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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Phantom menaces


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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Desert profit


“My heart is broken by the terrible loss I have sustained in my old friends and companions and my poor soldiers. Believe me, nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won.” Duke of Wellington, letter from the field of Waterloo (June 1815)

Tacitus some 1700 years earlier – “They rob, kill and plunder all under the deceiving name of Roman Rule. They make a desert and call it peace.”

At Xmas I came across a sad piece talking about Xmas 1913, looking at what a number of young men were doing that Xmas, and what would happen to them in the Great War. That is, die.

The essay beautifully makes the obvious point that 1913 marked the end of the old world. Nothing would ever be the same again – “What the war changed most, as Philip Larkin suggested in his great poem “MCMXIV”, written in 1964 for the half-centenary of the war, was the social deference born of ages; a blind trust in authority; a belief that everything was most likely to advance towards a better world. “Never such innocence again.””
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Denial’s advocate


The MSM standard practice is to interview by taking the worst most extreme antitheses, and or “talking points”, from deniers (for example), and using them as questions for climate scientists (for example). Similarly in interviewing a Labor minister the questions are obtained from the most recent talking points released by the Liberal Party. This practice has become so ubiquitous as to be accepted as merely “the way things are done”.

I guess if you asked a journalist about this they would, after expressing surprise that you were questioning this approach, express a couple of reasons for it. One would be that it saves time, that journalists in this time of media cost-cutting and job-shedding, simply are unable to research a topic in any meaningful way before doing an interview. Indeed I suspect that the idea of “research” being anything EXCEPT reading something from an opponent is now foreign to journalism in Australia.
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I’ve been searching for a cure for Writer’s Block, but the only one that seems to work is to start writing. We shall see whether it is effective or not.

An update on me first, then perhaps some less important stuff about the rest of the universe. I’m doing ok, thank you. Half way through my three-month holiday from Oncology and so far so good on my mutated lymphocyte guerrilla army. But if I am temporarily playing hooky from the claws of Oncology, I am spending a lot of time trying to repair some of the ravages of two years of cancer treatment. Chemotherapy works on the old tested procedure of destroying villages in order to save them. Or, a more modern metaphor, on the IMF procedure of imposing austerity on countries in order to repair them
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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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Reality has a science bias


We (when I say “we” I mean sentient beings) have long complained about the fake balance/false equivalence practices of modern journalism. You know, where the work of 100,000 scientists on climate change is represented by one scientist, blinking in the unaccustomed studio bright lights, debating, on apparently equal numerical terms, a lone nutter funded by energy companies, and with the experience of 100 tv debates behind him.

But it is much more insidious than that. “Science” in the media is presented as if it is just one of many stakeholders, pressure groups, lobbyists, special interests, arguing for”its” share with, say, big business, farmers, social services, schools, hospitals, small business, migrants, what have you.

But, as I saw someone remark on twitter “science is a verb not a noun”, and this remark helped me to consolidate what had merely been mulling. Science is not just another lobby group but the only way (the scientific method) we have of revealing reality. So the “debate”, if you like, is not between the interests of science and the interests of big business, but about how the latter match with the real world.

Similarly there is no such thing as “scientific opinion” and therefore it cannot be matched against the opinions of, say, a right-wing think tank using free market libertarian ideology to serve business interests. Facts are facts, and you can’t have your own even if you have paid handsomely for opinions.

So there you are. Wanna have a debate between, say, farmers, miners and developers about land use? Go for it, let them put their cases, their proposals, their predictions of outcomes. But then let’s see what the science actually says about the real world outside the bubble of get-rich-quick schemes which, of course, are completely sustainable.

Instead of a chair on which a single scientist sits, imagine the tv studio bathed, like cosmic background radiation bathes the universe, in the light of reality. And imagine the special interest wanna-be-richer guys shielding their eyes from the light as they try to argue against facts with opinions, to the derision of a live studio audience.

Now that’s balance.

A Thousand Ships


The most significant woman in the World in the last 20 years was a very young White House Intern. No, not the best, or the brightest, or the most powerful, woman in the world, but the most significant, the one whose existence changed history the most.

Look powerful male leaders have always taken advantage of their power (that “powerful aphrodisiac” as Kissinger put it, and I guess he knew) to take advantage of young women. But there have also been many extramarital relationships for leaders apparently based on equality of personal power. Millions of both kinds over the centuries, including Kings (and two of the Queens) of England.

So why do I single out the Clinton-Lewinsky “relationship” [hard to think of word here] for special mention? Two reasons.

Going back through time many American presidents have had extra-marital relationships. Even in relatively recent times of course we have Kennedy (and in very different way perhaps Eisenhower, though before he became President) and perhaps Carter (though he seems not to have inhaled). None of the other recent presidents seem to have (and most seem very unlikely to have, but who knows the mysteries of human attraction?) as far as we know.

Recent British political leaders? Seems not. There was of course Profumo (but then I would say that, wouldn’t I?), though that’s about all.

And Australian leaders, senior politicians? Well, there was Hawke and D’Alpuget, and presumably Gorton and Gotto. Then there was Cairns and Morosi (did I imagine it being said recently that it was young John Howard, of all people, who discovered them in a broom cupboard or something?), and Evans and Kernot, and that’s about it to my knowledge.

But the thing about all those is that little or nothing was said about most of it in the Press at the time, no front page compromising photos, no salacious titbits read out by radio shock jocks. Nor great political capital made, presumably on the basis that those in the glass houses of as yet undiscovered indiscretions probably better pull the blinds down. Oh there was some “Nudge, Nudge, Wink, Wink” but then it was “Say no more” and that was that.

But with Bill Clinton it all changed and the political world would never be the same again. His “indiscretion” with young Monica Lewinsky was turned into a weapon to smash his Presidency, impeach him for heaven’s sake. Look, sure, it was inappropriate use of power in workplace, no question, bad behaviour. Should have been punished, and steps taken to look at the structures of the White House in terms of sexual harassment and how to prevent it. But the reaction was far out of proportion, and it seemed clear Ms Lewinsky was being used by powerful forces who hadn’t the slightest interest in sexual mores.

Soon made obvious by the trotting out of a whole lot of more mature and non-White House ladies, all apparently called Gennifer (having the same names may have made things confusing, or simpler, I guess), though my memory may be faulty, said to have had relations with Clinton. And on and on. So effectively that the business of government was badly impacted, paralysed, as lawyers and committees proliferated, and shock jocks pontificated. Which was of course the aim, the start of the new tactics by the Right in America to make it impossible for a Democratic President ever to effectively rule again, as Obama has now discovered.

You could argue that taking private lives from off-limits and into the Blitzkrieg Politics that Attwater and Rove introduced meant that nothing would ever again be unthinkable as a political tactic. Swiftboating, Birtherism, Filibustering, Sequestering, and just plain Racism all were legitimised in a sense when Monica’s red dress, and descriptions of Clinton’s genitals, were accepted as legitimate political discourse.

And it only got worse. Clinton was so politically damaged by the unprecedented all-out assault that in turn he was no use to, in fact counter-productive for, the Gore presidential candidacy. Instead of being able to build on his role in a succesful and productive presidency, and use the once very popular Clinton in the campaign, Gore was effectively forced to campaign by cutting loose from his history, his actual qualification for the top job. Ms Lewinsky’s red dress had stained Gore’s campaign, and the stain could not be removed. The result, as we know, was to end in the tears of the hanging chads (in itself another development o tactics in the absolute lust for power of the Right), and, incredibly, the election of the most foolish and incompetent man ever to hold the Presidency.

And the result of that, of course, was 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, the rise of terrrorism and the mad-brained “war on terror”, loss of political freedoms for Americans and others who copied them, trillions of dollars in unfunded expenditure compounded by tax cuts for the rich, deregulation of banks, the eventual virtual collapse of the world finances, and the continuing failure of American action on climate change as the world slowly melted.

So, a major shift in not just American history and society, but that of the whole world, a shift that has continued to resonate for twenty years, and goes on. And a big influence even on the fate of the actual planet we all live on. A thousand consequences launched, unexpectedly, at the first time a vivacious young lady walked into the Oval Office.

Helen of Troy? Pffft!

Although, wait a moment, wasn’t it actually Bill of Arkansas who launched the thousand war ships, Clinton himself who pulled the temple down?

Helen of Troy? Reinstated.

You’ll go riding on the horses


Next year the carousel (I grew up calling such things “merry go rounds”) in the heart of Canberra is 100 years old. It is a classic of its kind, lots of old-fashioned horses, with names, and two elephants, in which children, brave enough to go round and round, but unsure about the whole up and down thing, can sit, with or without parents.

But for the children on the horses, giddeyup, it also has the advantage that parents and grandparents, left bravely behind on the ground outside, can be comfortingly seen and waved to, still in exactly the same place (“don’t move”), on every circuit. “Hullo”….. “Hullo” ….. “Hullo” ….. However brave you are, or are not, it’s comforting to know cuddles are not far away if needed. And if you know that, then the ride can, should, must go on forever. “Not yet, don’t stop yet” you might hear as the operator shows sign of heading for the Off Switch, and he might, fearing unpopularity, let it go round just once more.

Reminds me of the inexplicable failure of governments to do anything significant to deal with the now obviously runaway climate change. There we all are, going round and round, being reassured by politicians that nothing need ever change, that we will go round and round, exactly the same way, forever.

And we keep calling, “Not yet, don’t stop yet!” if a politician even looks as if they might be heading for the Off Switch, even the Slow Down Switch, we scream in protest.

And so the Merry Go Round keeps going round, in spite of ominous rumblings from underneath, puffs of black smoke, the smell of hot oil, the happy music sounding increasingly like a dirge. No maintenance you see, and it can’t run forever. The Operator looks more and more anxious, but there is no denying the cries “Not yet, don’t stop yet!” And the politicians, unmoving, waving and smiling happily to the riders, ready to cuddle away any doubts. Don’t you worry about a thing little girl.

So round and round we go, merrily riding on the horses yeah yeah.

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.