Monday, 29 June 2015

A look at my garden

Although I seldom do this, my mother has long been noticing her orchid in flower in this mild and dry weather, and this morning she decided to photo it and I – affected by shoddy iron-on patches and the prospect of ruining a pair of jeans that actually fits my fatter-than-ever body – accepted the photo although my heart was in nothing but getting a properly sticking pair of iron-on patches or sending the jeans to a tailor. I have a glimmer of hope about this issue but fear ruining a good pair of clothes!
The orchid is striking when looked at – and the beauty of the flowers actually matches some of the textbooks on the topic I recall reading years ago. The picture still reveals the problems the house has had with its back and side walls – it is not something with a rustic appeal like so many older goods handmade from quality materials.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

How widespread are pejoratives?

Although it is only recently that I have browsed and browsed for pejorative terms for soccer and gridiron used by fans of the other sport, an old memory has over the past few weeks made me feel as if there is some sympathy among the soccer- and the gridiron-watching publics for these pejorative words. When I used to look at weekly charts by one Nigel Jones, I recall he said this of Rod Stewart’s ‘You’re in My Heart’:
#7: Rod Stewart — You’re In My Heart
When it entered at number seven, this single looked a sure fire bet to hit the top, but instead it climbed to number three and spent three weeks there. It must have come as some surprise to many young lovers who‘d adopted this song as ‘their song’, when they discovered that it wasn’t about the love of a woman at all, but about Rod’s love of football (the ‘real football’ with a round spherical object, that I refuse to call the ‘S’ word). In hindsight the references such as United, Celtic were obvious as they refer to Rod’s favourite Football clubs (I wonder why he didn‘t mention Brentford though, he was once on their books).
When I read this circa 2001, I knew Nigel was contrasting “real football” with gridiron (American football) rather than with Australian Rules (which I mean when saying “football”). I assumed people who called soccer ‘football’ would use the conventional names ‘American football’, ‘Canadian football’ and ‘Australian Rules football’ for other codes, but it does dawn on me that this Nigel Jones might prefer the “h” word – though his writings do not say one way or the other. In fact, there are enough “hash” tags “#handegg” to suggest many Europeans – even those who do not post on forums – would prefer that the word ‘football’ never be used for sports other than soccer.

On the gridiron side, I don’t imagine things are that different – the view that soccer is not a real sport (because of ties and the way players supposedly fake injuries) seems from what evidence I have to be very widespread even in Australia, whose main sports are not as violent as gridiron or ice hockey. The name “football” is a symbol of prestige to both gridiron and soccer fans – something which my background cannot understand – and for this reason I feel abuse would be likely equal on both sides.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Curbing local pollution no answer – Australia’s pollution must be completely cut off

Runaway climate change is more apparent that ever this year as the polluted Chilean capital of Santiago is faced with ordering thousands of cars off the streets – to utterly no long-term use or purpose. The move was made by regional governor Claudio Orrego as pollution in the city reaches emergency levels not seen since 1999.
A view from the Andes of Santiago’s pollution – ultimately caused by greenhouse emissions on the other side of the Pacific
Despite predictions as recently as the opening of this month of the best rainfall since 2008 due to a weal El NiƱo – usually associated with good rainfall – Santiago is faced with the likelihood that its 91-year-old record for lowest annual rainfall will be smashed – and smashed by a wide margin. As of today, halfway through the “rainy season”, Santiago has received only 0.3 millimetres since 1 May – and none is forecast to the end of the month. The previous lowest rainfall for May and June was 5.3 millimetres in 1945 – ironically the year that saw record rainfall in Perth and no doubt due to a persistent block rather than a rapid poleward climate shift. Indeed, forecasters now say rainfall will not come during July when it was previously forecast to be heaviest (meaning 100 to 200 millimetres in a week or two, as observed here). If it does not come during July it is, unlike what often happens Southern California, improbable that an “August miracle” would save central Chile from a record dry year. Not only is the long-term average lower, but 150 years of weather records suggest that a virtually rainless May to July period would be most unlikely to culminate with a wet August – only once, in 1895, did a May to July period in the lowest five percent be followed by an August in the top quartile.

A typical recent synoptic chart for South America. Note the low pressure over West Antarctica – the exact opposite of conditions needed for rainfall in Central Chile – and the poleward movement of the former Altiplano High into Patagonia.
Scientists sniff yet another “magic gate” in 2015, which could mean rainfalls below the 1924 record low occur virtually every subsequent year in Central Chile.

Given that the pollution and lack of rainfall are certainly due to man-made global warming, now that they are at least capturing some attention it is time to see who should be paying for the costs. Given that Chile’s per capita greenhouse emissions are very small, it is clear that we must look abroad to Australia, with the highest per capita emissions, to provide a solution. When one actually knows how high Australia’s emissions are and the underestimated power Australia’s limitless resources of lithophile elements gives it, there is no question which nation bears the ultimate responsibility for this pollution crisis! Thus, if as we expect the situation becomes worse, there needs to be the first “international summit” on how to cut into Australian greenhouse emissions and demand the immediate transfer of every cent spent on roads and coal power to renewable energy, freeway demolition and revegetation, and high-quality mass transit. Hard enough pressure concentrated totally upon Australia might make a real difference in reducing the rate of global warming through a speedy shift in policies and direct payments by Australia for the costs its past and present emissions produce abroad.

Despite lagging behind Eurasia and the Americas by minimally fifty years in rail development, Australia is – but for the political influence of its road lobby – uniquely able to afford publicly-funded mass transit systems, as well as unique in its ecological need for them.

A zero-emissions Australia, as I have noted before, would also dramatically curb overseas emissions – which come from industry using Australian bauxite, iron ore and other minerals to an extent never calculated in scholarly works but likely very high. In fact, I will go so far to say that no significant global cuts will ever occur without complete cuts of Australian emissions, and this crisis has the opportunity to be a real wake-up call.

Friday, 19 June 2015

A “negative-negative” relationship between religion and animal cooperation?

Over the past few months, I have absorbed a study by Carlos Botero of belief in “moralising high gods” – largely because of my interest in why atheism and consequent demographic decline and big government have become so persistent in the urban Enriched World, leading to the region’s likely economic obsolescence as it becomes unaffordable to live in due to crippling taxes and regulations.

For many years, the main arguments for the urban Enriched World’s atheism have been somewhat contradictory:
  1. the scarcity of natural resources and land in the Enriched World making family formation unaffordable (e.g. Mary Eberstadt’s How the West Really Lost God)
  2. extreme abundance of water, nutrients and protein producing natural egalitarianism and atheism in the Enriched World, hinted strongly at (if not explicitly) by a variety of authors such as:
    1. Tim Flannery in The Future Eaters
    2. John Snarey in ‘The Natural Environment’s Impact upon Religious Ethics: A Cross-Cultural Study.’
    3. Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs and Steel
    4. Gordon Orians and Antoni Milewski in ‘Ecology of Australia: the Effects of Nutrient-Poor Soils and Intense Fires’
It was for this reason that I was strongly attracted to Russell Gray and Carlos Botero’s ‘The Ecology of Religious Beliefs’ when it was published last November. I had hoped to find explanations for the cultural differences observed in the so-called developed world between conservative Australia and Red America and liberal Europe, East Asia, Blue America, Canada and New Zealand (the Republican West is quite morally liberal though extremely individualist and free-market).

As it turns out, whilst there are some explanations given for the atheism of today’s Enriched and Tropical Worlds, which fits very well with theory 2) about abundance of resources tending to discourage cooperation between individuals, Botero’s study has serious problems.
Societies with moralising high Gods in blue (top; from ‘The Ecology of Religious Beliefs’) versus percentage of avian cooperative breeders (middle; broadly defined from Dustin Rubinstein’s ‘Environmental Uncertainty and the Global Biogeography of Cooperative Breeding in Birds’) versus coefficient of variation of annual runoff (bottom; from Thomas Aquinas McMahon’s ‘Global Hydrology Part 3: Country and Climate Studies’)
The most crucial problem, of course, is that European societies with moralising high gods inherited the Christian God from Southwest Asia – a region which ecologically, as suggested by:
  1. Dustin Rubinstein’s study of cooperative breeding plus Holger Kreft and Walter Jetz in ‘A Framework for Delineating Biogeographical Regions based on Species Distributions’
    • (Southwest Asia is probably part of Afrotropical rather than Palearctic)
  2. Thomas Aquinas McMahon in Global Runoff: Continental Comparisons of Annual Flows and Peak Discharges
    • (Southwest Asia in part at least may share high runoff variability of Australia and Southern Africa)
is certainly closer to Australia and Africa than Europe. For an idea of the impact of European environmental conditions, it would be essential to study pre-Christian European societies, which Botero admits possible via written records.

A second point is that, since 1900 when the study was done, Indigenous Australians have become Christian to an extent greater than the European population, whereas indigenous Americans and Siberians have not accepted Christianity significantly despite longer efforts at evangelisation. Although one might sensibly argue conversions of indigenous Australians are analogous to those of Europeans and do not demonstrate suitability of Australia for moralising high gods, this does suggest that a map of moralizing high gods should focus upon indigenous populations and religion indigenous to a region much more than it is.

From the map, one sees that not all areas with frequent cooperative breeding (e.g. equatorial Africa) or high runoff variability (e.g. the Norte Chico in Chile) possess the other feature. It is, however, striking that several regions possess a distinct lack of all three traits monitored within the above charts:
  1. temperate South America
  2. Andean South America
  3. the Amazon Basin
  4. the Arctic Ocean drainage area
  5. the North Pacific Rim
  6. extratropical East Asia
In contrast, if we are careful about indigenous conversions brought about externally, only the Middle East seems to strongly possess all three traits, and does not do so to the most extreme extent with any single one. This implies that the three traits we have been studying may be much more linked by absence rather than by presence.

In my opinion, if absence of moralising high gods, absence of cooperative breeding in birds, and very low runoff variability are more closely linked than their opposites, it is likely that these three traits evolved in the Arctic and Pacific Rims in very recent geological times. Mountain uplift (which provides steep terrain that increases runoff ratios) and extreme oceanic enrichment (which provides animal protein in quantities unknown in previous geological eras) select very firmly against cooperation, especially in humid coastal lowlands adjacent to the mountains. Even when these regions have evolved agriculture and stratified societies, the underlying radical individualism has expressed itself – for example in emperor-worship and samurai culture where the law allowed the samurai to kill almost anyone he wanted to. It is seen even more clearly, as Rod Dreher notes, today.

Monday, 8 June 2015

A strange sight!

Today, as I removed my scarred but still good metal drink bottle (I prefer metal to plastic as it wears better even without the paint and at university always chose to use a metal ruler even for paper) to try to find a drink in the heated room, I observed a rude shock.

The bottle did not open when I twisted it! I was initially worried that something was really awry and that I would have to replace the bottle, but past experience quickly dawned upon me that the lower part of the fridge was a frost hollow where dense, cold air generated by the fridge sank and chilled the bottle to the point that it froze. In the past I have seen frozen milk in the fridge in the event of spills – although I hope that at thirty-eight I am better than I was about allowing bottles of milk to spill when there’s not the space to store them upright.
This is my largely frozen drink bottle from when I finally managed to unscrew the (faintly visible) cap
A few hours later, despite my mother using a heater – I feel that even in winter Melbourne is too warm for heating and that three layers will be plenty on a typical 6˚C morning – the bottle is still only partially thawed and I could not drink from it as I wished:
This is my partly thawed drink bottle a few hours later
The shock of an unexpected freeze was as bad to me as much more costly freezes to farmers around the world! It left me a little thirsty too!