All those photos of psychopathic morons proudly showing the bleeding bodies of lions, giraffes, bears, wolves, elephants they have blasted with high-powered penis substitutes? Guess they think we will be envious of their prowess.

Makes good people not envious but sick to their stomachs seeing these vicious fools posed with their killing machines with foot triumphantly on top of the body of their victims. Makes them determined perhaps to try to stop this evil.
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Monkey magic


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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Books do furnish an MP’s room


Some years ago I wrote a piece in which I suggested a new form of swearing-in of a new Prime Minister of Australia, which included a choice of books on which the newly elected best and brightest could swear the oath instead of the bible – Origin of Species, Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, 1984, Catch-22.

This week I remembered those suggestions as the revelations of rorting of parliamentary allowances by Liberal MPs belatedly (ie safely after the election) came to light. Among the rorts were thousands of dollars worth of books purchased.
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Uncle Tom Cobbley


Australia and its states are soon going to be ruled by governments incorporating misogynists, monarchists, homophobes, religious fundamentalists, austerity mode neo-conservatives, developers, nuclear power advocates, climate change deniers, anti-public service ideologues, right-wing think tanks, Rupert Murdoch, xenophobes, mining billionaires, shooters, radio shock jocks, irrigators, nationalists, loggers, militarists, commercial fishermen, bankers, red necks, haters, fools.

Have I missed any?

Society offenders


Why are people so intent on blocking wind farms in both England and Australia in recent years?

Well, some of it is clearly genuine stupidity. While, it is well-known, not all stupid people are conservatives, it is undoubtedly the case that all conservatives are stupid. Add to that natural stupidity the pungent anti-science of the Tea Party style no-nothings in recent years, and you have the perfect recipe for believing any kind of crap nonscience that people of ill-will feed to you. If some clown pretends that there is a link between wind farms and an imaginary disease, then no matter how much proper science disproves this pretence, British Conservatives and Australian Liberals and Nationals will believe the clown every time. If only someone would tell them that gravity is a communist plot and a chap calling in to Alan Jones say it is well-known you can jump from high buildings but our socialist prime minister has covered it up!
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We need to talk about Kevin


The other day I saw the start of one of the Kevin McCloud lifestyle programs “Grand Designs” (a British series which follows people building unusual/interesting houses). I was struck by his opening scene. The camera ran a close-up on his face as he walked along. He said “What do you do in Britain if you want to build a house in the wilderness?” As he spoke the camera panned back to show that he was walking across a paddock, one of hundreds of acres of such paddocks as far as you could see, of pasture for sheep (which were, lambs at foot, dotted across the grass)! It would have been impossible to find a scene less “wildernessy”.

So pause for a moment, as I did, to absorb this incongruity. He isn’t a stupid man, Mr McCloud, so what on earth did he mean? Well, what he meant was that “wilderness” is anything that isn’t in a city. It’s like the ancient Greek sense of “Barbarians” meaning anyone who wasn’t Greek living in a Greek City State (a concept shared with most other cultures, everywhere from England, to China, to Aboriginal Australia, but I digress.

Let’s look at another, related, misused word, “pristine”. Once it meant what “wilderness” once meant – an environment unmodified by humans. Then it was turned on its head, by advertising agencies who decided it had a nice sound, to use, essentially, for a landscape with grass. As in a pristine golf course, a pristine housing development, a pristine farm (see the overlap with McCloud). But then it developed to pristine beaches (with added sand, breakwaters, carefully manicured by sand graders), pristine tropical islands (totally turned into tourist resorts) pristine snow resorts (trees and boulders removed from runs, ski lodges added, artificial snow created by machines), and so on. In this most recent sense it means something like “picturesque” “chocolate boxy” “place that photographs well” or, most simply “special offer, wouldn’t you love to have a holiday here?” Or, in a general sense, places that aren’t the city. Which brings us back neatly to Mr McCloud and his sheep paddock.

In the old days in Britain “wilderness” meant basically “places where we haven’t cut the trees down yet”. They were, consequently, dangerous, and might hide wolves, bears, brigands, ghosts, evil spirits and so on. A farm definitely wasn’t wilderness, but what lay beyond its fence line was.

The Romantics adopted this kind of definition, but turned it into a positive (following the original lead, in a different sense, of Rousseau). Wilderness was where we could get back in touch with nature, get away from the artificiality, indeed evils, of the city, where we were never meant to be, and get back to our roots. Now, instead of being feared, wild places of mountain or swamp or forest were celebrated in art and literature. People went hiking in them, climbed mountains, communed where the wild things were.

And then began creating “wilderness” on their estates – artificial waterfalls, clumps of trees, piles of rocks, fake ruins of temples, and so on. You could visit “wilderness” without the bother of travelling. And paintings, by Constable for example, treated as a single landscape the trees and rivers as well as the farm cottages or watermills or labourers in a field. At the same time the population was on the move as those same labourers tossed it in for more lucrative and perhaps easier work in factories and moved their families into town. The countryside was where they had escaped from, the primitive life, and they had no interest in it. If you needed a holiday from town then you travelled to a seaside resort which was a different kind of town, with a “pristine” beach, but with all the comforts of home. All views, and behaviour, which were exported to Australia with the first convicts and settlers.

So we come, gradually, to McCloud’s definition. Both symbolically, and actually, civilised life is in the city, and all that lies beyond is untamed, and rather threatening and uncomfortable, wilderness. Which people never really see, never want to see. Holidays still involve travel to artificial resorts (either in Australia, say the Gold Coast, or more often these days, in places like Thailand or Bali), the more “pristine” the better. They don’t involve contact with actual wilderness.

Does it matter? Of course it does. If wilderness is an undifferentiated “other” world out there beyond the outer suburbs, and a golf course or resort are “pristine”, then efforts at conservation will make no sense to you. Conversely nonsense like “farmers are the only true conservationists” or “miners restore the environment after mining” or “logging is good for forests” or “you got to choose between frogs and people” will seem to make perfect sense.

If you have no idea that what are trendily called “ecosystem services” these days – clean air, water, pest control, soil conservation – can only be provided by intact functioning ecosystems (wilderness), then you will see no problem in losing them. When populist politicians from Left or Right, or unionists, or big business, call for the felling of forests, the trawling of oceans, the complete use of river water for irrigation, the construction of huge open cut mines, the opening up of the North, shooting or grazing in forests, removal of marine reserves, the culling of bats or crocodiles, the public, in blissful ignorance, will applaud and vote accordingly.

Until the public understands that farmland is an environment little less degraded than cities and suburbs, and that actual functioning wilderness is consequently only in tiny, rapidly disappearing, areas, which are being woodchipped, mined, cleared, developed as I write these words, then there is no hope of trying to develop a public, and therefore political, conservation ethos.

Perhaps I could start with Kevin McCloud. Get him to make a program.

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.

Twist and Shout


The other day, stepping out of my car in a car park, I heard a male voice screaming loudly. Looking around I spotted him yelling into a mobile phone clutched in his left hand while his right hand waved around in the air. Occasionally he kicked the tree he was standing under, or a car nearby, as he twisted and turned.

The language was, as they used to say, purple, though in his case it had moved beyond that into the ultraviolet. It very quickly became obvious that I had inadvertently arrived in the middle of a, shall we say euphemistically, domestic disagreement being conducted by phone in public. So much in public that, if the partner lived anywhere within a 100km radius, the phone was superfluous – she could have stepped outside her house and heard him roar. He was broadcasting to the world.

And roar in the nastiest possible way. The gist of his side of the conversation, repeated, with variations, over and over was “Why are you doing this to me you f#cking bitch I’ll kill you you c#nt?” Had any of the curious listeners, variously situated, unobtrusively, at safe distances from him, attempted to approach him it was on the cards he would have tried to kill them. Conversely, if he had been physically with his wife/partner, in a shop or restaurant, or indeed at home, and had been behaving the way he was, domestic violence charges of some kind would have been on the cards. Merely broadcasting to listeners in a car park left him safe.

Anyway, I went into the shop, glad to get away from the virulent misogyny, and when I returned he had gone. The end of one of the eight million stories in the Naked City. Except that it had left me thinking.

It came in a week when our Opposition Leader, and probable future leader, had told delighted right wing think tank cadres that in government he would be repealing the Racial Discrimination Act so as to prevent any restriction of “Free Speech”. Didn’t those wide-eyed Libertarians applaud until their hands ached. Standing ovation? I’m thinking yes.

Always causes difficulty for the Left, this “free speech” meme exploited so ably by the Right. The mere whiff of a hint of a possibility of a reservation about some of the effects of hate speech and Libertarian Think tanks and their political and shock jock friends are pouring shit on you from a great height as a hater of freedom and liberty

So effective has this tactic been that the rise and rise of hate speech, mainly but not only in America, and mainly but not only supported by Rupert Murdoch, has been a major factor in the rise of neonazi groups (under various names) everywhere, and the success of right wing political parties.

This strident garbage provides, like the first blowfly maggot hatching in a sheep’s wool, the perfect environment for the Right to flourish. In nurturing racism and misogyny (like our friend in the carpark) and anti-science, it promotes the steady drift Rightward of public discourse. So effective has this been that it is noticeable, unremarkable, that social democratic parties like the US Democratic Party, Australian Labor and other Labour parties, have policies and attitudes that would have once upon a time placed them far to the Right of conservative parties of the past.

The Libertarian proponents of absolute freedom of speech might sometimes stop short, like a fist almost reaching a nose, at the point of considering whether shouting “Fire” in a crowded theatre (a metaphor taking on a new edge after the massacre at the Batman movie) should be allowed.

But the hate merchants (also applauding Abbott’s speech loudly) are not just shouting fire, they are providing matches and petrol, blocking exits, removing light fuses, cutting emergency phone lines. The classic case of the effect of this sort of thing was the terrible shooting and near killing of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and the killing of half a dozen people she was with, after the Palin camp produced a map with gunsights painted on a map showing offices of politicians who had dared to have a different political view to the appalling woman once a Diebold voting machine away from being a heartbeat away from the presidency.

In effect all shock jocks and populist politicians are painting targets on people who do not share their views. In Australia the people who said the Prime Minister was a “witch” or a “cheap prostitute whoring herself” who should be “drowned in a sack” or “kicked to death” were inviting violence in a way that should not be permitted in a civilised society whether applied to the prime minister or the unfortunate woman who was the partner of Car Park Man.

Bullying, in home, school, workplace is rightly taken very seriously these days. And it is clearly recognised that verbal bullying can cause as much distress and psychological damage as physical actions.

Yet we facilitate, protect, applaud, the bullying and incitement to bullying that takes place every day in out media. Target after target of helpless and/or vulnerable groups (Aborigines, gays, single mothers, unemployed, refugees, public housing tenants, environmentalists, unions) are chosen day after day by bully boy and bully girl shock jocks and politicians. And day after day there are attempts by the same people to denigrate, delegitimise, degrade, political and philosophical opponents. Day after day words are twisted, lies told, rage consequently incited.

This is not a political discourse that, say, Eisenhower, Menzies, or Churchill would have recognised, let alone accepted. It is however one that Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot would have felt very comfortable with.

We have laws to try to protect people from poisons in water, air, food. Time to try, however difficult it might be in practice, to reduce the amount of poison in our airwaves.

And in our car parks.

Slumming it


Whenever I hear a conservative attack environmentalists; sneer at all conservation measures; demand an end to “green tape”; spit on Rachel Carson’s grave; assert that there are no limits to growth; talk about scientific conspiracies; rant about new world governments; ask what importance the earless lizard has; demand to dump mine tailings on the Great Barrier Reef; cover up after massive ocean oil spills; demand endless population growth; promote uranium mining and nuclear power ….

…. I picture their home. The sewerage outlet has become blocked and toilet contents spill out of the bathroom; termites are eating through the walls; the roof is full of holes and water drips from ceiling; in the garage underneath a car is running, the fumes rising up; cockroaches infest the kitchen; cigarette butts are strewn all over floor and carpet is smouldering, smoke rising up; windows are broken and the wind howls through; and rats nest in cupboards.

I guess they are too busy making money to look after the place where they live. And our place.

Not making it any more


Don’t know if you saw the recent tv program on the geological history of Australia. Some early stuff I didn’t know. For example that enormous mass of iron ore in WA was deposited when the first primitive organisms that could generate oxygen began doing so and all the iron in the seas rusted. The iron and other ores around Broken Hill generated in the deep seas which then ran through this part of the continent. Coal and gas of course laid down when the then lush tropical vegetation died and rotted and was buried far underground by sediments. All flukes really, that the deposits occur in Australia, and flukes dependent on conditions that can never be repeated from millions, even billions, of years ago. No more of that stuff being made on this planet.

On top of the land surface Australia had a rich biodiversity of abundant plant and animal life, also the result of millions of years of evolution and ecosystem development. This biodiversity sustained Aboriginal people in considerable comfort for around 50,000 years, and then provided the basis for English colonists to fell timber, graze sheep and cattle on the extensive grasslands, and grow crops where the soils were deep and organically rich. Not building diversity and rich soils any more.

There’s an old, sorta joke, which says “Want to invest in a sure thing? Buy land, they’re not making it any more”. It’s a message that should have been given to every citizen of Australia to use as a reminder that resources are limited. Instead we have behaved for two and a quarter centuries as Australia Unlimited. Big country, plenty of soil, plenty of trees, plenty of mineral resources. Now the crunch is coming, and there are a couple of urgent responses we need to make. We need to ensure that a good proportion of the staggeringly huge profits being made from digging up those made-once-only mineral resources come back to benefit the 21,999,997 of us who are not mining billionaires. That they are used to create a stronger better Australia as a solid home for us when resources start to dwindle or the demand for them disappears. One of the things we could do with it is sort out infrastructure needs as the climate changes – infrastructure like efficient irrigation, like decent efficient transport, like support for large scale renewable energy projects. And support for individuals in education, health, aged care and so on. The recent budget, trying to balance all those needs, pulling up the blanket to cover the head only to expose the toes, is a classic example of failure to use the mining resources wisely.

And the other response is to stop destroying remaining forests and to start restoring soils to good health. Not least because we need the environment as healthy as it can be to meet the changing climate.

What’s that other saying? Oh yes,”A stitch in time saves nine. Time we started urgent stitching.