Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Last Question by Isaac Asimov © 1956

The last question was asked for the first time, half in jest, on May 21, 2061, at a time when humanity first stepped into the light. The question came about as a result of a five dollar bet over highballs, and it happened this way:

Alexander Adell and Bertram Lupov were two of the faithful attendants of Multivac. As well as any human beings could, they knew what lay behind the cold, clicking, flashing face -- miles and miles of face -- of that giant computer. They had at least a vague notion of the general plan of relays and circuits that had long since grown past the point where any single human could possibly have a firm grasp of the whole.

Multivac was self-adjusting and self-correcting. It had to be, for nothing human could adjust and correct it quickly enough or even adequately enough -- so Adell and Lupov attended the monstrous giant only lightly and superficially, yet as well as any men could. They fed it data, adjusted questions to its needs and translated the answers that were issued. Certainly they, and all others like them, were fully entitled to share In the glory that was Multivac's.

For decades, Multivac had helped design the ships and plot the trajectories that enabled man to reach the Moon, Mars, and Venus, but past that, Earth's poor resources could not support the ships. Too much energy was needed for the long trips. Earth exploited its coal and uranium with increasing efficiency, but there was only so much of both.

But slowly Multivac learned enough to answer deeper questions more fundamentally, and on May 14, 2061, what had been theory, became fact.

The energy of the sun was stored, converted, and utilized directly on a planet-wide scale. All Earth turned off its burning coal, its fissioning uranium, and flipped the switch that connected all of it to a small station, one mile in diameter, circling the Earth at half the distance of the Moon. All Earth ran by invisible beams of sunpower.

Seven days had not sufficed to dim the glory of it and Adell and Lupov finally managed to escape from the public function, and to meet in quiet where no one would think of looking for them, in the deserted underground chambers, where portions of the mighty buried body of Multivac showed. Unattended, idling, sorting data with contented lazy clickings, Multivac, too, had earned its vacation and the boys appreciated that. They had no intention, originally, of disturbing it.

They had brought a bottle with them, and their only concern at the moment was to relax in the company of each other and the bottle.

"It's amazing when you think of it," said Adell. His broad face had lines of weariness in it, and he stirred his drink slowly with a glass rod, watching the cubes of ice slur clumsily about. "All the energy we can possibly ever use for free. Enough energy, if we wanted to draw on it, to melt all Earth into a big drop of impure liquid iron, and still never miss the energy so used. All the energy we could ever use, forever and forever and forever."

Lupov cocked his head sideways. He had a trick of doing that when he wanted to be contrary, and he wanted to be contrary now, partly because he had had to carry the ice and glassware. "Not forever," he said.

"Oh, hell, just about forever. Till the sun runs down, Bert."

"That's not forever."

"All right, then. Billions and billions of years. Twenty billion, maybe. Are you satisfied?"

Lupov put his fingers through his thinning hair as though to reassure himself that some was still left and sipped gently at his own drink. "Twenty billion years isn't forever."

"Will, it will last our time, won't it?"

"So would the coal and uranium."

"All right, but now we can hook up each individual spaceship to the Solar Station, and it can go to Pluto and back a million times without ever worrying about fuel. You can't do THAT on coal and uranium. Ask Multivac, if you don't believe me."

"I don't have to ask Multivac. I know that."

"Then stop running down what Multivac's done for us," said Adell, blazing up. "It did all right."

"Who says it didn't? What I say is that a sun won't last forever. That's all I'm saying. We're safe for twenty billion years, but then what?" Lupov pointed a slightly shaky finger at the other. "And don't say we'll switch to another sun."

There was silence for a while. Adell put his glass to his lips only occasionally, and Lupov's eyes slowly closed. They rested.

Then Lupov's eyes snapped open. "You're thinking we'll switch to another sun when ours is done, aren't you?"

"I'm not thinking."

"Sure you are. You're weak on logic, that's the trouble with you. You're like the guy in the story who was caught in a sudden shower and Who ran to a grove of trees and got under one. He wasn't worried, you see, because he figured when one tree got wet through, he would just get under another one."

"I get it," said Adell. "Don't shout. When the sun is done, the other stars will be gone, too."

"Darn right they will," muttered Lupov. "It all had a beginning in the original cosmic explosion, whatever that was, and it'll all have an end when all the stars run down. Some run down faster than others. Hell, the giants won't last a hundred million years. The sun will last twenty billion years and maybe the dwarfs will last a hundred billion for all the good they are. But just give us a trillion years and everything will be dark. Entropy has to increase to maximum, that's all."

"I know all about entropy," said Adell, standing on his dignity.

"The hell you do."

"I know as much as you do."

"Then you know everything's got to run down someday."

"All right. Who says they won't?"

"You did, you poor sap. You said we had all the energy we needed, forever. You said 'forever.'"

"It was Adell's turn to be contrary. "Maybe we can build things up again someday," he said.


"Why not? Someday."


"Ask Multivac."

"You ask Multivac. I dare you. Five dollars says it can't be done."

"Adell was just drunk enough to try, just sober enough to be able to phrase the necessary symbols and operations into a question which, in words, might have corresponded to this: Will mankind one day without the net expenditure of energy be able to restore the sun to its full youthfulness even after it had died of old age?

Or maybe it could be put more simply like this: How can the net amount of entropy of the universe be massively decreased?

Multivac fell dead and silent. The slow flashing of lights ceased, the distant sounds of clicking relays ended.

Then, just as the frightened technicians felt they could hold their breath no longer, there was a sudden springing to life of the teletype attached to that portion of Multivac. Five words were printed: INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR MEANINGFUL ANSWER.

"No bet," whispered Lupov. They left hurriedly.

By next morning, the two, plagued with throbbing head and cottony mouth, had forgotten about the incident.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Robert Newman History of oil

Robert Newman gets to grips with the wars and politics of the last hundred years - but rather than adhering to the history we were fed at school, the places oil centre stage as the cause of all commotion. This innovative history programme is based around Robert Newman's stand-up act and supported by resourceful archive sequences and stills with satirical impersonations of historical figures from Mayan priests to Archduke Ferdinand. Quirky details such as a bicycle powered street lamp on the stage brings home the pertinent question of just how we are going to survive when the world's oil supplies are finally exhausted.

Friday, January 26, 2007

A reply from the BBC on Somalia article.

More bollocks from Auntie Beeb. Following a formal complaint about their article on US airstrikes against civilians in Somalia, they have sent the following reply:


Thank you for your e-mail about the BBC News website article US Somali air strikes 'kill many'. We are sorry to hear you were unhappy with the article.

This was a developing story, which, at the time of writing, had not elicited much reaction from critics. This appeared in later stories carried on the website. For example, we noted criticism from Italy and the UN in this article:, considerable opposition in the regional press in this article:, and condemnation of the strikes from Djibouti in this piece: We followed the story up with a report that the air strikes had failed to kill any of the US'
stated targets.

On the original story itself we also had a link to a Have Your Say which allowed readers to contribute their own views on events.

We believe it is relevant to have referred to the 1998 attacks on the US embassies in East Africa and to the 2002 attacks on property of Israel, one of its allies, as it adds valuable context on the US' stance on al-Qaeda in the region. However as this is a news story focused on the strikes, we would note that there is little room for the discussion of the US' wider role in the world which you feel should also be present. We regularly carry pieces on the website that discuss the impact of US involvement in other countries.

You rightly point out that much in the original article is attributed to the United States. It would surely be cause for complaint had we not attributed these claims and instead reported them as bald facts - there is a marked difference for instance between "The US says Somali Islamists sheltered al-Qaeda operatives" and "Somali Islamists sheltered al-Qaeda operatives". We take care to attribute claims and statements in our stories so that our readers can decide on their validity for themselves.

In terms of the impact of the raid on local people, the article does contain description of what they said happened, a quote from a bereaved father, and the estimated civilian death toll. We sought out further details of the raid and its aftermath in an eyewitness report obtained through the Somali Service, which quotes an elder talking about the impact on herders and their animals:

Thank you again for your e-mail.

With kind regards
BBC News website

The rolling excuse is that it is rolling news. The numerous quotes from the US and its allies were given prominence in almost two thirds of the article (see post below). I did not complain that the quotes were not attributed in my letter but I did complain that so many quotes from the US and supporters were included. The fact that civilian casualities and criticisms were highlighted in later articles does not excuse shoddy journalism and the damage done by the original article which was not amended. Online news viewers do not necessarily follow a story for a whole week after reading the original on the BBC website particularly when the follow up stories are not given prominence unlike the original. Why it is necessary to mention attacks on Israeli property by Al-Qaeda to add context is still unclear to me, despite Israel being an ally but strangely enough they see little point in looking at the wider picture of US involvement in the region (particularly mentioning oil). Surely that context is far more relevant than attack on Israeli interests that had nothing to do with Somalia. The 'Have your say' section is a joke. If you are a right-wing islamaphobic zionist you will find your views easily published but any word of criticism of the BBC is censored.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Exclusive: Hell awaits surge

An exclusive interview for the Jahanumm Express with Prince Set has led to furor in the Netherworld. Prince Set speaking from the stately Tarturus Palace is said to be livid that despite earlier promises by Dick Cheney, no attack on Iran has yet emerged. He said it was clear that despite Netherworld agents being deployed to help with the political machinations, no military action appeared to be imminent. Clearly seething at this set back, the prince is to apply to the palace of Satanic Majesty King Sshytan Van Goatshead, for contingency funds of ҹ666 billion to speed up war plans. In contrast, the prince said he was overjoyed at progress in Iraq. Asked about the situation the prince said ‘A killing rate of up to 100 deaths a day is currently exceeding our expectations and the surge will clearly help improve on that. Give credit where it is due, George and Tony are doing a fantastic job in Baghdad. Lord Reaper has had to call in reinforcements to keep up with the demand for his services.’ In other news, Prince Lucifer has invested another ҹ56.9m in LieBig Industry Enterprises, which now controls over 90% of the media sector on Earth. Tony Bliar is also said to be investing heavily in LIE shares which have made record gains on the DIS market recently. A Downing street spokesman refused to confirm this saying that it was not government policy to comment on such matters. Demon’s Weekly editor Murkus Cambhell said the investment was necessary in order to allow him to pay back loan money from donor peers.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


courtesy of

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Israel continues kidnapping Palestinians including Children

The Terror against Palestinian Civilians continues... The media maintain a stern silence.When will these events be reported? Where is the outrage? Where is the invasion to rescue these poor kidnapped people? Why is there no outrage at a child being handcuffed, blindfolded and abducted? Your tax money funds this terror. Will your conscience allow you to keep quiet?


Israeli army invades Hebron city and several nearby villages and abducts eight Palestinian men

Wednesday January 17, 2007 13:47 by Ghassan Bannoura - IMEMC & Agencies ghassanb at imemc dot org

On Wednesday morning, Israeli forces invaded Hebron city in the southern part of the West Bank and the nearby villages of Yata, Doura, and Halhol. Eight Palestinian men were abducted in the operation.

In Yatta village south of Hebron, Israeli jeeps and troops stormed and searched a number of houses and ransacked them. During the operation the Israeli army abducted five villagers, eyewitnesses reported.

Sources in the village identified the five as: Mohamed Makhamrah, 33, Fahid Awad, 35, Ahmad Makhamrah, 37, Mussa Al Najar, 40, and Mohamed Al Hiranni, 38.

Moreover, in downtown Hebron city, and the nearby village of Halhol, Israeli forces attacked and searched residents' homes, and took three Palestinian men prisoner.

Local sources identified the three as; Abed Al Zama'rah, 23, from Halhol, Rami Al Shahaniet, 19, from Doura, and Mohamed Al Rijbi, 28, form Hebron city. The sources added that soldiers gave military orders for another six men in the city to be interviewed at the secret service office in the Kufar Atzion military post east of the city.

Some of the families of the attacked houses reported that soldiers trashed the houses and fired live rounds and sound bombs inside during their search; residents added that anyone who tried to ask the Israeli soldiers not to damage the house was attacked with rifle butts and batons.

The Israeli army abducts a Palestinian child from Hebron

Saturday January 20, 2007 15:44 by Ghassan Bannoura - IMEMC & Agencies ghassanb at imemc dot org

Israeli soldiers stationed at the entrance of the Ibrahimi mosque ( or tomb of patriarchs) in the old town are of the southern West Bank city of Hebron, has abducted a Palestinian child on Saturday midday. Eyewitnesses said that soldiers forced the small girl on the wall handcuffed and blinded folded here then took her to unknown detention camp.

Israeli army abducts three Palestinian men during invasions of villages near Hebron

Wednesday January 17, 2007 13:07 by Ghassan Bannoura - MEMC & Agencies ghassanb at imemc dot org

Israeli forces invaded several villages near the southern West Bank city of Hebron and abducted three men on Wednesday morning. They also gave military orders to another six for interviews with the Israeli secret service agents in a nearby military complex

Israeli forces abduct two Palestinian men from Beit Ula and Nuba villages near Hebron

Tuesday January 16, 2007 12:46 by Ghassan Bannoura - IMEMC & Agenciesauthor email ghassanb at imemc dot org

The Israeli army has abducted two Palestinian men from the villages of Beit Ola and Nuba west of the southern West Bank city of Hebron on Tuesday morning.

According to a statement by the Palestinian Prisoners' Society in Hebron the two were identified as Ashraf Al A'dam, 30, from Beit Ula village who works at the Islamic Charitable Society in the village, and Mohamed Al Sharuf, 39, from Nuba village, director of the ministry of education office in Hebron city. Army vehicles stormed residents homes in both villages searched and ransacked them after forcing the families out, eyewitnesses reported, before leaving and taking the two men to unknown location.

Blinkered and Biased Corporation

Yet another classic BBC article on Somalia. The headline says ‘Somalis urged to meet Islamists’. The automatic implication being that the UIC ‘islamists’ are not genuine Somalis but people from somewhere else. The US ambassador gives an exclusive interview to the BBC urging the ‘transitional government’ to hold talks with moderates in the Islamist movement.

‘Mr Ranneberger told the BBC that among extremists there were moderate elements who should be included in dialogue. He named the co-figurehead of the organisation, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. "Anyone inside Somalia who renounces terrorism, extremism and violence, should have a role to play in the future of the country," he said’.

The only context given is of Government troops backed by Ethiopian soldiers ousting the UIC from power. The backing by weapons and intelligence by the USA again passes unmentioned. No doubt the US wants to split the UIC up and have some of them join the transitional government, as long as they allow the US to do what it wants in the country. The US is made to look like it is urging reconciliation whilst continuing to carry out military operations in the region. This military action is not mentioned at all and neither are the earlier attacks against alleged ‘Al-Qaeda elements’ by US gunships that left hundreds of innocent people dead. The BBC continues to use its powers of access to take US propaganda and pass it off as a news article. Still no reply to my earlier complaint (see 'analysing BBC reporting of US airstrikes in Somalia' post below) to the Beeb about it's ridiculous and shameful reporting on Somalia. Even official complaints are like water off a duck's back at the moment.

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Bush maternal gene for caring

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Isaac Asimov's simple way to distinguish chemists from non-chemist. Ask them to read aloud the word: unionized.

Non-chemists will pronounce it "union-ized" and chemists will pronounce it "un-ionized."

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Chapatti Bomb

Official government exercise for jounalists: Use the following key words/phrases in an article designed to stoke anti-muslim sentiment:

Murderous, suicide, plotting, islamic extremists, carnage, plot, chapatti flour, conspiracy, murder, Sunni, Pakistan, 9/11, Heathrow, Abu Hamza, Finchley Park, detonated, exploding, panic, rucksack, bomb factory, burka, suicide note, suicide video, jihad, Afghanistan, Iraq, Chechnya.

Congratulations: Nearly all of you managed to fit most of the words in and created a wonderful array of frightening front page spreads. However, today’s special prize goes to The Independent for this masterpiece in which all of the words were used to excellent effect. The winner gets the chance to conduct an exclusive interview with Dr John Reid who will tell you how he plans to tackle this menace to our society - as long as you promise to shut up about the minor police database problem.

How to become a mathematical genius - temporarily

Perception 2006, volume 35, number 6, pages 837 – 845

Savant-like numerosity skills revealed in normal people by magnetic pulses

Allan Snyder, Homayoun Bahramali, Tobias Hawker, D John Mitchell
Received 3 August 2005, in revised form 19 October 2005; published online 3 May 2006

Abstract. Oliver Sacks observed autistic twins who instantly guessed the exact number of matchsticks that had just fallen on the floor, saying in unison “111”. To test the suggestion that normal individuals have the capacity for savant numerosity, we temporarily simulated the savant condition in normal people by inhibiting the left anterior temporal lobe of twelve participants with repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS). This site has been implicated in the savant condition. Ten participants improved their ability to accurately guess the number of discrete items immediately following rTMS and, of these, eight became worse at guessing as the effects of the pulses receded. The probability of as many as eight out of twelve people doing best just after rTMS and not after sham stimulation by chance alone is less than one in one thousand.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

George Galloway talks about sweatshops
A Sweatshop World

Friday, January 12, 2007

Security-24/7 channel inundated with subscribers

A new TV channel is to be launched by the security service M15, in a bid to improve its public service. Downing Street is known to have given its approval for the channel where the presenters wear balaclavas or are shown only in silhouette. Subscribers will be able to tune into live discussions about threat levels and the channel will have a threat level meter displayed on screen at all times, in case the public feel concerned about missing out on the text message service alerts due to mobile network problems.

Dame Linda Moneygram-Bullocks has confirmed that there is an imminent and immediate severe danger to the country from terra-wrists, as assessed by the Joint Alerts of Critical Kind for Eminent Threats (JACKET) committee. The hourly threat variation means that the public demands to know how serious the situation is at all times of the day. The move has prompted considerable public interest and sales of anti-terra goods from the associated website have been brisk. An insider said – ‘this has been in the pipeline for a while but we managed to get it out to allow the oil to flow again.’ Over Christmas the terra-wrist alert was severe to extra severe with promised disruption to air, roads and sea. This again did not materialize thanks to the bravery of trained M15 operatives engaged in interrogating dangerous suspects in Guantanomo Bay. A popular feature is will be a medium who looks into her crystal ball and predicts acts of anti-western terrarism that may affect ordinary members of the public. A premium rate phone line will enable viewers to take advantage of expert mystical help immediately, to allay fears of the threat posed by British Muslims and other extremist anti-war groups.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Analysing BBC reporting of US airstrikes in Somalia

An important question is how media corporations like the BBC present the actions of a friendly superpower like the USA, when it kills people on the basis of suspicion and it leads to civilian deaths in Somalia. The USA has given itself the power to destroy lives whenever and wherever it chooses, simply referring to Al-Qaida operatives by way of an excuse and referring to previous attacks on its own agencies. Linked below is the BBC article reporting the incident. Note how many times the BBC report refers to US authorities and its supporters and how many times it quotes witnesses to the events who indicate a different sequence of events.

Paragraph one: The US believes

Paragraph two : The US says

Paragraph three: The Somali transitional government says

Paragraph six: The US accuses

Paragraph seven: A Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitmore confirmed

Further down:

(Glamorizing the killing machines:) The attack was carried out by an Air Force AC-130, a heavily-armed gunship that has highly effective detection equipment and can work under the cover of darkness.

One paragraph later:

Somalia's interim President Abdullahi Yusuf backed the US action

"The US has a right to bombard terrorist suspects who attacked its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania," he said in Mogadishu, a day after entering the city for the first time since the Islamists withdrew

Next two paragraphs : More than 250 people died in the 1998 attacks in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, for which al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility.

The US also holds the same cell responsible for attacks on an Israeli aircraft and Israeli-owned hotel in Kenya in 2002, in which 15 people died.

A perspective from local people:

Witnesses told the BBC Somali service that areas near the town of Afmadow were being bombed on Tuesday.

"My four-year-old boy was killed in the strike," Mohamed Mahmud Burale told the BBC from the area.

Local MP Abdulkadir Haji Mohamoud Dhagane told the BBC that 27 people, mostly civilians, had been killed near Afmadow.

"Thousands of Somalis are caught between the rock and hard place as they are in the middle of air strikes, Ethiopian tanks and the Kenyan soldiers who have blocked the border," he said.

Summary: 7 views from the USA or supporter perspective

1 mentions of two attacks on Israeli property

2 mentions of attacks on US embassies in Nairobi and Tanzania.

1 paragraph glamorising the AC130 gunship and 1 picture of gunship.

2 points of view from locals suggesting that innocent civilians have

been killed in these so called strikes against Al-Qaeda militants.

What is the overall impression left on the reader?

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Ex CIA Analyst: Saddam Did Not Gas The Kurds

Friday, January 05, 2007

Topical news

We all know that the mass media have their obsessions. It is sometimes difficult to gauge

which obsessions are flavour of the day but here is one way to do it. Have a look at the NewsNow website and look at the drop-down list of hot-topics.

The current list of hot topic News feeds is as follows: Afghan politics, Ashes test series, British Muslims, cash for peerages, energy politics, George Bush, Iran sanctions, Iraq politics, Israel, Israel/Palestine, London Olympics, Military UK, North Korea, Politics US, Russian spy poisoning, Somalia, Sudan, Tony Blair, Bird Flu, Northern Ireland, Saddam Hussain, Afghanistan, Climate change, Guantanomo, ID cards, Iraq, Islamic news, Lebanon, Syria, US/Iran, Zimbabwe.

It is nice that they have given separate news feeds to British Muslims and 'Islamic news'. You will not be too surprised though that most of the articles in both are usually connected to terrorism most of the time. It’s also very kind of them to offer Iraqi politics a separate News feed to Iraq the country, which comes way down in the drop down list. Clearly they felt that Israel needed more exposure hence two separate news feeds – one for the country and one for its conflict with Palestine (a non-existent country that allegedly threatens the existence of Israel). Speaking of non-existent threats, Iran does get a couple of news feeds too. One to cover its belligerent attitude to the USA, and one to cover the sanctions imposed on it to prevent it from being the first nuclear power in the middle-east. Oops, I forgot Olmert has declared Israel a nuclear state in a state of nuclear ambiguity. I am still surprised to see Bird Flu still on the list but apparently it is still making the news despite the non-appearance of the long awaited pandemic. Obviously Saddam Hussain is a topical issue but I don’t think it will hang around for very long. Good to see climate change and ID cards up there but I don’t think George and Tony should have a News feed each, inseparable as they are. All the usual state villains are up there including the Syrians and North Koreans and likely to remain for some time but don't expect energy politics to make a long appearance.