Archive for January 2010

Google and the goose


From January 2006, when Google announced that it was entering the market in China, Google agreed to censor its search results in China. For a while we all had lots of fun comparing the search results searching for ‘Tiananmen Square’ at and

Last week Google announced that it is re-thinking this idea, following serious attacks on its infrastructure.

We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all.


Hillary Clinton; photo from US State DepartmentThe US Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, chimed in with ‘Remarks on Internet Freedom’. She didn’t hold back:

Some countries have erected electronic barriers that prevent their people from accessing portions of the world’s networks. … These actions contravene the Universal Declaration on Human Rights…

It’s worth reading Clinton’s whole speech.


But… the Australian government intends to censor Australians’ access to the internet. It’s to be known as ‘ISP Filtering’.

People have criticized the proposed ISP Filtering. Several people have taken Clinton’s speech as support for their campaign against the proposal.

Will Clinton’s speech affect the Australian government’s policy? Not according to Michael McKinley, a senior lecturer in international relations and strategy at the Australian National University.

“If we expect consistency from United States Cabinet members, particularly a Secretary of State, I think we’ve sorely misplaced our expectations, because this is a measure aimed primarily at China at this point in time.”

It seems to me that what’s good for the Goose…

Junk mail

Not much junk email is troubled by facts.

Junk mail variously offers to sell me a smaller body, a bigger penis, a cheap watch, a classy watch, a fake Rolex watch, a cheap classy fake Rolex watch (who would have thought!), and fakes of various other kinds: university degrees, pharmaceuticals and Russian women.

Today’s batch included one with a more original subject than most:

Chocolate bath service

Now where can I buy that!

Keep runways out of Sydney Harbour!

Jonathan Green, editor of ABC’s The Drum, and previously one of the ABC’s more interesting columnists, writes, with much tongue in cheek, about Australia Day:

It [Australia Day] marks–and I offer this information for the young people reading who have been betrayed by an education system that long ago consigned even the rudiments of history to, ah, history–Australia Day marks the moment the first governor of NSW pulled up in a jolly boat somewhere near the end of the third runway at Sydney airport, raised a flag and began the random discharge of firearms. Sheep, binge drinking and urban sprawl would follow.

Mr Green is perhaps insufficiently troubled by the facts.

Australia Day marks the moment Captain Arthur Phillip pulled up somewhere near Wharf 3 at Circular Quay, not the third runway at Kingsford-Smith.

View Keep runways out of Sydney Harbour in a larger map

A bit of research yields the following:

  • 18 January 1788: Phillip arrives near the end of the third runway in his jolly boat ‘Supply’.
  • 19 and 20 January 1788: The remaining 10 ships of the First Fleet arrive at Botany Bay. But Phillip decides there is too much aircraft noise, he wants a view better than the Kurnell Oil Refinery, and altogether just doesn’t like the place.
  • 21 January 1788: Phillip and a few mates set off in some little boats to find a better place to hang out. They find Port Jackson (aka Sydney Harbour), stay a couple of nights at the InterCon, and then hot foot it back to Botany Bay to get the rest of the fleet.
  • 23 January 1788: Phillip & Co make it back to Botany Bay with stories of their knees-ups at the Rocks.
  • 26 January 1788: The whole fleet quits Botany Bay, sails to Port Jackson, ends up in Sydney Cove, and does the whole flag-raising thing. 200-odd years later, 20 million people get a day off work to eat lamb chops.

Or, as Wikipedia puts it rather more succinctly:

Phillip’s instructions were to establish the settlement at Botany Bay, a large bay further down the coast [than Sydney Cove]. Botany Bay had been discovered by Lieutenant James Cook during his voyage of discovery in 1770, and was recommended by the eminent botanist Sir Joseph Banks, who had accompanied Cook, as a suitable site for a settlement. But Phillip discovered that Botany Bay offered neither a secure anchorage nor a reliable source of fresh water. Sydney Cove offered both of these, being serviced by a fresh water creek which was soon to be known as Tank Stream.


When a wolf is not a wolf

Storybook Wolf imageBack in October 2009, Jose Luis Rodriguez must have been a happy man. He’d just won the Veolia Environnement [sic] Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition worth UK£10,000.

The UK’s Natural History Museum and BBC Wildlife Magazine, which own (their word, not mine) the competition, have now stripped Jose Luis Rodriguez of the award. His photo, of a wolf jumping a gate, has been disqualified. The competition panel now believes that the wolf in the photo is a tame animal, a model, available for hire from a wildlife park in Madrid. And apparently photographing tame animals contravenes the competition’s rules about wildlife.

It seems that Mr Rodriguez did not pay enough attention to the facts. Rodriguez is reported to deny the allegation.

This is hardly the first time that someone has entered a competition and subsequently found to have presented work that did not comply with the rules. But there are two odd things about this story.

First, the prizemoney had not been paid. The award ceremony was in October. I wonder why, 3 months later, the prize money had not been paid.

Second, the official website of the competition within the National History Museum’s website is being very coy.

It used to look like this:

National History Museum web page before the disqualification

All the NHM has done is remove any reference to the overall award. Re-writing history, rather than ‘fessing up:

National History Museum web page after the disqualification

Leaping to conclusions

Robert J. Samuelson writes in Newsweek about the 2010 edition of the Statistical Abstract of the United States:

Food is cheaper here than almost anywhere else. In 2007, only about 6.9 percent of U.S. consumer spending went for food at home; Germans spent more (11.4 percent), as did Italians (14.5 percent) and Mexicans (24.2 percent).

The statistics are available in table 1323 of the the International Statistics section of the Statistical Abstract. Table 1323 is titled “Percent of Household Final Consumption Expenditures Spent on Food, Alcohol, and Tobacco Consumed at Home by Selected Countries: 2007″. The statistics cited by Mr Samuelson are for food (not alcohol or tobacco) consumption.

It seems to me that the amount consumers spend on food consumed at home depends on:

  • the quantity of food purchased for consumption at home
  • food prices
  • the proportion of food consumed outside the home.

Mr Samuelson concluded that food prices are lower in the US. He drew this conclusion because US consumers spend less on food consumed at home than people in some other named countries.

Table 1323 provides no evidence to support that conclusion. One could just as easily conclude that US consumers buy less food than consumers in other countries. But I suspect that the more likely interpretation of the statistics is that consumers in the US eat more away from home than people elsewhere.

When murder is not news

The ABC news website reported today:

Campers in shock after caravan park murder

Campers in Tasmania are still recovering from a fight that broke out early yesterday morning, resulting in a man’s death. …

It appalls me that a man’s murder is not a newsworthy fact, but that the reaction of those around him is reported.

Image of story from ABC News website