Saturday, 31 January 2009

A prophetic message for sure

The mere lack of protest by most Australians at the results being seen now of global warming in Australia has done many things. It has turned me right away from radical groups like Socialist Alternative and the Democratic Socialist Party despite their laudable environmental policies. When I was attracted to these groups to the point of subscribing to Socialist Worker, I thought that because outer suburban real estate was cheap, outer suburbanites were poor and should according to Marxist theory have the same interests they did in overthrowing capitalism.

In fact, Australia's outer suburbanites are very much hostile to the kind of socialism advocated by Socialist Alternative, the International Socialist Organisation, or the Democratic Socialist Party. Because they are people with families, they do not want the violent upheaval that revolution would cause since it would impoverish them. Moreover, the low living costs mean outer suburbanites are really much richer than residents on much higher incomes in, say, Sweden. They do have financial concerns, but they feel that higher taxes and more regulation to produce remotely respectable greenhouse emissions will make them poorer and jeopardise the economy.

Trying to make sense of the failure of outer suburbanites to protest exceptionally high greenhouse emissions has recalled a book called Two Nations, published in 1998 amidst the rise of Pauline Hanson (my review on Amazon is here). Reading Michael Woolridge is the last chapter (pages 182 to 185) makes me think he prophesied the culture wars of 2000s America because the language he uses to describe the differences between the academic, Europe-like“policy culture” and the mainstream (in Australia) “community culture” is exactly like how the differences between Blue and Red America were described after the 2004 election. My experience communicating does tell me the kind of academic “policy culture’ is also found in Red America (see Hip Pocket Politics for details). On the other hand, in Europe, Canada and New Zealand the “community culture” has been in effect taxed out of existence, yet it is in Australia where the weakness of its cautious, risk-averse outlook is felt.

Friday, 30 January 2009

A map of the new climate

The new climate of Australia shown on this map represent a reversal of historic rainfall geography that beats anything I can imagine professional climate scientists will predict.

What I am predicting, as show on the map, is a penetration of the monsoon so intense that, as shown above, the 1000-millietre annual isohyet will correspond in northwestern Australia roughly with the present 300-millimetre isohyet. Instead of stopping at Darwin, in 2080 the monsoon trough will be centred at the latitude of Alice Springs. (Owing to the shape of Australia, it’s probable that there will be two distinct centres west and east of Alice Springs). With a powerful low dominating the weather over most of the continent during the summer, many playas that I could not draw will become permanently full of water. (Under the wettest scenario, Lake Eyre might overflow so that the “inland sea” dreamed by the early explorers becomes a reality!) Further north, the monsoon will begin around October and for seven months totals of 400 to 500 millimetres will be par for the course, with much more still in the mountainous parts of the Kimberley. This would make the Top End so wet as to change its Köppen climate class from Aw to Am and lead to the appearance of thicket forest instead of savanna.

The huge increases we can expect over northern Australia from an intensifying monsoon due to reduce reflection from the interior, however, will be no compensation for the total loss of the southern winter rain belt. As the map shows, the arid zone in 2080 will be centred over some of Australia’s largest cities and currently most biodiverse ecosystems. The loss of the mountain ash and karri forests to drying caused by global warming – which will occur within a few years – ought to be seen as comparably reprehensible (or worse) than what Khrushchev did to the native fish of the Aral Sea.

However, unlike the economies of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, Victoria’s economy could still survive without a single car on the road and with every house having solar panels to generate energy. Moreover, the fact that this has occurred in a representative democracy makes the people of Australia much more culpable for ignoring the problem.

Monday, 26 January 2009

The future climate of Melbourne

Twenty-five days with no rain in Melbourne and only dreadful hot weather in sight have really hit hard on me.

Along with a repeat of the super-powerful 1999/2000 tropical wet season – nearly as much rain has fallen in Camooweal as during the big wet of January 1974 – it is clear that what Australia will have, even from this year, is a climate unlike anything known from instrumental or paleoclimate records even in recent global-warming affected years.

What would surprise most people is that under this new climate Melbourne – Australia’s second-largest population centre – will rather than a very temperate climate be the most arid place in the entire continent. Reduced reflection form the centre of the continent will allow a deeper monsoon displaced as far south as the cycle of the Sun – or approximately as far as Alice Springs – and this will drench the majority of the continent during the summer months almost every year in a manner beyond even that of January 1974.

However, for southern Victoria, Tasmania and adjacent areas of South Australia, this extended monsoon will bring hot north winds with a consistency unknown in the instrumental record. As the old tropical air crosses the Great Divide, it will be left dry and incredibly hot. More than that, it is known that the Hadley circulation or subtropical high has already shifted seven degree south since 1979 (probably about ten degrees since global warming took hold of our climate in 1967) and can be expected to have its centre around Bass Strait year-round from this year, with the result that the last cold fronts will have passed southern Australia in 2008.

The consequences will be threefold for southern Victoria and adjacent areas:
1) entire absence of their once-reliable rain-bearing winds, so that the winters will be as rainless as in, say, Burketown historically.
2) entire absence of relieving cool changes – even dry ones – in the summer. This will permit, instead of a record over 150 years of five successive days over 40˚C in Melbourne, an average of twenty to thirty in succession every summer.
3) forest trees adapted to fire will never recover because the bone-dry weather will allow annual summer fires to ultimately kill off seedlings, leading to the extinction of not only the wet-adapted tall eucalypts like Mountain Ash, but even to species adapted to a subhumid climate like that of the Western Plains

My mother told me yesterday that the extinction of the tall eucalypts and cool-climate rainforests would not be a crime to compare with what the USSR did to the Aral Sea. It is hard to agree given how unique such species as mountain ash, snow gum and the numerous heathland wildflowers that typify the native flora of southern Australia are. It has grown clear to me that Australia’s masses are not going to cause a reduction in the greenhouse emissions of a nation that should be allowed, not twelve times the world’s average per capita emissions, but as a reflection of its fragile ecology and sensitive hydrology no more than five percent of the average. Thus, it is time Australia was internationally regarded as a “rogue” state akin to Cuba, Iran and Sudan. At least that might make Australia’s people and others think about how awful their environmental record already is and will prove in the future on present trends.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Keltner analysis of undiscussed Rock Hall Artists: The Smiths

The site A List of Things Thrown Five Minutes Ago discusses various artists' credentials for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

After finishing my analysis of the Rock Hall backlog, I always intended to analyse artists who have never been discussed by the Nominating Committee, but still might have credentials to justify induction. The aim of the process is to find out whether, on the basis of the Keltner list for a Hall of Fame, the Nominating Committee really is completely ignoring artists who have undeniable credentials to be in the Hall.

I do admit that there are some problems with the criteria, especially given known biases of the Nominating Committee and how they effect who is already in the Hall, but still I cannot see any better alternative.

The first artist I will discuss for this project is the Smiths. Consisting of vocalist Morrissey, guitarist Johnny Marr, bass guitarist Andy Rourke, and drummer Mike Joyce, they emerged on Rough Trade in the 1980s and in an era of vapid synth-pop became seen as heroes for their jangly guitar pop, which won them support on college radio in the US and eventually got their last two albums into the Billboard Top 100. Morrissey's lyrical skill and satirical tendencies were also highly regarded, though he was sometimes criticised for whining too much. They were first eligible this year, but not on any Nominating Committee member's short list.

I will give my own evaluation of the Smiths' Rock Hall credentials based on the Keltner criteria, which actually come from the Baseball Hall of Fame.

1) Were the Smiths ever regarded as the best artist in rock music? (Did anybody, while the Smiths were active, ever seriously suggest that the Smiths were the best artist in rock music?): Among critics in England in the 1980s there were certainly those who thought so, but with hindsight it is very hard to see that this was true in comparison to other indie artists like the Twins or R.E.M.

2) Were the Smiths ever the best artist in rock music in their genre?: If you exclude R.E.M., the Replacements (plus later Hüsker Dü) and even lesser-knowns like Half Japanese or Game Theory. Overall, I would again say no.

3) Were the Smiths ever considered the best at their instruments?: No. Johnny Marr was acclaimed for his skill, but he was never regarded as a genuine guitar virtuoso. The same might be said for Morrissey's lyrics, which was probably the most acclaimed part of their work by the critics.

4) Did the Smiths have an impact on a number of other bands?: Yes. Bands like Oasis, Suede and Blur cite them as a major influence only suspected when Brit-pop was at its height. Later alternative bands like Blink 182 also cite the Smiths as a key influence, so this criterion is very much in their favour.

5) Were the Smiths good enough that they could play regularly after passing their prime?: No. They disbanded in 1987 due to disagreements between Morrissey and Marr and have never played together since, though Morrissey did continue under the name with Rourke and Joyce for a little while.

6) Are the Smiths the very best artist in history that is not in the Hall of Fame?: No

7) Are most bands who have a comparable recording history and impact in the Hall of Fame?: Among eligible alternative heroes, very few are in the Hall of Fame, and such artists as the Buzzcocks and Television have never been considered by the Nominating Committee. Even the Jam, a closer parallel in that they were big in Europe but only a cult act in the States, have never made the Rock Hall ballot.

8) Is there any evidence to suggest that the Smiths were significantly better or worse than is suggested by its statistical records?: Perhaps their critical acclaim is not wholly justified. Also, their college radio airplay was never able to win them as much commercial success as R.E.M. or the Violent Femmes or 10,000 Maniacs.

9) Are the Smiths the best artist in its genre that is eligible for the Hall of Fame?: As mentioned above, there are several who would take precedence, including such British bands as the Buzzcocks and Wire (active before the college radio boom) and Americans the Replacements and Hüsker Dü.

10) How many #1 singles/gold records did the Smiths have? Did the Smiths ever win a Grammy award? If not, how many times were the Smiths nominated? So far as I know, they never had a gold record in the States and were never nominated for a Grammy. However, with The Queen Is Dead listed at #10 in Colin Larkin's poll of the Top 1,000 Albums and four albums in Rolling Stone's Top 500, the Smiths have a great deal of acclaim for the establishment press.

11) How many Grammy-level songs/albums did the Smiths have? For how long of a period did the Smiths dominate the music scene? How many Rolling Stone covers did the Smiths appear on? Did most of the bands with this sort of impact go into the Hall of Fame?: See previous post.

12) If the Smiths were the best band at a concert, would it be likely that the concert would rock? They did release a successful live album Rank, which is a sure sign that they were a good live act.

13) What impact did the Smiths have on rock history? Were they responsible for any stylistic changes? Did they introduce any new equipment? Did the Smiths change history in any way? Yes, at least in terms of changing history. According to The Rough Guide to Rock, the Smiths' true legacy lies in the way they changed the public's perception of indie music away from that of dark, inaccessible gothic rock to catchy, often satirical and offbeat pop music. This image change played a key role in the growth of alternative music after the Smiths disbanded.

14) Did the band uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?: Apart from Morrissey's occasional personal problems, most of which surfaced after they disbanded, probably yes.

Verdict: Only on a couple of the criteria would the Smiths qualify. On that basis, one would have to say don't induct.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Australia is the backward country

In a recent article published in Australia, even the head of the world's largest producer of 1960s yank tanks and 1990s/2000s 4x4s is admitting that petrol should be less cheap than it is.

Their reasoning is certainly dubious since almost every economist knows larger, thirstier cars are more economic than small ones that use complex technologies like front-wheel-drive.

What the General Motors official is saying is that they are losing money on thirsty cars because for a period in 2008 petrol's cheapness rose in nominal terms to new record lows (in Australia, 600ml/$) and that car sales in the United States are the lowest since World War II. However, the logical point above is that General Motors would do best to concentrate on Ford Falcon-like rear-wheel-drive designs that are cheapest to produce if they want to maximise profits. After all, large front engine, rear-wheel-drive cars were what dominated the motor industry in the 1950s and 1960s when profits were at a maximum.

Even if 4x4s are very complex designs, phasing them out for similarly complex front-wheel-drive cars is not likely to restore profitability. It is surprising that books like the PIG to Capitalism do not say, as they logically show, that smaller cars with less space and higher cost that result from reduced cheapness of petrol serve to lower living standards.

On the other hand, it just shows how conservative and backward Australia is when its population is calling for still cheaper petrol in a country that should by virtue of its great ecological limitations to population size have by far the least cheap petrol in the world.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

The Rock Hall Backlog Part 7: Acclaimed "cult" artists with consistent previous votes from the Nominating Committee but no ballot appearances

This seventh article in a series analysing the backlog of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame will look at cult artists who have been acclaimed by small or relatively small followings and have had enough of a reputation at least in certain circles to gain votes from the Nominating Committee.

Before I continue further I will note that there is a great deal of overlap between this group and that discussed in the previous post. Indeed, most of the choices are as much my own discretion as absolute commercial success, whilst trying to divide the three posts evenly accounts for placing rap backlog artists in the next post of the series. To cover the large proportion of backlog artists of whom my knowledge is non-existent, All Music chart data were used.

Also note that T. Rex and Roxy Music, whilst major stars in my Australian homeland and in Europe, are listed here because they were essentially cult acts in the United States. Numerous artists (most significantly John Cougar Mellencamp) who are unknown or nearly so in Europe get in the Hall on American popularity. Though very few inductees are unknown here in Australia, some of the backlog artists below certainly would not be familiar to the average Australian music listener.

As in the previous post, artists will be listed by eligibility date from earliest to latest.

The Harptones: A doo-wop group who never even had a hit on the black charts, they have been eligible since the Rock Hall was founded. One might think them a possible candidate for induction as an Early Influence, but their association with more successful doo-wop groups seems to rule this out. Still, if the Committee desires another doo-wop act their influence could be handy.

The Big Bopper: Died in the place crash that killed Richie Valens and Buddy Holly, but much less commercially successful: having only one "hit" in "Chantilly Lace". Certainly no front-runner even among the "cult" groups.

Junior Parker: Eligible since the Hall was founded, Junior Parker had no commercial success except on the black charts. However, ever since he died in 1971 from a brain tumour, he has been regarded as one of the most influential bluesmen: Al green dedicated one of his albums to him. However, he is not well known outside the narrow confines of blues circles and it is quite hard to see him as one of the more likely candidates.

Slim Harpo: Another famous blues musicians whose most famous song, "I'm a King Bee", is best known on the Rolling Stones' debut album. "Shake Your Hips" was also covered on Exile on Main Street. He did have two Top 40 Pop hits in 1961's number 34 "Raining in My Heart" and 1966's "Baby Scratch My Back", but yet again we are not really finding a likely candidate or one considered generally worthy by younger readers like me.

Dick Dale: Eligible since 1987/1988, Dick Dale is widely regarded as the first "guitar god" in the rock world. Though he had very little commercial success, he is viewed as a very important influence on artists like Jimi Hendrix and The Who. The very status of those artists - which I myself tend to question - makes Dale of the better "cult" chances within the backlog.

Albert King: Like Dick Dale, an important influence upon Hendrix; King predated Hendrix' habit of turning a right-handed guitar upside down to give a unique sound. He is in a sense similar to Dick Dale but not so well known and thus less likely to be elected.

Rufus Thomas: Forty-seven when he released his first record in 1964, Rufus Thomas did not have a Top 100 pop album and was best known for two hits "Walking the Dog" (#10 pop) and "Do that Funky Chicken" (#28 pop). He is probably valued for his role mentoring many artists on Stax but it is not easy to see him reaching the ballot.

Junior Wells: A major blues harmonica player eligible since 1990/1991, he never had a record on the Billboard Pop charts but is cited as an important influence by Paul Butterfield and Bonnie Raitt. He did record material that hardly changed right up to his death but it does not seem likely Wells will make the ballot soon.

The Blues Project: A short-lived contemporary of the Grateful Dead and eligible since 1991/1992, the Blues Project are recognised as one of the first psychedelic jam bands. They never got beyond #52 on Pop Albums or #96 on Pop Singles, but the fact that they pioneered a highly respected style of the late 1960s may be what has made them so close to the Nominating Committee's radar. It is still doubtful to me that they have enough important material to gain a ballot place.

Captain Beefheart: Along with the Velvet Underground, Stooges and MC5, one of the "big four" protopunk artists, though his music was entirely unlike that of such critically slaved bands as the Ramones and Pistols, possessing abrupt tempo changes and extreme dissonance that fans of those groups might have trouble understanding. His most famous work, 1969's Trout Mask Replica, was #45 on Joe S. Harrington's Top 100 Albums even though Harrington actually criticises the record, which goes to show how influential he was. If the Stooges do get in, I would expect to see Beefheart given a turn on the ballot, though I don't feel he will be elected if he does.

Mitch Ryder: A contemporary of protopunk bands like the MC5 and Stooges, Mitch Ryder was first eligible in 1991/1992. His stripped-down music is the root of such "populist" American rockers as Bruce Springsteen, John Cougar Mellencamp and Bob Seger, but he does not receive as much critical notice as those he influenced. He has relatively little critical favour for an artist who, at least by his description, might be expected to be a perennial on best-albums lists. He is perhaps not well known enough to be a likely inductee

Canned Heat: They did have two major hits with "Going Up the Country" and "On The Road Again"; thus they could be seen as a "popular" artist, but much of their material did not receive wide exposure. The fame in the 1960s underground may give them a chance of a ballot place, but I cannot say they have the credentials to get in.

Country Joe & the Fish: Most famous and viewed most important for their radical anti-war politics rather than their music, Country Joe and the Fish still gain much acclaim amongst the critics (for instance two albums in The MOJO Collection). The fact that so many in the aging Nominating Committee were from the very generation that rebelled against Vietnam makes Country Joe and the Fish quite an intriguing possibility with few or no new candidates coming through soon.

Laura Nyro: As a prominent presence on her fan sites at Café Utne and Yahoo, I might be biased if I were not careful. It is true that Nyro never had a Billboard Top 75 single or Top 30 album, but her influence on artists like Joni Mitchell and, as Michele Kort shows, Elton John who are already in does make her a possibility. On the other side, the fact that singer-songwriters like Buffy Sainte-Marie and Kate Bush have never been mentioned is definitely a strike against Nyro. I would rate her as a serious chance even if I feel it likely Nyro like most artists of her type has too many enemies to be inducted.

Dr. John: Had one number nine US hit in 1973 with "Right Place Wrong Time" and is cited as a major influence on Van Morrison and the Allman Brothers Band's early 1970s masterpieces like Moondance and Allman Brothers at Fillmore East. Despite retaining a strong cult following to this day, Dr. John is not very well known critically and whether his influence has persisted beyond the "punk" and rap revolutions is far from certain. Would be some surprise, but if he does make the ballot it would be easier to see him elected than such "difficult" artists as Beefheart or Nyro.

T. Rex: Although I see them as very overrated and childish, T. Rex have maintain the credibility of critics beyond the "punk revolution" in a manner not possible for many artists of their time. Their album Electric Warrior has made many best albums lists and is regarded as the most important album of the entire glam-rock movement. Even with only one American hit, T. Rex should have a serious chance of reaching the ballot after being first eligible in 1992/1993.

Flying Burrito Brothers: A pioneering critically-lauded band formed by Gram Parsons after he left inductees The Byrds. Eligible since 1993/1994, the Flying Burrito Brothers are regarded as the originator of country rock. They had very little commercial success but much critical acclaim. Should Gram Parsons' solo career become seen as lacking the necessary credentials I would expect the Flying Burrito Brothers to have a serious chance of reaching the ballot soon.

Johnny Winter: Eligible since 1994/1995, Winter was a blues guitarist who is seen as an influence on Stevie Ray Vaughan (widely tipped to have been inducted this year but the Nominating Committee never discussed him). He has a reputation among fans as one of the finest guitarists in the history of rock, but never had a recognisable hit single or signature song. That makes him rather a longshot even with the admirers he had or has.

Ry Cooder: Eligible since 1995/1996, Cooder could be inducted as a member of Beefheart's Magic Band since he played on Safe as Milk, but his solo career won him quite a bit of critical acclaim and one classic rock radio standard in "Little Sister". Cooder's fame and influence on world music (via his work with Buena Vista Social Club in the 1990s) certainly overshadows the fact that he never made it beyond #43 on the Billboard charts. Quite a good chance especially as they don't seem to acknowledge backing bands like Beefheart's often.

Hot Tuna: Eligible since 1995/1996 and originally a spin-off group from Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna are to my mind a very unlikely candidate in terms of actual merit but one who undoubtedly have considerable support because they were seen as the heir to the tradition of the Airplane when and after Jefferson Starship turned to pompous adult oriented rock (mind you, "We Built This City" is actually as listenable as anything they did). I would not expect to see Hot Tuna make the ballot but think it could happen if the viewpoints of the Nominating Committee ossify.

Todd Rundgren: Often mentioned on the Laura Nyro sites linked to above, his best-known songs and only Australian hits do sound to me like imitations of Laura's very earliest work, but he was more commercially successful than Nyro. His fame as a producer, however, outstrips what he did as a performer and one imagines Rundgren could get a chance under the Non-Performer category. The lack of a definite category for his admission may be the crux that keeps him off the ballot or other discussion.

Roxy Music: Arguably my all-time favourite rock artist, as with Laura Nyro I should be careful not to be biased. they had only a cult following in the States, where their highest-charting album only made #23 and the masterful Stranded spent only four weeks in the Top 200. Their influence on the synth-pop and dream-pop of the 1980s is undeniable, as is Ferry's status as the most successful bender of normal gender roles in the twentieth century. The amazing intensity and free-flowing character of their best music may not appeal but they had undoubted critical respect. This critical respect does objectively make them a very good chance of a ballot place and possible induction, especially after Rolling Stone listed them amongst their Top 100 artists.

Tom Waits: Eligible since 1998/1999, Waits has had more success as a songwriter than as a performer but his records eventually broke through - oddly when he with Mule Variations left a major label! He has had immense critical acclaim from people like Piero Scaruffi and is viewed as a highly innovative artist during his Island years. Waits' lack of commercial success until the 1990s might affect his chances, but he is so critically acclaimed as to be well known to those who have never heard his music that he should not be ruled out.

The Replacements: One of the most critically acclaimed bands of the 1980s, Richie Unterberger said circa 2002 that the Replacements had a chance of getting inducted despite next to no commercial success. When I found they had been discussed, I expected them to be on this year's ballot, but they were not. The problem it seems is that the Nominating Committee is very reluctant to discuss newly eligible artists because it believes it has too big a backlog to deal with, but if other backlog artists are rejected the Replacements would have a very good chance.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Unfair, but for the wrong reason

According to this ABC news report, incoming US President Barack Obama is singling out Australia’s coal industry for its responsibility for global warming and “destroying life on Earth”.

Counterclaims that Australia’s coal produces only a very small proportion of global greenhouse gas emissions are simply unacceptable. As I have said before, the sensitivity of Australia's ecology and the limitations of its water supply outside the impossibly infertile north should demand that Australia have per capita emissions say, one twentieth those of countries like Sweden or Switzerland, which undoubtedly possess some of the least fragile environments the Earth has known in its long geological history. Yet, Australia has five times the per capita emissions of Sweden, and the difference is growing.

One reason Australia’s coal industry is singled out so much is that it admits the immense and unchallenged political power it has, as was discussed three years ago in the thirty-years-too-late Greenhouse Mafia. The car industry, which must bear some responsibility for the obscenely pro-freeway and pro-car transport policies Australia has had since the Lonie Report, seems much less open about its power. If you believe Kenneth Davidson’s claim that disgruntled outer suburban families support freeways to counter their frustration at traffic congestion, they seem still less open about it and no opinion poll I have heard goes into really deep detail about people's opinions on the transport question in order to really see whether the obscenely pro-freeway policies are what the outer suburbanites want or the product of a dictatorial road lobby. Once that question can be answered definitively, those who realise the need for a car-free Australia can escape from the trap of not knowing what strategy to take to achieve it.

Politicians and the general public abroad do have to realise that reducing Australia’s emissions to absolute zero is the essential step in preventing runaway climate change and eventually in restoring pre-industrial carbon dioxide levels. What the right steps to take in this direction are is something I think of all the time, but certainly refusing to buy food grown in Australia and trying to buy from nations with soils more suitable to cropping is one step to suggest.

Recalling a story from 1988 with something nobody can have told you

One of my strange recollections from Kurrajong Special School in East Malvern was a boy telling me that Pal was human food. I can never forget how hard I laughed when I was told that because there was an easily visible PET FOOD ONLY label on this.

Ever since, I have always looked for these PET FOOD ONLY labels on the pet food I see in supermarkets. Since I do most of my mother's shopping even at thirty-one, this is quite often.

Today is my first day staying with my eldest half-sister in Sunshine - actually, in a place I have never seen before, and it is cluttered in a manner that would shock even my brother or people who have looked inside the garage of my house. There is a certain charm to the place, especially with the old books, that comes to me through having been born of a father who was old enough to have been in World War II and today frequenting secondhand bookshops for things like the three-volume compilation of Rachel Carson's Under The Sea Wind, The Sea Around Us, and Edge of the Sea.

Since this half-sister has always had a great affinity for dogs, I asked her if she knew about the PET FOOD ONLY labels. I have since my father died been in much more contact with my half-sisters, but it was really surprising that even someone with a love of dogs would know the story of the origin of PET FOOD ONLY labels.

What she told me was that PET FOOD ONLY labelling originated from a popular restaurateur in Sydney who made extremely tasty sandwiches. When his customers asked him why they were so tasty, the restaurateur refused to tell. Eventually the police arrested him and the restaurateur said that he had used dog food in his sandwiches. Since there was already suspicion I assume of human problems caused by the eating of pet food, the government decided that pet food had to be labelled with PET FOOD ONLY. yet, as my story from 1988 shows, people do ignore these labels even if only as a joke.

Friday, 9 January 2009

An alternative index of rainfall that might be more helpful to real Australians

In a 2004 article about rainfall trends in Australia the CSIRO, who have been unfortunately but unsurprisingly exposed as greenhouse sceptics under the control of the coal and aluminum industries, made a very interesting suggestion to deal with the problem of rainfall totals failing utterly to represent the weather directly experienced by urban Australians and to a lesser extent farm conditions over the major agricultural areas of the continent.

In this study, Ian Smith, one of the premier climate-change scientists of the CSIRO, realised that averaged raw totals across Australia are not equally representative of all areas of the continent and believed that there must exists a better method of measuring average rainfall over Australia than the raw averaged totals, which he intuitively thought would favour the wettest areas. His solution was to averaged the mean decile range of rainfall over the continent. “Decile range” refers to the relative ranking of an annual or monthly rainfall total, with the lowest ten percent forming decile 1, the next lowest decile 2, and so on until the highest ten percent form decile ten.

Those with knowledge of rainfall over Australia will realise that in the most variable parts of the continent and generally in the drier months of the year rainfall distributions are highly skewed and the mean rainfall exceeded in only a small proportion of years. For example, in Derby, the mean May rainfall in 22 millimetres but the median only a fraction of a millimetre, with the 90 percentile (exceeded on average every ten years) being 65 millimetres.

Decile ranges thus show how many or months are actually wetter than the one being reviewed much better than departure from the mean. A graph comparing raw totals and mean deciles to measure rainfall for Australia can be seen here.

If one analyses this data, what one actually finds is that the raw totals do not necessarily reflect the wettest areas, but those with most variable rainfall. This should be obvious because their high deciles are more inflated in raw total than areas of low variability like western Tasmania, southeastern South Australia or southwestern Western Australia.

When one compares the rankings of raw totals and mean deciles, one sees that the year (from 1901 to 2002) which become most drier when mean deciles replace raw totals is 1977 (36th wettest by raw totals; 44th driest or 59th wettest by mean decile).

This year had very active monsoons in the Lake Eyre Basin but major rainfall failures in southern Australia outside of Western Tasmania. 1977 is unrivalled in this respect: its closest rival being 1959 (34th driest by raw totals and 18th driest by mean decile), which had severe drought over most of arid Australia, but very heavy rainfall in humid coastal New South Wales (which has for a region not affected by ENSO an amazingly variable rainfall that I have never understood).

In contrast, the year that becomes wetter to the largest extent from mean deciles replacing raw totals is 1966 (27th driest by raw totals; 47th driest by mean deciles), followed by 1946 (26th driest and 42nd driest), 1952 (16th and 30th driest) and 1958. 1952, of course, featured the weakest tropical wet season since 1885 and some of the most powerful southern storm systems ever resulting in the fourth wettest year since 1885 over Victoria and third wettest in Canberra. 1958 and 1966 saw similar wet season failures and notably heavy rain in at least parts of arid southern Australia. 1946, with its remarkably powerful mid-latitude winter westerlies, saw record dryness in northern New South Wales at the same time as Tasmania had one of its wettest years on record.

I also tried the experiment of comparing the standardised anomalies of raw totals and mean deciles (as shown by the thin grey line on the graph above). The results are somewhat different from the comparative rankings of raw totals and mean deciles, but are rather misleading because of the limits to standardised anomalies of mean decile values – which of course cannot be less than 1 or greater than 10.

The very fact that the ranking by mean deciles serves to devalue the remarkably infertile and sparsely populated tropical regions of the continent where rainfall can be very variable due to cyclones is enough reason to seriously test it. I would not dismiss possible applications to other regions of the world.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

A ridiculous ban if ever there was one

According to Rod Dreher, the United States Congress wants to ban clothes bought from "thrift stores" because of the apparent problem of poisoning by lead affecting children. (It seems odd given that the United States was the first country to stop new cars from running on petrol containing tetraethyl lead that it should still have problems with lead poisoning!)

The main point, according to the article, relates to the fact that many American children have had their health threatened by paints containing either white lead or red lead, which were known for centuries to be very effective at protecting iron against corrosion.

Although my mass is far too great for me to be able to buy clothes so cheaply, the very fact that I have in the past donated clothes that are anything but cheap to charities makes me guess at least that Dreher is right that it will be very bad for parents to not be able to buy thrift store clothes for their children. With fertility rates as low as they are, thrift stores are undoubtedly a boon for people seeking to have children, and this law could in the long run be disastrous financially even if well-intentioned.

Top Ten Misspelled albums of all time

The site has published a list of the Top Ten Misspelled Albums of All Time.

The list really is rather silly because most of the albums listed were satiric misspellings intended to be puns, just as we see with a surprising number of book titles. "Amerikkka" is probably the most "offensive", but the surprising note of the Zombies album (listed by critic David Keenan as one of the dozen best albums ever) is noteworthy. I forget seeing any kind of misspelling when I read about Keenan's list five and a half years ago, but maybe I was overlooking something important.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Listening to the radio in hot weather?

Having always been baffled at why radio stations could give forecasts like:

"a great day - 36 degrees"

my brother said to me that the reason radio stations praise horrible hot weather is that it serves to increase their audience. My brother thinks that people are most likely to listen to the radio in terribly hot weather when they have nothing to do - including to walkman on the beach.

This is a strange idea, but if one has air conditioning it would be very easy to listen to radio doing very little in the type of dreadful weather GOLD FM praise incessantly. On lovely days of fifteen or sixteen or seventeen degrees, people want to be active and they will not listen to the radio!

I feel it's still no excuse for praising dreadful weather!

Caution before taking sceptics seriously

A site shown to me by my recent RMIT minder recently published an article stating that 2008 was an unusually cool year and that it is justification for global warming scepticism.

It is a pity I have been unable to contact John J. Ray, since I could show him by means of decile maps for 2008 that the rainfall over southern Victoria and Tasmania, which has shown alarming declines of 25 percent since 1997, showed not the tiniest improvement this year. In fact, 2008 ranks as the sixth-driest year in Hobart since records began in 1882.

Hobart’s climate has dried out from anthropogenic global warming so much that four of the twelve driest years and none of the thirty-seven wettest years have occurred since 1999. (Indeed, of these thirty-seven wettest years only two – 1985 and 1996 – have occurred since the first “magic gate” was passed in 1976).

Even the claims about 2008 being a cool year are false. Here in Melbourne it was yet again among the warmest ten percent of years since 1910, whilst over Central Australia where the monsoon did not penetrate as between 1997 and 2001 it was similarly warm compared to historic temperature records. Only over the densely-settled area bounded by Nowra, Bundaberg and Moree was 2008 a noticeably cool year: in fact in Sydney, despite rainfall being a little below normal, it was among the coolest ten percent of years since 1910. This would mean that, even if 2008 was still warm over Australia as a whole, it was perceived as a cool year because it was cool over the small densely settled region of the continent.

Such anomalies, noted in the first Annual Climate Statement I read back in 2000, are in fact more common than even the Bureau makes them out to be. They are most notable for the dry years of 1905, 1928 and 1935, which all rank among Australia’s eight driest years on record, but would be perceived as distinctly wet by most Australians (see for instance the Hobart table above).

All in all, rainfall and temperature data for 2008, even if the Eucla and Goldfields have hardly maintained their excessive rainfall of the 1997 to 2006 decade, is no evidence against man-made global warming.

Strangely, one is hearing no claims that it is the “Asian Haze” that has cause the drying of Melbourne’s dams (though I imagine at least some laymen do believe this): it is possible that the “Asian Haze” could reduce rainfall over Victoria and Tasmania, though I cannot believe it could do so to the extent seen since 1997.