31 October 2007

dispelling the vampire myth... or not

Two physicists have applied scientific thinking to dispel horror movie myths including the existence of vampires. See Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.

Their argument is thus
Anyone who has seen John Carpenter’s Vampires, Dracula, Blade, or any other vampire film is already quite familiar with the vampire legend. The vampire needs to feed on human blood. After one has stuck his fangs into your neck and sucked you dry, you turn into a vampire yourself and carry on the blood-sucking legacy. The fact of the matter is, if vampires truly feed with even a tiny fraction of the frequency that they are depicted as doing in the movies and folklore, then humanity would have been wiped out quite quickly after the first vampire appeared.

Let us assume that a vampire need feed only once a month. This is certainly a highly conservative assumption, given any Hollywood vampire film. Now, two things happen when a vampire feeds. The human population decreases by one and the vampire population increases by one. Let us suppose that the first vampire appeared in 1600 c.e. It doesn’t really matter what date we choose for the first vampire to appear; it has little bearing on our argument. We list a government Web site in the references (U.S. Census) that provides an estimate of the world population for any given date. For January 1, 1600, we will accept that the global population was 536,870,911.2 In our argument, we had at the same time one vampire.

We will ignore the human mortality and birth rate for the time being and only concentrate on the effects of vampire feeding. On February 1, 1600, one human will have died and a new vampire will have been born. This gives two vampires and 536,870,911–1 humans. The next month, there are two vampires feeding, thus two humans die and two new vampires are born. This gives four vampires and 536,870,911–3 humans. Now on April 1, 1600, there are four vampires feeding and thus we have four human deaths and four new vampires being born. This gives us eight vampires and 536,870,911–7 humans.

By now, the reader has probably caught on to the progression. Each month, the number of vampires doubles, so that, after n months have passed, there are 2323 . . . 32=2n { n times vampires. This sort of progression is known in mathematics as a geometric progression—more specifically, it is a geometric progression with ratio two, since we multiply by two at each step. A geometric progression increases at a tremendous rate, a fact that will become clear shortly. Now, all but one of these vampires were once human, so that the human population is its original population minus the number of vampires excluding the original one. So after n months have passed, there are 536,870,911–2n+1 humans. The vampire population increases geometrically and the human population decreases geometrically.

Table 1 lists the vampire and human population at the beginning of each month over a twenty-nine-month period. Note that by the thirtieth month the table lists a human population of zero. We conclude that if the first vampire appeared on January 1, 1600, humanity would have been wiped out by June of 1602, two and a half years later.

All this may seem artificial, since we ignored other effects on the human population. Mortality due to factors other then vampires would only make the decline in humans more rapid and therefore strengthen our conclusion. The only thing that can weaken our conclusion is the human birthrate. Note that our vampires have gone from one to 536,870,912 in two and a half years. To keep up, the human population would have had to increase by the same amount. The Web site (U.S. Census) mentioned earlier also provides estimated birth rates for any given time. If you go to it, you will notice that the human birthrate never approaches anything near such a tremendous value. In fact, in the long run, for humans to survive in the given scenario, our population would have to at least double each month! This is clearly far beyond the human capacity for reproduction. If we factor in the human birthrate into our discussion, we find that, after a few months, the human birthrate is very small compared to the number of deaths due to vampires. This means that ignoring this factor has a negligibly small impact on our conclusion. In our example, the death of humanity would be prolonged by only one month.

We conclude that vampires cannot exist, since their existence would contradict the existence of human beings. Incidently, the logical proof that we just presented is of a type known as reductio ad absurdum, that is, “reduction to the absurd.” Another philosophical principle related to our argument is the truism given the elaborate title, the anthropic principle. This states that if something is necessary for human existence then it must be true since we do exist. In the present case, the nonexistence of vampires is necessary for human existence. Apparently, whoever devised the vampire legend had failed his college algebra and philosophy courses.
There is a major flaw in this 'scientific' argument, which is the assumption of vampire behaviour. Vampires may not necessarily 'infect' a human and turn them into another vampire, nor that feeding upon that human would result in death. Other possibilities may be that vampires do not necessarily feed in a linear sense (time), or that they need to feed at all.

Scary thought (befitting for Halloween, which is not celebrated in Australia).

This is what the bearcat from yesterday's post actually looks like

Rounded up: Chinta the bearcat is glad to be home at the Melbourne Zoo after escaping in the middle of the night.

The plumber came around early this morning to fix the leaking toilet. I had been turning the tap off after every refill. The valve had to be replaced. It cost me A$145 - no wonder I had left it for months, with a tin can to catch the drips.

random footy pic

Jared Brennan, round 20 (2007) at the Gabba (versus Sydney Swans)

30 October 2007

a bearcat is neither bear nor cat

A bearcat recently escaped from Melbourne Zoo. Bearcats are neither bears nor cats, but a funny looking animal called binturong, native to the rainforests of Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Palawan Island..

A bearcat like the one that briefly tasted freedom today.
A bearcat like the one that briefly tasted freedom today.

Thankfully, the bearcat was found. It could have ended up as a snack for one of the big cats (lions) nearby.

Happy Tuesday.

29 October 2007

food wasters + freegans

The UK Observer yesterday reported one third of all food bought in Britain is thrown away (half of that still edible).

Four days earlier, the Sydney Morning Herald reprinted a story from the Los Angeles Times about freegans, who 'salvage' food that has been thrown out.

Freegans mainly salvage from commercial food outlets which is a good thing.

Household consumers should really only buy as much food as they need and use.

Monday is Supernatural night.

28 October 2007

nude for a cause

Not all nudity is gratuitous. Despite the prudishness of some, going nude always draws attention.

"If you are going to take your clothes off for something, it better be a good cause."
—Sophie Monk

And she did.

Vegetarian cheesecake ... Sophie Monk strips off for a red-hot cause.

See PeTA Asia Pacific - Sophie Monk Poses Nude to Promote Vegetarianism

Unfortunately, 'nudity for a cause' has its critics, including Andrew Bolt who is a conservative opinion columnist for the (Melbourne) Herald Sun.
Just take the new poster from PETA of Sophie Monk lying naked on a carpet of chillies.

She looks simply delicious, and makes me salivate for a beef curry.

Oh, apologies. Looking closer I see that the body of our Aussie starlet, now bravely trying her luck in Hollywood, appears over the words: "Spice Up Your Life. Go Vegetarian."

How odd, though. Why present flesh so beautifully, and then tell the ravenous to eat chillies instead? But when did reason have anything to do with stripping for a cause?

For instance, I've never understood how the annual World Naked Bike Ride could persuade anyone to get out of their eco-sinning car and on to a bike.

All I could think of, seeing all those bare buttocks grinding along on narrow seats, was red-raw rashes.

Also mystifying was why Greenpeace got 600 volunteers to pose nude on Switzerland's Aletsch glacier the other day.

All those people standing naked on ice, and we're supposed to panic that global warming might make them warmer?

And why pick the Aletsch glacier for this, when scientists say this very same glacier not only melted like this before, but in the hotter Roman times had so shrunk that it "was even somewhat shorter than today"?

But I guess the sight of 600 splendid bodies is meant to make your brain freeze and reject mere facts.

Is that, then, the explanation - that the Left has better bodies than brains, and so goes with its strength?

This could explain why, for instance, campaigners against genetically modified crops have staged naked protests in Britain, while the scientists who have proved these crops safe feel no need to remove even their lab coats.

It's another bodies versus brains argument, and you know that when someone tries to convince you of a political point by showing you their genitals, the facts no longer count.

Mind you, protesters of the Left aren't more inclined to strip simply because they are dumber.

Some simply think nudity buys them just enough of your attention to get across a point you'd otherwise ignore.

Yet I'm looking now at pictures taken during last month's Sydney protests against George Bush and wondering if that's really true.

Here I have a picture of a naked man with what looks like a sock on his penis being dragged off by police.

Am I paying attention? Yes.

Do I now think Bush is the idiot? Well, not Bush, no . . .

Or here is a picture of a protester who's painted "No war" over her great cellu-blighted buttocks.

Has she persuaded me of her cause? Er, her getting dressed would persuade me much sooner.

Mind you, if I were a woman like Californian eco-artist Donna Sheehan I might see this differently.

She once heard of a protest against an oil company staged by Nigerian women threatening to do the most shaming thing in their culture: to undress.

The company gave in, and Sheehan was so inspired she formed Baring Witness, urging women to use their bodies to catch "the attention of the patriarchal system; seducing it into partnership".

What haven't these women since stripped for?

In Byron Bay in 2003, 750 of them - led by singer Grace Knight - stripped to stop the Iraq war.

It didn't work, of course, and not one of Baring Witness's scores of protests around the world have managed to seduce the patriarchal system into any partnership at all.

Not that the women were as worried about a them, as much as enjoying an us. As Knight said of her protest: "Stripped bare of any clothing or adornment that label and separate us, we become united as a single entity.".

Aren't most naked protests just as selfish?

As we ponder this, let me read the caption to another PETA ad, this time starring "international cover model, actor and spokesperson for Dollhouse Clothing, sexy supermodel Joanna Krupa", who declares: "I'd rather go naked than wear fur."

And she proves it. In fact, the caption declares "she posed in not one but three versions of the sexy ad".

What a noble girl. Such a big heart, she has. But such a small . . . waist.

So he does have a tiny sense of humour. But he is still an idiot.

There were lots of things that I had planned to do. The problem with having a long 'to do list' is that often, you end up doing nothing. Which is what I did today. Well, not exactly, I did put clean laundry away. Now, should I do some ironing or not?

27 October 2007

Darwin Awards candidate...

From The Australian

Intruder bleeds to death in backyard

October 27, 2007

A 37-YEAR-OLD man has bled to death after slipping on broken glass while allegedly trying to climb through a bedroom window in Adelaide's south.

The man was almost decapitated after slipping on broken glass at a Moorong Rd property in O'Sullivan Beach about 2.10am today, South Australian police said.

It is believed the man sliced his neck, which caused fatal bleeding.

The house's occupants were in the bedroom as the man, from Christies Beach, tried to enter the house, police said.

“Indications are that the man threw a garden ornament through a bedroom window which woke the occupants and ... slipped and suffered a severe laceration which killed him,” Senior Constable Mick Abbott said.

“The man's death is being treated as non-suspicious.”

Police were investigating the man's death, he said.

The man is believed to have used a garden gnome to break the window, Sky News reports.

The house's owner found the man in a pool of blood, but ambulance officers called to the scene were unable to revive him.

Another worthy candidate for the Darwin Awards (Honoring those who improve the species...by accidentally removing themselves from it!).

This morning, Mary and I went to the farmers' market. We hadn't been for a while. The trouble with that market is that everything looks so good to eat (or cook) and I overstock on fresh meat which I refuse to freeze. I guess I will need to have dinner guests next week.

In the afternoon, I went to visit Stella to meet her new kitty (well the kitty called Moko, a Devon Rex breed is now ten months old). Stella thinks I need to adopt a new kitty. I think I could just borrow Moko.

26 October 2007

when staying in a hotel, sleep with clothes on...

From the Sydney Morning Herald

Nude sleepwalkers set off alarm for hotel chain

October 26, 2007 - 10:36AM
Naked night-time wanderers often ask "Do you have a newspaper?".

Naked night-time wanderers often ask "Do you have a newspaper?".
Photo: Robert Peet

A surge in naked sleepwalking among guests has led one of Britain's largest budget hotel groups to re-train staff to handle late-night nudity.

Travelodge, which runs more than 300 business hotels in Britain, says sleepwalking rose seven-fold in the past year, and 95 per cent of the sleepwalkers are scantily clad men.

"We have seen an increased number of cases over the years, so it is important that our staff know how to help sleepwalking when it arises," Leigh McCarron, the chain's sleep director, said in a statement.

One tip in the company's newly released "sleepwalkers guide" tells staff to keep towels handy at the front desk in case a customer's dignity needs preserving.

The company said naked wanderers often ask receptionists such questions as "Where's the bathroom?", "Do you have a newspaper?" or "Can I check out, I'm late for work?"

Studies have found that sleepwalking can be brought on by stress, alcohol, eating cheese or consuming too much caffeine.

It generally takes effect an hour or two after going to bed, when people are first slipping into a deep sleep.

Asked today why she thought 95 per cent of its sleepwalkers were naked men, a Travelodge spokeswoman said: "We have more men staying with us than women, so that could be a factor."


The original Travelodge press release is - here.

Full marks to the hotel company for generating publicity and getting its name out there in an unusual manner.

The real reason why most guests sleep nude is that the rooms are too small (but clean and comfortable) or their heating is on too high.

There was a happy hour at work (after work) so I stayed for half an hour for a beer.

25 October 2007

A380 - superjumbo lands in Sydney

Today was a significant date in aviation history.

The first commercial flight of the Airbus A380 superjumbo, a Singapore Airlines flight aptly coded SQ380 landed in Sydney today in its first inaugural (maiden?) flight from Singapore.

All seats were sold by auction with the proceeds going to charity.

Sydney Morning Herald articles
- A380 lands in Sydney
- A-one service in seat 1A of Airbus superjumbo
- Superjumbo ticket 'worth every penny'
- Now you can hop on a double-decker bus to Sydney

Singapore Airline's private cabin class will replace first class on the A380. The price of a suite is estimated to be about $A12,564 on the Singapore-Sydney route.
Beyond First Class

The double suites class seats converted into a doublebed inside the Singapore Airlines superjumbo Airbus A380.
Also... Mile High Class

The Singapore Airlines Airbus A380 superjumbo comes in for a landing at Sydney Airport.
perhaps it should be nicknamed the Blimp

Airport workers crowd around the superjumbo after its arrival at Sydney Airport.

It finally rained today and I got to use my umbrella after work. It was just a light sprinkle in the end, until later tonight.

24 October 2007

mousetraps don't have to kill

Roger Arquer has designed mousetraps that let mice live. From de zeen (online design magazine)




Mouse in a Planting Pot (above) is a glass planting pot which has a long spring attached on the top going down outside. Once the mouse climbs up and goes at the end of the spring, the spring bends in and the mouse falls inside the container, when it releases the spring. It gets caught since the spring has returned to its original position.

More examples in the de zeen link above.

A better solution would be to adopt a kitty who would chase them out. I still miss Keiser.

Happy Wednesday. Work is getting boring.

I went to the markets after work on the way home and bumped into Mary at the fish shop. Coincidentally, we had bought bream. Anyway, it was a good opportunity to visit for a beer. Momo the puppy was very playful.

23 October 2007

ghost caught on surveillance camera

From Perth's The Sunday Times (21 October 2007)
A family got more than they bargained for when a recently installed baby camera captures perfect footage of a ghost in their child's bedroom. AMAZING!

Oh dear!

I was hoping it would rain this afternoon as I had taken my umbrella to work.

22 October 2007

Pink Ribbon Day

Monday, 22 October 2007

Pink Ribbon Day is an annual event to encourage women to be breast aware and highlight the importance of breast cancer research.

The purchase of a simple twist of pink satin in the form of brooches, t-shirts and pins, plus donations, raises funds for breast cancer research, education programs and support services in your community.

In 2006, Pink Ribbon Day raised over $2 million, which will go a long way to helping the 1 in 8 women who will be diagnosed by the age of 85.

More information here
- Pink Ribbon Day (Australia)
- Making Strides Against Breast Cancer (USA)

Our work had a breakfast last Friday which raised $4,000.

The Sydney Morning Herald was printed on pink newsprint today.

Monday night is Supernatural night. Scary.


21 October 2007

gotta pee...

A bizarre story from Reuters
Toilet-shaped house offers relief to the WC-needy
Tue Oct 9, 2007 8:16am EDT

SEOUL (Reuters Life!) - South Korean sanitation activists will mark the launch of a global toilet association by lifting the lid on a lavatory-shaped home south of Seoul.

The steel, white concrete and glass house, with a symbolic opening in the roof, will be ready to receive visitors next month, said the World Toilet Association in a statement.

"Among its many amenities, the house features four deluxe toilets," said the group, started in South Korea and dedicated to providing clean sanitation to the more than 2 billion people who live without toilets.

The home has a showcase bathroom located in its centre. Other toilets have features that range from elegant fittings to the latest in water conservation devices.

The toilet house was built by Sim Jae-duck, chairman of the organizing committee of the Inaugural General Assembly of the World Toilet Association to mark the association's first general assembly in November.

The house is named Haewoojae, which signifies in Korean "a place of sanctuary where one can solve one's worries".

According to The World Toilet Association

The WTA is an international organization for the promotion of sustainable toilet and water management with a world wide operation. Although it will be formally launched at the Inaugural General Assembly coming November 21-25 in Seoul, Korea, it has been involved in building alliances across the globe. Our main objective is to build and improve sanitation conditions on a sustainable basis; advocating and raising awareness on sanitation issues worldwide.

The WTA seems to be a South Korean non-government organisation.

Nobody told them about Singapore's World Toilet Organization, whose objectives are
Until 2013,
  • WTO has consolidated its recognition as world body to address sanitation issues by intensifying its network in South East Asia, Africa and South America
  • WTO continuously has generated awareness on the necessity for clean toilets and environmentally sound sanitation systems by annually organizing the World Toilet Summit, Expo & Forum, sanitation related events and innovative media work
  • By continuously updating its web site and newsletter, WTO has empowered its member community to promote and implement creative toilet and sanitation solutions - at least one model in each member organization
  • WTO has strengthened the outreach of World Toilet College by creating up to 6 Regional Training Units in South East Asia, Africa and South America
  • WTO through training and construction of toilet systems has benefited up to 3.2 million women, men and children
Two rival 'global' organisations? Both based in Asia. One of them will have to be flushed!

Oh, I have been so lazy today!

20 October 2007

poor philly... the ugliest... and RIP Kane

From Travel + Leisure magazine
Earlier this year, Travelandleisure.com and CNN Headline News polled travelers and residents on what they like (and don't like) about 25 top urban destinations in the U.S. Turns out that people have some pretty strong feelings about New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Miami, and other hot spots—we received nearly 60,000 responses.
And the results?

Philadelphia has the least attractive people, with the most attractive in Miami.

Los Angeles has the least intelligent people, with the most intelligent in Seattle.

Hmmm... I'd rather visit Seattle than Miami.

This morning, Beryl and Ted and Ji-ha came over to visit and informed me that Kane, that lovely German Shepherd who stays with me from time to time, passed away.

I had been thinking that he was due for another visit. Kane was nearly 11 and a half years old, and died in his sleep at home. I'll miss Kane, I really enjoyed going for walks with him. Rest in peace Kane, you were a wonderful companion.

(photo from March 2007)

random footy pic

Colm Begley, round 2 (2007) at the Gabba (versus St Kilda)

19 October 2007


In the year 439, King Gaiseric of the Vandals defeated the Romans (under general Bonifacius) to take over Carthage (now in modern day Tunisia in North Africa).

Modern Carthage is now an outer suburb of the capital Tunis. Not an interesting place anymore to see, although some of the ruins and the museum are worth a visit.


Short week at work, but still the weekend can't come fast enough

18 October 2007

eighth cousins

Barack Obama and Dick Cheney are eighth cousins.

Duh! Did anybody expect them to be alike?

Our federal treasurer has a brother who is at the opposite of the political spectrum to him, but is not a politician.

Not much happened today. Emily came around tonight for dinner (chicken and vegetable green curry with rice).

We watched the first three episodes of Kyle XY from the season one box set (Amazon.com); it was never shown on television here. I think Emily is hooked.

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Why doesn't he have a navel?

17 October 2007

What the ****?

From The New Republic

Why we curse.

What the F***?

by Steven Pinker

Post date: 10.09.07
Issue date: 10.08.07

Fucking became the subject of congressional debate in 2003, after NBC broadcast the Golden Globe Awards. Bono, lead singer of the mega-band U2, was accepting a prize on behalf of the group and in his euphoria exclaimed, "This is really, really, fucking brilliant" on the air. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which is charged with monitoring the nation's airwaves for indecency, decided somewhat surprisingly not to sanction the network for failing to bleep out the word. Explaining its decision, the FCC noted that its guidelines define "indecency" as "material that describes or depicts sexual or excretory organs or activities" and Bono had used fucking as "an adjective or expletive to emphasize an exclamation."

Cultural conservatives were outraged. California Representative Doug Ose tried to close the loophole in the FCC's regulations with the filthiest piece of legislation ever considered by Congress. Had it passed, the Clean Airwaves Act would have forbade from broadcast

the words "shit", "piss", "fuck", "cunt", "asshole", and the phrases "cock sucker", "mother fucker", and "ass hole", compound use (including hyphenated compounds) of such words and phrases with each other or with other words or phrases, and other grammatical forms of such words and phrases (including verb, adjective, gerund, participle, and infinitive forms).

The episode highlights one of the many paradoxes that surround swearing. When it comes to political speech, we are living in a free-speech utopia. Late-night comedians can say rude things about their nation's leaders that, in previous centuries, would have led to their tongues being cut out or worse. Yet, when it comes to certain words for copulation and excretion, we still allow the might of the government to bear down on what people can say in public. Swearing raises many other puzzles--linguistic, neurobiological, literary, political.

The first is the bone of contention in the Bono brouhaha: the syntactic classification of curse words. Ose's grammatically illiterate bill not only misspelled cocksucker, motherfucker, and asshole, and misidentified them as "phrases," it didn't even close the loophole that it had targeted. The Clean Airwaves Act assumed that fucking is a participial adjective. But this is not correct. With a true adjective like lazy, you can alternate between Drown the lazy cat and Drown the cat which is lazy. But Drown the fucking cat is certainly not interchangeable with Drown the cat which is fucking.

If the fucking in fucking brilliant is to be assigned a traditional part of speech, it would be adverb, because it modifies an adjective and only adverbs can do that, as in truly bad, very nice, and really big. Yet "adverb" is the one grammatical category that Ose forgot to include in his list! As it happens, most expletives aren't genuine adverbs, either. One study notes that, while you can say That's too fucking bad, you can't say That's too very bad. Also, as linguist Geoffrey Nunberg pointed out, while you can imagine the dialogue How brilliant was it? Very, you would never hear the dialogue How brilliant was it? Fucking.

The FCC's decision raises another mystery about swearing: the bizarre number of different ways in which we swear. There is cathartic swearing, as when we slice our thumb along with the bagel. There are imprecations, as when we offer advice to someone who has cut us off in traffic. There are vulgar terms for everyday things and activities, as when Bess Truman was asked to get the president to say fertilizer instead of manure and she replied, "You have no idea how long it took me to get him to say manure." There are figures of speech that put obscene words to other uses, such as the barnyard epithet for insincerity, the army acronym snafu, and the gynecological-flagellative term for uxorial dominance. And then there are the adjective-like expletives that salt the speech and split the words of soldiers, teenagers, and Irish rock-stars.

But perhaps the greatest mystery is why politicians, editors, and much of the public care so much. Clearly, the fear and loathing are not triggered by the concepts themselves, because the organs and activities they name have hundreds of polite synonyms. Nor are they triggered by the words' sounds, since many of them have respectable homonyms in names for animals, actions, and even people. Many people feel that profanity is self-evidently corrupting, especially to the young. This claim is made despite the fact that everyone is familiar with the words, including most children, and that no one has ever spelled out how the mere hearing of a word could corrupt one's morals.

Progressive writers have pointed to this gap to argue that linguistic taboos are absurd. A true moralist, they say, should hold that violence and inequality are "obscene," not sex and excretion. And yet, since the 1970s, many progressives have imposed linguistic taboos of their own, such as the stigma surrounding the N-word and casual allusions to sexual desire or sexual attractiveness. So even people who revile the usual bluenoses can become gravely offended by their own conception of bad language. The question is, why?

The strange emotional power of swearing--as well as the presence of linguistic taboos in all cultures-- suggests that taboo words tap into deep and ancient parts of the brain. In general, words have not just a denotation but a connotation: an emotional coloring distinct from what the word literally refers to, as in principled versus stubborn and slender versus scrawny. The difference between a taboo word and its genteel synonyms, such as shit and feces, cunt and vagina, or fucking and making love, is an extreme example of the distinction. Curses provoke a different response than their synonyms in part because connotations and denotations are stored in different parts of the brain.

The mammalian brain contains, among other things, the limbic system, an ancient network that regulates motivation and emotion, and the neocortex, the crinkled surface of the brain that ballooned in human evolution and which is the seat of perception, knowledge, reason, and planning. The two systems are interconnected and work together, but it seems likely that words' denotations are concentrated in the neocortex, especially in the left hemisphere, whereas their connotations are spread across connections between the neocortex and the limbic system, especially in the right hemisphere.

A likely suspect within the limbic system is the amygdala, an almond-shaped organ buried at the front of the temporal lobe of the brain (one on each side) that helps invest memories with emotion. A monkey whose amygdalas have been removed can learn to recognize a new shape, like a striped triangle, but has trouble learning that the shape foreshadows an unpleasant event like an electric shock. In humans, the amygdala "lights up"--it shows greater metabolic activity in brain scans--when the person sees an angry face or an unpleasant word, especially a taboo word.

The response is not only emotional but involuntary. It's not just that we don't have earlids to shut out unwanted sounds. Once a word is seen or heard, we are incapable of treating it as a squiggle or noise; we reflexively look it up in memory and respond to its meaning, including its connotation. The classic demonstration is the Stroop effect, found in every introductory psychology textbook and the topic of more than four thousand scientific papers. People are asked to look through a list of letter strings and to say aloud the color of the ink in which each one is printed. Try it with this list, saying "red," "blue," or "green" for each item in turn from left to right:

red blue green blue green red

Easy. But this is much, much, harder:

red blue green blue green red

The reason is that, among literate adults, reading a word is such an over-learned skill that it has become mandatory: You can't will the process "off," even when you don't want to read the words but only pay attention to the ink. That's why you're helped along when the experimenters arrange the ink into a word that also names its color and slowed down when they arrange it into a name for a different color. A similar thing happens with spoken words as well.

Now try naming the color of the ink in each of these words:

cunt shit fuck tits piss asshole

The psychologist Don MacKay has done the experiment and found that people are indeed slowed down by an involuntary boggle as soon as the eyes alight on each word. The upshot is that a speaker or writer can use a taboo word to evoke an emotional response in an audience quite against their wishes. Thanks to the automatic nature of speech perception, an expletive kidnaps our attention and forces us to consider its unpleasant connotations. That makes all of us vulnerable to a mental assault whenever we are in earshot of other speakers, as if we were strapped to a chair and could be given a punch or a shock at any time. And this, in turn, raises the question of what kinds of concepts have the sort of unpleasant emotional charge that can make words for them taboo.

The historical root of swearing in English and many other languages is, oddly enough, religion. We see this in the Third Commandment, in the popularity of hell, damn, God, and Jesus Christ as expletives, and in many of the terms for taboo language itself: profanity (that which is not sacred), blasphemy (literally "evil speech" but, in practice, disrespect toward a deity), and swearing, cursing, and oaths, which originally were secured by the invocation of a deity or one of his symbols.

In English-speaking countries today, religious swearing barely raises an eyebrow. Gone with the wind are the days when people could be titillated by a character in a movie saying "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." If a character today is offended by such language, it's only to depict him as an old-fashioned prude. The defanging of religious taboo words is an obvious consequence of the secularization of Western culture. As G. K. Chesterton remarked, "Blasphemy itself could not survive religion; if anyone doubts that, let him try to blaspheme Odin." To understand religious vulgarity, then, we have to put ourselves in the shoes of our linguistic ancestors, to whom God and Hell were a real presence.

Say you need to make a promise. You may want to borrow money, and so must promise to return it. Why should the promisee believe you, knowing that it may be to your advantage to renege? The answer is that you should submit to a contingency that would impose a penalty on you if you did renege, ideally one so certain and severe that you would always do better to keep the promise than to back out. That way, your partner no longer has to take you at your word; he can rely on your self-interest. Nowadays, we secure our promises with legal contracts that make us liable if we back out. We mortgage our house, giving the bank permission to repossess it if we fail to repay the loan. But, before we could count on a commercial and legal apparatus to enforce our contracts, we had to do our own self-handicapping. Children still bind their oaths by saying, "I hope to die if I tell a lie." Adults used to do the same by invoking the wrath of God, as in May God strike me dead if I'm lying and variations like As God is my witness, Blow me down!, and God blind me!--the source of the British blimey.

Such oaths, of course, would have been more credible in an era in which people thought that God listened to their entreaties and had the power to carry them out. Even today, witnesses in U.S. court proceedings have to swear on the Bible, as if an act of perjury undetected by the legal system would be punished by an eavesdropping and easily offended God. But, even if these oaths aren't seen as literally having the power to bring down divine penalties for noncompliance, they signal a distinction between everyday assurances on minor favors and solemn pledges on weightier matters. Today, the emotional power of religious swearing may have dimmed, but the psychology behind it is still with us. Even a parent without an inkling of superstition would not say "I swear on the life of my child" lightly. The mere thought of murdering one's child for ulterior gain is not just unpleasant; it should be unthinkable if one is a true parent, and every neuron of one's brain should be programmed against it.

This literal unthinkability is the basis of the psychology of taboo in general, and it is the mindset that is tapped in swearing on something sacred, whether it be a religious trapping or a child's life. And, thanks to the automatic nature of speech processing, the same sacred words that consecrate promises--the oath-binding sense of "swearing"--may be used to attract attention, to shock, or to inflict psychic pain on a listener--the dirty-word sense of "swearing."

As secularization has rendered religious swear words less powerful, creative speakers have replaced them with words that have the same degree of affective clout according to the sensibilities of the day. This explains why taboo expressions can have such baffling syntax and semantics. To take just one example, why do people use the ungrammatical Fuck you? And why does no one have a clear sense of what, exactly, Fuck you means? (Some people guess "fuck yourself," others "get fucked," and still others "I will fuck you," but none of these hunches is compelling.) The most likely explanation is that these grammatically baffling curses originated in more intelligible religious curses during the transition from religious to sexual and scatological swearing in English-speaking countries:

Who (in) the hell are you? >> Who the fuck are you?

I don't give a damn >> I don't give a fuck; I don't give a shit.

Holy Mary! >> Holy shit! Holy fuck!

For God's sake >> For fuck's sake; For shit's sake.

Damn you! >> Fuck you!

Of course, this transmutation raises the question of why words for these particular concepts stepped into the breach--why, for example, words for bodily effluvia and their orifices and acts of excretion became taboo. Shit, piss, and asshole, to name but a few, are still unspeakable on network television and unprintable in most newspapers. The New York Times, for example, identified a best-seller by the philosopher Harry Frankfurt as On Bull****.

On the whole, the acceptability of taboo words is only loosely tied to the acceptability of what they refer to, but, in the case of taboo terms for effluvia, the correlation is fairly good. The linguists Keith Allan and Kate Burridge have noted that shit is less acceptable than piss, which in turn is less acceptable than fart, which is less acceptable than snot, which is less acceptable than spit (which is not taboo at all). That's the same order as the acceptability of eliminating these substances from the body in public. Effluvia have such an emotional charge that they figure prominently in voodoo, sorcery, and other kinds of sympathetic magic in many of the world's cultures. The big deal that people ordinarily make out of effluvia--both the words and the substances--has puzzled many observers. After all, we are incarnate beings, and excretion is an inescapable part of human life.

The biologists Valerie Curtis and Adam Biran identify the reason. It can't be a coincidence, they note, that the most disgusting substances are also the most dangerous vectors for disease. Feces is a route of transmission for the viruses, bacteria, and protozoans that cause at least 20 intestinal diseases, as well as ascariasis, hepatitis A and E, polio, ameobiasis, hookworm, pinworm, whipworm, cholera, and tetanus. Blood, vomit, mucus, pus, and sexual fluids are also good vehicles for pathogens to get from one body into another. Although the strongest component of the disgust reaction is a desire not to eat or touch the offending substance, it's also disgusting to think about effluvia, together with the body parts and activities that excrete them. And, because of the involuntariness of speech perception, it's unpleasant to hear the words for them.

Some people have been puzzled about why cunt should be taboo. It is not just an unprintable word for the vagina but the most offensive epithet for a woman in America. One might have thought that, in the male-dominated world of swearing, the vagina would be revered, not reviled. After all, it's been said that no sooner does a boy come out of it than he spends the rest of his life trying to get back in. This becomes less mysterious if one imagines the connotations in an age before tampons, toilet paper, regular bathing, and antifungal drugs.

The other major source of taboo words is sexuality. Since the 1960s, many progressive thinkers have found these taboos to be utterly risible. Sex is a source of mutual pleasure, they reason, and should be cleansed of stigma and shame. Prudery about sexual language could only be a superstition, an anachronism, perhaps a product of spite, as in H. L. Mencken's definition of puritanism as "the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy."

The comedian Lenny Bruce was puzzled by our most common sexual imprecation. In a monologue reproduced in the biopic Lenny, he riffs:

What's the worst thing you can say to anybody? "Fuck you, Mister." It's really weird, because, if I really wanted to hurt you, I should say "Unfuck you, Mister." Because "Fuck you" is really nice! "Hello, Ma, it's me. Yeah, I just got back. Aw, fuck you, Ma! Sure, I mean it. Is Pop there? Aw, fuck you, Pop!"

Part of the puzzlement comes from the strange syntax of Fuck you (which, as we saw, does not in fact mean "Have sex"). But it also comes from a modern myopia for how incendiary sexuality can be in the full sweep of human experience.

Consider two consenting adults who have just had sex. Has everyone had fun? Not necessarily. One partner might see the act as the beginning of a lifelong relationship, the other as a one-night-stand. One may be infecting the other with a disease. A baby may have been conceived, whose welfare was not planned for in the heat of passion. If the couple is related, the baby may inherit two copies of a deleterious recessive gene and be susceptible to a genetic defect. There may be romantic rivals in the wings who would be enraged with jealousy if they found out, or a cuckolded husband in danger of raising another man's child, or a two-timed wife in danger of losing support for her own children. Parents may have marriage plans for one of the participants, involving large sums of money or an important alliance with another clan. And, on other occasions, the participants may not both be adults, or may not both be consenting.

Sex has high stakes, including exploitation, disease, illegitimacy, incest, jealousy, spousal abuse, cuckoldry, desertion, feuding, child abuse, and rape. These hazards have been around for a long time and have left their mark on our customs and our emotions. Thoughts about sex are likely to be fraught, and not entertained lightly. Words for sex can be even more touchy, because they not only evoke the charged thoughts but implicate a sharing of those thoughts between two people. The thoughts, moreover, are shared "on the record," each party knowing that the other knows that he or she has been thinking about the sex under discussion. This lack of plausible deniability embroils the dialogue in an extra layer of intrigue.

Evolutionary psychology has laid out the conflicts of interest that are inherent to human sexuality, and some of these conflicts play themselves out in the linguistic arena. Plain speaking about sex conveys an attitude that sex is a casual matter, like tennis or philately, and so it may seem to the partners at the time. But the long-term implications may be more keenly felt by a wider circle of interested parties. Parents and other senior kin may be concerned with the thwarting of their own plans for the family lineage, and the community may take an interest in the illegitimate children appearing in their midst and in the posturing and competition, sometimes violent, that can accompany sexual freedom. The ideal of sex as a sacred communion between a monogamous couple may be old-fashioned and even unrealistic, but it sure is convenient for the elders of a family and a society. It's not surprising to find tensions between individuals and guardians of the community over casual talk about sex (accompanied by hypocrisy among the guardians when it comes to their own casual sex).

Another sexual conflict of interest divides men from women. In every act of reproduction, females are committed to long stretches of pregnancy and lactation, while males can get away with a few minutes of copulation. A male can have more progeny if he mates with many females, whereas a female will not have more progeny if she mates with many males--though her offspring will do better if she has chosen a mate who is willing to invest in them or can endow them with good genes. Not surprisingly, in all cultures men pursue sex more eagerly, are more willing to have casual sex, and are more likely to seduce, deceive, or coerce to get sex. All things being equal, casual sex works to the advantage of men, both genetically and emotionally. We might expect casual talk about sex to show the same asymmetry, and so it does. Men swear more, on average, and many taboo sexual terms are felt to be especially demeaning to women-- hence the old prohibition of swearing "in mixed company."

A sex difference in tolerance for sexual language may seem like a throwback to Victorian daintiness. But an unanticipated consequence of the second wave of feminism in the 1970s was a revived sense of offense at swearing, the linguistic companion to the campaign against pornography. As a result, many universities and businesses have published guidelines on sexual harassment that ban telling sexual jokes, and, in 1993, veteran Boston Globe journalist David Nyhan was forced to apologize and donate $1,250 to a women's organization when a female staffer overheard him in the newsroom using the word pussy-whipped with a male colleague who declined his invitation to play basketball after work. The feminist writer Andrea Dworkin explicitly connected coarse sexual language to the oppression of women: "Fucking requires that the male act on one who has less power and this valuation is so deep, so completely implicit in the act, that the one who is fucked is stigmatized."

Though people are seeing, talking about, and having sex more readily today than they did in the past, the topic is still not free of taboo. Most people still don't copulate in public, swap spouses at the end of a dinner party, have sex with their siblings and children, or openly trade favors for sex. Even after the sexual revolution, we have a long way to go before "exploring our sexuality" to the fullest, and that means that people still set up barriers in their minds to block certain trains of thought. The language of sex can tug at those barriers.

Which brings us back to fucking--Bono's fucking, that is. Does a deeper understanding of the history, psychology, and neurobiology of swearing give us any basis for deciding among the prohibitions in the Clean Airwaves Act, the hairsplitting of the FCC, and the libertinism of a Lenny Bruce?

When it comes to policy and law, it seems to me that free speech is the bedrock of democracy and that it is not among the legitimate functions of government to punish people who use certain vocabulary items or allow others to use them. On the other hand, private media have the prerogative of enforcing a house style, driven by standards of taste and the demands of the market, that excludes words their audience doesn't enjoy hearing. In other words, if an entertainer says fucking brilliant, it's none of the government's business; but, if some people would rather not explain to their young children what a blow job is, there should be television channels that don't force them to.

What about decisions in the private sphere? Are there guidelines that can inform our personal and institutional judgments about when to discourage, tolerate, and even welcome profanity? Here are some thoughts.

Language has often been called a weapon, and people should be mindful about where to aim it and when to fire. The common denominator of taboo words is the act of forcing a disagreeable thought on someone, and it's worth considering how often one really wants one's audience to be reminded of excrement, urine, and exploitative sex. Even in its mildest form, intended only to keep the listener's attention, the lazy use of profanity can feel like a series of jabs in the ribs. They are annoying to the listener and a confession by the speaker that he can think of no other way to make his words worth attending to. It's all the more damning for writers, who have the luxury of choosing their words off-line from the half-million-word phantasmagoria of the English language.

Also calling for reflection is whether linguistic taboos are always a bad thing. Why are we offended--why should we be offended--when an outsider refers to an African American as a nigger, or a woman as a cunt, or a Jewish person as a fucking Jew? I suspect that the sense of offense comes from the nature of speech recognition and from what it means to understand the connotation of a word. If you're an English speaker, you can't hear the words nigger or cunt or fucking without calling to mind what they mean to an implicit community of speakers, including the emotions that cling to them. To hear nigger is to try on, however briefly, the thought that there is something contemptible about African Americans and thus to be complicit in a community that standardized that judgment into a word. Just hearing the words feels morally corrosive. None of this means that the words should be banned, only that their effects on listeners should be understood and anticipated.

Also deserving of reflection is why previous generations of speakers bequeathed us a language that treats certain topics with circumspection and restraint. The lexical libertines of the 1960s believed that taboos on sexual language were pointless and even harmful. They argued that removing the stigma from sexuality would eliminate shame and ignorance and thereby reduce venereal disease, illegitimate births, and other hazards of sex. But this turned out to be mistaken. Sexual language has become far more common since the early '60s, but so has illegitimacy, sexually transmitted disease, rape, and the fallout of sexual competition like anorexia in girls and swagger-culture in boys. Though no one can pin down cause and effect, the changes are of a piece with the weakening of the fear and awe that used to surround thoughts about sex and that charged sexual language with taboo.

Those are some of the reasons to think twice about giving carte blanche to swearing. But there is another reason. If an overuse of taboo words, whether by design or laziness, blunts their emotional edge, it will have deprived us of a linguistic instrument that we sometimes sorely need. And this brings me to the arguments on the pro-swearing side.

To begin with, it's a fact of life that people swear. The responsibility of writers is to give a "just and lively image of human nature," as poet John Dryden wrote, and that includes portraying a character's language realistically when their art calls for it. When Norman Mailer wrote his true-to-life novel about World War II, The Naked and the Dead, in 1948, his compromise with the sensibilities of the day was to have soldiers use the pseudo-epithet fug. (When Dorothy Parker met him, she said, "So you're the man who doesn't know how to spell fuck.") Sadly, this prissiness is not a thing of the past: Some public television stations today fear broadcasting Ken Burns' documentary on World War II because of the salty language in his interviews with veterans. The prohibition against swearing in broadcast media makes artists and historians into liars and subverts the responsibility of grown-ups to learn how life is lived in worlds distant from their own.

Even when their characters are not soldiers, writers must sometimes let them swear in order to render human passion compellingly. In the film adaptation of Isaac Bashevis Singer's Enemies: A Love Story, a sweet Polish peasant girl has hidden a Jewish man in a hayloft during the Nazi occupation and becomes his doting wife when the war is over. When she confronts him over an affair he has been having, he loses control and slaps her in the face. Fighting back tears of rage, she looks him in the eye and says slowly, "I saved your life. I took the last bite of food out of my mouth and gave it to you in the hayloft. I carried out your shit!" No other word could convey the depth of her fury at his ingratitude.

For language lovers, the joys of swearing are not confined to the works of famous writers. We should pause to applaud the poetic genius who gave us the soldiers' term for chipped beef on toast, shit on a shingle, and the male-to-male advisory for discretion in sexual matters, Keep your pecker in your pocket. Hats off, too, to the wordsmiths who thought up the indispensable pissing contest, crock of shit, pussy-whipped, and horse's ass. Among those in the historical record, Lyndon Johnson had a certain way with words when it came to summing up the people he distrusted, including a Kennedy aide ("He wouldn't know how to pour piss out of a boot if the instructions were printed on the heel"), Gerald Ford ("He can't fart and chew gum at the same time"), and J. Edgar Hoover ("I'd rather have him inside the tent pissing out than outside pissing in").

When used judiciously, swearing can be hilarious, poignant, and uncannily descriptive. More than any other form of language, it recruits our expressive faculties to the fullest: the combinatorial power of syntax; the evocativeness of metaphor; the pleasure of alliteration, meter, and rhyme; and the emotional charge of our attitudes, both thinkable and unthinkable. It engages the full expanse of the brain: left and right, high and low, ancient and modern. Shakespeare, no stranger to earthy language himself, had Caliban speak for the entire human race when he said, "You taught me language, and my profit on't is, I know how to curse."

Steven Pinker is Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard. His new book, The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window Into Human Nature, was published by Viking in September.
Hmmm... add to that the taboo on nudity. Honestly, the people who are uptight should get a life. An interesting read nevetheless.

I was back at work today. Ho hum.

I had a good break in Brisbane. My football club's Club Champions award night/dinner was awesome. I finally met and spoke to some other players, while it was good to catch up with those I already know.

I also spent the following week (last week) helping out at the football club in the media area.

It was also good to stay with my brother Thomas (and Sarah) for a week with their beagles. I also stayed a few days with my other brother Joseph. Brisbane is full of bogans.

16 October 2007

I'm back

I'm back, but too lazy to think of anything interesting to write.

Here is a picture of the football club dinner which I attended on Saturday night (6 October).

More tomorrow.

04 October 2007

Berkeley classes on YouTube

From UC Berkeley press release

Campus launches YouTube channel

– Further expanding public access to its intellectual riches through the most popular Web destinations, the University of California, Berkeley, announced today (Wednesday, Oct. 3) that it is making entire course lectures and special events available, free of charge, on YouTube.

UC Berkeley is the first university to make videos of full courses available through YouTube. Visitors to the site at youtube.com/ucberkeley can view more than 300 hours of videotaped courses and events. Topics range from bioengineering, to peace and conflict studies, to "Physics for Future Presidents," the title of a popular campus course. Building on its initial offerings, UC Berkeley will continue to expand the catalog of videos available on YouTube.

"UC Berkeley on YouTube will provide a public window into university life - academics, events and athletics - which will build on our rich tradition of open educational content for the larger community," said Christina Maslach, UC Berkeley's vice provost for undergraduate education.

YouTube is the leading online video community that allows people to discover, watch and share originally created videos. The video-sharing Web site allows people to easily upload and share video clips on youtube.com and across the Internet through Web sites, blogs and e-mail.

UC Berkeley has been a leader in the open-source video movement in higher education since fall 2001, when the campus's Educational Technology Services (ETS) launched webcast.berkeley.edu, a local site that delivers course and event content as podcasts and streaming video.

In April 2006, UC Berkeley launched its audio podcast program, making audio content available as free downloads through webcast.berkeley. On pace to deliver 86 full courses and more than 100 events, amounting to more than 3,500 hours of content in 2007, the program has expanded dramatically since delivering 15 courses in its inaugural year.

"YouTube's ongoing innovations create a great environment in which students and lifelong learners alike can discover, watch and share educational videos," said Ben Hubbard, ETS co-manager of webcast.berkeley. "We are excited to make UC Berkeley videos available to the world on YouTube and will continue to expand our offerings."


I like the organic chemistry lectures, though they should really be 'freshman' classes, as they were when I studied.

My blog will take a break until 16 October as I will be in Brisbane. Not that it matters as nobody reads this blog much anyway...

03 October 2007

Belgium, between a rock and a hard place...

Belgium is facing a constitutional crisis. From IHT
International Herald Tribune

Belgian king calls on politicians to end linguistic squabble
Sunday, September 30, 2007

BRUSSELS: The king of Belgium on Sunday asked the head of the Flemish Christian Democrats for a second time to form a center-right government, hoping that rival linguistic camps of Dutch-and French-speaking politicians were ready to end a four-month deadlock.

The royal palace said in a statement that four weeks of exploratory talks have revealed "enough elements of convergence" among Christian Democrats and Liberals to resume their talks to form a government.

The country is divided between Dutch-speaking Flanders in the north and Francophone Wallonia in the south. In the middle lies the capital, Brussels, which is officially bilingual. About 6.5 million Belgians speak Dutch, compared with 4 million Francophones.

The Christian Democrats and Liberals, each split into Dutch- and French-speaking parties, won a majority of the 150 legislative seats in June 10 elections.

What keeps them from taking office is a demand by Dutch-speaking Christian Democrats and Liberals for more regional autonomy in health, justice and transportation for Flanders and the redrawing of a bilingual Brussels-area voting district that the constitutional court has declared to be illegal.

Francophones have accused Flemish politicians of trying to engineer the demise of Belgium as a unified state.

King Albert asked Yves Leterme, head of the Dutch-speaking Christian Democrats, to try again to form a government. The first attempt failed after five weeks of fruitless talks.

Leterme made no comment Sunday. But Bart De Wever, head of the Flemish nationalist party allied with the Christian Democrats, said several disputes remained, adding, "I bet no money on a date for a new government to take office."

In recent days, politicians of various parties have said the would-be coalition partners planned to take on the disputed autonomy issues in phases.

Almost everything in Belgium - from cable companies and the boy scouts to health insurance providers and pigeon-racing clubs - is split into Dutch- and French-speaking camps.

The reaction to the re-appointment of Leterme was cool because significant hurdles remain and because Leterme is very unpopular in Wallonia.

He has called Francophones "intellectually incapable" of learning a second language and stunned many recently when he launched into the French national anthem when a Francophone journalist asked him if he knew the Belgian anthem.

Switzerland doesn't seem to have any problems with its French, German and Italian speaking regions. On the other hand, Czechoslovakia decided to separate in 1993. Yes, a split is probably best for Belgium.

I have a million things to do and not enough time.

Emily came over tonight for dinner (I made Hokkien noodles with puff tofu and leafy greens). She has only just returned from two months in Jakarta (Indonesia) for work.

02 October 2007

oh dear leader...

From UK Daily Telegraph, reporting of an historic moment

Koreas come together for second-ever summit

By Felix Lowe and agencies
Last Updated: 12:34pm BST 02/10/2007

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il today welcomed South Korea's president Roh Moo-Hyun to Pyongyang for the start of only the second-ever summit between the divided Koreas since the Second World War.

North and South Korea were proclaimed separate nations in 1948, three years after the peninsula was divided between US and Soviet zones of influence.

Kim (left) shook hands with Mr Roh to open the three-day summit aimed at ending the half-century of animosity between the two states, who are technically still at war.

The two presidents watched a march-past of North Korean troops with North Korea's No 2 leader Kim Yong-Nam (far left).

In a lavishly orchestrated show of appreciation, North Korean citizens waved pink and red plastic flowers as they cheered the coming together of the two national figureheads.

Mr Roh and Kim stood in an open car during a welcoming ceremony at the April 25 Hall of Culture.

Mr Roh had ridden in a Mercedes Benz S600 Guard armoured vehicle as he travelled to the North for the summit. He said his goal was to foster peace between the North and South.

During the parade, the two leaders inspected the honour guard together. Earlier, Mr Roh had crossed the border that divides the Koreas in the centre of the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone on foot.

"This line is a wall that has divided the nation for a half-century. Our people have suffered from too many hardships and development has been held up due to this wall," he said.

"This line will be gradually erased and the wall will fall," he added. "I will make efforts to make my walk across the border an occasion to remove the forbidden wall and move toward peace and prosperity."

North Korean journalists filmed the visit of President Roh and his wife Kwon Yang-Suk with archaic cameras from an open car.

While Kim appeared reserved and unemotional during the ceremony, his counterpart from South Korea revelled in the moment, waving and smiling throughout proceedings.

I'm lost for words. I never thought it would ever happen.

I bought a new mobile (cell) phone today to replace my current one which is starting to become less cooperative. The shop said to stick with my no plan plan as the company has stopped it.

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01 October 2007

I want one

From Seattle Post-Intelligencer of 26 September

Seattle homeowners may keep miniature goats as pets


We're not kidding: Small goats are now fair game in Seattle.

Seattle homeowners may keep miniature goats as pets, thanks to a measure approved Monday by the City Council.

"This is part of our idea that sustainability involves both the large and the small acts," said Councilman Richard Conlin, who sponsored the legislation at the request of a single goat-loving constituent.

Jennie Grant and Snowflake
Mike Urban / P-I
Jennie Grant gets a kiss from her goat Snowflake after milking time at her home in Seattle on Tuesday. Snowflake produces about a half-gallon of milk a day, Grant says.

"This doesn't apply to a whole lot of people, but there are a significant number of people who are interested in it," Conlin said.

Miniature goats, which include pygmy and dwarf goats, are usually no larger than big dogs. The average mini-goat might weigh 50 to 100 pounds, according to city officials.

Under Seattle's new rules, they are to be regulated similar to cats, dogs and small potbelly pigs. Owners must get a goat license, at $30 the first year, $20 to renew. Male goats must be neutered; all goats are to be dehorned.

It all started after Jennie Grant's Madrona neighbors began complaining to city officials about her pair of miniature goats: Snowflake and Brownie.

Grant got the goats about a year ago after sampling -- and loving -- farm-fresh goat's milk.

"It didn't have that goaty taste that the goat's milk at the grocery store has," said Grant, who also owns several chickens and a pug dog. "It was sort of a richer, sweeter (version of) cows' milk -- something you could happily put on your cereal.

"I was really concerned about factory farms and I didn't want to buy milk that was from a cow that had been locked in a little area," she added.

These days, Snowflake produces about a half-gallon of milk a day, Grant said. With time and more breeding, she might well have more to offer. Snowflake and Brownie live in a 20- foot-by-20-foot fenced area and a small shed in Grant's yard.

Recently, Snowflake and Brownie apparently got the goat of a neighbor. Someone who apparently thought the goats were unsanitary apparently reported the goats to the city Department of Planning and Development as a zoning violation, Grant said.

"It was sort of this disease scare that turned out to have nothing to do with me," Grant said. "But once you call the DPD, you can't call them off."

DPD told her she had to get rid of the goats, Grant said. So she turned to Conlin "because he lives in the neighborhood and he always seems to have a nice smile on his face."

The next day, Grant got an e-mail back from Conlin's office saying it wanted to help her. While that office researched goat laws in other cities, Grant established an informal lobbying organization: the Goat Justice League.

"We realized it was a kind of a silly issue, but an important one," Grant said. "It sounded strange, but why not?"

They collected 975 petition signatures and signed on 100 card-carrying members, she said. "We would have more, but I ran out of cards," said Grant, who acknowledged the ranks fell to 99 Monday when a goat ate half of one of the cards.

Not long after, her little idea had become city law without much effort. "It was amazingly smooth and clean and fast," she said.

The City Council attached to the law its finding that goats "are considered excellent pets due to their good-natured personalities, friendliness, faithfulness, and hardy constitution."

And the council declared: "Female and neutered male goats do not generate significant odors."

And who knows, maybe llamas are next.

"Why stop there? Why not add sheep, llamas, alpacas -- I mean we could go on," Councilman Peter Steinbrueck said Monday, semi-seriously. "There are arguments to be made that could achieve greater heights of urban sustainability by bringing farms back into the city and farm animals."


  • Goats like to eat corn, oats, alfalfa hay and grass hay.
  • They drink water from a bucket.
  • Like other animals, they also enjoy a salt block.
  • Experts advise using 48-inch cattle wire as fencing.
  • P-I reporter Angela Galloway can be reached at 206-448-8333 or angelagalloway@seattlepi.com.
    Cool. Nature's lawn-mower. I wonder if there are any mini-goats bred around here.

    I didn't do much today either.