Old currency

5

What else can possibly be said about the worst Australian Budget in history that wasn’t said by Abbott’s smirk as Hockey screwed the students; his comment that they were going to undo everything the Australian Labor Party had ever done in government; and Hockey’s comment that they were going to get government out of people’s lives (given that the government is, or should be, the people, this translates as “getting people out of their own lives”)? Well, possibly this:
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New Blighty

6

These kind of wtf moments seem to come every day from this worst-government-in-Australian-History government. “I drive to Canberra to go to Parliament … and I must say I find those wind turbines around Lake George to be utterly offensive,” Mr Hockey said. “I think they’re a blight on the landscape.”
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Eating people is wrong

7

I first entered the hallowed halls of a university a long long time ago. So long that my lecturers were monks in full monkish gear, there were theologians, we ate in a Refectory, wore gowns and mortar boards for graduation, and lived in “colleges” (well, some of us did, the wealthier ones); there were cloisters (sort of!) somewhere, and a tower where bells were rung for the call to prayers (no, made up the bells).
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Monkey magic

13

We all know the nature of monkey is irrepressible, right?

And the nature of the lion is to hunt, of the vulture to pick up the leftovers, of the hyena to scavenge the scraps.

Regular readers know that I don’t have “a deep burning hatred” for the neo-conservative scum (oops, sorry) now infesting the Australian corridors of power. No, not at all. Liberal and National Party politicians, and the right-wing think tank vermin (again, “oopsy”) that advise them, simply can’t help being what they are. When they demand the scrapping of the minimum wage, want additional payments to see the doctor, talk nonsense about natural CO2 and demand scrapping of a price on carbon, refuse legal advice to refugees, rewrite school curricula, dump spoil on Barrier Reef, remove limits on hate speech, sell public assets, remove financial and environmental regulations, invade other countries, clear-fell heritage forests, and so on, this just reflects their nature.
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Doctor, doctor, gimme the news

6

All over this planet, millions of species representing the end point of 4 billion years of evolution, living in ecosystems representing the end point of millions of years of ecological interaction, are being made extinct at a rate probably unprecedented in the history of Earth, and towards an end point seen only a few times in that history.

An incredible 100,000 or so species are estimated to be going extinct each year towards a total loss in just a few decades of at least half those existing just 100 years ago (when the extinction rate first gathered pace). My feeling is that estimates like “a half” represent scientists being cautious. That really the planet is faced with the extinction of 90% or more, and the last time that happened was a quarter of a billion years ago. The last time anything like the extent of the events of these two centuries happened was 65 million years ago as a large meteor exploded against the planet. The last significant set of extinctions was around 25,000 years ago as the climatic events of the end of the ice ages drove many large species, especially mammals, to extinction.
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The contrary assumption

1

Saw a quote yesterday, and, as is so often the case in my near-dotage, didn’t write it down in case I decided to use it later, which of course I did just 24 hours later. So forgive me a little inexactitude in the interests of a Meloncholic Muse. It was from a right wing politician in Australia (or America, Argentina, Angola, Azerbaijan…) bemoaning the fact that the Left in Australia (Albania, Austria…) liked to sign international treaties.

It was related, I think, to the Tasmanian election, and the determination of the Liberals to turn thousands of hectares of World Heritage forest into wood chips and scorched ground. Or perhaps it was related to the UN Refugee Convention. Or Human Rights. Whatever, it was related to the nerve of any agreement having the temerity to presume to limit the activities of an incoming Liberal government hell-bent on destroying whatever stood in the way of its neoconservative religion as surely as the Taliban destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas that stood in the way of their religion.
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Worth defending

7

This:

“In 1969 Robert Wilson, director of the National Accelerator Laboratory, was testifying before the US Congress. He sought funding for a particle accelerator (forerunner of the Large Hadron Collider at Cern where the Higgs boson was discovered in 2012). Asked by Senator John Pastore how his project would help defeat the Russians, he responded: “It only has to do with the respect with which we regard one another . . . are we good painters, good sculptors, great poets . . . new knowledge has nothing to do directly with defending our country except to help make it worth defending.”

was sent to me by my old friend Rob Banks, who knew that I would enjoy it.

It made me think of this, from H.H. Kirst’s “Gunner Asch goes to war” (What, you don’t know Kirst and his great creation Herbert Asch? Shame on you. Rectify at once, if you can find it, and the later works):

‘Sergeant Asch said “I’m not going to die for this sort of Germany”
“But who’s asking you to?” said Kowalski
“There must be another Germany, which is worth dying for”
“Man!” said Kowalski “Perhaps one day there’ll even be a Germany which is worth living for!”‘

Something to bear in mind as we are in the year marking 100 years since the war to end all wars began. And in Australia we are just a year away from the commemoration of ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) troops (as well as British troops) landing at the start of the failed attempt to invade Turkey. An event now commemorated by Anzac Day on 25 April, and said to mark the true beginning of Australia’s nationhood. An event so important to the Right in Australia that the Education Minister (a title impossible to use seriously) appears to want the whole education curriculum built around it.
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Phantom menaces

6

I’ve been watching, at long last, the three Star Wars prequel movies (yes, yes, I know how truly awful the first two are NOW, but you didn’t warn me, did you?). Something struck me as I watched the endless computer graphics supplying background to the endless special effect fight scenes.

It has long been a commonplace that the representation of “alien races” in science fiction always gets it wrong. In brief, for this is totally irrelevant to the essay, natural selection will work exactly the same way wherever life appears in the universe. And we know that physics and chemistry is uniform. So alien body forms can’t be just random collections of unconnected exotic features, and bodies are limited by physical and chemical laws. So Wookies, possible, Jar Jar Binks, not so much.

Where was I? Oh yes. Aliens are wrong, but so, generally, are the planets they are portrayed as living on. Many Star Wars planets are portrayed as having surfaces totally covered by cities composed of huge skyscrapers and clearly intended to indicate populations of billions of beings. It is an old concept in science fiction. I guess based on the ideas of inevitable massive population growth, endless technological innovation, and cities as the ultimate expression of human evolution and civilisation.
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Would you believe…

6

See, there are people who believe… I’m sorry, you’ll laugh. There are people who believe that the money that tobacco companies used in advertising, promotion, sponsorship, to make their brand logos well-known, in order to make huge profits (including of course recovering as costs or tax deductions the money spent on promotion), is much more important to society than the vastly bigger amounts of money the public have to spend to deal with the costs of tobacco addiction.
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Tilting at markets

5

Once upon a time I thought that Steve Jobs was an IT saint, put down on Earth for a little while to enrich the lives of ordinary mortals, and Bill Gates, well, wasn’t. Recent years have tended to almost, though not quite, reverse those judgements, though you would still have to pry my iPad and MacPro from my cold dead hands, and I have never bought a computer that uses Windows.

Still, Bill, and Melinda, Gates, having gained wealth beyond the dreams of anyone except Rupert Murdoch, the Koch Brothers, and Australian mining magnates, have been heaven bent (unlike Murdoch, the Koch Brothers, and Australian mining magnates) on putting their riches to good use. And good for them.

And good for Bill, on the basis of what he has learnt in his post-capitalist life, getting stuck into capitalism, “ripping it a new one”, as I would say if I was one of them trendy bloggers.

He pointed out:
“The malaria vaccine in humanist terms is the biggest need, but it gets virtually no funding. If you are working on male baldness or other things you get an order of magnitude more research funding because of the voice in the marketplace than something like malaria.”

While this example relates to a particular interest of Bill Gates, it obviously applies more generally. That is, you can’t rely on “capitalism” to provide any kind of services to a community because it will always focus on the profitable bits and ignore the unprofitable ones. Poor people, and poor regions, will always miss out, an observation that in itself makes nonsense of the libertarian free market neoconservative think tank demands to privatise everything up to the air we breathe.

But Bill’s observations, while absolutely correct and damning, are at the same time just a tad ironic.

One of the demands of conservatives of course is that we get rid of all social services, public support mechanisms, because the super rich, getting ever richer under neoconservative governments, will let a little largesse trickle down from the high table to the poor. Just as, once upon a time, king and nobles might allow the poor to fight over food scraps from their table, or over a handful of pennies scattered on the ground, or allow, graciously, hems of robes to be touched in a free medical service.

The irony is that even a benevolent billionaire like Gates, offering not robe touching but malaria treatments to the poor, is still working to the capitalist model. Not “The Market” but Bill’s own interests and inclinations decide what he will support and fund. Absolutely fair enough, it’s his money that we (well, not me, but you see what I mean) gave him, and he can spend it as he pleases.

But what pleases him is no more serving the whole community in the most effective way than the drug companies who put their mouths where the money is. What we need you see, is a system where the people of a country would elect some of their number to represent their interests. And that number would investigate the needs of the country, its people, and set priorities accordingly. Then there could be a mechanism whereby each citizen, and corporation, according to their ability, contributed a proportion of their wealth to a fund which would be used to pay for those priorities.

If only we were smart enough to invent something we could call, oh, I don’t know, “democracy”. Then we could get things like Malaria funded properly, and not at the whim of capitalists and capitalism, and capitalism could pretend to deal with hair loss.