Home
Home

Jottings: short comments on many subjects

Feedback to daveclarkecb@yahoo.com welcome

 
Google search Ramblings DC

On this page...

Addicted to cheap energy
ANZAC Day
Aquifers as tanks
ABC
Bacteria are us
Better bricks
Better than average drivers
Bicycle; why ride one?
Bottles and energy
Civilisation
Climate change argument
Coal and slavery
Compact fluorescent lights
Complimentary medicine
Copper-Chrome-Arsenate
Cost of fuel
Debunking delusions
Defence spending
Distributed generation
Do-gooders
Dying languages
Easy image?
End of gas
Exhaust noise
Eye glasses – good value?
Farming and cheap energy
Freedom: for dogs?
Golden Age
Gun control
Howard ally of terrorists
Howard gets Freedom Medal
Income and climate change
Iraq and Cronulla
Iraq war, why?
Is sustainability possible?
Is there a purpose?
Jobs
Kerry Packer
Lack of example
Legal drugs
Lights or speed?
Litigation paranoia
Mind-numbing work
Machiavellian politics
Muslim dress code
The new opium of the masses
Noblesse oblige
Obesity and greenhouse
Ockham's Razor
One of the very few
Open letter to the PM
Photograph resolution
Pascal and climate change
Pickling olives
Precautionary principle
Priorities
Renewable energy and coal
Science – only when convenient
Selfishness and short-sightedness
Societal dysfunction and cancer
Something wrong with society
Springs rise in autumn
Sport, the opium of the masses
They've won!
Thought on water
Three types of people
Ultimate in self-indulgence
What has the Iraq war achieved?
What is it like to be a bat?
Whom should we fear?
Why greenhouse is insoluble
Wind turbines and CO2
Wood fuelled vehicles

Unlike most of my pages, sections of this page are usually written and not edited later (unless they have been found to be wrong).
Home
Top
Index


Why ride a bicycle?

2017/09/20

 
My EBike
EBike
I looked up "Why ride a bike?" on the Internet. Didn't see any site that listed all the reasons I thought that one should ride a bike, so here are my reasons. (And you don't have to put up with advertising to read them!)
  • One of the best reasons is to set an example. "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi
    When there are very few people riding bikes you might be thought quaint, even weird. Some yobbos think that bike-riders have no right to be on the road. But somebody has to start the trend. Is your ego really so delicate that you need to be seen in a big expensive car or a big 4-wheel-drive (SUV) everywhere you go? Be a trend setter instead.
  • A bicycle needs no fossil fuel. It uses far less energy than a car; an electric bike uses far less energy than even an electric car.
  • It's good for your health and fitness; and let's face it, that's very important. If more people rode bikes there would be less obesity, better all round health.
  • If you ride a bike regularly you would not need to pay to go to a gymnasium.
  • Far less resources are consumed in the manufacture of a bicycle than in the making of a car.
  • Buying a bike costs a fraction of buying a car; and running a bike costs practically nothing.
  • Storing a bike at home requires far less space than a car; parking a bike is easier and usually costs nothing; parking a car can be expensive.
  • If, like most people, you keep a car as well as a bike, you'll probably use the bike for the short trips. Internal combustion car engines do not lubricate well in the first few kilometres of travelling, so keeping your car for the longer trips and not using it for the short trips in which wear is disproportionally high means that it will last significantly longer.
  • If more people rode bikes:
    • There'd be less air pollution; motor vehicles are one of the biggest causes of smog and toxic pollutants in the air we breath.
    • There'd be less greenhouse emissions, climate change would be slowed.
    • There'd be less danger to road users.
    • There'd be a lot less congestion on our roads.
  • Building roads is one of the greatest costs of a government or council; bike paths are much cheaper.
  • Less noise; consider how much fuss there has been about the 'noise' that wind turbines supposedly make – an ordinary car makes far more noise than a wind turbine. If you live in a city, go outside and listen. Chances are the main thing you hear will not be birds or the wind in the trees, but traffic noise.
Try riding a bike yourself, and list the reasons you think are the important ones.

And you don't need to supply all the power yourself, be like me and use an EBike, then you can supply as much, or as little, of the power as you want.

Home
Top
Index


The precautionary principle

2017/06/05

In 2003 the Bush, Blair, Howard axis of evil invaded Iraq because, they claimed, Saddam Hussein had 'weapons of mass destruction' and was aiding terrorists – in spite of a lack of evidence for their claims. This followed the 9/11 terrorist attack (which had no connection to Iraq or Saddam) in which some 3000 people had been killed.

In 2017 Donald Trump is 'protecting the USA' by pulling out of the Paris climate change action agreement, and the Australian government is doing all it can to slow the introduction of renewable energy and support the fossil fuel industry, in the face of strong evidence that uncontrolled climate change will be a huge environmental, economical and humanitarian disaster. Business as usual includes millions of people each year dying – not in the future, but right now – due to air pollution largely from the burning of fossil fuels.

Home
Top
Index


Selfishness and short-sightedness

2017/05/21

It seems to me that the great majority of my fellow Australians are both selfish and short-sighted in their outlook. Certainly this is not universal, but it is common enough to overwhelm any attempt by altruistic and long-sighted people to bring about a more rational, fair and sustainable world.

Some of the exceptions
Exceptions
These are the over-50s who walked from Port Augusta to Adelaide in support of solar thermal power for Port Augusta. They were sufficiently altruistic to take a fortnight out of their lives to press Australia toward a more sustainable future. Most had already been environmentally active, and went on to continue to try to make the world a better place.

Eight people out of several million over-50s in Australia were sufficiently concerned, altruistic and long-sighted to take the trouble to do the walk.

This selfishness and short-sightedness is one of the main reasons that humanity has not been able to control climate change.

Most people don't care enough about the future of the planet to either change their ways or vote for someone who will take climate change and our precious and irreplaceable environment seriously; in fact, quite the reverse, most people will vote for someone who promises them the ability to consume more and pollute more.

The Australian Greens is the only major political party that has a sufficiently long-term view to oppose the proposed Adani Carmichael coal mine. This mine, if it goes ahead, will be an environmental and probably an economic disaster; but to short-sighted politicians it offers jobs and export income. How many Australians give their first preference to the Greens? About 10%.

Home
Top
Index


Distributed generation

2016/06/30

 
Wilpena SA solar power station, Flinders Ranges
Wilpena
Commissioned in December 1998
There's much talk about distributed energy at present – and the theory makes a lot of sense – generate the power close to where it is going to be consumed, avoid the need for hugely expensive (and ugly) long-distance power transmission lines.

To some extent this is fine for solar, but not so workable for wind, wave or biofuels. A mix of renewables together with storage is going to be required; there is no indication at present that storage is going to ever be cheap enough to use, say, solar PV with energy storage and no other power sources; and in any case, the best areas for solar power are usually not where there is the greatest demand for electricity. For example, the best Australian solar resource is in the arid inland while the demand is around the better watered and populated coast.

Wind farms need to be where there is a good wind resource, wave power obviously needs to be on the coast, and biofuel power is best placed near where the biofuels are grown.

There will be an increase in distributed generation in future, no doubt about that, but it seems to me that because renewable energy availability varies greatly from place-to-place and from time-to-time there will be a need for long-distance power transmission lines for many years into the future.

Home
Top
Index


Societal dysfunction and cancer

2016/05/15

The animal body is made up of billions of cells that cooperate to make a fully functional, healthy organism. This cooperation is not due to any altruistic urge in the body's cells; the long-term best interest of each cell is best served by its cooperation.

 

Excessive greed

Excessive greed, involving the gathering of a great part of the world's wealth into a very few hands is certainly a societal dysfuntion that could be likened to cancer. The world's corporate bosses, and others, who have effectively put their own interests before the good of the whole of society, are behaving like cancerous cells.
When some cells start to 'go their own way' to the detriment of the whole they are generally attacked and eliminated by the body's immune system. When and if they get beyond the control of the immune system they are called a cancer. Note that this out-of-control group of cells are behaving in a way that is against their own long-term interests (they will eventually kill the entire organism, themselves included) as well as to the detriment of the whole body.

In a healthy society the great majority of individuals and all major sections work together to produce a healthy, fully functional, community with a viable long-term future. In the early twenty-first century there are many individuals as well as large sections of society that are damaging our planet by the greenhouse and other emissions for which they are responsible. On present trends, these emissions will greatly damage the planet within a matter of decades, and in fact, we are already seeing serious damage. Further, these individuals and sections of society are opposing the actions needed to reign-in climate change.

The world's police forces generally have the task of behaving something like the body's immune system – removing from active society those who are behaving in a way that is to the detriment of society as a whole. Our police forces were not designed to handle large sections of society that were doing harm to the future of the global community.

When a societal dysfunction is beyond the power of a police force to control it becomes the job of government to correct the dysfunction. Many or even most of the world's governments are obviously not taking the actions needed to stop serious damage to the planet.

The similarity to an out-of-control cancer in the body of modern society seems obvious.

Home
Top
Index


Priorities

2015/07/06

A football coach, Phil Walsh, was recently murdered in my home state of South Australia. It has been the main story on all the media for the last several days. The only Saturday state-wide newspaper devoted its first 19 pages to the story and 20,000 people crowded the football oval at Adelaide to morn the loss. Just then I heard an ABC radio commentator say "The State just went into shock".

This is all to do with the death of one man.

Millions of refugees have been displaced around the world. We don't see the concern for these that we have seen for the death of this one football coach.

Climate change will be a huge disaster that will result in millions (if not billions) of lives being lost, the extinction of thousands (if not millions) of species and the degrading of the planet in many ways. At most one person in a thousand cares enough to try to get serious action to combat climate change, even though we could stop it if there was a will to do so.

Is one local sportsman (who would not be known personally to most of those who are grieving) more important than millions of non-local people and more important than the future of the planet? How can people get their priorities so screwed-up?

Home
Top
Index


Are most of us better than average drivers?

2015/06/08

Psychologists often use our perception of our driving ability as an example of self-deception. It seems that when asked to rate our own driving ability the great majority say that we are better than average.

Plainly wrong? Not necessarily so, actually.

Firstly; suppose we test the driving ability of a group of people and give a point score out of ten. Let's say that we find that a quarter of people are very poor drivers, one point out of ten; half are moderately good and get six points, and a quarter are quite good drivers; seven points. The average score then is five points (1+6+6+7=20, 20/4=5) and three quarters of the drivers were better than average.

Secondly, and more importantly, it is simplistic to suppose that there would be one widely acceptable rating of 'good driving ability'. One driver would hold that a good driver will drive at slightly above the speed limit so as to get to the destination as quickly as possible, another will say that a good driver will drive at just under the speed limit to be sure to not break the law, yet another will say it is better to drive considerably below the speed limit – at least on quiet country roads and so long as this can be done without inconveniencing other drivers – because 'speed kills' and driving a bit more slowly reduces fuel consumption and therefore greenhouse gas emissions. One driver would hold that a good driver will accelerate quickly away from a traffic light and keep close behind the car in front to get to the destination as quickly as possible and stop other people from cutting in front; another will say that more gentle acceleration reduces fuel consumption and wear and tear on the vehicle and that it is safer to leave a two-second gap between vehicles. Etcetera.

While it might be quite justifiable to argue that some of these people are simply wrong, in some cases it is more a matter of priorities or point of view.

So it is possible that, by our own definition of good driving, most of us are better than average drivers.

Having said all that, I don't doubt that many people over-rate their driving ability and probably most of us delude ourselves in a number of ways.

Home
Top
Index


Pascal and climate change

2015/05/18

Pascal's Wager goes something like this. You have two choices:
  1. Live by God's will. This involves some inconvenience and self-control, and if there is no God then it is a waste of time and effort, but if the idea of the Christian god is right you will be rewarded with eternal bliss in the after-life.
  2. Do what you want; enjoy yourself, but risk eternal damnation (if the Christian God idea is right).
If you gave any credence at all to the Christian God idea you would be wise to choose option one.

The present situation we all find ourselves in with climate change is similar; we have two choices:

  1. Stop burning fossil fuels, protect the world's forests, look after biodiversity, etc. It will cost some time and effort and will impact our incomes and standard of living in the short term, but it will stop climate change (and ocean acidification).
  2. Ignore climate change. Maximise profits by digging up and selling as much fossil fuel as the market will bear, exploit the environment rather than conserving it. By the end of the century we will destroy the world as we know it, but we will have more money in the short term.
These are real choices, they do not depend on the existence of the Christian God; science has shown us that these are the options before us. I choose option one.
Home
Top
Index


Compact fluorescent lights: a disadvantage that may not be well known

2015/05/03

 
Compact fluorescent light bulb brightness/time curve
Light curve
Record of brightness over the first five minutes
Compact fluorescent (CF) light bulbs have been freely available now for a number of years; their prices have declined substantially over the years and are now quite low. Light-emitting-diode (LED) light bulbs are just becoming freely available at affordable prices.

Many people are aware that CF bulbs contain a little of the highly toxic heavy metal mercury. There is another disadvantage they have that gets much less publicity; they take an appreciable amount of time to reach full brightness.

I recorded the data used on the graph on the right from a CF light bulb. It shows that the bulb starts at about a third of its eventual brightness and after being on for forty seconds it was producing only a half its maximum light. Even after three minutes it was still getting slightly brighter.

Does this matter? How often do we turn on a light just to get an item from a room, or just to pass through a room? In these cases we only need the light for a few seconds and this is when the CF bulb is at its least efficient.

I also tested an LED bulb. So far as I could measure it came on almost instantaineously at its full brightness.

Home
Top
Index


ANZAC Day

2015/04/23

What the ANZAC day commemoration ignores

ANZAC day concentrates on the contributions made by those who fought in wars in which Australia was involved. This is fair enough in itself, but when we are thinking of past wars we should be thinking of many other things as well:
  • Were the wars justified?
  • Might they have been avoided?
  • How might we avoid future wars?
  • Was Australia always 'on the right side'? For example, the Boer War, Vietnam War, Iraq invasion?
  • What happened at home? For example: how did Australia treat Australians of German and Japanese decent in the two world wars?
  • What did the wars achieve?
  • What would likely have happened had we not fought those wars? For example, the Vietnam War.
  • What if the great majority of Australians had objected; either refusing to take part or opposed Australian involvement politically?
  • What about the conflicts that Australia ignored? For example, Indonesia's invasion of East Timor and the consequent 25 years of oppression and deaths.
  • What of the civilians who became refugees?
  • What of the ongoing consequences – the Iraq war of 2003 comes to mind.
  • Then there were the 'wars' involved in the dispossession of indigenous peoples.
And there are more specific questions that could be asked:
  • Did the nuclear bombs really need to be dropped on Japanese cities? What if the first was dropped just off the coast at Tokyo as a warning?
  • Was the bombing of Dresden justified?
And the hard questions:
  • Where all the war crimes committed by the other side?
  • Were our soldiers squeaky clean?
  • Why do we not hear about war crimes committed by our soldiers? (I cannot believe that there were none.)
I don't have the answers, but I think that these and other questions need to be discussed.

Perhaps the biggest question of all

Fighting is normally considered unacceptable. Killing our fellows is unacceptable and illegal; many would consider murder to be the worst crime of all.

Except in war. In war fighting and killing can not only become acceptable but even admirable – simply because they are sanctioned by the state. Killing the enemies of the state is OK. It is the brave and right thing to do.

Really?

Home
Top
Index


Lack of example

2015/02/03

Is there a connection between the lack of ethics in our leaders and the general poor behaviour we see in society? Are things like road-rage, throwing rubbish out of car windows, trolling on the Net, cheating, general selfishness, etc. at least partly connected with low ethical standards in big-business, government, people in power in general?

If people in 'high places' set a better example – in fact anything better than very poor examples – would it rub-off of the general population? When we see our politicians making promises they have no intention of keeping and breaking promises they have made, surely it makes some people think, 'well, if it's good enough for them, it's good enough for me'. Similarly, when we see the captains of industry making decisions that are plainly based on short-term advantage and environmentally or socially harmful in the long-term isn't it understandable that it 'trickles down'.

A connected concept discussed on this page is Noblesse oblige.

Home
Top
Index


Do-gooders

2015/01/06

The term has been used to criticize people who annoy others in their attempts to do good.

In trying to do good one should certainly try to take into account the needs and wants of others, but surely one should try to do good? What sort of a world would we have if nobody tried to do good?

What are the alternatives to being a do-gooder? To be a 'do-bader' or a 'do-nothinger' surely?

I am content to be a do-gooder.

Home
Top
Index


Noblesse oblige

2014/06/02

With power comes responsibility.

In Australia this principal seems to have been forgotten. Wealth brings with it power, but the wealthy seem to feel that the power is their's to do with as they choose; they feel no obligation to use the power responsibly.

For example, several mines are proposed in the Galilee Basin in Queensland:

  • Gina Rinehart's, Hancock Coal/GVK, Alpha Coal mine is expected to 'produce' 30 million tonnes of coal each year. It can be calculated that burning this coal will cause air pollution that will kill more than seven thousand people each year;
  • Clive Palmer's China First mine, 40MT/yr: over ten thousand deaths each year.
Also see Exporting Death and Lack of example
.
Home
Top
Index


Addicted to cheap energy

2014/04/21

 

Cost of human energy

According to Wikipedia a healthy, well fed, labourer can produce about 75W for 8 hours. The national minimum wage in Australia is $17.70 per hour; so $17.70 for 75 Watt-hours is a cost for human labour of (about) $0.24/Wh or $236/kWh or $236,000/MWh.

Clean energy costs more than the cheapest fossil fuel energy

An old coal-fired power station, for which the capital cost of the building has been written off, and the only costs are for the coal and keeping it running, might be able to profitably generate power for Aus$40/MWh. It would not be possible to build and run a new coal-fired power station for a long-term contracted price of $40/MWh.

In comparison, in 2014 wind power costs about $80 and solar PV around $100/MWh. (Both were substantially cheaper by 2017.) Wind and solar energy suffer from the disadvantage of only being available when the wind blows or the sun shines. This increases its effective cost.

Three hundred years ago our energy came from our own muscles and from those of our draft animals. A significant proportion of a farm was required to produce food for the draft horses: perhaps a eighth of the farm (a single draft horse might need a hectare of land for its food). Farms were much smaller than at present and at least six horses fit for working were required at any one time; others were too young or too old to work. Our energy and the energy of our draft animals was valuable.

Around the end of the nineteenth century the motor car with its internal combustion engine was developed. According to Autoblog the engine of the Model T Ford, released in 1908, developed about 20 horsepower (~15kW). The fuel to power the car was pumped out of the ground and refined by a fairly simple process. Energy became more accessible and much cheaper. Autoblog tells us that by 1955 the average car was developing around 140 horsepower (~100kW) and by 2009 it was up to 247 horsepower (~184kW).

So long as we could simply pump oil out of the ground, process it quickly and easily, and burn it for energy we had a plentiful supply that was much cheaper and more convenient than the energy of draft animals. We became addicted to it.

A similar story could be told about the development of electric power. The main difference with this was that it was often (especially in Australia) generated by burning another fossil fuel: coal rather than oil.

And the process fed off itself. Cheaper energy to power drilling rigs and mining machinery meant that we could drill new oil wells and mine coal more cheaply than ever before.

In the early twenty-first century we need to kick the cheap fossil fuel energy habit because climate change is going to destroy the world as we know it, but we can't.

Home
Top
Index


Wind turbines and CO2

2014/04/20

 
Clements Gap Wind Farm
Wind farm
2016/03/31
"For every hour that a wind turbine operates there will be about one tonne less CO2 going into the atmosphere."

"A wind turbine operating for three hours reduces CO2 emissions as much as taking one car off the roads for a year."

The above statements apply to utility scale wind turbines (about 3MW) operating in mainland Australia.

The abatement is based on a report by Sinclair Knight Merz.

An average new passenger car or light commercial vehicle in Australia produces 199g/km CO2. (http://www.ntc.gov.au/filemedia/Reports/C02EmissionsNewAustVeh2012InfoPa.pdf).

The average distance travelled by a car in Australia is 15 530 km per year. Therefore, 3090kg CO2/year. (http://www.roymorgan.com/findings/australian-moterists-drive-average- 15530km-201305090702).

Home
Top
Index


Why do springs rise in autumn before there has been significant rains?

2014/02/16

I worked in the hydrogeology field for over thirty years, most of which time I was stationed at Crystal Brook in the 'Mid-North' of South Australia, a fairly dry region. My 'bailiwick' was pretty much anything north of Adelaide, the largest city in the state and the state capital.

During this period I several times heard the observation that springs in creek beds were seen to start flowing in the autumn before there had been any significant rains. Why should this happen? While I have no evidence or proof, I can give a logical explanation.

Groundwater in some places and at some times seeps out of 'bed rock' into the gravels in creek beds. If there is enough flow, or in places where there is little or no gravels or sands in the creek bed, the water will come right to the surface, forming a spring.

Of course the bedrock groundwater tends to be recharged in the wetter winters; and then seeps out into creek beds at a steadily diminishing rate until the next recharge event.

Gum trees (in particular) in or near the creeks are very deep-rooted. During the summer they 'suck-up' lots of the underflow water in the creek bed gravels, or even from the bedrock, so there may be insufficient flow remaining to get to the surface. As the days get shorter and temperatures fall in autumn the water demand of the trees falls substantially, so allowing the underflow water in the creek beds to rise to the surface, even before there are any substantial rains.

Home
Top
Index


Turn off lights or slow down?

2013/01/22

I have noticed that many people make a point of turning off the lights in their homes in order to save electricity. I have not noticed that many slow down to save fuel.

Some rough calculations from figures published in Wikipedia and elsewhere indicate that typical cars use roughly 9% less fuel per kilometre at a speed of 100km/hr compared to 110km/hr.

 
Energy saved by reducing speed from 110km/hr to 100km/hr
Nominal fuel consumption
L/100km
Energy saved/100km
Watt-hours
65600
87400
109300
1211000
From this it is possible to calculate that energy savings for cars with various fuel consumptions are as shown on the table on the right.

So, if your car's nominal fuel consumption is 6 L/100km you can save as much energy by reducing your speed by 10km/hr for a distance of 100km as you would if you reduced the time a 20 Watt light bulb was on by 280 hours. It would take about five minutes more of your time to travel 100km at 100km/hr rather than 110km/hr, so putting it another way, take five minutes longer to travel a hundred kilometres and save enough energy to run a light for hundreds of hours!

If your car's nominal fuel consumption is 12 L/100km you can save as much energy by reducing your speed by 10km/hr for a distance of 100km as you would if you reduced the time a 20 Watt light bulb was on by 550 hours.

Are humans rational creatures?

Home
Top
Index


Why the greenhouse problem is insoluble

2012/12/22

It is the same problem as people with noisy exhausts.

A man (it is almost always a male) modifies a car or motorbike to make it noisier, in the full knowledge that he will annoy many people, because it gives him some satisfaction to go about making a lot of noise. He is placing his own enjoyment ahead of the peace that many other people would like to have, but of which he is depriving them.

Similarly, people in the fossil fuel industries are making a lot of money by digging up and burning fossil fuels. They have a lot of political power because they are making a lot of money; money is power. They know they are harming the earth by what they are doing, but they don't care any more than the man who decides to change his vehicle to make it more noisy cares.

This, unfortunately, seems to be human nature.

Knowing this, why do I continue to try to encourage others to reduce the causes of climate change? Buggered if I know!

Home
Top
Index


Can we conceive of a sustainable society?

2012/12/15

Our present society is dominated by two institutions that are not well compatible with sustainability; capitalism and democracy. In other ages there have been other systems. Notably, in the present context, the Chinese imperial system.

Some explanation is needed before proceding.

Capitalism encourages people and corporations to do whatever they can to increase their own wealth in the short-term. It gives no encouragement to the consideration of the long-term future of the planet. Similarly, democracy, as practiced in the twenty-first century, gives little encouragement to governments to think further ahead than the next election.

In contrast, in the Chinese imperial system, the emperor expected to rule for life, and expected that his decendents would rule after him. So there was an incentive to plan for the very long-term.

In making this point I am not necessarily saying that an heriditary monarchy with a planned economy is a better system than capitalism and democracy, but it would apear to be better placed to handle the challenges of climate change, over-population, over-exploitation of resources, etc.

Mind, it would have to be a whole-world empire.

Home
Top
Index


Bacteria are us

2012/08/31

There are about ten times as many bacterial cells in and on our bodies than there are 'our own' cells (although our own cells are very much larger than bacterial cells).

Ignoring these 'foreign' cells, in each of our cells there are hundreds of organelles called mitochondria. There is every reason to believe that these were originally independently-living micro-organisms that were incorporated into our make-up very early in our evolution. Similarly the chloroplasts that allow plants to produce energy from sunlight are adapted from once free-living cyanobacteria.

It could be argued that each of us is just as much a complex assemblage of huge numbers of cooperating organisms – like an ant colony, but composed of far more individuals – rather than a single, self contained, animal (or plant).

Home
Top
Index


Freedom: for dogs?

2012/08/25

Animal rights, in some ways, have never had such a high profile as they do at present; yet the freedom of a dog to walk off a lead, to sniff whatever takes his interest, to pea wherever he wants, is very limited.

I've written about the difficulties of travelling with a dog elsewhere.

Why should a dog not have some right to walk on a quiet country road, with his 'owner', without being on a lead? Why do some people, when in a car, think that they have all the rights on same road? Is it a great imposition to slow down a little bit once in a while, so that a dog can have a bit of freedom?

Many Australian drivers are very considerate, but once in a while there is one who seems to believe that he has a right to 100% of the road and should not have to slow down or deviate from his path for anything. Something about being in a car can make some people into monsters.

Home
Top
Index


Should drugs be legal?

2012/08/21

The manufacture, transportation and sale of alcohol was prohibited in the United States of America from 1920 to 1933. Most people would agree that it simply did not work; it is quite possible that people drank more rather than less, they simply drank illegally rather than legally. In his book Science and Ethics, Bernard E. Rollin said "All Prohibition did was create contempt for law, make ordinary citizens less respectful thereof, enrich the Kennedys and Canadian bootleggers, and give organized crime a foothold in legitimate business they never lost."

Isn't the situation exactly the same with illegal heroin, cocaine, etc? Those who want to use these drugs seem to have no trouble getting them, and there are huge unscrupulous and highly profitable organisations handing the production, transport and supply of the drugs. Whole nations are fighting what amounts to wars with drug supply organisations; consider Columbia and Mexico. The Taliban in Afghanistan receives most of its income from producing heroin.

Legalisation does not necessarily show approval for the use of a drug. Many nations have shown, very effectively, that tobacco is harmful and greatly reduced its use; not by making it illegal, but by educating people.

It seems to me that a similar approach to the drugs that are presently illegal would be far more effective in, not only reducing the illicit use of the drugs, but combating organised crime. If all drugs were legalised and their production and sale controlled and taxed, as is tobacco, it would take away a huge part of the business of organised crime and financially cripple the Taliban.

Home
Top
Index


Commonalities in delusions and their debunking

2012/06/03

 

Anthropogenic climate change (ACC)

The belief that climate change is not happening or is not largely caused by humans is another hugely important delusion. It has differences from the three other delusions discussed in this section.
On these pages I attempt to debunk several false beliefs. Some of the main ones relate to: religion, the relationship between wind turbines and illness and divination.

I have thought long and hard about all three (I have written on the importance of doubt elsewhere). The three are very different, but have several aspects in common:

  • There is nothing in respectable published peer-reviewed science to indicate any factual basis for them;
  • The mechanics or mechanisms that would need to be involved are absent – some examples:
    • In the case of religion: the concept of an immortal soul makes no sense and can be shown to be ridiculous;
    • In the case of wind turbines there is no physical force, or sound sufficiently loud, or anything else that comes from turbines that could cause illness;
    • In the case of divination there is no force known to physics that could explain how people could detect water or anything else by walking above it with a forked stick.
  • All lack consistency:
    • There are many very different and quite contradictory religions; even within one religion (Christianity for example) there are many inconsistencies;
    • There are more than 220 ailments that have been claimed to have been caused by wind turbines;
    • Some diviners use forked sticks, others use bent wires or pendulums, some even claim to be able to divine over a map; some claim to be able to tell how salty water is, some claim to be able to divine for minerals as well as water.
    The lack of consistency is due to their existing only in peoples' imagination.
  • All depend on beliefs passed from person to person (all are memes);
  • All come with regional variations;
    • People in the Arab world will most likely accept Islam as fact; people whose ancestry is Western are much more likely to be Christian;
    • Those people who believe that wind turbines make them ill are mainly English-speaking (and are not Western Australian);
    • Pendulums are not used for divining in Australia so far as I know.
    The regional variations, again, are due to them existing only in peoples' imagination and being passed from person to person. If they were real one would expect consistency across regions.
  • All are delusions;
  • None of them stand up to a rational examination.
I have also written on delusions on another page on this site.
Home
Top
Index


Better bricks

2012/05/13

 
Light-weight bricks
Bricks 1
In Dalat, Vietnam
 
Bricks 2
In Siem Reap, Cambodia
Building bricks in Australia are solid or nearly solid. In Southeast Asia they have large holes in them.

Bricks that are largely hollow have a number of advantages:

  1. They contain less clay:
    • Less mineral resource used per brick;
    • Less heat required to bake each brick, saving on fossil fuels and greenhouse gas production;
  2. They are lighter in weight:
    • Less heavy to transport, meaning less transport cost and less greenhouse gasses produced from transport;
    • Easier for the brick-layer to lift them;
  3. The air spaces form insulating barriers to heat flow; better thermal quality in the finished building.
The holes do slightly reduce the strength of the bricks, but successful building with them in SE Asia shows that they have quite sufficient strength for the building of at least low-rise buildings.

Northern Vietnam uses smaller bricks with 2 holes (not shown here). Southern Vietnam has bricks with 6 holes; top photo. Bricks in Cambodia have four holes; bottom photo.

Home
Top
Index


End of gas: what happens when natural gas runs out?

2011/06/21

Human civilisation is attempting to burn less coal because it pollutes the atmosphere. We are coming to the realisation that the oil supply is faltering and that its price is going to rise steeply in future. For these reasons natural gas is being used more for generating electricity. It also happens that gas-fired (and oil-fired) power stations are very useful because their generation can be quickly increased or decreased to keep a balance between the total power generation and consumption within a particular grid.

At the same time we are bringing in more sustainable energy supplies such as wind and solar; the availability of both of which are variable depending on the weather and the time of day and year. Again, gas-fired power stations are valuable to fill the gaps.

Natural gas might last longer than oil, but not by very many years, and this is especially so if we keep on increasing our consumption. What happens when the gas runs out? We can suppose that wind and solar power will make up a larger percentage of the power mix then than it does at present; so how will we fill the gaps cause by high power consumption or low generation?

Pumped-hydro-power is at least a partial answer. Arranging for electrical consumption to vary in response to availability is another partial answer, as discussed in my page on sustainable electricity. Society should be planning and preparing for this, but is not doing so; or at best, is doing so falteringly and slowly.

Update, 2014/04/20

It seems that there are large reserves of coal-seam-gas and shale-gas that could be exploited. However, it also seems that there are big environmental problems with this exploitation. Will the environment or the dollar come out on top?
Home
Top
Index


Noise from car exhausts

2011/04/18

What motivates those people who modify their car's exhaust system to make them noisier? Is it exhibitionism, is there an element of sadism involved, or do they just like to hear their own noise? Perhaps making their cars noisier gives them a feeling of being more powerful.

Few people enjoy hearing noise; certainly noise that other people make. Traffic noise is a type that is wide spread and particularly unpleasant; especially for those many people who live or work close to busy roads.

Would it satisfy some of these people if they had an electronic system that monitored their car's operation and produced an imitation of a loud and powerful car, synchronised with their own engine's operation, within the car? It would certainly bring about an improvement in the quality of life of the rest of us.

Even better, these people could pipe their car's exhaust inside their cars! That way they could get a real blast of engine output, and they'd be doing the environment a big favour.

More seriously, it would seem to be fairly easy to abolish vehicles with unnecessarily loud exhausts by making it illegal for anyone to sell or install exhaust systems that are louder than those already on the vehicle, or are louder than necessary.

Home
Top
Index


They've won!

2011/03/08

The deniers of anthropogenic climate change and the procrastinators have won.

In what will perhaps turn out to be the greatest ever victory of ignorance over wise and informed action, there is too little action and it will be too late to limit global warming to the hoped for two degrees. The positive feed-backs will kick in; rather they are kicking in, and our children will live to see climate disaster; and the huge damage of ocean acidification.

Those who want to see action can, and should, continue to work toward limiting the damage, but unless something like peak oil or economic collapse forces a big reduction in our emissions in the very near future the main war is lost.

We who pushed for strong and prompt action have the knowledge that we have fought the good fight for the future of the planet; those who wanted little or no action will be shown to be among the main destroyers of our present civilisation and bringing about one of the greatest extinctions of world geological history.

Sad.

Home
Top
Index


Income and climate change

2010/12/06

People tend to spend a large part of their income, and if their income increases, their spending tends to increase approximately in the same proportion. Our rate of consumption of goods and services tends to be proportional to our capacity to pay. Unfortunately most of what we spend our money on comes with a greenhouse gas penalty:
  • Holidays involve travel and transport is one of the main sources of greenhouse gasses.
  • Consumer products all require the consumption of energy to produce and most of our energy comes from burning fossil fuels, resulting in the release of greenhouse gasses.
  • When we buy something produced overseas we are paying for it to be transported a long distance – petroleum is burned to fuel the ship or plane. When we buy anything at all we are indirectly paying for all the transport that went into the production of that item, and so have a responsibility for the greenhouse gasses produced.
  • If we trade-up to a bigger house then we are paying for the greater amount of embodied-energy in that bigger house; greenhouse gasses are released in the production and transport of the bricks, concrete, plastics, etc, used to build the bigger house.
Even if our increased income is not spend on consumption, but placed in a bank or invested in the stock market, it will still be used to develop more businesses that will – nearly all – produce more greenhouse gasses.

Of course, the more greenhouse gasses released into the atmosphere, the greater the climate change problem becomes.

So, as the world's people become more affluent, they can spend more and just about everything they spend their money on is likely to result in increased greenhouse gasses being released to the atmosphere.

Home
Top
Index


Is there any point in arguing with climate change deniers?

2010/11/02

There are a few types of climate change deniers:
  1. There are those who believe it isn't happening, or it's not caused by Man, but have never given the matter any serious thought.
  2. There are those who are unable to weigh the scientific evidence, and choose, perhaps subconsciously, to listen to the side of the argument that makes them feel best ("We couldn't be doing this; it's too terrible").
  3. There are those who committed to a stance a long time ago, and have not wanted to 'loose face' by admitting that they were wrong; while the evidence for climate change accumulated gradually.
  4. There are those who just like to argue; if they couldn't find an argument about climate change they'd find some other subject.
  5. There are a few who oppose the building of a wind farm in their vicinity and are willing to use any argument, whether based on honestly held beliefs or not, that seems to support their opposition.
  6. And there are those who are corrupt. This group have their own reasons, usually financial, for arguing the lie; some work in, or close to, the mining or fossil fuel industries, others are receiving some sort of payment from elements within those industries.
So, can you win if you argue with any of them? Those who don't give the matter any serious thought are not going to read or think about your arguments. The second group is unable to properly judge the value of scientific argument, the third group are unwilling to change their opinions no matter what the evidence, and the last group are not going to change their stance because they are employed to deny the facts.

There is perhaps one more group, who might be worth arguing with; those who are willing to listen to reason, but have been influenced by the popular press and 'shock jocks' rather than the scientific press.

Would you bother arguing with someone who insisted that the Earth was flat?

Home
Top
Index


Complimentary medicine – or evidence-based medicine

2010/09/14

At present there is talk of giving more recognition to 'complimentary medicine'. We are told that complimentary medicine can be effective and much cheaper than 'conventional medicine'.

The division between complimentary and conventional medicines is not very helpful. The only division we should recognise is that between evidence-based medicine and quackery.

Several hundred years ago people were bled by practitioners of conventional medicine and it was believed that malaria was caught from 'bad air'; hence the name. Gradually, conventional medicine changed from being an art to a science – it still has a way to go; doctors, like the rest of us tend to develop beliefs that are not based on the available evidence; and they probably ignore some treatments, not because the evidence isn't there, but because they are unconventional.

Complimentary medicine has not gone through the evolution forced on Western medicine by the development of the medical sciences.

Of course some herbal remedies work; many of the now accepted remedies were once herbal; aspirin was originally extracted from willow bark, if I remember rightly. Other 'medicines' are being developed from the natural world all the time. There is some evidence that acupuncture helps to relieve some forms of pain [2015/01/13; on more reading it seems that acupuncture is useless, beyond its placebo effect]; it and other complimentary medicines should be accepted within the limits of the evidence for their efficacy.

On the other hand, there is absolutely no evidence that naturopathy and many other 'therapies' are any better than placebos; but still, even placebos do help in many cases.

Home
Top
Index


Science – only when convenient

2010/09/13

Look around you, you might see a microwave oven, a radio, television, refrigerator, pocket calculator, computer, cars. You probably see things made from several different metals or types of plastics; you are probably wearing cloths made of 'synthetics' (polymers, plastics). If you have a garden you would (or should) know that your plants need phosphorus, nitrogen, potassium, and many other elements. If you look up at the sky you can see the great Sun around which our planet Earth orbits; in the night sky you can see the other planets that also orbit the Sun, and all the stars that are similar to the Sun, but much further away.

How did we learn about these things? Did we read about what the stars are made of in The Bible? No, of course not, they were all discovered by the use of science.

Why are so many people who believe in the Christian God willing to accept the science behind all these wonders, but not the equally valid science behind evolution? How do they justify to themselves the accepting of one and the rejecting of the other? If science works in chemistry, metallurgy, astronomy, electronics, telecommunications, space physics, medicine, etc. etc., how can they believe it falls down in anything to do with evolution?

(2015/01/13: A very similar argument applies in regard to climate change – why are people willing to accept science in general, but believe that when it comes to CC it is all a massive conspiracy?)

They accept genetics when it gives them information about hereditary diseases or plant and animal breeding, but not its roll in evolution. They accept that geologists can find minerals, oil and gas, but believe that the geologists are wrong when they tell us that the world is billions of years old. They accept that anatomists understand the workings of the human body, but do not believe the same anatomists when they point out odd bits in our make-up that are left-overs from ancestral forms. They accept that embryologists can do in-vitro fertilisation, clone animals, diagnose many problems at very early stages of pregnancy; but think that they must be wrong when they talk about how the developing human embryo goes through developmental stages that relate to earlier life-forms (for example, human embryos have gills at one stage, a tail at another).

A lot of very artificial and nonsensical selectivity, don't you think?

Home
Top
Index


Ockham's Razor

2010/05/24

Ockham's Razor is also called the law of economy or the law of parsimony. Ockham (also spelled Occam) was a scholastic who lived between 1285 and about 1348. His principle or law is variously expressed as "Plurality should not be posited without necessity", "Entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity" or similar.

Put simply, the principle of Ockham's Razor is that if there is more than one explanation for something, then, all else being equal, the simplest explanation is the one to be preferred. It is very relevant to religion which adds an unnecessary layer to our understanding of the world. By Ockham's Razor we should prefer the necessary and sufficient scientific explanation over the superfluous religious explanation, which has to be 'tacked onto' the scientific.

Examples on these pages of where Ockham's Razor should be applied are in deciding upon the age of the earth, deciding upon the reality or otherwise of an immortal soul and whether there is a God.

Home
Top
Index


What is it like to be a bat?

2010/03/08

Reading about Thomas Nagel's 1974 philosophical article by the name above got me thinking about this question. The point is discussed in Ben Dupré's book, 50 Philosophy Ideas. Dupré says of bat's echo location that "This form of perception is completely unlike any sense that we possess"; but I believe he is wrong in this.

I believe that I have 'felt' the existence of a wall in front of me, based on sounds reflected from that wall, in a totally dark room. I strongly suspect that a completely blind person would have developed this sense to a much higher degree than I have; but I don't know any completely blind people to ask.

Most of us at one time or another would have been in a room with very little furnishing and would have noticed how it is very 'echoey'. (A concrete cellar that I had build comes to my mind. Before furnishing, any sound bounced around the walls much more than after furnishing. The difference the sounds that one heard in the two situations was marked. Surely, with practice, a person could use such echoing sounds to detect nearby walls? Perhaps it would be possible to develop it further than that?

So, in answer to Dupré's question, 'What is it like to be a bat?', I'd reply that, at least in relation to echo-location, it would not be hugely different from being a person; but that bats have made enormous advances on our very limited echo-location sense.

Wikipedia; human echolocation

Home
Top
Index


Farming and cheap energy

2010/02/23

Before cheap energy was available from fossil fuels humanity grew energy crops on farms (feed for draft animals) and cut firewood from forests. With cheap energy farming became mechanised and energy-intensive and food prices (in comparison to average incomes) steadily declined. Consequently small farms became steadily less profitable and had to amalgamate for profitability to be maintained.

The low price of energy is unsustainable because petroleum is running out and because we are burning so much fossil fuel that we are damaging the atmosphere (climate change).

While energy and food are so cheap it is not worth-while for anyone with a little excess fruit, vegetables, or nuts to sell that excess. There is a glut of wine grapes; the wine grape vines could be grafted to sultanas that then could be sold for food, but the price of sultanas does not make this worth-while.

In Australia the asking price for a small land holding (say 5 to 30ha), other than near a city, is no more than that of building an average house; and modern houses are sold with such a small amount of land that producing a significant quantity of food from a home-garden is impossible. One must suppose that the low value of small-holdings is due to the fact that it is impossible to make a liveable income from them, yet many of them could produce most of the necessities for several families.

Energy prices will rise in the future, especially if we take climate change as seriously as it deserves; sustainable energy is more expensive than burning coal. Our farms will have to become more energy-efficient, with a better ratio between energy-in and energy-out. (According to some writers more energy goes into modern farming than comes out in the crops that the farms produce.)

Will this make it again worth-while to produce food on small land holdings (and back yards, for those houses that still have back yards), and will it substantially increase the prices of small-holdings relative to houses? Will the prices of houses without significant gardening land crash? Will the changes that are going to be forced upon us cause the end of the present global civilisation and its replacement with something quite different?

Home
Top
Index


Renewable energy and coal

2010/01/08

It is interesting, and ironic, that much of the wind power we currently have in South Australia (and therefore Australia, because SA is by far the biggest state in wind power) owes its existence to the coal-fired power station at Port Augusta.

Australian governments like to talk about all that they are doing to reduce Australia's reliance on fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions, yet not one of the governments in Australia – territory, state or federal – has ever built a major power transmission line to allow development of a sustainable energy resource, whether it be wind, solar, or geothermal. They have built major lines for mining (Olympic Dam for example) and for coal-fired power stations (Port Augusta for example).

If it had not happened that the high-capacity Port Augusta to Adelaide power lines pass through the Mid-North of South Australia, with its high quality wind resources, we would not have the Hallett, Clements Gap, Snowtown, and Waterloo wind farms. These wind farms generate well over half of SA's wind power and SA generates about half of Australia's wind power.

No further wind farm development can take place on Eyre or Yorke Peninsulas, where there is a very high quality wind resource, because of the lack of suitable power transmission lines. Perhaps either the state or federal governments will build a transmission line in to one of the proposed mines on the peninsulas, and then renewable energy can be fed into this?

Home
Top
Index


Something wrong with society

2009/11/22

Before the Industrial Revolution a typical farmer might have produced enough of many commodities, grain, milk, cheese, butter, meat, wool, for his own family and enough left over to feed and clothe another one or two families. He would sell his excess so that he could buy the things he needed but couldn't produce, clothing, a wagon, tools, perhaps some luxuries like books; and he'd have to employ tradesmen from time to time, send his children to school, and pay his taxes.

At present a typical wheat farmer in Australia might plant 1000ha and reap 1500 tonnes each year. 1500t of wheat would produce about 1200t of flour. There is perhaps 500gm of flour in a loaf of bread and a family of four might eat a bit more than a loaf of bread a day: say 500 per year, 250kg of flour. So the wheat farmer produces enough wheat to provide bread for 6000 families.

A dairy farmer might milk 300 cows, each yielding 15L of milk per day; 4500L. This could be converted into maybe 120kg of butter, 120kg of cheese, and 1500L left as milk; enough to provide perhaps 700 families with dairy produce.

A wool grower might run 5000 sheep, each yielding 3kg of wool, 15 000kg per year. Ten kilograms of wool is probably enough to clothe a family of four for a year, so the wool grower provides sufficient fibre to clothe 1500 families.

This is all very approximate (I'd be pleased to receive more accurate figures from a reader), and nobody lives on just bread and dairy produce or wears only wool, but the picture is pretty plain; modern farmers are producing far more than were their counterparts before the Industrial Revolution, that's why farmers now make up such a small proportion of the population. Are farmers any better off for this greatly increased productivity? I'd say they are, but certainly not in proportion to the increased productivity.

Surely there is something wrong with a society in which a farmer can produce enough grain to feed 6000 families, yet struggle to make a living? (Farmers have been leaving the land ever since the industrial revolution, the remaining ones get bigger because they take over the land left by those who have got out of farming.) It can be said that the farmer, and almost everyone else in modern society, has specialised; our lives are much more complex than they were, we expect and consume many more goods and services than our ancestors did.

I admit to having only vague feelings that this is somehow wrong, I cannot explain exactly why, but it certainly is unsustainable the way it is structured at present. One conspicuous problem with modern farming is that the farmers must consume huge amounts of energy, much of it from unsustainable fossil fuels, if they are to maintain their current levels of productivity.

Home
Top
Index


Pickling olives

2009/09/24

My wife and I have tried many recipes for pickling olives. Sometimes we've had good results, sometimes disappointing.

Conventional methods

Most recipes use one of two methods to remove the bitterness characteristic of fresh olives:
  1. Flushing every day or every two days with either water or brine for as long as it takes (probably 30 or 40 days) to get rid of the bitterness;
  2. Soaking in caustic soda (lie, sodium hydroxide) for half a day or so to remove the bitterness.
The first method has the disadvantage that there is a long period in which undesirable bacteria have a chance to get established and result in either the olives going soft or in unpleasant tastes, or both. The second method has the disadvantage of taking all the colour from the olives and introducing a taste of its own.

I'm sure I've read of flushing in water with wood ash as an alternative, but it seems to be uncommon. Wood ash contains variable, but generally high, quantities of calcium oxide (quicklime). Lime is quite alkaline, but not such a strong alkali as caustic soda.

An alternative

Try adding about 20g of builder's lime (slaked lime, calcium hydroxide) to each litre of water and soaking the olives in this. Lime is not highly soluble in water, you will not get it all to dissolve; for this reason the exact quantity of lime you use doesn't much matter. Give the mix a stir every day, and at a bit more lime every three or four days. This method seems to remove the bitterness from the olives in around ten days. It doesn't remove the colour from the olives, and it provides an environment unattractive to bacteria.

After the bitterness has gone, store the olives in capped jars in a 6% brine solution (60g of salt in each litre of water) with a little edible oil on top. I'd be interested in feedback, my email address is at the top of this page.

Home
Top
Index


Bottles and energy

2009/09/12

Recently I visited the local recycling depot, where I occasionally get wine bottles for reuse. Although on this occasion I wasn't looking for wine bottles I happened to ask whether the manager was still getting them in good numbers. He told me that he had just had some unused ones delivered. A local winery had a problem in that several thousand of its unused wine bottles were dusty. They didn't have the facilities to easily clean them, so they sent them off to be broken up, melted down, and turned back into (clean, sterile) bottles.

Obviously, the melting and recasting of several thousand bottles required the use of a lot of fossil fuel; transport over the round trip of several hundred kilometres to the bottle factory would add to the total. The resultant release into the atmosphere of greenhouse carbon dioxide would be considerable.

I wonder how many bottles are smashed up and the glass recycled simply because wineries don't have bottle washing facilities? In the Clare Valley (one of Australia's most famous quality wine-growing regions), where this happened, there are several dozen small wineries. In the whole of Australia there are hundreds of wineries. I suspect that few, if any, are set up to wash, or even rinse, bottles. New wine bottle bought in large numbers cost around Aus$0.35 each.

Only substantial rises in the cost of energy will provide the incentive needed to stop such damaging and needless production of greenhouse gasses. A substantial price on carbon could bring about that substantial rise.

Several decades ago beer and milk bottles were routinely cleaned and reused. Then it became cheaper to use throw-away containers for milk and use-one and recycle bottles for beer. There is no good reason that glass bottles cannot be reused.

Home
Top
Index


Some thoughts on jobs

2009/04/25

Before the rise of towns and civilisation people would not had any concept of a job; they all would have been occupied in making a living by hunting/gathering or small-scale agriculture. With the rise of towns, some people would have been employed as scribes, priests, soldiers, sailors, etc.; but still the great majority would have lived and worked on the land. The concept of jobs for the majority came with the industrial revolution when cottage industry ceased to be able to compete with the textiles and clothing that were being produced cheaply in factories.

With the coming collapse of global civilisation perhaps there will be a return to many people working on the land producing their own food and fibre? With the end of oil, climate change and big rises in the cost of energy it is certain that many jobs will be lost. Farming will have to be done with much less energy. Will this result in more people going back to the land, and more self-sufficiency? Will it result in an increased sense of community and belonging in many who do not at present have those feelings?

Home
Top
Index


Golden Age

2009/03/27

Greece had a Golden Age, a flowering of learning, democracy and free speech, especially in Athens, around 450BC. The Islamic world had its Golden Age from about the eighth to the thirteenth centuries AD. There was even a short Golden Age near the end of the Dark Ages in Ireland around 1000AD.

The present Golden Age – which you'd have to call the Great Golden Age – had its beginnings in the Italian Renaissance of the fifteenth century and spread first to Europe and more recently across much of the world. It was no coincidence that the rise in freedoms and science came as the power of the Church declined. The Dutch had a Golden Age within the Great Golden Age; it spanned the 17th century when science and art blossomed there more than elsewhere. Going in the opposite direction, the Church's prosecution of Galileo was followed by a hiatus in science and enlightenment in Italy for a hundred years or more.

There has never been so nearly universal freedom of speech, free thinking, development of science and philosophy, freedom from enforced religious conformity, freedom of movement and association, equal rights for all (especially including women), and open democratic government, as there has been in the last several hundred years.

Unfortunately, events in the past few decades have suggested that we may be facing a threat to that Golden Age of freedom. Wealth and power have progressively been concentrated more into the hands of a few and taken from the many. A number of Western Governments (those of the USA, Australia and the UK included) have passed laws limiting freedoms and traditional rights; generally they have used the threat of terrorism as an excuse for their actions. Some of the laws recently enacted come close to denying rights granted in the Magna Carta of 1215, and habeas corpus has been, to some extent, denied in the USA and Australia, and no doubt other countries. In Australia a person can be prosecuted without the right to know the source of the evidence against him.

The rise of an intolerant form of Islam has had two effects in relation to the Great Golden Age: it has constricted free thinking, the arts, education, and the rights of women in some Islamic nations, and it has forced further limitations on the freedom of speech in the rest of the world (it is impossible to publicly and openly criticise Mohammed, for example, without risking rioting, assassination and embassy burning).

There is a reaction against science where science is showing people truths they don't want to accept. The rise of creationism (and its close cousin intelligent design) in the USA and climate change skepticism are major examples. Ignorance and superstition seem to be rising.

Are we seeing the first of the declining years of The Great Golden Age?

In End of this Global Civilisation I have listed more than twenty ways in which our present society is unsustainable. In particular, climate change and the end of petroleum will impact the GGA; it is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine exactly how this will happen, past events teach us that there will be surprises. (Who would have foreseen that a crisis in the sub-prime mortgage market in the USA would have sparked a global recession?)

Home
Top
Index


Three types of people

2009/03/01

That there are two types of people in the world is a fallacy, there are actually three!

The first type (perhaps 50% of people) includes all those who think it is OK to dump their rubbish wherever is convenient to them. The second type (perhaps 45%) is the group who are responsible in how they dispose of their rubbish. The last 5% are those who not only take care where they dispose of their rubbish, but also pick up other people's rubbish.

Home
Top
Index


Prime Minister Howard gets Presidential Freedom Medal from GWB

2009/01/14

How sick is George W. Bush? I wonder if there is a law against Bush giving himself a Freedom Medal, he might as well have done; Howard was his very willing puppet and favourite yes-man. It's only to be regretted that Howard is no longer in power, he could have returned the favour, with equal (blatant lack of) justification.

I am 63 years old and I believe I can confidently say that John Howard is the most unethical Australian prime minister in my life time. He, like Bush, was not interested in freedom; they were both interested in glorifying themselves and looking after their wealthy mates.

Home
Top
Index


Eye glasses – good value?

2008/03/22

 
Glasses
Which is the best value for money?
In Australia, if you buy prescription eye-glasses you have to expect to pay through the nose. The foreground pair, #1, in the photo cost me more than Aus$500 (~US$450). #2 were off-the-shelf from a pharmaceutical chemist's shop and cost $23, #3 I bought in Vietnam for about $13 (case thrown in), and #4 & #5, were $3 each at Cheap-as-chips; their cases were $2 each.

I have to say that #1 is multi-focus, so I can use them for reading, intermediate and long distance work; there is the work and time of the optometrist to consider, the time of whoever sets up the machinery to produce the lenses, and the no doubt considerable cost of that machinery. But as I recall I had to pay around $150 just for the frames, and a screw came out causing a lens to fall out within 3 months of receiving the glasses – fortunately I was able to retrieve the lens and get the glasses repaired. (Pair #3 seem to have a very good quality frame, which must have been manufactured and retailed for, what, $6.)

If a person does not really need prescription lenses, that is, he or she does not have significant astigmatism, paying fifty times as much as you need to pay, $500 against $10 (2x$3=$6 for two pairs of glasses and 2x$2=$4 for the cases), is difficult to justify.

And I can't help wondering, if off-the-shelf glasses can be manufactured for $3 a pair should prescription glasses cost $500? It would seem that either someone is making a lot of money or there are some pretty considerable inefficiencies in the system.

$40 prescription bifocal glasses in one hour

In July 2008, after writing the stuff above, I visited an optician's shop in Vietnam (the shop was called Italy, on Phan Dinh Phung street, Dalat), had my eyes tested, and bought a prescription pair of bifocal glasses. They were made in an hour(!) and cost me US$40. In November 2009 I'm still wearing them most of the time.
Home
Top
Index


Is there a purpose for everything?

2008/02/11

This segment is pure speculation; yet I hope it is rational speculation.

Traditional religions are nonsense and there is no evidence for the existence of gods, yet it sometimes seems at some deep level that there must be some purpose to the Universe. All those stars that our technology and science have shown us are similar to our Sun – and now we are learning that many of them, perhaps most of them, have planets. There is life, and intelligent life on this planet (with mad men like George Bush and John Howard running the world there are obvious limits to that intelligence). There may be some form of life somewhere else in this solar system and it seems almost inevitable that there must be intelligent life somewhere else in the Universe.

What would be the point of it all if we can never reach out and make contact with that extra-terrestrial intelligence? Of course there doesn't have to be a point in it. If one does not believe in a grand plan – and who would there be to make a grand plan if there is no creator? – then why should there be any point in the 'design' of the Universe?

Our scientists have discovered that the Universe is susceptible to rational understanding. This is a wonderful thing. We can work out what makes a star that we can barely see in our biggest telescope produce the exact amount of heat and light that it does; why it produces just so much light of a particular wavelength, how much longer it is going to 'live', and how long ago it formed. We can use science and reasoning to see the 'beginning' and 'end' of the Universe. Biological sciences have shown us the marvellous variety of life on our planet, yet there is reason to think that that we have a huge distance to go in this direction; why is it that we cannot culture in our laboratories the great majority of the life forms that we see under our microscopes? Medical science has shown us how our bodies work, it is moving toward showing us how our minds work.

Yet there is apparently no purpose to it all? Counterintuitive, don't you think?

(Don't suggest to me that the answer is God. The wonders of the Universe have been uncovered by science. None of them, not a single one, was revealed first by 'divine revelation' in some 'holy book' like the Bible, the Koran or the Veda. Religion, God, and the immortal soul are all delusions; that has been thoroughly proven.)

One must conclude, as I did many years ago, that there is no purpose to it all. Still, one doesn't have to be entirely happy with that conclusion.

Home
Top
Index


Australian Broadcasting Commission

2007/06/29

The people of Australia would be much more poorly informed without the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

Various governments, especially including the Howard government, have tried to reduce the power of the ABC to give information to Australian citizens. They diminish themselves by doing so, fortunately they seem to have failed to stop the Australian Broadcasting Commission from giving us the truth.

Thanks Aunty!!

Home
Top
Index


Dying languages

2007/06/23

One periodically hears or reads in the media stories about small languages that are becoming less and less used or are dying-out. All the commentators that I have heard discussing this subject say how sad it is to loose these languages and that it is a loss to one or another cultural heritage.

I don't think I have ever heard anyone point out that the loss of minority languages directly implies that we are more and more tending to all speak the majority languages. The ultimate end of the process would be that everyone in the world would speak the same language. Surely this would be a wonderful thing! Consider how much less misunderstanding and distrust there would be between peoples if everyone spoke the same language.

Consider how many wars are fought between people who speak different languages. The great majority of wars are between people with different religions or different languages. People fight wars with people they recognise as 'other': other political persuasion, other priorities, other religion, other language. If we all spoke the same language that would be one important point of discrimination between groups that would no longer exist.

Language is an even more important point of difference than the others; not being able to communicate with your neighbours tends to make you mistrust them.

Of course if all but one languages were neglected much would be lost, but how much more would be gained?

Home
Top
Index


Defence spending

2007/04/14

The Australian Government is planning on spending around $20 billion dollars on 100 new Joint Strike Fighter planes. Let's see, there would be about 15 million tax payers in Australia, so that's about $1300 for each of us.

Do we need 100 new fighter planes? Who are we going to use them against? What nation is likely to want to invade Australia in the next 20 years? Or is it that the Government want them in case there is another country like Iraq that they might want to help the US invade?

Doesn't the term 'defence spending' in the way it is usually used, really mean 'offence spending'? Would Indonesia see us spending $20b on war planes as defensive or offensive? I suggest the latter; they would want to increase their 'defence' spending to try to maintain some sort of balance.

What could Australia do with $20b if it was spent on reducing our greenhouse impact, on education, on health, or on fixing our water problems? That's twice as much as PM Howard is talking about spending on fixing the problems of the Murray Darling. Howard is keen on talking about tax cuts; what about no new war planes and $1300 less tax for each tax payer?

Home
Top
Index


Muslim dress code

2007/04/09

I just want to make a comment on one aspect of the 'Muslim' head covering and other dress rules that are, or have become, popular for Muslim women in Western Countries.

Non-Muslim Westerners, such as me, are inclined to think that the dress standard expected of Muslim women is excessively strict, sexist, demeaning, and quite unnecessary. Before we are too critical of Muslims we need to consider our own hang-ups about body covering.

A hundred years ago our culture did not allow people to swim in public except while covered in 'neck to knee' swim-suits. Perhaps you might be thinking, "Yes, but that was a hundred years ago, we don't have hang-ups about clothing any more. Our dress standards now are purely for rational reasons." Are they?

We still expect people, men and women, to cover those bits of their bodies that are distinctly male or female. Is this practical? Is it rational? Or is it just a custom? People at nude beaches seem to be able to behave perfectly normally with both sexes completely uncovered.

While one might argue with some consistency that Muslim dress codes are discriminatory against women, can we really argue that our dress codes are more rational than theirs, or just less extreme?

Home
Top
Index


Coal and slavery

2007/03/28

Britain passed laws against British people taking part in the slave trade two hundred years ago. Today we in Australia are faced with another moral question; should we do something about greenhouse gasses and climate change or should we continue making as much money as possible from coal?

There are similarities. Stopping the slave trade meant getting out of a highly profitable business, reducing the national income, for purely ethical reasons. Stopping, or at least greatly reducing, the burning of fossil fuels will cause financial pain to some big and profitable Australian industries for the sake of the global environment.

Two hundred years ago people were pointing out that if the British did not profit from the slave trade all that would happen would be that other nations would take up the slack and make all the profits. Today we have Prime Minister John Howard saying that if Australia stops mining coal or reduces its greenhouse gas production rates all that will be achieved is that our competitors will be advantaged. I'd bet that there were those in Britain who claimed that abolishing slavery would mean the loss of lots of jobs and that it was not in the national interest.

Two hundred years ago the British were able to put principal before profit, and abolish slavery on their own, before the rest of the world. Could we in 21st century Australia put principal before profit and make large cuts to our greenhouse gas production before the rest of the world? Unfortunately I can't imagine either the Coalition or the Labor Party doing it.

PS 2012/08/23
More than five years and two governments later little has changed. The Gillard Government brought in the carbon tax, but that will have no effect on coal exports. Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott wants nothing done about reducing Australia's greenhouse gas production.

Home
Top
Index


Gun control

2007/02/23

After the Port Arthur (Tasmania) massacre of about 1997 John Howard decided that Australian citizens could not be trusted to own all the guns they might like and enacted gun-control legislation. This may have been a good thing – although I suspect most people still have the guns that they want, but it costs them much more in license fees and they have to do more paper work.

But what reason do we have to believe that the Howard Government (and even more so, the George W. Bush USA administration) can be trusted to buy all the weapons that they want and need, and to use them responsibly? What could be a more irresponsible use of weapons than the Iraq war?

Can you imagine PM Howard or President Bush wanting to enact legislation to limit the power of Governments to own weapons? I can't – not without a lot of pushing from a very strong and highly organised lobby. Unfortunately such a lobby does not exist yet – one can hope that it might develop one day.

It is strange, isn't it, that our leaders can see that we are not to be trusted with dangerous toys, but they cannot see their own shortcomings? Just another proof that power corrupts; those in power do not want to do anything to limit their power.

Home
Top
Index


Whom should we fear?

2007/02/16

Our governments – particularly in the USA and Australia, probably some others as well – have found it convenient to have us, their citizens, fear terrorist attack. I believe we have much more to fear from our governments than from terrorists.

In both Australia and the USA more people are killed crossing the road every year than were killed in the worst years of terrorist attack. How much effort do our governments make to reduce pedestrian deaths compared to the amount of time they spend telling us about how they are protecting us from the terrorist threat? Vehicle accident deaths are far greater than pedestrian deaths, hugely greater than deaths from terrorism; how much work do our governments put into reducing the vehicle accident rate? It would be interesting to know how many times Bush and Howard have mentioned the road toll compared to how many times they have referred to the terrorist threat in the last five years; and remember that Australia was not a target of terrorists until Howard involved our country in the US's wars.

If they chose, the governments of the bigger nations could cooperate to stop the production of, not only nuclear weapons, but also all weapons larger than rifles. They could set up a small international force with a few major weapons, answerable to the UN, to keep the peace between nations. Then they could ensure that the world's armies were gradually dismantled. They don't do this because the top nations (USA first among them) make obscene amounts of money from selling weapons. They would rather keep the money rolling in from arms trading than have a peaceful world.

Our governments are our worst enemies, far more of a risk to us than are the mysterious terrorists.

Home
Top
Index


The new opium of the masses

2007/01/31

On 2005/06/28 I wrote that sport was the opium of the masses in Australia. Computer games have become another drug that takes the minds of the young away from the problems of the real world. When I was young (forty years or more ago) university students were politically very active. Now they never get into the media except for the rare occasion when they are effected immediately and personally by some proposed legislation; eg. the Australian federal government's outlawing of compulsory student unionism, and even that was pretty muted.

I suspect that when the young are not working, eating, sleeping or thinking about sport or sex most of them are killing monsters on computer screens. This, of course, gives corrupt politicians free reign to pursue their selfish ends.

Home
Top
Index


Aquifers as tanks

2006/12/10

This bit is a bit technical and will require a little bit of knowledge of groundwater to understand. On the other hand it will appear simplistic to a specialist (a hydrogeologist).

Farmers, orchardist, vignerons, etc. often obtain water from wells which tap into geological formations called aquifers. In the short term a well may yield a little water or it may yield a lot of water (in litres per second, gallons per hour, etc). An aquifer may contain a little water or a lot of water (in terms of litres per hectare etc.) In the short term an aquifer, to some extent irrespective of how much water it contains, may be able to deliver a lot of water to a well, or only a little (in litres per second). These properties of wells and aquifers are, to some extent, interdependent.

However, there is one very simple, but useful analogy. An aquifer can be thought of as like a tank; a container of water. A well connected to an aquifer is like a tap that can be used to take water from the tank. If you put a big tap into a small tank you will be able to drain the tank very quickly. This is like a high yielding well in an aquifer that stores little water. If you put a small tap into a big tank you will be able to run water out of the tap for a long time before draining the tank. This is like a low yielding well in a big aquifer.

Do not suppose that because a well has a high yield (lots of litres per second) there will be lots of water in the aquifer. Neither should you assume that a low yielding well is necessarily tapping into an aquifer with little water in it.

There is a little correspondence between the yield of a well and the amount of water available from and aquifer, but not much.

Home
Top
Index


Some thoughts on the necessary resolution of photographs

2006/12/08

One of my main hobbies is photography. I have read several places that a photographic print should have a resolution of '300dpi' (300 dots per inch = 12 dots per millimetre [dpmm]). Apparently commercial publishers and printers of high quality images demand this resolution.

Using a microscope to look at a number of photos printed in several coloured magazines I saw that there were 6 printed dots of each colour in each linear mm. If the published print is actually 6dpmm, why does the original have to be 12dpmm?

This question is not trivial because it relates closely to how much one should feel obliged to spend on a camera. My camera has a resolution of 5 megapixels (MP). Photos that I take are effectively a rectangular matrix of coloured dots (picture elements, pixels) with 2592 dots along the long axis and 1944 dots along the short axis. (2592 x 1944 = 5 038 848, approximately 5 million, hence 5MP). If I print a photo at A4 size (297mm x 210mm) a simple calculation will show that there will be a resolution of 9dpmm. If I have a photo printed at A3 size (420mm x 297mm) there will be a resolution of 6dpmm. According to those who demand 12dpmm neither of these will be acceptably sharp. On the contrary, I find A3 sized enlargements of my photos to be quite acceptable.

Larger prints are usually viewed from greater distances. For example, when you look at a 15cm x 10cm (6 x 4 inch) print, you will probably hold it at about your normal reading distance, ie. around 400mm. By comparison most people will look at an A3 print from a distance of about 900mm. This suggests to me that the needed resolution for an A3 sized print is less than half that needed for 15cm x 10cm.

5MP enlarged to A2 (594mm x 420mm) would have a resolution of 4dpmm, quite acceptable from the likely viewing distance.

So, if you want to enlarge your photos to A3 should you buy a camera with around 5 or 6MP, or spend twice as much and buy a 10 or 12MP camera? I'd suggest that 5 or 6MP should be quite enough resolution for A3 or even A2 sized prints.

I should say, before finishing, that a camera's resolution in megapixels is not the whole story. The quality of the lens is just as important.

Home
Top
Index


Civilisation

2006/10/04

When Kenneth Clarke introduced the classic early colour television series, Civilisation, he said of civilisation something like, "I can't define it, but I think I can show you what it is".

Perhaps I can more easily say what it is not. War must be the antithesis of civilisation. War is being used by the USA as a way of progressing its causes. This is to the detriment of civilisation. Civilisation is to do with building and creating: creating works of art, legal systems, fair and just governments; encouraging the advancement of science; building societies, cities, libraries, museums, power stations, wind turbines; constructing water wells, roads, bridges... War is capable of destroying all that civilised humans build and create.

In the early twentieth century are we seeing the beginning of the decay of Western civilisation? Most of the great movers of the world seem not to be interested in building anything except their own wealth and power. The only great power in the world, the USA, seems interested only in increasing its empire by bombing and destruction.

Western civilisation will not be destroyed by the end of the petroleum age, or by climate change, but it might be destroyed by the wars that nations and societies start in order to hold onto the wealth and power that they see as endangered by these things.

Home
Top
Index


Machiavellian politics

2006/06/26

Machiavelli did not, as many people seem to believe, advocate immoral political methods, he advocated amoral political methods. He didn't suggest that princes use 'evil' methods to increase their hold on their people and to expand their power, he promoted pragmatism and advised that leaders should not concern themselves with whether a method was ethically right or wrong, only whether it was likely to help them achieve their goals.

This is exactly the method the two major Australian political parties are using today. Apart from the religious preconceptions of many members or Parliament and Government, all their efforts are aimed at either getting into power, or holding onto power when in Government. They don't generally care whether the methods they use are ethical, just whether they are likely to improve the party's political position. Similarly, they don't much mind whether their policies are going to be good for the people of Australia, but whether they are likely to lead to more votes at the next election (or more political donations that will help get votes for the next election).

This will continue so long as a large majority of voters always vote for one or the other of the main parties. If sufficient voters become disgusted with the Machiavellian politics of the major parties, vote for political candidates who are willing to stand up for what is right rather than just what is politically expedient, then it might change.

Home
Top
Index


Thought on water

2006/03/26

How much water do we have? How important is 'saving water'? Here is a thought on one of a great many aspects of these questions.

I collect water from the roof of a shack. I only have space for storing about 800L of this rainwater. It does not take very many days of washing dishes, showering, washing hands, etc. to use up the 800L. On the other hand 10mm of rain is enough to completely refill the system. The local annual average rainfall is 600mm. Therefore this water supply works on a time cycle of a few weeks. I do not consume this water, I use it an release it back into my environment.

On the same property is a dam (more accurately, an earth tank) that I use mainly for a gardening supply. It fills most years. If it did not at least half fill in any year I would run out of dam water. So you could say that this has a time cycle of one year.

Also on the property is a well. The groundwater supply that is tapped by the well receives some recharge most years and a major recharge every ten or twenty years when there is an exceptionally wet period. If there was not the occasional major recharge year the groundwater in my area would become seriously depleted. This groundwater has a time cycle of a decade or two.

My point here? Water is not something that is used once and is gone (like fossil fuels); it is a renewable resource. The size of water resources vary greatly, even on one small property.

If I am careless with the water in my shack it makes no difference to any larger scale water resource – it only effects me. If I am careless in the use of my well water there would be some effect on my neighbours and everyone downstream of me, but there will be no less water in the world.

All water is recycled water; any time you drink a glass of water or beer, or a cup of tea, you can be sure that some of the water molecules in your drink have been through the bladder of Julius Caesar – and others through his anus.

There are different scales of water economy.

Home
Top
Index


Kerry Packer

2006/02/17

Kerry Packer gets a big send-off at tax-payers' expense

I can't help thinking that the reason for all the attention to Kerry Packer's demise is the fact that he was the wealthiest person in Australia.

Suppose Mr Packer had one thousandth of all the wealth in Australia. If another man, sometime in the future, gets one hundredth of all the wealth in Australia, would you say he is an even greater man than Mr Packer. What of someone who got one tenth, or even someone who got control of absolutely all the wealth in Australia? Would you say that this man was great, or just plain greedy?

I have trouble with measuring a man by the quantity of his wealth.

While there is a record of impulsive acts of charity from Mr Packer, he did not leave behind him any philanthropic foundations, such as that set up by the Myer family; no universities like that established by Alan Bond; no great public buildings like those in the Adelaide University funded by Elder and Bonython.

He made a lot of his money from a casino, hardly an ethical business. And he was infamous for the lengths that he was willing to go in order to avoid paying taxation. One of the main aims of taxation is, after all, to take money from the wealthy and provide assistance to the poor.

I suppose that Prime Minister John Howard giving Kerry Packer a state funeral could be called mateship in action. Mr Howard loves socialising with the very wealthy.

There is much more to be admired in the many anonymous people who volunteer their time and energy for the betterment of others than in all the greedy corporate bosses like Kerry Packer.

Home
Top
Index


What has the Iraq war achieved?

2006/01/19

An assessment of the quality of life for 193 countries has recently been published by International Living. Iraq is rated at 193rd.

PM John Howard involved Australia in the invasion of Iraq, against the wishes of the Australian people, to destroy non-existent weapons of mass destruction. President GW Bush has always implied a link between Iraq and the war against terror, but we have never been shown any acceptable evidence for Iraqi involvement in international terrorism. More recently we have been lead to believe that the justification for the invasion was to depose Saddam Hussein and give the Iraqi people better lives. Yet, three yeas after the invasion, the Iraqi people have the lowest quality of life on the planet!

I suggest that PM Howard owes the Australian people an explanation of what good the invasion of Iraq has achieved. We know what the costs were: the lives of more than 30 000 people, most of them Iraqi civilians; cultural damages; a great increase in mistrust of, and hatred for, the West; and many millions of tax dollars that would have been much better spent on education, health and combating global warming.

While he was about it, PM Howard could explain why his government ignored a warning from the UN that The Australian Wheat Board was paying hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes to the Hussein regime, just before the invasion. It is reasonable to assume that much of this money would have gone into buying weapons to use against the Coalition.

Home
Top
Index


Iraq and Cronulla

2005/12/22

Mobs of youths – Lebanese on one side, Australian racists on the other – recently tried to sort out who had the right to use Cronulla Beach in the Sydney suburbs.

Nations have made laws and have established police departments to do away with justice by mob rule.

Was there much difference between the mob aggression in Cronulla and the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the US-UK-Oz coalition? In both cases it was one group deciding to sort-out another on very slim grounds of justification, legal and ethical.

The only real difference I see is that in the former it was emotional, testosterone-related, ignorant aggression. In the latter it was unemotional, power-related, ignorant aggression.

The Iraq fiasco, which as I write seems to have achieved nothing good for anybody at the cost of tens of thousands of lives, surely shows the need for some sort of world government.

Home
Top
Index


Ultimate in self-indulgence

2005/12/14

Richard Branson's proposed tourist space flights would have to be the greatest example of self-indulgence at the expense of the rest of the world up to the present time.

Consider the good that these tourists could do with the $100 000 that they are spending on a few minutes in space. That amount of money could change the lives of many people in some Third World country.

Perhaps more importantly, consider how much greenhouse gas is going to be dumped in the atmosphere, to the detriment of everyone and all life on Earth, by each of these space flights; all for a few minutes pleasure for one man.

Home
Top
Index


Wood fuelled vehicles

2005/12/08

We are approaching 'peak oil' and petroleum prices are likely to more or less continually rise from now on. There is no longer any doubt that climate change is largely man-made and will have dire consequences. What, then, should we consider to fuel our cars in the future? I suggest that firewood is a partial answer. So long as trees are planted to replace those cut down it leads to no net increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and it is a cheap $160 per tonne (in Adelaide, South Australia).

How do you run a car on firewood? A flammable gas can be produced from wood and fed straight into a car engine; it was done during the petrol shortages of World War 2 and has recently run at least one car around Australia. (See Woodfired.) This method has the disadvantage of requiring quite a bit of hardware that you must carry around with you, perhaps on a trailer, although if the process was optimised for a fuel such as wood pellets and made as compact as possible it might become a practicality.

An alternative is to produce a liquid fuel from the wood and then burn that in a car. The Fins are researching a process called fast pyrolysis to produce a substitute for diesel from wood. (See Fast pyrolysis). Another alternative is to produce alcohol from the wood and use that as the vehicle fuel.

South Australian trials have shown that five to six tonnes of firewood can be grown on each hectare of land in a 500mm rainfall area per year; much more can be grown with higher rainfall. Some arithmetic will show that there is not enough land in Australia to replace all our transport fuel with wood, but shouldn't our governments be funding research in this direction?

Home
Top
Index


Is there a link between obesity and greenhouse?

2005/12/05

Australia and the USA are, per-capita, the worst greenhouse polluters on Earth. USA have the greatest proportion of overweight people on Earth, Australia is not far behind. Could there be a causal link between the proportion of overweight and obese people in a country and that country's level of greenhouse gas production?

There is some linkage. Australians and USians use private cars more than the people of most other nations. This both produces large amounts of carbon dioxide and results in the people getting a minimal amount of exercise. If you use public transport you at least have to walk to the bus stop or the train station. Obviously, if you cycle or walk to work, or to do your shopping, or to escort the kids to school, you are going to get quite a bit of exercise; very few Australians and USians do these things. If you use your car to get around then you minimise your exercise and maximise your personal greenhouse gas production.

Are there other linkages?

Home
Top
Index


Is PM Howard an ally of the terrorists?

2005/10/17

PM Howard and President Bush tell us that the terrorists hate us because of our democracy and freedom. (I would have thought that it was more that they hated the US for its oil imperialism and continual meddling in Middle Eastern affairs, and they hate Australia because it supports the USA in almost all its unethical endeavours, but will put that aside for now.)

If the terrorists want to destroy our democracy and freedom, then they have an enthusiastic ally in PM Howard. The so-called anti-terrorist legislation that is already in place erodes the freedom of the press. It, and the proposed new legislation, weaken our democratic rights, limit our freedom of speech and assembly, and could be used by corrupt officials as a way of controlling political opposition.

And is the legislation needed? Far more Australians are killed and injured in vehicle crashes and work-place accidents than by terrorists; more people are killed crossing the road than by terrorists. Is handling the terrorism threat a convenient distraction from more important issues, like climate change?

Home
Top
Index


Cost of fuel

2005/10/07

The price of fuel for vehicles in Australia has substantially increased in the last year – typically from around Aus$0.80/L to Aus$1.35/L.

The media inform us that this is impacting on people's life styles; many are finding that they are having to cut back on some areas of their budgets in order to pay for the fuel that they "must have in order to get to work". This is rubbish! One need only observe for a few minutes on any major road in any main Australian city to see the terribly inefficient use being made of transport.

  • Most cars, while having space for four or five people, contain only the driver on most trips;
  • Most cars are bigger than needed;
  • Few people ride bicycles as a way of getting to and from work;
  • Few people walk as a way of getting to and from work;
  • Public transport is available for many trips around Australian cities, but is little used by most people;
The majority of Australians choose to use transport very wastefully; they find the convenience of using their own cars outweighs the economies that could be achieved by using other means of transport. In so doing they also ignore the damage that their cars are doing to the environment.

It is not only in the city that people waste energy. I have had a small farm for eleven years and have spent a great many hours in my paddocks on various jobs. In those eleven years I can hardly recall ever seeing my neighbours in their paddocks on foot. They, and I suspect most farmers, drive everywhere on and off their farms. This may be a necessity on large cereal farms, but on the small holdings in my area walking is quite a practical way of getting around. A survey of traffic I did from my place might also be of interest.

I wonder how high the fuel prices will have to go before people change their habits?

Home
Top
Index


An open letter to Prime Minister John Howard

2005/09/29

Dear Sir;

I believe that generations to come will condemn you and your friend George W. Bush, as the worst Western political leaders of our age.

You profess to be an admirer of Robert Menzies. He would despise you for your lack of principles.

You have failed in your responsibility to look after the politically weak. Australia's poor have been ignored while you concentrated on helping the rich to become richer. The poor need the help of government, the wealthy have the power to help themselves.

You have changed Australia's recognition of the World Court specifically to deny our very poor and very small neighbour, East Timor, justice over the petroleum resources of the Timor Sea.

Against the wishes of the Australian people you involved Australia in the unjustified and immoral invasion of Iraq. In normal times there is nothing more serious that a political leader can do than involve his country in war.

You have made Australia a target for terrorism by joining in with the USA in its wars for global dominance. In response to the terrorist threat, that you created, you have introduced draconian laws that seriously infringe on the civil liberties of Australian citizens.

Worse than these, you have chosen to largely ignore the global threat of climate change. You have supported the short-term interests of the fossil fuel industries rather than moving Australia toward sustainable energy use. Australia and the world will suffer for decades, probably centuries, because of G. W. Bush's and your failure to act on global warming.

Yours faithfully, David Clarke.

Home
Top
Index


Protecting the whale:
an easy environmental image for Australia?

2005/07/19

Japan is pressing for sustainable whaling while Australia leads the fight to protect the whales. Both countries are pressuring small states, such as the Solomon Islands, to vote on their side.

Any whale species that is endangered should be protected. But the minkie whale was not much hunted until recently, and several other species have greatly recovered in numbers following the excessive hunting of the last few centuries. It is true that the Japanese whalers' method of killing whales inflicts great pain and is slow and cruel, and many people might object to whaling on this ground. The Japanese claim that they are doing it for scientific purposes is, of course, laughable and a lie.

But I have little doubt that there are worse examples of animal cruelty that our government could be targeting if they were inclined, the Chinese practice of farming sun bears for their bile is one example. Is killing a whale for food any more unethical than killing a pig, if it could be done humanely?

I wonder what the Australian Government's motive is in taking up the fight to protect the whale? As one of the worst greenhouse polluters on the planet, and one of the greatest destroyers of native native vegetation and old-growth forests, what environmental credentials does Australia have? Leading the fight to protect the whales costs very little compared to cleaning up our carbon dioxide emissions. There are no Australian jobs to loose as there would be if we were to stop destroying our old-growth forests. Is leading the fight against the resumption of commercial whaling a cheap way of getting some environmental credibility as far as the Howard Government is concerned?

In the resumption of whaling as the Japanese would have it, there is at worst an arguable question about which species are threatened, the degree of that threat, and the animal cruelly point. In greenhouse the extinction of thousands of species and deaths of billions of people is threatened. I believe this is another case of red herring environmentalism.

Home
Top
Index


Why did Australia become involved in the Iraq war?

2005/07/17

This is a very important question for any Australian. Our government has never properly answered it and yet most of the media and most Australian citizens seem content to allow that situation to stand.

Going to war is arguably the most important decision that any government can make, and is certainly one of the most irreversible. In 2003 the Howard Government involved Australia in the Iraq war against the wishes of a large majority of the Australian people. At the time it was stated that Iraq possessed large stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and that the country posed a threat to regional and world peace. (The USA has bombed more than twenty countries since WW2 and has far more WMDs than Iraq ever had, yet our Government does not consider the USA to be a threat to world peace.) There were also suggestions that Iraq was trying to develop a nuclear weapons capability (later shown to be false) and that Iraq had some connection with international terrorism (never substantiated). While the Hussein regime was undeniably barbaric, regime change was not put forward as a justification for the invasion until it was over and the reasons given as justifications were, one by one, being found to be false.

Reasons for not going to war, including the obvious one that war is always destructive of lives and property and should be avoided except as a last resort, include the fact that this war made Australia a target for radical Islamic terrorists. In addition the war was not sanctioned by the United Nations.

The weakness of the Iraqi military was demonstrated in the Gulf War of 1990-91 and was again shown by the fact that military resistance ended only two weeks after the beginning of the 2003 invasion.

So Iraq did not have any WMDs, their military was not strong enough to pose a threat to anyone given the retaliation capability of the US or NATO, they were not developing nuclear weapons, and there has never been any convincing evidence linking Iraq to international terrorism. Why did Australia take part in an invasion that killed tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians?

There have been persistent suggestions that the war was all about US control over world oil reserves (Iraq has the second largest oil reserves after Saudi Arabia). Not surprisingly these suggestions have always been strongly denied by the US and Australian Governments.

My opinion is that the war was about oil and US control, not only over oil reserves, but also as a step toward total world domination. (The USA has stated that it aims to achieve "Full spectrum dominance" over all military forces in the world.) Australia, under the Howard Government, is effectively a puppet of the US.

The US will leave Iraq deeply in debt and largely in the hands of huge multinational corporations, most of which are dominated by US ownership.

I have covered this subject at greater length in my page on the Iraq war, but felt that it deserved a mention here because Australians still have not been given a satisfactory answer to why we were involved in the US war against Iraq.

Home
Top
Index


Copper-Chrome-Arsenate treated wood

2005/07/01

CCA treated pine is commonly used for fences, vineyard posts, and outdoor structural timber in Australia. Chromium and arsenic are toxic, copper is a necessary element in living organisms in trace amounts, but too much can cause poisoning. Some chromium compounds are toxic to the lungs and can cause lung cancer. Arsenic is toxic if a moderate amount is ingested in a short time and it can accumulate in the body over a long period, even if ingested in only very small amounts.

What happens to the copper, chromium and arsenic in CCA treated fence posts as those posts weather? The posts don't last for ever, and copper, chromium and arsenic, being elements, are indestructible. Does some fraction of the toxins leach into the soil? Can they then be taken up by plants? If they are taken up by plants and animals eat the plants then those animals may well be poisoned.

Some toxins in combination can be more toxic than each is on its own – the 'combination is greater than the sum of the parts'. I doubt that this particular combination has been much researched.

What happens to the CCA when the posts burn in a bushfire?

When CCA treated wood is new, the fact that it is CCA treated is obvious because of the strong green colour. As CCA treated wood ages it bleaches and becomes less green and more grey. Is there a likelihood that people will unknowingly use old CCA wood as firewood?

Burning CCA treated wood must release some of the toxic heavy metals into the atmosphere. Some other fraction will remain in the ash; and will the ash be disposed of responsibly? (What is responsible disposal of CCA contaminated ash?)

While it might be difficult to know that bleached old timber is CCA treated by its appearance, once it begins to burn the bright green, copper, flame will be easy to spot; so long as people look for it and know what it means.

Home
Top
Index


Sport, the opium of the masses

2005/06/28

Karl Marx called religion "the opium of the people". In Australia in the early twenty-first century religion has largely been replaced by sport in the apathetic and passive minds of the great majority.

While climates change, glaciers retreat, flooding and heat-waves become more common, Antarctic ice sheets break up, corral reefs are bleached, the sea level rises and species become extinct, the plebs don't care as long as they have their sport. While the Australian government engages our country in the illegal and immoral wars of the US empire builders, enacts laws that allow our anti-terrorist police to hold suspects without trial and to go around smashing hard-drives on journalists' computers, the Australian unthinking majority concern themselves about which football team is most likely to win the national premiership.

Probably most of them would express amazement and disgust at the way the German people during the 1930s allowed Hitler's Nazis to rise to power. Who was it who said that no-one learns anything from history?

Home
Top
Index


Mind-numbing work

2005/06/26

One hears repetitive factory work referred to as mind-numbing. In my experience the people who use this term have never done any significant amount of factory work.

Is repetitive factory work mind-numbing? I had a year of working in a foundry. The work was repetitive, although people were shifted around from job to job periodically, the longer one worked there the more jobs one learned. Still, the work was so simple that, once learned, it could be done without thought.

What other things do we put quite a bit of time into that do not require thought? Walking and driving come to mind. Commuting in public transport for some people. If I don't have any physical work to do I try to average at least 15 000 steps walking each day. What could be more repetitive and require less thought than putting one foot in front of the other?

This must not be taken too far. There is ample evidence from research that intelligence is improved and/or maintained by regular challenge, while intelligence declines when people do not exercise their minds. I found an eight-hour day at the factory an opportunity to let my mind roam. I could just do the job and think about whatever I wanted to. I wonder if a job that requires thought, but repetitive thought, would actually be more mind-numbing than a no-thinking factory job?

Home
Top
Index


Litigation paranoia

2005/06/23

This country is suffering because of fear of litigation, in many cases the fear is quite unreasonable. This bit discusses one such case.

The attitude of the Port Pirie Regional Council toward an initiative by an individual to remove a species of feral tree from a public park is an example of unreasonable fear of litigation. The Port Pirie Council probably does not have a more paranoid attitude than some others, although I will say that the Clare and Gilbert Valley's Council is more open to work by volunteers. The individual concerned is me.

I have been killing the feral trees (Peruvian pepper trees, Schinus molle) – by drilling 6mm holes around the base of their trunks and injecting herbicide (Garlon) – for something like 18 months. A council representative agreed that the trees should be removed from the park. He said that they do remove pepper trees on public land whenever they come across them and have the time. However, I was asked to stop my work. Council was concerned that:

  • I was not qualified to do the work;
  • I might poison myself or someone else;
  • I might fall and break a leg.
What largely went unsaid was that if someone was hurt, he or she might sue Council for damages. (Council felt that if they gave me permission to do the work, even on a voluntary basis, I might be considered to be a Council employee under law.)

This attitude is unreasonable for the following reasons:

  • It is very unlikely that anyone would be harmed by my work because the herbicide I use has very low toxicity to animals, and it is inaccessible to everyone once injected into the tree trunks;
  • If anyone was harmed by my work, the link between my work and Council is pretty tenuous;
  • If I entered the park as a visitor, fell and broke my leg, I might well have just as much ground for litigation as if I was poisoning feral trees.
While I am now retired I used to work for a State Government Department (DWLBC). They had something like the same unreasonable fear of litigation, to the point where information was withheld from the public. The justification for withholding information was the chance that someone might base an important decision on it, make a financial loss, and then sue the Department if the information was capable of being misinterpreted.
Home
Top
Index


One of the very few?

2005/06/22

I believe that greenhouse warming/climate change is the greatest disaster facing the world today.

It will result in:

  • Habitat change;
  • An increase in the frequency of extreme weather events such as floods and hurricanes;
  • Long-term rainfall decline in some areas, increase in others;
  • Some areas will become unsuited for their fauna and flora;
  • Spread of some diseases into areas where they have not previously been a problem;
  • Extinction of many species;
  • Possible changing of some of the major oceanic currents (if the Gulf Stream was to fail, as seems possible, much of northern Europe would become uninhabitable);
  • Possible run-away greenhouse due to such things as release of the methane clathrate (hydrate) on the ocean floors;
  • Sea level rise – which will lead to flooding of some very populous river deltas (eg. Nile, Mekong, Ganges) with resultant displacement and probable starvation of millions;
  • Loss of productivity of farm land.
Yet I seem to be one of the very few people with the little bit of motivation needed to write letters to South Australian newspapers and blog on the Internet on the subject!

Do so many people care so little about such a colossal looming disaster?

Is this the age of apathy?

Home
Top
Index