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December 2011

Over and Out

The office website is moving over to a Wordpress format. So am I.
The new site is at
http://phenell.wordpress.com/.

Head over.  Check it out.  The big thing is that you can leave comments.  Don't have to, of course. But you can.  Unless I moderate them  back into oblivion.  In which case you can't.

27th November 2011

The Climate Community

MaraunHere is a man who has become unexpectedly famous overnight: Dr. Douglas Maraun, who is a scientist at the Climatic Reasearch Unit at the University of East Anglia.

Why is he suddenly famous? The story so far (in a nutshell):

  • The CRU is one of the leading government funded bodies in the world that provides data supporting the politicians who want to raise tax in the name of global warming. For quite a while, sceptics have suspected that the CRU is politically motivated, and dominated those with a quasi-religious compulsion to distort the data in support of their cause.
  • A while ago, there was a leak of many emails – dubbed Climategate – to and from the CRU, which suggested that there had been some tampering with the data. In particular these emails included messages from Michael Mann (a warmist in the USA at Penn State University, whose work was relied on heavily by Al Gore) which talk of “hiding the decline” in temperature records, and from Phil Jones, head of the CRU, seeking to block requests under the Freedom of Information Act for the pre-adjusted data.
  • Following that, Michael Mann and Phil Jones have been the subject of much ridicule, but inquiries into potential wrongdoing have not so far come to anything.
  • A few days ago, there was a fresh leak – dubbed ClimateGate 2.0 – of more emails.  Many of these are locked behind a password-protected security feature (an AES 256 bit encrypted password) that people are trying very hard to crack as we speak.

Among the emails not encrypted is one that Dr Maraun wrote to his colleages on 24th October 2007.  He said he wished to discuss, inter alia:

-How should we deal with flaws inside the climate community? I think, that “our” reaction on the errors found in Mike Mann’s work were not especially honest.

This is interesting for two reasons. First, he talks about the “climate community”.  He is plainly not talking about climate scientists generally, but the community that had established itself as supporting the warmist agenda (missionaries, the sceptics would probably say).  In other words, the language used does suggest that the group that has monopolised the ear of so many politicians is not a general body of scientists, but rather (as the sceptics have long asserted) a much smaller “inner circle” of committed activists who peer review each other’s work and exclude any contrary view.

Secondly, it is completely at odds with the warmist line that “the science is settled”. Sceptics have of course been pointing out for ages that Michael Mann’s work – on which much of the warmist agenda was based - is highly suspect, and is based on distortions of the actual data. But the official line has been that there is no reason to doubt the warmist science.

The Climategate 2.0 emails are sure to cause further problems for both Michael Mann and Phil Jones.  As far as Mann is concerned, an email that is of particular interest includes this:

<0810> Mann: I gave up on Judith Curry a while ago. I don’t know what she think’s she’s doing, but its not helping the cause.

Apart from displaying an appalling ignorance about how to use the apostrophe, this is interesting because of Mann’s reference to “the cause”.  As it happens, Judith Curry seems to be a relatively rare jewel these days: a climate scientist who knows a lot about her field, and who approaches it in a proper scientific manner, continually testing hypotheses and engaging in open discussion.  “The cause” is rather more characteristic of a religious sect.

This is not an isolated use of language by Mann. He wrote to Phil Jones on 3rd August 2004:

  By the way, when is Tom C going to formally publish his roughly 1500 year reconstruction??? It would help the cause to be able to refer to that reconstruction as confirming Mann and Jones, etc...

Mike Mann is not the only one. We have:

  • From Prof. Dr. Joseph Alcamo, Director, Center for Environmental Systems Research, University of Kassel

Mike, Rob,

Sounds like you guys have been busy doing good things for the cause.

  • From Ian Harris of the CRO to the Norwich branch of the Green Party

No, it's very dangerous to make predictions like this and IMO doesn't help the cause. Even without human activities, natural things like big volcanoes can easily disrupt the climate in such a way as to swamp the signs of global warming

As for poor old Phil Jones, the newly released emails show his struggling in his efforts to pervert the course of the Freedom of Information Requests for data:

date: Thu Sep 25 15:24:48 2008
from: Phil Jones <???@uea.ac.uk>
subject: Re: CONFIDENTIAL: Response
to: "Mitchell, John FB (Chief Scientist)" <???@metoffice.gov.uk>


     John,

         I've called Jo to say I'm happy with their response.
    I'll also delete this email after I've sent it.
        We've had a request for all our internal UEA emails
    that have any bearing on the subject, so apologies for brevity.
     See you in November!
    Cheers
    Phil

Prof. Phil Jones
Climatic Research Unit        Telephone +44 ???
School of Environmental Sciences    Fax +44 ???
University of East Anglia
Norwich                         Email    ???@uea.ac.uk
NR4 7TJ
UK

Stringing Along

I am very fond of my Graham Hawkes guitar, so much so, that I usually play it these days in preference to my lute, which I also like. 

Hence, I was having another look the other day at Volume of XLVIII of the Journal of the Lute Society, and was again struck by the opening words of Monica Hall’s A Few More Observations on Baroque Guitar Stringing. She begins

The stringing of the baroque guitar is a subject which seems to arouse strong feelings, as recent publications on the subject have shown.

Now, we are already off the beaten track here. Whether the Jews should be allowed to beat up the Palestinians. Whether we are destroying the earth by burning hydrocarbon. The Unions. Gay marriage. Religion.  There are the sort of things we usually think of as arousing strong feelings. For most people, the stringing of the baroque guitar is down the pecking order of burning issues.  Really quite a long way down.

But evidently not for Monica Hall, whose strong feelings have evidently been aroused. She writes:

In this article ‘Bourdons as Usual’ in The Lute (2007), Lex Eisenhart seems to have misunderstood what Jean-Baptiste de Castillion says about the stringing of the five-course guitar and the context in which he says it. His comments on p. 27 of the article are therefore misleading.

This not a throwaway remark. Oh no. Monica Hall lets page 27 have it with both barrels for a couple of pages. The point is that baroque guitars are strung in pairs, a bit like a modern 12-string guitar. The burning issue is which pairs are strung in unison, and which have one of the strings an octave higher (such strings are called bourdons). What M. Castillion – a Flemish clergyman of the 18th Century – said or did not say about the stringing  of his guitar is a topic that many of us are probably pretty relaxed about, and we would be inclined, on the whole, to let page 27 go by.

But what about the footnote on page 36? Ha! Monica writes:Paul

With reference to note 62 (p. 36) in Eisenhart’s article, I think the author has misunderstood Sanz’s comment about the bass line (which had been omitted from the English translation on p. 13, presumably in error).

Presumably? Presumably?? Do we smell a conspiracy here? Maybe Sanz’s comment about the bass line was omitted from the English translation on purpose, in order to poison people minds about how to string their baroque guitars?  This way lies anarchy.

As a matter of interest, Paul Simon sometimes strings his guitars with the high side of a bourdon pair on the bottom 4 courses; these days this is called Nashville Tuning.

 Hersterical Nonsense

There were all sort sorts of linguistic nonsenses in times gone by, including all that drivel in the early 20th century about the split infinitive.

I do so wish that the feministic claptrap of the late 20th century could likewise be consigned to the archaic trashcan.  Every time I see contorted “gender neutral” strangling of the English language, I get that bilious feeling that comes with listening to Germaine Greer or Paul Keating. It is as old-fashioned as Doc Martin boots and communism, and we would do well to move on.

The Eagle has Crash Landed

EagleI was looking forward to the film The Eagle, which has just come out in video, and on iTunes (which turns out to quite a good way the rent videos, not least because it is impossible to lose the DVD and rack up late return fees). It is a story about the recovery of the Eagle of the Ninth Legion, which might or might not have been destroyed in northern Britain in about 117 AD.  It had certainly been very badly mauled by Boudicca in about 61AD.

A disappointment, I am afraid. The plot is somewhat thin, and the characters are two-dimensional. And anyway, I have been seduced by Manda Scott’s much more interesting vision that the Brits were, in many respects, a rather more advanced culture than the Romans, and certainly not merely savages.  There was an air of cowboys and Indians about this film, and the role of the British prince played by Jamie Bell smacked a little of the Lone Ranger’s Tonto.

A shame, because the film was obviously well-crafted.  They might have done better to take Manda Scott’s books as a starting point?

Four Northern DancesGiuliani

I have for some time been playing – rather badly – Giuliani’s Four Northern Dances Op 14, as printed in Harvey Vinson’s book of Music for the Classical Guitar. Giuliani is rather underrated, I think.  He was friend of Beethoven and, like Beethoven, his music contains some surprisingly modern aspects.  Playing all four dances properly (they are quite hard) has been a bit of a goal of mine.

So image my horror on discovering that Mr Vinson has given us a bum steer. The dances are not Op 14, but Op 147, and are more properly known as La Tersicore del Nord. More to the point, there are not 4 of them, but 16!

Learning to play them all would take me quite a while.

13th November 2011

The Jewish Mother God

It was disappointing – to say the least – that Australia voted against Palestine’s recognition at UNESCO the other day. Happily, Palestine did gain recognition, but the episode does suggest that the Jewish lobby is the tail that not only wags the dog in the USA, but also among USA’s acolytes. But it got me thinking about the Jews generally.

AsherahI did not know until the other day that it is only relatively recently that the Jews adopted monotheism.  Until about 600 BC they apparently worshiped a number of Gods, including Asherah, who is a fertility God who was associated with Jehovah, or Yahweh or El as he was previously known, as his wife.  This is, of course, somewhat at odds of what the Bible says about Jewish beliefs at around the time of King David, around 1,000 BC, the Bible rabbiting on at quite some length about the “one God” thing.

How do we know this?  Largely because of Jewish figurines. Professor Francesca Stavrakopoulou, Francescawho is Professor of Theology at Exeter University has done a lot of work in this area, it seems, and her take is that a fair bit of the modern Jewish account of the time is self-serving claptrap: in particular, the Jews at the time, she says, were nothing very special in cultural terms, and more or less followed the same religious practices and their neighbours, and in particular the Canaanites (she also remarks that the archaeological record suggest that the Philistines were a good deal more civilised than the Jews at the time, but that is another story). The evidence that the Jews worshiped Asherah includes not only

  • the figurines, butInscription
  • an 8th century BC  text showing images of Yahweh and Asherah and the text “from Yahwey and his Asherah”,
  • and also – perhaps surprisingly – the Bible, which contains about three dozen references to Asherah, all of them reporting repeated and repeatedly unsuccessful efforts to stamp out Asherah worship (and thereby of course acknowledging that it was going on).  Thus for example we have (from the New International Version)
1Kg. 15:9 In the twentieth year of Jeroboam king of Israel, Asa became king of Judah and he reigned in Jerusalem for forty-one years.... He even deposed his grandmother Maacah from her position as queen mother, because she had made a repulsive Asherah pole. Asa cut the pole down and burned it in the Kidron Valley.

Poor Granny! She was only doing what everyone else was doing. Imagine if Prince Charles had removed the Queen Mother from the royal household just because she took the occasional gin and tonic!

For some reason, the King James Version never mentions Asherah by name: the relevant passage there is:

And also Maachah his mother, even her he removed from being queen, because she had made an idol in a grove; and Asa destroyed her idol, and burnt it by the brook Kidron.

Why, one wonders, would the Jews go to what must have been considerable lengths to marginalise the original Jewish Mama? Just old fashioned misogyny, presumably. Chicken soup has been in the closet for many centuries.

And another odd thing about the Jews. Over the last 100 years, they have had a massive influence in music: a huge proportion of the best modern musicians in the western world have been Jewish.  But there has not been any corresponding impact in literature. A few odd bods – Philip Roth and so on - but nothing like the music thing.  Why is that? They might have done rather better if their ideology had been less weird.

The “Holy Land” thing is just one such weirdness, since the historical record suggest that the connection between the Jews of the world (the vast majority of whom, originate in Eastern Europe) and the land which is modern day Israel is somewhat slight.  A great deal more live and let live on all sides would be good.  And would perhaps be rather more possible if the Mama God were still in charge.

11th November 2011

Carbon

With precious little debate - pretty much none, really - the Australian Labour Party/Green party alliance has passed a Carbon Tax Act.

Is it unconstitutional? I think perhaps it might be, not on the grounds that others have suggested, but on the ground that it is, in truth, a religious observance bill. See note

15th October 2011

And What, Precisely, is a Higgs Boson?


OK.  Start with the ancients, and what they understood about space. One ancient Greek standing opposite another ancient Greek.  They think there is nothing between them, just empty space.  But eventually some bright spark starts thinking about sailing boats: what makes them go? And the trees: what makes them blow around in the wind? And why does a leaf slide from side to side as it falls? It turned out that the space is not empty after all, there is an atmosphere consisting of air pretty much everywhere in our world, which turns out to be surprisingly heavy (the air in a room, for example, weighs about as much as an adult person).  You cannot see the air, and you can get through most of life pretty well without knowing anything much about this (as did the ancients) but if you want to design aeroplanes and stuff, well, you would want to know a fair bit about it.

Peter HiggsSo move on to nuclear physics.  We all know about atoms, being nuclei in the middle with electrons buzzing in orbit around them. With space in between? Step forward Professor Peter Higgs, who has a theory that – rather like the space in our ordinary world being full of air, so at the atomic level the space is actually filled with a field. A Higgs field, as they call it. And rather as the atmosphere is made up of molecules (oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide etc) so a Higgs field is made up of bosons. Higgs bosons, as they call them.  Nobody has ever detected a Higgs boson (as far as we know), but hypothesise its existence, and you get a sensible explanation for all sorts of things that we know about atomic physics.  The best guess is that these things, if they exist, are quite heavy by atomic standards – about 150 times heavier than a proton. But they have proved tricky little rotters to find – hence all the fuss at CERN in Switzerland where they are spending huge amounts of money smashing particles into each other and see if they can find any bosons in the ensuing atomic rubble.

Peter Higgs is in his 80s now. He would probably quite like someone to find his bosons before he shuffles off his mortal coil.  You couldn’t blame him for that.



4th October 2011

Other Blogs

I can't help noticing that other blogs are getting snappier - making this one look rather bland.  Do I care? Not all that much, really.

Other people's blogs are often rather good.  I like Bishop Hill (he tells us that he is not a Bishop and his name is not Hill) : he has links to other blogs which he finds amusing. On the whole, they are.

3rd October 2011

Nine Chopping Boards


I like chopping boards.  Not like some people who just chop devil-may-care on the kitchen bench without the slightest twinge (no names, no pack drill, but you know who you are). A good chopping board, fitting for the task in hand, making cooking much rather satisfying.

So, here are some of the chopping boards I know and love:

drawing board
This is the one I have had the longest: it used to be my O Level Mechanical Drawing board which I had when I was 14 years old. Still going strong.  Ideal for anything to do with dough or pastry (so I always use it for making cheese straws), and also for preparing antipasti or the vegetables for vichyssoise.
old
This is the oldest: it used to be a bit of joist which came out of my house in Notting Hill Gate when I was doing the side extension (I saved it from the skip), so that makes it an 1840s piece of wood.
ps
This a bought board.  I like the end grain aspect of it. But it as bit heavy, so it needs a decent sized meal to make it work, and preferably a heavy shiraz by its side for balance.
dark
Another home made board I have had for many years.  As nippy as a 1965 Brabham.
bar
This was a present.  The metal bar works well as a contrast for parsley, basil etc.
weber
A speciality board.  This one fits onto the side of a Weber barbeque.
nz
A board from New Zealand. The bars make it less than ideal for heavy kitchen work, since it flips up if you chop near the ends, but it serves very well as a cheese board.
pl
What on earth, I hear you asking, is a plastic board doing in here? I bought it as part of a set whilst I was experimenting with different plastics to serve as striking faces on my croquet mallets (not good for that, it turned out, because of poor adhesibility) but it turns out that these boards are good for fish, because they can be put in the dishwasher.
rom
The most romantic board - I made this earlier this year out of several different woods, including olive, jarrah, Tasmanian oak etc. To be honest, it is not a great success because the different woods and different orientations expand and contract in differing amounts in differing conditions.  But one side is dished, so that the juice from a joint of meat does not flow over the side during carving. It flows down through the cracks instead.


29th September 2011

Disabled Parking Spot

Jeremy Clarkson is reported to be under fire for parking in a disabled parking bay. Ridiculous.  I always park in disabled spots, as a matter of principle.  If people are really disabled, they won’t have jobs, will they? And so they should have plenty of time to drive around for as long as need be to find somewhere else to park. See more...

Not Funny

juliaSad to say, just about the only really amusing Australian-made programme on Australian television – At Home with Julia – is being canned by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

At Home with Julia is pretty mild stuff compared with, say, Spitting Image. It gently pokes fun at the Prime Minister and her live-in bloke. Among the credits is “ALP legal counsel - Mr Anton Denby SC”; what is that all about? The ABC is supposed to be an independent body, and yet they have an Australian Labor Party silk on the team, presumably to vet the script!

The programme has been pulling audiences of ¾ million to 1 million people, which makes puts it way ahead of the audiences on the other channels. The writers wrote 6 episodes, but only 4 have been shot and shown. Presumably because the ABC, which is little more than an organ of the ALP Press Office when it comes to things political,thatcher has cottoned on to the fact that even gentle mockery of Julia Gillard makes her look even more ridiculous than in real life, and hastens the day when she is bundled out of office (both she and her party are now at record lows in the polls).  It hard to avoid the conclusion that the decision was at least partly motivated by a political sentiment - that it was pulled because the Labor Party did not like it.

Did Spitting Image hasten the demise of Margaret Thatcher? It probably did.  But it was very funny. Unlike the ABC.

What a Logarithm is

Readers of this blogs may have noted my comments on the pokie machine issue.  But is is not cynicism all the way down.  Oh no.  It is also just good old fashioned stupidity.

Take what Tim Costello said on the TV the other day:

And if you have the $1 maximum bet machines it's just re-programming, it's a logarithm. It's really simple

Dugh! It’s not a logarithm, it’s an algorithm. Don’t go around telling people that things are “really simple” if you can’t even tell the difference between two completely different things.  Just because the two words are anagrams of each other does not mean that they mean the same thing.  So, just in case any of these people read this blog (not very likely, but you never know) here we go.  I will try to keep it simple.

  • A logarithm is a property of numbers: basically is the number of noughts on the end. So the log of 10 is 1, because it has one nought on the end.  The log of 100 is 2, because, it has two noughts on the end. Not too hard so far? You can even have log for the numbers in between, so the log of 50, for example, is obviously more than the log of 10 (i.e. 1) and less than the log of 100 (i.e. 2); it is about 1.699 actually.  These things are quite useful because they help you multiply things; to multiply two numbers you just add the logs. So, for example, if you want to multiply 1,000,000 by 1,000 the smart thing to do is to just add the number of noughts together, so the number with 6 noughts times the number with 3 noughts gives a number with 9 noughts, i.e. 1,000,000,000. The less smart way would be to start counting “One million, two million, three million, four million...” and so on until you get to a thousand million. These days, of course, everybody has an electronic calculator, so logarithms are not as useful as they use to be.  Still.  There they are.
  • An algorithm, on the other hand, is a method of calculation, as expressed in a flow chart or a computer program.  Thus, for example, the algorithm in a pokie machine might be designed such that the odds of you winning a $10 prize for a $1 bet are a bit less than 1 in 10, thus ensuring that the player gets fleeced.  The way the algorithms work in practice is that, the more iterations of play there are – i.e. the longer some dopey victim sits in front of the machine pouring money into it -  the more certain and the more thorough the fleecing.

Presumably, if enough people are dumb enough to keep on saying "logarithm" when they mean "algorithm" it will get to stay. Like people saying "lowest common denominator" when they mean "highest common factor".

House Doctor

HouseFor anyone who hasn’t  seen it, House is a TV show whose main character is loosely based on Sherlock Holmes.  The main character is called House instead of Holmes, his faithful sidekick is called Wilson instead of Watson, and he solves medical mysteries instead of crimes.  Apart from that, the main character is pretty much the same: extraordinarily clever, arrogant, misanthropic, with a drug addiction and a penchant for playing music when overcome by ennui (in House’s case, the guitar, instead of Holmes’ violin).  Curiously, since the TV show is American, the lead is played by an Englishman, Hugh Laurie.

monroeAnd now we have another English variant on the same theme, called Monroe. This time the doctor is not a diagnostician, but a brain surgeon.  Since this is an English production, he takes himself rather less seriously than House, but like House, he lusts pointlessly after another doctor: this time a heart surgeon who is – like her American counterpart Dr Cuddy - attractive but flawed.  So who plays this doctor? An Irishman, James Nesbitt.  What is it with all the foreign doctor thing?

More Sports Roundup

barnesAustralia were not expected to lose to Ireland last week, but they did. Probably more a case of Ireland playing better than expected than Australia playing worse.  But in any event, Australia looked pretty good against USA a couple of nights ago. Adam Ashley-Cooper looked strong with his hat-trick of tries, and Berrick Barnes’ placekicking was impressive. Barnes had been out of action for a while with “footballer’s migraine” which is probably good reason why he plays these days with a mattress strapped to his head.

England played well in knocking off Romania 67 – 3. New Zealand looked even more impressive disposing of France 37 – 17; right now, the All Blacks look very much the smart money.hmm

More Disabled Parking Spot

Just joking about the parking. I do not always park in the disabled spots. Just sometimes.


21st September 2001

Parasites

PavilionI have built a pavilion next to the pool for a small development I have been doing. There are pepper trees round about – they need all the water they can get. But nevertheless, building regulations have required that the rainwater that falls on the roof, instead of being allowed to splash onto the adjacent ground (where, after all, it would still be going if I had not built the pavilion) must be sent down a drainpipe (cleverly concealed, as it happens in this case, inside a Tuscan column) and then into the drainage system, and then out into the street, whence itTHE DESALATION PLANT AT aDELAIDE wends its way the few miles to the sea.  Then what happens is that some huge corporation digs up some brown coal up by the Flinders Ranges, and then sends the coal by train hundreds of miles to a coal-fired power station, where it is burned in order to create the vast amounts of electricity needed for the new desalination plant, which sucks the water back out of the sea, and eventually delivers it back to me at considerable cost in order that I can water the garden, thereby replacing the rainwater that the government required me to not to use in the first place.

Now, you might be tempted to think that the government people who make these rules up are the most annoying, demonically-inspired half-wits who ever walked the face of the earth, and that sound Darwinian principles would require them, before they have a chance to breed, to be strung up by their heels, dipped in Worm Vindaloo and then beaten with wet fish.

But, thinking about it, the mechanism is more than merely dumb. I hesitate to point to conspiracy rather than the much more usual cock up, but I think it works like this.  The government people are a species, and they want to survive. Like Dawkins’ blind watchmaker, they eventually evolve intricate patterns, not because they are clever, but because constant iteration shows that those patterns serve their ends. Their ends are simple: more money and more power to the government.  They have no more interest with the well-being of the citizens that an ivy has in the well-being of the tree: as long as the tree (alive or dying) does not actually fall over, the parasite thrives.

So, the water thing, in its small way, is pretty good as a “tax and spend” system. And more one thinks of it, the more the basic rule of legislation becomes pretty clear:

It does not matter if something does any good or not:

if a measure will increase the money or power available to the government,

it is likely to pass.

Pokie machinesA case in point arose the other day.  One or two independent MPs are rightly determined to go something about the harm done by poker machines.  The basic facts are pretty clear: the much of the profit earned by these machines in Australia comes, not from ordinary people having the occasional flutter, but from people who are addicted to gambling.  These people are typically pretty poor (they soon get to be poor even if they do not start off that way), and their families suffer greatly. The revenue stream is taxed pretty heavily, and represents a significant proportion of the states’ total taxation revenue; according to the Gaming Council’s figures:

Gambling tax as a proportion of total tax revenue in Australia (2005-06)

State/territory      %

NSW                       9.6

VIC                         13.4

QLD                        11.5

SA                           13.4

WA                          2.8

TAS                        11.2

ACT                        6.0

NT                           15.1

 

Having lost the popular vote last time around, the Australian Labor Party got into power by striking deals with independents, including a commitment to do something about the problem.  But they would not want to do anything effective, like banning the high-loss machines that the addicts gravitate to, because that would lead to a loss of taxation income. So what they do is to introduce legislation that looks like they are doing something, and which will give the government more regulatory powers, but which will not work. This is the pre-commitment scheme, which involves gamblers being issued with cNorway statsards which are supposed to record how much gamblers are prepared to lose before they start each session.  It sounds like a completely spastic idea, and it is. The scheme has been used in Norway, and the research there shows that it is entirely ineffective in reducing problem gambling; you can check this out on page 19 of the Norsk Tipping Annual Report 2010, which reports the research that, whist the pre-commitment scheme has been in operation over the previous couple of years, problem gambling has risen from 1.9% of Norwegian people to 2.1% of Norwegian people. Unsurprisingly, the minimal intellectual firepower required to push a button on a gaming machine turns out to be also quite sufficient to circumvent the cards; the addicted gamblers have several cards, gamble in their kids’ names etc. So, this is a brilliant solution for the government: no loss of revenue, more regulation and some moral high ground as they spend yet more tax-payers money running advertising campaigns to say that they are doing something about the problem.  The fact that the measure is mind-numbingly stupid and pointless in addressing the real problem is pretty much irrelevant, as far as these people are concerned.

Carbon tax is another example. If, as a government, you want to reduce carbon emissions and encourage alternative forms of energy (a questionable aim, but stay with it: let’s assume for a brief moment that this is a good thing) you could do it by applying a relatively modest tax on carbon and a corresponding reward for the alternatives.  But that would increase neither the money nor the power available to the government, and so instead they have come up with this incredibly complicated system of a heavy tax on carbon, most of which is then spent on selective compensation for Uncle Tom Cobley and all.  This way, the government get to take a lot more tax, and get a whole load more power in dispensing it. Tax and spend, tax and spend.  And of course, one of the ways they spend is on a propaganda campaign, at huge cost, to try to sell the ridiculous notion that that are doing something useful. In fact, of course, the measure will do nothing useful at all in terms of carbon emissions, let alone in terms of the climate, which is doubly brilliant, because if the issue of climate change went away, the government would lose the best wheeze it has had for a while in terms of more tax and more spend.

 It is not just theoretical money that the government is wasting.  It is real tax – real money – that they are taking from me. Money that they are taking from my friends and family. Money that they are taking from people who are genuinely poor, so as put them into real hardship. And money from businesses which cannot afford it, so as to force these businesses into insolvency.

Personally, I think the government people responsible for this obscene business should be super-glued to the baggage reclaim belt at Canberra airport, and sent round and round for ever, pausing periodically only that their bodily hair may be removed by Korean teenagers using hot wax.

14th September 2011

Sports Roundup

Aussie Sam Stosur has won the US tennis Open, which I found rather cheering.  So far as one can see from the interviews, she seems to be rather a nice person, as muscle-bound tennis professionals go.  Certainly easier to take to than the Anglophobe Scot Andy Murray, who always looks so grumpy.

English black numbersIn rugby, the world cup has started.  England have won their opening match against Argentina, just.  I am sorry to say that England did not look good. For a start, they were wearing black, which, as the tournament hosts, the New Zealanders are justified in feeling a bit peeved Rugby in Dunedinabout. For the New Zealand All Blacks, wearing black is fine; for the English, it isn’t.  Not well done; even the numbers were falling off the shirts by the end of the match.  At least in some parts of New Zealand – Dunedin - the reaction seems to be that they might as well play without their own kit at all, which is sporting enough, I suppose.  I thought that Argentina looked much the more attractive side, and it was not good to see them suffer so much injury.  My young son Jamie spoke for us all when he asked whether England was not playing a rather dirty game. Hopefully things will improve.

It is hard to see that things can get much better for the English cricket team, which is now top of the world rankings.  Does not seem quite right somehow; as an Englishman, one is brought up to adopt the wry smile that goes with being beaten at the games that we invented in the first place.

In the motor racing, I have remarked before that this year has lined up on national grounds, with an English team, a German team, a Latin team and an international team all in the running.  It looks like the internationals (the German Sebastian Vettel driving for the Red Bull team based in England but licensed in Austria and mostly owned in Singapore) have got it in the bag – with more than 2/3 of the season gone, they are way ahead of the English, who are in turn well ahead of the Latins, and then the Germans come trailing.  Within the English McLaren team, Jenson Button is – to the surprise of some - leading Lewis Hamilton, which I rather approve of, since a lad named by his father after a stylish English car deserves to do well on that ground alone.

Boo

BoudiccaI was listening the other day to the excellent BBC History podcast, and heard someone called Manda Scott talking about the Romans in Briton. She was not complementary: her essential thesis is that the Brits were not the brutes that history typically paints them, and that the lasting legacy of the Romans has been genocide and the religion we now call Roman Catholicism.  Sounded an interesting view, so I did a bit of digging.

Manda Scott is, unlike many Scotts, a Scot. She qualified as a veterinary surgeon, but now lives in the English countryside with her partner, where she writes books and breeds spaniels. She is evidently an expert on the Iceni and other pre-Roman British tribes, and her books include a four volume novel about the life and times of Boudicca (just in case there are any Americans reading this, I should explain that Boudicca was the widow of the Iceni King Prasutagus, who ruled East Anglia as a client king tolerated by the Romans.  Much of what we know of comes from the Roman historian Tacitus: in short, the story is that Prasutagus left a will sharing his considerable wealth between the Roman Emperor and his daughters, but the Romans ignored the will, confiscated his property, had Boudicca whipped, the daughters raped and other relatives enslaved. Seriously pissed off by this, Boudicca in 60 or 61 AD led a rebellion, sacked the Roman cities of Colchester, London and St Albans and annihilated the 9th Legion on the way.  For a while, the Romans looked as if they were about to be driven out of Britain, but then the 14th Legion engaged Boudicca’s army – probably somewhere on Watling Street – and destroyed it in a great massacre).

Manda ScottWhat is interesting about all of this is Manda Scott’s take on the relative merits of the two sides. Victors typically write the history, of course, and the conventional view has been that the Romans – whilst a shade on the brutal side – were a great civilising influence. Manda Scott’s world is very different. She paints the Britons as really rather more civilised in many respects: much more advanced than the Romans in terms of agriculture, animal husbandry, mining, metalwork, medicine and so forth, with a sophisticated road system and good seafaring skills enabling huge international trade.  Perhaps more importantly, she describes a much more developed social structure, where women are treated with equality and respect, and where a sense of profound spirituality guides behaviour at both a domestic and a political level.   Whilst the Romans are dreary and boorish, the Britons are attractive, amusing and even charming.  She is not all dewy eyed – of course these are pretty primitive cultures  by modern standards -  but she suggests that the Britons’ warlike tendencies were much more benign in their impact that than the ruthlessly efficient homicidal machine that was the Roman army.

And so, as a result of the Roman occupation, Britain was thrust into centuries of dark ages.  It was only in the 20th century, according to Manda Scott, that agricultural productivity was restored to pre-Roman levels.

Should one buy this vision? Hard to say, given the paucity of any surviving account of the times from the British perspective.  But I enjoyed the novels hugely, and found myself barracking pretty hard for the Brits against the Romans.  I have even got the answer for them – big hooks.  The problem for the Brits at Watling Street would have been the Testudo thing, where the Roman infantry made a wall of their shields, and poked their short swords out through the gaps. But – here’s the thing – the Brits had wicker chariots, and so they could have charged up to the Roman lines, thrown big anchor-like efforts on ropes over the Roman’s heads, and charged off again. The hooks on the anchors would then have been rapidly dragged back through the Roman lines, disabling the infantrymen and destroying their defensive shield.  Bit late now of course, as ideas go.   

Thinking Man's Crumpet

One reason that one hesitates to knock Manda Scott's ideas is that she has such a great voice - like honey on high heels. So, the question is: is she exluded from the general category of Thinking Man's Crumpet merely because she is a lesbian activist?  I think not.  We do not like clever girls any the less because they happen to share our ideas of who it would be nice to go to bed with.

The TMC label was originally invented for Joan Bakewell. Other current office holders include

Mary Roach, who writes books about science which are both clever and funny

Dr Alice Roberts, who is a doctor who makes television programmes

Jo Nova, who is a journalist and sceptic

Christine Lagarde, who got to be TMC some time ago, but who deserves to keep the honour as long as she is busy saving the economies of the Western world.


Tired Out

The last few weeks have been plagued by a bit of a CFS relapse.

CFS here in Oz means Country Fire Service,  which, as far as I can tell, consists of a bunch of really good guys who put out fires, and few less good guys who start fires first, and then rush back to base to join the good guys in putting them out again – they just love fires.  But in the rest of the world, it means Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and is sometimes shortened to ME and then lengthened again to Myalgic Encephalomyelitis.

I got hit with CFS a decade or so ago.  The impact was that I got really, really, really tired. In a sense, trying to explain it to someone who has never had it is like trying to explain what the visual world is like in a world of the blind (or perhaps trying to explain to a sighted person what it is like to be blind?).  But some parallels might help:

  • It is not about being lazy.  Think about running.  As a teenager I used to do long distance running because I was not much cop at sprinting but wanted to be good at something, athletic-wise. Long distance filled the bill because it was largely about putting up with pain.  If you are prepared to put up with some pain, I found, you can keep going even though your body is telling you to stop. I never got the endorphin rush that some lucky people get, but I was prepared to put up with some pain and so did sort of OK. Sprinting was different.  I could run 50 yards or so at full pelt, and then my legs just stopped working that well.  Got flooded with lactic acid is, I believe, the technical explanation.  Anyway, no amount of determination could keep the legs going at the same rate.  Just physically not possible.  Other guys could do 100 yards or so, and the real athletic stars could just about do 400 yards. Whatever that limit was, no amount of willpower could got anyone past their personal threshold at that point in time. CFS is like the sprinting thing. When you hit your limit, that’s it; no amount of determination can overcome it.
  • In mental terms, it is like fog. Imagine, if you are a sailor, those days when you are out in a blow boat somewhere around the harbour.  You can see the harbour wall, the local hotel, and lighthouse in the distance. Then the mist comes down.  All these landmarks simply disappear. No amount of peering into the mist will help, and if someone says, “Just look harder” they are really not understanding the problem at all.  Likewise, when you have hit a CFS wall, problems and issues that would normally be well within your compass become wholly impenetrable.  
  • If you have never sailed, this might help explain it.  You have been on a plane for 36 hours.  No sleep.  Dog tired. Not sleepy right now because of your body clock, but dead tired anyway. A customs official in some God-forsaken airport asks you an easy question. No problem; you answer.  Then comes some really involved stuff which involves dredging things up out of memory that are really not available.  Then a load more stuff, that you really cannot take in at all.  They might as well be talking in Mongolian. No amount of good will or determination can get you to follow what is going on.  This is what CFS is like; problems that are normally complex but perfectly manageable get put – whether you or they like it or not – into the, “This will have to wait until tomorrow” box.

I do not mean to whinge about this. Compared with other more serious conditions like cancer, CFS is a pretty cushy number: it cannot kill you and, provided you do not do anything much at all, it does not actually hurt.  But it is more than mildly tedious. The statistics seem to show that about 75% of sufferers lose their job as a result of the condition, and, of those whose who are married, about 75% soon find themselves divorced.  It is not hard to see why.  From any outsider’s point of view, you have turned into a total slacker.  You do not look ill.  No blotches, welts, boils, red patches, hair falling out by the handful or anything like that.  And unless and until you hit the wall on any particular day, you operate pretty much OK.

I was lucky; I was the senior partner of a law firm at the time so I could not very readily get fired, but instead my partners were extraordinarily kind and supportive. There might have been a small element of fun for them; they became adept at identifying, during important meetings, when I was hitting the wall (the funny thing is that, until I hit the wall on any particular day, I appeared to be as sharp as ever, at any rate to myself), they would deftly and decisively get me out of there, like troops lifting a wounded colleague out of the line of fire.  But more importantly, they were really tolerant, and invited me to take as long as I needed to get over it.  The advice I got from the CFS specialist physicians was that, if you get over it (some do, some don’t) it takes about 5 years.  When I quizzed one of the specialists to be more specific about the “return to my work” prognosis, he thought for a while, and then said that he could not think – despite his many years of dealing with CFS patients – of anyone who ever went back to the same desk.  So, trying to graceful about the inevitable, I retired from that very busy and demanding practice.

A good marriage, of course, is worth a dozen good careers, and as a matter of huge good fortune for me, my darling wife has not divorced me yet.  But it must be really tough going through life with a partner not pulling proper weight.  I would say that she is an angel, but that angels are not generally very sexy.

After 5 years or so, I did indeed get pretty much better.  One of the few things that really does seem to make a difference is sunshine.  When I told a specialist in England that I was planning to move to Australia, his advice was that I totally ignore all health warnings about exposure to the sun, and to get into the sun as much as possible. Sound advice, I think.  But it seems that CFS might be a bit like Malaria – you can recover pretty much, but always have a susceptibility. Work too hard, and bingo; it is relapse time.  These relapses only seem to last for a few weeks, but represent a robust warning about the dangers of thinking you are normal.  Personally, I am not that good at the rest thing.  It is not so much that I want to be busy per se, but I tend to get stuck into things and like to achieve results.  Not that I am suggesting that only workaholics get CFS.  Only that workaholics make particularly poor CFS patients.  

From time to time, I look at the websites to check out a cure. Nope, not yet.  They seem to know some stuff:

  •          CFS is usually triggered by a bout of something else, often glandular fever. In my case, it was probably as bout of pleurisy at a time of material stress from one or two things;
  •          It looks like a malfunction of the immune system. There are clinical analyses to this effect.   My own experience is that CFS has led to much more susceptibility to bugs of the common or garden variety;
  •          It seems to be both mental and physical.  The failure mechanism seems to be that the brain sends a signal that floods the body with lactic acid, which then forces the muscles to shut down.  It is like a building that sets off its fire sprinklers for no better reason than that someone has turned on a toaster.  An overreaction, but nonetheless an effective dampener in its impact;
  •          A recent study suggest that chocolate may be curative, or at least ameliorative.  Hmm, maybe; it was a small study and has not yet been replicated;
  •          Another study which associated the condition with the retrovirus XMRV has now been discredited.

Having had CFS is not the end of the world.  It needs a bit of management, and you need to let go of any megalomania, chorophilia or ergophilia. Field Marshall Lord Carver said that the way to get on in the Army is to work out how insolent you can get away with being, and then be a bit more insolent than that. Likewise with CFS: work out how much you can do without getting knackered, and do a bit more than that.

About the Italians

I have always rather liked the Italians. But it did dawn on me the other day that at least three seriously unpleasant things – the Roman armies, the Roman Catholic Church and the Mafia – have all come out of Italy.   I have no explanation for this.

2nd August 2011

Wet Flannel

Some newspapers have dug out a 2006 interview with Tim Flannery. Quoting James Hansen with approval, Tim said we are

“on the brink of triggering a 25 metre rise in sea level. So anyone with a coastal view from their bedroom window or kitchen window or whereever is likely to lose their house as a result of that change.”

The reason for this interest? Because they have just noticed that Tim and his wife had just bought a house just yards from the water's edge at Coba Point. Coba Point is, not doubt, lovely.  But it is quite a good question: why would you buy a waterside property if you really thought we are about to be swamped by a massive rise in sea level?
coba point
You can still buy properties at Coba Beach.  Maybe not such a bad buy? You could sit out on the jetty chatting with the neighbours as the water rises up to your chin. Or not, as the case may be.

I love Tim Flannery. Total hoot. I continue to collect some of his wisdom here.

31st July 2011

The Dumbing down of Intelligence

Jamie has the game FIFA 11 for his PS3. It boasts “Real AI”. Real Artificial Intelligence? A double oxymoron, surely.  

Rann given his marching orders - by a cadet

The media are reporting that South Australian Premier Mike Rann has been told to resign to make way for someone called Jay Weatherall.

I would not particularly want Mr Rann to stay (after all, he lost the popular vote at the last election, and only managed to stay on because of an oddity in the voting system here, and his principal competence seems to be his slick PR rather than any good governance), but what is remarkable is the manner of his dismissal. The reports suggest he was told to go by "Labor powerbroker Peter Malinauskas". Mr Malinauskas is apparently the secretary of a trade union, the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association, having fairly recently been appointed to that post at the tender age of 27.

The federal Labor government seems to dance to tune of the Green Party, and the state Labor party to the tune of the unions. Hardly ideal. Still, at least they do not have the European Union telling them what daft things to do.

26th July 2011

Lord MoncktonOn Saturday, I had lunch and then dinner with Lord Christopher Monckton. Those who have read this blog before will not be surprised to hear me say that he is probably right in his fundamental scepticism of the global warming scare. And Lord Monckton is liberally armed with chapter and verse to puncture the warmist bubble. The more local question that attracted my attention was, “Is Lord Monckton potty?”

To answer this question it is necessary to take on board that he is evidently a seriously devout Catholic. I am all in favour of people being free to hold whatever views they like about religion, and indeed pretty much anything else, as long as they do not harm anyone else or frighten the horses.  But the Catholicism thing does give Lord Monckton a bit of a problem in terms of his principal hobby horse, in terms of terms of the central questions, “Why do the warmists do it, and how do they get away with it?”  For the reality that stares me and most sceptics in the face is that the warmists are doing more or less the same thing that the Catholic church had been doing for centuries, viz

  • Tell the people that they are going to hell unless they accept the doctrine;
  • Give the people “feel good” things to do in the name of the doctrine;
  • Silence critics by calling them heretics;
  • Monopolise the literature;
  • Go international to minimise the impact of democracy;
  • Ensure that enough of the functionaries in society get a pay-off;
  • Use these techniques to tax the people and exert power.

Get this right and of course the fact that the doctrine is, in objective terms, a load of piffle from start to finish is completely irrelevant.  Any inherent doubt about whether this stuff works as a technique is swiftly dispelled by looking at the evidence of how the Catholic Church has operated for hundreds of years.  This is not to say, of course, that it has not brought comfort to millions of people: it plainly has.  Many would say that the end justifies the means: if a belief system makes people feel better, who are we to rain on their parade?  But by the same token, it would be pretty dumb to wound the economies of the western world on the basis of beliefs that, for example, human blood is no more and no less than communion wine, given a few spells, or that significant human disease can be dispelled by mere prayer. Just as it is pretty dumb to now wound the economies of the western world on the basis of the equally potty notion that the world’s climate is dancing to the tune of the IPCC models.

But Lord Monckton will have none of this. He will not admit of the possibility that the motivations and the vulnerabilities of the warmists are essentially the same of those of the Catholics of old. Understand that history, and you understand that the old Catholics who used to dominate Europe were neither stupid nor evil: they were simply riding the wave of a dominant meme. But Lord Monckton will have nothing to do with the understanding of memes, because, I suspect, he regards Richard Dawkins as a heretic. He sees much of the world as conspiracy.

And then there is this curious business about his membership of the House of Lords. You might be inclined to think that he is a member. After all, he is a Lord. A hereditary peer, no less. And you expect that the House of Lords would include all the Lords, even if they don't let all of them vote on legislation. And he has said so, as recently as earlier this month on the radio in Australia.  In answer to a question (perhaps an impertinent question, but that is not the point for the moment) from Adam Spencer if he was a member, he said:

Yes, but without the right to sit or vote … [The Lords] have not yet repealed by Act of Parliament the letters patent creating the peerage and until they do I am a Member of the House, as my passport records... So get used to it.

But it turns out that there is some relevant detail in the House of Lords Act 1999, section 1 of which states that

"No one shall be a member of the House of Lords by virtue of a hereditary peerage."

and in the judgment of Lewison J in Mereworth v Ministry of Justice [2011] EWHC 1589 (Ch) (23 May 2011) which roundly rejected an argument that that legislation was unconstitutional as an abuse of human rights.  So, he is not a member of the House of Lords. Peer? Yes. Lord? Yes. Member of the House of Lords? No. Simple enough concept once you get used to it.

And it also turns out that the Clerk of the Parliaments had written to Lord Monckton twice, on 21 July 2010, and again on 30 July 2010, asking that asking that he cease claiming to be a Member of the House of Lords, either directly or by implication.  So what Lord Monckton said to Adam Sandler was well short of frank. At that time, the letters of July 2010 had not been made public, but since then, a further letter from the Clerk to the Parliament has, stating as clearly as can be

You are not and have never been a member of the House of Lords. Your assertion that you are a member, but without the right to sit or vote, is a contradiction in terms. No one denies that you are, by virtue of your letters patent, a peer. That is an entirely separate issue to membership of the House. This is borne out by the recent judgement in Baron Mereworth v Ministry of Justice (Crown Office).

So why would Lord Monckton – in the face of this – go around asserting that he is a member of the House of Lords? Looks somewhat potty. Of itself, of course, it is not an issue which matters much (although it is, in the circumstances, a bit worrying that Lord Monckton uses the symbol of the UK parliament so prominently on his lecture slides).  But it affects his credibility, and that is enough to make you wonder about other stuff. Obviously it is a bit potty for Lord Monckton to compare, as he does, the warmists with Goebbels and the Nazis. But this one about the membership of the House of Lords is more than showmanship or window dressing, because it is obviously a topic that he must surely know about full well, and he has not been frank: that does look a bit like selfPlausible delusion.

There is no doubt that Monckton is a successful popularist. And a colourful figure who helps make life fun. But the suggestion that he is somewhat potty does indeed look pretty plausible. 

23rd July 2011

Wheels 1

I have a mulcher. Big chompy thing that eats branches andmulcher wheel turns them into a little pile of mulchy buts. Noisy thing, which shakes a lot. So much so in fact that it shook the bolts off its own wheels. Literally. The hubs of the wheels came apart. We are not just talking hub caps here. Oh no (this baby does not have hub caps – it is a serious bit of a grunty thing). These were the actual wheely gubbins.

Was I dismayed? Oh no! I went to the serious nut and bolt outlet (they are called Coventry Fasteners. Not just Coventry Nuts & Bolts – they get to be called fasteners up at the sharp end of the fitters’ hierarchy) and bought 10 new nuts and bolts. I got special ones, with little non-shaky-offy bits inside (this may not be entirely the right technical expression), and then disassembled and reassembled away.

And now my mulcher wheels are as good as new. Better really, because of the non-shaky-offy aspect of the nuts and bolts.

Wheels 2

Been trying cars.  I need something to see me through my impending dotage. 

The Jaguar XJ should have been lovely, but wasn’t.  Too much chrome and generally too bitty in the cockpit – not nearly as nice as the wonderful clean lines inside the XF. Hated the speedometer/tachometer set-up – instead of proper dials, they have a little computer screen with naff pictures of the real thing.  The sound system was tinny. The SatNav was fiddly, with a split screen that seem to make no sense at all, and contained nothing intuitive to my mind. Great to drive, but it looks like there was a really nice car in here which got lost somewhere, and replaced by an awful modification intended for the American market.

Then I was persuaded to try to latest Range Rover. No.  Too big, too much metal to lug around, and not pretty either inside or out.

What was I looking for? I was reminded of my great uncle George (the colonist, colonel, MP, jurist etc - see previous blog) who, in his 50s, married the daughter of his old friend Sir Arthur Haslerigge, who was also the younger sister of his son-in-law. She was thirty years his junior, a pretty girl, and by all accounts they were very happy. I do not need a new wife, but a sprightly new car would be a great way to sink elegantly into one’s dotage. So I tried an Aston Martin DB9. Absolutely lovely car.  Nigel from the showroom, who is unfailingly polite, said to me, “You do realise, don’t you that this is a sports car?” But it was remarkably comfortable. The one I drove was not quite new, and had a ridiculously powerful V12 engine, which one does not need. But it was like sinking into a huge comfortable double bed with brand new sheets and a new young wife (I imagine).

Actually, one does not need an Aston Martin at all.  Then again, they probably said something similar to Great Uncle George.

More Great Uncle George and other Dead Relatives

Bitchfield TowerHaving been laid up at home for a while, I have been spending some time looking at my ancestry. The most recent of my grandfathers to have a knighthood was Sir Roger Fenwick, who owned Bitchfield Tower (now bowdlerised to Beechfield Tower) in Northumberland. It is up for sale at the moment. It still has the original pele tower to keep the Scots out, and does look pretty good. But Northumberland is pretty cold. Pretty bloody freezing, really.

When we were much younger, my brother and I borrowed my mother’s Triumph Spitfire to drive up and look around the old ancestral haunts. Fenwick Tower is not in good shape these days.  But, boy, it was cold.  We stayed in bed and breakfast places that were bone-chillingly bleak. After a while we gave up, and slipped across the border to warm up with a couple of whiskies at the Sir John Fenwick, probablyNew Club in Edinburgh. It is called the New Club because it was new in the 1780s. They had nice warm fires and beds with nice new sheets.

But the old Fenwicks will not have had very warm thoughts about the Scots. My great etc grandfather Sir John Fenwick was imprisoned by them for a while with his brother Alan.  This is the Sir John who is reputed to have been knighted by King Henry V during the French Wars.  It seems pretty unlikely that he was in fact at Agincourt itself in 1415, but he probably was at the siege of Bergerac a few years earlier in 1377 with his friend Sir Thomas Felton (Felton got captured by the French during that campaign, and but was returned 4 years later in an exchange deal). Query if grandfather got captured also, or managed to escape?  Certainly, being held prisoner by the French as well as being held prisoner by the Scots would be pretty grim luck.

This is not the only unanswered question. Was the Mrs Haslerigge who was Charles’ II mistress Great Uncle George’s widow? Or even his daughter Elizabeth?  I am putting a memorandum together of these things under the snappy title 500 Fenwicks. It is far from finished – the current version is here.  Let me know if you have any useful stuff to add to it.

11th July 2011

 It is, when you think about it, a rather odd time for La Gillard to be pushing ahead with a carbon tax, for a number of reasons:

  • It is a bit late in the electoral cycle. The new tax will apply from July 2012, says the government. There will be another general election in 2013 (if not sooner). The overwhelming expectation in that Labor will lose that election to the Liberal Coalition, which has pledged to promptly repeal it. So it will probably bite for no more than a year – roughly the same longevity as the ill-fated poll tax in the UK. There will be little time for the government to come back from the unpopularity of the measure; a poll this weekend suggests that
More than 70 per cent of voters, or 15,866 people, said they now planned to vote for the Coalition at the next election, while just 8.51 per cent said they would support a Labor government.

This paints a picture of the tax being not merely ineffective, but suicidal for the government.

  • It is also a bit late in terms of a comparison between the IPCC predictions of global warming and what has actually been happening.  The sea has been stubbornly getting colder, not warmer. So have the troposphere and the stratosphere. There has been no increase in the usual rate of sea level rise which has been going on for yonks – in fact a slight slowing up.  The longer the period since the IPCC predictions, the more obvious it is that their models – on which the whole business is based – simply do not reflect reality.
  • It is however now a bit early, in the sense that the massive floods in Australia – completely confounding the predictions of permanent drought – are still fresh in everyone’s mind. 
  • A couple of weeks ago, the Met Office in the UK predicted colder weather ahead (see quote) – a remarkable reversal considering that that they have done a real job in the past about focussing on the risk of global warming:

 “We now believe that [the solar cycle] accounts for 50 per cent of the variability from year to year,” says Scaife. With solar physicists predicting a long-term reduction in the intensity of the solar cycle – and possibly its complete disappearance for a few decades, as happened during the so-called Maunder Minimum from 1645 to 1715 – this could be an ominous signal for icy winters ahead ...”

  • Professor Dan Kahan of Yale University and a team of academics have just published a paper showing a correlation between being smart (we are talking here about relevant smart – i.e. in the area of science, not the so-called “emotional intelligence”) and being sceptical about climate change. The Abstract summarises:

On the whole, the most scientifically literate and numerate subjects were slightly less likely, not more, to see climate change as a serious threat than the least scientifically literate and numerate ones

Now, the mere fact that the sceptics tend to be smarter than the warmists does not mean that the smart ones are necessarily right. But it does rather put the mockers on the notion of there being a consensus behind the warmist position – a consensus of people who are less bright is not so very impressive.

  • There now appears to be a pretty significant recognition among the scientists that – whatever they think about the climate models – this tax is not going to do anything useful in climate terms. Thus for example, Professor Richard Lintzen (an IPCC lead author) said the other day:

I think there’s no disagreement in the scientific community that this will have no impact on climate, so it’s purely a matter of government revenue. And, as I say, I mean if they can fool the people into thinking that they really want to pay taxes to save the earth, that’s a dream for politicians.

This is going to be tough for the government, because their whole story is based on the notation that they are doing something required by the science.

All of this adds up, it seems to me to the conclusion that they have missed the boat. If they wanted to impose a carbon tax, they should have done it not later than a couple of years ago.  Timing is everything in politics, and tie time for this one is all wrong.

4th June 2011

The Gypsy Look

Jamie on ripstickJamie on ripstickFeeling physically sick today.  Anyone who performs tattoos on young people should be hung, drawn and quartered. How can anyone take a beautiful young woman, and mutilate them with dye? To me, it defies all comprehension.  My poor old mother, if she were alive, would be in the lavatory, vomitting in misery.

In the midst of this gut-wrenching despair, my young son cheered me up by demonstrating how to ride on a ripstick.

The Hollywood Look

Hollywood partyMy younger daugter had a party - Hollywood theme. We did red carpet, and all of that stuff.

The real point was to make movies. Lucy marshalled no less than three movies (one from each of three teams), all written, rehearsed, shot and edited during the party, followed by an Oscar ceremony.  It all took really quite a lot of determination and effort.  Pretty impressed, I was.

Lucy wanted me to put up a reading of Alisoun, the old poem. Here.

Making things


Last week I made cheese staws, doughnuts and a watering can.

cheese strawsdoughnutswatering can

15th May 2011

The Dreaded Ennui

Been busy, which is dull.  Life is really just one long effort to stave off the dreaded ennui. Some days it seems harder than others. I always liked Peter Cook’s work: he had terrible ennui. As far as I can tell, his idea of a good time – once he had enough money and fame – was to sit in an armchair all day long getting drunk and watching football (soccer to you Yanks).  I am not a big fan of football, but apart from that, maybe he had a point?

Tax causes ennui.  They just can’t stop themselves, tax this, tax that, tax the other. The people who impose all these awful taxes live off the stuff – they don’t know anything else, like actually getting off their well-upholstered bottoms and making their own way in the world – their only life-blood is tax drawn from other people’s work. I did not much like Margaret Thatcher, but she did have the merit of doing something to momentarily curb the invidious spread of revenue parasites.  I do not mind paying tax for the stuff that we need: hospitals, defence, roads and so forth. But pointless hand–outs from real people’s hard-earned money for other people’s roof insulation, or unwanted drill-halls, or set-top boxes, together with huge salaries for pointless public servants, together with obscene payments for no purpose save to save the political skins of the same well-upholstered bottoms whose are driving this stuff in the first place – the hundreds of thousands of pounds and now dollars that I and millions like me have shelled out for this crap makes us sick.

When ennui strikes, head for the comforting things, and focus on the stuff that makes you happy. I have been enjoying Glenfiddich Snow Phoenix, playing the Tarrega arrangement of La Paloma on my wonderful Graham Hawkes wide-neck, and actually finishing the Times crossword more often than usual.  When I get stuck on the last few clues, it is tempting to reach for help.  Some time ago, I wrote some code in FoxPro which cracks anagrams etc.  I thought was pretty groovy at the time. A is 1, B is 2, c is 4, D is 8 etc, and then every summation of the numbers is unique for any combination of letters in any given length of word (Try it. The only way to get 7, for example, for a 3 letter word is to use an A and a B and a C ).  Pretty ordinary stuff, I suppose, for a numbers geek, but I worked it out for myself, and so using it did not really seem like cheating.  houseBut now you can get the same thing (well, better actually, because they give you definitions as well) on the internet. That does seem like cheating, which takes the fun out of it.

I have also been enjoyingchopper doing a house up. It is a late 19th century job, on which I have been adding a large extension with an outside fireplace, a pool, and a pavilion. I like pavilions; I am putting Tuscan columns on this one. Should be done in a couple of months.  If someone likes it enough to buy it, that will be good.  Except that most of the profit will go on frigging tax.

And flying a little helicopter. Which is surprisingly difficult.  Like balancing one egg on top of another egg using remote control.

Jeanie has her Jaguar. Really comfortable, and elegant. Jaguar used to be considered rather vulgar. But I have to say that getting into a new XF is like walking into a proper well-maintained country house, after a succession of ghastly neo-this and neo-that monstrosities. Proper walnut. Proper leather. Decent carpets. Quiet. Fast. Lovely.

5th April 2011

Quiz

Can you name 3 cities in the world whose time zone is on the half hour?  Answers below.

Robert Tear

I was really sad to hear the news of the death of Bob Tear last week.  I used to live just opposite him in Ravenscourt Square in Hammersmith, and we used to play tennis, drink wine and generally catch up when we were both around. He was godfather to my daughter Annabel, notwithstanding that he professed to being a Buddhist. He was a great person, with some whacky ideas and a highly developed sense of humour. His books were barking mad, and rather funny.

I was in a restaurant with him once in Chiswick High Street, and something displeased him.  “You complain, Robert”, he said, “You are a lawyer”.  I asked him if he sang in the shower. Of course not, he said, he was a professional singer. I told that, likewise, I didn’t complain in restaurants.  I wonder if he ever wove that into one of his books? My first wife made a passing remark about some luxurious place having hot and cold running slaves, and that made it into a book called Tear Here.

Bob told me that when he sang at La Scala, he would get half of the fee, in folding notes, delivered to him in his dressing room during the interval.  It is how they do it, apparently, in Italy.  I suppose it is one way of combating absenteeism.  But I wonder where he stuffed the money for the duration of the second half? Down his breeches? He would hardly leave it unattended in the dressing room.  I should have asked him.

7s

Budgies at the 7sThe family went to the Rugby Sevens at the Adelaide Oval yesterday.  Great fun, including some very silly dressing up, except that England got knocked out in the semi-finals. New Zealand won, and so stay top of the table, just ahead of England in 2nd place.  I played 7s a bit when I was young. The most exhausting game ever invented. In this competition, each half is just 7 minutes, which would seem a very long time if you are playing.

New Zealand win the 7sJapan had a Fijian player called Lote Tuqiri. But this is not the same Fijian as the Lote Tuqiri who played for Australia.  This is another one, a fourth year business management student of Hakouh University according to Wiki.  Fiji might do rather better at rugby if rather more Fijians played for Fiji instead of everyone else.

It is a bit of a mystery why Adelaide hosts this competition, since rugby is not played much in South Australia.  My son Charles played for the state at schoolboy level whilst he was here.  But Charles efforts were nowhere near close to enough to make South Australia competitive with the Eastern States, where they play rugby quite a bit.

Bristol Ex-fighter

It was also sad to hear news of the insolvency of Bristol Cars.  I have had my Bristol 411 for about 30 years now.   When I bought it, I was introduced by Tony Crook, the owner of the company, to the manager of the service department. “This is Mr Fenwick Elliott, the new owner of DUO 122L”, he said. It put me in mind of what an old friend of mine remarked about a seriously grand country house that he bought.  “You don’t actually own it, in a real sense”, he said. “It owns you, for a while”.

DUO 122L is now 411 003 in SABristol cars are rather good.  They are sometimes referred as the Gentleman’s Express, but it is not a description that I like – sounds too much like Gentleman’s Relish. I like Gentleman’s Relish, but then again, one doesn’t want to drive around in a car that sounds like a proprietary anchovy paste. Rather, I think of a Bristol car as suitable for those who feel that a Bentley is just a little common.  The demise of the company suggests that there may not be many of us left.

Talking of cars, Jeanie needs a new car – her Citroen is pretty groovy, but it is getting too small now for children with cricket gear, a cello etc. A new Merc would be about $70k, which is a lot.  But then the government here would want about half as much again in tax, taking the total past $100k.  Ridiculous waste of money – the tax, I mean, not the car.  One needs a car.  One does not need a phalanx of public servants interfering with our lives at our involuntary expense.  Anyway, I do not much like Mercedes cars anyway; I know they are perfectly efficient, but if one is going to spend all that money, why not a nice new Jaguar?  Much nicer.

Time Zoned Out

TimeNew Delhi, Tehran and Adelaide all have time zones on the half hour.  I mention it because someone wants to change Adelaide by putting it back by half an hour. No jokes, please, about what difference would half an hour make when it is already behind by half a century.

It is all to do with the farmers, apparently.  I find it hard to fathom why time zones or daylight saving should bother the farmers one iota. They can get up when they like.  Their cows wake up when they want to wake up. That time is going to be when it is, and it really should not make any difference to the farmer what his watch says at that moment.  And if it is inconvenient for the schools because the children in Ceduna find themselves going to school in the dark, well then all the Ceduna schools need to do is to start a bit later, and go from, say, 9.00 until 4.00 instead of 8.00 until 3.00 (as a matter of interest, there appears to be quite a bit of evidence that children would do much better at school if the school day were to be moved back a bit. But we will not go into that now).

In the good old days, when a household might only have one clock, ticking away in the hall and usually wrong anyway, this daylight saving nonsense was not much trouble. But these days we have umpteen clocks, in the cars, on the ovens, alarm clocks, clocks in the televisions for recording programmes etc etc – changing them all twice a year is annoying. Very annoying, actually.

The man who wants to change Adelaide’s time is not proposing to get rid of daylight saving: he says changing everything by half an hour is a “compromise”.  It’s not a frigging compromise: it is a total screw up! It means we still have to faff around with all the clocks twice a year, and if they don’t tell Bill Gates (which they won’t) then everything that runs Windows will conspire to make us half an hour early (or perhaps late, who knows?) for everything. At least at the moment we are on the same time as at least one other place in Australia – Darwin; if this change goes through, even that slender mercy will be denied.

21st March 2011

A Safe Bet on Hysteria


It is hardly surprising that the press has being salavating so much over the nuclear power station issues in Japan, in an unholy alliance between the socks-and-sandals brigade and the shock-jocks.

Nuclear power has a much better safety track record than any other significant source of power According to EU data, the most dangerous sources are coal, oil and bioenergy:

ExternE
Ah yes - I hear the patter of shoes like cornish pasties coming back for more - what about the Ukraine; their figures are not in there and thousands died as a result of Chernobyl? Well, no actually.  After 20 years, the death toll was still shy of 50, according to the World Health Organisation:

As of mid-2005, however, fewer than 50 deaths had been directly attributed to radiation from the disaster, almost all being highly exposed rescue workers, many who died within months of the accident but others who died as late as 2004.

What about wind - surely that is safer than nuclear? Nope.

What about solar panels? Nope.

As for nuclear accidents, the consensus amoung people who know about this stuff is that most of damage to health that does result from nuclear accidents is caused by journalists and alarmist politicians.  Thus for example we have

"The psychological impact is now considered to be Chernobyl's biggest health consequence," said Louisa Vinton, of the UNDP. "People have been led to think of themselves as victims over the years, and are therefore more apt to take a passive approach toward their future rather than developing a system of self-sufficiency.”

And from the Washingtion Post:

"The psychological effects were the biggest health effects of all - by far," said Fred Mettler, a University of New Mexico professor emeritus and one of the world's leading authorities on radiation, who studied Chernobyl for the World Health Organization. "In the end, that's really what affected the most people."

Fears of contamination and anxiety about the health of those exposed and their children led to significantly elevated rates of suicidal thinking and anxiety disorders, and rates of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression about doubled, Mettler and others said.

On the subject of Chernobyl, it is worth bearing in mind that this was an awful power plant - nobody has built anything that crude for many decades. Since then a lot has been learnt about how to cope with a nuclear accident. So, Chernobyl was a much worse accident than it could get these days. It was just down the road from Kiev, a fair-sized city of about 3 million people - about the same distance as Brighton is from London. It went bang, big time. And yet the fatalities were small - much, much smaller that a hydro-electric dam failure, for example.

It is fashionable to go "tut tut" when nuclear power is mentioned.  And who am I to try to stop anyone going "tut tut" if they want to? But the actual facts are such that to believe that nuclear is relatively more dangerous than other sources is self-indulgent drivel - it goes in the same basket as Father Christmas, miracles from Catholic Saints, chiropractice, homeopathy and thinking that Uri Geller really did bend those spoons using thought waves.

There is another system

My older children have a blog:  News Abridged...condensing the tangled, heaving mass of daily news into a snug offering of no more than 500 words...

It is excellent - a really good read, even if it did go a tweeny bit wobbly for a couple of days on the dangers of nuclear power leaks in Japan...

They have a system whereby you can follow and comment.  The modern way, I suppose, but I will stick to my system of blogs drifting away like tiny time capsules being launched unannounced into space, never to return.

Not a cross word

I finished The Times crossword on Friday - the first time I had managed to finish it in ages.  Waste of time really, but it is vaguely reassuring that senility has not set in too far as yet.

Walking Home

Jeanie reckons I am putting on too much weight. She is probably right. So this morning I got her to drop me in the Hills, 18 kilometres away, and I walked home.

My feet hurt.

17th February 2011

A New Way with Words

My daughter Lucy introduced me to Wordle.  It is quite cute really - just paste in some words (this is from my profile of the firm's website) and it does something like this:

Wordle

Interesting how the illusion of art is so easily conjured.

An Old Way with Words

With Justice dugganThere The Worker's Liens Casebookwas a small party for the launch of my new book The Worker's Liens Casebook this week. The readership of this highly arcane work (which concerns only the law of South Australia) will probably be about 6, but I rather like the idea of that. Hopefully, the legislation in question will be repealed before very long, in which case the book will become super arcane.

For those curious to see what on earth this is about, a few extracts are available here. Here is a taste from the Preface:

It is hard to be enthusiastic about the merits of this legislation, unless perhaps you believe in desirability of an inefficient legal system in order to maximise income for lawyers.  It was drafted by a man who had already been certified as a lunatic, and who was then repeatedly held in institutions for the insane[1].  It was taken through parliament by a man then bound over the keep the peace for apparently intending to shoot the principal opponent of the Bill in a duel[2].  The ineptness of its drafting has repeatedly been the subject of the most trenchant and persistent judicial criticism[3].  The very name of the Act contains a grammatical error[4]. The main line of judicial authority appears to stem from a factual misinterpretation of a case reported only in a newspaper, the forerunner of the local tabloid[5]. It has proved virtually useless for the class for which it was intended[6] – working men – but instead has been seen as a bonanza for corporate contractors.  Yet for these corporate contractors, it has proved remarkably unsuccessful; in the considerable majority of cases reported in this casebook, the claimant was denied enforcement of the lien claimed[7]. It is truly remarkable that it has survived for 115 years.

[1] See paragraph 346 at page 750 below.

[2] See paragraph 343 at page 750 below.

[3] See paragraph 21 below.

[4] See paragraph 5 below.

[5] See Giles v Jacob at page 360 below.

[6] See paragraph 91 below.

[7] See paragraph 30 below.


13th February

Laughing through my tears

Tee hee.

Ha ha haaaa hhaaaaaaa.

Ughhaaa haaaaaaaugh ha hahah haha hhha hahah

Stop!  Haa haaa hoooo hooop haaa.

Julia hhha  hhaaaaaa Gillard has appointed Tim heeee hhaaaa Tim Flannery  huuuuugh haaaaa as Climate Commissioner. At $180,000 for a 3 day week, 'tis said. Hysterical.

We love Tim, of course.  But it hard to think of anyone who has more consistently made a complete idiot of himself on climate issues. I have started to keep a list of his boo-boos.  Just for fun.  

Valentine's Day

Jeanie and I don't "do" Valentine's Day.  But last year I bought my younger daughter - now 11 - a red rose.

This year year Lucy got a red rose from a gentleman her own age.  On avance, mes amis, on avance.

Admission

There is a sort of cute tradition here in South Australia among lawyers. For newly admitted lawyers there is a ceremony in the Supreme Court. For every new bug, an old bug stands up - fully robed and bewigged - and orally moves the admission. Sounded fun, so when one of our young lawyers - Erika - got admitted the other day, I had been keen to do the moving.

I liked it.  It was like a sort of Speech Day.

The list said I was to be next to Alexander Downer at the bar table. Well, I thought, he’s pretty much my vintage – I did not know he was a lawyer before becoming a politician.  It turns out he isn’t; it was his son I was next to, so we talked about his great-grandfather, who features in my latest book as one of the participants in the 1893 debate on the Workmen’s Liens Act in the South Australian parliament.

I was admitted by Lord Denning back in 1977.  He shook me by the hand and said, “I admit you”. L’esprit d’escalier suggests I could have grasped his hand right back at him, looked him in the eye and said, “Tom, I admit you too”. But that might have led to a rather short legal career.

28th January 2011

New Zilund

Bacon BustersJust got back from New Zealand. Last time I was there I bought a curious shirt effort called a Pig Hunter. It is like a sweatshirt with short sleeves, and apparently the pig hunters swear by them.  I use it for gardening in. Anyway, I was in the newagent and my eye wandered to the relevant section. It turns out that t here are several magazines devoted to wild pig hunting. One of them, called "Bacon Busters", is currently offering a free Babes and Boars calendar. Yes, it is gruesome as you might imagine - young(ish) women wearing little or nothing posing with thin smiles, fat rifles and freshly-shot pigs.  The one on the cover is the most demure. 

It seems to be an Australian magazine, so not really the Kiwis' fault.

I quite like New Zealand, but it is a slightly odd place. Fabulous countryside, but the architecture is pretty dreadful.  And the men tend to talk in this very soapy manner, which gives the impression that they are all gay.  I am sure they are not; indeed it seems thatthe vast majority of gay NZ men choose to go and live somewhere else - Sydney usually.

Jeanie is a New Zealander, of course. As my old friend Bob Peckar once remarked, New Zealand women are extraordinarily tough. Oh yes, indeed they are. Brilliant.  I am pretty sure that Jeanie was never a Bacon Busters Babe, even in her wild days before I met her.

8th January 2011

New Year Greetings from the IPCC

IPCC greetingsThe people in Queensland are having a grim time of it, with some pretty awful flooding.  But at least they can console themselves with greetings from the International Panel on Climate Change, who have put up a nice warm and fuzzy picture to show that, as long as we all pull together to organise our affairs on the basis of the scientific consensus that it is getting hotter and drier, we will all be OK. It is nice to know that the IPCC have been thinking hard about Queensland, and the scientific consensus is quite clear that the problem is not flooding but drought.  The IPCC report says:

12.5.6. Drought

In the Australia and New Zealand region, droughts are closely related to major drivers of year-to-year and decadal variability such as ENSO, Indian Ocean SSTs, the Antarctic Circumpolar Wave (White and Peterson, 1996; Cai et al., 1999; White and Cherry, 1999), and the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation (Mantua et al., 1997; Power et al., 1998; Salinger and Mullan, 1999), as well as more or less chaotic synoptic events. These are all likely to be affected by climate change (see Sections 12.1.5 and 12.2.3, and TAR WGI Chapters 9 and 10).

Using a transient simulation with the NCAR CCMO GCM at coarse resolution (R15) (Meehl and Washington, 1996), Kothavala (1999) found for northeastern and southeastern Australia that the Palmer Drought Severity Index indicated longer and more severe droughts in the transient simulation at about 2xCO2 conditions than in the control simulation. This is consistent with a more El Niño-like average climate in the enhanced greenhouse simulation; it contrasts with a more ambivalent result by Whetton et al. (1993), who used results from several slab-ocean GCMs and a simple soil water balance model. Similar but less extreme results were found by Walsh et al. (2000) for estimates of meteorological drought in Queensland, based on simulations with the CSIRO RCM at 60-km resolution, nested in the CSIRO Mk2 GCM.

A global study by Arnell (1999), using results from an ensemble of four enhanced greenhouse simulations with the HadCM2 GCM and one with HadCM3, show marked decreases in runoff over most of mainland Australia, including a range of decreases in runoff in the Murray-Darling basin in the southeast by the 2050s of about 12-35%. HadCM3 results show large decreases in maximum and minimum monthly runoff. This implies large increases in drought frequency.

So that's nice. 

Cry Baby - a Tale of Mice and Men

tearsThere are reports today in the press of scientific research to the effect that women's tears are a turn-off - sexually speaking - for men. Well, I could have told them that. So I looked a bit more deeply into it - was there more to the story?  Well,  yes there is actually. It turns out that it is the smell of tears has this effect.  So a man's libido goes down when he cannot see or hear a woman crying, but can smell it, albeit that he is not able consciously to detect any smell at all.

Which makes us different from mice, it seems. For them, tears are a big turn-on.

Quite interesting.  But you do have to wonder what sort of a scientist does it take to spend months researching this stuff? There might be use for this information.  

But right now, I am not sure what that use might be.

Pressure, Pressure

ChairsI am not sure why I bought a Kärcher pressure washer over the holiday*.  But I did. Not why I tried using it on my now-ageing teak garden furniture.  But I did.

Brilliant! Who would think that just squirting water at an old chair would restore it to magnificence? Here is one I did earlier, and one that I didn't.

* Actually, it might be due to the fact that the manager of my local hardware store, which I patronise quite a lot, suggested the other day that I might like to have a trade card, which now gives me a discount. They gave me a form to fill in. One of the questions was "Reason for application". To be honest, this was a tough question, so I wrote, "Sense of self-worth". Well, not everyone has this status in the hardware store.  Or for that matter, a bright yellow German pressure washer.

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