Friday, November 18, 2005

Special effects

When each of The Matrix movies was released the special effects were considered cutting-edge. In the second movie, The Matrix Reloaded, for example, much was made of 'The Pile' (aka the 'Burly Brawl'), a scene in which hundreds of Agent Smiths (Hugo Weaving) attack Neo (Keanu Reeves).

Watching that scene today, it looked like a poorly rendered computer game scene, not a climactic scene from the most-anticipated movie of the year.

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How do you measure freedom?

A leading research and advisory firm, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) recently ranked 20 middle-eastern countries on 15 indicators of political and civil liberty to measure the freedom of each country.

While most of the rankings fall as expected - Israel ranked as the most free, Libya and Syria as the least - a few items on the ranking might seem surprising to casual observers. The five most free countries on the list include three of the most volatile countries in the world: Lebanon, Palestine, and Iraq. These high rankings reflect recent developments such as Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon and elections in Palestine and Iraq.

At the bottom of the rankings, Saudi Arabia, a key US ally, tied with Syria as the second least free country. Saudi Arabia held municipal elections in February of 2005 - its first elections ever - but the country remains an absolute monarchy. If nothing else, this survey should put to rest the lie that US intervention in the Middle East is about promoting democracy

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War on Drugs

John Walters, head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said recently that the rising street price of cocaine in the US shows that the Bush Administration's policies in Latin America are working. Walters said the price of a gram of cocaine had risen 19% in seven months, and its purity had fallen.

The fact is that over the long term, cocaine prices have been relatively stable, and the recent increase is probably just temporary. For more details on why this increase will be temporary, take a look at Freakonomics, or at Beyond Politics and Reason. Or just take Macroeconomics 101.

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Thursday, November 17, 2005

Progress against malaria

In another major advance in the fight against infectious diseases, recently concluded tests have shown an anti-malaria vaccine, GlaxoSmithKline's RTS S/AS02A, to be far more effective than previously believed. Malaria kills over a million people world-wide each year.

The initial six month follow-up showed that the vaccine reduced the risk of clinical malaria by 30%, and the risk of serious disease by 58%. It had been thought that the vaccine would only be effective for about six months, creating a significant logistical challenge to vaccinate African childern twice a year. In a recent report published in The Lancet, researchers working in Mozambique found the jab cut the risk of clinical malaria by 35% and nearly halved the risk of serious malaria even after 18 months.

Melinda Moree, of the Malaria Vaccine Initiative, said: "We are very excited because there is a malaria vaccine that protects children from malaria and it actually lasts long enough to make it a real public health intervention that can have an impact on malaria in Africa."

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Thought for the day

Native groups across South Africa share a common commitment to ubuntu, a Zulu word roughly meaning compassion or respect for others. Traced back to the Zulu maxim "a person is a person through other persons," Archbishop Desmond Tutu explained this as meaning that I am not complete until you are complete, nor happy until you are happy.

- From Moral Courage: Taking action when your values are put to the test by Rushworth M Kidder

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Friday, November 11, 2005

Another one bites the dust!

The global eradication of smallpox is one of the greatest public health successes ever.

Within two years we may see another such success. The BBC reported late yesterday that only six nations (Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Niger, Afghanistan, and Egypt) have had recent polio cases, and that the disease could be completely eradicated within 18 months.

The World Health Organization was making major headway against polio, until 2003, when Islamic clerics in Nigeria organised a boycott of the polio vaccine, claiming it was part a western plot against Muslims. The disease subsequently spread to 15 African countries and was also detected in Yemen and Indonesia.

"This is the light at the end of the tunnel," said Bruce Aylward, WHO co-ordinator for the eradication of polio.

Bruce Aylward, coordinator for the polio eradication project, noted that the WHO is still needs to find $200m for operations in 2006. "Now it's simply [about] getting the financial resources to get this thing finished. You'll never get another chance like it."

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How to build a better future

The news from Grand Rapids was school closings.

The news from Holland was that striking teachers would be fired.

The news from Kalamazoo was that graduates of the Kalamazoo Public schools (enrollment of about 10,000 pupils) will get four years' tuition paid to any public college or university in Michigan. Students enrolled from grades 9 through 12 will get 65%. Students enrolled from grades 3 through 12 will get 95%. Students enrolled for all 13 years (K through 12) will get 100%. All they have to do is attend Kalamazoo Public Schools, graduate from KPS, and maintain a 2.0 average in college.

The long-term impact of this on Kalamazoo can not be overstated. It makes the public school district much more attractive (compared both to surrounding districts and to private schools). It gives hope to thousands of students every year that they can have a better future. It will build a more educated workforce in Kalamazoo, attracting better jobs. And, thanks to seven anonymous donors, it will not cost a penny of tax money.

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Thursday, November 10, 2005

100 posts!

The previous post was my 100th post on this blog! It took me 14 months, averaging approximately 1 post every 4.2 days, but that statistic is deceptive; several times I have gone almost a month with no posts, and I have written as many as 5 posts in a single day. Hopefully I can get to 200 posts a little more quickly; my goal is to write post #200 by next summer.

Meaningless records

In a particularly pointless effort, Boeing has flown a new 777-200LR Worldliner jet 13,423 miles from Hong Kong to London, setting a new record for a commercial airplane (though not a commercial flight; the plane carried just 35 passengers -- pilots, Boeing engineers and an international assortment of journalists, all of whom had been carefully weighed with their luggage). The Earth’s circumference is approximately 40,000 km. So you can get from anywhere to anywhere in about 20,000 km. This airplane is flying an extra 1,500 km just for the heck of it.

There are some records that just don’t matter any more, and this is one of them. It’s as if someone had followed Magellan’s ship around the world, and then sailed another 50 miles at the end.

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Sunday, November 06, 2005

Lest readers think I am biased against US media

In a recent article entitled "Bird flu plan 'one of the best'" the Beeb quoted Professor Roy Anderson (cited as "the government's advisor on infectious diseases", though no title was given) as saying that the UK's plans to deal with bird flu are "as good as if not better" than the plans of other countries.

There is a big difference between the "as good as" quote in the article and "one of the best" in the article title.

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Friday, November 04, 2005

American news

After the apparently accidental death by electrocution of two Muslim teenagers, Paris has been wracked by riots for more than a week. Last night alone, more than 500 vehicles were burned.

After a unanimous UN Security Council condemnation of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's call for Israel to be "wiped off the map," Iran's foreign minestry expressed surprise that the Security Council had never condemned threats made against Iran by the US and Israel or the crimes of the Israeli regime going on to say that Iran was committed to its engagements based on the UN charter. "[Iran] has never used force against a second country or threatened the use of force."

For some reason US broadcast news has been too busy telling us about what Michael Brown was wearing than to give us important international news.

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Worst food ever.

The letter I just sent says it all:
To Whom It May Concern:

I have always been an adventurous eater and have enjoyed a wide
variety of salsa flavors (including mango, peach, artichoke, apple,
etc.) and I recently purchased a bottle of Salpica Mango Peach Salsa
expecting to have something deliciously sweet and spicy.

I have to tell you, your salsa is without a doubt, the nastiest thing
I have ever put into my mouth. In all honesty, the flavor was
unmistakably reminiscent of vomit.

Please do not send me any certificates for free products; after such
an experience I will never touch your merchandise again, and will
request that it be dropped from my local grocery store. I hope that
you will redesign the salsa in question, but again, it really doesn't
matter to me, because I will not try it again. All I am asking for is
an apology from whoever is responsible for this atrocious flavor.

Unless you enjoy the flavor of vomit, consider yourself warned.

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