Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Are the ‘Famous Five Adventure Games’ a repeat of ‘Time Machine’?

In addition to the Choose Your Own Adventure and Time Machine books, as a child I also read the Famous Five Adventure Games, of which eight were published based on one of Enid Blyton’s original Famous Five series.

Readers of the Famous Five Adventure Games were required to attempt to solve the mystery themselves via “equipment cards” and “picnic cards”. The reader had three picnic cards and the game was over if all were removed from the “lunchbox” card. A “picnic card” was removed whenever the reader was directed to where Five ate or lost provisions – through losing the lunchbox, having food stolen by a wild animal, or, most often, through having bottles of ginger beer broken. In most cases a “picnic card” would be lost whenever a clue to the mystery was not solved.

In addition to losing picnic cards, less commonly the reader would lose the “equipment cards” needed to solve the clues and avoid losing “picnic cards”. There were four equipment cards for each game:
  1. a map (different for each game)
  2. either of
    • a torch
    • a pair of binoculars
  3. either of
    • a measuring tape
    • a compass
  4. a codebook (different for each game)
When I first read The Sinister Lake Game and then found The Whispering Island Game and The Secret Airfield Game, I noticed that in the latter two games there were only three paragraphs which said:
If you have, it, remove the MAP CARD from your RUCKSACK
whereas in The Sinister Lake Game there were as many as seven. Until I recaptured interest in these old children’s books during my ill-fated librarianship course at RMIT, I never considered the remaining five books that were published in the series at the tail end of the 1980s, but since then I have collected them all and now tabulate the number of “paragraphs” in each game of being asked to give up “equipment cards”:
Game Map Torch Binoculars Measure Compass Codebook Total
Wreckers’ Tower 6 6 6 5 23 7.37% 312
Haunted Railway 6 5 5 5 21 6.60% 318
Whispering Island 3 5 5 4 17 5.38% 316
Sinister Lake 7 4 5 5 21 6.58% 319
Wailing Lighthouse 2 6 3 3 14 4.59% 305
Secret Airfield 3 6 5 3 17 5.65% 301
Shuddering Mountain 3 7 5 4 19 6.05% 314
Missing Scientist 3 4 6 4 17 5.54% 307
Total 33 43 40 33 149 5.98% 2,492
As you can see, there is a definite downward trend over the series as a whole, although this is substantially due to the anomalous initial Wreckers’ Tower Game – which is rather different in game structure and also codebook lettering from the subsequent seven games in the series.

Nevertheless, this result reminds me very strongly of the slightly older Time Machine series, wherein backward loops that could cause a reader to never reach the end were frequent in the initial seven books but virtually disappeared subsequently. I have suspected that this reduced “quality control” reduced the popularity of Time Machine, and it may have had the same effect on the Famous Five Adventure Games – although to a lesser degree as opportunities are naturally more limited.

Friday, 23 November 2018

Tales of origin of Petroica’s “red” breasts

Male Scarlet Robin (Petroica boodang)
Whilst red-breasted “robins” are not unique to Australia, I though I might put a brief post on Aboriginal tales of their origins as I found it interesting when emailed today:

  1. Along the Murray River, the Yorta Yorta people say that the robin was once a young boy who was fed by his big sister when her husband was away hunting. However, she could only feed him by withholding some food from her own children. When her husband returned from a hunting trip and found the boy eating meat, he was enraged, and in a fury he threw glowing hot coals from the fire at the boy. They landed on his chest, scalding him, and the red scars persist to this day.
  2. In the Gippsland region of eastern Victoria, people of the Kurnai/Gunnai nation say that once, during a long and severe drought, the robin found a supply of water in a tree, but instead of telling others about it, he selfishly kept it for himself. One day when he was splashing about in the water, a Tawny Frogmouth passed by and heard the splashing sound coming from a hollow in the tree. The frogmouth quickly blocked up the entrance to the hollow, trapping the robin inside. Pleading to be released, the robin eventually agreed to share his water. However, when the frogmouth cut a new hole in the tree, he accidentally cut the robin’s breast, which bled profusely.
  3. Similarly, blood is the cause of the robin’s red breast in south-western Australia, where the Noongar people say that the robin got into a fight with a feisty Willie Wagtail. During the altercation, the Willie struck the robin on the nose (or was it his beak?), causing it to bleed, and the blood spilled all down his front.

Monday, 15 October 2018

Craig’s understatement of anaerobicity of modern football – and modern sports generally

Although I have, ever since reading the “Notes by the Editor” in the 1985 Wisden possessed substantial nostalgia for sports in the past, those with whom I have communicated on forums have always said that modern players would simply be too fit for older players who were less well-trained.

However, it has always occurred to me that in many sports, especially cricket but also to a considerable extent football:
  1. players play less than they once did (in cricket top players play only three-fifths as much as in the immediate postwar period)
  2. injuries are much more frequent and severe in today’s sports than even in my childhood and especially vis-à-vis the immediate postwar period
  3. substitutions are much more frequent in today’s sports than they were in the immediate postwar years
There is one simple and logical explanation for this apparent anomaly of less play and more injuries with greater fitness. This is that the surfaces on which today’s cricketers and footballers play – due to hotter, drier climates, covered pitches, improved drying and closed roof stadiums – are much harder and possess much less “give” when a body hits the ground. There is also the possibility that more muscular, less fatty bodies would have an analogous effect. However, this hypothesis is not supported by the fact that the trends noted above have been more marked in cricket where body contact is rare than in football where it is a basic part of play.
Pages 52 and 53 of Triple Blue: Jack Oatey, John Wynne and the Whole Damned Thing (published in 2004)
A much more sophisticated explanation for the anomaly noted in the previous paragraph is based upon the distinction between “aerobic” and “anaerobic” sports. “Aerobic” sports, as the name suggests, use O2 as a fuel for the body. Contrariwise, “anaerobic” sports do not use O2 as a fuel but instead break down phosphocreatine and glycogen, which produces energy for the working muscles and allows more intense short-term power.

Neil Craig notes in the attached pages above that “football is becoming more of an anaerobic game” with more intense breakdown of phosphocreatine and glycogen, but in fact he has undoubtedly understated the extent to which this has occurred. According to another page of Triple Blue, the distance of ball movement per football game has more than doubled despite a 20 percent reduction in playing time. However, since the middle 1990s scoring has actually fallen and competitive imbalance increased. This implies that increased ball movement cannot mean longer kicking:
  • if defenders were not outplaying forwards, constant longer kicking would logically mean higher scores
  • if defenders were outplaying forwards to an increased degree, less competitive imbalance would be expected since fewer “inside 50s” would lead to goals
  • there is no evidence for more “inside 50s” with increasing ball movement, let alone proportionately more
An increasingly anaerobic football game better explains the trends in ball movement, scoring and competitive imbalance. Cricket has become more anaerobic to a more marked degree than football with the replacement of much first-class cricket with one-day and 20/20 play. In fact, although neither Craig nor True Blue author Barry Nicholls discusses this, it seems logical that almost all sports have become increasingly anaerobic since the 1950s for one simple reason. That reason being the inherent unsuitability of free-flowing aerobic sports for TV consumption. This is especially true of commercial television as continuous play forbids periodic advertisements. Aerobic sports are also unsuitable for a mass working class with limited time to watch as spectators, and the time involved in their practice is also unsuitable for the working class. The physical dangers of highly anaerobic play are seldom considered when knee and other injuries in football, or strains in fast bowlers, are discussed. However, they are real, and as inevitable a consequence of the dominance of the TV dollar as the anaerobic play that produces them.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Why Australian agriculture is inherently “the wrong kind of farming”

At the beginning of this month, Gracy Olmstead wrote a revealing article in the New York Times by veteran farmer and poet Wendell Berry. Berry has argued for half a century that today’s agricultural practices are detrimental to ecology, and that subsidies to wealthy agribusinesses and factory farms are a major factor in this problem.

Agribusinesses – including, perversely, organic agribusinesses – are today heavily focused on Australia because of its glut of flat land. Australia has by far the largest ratio of “arable” land to population of any country in the world according to the World Bank, a differential increased further when year-round frost-free seasons are factored in. In fact, its ratio, according to an old geography book (Collins Gem Basic Facts Geography) from my childhood, was four times that of any other country in the world. Cost differences between Australia and the rest of the world may be much larger than even the ratios imply because:
  1. Australia is extremely flat and its arable land likely to be highly contiguous, producing further efficiency advantages
  2. Figures for “arable” land do not take into account the huge areas of low-cost rangeland in the interior and north
  3. Effective tax rates – taking into account natural resource abundance – are extremely low in Australia
However, over the past quarter century, ecological studies have demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that agriculture in Australia is fundamentally different from agriculture in any other extant continent. All other extant continents largely consist of soils formed from ongoing orogenies or from glaciations ending a mere 10,000 years ago. In contrast, almost all of Australia’s soils have been subject to continuous weathering since the end of the Dwyker Glaciation over 280,000,000 years ago. Most of this weathering has been under hot and humid climates, which were globally general from 250,000,000 to 40,000,000 years ago. Consequently, Australian soils:
  1. are extremely sensitive to erosion because of the absence of new soil creation
  2. possess unique texture contrasts (subsoils enriched in non-cracking clays) that cause unusual erosion hazard even on flat land
  3. are, for the reason noted in (1), a strictly non-renewable resource with a fixed supply of topsoil
    1. contrariwise, the great majority of soils in other present-day landmasses are renewed constantly via glacial tills, volcanic ashes or alluvia from the Alpine Orogeny
  4. are with insignificant overlap depleted in nutrients essential to the production of dense heterotrophic biomass. These elements are:
    1. extremely scarce in the crust relative to their solar abundances
    2. geochemically mainly chalcophile
    3. form weak bonds with oxygen
    4. either:
      1. formed the “primitive” elements known before the birth of Christ or;
      2. were unknown only because they could not be separated from such “primitive” elements
    5. highly efficient at coordinating with carbon and nitrogen, so that they are permit breakdown (catabolism) of large organic molecules like cellulose from plants
Combining Olmstead and Berry’s discussion of topsoil loss as inherent in high-input agriculture with the points above demonstrates that Australian agriculture produces uniquely high losses of wholly irreplaceable topsoil and wholly irreplaceable species. This is even more true when one factors in the extremely high Australian runoff variability, even in humid regions. Aborigines, even if Bruce Pascoe be correct that they extensively modified the landscape to increase food production in some parts of Australia, never attempted the growth of annual crops as has been normal for indigenous peoples almost everywhere else in the world. The extremely ancient soils and erratic rainfall meant that before industrial agriculture Australian subsistence was necessarily based on perennial plants – never as abundant or nutritious as annual plant or animal foods – whose productivity could be spread out over many years at low nutrient requirements.

If Australian land be sustainably managed, it cannot therefore be used for production of ill-adapted annual plants, nor for equally nutrient-intense animal protein. This of itself limits potentially “right” farming in Australia to perennial tree crops, but as noted in point (2) above most soils in agricultural districts are too clay-rich for unspecialised trees. The absence of deciduous trees outside the small glaciated areas of highland Tasmania – much too cold and wet for agriculture – further narrows possibilities. This – even theoretically – means any agriculture must be specialised evergreen tree crops like tropical fruit, and the peculiarities of northern Australia’s climate make even these highly dubious as “sustainable” or “right” farming.

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

What Peter Mailler is doing must be encouraged generally

With Melbourne yesterday receiving no rainfall despite a predicted 90 percent chance of showers and a practical certainty of:
  1. a rainless October, with the previous record low 7 millimetres in 1914 easily smashed
  2. a record dry spring, with the previous record low of 68 millimetres from 1967 cut to a third of that figure or less
  3. a record dry three months, beating 23.9 millimetres from February to April 1923
  4. a record dry October to December, beating 52 millimetres from 2006 and 67.7 millimetres under natural climate cycles from 1896
  5. much more critically, a radical shift in the Hadley circulation producing a reduction of between 50 and 80 percent under the virgin mean annual rainfall of around 660 millimetres or 26 inches
In corresponding latitudes of South America, the entire region of Central Chile between Santiago and Concepción has seen a reduction of 40 percent in mean annual rainfall since 2009, on top of past reductions since 1967. This is almost certainly entirely a product of due to man-made greenhouse pollution shifting the descending limb of the Hadley Cell into the region during its former winter rainy season (e.g. Hochman et.al 2017, Liu et.al 2012, Seidel et.al 2008). Because extreme positive IOD events that have caused the droughts in 2002, 2006 to 2008, 2014 to 2015 and 2018 are likely to become vastly more frequent (Ng et.al., 2015; Chie et. al 2004), a 50 to 80 percent reduction in annual rainfall over Southern Australia vis-à-vis virgin means is an entirely reasonable prediction for 2019 and beyond. With continuing increases in greenhouse gas concentrations, one needs to err on the dry side, as it is known that during the Mesozoic with CO2 concentrations over 1,000ppmv the Hadley Cell extended to at least 45˚ from the equator (vis-à-vis 25˚ preindustrially).

In this context, the admission by former farmer Peter Mailler of Goondiwindi on the Darling downs on yesterday’s 7:30 Report that:
“You can’t keep arguing that this is just a cycle,”
“Yes, there are dry periods and, yes, there are wetter periods, yes, there are warm periods, yes, there are cool periods, but we have shifted the averages.”
 “The baselines have moved to the point now where we are unable to manage the impacts of those extreme events in that set.”
“We’re running out of tricks”

 “Agriculture is a gamble and every time temperatures rise and the impacts of climate change rolls down, the odds keep moving in favour of the house. My bet is that high temperatures are here to stay and that is a serious threat to how we farm and how we manage that lack of rainfall.”
What Mr. Mailler is doing is to build a solar farm on his property and sell the electricity. According to the 7:30 Report, Mailler is producing enough electricity for the entire town of Goondiwindi. The report said that, despite the government’s inaction and deep ties to the fossil fuel industry, Mailler is actually making money.

There is a deep lesson here. Mailler’s work possesses simple logic, yet I had never previously thought of solar power stations as an alternative use for the vast majority of Australian farmland that is unsustainable both in terms of biodiversity loss and runaway expansion of the Hadley circulation.

If, in an area which lies near the boundary of the humid western side of the subtropical anticyclone and is not nearly so vulnerable to runaway poleward spread of the Hadley Cell, farmers are nonetheless struggling, what could be done if we could cut Australia’s politicians’ subservience to the coal industry and pay farmers in the former winter rainfall zone to make a change to solar power and large-scale revegetation of their properties?? Large-scale power for communities much larger than Goondiwindi is certainly not implausible with the certainty of Melbourne’s rainfall and cloudiness from 2019 being consistently below historical averages in Tibooburra. Changing farming to native flora and solar power constitutes a double jackpot is reducing Australia’s uniquely bad greenhouse emissions via:
  1. reversing large-scale emissions of greenhouse gases from extensive and continuing clearing of native vegetation by agribusiness
  2. vastly reducing, even eliminating emissions from coal-fired power stations
What Mailler is doing needs to be demanded of all Australian farmers.


  • Hochman, Zvi; Gobbett, David L.; and Horan, Heidi; ‘Climate trends account for stalled wheat yields in Australia since 1990’; Global Change Biology (2017); published by CSIRO Agriculture and Food
  • Chie Ihara; Yochana Kushnir and Mark A. Cane; ‘Warming Trend of the Indian Ocean SST and Indian Ocean Dipole from 1880 to 2004’; Journal of Climate, vol. 21 (2008), pp. 2035-2046
  • J. Liu, M. Song, Y. Hu and X. Ren; ‘Changes in the strength and width of the Hadley Circulation since 1871’; Climates of the Past; vol. 8 (2012); pp. 1169-1175
  • Ng, Benjamin; Cai, Wenju; Walsh, Kevin and Santoso, Agus; ‘Nonlinear processes reinforce extreme Indian Ocean Dipole events’; Scientific Reports; volume 5, Article 11697 (2015)
  • Seidel, Dian J. Qiang Fu; Randel, William J. and Reichler, Thomas J.; ‘Widening of the tropical belt in a changing climate’; Nature Geoscience, vol. 1 (January 2008), pp. 21-24

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Why Coles’ drought levy is a con job

On the radio during September one would frequently see advertisements for a “drought levy” established by Coles on milk since the beginning of September, and for Coles aiding drought-stricken farmers.

With a record-dry year likely now from Melbourne into northern Victoria and possibly parts of New South Wales, the drought levy is understandable but in terms of environmental ethics – regardless of its good intentions to help farmers – it must be judged wrong.

The reality is that we – as Tim Flannery noted during the 2006 drought – are not seeing a drought at all, but a new climate. Scientific studies (Seidel et. al. 2007, Kidder et. al. 2004, Liu et. al. 2012) suggest the southern Hadley cell – which marks the limits of the outer tropical and subtropical arid belt – has shifted poleward by seven degrees of latitude since the 1960s. This is equivalent to 780 kilometres, or to Melbourne experiencing the climate of Moree or Walgett from before anthropogenic global warming, and can be seen in the intense anticyclonic circulation during the winter half-year below:
Winter half-year 850 millibar streamfunction over Australia since 2010 vis-à-vis before 1974 (courtesy of Earth System Research Laboratory’s NCEP NCAR R1)
These climatic changes have been uniform over the southern hemisphere, although the mapping at ESRL did not allow me to show a decent graph. Also, the intensity of the Hadley Cell in the southern hemisphere has increased steadily since the 1920s – and the increase since 2010 has been very large vis-à-vis the graph below:
Strength of Southern Hemisphere Hadley circulation, taken from J. Liu, M. Song, Y. Hu and X. Ren; ‘Changes in the strength and width of the Hadley Circulation since 1871’; Climates of the Past; vol. 8 (2012); pp. 1169–1175
In this context, the levies of Coles and Woolworths serve no other long-term purpose except to prop up dairy farmers who are already clearly unsustainable and likely to suffer even more as the Hadkey Cell spreads in the future. Models from the extremely hot Mesozoic (Chander et. al. 1992; Kidder et. al. 2004) suggest that the rapid poleward movement of winter storms away from the subtropics will continue with increasing global warming. This aridification must make the possibility of southern Australian farmers continuing to farm without causing mass extinctions of unique, ancient species remote. Indeed Hochman et.al. (2016) have suggested that poleward shifts of the Hadley Cell will inevitably stall and reverse technological grain crop yield increases in Australia during the 21st century.

There is, in my view, a much more sustainable alternative to propping up unsustainable land uses. Those concerned abut helping Australia’s farmers should aim not to prop them up, but to permit them make a radical transition via (at least partial and preferably complete) revegetation of their farms to ecotourism based land uses which mitigate rather than exacerbate man-made climate changes. A transition from unprofitable or erratically profitable farming to ecotourism would also reduce the risk of extinction for extremely ancient species that – unlike the rapidly speciating northern and western hemispheres – play irreplaceable roles in ecosystem function. For instance, lyrebirds play a critical role mitigating the intense fires (Nugent et. al., 2014) caused by scarcity of catabolic chalcophile elements in southern Australia (Orians and Milewski, 2007)

Whilst a transition from farming to ecotourism stands costly and difficult over the vast areas where the threats noted by Hochman et. al. are severe, certainly on a small scale conversion of struggling farmers to sustainable ecotourism – especially with currently underutilised public and private promotion of the unique characteristics of Australian ecosystems (Orians and Milewski, 2007; Flannery 1994; McMahon and Finlayson 1991) – would be a much more sustainable use of “relief” levies from sales of food in chain stores, and would mitigate the risks of future climate change that see drying possibly as extreme as 80 percent of virgin mean rainfalls by 2100.


  • Chandler, Mark A., Rind, David and Ruedy, Reto; ‘Pangaean climate during the Early Jurassic: GCM simulations and the sedimentary record of paleoclimate’; Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 104, pp. 543-559, 9 figs., 3 tables (May 1992)
  • Flannery, Tim; The Future Eaters: An Ecological History of the Australian Lands and People; ISBN 0730104222
  • Kidder, David L. and Worsley, Thomas R.; ‘Causes and consequences of extreme Permo-Triassic warming to globally equable climate and relation to the Permo-Triassic extinction and recovery’; Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, vol. 203 (2004); pp. 207-237
  • Hochman, Zvi; Gobbett, David L.; and Horan, Heidi; ‘Climate trends account for stalled wheat yields in Australia since 1990’; Global Change Biology (2017); published by CSIRO Agriculture and Food
  • J. Liu, M. Song, Y. Hu and X. Ren; ‘Changes in the strength and width of the Hadley Circulation since 1871’; Climates of the Past; vol. 8 (2012); pp. 1169–1175
  • McMahon, T.A. and Finlayson, B.L.; Global Runoff: Continental Comparisons of Annual Flows and Peak Discharges. ISBN 3-923381-27-1
  • Nugent, Daniel T.; Leonard, Steven W. J. and Clarke, Michael F.; ‘Interactions between the superb lyrebird (Menura novaehollandiae) and fire in south-eastern Australia’; Wildlife Research, vol. 41 (2014), pp. 203-211
  • Orians, Gordon H. and Milewski, Antoni V. (2007). ‘Ecology of Australia: the effects of nutrient-poor soils and intense fires’ Biological Reviews, 82 (3): pp. 393–423
  • Seidel, Dian J. Qiang Fu; Randel, William J. and Reichler, Thomas J.; ‘Widening of the tropical belt in a changing climate’; Nature Geoscience, vol. 1 (January 2008), pp. 21-24

Saturday, 4 August 2018

A 34-year-old joke is just that

For most of my life (my later school years excepted) I have always joked about “Fighting Hill” for the actual suburb of Box Hill, assuming the name “Box Hill” comes from the sport of boxing which I was learning about from the old Rules of the Game as a seven-year-old boy circa 1984. At this time I first read Melway and discovered “Box Hill” as one of the more conspicuous suburbs in that street directory. I probably was not thinking for a second about the logical origin of “Box Hill” when I started assuming it was named after boxing, although both in 1984 and now I knew there were no boxing rings in Box Hill.

My parents always said “Box Hill” had nothing to do with boxing, just as “Richmond” – which I jokingly called “Moneymond” and found really illogical given it was then and traditionally a poor area – had nothing to do with people there being rich. These jokes disappeared after a while, but recurred to me when I watched the 5:00 [from Melbourne Central] Mooroolbark train and others go express from Richmond to Box Hill, as I described in an earlier post here, although my mother consistently says this is anti-social and in calmer moods I agree it is not “done” to gesticulate by punching.

A few years ago when watching a documentary about a bout between late boxers Muḥammad Ali and Joe Frazier, my mother said that boxing should be banned because it causes brain damage as observed with Ali himself. I then joked that if boxing were banned “Box Hill” would need to be renamed to “Whitehorse”, although knowing the joke as utterly silly.

However, a survey done by the Herald Sun during the summer of 2013/2014 compiled the etymology of almost all place names in and around the Melbourne metropolitan area. For Box Hill it said:
  • Box Hill
  • This name was selected at a meeting of residents in 1861. “Box Hill” was chosen because of the large number of yellow box [Eucalyptus melliodora] trees growing among local forest.
There is nothing whatsoever to do with boxing in that! Nor is there anything to do with a box-shaped hill, as some people including my brother have at times imagined and which when in a calm mood makes more sense to me than being named for the sport of boxing.

This fact – a confirmation of what was already obvious to me whenever in a serious mood – still does not stop me from thinking of funny stories whereby Box Hill was named for the sport of boxing, and having it renamed “Whitehorse” if and when boxing were banned. Sometimes titillating humour really overshadows sense!

Saturday, 28 July 2018

Who is responsible for oceanic pollution

The end of this financial year has seen all the major chain supermarkets phase out single-use plastic bags, in an effort to deal with the problem their ingestion poses to extremely long-lived marine mammals and birds like whales and albatrosses.

Most species of whale and albatross are “Endangered” and many are “Critically Endangered” or even “Possibly Extinct”

In reality, I have taken the change with a grain of salt – in our home, plastic bags invariably have a life cycle of being used as shopping bags and ending either when they rupture. Rupture ultimately happens even to the less fragile cloth bags we use for major shopping trips to Barkly Square, but it can happen extremely easily to bags not designed for heavy items like milk, as I discovered a week ago when shopping for coffee in Balaclava. All that had changed it that we have to pay fifteen cents for a bag every time we shop, or take a used plastic bag for small shaping trips.

This morning, however, I have read a list compiled from the article ‘Plastic Waste Inputs from Land into Ocean’ that had been published in the journal Science three years ago. Although it is undeniable Australia is the planet’s worst offender regarding greenhouse gas emissions, at least when one factors in per capita and indirect emissions, it does not rank amongst the top twenty nations in ocean pollution despite its large coastal area:

As we can see, Australia does not rank amongst the top twenty nations in terms of plastic waste emissions into the ocean. Almost all the actual top twenty are Tropical World nations where waste is mismanaged. Only South Africa is a comparable Unenriched World nation, and even it does not mismanage so large a proportion of its waste. However, alongside its high total greenhouse gas emissions (higher than any single EU nation), South Africa’s figure for a nation which borders on large areas of cold nutrient-rich sea containing many endangered marine mammals and birds suggests it bears considerable responsibility for whale, albatross and penguin declines.

It is untenable that South Africa and the mineral-rich Middle Eastern states were missing from the Kyōtō Protocol in 1996 – their per capita emissions and even total emissions were and are much higher than many EU nations who were part of that botched treaty. Their absence is already affecting the Earth’s climate, by spreading the Hadley cell at such a rate that – according to the Sydney Morning Herald’s ‘“Time bomb”: Tropics expansion nudges cyclone formation into new areas’ – in 2090 Perth is likely to possess the climate Onslow did before the expansion began five decades ago. Matt Walsh and J.R. Jambeck show that the globe’s ignorance of and inability to rein in the pollution produced by these powerful states – which began not with Kyōtō but with apartheid in the 1950s and the energy crisis of the 1970s – is costing all of us.

Sunday, 8 July 2018

Missing the reality of climate change

This January, Care2Causes published a list of the ‘8 Top Species Threatened by Climate Change’ which it reprinted a few days ago.

 The list comprised:
  1. Bearded Seal (Erignathus barbatus)
  2. Bees (Apoidea)
  3. Waved Albatross (Phoebastria irrorata)
  4. Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula)
  5. Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat (Lasiorhinus krefftii)
  6. Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus)
  7. Acropora cervicornis (coral species)
  8. American Pika (Ochotona princeps)
Whilst this list does include many species threatened by Australian road building and land clearing, it has much too little focus on the Mediterranean-climate biomes of the Cape, Southwestern Australia and Central Chile that are the true locus of runaway climate change today. The three species of tingle (uniquely buttressed eucalypts), along with the Noisy Scrub-bird and Western Bristlebird (two species on whose protection large amounts of money have been spent) are at extreme risk from shifts of winter storm tracks in the Southern Hemisphere. So too are the unique fynbos and renosterveld of the Cape region, and many species of Mediterranean Chile that cannot easily move through relatively dense populations to escape to more nearly analogous climates to the south.

One problem that these regions – especially southern Australia and central Chile – face is that the lack the iconic large species found in Africa and most of the northern hemisphere. The giant karri and tingle forests – whilst a noted attraction – are simply much too localised to be of significant use in protecting what must rank as the globe’s most urgent conservation priority and the region with the worst environmental policies anywhere in the globe. The lack of megafauna means there exists no incentive to preserve the most ancient species on the planet, and thus land clearing and road building in southern Australia are free to devastate the atmosphere until some country abroad says “enough” – which seems only a faint possibility even today.

Thursday, 21 June 2018

The problem of knowledge and culture, revisited

“Users, and the general public, generally have a low opinion of Melbourne’s trains and trams (note: buses are not even mentioned).”
Public Transport Users’ Association
“What will I do for public transport? I will improve the economy so you can find good enough work to be able to afford a car.”
(Quote from George Walker Bush during his presidential campaign)
“Public transport, that’s something they use in socialist countries”
As I noted in my previous post, knowledge of how bad Melbourne’s bus services are is essentially zero among non-users. It has occurred to me that knowledge of how bad Melbourne’s bus services are is equally negligible among the users themselves.

On old print bus timetables there were numerous times marked with “S” for “school days only” and whenever I rode a bus that was not substantially empty, it was invariably filled with school children. It took no intellectual foresight to recognise that the majority of users of Melbourne’s buses were school children, who weren’t yet old enough to have a driver’s licence. It’s obvious that with their workloads, these school kids had no time to comment upon the services they were using whether they were dissatisfied or not. Although school courses as I experienced them did demonstrate benefits of using public transport instead of cars, they were exceedingly superficial, ignoring that:
  1. Australian cities have a public transport use share about one-seventh to one-eighth those of cities in East Asia and one-fifth those of cities in Europe
  2. Less than ten percent of government and private sector transport investment in Australia since 1968 has been in public transport
  3. Metabolic ecology demonstrates that Australian residents are bound to a sustainable per capita energy consumption no more than one-third that of residents of Europe, East Asia or the Americas
  4. No attempt is made to compare bus timetables in Australia with those in Enriched and Tropical World cities
    • Bus timetables are of course much easier to explain that complex ecology based on understanding of large amounts of data on chemical differences between soils and oceans
Without those explanations, bus users in Melbourne grow up exactly according to the PTUA’s George Bush junior quote. They have no desire but to own a car, and almost all do when they become old enough. Outer suburbs and rural areas where most families form and live have no desire to live the atomised lives led by public transport users in Enriched and Tropical World cities. These suburban and rural residents have cannot tolerate paying taxes for the inner cities, instead believing that environmental and social services should be provided by private communities.

Public transit is, no doubt, one of the services suburban and rural taxpayers most loathe to pay. As most work near home, these taxpayers require nothing bar a few school peak services, possess strong family ties to provide the services inner-city students need government to provide. and believe that their money is not to be spent on other people because that money is private property. In effect, Australian transport policy is dictated by an unofficial alliance between outer metropolitan and rural taxpayers and mining companies, who would lose severely if car sales were dramatically reduced. Discussing or proposing public transport services of comparable quality to European or East Asian cities is utterly taboo even within public schools, although Australian ecology dictates its public transport should be by far the best, fastest and most efficient in the world.

This is a taboo that has to end: school curricula must illustrate Australia’s unique low-energy ecology that dictate its people consume by far the least energy per capita the world, and that if road building were ended plentiful money would be available to pay for it.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

A severe indictment of Melburnians’ knowledge

Over the past two days, searching for a bookshelf for my brother’s new home and even for my mother’s birthday, I have undergone some quite substantial travels around Melbourne – to Ringwood, Watsonia, and Williamstown.

In comparison to the “galloping round the countryside” of twenty years ago, these trips have been rather less undisciplined and I have come home to actually eat dinner with my mother – something exceptionally rare even in the days before the Queen’s Birthday.

“Lack of public transport that can compete with the car leads to heavy car traffic” (Public Transport Users’ Association; ‘Driven around the bend Melbourne’s meandering bus routes’, May 2012)
Even if I have not been randomly “galloping round the countryside”, the desire in me to travel on as many bus routes as possible has never really been lost. With increasing runaway climate change observed everywhere, I have often joked that riding Melbourne’s awful bus services can show where global warming is coming from. Although it is true that all one-occupant car journeys being replaced by public transport would save a lot of energy, with age I have come to realise that almost exclusive focus on roads at the expense of rail is not the cause of Australia’s almost uniquely dreadful record when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, cars account for only about one-fifth of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, and both coal power and land clearing stand as equal culprits in giving the country the worst emissions record in the world, especially considering its uniquely low-energy ecology amongst extant continents.

What really struck me hard about these trips to inspect bookcases was that none of the sellers knew even the local bus routes whose stops they must have seen when driving! This ignorance is rendered easier by the extremely low frequencies (never more than every forty minutes) of many if not most buses in Melbourne, so that casual drivers may never see a bus when not looking. This gives the illusion that there is no public transport whatsoever away from rail lines and the old inner suburbs.

In fact, public transport more often than not does exist, but is of such abysmal quality that nobody with a car would dream of using it even if concerned about the effect of cars on out climate. Nonetheless, having to use such extremely bad public transport is something people from countries where road lobbies are less politically dominant needs to experience. It will show them how vested interests can ruin the environment and create traffic congestion, and how fortunate most of the Enriched World is regarding its public transport, and how I have had to sacrifice proposed library trips today to do shopping to pay for my brother’s new bookcase because of the slow and very infrequent public transport in Melbourne.

Sunday, 4 March 2018


Two years ago, at the end of a fortnight’s holiday in Asia, my mother, my brother and I had a rest day in the scorching heat of Ho Chi Minh City, where we had had a good walk around the previous sweltering day.

I had bought copies of the 1903 and 1904 Wisdens with me, and I began to re-read familiar sections of the former issue, when I said:
“of the Surrey bowling there is nothing to be said except that 锁木 (“swǎw–mòo”) had some wonderful days and that Richardson, though no longer great, worked most strenuously.”
锁木 means “Lock Wood”, and referred to William Henry Lockwood, a deadly fast bowler for Surrey between 1891 and 1894, and between 1898 and 1903 after a series of accidents completely nullified his effectiveness between 1894/1895 (Ashes tour) and 1897.

My brother, who studied Chinese vastly more seriously than I ever did, still did not recognise what I meant by “锁木”, and – as I tend to do myself, read “swǎw–mòo” (I have never mastered the tones in Chinese) as “swarm–oo”. Without understanding who this “swǎw–mòo” was, my brother joked that he “died because he was stung by a swarm of bees” based on the mispronunciation! Bill Lockwood was very accident-prone and during his Australian tour severely cut a hand when a soda syphon exploded, and narrowly escaped both drowning and losing an arm. However, there is actually no evidence Lockwood (锁木) was ever attacked by a swarm of bees as my brother joked during any point of his life!

In the two years since we returned from Vietnam, I have again mentioned “锁木” and my brother repeats the joke about him being stung by a swarm of bees – to the extent that my mother finds it offensive even though she does not understand the Chinese pronunciation. In recent months, as I have actually tried to look at real cases of people being stung by a swarm of bees, this has become embarrassing because – although the claim is my brother’s joke – I have found that people can indeed be killed if a swarm of bees stings, and Mummy had known that for a long time. However, the joke is just too funny despite it’s silliness and the fact that my brother has long been pointing out to me that foreign names (“Lockwood” etc.) are almost never translated into Chinese by meaning (“锁木”) but are almost always translated more prosaically by the nearest allowable sound (thus “洛克伍德”, “lwàw–kèr–wǒo–dèr”).

Are these the worst albums ever?

A couple of weeks ago now, one anonymous person published a list of the 100 worst albums he could think of. It is given as a very large poster and then listed in a user-friendly text format in alphabetical order by artist:
  • Measure of a Man – Clay Aiken
  • The Click – AJR
  • Two the Hard Work – Allman and Woman
  • Dirty Work – All Time Low
  • NOW + 4EVA – Architecture in Helsinki
  • Generation – Audio Bullys
  • Sounding the Seventh Trumpet – Avenged Sevenfold
  • Never Gone – Backstreet Boys
  • Maroon – Barenaked Ladies
  • Lions – The Black Crowes
  • What the. . . – Black Flag
  • Forbidden – Black Sabbath
  • The Beginning – Blackeyed Peas
  • The E.N.D. – Blackeyed Peas
  • Epic – Blood on the Dance Floor
  • Evolution – Blood on the Dance Floor
  • #NEWGOREORDER – Borgore
  • Never Let Me Down – David Bowie
  • I‘m Not a Fan but the Kids Like It – Brokencyde
  • Fortune – Chris Brown
  • Graffiti – Chris Brown
  • Camino Palmero – The Calling
  • Charmbracelet – Mariah Carey
  • Glitter – Mariah Carey
  • Memories. . .Do Not Open – The Chainsmokers
  • Testify – Phil Collins
  • Scream – Chris Cornell
  • Full Circle – Creed
  • Milley Cyrus and Her Dead Pets – Milley Cyrus
  • Outta Sight/Outta Mind – The Datsuns
  • Destiny Fulfilled – Destiny’s Child
  • A Moving Picture – Devlin
  • One – Dirty Vegas
  • Thank You – Duran Duran
  • Revival – Eminem
  • Streets in the Sky – The Enemy
  • A Day Without Rain – Enya
  • Mania – Fall Out Boy
  • Playing with Fire – Kevin Federline
  • Angelic 2 the Core: Angelic Funkadelic/Angelic Rockadelic – Corey Feldman
  • Animal Ambition: An Untamed desire to Win – 50 Cent
  • Wake Up! – Pope Francis
  • Enclosure – John Frusciante
  • Music for Tourists – Chris Garneau
  • Cardiology – Good Charlotte
  • Good Morning Revival – Good Charlotte
  • UNO . . . DOS . . . TRÉ – Green Day
  • Listen (Deluxe) – David Guetta
  • Take It to the Limit – Hinder
  • FOR(N)EVER – Hoobastank
  • No Shame – Hopsin
  • Cyberpunk – Billy Idol
  • And Then Boom – Iglu and Hartly
  • Virtual XI – Iron Maiden
  • Blood in My Eye – Ja Rule
  • Speeding Bullet 2 Heaven – Kid Cudi
  • Music from ‘The Elder’ – KISS
  • Something about Kreay – Kreayshawn
  • The Rebirth of Venus – Ben Lee
  • ReBIRTH – Lil’ Wayne
  • Results May Vary – Limp Bizkit
  • One More Light – Linking Park
  • Authentic – LL Cool J
  • Sorry for Party Rocking – LMFAO
  • Slick Dogs and Ponies – Louis XIV
  • Baytl – Gucci Mane and V-Nasty
  • Red Pill Blues (Deluxe) – Maroon 5
  • Super Collider – Megadeth
  • Louder – Lea Michele
  • Hotel – Moby
  • Travistan – Travis Morrison
  • Dark Horse – Nickelback
  • A Lively Mind – Paul Oakenfold
  • Heathen Chemistry – Oasis
  • (One) – The Panic Channel
  • Metal Magic – Pantera
  • One of the Boys – Katy Perry
  • Liz Phair – Liz Phair
  • Having Fun with Elvis on Stage – Elvis Presley
  • Life on Display – Puddle of Mudd
  • Doll Domination – The Pussycat Dolls
  • Nine Track Mind – Charlie Puth
  • Eoghan Quigg – Eoghan Quigg
  • Lulu – Lou Reed and Metallica
  • Wanderlust – Gavin Rossdale
  • United Nations of Sound – RPA and the United Nations of Sound
  • ****hole – Gene Simmons
  • Get Your Heart On! – Simple Plan
  • souljaboytellem.com – Soulja Boy
  • Underclass Hero – Sum 41
  • 1989 (Deluxe) – Taylor Swift
  • Paula – Robin Thicke
  • Title (Deluxe Version) – Meghan Trainor
  • Jewellery Quarter – The Twang
  • Hotel California – Tyga
  • Famous First Words – Viva Brother
  • Raditude – Weezer
  • #willpower – will.i.am
  • Warlord (Deluxe) – Yung Lean
What is noticeable to me is that I have bypassed almost every one of these albums, because all but a few were made after I stopped listening to the radio in the middle to late 1990s when I felt that what was played was just too loud, tuneless and noisy to interest me. It is true that within my occasional present-day readings of music that these or similar albums are listed as very bad, and I do almost always accept that viewpoint. Whenever I have listened to these or related albums, I can only say I dislike them quite intensely.

However, as I reflect on past music reading, I always have scepticism that the list is too ephemeral and is not focused on records whose badness will endure with those who attempt to remember them. With hindsight, most of the worst of the popular music I listened to in the cloistered environment of Keilor Downs was nothing more and nothing less than ordinarily bad. For this reason, I wonder if the albums listed here will simply become regarded as just that in the future, and do so desite finding them much worse vis-à-vis what I listed to as a child.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Not Thèrése Neumann’s favorite sign!

Today, on the last day of a great holiday in Tasmania – an island unrivalled for its comfortable climate and beautiful scenery – my brother has seen this sign on the banks of the Tamar River:
My brother says this would be Thèrése Neumann’s favorite sign because she (believed along with her parish priests that she) ate nothing but the Holy Eucharist for the last four decades of her life. Whilst I find the story endlessly titillating, it annoys my family to an extreme extent.

However, it is a ridiculous joke to say this sign would be Thèrése Neumann’s favorite! For one thing, she was not aiming that others not eat, although her inedia was an extremely special grace accoridng to her advocates. Much more importantly, the sing does not forbid eating per se, but just the Tamar’s shellfish because of potential contaminants!