3 January 2004

Who Is More Reliable, NASA or NIMA?

I have no idea who is right, but I'm curious now, and look forward to the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) which might decide the dispute. If NIMA was really taken in by 'noise' it will definitely shake my faith in the part of the intelligence apparatus I always ranked miles above the CIA. [#INCLUDE joke about finding WMD's on Mars here.]

NIMA handles satellite based geographical intelligence for the US government.

The policy-maker as automaton has dominated a lot of the Iraq war story. A submeme running through that story has been the superiority of signal intelligence to human intelligence. I think that superiority is signally exaggerated and it's interesting that NASA (an empire of technique if ever there was one) agrees.

The West has poor human intelligence in the Middle East because we have invested so little in understanding the people of the Middle East. We have massive (not good) signal intelligence in the Middle East because there's a lot of money to be had in the manufacture and deployment of satellites, much more than by investing in quintessentially public goods like university Mideast schools or trained and competent analysts employed by (horror!) the government.

'Star suburb' is des res for aliens

Astronomers have identified a habitable zone in the Milky Way galaxy, a kind of suburb of stars with the elements needed for life, and old enough for sophisticated civilisations to have developed.

The good news for those seeking extraterrestrial intelligence is that 10% of our galaxy - perhaps 10bn stars - could be ringed by rocky planets big enough to hold on to their atmosphere and water. The bad news is that they are on average a billion years older than the sun.

'This should be a sobering result,' Charles Lineweaver, of the University of New South Wales, says today in Science. 'A billion years is a long, long time.'

As we speak our culture is blasting outward in radio and television signals at the speed of light. Assuming anyone still uses radio after a billion years, they'll be judging us by the quality of our broadcasting.

We started transmission in 1921 which means the volume where our stuff can be received is now a sphere 164 lightyears in diameter. That is not a totally encouraging thought.

Professor unearths 8,000-year-old wine

Scientists have discovered the world's oldest wine - a vintage produced by Stone Age people 8,000 years ago. The find pushes back the history of wine by several hundred years.

New discoveries show how Neolithic man was busy 'bottling' and deliberately ageing red wine in Georgia, the former Soviet republic. Although no liquid wine from the period has survived, scientists have now found and tested wine residues discovered on the inner surfaces of 8,000-year-old ceramic storage jars.

Biochemical tests on the ancient pottery wine jars from Georgia are showing that at this early period humans were deliberately adding anti-bacterial preservatives to grape juice so that the resulting wine could be kept for longer periods after fermentation. The preservative used was tree resin, which contains several bactericidal compounds, says Professor Patrick McGovern of the University of Pennsylvania Museum, the scientist leading the study of ceramics from the 6th and 5th millennia BC. The wine may have tasted something like retsina, the resin-preserved wine still popular in Greece.

I guess this is more seasonal (grog-related) blogging. The silly season will pass and I will finish my opus on odious debt and perhaps slip in a few thoughts on what might happen this year. Meanwhile, the archaeology of wine is a good way to pass the blog.

2 January 2004

Australian Politics

Well, it's live. I'll be adding more dates over the next week or so. I am beginning to feel like a public service announcement. Any volunteers who want to help maintain the beast are welcome to email me.

A Yank in Oz

If you're an American citizen living abroad (like me), it's time to mail in your 2004 request for an absentee ballot - don't wait until the week before the polls open, because it'll be too late by then. Visit the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) web site, download the instructions for the U.S. state you last lived in, and mail in the forms with your signature. It takes all of ten minutes and a stamp.

Yeah, what he said. You owe it to the rest of us.

Anderson prepared to get hands dirty

DEPUTY Prime Minister John Anderson, who slipped quietly into the top job yesterday, will divide his time over the next few days between running the country and cleaning out the cattle troughs on the family property at Gunnedah in northern NSW.

The National Party leader will be acting Prime Minister until January 25, while John Howard takes time off to watch the Sydney Test match, play the occasional round of golf and catch up on some reading.

Mr Anderson also plans some time at his family's beach hideaway on the NSW north coast - but he will take work with him and take the opportunity to campaign in marginal National Party seats.

You have to love January, when life's a beach and the seat of government moves to somewhere outside Gunnedah, the koala capital of the planet. In the 1970s Doug Anthony used to announce he was running the country by flying an Australian flag from his caravan and go surfing between looking after the affairs of state.

I've been fiddling with iCal lately and I'm putting together a calendar for election days and parliamentary sittings. There's no fixed date for the federal election, but it must be within 3 years of the first meeting of each House of Representatives. This House was elected on 10 November 2001 and first met on 12 February 2002. While that makes 12 May 2005 the last date the Man of Steel will almost certainly go to the country before the end of this year. Leaving it until next May might look too much like the Man of Steel is scared of Iron Mark.

1 January 2004

Why Australia must join the US missile plan

We would be reckless not to help and co-operate with America's defence plan, writes Colin Rubenstein.

You don't need to read the whole article. The rest of the article adds nothing to the first graf. Except for forgetting to list Israel as one of the nuclear powers.

31 December 2003

Happy New Year

Ah Xmash, which you spend with your family, and New Year which you shpend with people you actually like. And Xmash New Year blogging when people attribute your shilence to falling into a vat of brandy. I didn't. It'sh jusht not true. There'sh no truth in Gianna'sh shpecious allegationsh at all.

And if the fireworksh and pyrotechnicsh in my shkull shtop long enough I'll go shee the real thing over Shydney Harbour. Enjoy your New Year feshtivities ash mush ash I mean to enjoy mine.


The resht is shilence...

...at leasht until next year.

Air traffic controllers in the dark on Sept. 11

At La Guardia, the tapes make clear, officials in the tower knew very little. Just after 9 a.m., shortly before the second plane hit the trade center, an unidentified woman in the La Guardia control tower spoke by phone with a Port Authority police officer, also unidentified on these transcripts.

'Do you know what happened at the World Trade Center?' the woman in the tower asked the policeman. 'Yeah, we ... we just got it from what we are getting on the news,' he responded. 'We are sending a whole bunch of people down there, just so you guys know. We think a plane crashed into it.'

'A plane crashed into it?' she asked.

'A plane crashed into the World Trade Center, yeah,' the officer said. The trade center's twin towers could be seen from the tower at La Guardia, and as smoke billowed from the north tower, one supervisor looked at Lower Manhattan through binoculars and saw the second plane circling around the towers, according to an aviation official.

At that moment, fighter jets from Otis Air Force Base in Massachusetts were racing toward the city and were about 71 miles, or 114 kilometers, from the trade center, eight minutes' flying time, according to testimony at a 9-11 Commission hearing.

Nothing on the tapes shows that the La Guardia controllers knew that the planes flying into their airspace had been seized by terrorists, or that military aircraft were screaming in pursuit over the Hudson River. Commercial airliners continued to line up at La Guardia for takeoff, the transcripts show, as the second hijacked plane plunged into the south tower of the trade center at 9:02 a.m. Four minutes later, the air traffic in the area was grounded.

At 9:07 a.m., a Federal Aviation Administration ground dispatcher contacted planes getting ready for departure. 'There's nobody that's going to be leaving La Guardia,' the dispatcher said. 'Everybody just stand by.'

The US response on 9/11 shows a pattern of isolated agencies which were neither communicating with each other nor getting any central direction from the president. The traditional no-one could have imagined defence has been proved untrue. The choices remain incompetence or negligence.

How the British Spy Agency MI6 Secretly Misled A Nation Into War With Iraq

SCOTT RITTER: Well, it's absurd in the extreme. The allegation that I was using MI-6 material. First of all: what allegation that I was using MI-6? In regards to Mass Appeal, the statement of fact that I put forward is that UNSCOM provided data to MI-6, which then MI-6 used in the press. That's no longer unfounded. The British Government has acknowledged this. They have acknowledged the existence of Operation Mass Appeal and its role in, you know, serving as a conduit of propaganda information to the media.

So, I believe that what we're talking about here is that the British Government needs to be careful here, because, remember, there was an inquiry by Lord Hutton into the death of David Kelly, the former British scientist, who tragically took his own life after he was exposed by the British Government as a source of information to the BBC. During this inquiry, MI-6 was called to testify, and MI-6 stated on record that it played no role in shaping public opinion, that all it did was provide, you know, intelligence assessment to the British Government, and that was all its job was: collecting intelligence data and then providing assessments on this data and giving it to the British Government. Now, you know, after being summoned to testify under oath for an official committee, the British Government has to acknowledge that: "No, wait a minute, there was an intelligence operation run by MI-6, which did involve, you know, passing intelligence to media outlets for propaganda purposes." The revelation of Mass Appeal has totally contradicted, you know, sworn testimony of British intelligence services, and this should cause great consternation not only for Lord Hutton and his inquiry, which it appears now they were misled or lied to, but also the British Parliament, which needs to take a closer look, in my opinion, at how public opinion was shaped by the British Government in regards to, you know, alleged threats coming from Iraq in the form of weapons of mass destruction. Let's keep this all in focus, by noting that Tony Blair said that there were massive stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. His government published a dossier which backed up these unfounded allegations.

Now, we are almost ten months into an occupation of Iraq, and no such weaponry has been found. That should be everyone's focus. Where are the weapons? Why did the British Government say these weapons existed before the war, and if the British Government didn't have the data necessary to sustain these allegations, were they lying when they made their assessments or were they simply manipulating the public? This is something that should be looked into. The existence of operations like Mass Appeal run by British intelligence services designed to manipulate public opinion should be examined in great detail.

Witnesses denied anything like Operation Mass Appeal before Lord Hutton and now its existence has been confirmed. We have a documented case of the British intelligence agencies lying about the political preparation for the Iraq war. The whole case for that war was built on intelligence reports by the same agencies.

Both the Blair and Bush governments have devoted a lot of energy to destroying traditional checks and balances. When questioned they have tended to come up only with further passionate avowals to try and make true what is untrue.

W B Yeats said it much better than I ever could:

The best lack all convictions, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

30 December 2003

Goodbye sunshine

It turns out that Ohmura was the first to document a dramatic effect that scientists are now calling 'global dimming'. Records show that over the past 50 years the average amount of sunlight reaching the ground has gone down by almost 3% a decade. It's too small an effect to see with the naked eye, but it has implications for everything from climate change to solar power and even the future sustainability of plant photosynthesis. In fact, global dimming seems to be so important that you're probably wondering why you've never heard of it before. Well don't worry, you're in good company. Many climate experts haven't heard of it either, the media has not picked up on it, and it doesn't even appear in the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

I will blog more on global dimming (the reduction in sunhsine not the dominance of George Bush) just as soon as I find a way to blame someone for it. I am thinking especially of people who break their eggs at the wrong end.

Re-insurer counts cost of global warming

The [Munich Re] report says the natural disasters have also claimed at least 50,000 lives worldwide.

A senior research analyst for Australia's AMP capital sustainable funds team, Ian Woods, says the insurance industry is recognising the impact of global warming.

'I think Munich Re, like other re-insurance companies, are really starting to realise the extra costs of global warming on the insurance industry due to natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, hailstorms and drought,' Mr Woods said.

Mr Woods has analysed the methodology Munich Re used to reach its conclusions about the dangers of global warming and he says it is well founded.

'Munich Re have done some really interesting studies on this particular issue and looked at the occurrence of major natural disasters over the years and they've seen the frequency of these disasters increasing over the last couple of years and they said it's strictly related to climate change,' he said.

If Munich Re is correct, the world can expect a sharp increase in insurance costs and the toll of human misery unless governments and industry take steps to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

That is a view contested by some scientists and companies in the mining and resources sector.

Swiss Re seems to agree.

28 December 2003

Bremer contradicts Blair on mass destruction weapons in Iraq

The US civil adminstrator for Iraq has denied the existence of laboratories in Iraq making weapons of mass destruction for which British Prime Minister Tony Blair says US-led teams have massive evidence.

But in a pre-taped interview scheduled for transmission on Sunday, Paul Bremer retreated when he learned that it was Blair who had made the claim.

Asked about the claim without being told first of the source, Bremer said: 'I don't know where those words come from but that is not what (Iraq Survey Group chief) David Kay has said.'

The US-led Iraq Survey Group is hunting for weapons of mass destruction.

'I have read (Kay's) reports so I don't know who said that,' Bremer said in an interview on the British ITV1 channel with Jonathan Dimbleby.

'It sounds like a bit of a red herring to me,' the American continued. 'It sounds like someone who doesn't agree with the policy sets up a red herring then knocks it down.'

But Bremer retreated when told the claims were made by none other than President George W. Bush's staunchest ally Blair.

'There is actually a lot of evidence that had been made public,' he said.

Amazing. Apparently the massive laboratories network is a red herring and is supported by a lot of evidence.

The real herring, for which there is an amazing amount of evidence, is the continuing inflation and fabrication of the WMD claims.