Hate were all over it like a cheap suit.
Post mortem revealed the child had a severe case of chicken pox, with complications. Did the Mail ever apologise for scaring thousands of parents away from getting MMR for their kids? Did they bollocks.

And lo, just as the Beeb and the Guardian are reporting that the jab probably didn't cause her death and that she had "serious underlying medical issues", the whole vaccine programme has turned into a gangfuck.
Way to fucking go, tabloids. It doesn't matter what the long-term damage is so long as you shift your grimy, foetid rag to the masses.

I was going to write something more detailed, but the Coroner hasn't told us anything yet, so we're all pissing in the wind. And besides, the LayScientist has covered this brilliantly.

Update  Al Jahom, in a break from being reactionary, has linked to this very well written piece in the Times which you all need to read.

Further Update: here's Malcolm Coles chronicling how the various tabloids have conducted their shabby selves.

Dolphin-friendly = Everything else-unfriendly


Fuck you, Flipper (image taken from Andy Master of Fish)

So it seems we need to introduce our environmentally friendly chums at Greenpeace and their ilk to the concept of tradeoffs.  This article at SouthernFriedScience looks at the problems associated with “dolphin-safe” tuna.  Apparently making tuna “dolphin-safe” means using methods that kill other fish, including endangered ones:
The only species that “dolphin safe” tuna is good for is dolphins!  The bycatch rate for EVERY OTHER species is lower when fishing dolphin-associated tuna vs. floating object associated tuna! The reason for this is obvious- floating objects attract everything nearby, while dolphins following tuna doesn’t attract any other species.
If you work out the math on this (and you don’t have to, because the environmental justice foundation did) , you find that 1 dolphin saved costs 382 mahi-mahi, 188 wahoo, 82 yellowtail and other large fish, 27 sharks, and almost 1,200 small fish.
By trying to help dolphins, groups like Greenpeace caused one of the worst marine ecological disasters of all time. Few other fisheries are as bad for groups like sharks and sea turtles as the purse seine fishery, and none are as large in scale.
Here we get into the ethical debate.
Is it worth saving dolphins, who were not and are not endangered, at the expense of sea turtles, sharks, and many other fish species who are endangered?
If we were to ask Greenpeace for a solution, they would invariably -and have done before now- tell us to just stop industrial fishing.  Left out is that stopping industrial fishing would mean starvation or malnutrition for millions of people.
I’m not fond of many modern fishing techniques such as trawling, especially coupled with travesties such as the EC Common Fisheries Policy which has succeeded in decimating fish stocks in our native waters, but we have to stop pretending that environmental questions are a choice between absolute good and intolerable evil.  And we especially have to stop informing our policies based on how cute we think the affected species are.

P.S- If dolphins are so smart, why do they live in igloos?

Monday, 28 September 2009

Behold...

...The majesty of Craigslist:




Sorry, I've got nothing to follow that.

*shakes head and walks out the room*

Homeopathy

I've been busy as hell with real-life today, but what I have found for your delectation is this sublime explanation of the idiocy which is homeopathy at the Depleted Cranium.




And if that's not enough for you, here's James Randi schoolin' you bitches right, yo:




Will write something real later.

Friday, 25 September 2009

49,891%



The numbers, they burn. (click for .pdf)

The Grauniad has it's uses.
Someone from over at the Daily Politics pointed this out in response to my babble about the previous chart the Grun did.

You'll notice the new category this year: Her Majesty's Treasury:

Oh, my mistake; here it is from last year:


Didn't see it there for a moment, was a bit tiny compared to the rest.  That's because the treasury normally takes money in and these costs were presumably for admin and overheads. That is, until the erstwhile Iron Chancellor decided to mortgage our great-grandchildren.  49,891%, Jesus.

The chart isn't telling us anything we didn't already know, but it does illustrate the magnitude of the horror which is the state of Britain's public finances.  Now you too can partake in one of my favourite pastimes, which is deciding who you'd sack if you had the Marker Pen of Doom.  Frankly, it's a sight easier to circle all that you'd keep.

And we can pick at the various pointless and superfluous Quangos and other government waste until the cows come home, but it's pretty clear what's going to have to take the biggest kicking, whoever gets in:


And there is plenty of duplicated effort, inefficiency and non-jobs in any of those which could be stripped away without unduly effecting the 'frontline' services too much.  But of course, to the unions every public sector job is 'frontline' which must be protected at all costs. I'm expecting Winter of Discontent levels of strike action . I've a feeling that whoever remains not in the employ of the state (who are still the majority, just about) will be less than sympathetic to this stance this time around.

Interesting times.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Bad Tattoos

I may or may not post something of consequence later today, as I may have pulled a blogging muscle after the whole LHC thing. However, I can provide teh funnehs -as that's the only way to get you low-brow fuckers to engage.
So, here is ugliesttattoos.com which is currently taking the edge off my day. A sample:


…or what I fear might be a well executed tattoo of some kids who just happen to be really ugly. I don’t want to be mean, but those faces look like they’ve seen their share of bar fights. And everyone else’s share of bar fights. And meth.

Check it out.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Another high point for this blog

Going through the 'Recent Keyword Activity' list on StatCounter, it turns out someone landed on my blog whilst searching for:

I'd knew I'd get there one day if I just believed in myself and followed my dreams.

Many thanks to the pervert reader from Houston, Texas for making it all happen for me.

The LHC



Swiss Bob has asked me -in my new capacity as his science correspondent- to write a little something on the Large Hadron Collider at Cern, near Geneva. He has a vested interest as he lives in the vicinity and would like to know if it is now safe to emerge from the ad hoc Anderson shelter in his garden; the massive coward that he is.  So what I'm going to do is describe what it is, what it's for, how likely it is to destroy creation and explain just why I have Dan Brown in a ball-gag in my cellar; the whiny little bitch.

First off:  What's it for?
Well the way scientists in the particle physics world generally operate is to look at the particles we know of and theorise as to what they're made of. They mainly do this by smashing together the larger particles in order to release these smaller building blocks or an indication into their nature.  They then take the observed data and compare it with their theories and see how it matches up. So basically they spend their time smashing things together to look for progressively smaller and rarer particles. So far, so good.

What's a Hadron and why are we colliding them?
Hadrons are the parent family for protons and neutrons. They are what make up the nucleus in an atom and are what give it appreciable mass. At the LHC, they will take two opposing beams of protons(or lead ions), spin them up to close to the speed of light using a series of superconducting magnets and RF cavities, and then at the last second, a magnet is switched which guides them into one another. So, the LHC has turned on, and has circulated protons both clockwise and anticlockwise inside of its main ring. These particles, at their fastest, will get up to 7 TeVs of energy apiece, which means they’ll be moving at 99.99999898% the speed of light. To give you a feel for how close that is, the speed of light is exactly 299,792,458 meters per second. In the LHC, these protons move at 299,792,454.9 meters per second.
That's pretty quick.


Feel the awesome

Using a detector array built around the intended collision point, we can take readings and figure out what happened within the collision. The reason we do this is because that’s how we make brand new particles that we’ve never made or seen before. Create enough energy and you create mass (E= MC2, thanks Albert). This is how we make antimatter, and it’s also how we made and discovered nearly every particle we know about today. Including practically the entire standard model of particle physics.

The most energetic collisions we have witnessed so far are at the Tevatron, at Fermilab in the states. There, they have achieved particles up to energies of one trillion electron-volts (1012 eV), abbreviated to 1 TeV. At the LHC, the magnets are more powerful and the accelerator is larger in circumference, so the protons have more run-up, get more energy transferred to them, and so they can get kinetic energies up to 7 TeV, for a maximum energy of 14 TeV (7 TeV both ways). This new energy range is why people are optimistic about finding new things, as more energy means more potential scope for discovery.

So what are they hoping to find?
The Higgs Boson is the much hyped 'God particle' that scientists hope to find as a product of these experiments. It is the last missing piece from the Standard Model and should illustrate exactly how and why things have mass. A big deal. That said, if the Higgs is all they find, the scientists are going to be pretty disappointed, as it's really only telling them what they've already worked out. As the Man Hawking has already said, it would be far more interesting if they didn't find it

So what else is there?
There are a plethora of unanswered questions in physics, but some hopeful outcomes include:

Signs of supersymmetry: If scientists detect certain types of supersymmetric particles, aka 'sparticles' it would show that string theorists have been on the right path and that the universe really is made up of the four dimensions we experience and then seven others that unite the forces of nature.

The nature of Dark Matter and Dark Energy: Astrophysicists currently believe that 96 percent of the universe is made up of dark matter and energy that we can’t see and can barely detect. Dark matter alone is estimated to compose 26 percent of the universe, only we have no idea what it’s made of. It has been postulated that the neutralino is the best candidate for dark matter. Many physicists hope that the neutralino will make an appearance in the debris inside the CMS or Atlas detectors, confirming the theory of dark matter.


Attempts to make quark-gluon plasma, which would be indicative of the conditions following the big bang; By generating temperatures more than 100,000 times hotter than the sun, scientists hope to watch as this particle goo cools and expands into the particles that we know. That could help scientists answer why protons and neutrons weigh 100 times more than the quarks they’re made of.


Now the benefits of this type of research aren't always apparent, and any associated commercial developments are normally tangential to the studies themselves, but if we wish to to innovate and manipulate material to our own benefit, this stuff is crucial.

Anyway, enough fluff - what's all this talk about black holes?
Well some theorists posit that at the high energies reached by the LHC there is a small but finite probability of accessing dimensions other than our 'normal' three spacial and one time dimension. Don't think about that too hard or you'll go nuts.
So if there are extra dimensions, it is conceivable that they could be of a specific type allowing the (again, very unlikely, but not impossible) formation of a microscopic black hole.
That sounds dramatic, indeed it was the talk of the town for the better half of last year. So lets take a peek at that whole premise shall we?

Working on the assumption that we can create these tiny black holes, the biggest black hole we could fabricate within the LHC would be if all of the energy from our hadron collision is captured within it's creation. Let us further assume that a million of these collisions occur, and all of them make black holes which can then merge together (and we're stretching credibility even further now). For the maximum collision energy at CERN (14 TeV), E = mc2 tells us that our cumulative black hole would have a mass of 2.5 x 10-14 grams. That’s 25 femtograms, which means this black hole would have an event horizon trillions of times smaller than the size of a proton.
Now let us assume that our newly birthed black hole falls into the Earth, gnawing away at its rocky matter to sate it's rapacious hunger,  eating everything in its path.  How far would it get? What damage will it do?  My God, what hath we wrought?
Well, lets look at that too. 

As it falls into the Earth, our baby black hole starts running into protons,  let’s assume he's really hungry and whenever it runs into a proton, he eats it up. By the time it gets to the centre of the Earth, it will have eaten about 10-16 grams(0.0000000000000001g) of matter.  It will have grown by about 0.4% in the 30 minutes or so it takes to get to the centre of the Earth. It will then head towards the other side, gobbling up that matter until it stops in the upper mantle, and then it would head back towards the centre of the Earth. It should do this over and over, each time gobbling up more matter (at a constant rate of about 4 x 10-16 grams per hour), each time getting farther and farther away from the Earth’s surface, never to quite reach it again, like some bizarre Newton's cradle.

Ultimately what this means is: In order to reach the mass of 1 gram, our baby black hole would take 1 billion (1000000000) years.  And this is the worst case scenario.  Terrifying, I'm sure you'll admit. And even this isn't going to happen. Black holes decay, and the speed at which they decay is inversely proportional to their size, so the small ones decay the fastest. Even if you managed to make this 25 femtogram black hole, it would decay into normal matter incredibly fast (within 10-66 seconds) allowing for Hawking radiation. Which means, unless our understanding of physics is well off -and there is no reason to suggest that it is- we can’t even make a black hole in the first place.

 This ain't gonna happen

So there you go Bob, you can come out now.


I shall write another post soon detailing some of the technical 'issues' they're having and why the first run has been delayed for over a year.
But the demands of our rather more modest lab are calling me.

PS. check out our new website.

Monday, 21 September 2009

A brief note on conspiracy theories

Our libertarian crowd of blogtards are particularly partial to conspiracy theories; be it the Bilderbergers, Common Purpose, big pharma creating diseases just so they can sell cures, some massive semitic world bank, the endless machinations of those darn socialists*, or those lizard people like the Queen mum (David Icke was on to something there). This is no doubt down to the inherent mistrust us lot have of any monolithic organisation, and rightly so; the govmint rarely has our best interests at heart.  It's just that we often believe these things in the face of rank incompetence and inefficiencies in most if not all large organisations - less so in the private sector, obv. but the point remains:  keeping a conspiracy secret in groups larger than two people is practically impossible. It's just human nature.
Do you think that the "truthers" (the 9/11 conspiracy crowd) for example, ever once considered the vast amount of people who would need to be involved in a such a plot and why no-one has come forward out of guilt, got drunk and told his chums or made a death-bed confession?  It's because it's bollocks.


Someone remind me later to do this in more detail, but right now I've got Cern shit to write about.  The eternally excellent XKCD has my back on this one though:




* Redacted after consideration. They probably are out to get us.

Elitist Fatcats



Further to my rant on slipping standards and qualification grade inflation amongst British education establishments the other day, we have this from the CBI:

The Confederation of British Industry says the extra money needed to fund universities should come from savings in the student support system.

It also calls for more sponsorship and bursaries from businesses.

The National Union of Students attacked the report as "gross hypocrisy" from the "fat cats at the CBI".
First off, I've never understood the point of the NUS, or why anyone asks their opinion on anything, bearing in mind that their 'staff' are comprised of politcos-in-waiting and none of them ever seem to have done a real degree and are otherwise unemployable. As a matter of principle if your course didn't involve at least some maths, your opinion is worth nought in this slug's eye.   I suppose I'd give at least some time to language students, but only if they could demonstrate some rudimentary calculus to me. But I digress.

So the CBI are saying the tertiary education system is bloated and costs too much, and are opining that students should pay more and stupid people shouldn't be there in the first place. And in response, the government are sticking to their 'throw enough idiot graduates at the problem and all will be well' strategy :
Higher education minister for England, David Lammy, said the government was committed to investing in "our world class system" and to the aspiration for 50% of young people to go to university.
You're not 'investing', you're pissing our money up the wall, and our 'world-class system' is rapidly being devalued in the eyes of the real world.

The CBI's proposals involve charging a commercial rate of interest on student loans and upping the fees incurred in the first place:
This would mean reducing the subsidy on student loans, more means-testing of support and the hiking of tuition fees above the current levels of £3,225 per year in England and Northern Ireland and £1,285 in Wales.

In Scotland, there are no tuition fees.
Interesting, I wonder how our Celtic brethren manage to finance their education system so well? Must be the taxes raised from the vast private sector activity within their borders. Yeah, that must be it.
The report also says universities should focus more on economically valuable subjects such as science, technology, engineering, maths and languages.
Like I say, Real subjects. The stuff that forms the knowledge backbone of any civilised country. The very same departments that have been downsized and closed over the past decade whilst pointless soft subjects have increased in abundance. I'm looking at you, Sport 'Science'.
Oh and here is the predictable dreg from the NUS:
"At a time of economic crisis, when many hard-working families are struggling t support their offspring through university, I am astonished that the CBI should be making such offensive recommendations," said NUS president, Wes Streeting.
Fine, then make the tuition fee a part of the loan and they can pay it back later under the same terms as the student loan, i.e. 10% of whatever they earn above 15,000. If they've done a course which actually has commercial value, they'll get a job which'll pay that back inside of ten years. It's a burden, but you've got to speculate to accumulate. If you can't get a decent job on the back of your degree, why are you fucking doing it? Do you think you have a right to spend three/four years dossing about doing a BA in Horse Wanking, and have a further right to a well-paid job at the end of it? Do you bollocks.
Oh and take a peak at the wiki page for our man Wes from the NUS (Yeah I know, but you think I'm going to do proper research on this dickhead?).
Just to validate my point, that tit has a career consisting entirely of doing a history degree, being in a local student union and then being in the national student union. Jesus, what an intellectual powerhouse. And check out his preferred system for education funding:
This system, which NUS calls a 'progressive graduate contribution' would generate double the revenue of the current top-up fee arrangements by collecting a progressive contribution linked to graduates' earnings for a fixed period of twenty years into a so-called 'People's Trust For Higher Education' which would then release funding to universities through the Higher Education Funding Council for England. The publication was welcomed by the higher education sector as a serious contribution, but it has attracted critics from the left and the right.
That's right, the hardest working students who get the best jobs would get their pay proportionally confiscated to pay for the dead weight of the arts and humanities students. Just....wow. But enough of this stroker.

So the real universties are on board with the CBI:
The Russell Group, representing a group of prestigious universities, was also enthusiastic about the proposals.

"The CBI is right to call for an exploration of new sources of funding and to say that the priority is to maintain quality rather than expand numbers," said the Russell Group's director general, Wendy Piatt.
And the ex-polys are less keen:
But the Million+ group of new universities opposes dropping the target of 50% of young people getting university places, saying it was "the wrong approach in a recession which has already caused one million young people to be unemployed".
Translation: without a constant influx of mouthbreathers to keep our seats warm, we'll cease to get funding, will have to close, and the government won't be able to cook the unemployment books by throwing the feckless into a lecture theatre to study 'Tourism and Leisure'.
The Association of Teachers and Lecturers attacked the proposals as "arrogant and elitist".
Hold the front page; Idiot Socialists don't like Clever Rich People shocker.
And to finish off with Lammy:
Higher education minister David Lammy commented on the CBI proposal: "Participation in higher education is an investment both for the individual and for the nation.

"We should continue to widen access, not only because it's socially just, but also because our future economy will depend on having more people with higher level skills.
Socially Just. Fuck me.
Listen David, you cannot pretend that someone is capable of something that they demonstrably are not.  Similarly, you cannot foster and develop 'higher level skills' among those fundamentally unsuited to them. As I've said before, University is meant to be elitist, it is for academically better-than-average folk. It also is not a right, and if the cost of that education is to be bourne by it's recipient, then they have to weigh up whether it's the right choice for them and whether it's a worthy investment of their time and money.
This obsession with 'fairness' is ultimately the undoing of all socialist policy; reality isn't fair. You can only do the best with the abilities at your disposal and make the most of the opportunities you encounter.

'Fairness' means we are all brought low.

Update - Wat Tyler's on the case too

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Ikea-ed

I've spent all day building bookshelves from Ikea; I can't get me enough of that hot fibreboard action. Consequently I am now in rag order, so instead of anything real here is a funneh someone linked to on facebook:



Oh and Swiss Bob over at his place has taken me on board as his resident geek, so the slugginess is now syndicated. He's asked me to keep his readers informed about the LHC among other things -and I shall endeavour to do so- but if anyone has any requests about all things sciencey they want my semi-informed reckon on, do please let me know.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Ban this filth

Apparently the Fawsett Society (I didn't know who they were either, but here you go) reckon that there is porn literally everywhere:

Lads’ mags are displayed for sale purposes in over 50,000 workplaces. A content analysis of leading titles revealed all contained pornographic imagery. Yet there are no independent, compulsory guidelines regarding the display and sale of pornography, and no major retailer has a policy of covering up lads’ mags or putting them on the top shelf
And who the fuck would decide -independently- what is or is not pornographic? Would any straight men be allowed in the body responsible, or are only unattractive women allowed to decide what is or isn't offensive to other people?
Their basic premise is that that Nuts and Zoo and the like should be top-shelf stuff just like normal jazz mags. I'm minded to think that if they did, they'd have to cover up newspaper front pages, gossip mag covers, health and fitness magazines, women's magazines like Cosmo, in fact pretty much everything on the stands; since frankly the covers on lads mags are rarely much more explicit than the covers of many other magazines or indeed papers.
The report, Corporate Sexism: the sex industry's infiltration of the modern workplace, is being launched today at an event hosted by BT, with Harriet Harman QC MP, Minister for Women, the key-note speaker.
Well there's a shock. And was that the original title of this otherwise objective and not at all biased study? Here's the Harperson going on about the desperate fucking importance of tax relief on corporate entertainment in lap-dancing clubs:
"I will take up the issue of tax relief, because there is a whole host of rules around tax relief. For example you can't get tax relief for childcare, which is necessary for you to go to work. Why should you be able to get tax relief for a night out at a lap-dancing club where effectively you are discriminating against women employees in doing so?"
First off I think you can buy those childcare vouchers tax-free can't you? But anyway, surely it's only discriminatory if they were forcing women to go to such places, and if businesswomen couldn't claim the same back on corporate trips to Male Strip shows. I appreciate the latter isn't as popular but no-one is being actively discriminated against in the former are they?
Back to the Fawcett coven:
Fawcett’s research reveals that the use of lap dancing clubs and display of pornography in a work context is seriously undermining women’s status at work and is in violation of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975.
“While the days when it was deemed acceptable to hang ‘girly calendars’ on office walls may be long gone, the presence of degrading imagery of women in UK workplaces has never been more endemic. Pornographic lads’ mags are openly displayed in over 50,000 retail shops – each one of them somebody’s workplace. But displaying these magazines in this way is in violation of the Sex Discrimination Act, so it is crucial that retail employers cover up pornographic newspapers and lads’ mags and place them on the top shelf.”
*wistfull look into the distance* We found some of those girly calendars in an old drawer the other day, it was like finding a stash of torn-up porn by some railway sidings all over again. Happy days. But I digress.

How does what someone else is reading, without them forcing you to, affect you in the slightest? If you are not actively looking for offence there is nothing to be found here. Similarly, you disapprove that grown-up males might take other males to see women willingly take their clothes off -for hefty recompense I might add- completely out of public eye-shot and not involving you in anyway whatsoever. Plainly the strippers themselves are complicit in this organised and brutish conspiracy against wimminkind (© Millie Tant, Viz).

But why is the mildest of mild porn (ie. a Nuts cover) in the workplace a Bad Thing which must be legislated against? There are plenty of other workplaces which are replete with shouty people, vomit, night-shifts, alcohol, creepy-crawlies, or vertigo-inducing heights. If you don't like any of those, you don't have to do that job. Go work in an insurance call-centre instead.

My local M&S has a giant picture on the wall of a cute lass in a bikini (Is it Noemie Lenoir, or Myleene? I forget). The huge sexualised image doesn't seem to bother me, nor M&S's typical demographic of middle-aged, middle-class ladies.
So perhaps Fawcett and fucking Harman should just mind their own fucking business, let other -no doubt more attractive and confident- women get on with their own lives, without someone else to fight their battles for them over completely manufactured battlefields.

Oh and get us a cup of tea would you, love?

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Quickie

I'm not entirely sure the Google-news filtering process is as water tight as they'd like, given that it just threw this at me:

http://newsarse.com/2009/09/17/film-makers-devastated-as-bowling-for-audenshaw-shelved-indefinitely/

In other news, top marks to the 'mash for describing a belm so well.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Going to hell, and taking you with me...

So, I was watching all the episodes of Mr. Tourette on YouTube, as one does, and their wonderful "Related videos" system proffered the following:



In the words of Eric Cartman: "These people were put here for our amusement."


And yes I'm sure it's a terrible affliction and a struggle to live with, but that doesn't make it not-funny.

Moving le goalposts

Lets imagine that your country has a wedded obsession with socialism, to the point where any suggestion of reform is met with the locals doing their damnedest to cripple the place - no matter how damaging to the economy the existing policies are. Further, imagine that your country is not performing all that well, economically speaking, with 20% unemployment among the under-25s due in main to the stranglehold on industry by the various unions. You're in a bind, the numbers look bad. what can you do?

Well you could redefine economic numbers and measurements to include such factors as how happy everyone is:

Happiness, long holidays and a sense of well-being may not be everyone’s yardstick for economic performance, but Nicolas Sarkozy believes they should be embraced by the world in a national accounting overhaul. France’s president on Monday urged other countries to adopt proposed new measures of economic output unveiled by a panel of international economists led by Joseph Stiglitz, the US Nobel Prize winner.
Insee, the French statistics agency, would set about incorporating the new indicators in its accounting, Mr Sarkozy said. One consequence of the commission’s proposed enhancements to gross domestic product data would be to improve instantly France’s economic performance by taking into account its high-quality health service, expensive welfare system and long holidays. At the same time, the commission’s changes would downgrade US economic output.

Wow.
Sure, what the hell, if things don't look that good just factor in as many unmeasurable abstract concepts as possible until everything is peachy again. Yes, everyone might still be out of work and your economy might be shafted, but if you can just look a little less shit compared to the Americans all will be great:
Mr Stiglitz and Jean-Paul Fitoussi, co-author, said a more comprehensive method for measuring performance would cut the per capita GDP gap between the US and France by at least half. US per capita GDP is 14 per cent higher than France’s. Although the commission did not work out the effects of its proposals on different countries, Mr Stiglitz said the changes would bring “a number of major adjustments”.

The US spends 15 per cent of its GDP on health and France 11 per cent. But if GDP accounted for outcomes and not just financial inputs, that alone would cut the per capita GDP by a third.

I'm sure the unemployed of France will be all happy to see that a few touches of collectivist ideology here and there suddenly improved their country’s economy. Not sure how they should feel when they remain unemployed, or worse, are increasingly denied the government cheese & wine as their economies go into free-fall and the tax revenues drop throught the floor.

I'm sure we can just take it off those evil bankers though.

Brown's Mixed Bag

So, today was Gordon's chance to plead for mercy from what remains of Labour's core vote.  Can't say I envied him, the message was always going to be: "We (or more accurately our successors next year) are going to sack vast swathes of your members."  It an irrelevance, really; Labour are so obviously screwed that this is all so much firefighting.  But it's interesting to see what damage they're going to leave for Dave and his forehead to mop up next year.

Having watched his speech, I'm having problems translating some of it into what I like to refer to as "not-bollocks".   I'll take a few passages and show you what I mean. (Oh and I'll use the Grauniad as the reference because it feels dirty)

The prime minister told the TUC conference in Liverpool the government would "cut costs, cut inefficiencies, cut unnecessary programmes and cut lower priority budgets" but he would not support cuts in "vital frontline services on which people depend".
Okey doke.   First off, if we know there are inefficiencies to be cut, why have we not done so already?  If  you've identified a programme as 'unnecessary', why does it exist in the first place?  Especially when he has been pressuring local government(the people who arguably do provide frontline services, to cut spending by 16%.  And what 'frontline' services does central government even provide? I can think of two - the NHS and the Armed Forces (and I do not include the MOD).  I would therefore suggest it is open season on most of the public sector.

Meanwhile back at the  farm:
In a sign of the high stakes, some cabinet members are pressing for a rise in VAT to 20% in 2011 with some of the money given to low and middle-income workers.   
Who presumably won't be paying the same 20% on what they're buying?  Here's an idea: How about you not take it off us in the first place?  Hang on.  *reads again* "some of the money"  Oh, never mind.
Back to Gordon:

Brown's admission that he "will cut lower priority budgets" provoked an angry reaction from union leaders who questioned his claim that he would be able to make savings and protect frontline services.
 What the blistering Christ is a 'lower priority budget'? Could you possibly be more vague? And more importantly: why the outrage from the unions if he hasn't defined what he means? Do they define ALL public sector jobs as 'frontline' in order to grant the non-jobs some sentimental gravitas in the mind of the paying public? You know I think they might.

The prime minister's aides said he used the so-called "c-word"....
Aaaaand stop right there.  Did anyone else read that and imagine Gordon surrounded by acolytes in a meeting room, going over his speech, only for him to stop, look up and bellow at the ceiling:
CUUUUUUUUUUUUUUNNNNNNNT!
Only me?  OK, as you were.
 The prime minister's aides said he used the so-called "c-word" in order to avoid any further distraction from his bigger argument that Labour had been right to face down the Tories and press ahead with the fiscal stimulus last year and this to minimise the recession.
 Yes I hear we're in great shape. Guido says the pound is looking healthy today as well.  I'm so glad you faced down those nasty Tories; imagine the state we'd have been in otherwise.

Brown has been reluctant to talk about cuts for fear such talk would blur a potentially election-winning dividing line of Tory cuts and Labour investment.
It's not investment you cyclopean winnet, it is our money, which is now dead money, dead money which would be better off left in our hands where it is infinitely less likely to be spunked up the leg of the next management consultant that smiles at you nicely.
But the polls showed his stance was not credible or popular with voters more concerned that the £175bn deficit will lead to a fresh economic crisis
Which just goes to show, to quote Pat Condell, that you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it suck your cock.  Even the apathetic unwashed masses, who you and your verminous cohorts have been so keen to fleece but so adamant to ignore, have figured out you are a fucking nob.  Indeed, apparently half of us believe literally anyone would be able to do a better job than you. Even me, and I'm an addled fuckwit.

I'll talk about the binning of the civil service early retirement money tomorrow, so let's skip to the end 'cause it's late:

He also peppered his speech with promises that pleased unions including a date for introducing protection for agency workers and a promise internationally to set limits on city bonuses and "a blacklist on unco-operative tax havens".
Indeed brothers, only then can we banish the scourge of plentiful private sector money from our shores once and for all.   Oh, and whilst I was being juvenile, does this last bit sound familiar to what I predicted here?

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Happy Blogday to me

Well here we are, I've been at this game for 12 months today.
To jog your memory, that was when Lehman's had just gone under and there were suggestions that the UK might be headed for recession.  Gee, you think?

Anyway, as is obligatory, here's the statpr0n:

I'm nothing if not inconsistent.
A tip for aspiring bloggers: if you want people to read your stuff, make sure you actually, you know, write something.

Here's a handful of my more popular posts:

Oh and I did this geeky joke here which no-one noticed. Peasants.


We're living in interesting times, and were it not for the banter and commentary we get from our cozy crowd of libertarian bloggers it would be easy to fall into a despairing helplessness.  But I for one cling to one tendril of optimism:  We exist and are fucking noisy.
Statism has had it's day and doubtless will not go quietly into the night when Dave Forehead's lot get in. It matters not; our star is in ascension and we are slowly but surely gaining the public ear.  But we need to keep pushing, 'cause we've got it all to play for.

Thanks for reading, you lot.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Knuckle-dragging, foaming-at-the-mouth idiocy

So, I was reading the 'Mash, as one does, and I had a good chuckle at the Derren Brown thing and then I thought, since I hadn't watched any of the programme on TV, I'd go and read about how he actually claimed to have done it. Naively I thought that the 'Mash was exaggerating in the name of satire, but no.
"We got some people to write down their guesses and divided by 24 to get the results."

Fuck me. Let's just load the Gatorade into the irrigation systems now.

It's got what plants crave.


---------
UpgrayDD, spelt with the double D to indicate a double-dose of pimpin'


First one to get the reference wins some sluggy slime. You lucky person, you.

Borlaug on P&T's "Bullshit!"

With regard to the passing of Norman Borlaug, here's Penn and Teller telling you what you need to know:



What a guy.

Oh and any Greenpeace types who are reading should just fast-forward to the last 10 seconds ....

Sunday, 13 September 2009

The passing of greatness

Echoing Counting Cats and Samizdata, I must pay tribute to the passing of Norman Borlaug who's work in agriculture saved the lives of 245 million people -  and less conservative estimates are closer to a billion.  Borlaug saved ten times as many people as Hitler, Stalin and Mao managed to kill ... combined.  In his dying days, he was looking to find a solution to the rust fungus hitting Africa.  He was a truly great human being.

I wrote about him briefly back in February.  The man and his work redefined 'humanitarian', and his passing is a great loss to us all.  It is only through the works of Prof Borlaug and those like him that we as a species will be able to sustain the demands of our inevitably increasing population and any future environmental complications (man-made or otherwise).



"Some of the environmental lobbyists of the Western nations are the salt of the earth, but many of them are elitists. They've never experienced the physical sensation of hunger. They do their lobbying from comfortable office suites in Washington or Brussels. If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for fifty years, they'd be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists back home were trying to deny them these things."
 - Norman Borlaug (March 25, 1914 – September 12, 2009)

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Reader input needed; What the hell do the unions want?

This from the most august of media organs, the Mirror:

Gordon Brown Balti summit to curry favour with unions

Ha! 'curry' Did you see what they did there?
The unions, who gather in Liverpool for their annual Congress this weekend, told Mr Brown he needed to do more to help working people.

Gmb general secretary Paul Kenny said: "If we don't get some serious change of policy - and more popular policy - it's going to be extremely difficult to re-engage the traditional labour vote."
Frankly, I'm stumped.
The only things I can think of that would help manufacturing involve strip-mining welfare, slashing several taxes and binning the minimum wage.
So, I want you lot to think like a socialist, utilise your fevered imaginations and tell me what you think they could possibly want in the way of 'popular policy'.

I'll go first:

WE WONT THE FATCAT BANKERZ TO BE PADE WHAT THEIR WORTH WITCH IS LESS THAN ME AND I WANT THEM TO PAY MOR TAXES COZ ITS ALL THEIR FOLT

A Vulgar Display of Power

Via Counting Cats and RAB
If you want to spoil your Saturday, take a look at this video from the Grauniad .

It shows a couple of women from Fit Watch, a group who keep an eye on the behaviour of the police at demonstrations and the like.  In this case it was the Climate Camp business the other month, which was police over-reaction writ large.

I don't think I can articulate the anger I felt after watching that.  From what they show us, that use of force was entirely unwarranted and was just some bullying fuckwit in a uniform brutalising a woman who dared to question him.

The police need to wind their fucking necks in, soonest, or what little sympathy they have left from the public will evaporate, and things will get really ugly.

Degrees for all, and none of them worth a thing

The point of Universities is to provide further education to the most academically gifted, so that they then go on to become the countries' newest set of 'Professionals'; i.e. to work in jobs that have a particular academic focus. I'm thinking of the sciences, engineering, law, medicine and so on. What university is not for is to function as a holding pen for directionless spods who would be otherwise cranking up the unemployment stats.
So, when you start setting arbitrary and pointless targets like attempting to push 50% of school leavers through university you can expect things like this.
The Student Loans Company - which processes loans and means-tested grants - said it has received one million applications, a rise of 17 per cent. Some 830,000 have been processed and thousands more are being received every day, it said.
Hundreds of students have complained over problems including loss of personal documents, repeated website failures and lack of response from a helpline. One mother claimed she had called on behalf of her son 100 times in three days without success. 
Who'd of thunk it?
You mean changing every education institution from kindergarten-up into a 'university', then pushing as many kids (of indeterminate academic quality due to the increasing pointlessness of the state-run qualification system) through it as possible -knowing full well that they would never deign do the work they are actually capable of(shelf stacking and till bludging)- and expecting the existing far-from-perfect infrastructure to deal with it, was perhaps a bit of a stretch?

Get it through your heads, socialists: Universities are supposed to be elitist.  Some people (I hesitate to say 'most' despite the daily evidence in it's favour) aren't that bright.  Academically gifted people have not increased by 17% since last year, ergo there are people who are in university who shouldn't be there, and who wouldn't be there if the state wasn't running education like a logic insulated group hug.

It's not just in A-levels where we're seeing grade inflation.  When  my friends and I were finishing our degrees, the results would be put up in the foyer of your department and would consist of lists of students in each result category; i.e. a list of Firsts, a list of 2.1s, a list of 2.2s, and -for the real elite (ahem)- a list of 3rds.  And the distribution would be a bit like a bell curve: you'd have a few at the top (firsts), a few at the bottom(3rds) and then a fairly equal distribution amongst the 2.1s and 2.2s. You go into any university these days and check the results for the final year students: you'll see a much more top-heavy distribution, with 3rds barely featuring.
Now, universities are on league tables just like schools, and are similarly under a fair amount of pressure to 'improve' grades, check out this Grauniad piece.
The proportion of degrees awarded a first rose from 7.7% in 1997 to 13.3% in 2008.
I'm telling you now, just like with the similar increase in 'A' grades in A-levels, people are not twice as smart as they were ten years ago. What we've ended up with is jobs that used to require A levels now needing a degree; jobs that used to want a 2.2 now need a 2.1. Qualifications are being diluted just as quickly as the money in your savings account.

We are in real danger of writing off our entire education system in the eyes of the world (who surely cannot be far off not accepting UK qualifications as equivalent to their own) and businesses in general.  So, in the name of inclusiveness and fairness, we end up with the same net result as any socialist endeavour: mediocrity for everyone.

Engineering can be a bitch

I have a thing for large engineering projects, and I've been involved in a few. Thing is, the most impressive engineering feats also make for the most impressive 'complications':

Accident at Russia's Biggest Hydroelectric - Rev 00


I do not envy the guy who has to clean that up. It's gutting to see what would've been the result of so much time, effort and expertise reduced to rubble and calamity. I hope they manage to bolt it back together soon.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Declaration

I'm just going to let Silvio speak for himself on this one:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/sep/10/silvio-berlusconi-admits-women-tarantini


'But he repeated that he had not paid them for sex, and declared that he was "by far the best prime minister Italy has had in its 150 year history".'

What a guy.

Publish and be damned

I noticed this the other day and forgot to remark.
State-side, Yale University Press is publishing a book based around the furore surrounding those Danish cartoons of big Mo which so animated the Islamic world. Only it turns out that they chickened-out, last minute, from actually putting the cartoons in the book itself.

A group of conservative alumni, headed up by John Bolton (a man I have a certain amount of time for by being the guy who represented the USA at the UN, despite publicly going there with a "fuck the UN" philosophy) have been causing a bit of a ruckus over the decision. Here's John:
“the whole episode was an example of intellectual cowardice.”
“To publish a book on the controversy around the cartoons and not publish the cartoons is just mind-boggling,” he said in an interview Wednesday. “If they were scared they should’ve just not published the book.”
Well quite. And it is some particularly egregious cowardice, isn't it? I mean you publish a book based on some controversial images and then concede defeat to the foaming-mouthed morons by excising said images before you get as much as a strongly worded letter.  That gets more pathetic the more you think about it: how many people have been harmed as a result of publishing literature critical of Islam in the States? I doubt many, if at all.  Doubtless there would be riots and burning effigies in Islamabad, but that would be no different to any other weekend round those parts. The likelihood of the same in the States would be fairly slim.
Michael Steinberg , who is a lawyer and another one of the objecting crowd puts it:
“one of the leading universities in the world, would be the first to take the step of censoring a book in order to appease potential extremists around the world in the absence of any threat.”
And here's John again:
“The fascists have won.”
Which, by any sane definition, they have.  Once you ditch your constituitionally mandated right to free speech (which we on this side of the pond don't actually have) due to the browbeating of  extremists for fear of their reaction: they are setting the rules by which you conduct yourself.  That is the way to de facto Sharia, even if it's not de jure.

Klausen(the author) added that:
"the experts Yale consulted with about the matter would have had little experience in predicting when a terrorist attack would occur."
Because terrorist attacks are dime-a-dozen these days, aren't they?  Get a grip for Christ's sake.
Cue John:
“If Yale had a concern about somebody behaving illegitimately they should go to the local law enforcement and say we’re worried and we think we need protection,” he said. “That’s why you have police forces; presumably that’s why Yale has a security force.”
Which again is what marks the difference between the Yanks and us: if anyone comes calling with a mind for mischief, they can just shoot the bastard.  We'd end up beating the guy back with a folded copy of the Times, before being arrested for some hate-crime or other.

Steinberg said the call could have been easier for Yale if it had just stayed true to its mission as an educational institution. He said he cannot think of another instance in which a university press censored a publication because it feared a potential terrorist attack.
“As far as I know this is entirely unique,” Steinberg said. “That the campus of Nathan Hale should be the place where censorship in America begins is just horrifying.”
What that guy said.
Look, it's easy:

Hmm, there's somebody at the door....

Oooh, Pretty

The Hubble Space Telescope has finally finished checking the instruments.  Behold the wonder of WF3:




Those image are, going clockwise from the top left—NGC 6302, a planetary nebula of gas blown out by an extremely hot (for a star) star; Stephan’s Quintet, a compact group of galaxies undergoing violent collisions; the Carina Nebula, in which new stars are being born out of gas; and the heart of Omega Centauri, the largest globular cluster in the Milky Way. 
The Omega Cen image is particularly cool because you’re seeing stars in their death throes. The bright red stars are red giants and supergiants, expanding out to engulf what solar systems they may or may not have as they exhaust their fuel.  The blue stars are in an intermediate phase the stars pass through on their way to their demise.
I could've inferred all manner of clever political metaphors within that last sentence, but I won't. 
Just look at the pretty.
More here.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

I am in august company

Steve Shark informs me I have been bedecked with Obo's jelly jewellery and duly inaugurated into a particularly special club.
Far from wanting to share in the scraps tossed from the blogging top-table, we are here to molest the waiting staff and sell the cooks into slavery.

We must be added to your blogroll forthwith, or your dog is going to have a bad day:
RantinRab
ConstantlyFurious
Boatang & Demetriou
Steve Shark
and your fizzy, slimy host.

Brace yourselves for the bad touch.

Good going, Doc

Dr Crippen has decided to wear his hand-flapping, fear-mongering head and plaster his concerns about the flu vaccine over the national press.

Felix in the comments linked to the Science-based Medicine blog's point-by-point destruction of the standard anti-vax bleatings.
I'll leave it to you lot to pop over there and read it, as I have to get to work.

Parting shot: A doctor's opinion is only as good as the information he has been given or that which he has sought out. Doctors are not, by default, epidemiologists, statisticians or even scientists. And when one presumes to preach to the crowd without familiarising him/herself with the pertinent data, his advice is at best, of dubious value and at worst, actively harmful.

*Update* Since  I would only steal it and paraphrase anyway, I've put up this rather excellent fisking by a chap called DeeTee from the Badscience forum (where the good doctor has turned up to reply -poorly- a couple of times):
Dr Crippen, as a fellow medic (and an infectious diseases specialist at that) I am struggling to convey the profound dismay I felt when I read your singularly uninformed piece about swine flu vaccine. You don’t want invective, but wish to discuss the facts? That’s fine, but I just wish you would have bothered to establish a few of these before you rushed to print.

Your objections to the vaccine are all specious or fallacious. They primarily consist of:


The Government mishandled the first wave and over-reacted regarding the necessity for Tamiflu, so anything they say about the vaccine can be disregarded.

The government had no idea at the start of this epidemic how serious/virulent the virus would be. In retrospect it’s advice regarding Tamiflu appears to have been over the top, but at that stage public panic was so great that if they had tried to restrict supplies ministers would probably have been lynched in the street. Despite its problems with side effects (no worse than the flu itself, mind) widespread use of Tamiflu may have actually helped limit the first wave, and the Australian experience suggests this had a beneficial impact there.

The disease is mild/there may never be a second wave.

It is mild, in the majority of people, but as the Australian and American evidence has shown, it is disproportionately severe in at risk groups and has a high attack rate in the young. This has resulted in critical care facilities struggling to cope, and I know that in the UK in Birmingham there were serious problems. Do you remember one woman had to be flown to Sweden for ECMO, because all UK based facilities for this were in use?And this was only with the “mild” flu and an aborted first wave. It seems quite prudent to plan for the expectation that things will be worse in the winter- they always are.

The virus may mutate into another form, and the vaccine might be ineffective.

Lots of speculative if and buts there… Why would you think this? Perhaps you have been reading JABS for so long that their lunacy has become infectious? There is little likelihood of any reassortment happening with the current H1N1 virus, and there is absolutely no reason to think the vaccine will fail to work. It won’t be 100% protective, but if it is even 60% or 70% effective at preventing swine flu this will be a major help in averting problems during a second wave.


The vaccine has been rushed into production/is untested/you question the evidence base for safety.

The time frame for production has been 4-5 months; the same as for seasonal vaccines. The vaccine has actually been tested more rigorously than usual flu vaccines, and is undergoing efficacy testing as well as closer monitoring for side effects. It is a monovalent vaccine, as opposed to the usual trivalent vaccines, and there is no reason on earth to suppose there will be a higher rate of reactions than seen with seasonal vaccines. The only longer term side effect that is of any import is Guillain-Barre syndrome. You go on at length about how this killed people in the USA in1976.

Do you actually know anything about GBS? Do you appreciate that influenza itself accounts for up to 20% of GBS cases? Do you know influenza will cause GBS in around 50 per million flu cases? Do you know that the 1976 vaccine was associated with GBS in 10 per million? Do you know that not a single flu vaccine produced in the last 33 years has “caused” GBS at a rate higher than the background incidence (1 per million)? From what you say, I guess not.

I am now using my crystal ball to look into the future…..

There is a second wave of swine flu this winter, and hospitals and critical care services are groaning at the seams. ITU triage means many people who otherwise would get ITU care have to forgo this basic expectation- it has now become a luxury.


Hospitals are seriously understaffed (20% of their nurses and doctors have flu, something not helped by injudicious and stupid media scarestories like yours about the flu vaccine being dangerous). Their sensible, responsible and vaccinated colleagues try to hold the fort, while people like you languish at home for a couple of weeks on sick leave watching the drama unfold on your telly as you sup Lemsip for your “mild” flu.


Unfortunately, you then get GBS, and you cannot breathe. No problem, you think, a few weeks of ventilatory support and you’ll be as right as rain. The problem is Doc, the ITUs are full with flu cases, and your SOFA risk score means you don’t get the option of an ITU bed. You are left on the ward, hoping that the FY1 doctor who is squeezing your ambu bag to keep you alive is one of the doctors who didn’t listen to your advice and that he prudently did get flu vaccine. Otherwise, he might just feel a little bit unwell as the effects of the virus take hold. Will his arms become weak with myalgia, and his bagging rate drop off? You desperately hope not.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Well I'd vote for him

Mayor causes uproar with 'offensive' letter to children
Apparently some Maori schoolkids wrote to the mayor of Wanganui, asking him to support the renaming of the town to "Whanganui" as per the traditional Maori spelling.
He was less than impressed:
Michael Laws told the Maori children, aged 11 and 12: "There are so many deficiencies of both fact and logic in your letters that I barely know where to start."
He suggested that they sack their teacher and said that he would only take their views seriously when they began addressing the "real issues" affecting New Zealand's indigenous people, "particularly the appalling rate of child abuse and child murder within Maori society".
There is something refreshing about adults telling kids the stark truth without pandering to their feelings. This chap may be an absolute bigot, but the societal issues amongst the Maori are well documented.
It is normally a tightrope to bring up issues pertaining to one racial group without coming across as racist, especially in these hypersensitive times, so I guess he just comes out and says it:

Two years ago, Mr Laws also caused controversy when he offended the country's Tongan population by refusing to lower the municipal flag after the death of the King of Tonga, Taufa'ahau Tupou IV, whom he called a "bloated brown slug".

He sounds like my granddad.

Epoch-making funneh

Via the Greek bloke, who has just excerpted a delightful passage from the Mash which I somehow missed this morning:


COLONEL Gadaffi last night told Gordon Brown that it felt really good, but maybe he could try it with a couple of ice cubes in his mouth.


As the government was forced into a reluctant u-turn on asking Libya to pay compensation for arming the IRA, Gadaffi looked down at the prime minister and gently stroked the top of his head...


I’ve just redecorated my monitor a delightful hue of coffee.

Your phone will not cook your brain. Honest

In a previous life, I spent a lot of time among Ben Goldacre's crowd over at Badscience where poor quality science reporting is torn a new arse.  A common feature was the scaremongering electro-sensitivity crowd; i.e those that believe that non-ionising EM radiation (like Wifi or mobile signals) is in some way harmful.
If you must, here is the link to this issue of the Metro online (have a fake email address handy, unless you want them spamming you - hard), where -on page 20- they have given space to Alasdair Philips of powerwatch.org.uk; where they will sell you overpriced shit as a remedy to their invented problem.
Luckily for you, I am a generous gastropod and have captured the relevant pages here (click for bigger):

Now this is a subject, unlike my screeds on vaccinations(1,2,3) and GM foods, where I actually have some professional expertise.  So brace yourselves.

Quick definition:
Ionising radiation (gamma, x-rays etc) can play around with your DNA, i.e. give you cancer.
Non-ionising radiation(WiFi, radio, TV, microwaves) can -at sufficient magnitudes- burn you, but don't have enough energy to break chemical bonds or damage DNA.  The American EPA has a good description here.

There are a number of people (about 2% of the British population, apparently) who believe that EM radiation causes them physical discomfort.  Generally called Electrosensitivity or ES for short, the condition manifests itself in sufferers as skin sensitivity and blemishing, light sensitivity, fatigue, high blood pressure, headaches, joint pain, dizziness, and a whole array of associated symptoms. Interestingly, these are also the exact same symptoms caused by simple stress. Jus' sayin'.

What does the medical establishment have to say about ES? Well, that depends on whom you ask. Electrosensitivity.org, blames "great opposition from medical establishments and governments" for the lack of a definitive diagnosis of ES in mainstream science. I'm not sure how he defines "great opposition", or what form he believes such opposition might take, but quite to the contrary a number of studies have been done. Nobody doubts that a large number of people worldwide report this condition, and nobody doubts the reality of their symptoms or the suffering they endure. What falls under scepticism is their self-diagnosis that their condition is caused by the proximity of electrically powered devices.

Quite obviously, people in many countries around the world have been using electricity for over a century. And, in poorer regions like parts of Asia, Africa, and South America, there are populations who (even today) use no electricity at all. If normal levels of electromagnetic radiation were indeed harmful to the body, then we would see correlation on a massive scale between such physiological damage and geography. There is no such correlation, and no cases of observed physiological damage caused by electromagnetic radiation even in the most industrialised regions. Thus, there is very good reason for science to not simply accept this self-diagnosis without further inquiry.

But the symptoms and suffering are still real, so what do we do? Well, we do science. One of the first steps in doing science is to throw out the anecdotal evidence of personal testimonials — with apologies to the people wearing tinfoil helmets — and design randomized controlled trials to test for the true causes of the ailment, and to test the efficacy of potential treatments. So, lets take a peek at the studies:

I'll nick this bit from Ben himself (an article worth reading, as he's better than me)

There have been 31 studies looking at whether people who report being hypersensitive to electromagnetic fields can detect their presence, or whether their symptoms are worsened by them. A typical experiment would involve a mobile phone hidden in a bag, for example, with each subject reporting their symptoms, not knowing if the phone was on or off.

Thirty-one is a good number of studies, and 24 found that electromagnetic fields have no effect on the subjects. But seven did find a measurable effect...in two of those studies with positive findings, even the original authors have been unable to replicate the results; for the next three, the results seem to be statistical artefacts; and for the final two, the positive results are mutually inconsistent (one shows improved mood with provocation, and the other shows worsened mood).

Lets look at this one from 2005, by the HPA, which found that most self-reported ES sufferers also report suffering from other idiopathic(i.e power of suggestion) symptom-based conditions. Now this doesn't tell us anything about ES, of course, but it does tell us that ES sufferers are more likely to also report other conditions that are commonly classified as psychosomatic. It's fair to note that some of these cases are people simply faking symptoms, but probably the great majority are not, and are experiencing real symptoms; and now we know that many of these people also report conditions known to be psychosomatic in nature.

This finding is consistent across the board with other studies like this Swedish trial  which took blood samples from subjects and analysed them for indicators of stress, both before and after testing. Some subjects were secretly exposed to electromagnetic radiation, but there were no differences between ES sufferers and control subjects in how they reacted to it, nor were there any differences in stress among those who received radiation and those who did not. When subjects received psychotherapy, the self-diagnosed ES suffering patients stress levels dropped  disproportionately more than did subjects who did not report themselves as hypersensitive.


The ability of a human brain to convince itself of just about anything is not to be underestimated. If you are experiencing stress, whatever you attribute it to will inevitably create more stress whenever you encounter it. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe yourself to be electrosensitive, then you will be, quite literally, whenever you perceive the presence of electromagnetism. This doesn't mean that you have a paranormal ability to detect electromagnetic fields. You don't. But you might be able to hear the high-frequency ring of your neighbour's television set, or see the 50-Hz flickering of a fluorescent light bulb, or you might see that your computer has found a WiFi network or that your mobile has four bars of signal. There are many ways that a person can detect the probable presence of electromagnetic radiation without the ability to directly sense it. And, if you've fallen into the self-fulfilling syndrome of believing yourself to be electrosensitive, you will actually suffer measurable physical symptoms and can potentially become acutely ill. By the same token, if you believe strongly enough that acupuncture or vitamins will cure your electrosensitivity, they probably will.

Now for a bit of electrotrickery:

'Basic' Wifi consists of electromagnetic waves, just like light or radio waves, with a frequency of 2.4GHz, giving it a wavelength of around 12.5cm. There is some variation but not enough of a range to make any difference. 2.4GHz is on the long end of microwave, getting close to radio, rather similar to mobile phone signals. It transmits at much lower power than a mobile phone mast, so even if those signals were harmful, Wifi would be less so.
Now, most modern WiFi, like 802.11, operates in the 5GHz region and a lot of upcoming standards are moving to even higher frequencies, such as 60GHz (which is in the oxygen absorption region, aiding frequency re-use and therefore areal density). But the point remains. Peak output power from a WiFi base station is 20dBm (100 milliwatts). By the time it gets to the receiver it can be as low as -100dBm (the picowatt region). Field strengths are nanovolts per metre. Microwave photons have energies in the tens of microelectronvolt area, far below the one or two electron volts required for EM radiation to start to become ionising.

But let’s not forget that we are all constantly exposed to a source of EM radiation with a frequency one hundred thousand times higher and a flux density measured in the kilowatt per square meter range. This source genuinely can cause burns and even cancer.

It’s called the Sun.

Although I could be wrong, so here's the REAL truth by the ever excellent Wellington Grey (update: Who seems to have disappeared.hmmm) (click for bigger):



*Update*: compare and contrast with this article from the LA Times.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Itemising the Theft

Wat Tyler over at Burning Our Money (required reading, by the way), has acquired a receipt from that hairdresser who has started itemising his bills to illustrate the proportion of taxation on retail price to the customer:

A demonstrated reaming, yesterday

As the man says:
“People just don’t understand how much tax they are actually paying; it’s at least twice what they think.

In most businesses, about half of your bill is made up of various taxes and I think there should be far more awareness of that.

We have a high-value clientele — movers and shakers from all walks of life — and they have no idea of the amazing amount of tax that is built into their bills. There has been a very positive reaction from our clients, who now see that what we are charging is not as expensive as it seems.”
Indeed.
I have had discussions with friends and co-workers where I've tried to illustrate the magnitude of the actual tax burden on your average working bod, and I am always aghast when they say that they don't care about indirect taxation.  As though it makes it any less real if it's not itemised on your PAYE slip.

This is an encouraging step forward, and hopefully if enough companies follow suit (imagine if Tesco did it!) people would eventually realise just how badly we are being milked.