Reprise time

It seems that Google has stopped lindexing my old posts, from my old site 2008 etc.  I do not blame them – it is probably rare that anyone looks at them. Well, especially so since Google do not index them any more.

So, just to confound the sytem, here they are. The images have not copied across, but if you really want to see them, they should be available by following the link above:

Robert Fenwick Elliott’s Blogging Diary

Back to current year’s Blog

Back to Robert Fenwick Elliott’s Personal Home Page

Diary – 2008 Archive

26th December 2008

“I am persuaded that this is a case where there is much to be said for Mr Fenwick Elliott’s approach”

I was pleased to win an appeal earlier this week before the Full Court of the Supreme Court here, which is the state’s court of appeal. The decision provides support for ADR in general terms, and particularly by finding that a question as to the enforceability of an expert determination, even if not finally disposed of by way of summary judgment, should nevertheless be tried separately from any underlying issues, and promptly. The point ought, perhaps to be obvious, but did not prevail at first instance. To litigate in the court requires far too much be way of stoicism.

Talking of which, I have mislaid the better of the 2 translations I have of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, and rather miss it. There is much poppycock there, of course, but the book is still, after 2,000 years, strangely cheering as long as one does not take it too seriously. I first came across it 40 years ago in Bertrand Russell’s still wonderful History of Western Philosophy, in which he is delightfully condescending:

There is, in fact, an element of sour grapes in Stoicism. We can’t be happy, but we can be good; let us then pretend that, so long as we are good, it doesn’t matter being unhappy. This doctrine is heroic, and, in a bad world, useful; but it is neither quite true nor, in a fundamental sense, quite sincere.

Ouch – poor Marcus!  As achievements go, he had the distinction of being a leading Stoic philosopher, as well as being Emperor of Rome, and getting a pretty good press in the movie Gladiator.  But he probably was a bit of a misery guts, it has to be admitted.  Comparing notes by email the other day with a dear old friend, I suggested this formulation:

  • Take note of what makes you happy.    Do those things some more.
  • Take note of what makes you miserable.    Stop doing that stuff.

Still sounds right to me.

A Christmas Message
On the theme of cheerfulness, here is a short moral tale, of about 3 mb.

20th December 2008

Camping Out

My daughter Lucy has been charging around the woods for the purpose of a TV advertisement for camping. A copy of it can be seen here.  Enter, then click TV Commercials, and then select the middle one.
25th October 2008

Act of Will

My old friend Will Hopper (this is not just a figure of speech. Will really is old. 79¼, he tells me, going on 79½ by now) has written a book, with his brother Kenneth, who is even older. He wrote to me to say, “No need to buy it – you can read a lot of it at http://www.puritangift.com“.  But that was a poor steer – the excepts on the web site are limited, and the whole book is so utterly interesting and important that the is no substitute for buying and reading the whole thing, which I did.

It sounds as if it might be all about the protestant work ethic, which afflicts a number of us, but it is not, really. It is more about how the essential ingredients of the American success story have become subverted by a different and perfidious parasite, which Will and Kenneth call the “Cult of the (so-called) Expert”.  It is a particularly interesting account, because it runs counter to the conventional wisdom, abroad since the 60s, that those guys who drove American industry through the first 2/3rds of the 20th century were less interesting, less admirable and more selfish than the new guys. This book paints a convincing picture of another world, in which the traditional captains of industry are hugely much more attractive people than the modern crew of Harvard MBAs, who have driven company after company into the wall, together with the prospects of all their employees, in the course of their amoral, half-baked, hypocritical avarice. There is a lot of stuff that Will and Kenneth have to say about management consultants. They do not fare well in this book.

The book was written a few months before the recent stock market crash, but predicts something of the sort. Will was – and is – a banker who was also a politician, having served as a Member of the European Parliament. He has obviously thought much about these issues, and if this book represents a call for the return of some core values, it is by no means the work of an ill-informed reactionary. Not a light read, but well worthwhile.

1421

I have but the slightest carp about Will’s book. Towards the end the end, there is a reference to 1421, the so-called history book, which peddles the notion that there was a great Chinese fleet which discovered the world in the 15th century. I read it a while ago. It struck me as far fetched, so I started having a look at whether it was pukka. Oh no, it is most definitely not. Woo-woo to its core. The wiki commentary is a mild distillation of some of the debunking.

28th September 2008

Change is Good

I picked up an old philosophy book the other day, on the subject of logic. It contains a detailed analysis of syllogisms. You know the sort of stuff:

  • All men are mortal
  • All Englishmen are men
  • Therefore all Englishmen are mortal.

And so I started wondering about the syllogisms of climate change. They might be different for different viewpoints. Thus for the government of Margaret Thatcher (which was at least partly responsible, says Lord Lawson) for kicking the whole thing off, it might be:

  • All Trades Unions are a bad thing, especially the National Union of Mineworkers
  • We cannot break their stranglehold on the economy as long as they enjoy public support
  • Therefore we should put it publicly about that burning coal is a bad thing.

All of that was coupled, of course, with the notion that we could and should be using more nuclear energy instead. Which is not the usual line of the socks and sandals brigade. Their syllogism is more like:

  • All rich people use a lot of energy.
  • Rich people are bad.
  • Therefore using energy is a bad thing.

For climate change scientists, it might be different again:

  • All scientists need research grants
  • We only get research grants if people worry about climate change
  • Therefore we should put it publicly about that climate change is a bad thing. In fact, very bad. Very bad indeed, and getting worse. Oh yes.

This last point might sound somewhat sceptical (or as Jeanie would say, being a New Zealander, sciptical). Let us look at the hypothesis that the climate change business might be heavily infected by woo-woo.

Woo-woo

This is a great term to describe nonsense of all kinds. It is used by sceptics, including the admirable James Randi, the professional conjurer who has performed a great public service by exposing people like Uri Geller and Peter Popoff (see below), to mean irrational belief and quackery of all kinds.

Precisely what you categorise as woo-woo will depend, of course, on your own analysis. The list might include things like witch-doctory, creationism and other religious beliefs, mysticism, homoeopathy, reincarnation, spoon-bending, astrology, fung sui, talking to dead people, faith-healing, chiropractic and even wackier stuff than any of these.

Is the climate change package woo-woo?

The climate change thing is not a single proposition, but a series of propositions, something along the following lines:

  • The world is getting much hotter;
  • That change is caused by mankind releasing carbon into the atmosphere, by burning fossil fuels;
  • The temperature change will cause sea levels to rise dramatically;
  • These two changes will render the earth significantly less habitable;
  • Mankind could and should fix all of this by releasing less carbon.

All of these propositions are said to be “settled science”; they come as a package in support of a range of measures that have been advocated and, in some cases, implemented.

A typical feature of woo-woo (apart, of course from a fundamental implausibility) is that someone else stands to gain from it in some way. Faith-healers, chiropractors and the like make a living out of peddling their particular brands of nonsense. Some might say that this is OK; they are providing a service, and if people want to buy it, well, good for them. It is less attractive in the case of people like Peter Popoff, a televangelist who got cash out of people by pretending to be getting supernatural messages, but who was actually getting short-wave radio messages through a concealed earpiece from his wife, who was rummaging through his audience’s “prayer cards”.

The fact that climate change scientists stand to gain from their beliefs does not make it all woo-woo, of course. But it is enough to make a sceptical nose start twitching.

The Denial Tag

It is also a feature of woo-woo for its proponents to discount opposition. There are many examples; I like this one. James Randi quotes Yuri Geller as saying

“Is he [Randi] still alive? If so, he does not interest me, because I disconnect from negative people”

Brilliant! In the same way, we get the tag that anyone who doubts the climate change message is a “denier”. This sounds fun – lingerie seems pretty harmless – but it just a breath away from “holocaust denier” which is not fun at all.

Reliability of Expert Consensus

As it happens, there is no consensus among experts about climate change, although it is plain that there is an orthodoxy that runs heavily against denial. But how reliable would such a consensus be, even if there were one?

Not very. Our history is littered with examples of experts getting things wrong. Ask an International Panel on Catholicism if the Pope is infallible, and they will probably tell you that he is. Ask an International Panel on Chiropractic if you can fix 101 ailments by “spinal manipulation” and it will say, “Oh yes” (they are not negative people at all).

The Light in Their Eyes

No, what really makes me so suspicious about the climate change lobby is that light in their eyes, so similar to what one sees in evangelicals when they start talking about their religious obsessions. There is no point talking to them about the evidence that the world was not actually created in just one week a few thousand years ago – there are not interested. In the same way, the climate change people are just not interested in contrary evidence. You show them the evidence that global warming may well have stopped about 10 years ago, that the Antarctic is getting colder, that none of their models have proved able to predict anything reliably, that carbon levels seem to follow climate change rather than lead it, that 100 years ago you could kayak 100 miles closer to the North Pole than you can today, that it is not just Earth, but other planets, including Mars Jupiter and Pluto, that have been warming. All of this suggests a complex and imperfectly understood picture, but for the guys with the light in their eyes, there is no doubting. They are just not interested in considering these issues.

This does not prove, of course, that they are wrong about everything, or even anything. But it must surely make us worry. Especially when we see that Tony Blair, the politician who has done most to lead the climate change policies, now tells us that religion was affecting his politics all along:

“One of the oddest questions I get asked in interviews (and I get asked a lot of odd questions) is: is faith important to your politics? It’s like asking someone whether their health is important to them or their family. If you are someone ‘of faith’ it is the focal point of belief in your life. There is no conceivable way that it wouldn’t affect your politics.”

Tony Blair did not let on about this whilst he was in power; he has since explained why:

“you talk about it in our system and, frankly, people do think you’re a nutter”.

Well, yes, we do, actually.

Al Gore was less shy; he went to divinity school, and was quite open about his approach:

“I think the purpose of life is to glorify God. I turn to my faith as the bedrock of my approach to any important questions in my life.”( from The New York Times, May 29, 1999)

For most of us, turning to Christianity as the bedrock of an approach to climate change (which has been the most important thing in Mr Gore’s recent life, including one suspects, his income stream) is a bit worrying.

Here in Australia, both Kevin Rudd and Penny Wong, the Prime Minister and the Minister for Climate Change, who are the big pushers of the climate change movement, are committed Christians; both of them take the Blair line that is more prudent not to say too much about that whilst in office.

OK, so at least some of the key players in the climate business are religious nutters, to use Tony Blair’s word. Does that make them wrong? No, not necessarily. But it should make us sceptical.

Well?

Well, where does all of this head? The climate change lobby is driven, not by the science, but by an unhappy blend of politics and neo-religion. Climate change sceptics, of whom there are many, have a good point: the science really is not settled. Is the climate change stuff all woo-woo? Probably not. There are elements there of woo-woo, but then again, some of the stuff coming the other way is flawed too. It is a shame, in one sense, that the whole debate has been so charged by political and neo-religious bias – in both directions. This means that we are at real risk of doing some very dumb things, including fuelling corruption on a massive scale via carbon-trading schemes. But then again, governments have done lots of dumb things, and we seem to survive them pretty well. A good deal of the package looks deeply flawed, for the reasons set out by Lord Lawson and others.

Chiropractic woo-woo

Chiropractic, on the other hand, is woo-woo to its core. It was founded by a Canadian shopkeeper called Daniel David Palmer, who in the 1880’s was practising as a “magnetic healer” in the USA. In 1895, he claimed to have cured a man, Harvey Lillard, of his deafness by spinal manipulation, but it seems the thing was simply a fraud. According the fact sheet of the National Council against Health Fraud, Lillard’s daughter later said that the miracle cure was effected by Palmer slapping her father on the back with a heavy book as part of a joke, and that it was only after that that Palmer decided to explore manipulation as an expansion of his magnetic healing practice. The daughter said, “the compact was that if they can make [something of] it, then they both would share. But, it didn’t happen.”

So in other words, it started as a joke and later became a scam.

Mr Palmer was imprisoned for a while for all of this, but he soon bounced back, and chiropractic thrived. Mr Palmer himself saw it as a sort of religion: he wrote this in 1911:

“I occupy in chiropractic a similar position as did Mrs. Eddy in Christian Science. Mrs. Eddy claimed to receive her ideas from the other world and so do I. She founded theron a religioin, so may I. I am THE ONLY ONE IN CHIROPRACTIC WHO CAN DO SO….

“You ask, what I think will be the final outcome of our law getting. It will be that we will have to build a boat similar to Christian Science and hoist a religious flag… I have received chiropractic from the other world, similar as did Mrs. Eddy…

“Exemption clauses instead of chiro laws by all means, and LET THAT EXEMPTION BE THE RIGHT TO PRACTICE OUR RELIGION. But we must have a religious head, one who is the founder, as did Christ, Mohamed, Jo. Smith, Mrs. Eddy, Martin Luther and other who have founded religions. I am the fountain head. I am the founder of chiropractic in its science, in its art, in its philosophy and in its religious phase. Now, if chiorpractors desire to claim me as their head, their leader, the way is clear. My writings have been gradually steering in that direction until now it is time to assume that we have the same right to as has Christian Scientists.”

All that sounds like harmless nuttiness, but it seems that a fair few people suffer from it, even in modern times. A study by the Stanford (University) Stroke Center did some research in the mid-1990s and found that in the previous 2 years, no less than 56 people had suffered a stroke within 24 hours of receiving a chiropractic “treatment”. One patient had died, and 86% were left with permanent impairment. This was just the cases that were reported, so it seems that chiropractic kills or seriously injures about a bus load of Americans every year. These results have recently been confirmed by a 2007 paper “Adverse effects of spinal manipulation: a systematic review” by Professor Edzard Ernst in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine:

Spinal manipulation, particularly when performed on the upper spine, is frequently associated with mild to moderate adverse effects. It can also result in serious complications such as vertebral artery dissection followed by stroke

Now, given all this, would we expect that governments would crack down on such quackery? No, of course not; chiropractic is the friendly face of faith healing, and it is hugely popular. And so that fact that it is worse than useless is not really the point, in policy terms. One might say the same about the climate change business.

Chiropractic – Silly Word

They mean, course, chiropractice, but where is the final e? As one can see from the above (Mr Palmer could not even spell the word “religion” properly, or “thereon”), so it looks like just another error from somewhat who dod not not know much. Except about how to pull a good scam.

 

27th September 2008

New Liberal Leader

It was good to see Malcolm Turnbull elected a leader of the Australian Liberal party. It all came as a bit of a shock. The previous leader, Brendon Nelson, said to his party one morning, “I have to ask you this: do you want me as your leader or don’t you?”. And the party said, “Well, Brendon, since you ask, we don’t actually, no. Not much”. And so Malcolm Turnbull was ushered into the driving seat. He appears to be in a different and better intellectual class than any other politician around in Australia today, and it was particularly gratifying to see someone being charming without resorting to the usual, stomach-churning references to “working families” or “mateship” that so many Australian politicians trot out.

I met him once, some years ago, in London, and rather liked him. It was in the Council Room of the Law Society in London, and it is notable that the way he treated the English establishment was precisely the way he treats local journalists. Good quality that: treating everyone in the same way.

Old Australian of  the Year

Conversely, it was no fun at all to see Tim Flannery being interviewed by Andrew Denton.

Professor Flannely is a mammologist and palaeontologist who has taken it upon himself to talk about global warming. They mean to treat him kindly, I am sure, for he obviously means well, but the timing was unfortunate.  Just a week or so ago the latest research from the University of Colorado at Boulder, publishes in Science, concludes that past estimates by alarmist like Al Gore are quite wrong, and that we are really looking at a likely rise in sea levels of between 3 and 6 feet over the next century. And then dear old Tim comes on the telly, cocks his head on one side, gives us that Labrador look that Princess Diana did, and warns of a point of no return; this from the transcript:

ANDREW DENTON:  What is the point of no return?

TIM FLANNERY: That’s the point where no matter what we do it’ll have no impact, because by then you’ve started a runaway process and then we’re headed towards a ice free world eventually. Seas will be 80 metres higher than they are today. You know the Equator in that world would be uninhabitable and life as Lovelock says would cling to the Poles you know. Greenland would be one of the last inhabitable places on the planet.
80 metres!! No wonder Michael Costa called the man an idiot! That is 40 times the current estimate of the maximum for this century. There may well be cause for concern about the wisdom of burning brown coal in order to desalinate the water used for cotton farming in arid areas, but this sort of alarmism does not help a rational debate.

Talking of news from the Arctic, there was the Prime Minister of the UK, Gordon Brown, the other day congratulating a character called Lewis Gordon Pugh, who was trying to kayak towards the North Pole to demonstrate just how much the ice cap has shrunk. But according to reports, the real evidence seems to be that it is all hogwash. Today’s ice kept  him way short of where the ice was about 100 years ago (1893 to be precise). So, inconveniently for the climate change industry, the long term story is not that the Arctic ice is disappearing at all.

Maybe Professor Flannery will end up like Professor Germaine Greer, who is now a national treasure, notwithstanding that (or perhaps because) she is as nutty as a fruit cake, and with each year that passes looks more like, and dresses more like, Tom Stoppard. Tom Stoppard is a fabulous playwright, whose plays are not only funny, but clever. The recent explorations of the origins of nuclear physics are a brilliant thing. So a good image to copy, I guess. Good on you, Germaine. More of us ought to take a leaf out of your book. Perhaps Professor Flannery will soon start looking more and more like Princess Diana, and will have a regular spot on Grumpy Old Men.

22nd September 2008

Reverse Gear
It is so depressing that Top Gear is going Australian. The UK original is hardly great art, but it is sometimes funny. Top Gear Australia is likely to be just awful. Awful awful awful.

Big brother, little sister
Talking of awful TV, Orwell was wrong about so many things. Not least his concern about Big Brother. It turns out the worst of that concept is a television show that plumbs untold depths of mindless time wasting. Oh yes: it has turned out that the worst that government can produce is instead Little Sister, that army of annoying, interfering, whining, muddle-headed beaurocrats who impose a regime of nagging on us all, typically in the name of health and safety or the environment.

31st August 2008

Left a bit, Right a bit

I exchanged emails with a friend the other day which drifted into the question of whether there is any remaining relevance in the concepts of left wing and right wing in politics, and, if so, what that might be. With her usual charm and tact, she suggested that I might develop my observations in this page (she did not need to add that this would prevent my clogging up her inbox).

The exchange was borne out of a remark made by Jeremy Clarkson that, to the right-thinking and discriminating male mind, left-wing women tend to be a lot more fanciable than their right-wing counterparts. Those who are familiar with Mr Clarkson’s views will not suspect him of much left-leaning himself. But he does have a point. Why are so many clever and attractive women on the political left, whilst so many left-wing men are utter duds?

It might be, of course, simply be that right-wing women bray overmuch, and their penchant for servants and other expensive habits strike terror into the hearts of men who have any experience of the divorce courts. But there must be more to it than that – what is the essential dichotomy in the left-right thing.

Caring, my friend suggested, was the essential characteristic of the left, at any rate as far as the left sees it, whereas the right is characterised by a desire for power. I am not so sure it is quite like that.

The left and compassion? Well, yes, probably. Although not all the way down. My mother, who was a deeply compassionate person, had no doubt that the real driver for the left was not compassion, but envy, and she was at least partly right about that too. My mother lived through the war years, and to the day of her death winced at the thought of nice Mr Churchill being voted out of power by those ungrateful, jealous-hearted socialists. Mother was a great believer in what she called “human nature”. There were some idle people, she thought, who just couldn’t stand the notion of anyone else having more than them,  and would stop at nothing to deprive the hard-workers from the fruits of their work.

Well, of course, there is a big difference between motive and result. There is a good deal of evidence that socialist policies are more likely to harm the wealthy than to benefit the poor. Take for example the “Minnesota twins” of statehood, where it is possible to see the different effects of more or less socialism on nations that were previously pretty much level pegging in economic terms: East Germany v West Germany, North Korea v South Korea, Albania v Greece, Cuba v other Caribbean islands, Zimbabwe v other African nations, and so on. In each of these cases, the relative effect of more socialism has been not only to dispossess the rich, but to further impoverish the poor. Certainly, it is possible to see some evidence here of the politics of envy: as an old-fashioned communists, Robert Mugabe and his thugs have always given every indication that their policies are far more concerned with damning the wealthy white population than with any real concern for the population as a whole. But it would be unfair to tar the whole of the left with that same brush. When it comes to the impact of socialist policies, it is not easy to separate out cause and effect – the more wealthy a nation becomes, the more it can afford the luxuries of a more caring approach to the wealth redistribution, and so the damaging effect of socialism on the welfare of all – both rich and poor – is often  disguised. Certainly, it is all too easy to look at wealthy nations that have embraced a left-leaning social democracy – like Sweden, for example – and imagine without cynicism that socialism helps the more disadvantaged in society. On the whole, those who support the left are genuinely more caring, notwithstanding that they may be wrong as a matter of fact about the effect of the policies they support.

But the right and power? This is a much more questionable association. Certainly, it is part of the traditional left-wing mythology: “Come on brothers, let us stand shoulder to shoulder in our shirt-sleeves, against these beastly powerful brutes who are trying to oppress us!” But in reality, there is not, and probably never has been, such connection. The vast majority of those on the political right have no interest in the jackboot, but are essentially laisser faire. The right says: “Just leave us be”. It is the left that is continually using governmental power to pursue its political objectives.

This is most obvious, of course, in the fiscal and social areas. The more left-wing a government, the more prone it is to say to the people, “No, you may not spend your money as you wish. You must give it to us by way of tax, and we will spend it in the way we wish”. And there is no doubt that left-wing governments tend to be more regulatory, and to exercise their powers of government in every aspect of life, dictating a myriad of behaviours, from how fast we drive to how hard we work, from how our food must be packaged to which way we must hang our bathroom doors, from what our children must taught at school to where we may walk our dogs.

But also, at the other end of the scale, it seems to me that left-wing governments are more wedded to power in the martial sense. Time after time, it is socialist governments who have relied most heavily on their military and police, from the revolutionaries in France in the time of Napoleon to the National Socialists in Germany in the time of Hitler, from the red brigade late 20th century Europe to communist China today.

Does any of this matter to Mr Clarkson’s analysis? No, probably not very much. The reason that we like left wing women is probably just the same old romantic stuff as usual. Just as we are attracted to women with the right waist/hip ratio because we are programmed to think they are more likely to be fertile, we are attracted to left wing women because they are more likely to be kind to our children. Without analysing too much whether a particular child is a rotten little tyke who might be better left exposed overnight on a snowdriven mountainside.

MISTRA

Minnesota Twins? This is the research from the University of Minnesota study of twins raised apart; they have conducted extensive studies of more than 100 sets of identical twins, separated as babies and remaining apart until adulthood. Statistical analysis of identical twins raised apart shows for a range of  personality traits, they are as alike as those brought up together: in other words, they are no more different and no more alike than if they had been brought up together in the same environment. Professor Thomas Bouchard Jr., department of Psychology and Institute of Human Genetics, University of Minnesota, has summarised it thus:

“Results (of personality tests on identical twins raised together and raised apart) reaffirm the now well-known finding that in adulthood the influence of shared environment is essentially zero for most personality traits. While these results still surprise some psychologists, they are now so commonplace that most behavior geneticists would be extremely surprised if results turned out otherwise.”

Politically incorrect? Oh yes, for it establishes the unwelcome news that, for many purposes, environment is irrelevant to outcome. It does rather cut the ground from  under those who delight in telling us how we must bring up our children. Of course, in superficial respects, you can influence whether your children grow up to prefer football or rugby, or worship this, that or no God, or whether they treat tax evasion as a good thing or a bad thing. But in the important stuff (Will they be happy? Kind? Violent? Intelligent? Drug addicts? Lazy? Crooked?) parenting will probably not make much difference.

Personally, as a parent, I find it rather comforting news.

25th August 2008

In Fiji; Castaway Island

Yesterday, I walked around the island. It is not a very big island; it takes an hour or so.

It would have been quicker if I had not noticed a small black fin in the shallows part way around. I walked out into the water and found half a dozen juvenile black tipped reef sharks. They were curious but shy, coming within a few feet of my ankles (it was not very deep) but scuttling away at high speed when I spoke to them, quietly saying, “Hello”.

I have never feared sharks much. There seem to be other much more frightening things in life. I have been reading Louis De Berniers’ The Partisan’s Daughter. The characters say that, for most men, their wives are bound to end up either as their enemies or their sisters. What a terrifying prospect. The male protagonist is firmly wedged into that unhappy space where his wife ceased long ago to have any place for him as a lover; his role in the family was merely one of providing the money, with the consolation only that his daughter becomes a sort of a friend as she grows up.

Before that, I read Doris Lessing’s The Cleft. I admire Doris Lessing greatly. She has a very sharp sense of politics as it impacts on smart people. But this is rather a bleak book, albeit a fantasy, about the irreconcilable differences between men and women. Parts of it are mildly funny, in the way that Bob Dylan is sometimes funny: more of an inward and awkward wry smile than a belly laugh. The ancient and admirable Doris obviously thinks carefully and much about sex (the cleft is, of course, a euphemism for the vagina) and it is wonderful to read someone who has learnt so much and forgotten so little.

That particular light seems to go out much later – if at all – in relationships between gay men.  Which brings me to Stephen Fry. Before setting off on holiday, I downloaded a fair few podcasts and blogs.  My wife Jeanie is always keen to encourager me to resist any tendency to narrow mindedness, and so I included the podgrams of Mr Fry, notwithstanding that I have always regarded him with less than unbridled admiration. Not because he is gay, but because he has been both a crook and a coward. But I have to say that I have been somewhat won over: his obvious intelligence overreaches his conceit, and I found myself listening to him with interest and even pleasure.

He has a long passage in which he rails against the observation  that so many of us have made that Americans typically lack any sense of irony. He says it is lazy and untrue. I fail to see why he should take up arms against this particular sea of bubbles. As generalisations go, this one seems to me at least as true as many other, perfectly respectable, generalisations, such as that the Germans are  stolid, or that the French are clever but cross (and, of course, so often misguided). It is not unduly rude – after all, the Italians also often lack a subtlety in their humour  and they are nevertheless charming. My friend Bill Marshall – who travelled the world a great deal – used to remark that by and large bright people are mush the same everywhere around the world, and that is probably largely true, so these remarks are not about “us” dear reader, but “them”. You do not need this rather patronising distinction unless your hang-ups about discrimination exceed your self-regard.

Possibly, of course, Mr Fry is having us all on, and this lengthy passage is intended to demonstrate that, as an Englishman, he is able to put his tongue in his cheek and keep it there to a degree quite unimaginable to most Americans.

Numbers

I woke up last night dreaming about 9. At least, I was half way through some calculations when I hit consciousness.

I was probably about 9 years old, as a matter of coincidence, when a prep school master demonstrated this curious feature of the number 9: multiply it by any number you like, and the result will consist of digits that add up to 9. Thus, for example, 2 9s are 18: add the 1 and the 8 and you get 9. 3 9s are 27: add the 2 and the 7 and you get 9. It works on a larger scale too. 2008 9s, for example, are 18,072. Add the 1, the 8, the 7 and the 2 together and you get 18 (if you are a safety officer, you will probably insist on adding the 0 as well, but you still get 18, even if you serve some sort of pointless notice bearing the slogan “Failing to include every digit costs lives!”). Add the 1 and 8 together and you get back to 9. Neat, huh? But hardly new. There is probably a name for numbers like this, but I don’t know what it is, so let’s call them nonobingo.

What came to me unbidden in the night was that it does not just work for integers. Multiply 9 by ½, for example, (or, if prefer, divide it by 2, which is the same thing) and you get 4.5. Add the 4 and the 5 and here we are, back at 9 again. Nonobingo! Divide by 4, and you get 2.25 – nonobingo! Divide by 5, and you get 1.8 – nonobingo!

But what about 3? Divide 9 by 3 and you get 3, which is not remotely nonobingo. Why would that be? Why 1,2,4, and 5, but not 3? Perhaps there is an answer, but you might go mad trying to find it. So, for most of us, the moral is: “Move on”. There are probably more interesting things to worry about.

For a little while, Jeanie was worried about sharks. We like scuba diving – it is one of those things we do when we go somewhere warm on holiday – and the odd shark wandering past us in the distance doesn’t trouble us at all. But she was a bit troubled when I indicated that I wanted to do a dive called the Shark Supermarket. She even suggested – a little harshly, I thought – that I was bullying her into it. So I suggested she give it as miss. But Jeanie is not a wimp, and she came.

As it happens, we both loved it. At around 20 metres down, we were surrounded by about a dozen black tips, white tips and grey reef sharks, above, below and beside us, and like their little relatives, they let us get to within a few yards of them. Fabulously elegant creatures.

A few minutes later, we came upon a group of three hump heads, or Napoleon Wrasse. Very rare fish, apparently. Nearly extinct, not least because of their extraordinarily trusting nature. They will swim right up to a diver, even one with a spear gun, I was told, and since they are about the size of a large suitcase, they would presumably feed an entire village for a week. So perhaps it is not surprising that they are nearly extinct. Ugly creatures, really. I prefer the sharks.

22nd June 2008

The Dix Trix

I was pleased to see that the (Federal) High Court here has overruled the decision of the (State) Supreme Court in Cook v Lumbers. The errant decision had meant that any treatment of the law of quantum meruit was inconvenienced by a tedious diversion. We have Adelaide lawyer, Michael Hutton, to thank for getting the law in this area put back in order.

I also have Michael to thank for scaring the wits out of me a little while ago. At the end of a legal meeting, he casually invited me to come and join his band, The Dix, at a gig one night. I got out my Stratocaster, had a practice and turned up to a pub in South Adelaide on the appointed day. I had in mind just strumming away in the background.

That it not how it worked out at all. The noise was immense, and the band was worryingly talented – way beyond my negligible talents. At around 10.00 pm, Michael left me to plug myself into his rig on stage while he headed to the bar. We played “Back in the USSR”, and I have never been personally responsible the emission of so many decibels. Absolutely terrifying. I was profoundly relieved to get to the end without screwing up too badly.

Since then, I have gone back to playing Dowland and Bach, admittedly badly, on my lute. But I did love the adrenalin rush.

Abiogenic oil and plutonic water do mix

Well, of course, it is hard to stop wondering about the Fisher-Tropsch process, as I was last week. The equation shows the production not only of the long-chain hydrocarbons of the oil but also lots of good old-fashioned water. Well, obviously, all the water in the oceans came from somewhere (unless you think is it all pee from Jurassic wildlife, or some such nonsense), and the somewhere is obviously the earth. But the question is, is the process whereby water is being produced from the earth’s core still going on, or is the water we have a legacy from a process that stopped a while ago?

My friend Peter St George, well-informed as ever, has pointed me to the work of Professor Endersbee, who has noted that the water in Great Artesian Basin under Australia is essentially plutonic, not meteoric – in other words, it has yet to enter the surface weather system. The point is of some importance, because it means that if we take the water out of the basin, it is unlikely to flow back in from rainfall. Professor Endersbee, incidentally, is yet another scientist who has no truck with the rotten dinosaur theory of oil.

All of this begs the question, of course, as to how fast the stuff is being produced. Probably not nearly fast enough. Which makes the recent decision of Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to give Toyota a sackful of money to think about electric cars all the more daft. The poor old twitty refuses to countenance nuclear power, and so the idea is effectively have cars driven by coal power (in Australia, lots of coal is burnt to create the electricity to charge up these things). And so even if he was right about the dangers of CO2 (highly unlikely) he is making the problem much worse by wanting coal-powered cars! And anyway, it seems that the current thinking is that electric cars use about 3 times as much water as conventional cars, and so he is going to worsen the water shortage while he is at it! It seems that Toyota are as bemused as anyone by this extraordinary gift. Perhaps Mr Rudd thinks that we are going to get the electricity from wind farms, but not even the hot air from his government is likely to help him there.

Unhappily, Malcolm Turnbull, the leader of the Liberal Party here (in real terms), got onto this bandwagon some time ago by driving around in a hybrid, and so, being a smart politician, he will be aware that, sat as he is  in a greenhouse, he is hardly in a position  to throw stones.

15th June 2008

On Snuggling Up with Neanderthals

Why is it, one has to wonder, that there is this deep desire within so many people for the belief that we are all the same?  Nowhere is this trend evident more than in the area of genetics and race.

Murray and Hernstein experienced massive vitriol when they published The Bell Curve, which contained a review of experimental data which showed that typical IQ levels varied from one racial group to another. They did not for one moment suggest that all blacks are stupid or that all Caucasians are clever, or even draw any conclusions about the underlying reasons, but merely that the centres of Gaussian distribution are in fact a little different between various racial groupings. Dr Chris Brand went somewhat further, in particular in publishing his table of average IQ nation by nation as part of his work on intelligence: he was not merely vilified but lost his tenure at Edinburgh University.
Common sense would suggest that there are genetic differences between the major racial groups, and particularly between Caucasians, Negros and Asians. After all, it is not just skin colour that is typically different, but hair structure, susceptibility to various illness that can only be genetic, and a host of other differences. No one would suggest that these differences are very great, but it seems clear that minute genetic departures can produce observable impacts.
The notion that these genetic differences can be the result of evolution responding to climatic conditions seems most improbable, for two main reasons. First, the timescales are improbably short. We know that modern homo sapiens starting spreading out of Africa about 100,000 years ago. He reached Australia around 50,000 years ago. The racial differences were obviously entrenched at least 5,000 years or so ago, when historical records start. The likelihood of all these genetic differences taking place in the intervening 45,000 years or so must surely be highly implausible. Secondly, there seems to be no sufficient climatic imperative. After all, the climate in Asia is not so very different from that of Europe in the north and Africa in the South – what natural selection advantage would there be in Asians developing, for example, flat hair?

A more obvious place to look is interbreeding with other humanoid groups. We know that there was coexistence over tens of thousands of years between modern homo sapiens and Neanderthals in Europe. Neanderthals has been around for around a quarter of a million years, and were still around as recently as 25,000 years ago. Some degree of interbreeding between homo sapiens would provide a more natural explanation for these racial differences: in broad terms, negro Africans are “pure” homo sapiens, whereas causation Europeans are a slightly more mongrel mix of homo sapiens and Neanderthal. Similarly, it would be a natural explanation that Asian racial characteristics are the result of some interbreeding between homo sapiens and homo erectus pekinensus, or Peking Man.

The fossil record is sketchy, but there have been relevant finds. For example, researchers from Romania and the U.S. dated fossil bones found at Petera Muierii (“Cave of the Old Woman”) to around 30,000 years ago, and bones have been found in Tianyuan Cave, Zhoukoudian, China in 2003 suggest (see PNAS report), which suggest interbreeding with both of these other groups.

This evidence is reviewed in a 2007 paper in PNAS by Erik Trinkhaus. He concludes:

The human paleontological record of EEMHs is the ultimate test of the phylogenetic fate of the Neandertals. Its indications are clear. Early modern Europeans reflect both their predominant African early modern human ancestry and a substantial degree of admixture between those early modern humans and the indigenous Neandertals. Given the tens of millennia since then and the limitations inherent in ancient DNA, this process is largely invisible in the molecular record. It is readily apparent in the paleontological record.
Was interbreeding possible? Some say no, and others say yes. For example, Profession Bruce T Lahn argues that it was, and similarly Fred Spoor, professor of evolutionary anatomy at University College London has said:

“Neandertals and modern were undoubtedly capable of interbreeding, and their offspring may well have been viable,”

There has been some analysis of mitochondrial DNA which suggested a single “Eve” but Professor Alan Templeman has shown that the maths points overwhelmingly to a much more lattice-like origin – with some degree of interbreeding – for the current human population.

It is easy to see why the politically correct brigade so hate this new evidence; they fear that might provide a foundation for racial prejudice. But it seems to me that science should be searching for what is true, rather than what is politically convenient, and in any event, this new insight tells us relatively little about the degree to why we are different from each other. It might well, however, tell us much about the nature of those differences, and a better understanding of this might well lead to better medicine, better government and a more interesting and fruitful exploitation of what we each have to offer.

 

14th June 2008

Oil is a Fossil Fuel? Well, probably not, no.

I am by no means alone in being skeptical about the theory that oil is the product of decomposed Jurassic life, sometimes unkindly referred to as the rotten dinosaur theory. Thus Professor Fred Hoyle said in 1982:

“The suggestion that petroleum might have arisen from some transformation of squashed fish or biological detritus is surely the silliest notion to have been entertained by substantial numbers of persons over an extended period of time.”

Fred Hoyle was more interesting than mainstream perhaps, but it has been known for a long time that hydrocarbons do not necessarily originate from rotting fauna or fauna. Synthetic oil was made by Germany in significant quantities during the WWII by the Fisher-Tropsch process:

Following the war, it became well established in the USSR that oil was in fact being continually produced from the earth’s mantle (ie oil has an abiogenical origin, nothing to do with squashed dinosaurs, or plankton, or any other species of Jurassic life), and this has recently been supported by news the Huygens-Cassini mission to Saturn that Titan (not known for its Jurassic wildlife) is absolutely drenched in hydrocarbons.  This does seem to clearly show that the biogenic (organic) theory of the origin of oil is not by any means the only game in town; see for example Corsi, Pritchett et al.

A friend of mine was doubtful, and suggested we look at the Wiki article on the subject. So  I read it, of course.

On the basis of this evidence alone, I would have to say that the abiogenic theory is more likely than the biogenic theory, at any rate for the majority of discovered oil. I have read many expert reports in my time. The wiki report starts off with an acknowledgment that the biogenic theory is more popular with “Western petroleum geologists” (note the restricted nature of that band), but the detail that follows is plainly more sympathetic to the abiogenic position. As a lawyer, I would bet a substantial fee that the author of the article would say, under cross examination, that in his view, the abiogenic theory is more likely to be right.

Further, on the basis of this article, the majority of scientists who have looked at the issue afresh seems to be on the abiogenic side of the fence. The preponderance of Western petroleum scientists on the other side tells us little – it is not unlike the preponderance of theists among the clergy (or indeed among Americans generally). Perhaps US oilmen think that the biogenetic theory has helped them find oil, but then again Russian and Ukrainian oilmen say that abiogenic theory has helped them find oil. They cannot both be right about that (except perhaps to the extent that even bad theories can sometimes provoke good discoveries).

The abiogenic team is formidable, including Professors Fred Hoyle, Thomas Gold and Freeman Dyson and many others. Against them stands Dr Geoffrey Glasby, who it seems was at the University of Sheffield and is now at a University in Germany. He is apparently an environmental doomsayer (see http://www.springerlink.com/content/y2437g6m37386158/). I have read his rebuttal. It is primarily based on his assertion that the methane produced by Gold’s deep bacteria cannot possibly have turned into longer chain hydrocarbons because they are not deep enough. But that argument seems weak because it ignores the fundamental thesis of Gold’s work (that notes biogenic intrusion in abiogenic material, not vice versa) – it is not even given page-room in the wiki article, and is gainsaid by the recent data from Lost City; see http://www.whoi.edu/page.do?pid=7545&tid=282&cid=36806&ct=162. The rest of his rebuttal of is essentially of a “case not proven” nature.

It is hard not to have in mind that the biogenic theory is likely to be attractive for many reasons that have nothing to do with its plausibility. For this reason, it is right to be especially vigilant before accepting it as valid. I remain of the view that it simply does not pass muster on a prima facie basis.

The tide does seem to be turning. Even US government agencies are coming round; see http://www.america.gov/st/washfile-english/2004/September/20040914120334lcnirellep0.7720453.html

13th June 2008

 An Appeal to Reason: A Cool Look at Global Warming

Nigel Lawson (Lord Lawson of Blaby) has written an excellent book on global warming. It is well-researched, cogent, and delivers its ridicule of the IPCC and Stern with all the devastating restraint of a first-class spin bowler.

The remarkable thing about it is that he found considerable difficulty finding a publisher. Notwithstanding Lord Lawson’s considerable form, as journalist, author, economist and politician, they all said (well, one said this exactly, and the others something similar) that it flew “so much in the fact of the prevailing orthodoxy that it would be very difficult to find a wide market”. Eventually it was published by Duckworth. I am delighted to note that they have already had to reprint owing to excellent reviews and understandable demand.

The essential message of the book is that the science is far from well settled, that the predicted effects of global warming (even if the doomsayers are right) are in fact rather modest, with the gains probably exceeding the downsides, and that the cost of adapting to these modest downsides are far less than the cost of the utterly futile attempts at curbing emissions. He makes the telling point that, on the worst analysis of the IPCC, if CO2 emissions continue unchecked, the living standards in the developing world in 100 years time are projected at only 8.5 times as high as those of today, instead of 9.5 times – hardly the doomsday predicted by Mr Gore.

He also speculates that it may be no coincidence that the EC is the daftest of all the world powers in this respect, and also the most secular – this observation lending weight to the point I have been making for some years now – that the global warming movement is in the nature of a neo-religion. It is a sobering thought that any success attained by Professor Dawkins and others in weaning the populace away from traditional religion might well be matched by a corresponding rise in belief in half-baked theories about saving the world from change.

Real tennis

I always thought that real tennis was likely to be a good game. And so when I had a couple of days come free, I got in the car and drove the 7 hours to the nearest real tennis court – Ballarat Tennis Club in country Victoria, to have a go.

Brilliant. It is a much more cerebral game than lawn tennis, and indeed, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that lawn tennis was an early example of dumbing down the real game. But it is hardly convenient that the nearest court is such a long way away.

Slow going

Driving back (another 7 hours), I pootled along with the cruise control stuck set to the speed limit. It was ludicrously slow, and mind-numbingly boring. From time to time, going through towns, I slowed down even more, to the even slower town limits. After about some hours of this, I was leaving Bordertown, having slowed to 80 kpm, and then 60 kpm in the “town centre” (well, that’s a joke: it more of a by-pass), and then sped up to 80, and, a mile or so out of town, as the 110 kpm sight hove into view on the huge, straight, deserted road, I pressed the cruise control button.

And there, waiting just near the 110 kpm sign, was Uncle Bill with his radar gun. I was doing 92 kpm, he said, and I was a few yards short of the 110 kpm sign. So that’s another couple of hundred bucks revenue for a disgraceful government.

There is considerable evidence that inappropriately low speed limits cost lives; I put a note together of this some time ago. This appears to be the irresistible conclusion to be drawn from the evidence in the USA; in December 1995 the Federal Government abolished the federal limit of 55 mph. 36 states (about 2/3 of them) increased their speed limits; the rest kept them. The states that increased their limits improved their fatality rates. Thus for example California increased its limit to 70 mph, and experienced a four percent drop in fatalities. Mississippi also went for 70 mph, and its fatality rate dropped 21 %. On Montana’s “Montanabahn,” the speed limit was abolished altogether, and fatalities dropped 5 percent from 1995 to 1996. Taken overall, it looks like setting speed limits too low – generally meaning below the 85% percentile – causes about 5% more fatalities. It is obviously true that crashing a low speed is less likely to kill you than crashing at high speed, but even taking that into account, it seems that the boredom and inevitable inattention comes goes with the territory of low speed limits more than outweighs that consideration. Certainly the notion that “speed kills” is largely daft; in many cases, no doubt, speed and crashes are not cause and effect, but effects of a common cause such as alcohol or drugs, and to suggest that low speed limits will fix that problem is about as logical as suggesting that you reduce your risk of dying of an illness by staying out of hospital, where so many people die.

The speed limits in South Australia are plainly well below that optimum 85 percentile level.

In South Australia, there are around 120 deaths on the roads each year. So, applying the 5% figure, the government is killing about 6 people each year by inappropriately low speed limits. In return it picks up around $40 million a year in speeding fines. So, roughly, it is bringing in this unpleasant tax at the cost of around $7 million per death.

Views vary as to the value of a human life. Some say that a life is worth around $1 million, and so on that basis, the South Australian Government is doing a good job, collecting a premium of around $6 million for every individual it kills. But there is something distasteful about the trade, particularly when it is served up with a cynical PR campaign claiming the moral high ground. And it makes driving a singularly annoying task.

Even slower going

Some friends of mine had a good wheeze. Buy a race horse. Well, a leg, anyway. To get this venture into perspective, it was not a hugely expensive race horse. But she is an attractive filly, high-spirited, they said and it seemed silly to go through life without ever having a horse. Jeanie thought it would be fun.

It ran its first race at Gawler the other day. So I went to see it. I got to the race course without getting lost. At the gate, I mentioned that I was an owner, they checked my name off from a list, and in I got to the racecourse, gratis. As the appointed hour got closer, I put my money on the creature’s nose with one of the bookies, and then ate a hot dog of quite breathtaking awfulness while we all waited for the off. She went into the starting gate without difficulty. At the off, she leapt out in 3rd or 4th place. And then, after a little while, more or less stopped. She eventually cantered in, looking rather bored, a distant last.

I felt pretty sympathetic. Over our brief acquaintance, I have formed quite an attachment to her. She is probably blissfully unaware that, unless she starts to run a lot faster than that this year, she will in someone else’s hot dog next year.

Colonel George Fenwick

I have two great-uncle Georges. The more recent one was the rather impish brother of my grandmother. He worked in the gramophone industry. He was an excellent artist, and a very amusing man.

My other great-uncle George was much more industrious.Born in about 1603, he was called to the bar at Gray’s Inn in 1631. A couple of years later, he went to America for a short time, and then returned to England to marry Lady Alice Boteler. In 1639 he returned to America, where he became governor of a new colony, which he called Saybrook, in Connecticut. The village of Fenwick there is named after him. Lady Alice died there, and George returned to England in 1645.

He was elected member of Parliament from Morpeth that same year. He was also Colonel of a Regiment in the Parliamentary army (one of the regiments that went on to become the Coldstream Guards) and played a part in the second civil war, re-capturing Berwick from the Royalists, and relieving Holy Island.  He was handed the role of governor of Berwick, and later of Edinburgh.

Oliver Cromwell nominated him to serve as part of a supposed High Court of Justice for condemnation of the King (Charles I) in 1649, but it seems that uncle George managed to get out of that one, somehow or the other. A smart move, given that the other regicides fared badly following the restoration. He died in 1657.

In his will, he left my great etc grandfather Ralph Fenwick, who was then in his final year at Christ Church, Oxford, the annual sum of £10. Which was nice. His manor house, Warminghurst in Sussex, went to his daughters Elizabeth and Dorothy; they later married respectively Sir Thomas Hesilrige and Sir Thomas Williamson.

So that is a fair old list of achievements. Barrister, colonist, soldier, politician and gentleman. And he managed to set up the children before conveniently dying in his mid-50s. What could be better than that?
16th March 2008

Getting colder!

But not here in Adelaide, where we have had a hot spell. Which is bucking the trend. For the first month of this year has seen a fall in world temperatures, taking them back to where they were most of the time from about 1940 to 1980. This graph comes from the UK Met Office:

This appears to continue what was happening around the world in 2007, where the average temperature across both the contiguous U.S. and the globe during climatological winter (December 2007-February 2008) was the coolest since 2001, according to scientists at NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C.

Meanwhile, Antarctica seems to be getting colder and colder. Which makes it all the more special that good old Adelaide is dutifully doing what it is supposed to be doing, which is getting hotter. All part of Kevin Rudd’s honeymoon, I suppose.

And there seems to be more and more snow and rain around the world, which provides a nice counterpoint to the orthodoxy that the world is getting drier. Not that Australia does too badly on that score anyway. Australia gets about 2.7m gigalitres of rain a year according to the Australian Government National Water Commission. It has not changed much over the last 100 years or so. For a population of about 21 million, that is about 128 million litres per person per year. That is a lot. By comparison, the UK gets a bit less rain (around 2.2m gigalitres) for around 60 million people, which is around 36 million litres per person. Put another way, rainfall per person is 4 times higher in Australia that in the UK. In both countries, most of the population chooses to live well away from the wettest areas.

Meanwhile, of course, Australians are still very bigger hitters on CO2 emissions. At 25.9 tonnes per person (see Wikipedia), Australia is way ahead of nations that use nuclear energy like France (8.7 tonnes), UK (11 tonnes) or even the gas-guzzling US (22.9 tonnes). At the children’s schools, a huge proportion of parent drop off their children in huge SUV’s, in order that the children can be taught about to be green. So, the country is doing its bit to march towards a hotter and wetter world.

 

24th February 2008

The Emperor’s New Sunscreen

Yet another study came out recently, this time published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggesting that that increased sun exposure may lead to improved cancer prognosis, not least because more exposure to sunshine means more vitamin D in the body. The point is not entirely new, but it does seem that it is an area is which government lags behind the science. In 2005 the Heath Research Forum report at the House of Commons warned of

“a massive epidemic of chronic disease caused by insufficient vitamin D. Modern life keeps us indoors away from the sun which supplies 90 per cent of the vitamin D which we need.

A billion or more people in Europe obtain insufficient sunlight and vitamin D putting them at increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis, multiple sclerosis and the common cancers including cancer of the bowel, breast, prostate, ovary and lymph glands as well as diseases of bone.

This epidemic of chronic disease caused by insufficient vitamin D is probably as large as the epidemics caused by smoking and obesity, but the importance of vitamin D for health is still not properly recognised by governments.”

Many people stay out of the sun, or apply sunscreen, because they are afraid of skin cancer. Government spends a fortune proselytising, and the sunscreen industry is huge. So, by the way, is the medical profession’s relevant turnover.

How many Australians die of skin cancer each year? About 1,200, according to the Victorian government.

How many Australians die of all forms of cancer each year? About 37,500 according the Australian Cancer Research Foundation.

How many of these deaths from other cancers are caused by excessive protection from the sun? It is hard to know. Thus Richard Setlow, senior biophysicist emeritus at Brookhaven National Laboratory and others not only noted in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that the benefit of moderate sun exposure seems to outweigh the risk of skin cancers, but also that, because cancers take so long to appear, it will take many years to know whether recent anti-sun campaigns may actually cause an increase in the deadliest form of skin cancer, malignant melanoma, let alone other cancers and MS. They are by no means alone; there is now a mass of clinical opinion that sunshine is good for you.

Some doctors are far from convinced that there is any link anyway between exposure to the sun and malignant skin cancers. For example Dr Barry Groves’ web page on the topic notes a study suggesting that those who always use sunscreen are 3.7 times more likely to develop malignant tumours those who never use them. Some suggest that the correlation between high levels of sunshine and malignant tumours is weak, but that there is a strong correlation between high usage of sunscreens and malignant tumours (see eg the work of Drs Cedric and Frank Garland of San Diego). In other words, they say, the reason that a disproportionately high number of people in sunny old Queensland die of skin cancer is because a disproportionately high amount of sunscreen is being slapped around. If these experts are right, then applying sunscreen is dangerous, not just in grey places like Europe. but in sunny places like Australia.

Other studies (nothing to do with the effect of sunscreen lotions) suggest in any event that the supposed link between malignant skin cancers and the hole in the ozone layer may well be quite fallacious.

The International Agency of Research on Cancer  says that total cancer deaths could be reduced by 7% by more vitamin D. Dr Gordon Ainsleigh suggests that 30,000 cancer deaths in the United States alone could be prevented each year if people would adopt a regimen of regular, moderate sun exposure (but he is a chiropractor, so we can probably discount that one). Dr Barry Groves puts the figure at 10% of cancer deaths. That would be, in Australia, about 3,700 cancer deaths a year. In other words, these numbers suggest that the slip slop slap campaign might well be killing about 3,000 people a year.

Who knows for sure? What does seem for sure to me is that the government campaign smacks of half-baked neo-religion, and personally, I prefer my chances without the sunscreen.

27th January 2008

Mrs Malprop as the Lowest Common Dominator 

I am not the only one in the world who gets annoyed by people using the expression “lowest common denominator” when they mean nothing of the sort. I know that I am not the only person, because a quick Google search reveals that it has been explained over and over again.

The point is not hard. The concept is used in good old mathematics, when people want to add up fractions, like adding a half to a third. It turns out that the easiest way to do this is to start by finding the lowest common multiple of the denominator, which in this case is 6. So, one half is the same thing as three sixths, and one third is the same thing as two sixths. So, one half plus one thirds is 3 + 2 = 5 sixths.In other words, the lowest common denominator is the smallest number that all the denominators will divide into.

Thus, for example, the lowest common denominator of 8 and 12 is 24, because that is the lowest number that 8 and 12 will divide into.

By contrast, the highest common factor of 8 and 12 is 4, because that is the highest number that will divide into both 8 and 12.

These concepts apply to several numbers, not just two. Thus the lowest common denominator of 8, 10 and 12 is 120, whereas their highest common factor is 2.

There are those who seek to justify the abuse of the term as a metaphor, meaning some cultural low, when in fact the user means “highest common factor”, or even just “minimum” (for any who have not the faintest idea any mathematics, the minimum of 8, 10 and 12 is 8).

Personally, I think people who abuse the term in this way are just plain ill-educated. Which is not a sin, of course; many charming and worthy individuals are characterised by, well, just not knowing very much. It is easy to see where is goes wrong – the expression “lowest common denominator” sounds as if it ought to a nice low value, whereas “highest common factor sounds as if it ought to be a nice high value. The trouble is that when people use the expression “lowest common denominator” they are usually seeking to assert some sort of superiority over someone else. Which is an insult to their inteligince…

Or, to put the same point another way, if you are going to insult someone else, it generally courteous to take to trouble to find out what your insults actually mean.

20 January 2008

Snoozing Dragons
Some time ago, I experimented with Dragon voice recognition software.  It was not, to be honest, very good in those days, but I had recently heard a number of people saying that the latest addition — Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9 — was much better, and so I decided to give it another go.  I have always rather liked the idea of being able to do my work as comfortably as possible.

Upgrading the hardware was not quite as straightforward as it might have been.  It turned out that my old faithful computer had to go. It was the dog’s bollocks when I obtained it some years ago but times have moved on and it was not going to be up to the job of coping with the demands of the latest software.  Even the operating system — Windows 2000 — is no longer being supported, it seems.  And so I had to buy new box, and a whole day was spent transferring the data, getting used to the novelties of Windows Vista.

Having eventually overcome these difficulties, and having persuaded a reluctant sound card to leap into action, I was pretty amazed by the accuracy of the new Dragon.  I read a few pages of text for it, and it looked through my e-mails, and I showed it the text of my long book.  It understands me even better than my dog Cricket.

The danger, of course, is this new technology might well encourage a certain amount of additional and possibly excessive words.  I have often thought that the invention of the photocopier must surely be responsible for the huge increase in the size of bundles in litigation, and the invention of the word processor has hugely increased the length of the standard form documents.  On the other hand, a diary is supposed to be rather rambling, I suppose, and by putting a few thoughts into the computer by means of this sparkle dust, I might at least be able to redress, to some extent, my indolence in terms of corresponding with my friends.

Al Bore

My wife Jeanie seems to think that I’m quite clever, but not that clever, but she occasionally likes to keep me in my place by requiring me to recite the names of one or two mutual acquaintances who I acknowledge to be cleverer than I am.  My favourite person to name in these circumstances is Sir Michael Burton, who I first instructed as a barrister in London long before he became a QC, let alone a High Court judge.  He is an obvious choice, since he is not only extremely bright, but also an obviously a good person, as well as being palpable fun to be with.  I am also very favourably disposed towards him since he knows is that he is very clever, and I find that so much more reassuring than those clever people who pretend that they are stupid, or even merely ordinary.  And Michael was always an excellent person to go hunting with — in the legal sense, of course.  We always seem to do particularly well when Michael was part of the team.

I was interested to see the other day that he recently delivered his decision in the High Court in relation to Al Gore’s film “An Inconvenient Truth”.

The film itself was not really on trial.  The issue was whether, by circulating the film to schools, the government was indulging in propaganda rather than education.  The Claimant, Mr Dimmock, from Dover, argued the film was unfit for schools because it was politically partisan and contains serious scientific inaccuracies, as well as “sentimental mush”. In the course of argument, it was necessary for the court to form some views as to whether the film was or was not factually reliable.  In some respects, at least, this seems to have been something of a turkey shoot; it was common ground that a number of the claims made by the film could not be supported.  For example, the notion that sea levels might rise by 20 feet was acknowledged as being alarmist; if that happens at all, it would happen over the next few millennia. Although describing it as broadly accurate, the judgment reviewed 9 significant flaws in the film’s content. Some, such as the SPPI, say that there are 35 errors. Others, such as the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, think that Gore is a great guy. Take your pick.

I have always been a bit on a climate change sceptic.  This is not to say that I think it is a good idea to be spraying vast amounts of hydrocarbons into the atmosphere.  It seems particularly potty to me to be burning oil and gas in order to generate electricity — were going to run out of the stuff in the long run, and I’d much rather see the resource used for cars and aeroplanes, on the basis that you can generate the electricity we need for homes and factories using nuclear power, which seems to score rather well in environmental terms.  Rather, my problem with the climate change industry that is that it is both misguided and dishonest.  It reminds me a little of the dire warnings that came from schoolmasters that we would go blind or lose our hair if we masturbated.  Looking back with the benefit of experience, I see no evidence that this was true (the dedicated pink oboe players have not gone any balder or blinder than the rest of us), and it is hard to see that it is a case in which the ends justified the means.  It does not seem reasonable to me that Mr Gore should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize; it would be more appropriate if he were to be prosecuted for some sort of misleading conduct.  The Australians have rather a useful provision about all of this in the Trade Practices Act, although I very much doubt that the Australian government is going to be too keen to put the boot in in Mr Gore’s case; being perceived to be concerned about climate change is thought to be a vote winner.

Hey ho. There are some who are busy warning us that we are hurtling towards a new ice age, with record cold being recorded at the Antarctic, so at least a bit of global warming might postpone that evil day.

Toasting nicely

My newly grown up children came out over Christmas from England, and as usual, showed no fear whatsoever of the Australian sun.  Whilst most Australians have been terrified by the “slip slap slop” campaign, the English stretch out by the pool, and get a tan.

There seems to be some evidence in the United States that the campaign to keep people out of the sun is killing far more people than it is saving, since illnesses caused by lack of Vitamin D do more damage than skin cancer.  I even heard someone on the ABC mention the other day that perhaps we had taken the “slip slap slop” campaign a little bit too far, following a paper in the eMJA entitled Sun protection messages, vitamin D and skin cancer: out of the frying pan and into the fire?.

One thing seems to be clear, and that is that getting a bit of sunshine makes people feel better about themselves.  And that surely has to be a good thing.
Pegging out

I was recently asked by the Australian Croquet Association to chair an Enquiry and Report into events at the recent Australian Open. One of the issues that we had to consider was the appropriateness of very long playing days, and the panel was unanimous that 12 hours plus playing sessions should be avoided.

Now that the warm weather is here upon us again in Australia, the issue will again arise as to playing in hot weather.  The official guidance here is that if the weather is too hot, then play should be abandoned.  We live in a rather litigious world, and I suppose that there is a natural concern that some sort of legal action might ensue if an elderly player were to expire on the court during a heat wave.

I wonder about this.  Everybody has to die sometime.  And what better way to go after a full life than drifting away whilst enjoying a game of croquet on a beautiful summer’s afternoon?

ABC Political Coverage

It is probably not realistic to expect a perfectly balanced viewpoint from any public broadcaster. But the blatant pro-Labour Party bias of the ABC is pretty hard to take. The news room seems to take the daily press release from the ALP and treat as a news item.

This is all the more unedifying for the fact that John Howard ought probably to have bowed out a while ago. He seems to have been a reasonably competent Prime Minister, on the whole, but it seems all too likely that our last perception of him on the big stage will be of a man who is tired, and who is seeking to hang on out of a long habit of pugnacious determination.

Happily, these election campaigns do not last too long.

A Dining Room Table
I recently had a portrait done. It arose as a result of an invitation, which is a bit arbitrary, but life is like that sometimes.

I guess it is good news. Families probably have a few portraits knocking around, if they are well done, and quite like them. This one was by Gerhard Ritter, who does these things very well.

The portrait, having been painted, was offered to me for sale.  It seemed churlish to say no.  Gerhard was surprisingly reticent about what sort of price, he was looking for.  I put it to him that the amount that people paid for a portrait was typically equivalent to what they paid for a dining room table, and he acknowledged that that was probably about right.  The difference between what you would pay for an IKEA cheap and cheerful dining room table, and an original Georgian job, is very significant indeed.

My Word is My Bonus
A while ago, my old friend Richard Crick (I mean that we have been friends for a long time, not that he is particularly old) decided to write a bonk buster. He has always been a man of action.  When he decided to run the London marathon, he did so without wavering.  Similarly his book.

The result is called ‘My Word is my Bonus’, and it turns out to be very good. It is the best fictional account of corporate finance I have read (Crick used to be a merchant banker), and represents an extremely powerful evocation of a particular time in London.

It also confirms what we have always suspected about Crick’s sexual fantasies, which are healthy to a fault.

Not Hemingway, but a much better book than most things you can buy at an airport. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Good news

The Adelaide Turnpike Water Feature
At the bottom of the freeway that leads into Adelaide, just past the turnpike, there is a water feature.

It has been turned off. There is a sign saying that this is in the interests of water conservation.

What a load of fatuous gesturing! The feature is presumably like all other similar ones: the water goes round and round. The evaporation would be infinitesimal.

We live a a world governed by PR gesturing. One can see the Premier Mike Rann pushing his way to the front of a flock of sheep declaring, when he gets there, “Follow me!”.
what to like

 

 Robert Fenwick Elliott’s Blogging Diary

Back to Robert Fenwick Elliott’s Personal Home Page

Go to:
Home page
2008 archive

Diary 2009 Archive

20th December 2009

WikiWhackyWoo

Wikipedia is a great thing.  But I have noticed over the last months and years that it has tended to toe the Green line on climate change.

Well, it turns out that this has been largely the doing of one William Connolley, a former climate modeller, unsuccessful Green Party political candidate and, until 3 months ago, a Wikipedia administrator.  According to Wikipedia itself:

Lawrence Solomon, on December 19, 2009, penned a piece in the National Post detailing Connolley’s contribution history for Wikipedia, accusing him of actively editing more than 5,000 articles in order to subvert opinion that disagreed with his own, as well as using administrative power to delete some 500 articles he personally found offensive and block 2,000 of his ideological opponents. Solomon linked this supposed activity to the Climategate scandal.[13]

Anyway, Mr Connolley has now been banned as a Wiki administrator, so maybe we will see rather less censorship on Wiki than before.

Earlier this month, Mr Connolley ran for office as a Wikipedia Arbitrator, and  lost badly.

Good old Wiki. The surprising thing is that a semi-organised system of anarchy seems, in the end, to sort itself out. After a fashion. There was a time when Sandi Toksvig, the Danish pin-up who made a name out the letters that no one else wanted, used to list corrupting Wikipedia articles – so that schoolchildren would fail their exams – as a hobby.  But she has settled down with a wife ands kids now.  Bless her.

Tweets

Fears about child abuse are sometimes overblown. But http://www.wikio.com/video/2266751 is breathtakingly exploitative distasteful drivel.

The West Mata volcano is hugely impressive http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8419736.stm. Makes humans look pretty small.

15th December 2009

Retrospective on This Year’s Parties

I like parties. Especially my own, because ex hypothesi I know most of the people, and like them (otherwise they would not have been invited).  And, by and large, I get to ban ghastly music, and put on things that I like.

Best party this year was for my piano, which was 200 years old this year. Alexander Hanysz played Mozart, Pinto and Bach, and Simon Healy did the chat. They were each perfect. Broadwood would have been proud.

Electric lights were banned for the performance, and so we had dozens of candles.  Except that Alex was allowed a small electric light, so that he could see. You have to bend a bit, sometimes.

12th December 2009

Big Egg

Why are eggs so huge these days?  In the supermarkets here, they come in 3 sizes:

  • Large
  • Extra large
  • Jumbo.

Some specialist stores stock super-extra-double-jumbo as well. But it is very hard to find smaller eggs.  Which is bad news for my diet.

Jeanie is heading off to NZ for  a week or so, during which time my preferred diet will be scotch eggs and whisky. But scotch eggs made with large eggs are too big.  Scotch eggs made with quails’ eggs would be too small.

I need to find some bantams.

Do they still have “standard” sized eggs in England?

8th December 2009

Youthful discretion
It is disappointing to see the way the kids are protesting at Copenhagen.  They are adopting the methods and the sentiments of a bunch of sad old ex-hippies from the 1970s. Their parents’ generation, in other words.

Why, oh why, can’t the young people of today dream up their own pile of half-baked drivel, instead of borrowing stuff from their parents and school teachers? That’s what we did in our day.  You wouldn’t have caught Keith Richard strutting to the tune of Richard Dimbleby.  He would have quite rightly regarded it as beneath his dignity, even if he could have been arsed to protest at all, which he probably couldn’t.  Children today are so biddable.

A Private Joke

I did my duty last week by turning up to my small son’s school concert. They were playing strings and saxophones. It was a case of Dr Johnson’s dancing dogs (“… like a dog dancing on its hinder legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find that it is done at all.”) As we all eventually trouped out after about 6 hours of musical delight, some proud parents asked whether they had not all done well. I said, “Yes, and every one of them a child progeny”. Which I though was mildly funny for something made up on the spot, although I guess it is a joke that others that have made up before me. Wry smile stuff, rather than belly laugh, but, you know, better than nothing?

I got a polite smile, which suggested to me that they did not think it funny at all.  Over the weekend I mentioned all this to an Australian who is married to an Englishman, and so understands us a little. She explained the hierarchy:

  • Many Australians would not know the difference between a progeny and a prodigy;
  • Those that do would likely have assumed that I don’t;
  • The balance (if any) would have regarded it as in very bad taste to make jokes about children.

So.  There are many upsides to living in this fabulous country.  A small downside is that some jokes have to remain private matters.

5th December 2009

Oh Dam!

I have remarked before on the disfunctional nature of the climate change issue: the warmists just have no truck at all with the sceptics, and the climate emails show that the “scientists” at the centre of the IPCC “team” are much more warmists than scientists.  The safety valve of intelligent intercourse between the two sides stopped a while ago, and transmuted into idealogical conflict.

Which leads on to to a chaos theory point. The claims of the warmists have become progressively more daft over the last few years.  In order to counter rumblings that the world has stopped cooling and started warming over the last decade (which appears to be the case) the warmists have been ramping up their assertions that the rate of world warming/sea level rise is increasing, and that, if anything, the IPCC predictions of disaster are underestimates!

The trouble with this approach, coupled with their secrecy with the data and their program code and their attempts to smother conflicting academic endeavours, is that it leads to a structure prone to sudden collapse, like a dam. It takes the trigger of something or the other (in this case climategate, but it could have been something else) to trigger an avalanche of criticism, then disbelief, then ridicule: all of these following in very short order.  Any sensible analysis today must conclude that the fashionable orthodoxy of yesterday is not merely wrong, but positively silly. The warmists have palpably gone way, way over the top with their claims.  This is new: a few years ago, there might have been room for argument, which would have led to stable debate system, but we have moved on.  The fact that the “scientists” may, on the whole, be more restrained than their Gore-textured eco-warriors is irrelevant; once the edifice starts to crack, the whole thing collapses.

We have seen these chaos-prone structures before. The change from everyone being terrified of the millennium bug to every one laughing at it was very rapid. Remember when the Ebola virus was just about to kill us all?  Remember, for that matter, when Mrs Thatcher (as she then was) took on the unions: at first the consensus was that she was mad to challenge the orthodoxy of the union’s place of power, but a wet weekend later, virtually every one, whether they liked her or not (personally, I was a “not”), had turned 180O, and agreed that she had been right on this particular issue all along (even if we still did not much like her).

In this case, of course, the cynicism about the whole warmist thing is fuelled by considerations of cash. In the middle ages, the religions took a tithe of 10% from everyone, and in the end, the Tudors’ successful attack on Rome was fuelled at least in part by a spirit of liberation from these sorts of ecclesiastical taxes. Now, the governments are seeking to load up taxpayers with a similar burden, and so there is bound to be a wind behind the shoulder of politicians, – like the new leader of the liberal (relatively right wing) party in Australia, Tony Abbott – who say that the whole of the warmist legislation is a gigantic tax grab.

As Winston would have said:

Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning. Henceforth the IPCC will meet equally well armed, and perhaps better armed academics. Hence forth they will have to face in many theatres of debate that superiority in the media which they have so often used without mercy against others, of which they boasted all round the world, and which they intended to use as an instrument for convincing all other peoples that all resistance to them was hopeless….
PS I usually like to add a picture or two. But I don’t have any for this one. But I do like the way Jo Nova does her own, so here is a shameless copy of her picture from her own excellent website.  Talking of which,  if you want to keep up with the news on climategate, it is hard to do better than Anthony Watts’ site. He is clever, fearless, well-informed and up-to-the moment, but is not, in comparison with Jo Nova, a looker.

3rd December 2009

Jones Jumps, Turnbull Pushed, Brits say “Count Me Out”

Professor Phil Jones, head of the Climate Research Unit at the centre of Climategate, has stepped aside pending the results of an enquiry. His view that concerns about his manipulation were “ridiculous” is apparently not shared by everyone.  It is hard to feel sorry for him.

Malcolm Turnbull, however, deserves more sympathy.  Although he was misguided in his personal support for the ETS, he was pursuing his party’s agreed line at the time.  What he failed to understand was the turning of the tide.

An interesting microcosm appeared on the Science Museum poll. The Science Museum wanted to send Gordon Brown off to Copenhagen with a ringing endorsement for action on climate change.  So the British public were encourage to show their support by voting “Count Me In” in a poll. Unhappily for them, the votes came in with a clear majority saying “Count Me Out”, which is not what they wanted to hear at all.  But what is really interesting is that on or about 11.00 on 12th November, the sceptic “Count Me Out” vote suddenly went down by about 1500 votes, and  at 4.00 pm on that same day, the “Count Me In” vote went up by about the same amount. This “value adding” of the data would have gone unnoticed except for the fact that someone was monitoring the results closely to spot any funny business, and the graph of the voting shows these events very clearly. They also show that 2000 votes were added back into the “Count Me Out” vote on the same day.

In the post-poll statement, the Museum reported the result on their website in this bizarre way:

In the run-up to the Copenhagen conference we invited Science Museum visitors and web users to respond to the following statement with ‘count me in’ or ‘count me out’:

“I’ve seen the evidence. And I want the government to prove they’re serious about climate change by negotiating a strong, effective, fair deal at Copenhagen.”

In the PROVE IT! gallery, 3408 people chose to count in and 626 chose to count out. On the website, 2650 users counted in and 7612 counted out.

Now that is just good old-fashioned obfuscation.  They do not say, “The people chose to count themselves out”.  Instead, a reader of their website has to do the maths to work it out (626 + 7612 is more than 3408 + 2650).  Not do they own up to the fact that a good proportion of the “Count Me In” votes cast in the Museum itself (as opposed to the web-based voting) was by biddable children.

Professor Chris Rapley, Director of the Science Museum and Professor of Climate Science at UCL, was not shy to nail his own belief system to the mast. He said:

More work needs to be done to convince people of the reality of human-induced climate change and of the urgency with which we must agree an international solution.
Professor Rapley did not regard it as necessary to explain why the voting data had been “value added”.  But he did acknowledge that the sceptics are not a lunatic fringe, but a significant majority:

The indications from Prove It! are consistent with a recent Pew Centre survey and a 2007 Ipsos Mori poll: a large proportion of people do not believe in the reality of man-made climate change.
Maybe the Australian Liberals are not quite so stupid as they might seem to dump the warmist Mr Turnbull. Their best prospect of winning the next election might well be the prospect that the global warming alarmism will, by then, be looking as fashionable as the Millennium Bug alarmism.

Dear, Dear Old Tim

You have to love Professor Tim Flannery, former Australian of the Year. He writes

From mid-2007 onward I’ve found it increasingly difficult to read the scientific findings on climate change without despairing. Perhaps the most dispiriting changes are occurring at the north pole. The sea ice that covers the Arctic Ocean is an ancient feature of our planet…These changes in the Arctic have left many scientists worried that the region is already in the grip of an irreversible transition…The extent of uncertainty prevailing among scientists is illustrated by a straw poll conducted among experts on the Arctic in March 2008. They were asked whether they thought that summer 2008 would see a regrowth of the Arctic ice. The winter had been a cold one, and the great loss of ice the previous summer had been exceptional, leading the majority to say that a regrowth of the ice cap was likely. Yet by May 2008 the melting had begun once more, and the average daily loss of Arctic sea ice was, on average, 2,300 square miles per week greater than for the same period of 2007. By June the losses had become so severe that one Norwegian expert was saying that 2008 might see the Arctic’s first ice-free summer.
The real figures?  Summer 2009 saw more arctic summer ice than 2008, which in turn saw more ice than 2007.  Alarmist suggestions of an ice-free arctic in the summer of 2008 remain, not just a million miles, but 5 million square kilometres, from the actuality.  The summer ice extents are down somewhat from recent years, but they are not now reducing, and so cannot be a reflection of anthropological warming.

So dear old Tim is wrong again. Good on yer Tim!

30th November 2009

The Famous Climate Change Hockey Stick

Those who have been following the climate debate will know all about the “hockey stick” graph by the infamous Michael Mann. He is the inventor of a graph which purports to show that global temperature have been shooting up to unprecedented levels over the last millennium. It has been widely trotted out by the climate change lobby, but is now widely discredited as a fraud, in particular because it omits the evidence that there was a hot period in the middle ages, known as the medieval warm period.
One of the clear things to emerge from climategate is that the small cadre of climatologists who dominate the climate research industry are not dispassionate seekers after scientific rigour, but individuals who have firmly held idealogical views that they are hold very dear, and which they are prepared to go to unscientific, dishonest and even criminal lengths to advance. Their emails refer to their beliefs as “the cause”, and it striking how similar the struggle is to the struggle between the Catholics and the Protestants for the hearts and minds (not to mention the power and the cash) in Tudor England.  For the climate change lobby to say, “Not a single climate research group challenges the science” is rather like the Catholics saying that not a single Catholic bishop denies transubstantiation. In Tudor days, of course, they labeled their opponents as “heretics”; now it is as “deniers”, but the technique of marginalising any challenge to the orthodoxy is the same.
But is it just a question of neo-religious conviction that drives these people – trained as scientists – to manipulate the data, conceal their methods, destroy the evidence,  persecute colleagues who disagree and generally bring science into disrepute? Is it also the cash?
Here is a graph which shows how much cash is involved, just in the USA (the rest of the world presumably would show a similar profile):

I have taken the data from the SPPI website, but manipulated the figures up to 1989 a bit just because I felt like it: the Climate Research Unit call this process “adding value”.  This $7 billion is certainly ample motive for the clique of climatologists who control the IPCC (they call themselves “the team”, we learn from the climategate emails) to manipulate the data, and to cover their tracks by deleting the raw data.

Can this really be true? Well, it seems so. In August 2008, the Climate Research Unit said in a press release:

Data storage availability in the 1980s meant that we were not able to keep the multiple sources for some sites, only the station series after adjustment for homogeneity issues. We, therefore, do not hold the original raw data but only the value-added (i.e. quality controlled and homogenized) data.
But now the climategate emails show what was really going on: these people have been deleting material in order to prevent the sceptics from checking up on what they have been doing to the data. Thus for example we see that on 2/2/2005, Phil Jones (who runs the CRU) wrote to Michael Mann:

Mike, I presume congratulations are in order – so congrats etc ! Just sent loads of station data to Scott. Make sure he documents everything better this time ! And don’t leave stuff lying around on ftp sites – you never know who is trawling them. The two MMs have been after the CRU station data for years. If they ever hear there is a Freedom of Information Act now in the UK, I think I’ll delete the file rather than send to anyone. Does your similar act in the US force you to respond to enquiries within 20 days? – our does ! The UK works on precedents, so the first request will test it. We also have a data protection act, which I will hide behind. Tom Wigley has sent me a worried email when he heard about it – thought people could ask him for his model code. He has retired officially from UEA so he can hide behind that. IPR should be relevant here, but I can see me getting into an argument with someone at UEA who’ll say we must adhere to it ! Are you planning a complete reworking of your paleo series? Like to be involved if you are. Had a quick look at Ch 6 on paleo of AR4. The MWP side bar references Briffa, Bradley, Mann, Jones, Crowley, Hughes, Diaz – oh and Lamb ! Looks OK, but I can’t see it getting past all the stages in its present form. MM and SB get dismissed. All the right emphasis is there, but the wording on occasions will be crucial. I expect this to be the main contentious issue in AR4. I expect (hope) that the MSU one will fade away. It seems the more the CCSP (the thing Tom Karl is organizing) looks into Christy and Spencer’s series, the more problems/issues they are finding. I might be on the NRC review panel, so will keep you informed. Rob van Dorland is an LA on the Radiative Forcing chapter, so he’s a paleo expert by GRL statndards. Cheers Phil
Michael Mann is now under investigation by his university, legal proceedings have been filed against NASA for illegal concealment of data, those involved (including presumably Phil Jones) are facing a call by Viscount Monckton to police for criminal proceedings under the Freedom of Information Act (section 77 makes it a criminal offence to destroy or conceal any record held by the public authority with the intention of preventing the disclosure), and Lord Lawson is calling for, and says he is likely to get, a public enquiry in the UK.

Meanwhile, down under, the politicians (bless them all) are busy putting in place massive taxation legislation, all based on the discredited data. There is a nice pair of graphs made public by The New Zealand Climate Science Coalition showing the difference between the “value-added” data:

and the real (i.e. without the “value-added” adjustments) data for temperature in New Zealand:

On the basis of the real data, this rather suggests that there isn’t any significant global warming in New Zealand.  Sure the trend from about 1940 until the late 1990s was up, but since then it has been down, and none of these temperatures are particularly unusual. And here in Australia, the ABC has been pretty much silent on climategate.

But people power is a wonderful thing to behold.  The Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull has just this morning been thrown out for wanting to back the government’s proposed carbon emission tax, and has been replaced by climate sceptic Tony Abbott.

29th November 2009

First World Championship

Well, it took a little while to come, but I am really pleased to report that Alix Verge has just won the Women’s World Golf Croquet Championship, held over the last few days in Victoria. Alix beat the Egyptian (Egyptians are very good at Golf Croquet) Iman Elfaransawi  with a brilliant last-gasp jump shot (you do not need to know what this is; you just need to know that it is very smart).

There are a number of firsts here.  And one of them is that this is the first time that a world championship has been won with one of my croquet mallets.  I set about the croquet mallet business because I wanted to make the best croquet mallets in the world. Croquet is a pretty traditional sort of game, so it has taken just over 2 years for these mallets to get taken up by the best in the world.  But here we are.

Well done, Alix. Perfect.

Tum tee tum tee tum…

27th November 2009

New details

My previous service provider, Big Button, suddenly ceased to provide broadband services. As a result, this website has now moved to this new address, http://www.users.on.net/~rjfenwickelliott.

My email address has changed as well.  It is now rjfenwickelliott*internode.on.net. But put in an @ instead of the *.  I have done this to try to slow down the junk mail that turns up from people who trawl websites for anything that looks like an email address.

24th November 2009

Cover Ups

State Premier of South Australia, Mike Rann, has just denied having had an affair with a married waitress.  She has challenged him to trial by lie detector.  He might have done better saying nothing, but as a PR man turned politician, he may have found the temptation to manipulate his public image irresistible.

A rather more important cover-up has just occurred in the climate change debate. The Greenies have often ridiculed the sceptics, saying that it is absurd to suggest that all these scientists are engaged in a conspiracy to mislead. Actually, it is not all that many scientists involved: it seems to be just a handful who feed the rest.

Anyway, someone has hacked into one of the servers at the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia (who are in the thick of it) and found large numbers of emails that suggest that there indeed is a conspiracy of a sort.  Lord Lawson summarises:

“Astonishingly, what appears, at least at first blush, to have emerged is that (a) the scientists have been manipulating the raw temperature figures to show a relentlessly rising global warming trend; (b) they have consistently refused outsiders access to the raw data; (c) the scientists have been trying to avoid freedom of information requests; and (d) they have been discussing ways to prevent papers by dissenting scientists being published in learned journals.”
I have looked at some of these emails. It does not look like a conspiracy in the sinister SMERSH sense, any more than “institutional racism” constituted a conspiracy within the UK police. Rather, it is a climate (forgive the pun) of nod and wink, as a smallish group scientists with a common political agenda make common cause to try to cover up any data that contradict their essential message.

At the very least, the emails knock some of the self-righteous shine off the Greenies at the forthcoming Copenhagen conference.

21st November 2009

More Misleading of Parliament – but a Bit More Time

I noted last week that the Legislative Assembly here in South Australia was just about to pass a really appalling  piece of anti-consumer legislation. Happily, it did not go through last week, but stands adjourned.

This time it was being pushed by Russell Wortley, a former Official of the Transport Workers Union.  I have yet to meet a trade union official who knows anything useful at all about how to resolve construction disputes, any more than they would know anything about surgery.  Why should they?  These topics have nothing to do with their own field of expertise. His official photograph makes him look like a sort of latter-day Braveheart dressed up for a year 12 formal, but that could be cool(ish).  Maybe…  Anyway, let us judge him objectively, by his contribution to the debate.  He introduced the 2nd reading, including these words:

This problem arises when the subcontractors and suppliers in the building and construction industry are unable to secure in a timely fashion, or sometimes at all, payment for work performed or goods and services supplied—despite, in many cases, having a contractual right to such payments.
Hold on. “In many cases”? “In many cases“!!!? This is bit like

  • A hospital saying: “In many cases, the patients who died our care had serious preexisting conditions”; or
  • A court saying: “In many cases, the prisoners who we sent to jail may have committed an offence”; or for that matter
  • An adjudicator who is paying 40% of his fees to the company which appointed him saying, “In many cases, I have listened to what Mrs Jones is saying about why she does not owe this shonky builder a brass farthing”.

Freudian slip there – the bill is indeed aimed at “securing payment” even in cases where there is no right to the payment!

So how often, in practice, is “in many cases?”.  Well, not that many, as it turns out. I have today looked at the this month’s crop of decisions from Queensland, where they publish these adjudicator’s decisions.  In over half the cases (63%) , the decision was made wholly or partly on the basis of the default provisions in the legislation. In other words, in most cases, the adjudicator says: “This respondent did not serve a Payment Schedule in the required form within the required 10 days. So I have not needed to consider if the money claimed is really due.  Pay up!”  The figure is much the same as the last time I did a similar exercise a while ago on a larger sample. It is like 63% of patients dying in hospital within any diagnosis.

Now, anybody with a proper legal education, or even a modicum of compassionate common sense, will know that a default judgment is essentially a failure of legal process.  Occasionally, of course, it is inevitable. But it is the legal equivalent of a patient dying in hospital before the doctors have worked out what is wrong with him.  Sometimes, of course, the patient will have had a terminal condition anyway. But basically, it stinks as a system.

But it gets worse.  At committee stage in the House of Assembly, an amendment was passed to clause 7, removing the usual exemption for domestic (residential) contracts. As I said before, this is a big “No, no”; it is wholly unfair to consumers to have this default legislation like this working against them.  But the Hansard record shows that is exactly what Tom Kenyon brought forward and got passed by way of amendment in the lower house:

[clause 7(3)(b)]—Delete paragraph (b)…

… these clauses bring in residential housing. This particularly affects smaller builders who often find that they finish a house and put in their final invoice, which may be for an amount of $5,000 or $10,000, to the homeowner for completion of the house and the homeowner just does not pay. This particularly affects smaller builders; it is not as much a problem for larger builders. Going back to the principle of the other clause with the financial institutions, it brings in the entire chain from the customer right through to the smallest contractor; everyone is involved in the process.

Amendments carried; clause as amended passed.

Note the clause.  Clause 7.  That is the real stinker.

Now, how does Russell explain this? Plain wrong is how. He went on:

The bill applies to most forms of construction contracts other than contracts involving ‘resident owners’ under the Building Work Contractors Act 1995.

Good old fashioned 100% misleading.  So, we read on to see if he corrects himself in his detailed explanation of the clauses. He goes through them.  1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10 etc.

Hold on. Why did he miss out any mention at all of clause 7? Could it be because clause 7 contains the amendment that turns this legislation from bad to disastrous?

So a good question to ask is: who put Russell up to this?

And another good question would be: why does the government not make a proper enquiry of what legislation to have, free from the influence of the private companies on a 40% take?  Like the Northern Territory Department of Justice Review Team’s discussion paper or the Stenning Report in Tasmania (both of which, by the way, concluded than the WA model was superior to the East Coast model).  Then there could be sensible legislation next session.

14th November 2009

A Toxic Mutant

It looks like the South Australian government is just about to pass the nastiest piece of legislation in my field of law I have ever seen, the Building and Construction Industry Security of Payment Bill 2009.

What is means is this. If an unscrupulous builder, Malvolio McBodge, does some building work for Mrs Jones, he will send her an invoice in the normal way.  If the job is a long one, he will send an invoice every month. Under the new legislation, he can add some weasel words to say that the invoice is a claim under the Act.  Mrs Jones will probably not notice these words, and is highly unlikely to have any idea what they mean.  What they will actually mean is that, unless Mrs Jones then within 15 days serves a “payment schedule” in a prescribed form, setting out all the legal and factual defences she may have (such as that McBodge has not finished the work, or that he has overcharged, or that the work is defective so that it will need to be done again) then she must pay whatever McBodge has claimed. McBodge can institute adjudication proceedings before an adjudicator appointed by an appointor of his choice:  he will probably choose an appointor whose appointee adjudicators have a reputation for awarding the most money.  But here comes the sting: if Mrs Jones then tells the adjudicator of the reasons she has not paid, the adjudicator is encouraged by the new legislation to say, “Tough! Pay up anyway”.  The legislation says that Mrs Jones cannot include anything in the adjudication response that she did not put in her payment schedule (section 20(4)), and that the adjudicator is not allowed to consider anything else (section 22(2)).  And just in case Mrs Jones feels she needs a a bit of protection , the legislation says that Mrs Jones is not allowed a lawyer to represent her at any conference that the adjudicator might call (section 21(5)). Not that the adjudicator is likely to give Mrs Jones the opportunity to be heard in person anyway.  I put the section numbers in because you might thing this is a wind up – surely no government would enact anything so breathtakingly unfair. No court in the the land would apply such a draconian default system.  But here it is in the new proposed law: in black and white – you can look it up.

Can Mrs Jones use the same system to make a claim against McBodge?  Oh no, of course not. The system is to be a one-way street.

So who has been lobbying for this extraordinary law?  The interesting thing is that its origin is a really useful system, that works really well in other parts of the world to provide quick evaluations of building claims.  I had a good deal to do with getting it up and running in the UK in the 1990s. The good systems all work on the basis of professional bodies appointing independent adjudicators who make their decisions on the basis of who actually owes what.  It is popular, and works well, in places like England, Scotland, Western Australia, Northern Territory, New Zealand etc. But there is a bad version which originated in New South Wales and has spread to Queensland. It is worth noting that no jurisdiction has ever done what South Australia is planning to do, which is to combine the default system with an application to domestic contracts. It is OK to have a fair, evaluative system for resolving disputes with everyone, including Mrs Jones.  Some say (I don’t agree) that it is OK to have a default system, where domestic contracts are excluded such that the only losers are other builders in the contractual chain.  But it is definitely not OK to combine the two, so as to have a default system operating against Mrs Jones.

So, who will benefit?

  • If you look at the website of the East Coast market-dominant appointor Adjudicate Today you will see that their Chief Adjudicator Philip Davenport worked for the 15 years with NSW Public Works, and that the NSW Department of Public Works and Services then engaged him as a consultant to assist in the drafting and implementation of the NSW adjudication legislation.
  • If you look at the Queensland Government Reports, you will see that last year, adjudicators in Queensland charged $2,961,743.
  • If you look at Hansard reports in the South Australian parliament, you will see that an Adjudicate Today adjudicator, Tony Sidwell, has said that he pays 40% of his adjudication fee to Adjudicate Today.  Pause here to note that if Adjudicate Today did not nominate Dr Sidwell, he would not get the job in the first place.  And it hard to believe that Adjudicate Today would be nominating Dr Sidwell if he refused to pay up on that 40% slug out of his fees.

40% of $2,961,743 is over $1m worth of fees, last year, next year and every year. NSW is about as much again.

The opposition did say – well sensibly – that it would be better to have the Western Australian system, which is just as effective at tackling the problem of genuine underpayment and which is free from these grossly unfair default provisions.  The Master Builders Association (who hold no brief for shonky builders) has said the same thing.  But those promoting the toxic mutant have steered parliament away from that line by rubbishing the WA system: Tom Kenyon MP said to parliament per Hansard:

I make the note that I forgot to mention something regarding the point about the Western Australian model versus the east coast model. It has been put to me that there is some movement for change about that in Western Australia and that they may be looking to move across to the east coast model. I want to include that in my remarks now and I apologise for not including it in the committee debate. Having said that, I commend the bill to the house and I thank everybody involved.

Now, that is not quite true, is it? The relevant authorities in Western Australia have no intention of changing from their system – which is working really well – to the troubled NSW system. I got in touch with the Senior Regulation Officer of the Building Commission there, and he has confirmed this to me. Indeed he suggests that

someone in Parliament, or the Upper House if the Bill is yet to move through review, should ask the question of whom, in fact, informed Tom Kenyon of these supposed developments, for which he relies upon, and what interests are involved, particularly considering that the good Member has included these comments on public record & therefore should be able to account for them
Well, who knows who it was who put Mr Kenyon up to this? In the meantime, the legislation is set to go through on Wednesday. The loser will be Mrs Jones.  A big beneficiary will be Adjudicate Today, which stands to add to the significant income  it has already made of the legislation on the East Coast that their own people had been busy drafting and implementing.

And other thing. It would be smart to allow the parties to choose who they want as their adjudicator. If this character is going to determine who pays what, it makes sense for him or her to be someone in whom both parties have confidence. In other parts of the world, this works well, and accords with the principles of party autonomy per UNCITRAL, as well as the well-established experience that comes from the mediation field.  So how does Mr Kenyon respond to this suggestion? He puts in an amendment to say that if the parties have agreed on a mutually agreeable adjudicator, then that person is disqualified from acting!  That gets rid of the risk of the parties depriving the nominating authorities of their 40% cut.

And yet another thing.  In South Australia, contractors are allowed to claim liens (effectively mortgages) for unpaid debts to builders. And so if  Mrs Jones does not pay up the money that McBodge has claimed – even though it is not really due – then she may well find the name of Malvolio McBodge on her title deeds.

11th November 2009

Odds off

Until the other day, I was Treasurer of the recently formed Society of Construction Law of Australia.  But the committee has decided to hold its first annual conference next year at a Casino complex in Perth called Burswood.  Casino? Well, what that means here in Australia is not a handful of elegant Argentinian playboys in dinner jackets at the baccarat table, but hordes of otherwise ordinary people who have a gambling problem sitting in front of banks of slot machines, miserably pouring in and losing money they cannot afford to lose.

The gambling empires know that the bulk of their profit comes from these poor people, that they are ruining their families’ lives.  I have become persuaded that Nick Xenophon, a local lawyer who became an independent state and now federal politician, is right that this invidious trade is not “a bit of fun” but a particularly nasty piece of exploitation of the weak by the strong.

I am not generally into moral crusades, or forcing other people what to do.  But I am buggered if I am going to write a significant cheque for myself of on behalf of anyone else – to the people who operate this repugnant trade.  So I resigned.

There are of course those who say I should be more pragmatic. These slot machines, or pokies as they are called here, raise a hunk of tax for the governments.  I bet they said something similar to William Wilberforce. “William, my dear fellow, who on earth else is going to pick all of that cotton in the heat of that ghastly weather?  And we need this cheap sugar. Our economy depends on it!” Well, good old William and eventually (to its credit) the UK parliament said that no amount of profit justifies abusing other people.  I’m with William.  And with Nick.

How wrong can one be?

Jeanie and I went to see An Education this week.  Excellent film: really well done.  But I was troubled by the fact that the conman character drives a Bristol.  I have had a Bristol for many years, and have met many Bristol owners though the Bristol Owners Club etc.  None of them are crooks.  So I thought this must be artistic licence.  This film is based on the memoir of Lynn Barber, the journalist: all this is based on her real life affair as a schoolgirl with Simon Goldman, an associate of the infamous racketeer landlord Peter Rachman, in the early 1960’s.

So I asked my daughter Annabel, who works with Johnny Hornby of the fabulously hip ad agency CHI, who asked his brother Nick Hornby, who wrote the screenplay for the film.  Surely, I thought, the conman would have driven a Jaguar or a Jensen? Back came the message that

“Nick doesn’t care about cars but he says a Jag would have been too obvious and we find out [I leave this bit out, for the benefit of those who have not yet seen the film] at the end so the Bristol makes more sense than a Jensen….”
Hard to fault his artistic sense – the Bristol in the movie is really potent symbol. But I was still curious, so did some more digging.  It turns out to be worse that I imagined possible.  Lynn Barber wrote:

Because by now – a year into the relationship – I realised that there was a lot I didn’t know about Simon. I knew his cars (he had several Bristols), and the restaurants and clubs he frequented, but I still didn’t know where he lived.
Several! Several!! Outrageous!  I am still in shock.  Should I immediately sell mine, which I have owned for many years?

9th November 2009

My Game

I have just finished playing in the Australian Open. My croquet was not really good enough: I did not play anyone who should not have beaten me given their world rankings, and they all played duly to form, whilst I played way below form. Hey ho. But it was great fun.  I saw some old friends, and met some new people I liked very much.  And it was gratifying to go the Hutt Road (the South Australian Croquet Association’s equivalent of Twickenham) and saw that of the 12 players in action on the lawns at that time, half of them were using my mallets. Which was a lot more than any other marque.

Wayne Davies, who is the agent for my mallets in the USA, came to stay with us, since he also was playing in the Open.  He used to be Real Tennis champion of the world, and has tremendous eye-ball abilities, and is also a really talented coach. We were hard put to find any sort of bat that he could not use to beat us on our tennis court. He used to play tennis with a racquet with no strings, or a champagne bottle. Eventually we found that even Wayne could not play tennis with a croquet mallet.

The Open was won by Stephen Mulliner, who came over from England for the event.  He is very well liked here – which is more than can be said for some other Brits – and was really in a different class from the rest of the field.  The Brits are surprising good at croquet – still easily the best in the world.

Wayne says I could be good if I practiced.  But I don’t have the time.  So I don’t, and I’m not. Anyway, he probably says that to everyone.

Wayne also says that he can solve my shoe problem by ordering the requisite Cole Haas on line.  Brilliant.

Eight

Jamie is 8.  At his party, he said some mates around, and they ran and played cricket and swam non-stop.

20th October 2009

Other people’s games

The Brits are famous at inventing games, and then getting beaten at them by other people. But motor racing seems to be the other way around.

It was invented by the French, but the Brits are by far the best at it. Since Grand Prix racing started, there have been 10 British driver champions (Mike Hawthorn, Graham Hill, Jim Clark, John Surtees, Jackie Stewart, James Hunt, Nigel Mansell, Damon Hill, Lewis Hamilton, and now Jenson Button). No other nation has come close.  Finland and Brazil have 3 each, and no one else has more than 2.

As to the constructor’s championship, there have been also been 10 British winners. France has 2 (Matra and Renault) and Italy 1(Ferrari): no one else has ever won.

18th October 2009

Best address for a policeman of the year:

Letsbey Avenue

Best knock knock joke of the year:

 

Knock knock Who’s there
Rabbi Wennwear Rabbi Wennwear who?
Questions, questions! All these questions! (ha ha)

 

Following in my footsteps

I mentioned shoes on Twitter, bemoaning the fact that it is appears to be impossible to buy Cole Haan shoes in Australia.  Quick as a flash, Cole Hann are following my twits. They must have their antennae out in the e-ether!

So I might as well say that their shoes are the most comfortable I have ever owned. Many years ago, I bought three pairs of their penny loafers, now all now massively over repaired.  Last time I was in New York I bought two more pairs. And so what is the problem?  It is that, while you can get them mail order in the US, no can do from elsewhere.  So, how do I get some more 13W Pinch Air Pennys without going to the States personally?

Talking of shoes, I did a case once for the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers in London.  They were really charming people, who do a lot of charitable stuff.  They told me, in passing, that cobblers used to be forbidden from making shoes: that was the cordwainers’ job, and all cobblers were allowed to do was mend them.  Hence, I guess the expressions “cobbled up” and “cobblers”.

15th October 2009

Best Van Gogh joke of the year:

Doctor:  “No, no, Vincent.  What I said was, ‘Take a year off'”

14th October 2009

You twit?

I have signed up for Twitter (user name RFenEll). Probably pointless, but it is always good to see what is going on.  I will try to use it for a while to put up alerts of what is on this page.

Top Oz Diva

Who is Queen Bee on the Australian music scene? Is it Missy Higgins, or Taasha Coates?

Miss Missy is great, of course, but my money is with Taasha. Not just because The Audreys are an Adelaide band, but because her songs are cleverer. It is hard not to like clever girls.

Aussie Open

I have entered the Australian Open this year. It is in Adelaide, which is handy, and I reasoned that the need to get some practice in would force me to spend a bit of time out in the sunshine.  But my croquet is pretty rusty.

Croquet is an absolutely brilliant game.  When I arrived in Australia, I took it up, but did not think much of the mallets that people use.  They are traditionally made of wood, and the weight is in the wrong place, I reckoned. So I started making mallets myself, cutting out holes from where the weight need not be, and putting in lead, steel and then tungsten where it should be. But after a while, it became clear that wood is just the wrong material, so I found a design house in Sydney who helped me make them out of composites.  My mallets are made in China now, and I sell them all round the world, with a website and everything.

Happily, the factory is in Xiamen, which is also the tungsten capital of the world, so the weighing is provided by tungsten dust – a byproduct of other tungsten products. Tungsten is very heavy – getting on for twice the density of lead – so it is ideal.  The only thing better would be enriched uranium, but that would not go down too well in the croquet clubs around the world.

I am quite good at the game, but not that good.  The last time I checked, my handicap of 3.5 was the same as the reserve for the State team, but not good enough to get into the State team.

They say, “vicious game, croquet”, but is not really any more vicious than any other game.  At the really top level, it gets to be a bit solitary; a world class player will get round  – like a top snooker player will clear the table – given the slightest opportunity.  Like so many games, it is actually more fun if you are quite good, but not that good…

12th October 2009

Live Legg

I see that my old next door neighbour and friend Sir Thomas Legg has been in the news recently, having been appointed as an auditor of MP’s expenses claims.

The Legg family are no strangers to politics. Henry Bilson Legge, son of William Legge, 1st Earl of Dartmouth, was Chancellor of the the Exchecher, and Henry’s brother Captain Edward Legge RN earned the distinction of being returned as Member of Parliament for Portsmouth on December 15, 1747, some 87 days after he had died in service in the West Indies where he commanded a squadron (hence the expression “dead Legge”).  At least we can be pretty sure that Captain Legge was not guilty of fiddling his MP’s expenses.

Tom himself is an excellent man; clever, unassuming and always extraordinarily well-informed.  He started as a soldier in the Marines, and ended up running the Lord Chancellor’s Department.  In the meantime he was, for some while, in charge of judicial appointments, and it has to be said that he did a really good job – we got a generation of judges that was markedly better then the one before.

If Tom’s instinct is that MPs ought to adhere to the same standards of probity as judges, they might feel a bit of a shock.  Bless them.

Funny ha ha

My brother send me this little gem from Channel Bee.  Did I find it funny?  Well, yes, I did.

 

Sailing

A couple of people noticed a Fenwick Elliott yacht out on the Solent this year.  Were they dreaming? No, not at all: it was venture by my London firm, Fenwick Elliott LLP. Working hard, and playing hard as well, it seems.

Good for them.

2nd October 2009

Brush off

I have had my electric toothbrush for some years now. This week I discovered that, if you put its back onto its charging cradle while it is still running, it will automatically turn itself off.

You think you know a toothbrush, then, bang, in comes a surprise like that.  Extraordinary.

11th September 2009

Not right atoll

I am a great fan of podcasts, especially from the BBC.  But I do wish that they would lay off the neo-religious chanting.  A recent otherwise excellent report  by Dan Box came from the Carteret Islands, which are slowing sinking, such that its rather charming people are having to move to nearby islands.  But the BBC blurb gives this spin:
Dan Box, winner of the 2009 BBC/Royal Geographical Society’s annual competition for the most enterprising dream travel idea, was determined to watch the world’s first organised exodus as a result of climate change as it got underway.

The low-lying Carteret Islands in the South Pacific, part of Papua New Guinea, rise barely a metre above the level of the surrounding ocean, and with what are known as King Tides threatening every year, rising sea levels as a result of global warming are a threat that is already a reality for the Carteret Islanders.
This blaming of “global warming” is, of course, complete nonsense. Over long periods of time, seas levels have risen and fallen dramatically, and in addition various parts of the land have been welling up or sinking back.  Atolls are particularly prone to vertical movement.  Sea levels have been slowly for rising over more recent times. Over the last 100 years or so, the rise has been at a average of around 2 mm per year, but with fluctuations between about nothing and about 4 mm per year.  That rate has slowed down a bit recently, but not by much (see http://www.worldclimatereport.com/index.php/2009/07/22/sea-level-rise-an-update-shows-a-slowdown/#more-383). The data from Simon Holgate of the UK’s Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory puts the data in graphical form.  If you believe Al Gore’s images of New York skyscrapers being swamped by massive tides, you had probably better stop reading this, and settle down with some wacky backy in front of some evangelist TV.

So it really does not wash to blithely assert that it is global warming that is causing these people to move: apart from the fact that there has not been any global warming in the last decade, there has been no shift in the usual pattern of sea levels.  It should not have been too hard for the BBC to have checked their facts: even dear old Wikipedia is onto the point:

The Carteret islands likely consist of a base of coral that sits atop an extinct volcanic mount. In the usual geological course of events first proposed by Charles Darwin, such islands eventually subside due to weathering and erosion, as well as isostatic adjustments of the sea floor. It has also been speculated that dynamite fishing [5] in the Carterets such as occurred in the island during the prolonged Bouganville conflict may be contributing to the increased inundation. Coral reefs buffer against wave and tidal action, and so their degradation may increase an island’s level of exposure to those forces. Another suggestion is that tectonic movement may be causing the gradual subsidence of the atoll. [7]

Historically other populated islands, for example Tuanaki in the Cook Islands, are known to have sunk entirely and relatively suddenly for causes unrelated to rising sea levels.
And “exodus”?! What are they talking about? There are and will no doubt continue to be major shifts in population, mostly due, as usual, to economic circumstances. But sea level change is not a culprit.  The use of this sort of religious apocalyptic language is what we expect from Al Gore and the tabloid newspapers, but not from Auntie.

Mr Box himself is not unaware of the effect of the spin.  On his own blog, he writes:

Climate change refugees are, for want of a better word, a sexy subject. Type the phrase into Google and you get 1,320,000 results. NGOs campaign on the issue. A recent issue of The Ecologist put a photograph of a small, sad, boy from the Sundarbans delta on its front cover, beside the words ‘The First Global Warming Refugee’. Like sex, the subject sells.
Well, good for him.  But the BBC ought to know better.

10th September 2009

Garden Leave

It is sad to see the school gardens around Adelaide (I image the same is going on around Australia) being ripped out this winter, as part of the Gillard Memorial Hall scheme. For those readers unfamiliar with the deal, the Rev Kev and his deputy, Julia Gillard, decided a few months ago that the way to escape the global financial crisis (or BFG, as he calls it, in homage to Roald Dahl) is to borrow umpteen billions of dollars from our children in order to build drill halls at every school in the land.  It would not be so bad if this were merely pointless, but these ghastly structures are being merrily laid out in the schools’ playgrounds, gardens and arbours, and it will be hard work for the next generation to knock them all down again.

The huge importance of gardens to us in terms of biodiversity was recently reported on in The Times.  Dr Ken Thompson has noted that

“If you’re comparing gardens with the equivalent area of modern intensive farmland, gardens are much better.”
The state government meantime is busy killing as many Adelaide gardens as it can by forbidding watering, notwithstanding that the reservoirs are at record high levels, and the water in the Murray River is being used instead for intensive farming in the otherwise desert areas way upstream.

In addition, of course, gardens are hugely good for our aesthetic well-being. Do the socialists in power care about this?  Oh no.  Not a bit of it.  They want us to sell off our gardens so that some developer can make a buck building some nasty neo-Tuscan villa where the roses used to be. More people per area in cities means more taxes, more social unrest, and these things are the conditions in which socialism thrives.

It is hard to know just how much damage is being done to our environment by these three government measures alone, but it would be so much better of they would leave our gardens alone.

Reservoir Levels
Are they really that high around Adelaide? Well, yes, they are well above the 5 years averages, as can be seen from the Kangaroo Creek and Millbrook levels. Full details are available from SA Water.
4th September 2009

Getting up my Nose

I have had some work done on my teeth recently.  In the course of an X-ray, they discovered some material in my sinus.  More tests – tee tum tee tum –  and there  I was, on the slab, out cold for two hours whilst a very competent surgeon removed a growth the size of a mandarin from the interior of my head.  Via my nose, which provided the keyhole for this particular surgery.  That was less than 2 days ago. The remarkable thing is that I feel pretty well today, in all the circumstances.  Good job that I come from healthy Neanderthal stock.

Not so fast

I reported a while ago on getting dinged for speeding in Bordertown last year.  I decided to challenge the ticket. It seemed wrong that a policemen should be allowed to stand just 2 yards from a 110 kph sign and do people for 92 kph as they go past, even if they were still technically in the 80 kph zone.

Did I have a legal basis for my challenge? Oh yes, I did.  It was the Expiation of Offences (Trifling Offences) Amendment Act 2001 of South Australia, which says that a ticket should not be given out for a trifling offence.  It is a measure which has largely been ignored. The Minister’s 2nd reading speech included this:

The expiation system is a convenient and simple way of dealing with minor regulatory offences. In most cases, the process is a matter of great convenience to the general community as a way of avoiding the time and expense of a court hearing. More offences in quantitative terms are dealt with by the expiation system than are dealt with by the traditional court system.

However, there is certainly a perception, both in this State and in other jurisdictions, that the ease with which enforcing officers may issue an expiation notice has had a net widening effect in that there is a lessening of the use of cautions or warnings instead of formal action. This in turn may lead the public to believe that the expiation system is unjust or is a revenue raising exercise—or both.

There are no formal mechanisms in place in the relevant legislation for dealing with this problem. Indeed, it is a difficult problem to solve completely. But that does not mean that an attempt should not be made. This bill proposes a series of amendments to the umbrella legislation—the Expiation of Offences Act—which are designed to achieve the following objectives:

An expiation notice should not be issued for an offence that is trifling…

Now, did I believe that this was a revenue raising bit of policing?  You bet I did.  Standing where he was, catching motorists doing more than 80 kph as they passed the 110 kph sign would have been like shooting fish in a barrel.

So I elected to be prosecuted.  The court was hundreds of klicks from home, and ended up holding several hearings, including a site view.  It seems that nobody had ever challenged the right of the police to issue all the tickets they like, trifling or not, and indeed that Act says that there is no power of review. But I said that for the police to issue a ticket for a trifling offence is unlawful, and that a court ought to use its inherent power to dismiss a complaint based on such an unlawful act by the police.

The magistrate might have against an alien taking smart arse legal points, but after some initial scepticism, he considered the Hansard report, and after some legal argument, agreed with the principle I had set out. Unhappily, however, it turned out that the radar gun had measured me 482.7 metres away from the 110 kph sign, which was a bit far for my trifling point on the facts (I had assumed that the policemen had recorded my speed much closer than that, but the prosecutor brought a radar gun along to the view, and showed that it could indeed record speeds from such a distance).  So the magistrate found that my 92 kph was not trifling.  He also found that by electing to be prosecuted, I was ventilating an entirely legitimate legal point, for which I should not be penalised, so he fixed the fine at the same $176 which was the amount of the original ticket.

Well, I did not avoid the time and expense of a court hearing.  But on the plus side, whilst the question of whether my doing 92 kph in an 80 zone last year was or was not trifling is itself a pretty trifling matter, it was reassuring to know that a country court was prepared to go to such careful lengths to do justice.
Not so Sceptical

Talking of being sceptical, or skeptical, as the Americans have it, I am rather a fan of Derek and Swoopy, who run the excellent Skepticality podcast.  But global warming (or climate change as they call it now it is not warming any more) always seems to get a free pass.  So I asked why.  I am still waiting to hear from Derek and Swoopy, but the magazine sent me this message:

I imagine no one is blogging about it because they themselves are not experts, and there are plenty of real experts out there.

We have held a half dozen lectures, dedicated several issues of Skeptic magazine, and held an entire convention on the topic of climate change.

Right now the biggest factor influencing what an individual thinks of climate change is their political belief system. And oddly enough a lot of people who write us think their debate is with Al Gore who is just a spokesperson.

The scientific consensus right now says climate change is real, it is being caused by humans, and the pace is accelerating even faster than models once predicted.

We have a short summary of the scientific consensus on our web page by Caltech climatologist Dr. Tapio Schneider:

http://www.skeptic.com/the_magazine/featured_articles/v14n01_human_induced_climate_change.html.
Did that satisfy me?  Oh no.  My reply is here.  Antidisanthropomorhicalism is alive and kicking.

24th June 2009

Generalisation is Underrated

When I was at school, it was taken for granted that youngest sons were much more likely than their older brothers to be gay (or homosexual, as it was called then). There is now pretty clear evidence that this observation, the so-called “fraternal birth order effect” was not mere cliché – it is statistically valid, is not found among adoptees, and research suggests that is probably to do with something going on in the mother’s womb during several pregnancies.  The more older brothers you have, the more likely you are to be gay.

Similarly, the suggestion was once ridiculed that there is a correlation between finger length ratios and lesbianism, but the existence of that correlation (at any rate with “butch” lesbians) is now well established.

But surely there are more correlations, which have not seen much light of day. For example, why are there few or no homosexual racing drivers, at any rate at the top level? Take Grand Prix racing (aka Formula 1) over the past few decades. There have been dozens of drivers in this group, but apart from the some suggestion that Mike Beuttley (who raced in the 1970’s but was very much on the outskirts, never scoring a single championship point) may have been gay, none of them seems to been homosexual, so far as we know. Statistically, one would expect a number. Other dangerous activities, like soldiering, have attracted many homosexual men, as have other activities, like music and other sports, which require great coordination and competitiveness. Curious.

And another thing. Why is it that people on the political right are more likely to like dogs than those on the political left? It is not just the old school patricians, who fell ill at ease without a gun dog sharing their furniture, but skinheads, matrons, farmers, and pretty much everyone on the political right all the way up and down the social scales who enjoy canine company. But socialists?  Generally much less so. They are more likely to be on the local council trying to ban dogs from the local park.

And then I thought, hold on, where is the cause and effect here? Maybe it is the other way around? Maybe dogs tend not to like socialists. Maybe dogs tend to distrust them? There are many reports of dogs taking against people of unfamiliar racial origin, so maybe they can also sense a socialist? And maybe that is why socialists, in turn, are suspicious about dogs?

Time for some research, I would have thought. Meanwhile, his many fans around the world will be pleased to hear that Cricket remains in very good form, despite his advancing years.

Best games

Some dykes lean to the right, some to the left. Many have dogs, and some of them try to train their dogs to hate men.  Really good game (if you are a man): make a big fuss of these dogs, and they will make a big fuss of you right back. The training does not work at all. Drives their mistress crazy!

Another really good game is an Adelaide thing. Adelaidians hate walking, and will stop and wait for as long as needed for a parking space as close as possible to their destination. So this game is played in a multi-story car park. Return to your car on a busy Saturday morning. If you are spotted, a car driving up the car park will stop and wait, in order to take your place. Get in the car. Wait a while. Get out and pretend to do something in the boot. Go round to the other side, and pretend to look for something on the back seat. During this process, you can look in the general direction of your victim, and smile encouragingly, but a “thumbs up” is cheating. Get back into the driver’s seat. Wait some more. Get out, and look in the boot, and repeat as long as necessary. On a good day, you can build up a queue of 30 cars or so by the time they tumble the game.

A singular Brand of intelligence

The finger digit thing, by the way, was a particular favourite of Christopher Brand, the psychologist, and former professor at Edinburgh University, whose book, The g Factor, is a really interesting read on the subject of intelligence. Shame on publishers John Wiley for withdrawing it following publication, as a result of “politically correct” objections to the implications of the work, and shame on Edinburgh University for removing him from tenure for the same reason.

Many will regard Brand as an eccentric.  His blog is hardly temperate. But nevertheless, what he has to say on the subject of “g” (short for general intelligence) is of considerable interest, as well as being a blow for freedom of speech.

 A counter

I have added a counter to the bottom of this page today.

15th June 2009

Heads

I was reunited with my motor bike the other day, after a while, and reached for my helm.

Helm? Oh yes. Think of the etymology. A helm used to be a full face effort, for fighting in.  The French found it an inconvenience, interfering with their enjoyment of lunch (not to mention the application of mascara), so they invented the smaller, lighter and less troublesome helmette. Later, the helmet was taken up by racing drivers and motorcyclists. And then, we reverted to the full-face version. Which is a helm.

Helm Helmette Helmet Helm

I was, incidentally, delighted to find when looking for images to illustrate this point, that there are people who will sell you replicas, not only of Damon Hill’s helm, but of medieval fighting helms as well. Brilliant. Completely useless, of course, but it is good to know that someone still cares. They will even sell you a complete suit of armour if you feel your hall needs a bit of old-fashioned grandeur.

4th June 2009

Dead Tired

Some years ago, I contracted Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which is a nuisance, not least because it caused me to give up work in London, which was hard but fun.

It is an illness which is, as they say, “poorly understood”, which means that they know some stuff about it, but not what causes it or how to fix it. They are not even sure if it is just one condition, or a few connected conditions. There are some connections with viral infections, and in particular the Epstein-Barr virus, but it looks like the illness can triggered by a number of things, of which Epstein-Barr is just one.

It is not hard to paint the general picture. If you have it, you feel knackered, pretty much all the time. It is not like ordinary tiredness, which you can fix by getting some rest and a good night’s sleep. It is not so much like the tiredness you get long-distance running, which you can get through with some will-power; it is more like the feeling when you have been sprinting for however many yards you can do – your muscles then just turn into painful lumps of jelly that simply do not work properly any more, and no amount of determination can keep you going at the same pace.  Except that it is mental as well as physical. It is bit like being out in a boat when the mist comes down. One moment, you can see the harbour, and the other boats, and then plop! The mist comes down, and it does not matter how hard you try to peer around you, it is just impossible to see those same distant landmarks. It is the same when the fatigue hits; no matter how hard you try, it is impossible to summon up the concentration to keep the hard stuff in your head.

I had been pretty much better, after I had stopped work for a year or so.  The constant “aching all over” went away, and so did that omnipresent “bug”, as though life was just one long series of flu-like episodes.  So I gradually got tempted back into doing more and more.  Bad idea.

Some recent research at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital suggests that the fatigue is linked to elevated levels of lactate in the cerebrospinal fluid. Professor Dikoma C. Shungu talks about a chain of events in CFS sufferers:

“The immune reaction to the infection leads to a build up of free radicals, which accumulate in such numbers that they create oxidative stress. Oxidative stress almost invariably attacks or destroys the mitochondria, which then become dysfunctional. When that happens glycolysis kicks in to give us more energy. The end product of glycolysis is lactate, also called lactic acid, which is what we’re detecting.”

Lactic acid is also blamed for the “muscles turn to jelly” thing about sprinting, and certainly, it rings true that the condition is all to do with the body initiating some sort of “shut down” message to the body even when logic would say that one ought not to be tired. And it is also true, in my case, the fatigue followed a bout of pleurisy. As well, as it happens, a fair old bit of common or garden stress over 20 years or so.

So maybe I am not really dead tired, I just think I am? But I’m damned if I can tell the difference.

Still, it could be worse. Chronic fatigue does not really hurt that much (just a dull ache) and it cannot kill you.

31st May 2009

You’re Late, You Swine
Now that the rest of the world has wearily taken on board that swine flu was a press beat-up (it turns out to be rather milder and less dangerous than most common-or-garden flus) and moved on, the Australian authorities – bless them – have hit the emergency button. Schools have been closed, face masks are abroad and panic reigns.

What this probably means is either that the Rev Kev is keen to divert attention away from other embarrassing features of his government’s present performance, or that some idiot in government has spent so much of our money on daft overreaction to the swine flu beat-up that there is a determination to show something for it. Wouldn’t be the first time.

According to the ABC (more or less the press office for the Labour Party these days) the government is ordering 10 million swine flu shots from an American drug company. The cost of a flu shot is around $20 a pop, so we are talking about $200 million here of public money which is already in deficit.

Good socialist policy. Get the treasury into grave penury as soon as you can manage when you get into office. Then you have a good reason to stick your sticky fingers into everyone’s pockets, which is what you love the best.

2nd May 2009

The Fall and Rise of the Scots

The Scots have always had an interesting role in Britain. Not in Scotland, of course, where a lack of global warming and an excess of global raining mitigates against anything much of interest happening at all, but in England, where the Scots have traditionally done rather well.

The days in office of Susan Brown, the first Scottish Prime Minister of the UK since Lord Hume in the 1960’s seem now to be doomed to a quick end, despite her optimistic smile – the nation has tired of being talked at in those Hibernian tones that it has come to associated with advertisements for pension funds (see where that got us! It turns out that the Royal Bank of Scotland was the most profligate of all of the money houses that have grafted away so imaginatively under New Labour’s benevolent eye).

But never fear – music is ever the helpmate of the Celts, the leftists, the dim of wit and the fair of face. And Gordon Boyles’s spectacular recent success on singing talent show Who Wants to be Rich has set Scotland back on track again. More people vote for these sorts of thing than for the political elections, and so young Gordon has a future ahead of him that will far outshine any brief tenure he might have enjoyed on the political scene. As long as he sings, and does not talk, no-one will notice his Scottish accent.

And as long, of course, as he retains his youthful sparkle and student-like grace.

21st April 2009

Heaven Sent

Readers of these pages will know that I have long been sceptical of the claims of the climate change industry. It has been somewhat surprising to me that no-one seems to have written a comprehensive evidence-based and academically-robust debunking of the IPCC claims.

Well now they have. And remarkably, it comes from Adelaide, a small town that punches far above its weight on the world stage. Professor Ian Plimer’s excellent book Heaven + Earth, Global Warming: The Missing Science might well do for the climate theorists what Darwin did for creationism. Before Darwin, it was not only religious extremists who believed that the world was created in 7 days, but most ordinary mainstream people. After his work, it was just the extremists. Similarly, in the pre-Plimer age, it has not only been environmental extremists who have believed in the notion that man-made CO2 is changing the climate and threatening our existence, but many ordinary people and a worryingly large number of politicians.  Once enough people have read the book (the first run has sold out in just a few days) then that should change. Plimer will not, of course, convince the extremist environmentalists any more than Darwin has ever convinced creationists, but it will simply not be mainstream acceptable to believe the CO2 beat up.

As in Darwin’s case, it is not so much the concept behind Plimer’s book that it new: rather it is the mass of evidence that he presents. He not only presents vast amount amounts of material to show that CO2 is has never caused climate change, is not causing climate change, is not a pollutant, is not capable of triggering any “tipping point”, will not cause any significant rise in sea levels and is not dangerous, but he also takes the trouble to catalogue how and why it came to be that the relevant data was either never considered by the IPCC, or worse, has been deliberately sidelined for political reasons. He clearly shows that, whilst there is much about the relevant science that remains unsettled, it is quite clear that the IPCC line is wholly untenable as a matter of scientific analysis.

In a sense, of course, the timing is kind to him, because, despite a rearguard action by the IPCC and its fellow travellers, the evidence is mounting that the world stopped warming a few years ago, demonstrating that the climate change models used by the IPCC are wrong. Despite the fact that ice sheets are breaking in the Antarctic (which Plimer shows is not necessarily a sign of temperature rise), the total amount of ice held on Antarctica is increasing, and the world is now getting colder. And just as a matter of interest, I looked at the Met Office data from 1878 to date of the recorded maximum daily temperature in the Midlands of England: over the last few years it has been going down, not up (look at the data if you do not believe this). The graph on the Met Office web site rather fudges the point, but I have plotted the raw data, and the resulting graph tells its own story.  Things stopped getting hotter a decade or so ago.

Even the IPCC is backtracking. They have now dropped the infamous “hockey stick” graph (about which Plimer is very rude, setting out a prima facie case that it is fraudulent) and their earlier claims that the climate today is hotter than any other recent times. Their estimates of sea level rise are falling rapidly.

Who are the goodies and who are the baddies in all of this? Plimer makes the interesting suggestion that the money so far wasted on the IPCC’s crackpot theories would have been enough to have paid for potable water and reticulated electricity for the whole of the Third World. It is tough to argue that it is morally right that we are doing this much damage just in case the IPCC models turn out to be medium term OK (not at all likely, since they have already been shown by the data to be short term plumb wrong).

I have to thank Ian Plimer, not only for a brilliant read, but also for doing such an excellent job of setting the record straight on this topic. Hopefully, the rest of the world will read it, take note, and stop all this nonsense.  And then I can forget about it, and write about other things.

3rd April 2009

The Large Hadron Collider

As Glenda Slagg used to say, “Doncha luv it?”

There have been some problems. But happily the latest news from CERN is that the Sector 3-4 repair work on the cryogenic pipeline that supplies liquid helium to the magnets has been completed, and the faulty magnet, found to have high internal resistance, should by now have been be removed from Sector 6-7. What could be better than that? Well, you might need a bit of help with what is going on here:

  • It is an annular tunnel some 17 miles in circumference near Geneva. They have been building it for a while.
  • The basic idea is that you get a proton or two, and then whizz them around the track within a whisker of the speed of light in opposite directions. Bing a couple of these boys together and you might, with a bit of luck, catch a glimpse of a Higgs boson. Or get a better handle on string theory. Not of course with a normal camera, which is in the context of these very small chaps about as meaningful as capturing the notion of a Mexican Wave by looking at the hair on the knuckle of a football hooligan. But these guys have other methods of looking at very small things.
  • They finished the basic thing around 6 months ago, and turned it on (despite a potty protest that it was going to swallow the world in a black hole). But they need to fix some teething problems.
  • How small are the hadrons? Well, your typical atom is around 1/1000000000000000000000000000 of a centimetre. The string theory guys will tell that a string is more like 1/10000000000000000000000000000000000 of a centimetre. Which is really quite a bit smaller.
  • What is a hadron? Well, actually, they are really just whizzing common or garden protons at first. A proton is a sort of baryon, and a baryon is a sort of hadron. So the name just keeps the field open a bit.
  • Is this hard? Well yes, obviously. For a start, the LHC uses about the same amount of power as the city of Geneva (source). So there are problems running it in the winter, when Geneva would quite like some central heating, thank you very much. What with the snow and everything. Even if you are a real enthusiast for global warming, its still pretty cold in the winter.
  • Is it fast? Oh yes! These little chaps do the 17 miles in around 1/10000000 of a second.

Do we care? Well, yes we do, quite. It turns out that Newton could get to basic physical laws by watching apples. Einstein needed rather more experimental data, and a hunk of thinking, to get to relativity. And to get much further, we really do need some data as to what what happens when you smash atoms into each other. Very fast. So they break up a bit.
Who knows where it will lead? Very, very small machines? Huge amounts of power that require neither hard hats nor wholly hats? Drones that will do the housework and annoy politicians automatically?

Not cheap. But brilliant.

14th March 2009

Bipolar Climate

There are two stories side by side in the Weekend Australian today. One reports the scepticism of Japanese scientists about the climate change warnings. Professor Shigenori Maruyama is quoted as noting that, when the question was raised at a Japan Geoscience Union symposium last year, he said, “the result showed 90 per cent of the participants do not believe the IPCC report”. He quoted as saying that the scientists were “doubtful about man-made climate-change theory, but did not want to risk their funding from the government or bad publicity from the mass media, which he said was leading society in the wrong direction”.

On the same page, we see Professor Katherine Richardson of the University of Copenhagen busily warning us that the things are far worse even than the IPCC predictions. She shared a platform with Tim Flannery in June last year, where dear old Tim shared with his concerns about the Arctic ice cap shrinking even more in 2008 than 2007. Bad timing for Tim, of course, since a few months later we saw that the 2008 summer ice extent was some 390 thousand square miles more than the previous year (see data) and the latest research from Ian Eisenman of Harvard University released a couple of months ago shows that the predictions of tipping point are misplaced.

The point is not so much who is right and who is wrong; it is that we have moved into a polarised state where, on the one side, people are saying that it is settled that man-made climate change is an imminent disaster, and on the other, people saying that it is a beat-up. In the USA, there is now a relatively even split between those who think it is a beat up, and those who don’t, according to a recent Gallup Poll, with the skeptics at their highest level for 10 years. There is precious little real debate between the two sides, any more than there ever has been between religious dogmatists and skeptics. The IPCC crew have got hold of the notion that the science is settled, that anyone who contradicts them is bad, mad and dangerous to know. It seems that the issue is not so much one of science these days, but more a question of where you stand, or as the Americans like to say “narrative”.

 

Brawn over Brain

I was delighted to see that Ross Brawn’s new F1 team, freshly bought from Honda, has been knocking the spots off the opposition in pre-season testing. At one time, Mr Brawn was in somewhat bad odour for working with Ferrari, virtually treason, which would not have mattered had he not been so effective. But then he redeemed himself by endorsing the British Countax garden tractor, which is an excellent machine (I have one myself).

Was the design for the new racing car borrowed from the humble tractor? Look at that characteristic nose profile.

3rd February 2009

Che sera, sera

I was interested to read the new account by Simon Reid-Henry Fidel & Che A Revolutionary Friendship, which contains much of interest about the relationship between Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. But it did set me wondering a fair bit about what was not contained in the book.

There are a lot of people who do idealise Che. And also a lot who do not like him much at all. They say that Che, supported by Castro, was responsible for more human right abuses, per capital, that either Stalin or Hitler. So it is right to take a lot of what is said with a healthy dose of caution.

Reid-Henry describes on page 160 how Che was the first of Castro’s band to step up to the plate when it came to executing a colleague, Eutimio Guerra, for giving away their location. He quotes Che’s diary:

“the situation was uncomfortable for the people and for E, so I ended the problem giving him a shot with a .32 pistol in the right side of the brain…”

What he does not mention is that Che then apparently wrote to his father in Argentina, saying:

“I’d like to confess, papa’, at that moment I discovered that I really like killing.”
Why does Reid-Henry not mention this? If he thinks the quote is not genuine, why not address it? It paints a picture of a man who would be pretty hard to like, for most of us. Most of us would think that leaks are sometimes uncomfortable, but a bullet in the head seems a harsh response. What did Castro think of it? Castro had (and perhaps still has) excellent judgement about personal weaknesses. A pistol shot is not the normal sort of shot that doctors administer.

But was Che really a doctor? Reid-Henry says at page 81 that Che had earlier tried to find employment as a doctor in Guatemala, but that it was “the endless bureaucracy required to register his certification in the first place prevented him from doing so.”

Humberto Fontova, who has written a book called Exposing the Real Che Guevara: And the Useful Idiots Who Idolize Him plainly does not like Che at all, offers a reason: that Che failed – despite his years at medical school – to get qualified. Checking to see is someone trying to get a job as a doctor really is a doctor is hardly “endless bureaucracy”.

And then there are all the killings once Fidel and Castro came to power, and Che was commander of La Cabana, which was obviously not a fun place. Reid-Henry says

Che oversaw the process of swift revolutionary justice – tribunals and executions – applied to members of the former regime. Since early January he had personally pored over each of the cases before him while by night the sound of gunshots rang out across the bay”
According to Fontova, Che was also the chief executioner, who said,

“To send men to the firing squad, judicial proof is unnecessary…These procedures are an archaic bourgeois detail. This is a revolution! And a revolutionary must become a cold killing machine motivated by pure hate”.

That does not sound much like a meticulous judge poring over the papers; rather more like a psychopathic maniac. Fidel was a lawyer, whose brief practice was in civil rights cases. Surely he would have noticed that something was not quite right here? Estimates vary as to how many people Che killed, either personally or by order, but it seems to have been some hundreds, or even a couple of thousand – can they all have been members of the former regime? Not, presumably, the children that he is said to have shot with his own pistol.

So, despite the soft focus image of the Motorcycle Diaries (good soundtrack, by the way) there does seems to be a hunk of evidence that Che was not a nice man at all, who failed at everything he attempted except looking good in front of a camera and extra-judicial killing of political opponents. It does seem incontrovertible that his and Fidel’s major impact on the people of Cuba has been to reduce them from really quite prosperous (as they were in the 1950’s) to beggarly poor (as they are now), with no democracy, no free press and no political freedom. Fontova summarises:

Che Guevara was monumentally vain and epically stupid. He was shallow, boorish, cruel and cowardly. He was full of himself, a consummate fraud and an intellectual vacuum. He was intoxicated with a few vapid slogans, spoke in clichés and was a glutton for publicity.
Now, I cannot judge for sure if Fontova and other critics are right in all they say. But it is worrying that so much that is written about Che seems to gloss over some pretty unappealing characteristics. Why did Nelson Mandela say that Che was “an inspiration for every human being who loves freedom” when the quotes ascribed to Che suggest that he was a particularly unpleasant sort of racist:

“The blacks, those magnificent examples of the African race who have conserved their racial purity by a lack of affinity with washing, have seen their patch invaded by a different kind of slave: The Portuguese…. the black is indolent and fanciful, he spends his money on frivolity and drink; the European comes from a tradition of working and saving which follows him to this corner of America and drives him to get ahead.”

And on radio

“We’re going to do for blacks exactly what blacks did for the revolution. By which I mean: nothing.”

And so, why does Reid-Henry pull his punches? He is obviously a bright guy, and well-informed. Perhaps it is simply this: those people who buy books on Che tend to idolise Che, and so it simply does not pay to tell the truth, especially if it is associated with those who are opponents of the Castro regime. And, whilst Mr Reid-Henry may well have helped his cause in terms of getting access to Cuba’s documents, he has not done much to answer the interesting question of whether Castro deliberately sent Che to his certain death on that ridiculous terrorist attack on Bolivia, knowing that Che would be about as welcome to the people there as a bacon sandwich at a Bar Mitzvah, and calculated that Che was always going to play better in Hollywood dead than alive. That really would be a pretty revolutionary notion of how to treat a friend.

26th January 2009

Premature Death

I was surprised to note reports of a recent study aimed at showing, according to the press, “how to ward off dementia and death in old age”.  Gardening, drinking booze and staying away from nursing homes seem to be the trick as far as avoiding dementia is concerned, and that all seems to make good sense.

But avoiding death in old age? The only way to avoid death in old age is to die prematurely; surely death in old age is a good thing, not a bad thing. Has the world gone mad? Well. Not really. The studies themselves suggest nothing so radical. It seems to be a case of lazy reporting.

But there other recent studies which are pretty bizarre. Another study that has attracted much press attention is one by Dr Thomas Pollet, who has looked at some Chinese data and concluded that wives of rich men have more orgasms that wives of poorer men. A good story obviously, leading to a load of cheesy interviews with working class birds who will stand up for the quality of their blokes’ peckers. But there may perhaps be a bit of confusion here between cause and effect. It might be like noticing that wives of rich men are typically better looking than wives of poorer men. The answer is probably simple: more successful males tend to have first dibs on the available females, and tend to choose the more attractive ones. And women who enjoy sex are typically rather attractive than the ones who don’t. So, maybe it is not so much that sex with rich men is any better than sex with poor men, it is just that women who are married to rich men are more likely to like sex than the ones who end up with the poorer men.

I mentioned this at lunch the other day, and some present demanded evidence that men would notice any such thing. Well, as starting point might be the work of Geoffrey Miller, an associate professor of psychology at the University of New Mexico, who has been looking at the earnings of lap dancers. Girls not on the pill earned an average of US$185 per shift during menstruation, but US$335 during their fertile estrus time, and US$260 at other times. Girls on the pill showed no monthly variation at all. I wonder if Professor Miller’s research work in the field is as effective as gardening in warding off dementia?

Mums
Here is a small new year quiz. Who are these people the mums of?

For this last one, we are interested in the lady on the left. The bods on her rights are her parents.

And just in case anyone thinks this has a gender bias, here is a chap: whose father is her?
Got them all? They are the parents of Lewis Hamilton, Halle Berry, Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, Barrack Obama and Bob Marley. What seems to me to be mildly interesting about these faces is that they are relatively little known. Their children have been designated black, but their mothers are white and so their faces do not fit. Goodbye.

2008 Archive
There is more of this stuff for 2008 and earlier.
what to like

 I usually like to

 

 Robert Fenwick Elliott’s Blogging Diary

Back to Robert Fenwick Elliott’s Personal Home Page

Go to:
Home page
2009 archive
2008 archive

Diary

 

30th December 2010

Another Year

It has not been a good year for the weave-your-own-knickers brigade.

For a start, the climate change thing has been a bit of a disaster for them. Copenhagen a year ago was a wash-out, and since then we have seen extraordinarily cold winters in Europe and North America, and extraordinary amounts of rain in Australia. But they have got far bigger problems than that with their other holiest-of-holy cows: race.

They used to say that race is just skin deep. But earlier this year, the full genome of a Neanderthal was mapped, and shows interbreeding between Neanderthals and Europeans, but not between Neanderthals and Africans. In the last few weeks, we have the genome of the Denisova hominid – again, the evidence shows interbreeding between Denisova and modern humans, the closest match being with the Melanesians.  All this, of course, on top of the hobbit.

So, we now have at least 4 sub-species of hominoids wandering around the planet, and occasionally bonking with each other, just 40,000 years or so ago. That is quite a lot later than the 100,000 years ago when homo sapiens sapiens walked out of the rift valley. The absurd notion that today’s racial differences are just skin deep and all due to climatic adaption lies in tatters.  The good news is that medical science seems to have quietly accepted this reality, and better treatments have apparently been emerging based on the differing genetic make-up of different patients.

Personally, I have no problem with the idea of being part Neanderthal. They were probably charming people, and deserve all the more respect for the recent discovery that they preferred to eat their vegetables cooked – hurray! Anyway, the English have always been something of a mongrel race – repeatedly accepting and absorbing people from all over the world – and are all the better for it.

Talking of the English, it was good to see the Brits win the Ashes again this week. There were precious few Aussies in the crowd at the MCG on the final day – contrast Adelaide Oval a week or two ago where they came despite the fact that they were being beaten. Suggests that Adelaidians are rather more civilised than Melbournians?  Many of the Barmy Army were all dressed up in silly clothes, of course, which all goes to show that they do not take it too seriously – some wag suggested that despite appearances, the Aussies were there on the last day, dressed up as empty seats.   Someone who evidently does take it all much too seriously is Aussie fast bowler Peter “Sid Vicious” Siddle, who has been unrepentant about his awful sledging in Perth. He is not a good looking lad, so bad manners from him are all the less welcome.  My insider says that Andrew Strauss resolved after the Perth test that the English team would quite simply not talk to the Aussies at all during the next test at the MCG; being ignored  must have driven the Aussies to distraction, and poor little Ricky Ponting later complained that Kevin Pieterson had wound him up by winking at him.  Winking! What will they think of next?  I can imagine that this is a tactic that the English rugby team might take up next time they play New Zealanders.  They could chat among themselves whilst the Haka is going on, and then casually turn towards the All Blacks and wink! That should show them who is boss.

My older children are here to stay for a couple of weeks, which is good.  Annabel has persuaded me to sign up to Facebook, which I had previously resisted on the grounds that it is for youngies. I am not quite sure how it works yet. How secure should the settings be? Who does one invite to be a friend? I was asked to say where I went to school, and when I left, and Facebook then suggested that General Sir David Richards should be my friend. There was a photograph and everything. We were in the same Day Room at school, but I have not seen him for decades.  We were never really close friends, although we were both in the team that won the Quatre Bras, which was a big thing for teenagers who like playing rubgy.  It is probably quite fun being a general. I liked the bit in Gladiator when the other prisoners addressed Russell Crowe as “General”.  Respect!  Bit late now for me, though; I think you have to put in the hard yards of soldiering if you want to be a general.  But I could be a Professor, I guess; lots of my mates are Professors.  Or a judge.  But friends of mine who have become judges say it is lonely, and that no one talks to you outside of court.  Would you invite a judge to be your friend on Facebook?  Probably not? Anyway, how many friends should one have? Too many suggests trying too hard, but too few is probably a bit sad?

Not sorry Christmas is over for another year. Too much washing up to be done.

14th December 2010

Something Coming Down

I woke up early this morning, and sat outside as dawn broke. There was morning light against the backdrop of the mulberry tree, and I am sure I could see something falling through the air.  Like rain. About the same speed as rain.  But it was not rain: there were no drops on the swimming pool surface.

I have seen this before.  What is it, I wonder?  Too fast for dust falling, I would guess.  What else descends from the sky? Something solar?  Beats me.

And another thing.  Sometimes, I feel a really vivid sensation of something like bubbles, but more solid, growing somewhere in my consciousness. They grow at the sort of pace that children blow up bubble gum bubbles. But they seem to be coming from inside, each one bearing a definite sensation, like a friendship rapidly blossoming, or the physical feel of rapidly drying off in the sun after swimming. They do not pop suddenly, like a bubble, but instead disperse more slowly, like an orgasm.  When they all go, after a couple of minutes or so, they leave a sense of profound well-being. I have experienced this many times in the past: it is always the same. What is going on?  This one beats me too.

I am not about to reach for UFO theory on these things, but I would like to know more.

I am Spartacus

Stanley Kubrik made a rather cheesy movie about Spartacus many years ago, but there was one good moment. Spatacus and all the other rebel slaves were captured, and the Romans demanded to know which of them was their leader, Spartacus, otherwise all sort sof terrible things would be done to all of them. Spartacus called out, “I’m Spartacus” then again, so do umpteen others (led incidentally by the recently dead father of the happily still-living Jamie Lee Curtis).

Is the same thing going to have in the Wikileaks saga? “I am the leak” they all will cry? It might not end well.  The Romans strung up all the rebel slaves anyway.

PS Apros of the lovely Jamie, she is these days Lady Haden-Guest, since her husband inherited the Barony of Haden-Guest in 1996. From daughter of a Roman slave to English lady in a single generation. Isn’t life great? I am a big fan, ever since Wanda.

9th December 2010

Three More Women in Julian Asasange’s Life

The Swedish authorities seem now to be pooh-poohing the idea that their persecution of Julian Assange is politically motivated.  Well, that is curious, because it does not square with what they said earlier. Karin Rosinger of the Swedish Prosecution Authority was interviewed on television (on AlJazeeraEnglish , somewhat surprisingly) on 22 August, after they had withdrawn the arrest warrant against Assange, and said is was “quite natural” that people would think that the arrest arrest was part of a smear campaign and that she was “not surprised at all”. Click on the picture to run the video.  Ms Rosinger has not been back on TV, it seems, with any explanation as to who or what it was that caused her office to later revive the charges.

Meanwhile, Assange has found some allies in a group called Anomymous, which has been launching cyber attacks on various parties who have decried Assange. Called Operation Avenge Assage, it calls for web attacks on, among others, Julia Gillard and Sarah Palin (apparently, putting someone’s face in a red ring with a line through it is code for “Attack, O cyber warriors!).  Julia Gillard’s offence is calling for Assange to be prosecuted even though, when pressed, she could not think of a relevant crime to suggest that he might have committed.  Sarah Palin wants him “pursued with the same urgency we pursue al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders” and thinks that “anything less than execution is too kind a penalty.”

Strange bedfellows, one might think! But united in the single cause of trying to conceal their governments’ dirty laundry.

8th December 2010

Leaking like a Rabbit

So, Julian Assange has had a couple of one night stands with groupies in Sweden.  All the accounts concur that these liaisons were consensual at the time – it is only later that the two women decided that they might want to withdraw their consent, so as to constitute “rape”. The 1st one nighter was Anna Ardin, who had invited Assange to speak at an event and also to stay at her apartment.  They had dinner, and later went to bed together. She seemed happy enough the next day; she tweeted:

‘Julian wants to go to a crayfish party, anyone have a couple of available seats tonight or tomorrow? #fb’

 And then, the day after that:

‘Sitting outdoors at 02:00 and hardly freezing with the world’s coolest smartest people, it’s amazing! #fb’

But then came the 2nd one nighter: Sofia Wilen (in the foreground with glasses).  She was also at the event  at which Assange was speaking at Anna’s invitation, and appears to have little difficulty in getting Assange back to her place.

Unhappily for Assange, Anna and Sofia then compared notes. They found out that neither of them had been the undivided centre of attention for Assange’s libidinous urges that week. They conferred together and decided to go to the Swedish tabloid Expressen and also the police. Anna in particular was not a happy or forgiving bunny; perhaps understandably, given that Assange had hopped from her bed into Sofia’s. She (Anna) had put up a blog (which she later tried unsuccesfully to erase) a few months earlier about techniques for extracting revenge for unfaithfulness in men:

7 Steps to Legal Revenge
January 19, 2010

I’ve been thinking about some revenge over the last few days and came across a very good side who inspired me to this seven-point revenge instruction in Swedish.

Steg 1 / Step 1

Tänk igenom väldigt noga om du verkligen ska hämnas. Consider very carefully if you really must take revenge. Det är nästan alltid bättre att förlåta än att hämnas

It is almost always better to forgive than to avenge

Steg 2 / Step 2

Tänk igenom varför du ska hämnas. Think about why you want revenge. Du behöver alltså inte bara vara på det klara med vem du ska hämnas på utan också varför. Hämnd ska aldrig riktas mot bara en person, utan även möta en viss handling.

You need to be clear about who to take revenge on, as well as why. Revenge is never directed against only one person, but also the actions of the person.

Steg 3 / Step 3

Proportionalitetsprincipen.

The principle of proportionality.

Kom ihåg att hämnden inte bara ska matcha dådet i storlek utan även i art.

Remember that revenge will not only match the deed in size but also in nature.

En bra hämnd är kopplad till det som gjorts mot dig.

A good revenge is linked to what has been done against you.

Om du till exempel vill hämnas på någon som varit otrogen eller som dumpat dig, så bör straffet ha något med dejting/sex/trohet att göra.

For example if you want revenge on someone who cheated or who dumped you, you should use a punishment with dating/sex/fidelity involved.

Steg 4 / Step 4

Gör en brainstorm kring lämpliga åtgärder för kategorin av hämnd du är ute efter. För att fortsätta exemplet ovan så kan du paja ditt offers nuvarande relation, fixa så att dennes nye partner är otrogen eller se till att han får en galning efter sig.

Do a brainstorm of appropriate measures for the category of revenge you’re after. To continue the example above, you can sabotage your victim’s current relationship, such as getting his new partner to be unfaithful or ensure that he gets a madman after him.

Använd din fantasi!

Use your imagination!

Steg 5 / Step 5

Tänk ut hur du kan hämnas systematiskt.

Figure out how you can systematically take revenge.

Kanske kan en serie brev och foton som får den nya att tro att ni ännu ses bättre än bara en stor lögn vid ett enstaka tillfälle?

Send your victim a series of letters and photographs that make your victim’s new partner believe that you are still together which is better than to tell just one big lie on one single occasion

Steg 6 / Step 6

Ranka dina systematiska hämndscheman från låg till hög i termer av troligt lyckat genomförande, krävd insats från dig samt grad av tillfredsställelse om du lyckas.

Rank your systematic revenge schemes from low to high in terms of likely success, required input from you, and degree of satisfaction when you succeed.

Den ideala hämnden ligger givetvis så högt som möjligt i dessa staplar, men ofta kan en ökad insats av arbete och kapital ge säkrare output för de andra två, egentligen viktigare parametrarna.

The ideal, of course, is a revenge as strong as possible but this requires a lot of hard work and effort for it to turn out exactly as you want it to.

Step 7 / Step 7

Skrid till verket. Get to work. Och kom ihåg vilket ditt mål är medan du opererar, se till att ditt offer får lida på samma sätt som han fick dig att lida.

And remember what your goals are while you are operating, ensure that your victim will suffer the same way as he made you suffer.

Then enter 3 more women, this time all Swedish prosecutors:

Marie Kjellstrand issued an arrest warrant against Assange.
Eva Finne promptly withdrew it on the basis that there was no evidence of any rape (in the usual sense of the word).
Marianne Ny then (some say as a result of political pressure) issued an Interpol “red notice” seeking Assange’s extradition back to Sweden for “rape”.

Far too many women in Assange’s life, it would seem.  There are a number of interesting things about this story (all of which, incidentally, is readily available on many sites on the net):

  • Some news sources are still talking about “Woman A” and “Woman B”.  But everyone interested knows who they are: they are reported to have boasted about their conquests before they discovered about the sex with the other one, and then they went to the press for heavens sake!
  • It may well be that there are good reasons for anonymity in cases of genuine rape. But it hard to see the justification in this new supposed crime of “Swedish Rape”, in which the consent is withdrawn later.
  • And anyway – “Wikileaks”?!  Does this not suggest anything to these ladies about their prospects of being able to extract their “revenge” in private?
  • This case bears all the hallmarks of trumped-up nonsense – it may not be entirely admirable of Assange to have bonked his way through this leftist gaggle of Scandinavian admirers, but it is not a real crime, and certainly would be very small beer by the standards of Jack Kennedy, Lyndon B Johnson et al.
  • Much more importantly, it makes the Americans – and also the Brits – look somewhat corrupt in their persecution of Assange. I do not know what pressure – if any – the Americans put on the Swedish government to revive the “rape” charge.  But I do know – as would the Americans if they had a better sense of the international mood – that this looks like a CIA fit-up, and will damage the standing of America in the world.  Which I rather regret; I like Americans, on the whole.

It is to be hoped that the British courts will examine the evidence, and let Assange free on the basis that the case against him has a very bad smell indeed.  Allowing obviously synthetic cases of alleged sexual misconduct as a means of pursuing political ends might be meat-and-drink in banana republics, but should have no place within first world countries.

5th December 2010

All in a bit of a lather

The flat weave carpet we have in our dayroom was getting really quite dirty. Beyond mere hoovering. It needed a wash. But how do you wash a carpet?

My bright idea was to wash it in the spa. Nice warm day; why not? Mildly to my surprise, it seems to have worked.

Still a bit bothered about a certain bird eying up our fish.

Cricket the Game

Fun day at the Adelaide Oval yesterday.

Pieterson scored a double century and looked happy:

As did the Barmy Army:

But the Aussie less so:

14th November 2010

One Play to the Tune of Another

We have just got back from Sydney, where we took took the children to see the Bell Shakespeare Company’s Twelfth Night at the Sydney Opera House.

I had been looking forward to this.  I like this play as much as any of the comedies.  It is clever and funny, and its social comedy has survived the intervening centuries really well.  It is a celebration of cultivated wit, and of the triumph of the traditional twelve days of feasting and drinking ending on 6th January in defiance of winter.  And of course, because of its connection to the Middle Temple, it is one for the lawyers to particularly enjoy.

But pretty much nothing has survived in this awful production, which destroys virtually all the jokes, and indeed most of everything else in the text.  It is set in some sort of underground homeless refuge, with cardboard boxes, discarded supermarket trollies and a huge pile of old clothes in the middle of the stage as the scene throughout. We learn from the notes the the director thinks that the play is an exploration of loss and suffering, which is about as close to the mark as thinking that Faulty Towers is all about Marxist dialectic.  Imagine Basil Faulty played as a Glaswegian tramp, Sybil Faulty played a la Kath and Kim, and Polly played by Eddie Izzard; you would then get an idea about how grotesque this production is.

Not content with this, the production then ruins the essential dramatic devices in the play.  Instead of being cast shipwrecked upon a foreign land Sebastian and Viola are supposed to be firefighters who have not left home at all. This utterly destroys the whole point of the play. The actors double up their roles in a ludicrous way, and then stay on stage during the action, so that characters who are not supposed to know what is really going on are watching the whole time. Duh! Apart from anything else, this sort of half-baked claptrap carries the danger of rendering Shakespeare back into the hands of the literalists.  Peter Hall and Trevor Nunn did great things with clever modernist twists, and the Royal Shakespeare Company have done some great modern dress productions, and it is shame to see that style being cheapened.

The Aussie loved it however.  Maybe the production was playing to the local crowd – turning Shakespeare into crude slapstick might, I suppose, be part of some, “Jack’s as good as his master” agenda. And my young children liked it too, which is good news even if I have got them not an inch closer to understanding why Shakespeare is so wonderful.

The cast were all really good actors, and their songs – whilst hardly appropriate – were really well done.  It was a shame the cast could not have been given a better production to work with.

Market Rocks

We went to the street market at the Rocks in Sydney.  I do not generally like street markets, but this one was brilliant. Virtually no tat, and lots of really well done things.  We ended up with a chess set, cushion covers, jewelry and other good stuff.

Signing up

My daughter Lucy has collected signatures from most of the English cricket team, who were in the Qantas Club at the airport today.  They were charming.  When asked who among them was truly the most famous, they chose Monty Panesar as, “Our most famous Sikh”, so we tracked him down and Lucy got him to sign as well.

11th October 2010

Up down and around

My friend JD (I do not name him) has complained about my piece “Going Up Going Down” because he says governments are not like credit card addicts.  He says that “the credit card borrower (ie, the government) who’s doing the spending during the recession is a different person from the broke individual and has ways not open to the individual of grabbing the spondulicks needed to pay of the credit card debt if (as to which see further below) and when the economy picks up again – ie, taxation.”

OK, so in my example let us say that the credit card debtor is a stay-at-home mum.  She always has the means to grab some more spondulicks off her husband as and when he collects his next pay check. Like a government, the money she deals in is not really her money; it is money given to her on the quasi-trust basis that she will spend it on household expenses, just like we give our tax money to the government on the understanding that the government will spend on roads and hospitals and other stuff that we need – not on some hare-brained scheme the purpose of which is to prop up the vanities of the the government, or to enable it to bribe us at the next election with our own money.

So, is the Keynesian Theory that you can fix an economy by spending – priming the pump as Keynes called it – a hare-brained scheme?  The fact that it has been quite popular with government in recent times provides it with no legitimacy at all if, as its critics asset, it is simply a convenient cover for politicians to (a) indulge their personal socialist whims and/or (b) improve their prospects of re-election on a short term election cycle? There are plenty of economists on either side of this fence, so that does not help either, and anyway, there is precious little weight that can be put on a view that will earn its proponent political favour.

So, time to go empirical.  What is the evidence in terms of whether Keynesian theory works out in practice?

I am not an economist, but the track record for Keynes does not look too good.  The Cato Institute says

Real-world evidence does not support the Keynesianism perspective. In his four years, Herbert Hoover …boosted government spending by 47 percent in just four years…  He entered office in 1929, when there was a surplus, and he left office in 1933 with a deficit of 4.5 percent of GDP.3
…Roosevelt followed the same approach… Government spending, of course, skyrocketed—rising by 106 percent between 1933 and 1940. This big-government approach didn’t work for Roosevelt any better than it did for Hoover….
International evidence also undermines the case for Keynesianism. The clearest example may be Japan, which throughout the 1990s tried to use so-called stimulus packages in an effort to jump-start a stagnant economy. But the only thing that went up was Japan’s national debt, which more than doubled during the decade and is now even far more than Italy’s when measured as a share of GDP. The Japanese economy never recovered…
Now, it may be though that the Cato Institute is a bit right wing? But there are stonks of papers which all suggest the same thing – that in practice, Keynesian spending does not generally work out too well in practice. So what does the  European Central Bank’s June publication suggest?  It is not exactly a light read, but the general drift seems to be that the empirical evidence is that Keynesian stimulus spending does not work in practice, and that spending cuts are a much surer way to fix an ailing economy. They say on page 86:

Moreover, case studies conducted for Belgium, Ireland, Spain, the Netherlands and Finland found that fiscal consolidations based on expenditure reforms were the most likely to promote output growth, especially when combined with structural reforms. Overall, it appears that expenditure-based fiscal consolidations are more successful and have more beneficial effects on long-run economic growth than revenue-based ones.
As far as I can tell, this is a polite way of saying that, if you are a government, it is much better to stop spending money you do not have than to spend away like a drunken sailor on shore leave and then tax the crap out of your people when the bill comes in.

There is another view, of course, that the net effect of “stimulus spending” is to redistribute money from the rich to the poor, and that there is never a better time to do that than when the poor are having a harder time of it than usual. That is a view that anyone is entitled to have, although it is hardly very smart (a much smarter way to achieve that objective would surely be to raise tax thresholds, so as to reduce the tax burden on the poor, and thereby allow them more of their own money to spend).  What is much less admirable is for government to pretend that it is somehow good for us to have our economy’s guts ripped out by massive and draft public spending on, well, just about anything really.

Anna K

I re-read Anna Karenina the other day.  I had read it couple of time when I was much younger, and was hugely affected by it.

This time around, I was surprised to find it a much slighter work than I remembered. I guess the thing about Tolstoy is that he amazes us by noting stuff that the reader had thought that only he/she could possibly know about. But as the reader gets older, there is less and less that the reader sees as unique about himself/herself. These revelations by Tolstoy start to look pretty routine stuff, and so as a writer he loses a lot of his star quality.  This does not make Tolstoy any less great as a writer; just a lot less interesting to the grown-ups.

The thing to remember about Tolstoy, I reckon, is that, even when he took to wearing peasant costume in his latter years, he still wore silk underwear underneath.  That little fact is, I find, strangely humanising and reassuring.

26th September 2010

Eggs On

Jeanie is away for a few days.  The best diet in these circumstances, I have always found, is whisky and scotch eggs.  It is hard to find scotch eggs in Adelaide, but they are quite easy to make, provided you can get the right sized eggs.  You want them fairly small – not as small as quails’ eggs, but not giant either. What used to be called “standard”.  Here, the eggs tend to come in three sizes:

  • ·         Large – these are really pretty large
  • ·         Extra large – even larger
  • ·         Jumbo – even larger still.

I spoke to the guy in the local shop about this lack of choice, and he offered me extra super jumbo, not really understanding at all that anyone would want eggs that are smaller.  But then I found some, in the local supermarket.  Brilliant.

What is not so brilliant kitchen-wise is the Thermomix. This is a sort of German version of a Magimix.  Bigger, noisier, more expensive, and with the added twist of heating as it chops.  It is rather like having a Tiger tank in the kitchen; impressive in its own Panzerkampfwagentine way, but not really very relaxing. It is everything that slow, pleasurable cooking is not. It is for people who want to bring fast food to their own home.  Personally, I think it somewhat horrid, and would banish it to the cottage but for the fact that Jeanie finds it useful.

Cuddlefish

According to Richard Attenborough, the female cuttlefish accepts sperm, not in an orifice adjacent to her evacuatory organs, but in a special place next to her mouth.

Now, I have always been perfectly content with the female human form as it is.  But then again, it is an interesting thought, that cuttlefish do it so very differently from the rest of us.

Podcasting around

I have started doing a podcast for the Society of Construction Law Australia.  It involves interviewing people, and making up quizzes, and stuff. Quite fun, really.

Summer is icumen in

Sunday.  And the first nice day of the year.  Children in the spa (and Jamie in the pool).  Barbecue.  Quick afternoon nap on the sun lounger.  This is why people leave England and come to live in Australia.

20th September 2010

Ayres Rocks

Our local early morning classical music on the radio person, Emma Ayres, came up with an interesting piece of trivia the other day.  What is the connection between Frederic Handel and Jimmy Hendix? It turns out, according to Emma, that they were next door neighbours, in Brook Street, London.  Not at the same time, obviously, any fole kno that.  But interesting anyway.

There was no Emma last week.  She was in the mountains, learning to ski, she tells us.  Maybe we will get interesting facts about skiing over the coming week.

We all like Ms Ayres.  She is from Shropshire, and rides a motor bike.

Do not overtake Turning Vehicle

There is a sign on the back of lorries here (trucks, they call them) which says “DO NOT OVERTAKE TURNING VEHICLE”.

What the hell does that mean? Could it be

  • Do not overtake me if you are busy turning either left or right;
  • Do not overtake me if you have lost control and are rolling around the road like a corkscrew;
  • Do not overtake me if I have lost control and am rolling around the road like a corkscrew;
  • Do not overtake me at all.  I am a turning vehicle.  I might turn into a Centurion tank any second now and blow you to smithereens;
  • Do not overtake if you are liable to turn into a Centurion tank and blow me to smithereens;
  • You can take a bit of turning vehicle. But don’t overdo it. Turning vehicles don’t like to be taken for granted.

And what is the story with the yellow bit and the red bit? Complete mystery

Nice Bristols

My friend Lyn Osman has pointed out that there is a well-made video about Bristol cars at  http://www.angelsaint.com/25629/cool-hunting-video-presents-bristol-cars/.  

5th September 2010

Going Up? Going Down?

Now here is an interesting thing. We all know that the Chinese economy is growing, while the USA is in recession. And India is growing, and Brazil, and Australia. And lots of other countries.

According the CIA (who seem to monitor who has some money as well as the spying thing) 113 countries have economies in growth at the last count, as opposed to 99 in negative territory. Sure, the USA, Europe and Russia are down, but the rest of the world is up.

There may be a couple of things to draw from this.  One is that much of our news is extraordinarily North Atlantic-centric. The Americans are the worst offenders, of course – they assume that what is happening to them must be happening to the rest of the world.

The other is to highlight the daftness of the assertion by the Australian Labor Party that the Rudd government saved the Australian economy from collapse by its efforts to stimulate the economy by spending money. I have always been deeply suspicious of the notion that you can make a depressed economy better by taking lots of taxpayers’ money, then borrowing a load more money at taxpayers’ expense, and spending the lot on – well – pretty much anything.  It seems to me like trying to fix the financial woes of an individual with excessive credit card debt by saying, “You need to cheer yourself up. Go spend a load of money on your credit card this weekend!” You can be pretty sure that the majority of the world’s economies have not been achieving their continued growth by spending public money on home insulation schemes, or building pointless drill halls in every school garden.

Helmets and books

A couple of things haunt me a little from my recent trip to London.

One was seeing, and holding, Jamie Ede’s wonderful Corinthian helmet. Jamie is a dealer in antiquities in Brook Street, and a likeable fellow. There are not many things I miss about not being silly rich, but this is one of them, and if I had £125k knocking around without any other use, I would buy this wonderful object like a shot. It is extraordinary to think that such a beautiful and functional (well, functional if you plan to wander around somewhere where people might hit you on the head with a bronze sword) is over 2½ thousand years old.

Jamie told me that this example is an officer’s helmet, as evidenced by the holes for fixing the crest on the top. Ordinary soldiers had the crest fixed fore and aft, whereas officers’ crests went side to side.

To touch such a thing is make a bridge – curiously potent – with a completely different age.

The other thing arose from a lunch with my old friend Will Hopper at the Garrick, followed by a visit to the club’s library, which contains a good number of decently old books, duly falling apart. The librarian explained the problem. Old libraries stored books flat. So it was fine for the cover boards to overhang the pages. But then – while a while ago now – libraries started storing books upright, such that the end boards but not the pages are supported by the shelf, leading to the binding inexorably pulling itself apart as the pages drop down to the shelf.

Why did someone not fix this problem long before the invention of the paperback (which does not suffer from this problem)? I am stumped by this.

1st September 2010

Guess Who

Guess what his lady is not very famous for. Answer below.

Digital French

My old O2 XDA II smartphone ceased being my telephone a while ago, when it refused to talk to my car hands free system, and also refused to talk to Windows Vista.  But for a while, it continued to do service as my car’s GPS, hooked up to an external GPS aerial. For some reason I cannot explain, I had it set to talk to me in French.  Normally, of course, the French are very annoying, but somehow being told when to tournez a gauche or tournez a droite is a shade less intrusive than the same thing in English.

Now that too has failed, and so I have bought myself a new Navman GPS.  This too I have set to talk in French.   The tone is very different. The old one was quite upbeat, as though my progress mattered to her in some way.  The new one by contrast is dead bored – she sounds like she could not give a monkey’s whether I turn gauche or droit, or indeed whether I get anywhere at all, and she is far more concerned about painting her nails.  This attitude, of course, is far more authentically French and curiously I do not find it annoying at all.

Dry August

Every once in a while, I stop drink for a month.  Some puritan streak tells me this is a good idea, not least to ensure that it does not become too much of a habit to have a decent sized whisky at the end of the working day, and then a glass or two of wine with dinner.

August has been my month this time. After a month in Europe, catching up with old friends and family lunch after lunch, dinner after dinner, I was feeling a little sluggish. But I will be glad when the month has ended now. A bit of alcohol seems to be good for one.

Megrahi Bad – Maybe

The world seems increasingly to hold the view that, if the majority of people think something is true, then it is true.  The Americans are particularly into this.

It seems somewhat likely that Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi was not in fact responsible for the Lockerbie bombings. It was well be that an uncomfortable feeling that there was a miscarriage of justice influenced the decision by the Scottish Parliament to release him. But in America, it seems, the people have no such doubt.

Zardari Bad – Oh Yes

We are seeing some requests for financial help for the people of Pakistan, who have suffered hugely in recent flooding.  What we are not seeing is any very visible move by Pakistan’s president  Zardari, to make available any of the country’s funds that he has embezzled over the years.

Estimates vary as to how much he has stolen; a typical estimate is around $1.5 billion.   That is quite a lot.

Views in Pakistan are mixed about Zardari.  He has spent around 11 years in jail for murder and corruption (see eg Wikipedia).  The people I have met on my visits to Pakistan over the years take it as true beyond any doubt that Zardari – Mr 10% as he is sometimes called – and his now-dead wife Benazir Bhutto – are guilty of taking bribes on an absolutely massive scale.  It has always seemed rather odd to me that the liberal intelligentsia in the West was prepared to overlook this somewhat marked character flaw in Benazir’s case.  Pakistani politics is distinctly tribal, and the Bhutto dynasty is one of the most powerful in the feudal pecking order.  For this reason, many Pakistanis also have been prepared to forgive Benazir and – by extension – Zardari for robbing them blind.

The Pakistani people plainly need help. And they should get it. But it does stick in the craw that their own President will not use the money has stolen from them to help them in their hour of need. And one wonders how much of the aid money flowing now will end up extending his personal fortune yet further.

Answer

See Guess Who above. It is Janeisha John, who came last, poor thing, in this year’s Miss Universe competition, for the US Virgin Islands.  Is there a moral here?  Maybe it is just, “Go easy on the false eyelashes”?

The lady from the British Virgin Islands, Josefina Nunez did much better. She seems to take a more relaxed view about dieting – good for her. So maybe that is the moral.  Or maybe British virgins are just a bit nicer the American virgins?

15th July 2010

Paris

There are, of course, good things about Paris. People can bicycle around without having to wear helmets. They have great bread. Nobody but nobody waits for the green man before crossing the road. They let dogs into the cafes.

But overall, it is too noisy, too crowded and it stinks of stale tobacco. It is yesterday’s city; there is a sense that its charm – such as it is – is essentially based on a Quixotic determination not accept what the modern world brings with it.

The Modern Way of Doing Things

I had heard reports that the Centre Pompidou in Paris was looking a bit tired. But I was nevertheless taken back somewhat by how extraordinarily tatty it now is. The main problems are rust and dirt. The exposed steelwork is corroding all over the place, and whole place looks like a cross between an East European oil platform and a London tube station. It is hard to blame the maintenance people – the place is impossible to clean. And so a structure built 30 years ago looks ready for demolition now. The buildings around it built 300 years ago look fine.

Acoustics seems to be another area that many modern designers ignore. The family went to a Pizza Express in London for lunch – it was so noisy that it was it was really hard to hear what was being said at the table. We might as well have been eating in a steel mill. It is time to start a reaction. Never mind about “My Body is a Temple”; I want “My Ears are a Temple”. Of course, I would rather eat McDonalds in a comfortable, quiet environment than a gourmet meal in a shouty echo box. But it is more than that. I blame all the noise for street violence, television programs like Big Brother, world greed, and architects who design buildings that look so awful.

The South of France

I have always liked the south of France. We stayed in a villa near Uzes that has been recently renovated by some old friends. Heaven, reading Stieg Larsson by the pool. The wine in France – I mean the run of the mill stuff that costs 5 bucks a bottle that is on every supermarket shelf – has got much better; it is now pretty much all perfectly drinkable. My mate Crick, who we met up with in Aix, says its because the French now employ Australian winemakers to sort out their hundreds of small and previously incompetent wineries. He is probably right. The Australians treat the making of wine as a science, and they use proper chemistry instead of alchemy. I am all for it.

The M25

Staggering. It is nigh on 8 years since I last saw the M25, and they are still digging it up, like an army of Wagnerian zombies doomed forever to circumnavigate London with their baggage train of JCBs and traffic cones.

 

30th June 2010

New York Squawk

Went to Wigmore Hall last night to hear Andreas Schiff play Beethoven chamber music.  Fabulous playing, but why did they give him a New York klaxon to play, in the form of a Steinway concert grand?  I can see the merits of such a thing if a pianist needs maximum volume, competing with an orchestra in the Carnegie Hall. But in a smaller venue, it is hard to see the advantage of such a discordant instrument: if these things were not so ubiquitous they would be risible. It would have been a much greater to hear Shiffy playing a period instrument, or at least a Bosendorfer, which makes a wonderful sound.

Miklós Perényi played the cello. Fantastic.

A Shameful Plug

The Safety Precautions and Maintenance page – page 5 of the manual – for a Panasonic TH-42PZ81B television says

“Wipe the mains plug with a dry cloth at regular intervals”
I find myself wondering what sort of person is going to

  1. Buy one of these televisions, and then
  2. Read these instructions, and then
  3. Get down on their hands and knees at “regular intervals” to wipe the mains plug with a dry cloth.

What is a regular interval, I wonder?  Once a week?  Twice a week? But more importantly, most of us have our televisions associated with some pile of electronic stuff that means wiping the mains plug is not that easy: about the same as pulling a fridge out and wiping the mains plug for that. And what about the mains plug for the electric blanket, that is under the bed; does that one need to wiped with a dry cloth at regular intervals?

It is not just the hassle of getting to the mains plug.  The maintenance instructions are clear that we must remove the mains plug from the socket before carrying out these maintenance operations, so we are not talking about just a quick bit of buffing up of the back of the mains plugs. Oh, deary me, no. We have to get it out, and polish away between the prongs. A good way the remember to do this would be to wipe the mains plug immediately after flossing our teeth.  Having pulled the plug out, all of the programming will presumably be lost, so having wiped the mains plug with a mains cloth, and put everything back, we will then have to reset the television: the instructions for doing this are on pages 32 to 44 of the same manual. It is quite complicated, so will take up a good bit of the “regular interval” of itself.

This will probably cause you so much irritation and gnashing of teeth that you will soon have no teeth left to floss.  And then you will have to come up with another way of remembering to wipe your mains plug at regular intervals..

24th June 2010

Ruddy Cheek

Ha! Told you so! As soon as Kevin Rudd was elected as Prime Minister of Australia, I said that that Julia Gillard would be knifing him in the back any time soon.  The situation was, I said, reminiscent of the moment when Labour Party moderate Andrew McIntosh won the Greater London Council elections in 1981, only to be deposed in short order by Ken Livingstone, who had much better trade union support within the party.  It was widely thought at that time that Ken Livingstone would have had no prospect of persuading the London electorate of his charms, although curiously he later mellowed in the public mind, and later did twice win elections for Mayor of London.

The parallel is not exact, of course.  Whilst Julia Gillard apparently has the Trade Union support that Kevin Rudd so lacked (the Australian Labour party is absolutely riddled with trade unionists), she has never had the “rabid socialist” look about her.  She combs her hair nicely, and uses language in terms that suggest a responsible approach to policy issues. Might all be an act, of course, but she looks good. She doesn’t sound good, on the other hand, having affected a terrible urban-feral accent, in order presumably to appeal to the trade union constituency.  People I know who knew young Julia when she was in Adelaide say that she spoke perfectly normally then, and the accent she now affects only surfaced later in life.

It is hard to tell how she will get on. My guess is that she will be something of a trade union puppet.  The trade union caucus put her in, and they could just as easily put her out again. In the meantime, she will be immediately abandoning a couple of deeply unpopular policies on climate change and the supertax on mining companies, and trying to reformulate them into something more palatable, so that is good.

Bose Noiseless Headphones

I brought my noise-cancelling headphones on this trip.  The noise presently being cancelled is the noise that should be coming out of them – the rechargeable battery efforts are refusing to recharge. Which is a nuisance, because they are very good when they are working.

PS to this entry:  I went into the Bose shop in Regent Street.  They identified the faulty component in a jiffy, and replaced it gratis and with charm. So my headphones are happily back to their serene selves.

The trip to London – June 2010

Flying

I am in an aeroplane. A Boeing 777, apparently. The seat is a “pod” which is the most unpleasant little tub I can imagine right now (maybe I will imagine something worse later. But right now this is Numero Uno Nasty).

I am flying “business”. This used to be a synonym for “comfortable”. No more. I am sitting in a nasty little plastic cubicle, reminiscent of a primary school, in a seat apparently stolen from a suburban bus. I would be on a Qantas flight, which would probably be much better, but I tempted fate by changing flights. Got bumped onto a BA “joint partnership” flight.

What is wrong with it? Well, I will tell you:

·         The seat is far too narrow, far too hard, and generally mean. In better days, I would get onto aeroplanes, and be shown to a seat with lots of padding, wide armrests, and room to stretch out. All gone now. My back starting aching after 5 mins. Still 27 hours to go. Happily, I have a big pot of Ibuprofen. I have started eating them.

·         They shout. The PA system is turned up to max, as they shout away about how sub-captain Buggins is going to take the wheel until Singapore. Bully for him, but I do not need this broadcast into my ears at megaphone levels. This shouting reminds me uncomfortably vividly of what I left behind in England 8 years ago. I particularly hated the tube, where the shouting was particularly loud. Mind the gap. Buy such and such crap. Vote New Labour. It was incessant.

·         There is a totally spastic laminated card called “Make Yourself Comfortable”. It announces that a pathetic little drawer that will contain either your shoes or your computer. What the fuck? Are these bozos seriously suggesting that if you have a computer, you do not also have shoes? Strewth – I can well see that there is certain small and admirable section of our community that does useful things web-wise stoned out of its mind and without a shoe in sight. But there are plenty of us who use both computers and shoes. It is not that hard. Computer AND shoes. Yes. We used perfectly happily to have a cupboard effort beside the aeroplane seat; this useful artifact took both our computer AND our shoes. Neat. But now we have to keep our shoes on. Why? Who the fuck knows? Maybe taking your shoes off is a twincy bit Islamic? And thus dangerous?

·         It turns out that this is a skeleton crew, because the real people are on strike. Actually, the bod in charge of our gulag is rather a droll lady. I asked her what she normally does, when the strikers are not striking, and she said “I fire people”. I found this rather encouraging. She added as an afterthought that she hires people too, in a way that conjured up how gamekeepers rear pheasants in order that incompetent amateurs may then kill them at near point blank range with “sporting” weapons. (I am not really in favour of blood sports inasmuch as they involve rearing animals for the specific purpose of then killing them. You might have guessed this from various other remarks I have indulged myself with).

·         The seat has all sort of encouraging looking little lights, but it turns out that the only one that does anything if you press it is the one that shifts you from bolt upright to flat on your back, with gradations between. But the flat out option was designed for a 5′ 9’” Euro-gnome; it is hard plastic at both head and toe. I am a shade over 6′, so I do not fit. Forget any notion of accommodating the difference by getting a bit sideways. There is no sideways to be had: one is wedged in a tight as a screw in a Rawlplug. The only answer is to eat more painkillers.

It is not so much then physical discomfort that I dislike. It is the lack of humanity.

Here I am stuck in a small plastic box, with no connection with the real world at all. The previous business class was almost like a civilised room. Several people sat there, by and large bothering no-one else. The seats are arranged such that I am facing someone else nose to nose, as if in a love seat. Now, as it happens, the lady I am facing at uncomfortably close range looks perfectly charming, and in a parallel world I suppose that I might well be shoveling snow for her while she nurtures my children. But that is not the point: we are not in any such parallel world, and we ought not to be forced into such intimacy. There is a little screen which separates us: the cabin crew keeps lowering it while my neighbour quite reasonably repeatedly raises it (I would too, if I had knew where the button is).

Disease

The man in the tub in front of me is coughing every few seconds. Heaven only knows how many squillion germs are already running around the whole air conditioning system in the plane.

Meal

Beef Somethingortheother.  Can’t tell exactly what this is. But, as it happens, perfectly nice what ever it is. Would have been even nicer with a drop of wine.

Night

My best defence against jet lag is to set my watch to arrival time asap. It is now 10.30 in the morning. But the sky is dark, and so is the cabin. I hate long haul flying. My back hurts.

Hours and hours later

The movie system in the plane is good. I liked both The Blind Side and The Last Station,  notwithstanding that Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side reminded me of my first wife, and that Helen Mirren in The Last Station reminded me of my first serious girl friend; this might be a tough trip in terms of Proustian Madelaine-cake-style flashbacks.  After 30 hours or so of traveling, I have slept for about 5 hours, which could be worse; I really should not be having waking dreams. The guy in front has woken up and resumed hacking. Painkillers and bacon rolls are my breakfast. The substitute crew keep offering more bacon rolls to everyone (including me; I have another, which is a mistake) and the rabbi sitting in the next row of plastic tubs (which offer is also a mistake, obviously one might think).

London

So now I am back in London, for the first time in 8 years. The young people in the street look very grey, overweight and badly dressed. The whole place smells less than wholesome. Walking around involves far too much closeness to and contact with far too many of the people. It is really good to see old friends, but I find myself wondering how they can bear to live in such a ghastly place. What one is used to, I suppose; I used to live here, after all.

My daughter has bought me dinner in an exotic restaurant in the West End called Archipelago: crocodile, gnu, zebra etc. It turned out to be all rather good, if a bit whacky.

I tried buying a pair of jeans in a shop for my son (his old pair has holes in places where jeans should not have holes, even by today’s weird standards). The shop was like a cross between a prison workspace and a refuge for Jamaicans in Smolensk. I found the right waist size, but not the right length.

“All der same lenf” announced the attendant youf. What about people with long legs? I asked? (this was not a mere matter of curiousity; Charles is 6′ 4” or so)

“Wah, dey do all come art long”. What about people with short legs? I asked (this was mere curiousity now).

“Wah, yer can wear ’em a bit higher, innit. Gotta twy em, reely”. I realised that there was not going to be very much point in mentioning that no amount of trying on would reconcile the differing sartorial needs of a 6’4” beanstalk and a 5’4” whippet.

Jermyn Street, on the other hand, was much more satisfactory. I picked up some shirts, and a off-the-peg suit that fits surprisingly well, and a summer dressing gown. It is odd: Australia is hot, so one needs a summer dressing gown, and it is rich, and it has stonks of cotton. But will they sell you a decent cotton dressing gown down under? Will they heck! I also got some English shoes. You can get good R M Williams boots in Adelaide, or some Italian correspondent shoes if winkle-pickers are what you like (I don’t), but there are no decent penny loafers or Oxfords: most Ozzie men wear shoes that look like Cornish pasties, with soles that look like they are made out of hastily reclaimed car tyres.

My brother took me to lunch at Brooks’. Very civilised. Lord Monckton was there, sitting just behind me,and I was tempted to lean over and tell him what a fantastic job he had done in Australia recently in tipping public opinion against the now-abandoned carbon tax. But that is not the sort of thing one does in a decent London club. The death mask of Napoleon was there too – upstairs in the library – and I was tempted to whisper to him that he was a psychopathic little mobster with a surprisingly big nose. And I reasoned that this would be OK in a decent London club, so I did. And felt all the better for it.

Bowlhead Green

Staying in the country, being introduced to the music of Henryk Gorecki and Arvo Part. Bliss. I am particularly liking the Arvo Part, and cannot work out quite why I have not cottoned onto him before.  Best thing since the recent recordings of the new Keith Jarrett concerts in London and Paris, which are just a tiny bit cheesy in a John Dowland sort of a way, but which nevertheless make me cry with happiness.

30th May 2010

I (mentioned 5th March) that my view that sunscreen tends to cause rather than prevent cancer has been becoming mainstream.  My daughter Annabel has pointed me to more reports of research saying just that.  Here in Oz, research a few years ago showed that there is a fair bit of vitamin D deficiency, and hence cancer, but they still slop the sunscreen around like billio. Especially, when they go outside to play sport.

Speaking of which, I was briefly introduced to Dennis Lilley on Friday, and later had a look at his aluminium cricket bat. It was not, in truth, an entirely pretty thing. But the great bowler himself turned out to be very engaging: he was entertaining the people at a large lunch.

8th May 2010

Our Origins

A couple of really interesting things have come out of DNA analysis recently.

First, an analysis of the bone found in the Denisova Cave in Southern Siberia shows it to be previously unknown hominid. What is interesting is that is only about 40,000 years old. So we have the hobbit, and probably homo erectus in Java, and now this one, and the picture emerges that quite recently (and after the time that the Aboriginals become separated from the rest of the human population in Australia) there were a number – probably several – different sorts of hominids wandering around the face of the earth.

The other interesting thing is that the recent mapping of the Neanderthal genome shows that Europeans and Asians – but not Africans – have Neanderthals genes in us. The paper by Richard Green of Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology et al estimates between 1% and 4% of our genes are Neanderthal. An earlier study by Jeffrey D. Wall et al had found much the same result for Asians, but a significantly higher figure – 14% – for Europeans.  Nobody – not even the the most fervent of the Only Out of Africa brigade – appears to be doubting this new evidence.  There was interbreeding with Neanderthals. And if that, why not with other humanoids also?.

You do not have to be a racist nutter to observe that there are some material differences between the peoples of the world, and the evidence is thus now beyond doubt that these differences are not merely “skin deep” but are genetic. Hopefully, we can now move to a more grown up approach to issues of race relations, abandoning the potty notion that “we are all the same” with a more humane understanding, that everyone is entitled to be treated with equal respect regardless of our differences. It should also open the door to more effective medicine, education, social services and all sorts of other things as we can drop the “one size fits all” approach.

The UK Election – What is a vote worth?

We all know that the first past the post system favours the major parties, and there are pros and cons about that. This time, the system slightly favoured the Labour party, but no by much. They got a seat per 33 thousand votes, whereas the Conservatives got a seats per 35 thousand votes.

More interesting is the spread among the minor parties. The current is hugely biased in favour of the Celts, in the sense that the English minor parties needed far more votes to get seats than the Scottish, Welsh or Irish parties. With just one result to come, here are the numbers:

Party Seats Votes Votes needed per seat
UK Independence Party 0 917,832  Infinite
British National Party 0 563,743  Infinite
Green 1 285,616 285,616
Liberal Democrat 57 6,827,938 119,788
Scottish National Party 6 491,386 81,898
Plaid Cymru 3 165,394 55,131
Alliance Party 1 42,762 42,762
Social Democratic & Labour Party 3 110,970 36,990
Sinn Fein 5 171,942 34,388
Democratic Unionist Party 8 168,216 21,027

Thus we see that UKIP got many many times more votes than the Irish DUP, but got no seats to the DUP’s 8.  The English minor parties are all served badly: the Celts are all served well.

Largely, of course, this is to do with concentration of votes. The votes for the DUP and Sinn Fein are concentrated in the relatively few Irish constituencies. But is that really a good reason why these minor Irish parties should get such a significant representation, when other much more popular parties get little or none?

It is also in part to do with the size of constituencies. Scottish, Irish and Welsh constituencies are much smaller than English constituencies, so the Celts get far more MPs per voter. Average Welsh constituencies are around 55 thousand voters, Northern Ireland around 60 thousand , Scotland 65 thousand, and England around 70 thousand. Put another way, that is around 27% more Welsh MPs than there should be on an equal basis. The Electoral Commissions have proved ineffective to correct these imbalances: they appear to be built into the present rules, at least in part.

The anomaly is furthered by the West Lothian Question: how can it be right that a Scottish MP sitting at Westminster has power to vote on matters affecting England, but not those same matters affecting Scotland (where such matters are within the purview of the Scottish Parliament).

My guess? We are in for an uneasy political time, without any party having won an overall majority. If the Tories do a deal with the Lib-Dems, it might well be that they will tempting for them to sugar the pill for their English supporters of some uncomfortable compromises by having a crack at redressing some of this imbalance.

The old answer for Northern Ireland, in the days when it had its own parliament, was to allow it a reduced number of Westminster MPs. Hard to fault that logic.

30th April 2010

Time off

This has not been much of month, in terms of getting work done.

The family spend 10 days or so on holiday in New Zealand. Despite taking “Freddie” (our tiny notebook computer) I did not look at my emails once. Jeanie worked pretty much all the time of course.   I could not possibly match her ability to just keep working and working, even when she is supposed to be having a rest, and I would no longer want to.

We went to the Chiefs-Bulls game in Hamilton. Super-14s Rugby is a huge thing in New Zealand.  It is roughly to the Southern hemisphere what European football is in the North.  The stadium in Hamilton was really impressive for a regional venue, and the quality of the rugby was excellent. The South African Bulls won the match as they deserved to for their more accurate and cerebral game: the Chiefs were much less disciplined, and their supporters got no marks for whistling and jeering during the Bulls’ place kicks – a nasty habit which has unhappily spread around the world, it seems.

No sooner had we got back to Adelaide than I was in hospital for a planned operation.  The stitches from a childhood operation had eventually failed, and I had a series of hernias up my belly which needed repair.  The operation went unnoticed, of course, but the aftermath has brought some considerable pain, and I am still at home, hobbling around like those old boys on the croquet lawns whose bodies unwillingly traipse around 15 yards behind them.  I have been taking some fairly woofy painkillers, which make me somewhat spaced out at times, but I have been trying to take advantage of the opportunity to read as much as possible.  I am liking my Kindle, and its reassuring Cole Haan cover.

Andrew Rawnsley’s The End of the Party was a compelling read.  It paints a convincing picture of just how much of failure New Labour was in the UK in everything other than its ability to pull the wool over peoples’ eyes.  Time after time, Tony Blair turned in brilliant performances when he talked the talk, but was absolutely hopeless when he tried to walk the walk: weak, misguided, mendacious, untrustworthy and vain. I was staggered to read that his government introduced 3,600 new criminal offences during its years in office – can that really be right? Brown fares even worse in the analysis.  Curiously, it is the final and most derided of them all – Peter Mandleson – who comes out as the least unattractive as a person.  It is an appalling thought that the polls might be right – and that despite the likelihood of getting less votes that the Tories or the Lib-Dems, they might yet hang on to power via a hung parliament.  The rise in popularity of Lib-Dem’s Nick Clegg is a curious thing: his policies are barking mad (he wants to turn Britain into a 2nd rate European province with no independent economy, no Trident submarine replacements or modern fighter planes, no nuclear power stations, with all the focus on new “faith-based” schools that will not be allowed to discriminate on the basis of faith, and all employers being required to recruit staff “blind” to ensure that there is no discrimination on the basis of gender orientation) but such is the absurd state of a nation that has been spun into a confused apathy that no-one seems to care.  If the Lib-Dems get hold of any sort of power sharing, it will be a disaster, I fear.

I liked Ian McEwan’s Solar. I put a review of it up on Amazon, as follows:

0 of 3 people found the following review helpful:

McEwan on Devisive Ground, April 12, 2010

By Robert Fenwick Elliott “Robert Fenwick Elliott” (Adelaide, South Australia) – See all my reviews

Reviews of Solar vary greatly. It is not as fine a work as Saturday, or as achingly touching as Chesil Beach, but it is nevertheless an excellent book.

So why such an adverse reaction from some? It may be because McEwan displays here a scepticism about the climate change industry that must seem heretical to a good number of his readership. The protagonist Michael Beard is an unattractive character: the portrayal lampoons a particular sort of exploitative climate change operator.

Being something of a climate change sceptic myself, this did not bother me at all – I barely put my Kindle down until I had finished it. Dark, funny, perceptive and refreshing.

 

None of three people who reacted to this review found it “helpful”? Well, hey ho. What I say to those three people – whoever they are – is “sorry”. If you (I do not mean you if you are one of the three people who have already said “not helpful”) are reading this – and you think that the review is “helpful” you could go to the Amazon website and vote for the helpfulness of the review.  I would vote for its helpfulness myself, but I guess that is a bit cheesy – like writing your own Wiki entry.  But really, people, the review is pretty helpful. It tells you want you want to know: that this is a great book, that you will probably like unless you are a fully-fledged up-your-own arse Al Gooey Gore acolyte, in which case it will probably piss you off. So that’s it.  Helpful?  Yes, I’d call that helpful. Might save you a fair bit of time. Which is always helpful.  So go vote for “helpful”.  And as for the three of you who found my review unhelpful, having said “sorry”, permit me to fart in your general direction.

Rose Tremain’s Trespass? Good. A bit slight compared to her bigger stuff like Restoration, but a good read along the Swimming Pool Season line.

Her husband Richard Holmes’ In the Footsteps of Churchill? Not so compelling as his stuff on Wellington, to be honest. Wellington’s flaws made him all the more noble, in a way, but Churchill’s failings smack somewhat of the tacky, and reading about them is a bit hard-going.

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein is amiable, feel-good syllabub. It is a story written by a dog about his master. Well, not really written by a dog, but as if it were written by a dog.  It helps if you like dogs, which I do.

Ian Rankin’s The Complaints is wonderful. This remark presupposes that you think the Rebus series was wonderful. But you would. Woooouldn’t you?

Sternutaphobia

Fear of coughing. It hurts these days.  I guess laughing might hurt too, but it is a while since I have heard anything all that funny.

Fatter, and further to the right

There has been a bit of a fuss in the UK recently about the number of top scientists who are women. Not many.  The feminists have been saying it is the result of sexism.  But Professor Richard Lynn, who knows quite a bit about all of this, has written to papers to say that it is least partly because women tend to have slightly lower IQs than men, and that furthermore that the male spread of IQs is greater: that is to say that compared with women, there are more men with either very high or very low IQ.  Indeed there are many times more men with very high IQ than women, and presumably also a disproportionately high number of very very stupid men.

This is not to say, of course, that all men are cleverer than all women. Oh no. It just means that the bell curve of male IQ is a bit fatter and a bit to the right of that of women.

Now, what is interesting about this is that the reaction, or relative lack of it. A few years ago, Professor Lynn would have been hounded out of academic circles, being branded as facist, or a sexist pig, or some such nonsense.  Now, what he reports seems to be the orthodoxy.   In a sense, of course, the shift in understanding is now irresistible.  MRI and similar techniques show without any real room for doubt that males tend to have more grey matter in their brains, whereas women have more white matter. So the old clichés about the differences between the way men and women think appear to be firmly based after all.  And the nonsense about men doing better at IQ tests because the IQ tests are devised by men is also fading away; what are Harriet Harperson and her merry band of feminists supposed to say – that the MRI machines only show the grey-white imbalance because they were engineered by men?

In Darwinian terms, there might be perfectly sound reasons for these differences.  It would pay for a population to have a few genius males to invent new methods of hunting and so forth, even if the price is that those individuals cannot remember if today is the day for putting out the empty bones for collection, and even if the price for having some very bright males is that there are few more really really dumb males. After all, only a few males are needed for reproductive purposes.  On the other hand, pretty much all the women are going to bear children, and need the essential competencies for them to care for them.

Just a few years ago, Harvard president Lawrence Summers was hounded out of the university for making a similar point to Professor Lynn. Similarly Professor Helmuth Nyborg of Aarhus University in Denmark was suspended (albeit eventually reinstated) for daring to report the male-female IQ differential. Chris Brand was similarly drummed out of Edinburgh University, and never got reinstated.

Both Lynn and Brand have also broken another taboo by publishing the average IQs of various nations. The UK and New Zealand both score 100. The US, France and Australia each score 98. Ireland gets 93. African countries like Zimbabwe and the Congo and Ethiopia are down in the 60’s. Again, it used to be said by the PC brigade that there was no such thing as race, and that these apparent differences are merely the reason of culturally-based bias in the testing. But again, modern genome analysis quite plainly shows certain genes such as duffy, ABCC11, SLC24A5, called ancestry-informative markers, have quite difference distributions among different racial groups, and these genes affect a wide variety of physiological manifestations such as appearance, strength, susceptibility to various ailments and so on. It beggars belief to deny that they do not also affect IQ.

So, where does all of this take us? It vindicates a number of very satisfactory approaches to life:

  • That Englishmen are and have always been superior to Frenchmen. Not necessarily the same with the women – hard not to have a regard for French women.  Probably to do with their mitochondrial DNA;
  • That for an Englishman to adore a Kiwi wife is perfectly logical (and the more female she is, the better);
  • That Jenson Button being the motor racing Formula 1 champion of the world is just as it should be.

Cricket

Cricket has been devoted whilst I have been recovering from my operation. He follows me from room to room. Even when I go to the loo he sits outside the door, waiting for me emerge. Very sweet.

But I notice that he also regards my condition as a green light for a bit of a power grab. He reckons that if I am immobilised, that puts him as #1 in the household pecking order.  He has become disobedient and stroppy, and has even taken to barking at our kookaburras, even though he knows I think he should leave them alone.  Ha! It will take more than a hernia operation to have me settle into some sub-canine role, and the kookaburras  are not impressed either.

21st March 2010

Dull Thud

There was an election here in South Australia yesterday.  It was a dreary affair.

The incumbent was Mike Rann, a tired-looking Labour Party spin merchant, who was pretty popular back when spin merchants were all the rage, but who is now more widely perceived as an untrustworthy barmaid-fiddler. He would probably have won easily had he not – rather to everyone’s surprise  – made a public statement denying any affair with the barmaid in question.

The challenger was Isobel Redmond, a mumsy suburban solicitor who nobody had heard of until she was chosen to lead the state Liberals a few months ago. Her principal feature seems to be an indifference to usual political bluster, which has made her surprisingly popular.

Redmond appears to have won the popular vote quite easily, but nevertheless, pending the counting of postal votes and preference votes, it looks like Rann will be back with 25 seats to the Liberals’ 18. How come that winning many more votes leads to winning several fewer seats? It seems that this is simply the way the votes get counted around here.  There will be no talk of the election being “stolen” as there was when Bush narrowly beat Gore for the US presidency, since the media here are traditionally on the political left.

The Labour party hardly enhanced its reputation on election day by having its activists impersonate officials of the Family First party and hand out fake pamphlets in order to mislead voters about where that party was asking its supporters to cast their preference votes. The perpetrators of this trick described it as “just democracy in action”, and it can hardly be any great cause for celebration that they have got their hands on the controls for another 4 years.

Dull Whine

Talking of dreary, last weekend’s Grand Prix was hardly uplifting. Set at an apparently empty circuit in Bahrain, they all drove around in procession, with virtually no no one able to overtake anyone else.  The fuel stops, which used to provide an opportunity to overtake someone in the pits, have this year been banned.  The Ferraris won. Schumacher was slower than his teammate, Rosberg, so that much-heralded return was less than exhilarating. Jenson Button, having been faster than Lewis Hamilton in practice, had a poorish qualifying lap, and so spent the race trapped behind slower cars, unable to overtake.

Do I have any remedies for this situation? I do, yes. Oh yes:

Roundabouts

Real roads have roundabouts. Putting a roundabout on a race track would provide a good opportunity for overtaking. If the car you are following goes to the left, you go to the right. And vice versa. At first, all the Brits and Aussies will probably keep to the left, and all the continentals will go round the right. But they will soon get the hang of it.

There would have to be a central reservation for some distance before the roundabout, so that the cars do not clash in the braking zone. The mere fact that the following car will not be braking in dirty air if it takes the other side will of itself make a big difference.

Bus Stops

Some race tracks now have chicanes in the form of “bus stops”. Again, the bus stop could be divided into two, so that cars would have the option to take either the first or the second route.

Crown exits

Real roads often have a crown i.e. the middle of the road is higher than either side. Creating a crown at the exit of a corner would mean that there would be two alternative ways of taking the corner, either by keeping to the inside on the exit (thereby obtaining a banking effect) or going to outside, which means a less tight corner (good) but with adverse camber (bad). The balance needs to right, of course, so that the two routes are equally quick: the corners could be fine tuned by using movable barriers on the outside of the corner.

Water Verges

Slow speed chicanes are often a bit of a joke these days, since drivers run over the kerbs, thereby cutting the corner. The system whereby stewards penalise recidivist offenders is somewhat ineffective and random.

A better idea might be to get rid of the kerbs, and replace them with water ditches, with the water, say, 3 inches deep.  That way, a driver who cuts a corner will get his tyres wet, and will be likely to lose his position to a following driver. And anyway, the splashing should be fun. Keep the ducks on their toes.

Wings

All the cars have (since 1969) had wings, fore and aft, which keep them pressed to the ground and hence give more grip. They also have the effect of hugely disturbing the ambient air, so that a following car’s own wing effect is compromised. In other words, a leading car will always have an advantage over a following car. Before wings (i.e. in the 1950s and 60s), it was the opposite, since a following car could slipstream a preceding car, and this led to much closer racing and more overtaking.

So, ban wings, I say. They are vulgar things to have on a car anyway. Look to the side at traffic lights, and if the car beside you if fitted with a silly wing on its boot, pound to a penny the driver will be a prat.

These are all brilliant ideas.  I bet Jeremy Clarkson wishes he had had them.

5th March 2010

Kindle Times

Jeanie has given me a Kindle as an early birthday present. It is Amazon’s book reader – a slender gadget the size and shape of a book, designed for reading books, which can be downloaded from the Internet. In the past, I have tried reading books on my PDA, but that is pretty hopeless since the screen is far too small. The Kindle, on the other hand, is easy to read, even outside in daylight.

One thing the Kindle does, on subscription, is to deliver newspapers, so I subscribed to The Times.  It is quite a groovy idea: you have a single gadget as your reader, which you can read in bed, on the loo, in the train or wherever, and the day’s newspaper is always there. But the execution leaves a fair bit to be desired – The Times comes through with pretty sloppy formatting, so that one article runs into another, editing notes appear in the text and so on. And the absence of the pictures is, well, a bit annoying really. So I will continue to get The Times via my computer instead.

More Ice

The polar ice extent continues to grow. It is currently pretty much at a 5 year high, according to the Danish Meteorological Office:

Meanwhile, it is pouring with rain here in Adelaide, and in Oz. Queensland is flooded. Melbourne has had over an inch of rain in just one hour. Dams are overflowing. Reservoirs are full. Just when dear old Professor Flannery predicted just a few years ago that we would now be experiencing back-to-back droughts, to go with a melted-away Arctic.  Bless.

Told you so

I have, as followers of these pages well know, been banging the climate change drum for quite a while now, pointing out that the Warmist Emperor had no clothes, even when that view was widely regarded as somewhat heretical. Now that the warmist bubble has substantially burst, Jeanie tells me I had better think of some other unpopular cause to espouse.

It is not that easy.  Take the origin of man, for example.  I have long expressed the view that there was bound to have been some interbreeding between modern homo sapiens and Neanderthals in Europe during the period of coexistence (around 50 thousand to 30 thousand years ago).  I have not been entirely alone in this, but the orthodoxy over the last few decades has been that we are all exclusively born “Out of Africa” and that racial differences between the three great peoples (Negroid, Oriental and Caucasian) have nothing whatsoever with any hanky panky with any other humanoids.  We were told that there was no way that modern homo sapiens, or cro-magnons, could possible have bred with the brutish Neanderthals, who were a quite different species from us, and that the DNA evidence was clear.

But the scientific community has now pretty much come around to my way of thinking.  The range of sensible opinion now ranges from,  “Yes, there was interbreeding, but few or no Neanderthal genes found their way into modern man”, to “Yes, there was interbreeding, with some modest gene exchange in each direction”. We will have to wait at least until the completion of the Neanderthal genome until we know more. Some say that the commonality of the variant of the FoxP2 gene suggests gene exchange during this period; others say the gene must have been there right back when modern homo sapiens and Neanderthals parted genealogical company hundreds of thousands of years ago.

It is hard to disagree with Svante Pääbo (Director, Department of Genetics, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig), who has said:

But I have a feeling about how we speculate about the Neanderthals. I often like to say that it’s more about our world view than anything that happened back then. If you are a racist, you could play it either way. One could say that if the Neanderthals contributed to current day Europeans and if the Erectus in Asia did the same to Asians, there must be old variants adapted to living in Europe which had been there for hundreds of thousands of years. This means there is this group that was adapted to living in Europe, say, which was living there and then started to move around the world. You can start telling stories like that.

But you can equally do it some other way, saying that the people who left Africa were the more innovative advanced people who exploited new territories. That they were able to go out and do these things and that this was somehow in the genetic subset of what existed in Africa. You can spin it either way you like. I don’t think that there’s any scientific knowledge or insight that will convince people to change their ingrained ideas about this.
We now know that there were at least three waves of emigration from Africa, with interbreeding each time, from the work of Alan Templeton, and my own guess is that a modest degree of interbreeding may well have something to do with the modest genetic variations in modern people around the world.

Anyway, the potty notion that all people around the world are genetically identical is now as dead as a dodo, so that one gets knocked off my list.

Staying out of the sun? My views on the benefits of getting out in the sun a bit are now mainstream too.

2nd March 2010

I started a trial yesterday, but we settled at lunchtime on the first day.  So today, I get an easier day – no meetings until the afternoon. Indolence – or at least a bit of breathing space – is hugely underrated, and I am hopeless at it.  I sit down with every intention of doing nothing, and the next moment, I am up again doing something that I think needs doing. Probably doesn’t at all – in the overall scheme of things, who cares if I write another book or develop another house or win another case or improve another croquet mallet or, even more absurdly, complete the Times Crossword puzzle?

8th February 2010

Earthcake

My daughter Lucy decided to help the victims of the Haiti earthquake, and came up with the idea of an earthcake stall outside our house on Saturday morning.  Despite the fact we live in a pretty quite spot she raised over $200, which was pretty good, owing to some astute marketing, including a mail drop the day before.  Passing dogs got free water and free jerky treats: their owners had to pay for their cupcakes, biscuits etc.

5th January 2010

Prosecutions are likely, it seems, for some UK MPs who have fiddled their expenses. Most of them Labour, it seems, which all goes to prop up the traditional pattern that Labour MP get caught with their hands in the till, whilst Tory MPs get caught with their hands in the wrong person’s knickers.  These people are all trying to make up for what they would not have in everyday life?

Talking of which, Mike “Teflon” Rann, this state’s Labour premier, is in a bit of strife. Having denied having an affair with a married waitress, his position in the opinion polls has plummeted, and he is now trailing the opposition in the polls with just a month to go to the state’s elections. The main issue seems to be public trust in him.  He would have done better to have said, “Mind your own business”, which would have been a perfectly acceptable response to the allegations.

Skive day today, after several days of very hard work in the office.  Cleaned the pool.  Got my hair cut.  Picked up a couple of things from the shops that I had ordered.  I have left all the dirty crocks unwashed. The fierce ladies are coming, and I reckon that if they have to load up the dishwasher, that is a bit less time available to them to hide my things.

Road deaths here this year are already well over double the recent norm, which suggests that the current frenzy of revenue-raising on the roads is hardly in the public interest.

Disappointingly, McLaren are not going to race in British Racing Green this year. Bad mistake. I reluctantly predict success for one of the teams which is proud enough to race in its national colours: either Germany or Italy.

Loud calls for Pachauri to go as IPCC chairman. Even Greenpeace, who are as nutty as fruitcakes, agree that he has to go. The tide has well and truly turned now. Even Kerry “Bigears” O’Brien ran a piece on Lord Monkton’s tour of Australia this week on the ABC’s 7.30 report: if even the ABC is running stories about how the global warming thing is a big beat-up, it is Goodnight Vienna for Pachauri, Mann, Wong et al.

30th January 2010

Marine Nosh

We had a great time the other day at the Flying Fish, which a great restaurant on the beach at Port Elliot. Marrin (small lobster) and big prawns with a couple of glasses of wine, then delicious cheese with muscat.

Then a bit of time on the beach.  I am not a huge fan of sandy beaches as things for sitting on, but all the right stuff was there: boys doing backward somersaults off the jetty, teenage girls trying not to look impressed, women with a bit too much weight to wear bikinis looking pretty good in their bikinis and the odd middle aged bloke reading Sebastian Faulks and sleeping in the sun. The girls buried Jamie in a sand mermaid, with seaweed hair and everything.

Going for Broke

It would be hard to ruin Australia. It is vast, and vastly blessed with valuable minerals, good agricultural land, great climate and natural beauty. Its population is generally well-educated, hard-working, well-disposed and charming.

The man who seems to have had the most determined crack at ruining it all was Gough Whitlam, who was Prime Minister from 1972 to 1975 when, having beggared the nation’s economy and having been caught trying to borrow $4 billion from middle eastern financiers, he was removed from office by the Governor-General.  His attempts to regain office with the held of $500,000 of election funding from Iraq were unsuccessful.  He seems to have been an Aussie version of Jim Callaghan, Michael Foot and Bob Maxwell all rolled into one.

I mention this because The Australian newspaper voted him Australian of the Year following his election. A historical curiosity with the benefit of hindsight, but it came to mind when the same newspaper similarly named Kevin Rudd the other day.  The Rev Kev has also been working hard at ruining the economy, by massive and pointless expenditure and a planned massive tax as part of his global warming goose chase, but it will probably be another little while before his reputation hits the same rock-bottom as Gough Whitlam’s.

Meanwhile, Tony Blair has been examined over the origins of the Iraq war.  I was always against it. It seemed to me a war that would be easy to start and hard to finish.  At the time, it was generally thought that Iraq may well have had weapons of mass destruction, but that seemed to me (and still does) to be a lousy reason for a war even if it were true (which it wasn’t). It would, for example, have justified the US going to war against the USSR, and vice versa.  In any event, Saddam was one of the few secular leaders in the Middle East, and invasion was always certain to turn an anti-fundamentalist country into a hotbed of Islamic radicalism.

I do not say the war is always wrong, but I reckon that there is a 1/3 rule: only about a third of wars that are in fact fought out to have been fought. And the answer to fundamentalist Islamists is, “Leave them alone”.

Meanwhile, fundamentalist Christians here are busy trying to get a 19th century nun called Mary MacKillop kitted out by the Pope as a saint. To get to be saint, it seems you need a couple of miracles. The Catholic Journal Kairos tells the story:
Sydney Josephite sister Judy Sippel told Kairos the second miracle attributed to Blessed Mary’s intercession was the 1995 cure of a woman suffering from an invasive, inoperable cancer.

“The doctors told her to bring forward the wedding of her daughter if she wanted to be present at it,” Sr Judy said. “Instead of that, she gave up on the doctors and decided to pray to Mary MacKillop. Her family did that, and it’s been 13 years now and she’s alive and healthy.”

Three of the five doctors required have now completed their examination of the case.

“Once all five doctors have examined the case, it will be investigated by a committee of theologians to ensure that all is theologically correct – that people really did pray for Mary MacKillop’s intercession, and that their prayers were orthodox,”
Sr Judy said.

Now, what is odd about this story is its reception.  If there are nutters out there who want to believe that praying to a nun who died 100 years ago is going to cure you of cancer, well, it’s a free world and as long as they don’t do it in the street and frighten the horses, away you go. But curiously, the nation seems to have suspended disbelief, and is busy hoping that Aussie Mary will make it through.  The fact that this is all barking mad superstitious claptrap fades into irrelevance. For the Aussies, it is like cheering for Kleyton when he is two sets down.

24th January 2010

Safety Last

I have been fined $250 for doing 59 kph in a 50 zone. That is just 5 mph over the posted limit! I spend enough time at it is looking at my speedo instead of the road – it must surely be dangerous to take such an absurdly rigid approach to speed, but I am sure that it is revenue that drives it. It is particularly unfortunate that the avarice of the politicians causes the police to be involved in their grubby tax-raising policy.

Meanwhile, my motorbike is away have its highly efficient modern braided brake lines replaced with old-fashioned rubber ones.  This is in order to satisfy the Vehicle Inspection people here. They said, “Yes, we know that your lines comply with the rules, but they do not have the required stamp on them referencing the Australian standard.  So we will not allow you to drive your motor bike until you remove them.”  These are the same people who insisted that I remove the safety mirrors and the padded sun visors from my Bristol before they would pass that.  Apparently, safety mirrors (i.e. the ones which are slightly convex, so as to provide a bigger field of view) are banned, because someone thought that maybe a driver would be fooled into thinking that reflected objects are further away than they really are. As far as I can see from my research, accidents are not caused by a driver being so fooled, bu there have been many, many accidents caused by drivers pulling out without having seem a car behind them. There are papers showing that convex mirrors are safer. So are we allowed to make up our own minds about which sort of mirror to have? Oh no! For a while I drove around with the regulation flat mirrors, but I found it was so dangerous that I had the safety mirrors put back on. Quite why padded sun visors are illegal is a complete mystery to me.  Perhaps they think that I will play with them like a child with a teddy bear until a wire comes out and pokes me in the eye.

I have water lilies now in the new garden pond. I wanted ornamental pond fish (koi carp) by they are illegal here. Perhaps they think they might escape and bite the sharks. Hamsters are banned here too, presumably in case they escape and terrorise the dingoes. So I have bog standard goldfish.  They seem perfectly happy though, and thrash around expectantly at feeding time. And Cricket is probably happier without hamsters.

India’s senior-most glaciologist V K Raina published some research a little while back saying that the Himalayan glaciers were not going to have melted away by 2035, as predicted by the IPCC, and and response the IPCC Chairman Dr. Rajenda Pachauri described Raina’s work as “arrogant” and “voodoo science“.  The IPCC has since reluctantly admitted that Raina was right. Here is a cartoon from the Times of India. But here in Australia, there is still  a widespread feeling in the media that taking the piss out of the climate change industry is a sort of blasphemy.

We watched TV last night: Lleyton Hewitt played Marcus Bagdadis at the Australian Open. The Aussie are so sports mad and competitive that they were all supporting Lleyton (pronounced, properly, Kleyton  if you pay any attention to the double “L”, which his parent probably did not) as the Aussie.  But my sympathies were with Bagdadis, who seems an imaginative and attractive player. Whilst Lleyton behaves like  a graceless bully.

Why is it, by the way, that so many Spanish players, both men and women, grunt so much as they play? It is not nice.

Anne Robinson is reputed to have made a killing from her investment in the movie Avatar. Which is kind of fitting, really.

17th January 2010

Driving Colours

Australian media are still very quiet about climategate. Nothing here like the hour-long treatment by John Coleman in the USA. If the opinion polls are anything to go by, all this thoroughly worthwhile if mildly folksy sort of debunking may all be irrelevant: what is concerning the people of today is not how to save our planet, but how to save Pandora. Or perhaps just how to get hold of a 10 foot tall blue girlfriend. I suppose it is a harmless enough fantasy, particularly if you are living in the the Northern Hemisphere and being snowed on all day long. Although it seems that a number of people are getting depression after seeing it, as the dreary truth dawns on them that this fabulously beautiful make-believe world is not really real. Jeanie bought me a copy of Avatar, the Game, but it is disappointing, with none of the great special effects from the movie. Odd.  You would have thought that having gone to the trouble of creating all the virtual people for the movie, they could readily be moved across to a PC environment, but no.  A much more satisfying visual impact is achieved by the unpromisingly-named Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2, which is great, as far as that sort of thing goes.

Here in Australia, the weather is just perfect: not too hot, not too cold, but just right. I have been reading Iain Bank’s book on whisky, which confirms all one’s suspicions about his character that emerge from reading his science fiction. It seems odd that such a rabid socialist could also be a petrol head, but apparently he has now sold all his fun cars and bought a hybrid.  Iain Banks does, incidentally, appear to be wrong about at least one of his motoring stories: at page 164 he says a Jaguar E-type was responsible for bringing in speed limits following a 150 mph test on the M1. In fact it was an AC Cobra Coupe doing 185 mph early one summer morning, as a warm up for Le Mans. I remember the fuss at the time: there was even a Giles cartoon on the story.

This promises to be an interesting year for motor racing. For the first time in a long while (ever?) this year will be a 3-corned fight on national, or at least cultural, lines. The Brits have two world champions, Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton, driving for McLaren. The Germans have multiple world champion Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg driving for Mercedes. The Latins have the Spanish former world champion Fernando Alonso and Brazilian Felipe Massa driving for Ferrari. And then, just to add a dose of neutrality, there is the Austrian team Red Bull.

I liked it when the cars were in national colours: Red for Italy, silver for Germany, British Racing Green for the Brits, blue for the French and so on. This year, Ferrari (as usual) are in red. Mercedes will probably plump for silver. Will McLaren go for green?

2009 Archive

2008 Archive

 
what to like

 

not

 Robert Fenwick Elliott’s Blogging Diary

Back to Robert Fenwick Elliott’s Personal Home Page

Go to:
Home page
2010 archive
2009 archive
2008 archive

Diary

December 2011

Over and Out

The office website is moving over to a WordPress format. So am I.
The new site is at

https://phenell.wordpress.com/.
Head over.  Check it out.  The big thing is that you can leave comments.  Don’t have to, of course. But you can.  Unless I moderate them  back into oblivion.  In which case you can’t.

27th November 2011

The Climate Community

Here is a man who has become unexpectedly famous overnight: Dr. Douglas Maraun, who is a scientist at the Climatic Reasearch Unit at the University of East Anglia.

Why is he suddenly famous? The story so far (in a nutshell):

  • The CRU is one of the leading government funded bodies in the world that provides data supporting the politicians who want to raise tax in the name of global warming. For quite a while, sceptics have suspected that the CRU is politically motivated, and dominated those with a quasi-religious compulsion to distort the data in support of their cause.
  • A while ago, there was a leak of many emails – dubbed Climategate – to and from the CRU, which suggested that there had been some tampering with the data. In particular these emails included messages from Michael Mann (a warmist in the USA at Penn State University, whose work was relied on heavily by Al Gore) which talk of “hiding the decline” in temperature records, and from Phil Jones, head of the CRU, seeking to block requests under the Freedom of Information Act for the pre-adjusted data.
  • Following that, Michael Mann and Phil Jones have been the subject of much ridicule, but inquiries into potential wrongdoing have not so far come to anything.
  • A few days ago, there was a fresh leak – dubbed ClimateGate 2.0 – of more emails.  Many of these are locked behind a password-protected security feature (an AES 256 bit encrypted password) that people are trying very hard to crack as we speak.

Among the emails not encrypted is one that Dr Maraun wrote to his colleages on 24th October 2007.  He said he wished to discuss, inter alia:

-How should we deal with flaws inside the climate community? I think, that “our” reaction on the errors found in Mike Mann’s work were not especially honest.

This is interesting for two reasons. First, he talks about the “climate community”.  He is plainly not talking about climate scientists generally, but the community that had established itself as supporting the warmist agenda (missionaries, the sceptics would probably say).  In other words, the language used does suggest that the group that has monopolised the ear of so many politicians is not a general body of scientists, but rather (as the sceptics have long asserted) a much smaller “inner circle” of committed activists who peer review each other’s work and exclude any contrary view.

Secondly, it is completely at odds with the warmist line that “the science is settled”. Sceptics have of course been pointing out for ages that Michael Mann’s work – on which much of the warmist agenda was based – is highly suspect, and is based on distortions of the actual data. But the official line has been that there is no reason to doubt the warmist science.

The Climategate 2.0 emails are sure to cause further problems for both Michael Mann and Phil Jones.  As far as Mann is concerned, an email that is of particular interest includes this:

<0810> Mann: I gave up on Judith Curry a while ago. I don’t know what she think’s she’s doing, but its not helping the cause.

Apart from displaying an appalling ignorance about how to use the apostrophe, this is interesting because of Mann’s reference to “the cause”.  As it happens, Judith Curry seems to be a relatively rare jewel these days: a climate scientist who knows a lot about her field, and who approaches it in a proper scientific manner, continually testing hypotheses and engaging in open discussion.  “The cause” is rather more characteristic of a religious sect.

This is not an isolated use of language by Mann. He wrote to Phil Jones on 3rd August 2004:

By the way, when is Tom C going to formally publish his roughly 1500 year reconstruction??? It would help the cause to be able to refer to that reconstruction as confirming Mann and Jones, etc…

Mike Mann is not the only one. We have:

  • From Prof. Dr. Joseph Alcamo, Director, Center for Environmental Systems Research, University of Kassel

Mike, Rob,

Sounds like you guys have been busy doing good things for the cause.

  • From Ian Harris of the CRO to the Norwich branch of the Green Party

No, it’s very dangerous to make predictions like this and IMO doesn’t help the cause. Even without human activities, natural things like big volcanoes can easily disrupt the climate in such a way as to swamp the signs of global warming

As for poor old Phil Jones, the newly released emails show his struggling in his efforts to pervert the course of the Freedom of Information Requests for data:

date: Thu Sep 25 15:24:48 2008
from: Phil Jones <???@uea.ac.uk>
subject: Re: CONFIDENTIAL: Response
to: “Mitchell, John FB (Chief Scientist)” <???@metoffice.gov.uk>

 

John,

I’ve called Jo to say I’m happy with their response.
I’ll also delete this email after I’ve sent it.
We’ve had a request for all our internal UEA emails
that have any bearing on the subject, so apologies for brevity.
See you in November!
Cheers
Phil

Prof. Phil Jones
Climatic Research Unit        Telephone +44 ???
School of Environmental Sciences    Fax +44 ???
University of East Anglia
Norwich                         Email    ???@uea.ac.uk
NR4 7TJ
UK

Stringing Along

I am very fond of my Graham Hawkes guitar, so much so, that I usually play it these days in preference to my lute, which I also like.

Hence, I was having another look the other day at Volume of XLVIII of the Journal of the Lute Society, and was again struck by the opening words of Monica Hall’s A Few More Observations on Baroque Guitar Stringing. She begins

The stringing of the baroque guitar is a subject which seems to arouse strong feelings, as recent publications on the subject have shown.

Now, we are already off the beaten track here. Whether the Jews should be allowed to beat up the Palestinians. Whether we are destroying the earth by burning hydrocarbon. The Unions. Gay marriage. Religion.  There are the sort of things we usually think of as arousing strong feelings. For most people, the stringing of the baroque guitar is down the pecking order of burning issues.  Really quite a long way down.

But evidently not for Monica Hall, whose strong feelings have evidently been aroused. She writes:

In this article ‘Bourdons as Usual’ in The Lute (2007), Lex Eisenhart seems to have misunderstood what Jean-Baptiste de Castillion says about the stringing of the five-course guitar and the context in which he says it. His comments on p. 27 of the article are therefore misleading.

This not a throwaway remark. Oh no. Monica Hall lets page 27 have it with both barrels for a couple of pages. The point is that baroque guitars are strung in pairs, a bit like a modern 12-string guitar. The burning issue is which pairs are strung in unison, and which have one of the strings an octave higher (such strings are called bourdons). What M. Castillion – a Flemish clergyman of the 18th Century – said or did not say about the stringing  of his guitar is a topic that many of us are probably pretty relaxed about, and we would be inclined, on the whole, to let page 27 go by.

But what about the footnote on page 36? Ha! Monica writes:

With reference to note 62 (p. 36) in Eisenhart’s article, I think the author has misunderstood Sanz’s comment about the bass line (which had been omitted from the English translation on p. 13, presumably in error).

Presumably? Presumably?? Do we smell a conspiracy here? Maybe Sanz’s comment about the bass line was omitted from the English translation on purpose, in order to poison people minds about how to string their baroque guitars?  This way lies anarchy.

As a matter of interest, Paul Simon sometimes strings his guitars with the high side of a bourdon pair on the bottom 4 courses; these days this is called Nashville Tuning.

 Hersterical Nonsense

There were all sort sorts of linguistic nonsenses in times gone by, including all that drivel in the early 20th century about the split infinitive.

I do so wish that the feministic claptrap of the late 20th century could likewise be consigned to the archaic trashcan.  Every time I see contorted “gender neutral” strangling of the English language, I get that bilious feeling that comes with listening to Germaine Greer or Paul Keating. It is as old-fashioned as Doc Martin boots and communism, and we would do well to move on.

The Eagle has Crash Landed

I was looking forward to the film The Eagle, which has just come out in video, and on iTunes (which turns out to quite a good way the rent videos, not least because it is impossible to lose the DVD and rack up late return fees). It is a story about the recovery of the Eagle of the Ninth Legion, which might or might not have been destroyed in northern Britain in about 117 AD.  It had certainly been very badly mauled by Boudicca in about 61AD.

A disappointment, I am afraid. The plot is somewhat thin, and the characters are two-dimensional. And anyway, I have been seduced by Manda Scott’s much more interesting vision that the Brits were, in many respects, a rather more advanced culture than the Romans, and certainly not merely savages.  There was an air of cowboys and Indians about this film, and the role of the British prince played by Jamie Bell smacked a little of the Lone Ranger’s Tonto.

A shame, because the film was obviously well-crafted.  They might have done better to take Manda Scott’s books as a starting point?

Four Northern Dances

I have for some time been playing – rather badly – Giuliani’s Four Northern Dances Op 14, as printed in Harvey Vinson’s book of Music for the Classical Guitar. Giuliani is rather underrated, I think.  He was friend of Beethoven and, like Beethoven, his music contains some surprisingly modern aspects.  Playing all four dances properly (they are quite hard) has been a bit of a goal of mine.

So image my horror on discovering that Mr Vinson has given us a bum steer. The dances are not Op 14, but Op 147, and are more properly known as La Tersicore del Nord. More to the point, there are not 4 of them, but 16!

Learning to play them all would take me quite a while.

13th November 2011

The Jewish Mother God

It was disappointing – to say the least – that Australia voted against Palestine’s recognition at UNESCO the other day. Happily, Palestine did gain recognition, but the episode does suggest that the Jewish lobby is the tail that not only wags the dog in the USA, but also among USA’s acolytes. But it got me thinking about the Jews generally.

I did not know until the other day that it is only relatively recently that the Jews adopted monotheism.  Until about 600 BC they apparently worshiped a number of Gods, including Asherah, who is a fertility God who was associated with Jehovah, or Yahweh or El as he was previously known, as his wife.  This is, of course, somewhat at odds of what the Bible says about Jewish beliefs at around the time of King David, around 1,000 BC, the Bible rabbiting on at quite some length about the “one God” thing.

How do we know this?  Largely because of Jewish figurines. Professor Francesca Stavrakopoulou, who is Professor of Theology at Exeter University has done a lot of work in this area, it seems, and her take is that a fair bit of the modern Jewish account of the time is self-serving claptrap: in particular, the Jews at the time, she says, were nothing very special in cultural terms, and more or less followed the same religious practices and their neighbours, and in particular the Canaanites (she also remarks that the archaeological record suggest that the Philistines were a good deal more civilised than the Jews at the time, but that is another story). The evidence that the Jews worshiped Asherah includes not only

  • the figurines, but
  • an 8th century BC  text showing images of Yahweh and Asherah and the text “from Yahwey and his Asherah”,
  • and also – perhaps surprisingly – the Bible, which contains about three dozen references to Asherah, all of them reporting repeated and repeatedly unsuccessful efforts to stamp out Asherah worship (and thereby of course acknowledging that it was going on).  Thus for example we have (from the New International Version)

1Kg. 15:9 In the twentieth year of Jeroboam king of Israel, Asa became king of Judah and he reigned in Jerusalem for forty-one years…. He even deposed his grandmother Maacah from her position as queen mother, because she had made a repulsive Asherah pole. Asa cut the pole down and burned it in the Kidron Valley.

Poor Granny! She was only doing what everyone else was doing. Imagine if Prince Charles had removed the Queen Mother from the royal household just because she took the occasional gin and tonic!

For some reason, the King James Version never mentions Asherah by name: the relevant passage there is:

And also Maachah his mother, even her he removed from being queen, because she had made an idol in a grove; and Asa destroyed her idol, and burnt it by the brook Kidron.

Why, one wonders, would the Jews go to what must have been considerable lengths to marginalise the original Jewish Mama? Just old fashioned misogyny, presumably. Chicken soup has been in the closet for many centuries.

And another odd thing about the Jews. Over the last 100 years, they have had a massive influence in music: a huge proportion of the best modern musicians in the western world have been Jewish.  But there has not been any corresponding impact in literature. A few odd bods – Philip Roth and so on – but nothing like the music thing.  Why is that? They might have done rather better if their ideology had been less weird.

The “Holy Land” thing is just one such weirdness, since the historical record suggest that the connection between the Jews of the world (the vast majority of whom, originate in Eastern Europe) and the land which is modern day Israel is somewhat slight.  A great deal more live and let live on all sides would be good.  And would perhaps be rather more possible if the Mama God were still in charge.

11th November 2011

Carbon

With precious little debate – pretty much none, really – the Australian Labour Party/Green party alliance has passed a Carbon Tax Act.

Is it unconstitutional? I think perhaps it might be, not on the grounds that others have suggested, but on the ground that it is, in truth, a religious observance bill. See note

15th October 2011

And What, Precisely, is a Higgs Boson?
OK.  Start with the ancients, and what they understood about space. One ancient Greek standing opposite another ancient Greek.  They think there is nothing between them, just empty space.  But eventually some bright spark starts thinking about sailing boats: what makes them go? And the trees: what makes them blow around in the wind? And why does a leaf slide from side to side as it falls? It turned out that the space is not empty after all, there is an atmosphere consisting of air pretty much everywhere in our world, which turns out to be surprisingly heavy (the air in a room, for example, weighs about as much as an adult person).  You cannot see the air, and you can get through most of life pretty well without knowing anything much about this (as did the ancients) but if you want to design aeroplanes and stuff, well, you would want to know a fair bit about it.

So move on to nuclear physics.  We all know about atoms, being nuclei in the middle with electrons buzzing in orbit around them. With space in between? Step forward Professor Peter Higgs, who has a theory that – rather like the space in our ordinary world being full of air, so at the atomic level the space is actually filled with a field. A Higgs field, as they call it. And rather as the atmosphere is made up of molecules (oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide etc) so a Higgs field is made up of bosons. Higgs bosons, as they call them.  Nobody has ever detected a Higgs boson (as far as we know), but hypothesise its existence, and you get a sensible explanation for all sorts of things that we know about atomic physics.  The best guess is that these things, if they exist, are quite heavy by atomic standards – about 150 times heavier than a proton. But they have proved tricky little rotters to find – hence all the fuss at CERN in Switzerland where they are spending huge amounts of money smashing particles into each other and see if they can find any bosons in the ensuing atomic rubble.

Peter Higgs is in his 80s now. He would probably quite like someone to find his bosons before he shuffles off his mortal coil.  You couldn’t blame him for that.

 

4th October 2011

Other Blogs

I can’t help noticing that other blogs are getting snappier – making this one look rather bland.  Do I care? Not all that much, really.

Other people’s blogs are often rather good.  I like Bishop Hill (he tells us that he is not a Bishop and his name is not Hill) : he has links to other blogs which he finds amusing. On the whole, they are.

3rd October 2011

Nine Chopping Boards
I like chopping boards.  Not like some people who just chop devil-may-care on the kitchen bench without the slightest twinge (no names, no pack drill, but you know who you are). A good chopping board, fitting for the task in hand, making cooking much rather satisfying.

So, here are some of the chopping boards I know and love:

This is the one I have had the longest: it used to be my O Level Mechanical Drawing board which I had when I was 14 years old. Still going strong.  Ideal for anything to do with dough or pastry (so I always use it for making cheese straws), and also for preparing antipasti or the vegetables for vichyssoise.
This is the oldest: it used to be a bit of joist which came out of my house in Notting Hill Gate when I was doing the side extension (I saved it from the skip), so that makes it an 1840s piece of wood.
This a bought board.  I like the end grain aspect of it. But it as bit heavy, so it needs a decent sized meal to make it work, and preferably a heavy shiraz by its side for balance.
Another home made board I have had for many years.  As nippy as a 1965 Brabham.
This was a present.  The metal bar works well as a contrast for parsley, basil etc.
A speciality board.  This one fits onto the side of a Weber barbeque.
A board from New Zealand. The bars make it less than ideal for heavy kitchen work, since it flips up if you chop near the ends, but it serves very well as a cheese board.
What on earth, I hear you asking, is a plastic board doing in here? I bought it as part of a set whilst I was experimenting with different plastics to serve as striking faces on my croquet mallets (not good for that, it turned out, because of poor adhesibility) but it turns out that these boards are good for fish, because they can be put in the dishwasher.
The most romantic board – I made this earlier this year out of several different woods, including olive, jarrah, Tasmanian oak etc. To be honest, it is not a great success because the different woods and different orientations expand and contract in differing amounts in differing conditions.  But one side is dished, so that the juice from a joint of meat does not flow over the side during carving. It flows down through the cracks instead.

 

29th September 2011

Disabled Parking Spot

Jeremy Clarkson is reported to be under fire for parking in a disabled parking bay. Ridiculous.  I always park in disabled spots, as a matter of principle.  If people are really disabled, they won’t have jobs, will they? And so they should have plenty of time to drive around for as long as need be to find somewhere else to park. See more…

Not Funny

Sad to say, just about the only really amusing Australian-made programme on Australian television – At Home with Julia – is being canned by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

At Home with Julia is pretty mild stuff compared with, say, Spitting Image. It gently pokes fun at the Prime Minister and her live-in bloke. Among the credits is “ALP legal counsel – Mr Anton Denby SC”; what is that all about? The ABC is supposed to be an independent body, and yet they have an Australian Labor Party silk on the team, presumably to vet the script!

The programme has been pulling audiences of ¾ million to 1 million people, which makes puts it way ahead of the audiences on the other channels. The writers wrote 6 episodes, but only 4 have been shot and shown. Presumably because the ABC, which is little more than an organ of the ALP Press Office when it comes to things political, has cottoned on to the fact that even gentle mockery of Julia Gillard makes her look even more ridiculous than in real life, and hastens the day when she is bundled out of office (both she and her party are now at record lows in the polls).  It hard to avoid the conclusion that the decision was at least partly motivated by a political sentiment – that it was pulled because the Labor Party did not like it.

Did Spitting Image hasten the demise of Margaret Thatcher? It probably did.  But it was very funny. Unlike the ABC.

What a Logarithm is

Readers of this blogs may have noted my comments on the pokie machine issue.  But is is not cynicism all the way down.  Oh no.  It is also just good old fashioned stupidity.

Take what Tim Costello said on the TV the other day:

And if you have the $1 maximum bet machines it’s just re-programming, it’s a logarithm. It’s really simple

Dugh! It’s not a logarithm, it’s an algorithm. Don’t go around telling people that things are “really simple” if you can’t even tell the difference between two completely different things.  Just because the two words are anagrams of each other does not mean that they mean the same thing.  So, just in case any of these people read this blog (not very likely, but you never know) here we go.  I will try to keep it simple.

  • A logarithm is a property of numbers: basically is the number of noughts on the end. So the log of 10 is 1, because it has one nought on the end.  The log of 100 is 2, because, it has two noughts on the end. Not too hard so far? You can even have log for the numbers in between, so the log of 50, for example, is obviously more than the log of 10 (i.e. 1) and less than the log of 100 (i.e. 2); it is about 1.699 actually.  These things are quite useful because they help you multiply things; to multiply two numbers you just add the logs. So, for example, if you want to multiply 1,000,000 by 1,000 the smart thing to do is to just add the number of noughts together, so the number with 6 noughts times the number with 3 noughts gives a number with 9 noughts, i.e. 1,000,000,000. The less smart way would be to start counting “One million, two million, three million, four million…” and so on until you get to a thousand million. These days, of course, everybody has an electronic calculator, so logarithms are not as useful as they use to be.  Still.  There they are.
  • An algorithm, on the other hand, is a method of calculation, as expressed in a flow chart or a computer program.  Thus, for example, the algorithm in a pokie machine might be designed such that the odds of you winning a $10 prize for a $1 bet are a bit less than 1 in 10, thus ensuring that the player gets fleeced.  The way the algorithms work in practice is that, the more iterations of play there are – i.e. the longer some dopey victim sits in front of the machine pouring money into it –  the more certain and the more thorough the fleecing.

Presumably, if enough people are dumb enough to keep on saying “logarithm” when they mean “algorithm” it will get to stay. Like people saying “lowest common denominator” when they mean “highest common factor”.

House Doctor

For anyone who hasn’t  seen it, House is a TV show whose main character is loosely based on Sherlock Holmes.  The main character is called House instead of Holmes, his faithful sidekick is called Wilson instead of Watson, and he solves medical mysteries instead of crimes.  Apart from that, the main character is pretty much the same: extraordinarily clever, arrogant, misanthropic, with a drug addiction and a penchant for playing music when overcome by ennui (in House’s case, the guitar, instead of Holmes’ violin).  Curiously, since the TV show is American, the lead is played by an Englishman, Hugh Laurie.

And now we have another English variant on the same theme, called Monroe. This time the doctor is not a diagnostician, but a brain surgeon.  Since this is an English production, he takes himself rather less seriously than House, but like House, he lusts pointlessly after another doctor: this time a heart surgeon who is – like her American counterpart Dr Cuddy – attractive but flawed.  So who plays this doctor? An Irishman, James Nesbitt.  What is it with all the foreign doctor thing?

More Sports Roundup

Australia were not expected to lose to Ireland last week, but they did. Probably more a case of Ireland playing better than expected than Australia playing worse.  But in any event, Australia looked pretty good against USA a couple of nights ago. Adam Ashley-Cooper looked strong with his hat-trick of tries, and Berrick Barnes’ placekicking was impressive. Barnes had been out of action for a while with “footballer’s migraine” which is probably good reason why he plays these days with a mattress strapped to his head.

England played well in knocking off Romania 67 – 3. New Zealand looked even more impressive disposing of France 37 – 17; right now, the All Blacks look very much the smart money.

More Disabled Parking Spot

Just joking about the parking. I do not always park in the disabled spots. Just sometimes.

 

21st September 2001

Parasites

I have built a pavilion next to the pool for a small development I have been doing. There are pepper trees round about – they need all the water they can get. But nevertheless, building regulations have required that the rainwater that falls on the roof, instead of being allowed to splash onto the adjacent ground (where, after all, it would still be going if I had not built the pavilion) must be sent down a drainpipe (cleverly concealed, as it happens in this case, inside a Tuscan column) and then into the drainage system, and then out into the street, whence it wends its way the few miles to the sea.  Then what happens is that some huge corporation digs up some brown coal up by the Flinders Ranges, and then sends the coal by train hundreds of miles to a coal-fired power station, where it is burned in order to create the vast amounts of electricity needed for the new desalination plant, which sucks the water back out of the sea, and eventually delivers it back to me at considerable cost in order that I can water the garden, thereby replacing the rainwater that the government required me to not to use in the first place.

Now, you might be tempted to think that the government people who make these rules up are the most annoying, demonically-inspired half-wits who ever walked the face of the earth, and that sound Darwinian principles would require them, before they have a chance to breed, to be strung up by their heels, dipped in Worm Vindaloo and then beaten with wet fish.

But, thinking about it, the mechanism is more than merely dumb. I hesitate to point to conspiracy rather than the much more usual cock up, but I think it works like this.  The government people are a species, and they want to survive. Like Dawkins’ blind watchmaker, they eventually evolve intricate patterns, not because they are clever, but because constant iteration shows that those patterns serve their ends. Their ends are simple: more money and more power to the government.  They have no more interest with the well-being of the citizens that an ivy has in the well-being of the tree: as long as the tree (alive or dying) does not actually fall over, the parasite thrives.

So, the water thing, in its small way, is pretty good as a “tax and spend” system. And more one thinks of it, the more the basic rule of legislation becomes pretty clear:

It does not matter if something does any good or not:

if a measure will increase the money or power available to the government,

it is likely to pass.

A case in point arose the other day.  One or two independent MPs are rightly determined to go something about the harm done by poker machines.  The basic facts are pretty clear: the much of the profit earned by these machines in Australia comes, not from ordinary people having the occasional flutter, but from people who are addicted to gambling.  These people are typically pretty poor (they soon get to be poor even if they do not start off that way), and their families suffer greatly. The revenue stream is taxed pretty heavily, and represents a significant proportion of the states’ total taxation revenue; according to the Gaming Council’s figures:

Gambling tax as a proportion of total tax revenue in Australia (2005-06)

State/territory      %

NSW                       9.6

VIC                         13.4

QLD                        11.5

SA                           13.4

WA                          2.8

TAS                        11.2

ACT                        6.0

NT                           15.1

 

Having lost the popular vote last time around, the Australian Labor Party got into power by striking deals with independents, including a commitment to do something about the problem.  But they would not want to do anything effective, like banning the high-loss machines that the addicts gravitate to, because that would lead to a loss of taxation income. So what they do is to introduce legislation that looks like they are doing something, and which will give the government more regulatory powers, but which will not work. This is the pre-commitment scheme, which involves gamblers being issued with cards which are supposed to record how much gamblers are prepared to lose before they start each session.  It sounds like a completely spastic idea, and it is. The scheme has been used in Norway, and the research there shows that it is entirely ineffective in reducing problem gambling; you can check this out on page 19 of the Norsk Tipping Annual Report 2010, which reports the research that, whist the pre-commitment scheme has been in operation over the previous couple of years, problem gambling has risen from 1.9% of Norwegian people to 2.1% of Norwegian people. Unsurprisingly, the minimal intellectual firepower required to push a button on a gaming machine turns out to be also quite sufficient to circumvent the cards; the addicted gamblers have several cards, gamble in their kids’ names etc. So, this is a brilliant solution for the government: no loss of revenue, more regulation and some moral high ground as they spend yet more tax-payers money running advertising campaigns to say that they are doing something about the problem.  The fact that the measure is mind-numbingly stupid and pointless in addressing the real problem is pretty much irrelevant, as far as these people are concerned.

Carbon tax is another example. If, as a government, you want to reduce carbon emissions and encourage alternative forms of energy (a questionable aim, but stay with it: let’s assume for a brief moment that this is a good thing) you could do it by applying a relatively modest tax on carbon and a corresponding reward for the alternatives.  But that would increase neither the money nor the power available to the government, and so instead they have come up with this incredibly complicated system of a heavy tax on carbon, most of which is then spent on selective compensation for Uncle Tom Cobley and all.  This way, the government get to take a lot more tax, and get a whole load more power in dispensing it. Tax and spend, tax and spend.  And of course, one of the ways they spend is on a propaganda campaign, at huge cost, to try to sell the ridiculous notion that that are doing something useful. In fact, of course, the measure will do nothing useful at all in terms of carbon emissions, let alone in terms of the climate, which is doubly brilliant, because if the issue of climate change went away, the government would lose the best wheeze it has had for a while in terms of more tax and more spend.

It is not just theoretical money that the government is wasting.  It is real tax – real money – that they are taking from me. Money that they are taking from my friends and family. Money that they are taking from people who are genuinely poor, so as put them into real hardship. And money from businesses which cannot afford it, so as to force these businesses into insolvency.

Personally, I think the government people responsible for this obscene business should be super-glued to the baggage reclaim belt at Canberra airport, and sent round and round for ever, pausing periodically only that their bodily hair may be removed by Korean teenagers using hot wax.
14th September 2011

Sports Roundup

Aussie Sam Stosur has won the US tennis Open, which I found rather cheering.  So far as one can see from the interviews, she seems to be rather a nice person, as muscle-bound tennis professionals go.  Certainly easier to take to than the Anglophobe Scot Andy Murray, who always looks so grumpy.

In rugby, the world cup has started.  England have won their opening match against Argentina, just.  I am sorry to say that England did not look good. For a start, they were wearing black, which, as the tournament hosts, the New Zealanders are justified in feeling a bit peeved about. For the New Zealand All Blacks, wearing black is fine; for the English, it isn’t.  Not well done; even the numbers were falling off the shirts by the end of the match.  At least in some parts of New Zealand – Dunedin – the reaction seems to be that they might as well play without their own kit at all, which is sporting enough, I suppose.  I thought that Argentina looked much the more attractive side, and it was not good to see them suffer so much injury.  My young son Jamie spoke for us all when he asked whether England was not playing a rather dirty game. Hopefully things will improve.

It is hard to see that things can get much better for the English cricket team, which is now top of the world rankings.  Does not seem quite right somehow; as an Englishman, one is brought up to adopt the wry smile that goes with being beaten at the games that we invented in the first place.

In the motor racing, I have remarked before that this year has lined up on national grounds, with an English team, a German team, a Latin team and an international team all in the running.  It looks like the internationals (the German Sebastian Vettel driving for the Red Bull team based in England but licensed in Austria and mostly owned in Singapore) have got it in the bag – with more than 2/3 of the season gone, they are way ahead of the English, who are in turn well ahead of the Latins, and then the Germans come trailing.  Within the English McLaren team, Jenson Button is – to the surprise of some – leading Lewis Hamilton, which I rather approve of, since a lad named by his father after a stylish English car deserves to do well on that ground alone.

Boo

I was listening the other day to the excellent BBC History podcast, and heard someone called Manda Scott talking about the Romans in Briton. She was not complementary: her essential thesis is that the Brits were not the brutes that history typically paints them, and that the lasting legacy of the Romans has been genocide and the religion we now call Roman Catholicism.  Sounded an interesting view, so I did a bit of digging.

Manda Scott is, unlike many Scotts, a Scot. She qualified as a veterinary surgeon, but now lives in the English countryside with her partner, where she writes books and breeds spaniels. She is evidently an expert on the Iceni and other pre-Roman British tribes, and her books include a four volume novel about the life and times of Boudicca (just in case there are any Americans reading this, I should explain that Boudicca was the widow of the Iceni King Prasutagus, who ruled East Anglia as a client king tolerated by the Romans.  Much of what we know of comes from the Roman historian Tacitus: in short, the story is that Prasutagus left a will sharing his considerable wealth between the Roman Emperor and his daughters, but the Romans ignored the will, confiscated his property, had Boudicca whipped, the daughters raped and other relatives enslaved. Seriously pissed off by this, Boudicca in 60 or 61 AD led a rebellion, sacked the Roman cities of Colchester, London and St Albans and annihilated the 9th Legion on the way.  For a while, the Romans looked as if they were about to be driven out of Britain, but then the 14th Legion engaged Boudicca’s army – probably somewhere on Watling Street – and destroyed it in a great massacre).

What is interesting about all of this is Manda Scott’s take on the relative merits of the two sides. Victors typically write the history, of course, and the conventional view has been that the Romans – whilst a shade on the brutal side – were a great civilising influence. Manda Scott’s world is very different. She paints the Britons as really rather more civilised in many respects: much more advanced than the Romans in terms of agriculture, animal husbandry, mining, metalwork, medicine and so forth, with a sophisticated road system and good seafaring skills enabling huge international trade.  Perhaps more importantly, she describes a much more developed social structure, where women are treated with equality and respect, and where a sense of profound spirituality guides behaviour at both a domestic and a political level.   Whilst the Romans are dreary and boorish, the Britons are attractive, amusing and even charming.  She is not all dewy eyed – of course these are pretty primitive cultures  by modern standards –  but she suggests that the Britons’ warlike tendencies were much more benign in their impact that than the ruthlessly efficient homicidal machine that was the Roman army.

And so, as a result of the Roman occupation, Britain was thrust into centuries of dark ages.  It was only in the 20th century, according to Manda Scott, that agricultural productivity was restored to pre-Roman levels.

Should one buy this vision? Hard to say, given the paucity of any surviving account of the times from the British perspective.  But I enjoyed the novels hugely, and found myself barracking pretty hard for the Brits against the Romans.  I have even got the answer for them – big hooks.  The problem for the Brits at Watling Street would have been the Testudo thing, where the Roman infantry made a wall of their shields, and poked their short swords out through the gaps. But – here’s the thing – the Brits had wicker chariots, and so they could have charged up to the Roman lines, thrown big anchor-like efforts on ropes over the Roman’s heads, and charged off again. The hooks on the anchors would then have been rapidly dragged back through the Roman lines, disabling the infantrymen and destroying their defensive shield.  Bit late now of course, as ideas go.

Thinking Man’s Crumpet

One reason that one hesitates to knock Manda Scott’s ideas is that she has such a great voice – like honey on high heels. So, the question is: is she exluded from the general category of Thinking Man’s Crumpet merely because she is a lesbian activist?  I think not.  We do not like clever girls any the less because they happen to share our ideas of who it would be nice to go to bed with.

The TMC label was originally invented for Joan Bakewell. Other current office holders include

Mary Roach, who writes books about science which are both clever and funny
Dr Alice Roberts, who is a doctor who makes television programmes
Jo Nova, who is a journalist and sceptic
Christine Lagarde, who got to be TMC some time ago, but who deserves to keep the honour as long as she is busy saving the economies of the Western world.

 

Tired Out

The last few weeks have been plagued by a bit of a CFS relapse.

CFS here in Oz means Country Fire Service,  which, as far as I can tell, consists of a bunch of really good guys who put out fires, and few less good guys who start fires first, and then rush back to base to join the good guys in putting them out again – they just love fires.  But in the rest of the world, it means Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and is sometimes shortened to ME and then lengthened again to Myalgic Encephalomyelitis.

I got hit with CFS a decade or so ago.  The impact was that I got really, really, really tired. In a sense, trying to explain it to someone who has never had it is like trying to explain what the visual world is like in a world of the blind (or perhaps trying to explain to a sighted person what it is like to be blind?).  But some parallels might help:

  • It is not about being lazy.  Think about running.  As a teenager I used to do long distance running because I was not much cop at sprinting but wanted to be good at something, athletic-wise. Long distance filled the bill because it was largely about putting up with pain.  If you are prepared to put up with some pain, I found, you can keep going even though your body is telling you to stop. I never got the endorphin rush that some lucky people get, but I was prepared to put up with some pain and so did sort of OK. Sprinting was different.  I could run 50 yards or so at full pelt, and then my legs just stopped working that well.  Got flooded with lactic acid is, I believe, the technical explanation.  Anyway, no amount of determination could keep the legs going at the same rate.  Just physically not possible.  Other guys could do 100 yards or so, and the real athletic stars could just about do 400 yards. Whatever that limit was, no amount of willpower could got anyone past their personal threshold at that point in time. CFS is like the sprinting thing. When you hit your limit, that’s it; no amount of determination can overcome it.
  • In mental terms, it is like fog. Imagine, if you are a sailor, those days when you are out in a blow boat somewhere around the harbour.  You can see the harbour wall, the local hotel, and lighthouse in the distance. Then the mist comes down.  All these landmarks simply disappear. No amount of peering into the mist will help, and if someone says, “Just look harder” they are really not understanding the problem at all.  Likewise, when you have hit a CFS wall, problems and issues that would normally be well within your compass become wholly impenetrable.
  • If you have never sailed, this might help explain it.  You have been on a plane for 36 hours.  No sleep.  Dog tired. Not sleepy right now because of your body clock, but dead tired anyway. A customs official in some God-forsaken airport asks you an easy question. No problem; you answer.  Then comes some really involved stuff which involves dredging things up out of memory that are really not available.  Then a load more stuff, that you really cannot take in at all.  They might as well be talking in Mongolian. No amount of good will or determination can get you to follow what is going on.  This is what CFS is like; problems that are normally complex but perfectly manageable get put – whether you or they like it or not – into the, “This will have to wait until tomorrow” box.

I do not mean to whinge about this. Compared with other more serious conditions like cancer, CFS is a pretty cushy number: it cannot kill you and, provided you do not do anything much at all, it does not actually hurt.  But it is more than mildly tedious. The statistics seem to show that about 75% of sufferers lose their job as a result of the condition, and, of those whose who are married, about 75% soon find themselves divorced.  It is not hard to see why.  From any outsider’s point of view, you have turned into a total slacker.  You do not look ill.  No blotches, welts, boils, red patches, hair falling out by the handful or anything like that.  And unless and until you hit the wall on any particular day, you operate pretty much OK.

I was lucky; I was the senior partner of a law firm at the time so I could not very readily get fired, but instead my partners were extraordinarily kind and supportive. There might have been a small element of fun for them; they became adept at identifying, during important meetings, when I was hitting the wall (the funny thing is that, until I hit the wall on any particular day, I appeared to be as sharp as ever, at any rate to myself), they would deftly and decisively get me out of there, like troops lifting a wounded colleague out of the line of fire.  But more importantly, they were really tolerant, and invited me to take as long as I needed to get over it.  The advice I got from the CFS specialist physicians was that, if you get over it (some do, some don’t) it takes about 5 years.  When I quizzed one of the specialists to be more specific about the “return to my work” prognosis, he thought for a while, and then said that he could not think – despite his many years of dealing with CFS patients – of anyone who ever went back to the same desk.  So, trying to graceful about the inevitable, I retired from that very busy and demanding practice.

A good marriage, of course, is worth a dozen good careers, and as a matter of huge good fortune for me, my darling wife has not divorced me yet.  But it must be really tough going through life with a partner not pulling proper weight.  I would say that she is an angel, but that angels are not generally very sexy.

After 5 years or so, I did indeed get pretty much better.  One of the few things that really does seem to make a difference is sunshine.  When I told a specialist in England that I was planning to move to Australia, his advice was that I totally ignore all health warnings about exposure to the sun, and to get into the sun as much as possible. Sound advice, I think.  But it seems that CFS might be a bit like Malaria – you can recover pretty much, but always have a susceptibility. Work too hard, and bingo; it is relapse time.  These relapses only seem to last for a few weeks, but represent a robust warning about the dangers of thinking you are normal.  Personally, I am not that good at the rest thing.  It is not so much that I want to be busy per se, but I tend to get stuck into things and like to achieve results.  Not that I am suggesting that only workaholics get CFS.  Only that workaholics make particularly poor CFS patients.

From time to time, I look at the websites to check out a cure. Nope, not yet.  They seem to know some stuff:

  •          CFS is usually triggered by a bout of something else, often glandular fever. In my case, it was probably as bout of pleurisy at a time of material stress from one or two things;
  •          It looks like a malfunction of the immune system. There are clinical analyses to this effect.   My own experience is that CFS has led to much more susceptibility to bugs of the common or garden variety;
  •          It seems to be both mental and physical.  The failure mechanism seems to be that the brain sends a signal that floods the body with lactic acid, which then forces the muscles to shut down.  It is like a building that sets off its fire sprinklers for no better reason than that someone has turned on a toaster.  An overreaction, but nonetheless an effective dampener in its impact;
  •          A recent study suggest that chocolate may be curative, or at least ameliorative.  Hmm, maybe; it was a small study and has not yet been replicated;
  •          Another study which associated the condition with the retrovirus XMRV has now been discredited.

Having had CFS is not the end of the world.  It needs a bit of management, and you need to let go of any megalomania, chorophilia or ergophilia. Field Marshall Lord Carver said that the way to get on in the Army is to work out how insolent you can get away with being, and then be a bit more insolent than that. Likewise with CFS: work out how much you can do without getting knackered, and do a bit more than that.
About the Italians

I have always rather liked the Italians. But it did dawn on me the other day that at least three seriously unpleasant things – the Roman armies, the Roman Catholic Church and the Mafia – have all come out of Italy.   I have no explanation for this.

2nd August 2011

Wet Flannel

Some newspapers have dug out a 2006 interview with Tim Flannery. Quoting James Hansen with approval, Tim said we are

“on the brink of triggering a 25 metre rise in sea level. So anyone with a coastal view from their bedroom window or kitchen window or whereever is likely to lose their house as a result of that change.”
The reason for this interest? Because they have just noticed that Tim and his wife had just bought a house just yards from the water’s edge at Coba Point. Coba Point is, not doubt, lovely.  But it is quite a good question: why would you buy a waterside property if you really thought we are about to be swamped by a massive rise in sea level?

You can still buy properties at Coba Beach.  Maybe not such a bad buy? You could sit out on the jetty chatting with the neighbours as the water rises up to your chin. Or not, as the case may be.

I love Tim Flannery. Total hoot. I continue to collect some of his wisdom here.

31st July 2011

The Dumbing down of Intelligence

Jamie has the game FIFA 11 for his PS3. It boasts “Real AI”. Real Artificial Intelligence? A double oxymoron, surely.

Rann given his marching orders – by a cadet

The media are reporting that South Australian Premier Mike Rann has been told to resign to make way for someone called Jay Weatherall.

I would not particularly want Mr Rann to stay (after all, he lost the popular vote at the last election, and only managed to stay on because of an oddity in the voting system here, and his principal competence seems to be his slick PR rather than any good governance), but what is remarkable is the manner of his dismissal. The reports suggest he was told to go by “Labor powerbroker Peter Malinauskas”. Mr Malinauskas is apparently the secretary of a trade union, the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association, having fairly recently been appointed to that post at the tender age of 27.

The federal Labor government seems to dance to tune of the Green Party, and the state Labor party to the tune of the unions. Hardly ideal. Still, at least they do not have the European Union telling them what daft things to do.

26th July 2011

On Saturday, I had lunch and then dinner with Lord Christopher Monckton. Those who have read this blog before will not be surprised to hear me say that he is probably right in his fundamental scepticism of the global warming scare. And Lord Monckton is liberally armed with chapter and verse to puncture the warmist bubble. The more local question that attracted my attention was, “Is Lord Monckton potty?”

To answer this question it is necessary to take on board that he is evidently a seriously devout Catholic. I am all in favour of people being free to hold whatever views they like about religion, and indeed pretty much anything else, as long as they do not harm anyone else or frighten the horses.  But the Catholicism thing does give Lord Monckton a bit of a problem in terms of his principal hobby horse, in terms of terms of the central questions, “Why do the warmists do it, and how do they get away with it?”  For the reality that stares me and most sceptics in the face is that the warmists are doing more or less the same thing that the Catholic church had been doing for centuries, viz

  • Tell the people that they are going to hell unless they accept the doctrine;
  • Give the people “feel good” things to do in the name of the doctrine;
  • Silence critics by calling them heretics;
  • Monopolise the literature;
  • Go international to minimise the impact of democracy;
  • Ensure that enough of the functionaries in society get a pay-off;
  • Use these techniques to tax the people and exert power.

Get this right and of course the fact that the doctrine is, in objective terms, a load of piffle from start to finish is completely irrelevant.  Any inherent doubt about whether this stuff works as a technique is swiftly dispelled by looking at the evidence of how the Catholic Church has operated for hundreds of years.  This is not to say, of course, that it has not brought comfort to millions of people: it plainly has.  Many would say that the end justifies the means: if a belief system makes people feel better, who are we to rain on their parade?  But by the same token, it would be pretty dumb to wound the economies of the western world on the basis of beliefs that, for example, human blood is no more and no less than communion wine, given a few spells, or that significant human disease can be dispelled by mere prayer. Just as it is pretty dumb to now wound the economies of the western world on the basis of the equally potty notion that the world’s climate is dancing to the tune of the IPCC models.

But Lord Monckton will have none of this. He will not admit of the possibility that the motivations and the vulnerabilities of the warmists are essentially the same of those of the Catholics of old. Understand that history, and you understand that the old Catholics who used to dominate Europe were neither stupid nor evil: they were simply riding the wave of a dominant meme. But Lord Monckton will have nothing to do with the understanding of memes, because, I suspect, he regards Richard Dawkins as a heretic. He sees much of the world as conspiracy.

And then there is this curious business about his membership of the House of Lords. You might be inclined to think that he is a member. After all, he is a Lord. A hereditary peer, no less. And you expect that the House of Lords would include all the Lords, even if they don’t let all of them vote on legislation. And he has said so, as recently as earlier this month on the radio in Australia.  In answer to a question (perhaps an impertinent question, but that is not the point for the moment) from Adam Spencer if he was a member, he said:

Yes, but without the right to sit or vote … [The Lords] have not yet repealed by Act of Parliament the letters patent creating the peerage and until they do I am a Member of the House, as my passport records… So get used to it.

But it turns out that there is some relevant detail in the House of Lords Act 1999, section 1 of which states that

“No one shall be a member of the House of Lords by virtue of a hereditary peerage.”

and in the judgment of Lewison J in Mereworth v Ministry of Justice [2011] EWHC 1589 (Ch) (23 May 2011) which roundly rejected an argument that that legislation was unconstitutional as an abuse of human rights.  So, he is not a member of the House of Lords. Peer? Yes. Lord? Yes. Member of the House of Lords? No. Simple enough concept once you get used to it.

And it also turns out that the Clerk of the Parliaments had written to Lord Monckton twice, on 21 July 2010, and again on 30 July 2010, asking that asking that he cease claiming to be a Member of the House of Lords, either directly or by implication.  So what Lord Monckton said to Adam Sandler was well short of frank. At that time, the letters of July 2010 had not been made public, but since then, a further letter from the Clerk to the Parliament has, stating as clearly as can be

You are not and have never been a member of the House of Lords. Your assertion that you are a member, but without the right to sit or vote, is a contradiction in terms. No one denies that you are, by virtue of your letters patent, a peer. That is an entirely separate issue to membership of the House. This is borne out by the recent judgement in Baron Mereworth v Ministry of Justice (Crown Office).

So why would Lord Monckton – in the face of this – go around asserting that he is a member of the House of Lords? Looks somewhat potty. Of itself, of course, it is not an issue which matters much (although it is, in the circumstances, a bit worrying that Lord Monckton uses the symbol of the UK parliament so prominently on his lecture slides).  But it affects his credibility, and that is enough to make you wonder about other stuff. Obviously it is a bit potty for Lord Monckton to compare, as he does, the warmists with Goebbels and the Nazis. But this one about the membership of the House of Lords is more than showmanship or window dressing, because it is obviously a topic that he must surely know about full well, and he has not been frank: that does look a bit like self delusion.

There is no doubt that Monckton is a successful popularist. And a colourful figure who helps make life fun. But the suggestion that he is somewhat potty does indeed look pretty plausible.

23rd July 2011

Wheels 1

I have a mulcher. Big chompy thing that eats branches and turns them into a little pile of mulchy buts. Noisy thing, which shakes a lot. So much so in fact that it shook the bolts off its own wheels. Literally. The hubs of the wheels came apart. We are not just talking hub caps here. Oh no (this baby does not have hub caps – it is a serious bit of a grunty thing). These were the actual wheely gubbins.

Was I dismayed? Oh no! I went to the serious nut and bolt outlet (they are called Coventry Fasteners. Not just Coventry Nuts & Bolts – they get to be called fasteners up at the sharp end of the fitters’ hierarchy) and bought 10 new nuts and bolts. I got special ones, with little non-shaky-offy bits inside (this may not be entirely the right technical expression), and then disassembled and reassembled away.

And now my mulcher wheels are as good as new. Better really, because of the non-shaky-offy aspect of the nuts and bolts.

Wheels 2

Been trying cars.  I need something to see me through my impending dotage.

The Jaguar XJ should have been lovely, but wasn’t.  Too much chrome and generally too bitty in the cockpit – not nearly as nice as the wonderful clean lines inside the XF. Hated the speedometer/tachometer set-up – instead of proper dials, they have a little computer screen with naff pictures of the real thing.  The sound system was tinny. The SatNav was fiddly, with a split screen that seem to make no sense at all, and contained nothing intuitive to my mind. Great to drive, but it looks like there was a really nice car in here which got lost somewhere, and replaced by an awful modification intended for the American market.

Then I was persuaded to try to latest Range Rover. No.  Too big, too much metal to lug around, and not pretty either inside or out.

What was I looking for? I was reminded of my great uncle George (the colonist, colonel, MP, jurist etc – see previous blog) who, in his 50s, married the daughter of his old friend Sir Arthur Haslerigge, who was also the younger sister of his son-in-law. She was thirty years his junior, a pretty girl, and by all accounts they were very happy. I do not need a new wife, but a sprightly new car would be a great way to sink elegantly into one’s dotage. So I tried an Aston Martin DB9. Absolutely lovely car.  Nigel from the showroom, who is unfailingly polite, said to me, “You do realise, don’t you that this is a sports car?” But it was remarkably comfortable. The one I drove was not quite new, and had a ridiculously powerful V12 engine, which one does not need. But it was like sinking into a huge comfortable double bed with brand new sheets and a new young wife (I imagine).

Actually, one does not need an Aston Martin at all.  Then again, they probably said something similar to Great Uncle George.

More Great Uncle George and other Dead Relatives

Having been laid up at home for a while, I have been spending some time looking at my ancestry. The most recent of my grandfathers to have a knighthood was Sir Roger Fenwick, who owned Bitchfield Tower (now bowdlerised to Beechfield Tower) in Northumberland. It is up for sale at the moment. It still has the original pele tower to keep the Scots out, and does look pretty good. But Northumberland is pretty cold. Pretty bloody freezing, really.

When we were much younger, my brother and I borrowed my mother’s Triumph Spitfire to drive up and look around the old ancestral haunts. Fenwick Tower is not in good shape these days.  But, boy, it was cold.  We stayed in bed and breakfast places that were bone-chillingly bleak. After a while we gave up, and slipped across the border to warm up with a couple of whiskies at the New Club in Edinburgh. It is called the New Club because it was new in the 1780s. They had nice warm fires and beds with nice new sheets.

But the old Fenwicks will not have had very warm thoughts about the Scots. My great etc grandfather Sir John Fenwick was imprisoned by them for a while with his brother Alan.  This is the Sir John who is reputed to have been knighted by King Henry V during the French Wars.  It seems pretty unlikely that he was in fact at Agincourt itself in 1415, but he probably was at the siege of Bergerac a few years earlier in 1377 with his friend Sir Thomas Felton (Felton got captured by the French during that campaign, and but was returned 4 years later in an exchange deal). Query if grandfather got captured also, or managed to escape?  Certainly, being held prisoner by the French as well as being held prisoner by the Scots would be pretty grim luck.

This is not the only unanswered question. Was the Mrs Haslerigge who was Charles’ II mistress Great Uncle George’s widow? Or even his daughter Elizabeth?  I am putting a memorandum together of these things under the snappy title 500 Fenwicks. It is far from finished – the current version is here.  Let me know if you have any useful stuff to add to it.

11th July 2011

It is, when you think about it, a rather odd time for La Gillard to be pushing ahead with a carbon tax, for a number of reasons:

  • It is a bit late in the electoral cycle. The new tax will apply from July 2012, says the government. There will be another general election in 2013 (if not sooner). The overwhelming expectation in that Labor will lose that election to the Liberal Coalition, which has pledged to promptly repeal it. So it will probably bite for no more than a year – roughly the same longevity as the ill-fated poll tax in the UK. There will be little time for the government to come back from the unpopularity of the measure; a poll this weekend suggests that

More than 70 per cent of voters, or 15,866 people, said they now planned to vote for the Coalition at the next election, while just 8.51 per cent said they would support a Labor government.

This paints a picture of the tax being not merely ineffective, but suicidal for the government.

  • It is also a bit late in terms of a comparison between the IPCC predictions of global warming and what has actually been happening.  The sea has been stubbornly getting colder, not warmer. So have the troposphere and the stratosphere. There has been no increase in the usual rate of sea level rise which has been going on for yonks – in fact a slight slowing up.  The longer the period since the IPCC predictions, the more obvious it is that their models – on which the whole business is based – simply do not reflect reality.
  • It is however now a bit early, in the sense that the massive floods in Australia – completely confounding the predictions of permanent drought – are still fresh in everyone’s mind.
  • A couple of weeks ago, the Met Office in the UK predicted colder weather ahead (see quote) – a remarkable reversal considering that that they have done a real job in the past about focussing on the risk of global warming:

“We now believe that [the solar cycle] accounts for 50 per cent of the variability from year to year,” says Scaife. With solar physicists predicting a long-term reduction in the intensity of the solar cycle – and possibly its complete disappearance for a few decades, as happened during the so-called Maunder Minimum from 1645 to 1715 – this could be an ominous signal for icy winters ahead …”

  • Professor Dan Kahan of Yale University and a team of academics have just published a paper showing a correlation between being smart (we are talking here about relevant smart – i.e. in the area of science, not the so-called “emotional intelligence”) and being sceptical about climate change. The Abstract summarises:

On the whole, the most scientifically literate and numerate subjects were slightly less likely, not more, to see climate change as a serious threat than the least scientifically literate and numerate ones

Now, the mere fact that the sceptics tend to be smarter than the warmists does not mean that the smart ones are necessarily right. But it does rather put the mockers on the notion of there being a consensus behind the warmist position – a consensus of people who are less bright is not so very impressive.

  • There now appears to be a pretty significant recognition among the scientists that – whatever they think about the climate models – this tax is not going to do anything useful in climate terms. Thus for example, Professor Richard Lintzen (an IPCC lead author) said the other day:

I think there’s no disagreement in the scientific community that this will have no impact on climate, so it’s purely a matter of government revenue. And, as I say, I mean if they can fool the people into thinking that they really want to pay taxes to save the earth, that’s a dream for politicians.

This is going to be tough for the government, because their whole story is based on the notation that they are doing something required by the science.

All of this adds up, it seems to me to the conclusion that they have missed the boat. If they wanted to impose a carbon tax, they should have done it not later than a couple of years ago.  Timing is everything in politics, and tie time for this one is all wrong.

4th June 2011

The Gypsy Look

Feeling physically sick today.  Anyone who performs tattoos on young people should be hung, drawn and quartered. How can anyone take a beautiful young woman, and mutilate them with dye? To me, it defies all comprehension.  My poor old mother, if she were alive, would be in the lavatory, vomitting in misery.

In the midst of this gut-wrenching despair, my young son cheered me up by demonstrating how to ride on a ripstick.

The Hollywood Look

My younger daughter had a party – Hollywood theme. We did red carpet, and all of that stuff.

The real point was to make movies. Lucy marshalled no less than three movies (one from each of three teams), all written, rehearsed, shot and edited during the party, followed by an Oscar ceremony.  It all took really quite a lot of determination and effort.  Pretty impressed, I was.

Lucy wanted me to put up a reading of Alisoun, the old poem. Here.

Making things
Last week I made cheese straws, doughnuts and a watering can.
15th May 2011

The Dreaded Ennui

Been busy, which is dull.  Life is really just one long effort to stave off the dreaded ennui. Some days it seems harder than others. I always liked Peter Cook’s work: he had terrible ennui. As far as I can tell, his idea of a good time – once he had enough money and fame – was to sit in an armchair all day long getting drunk and watching football (soccer to you Yanks).  I am not a big fan of football, but apart from that, maybe he had a point?

Tax causes ennui.  They just can’t stop themselves, tax this, tax that, tax the other. The people who impose all these awful taxes live off the stuff – they don’t know anything else, like actually getting off their well-upholstered bottoms and making their own way in the world – their only life-blood is tax drawn from other people’s work. I did not much like Margaret Thatcher, but she did have the merit of doing something to momentarily curb the invidious spread of revenue parasites.  I do not mind paying tax for the stuff that we need: hospitals, defence, roads and so forth. But pointless hand–outs from real people’s hard-earned money for other people’s roof insulation, or unwanted drill-halls, or set-top boxes, together with huge salaries for pointless public servants, together with obscene payments for no purpose save to save the political skins of the same well-upholstered bottoms whose are driving this stuff in the first place – the hundreds of thousands of pounds and now dollars that I and millions like me have shelled out for this crap makes us sick.

When ennui strikes, head for the comforting things, and focus on the stuff that makes you happy. I have been enjoying Glenfiddich Snow Phoenix, playing the Tarrega arrangement of La Paloma on my wonderful Graham Hawkes wide-neck, and actually finishing the Times crossword more often than usual.  When I get stuck on the last few clues, it is tempting to reach for help.  Some time ago, I wrote some code in FoxPro which cracks anagrams etc.  I thought was pretty groovy at the time. A is 1, B is 2, c is 4, D is 8 etc, and then every summation of the numbers is unique for any combination of letters in any given length of word (Try it. The only way to get 7, for example, for a 3 letter word is to use an A and a B and a C ).  Pretty ordinary stuff, I suppose, for a numbers geek, but I worked it out for myself, and so using it did not really seem like cheating.  But now you can get the same thing (well, better actually, because they give you definitions as well) on the internet. That does seem like cheating, which takes the fun out of it.

I have also been enjoying doing a house up. It is a late 19th century job, on which I have been adding a large extension with an outside fireplace, a pool, and a pavilion. I like pavilions; I am putting Tuscan columns on this one. Should be done in a couple of months.  If someone likes it enough to buy it, that will be good.  Except that most of the profit will go on frigging tax.

And flying a little helicopter. Which is surprisingly difficult.  Like balancing one egg on top of another egg using remote control.

Jeanie has her Jaguar. Really comfortable, and elegant. Jaguar used to be considered rather vulgar. But I have to say that getting into a new XF is like walking into a proper well-maintained country house, after a succession of ghastly neo-this and neo-that monstrosities. Proper walnut. Proper leather. Decent carpets. Quiet. Fast. Lovely.

5th April 2011

Quiz

Can you name 3 cities in the world whose time zone is on the half hour?  Answers below.

Robert Tear

I was really sad to hear the news of the death of Bob Tear last week.  I used to live just opposite him in Ravenscourt Square in Hammersmith, and we used to play tennis, drink wine and generally catch up when we were both around. He was godfather to my daughter Annabel, notwithstanding that he professed to being a Buddhist. He was a great person, with some whacky ideas and a highly developed sense of humour. His books were barking mad, and rather funny.

I was in a restaurant with him once in Chiswick High Street, and something displeased him.  “You complain, Robert”, he said, “You are a lawyer”.  I asked him if he sang in the shower. Of course not, he said, he was a professional singer. I told that, likewise, I didn’t complain in restaurants.  I wonder if he ever wove that into one of his books? My first wife made a passing remark about some luxurious place having hot and cold running slaves, and that made it into a book called Tear Here.

Bob told me that when he sang at La Scala, he would get half of the fee, in folding notes, delivered to him in his dressing room during the interval.  It is how they do it, apparently, in Italy.  I suppose it is one way of combating absenteeism.  But I wonder where he stuffed the money for the duration of the second half? Down his breeches? He would hardly leave it unattended in the dressing room.  I should have asked him.

7s

The family went to the Rugby Sevens at the Adelaide Oval yesterday.  Great fun, including some very silly dressing up, except that England got knocked out in the semi-finals. New Zealand won, and so stay top of the table, just ahead of England in 2nd place.  I played 7s a bit when I was young. The most exhausting game ever invented. In this competition, each half is just 7 minutes, which would seem a very long time if you are playing.

Japan had a Fijian player called Lote Tuqiri. But this is not the same Fijian as the Lote Tuqiri who played for Australia.  This is another one, a fourth year business management student of Hakouh University according to Wiki.  Fiji might do rather better at rugby if rather more Fijians played for Fiji instead of everyone else.

It is a bit of a mystery why Adelaide hosts this competition, since rugby is not played much in South Australia.  My son Charles played for the state at schoolboy level whilst he was here.  But Charles efforts were nowhere near close to enough to make South Australia competitive with the Eastern States, where they play rugby quite a bit.

Bristol Ex-fighter

It was also sad to hear news of the insolvency of Bristol Cars.  I have had my Bristol 411 for about 30 years now.   When I bought it, I was introduced by Tony Crook, the owner of the company, to the manager of the service department. “This is Mr Fenwick Elliott, the new owner of DUO 122L”, he said. It put me in mind of what an old friend of mine remarked about a seriously grand country house that he bought.  “You don’t actually own it, in a real sense”, he said. “It owns you, for a while”.

Bristol cars are rather good.  They are sometimes referred as the Gentleman’s Express, but it is not a description that I like – sounds too much like Gentleman’s Relish. I like Gentleman’s Relish, but then again, one doesn’t want to drive around in a car that sounds like a proprietary anchovy paste. Rather, I think of a Bristol car as suitable for those who feel that a Bentley is just a little common.  The demise of the company suggests that there may not be many of us left.

Talking of cars, Jeanie needs a new car – her Citroen is pretty groovy, but it is getting too small now for children with cricket gear, a cello etc. A new Merc would be about $70k, which is a lot.  But then the government here would want about half as much again in tax, taking the total past $100k.  Ridiculous waste of money – the tax, I mean, not the car.  One needs a car.  One does not need a phalanx of public servants interfering with our lives at our involuntary expense.  Anyway, I do not much like Mercedes cars anyway; I know they are perfectly efficient, but if one is going to spend all that money, why not a nice new Jaguar?  Much nicer.

Time Zoned Out

New Delhi, Tehran and Adelaide all have time zones on the half hour.  I mention it because someone wants to change Adelaide by putting it back by half an hour. No jokes, please, about what difference would half an hour make when it is already behind by half a century.

It is all to do with the farmers, apparently.  I find it hard to fathom why time zones or daylight saving should bother the farmers one iota. They can get up when they like.  Their cows wake up when they want to wake up. That time is going to be when it is, and it really should not make any difference to the farmer what his watch says at that moment.  And if it is inconvenient for the schools because the children in Ceduna find themselves going to school in the dark, well then all the Ceduna schools need to do is to start a bit later, and go from, say, 9.00 until 4.00 instead of 8.00 until 3.00 (as a matter of interest, there appears to be quite a bit of evidence that children would do much better at school if the school day were to be moved back a bit. But we will not go into that now).

In the good old days, when a household might only have one clock, ticking away in the hall and usually wrong anyway, this daylight saving nonsense was not much trouble. But these days we have umpteen clocks, in the cars, on the ovens, alarm clocks, clocks in the televisions for recording programmes etc etc – changing them all twice a year is annoying. Very annoying, actually.

The man who wants to change Adelaide’s time is not proposing to get rid of daylight saving: he says changing everything by half an hour is a “compromise”.  It’s not a frigging compromise: it is a total screw up! It means we still have to faff around with all the clocks twice a year, and if they don’t tell Bill Gates (which they won’t) then everything that runs Windows will conspire to make us half an hour early (or perhaps late, who knows?) for everything. At least at the moment we are on the same time as at least one other place in Australia – Darwin; if this change goes through, even that slender mercy will be denied.

21st March 2011

A Safe Bet on Hysteria
It is hardly surprising that the press has being salivating so much over the nuclear power station issues in Japan, in an unholy alliance between the socks-and-sandals brigade and the shock-jocks.

Nuclear power has a much better safety track record than any other significant source of power According to EU data, the most dangerous sources are coal, oil and bioenergy:

Ah yes – I hear the patter of shoes like Cornish pasties coming back for more – what about the Ukraine; their figures are not in there and thousands died as a result of Chernobyl? Well, no actually.  After 20 years, the death toll was still shy of 50, according to the World Health Organisation:

As of mid-2005, however, fewer than 50 deaths had been directly attributed to radiation from the disaster, almost all being highly exposed rescue workers, many who died within months of the accident but others who died as late as 2004.
What about wind – surely that is safer than nuclear? Nope.

What about solar panels? Nope.

As for nuclear accidents, the consensus among people who know about this stuff is that most of damage to health that does result from nuclear accidents is caused by journalists and alarmist politicians.  Thus for example we have

“The psychological impact is now considered to be Chernobyl’s biggest health consequence,” said Louisa Vinton, of the UNDP. “People have been led to think of themselves as victims over the years, and are therefore more apt to take a passive approach toward their future rather than developing a system of self-sufficiency.”
And from the Washington Post:

“The psychological effects were the biggest health effects of all – by far,” said Fred Mettler, a University of New Mexico professor emeritus and one of the world’s leading authorities on radiation, who studied Chernobyl for the World Health Organization. “In the end, that’s really what affected the most people.”

Fears of contamination and anxiety about the health of those exposed and their children led to significantly elevated rates of suicidal thinking and anxiety disorders, and rates of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression about doubled, Mettler and others said.

On the subject of Chernobyl, it is worth bearing in mind that this was an awful power plant – nobody has built anything that crude for many decades. Since then a lot has been learnt about how to cope with a nuclear accident. So, Chernobyl was a much worse accident than it could get these days. It was just down the road from Kiev, a fair-sized city of about 3 million people – about the same distance as Brighton is from London. It went bang, big time. And yet the fatalities were small – much, much smaller that a hydro-electric dam failure, for example.

It is fashionable to go “tut tut” when nuclear power is mentioned.  And who am I to try to stop anyone going “tut tut” if they want to? But the actual facts are such that to believe that nuclear is relatively more dangerous than other sources is self-indulgent drivel – it goes in the same basket as Father Christmas, miracles from Catholic Saints, chiropractice, homeopathy and thinking that Uri Geller really did bend those spoons using thought waves.

There is another system

My older children have a blog:  News Abridged…condensing the tangled, heaving mass of daily news into a snug offering of no more than 500 words…

It is excellent – a really good read, even if it did go a tweeny bit wobbly for a couple of days on the dangers of nuclear power leaks in Japan…

They have a system whereby you can follow and comment.  The modern way, I suppose, but I will stick to my system of blogs drifting away like tiny time capsules being launched unannounced into space, never to return.

Not a cross word

I finished The Times crossword on Friday – the first time I had managed to finish it in ages.  Waste of time really, but it is vaguely reassuring that senility has not set in too far as yet.

Walking Home

Jeanie reckons I am putting on too much weight. She is probably right. So this morning I got her to drop me in the Hills, 18 kilometres away, and I walked home.

My feet hurt.

17th February 2011

A New Way with Words

My daughter Lucy introduced me to Wordle.  It is quite cute really – just paste in some words (this is from my profile of the firm’s website) and it does something like this:

Interesting how the illusion of art is so easily conjured.

An Old Way with Words

There was a small party for the launch of my new book The Worker’s Liens Casebook this week. The readership of this highly arcane work (which concerns only the law of South Australia) will probably be about 6, but I rather like the idea of that. Hopefully, the legislation in question will be repealed before very long, in which case the book will become super arcane.

For those curious to see what on earth this is about, a few extracts are available here. Here is a taste from the Preface:

It is hard to be enthusiastic about the merits of this legislation, unless perhaps you believe in desirability of an inefficient legal system in order to maximise income for lawyers.  It was drafted by a man who had already been certified as a lunatic, and who was then repeatedly held in institutions for the insane[1].  It was taken through parliament by a man then bound over the keep the peace for apparently intending to shoot the principal opponent of the Bill in a duel[2].  The ineptness of its drafting has repeatedly been the subject of the most trenchant and persistent judicial criticism[3].  The very name of the Act contains a grammatical error[4]. The main line of judicial authority appears to stem from a factual misinterpretation of a case reported only in a newspaper, the forerunner of the local tabloid[5]. It has proved virtually useless for the class for which it was intended[6] – working men – but instead has been seen as a bonanza for corporate contractors.  Yet for these corporate contractors, it has proved remarkably unsuccessful; in the considerable majority of cases reported in this casebook, the claimant was denied enforcement of the lien claimed[7]. It is truly remarkable that it has survived for 115 years.

[1] See paragraph 346 at page 750 below.

[2] See paragraph 343 at page 750 below.

[3] See paragraph 21 below.

[4] See paragraph 5 below.

[5] See Giles v Jacob at page 360 below.

[6] See paragraph 91 below.

[7] See paragraph 30 below.

 

13th February

Laughing through my tears

Tee hee.

Ha ha haaaa hhaaaaaaa.

Ughhaaa haaaaaaaugh ha hahah haha hhha hahah

Stop!  Haa haaa hoooo hooop haaa.

Julia hhha  hhaaaaaa Gillard has appointed Tim heeee hhaaaa Tim Flannery  huuuuugh haaaaa as Climate Commissioner. At $180,000 for a 3 day week, ’tis said. Hysterical.

We love Tim, of course.  But it hard to think of anyone who has more consistently made a complete idiot of himself on climate issues. I have started to keep a list of his boo-boos.  Just for fun.

Valentine’s Day

Jeanie and I don’t “do” Valentine’s Day.  But last year I bought my younger daughter – now 11 – a red rose.

This year year Lucy got a red rose from a gentleman her own age.  On avance, mes amis, on avance.

Admission

There is a sort of cute tradition here in South Australia among lawyers. For newly admitted lawyers there is a ceremony in the Supreme Court. For every new bug, an old bug stands up – fully robed and bewigged – and orally moves the admission. Sounded fun, so when one of our young lawyers – Erika – got admitted the other day, I had been keen to do the moving.

I liked it.  It was like a sort of Speech Day.

The list said I was to be next to Alexander Downer at the bar table. Well, I thought, he’s pretty much my vintage – I did not know he was a lawyer before becoming a politician.  It turns out he isn’t; it was his son I was next to, so we talked about his great-grandfather, who features in my latest book as one of the participants in the 1893 debate on the Workmen’s Liens Act in the South Australian parliament.

I was admitted by Lord Denning back in 1977.  He shook me by the hand and said, “I admit you”. L’esprit d’escalier suggests I could have grasped his hand right back at him, looked him in the eye and said, “Tom, I admit you too”. But that might have led to a rather short legal career.

28th January 2011

New Zilund

Just got back from New Zealand. Last time I was there I bought a curious shirt effort called a Pig Hunter. It is like a sweatshirt with short sleeves, and apparently the pig hunters swear by them.  I use it for gardening in. Anyway, I was in the newagent and my eye wandered to the relevant section. It turns out that t here are several magazines devoted to wild pig hunting. One of them, called “Bacon Busters“, is currently offering a free Babes and Boars calendar. Yes, it is gruesome as you might imagine – young(ish) women wearing little or nothing posing with thin smiles, fat rifles and freshly-shot pigs.  The one on the cover is the most demure.

It seems to be an Australian magazine, so not really the Kiwis’ fault.

I quite like New Zealand, but it is a slightly odd place. Fabulous countryside, but the architecture is pretty dreadful.  And the men tend to talk in this very soapy manner, which gives the impression that they are all gay.  I am sure they are not; indeed it seems thatthe vast majority of gay NZ men choose to go and live somewhere else – Sydney usually.

Jeanie is a New Zealander, of course. As my old friend Bob Peckar once remarked, New Zealand women are extraordinarily tough. Oh yes, indeed they are. Brilliant.  I am pretty sure that Jeanie was never a Bacon Busters Babe, even in her wild days before I met her.

8th January 2011

New Year Greetings from the IPCC

The people in Queensland are having a grim time of it, with some pretty awful flooding.  But at least they can console themselves with greetings from the International Panel on Climate Change, who have put up a nice warm and fuzzy picture to show that, as long as we all pull together to organise our affairs on the basis of the scientific consensus that it is getting hotter and drier, we will all be OK. It is nice to know that the IPCC have been thinking hard about Queensland, and the scientific consensus is quite clear that the problem is not flooding but drought.  The IPCC report says:

12.5.6. Drought

In the Australia and New Zealand region, droughts are closely related to major drivers of year-to-year and decadal variability such as ENSO, Indian Ocean SSTs, the Antarctic Circumpolar Wave (White and Peterson, 1996; Cai et al., 1999; White and Cherry, 1999), and the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation (Mantua et al., 1997; Power et al., 1998; Salinger and Mullan, 1999), as well as more or less chaotic synoptic events. These are all likely to be affected by climate change (see Sections 12.1.5 and 12.2.3, and TAR WGI Chapters 9 and 10).

Using a transient simulation with the NCAR CCMO GCM at coarse resolution (R15) (Meehl and Washington, 1996), Kothavala (1999) found for northeastern and southeastern Australia that the Palmer Drought Severity Index indicated longer and more severe droughts in the transient simulation at about 2xCO2 conditions than in the control simulation. This is consistent with a more El Niño-like average climate in the enhanced greenhouse simulation; it contrasts with a more ambivalent result by Whetton et al. (1993), who used results from several slab-ocean GCMs and a simple soil water balance model. Similar but less extreme results were found by Walsh et al. (2000) for estimates of meteorological drought in Queensland, based on simulations with the CSIRO RCM at 60-km resolution, nested in the CSIRO Mk2 GCM.

A global study by Arnell (1999), using results from an ensemble of four enhanced greenhouse simulations with the HadCM2 GCM and one with HadCM3, show marked decreases in runoff over most of mainland Australia, including a range of decreases in runoff in the Murray-Darling basin in the southeast by the 2050s of about 12-35%. HadCM3 results show large decreases in maximum and minimum monthly runoff. This implies large increases in drought frequency.

So that’s nice.

Cry Baby – a Tale of Mice and Men

There are reports today in the press of scientific research to the effect that women’s tears are a turn-off – sexually speaking – for men. Well, I could have told them that. So I looked a bit more deeply into it – was there more to the story?  Well,  yes there is actually. It turns out that it is the smell of tears has this effect.  So a man’s libido goes down when he cannot see or hear a woman crying, but can smell it, albeit that he is not able consciously to detect any smell at all.

Which makes us different from mice, it seems. For them, tears are a big turn-on.

Quite interesting.  But you do have to wonder what sort of a scientist does it take to spend months researching this stuff? There might be use for this information.

But right now, I am not sure what that use might be.

Pressure, Pressure

I am not sure why I bought a Kärcher pressure washer over the holiday*.  But I did. Not why I tried using it on my now-ageing teak garden furniture.  But I did.

Brilliant! Who would think that just squirting water at an old chair would restore it to magnificence? Here is one I did earlier, and one that I didn’t.

* Actually, it might be due to the fact that the manager of my local hardware store, which I patronise quite a lot, suggested the other day that I might like to have a trade card, which now gives me a discount. They gave me a form to fill in. One of the questions was “Reason for application”. To be honest, this was a tough question, so I wrote, “Sense of self-worth”. Well, not everyone has this status in the hardware store.  Or for that matter, a bright yellow German pressure washer.

2010 Archive

2009 Archive

2008 Archive

 
what to like

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s