The Null Device
For his latest act, vaguely subversive stencil artist Banksy has visited the West Bank and painted the controversial Israeli "security wall"; pictures are here.
The activity doesn't seem to have made him many friends; Israeli troops didn't see the humour in it and pointed their guns at him, while an old Palestinian man complained that it made the hated wall look beautiful.
Here's one for the next edition of the Book of Heroic Failures: a West End musical adaptation of The Man in the Iron Mask, written by a 72-year-old aerospace engineer and funded with his own money, closed early, after some of the most damning reviews in recent memory:
Staging it was the last wish of his late wife, Shirley Ann. As she lay dying of cancer, she made him promise that he would present his show in a West End theatre.
The Times wrote: "The lyrics are mostly vile . . . The twists of behaviour would take platoons of psychologists to unravel." Others suggested that the only member of the three-strong cast to emerge with any dignity intact was the central character, and only because he spent the evening with a bent saucepan on his head and would therefore be unrecognisable at auditions for future work.
The use of Bluetooth-equipped phones to arrange clandestine sexual trysts with strangers may have been a hoax in Britain, but it's alive and well in the United Arab Emirates, where economic liberalism and social conservatism meet head to head:
Many of the city's black-shrouded UAE girls say they cannot check out the latest fashions in Zara or sip a smoothie in a cafe without being bombarded with the phone numbers of hopeful admirers.
Mohammed, 24, does not know how many girlfriends he has had. He prefers expat girls because he can take them to the beach or to parties, but finds Bluetooth useful when pursuing locals.
His flirtations by phone and other means sometimes end in sex. Even with national girls, it is possible to keep it secret: "Hotels, flats, houses, anything - there's always a way," he says. But he wants to marry a virgin eventually: "The girls I have sex with are different from the girls I would marry - these girls want to play around," he says.
It looks like, 18 years after killing Australia's national ID card scheme, John Howard is putting it back on the table:
Asked if some of the issues to be discussed at the meeting could curtail civil liberties, Mr Howard said: ''The most important civil liberty you have and I have is to stay alive.'' ''To protect people from attacks is in favour of, not against, civil liberties.''Sounds nicely Orwellian, wouldn't you say. Or perhaps like Margaret Atwood's "freedom from" vs. freedom to".
Scientists have found that the River Po in northern Italy is full of cocaine residue; or, more precisely, of benzoylecgonine, a chemical produced only by metabolising cocaine and eliminated in urine. According to this test, people around the Po valley consume one and a half metric tonnes of cocaine a year, three times as much as official estimates suggested.
In other related news: cocaine traces found at EU parliament.
Maciej Ceglowski with a brilliantly incisive piece on why the Space Shuttle is a bad idea, terminally compromised from its design onward by political considerations, is now little more than a pointless welfare scheme for the aerospace industry at the expense of actual research which could be conducted, and should be knocked on the head, with the funding diverted to more cost-effective and scientifically interesting, if less showmanly, automated experiments. A few choice quotes:
This brings up a delicate point about justifying manned missions with science. In order to make any straight-faced claims about being cost effective, you have to cart an awful lot of science with you into orbit, which in turns means you need to make the experiments as easy to operate as possible. But if the experiments are all automated, you remove the rationale for sending a manned mission in the first place. Apart from question-begging experiments on the physiology of space flight, there is little you can do to resolve this dilemma. In essence, each 'pure science' Shuttle science mission consists of several dozen automated experiments alongside an enormous, irrelevant, repeated experiment in keeping a group of primates alive and healthy outside the atmosphere.
The ISS was another child of the Cold War: originally intended to show the Russians up and provide a permanent American presence in space, then hastily amended as a way to keep the Russian space scientists busy while their economy was falling to pieces. Like the Shuttle, it has been redesigned and reduced in scope so many times that it bears no resemblance to its original conception. Launched in an oblique, low orbit that guarantees its permanent uselessness, it serves as yin to the shuttle's yang, justifying an endless stream of future Shuttle missions through the simple stratagem of being too expensive to abandon.
But NASA dismisses such helpful suggetions as unworthy of its mission of 'exploration', likening critics of manned space flight to those Europeans in the 1500's who would have cancelled the great voyages of discovery rather than face the loss of one more ship. Of course, the great explorers of the 1500's did not sail endlessly back and forth a hundred miles off the coast of Portugal, nor did they construct a massive artificial island they could repair to if their boat sprang a leak.
The Soviet Shuttle, the Buran (snowstorm) was an aerodynamic clone of the American orbiter, but incorporated many original features that had been considered and rejected for the American program, such as all-liquid rocket boosters, jet engines, ejection seats and an unmanned flight capability. You know you're in trouble when the Russians are adding safety features to your design.
The NASA obsession with elementary and middle school participation in space flight is curious, and demonstrates how low a status actual in-flight science has compared with orbital public relations. You are not likely to hear of CERN physicists colliding tin atoms sent to them by a primary school in Toulouse, or the Hubble space being turned around to point at waving middle schoolers on a playground in Texas, yet even the minimal two-man ISS crew - one short of the stated minimum needed to run the station - regularly takes time to talk to schoolchildren.Of course, in the Bush Era, even more billions will be spent on
(via substitute) ¶ 0