Tuesday, 29 June 2010

An apartheid-era mining magnate lead poaching gang

Although I have been aware that powerful businesses engage in illegal activities related to the poaching of rhinos, a story today in the Cape Times of South Africa has surprised me.

The newspaper says that whilst a major rhino poaching syndicate was brought to trial early this year, there is a problem because another major poaching gang is believed to account for seventy percent of the rhinos killed in South Africa today.

What is really interesting is that this poaching gang apparently dates from the apartheid era, and remarkably consists of a prominent South African mining magnate, a group of white farmers from the Limpopo region, and a number of veterinarians who perversely use their skills to help find out the ways in which rhinos possess vulnerability and make killing them easier. The wealth of the syndicate has allowed them to use military rifles to kill rhinos, which must naturally be amazing in its efficiency.

There may be some hope if a trial goes ahead in October this year, but I do think it is certainly of importance to publicise the syndicate to show the world who is responsibel for the threat against rhinos.

Friday, 25 June 2010

The end of something I never had? Not good!

Rod Dreher has reported that “crackpot educators are saying that the way to decrease bullying is to deny children the opportunity to make a special friend or friends”. He argues, as does Hilary Stout of the New York Times (a paper which someone like Dreher would generally disagree with) that it is simply wrong that having a best friend increases the risk of children being subject to dangerous bullying.

I know very well about this issue because as a child I was subject to bullying that with hindsight I cannot but regard as totally unacceptable. If you look here, you will gain some idea of what life in school was like for me in the early 1990s: I was bullied all the time because I could not feel for other people and as a result made no friends.

For people who are not autistic and whose behaviour can be made acceptable in public as mine cannot, I do not feel for a second that stopping children having best friends is going to minimise the risk of bullying. Then, whilst I was in Essendon Grammar I simply could not make any friends and always felt as though the children simply hated me because they teased me so consistently despite my vehement desire that they adapt to my behaviour or face severe punishment for bullying. I knew and know it would have been orders of magnitude easier for other children to adapt than for me to correct the flaws they found objectionable.

There is, too, no way in which I could see how adapting to my odd behaviour would have necessitated giving up the friends other children had as I did not.

Both Dreher and Stout argue that children are deprived of emotional support if they do not have friends - and my lack of friends in school has in the long term been very bad for me emotionally, so that I can only agree with them.

On the other side, Rod Dreher has also introduced me to another regulation in schools which I approve of. When I was in Year 6 (my first year at Essendon Grammar) in 1989 one boy I knew well said to me
“I have a real gun”
“it‘s a real gun”
The notion that a child might have a real gun, like more recent threat by young kids who need to have violent movies and music absolutely confiscated to prevent them learning what songs like “Shoot to Thrill” or “Big Man with a Gun” quite explicitly teach - that if you don’t like someone you have every right to kill them. It is very hard for me not to believe that toy guns will encourage children to develop a taste for real guns when they grow older. Peter Kreeft says:
“Much of the violence and crime begins as early as cartoons, video games, and kids’ toys, which teach force as the way to deal with conflict.”
Thus, I hope that if toy guns are understood as unacceptable, children will become less inclined to view violence or even bullying as the way to deal with someone whose behaviour they dislike. For people like me who cannot behave normally, this would be a good thing, but for those who can behave in a reasonably acceptable manner violence is still a threat and reducing it would be very worthwhile.

Australia’s toxic politics

In The Age two weeks ago, there was an article about how the major parties have not been able to deal effectively with the issue of global warming. It argues that it is very difficult to achieve serious reductions because of the problematic debates over such issues as:
  1. questioning of the science inside academia
  2. superficial public debate among politicians
  3. the power of outright greenhouse sceptics such as Graham Jacobs in the political arena
  4. the submission of the government to the demands of industries with a vested interest in allowing unrestricted carbon emissions
  5. a population that in many ways possesses that same vested interest because of the resultant low electricity prices (one sixth of the cheapest electricity in most of Eurasia)
  6. foreign nations unprepared to force Australia to reduce its emissions and foreign populaces who do not know this is so critical an issue
  7. the relinquishment of mining profits taxes that if spent exclusively on (urban and rural) public transit and freeway demolition would do a great deal to compensate for the huge energy use and greenhouse emissions in mining (especially coal and light metals)
The Age is certainly right that an effective response involves much more than environmental policy. It involves planning that is much more long-term than electoral politics allows, as Labor is discovering now with the replacement of Kevin Rudd with Julia Gillard. It involves recognising that the paleoclimatic absence of Mediterranean climates suggests they will not exist in a future hotter Earth. It involves recognising that Australia must eliminate agriculture or completely change its crops to cope with the future aridity of the Mediterranean southwest. It involves recognising that plant and animal species need to have a chance to move unhindered by agriculture to suitable locations in the one continent remotely representative of Earth’s geological history.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Why paying women to have children will fail

According to Sharon Astyk and CNN, the northern Italian region of Lombardy is now paying women not to have abortions because its fertility rate is so low - according to some sources less than one child per woman. Roberto Formigoni, the long-term regional president and seen as an associate of the archconservative Communion and Liberation founded by priest Luigi Giussani, argues that people cannot choose “in favour of life”.

The trouble is that, whilst he might want to see Italy return to its traditional Catholic roots, and despite the fact that a look on Wikipedia suggested the politics of Lombardy is more “centrist” that I imagined it would be before reading and from the “bipolar” reputation of Catholic Europe (which as I see it really amounts to nothing more than an atheist nation ruled by a Catholic elite), there is little evidence that attempts to establish (or maintain) a high fertility have ever proved successful once the population comes to believe in uniform gender roles and the legitimacy of female power. In fact, even when the population does not believe in the legitimacy of female labour, children can become even more difficult to raise because fathers are so removed from them and women do not have the money to invest in them via the type of education expected in Europe. European men are also much more unwilling than American men to participate in family work: it is clear that men participating in family work has a strong positive impact on family life. This was actually true, as William Strauss and Neil Howe showed, even during the “baby boom”. By the late 1950s, child nurture became very free and unrestrictive. As I can testify from my own upbringing, this lack of restraint, self-discipline and requirement to do work was not good for children born during that period. Regarding fertility, it undoubtedly meant that the (relatively) strong and close families of the 1940s and early 1950s could not last forever. Because men were becoming increasingly distant and focused on their own interests, they had very little time for their families.

There is ample evidence a two-parent family is the best model; however, it requires something a little different form the simple working father/stay-at-home mother ideal. This is especially true when, for whatever reason, economics dictates that a single-income family cannot sustain what is considered to be an acceptable standard of living.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

The fifty worst inventions

Yesterday, the venerable TIME magazine published a list of what it considered the fifty worst inventions in no order:
  • Segway
  • New Coke
  • Clippy
  • Agent Orange
  • CueCat
  • Subprime Mortgages
  • Crinoline
  • Nintendo Virtual Boy
  • Farmville
  • Hydrogenated Oils
  • Honegar
  • Hydrogen Blimps
  • Hair in a Can
  • DDT
  • Auto-Tune
  • Red Dye No. 2
  • Ford Pinto
  • Parachute Jacket
  • Betamax
  • Baby Cage
  • Tanning Beds
  • Crocs
  • Hula Chair
  • Foursquare
  • Pop-Up Advertisements
  • Phone Fingers
  • Chlorofluorocarbons
  • Plastic Grocery Bags
  • Bumpit
  • Electric Facial Mask
  • Sony CD Copy Protection
  • Venetian-Blind Sunglasses
  • Pet Spa
  • Pontiac Aztek
  • Snuggie for Dogs
  • Mizar Flying Car
  • Asbestos
  • Olestra
  • Comfort Wipe
  • Fake Ponytails
  • HeadOn
  • Pay Toilets
  • Tamagotchis
  • Leaded Gasoline
  • Vibrating Ab Belt
  • Spam E-mail
  • Smell-o-Vision
  • Smile Checks
  • Microsoft Bob
  • Vio
The list makes a lot of sense. One could actually have said “covalent fluorine compounds” full stop instead of just chlorofluorocarbons. The ability to use electricity to convert natural ionic fluorine into covalent nonmetal fluorides is of itself a threat to life on earth. Nonmetal-fluorine bonds absorb in the atmospheric window, whose existence is necessary to keep the Earth habitable. Consequently, nonmetal fluorides are extraordinarily efficient greenhouse gases: one molecule of sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) causes as much global warming as 90,000 molecules of carbon dioxide.

The Ford Pinto, given what we know about the environmental impact of cars, is a reasonable choice given it came at the time that road capacity rose to a level sufficient to make public transport unprofitable. Crocs - not crocodiles the animals, but the coloured rubber sandals - really are ugly even if, like Birkenstocks, they can seem very trendy. Plastic bags are something I know so well how to deal with: I use them as a substitute for standard rubbish bags, and get them instead of flawed but less damaging cloth bags only when there are no bags (or “lining” as my mother calls it) for the downstairs rubbish bins. Subprime mortgages have created a housing boom in land-surfeited Australia and led to complaints from the always-complaining mortgage belt that hardly realises how fortunate they are with low living costs. Without them, maybe, Australia would not be quite so dirt-cheap a place to live as it actually is.

As a child, I recall when it said that “present reserves of asbestos would be exhausted by 2000” that my brother called it because of its toxicity “asworstos”, which I still find really funny today. I do recall hearing PIG-type people saying that asbestos would have saved the twin towers from the September 11 terrorist attacks, but here there are numerous questions about its use. However, asbestos hardly qualifies since it is not an invention but a natural compound. Also, DDT is still used for the prevention of malaria and has had no substitute found, and what Rachel Carson rallied against in Silent Spring was essentially the overuse of pesticides, graphically showing how owing to their cheapness pesticides were sprayed in quantities far greater than maximally effective.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

The inability to adapt to the place so many choose

Sharon Astyk has a very interesting article about whether people need to move to cope with the rapid dislocations of man-made global warming. She is a very strong “localist”, who is generally not in favour of moving, but she does admit in a very practical manner that those who want to reduce energy consumption and cope with the effects of a hotter climate with very different rainfall patterns to those under pre-industrial CO2 concentrations will have great rouble and cost doing so, and that people do very little research about the likely future of places such as southern Australia.

Astyk argues that there are times when people simply cannot adapt to a locality in which they are residing by such means as ability use water with the utmost prudence that will be required as the subtropical arid belt moves from central Australia poleward to southern Victoria, Tasmania and the southwest of Western Australia:
“ That is, if you live in a very hot, dry place, and are an expert desert dweller, gifted at retaining and using every drop of water prudently, and comfortable living without lots of input or air conditioning, and happy to live on the diet that grows there well, great, you and your descendents will probably do very well there if anyone does.”
She also says that people in the rapidly growing housing developments typical of suburban Australia and Red America will very much struggle to cope if they are far from urban job centres. This is a trend that can be seen as alarming: for no useful reason I think there is a desire to promote Melbourne as a “world city”. In reality the city proper is very small compared with suburbs that culturally have very little connection with the education- and business-oriented central city. How such a city would fulfil this role with a climate like the Simpson Desert has historically had is a serious question: the few developed cities in deserts, like Phoenix and Las Vegas, have been the definition of sprawl. With the development of underground coal gasification, the supply of water for southern Australia via desalination seems assured for many hundreds of years. Indeed, I imagine that even if Europe and Asia phase out non-renewable energy, Australia’s energy use will keep increasing as demand for air conditioning becomes year-round and more intensive as the hot air is brought down by the super-monsoon.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Missing a means of avoiding bullying?

Looking through my email today, I saw that homeschooling - known in the past chiefly as a means for right-wingers to educate their children in such controversial topics as intelligent design - has become a refuge for children who suffer from the very thing I recall with violent antagonism from my childhood - bullying.

A few days ago when my mother asked me to write a draft of a list of rules for her school, I told her that rules forbidding bullying and teasing had not proved effective when I was in school. Repeatedly, people said to me
“Julien’s sex is a female”
or, earlier than that
“you’re a girl”
“you’re gay” (which I did not know meant homosexual and I assumed meant “happy”)

to which I replied
“my sex is a male, my sex is a male”
At times, this teasing in Middle School turned into physical fighting. One Rodney said to me that he had real sulfuric acid on his fingers and that he would spray it on my skin. I feared so much as to what he wanted to do, but by the time I met him I despaired of either ignoring people who teased me or of getting the school to really punish them hard with long detentions so they would never think of teasing me again. The result was that when I was teased I saw no alternative but to fight back physically, but most kids were more muscular and too fast for me, so I could not hit them.

What the article, based on experience in Queensland, is suggesting is that for people like me who suffer from social problems, specialised forms of education is a serious alternative. I know very well that, over the long haul:
  1. lack of availability, and
  2. a desire to socialise me into normal behaviour
meant that my parent preferred me to go to a school with which they were familiar with. The trouble is that in my adult life socialising me into “normal” behaviour has proved quite impossible no matter how much effort I make. No matter how hard I try (and I do try hard) I simply cannot control urges to tap books.

Because of the way in which I learn, I can imagine that for people like me homeschooling may be useful since my parents - whom I know for sure to be the most effective people for encouraging me toward correct behaviour. Maybe if I had been educated at home I might have had more of a chance at learning how to communicate socially long before I was thrust into this role by myself on buses and in libraries as an adult with no idea of what to do! Indeed, before I first studied the extremely ineffective suburban bus services of Melbourne in detail, I had travelled nowhere except the State Library and occasionally before 1993 to footy matches. That is hardly preparation to try to get by in public without parental aid!