Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Well, why'd you bloody ask then?

This is the fourth time I have started this post, which is not like me, but I am finding it difficult to maintain a particular thread of discourse.
One of the things about being a professional writer, which I am only in the very loosest sense, is that you have to develop control.
You get to a sticky point, and the natural urge is just to give up and say 'it's all too hard' and go and do something else.
Anyone seeing the finished product has no idea of all this background angst that went into completing it.
So what's wrong with me this week?
I have been having  a difficult time with business issues and my house now on the market, with possible consequence of having to move, and this uncertainty makes it hard to concentrate.
No one is forcing me to write this blog, but I do it for my own reasons, mainly having somewhere to moan, and Wednesday is the day.
So I am going to attempt to stick at it.
So what's with the title?
This stems from someone I know asking me how I was.
Now this is a perennially thorny issue for anyone with chronic depression.
The genuine answer is usually "not good", but I have long since learned not to say this, because no one really wants to hear it.
Also, most people are busy with their own lives and problems to listen.
I understand that as well, which is why I go to counselling with Paula, she being paid to listen to me moan.
But therefore, what do I want people to ask?
I know it's a reflex more than anything else to ask how someone is, but I think I'd prefer people to just say 'hello', rather than 'how are you doing?', if they're not prepared to listen to the answer.
And then if someone does ask how I am, and I give the "fine, thanks" answer, it leaves me feeling terribly alone, unable to express my true feelings.
It kind of reminds me of one of Ben Elton's books Stark.
The female lead, Rachel, was saying she didn't like being referred to as someone's 'lady', she goes on:
"In the end Rachel began to think she would honestly prefer to be known as someone's casual fuck, than their lady."
And I kind of feel the same here.
But then the next part of the problem is that I do unbend, against my better judgement, and say "I'm not doing so well", I usually get asked "why?", and this opens a whole other Pandora's box, because when I say why it is that I'm feeling like this, the advice starts.
And man, does this make me mad.
I urge the entire sentient world to take a leaf out of my therapist Paula's book, and never give any advice.
I once had to explain to my brother that therapists, if they know what they are doing, never give advice.
He thought that I went in and lay on the couch, and the therapist then told me what to do, avoid him and my father in that particular case.
But this was of course completely untrue, I was avoiding my father for the usual reasons, and I was avoiding my brother because he agreed with my father.
So in the end this leaves me kind of out of options I can tell you.
I don't want anyone to ask how I am if they aren't going to listen to the answer and, clearly, I don't want any more advice.
As I once had to explain to my brother, by giving advice you are basically saying you know more about life than the receiver of said advice.
I might add that one of the bits of my philosophy that I have developed is this: "advice is the opposite of money, people will give without stinting, but refuse to take a cent".
So no more advice please, unless your prepared for me to tell you what's wrong with your life.
Mind you, I really have a chicken and the egg paradox going here, because the people I am most mad at don't read this blog, so who am I yelling at?
Not you, that's for sure.
So let's move on to another topic, mainly so I have a photo to go with the blog, vegetarian's aren't soft.
Why's this matter?
It doesn't really, but I remember when one of the Australian cricketers, Peter Siddle announced he was a vegetarian, in fact a vegan.
There was some controversy with many saying that you can't play professional sport if you don't eat meat.
Well that's rubbish.
I have been a vegetarian for some years now and feel fine.
I did have low iron recently when I went for my annual checkup, but I saw pharmacist Fleur and she gave me some iron supplements, they taste like a rusty gate (joke), but they have certainly been doing the job.
If I had a big day of energy expenditure, gardening, cycling, gym and surf, I would often be very tired around six in the evening, and have to work hard to stay awake till ten so I could sleep through the night.
But since I've started taking the iron pills, I haven't had a problem.
And I might add, I became a vegetarian once I began doing autopsies on sea turtles down at Seabird Rescue.
I can assure you once you've followed the scalpel inside the green liquid contents of a long dead turtle, you'll never touch meat again.
Promise you that.
So I'll close with this picture of the world's most dangerous vegetarian.
If you're willing to go up and stab your finger in his chest and tell him he's soft, then I'll start eating meat again.
Cape Buffalo, even the flies steer clear.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Showers contracting to the north-east corner

These menacing clouds moved in over Byron on Thursday last week, by Saturday the hail came.
The title of this post was an oft repeated ending to the weather segment on ABC news by Mike Bailey, the ABC's venerable weatherman.
If there was any rain happening in NSW, Mike would invariably end the weather with this statement, showing on the map the clouds arrowing in on Byron Bay.
As a boy growing up in dry old Bathurst, it didn't mean much to me.
But when I moved to the said north-east corner and I really began to understand what he meant.
Byron Bay, as is well known, is the Eastern most point of the Australian mainland, and as such acts as a snag to any cloud going past.
Once snagged by the steep slopes of Wollumbin (Mt Warning), or the lighthouse cliffs, the clouds would give up the struggle to sail free over the Pacific ocean and dump their pregnant loads of water on our coastal living heads.
I remember five or so years ago listening to the Country Hour on ABC radio as I drove and the weather guy there was saying that 96% of NSW is in drought, or drought affected, I knew without research where the four percent that wasn't was.
The Rainbow region, as it is colloquially known, is known, regionally as the Northern Rivers, and that is an apt term.
And those rivers have to be fed by something and that something is the relentless procession of clouds hooked down by the coastal cliffs.
Norman Maclean, who wrote "A River Runs Through It", said, "I am haunted by waters".
I never quite felt that, but I was always fascinated by large bodies of water, and I think this is due to the dryness of Bathurst in the eighties.
The Macquarie River - a rare photo, there's water in it.
In this period I went on holidays, with my brother and mother, up to the north coast.
It was a life changing experience for me.
I remember looking out the windows of the car at this strange green stuff growing everywhere.
I had never seen such a lush verdant landscape before.
In retrospect, it was the moment I began planning my escape from Bathurst.
Some of you reading this still live there and that's fine, but it wasn't for me.
As a small boy of nine staring in fascinated wonder out the car window at a landscape that was more green than brown the whole desire to escape Bathurst burgeoned within me and, in the end, came down to one moment.
We crossed a small waterway called Salt Pan Creek and I looked down through the bridge stanchions and marvelled, "THAT'S A CREEK!"
It was wider and deeper than the hapless MacQuarie River of Bathurst by a considerable margin, and up here it was only a creek.
So if Salt Pan Creek was amazing, the Maclean River at Grafton was a religious experience.
The Maclean river - "There's Boats on it!"
Not the death shoe for a giant
mafia informant, but a measure
of Tully's rainfall.
This mighty watercourse was so big that a) boats could go up and down it, and b) you could fish in it.
Neither was possible on the Macquarie.
So with all this water up here, we have had our own way of life more or less thrust upon us.
Lismore, for instance, is the most flood affected town in Australia.
It doesn't get the most rain, that title is held by a clear margin by Tully in North Queensland, famously demonstrated by this concrete gumboot.
The gumboot stands 7.9m high and represents the rainfall in Tully in 1950, of 7900mm.
Additionally, Tully once got 1140mm (45 inches) of rain in one day.
To try to put that into context, Bathurst, for instance, has an annual rainfall in January of 68mm (2.7in) and Tully got twenty times that in a day.
Flooding in Lismore? - Take your pick.
So back to Lismore, whilst not in the Tully class for sheer volume of moisture arriving from the heavens at terminal velocity, it has a lot of issues with floods.
This is mostly due to the geography of the place, sitting as it does at the base of the caldera of the now extinct volcano, Wollumbin, the water comes down and then follows inexorably a circuitous path down to the low point, and that term is exact, believe me, of the area, Lismore.
So much is flooding a way of life for the residents up here that when I went onto my search engine to bring up some pictures of flooding in Lismore, I was spoiled for choice.
Lismore, as you can see below, had flood issues in 2010 through 2013, and every other damn year, but the menu dropped off the bottom of my screen at this point.
The Lismore floods of 1974,
the town is in there somewhere.
So much so, that when I looked I had to think hard about the flooding of this year, it was so "minor" that it escaped my memory.
Minor flooding in Lismore means the Wilson river only rose five metres.
The two worst years for flooding in Lismore were 1954 and 1974.


Global Warming

Which brings me, almost eternally, to global warming, and its immediate consequences.
Every year that goes by without us reducing our fossil fuel burning, the flooding is going to get worse.
Now this perennially complex issue is one difficult to describe, but a common technique used by right wing news organs was to finish a story about global warming with a two second sound grab from some crusty oldster, who would turn to the camera and say "I've never been so cold in my life."
This grab would be incredibly powerful and people would come away from the story with the feeling that it's all Ok, and if there are any consequences, they will not be visited upon us for hundreds of years.
Sadly not so, and the first symptoms of this global convulsion will be Extreme Weather Events (EWEs).
These will take many forms, normally temperate cities will have summer temperatures of 45 degrees Celsius for two weeks on end, dropping to 35 degrees (maybe) at night.
Cyclones will lash the coasts for not three days, but ten.
Cold snaps will snap colder, and deeper.
Scouring winds will pour out of the deserts and blow for days on end.

Already these events are playing havoc with insurance premiums, with the government being increasingly called upon to underwrite the repair bill.
Said governments are already becoming increasingly reluctant to do so, yet to obviate the need for paying out for repairs, they are unwilling to close a coal mine to stop the damage occurring in the first damn place.
Maybe those loonies who stood on street corners in sack cloth and ashes shouting "the end is nigh" will finally be proved right.

Global Dimming

Then there's global dimming.
What's this?
Global dimming was a phenomenon first brought to light in the wake of 9/11.
After the planes hit the towers, an immediate halt was brought to all flights in North America, while the whole mess was sorted out.
And in this flight hiatus, a climate scientist then got some data no one expected.
He had climate stations set up across the continent, from Alaska to Florida, and in the three days of no flights, the average temperature of the continent went up by one degree.
I know it doesn't sound much, but one degree in three days is an awful lot.
Turns out that the aircraft vapour trails were reflecting massive amounts of heat away from the Earth.
So we have set up this awfully uneasy system, if flights stop again, for any reason, the volcanic explosion in Iceland was one good example, the temperature of the planet could rise faster than anyone ever supposed.
What can we do about it?
Simply turning off a light or two, if done in every building in the country, could solve the problem.
Else, Lismore will lose its unwanted title of 'flood capital' of Australia, and anytown, Australia, will begin vying for the title.
So in closing I'll refer to a novel I read by John Wyndham, The Kraken Wakes.
It's a science fiction novel about creatures from Jupiter who colonise the Earth.
Due to the almighty pressures of the gas giant, the only place they can survive on Earth is in the very deepest parts of the ocean, where the pressures are comparable to their home planet.
A conflict begins between us and them, and the creatures of the deep move atomic reactors under the poles and begin melting the ice, to cover the planet with more water.
As the water levels rise, a slow, but ever increasing panic begins and people begin fleeing the ocean shores for higher ground.
At one point a character is watching the building of levy banks to protect the city of London.
Another character asks, "Is this going to work?"
To which the first character says, "No".
So he is asked, "Well what can we do about it?"
His response applies to us if we don't start turning off some lights and shutting coal mines, and is:
"Find a hilltop and fortify it."



Tuesday, 12 November 2013

There is no news today - except how F%*^ing bad Independence Day was

"What are you looking at? And can you turn off that
torch while I'm trying to sleep", her look said.
The title of this post has been bandied about by many since the dawn of newspapers, but most recently mentioned by Warren Ryan, ABC radio's senior rugby league analyst.
I mention this because as I came into the office earlier in the week to begin this week's post, it occurred to me that I had nothing to write about, and thus, should I say that, and not produce a post this week?
But then those that know me well will tell you that they have difficulty recalling any time when I didn't have anything to say.
Scott, here at work, is a good example, he couldn't begin to enumerate the amount of times I have gone into his nacelle and said "just briefly I want to tell you this...", and have still been there, bending his ear, an hour later. 
But then last night as I was watching TV, the roof of my tent began rolling like waves on the ocean and I realised that the possum was back.
Why is she news?
Well, she's not, it's just that now I have to go into lock down mode every night to stop her waking me up.
When you live with animals, as I do, you have to go into virtual spring clean mode every night when preparing for bed, as any food left out will send out the signal to the assorted wildlife that make their home with me that, the smorgasbord is open for business.
A single banana peel for instance, left out where it's smell can permeate, will start a range war between the possum and the rat, over who gets to eat it.
Which kind of leads us where I wanted to go, which is, this week's philosophy: nothing is all good, or all bad.
What has this possum got to do then with that?
Well, there have been nights in the past where I wanted to kill that bloody animal, usually for waking me up at three am, most famously when she put her paw on my electric jug, which began boiling, frightening her, and waking me.
But her presence keeps the rats in check, I'm not exactly sure how, but there is no denying that when she is on patrol, the rats go elsewhere.
So in general I just live with her nocturnal perambulations.
So if we follow the same philosophy, then there must be something good about John Howard.
Those who read last week's blog will know I spent the whole time railing against the man, mainly for his advocating the use of nuclear power.
So I had a hard think, and am having difficulty coming up with anything, and so I'll put it out to you reading this.
If anyone can come up with something good about John Howard, please say, you can fill in the comment section below.

Independence Day

I wouldn't go to work with this hanging over my town.
Some time ago I had a rant about 'The Bodyguard', with Whitney and Kevin overacting to a level hard to believe.
At the end I mentioned two other films that I considered too appalling for words, saying I would get back to them one day, well that day has arrived.
I still resent the two hours of my life wasted, literally, as you'll soon read, watching Independence Day, but I was drawn into it like this.
Some of my engineer mates said that they had heard the special effects were great, so why didn't we all go see it.
I agreed, and we headed down to the cinema complex in George st, Sydney.
We snuck into "Hooter Alley", as named by my friend Daz, and smoked a joint before we went in, then took our seats and waited for the actinic light show.
However, within a vanishingly short space of time I was already furious with the damn movie, even stoned I was tearing big, huge, staggeringly large holes in the plot.
So poor was this laughable excuse for a plot, that I couldn't enjoy the special effects.
Many would say, "suspend your disbelief, and enjoy it", but as a hard nosed character, I simply can't do this, and quite frankly, feel that the producers of the film should give me, for my $15, good special effects and a plot that works.
So what was wrong with it?
Well that is a genuine "where do we start?" question.
Perhaps the best point to begin is a point raised by my friend Lloyd.
The hero of the film is Will Smith, and his wife is a stripper.
Will works for NASA, so I would have thought she didn't have to go to work for monetary reasons, so I'm guessing that her job was a thinly veiled, both literal and metaphoric, excuse to get a near naked woman on the screen.
Anyway, the Stilettan Armourfiends of Stitterax arrive en masse in their giant spaceships which they park above all the major cites of the Earth.
They've blown up the White house, for no discernible reason, yet Will's wife still goes to work.
She is next seen gyrating up and down a pole in some seedy bar in east LA.
Now I've taken some sickies in my time, but even I, a bullshit artist par excellence, would have thought that, "I'm not coming to work today because there are giant space ships all over the place", would have sufficed.
Sometime later for reasons that escape me, and the script writers apparently, said wife has to run into a tunnel under a freeway.
The 'fiends are coming, and she spys a metal door, deadlocked, with a large padlock on it.
In need of quick safety, she opens it with one kick and she's inside.
My first thought was that I would call the LA highways department and say that they need to strengthen their doors if a single kick can open it, but we'll move on.
The Stilletans lay down a napalm-like strafe of goodness knows what alien chemical weapons, and an enormous firestorm goes down the tunnel.
Some time later the firestorm clears and then she emerges from her hidey-hole in rude good health.
Sorry, but a firestorm of that nature would have sucked all the oxygen for miles around into the conflagration, so she would have died of either heat, or suffocation, and would have welded the door firmly shut.
But then she had high billing in the credits, and so this was enough to protect her.
Then there's Jeff Goldblum, who is an actor I had previously respected.
He plays a computer guy and in despair at the inability of the Earth military to penetrate the Aliens force field around their ships, get loaded on scotch in his office.
Then his father comes in to find him lying on the floor near dead from drink and gives him an idea to defeat the force field, load a computer virus onto the alien computer network.
So Jeff jumps off the floor as if he hasn't had a drink in a year, and writes a super-complex computer virus for an alien computer system in less than two hours.
Done to explain this bit of the "plot".
Oh, please.
Then Jeff and Will get in an alien spaceship that has been lying around at Roswell for the past fifty years, without a service I might add, and fly up to the alien mothership to load the virus.
And before you can say 'knife', they have flown up, docked, connected with the network, loaded the virus and they're away.
Jeff even had time to write this "what's going on" screen widget.
Meanwhile back on Earth, we can't even get the computer in the admin office to print.
Finally, mercifully for you, the reader, we come to the climactic battle scene, even here I was chewing big lumps out of the arm of my movie chair.
Why did they have to fly up in jet fighters?
Don't they have thousands of millimetrically targeted missiles in silos in Nevada that can hit a city block in Moscow with a deviation of less than five metres?
Apparently not, and so Bill Pullman (the president), Will and  Randy Quaid, as usual for reasons not adequately explained, fly up in jet fighters and destroy the Armourfiends once and for all.
Again it wasn't adequately explored how many deaths occurred when horizon engulfing torrents of destroyed alien ship debris rained down across LA, but there you go.
Bill couldn't hit a suburb-sized alien ship
from the ground.
But even then among the things I couldn't believe about this film was that some large quantities of morons gave it a collective rating of 6.8/10 on the international movie database (IMDB).
The only part of that rating I would have agreed with was the ".8", and that I would consider generous.
It's been a long time since the film came out but I nearly gave birth while doing the research for this rant to discover that they are making a sequel.
I wonder if Bill will have improved his aim in this new one, and can hit a flying saucer the size of Sydney Harbour from the ground?


Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Isn't it time that John Howard shut up?

I particularly like this link to the ABC story as it covers his face.
I was going about my business this morning when John Howard came on the radio and I nearly choked on my breakfast.
Enraged, I spat a mouthful across my tent and bespattered the screen of my TV with flakes of cereal.
And it was the subject matter that incensed me to the nth degree and beyond.
He was propounding the case for nuclear power.
I don't know what it takes to get people like John Howard to understand that nuclear power is not a viable, scratch that, not an option period.
And this speech by the former PM is in the aftermath of Fukushima, where the incidence of thymus cancer is rocketing according to the Guardian newspaper of Britain:

Corbett Report: Thyroid cancers skyrocketing right now in Fukushima — Guardian: “The issue is bound to escalate further” (VIDEO)

So I'll just add my microscopic voice to the debate.
And I might add, I am a scientist, unlike John Howard, who is, how did you know I was going to say this, a lawyer.
Now I am the first to admit that my marks at uni were hardly distinguished, but I still claim to know more about nuclear power than John Howard.
So here we go.
Nuclear power is not an option because it's ultimate premise is that it only can function if you believe in the perfect machine.
None is, my constant references to paying for car repairs is testament to this, so nuclear power is only an option of we believe that no power station will ever go wrong.
The various engineers involved told us after Chernobyl that the type of reactor built in the Ukraine will no longer be used.
New reactors with a much higher safety margin will be now used, and the engineers therefore claimed there will never be another Chernobyl.
And so these new, "safer" reactors were built around the world.
One of those places was Fukushima.
In the truest sense of the word, the engineers are right, the new reactors are safer than the one at Chernobyl, but the problem with Fukushima was that it wasn't the reactor itself that had the problem, it was the place it was built, AKA, in Japan, on the shores of the pacific, in one of the most geologically active areas of the planet.
Tokyo itself is built on the junction of three tectonic plates, in comparison California, earthquake central, is "only" on two.
Since Fukushima there have been endless stories about the wisdom(!) of building a nuclear power station there, and the responses from the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) who built it were a constant succession of "we considered all the risks involved".
I don't think you did.
One would think that a Tsunami would have been something considered in Japan, for any building construction, let alone a nuke power station.
So then one might say, "well can we build a new safer reactor in a geologic dead zone, where there is no danger of earthquake or Tsunami?"
The best known geologic dead zone on Earth is Australia, so is it safe to build a reactor here?
Well, perhaps one should ask the residents of Newcastle who lived through the quake that rocked that city in a "geologic dead zone".
One building after the Newcastle quake,
would a nuke station survive in better shape?
The inherent nature of the shifting Earth is such that even today with all our much-vaunted equipment, there is still no way to accurately predict an earthquake.
So the answer is 'NO', there is nowhere on Earth where you can build a nuclear power station and 'know' it is safe from earthquake.
In closing the Fukushima section I will say that since that horrendous day I have been scanning the news waiting for the Japanese government to announce that they are decommissioning all their other reactors, but they are not doing it.
Seems that the risk in money and death of their citizens is worth it.
Moving on, earthquakes are only one of the potential threats.
Simple faulty equipment is another.
Is John Howard seriously saying that every pipe, every duct, every piece of shielding, every fan, every pump, every brick, every tile, every power supply source is 100% fail proof?
If he is, I'd like to live in a house built by those materials.
That kind of reminds me of the piece done by a stand up comic, I think Sienfeld, who said, "Since the black box always survives every aircrash, why don't they build the whole plane out of the material that they make the black box out of?"
Too expensive I'd warrant.
Which leads me neatly to price of nuclear power.
John Howard this morning was going on with some hopelessly, convoluted gobbledegook about nuclear being cheaper than renewables.
Rubbish, John.
That is serious, serious, tauro-scatology.
TEPCO are decidedly cagey about saying what it cost to build Fukushima, but a new plant in Flamanville, France, of the same design as Fukushima, cost $8 billion Euros, or $A11.5 billion.
How many solar panels, and wind turbines could Australia buy with $11.5 bill?
A lot.
Of course all of the above figures do not take into account the cost of the Fukushima cleanup.
This is of course a wildly varying figure, but the same page that told me of Flamanville estimates $A82 billion.
And this of course doesn't, and can't, count the ongoing costs of health treatment and most importantly, the human cost of death, which is unquantifiable.
The Economonitor lists Chernobyl as costing $975 million to clean up, and took 14 years, but again this figure is unable to fully cost health issues which may go on for years.
So next time you here someone say nuclear power costs 'x' per kilowatt of power produced, ask if they have factored in the costs of cleaning up Chernobyl and Fukushima.
Which then leads me to a point well made by my colleague at Greenpeace in Vancouver, James Pratt, who is anything but his surname.
James pointed out that everytime you here someone saying that a nuclear power station will produce power at 'x' cents per kilowatt, they invariably fail to add in the eventual cost of decommissioning the thing.
This is always infinitely more than it cost to build, since it involves safe(!) storage of radioactive materials for decades, if not centuries.
My colleague at my current work, Scott, played Devil's Advocate, a term stunningly accurate when arguing for nuclear power, and said, "but isn't global warming worse? Wouldn't it be better to have a few nuclear power stations, so the risk is concentrated in a few places, rather than the all-encompassing global warming threat from burning coal?"
Well, that's wrong too.
You can' t escape physics, and the heat inside a nuclear reactor is intense.
This heat has to be dissipated, usually by seawater, and this obviates any supposed global warming reducing effect of not releasing Carbon Dioxide.
I cannot find any source to tell me how much heat is added to global warming by nuclear power stations, but I can assure you that all over the world where reactors are cooled by seawater, the area around the plant shows thermal plumes.
We better hope that Polar
Bears can jump puddles.
Pack ice reduction - are nukes a factor?

So any gains in the global warming issue are minimal.
I might add the area where this is most grossly demonstrated is the arctic, where recently it was reported that the pack ice had reduced from 180 million square kilometres, down to four, an approx forty fold decrease.
Where does the warm water that is doing this come from?
Europe and North America, where a large number of nuclear power stations are situated.
Again, as Scott accurately points out, can we be sure that the heat emitted by a nuke is a significant factor?
No, we can't, and once again that is a huge part of the problem, things un-, or inaccurately accounted for.
So there you have it, no nukes, they solve nothing, they certainly don't help reduce global warming.
And finally, John Howard, not only did your government get voted out, but you got voted out of your own seat.
Even the staunchly liberal voters of Sydney's lower north shore couldn't stomach you for a second longer.
So, fair's fair, democracy has spoken, retire gracefully, and shut up.