Peris the thought


Political parties are like those “3D images” where red and blue images don’t overlap, and by wearing glasses with separate red and blue lenses your eyes are tricked into seeing the third dimension, seeing the image as if it is a single object.

(Helene, small, icy moon of Saturn. Irregularly shaped, about 36 by 32 by 30 kilometers, Helene orbits at Dione’s leading Lagrange point while brotherly ice moon Polydeuces follows at Dione’s trailing Lagrange point. The sharp stereo anaglyph was constructed from two Cassini images (N00172886, N00172892) captured during a close flyby in 2011. It shows part of the Saturn-facing hemisphere of Helene mottled with craters and gully-like features. APOD )

There is the political party as the repository of a set of policies, ideas, ideology, world view, opposed to another party with a different set. In a battle to ensure that one party’s policies become those of the country.

Then there is the political party composed of individuals, flawed, talented, stupid, smart, angry, kind, jealous, competing with all the other individuals in the same party for personal supremacy.

We saw a clear case this week in Australia. Some background. Indigenous Australians have very rarely been represented in Australian parliaments. At federal level only three, all since the 1970s, one only since 2010. I think there has only been one at a state level (in WA some years ago), although there have been several in the Northern Territory with its high Aboriginal population in recent years.

Somewhat astonishingly the Australian Labor Party has never had an Aboriginal member of Federal Parliament, while the Liberals have had two (one reluctantly) and the Democrats one.

Anyway, in a first step to rectify this the Prime Minister announced she had, outside of the normal candidate preselection process, invited a well known Aboriginal former international sportswoman to be the Labor NT Senate candidate (and certain winner), to replace the current non-Aboriginal female Senator who has held the position for 15 years.

Ok, win win win all round eh? Loud applause from all concerned? Supportive media? Labor Party welcoming new recruit? Current Senator happily standing aside? Praise for Prime Minister’s creative thinking? Community discussion about ways to get more minority groups into parliament? In your dreaming.

Immediately members of the Labor party stated bitching and backgrounding the media. How dare the PM interfere? The members must decide. Poor choice, what had this woman done anyway? What had the sitting senator done wrong? Rudd (former Prime Minister) supporters outraged. And on and on. The Party members tearing at each other and in doing so opening up wounds that the media and the Opposition were happy to enlarge, the media undertaking, in its usual charming way, a witch hunt to see what if any dirt they could find. On a young woman who had done nothing except put up her hand and say she was interested in serving her country. The very thought of bringing in new blood to the party for a wider good was anathema to many in the Party.

Look I don’t know the background to this inside the Party. There are two diametrically opposed views here and here. I don’t know what qualities Ms Peris might have (although the tears of happiness she shed, standing by the Prime Minister, were a pretty encouraging sign). I have seen enough of life to know that public image, and perceptions, are often wildly at odds with the actual character and performance of some people in the public eye. But at face value Ms Peris seems a good person who has achieved a great deal in her life so far and now has the opportunity to achieve a great deal more.

The process of getting her pre-selected to seek election is one that could be followed a lot more to get other groups into parliament that are scarcely represented (and I don’t just mean ethnic groups, but scientists, artists, teachers, nurses, young people, old people, and so on). It should be welcomed by political parties concerned with their principles and with the well-being of the country.

In his famous call to the American people in that long ago Inauguration, Kennedy said “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”. It is a call that could be directed at politicians by substituting the word “Party” for “Country”.

Most of the time, the public, issued with those special glasses, sees political parties as they wish to be seen – whole idealistic public-spirited groups concerned only for the well-being of the country they seek to serve. The Nova Peris unpleasantness is one of those occasions where one lens has been removed, and we clearly see the ugliness and self-seeking nature of most politicians (though definitely not all) within their parties.

Time many of them took off their glasses and took a long hard look at themselves in the mirror.

Service Game


Well, I don’t usually have anything much to do with Australia Day. Mainly I suppose for historical reasons – growing up in Western Australia there was little interest in celebrating the discovery of NSW by that Jamey Come Lately (long after William Dampier and Dirk Hartog in the west) Captain Cook, or its founding by Arthur Phillip. But in any case, nowhere was much of a big deal made about Australia Day until recent years. Maybe small local events, a citizenship ceremony perhaps, a backyard barbecue with friends, but that was about it. No Jingoism please, we’re Aussie.

But then suddenly the jingoism appeared, whipped up by politicians and the media, and suddenly every 26 January the streets seemed full of cars with flags on radio aerials, the paths blocked by people with flag capes, the parks full of bouncy castles, sausage sizzles and even more tuneless renditions of our already tuneless national anthem, and the shock jocks were dividing the country into two kinds of people – those who riotously and drunkenly celebrated Australia Day, and Un-Australians.

So I stayed away, more than a little embarrassed.

Until this year when an out of the blue (true blue) phone call told me I was getting an Australia Day Community Service Award in our nearest country town. So, off I went, a little celebration of first steroid-free day this cycle.

And it was ok. Yes, sausage sizzle. And yes, national anthem. And, yes, ok, bouncy castle. But it was all somehow subsumed under a blue sky. Politicians gave brief and not too embarrassing speeches, so did a couple of religious guys. But mostly it was about welcoming four New Australians, smilingly clutching citizenship certificates and Callistemons in pots. And especially about recognising and praising the community servers.

The high school girl, top of all her classes and volunteer in all kinds of activities; the teacher who has taught generations of children in a small country school for 35 years; the firefighter chief; the fifty year Rotary organiser; the community radio lady; the touch football organisers; the arts organiser; the newspaper that had organised bushfire information, and so on. All the warp and woof of the tapestry of country town life. People happy, proud, photos being snapped by relatives, applause being clapped under the shade of trees. Not a yobbo in sight.

It was, in fact, just quietly, between you and me, a bit of alright. Couldn’t have been done better in fact, but probably being done in similar style in many country towns around the nation.

So here I am, getting my certificate.

And here are all of us (me in hat now to prevent my naked head evaporating in the sizzling Sun, hot enough to cook a sausage).
Not bad sorts, eh?

Words, words, words


Not that you’ve had many lately. Sorry about that. Got through latest chemo session on Monday-Tuesday. Went ok, but an almost unbearable 6 hours plus 2 hours travel made for a very tiring day. Now going through the dreaded 5 days of steroids. That knocks me round more than the other chemicals, so much so that I find it impossible to do the deep and meaningful sustained creative writing of the kind you have come to expect.

I can tweet though, keep my scrambled brain, usually, on track long enough to write a shallow but meaningful 25 words or so. Follow me @watermelon_man if you don’t already – 2767 followers can’t be wrong. Well they can I suppose, but probably not ALL of them eh?

Speaking of twitter. It began in 2006. The US Library of Congress in 2010 took on the role of archiving. It has so far archived 170 billion tweets to April 2010  (since 2006), but new tweets are now growing at a staggering rate of 500 million a day! (). Hard to see how they can ever catch up.

Made me think though. I’ve now contributed over 50,000 of those tweets. Plus there are hundreds of millions of blogs, Facebook and all the rest. Plus all the traditional tv and radio, and even more traditional newspapers, magazines, books.  Facts, half-truths, lies, analysis, propaganda, research, press releases, entertainment are spewing out in what must be many billions a day now.

No one can keep up with a tiny fraction of that. So we get our information from a few sources we can keep up with. If we are lucky, and have chosen wisely, we get good information. If not then not. GIGO as we used to wisely say in the early computer age.

But what are you doing, still contributing to this text tsunami of words, I hear you ask. And a good question. I have stopped keeping a diary after over 20 years. Pointless, I decided, last year, thousands of scribbled, illegible words no one would read. Have stopped writing a weekly column for local newspaper after 8 years, and yesterday handed over the editorship of our little local monthly magazine I’ve edited for five years. “Simplify, simplify” said Thoreau, and I have.

But I’ll keep tweeting, and blogging, away. Good way to keep my mind ticking over if not exactly at its full throttle past. Excellent way to keep in touch with, interact with, learn from, make friends and, perhaps, influence people all over the planet.

My Word.

Like a circle in a spiral


Just to get you up to date with progress. My last chemo cycle was before Xmas. Should have had the next one about two weeks ago, but the oncologist couldn’t decide whether another condition I developed about a year ago was related to the Lymphoma and or would be exacerbated by the chemotherapy. So she trotted me off last week for more tests and the excitement of yet another different medical waiting room (this one with walls covered in cricket memorabilia and photos). The new specialist (not much older, it seemed, than someone who could be my grandson) decided that while my very advanced years were indeed contributing to whatever had triggered this problem last year, neither the lymphoma nor the chemotherapy were. However, unless it dramatically worsened, he didn’t want to treat the condition with a minor operation until my chemotherapy course was complete later in the year.

So, good news bad news, no additional medical mucking around, but on the other hand fit for chemotherapy. Felt like a young British or Commonwealth man in 1914 assessed as being fit and healthy enough to go off to the trenches in France and be shot at. The cycles resume early Monday morning, back to the three weekly cycles for some indeterminate period (although given that the first two seem to have been effective to at least some extent, as well as turning me into a totally bald person and some other nasty side effects, I’m hoping it won’t be more than about 5 months).

And there you have it, back to where it all began nearly 2 years ago. As if I have been cycling away, beating Lance Armstrong, only to discover I was on an exercise cycle and had gone precisely nowhere. As does Lance I suppose.

Time to grin and bear it, bit of a laugh ha ha ha, One day at a time, not thinking about the triumphant ride up the Champs Elysees in July, nor the triumphant wave to the oncology nurses in June.

Come along for the ride with me, once again.

But gold shines like fire


A recent story here provides yet another vignette of the problems with modern journalism. A tiny thing but symbolic.

It is the ten year anniversary of the devastating bush fires that hit Canberra in 2003, and local media of course are running a number of stories to mark the event.

An obvious follow-up story was that of Robert de Castella, famous marathon runner of the 1980s, and the most high profile person to lose his home in the fires. He was extensively interviewed at the time, and it was logical to see how he was going ten years on and ask about his reflections on the event in retrospect. So far so good.

It was competently done, bread and butter for someone like local ABC journalist Craig Allen. Footage of “Deek” walking through the burnt out ruins in 2003 interspersed with segments from a new interview. But the ending jarred on me.

At the time much was made of Deek losing everything including all his Olympic, World Championship, Commonwealth Games medals. However they were recovered, some melted, by sifting through the ashes and here they were now ten years on, piled into a small bowl and shown to Craig. It was used as the final image of the piece, shown while Craig’s voiceover says words to the effect (I haven’t tried to transcribe) “What were once Gold and Silver, are now all bronze.” Then comes the punch line “Fire it seems is a great leveller”.

All well and good. Just one tiny problem, the film shows quite clearly that the medals are in fact quite clearly still gold silver and bronze! A note in the transcript (not spoken in the segment that went to air this time, but from the 2003 report) says – “His mother-in-law later [ie after the fire] spent countless hours scrubbing and cleaning the medals, some of which were molten and unrecognisable lumps of metal.”

Now I guess this doesn’t “matter”. “No big deal”, I hear you say. And you’d be right. But consider this. The story stood alone as it was. Absolutely fine. Deek made the point that possessions didn’t matter and that family did. He had come to realise that his losses of material objects he once thought important were irrelevant in the greater scheme of things which was his family.

Fine, good, finish on those words as Deek yet again steps through the rubble of his possessions. But, and I am guessing here, the executive producer, or the journalist, thought there should be another moral to the story. That Deek’s moral was fine, but it was Deek’s, and the journalist, Craig, needed to stamp his authority on the story, write his own narrative, draw his own conclusion, show the audience that this was “journalism” not mere reportage.

In addition it seems, these days all tv stories have to include a visual metaphor. Especially bad and blatant in sports reporting (an image of, say, a flock of seagulls taking off will be accompanied by the observation that the “Swans [footballers] were flying high”), but has crept into all reporting. Find an image, add an observation which matches it in some way, wrap up the story so the audience knows how it is supposed to think about the issue.

This has become such a common practice that we don’t even notice it any more. This one became noticeable only because the metaphor image was wrong, discordant with the narrative it was meant to represent. Chosen because it should have been “right” and therefore its wrongness not really seen. Which then brings one to question the narrative. In what sense is fire a “great leveller”?

Perhaps it was meant as a reflection that if a celebrity like de Castella could be burnt out, then anyone could. But if so then this is such a trivial observation that it isn’t worth taking away from the vision of Deek’s medals. If it was meant in a more general sense that the fire had destroyed houses in a wealthy suburb, then again, a trivial observation, and not really true. It was a middle class suburb certainly, but not generally a home of the rich and famous. And given that fires are more likely to hit the outskirts of cities, then generally I suppose they are more likely to hit relatively poor people. Or, in the bush itself, more likely to hit relatively poor farming communities.

If the segment was suggesting that everyone was impacted in the same way by a fire then this is nonsense. Famously a fire can completely destroy one house, while leaving, by a fluke of wind perhaps, another untouched next door. Fires may completely destroy houses and all their contents, or perhaps partially damage them, leaving interiors unscathed, and so on.

If the observation was meant to support the idea that everybody, rich or poor, famous or humble, would be affected in the same way by fire as Deek, then again it is nonsense. There would be people whose homes contain the results of a lifetime of collecting something, stamps perhaps, or antiques, or art; there would be others whose homes contained all their photographs and memory objects of children and grandchildren, parents and grandparents, who would be bereft without them; there would be people working from home who lost all their research data, or correspondence, or tools of trade. That is there would be many people for whom the fire would be a devastating blow to their lives, work, identity, from which they would never recover. Would never be able to look at charred ruins and say, “oh well, objects don’t matter”. Rob de Castella was lucky that he was able to do that, but the proposition that the fire “levelled” everyone to that same condition is absurd.

In other words both the objects, and the metaphor derived from them, were misleading, plain wrong really. Does it matter? In this case probably not though it does I think leave people with an unfortunate view of the effects of fires and the “correct” way to respond to them and think about them. Disturbing, I would think, to the hundreds of other people in the suburb affected in different ways.

But more generally, it is concerning as an example, over-analysed perhaps, of the media approach to life the universe and everything. Many, perhaps most, of the stories you see on tv will incorporate vision from which a metaphor and a message is derived. The vision may or may not represent anything real at all, the derived metaphor will be glib and inaccurate. And yet, as part of a news package, it will help to convince you, leave you with a subliminal message, that the meaning the media outlet wanted you to attach to the event or person is the one that will be attached.

Be alert and alarmed. Say to yourself “I know what they are doing there, and I won’t be sucked in”.

Perhaps then the media will go back to presenting the facts of a case and letting you make up your own mind what they mean.

The Colour Purple


Media Matters has analysed media coverage in the US media of climate change in recent years and found, in spite of record temperatures and droughts etc, that coverage was actually declining. Furthermore, even when climate change was mentioned, the vast majority of those interviewed were Republican climate change deniers, with actual climate scientists rarely if ever interviewed. I don’t know if a similar study has been done recently in Australia, although there are studies of the abysmal News Ltd newspapers coverage, but it is absolutely clear that similar, if not worse, statistics would apply. I’m looking here a one particular Australian case which probably has relevance everywhere.

The record high temperatures in Australia this week, followed by devastating bushfires, were an obvious “teachable moment” for the media to join the dots for the public. This is what climate scientists have been predicting, this is what happened, this is what the future holds. Instead there was again a studious silence. It was as if there was no such thing as climate change, as if (like the America drought last year) these things were happening by chance in some world in which nothing else had changed.

Here is a recent example from Australia’s national broadcaster the ABC. Some background. The “7.30 Report” is a relatively serious current affair program, immediately following the main evening news bulletin, and often expanding on the main stories from the news. On the 8 January, as temperatures soared and fires raged, a great deal of the News Bulletin was devoted to those events, and then the 7.30 Report devoted the whole program to them.

None of the news items mentioned climate change, nor did the 7.30 Report in its first half, to my increasing frustration and yelling at the tv set. Then came an interview with “Alasdair Hainsworth from the Bureau of Meteorology”. The presenter, Ben Knight, introduced the segment by noting temperature records, and then noting that the Bureau had been forced to add more colours, black and purple, to its temperature maps to cope with the new high records. Extraordinary, right, and the obvious time to have a discussion about climate change, and indeed Mr Knight began the interview with the question “why are we in this situation where Australia is breaking these temperature records?”

Yes, I thought, here comes a decent climate change discussion at last. But I was wrong. Whether by design, or because that was the way the meteorologist interpreted the question, we immediately moved into a routine that has become very familiar. The ABC (and other networks) when it asks about the cause of events, means only the proximate cause, not the ultimate one. By this means, turning climate discussions into discussions about weather, every time, it avoids every opportunity to talk climate change. And so it was yet again, Mr Hainsworh talking about the trapping of heat on the continent, lack of cloud and moisture, delay in monsoon season and so on. Now, fair enough, this seems to be Mr Hainsworth’s area of expertise (a manager, Assistant Director Services, a meteorologist involved in IT systems and so on, his team recently won an award for “Our Next Generation Forecast and Warning System was highly commended at the Comcover Awards for Excellence in Risk Management in March 2012. These awards recognise exceptional and inspiring leadership in the management of risks faced by Commonwealth Government agencies. The judging panel recognised that the system improved our ability to manage and inform the community about severe weather events, including severe thunderstorms and flash flooding. These events present a significant risk to the safety of the Australian community”). But that being the case, why was he asked to appear? Well, apparently because he is responsible for the area that had to put new colours on the map. OK, now we have an another opportunity to talk climate change.

And here we go, the conversation proceeding as follows:

“BEN KNIGHT: It’s always a difficult question but how much of an aberration is this or does this actually fit into this pattern we’ve seen over the past decades where it’s been progressively getting hotter and hotter?
ALASDAIR HAINSWORTH: Certainly I can comment that this has broken the record as the hottest period. We’ve had six days in a row where the national average maximum temperature has been in excess of 39 degrees. The previous record was four days and we’ve also seen the hottest average day in Australia which was Monday and perhaps it could have been broken again today, although it’s somewhat cooler in Tasmania today. So, that may not be the case. Certainly it’s almost unprecedented as far as records are concerned.
BEN KNIGHT: And you now have this really quite interesting situation where Australian temperature maps have actually had to change because previously they only went up to 50 degrees, we’re now seeing that you’ve got an extra couple of gradings in purple and black to show temperatures which go beyond 50 degrees and indeed on Sunday and Monday in parts of Australia are forecast to do just that?
ALASDAIR HAINSWORTH: Yes, that’s right. The charts previously did go above 50 degrees, our models certainly were picking temperatures above 50 degrees but they were, it was showing up as white and so we decided that we would alter the temperature scale to ensure it showed it properly and we’ve added the extra two gradations which take the temperatures up to between 52 and 54 degrees Celsius.
At this stage we’ve only seen the first gradation, which is between 50 and 52 populated but yeah, it’s certainly extraordinarily hot over South Australia and central Australia and unfortunately it does appear as though it’s going to, it’s set to continue.
BEN KNIGHT: Do you think we are seeing a new reality, a new paradigm?
ALASDAIR HAINSWORTH: Well, as far as the models are concerned then yes. We haven’t seen these temperatures before but by the same token our computer modelling is getting better, it’s getting more accurate, it’s getting higher resolution. So it could be a combination of these factors which in actual fact just means that it’s actually modelling these things better, that it may not necessarily mean that they haven’t happened before but it’s simply that we haven’t been able to model it before.”

Now I had to not only listen to this extraordinary exchange, but read it several times, to try to make sense of it. I think we have here not really a conspiracy of silence, as it were, but more a combination of circumstances resulting in the same outcome. Mr Hainsworth, I’m guessing, is there because the ABC researcher rang the BOM and said we want to do an interview about this heatwave and about the altering of the weather map parameters could you put us on to one of your people to interview please? And the BOM public relations person has said, oh, you want Mr Hainsworth, his area is responsible for the map. So there we are. Mr Hainsworth is there to talk about the map (and is in any case not a climatologist), Mr Knight is there to talk about record-breaking hot weather (although I am guessing he is also under some kind of ABC protocol that doesn’t let him use the phrase “climate change”).

So, potential cross-purposes established, we start this part of the interview. Mr Knight tries to ask whether this hot weather is the result of the changing climate (without using the term, instead going for the euphemism “past decades where it’s been progressively getting hotter and hotter”) or is some kind of “freak event” as it were. Mr Hainsworth is there to talk about hot weather events, and about his map which reports them, so he does. The map and nothing but the map.

Mr Knight, perhaps hoping that although he can’t mention climate change, perhaps he can get his interviewee to do so (again, I am guessing that an ABC protocol may specify this) tries again with a different euphemism. Are we, he asks “seeing a new reality, a new paradigm?” Knight (again I’m guessing) hears his own question as “come on Buddy, talk about climate change FFS, ‘new paradigm’, get it?”. Hainsworth, having been invited on to talk about his map, hears “how did you construct your wonderful new map on your computer, what were the computer paradigms?” and answers accordingly, yes indeed, our computers are bigger and better so the maps are getting better. Or perhaps I am being too kind.

Whatever, the outcome is that extraordinary weather, a clear prediction of climate science, and obvious further evidence that the planet is warming, are both apparently “discussed” in serious tv programs on the national public broadcaster without climate change ever being mentioned. Furthermore the guest manages (I think unintentionally) to suggest that all of this could be just some kind of computer modelling glitch and we aren’t really getting hotter at all. In any case, it’s all because of some odd combination of weather circumstances. (It’s worth noting that the Bureau of Meteorology has apparently issued a statement I can’t find that “Clearly the climate system is responding to the background warming trend”. Which is fine but too mild, and as far as I know was little reported if at all).

Now, if I were to complain to the ABC about this, I would be met with incredulity. “What are you talking about? We talked about the map and got the senior person from the BOM responsible for it to talk about it. What more do you want?” And, at one level, fair enough. But at another level, why not get a climate scientist on? Why not mention climate change by name even once in half an hour of news and current affairs tv?

The next day, by contrast, the media was full of the statements by Warren Truss, leader of the Right Wing National Party and future Deputy Prime Minister in a conservative government. No problems with euphemisms, or being cautious for Mr Truss. He announced that linking heatwaves and record temperatures and bushfires with climate change was “utterly simplistic”. He went on to say that “carbon dioxide emissions from bushfires over the past week would eclipse those from coal-fired power stations for decades. Indeed I guess there’ll be more CO2 emissions from these fires than there will be from coal-fired power stations for decades”. It hardly needs saying that Mr Truss has done no research in climate science, has done no postgraduate degree in the subject, and in fact has no undergraduate qualification of any kind. He began work as a farmer, then went into politics.

It also hardly needs saying that his CO2 from bushfires comment is mind-numbingly wrong. “bushfires this year have emitted an amount of CO2 equivalent to 2% of Australia’s annual emissions from coal-fired power. The current bushfires must burn an area of forest greater than Tasmania to generate CO2 emissions equivalent to a year of burning coal for electricity. And the current bushfires must burn an area of forest the size of New South Wales to generate CO2 emissions equivalent to a decade of burning coal for electricity.” In addition of course, the CO2 from bushfires will be reabsorbed as burnt trees regrow, so, unlike coal power stations, there is no net gain of CO2 from bushfires at all. Again, to my knowledge, there was no fact checking of Mr Truss on tv when he was interviewed, or subsequently. Certainly there was none, nor any contrary view in the News Ltd paper report I saw.

So Climate Change denialists, Right Wing politicians, are able to make any outrageous nonsense claim (Mr Truss also said “‘I’m told it’s minus one in Mt Wellington at the present time in Tasmania. Hobart’s expecting a maximum of 16. Australia’s climate, it’s changing, it’s changeable. We have hot times, we have cold times… “!) they like and it will be hyped up by the media (big headline in the Herald-Sun “Climate change link to heatwave, bushfires ‘utterly simplistic’, says Warren Truss”). Conversely, it seems, any situation in which the reality of climate change might by chance become obvious to the public is played down, or structured in such a way as to avoid the possibility of information transfer to public ears.

It has so far proved impossible to get past the media who are guarding the gate against any possibility of action on climate change. The time has come for more direct action, more big claims, like those of Truss but based on reality not fantasy. Aim to generate headlines in spite of the media. And every time you get a chance at an appearance on tv or anywhere else in the media, keep saying “climate change” over and over. The time for being shy, unobtrusive, in the climate change closet, is over, the time has come for purple prose to go with the new purple patches on the map.

Je regrette tout


Whenever a young person comes to me and says “Listen, wise old man, what career should I think about? What occupations are going to be most needed in the next twenty years?” I am always happy to help.

“Young Person” I say “you have come to the right man. There are just three occupations you should consider:

1. Plastic Surgeon specialising in tattoo removal. There are going to be hundreds of thousands of Australians, millions perhaps, who are going to reach the age of, say, sixty, and say to themselves ‘What the hell was I thinking? What is all this rubbish on my arms and legs and back and neck? Who is this person whose name is on my arm in big letters? And are those Chinese characters? Really? A tiger, a motor bike, the Southern Cross? FFS’ And then they will be desperately searching for someone who can remove all this rubbish, which once seemed like a good idea (perhaps under influence of alcohol) when they were younger and smoother, from their now wrinkly skin.

2. Financial Guru specialising in the return of privatised companies to public ownership. Australia, like a number of other countries, tattooed its economy with once public utilities turned into glossy private companies. What seemed like a good idea (under the influence of neocon think tanks) in those carefree days of the 1980s and 1990s now is revealed as a terrible error of judgement. Smart people are going to be needed to undo the thatcherite damage, and return railways, water, telecommunications, airports, wharves, hospitals, schools, energy, to public ownership.

3. Landscape ecologist specialising in revegetation. Australia has tattooed its landscape (under the influence of agribusinesses, forestry companies, coastal developers) with the scars of bulldozers and fires and chain saws. What seemed like a good idea thirty years ago has left a barren landscape, erosion, loss of biodiversity and species, and contributed to the terrible consequences of climate change, and the public will soon be demanding that sand dunes, water courses, grasslands, ruined farmland be returned as far as now possible, to the habitats they once contained (not totally possible of course, land, like skin, loses its elasticity).”

So there you have it. Where once, devil-may-care about future consequences, singing along with Edith “Je ne regrette rien”, young people and politicians gaily jumped into decisions with little thought for how hard they would be to later reverse, soon all of us will be trying to undo them now the consequences are clear. And there will be plenty of jobs for young persons.

Bad Sports


The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton” (Duke of Wellington)

After the recent horror in Newtown, Connecticut, all the usual suspects started trotting out their usual gun apologia, in America and here.

Even the good guys though, really don’t get it. Michael Bloomberg, for example “Nobody questions the Second Amendment right to bear arms”. But why not Michael, why not? Everything else in American society can be questioned but not rampant gun ownership? And here, Joe Hockey, also meaning well said he “couldn’t see why any member of the public, apart from farmers and sporting shooters, needed guns”. Quite right, but why should there be “sporting shooters” Joe (farmers are a different question, but I think also shouldn’t be an exception)?

People, like other animals, have always played games. The simpler kinds of athletics like running and jumping, and games involving some kind of ball or similar object, have been played in all human societies. As have frivolous ones like kite-flying, or spinning tops.

But there are other, more complex games, that develop to reflect, and reinforce, particular cultural or social factors in societies, and these come and go throughout history.

Some, many, are used (like the play of lion cubs or foxes) to train the youth of the society in martial pursuits. In Ancient Greece games like Javelin and Discus throwing, and wrestling; in Rome chariot racing, and gladiatorial contests; in Mediaeval England it was jousting and archery (Henry Eighth making this explicit in his law that the young had to practice archery); later, in many societies, it was guns used for target practice, horses doing dressage. Other games relate to people turning their working day occupation into a game or sport – for example wood-chopping, sailing and rowing, hunting, horse riding, motor racing.

Over the last few thousand years societies have grown out of some sports, left others behind as archaic, no longer relevant to warfare, have changed their ethical and moral attitudes to brutality toward other human beings, towards animals.

No longer do we see, nor expect to see, people leaping over bulls, chariot racing, gladiatorial mortal combat, jousting or bear-baiting. Then there are games that do continue, often underground, but that should have (for obvious reasons) gone totally by now – cock fighting, dog fighting, bullfights, hunting (all kinds), fishing and horse racing.

And then there are some new “sports” that should never have started but, having done so, should be stopped – wood chopping, motor racing, boxing, cage fighting, rodeos, and shooting.

Why? Well because sports don’t merely reflect the values and ethics of their time and place, they help to define them, reinforce them. In the Colosseum, watching thousands of rare animals slaughtered, or deciding on the life or death of a defeated gladiator by the whim of the crowd, were not merely reflections of a brutal attitude to life in Rome, but helped to maintain that attitude. No longer seeing defenceless bears torn to death by dogs on the streets of Elizabethan London must have helped to begin the movement towards a gentler society.

And so it is with our modern bad sports. One or two of them certainly seemed like a good idea at the time – other times, other mores – but that time is no longer with us. Take wood-chopping for example. Began as a way for the 7 foot tall, well-muscled, bronzed axemen of the bush, to see who was the fastest at chopping down 500 year-old-trees. Crowds cheered at agricultural shows, as these representatives of all that was magnificent about the Australia of the past chopped away to see who could cut through their log the fastest. Heroes, home-grown heroes. But these heroes had helped to destroy forests all over Australia, had removed magnificent old growth trees, had driven once abundant species like red cedar effectively to near extinction. In 2013, with forests everywhere lost or degraded, and with climate change coming at us like a timber lorry on a narrow road, the time for seeing wood chopping as a celebration of Australia should be long behind us.

Same with motor racing. One hundred years ago, there was a brave new world of fast cars, and brave drivers pushing boundaries, advancing technology. Hurtling around the track without a care in the world except the next chequered flag. The fastest drivers of our youth (such as Juan Fangio and Stirling Moss in my case) heroes in the sense that top footballers and cricketers and tennis players (ah, those were the days) were. But now? Kidding, right? How many cars in the world, a billion? Two billion? All burning petrol, spewing out CO2. We could do without high performance cars driving mindlessly round and round race tracks symbolically and actually wasting fuel for no good reason.

Similarly, with seven billion people on the planet, with wars and rumours of wars, terrorism, ethnic hatreds, violence on the streets of big cities, do we really want to keep glorifying the idea that two men (and even women these days) brutally bashing each other to the cheers and jeers of a crowd until one is so badly injured (even dead sometimes) they cannot go on, is a sport and an entertainment? And, on a planet where species are going extinct at a faster and faster rate, and where climate change and habitat loss are rapidly worsening, why the hell are we hunting and fishing the species that are left? And why are we still encouraging an ethos that animals are there for the mere purpose of entertainment, to be tortured and killed on a whim, in sports such as horse racing, rodeos, and bull fighting? It certainly reduces the level of empathy for the natural world so necessary to get us through the rest of this dangerous century, but, considering only self human interest, leads to less empathy for other humans.

Which brings me to shooting. Put all of the above together and tell me that in the world of 2013 we should be treating and glamourising guns as sporting equipment and not deadly weapons whose use should be reduced to a minimum. There is nothing sporting about shooting. We shouldn’t be treating as normal the idea of possessing and using guns which kill tens of thousands of people every year and millions of animals.

So we need some new games? How about some based on firefighting, tree planting, rescuing sea turtles and seabirds, collecting litter, replanting sand dunes, conservation farming, solar-powered vehicles, public health activities?

Good sports, eh?

Be careful out there


Started writing a long, complicated post about how “New Year” was as meaningless as birthdays because they are both artificial points in a time continuum and you can’t characterise particular years because mixture of stuff, and yada yada yada.

But I took pity on you all and scrapped it. Here we are, another year rolling out, another year rolling in. Thank you all for your keen interest and warm support in 2012, and I hope we all have a good, better, best year this year.

So, off you go, embrace 2013, but Hey!

Be careful out there.