August 2007

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Day and Night: photograph

I’ve been looking at this photograph for hours, scattered over the last few days.

It was apparently taken from the space shuttle Columbia. No it wasn’t, scroll down for the comments. I shouldn’t need to point out that the big lumpy thing in the foreground is called Africa, and further back there’s the thing they call Europe.

It fascinates me because it — literally! — puts things in perspective. Some of the world’s greatest cities are invisible, at least in daylight. The Low Countries are just starting to blaze in artificial light. But the brightest lights are the flares of oil wells in the deserts of Algeria and Libya, and off the coast of Nigeria.

Hey, aren’t the people there starving? That can’t be right, if they’ve got all that oil, surely?

Thanks to Memex 1.1 for the pointer.

I’ve already reviewed The Crikey Guide to the 2007 Federal Election, so I’ll keep this brief. Editor Christian Kerr is in Sydney at Gleebooks this Thursday night, conversing with über-analyst Antony Green. There will be maps. There will be a long white pointer stick!

27 August 2007 by Stilgherrian | No comments

Crikey logo

I’m rather chuffed that Crikey ran my piece Failing the Citizenship Test today. Every little bit helps.

27 August 2007 by Stilgherrian | No comments

Excellent. On the basis of the Draft Citizenship Test Resource Book released yesterday I’d fail Australia’s new Citizenship Test. And if a privately-educated 5th-generation Aussie-Anglo like me can’t do it, I reckon few other Australians would pass either.

But that’s OK, because a multiple-choice “Citizenship Test” is meaningless. Let’s remind ourselves what happened when Apu went for US citizenship in The Simpsons. “Being American” was reduced to a cliché.

And the booklet itself is a gorgeous piece of political propaganda that’ll achieve the following:

  • The bitter old Alan Jones listeners Howard thinks he needs to placate will be relieved to see an emphasis on the UK as the biggest source of migrants and Christianity as the biggest religion. They’ll think this will stop the “wrong” people becoming citizens. Once more, Howard is Big Tough Daddy protecting them from the woggy bogeymen.
  • It’ll cause Howard’s much-hated “elites” — that is, anyone capable of using logic, analysis, multi-syllable words or joined-up thinking generally — to run around in circles for a week or two, losing focus on real election issues.
  • Howard gets another chance to moisten over all those “achievements” he personally considers important but which he could never achieve himself — being a soldier (because of his hearing problem) and playing cricket (because he’s completely bloody hopeless).
  • It’ll create a minor black market in the answers to the test, which will appear approximately a week after the first potential citizens are processed.

What’s remarkable is how backward-looking the booklet is… and how biased to Howard’s personal interests.

The words “science”, “physics”, “medicine”, “genetics”, “aviation”, “satellite”, “solar” and “film” don’t appear at all, despite Australia’s renown contributions in those fields. “Beer”, “ale” and “lager” are completely absent. “Literature” appears just once. “Computer” only once too — in the context of the test being computer-based.

Who was the first Prime Minister of Australia? Who cares? “George Washington,” suggested our Korean cleaner this morning with a laugh — but of course most Australians would indeed know more about the US system than our own. Do we really need to know where Phar Lap’s heart is? Will the Opening Ceremony of the 2000 Olympics really be of any relevance in 5 years time?

Are we choosing Australian citizens for the 21st Century, or putting together a geriatric pub trivia team?

One question really makes me laugh, though. Who do members of Parliament represent? This is a trick question, right?

Just so you can get a sound night’s sleep before a busy working week, here’s the news that it’s easy to hack into US nuclear power plants:

The first time Scott Lunsford offered to hack into a nuclear power station, he was told it would be impossible. There was no way, the plant’s owners claimed, that their critical components could be accessed from the Internet. Lunsford, a researcher for IBM’s Internet Security Systems, found otherwise.

“It turned out to be one of the easiest penetration tests I’d ever done,” he says. “By the first day, we had penetrated the network. Within a week, we were controlling a nuclear power plant. I thought, ‘Gosh. This is a big problem.’”

Yes, Scott, I reckon it is.

Of course Australia’s “critical infrastructure” wouldn’t have any problems like this, would it.

… at least make the lie fit the evidence, that’s what I reckon. Alas, the police in Quebec haven’t learnt that lesson.

The other day I posted a video which appeared to show police provocateurs trying to turn a peaceful demonstration into a violent one. Since then the police have admitted, yes, it was them.

However one blogger notes:

The press release says “Les policiers ont été repérés par les manifestants au moment où ils ont refusé de lancer des projectiles.” In English that’s: “The police officers were located by the demonstrators when they refused to launch projectiles.” Now that version of events is very clearly contradicted by the video, which shows demonstrators telling the officers to put the rock down, not to launch it.

Thanks again to BoingBoing for the pointer.

Photograph of Andrew P Street

Andrew P Street is a genius. I say that because (a) he is, (b) knowing Andrew is one of the three vital components for understanding the full subtlety of this week’s poll, and (c) I dare not upset him by failing to acknowledge his enormous throbbing brain.

Last night ’Pong and I went to the Excelsior Hotel in Glebe. Their website is slick and glossy — but the web designer has clearly never set foot in the establishment because the Excelsior is what we in the business call a “dive”. Or, as the Macquarie Dictionary puts it, “a disreputable place, as for drinking, gambling, etc.”

I wish to report that the Excelsior is well-equipped for drinking, and we made ample use of its facilities.

Andrew P Street is, I believe, also well-equipped for drinking, being in possession of hands, mouth, gullet etc. He also has a guitar, and his mouth is so arranged that red wine may flow inwards while, at other moments, song flows outwards.

Read the rest of this entry »

Need a little pick-me-up to make it through the last working day of the week? This should do the trick. Thanks to the ever-reliable BoingBoing for the pointer.

24 August 2007 by Stilgherrian | 1 comment

Here’s a fascinating video from Canada, which seems to show police provocateurs trying to turn a peaceful demonstration violent.

This was shot on Monday afternoon at protests in Montebello, Quebec. It shows the tail end of a confrontation between Dave Coles (president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada) and three masked men who were trying to throw rocks into the police line.

In the commentary, there’s evidence to support the provocateur theory.

  • When accused of being police, the masked men just look confused rather than denying it.
  • Standard police procedure is that once a suspect is cuffed, a mask would be removed so everyone can see their face and reliably witness subsequent events. At least one “protester” stays masked all the way to the police vans.
  • The takedown seems remarkably relaxed, given that these guys pushed into a line of riot police.
  • At 2.45, immediately after they start arresting the “protesters”, the police cameraman shuts his camera off.
  • One of the three is wearing a t-shirt for Radio X — a right-wing Quebecois shock-jock channel. No lefty unionist would be caught dead in one of those, you’d think.

Montobello photo

And this photo (left) of the takedown is interesting. Note that the “protester” is wearing boots with exactly the same tread pattern as the riot police.

There’s more on this story at the Toronto Star. Thank BoingBoing for the pointer.

It’d be interesting to ask NSW police whether they’ve ever used provocateurs in this way — particularly with APEC in Sydney very soon.

I’m a sucker for beautiful maps, so I simply must share this population density map of the US which I stumbled across today.

Population density map of the US

It’s part of a Time cover story from last year, An In-Depth View of America by the Numbers, which also includes What We Believe (31% of Americans believe in an “authoritarian God”, for example, while it seems only 6% don’t believe in God), Denomination Nation (exploring which kind of Christians live where) and Who We Are (which, being American, starts off by talking about race).

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