Sunday, February 21, 2010

My Trip to Sydney - or - There and Back Again

Whew - little visit from the dog there. Now that I've got Global Warming pushed to the back of my brain again, something more cheerful. Unless you're Nowhere Bob.

The Woman of My Dreams decided a while back to go and see her Baby Brother in Sydney. As she is the captain of Starship Greybeard she needed only to turn to me, nod firmly and say the magic words "make it so, Number 2". I have never had the courage to ask her why she calls me that. I fear that I might not like the answer. Nevertheless & obedient as always I arranged flights and accommodation for us and her parents. Fortunately our driver picked us from the airport in good time and took us to the corner of an abandoned warehouse in Crown St until it was time for our show.

It was a brilliant idea on my part to employ a local guide, if I say so myself. Parking in that area of Sydney is absolutely appalling. I can't understand why they don't put a decent multistory carpark in that wasted green space near the Opera House. No vision these politicians. Our guide however knew a great place to park, right under those big front steps. The problem would be getting past the guards. Surely (I thought) they would allow a famous & well loved Holy Man to drive right in? Yes!

I did consider becoming the corpulent cleric Ayatollah Bin Lahdi, but that was too close to the Chasers stunt and I don't think that "lovable" was in his job description. But what of His Holiness the Dahlia Llama? Swiftly applying my amazing powers of disguise (for an explanation, see my forthcoming book "Seven Years among the Thespians") I transformed into the popular Tibetan. We drove confidently through the various barriers as I dispensed inane smiles, waves and blessings to all and sundry, and parked just outside the door. To be honest, our guide's appearance didn't help. With wild hair, tatts and sunnies he looked more like an off-duty rock star than a suitable chauffeur. Luckily my deception carried the day and I forgave him.

The performance was quite pleasant, if a little loud, and featured the works of the late J R (Johnny) Cash. I actually found my toes tapping at some points. The audience leaped about, shouting, clapping and whistling so I presume they were enjoying themselves according to the mores of their own culture. Our guide had provided excellent seats (local knowledge!) at the centre of the theatre, and just a couple of rows back - so as not to be sprinkled by the perspiration of the performers apparently. The nice people at the box office refused payment for the tickets, presumably as they recognised us as tourists.

After the entertainment our guide took us back to rest for a while. Just as the pangs of hunger began to bite he and his charming family ushered us to a delightful Italian place where we ate and drank rather too much for many an hour. And so to bed, rising thence to fly back to dear old Brisbane, cheerful despite our dreadful headaches - no doubt due to Sydney's suspect water quality. The moral of this tale is clear. If you must travel to strange parts and far off places, it is essential to find a first-class local guide to steer you past the pitfalls. I tipped him as we left and the poor fellow was absolutely speechless. And Bob? I told him about you and the "nemesis" business and he said something about "wishing you luck". Can't think what he meant?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Is Civilisation Doomed & Should I Worry

The following may offend some people -assuming they ever read it - but that's OK, they offend me too.

I've been obsessed  by science, the practice of science, its "method", its principles, its promise and excitement since I was a very small boy. A "freaky" small boy who read newspapers before starting year 1 and Southey's "Life of Nelson" at age 6. It was boring and they "talked funny" but I still have it on the shelves. By then I was reading adult fiction but mainly encyclopedias which I loved with a passion & always hoped for at Xmas. Later I taught physics & biology for years before being seduced by IT. If my science classes were popular, I think it was because the kids recognised genuine passion for the subjects and appreciated that we would always go beyond the textbook, into the latest articles and discoveries and into where this might take us. Science was, in a sense, my religion and my hope for the future of the world. Back then it was respected, even by business and mining magnates, largely because it continued to make them ever richer. And of course by the general public, who would live for centuries, without disease and only work two days a week. Oddly enough I don't recall actual scientists making those predictions but there they were in the magazines anyway.

Then we ("we" because I include myself in the sub-species sciencewonkia) discovered that DDT could exterminate entire species, even useful ones, that radiation didn't magically go away when you didn't need it,  that the Ozone Hole was growing, that Climate was Changing. And thus everything changed. Rachel Carson's famous "Silent Spring" probably started the demonisation of science and scientists. Here was a book that had the potential to reduce profits. Just to save some insects and fish and ducks and hawks that no true-blue capitalist could possibly care about. Clearly scientists had become dangerous. They were discovering things that would have best remained hidden and publishing their findings! Then it was remembered that many of them were godless, evil, Satan-worshipping evolutionists. Yet another nail in their coffin. So, gradually yet within my working lifetime, we have moved from the people who made you healthier, made your world richer and more exciting, who helped humanity, to a cabal of lying, self-serving, grant-scrounging, monster-making alarmist villains. The LHC will create a black hole and destroy the earth! And the scientists don't care! Well we would if that were anything but utter crap. Hey, we live here too.

Above all of course is Anthropogenic Climate Change. The "Greatest Con Job Ever". Except of course it isn't. Sure you can find tiny, insignificant mistakes - maybe even lies. A famous Korean scientist lied about cloning and was disgraced & kicked out. Oddly enough, no one seems to have decided that this meant that cloning itself was a total fraud? And yes, you can find a bunch of scientists who will rail against it. Most of them are right out of their area of expertise - as valid as a dentist criticising string theory. He could indeed be right but it's not very likely. Others are like Lord Monkton - a non-scientist, non-mathematician, non-anything useful who has demonstrably lied about his own background. Against them we have the vast body of world scientific research - not opinion, research. Science isn't a democracy but sheer volume of peer-reviewed research has to count. Quite a lot.

What irritates me is that so much of the evidence is available to ANYONE with eyes. Take all the fuss about "Himalayan glaciers". Ooooh, another fraud of the climate scientists eh? So, Google "reduction glaciers" and look at the photographs. So: maybe this is natural and unrelated to the rising CO2/Methane levels during this period. Bloody unlikely, even ludicrously unlikely but possible. Just. Even if that were so, the process still represents a massive danger to: crop production, island communities, populated coastal areas (like virtually every coastal area that's habitable). Add to that the masses of other evidence from so many totally different sources and our choice, in scientific terms, is simple; Fix it or Die.

Now the Deniers are clearly winning. They have the money, the spin-doctors, the paid politicians, Fox News and the works. Effectively they've won and we will not fix it. Instead we are going to die. Billions of hunger and thirst, millions more in "water wars", millions more of disease and the general violence that accompanies the downfall of any civilisation. And that makes me angry. At the Deniers, at myself for not helping more, at scientists everywhere because we were outmaneuvered. We lost the war before we even knew we were being attacked, because that's not the way we think. But especially at the Deniers.

So who are they, these Climate Change Deniers? After a little thought I've tentatively classified them as:

1. The ones who know the truth but do not care. Generally rich or relatively so, they are sociopaths who have no real empathy for younger or 'future' humans, even their own descendants. Wealth and power are their only interests. Motto: "Apres moi, le deluge" or "I'll have my fun and stuff you all when I'm gone". If any are alive when AGW is too obvious for anyone to deny, they should be placed on what is left of a small Pacific island and left to die, whether by drowning, starvation, cannibalism or suicide. All are acceptable.

2. The Paid Liars. Like the scientists who produced exactly the results specified by the Tobacco companies, these are traitors to their own species. Includes PR firms working for the energy industry and anyone working for Fox News. Quite a large group. Their names should be placed on a list, with photographs, and widely circulated. I imagine that dying communities will find some appropriate reward.

3. The "Look at ME - I want to be FAMOUS" scientists. And how does a mediocre scientist of no achievement become famous in the "popular" press? By presenting an anti-AGW argument. No matter how unqualified, tenuous, or specious it may be, you will be on the list.  TV appearances, quotes in the papers, grants from industry - all this can be yours. Some are probably self-deluded members of the largest group below, others just honestly wrong. Too bad. They've helped kill us anyway. I'm feeling harsh, so put them on the list with 2.

4. The Fools. Most blog postings come from this group. They cannot spell, capitalise or generally communicate effectively in any way. Often oppose anything "sciency" owing to a massive and well justified inferiority complex. Also oppose AGW on political grounds. Either it is a left-wing anti-wealth plot or part of the New World Order plot by the Jews and Big Business. Posts are generally short - "yah cant fool me its all crap". May be left to live or die by their own efforts. More to be pitied than blamed despite their annoying nature. We should have done more for them, and should be ashamed. I am.

5. Finally, the largest group of all. The Cowards. Truly those "In Denial". Faced with the worst disaster in human history, their cowardly minds cannot cope. They poke their heads firmly into the sand or hold their hands over their ears and shout "la, la, la" because to see, to hear, to understand and thus to believe is far too terrifying to contemplate. Fond of citing obscure articles which they have never read and wouldn't understand. Fond of quoting discredited pseudo-scientists like Monkton et al, or referring to vague lists of dissenting scientists which they have also never seen. Conversation (and blogs) contain comments such as "I'm not convinced by the evidence" or "there are too many questions/doubts" or "what about (insert so-called "scandal" here) - that proves it's all a lie". Not to be confused with the Fools, these people may be intelligent but their prime motivation is pure cowardice. We've all heard of the person who knows that "that mole" is getting bigger and darker but utterly refuses to go to a doctor. As long as they don't know the truth, they can pretend that everything is all right. So they shout at those who try to tell them, abuse them, stop talking to them. We've seen this in blogs, we've probably seen it in friends and workmates. The effort to save ourselves is too great, their selfishness too large. Give up my V8? Give up fossil-fueled cars??!  Go Solar? Live more simply? Reduce my standard of living!? PAY to fix this?? Pay with MY taxes, MY money, MY precious . . . ? Are we mad? Well yes I am. Very, very angry indeed. If I'm still around when civilisation goes belly-up and I have the option of dying slowly and unpleasantly or some other way, I might remember Poirot's Last Case.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Advice For Those Contemplating Parenthood

Assuming that you do not have children, are of breeding age, possess a suitable partner and one or more normal parents, it is probable that you have felt a certain "pressure" to add to humanity's teeming hordes. Even friends and contemporaries who have embarked on this terrifying process may try in subtle ways to influence you. They imagine that by thrusting the malodorous fruit-of-their-loins into your shrinking arms that you will be inspired to begin breeding your own at once. (If you are taken in by this ploy, it is best to at least find another room first. Supermarkets etc are most unsuitable.) It is preferable to begin this mind-control process by using a child which is utilising its highly evolved "look how cute I am, don't eat me" defense mechanism. I have used my youngest offspring to illustrate this behaviour. The urge to perpetuate our genes is so strong that even though we know it's a trick, our hormones can make us fall for it.

Sometimes "they" will make use of an older child in a rare moment of "cuteness". This is even more insidious since it provides a largely false hope that the creature will continue to provide you with long term emotional benefits. At this point many couples will succumb to the combination of peer/parental pressure and their own hormones. from this point, they are doomed.

After many years of worry, torment, sleepless nights - and having spent approximately the GDP of Iceland on each offspring, things will get much worse. Note the appalling changes that time and ever-growing evil have wrought on my example. "Ah" you may say, "but surely they will leave home and you can enjoy the pleasures of the empty nest". But you would be wrong. If (and this is by no means certain) they leave, it is only so that they can return to dash your hopes. Some will stay until decrepitude drives you to the nursing home (although ours has stated a preference for abandoning us in a large shopping centre).

Finally, you may hope, there will be the pride of seeing your offspring reach full maturity. Of knowing that you have given something of value to the world. Your gift to humanity and posterity. Don't hold your breath. Unless he's brought his washing home. Again.