Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Holiday Greetings - back in 2008

My posting came to a halt faster than I expected.

I'll be off for a week or two. Here's a cartoon hurriedly done before my wife yells at me for not packing:

Friday, December 21, 2007

Been done before...

Believers enjoy flush of success | The Australian

This report notes that the current situation in Australian politics (all Labor, all over the place) is quite not as historic as it seems to be being portrayed:

The last time there was a similar alignment of the political stars was 1969, when John Grey Gorton was prime minister and the premiers included the indomitable and bull-headed Robert Askin, Henry Bolte and Joh Bjelke-Petersen, as well as Steele Hall, David Brand and Angus Bethune. Between the defeat of the Reece government in Tasmania in May 1969 and the election of the Dunstan government in South Australia in May 1970, there were Liberal or Country Party governments in all six states and the commonwealth.

Labor has several times held government federally and in five states, but never six.

Yeah, what was that about the arts suffering under Howard?

Local film industry gets $250m boost

The National Survey of Feature Film and TV Drama Production 2006/07 released by the Australian Film Commission yesterday shows that $625 million was spent on production activity in Australia during the 12 months to July this year, compared with $371 million during the preceding year.

Of course, it doesn't really matter how much money is spent, Australian films will continue to be unpopular while ever they have the crappy downer stories that 95% of them seem to want to tell.

Take that, soft parents

Parenting - theage.com.au

.... the study found parents who ban their children from using any alcohol at home significantly reduce the risk of creating teenage drinkers.

Deakin University Professor of Psychology John Toumbourou said the findings were a wake-up call for parents who believed they were doing the right thing by allowing their children to have a sip of alcohol.

Let the disillusionment begin!

Melbourne digs deep to let big ships pass

I assume that Tracee Hutchison will be very upset with Peter Garrett:
THE controversial dredging of Port Phillip Bay's shipping channels is set to begin in February, after federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett granted approval yesterday.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A different Joseph

Although it is always being staged by a high school somewhere, I had never got around to seeing a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

So, last weekend I hired the 1999 video version from the local video library.

If you too have never seen the show, go and get this DVD and have a look. It's great fun, and (I think) about the best video version of a stage show I have ever seen.

Sure, if you have an allergy to Donny Osmond without his shirt on for 90 minutes, you will have your reservations, but he does really well. The show is the complete opposite of the video version of Cats: lively, witty, lots of fast cuts, and very imaginative staging. (I don't like the modern style of overly fast editing of action movies, or even dance movies. But if you are more- or-less just filming a stage show, then lots of cuts between various degrees of distance from the action is one way to keep it more interesting.)

My boy liked it a lot too (although, like most fathers, I don't really want him to show too much of an interest musical theatre, if you know what I mean. He found the fake goat being pulled apart about the funniest bit of the show, though, so maybe it's OK.)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Appleyard -v- Pilger

Thought Experiments : The Blog: John Pilger

This is quite a witty take down of Pilger's latest Guardian offering by Bryan Appleyard. I like this line:
It has no substantial content other than the usual demand for action against everything.
Too true.

Intervention justification

Under-5s found with sex diseases | The Australian

From the report:
CHILDREN under the age of five in the Northern Territory have been found to have sexually transmitted diseases, according to new figures released by the Northern Territory Government.

Between January and June, there were 41 cases each of gonorrhoea and chlamydia in children under 15, including one case of each in children underfive.
The shocking figures reinforce the high level of abuse among children in remote indigenous... communities...
Oddly enough, this story was a "headline" one at the SMH website last night; this morning I can't see it there even under the "national news" section. But they run another story indicating how bad things are in Aurukun.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Anthony Lane's wit

He can make me laugh, that Anthony Lane. See this example from this week, reviewing a French animated feature in the New Yorker:
The film is largely in black-and-white, yet the result, far from seeming gloomy, has the pertness and the simplicity of a cutout. I found it, if anything, too simple. The faces are no more than tapered ovals, which makes some of the characters hard to distinguish, and I was left with the nagging, if ungallant, impression that I had been flipping through a wipe-clean board book entitled “Miffy and Friends Play with Islamic Fundamentalism.”

The puzzle of the laws

Universe - Laws of Nature - Physics - New York Times

Here's a very pleasing article about the recent controversy over what Paul Davies said about the laws of the universe and the nature of science.

The mysteries of existence don't seem at all close to being solved.

News snippets

* Queer eye for the (presumably) straight Pope: While I still think that aging, gay Italian director Zeffireli was just seeking attention with his widely reported offer to do a makeover of sorts for the Pope, I was surprised to see in the BBC report that he has had a bit of a Papal connection in the past:
Zeffirelli, a Roman Catholic, was employed several times by the Vatican during John Paul II's reign as a designer for the staging of major papal ceremonies.
* The Bali Irony: The Sydney Morning Herald reports:

AMID talk of offsetting the hefty carbon footprint of the United Nations climate conference in Bali, organisers missed a large elephant in the room.

The air-conditioning system installed to keep more than 10,000 delegates cool used highly damaging refrigerant gases - as lethal to the atmosphere as 48,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide, and nearly the equivalent of the emissions of all aircraft used to fly delegates to Indonesia.

Incidentally, was it really necessary to have 10,000 delegates there? There are less than 200 countries in the world, and surely some of the tiny ones would have had only a few attendees.

* Ruth Ritchie wrote amusingly of Nigella Lawson on the weekend:
Her show is for people who don't cook but just buy cookbooks as presents. When they watch and purchase Nigella, the way she sells it, they are investing in the services of a high-class culinary hooker, for their family and friends. The rest of us just see a woman melting chocolate with very long hair hanging into the bowl. Long hair is the secret ingredient in her luscious, sensuous, dark chocolate cherry sex trifle.
I don't think I have ever been tempted to try any recipe she has licked her fingers over, but I have the same reaction to most of the cream, butter, duck and goose fat obsessed English TV cooks.

* Big of him:
Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has pardoned a teenage girl sentenced to six months in jail and 200 lashes after being gang raped

Monday, December 17, 2007

Getting rid of CO2

Well, here's another post where I just go about educating myself, and you can follow along if you wish.

It would seem that the problem with "clean coal technology" is not likely to be the CO2 capture part. The CSIRO seems particularly optimistic about this, talking about retrofitting capture devices to existing power stations. The National Energy Technology Laboratory in the US seems fairly upbeat about it as well:
Carbon capture and sequestration begins with the separation and capture of CO2 from power plant flue gas and other stationary CO2 sources. At present, this process is costly and energy intensive, accounting for the majority of the cost of sequestration. However, analysis shows the potential for cost reductions of 30–45 percent for CO2 capture. Post-combustion, pre-combustion, and oxy-combustion capture systems being developed are expected to be capable of capturing more than 90 percent of flue gas CO2.
For a general background on how coal burning power plants work, the Australian Coal Association gives a good short explanation. There are clearly some efficiencies (and CO2 to be saved) just by using better ways of burning coal, and I suppose getting China and India to use the most efficient methods would at least be a start. But for dramatic reduction of CO2 release, it doesn't look like you can pin too much hope on that.

But back to what to do with the CO2. Geosequestration seems to be the only idea being given serious consideration.

There's a post at Treehugger which gives reasons for being sceptical. Mostly it quotes from tim Flannery, who (despite exaggerating about aspects of global warming) may be onto something here.

It's important to get an idea of the scale of the problem. In the Treehugger post there is an attempt to picture the volume, but as is clear from the comments, it makes a mistake here.

It seems Karl Kruszelnicki made the same mistake in the lead up to the election, but he corrected himself at his blog. As he explains, the correct figure for the volume of CO2 made in Australia by power stations can be roughly calculated as follows:
The daily amount of carbon dioxide emitted from burning coal, when you liquify it, would fill a box 100 metres on a side - not 1,000 metres. And this is from burning coal to supply electricity for all of Australia, not just one of the states or one of the capital cities.
Well, that's an appalling enough figure anyway, isn't it? Every day, even if you captured only half of the CO2, you would still be left (Australia wide) with a volume of liquid CO2 that is 100m square by 50 m high. Seems a hell of lot to be looking to put down a hole somewhere every single day.

The thing is, it's not only the issue of where to put it, but how to get it there. It would seem that both the liquidification process (itself using significant amounts of energy) and its transport would be the really expensive aspects of this; not so much the pumping into the ground. If you were using pipes to move it around as a gas, you have the issues of the years it seems to take to build pipes of any length, and how long the place it eventually gets to can keep taking the gas. I suspect in the United States this may be somewhat less of a problem, as the geography seems more varied over shorter distances than Australia, and as such there might on average be shorter distances to get to useful places to pump the gas into the ground.

Earlier this year, a former head of BHP was quoted as expressing scepticism about its viability from the point of view of public concern about its safety:

Paul Anderson, who ran BHP-Billiton in 2002 and still sits on its board, told the Herald: "People can't believe you're safe putting nuclear waste five miles under the ground when it's petrified in glass. How are they going to feel safe putting pressurised gas under the ground?

"I think it's as big as the issue of nuclear waste. What are you going to do with millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide that is not nearly as compact as nuclear waste?"

So...are there any alternatives to pumping liquid CO2 into the ground?

The comments in that Treehugger post listed above include one promoting Enpro, a Norwegian company which is promoting a process using salty water to convert CO2 into solid sodium carbonate (with clean water as a by-product.) The website is short on detail, and there is no mention of what can be done with the mountains of sodium carbonate this would produce. (There is also the added problem of the source of salty water if your power station is not near the ocean or adequate bore water.) The website claims these appealing features:
Unlike any other solution proposed thus far, EnPro technology:
  • Provides a 95% reduction in CO2 emissions from flue gases.
  • Provides a 95% reduction of CO2 in natural gas.
  • Is effective in oil, gas or coal-powered plants.
  • Can be retrofitted to existing plants at a reasonable cost.
  • Produces commercially valuable by-products.
    (water suitable for industrial use and sodium carbonate etc.)
Given the very significant problems associated with geosequestration, surely anything leaving open the possibility of a solid that can be safely buried is worth looking into in detail.

(By the way, the Enpro site links to the Wikipedia entry on the similar Solvay process, which links to the abstract to a paper which sounds very significant on the issue. Unfortunately, you have to pay for it. But the abstract notes:
Long-term storage of a gaseous substance is fraught with uncertainty and hazards, but carbonate chemistry offers permanent solutions to the disposal problem. Carbonates can be formed from carbon dioxide and metal oxides in reactions that are thermodynamically favored and exothermic, which result in materials that can be safely and permanently kept out of the active carbon stocks in the environment. Carbonate sequestration methods require the development of an extractive minerals industry that provides the base ions for neutralizing carbonic acid.
The Wikipedia entry on carbon sequestration is not as detailed as one might expect.

I doubt that ocean dumping of liquid CO2 is a good idea, and would be seen as a big environmental unknown. (Iron fertilization would seem to me a much safer thing to try.) Pumping CO2 into areas where it is expected to be mineralised in the ground quickly gets mentioned in quite a few places on the Web, but again, you have transport and safety issues to consider.

A Google search shows up a fair few ideas for using carbonate reactions for CO2 sequestration.

Seems to me that, as with pebble reactors, it is an idea that is being pursued rather slowly, but in theory sounds very promising. At some stage, governments may have to start trying to pick winners if this is to be investigated as thoroughly and as quickly as possible.

Blogging slowdown

Still can't find enough time to scan the internet or blog properly. What little news I have seen or heard seems remarkably uninteresting. (ABC Radio National had on the news this morning a report that a Queensland man is to face charges for having unrestrained kids in his car! Hardly earth-shatteringly newsworthy. I think someone in the ABC newsroom must have taken to closing his or her eyes, spinning around three times and using a pin to pick out a story from the Courier Mail.)

Maybe tonight I can troll the internet for something interesting.

Meanwhile, vast international audience, any leads on sites that contain good information on the main "clean coal" technologies under development or research around the world? Pumping it into the ground or ocean seems intuitively to me to be fraught with complications, such as whether it will work particularly well, and finding the locations in which to do it. I would have thought that any process that involved chemical conversion of CO2 might be more reliable and better in the long run, if more expensive.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The talking PM

Fresh from not solving one problem, our PM rushes to not solve another:

Rudd to face indigenous leaders | NEWS.com.au

This is good. Seems to me that PM Rudd is shaping up early as someone who likes to build up hope, and to be seen absolutely everywhere talking to everyone, and then can't deliver.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Greenhouse gas - reduce how exactly?

Over at Slate, there's an interesting article talking about just how "green" are fully electric cars in reality. (Answer: pretty damn green, especially if you live where nuclear power makes your electricity.)

The article made the point that in the US, 49.7% of all electricity is coal generated.

This got me thinking about the Australian situation, and what it means for the range of CO2 reduction which the post-Kyoto Bali conference is talking about.

According to a paper by the WWF (downloadable here,) coal accounts for about 85% of Australian electricity, hydro power is about 8 % (more than I thought) and natural gas is 7%. This Parliamentary Paper from 2000 indicates that the figures are about right: there might be one or two percent of wind, solar and other renewables as this pie chart from the paper (showing the renewable energy components in Australia) indicates:

but really, hydro power is the only truly significant "green" electricity we have at the moment.

As everyone has probably heard, the Bali conference is talking about total emissions reductions of 25 to 40 per cent by 2020. Kevin Rudd is (so far) insisting that he won't be nominating Australia's target just yet. But, even assuming a 30% target is what Rudd settles on, what does this mean for our electricity industry?

According to this recent government paper, close enough to 50% of Australian greenhouse gases come from electricity generation. Transport accounts for 12.5%, about 23 % comes from agriculture and land use, and industrial and waste seems to account for much of the rest.

The paper confirms too that Australia has kept pretty close to the Kyoto target (which still allowed an increase on 1990 emissions) by reducing land clearing. I would guess that further progress that could be made in reducing land clearing is probably getting limited.

As for transport; it's hard to see how a 30% reduction in that sector is likely to be achieved without massive changes over the next 13 years. Maybe a 10 to15% reduction, but remember that whole sector only accounts for 12.5% of total gases now anyway.

So, it would seem, if Australia is to have any hope at all of meeting a 30% reduction within 13 years, the electricity sector is going to have to bear the greatest burden of this change.

Even if renewables made a massive increase from its current 8-9% (nearly all hydro, remember) to 20% (the target Rudd has already set for 2020), and you give natural gas another percent or two, it would still leave about 70% or so of electricity from coal.

Roughly speaking, (and I won't put my back of the envelope figures up in case I have stuffed this up completely), it seems to me that even if you allow for renewables at 20% of all electricity, you would still have to have about half of your coal as "clean" coal for the energy sector to be able to come close to accounting for the bulk of the total target of a 30% reduction in CO2.

My suspicion, based on European experience (see some of my earlier posts) is that even with massive investment, renewables at 20% is very, very improbable by 2030. I also suspect that having about one half of all coal power stations operating at zero emissions by 2030 is very, very improbable. Quite frankly, no one knows how well CO2 sequestration will work. People do know that nuclear does not make CO2.

My points:

1. Australia's extremely high reliance on coal makes it exceptionally difficult for it to meet a target even towards the lower end of the range that the UN says Australia should have in 13 years from now.

2. Those countries that have or will develop large proportions of nuclear power in their electricity generating mix have a task that is very significantly easier.

3. People in Australia don't understand this yet.

The patron saint for me


Back soon.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Two days

OK, you all want me to have money to spend over Christmas don't you?

Then I have to spend a couple of days doing bills. A self imposed internet browsing ban is needed, or a donation of $10,000 or so. No? Thought so.

Back in a couple of days....

Here's a treat for you

This is the Pixar UFO short "Lifted" which was shown this year with Ratatouille. Enjoy!

England's rubbery figures

UK's official CO2 figures an illusion

Britain is responsible for hundreds of millions more tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions than official figures admit, according to a new report that undermines UK claims to lead the world on action against global warming.

The analysis says pollution from aviation, shipping, overseas trade and tourism, which are not measured in the official figures, means that UK carbon consumption has risen significantly over the past decade, and that the government's claims to have tackled global warming are an "illusion".

Under Kyoto, Britain must reduce its greenhouse gas output to 12.5% below 1990 levels by 2012. According to official figures filed with the UN, Britain's emissions are currently down 15% compared with 1990.

But the new report says UK carbon output has actually risen by 19% over that period, once the missing emissions are included in the figures.

A peculiar case from Aurukun

Girl, 10, 'probably agreed' to sex | NEWS.com.au

I suspect this story will have some legs.

A female judge in Cairns gives what appears to be very, very lenient treatment to a bunch of aboriginal men who had sex with a 10 year old girl. The fact that it was apparently consensual is cited by the judge, as is the fact that the prosecutor apparently did not ask for any more severe penalty than suspended jail.

As the report notes:
News of the non-custodial sentences has added to the violent hatreds that exist in Aurukun between families and tribes and which have played a part in recent brawls involving dozens of assailants, many armed with sticks and spears.
Further evidence that lack of facilities at Aurukun is very far from the whole story as to why the place is in social disarray.

Go Nuclear

Greenpeace is wrong — we must consider nuclear power - Opinion

Controversial ex-Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore sets out his view that Greenpeace must change its anti-nuclear stance if it wants to be serious about reducing CO2.

Way to encourage Australian culture

Miller attacks Howard in acceptance speech

From the first part of this report, Australian director George Miller says:
"We've seen over many years the utter emasculation of the ABC, the vitality sucked out of our universities as places of true learning and it just doesn't make any sense,"

"We're a very small country and we have very little culture distinct enough to call it our own, so why should we have a war about it?

"It's as ridiculous as bald men fighting over a comb, when we should be out there trying to grow hair."

I'll quickly brush over the fact that ABC TV, and Australian produced TV drama and comedy generally, just had a great ratings year, and move onto the question of what George is doing to help prevent the destruction of Australian culture:
His next project will be directing Justice League of America.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Cool car

Cars - Reviews - Honda FCX Clarity

The New York Times reviews a production ready (sort of) Honda fuel cell car. It sounds and looks very cool, even if precise cost is never really discussed. (They're not going to sell it, just lease it.)

Orchestra to follow

Well, Astroboy had a robot circus. A robot orchestra would be something I would pay to see. I think.

Maybe she's nuts

'I was terrified that the guards would come in and teach me a lesson' | UK News | The Observer

This report gives more details on how Gillian Gibbons (the English teacher jailed in Sudan for letting a teddy bear be named Mohammed) was treated.

Some highlights:
The open-air cell had three grey-tiled walls, a basic squat toilet in a corner and steel bars running across the facade and ceiling. 'I just stood there for three hours, thinking I was going home. It was filthy, there were ants all over the floor and in the corner there were rat droppings. There was a light shining into my yard that attracted all the mosquitoes, so I stood there and got bitten to death....

In a moment of almost farcical surreality, the teddy bear itself made a courtroom appearance. 'This clerk of the court got this carrier bag and produced this bear with a flourish, like a rabbit out of the hat,' Gibbons recalls. 'He put it down on the table in front of us and it flopped over, and the prosecution [lawyer] sat him up. And then he pointed at this bear in a dead aggressive manner and he said "Is this the bear?" It was Exhibit A, you see.
Her reaction sounds rather normal and understandable for the most part, until we get to the end of the article:

She retains a remarkable lack of rancour about her ordeal and hopes to take up another foreign teaching post, possibly in China. 'I don't regret a second of it. I had a wonderful time. It was fabulous.'

Does she blame anyone for what she went through? She pauses. 'I blame myself because I shouldn't have done it,' she says finally. 'Ignorance of the law is no defence.'

She sounds either like a particularly easy target for Stockholm Syndrome, or just a chronically self-blaming liberal.

And in this corner...(the battle of the fantasies)

There's a lot of attention being given in the to the new movie "The Golden Compass" and its source material: Phillip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy.

Pullman has famously been quoted as saying of CS Lewis' Narnia series:
"a peevish blend of racist, misogynistic and reactionary prejudice" and "not a trace" of Christian charity.

"It's not the presence of Christian doctrine I object to so much as the absence of Christian virtue," he added.

"The highest virtue - we have on the authority of the New Testament itself - is love, and yet you find not a trace of that in the books."

I don't say that the Narnia series is the greatest literature ever written, but that's just really silly commentary.

Readers may recall that I liked the movie version of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe very much. I recently watched it again, and my fondness has not diminished. If you dip into the lengthy set of user comments at IMDB, you will see that many folk agree. The public reaction seems to have been even better than a pretty good critical reaction, perhaps because it had a largely self-selecting Christian audience. (Of course, an emotional appreciation of Christianity no doubts helps one to be moved by the story. But hey, I am not stopping your conversion for better movie appreciation!)

Teenage (and older) LOTR tragics complained it was a poor imitation of Tolkien; I say that unlike that interminable writer, Lewis at least had real characters and a point.

So, of course, it gives me some pleasure to see the first movie of anti-Lewis Pullman's series get a lukewarm critical and box office reception.

All the critics say that the movie has largely been stripped of the anti-religion element; most people seem to also say that this will be virtually impossible to maintain if movies are attempted from the subsequent books.

As this article (in The Atlantic, so it must be true) notes, Pullman's stories ultimately have teen sex (or at least sexual awakening) saving the universe. (This reminds of the first Star Trek movie, which Pauline Kael - I think - said was notable as science fiction that ended not with a bang, but with a bang.) For a conservative's rebuttal of such an implausible take on sexuality, see here.

In the meantime, Prince Caspian, the next Narnia movie, is due out in 6 months or so, and its trailer has been released with some fanfare. It sounds as if the movie is not as close to the novel this time, and perhaps has been more Tolkien-ified than I would like, but here's hoping.

UPDATE: here's a very lengthy interview with Pullman, and it turns out we agree on one thing - Tolkien:
"I dislike his Narnia books because of the solution he offers to the great questions of human life: is there a God, what is the purpose, all that stuff, which he really does engage with pretty deeply, unlike Tolkien who doesn't touch it at all. ‘The Lord of the Rings' is essentially trivial. Narnia is essentially serious, though I don't like the answer Lewis comes up with. If I was doing it at all, I was arguing with Narnia. Tolkien is not worth arguing with."


I've just spent most of the last couple of days with my son at the Mater Childrens' Hospital in Brisbane. (He had a minor procedure that had a bit of a complication. Everything OK now, thanks.)

Some observations about the Mater Hospital, and hospitals in Brisbane generally:

* I don't know whether it is because Brisbane's population continues to grown, but all hospitals here just seem to be in a continual state of construction/re-construction. Is it like this in every other Australian city?

* Of the few Brisbane hospitals I have visited for various reasons over the last few years, The Wesley is perhaps the nicest inside. It is, of course, having major building works at the moment.

* I don't know about nursing. There are complaints about their pay all the time, and the shift work would be a pain, but how come they all seem happy to me?

* From their website, I see that The Mater group of hospitals provides care for "some half million people a year." Even with 7 hospitals and 6,000 staff, that seems a hell of a lot of care.

* The Mater also has a new "high definition" operating theatre which sounds like it would be interesting to look at. If you can have public tours of breweries, movie studios and chocolate factories, why can't hospitals do this too for a bit of extra cash on the side on a Saturday or Sunday when the highest paid surgeons are off too. OK, maybe it's just me who be happy to do that.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Not the whole story

Welfare is not the key - Opinion - theage.com.au

Philip Martin writes here about the recent riots in the remote aboriginal community of Aurukun. He knows more about the place than the average commentator:
The research I collected over six months living in Aurukun while working for Pearson's Cape York Partnerships showed that Aurukun is chronically under-resourced in infrastructure and services. This is a source of major community frustration and a key factor in its social breakdown.
As it happens, I know a little about the place as well, due to having relatives who have worked there up to very recent times.

Martin lists the ways in which the community is under-resourced, and concludes with the line that "If there was so much infrastructure missing in Sydney, there would be public insurrection."

This is disingenuous, I think, as the whole resourcing issue has cultural aspects too, and devolved into a bit of a chicken and egg unresolvable problem.

I believe, for example, that the community had a brand new pool and sports centre built some years ago. (Great idea: aboriginal communities with pools have cleaner kids, and less disease.) I am not sure how long it lasted, but I understand the place was trashed and has not been in use since.

Martin notes the chronic over-crowding in some houses. He doesn't mention the custom there that if someone dies, the house has to be left vacant for a number of months and have a special ceremony before it is re-occupied. I don't know how many houses this may affect at any one time, but it surely would account for at some of the cases of over-crowding in remaining houses.

He also notes the lack of trademen to fix things such a broken pipes. He says there is no Centrelink office there to help people get "real jobs".

Well, just how many "real jobs" are ever going to be available there, I wonder. I don't know anything special about this for Aurukun, but it does puzzle me as to why remote communities cannot at least invest enough money in training a few locals to be able to do relatively straight-forward housing maintenance work (and pay for a basic supply of repair material).

Martin mentions packs of wild dogs roaming the streets. I do know that a white council worker's house got stoned after the council paid a vet to come in and put down some of these dogs. The locals can be very attached to their dogs, no matter how sick and scrangy they are.

The health clinic has had 50% drop in permanent staff. Yes, but of course it is hard to get staff to agree to work in a community that seems to be permanently on the edge of a riot, and does not show signs of appreciating the white staff who do work there.

Martin says the community needs 16 full time police. This is for a community of about 1,100 people! I think he should acknowledge that the huge disproportionate number of police that such communities need compared to white communities, as this helps account for the difficulties State governments have in providing such staff.

My relative says at the core of the problem is the complete breakdown of respect of young people towards their parents and elders. I don't know how that is cured, but there is no real indication a big influx of resources is going to cure that chronic problem.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Odd customs of Greece

Mad about the boy | Review | Guardian Unlimited Books

Yet again, a historian has a go at trying to work out the exact nature of same-sex love in ancient Greece.

Peter Davidson has a whole book just out about this, and this article is written by him too, presumably summarising some of his main points.

His goal is amusingly stated as:
So how do we begin to make sense of this truly extraordinary historical phenomenon, an entire culture turning noisily and spectacularly gay for hundreds of years?
Part of the answer is to note that:
"Ancient Greece" was in fact a constellation of hundreds of rivalrous micro-states, with their own calendars, dialects and cults - and their own local versions of Greek homosexuality. These revealed very different attitudes and employed very different practices: "We Athenians consider these things utterly reprehensible, but for the Thebans and Eleans they are normal."
The Cretans seem to have made a big production of it:
The "peculiar custom" of the Cretans...involved an abduction and a tug-of-war over a boy, a two-month-long hunting expedition, lavish gifts, the sacrifice of an ox and a great sacrificial banquet, at which the boy formally announced his acceptance or not of "the relationship". Thereafter he got to wear a special costume that announced to the rest of the community his new status as "famed".
In a review of this book, it is noted that at one stage at least:
In Athens, for which we have the widest range of evidence, both visual and literary, the ephebe - or young male aged eighteen to twenty - emerged from the naked sports of the gymnasium to find himself pursued by a lover; the ideal of chaste resistance and decorous pursuit was not always adhered to, but the resulting bonding often lasted a lifetime, through marriage and political careers.
Davidson writes:
In Athens these under-18s were vigorously protected, rather like the young women in a Jane Austen novel, although their younger sisters would have been expected to be married by the age of 15. These were the Boys who were escorted to the gymnasium by the slave paidagogoi and followed around at a distance by a pack of admirers. "A guard of his honour" is how one source describes it, trying to explain the contradictory custom.
It all makes Schoolies week seem pretty tame by comparison!

Davidson notes that the habits of the Greeks were well known:
The Romans certainly noticed what they called the "Greek custom", which they blamed on too much exercising with not enough clothes on.
I don't know what lesson anyone can take from reading about this: even those who have very liberal views today of same sex relationships would presumably have something of a problem with a society in which middle aged men more-or-less ritualistically pursue 18 year old boys who take their fancy. The fact is sexual customs in Athens and other Greek places were very idiosyncratic, even for other societies around them.

And my modern day question is this: why does England seem so gay now?

The fur solution

Comment is free: Bear to hear the truth you've spoken

George Monbiot finally gets really serious about climate change issues:
I am sitting on top of an excavator the size of a house, dressed as a polar bear. In a world that's gone mad this is the only sane thing left to do.
It impresses the kiddies, at any rate.

Meanwhile, one of the comments following that post points to another reasonable sounding report that the sun's sunspot activity cycle really may be at the start of the same protracted low which happened during the "little ice age":
Astronomers are watching the Sun, hoping to see the first stirrings of cycle 24. It should have arrived last December. The United States' National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted it would start in March 2007. Now they estimate March 2008, but they will soon have to make that even later. The first indications that the Sun is emerging from its current sunspot minimum will be the appearance of small spots at high latitude. They usually occur some 12-20 months before the start of a new cycle. These spots haven't appeared yet so cycle 24 will probably not begin to take place until 2009 at the earliest. The longer we have to wait for cycle 24, the weaker it is likely to be. Such behaviour is usually followed by cooler temperatures on Earth.
It would indeed be a nice co-incidence if the sun's reduced activity gave civilisation a century or so to move to low greenhouse energy, and perhaps even remove some of what is already there.

Ken leads the charge

Australia can lead the way on climate - Opinion - theage.com.au

Kenneth Davidson tells us how important it is for Australia to commit to really serious greenhouse gas cuts. He doesn't say it directly, but notes that developed countries will have to cut emissions by at least 90% by 2050! (That is, to keep temperature increases to within 1.5 degrees.)

How can this massive figure be achieved? Ken starts with the far from obvious:
Here in Victoria the authorities might think twice about the Port Phillip channel deepening to avoid facilitating sea-level rises and tidal surges
Does that make any sense? How would not deepening the Port Phillip Bay channel prevent local sea level rise?

Ken claims that public opinion is way ahead of the politicians on climate change. I say that is only because no one, including Ken, has yet told the public how incredibly hard big greenhouse reductions will be.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Changing Japan

In Japan, Rural Economies Wane as Cities Thrive - New York Times

This article about the economic changes in Japan from the point of view of how it is affecting different regions makes for interesting reading.

It is true, as the article notes, that many smaller towns in Japan have old town centres which are stuggling due to new shopping malls in the nearby suburbs.

The thing is, Australian and other Western cities saw this same change from about the 1960's. But, over the years, many of the older small shop precincts have adapted and are again pleasant places to be.

In Japan, they are not so used to letting the market sort out such things.

The other point to make about the article is that it seems peculiar when talking about the decline of Japanese small towns to ignore the really fundamental issue for the future of the country: its rapidly aging population that is failing to reproduce or to accept reasonable levels of migration.

A danger for Turnbull....

Unleashed: An honourable, fidgetty, humanist Liberalism

This could be a very bad sign for Malcolm Turnbull: Bob Ellis likes him!

This column by Ellis starts off with a prediction (the Liberal Party will disappear from history) which Ellis claims is supported by his uncanny election predictive powers:
You mark my words. I predicted a Labor majority of twenty-eight or thirty and it's twenty-four, and I was right about every state.
Actually, Bob, the result is now predicted to be Labor 83 seats, Coalition 65, and 2 independents. A majority of less than 20, it would seem.

In any event, I actually recommend this article by Ellis, despite his typically overwrought style, because of the potted history it gives of Turnbull's past political friendships.

Of course, given that it is written by a recent loser in a political defamation case (a point Ellis himself raises here), you can probably take much of it with a grain of salt, but it's interesting nonetheless.

As a footnote, maybe it's just me, but that photo of his is such a posed attempt at basset hound charm that it just makes me want to slap him about the face a bit.

More Jesus talk

Comment is free: Jesus: Messiah or Bolshevik?

Is Terry Eagleton getting more conservative in his old age?

I know little about him except what I have read in Wikipedia. He is mainly known as a Marxist (or now just very Left-ist) Catholic literary critic.

Yet his recent attack on Richard Dawkins did not really show the signs of what I normally expect from very liberal Christianity (ie, a belief in nothing really metaphysical at all.)

Anyway, his piece above in the Guardian talking about the way to understand Jesus as a political figure seems pretty reasonable to me.

(It still doesn't really address the issue as to whether he is a realist or non-realist when it comes to the supernatural, but I have to give him credit for sounding like a relatively sensible lefty Catholic.)

He's not the Messiah

I can unite world on climate, says Rudd - Environment - smh.com.au

Unfortunately, it appears that headline is not a direct quote from our PM, just a paraphrase. That's a pity, as it would be quite funny for Kevin to start making silly grandiose statements so early in his Prime Minister-ship.

I note that Penny Wong is credited with having performed well in the election campaign, hence her reward of being made Climate Change Minister. (Sounds like it's her job to ensure climate changes happens.)

I don't know. I thought in any media appearances I have noticed she comes across as too earnest and humourless. Especially after her election night turn on the ABC, I can warm to Julia Gillard more readily, in the personality stakes anyway.

Penny has apparently received a fair bit of attention in reporting in China, but it is probably safe to assume this has not included details of her personal life yet. It will be interesting to see how (if ever) this is reported in Chinese media.

Back to Kyoto: this report in the Australian today did the useful service of explaining the issue of penalties under Kyoto in precise form. (I had become confused as to whether they really were a risk to any country.) Apparently not, is the answer:
experts outside the negotiating process think it is highly unlikely the UN will enforce the Kyoto caps because too many countries would be forced to pay up.

Deloitte emissions trading expert Lorraine Stephenson said a permit for each tonne of carbon over the limit would cost about $30 on current markets, putting Australia's potential Kyoto bill at up to $150 million.

That would be dwarfed by the bills facing other major industrialised countries such as Canada and Japan, which have already exceeded the targets they committed to when they ratified the protocol a decade ago.

On current projections, Canada would be required to pay about $6.8 billion to offset its projected 38 per cent blowout of its target. Japan would face a bill of about $4billion for being 10per cent over the limit.

European nations such as Greece and Ireland will avoid expensive Kyoto bills because the European Union will aggregate its total emissions.

The EU is expected to meet its target thanks to the inclusion of eastern Germany and the closure of the British coal industry in 1990, the baseline year for setting targets.
So, our risk of losing money is low. The risk of other countries worrying about missing targets is also low.

The effect of this treaty is that everyone agreed to try really, really hard. Many countries failed, by such a margin that they can't realistically be penalised.

But it's the symbolism! Yeah, great.

Supposedly, the great benefit of Australia signing is to be directly involved in fresh negotiations now. Well, what about the USA? Is it just being given "observer status" because it hasn't ratified. I don't think so. It has to be involved for there to be any meaningful outcome.

Regardless of what the Liberal leadership may now say, I still stick to my line that giving supremacy to the symbolism over the practical outcome is actually the thing that deserves cynicism.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Stupid ways to promote Green

Earthrace: the green machine - Telegraph

This is, to make an understatement, counter-intuitive:
Earthrace is not your standard petrol-guzzling powerboat. Its jaw-dropping looks have already earned it the unofficial mantle of the world's coolest boat, but it is also one of the greenest. Fuelled by biodiesel and made with environmentally friendly products, it has on-board recycling and all its carbon emissions are offset. But forget images of sandal-wearing sailors and lentil soup. This boat's performance in the water is what turns the petrol heads on. With its 13,000-litre fuel tanks it can travel halfway round the world at speeds of up to 40 knots....

What better way to prove the viability of "green" fuels that produce 78 per cent less carbon emissions than by smashing the decade-old record set by Britain's Ian Bosworth, who circumnavigated the globe in 75 days on the petrol-guzzling Cable & Wireless boat?
Err, how about by not worrying at all about how fast a small-ish boat can circumnavigate the globe, whether or not it is using biodiesel?

And it's not just CO2 that the biofuel is spewing out:
"It averages about 85 decibels at cruising speed. Without earplugs the crew would go deaf," Bethune explained matter-of-factly.
Bethune may also be certifiable, by the sounds of this:
Any doubts about Bethune's commitment were dispelled when it emerged that he recently had liposuction and converted the extracted fat into biodiesel. However before you think that cosmetic surgery might save the planet, it only produced 100ml of fuel.
Hmmm. Maybe if I save all my urine for 5 years and dry it out, I'll have enough urea to mix with biodiesel to make enough explosive to sink the noisy boat of this self-cannibalising wannabe greenie.

Your new moon house

Technology Review: An Inflatable Lunar Habitat

It has a photo too.

Monday, December 03, 2007

A cheery soul

The moral agent | Review | Guardian Unlimited Books

It must be literary night here at OD. See the link above for a long article on Joseph Conrad.

I had liked Typhoon (a short novella) which was in a high school book, and many years later read Lord Jim. Although I finished it, it certainly put me off him as a novel writer. His writing style is just incredibly dense, although at first I thought that this might be my fault for being too wedded to "easy" reading.

But no, according to the article, he was even heavy going for his readers when he was alive. HG Wells wrote a review in which he described Conrad's style as being:
"like river-mist; for a space things are seen clearly, and then comes a great grey bank of printed matter, page upon page, creeping round the reader, swallowing him up".
As I recall, "Lord Jim" is supposed to be a tale told around a table in one night. Many reviewers must have found this an unbelievable conceit, as the edition I read included a foreword by Conrad claiming that this criticism was unfair, and you really could tell the tale in one night. (Maybe, if you are in polar regions in winter.)

Anyhow, the article shows that Conrad was the nervous type whose cynical, modernistic view of the world is summed up by this extract from a letter to a friend:
Life knows us not and we do not know life - we don't even know our own thoughts. Half the words we use have no meaning whatever and of the other half each man understands each word after the fashion of his own folly and conceit. Faith is a myth, and beliefs shift like mists on the shore; thoughts vanish; words, once pronounced, die; and the memory of yesterday is as shadowy as the hope of tomorrow.
Yes, well. Joseph certainly sounds like the last person on earth his mates would have thought about inviting out for a few drinks and a yarn. If he got anywhere near a gin bottle, they would've had to make sure sharp objects were out of reach of his wrists.

No stopping him

The end of the affair and beyond | The Australian

There were reviews in the weekend press about a newly published collection of letters by sex mad author Graham Greene. This excerpt made me laugh:
His promiscuity, which his editor suggests was "often made utterly unmanageable by bipolar illness", added to that restlessness and led inevitably to the end of his relationship with Vivien (although they never divorced). Greene as sex addict does not figure strongly in these letters. But in his exhaustive (and, at 2251 pages, exhausting) authorised biography of Greene, Norman Sherry annexes a list of 47 favourite prostitutes scribbled down by Greene in 1948 when his mistress Catherine Walston challenged him about rumours that he paid women for sex.
And that was only his favourite prostitutes.

It sounds like a clear case of "too much information" being delivered to his mistress:

"Graham, are the rumours true? Have you been paying a woman for sex? What is her name?"

"I confess dear, I have needs. Her name is Hazel, but only on Mondays. Tuesdays and Wednesday are Betty. On the first and second Saturday of each month it's Ethel; the third Saturday is Mildred; the Fridays are either with Edith, Beryl or Babbs, depending on who's free; on the 5th and 10th of each month I have regular bookings with Marge, unless she's otherwise engaged, then it's....." etc, etc.

What does Penny Wong think about this?

Eat, drink and be miserable: the true cost of our addiction to shopping

Madeleine Bunting follows the George Monbiot line that, to realistically get to the CO2 reductions required, massive changes to society will be needed. Her last paragraph:
Hearteningly, we know it can be done - our parents and grandparents managed it in the second world war. This useful analogy, explored by Andrew Simms in his book Ecological Debt, demonstrates the critical role of government. In the early 1940s, a dramatic drop in household consumption was achieved - not by relying on the good intentions of individuals (and their ability to act on that coffee-stained pamphlet), but by the government orchestrating a massive propaganda exercise combined with a rationing system and a luxury tax. This will be the stuff of 21st-century politics - something that, right now, all the main political parties are much too scared to admit.
Yes, that makes serious post-Kyoto targets sound attractive, doesn't it?

I am guessing that it will only be a matter of time before we have some greenie group or other seriously promoting sabotage of coal mining or power stations for the greater good of the earth.

I suspect Madeleine is partly right: very serious CO2 reductions can only be achieved with pain. But the problem is, if you bring Western nations' economies to a halt too quickly, it will inhibit the innovation that is needed to help as well.

It's probably nothing that a massive war between the US and China couldn't solve. (Just kidding, you know.)

A cultural note

James Fallows (November 27, 2007) - "The" way vs "a" way (Japan v China dept)

Found this via Japundit. It involves a funny sort of comparison between China and Japan.

When surgeons fight

Isn't it a little odd that, at opposite ends of the country, we currently have cases of feuding surgeons causing major problems for hospital administration?

Of course, we also have the case of Dr Patel, the surgeon who just wouldn't stop, to deal with soon, as well as action against the hospital administrator for not acting on complaints about Patel faster.

Surgeons are a worry.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Things your priest gets up to on holiday

Guns, porn oust priest | Herald Sun

A very strange story of an Adelaide priest who (allegedly!) has been carrying guns in Afghanistan and collecting what sounds like gay porn on his computer.

I see that he got a mention in a SMH article earlier this year:

Father Tony Pearson, a Catholic priest who allows Shiite Hazaras in Adelaide to hold their annual Moharram ceremony on church premises, says the isolation and uncertainty of the temporary protection visa system has ravaged the morale of Australia's small Afghan community. ....

"When Afghans are given a fair go, the vast majority are found to be hardworking and moderate in their view of Islam," Pearson says. "But our Government chose to make an example of them to deter others. Some victims of that policy have suffered grave and unnecessary psychological damage."

Another paper reports:

Prior to voluntarily standing down, Father Pearson was heavily involved in the Archdiocese of Adelaide's Aboriginal Catholic Ministry and the Otherway Centre in Pirie St as chaplain. He is a frequent traveller to Afghanistan, having visited the country up to six times in recent years.....

"Tony Pearson's trips to Afghanistan have been private trips, in his own time and funded by him. Consequently, there has been no requirement or obligation for him to advise the church in respect of them," she said.

I wonder what will happen if his hosts in Afghanistan find out about the photos on his computer?

I am also curious as to how the Catholic church works out holidays for priests, at a time when everyone knows there are not enough to go around.

Window cleaning in Japan

Polishing a paradox high up in the sky | The Japan Times Online

Just a nice article about what it is like to do high rise window cleaning in Tokyo.

Unfortunately, this crew appears to have some sort of code of ethics which prevents them answering the most obvious question:

"Lots of people wave," Yamamoto said. And do they wave back?

"If people wave at us, we wave back. Otherwise we don't look at what's happening inside."

Now they were warming up a little I tried asking again — this time about things they've seen inside other buildings.

"We've seen things that it wouldn't be appropriate to say," said Yamamoto, tantalizingly. Alas, he would be drawn no further.

The full Nelson

Knowing the full Nelson - Opinion - theage.com.au

Jason Koutsoukis gives a good explanation of why Brendan Nelson cannot be taken seriously.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Post-election wrap ups

* Amongst all the triumphalism of Alan Ramsey's column this morning (he had to get an election result right eventually), there is a funny quote useful for all who dislike Brendan Nelson:
John Stone, a former National Party Senate leader, was moved to say of Nelson: "He reminds me of Andrew Peacock without the substance."
* Michael Duffy casts a cynical eye over professional political punditry generally. (I think he has written about this research before, hasn't he?, but it's good to be reminded.)

* Greg Sheridan is probably the first columnists to put a bit of blame on Costello and him supporters for doing their bit to undermine Howard's leadership. Fair enough too, I think.

* On Radio National breakfast yesterday, Gerard Henderson was firmly in the "it really was all Howard's fault for not going earlier" camp too. I thought he might be a bit more cautious about this, although it's undeniably true that if Howard was mostly concerned with looking good by leaving while at the height of his powers, he did make a mistake.

The thing that everyone seems to leave out of the equation is whether Costello really could have overcome his famous (if unjustified) unpopularity with the public. Julia Guillard pointed this out on election night: she thought it was fanciful to think Costello could have won it for the Coalition; if anything, she believes he could have made the loss worse.

Sure, Paul Keating managed the trick, but look at the help he had from John Hewson's scaring the horses by talking up a new tax.

Costello versus Rudd would in no way have been the same dynamic.

* I still make the point, however, that the main players in the Coalition are taking the loss with a relatively high degree of grace. The press this morning has the headline "Howard's fault: Costello." Well, it is the implication of what Peter is saying, but you really have to watch or read the interview to see that he certainly does not seem bitter and twisted about it.

* Finally, you would have to have a hard heart not to be moved by the video summary of Matt Price's funeral that is on News.com this morning. Brought a tear to my eye, that's for sure.

Incidentally, has anyone else noticed that Tim Blair seems not to have commented on Price's death on his blog? Seems peculiar. (Speaking of Blair, his post-election column is pretty good.)