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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Pixels made flesh

39

“What do we want?”
“A slogan.”
“When do we want it?”
“Now.”

Went to the Canberra “March in March” protest today, so need to write about it. Everyone else has written about their own experiences among the 100,000 plus people who marched in cities and towns all over Australia in last three days, so I should too. 100,000 people, by the way, virtually ignored by the media (except to complain about one or two signs, out of thousands, with a rude word or two, in order to discredit the event), but whose actions, just 6 months into the term of a new government, are unprecedented.

The Canberra event was much like the other events everywhere. It all had a pleasantly amateurish feel – no professional protesters or rent-a-crowd here. Ordinary people with no second names (“I’m Jim” “I’m Lisa” and so on) standing in front of an “open mic”, most clearly for the first time, saying in a few stumbling, and in one case tearful, words, why they had made the effort to come. Young and old, radical-looking and very conservative, men and women (about equal numbers), straight and gay, Aboriginal and “indigenous” (as one Aboriginal speaker put it), local Canberra and “from Goulburn” “from Newcastle” “from overseas”, healthy and not-so-healthy.
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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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Big Benn

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Regular readers of this blog will know I’m not much of a one for heroes. I have previously written a sort of list (here and the following section) of a few of my heroes from the past. Even fewer in more recent years, but one of them, Tony Wedgwood Benn, died just yesterday, and Watermelon must mark his passing.

If you don’t, or didn’t know of him, please look him up. Hard to think of an equivalent in Australia (perhaps Jim Cairns, Bob Brown) or America (perhaps George McGovern or Bernie Sanders) he was said to be “one of the few UK politicians to have become more left-wing after holding ministerial office.”
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Down down

6

As I write the hunt for any sign of the missing Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 is still proceeding unsuccessfully.

These events bring out the worst in the media, and I find another reason to avoid watching tv news bulletins. The shameful sight of a paparazzi gang at the airport surrounding frightened and frantic relatives of passengers is enough to turn my stomach, and again make me wonder at the morality of the media. Also interviews of relatives on tv programs, questions designed to elicit grief and tears which alert cameramen are ready to close focus on. And nonsense about “fate” and “miracles” and prayers, and stories of people who almost caught the plane but didn’t or did catch the plane when they shouldn’t have.
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Lights out

7

The last time an Australian Labor leader came up with a phrase that was both memorable and of positive benefit to the Party was Ben Chifley’s ‘Light on the Hill’. So good was it, in fact, that the media have deliberately tried to turn it into a joke phrase.

Oddly, the phrase is part of an otherwise forgettable piece of prose:

I try to think of the Labor movement, not as putting an extra sixpence into somebody’s pocket, or making somebody Prime Minister or Premier, but as a movement bringing something better to the people, better standards of living, greater happiness to the mass of the people. We have a great objective – the light on the hill – which we aim to reach by working the betterment of mankind not only here but anywhere we may give a helping hand. If it were not for that, the Labor movement would not be worth fighting for.

Indeed the memorable ‘light’ part bears no obvious relation to the rest of the worthy description, and that in turn, though it is worthy, is totally unclear. ‘Better standards of living’? ‘Greater happiness’? You see what he is trying to get at, but it is no ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’, is it?
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Green parasols

1

‘You have come down here to see an election – eh? Spirited contest, my dear sir, very much so indeed. We have opened all the public-houses in the place. It has left our opponent nothing but the beer-shops — masterly policy, my dear sir, eh?’ The little man smiled complacently, and took a large pinch of snuff.

‘And what is the likely result of the contest?’ inquired Mr. Pickwick.

‘Why, doubtful, my dear sir, rather doubtful as yet,’ replied the little man. ‘Fizkin’s people have got three-and-thirty voters in the lock-up coach-house at the White Hart.’
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The buck stops here

5

“The man who is not a socialist at twenty has no heart, but if he is still a socialist at forty he has no head.” (Aristide Briand (1862-1932)) Well, Aristide, Prime Minister of France 11 times, was certainly a Socialist when young, but perhaps felt himself as an international statesmen becoming more right-wing as he became older.

It is an aphorism that is endlessly quoted, with knowing smirks, by the Right, most famously by Churchill, trying to counteract the opposite observation – “Although it is not true that all conservatives are stupid people, it is true that most stupid people are conservative.” – by John Stuart Mill. And trying to counteract modern studies showing that politically conservative people have on average a lower IQ than politically progressive people.

Not the point I want to discuss though, though related.
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Exempt from public haunt

2

“And this our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything” (As you like it)

Was thinking about blog inspiration the other day, by pure chance, not struggling with writers block, not me, nosireebob. One of my twitterfriends, HD Rebner, was wondering where his new ideas for tweets were going to come from, and for some reason Duke Senior’s words came to mind. Perhaps they in turn arose from Bill Shakespeare having a writer’s block (but heaven knows, any he did have must have been as brief as Charles Dickens’ writer’s blocks!), wondering where the next inspiration would appear.

Don’t know about other bloggers but Duke Senior’s prescription seemed pretty good for Watermelon. If I wanted to be a world famous blogger I would be a single-topic blogger – American politics, cake decorating, atheism, climate change, media – and just keep hammering away at that topic day after day. But that would bore me silly, and bore you, my faithful followers used to a smorgasbord of subjects, a pot pourri of polemic, a passing parade of media topics, an harangue about history, silly as well I think.

So on we go, exempt from public haunt, finding sermons, tongues, books, as I stare out of the windows of Wuthering Heights. But not sure about the “good in everything” – think that would bore us both too.

And blogging fame may just have to wait a little longer.

Forget the unicorn

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A classic atheist response to the incredulity of religious believers is -”I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours “

A variation of this might also help. All children believe in many imaginary creatures – Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, God, Imaginary Friends, Wizards, Dragons, Fairies at the bottom of the garden, Batman, Bogeyman, Abominable Snowman, Aliens, Unicorns – but as they grow up these fall away one by one as a child understands they are made up, not real.

So, religious believer, we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer imaginary friend than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible imaginary unbeings as you grow up, you will understand why I dismiss yours.