Category Archives: Life and things

A brave new world for America

As it happens, this post coincides pretty much with the inauguration of the the incoming President of the United States of America, Donald Trump.

Brave new world indeed. I have quite a few (online) American friends and most of the people I’m close to await the coming months and years with trepidation. That’s honestly amazing. I’ve never seen this happen before. George W wasn’t popular, but he didn’t meet with the bitterness Trump has engendered. Sure, it has a bit to do with fake news, social media, back-stabbing campaigns on both sides. But from where I’m standing, it’s not about the president – it’s about the Republican party, which has blocked and dodged and prevented for the last eight years. It’s not for me to judge Trump –  from what I know of him, he is not a person I would like. But then, leaders don’t have to be liked. They have to be respected. And many of my friends don’t respect him. For me, what is really frightening is that the conservative, god-fearing, anti-science, pro-gun, paternalistic stance of so many American leaders will come to the fore. Too bad if you’re not a white, heterosexual, male.

But… the people have spoken according to the US political system, which is in as much need of an overhaul as our own. I shall watch with interest, and thank my lucky stars that I live in Australia.

For myself, my latest science fiction romance novel will be hitting the internet in a week or so. Keep an eye out if such things interest you.

And here are a few photos to admire.

Early morning on my beach

Eucalyptus bark

Cloud across the hills in South Australia

Moonrise over water

That’s 2016. Done and dusted.

Our little piece of paradise – the beach just after sunrise

Well, that’s it for 2016. One more turn around Sol. It has been a momentous year in many respects, and, of course, in others it is just another collection of days, one rolling into the next as the planet rotates from west to east.

S0… what will the history books say about 2016? I suspect that in fifty or one hundred years, historians will reflect on the similarity of the 1920’s and 30’s with the decades after the  2008 Global Financial Crisis. We saw the British people vote to leave the European Union, Australia’s double dissolution failed to return a majority government, Erdogan in Turkey manufactured a failed military coup to tighten his authoritarian grip on his country, Donald Trump has become president-elect in the USA, Putin continues to wage war on his neighbours, Greece continues to implode, Italy is following suit, terrorism rocked Belgium, France, and now Germany.

I’ve left out the natural calamities – earthquakes in Italy, cyclones in Japan, New Zealand, and the Philippines, massive drought and fires in the western USA. Nature throws disasters at us all the time. But the politics, I think, is ominous. Democracy has failed. Pretty much every Western country is now a Plutocracy – governed by the wealthy. Others are sliding into totalitarianism. In Australia, the Liberal party politicians are lawyers or businessmen, out of touch with the needs of people outside the big cities. The Labor (sic) Party politicians are almost all Union hacks, despite the fact that union membership is at an all-time low, and the Labor Party seems only to be concerned for the welfare of its unions, not of ordinary working people.  Every attempt by Government to curb the power and size of the public service seems to be doomed to failure. The plutocrats in government are supported by the faceless bureaucrats. The 1980’s BBC satire Yes Minister is well worth watching to see how these things work.

And all of this – Brexit, Trump, minority government, unrest in Europe etc – is a result of the fact that the People have had enough. Nobody trusts politicians anymore. Brexit and Trump are the outcome of people sick of a system where they have no say. They’re sick of the apparatchiks in Brussels, the swamp in Washington, and the ivory towers in Canberra. They’ve had enough of not being listened to, of having their concerns brushed aside, of ordinary folks suffering at the expense of migrants. People in Europe are afraid that their way of life is being subverted by people with different belief systems. There’s plenty of evidence to show that’s true. Even Angela Merkel has said multiculturalism doesn’t work. She said it in 2010, and repeated it in December 2015. And here in relatively peaceful Australia the young and the old and the in between are all feeling left behind. Gone are the days of the Great Australian Dream of owning your own home. An education will cripple most young people with debt, and the idea of a job for life has disappeared. And yet CEOs get higher bonuses, Labor politicians retire as millionaires, the rich get richer and the Government thinks it’s fair to retrospectively target superannuation. No wonder the peasants are on the verge of revolting. I’ve linked to this article (the pitchforks are coming) before, but it’s worth repeating.

I’m sure you’ll all have heard the Chinese saying “May you live in interesting times.” As it happens, it’s not a Chinese saying at all.  But hey ho, let’s pretend it is a curse. I think we’re there. We have arrived. We live in interesting times and 2017 will be a continuation.

That said, of course, lots of good things happened in 2016, too. There’s a vaccine for Ebola. Wild tiger numbers have risen for the first time in ages. Humpback whales are off the endangered list, as are Giant Pandas. And in Tasmania, it looks like the Tassy devil is beating the cancer threatening its existence.

Please note also that I didn’t mention the deaths of quite a number of entertainers this year (until now, anyway). Millions of people died in 2016, many of them well before their allotted time. The city of Aleppo comes to mind, as well as random bombings of civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and the like, commuters in Brussels and Bastille Day revelers in Nice. And that’s without the regular carnage on our roads. At least those entertainers got to live – even if some of them died at a relatively young age. Even so, most were a lot older than my father, my brother, two of my sisters, a niece… Everybody dies. It’s part of the cycle.

But even so the death of Carrie Fisher does resonate. I’m a Star Wars tragic, so that one’s taken a little bit of ‘me’ with it. I was the same with Terry Pratchett who died a couple of years ago. I guess we all have our soft spots.

Anyway, that’s it for the navel gazing.

From a personal point of view, we’re doing okay. In 2016 we enjoyed a river cruise in Europe, an unforgettable trip to see Lake Eyre in flood, and drove clockwise around Australia, visiting old friends and relatives in Esperance and Perth, and newer friends in Karratha.  I blog our travels, and share the photos. You’ll find links to the trips here.

2017 will see more travel. After all, if you don’t do it while you can… And yes, I’ll blog our trips and share the photos. I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as you have the previous offerings.

I want to wish everyone who reads my blogs a safe, peaceful and healthy 2017. And everybody else, too.

And as a finale, just a few photographic highlights for this year.

Last light on Geikie Gorge on the Fitzroy River

Lake Geneva and the French Alps

Sunset on Veere, the Netherlands

A distant view of the Flinders at dawn

Flinders Range – taken from the truck

Lake Eyre

A serious storm at sunset – heading away from us.

One of our little mates coming in to land

 

 

Celebrate your solstice

Yes, it’s that time of year again. The planet has reached the end of its eliptical course around the sun and down here in the temperate south the days will begin to shorten. It means we look forward to the eventual end of searing summer temperatures, cyclones, and humidity. But it’s not a time we dread. Neither is our winter solstice in June. Winters are not so severe here.

It’s a different matter for our forebears in Europe, though. Up there in the frozen north the temperatures dropped, snow fell, blizzards happened and the food you’d harvested in autumn would pretty much have to do you until spring and summer. That’s why the festivities associated with this season (Christmas is the best known) are really all about the winter solstice and the return of the sun. The evergreen fir tree covered with lights, the jolly man in the red suit, lots of food. Christians know their religion has become entangled with Pagan practices. And it hardly matters.

I hate the commercialism of Christmas, the endless buy buy buy ads, the sappy Christmas carols in the supermarkets, fake snow in the windows when it’s 35C outside. I’m also not interested in the traditional Christmas fare of ham, turkey, roast vegetables, mince pies, plum pudding and the like. It’s too hot for that sort of food here in midsummer. But I don’t begrudge anyone a time to share with family and friends. Pete and I will spend a quiet day at home and partake of various small servings of seafood. However you celebrate, I wish you well.

If any of you are interested in some holiday reading around the concept of Christmas and what it means, I recommend Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather (also available as a movie). Good stuff, and many HO HO HO’s. In a nutshell, somebody is trying to kill the Hogfather (Father Christmas), and in his absence, Death takes over the gig. Which puts a lot of undue pressure on his granddaughter (yes), Susan, who is on that cover. Did you know that white horse Death rides is called Binky? Yes, true. I wrote a review.

And a very merry Christmas to you, too.

 

 

First Saturday in December

I really don’t have a lot to talk about today. I’m pleased that I’m well on the way to fifty thousands words for the new Ptorix Empire book. I’ve also decided to invest a bit of money, and some time and effort, in mastering Lightroom and Photoshop. They are both incredibly powerful programs – Lightroom to spiffy up your photos, and Photoshop to turn them into art.

I’m not an artist (in the painterly sense) although I have tried in the past. I know they say you don’t have to paint to anyone else’s standards – but my own art doesn’t please me. I’d rather take a great photo. I’m not advanced far enough in my training to be able to share any photo ART with you. But I can (of course) share some of my favourite photos. I hope you like them almost as much as I do.

Nature's artistry and reflections at Geikie Gorge

Nature’s artistry and reflections at Geikie Gorge

A bee in a mass of wax flowers

A bee in a mass of wax flowers

Three swans in the mist on the Rhine

Three swans in the mist on the Rhine

Whale spyhopping

A whale pops up to say hello

The folded curves of the Flinders Range near Wilpena Pound

The folded curves of the Flinders Range near Wilpena Pound

 

I wish it would rain

The full moon in cloud. So atmospheric.

The full moon in cloud. So atmospheric.

I know, it’s been far too wet in too many parts of Australia. Lake Eyre is still full, farmers in Tasmania and Victoria wish it would all lift its skirts and bugger off elsewhere and there’s STILL snow at Falls Creek. Western Queensland is well satisfied with the precipitation, thanks very much. But here along the Fraser Coast the grass is crunchy underfoot. And up North Fitzroy Crossing isn’t the only place watching the water levels. Bring on the monsoon.

Sure, I’ll complain about the rain when it gets too much, but in the meanwhile, a few inches would be nice.

I also wish the media would stop with sensationalising natural phenomena like the moon up there. We’re all so used to supermarkets going on about super sales and super size. But the fact is, the recent “Super” moon was just our regular old full moon at perigee-syzygy of the Earth–Moon–Sun system. Which means it’s at its closest point to Earth, so being closer, it looks a tad larger. Even so, if nobody told you, I expect you’d be none the wiser. You might say, “isn’t the moon bright tonight?” but that’s about it. It’s all rather well explained here, with a nifty diagram showing the actual difference in size to a ‘normal’ full moon.There’s also a reference to the apogee-syzygy, which has been called a micromoon. It’s not talked about much. We humans prefer to talk about larger sizes in all sorts of arenas.

That’s not a super moon in the photo, by the way. Personally, I think dear old Luna is pretty special all the time.

In other news, we attended my nephew’s wedding in Brisbane a few weeks ago. What a fun event it turned out to be. Very best wishes to Jake and his lovely wife, Amelia. It was our pleasure to attend.

On the writing front, I’m getting back to my Work in Progress provisionally entitled The Stuff of Legend. It has been a hard slog for a lot of reasons. The main one is that, although I write space opera, I still like to ensure the science works. If I find myself thinking, “but why would…” or just as important, “why wouldn’t…” then something’s wrong and I have to backtrack. Some people would just say I’ll fix it later and charge off to finish the first draft, but I don’t work like that. I need to know it’s all making sense. So… progress hasn’t been as fast as I’d like, but it IS happening. I’ve even booked a spot with my favourite cover designer.

Meanwhile, I keep abreast of the US craziness via my Facebook family, where I particularly enjoy the Obama-Biden memes. Here, take a look. The coming months will prove interesting.

I sincerely hope my American friends all enjoyed Thanksgiving with family and friends. But – and I say this from the heart – you can take your Black Friday and stick it… somewhere. We don’t need Black Friday in Australia anymore than we need Halloween, or, for that matter, Thanksgiving. Huh. Yet another ‘Super’ sale. Ours (traditionally) happens on Boxing Day – the day after Christmas, which I believe is not a holiday in the US. In many respects, globalisation sucks.

Let’s see now… this week’s photo gallery. A few sights that took my fancy.

Kimberley gorgeousness - the Ord river

Kimberley gorgeousness – the Ord river

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Summer at the Bay – low tide and fluffy cumulus cloud

The Chichester Range in the Pilbara

The Chichester Range in the Pilbara

Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island

Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island

A plague of butterflies

Any specs you can see aren't dirt - they're butterflies

Any specs you can see eg sky top left – aren’t dirt – they’re butterflies

It seems this year has been absolutely wonderful for the butterflies of Queensland. Over the last several days the air has been full of them – particularly at the beach. Yes, the beach, coming in from the sea with the strong north wind. Yes, north wind. Hervey Bay is on the east coast, but our beach faces north. It’s a little kink on the coastline. And the butterflies must have been coming from Fraser Island. And why not? If our local fruit bats can get over to Fraser to forage, why not traffic the other way? Years ago we saw butterflies crossing from the mainland to Brampton Island – which is a long way. Butterflies must be stronger than we think. In fact, some migrate long distances. The American Monarch is one such – but only the fourth generation migrates. Read the story here.

Anyway, back to our butterflies. It’s not just our patch of the state – the phenomenon was reported on the evening news. Needless to say, I had my camera with me, so of course I tried to take some photos. None of them would win a prize, but it’s pretty hard to get a picture of a tiny creature whirring past with a stiff breeze up its tail shaft.

In other news, it seems Trump is now president-elect in America. I’ll say no more, but ask you to read this fairly short and erudite essay. I have a BA(Hons) in history. I would say the gentleman’s conclusions are accurate. But the future is unknown. Maybe we’ll be invaded by aliens.

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It’s fairly battered, but it has come a long way

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Look at this! TWO butterflies in one shot!

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Most of the butterflies were white with a black fringe, like this one. With the wings down like that, it looks like a caterpillar with wings. Funny that.

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This Orchard swallowtail butterfly was in the garden, mooching around the citrus trees. The spider web put it off…

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… so it backed away and found somewhere else

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… When it found a suitable spot…

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… it laid its eggs

A brahmani kite at the beach gives me the eye

A brahmani kite at the beach gives me the eye

Let’s hear it for the girls

Makybe Diva

Makybe Diva

It’s Spring Carnival time in Australia – especially in Melbourne, home of the Melbourne  Cup, Australia’s greatest horse race. The news is full of horses, and trainers, and odds, and chances. And one of the chances was Winx. Here’s her profile. She won the Cox Plate last year – and won it again this year, at a canter. Then she was set for the Caulfield Stakes. There were only three horses in the field – nobody wanted to bother with a run they couldn’t win.

Winx has now won 13 races on the trot (if you’ll excuse the pun).  That’s not bad for any horse. Even the mighty Phar Lap only won 14 consecutive races, (only) and it’s nowhere near the 25 races won by Black Caviar. Whereas Winx was beaten once (I think) as a filly, Black Caviar never lost a race.

And hand up anyone who can tell me the name of the only horse to win three (3) Melbourne Cups? You at the back there… no, not Phar Lap, Carbine, Peter Pan, Rainlover, Think Big… Makybe Diva. A mare. Her at the top of the page. Bear in mind that the Melbourne Cup is a handicap, so Makybe Diva had to carry more and more weight every time she ran the 3200m race. In her third and last Cup run she carried 58kg – a weight-carrying record for a mare.

So what is the point of all this? Folks, Winx and Black Caviar and Makybe Diva are MARES. Girls. Females. The weaker sex. Black Caviar was the darling of Australia, not just the racing set. As her record of wins increased racetrack attendances were at an all time high every time she ran. Fans turned up wearing her colours – salmon pink with black polka dots. Immediately after her 25th win, her connections retired her. Now, like Makybe Diva, she’s a brood mare and producing very expensive foals. She has her own  Facebook page.

I guess it was inevitable that a three-time winner of the Melbourne Cup would be a gelding or a mare. Stallions have won the race twice, but that’s enough profile to guarantee enormous stud fees, and owners don’t want to risk injury. After all, a stallion can cover a *lot* of mares in a season, while a brood mare can only manage one foal a year (at most).

Seems that people are starting to realise that the ladies can make the grade if given the chance. Last year (2015) the Melbourne Cup winner (Prince of Penzance at 100/1 odds) wasn’t female – but the jockey was. Michelle Payne finally broke the jockey’s glass ceiling, putting paid to the myth that women aren’t strong enough to be jockeys. As she said at the time, it’s all about developing an understanding with the horse. The other very special point about the 2015 race was that the horse’s strapper, Michelle’s brother Steven, has Downs Syndrome. Here’s a link to the story.

And while Michelle didn’t get a ride in this year’s cup, (Prince of Penzance was injured and will probably never race again), she won a race on Ladies Day. May she win many more.

 

 

The science of climate change

Crimson sunset after a day of rain

Crimson sunset after a day of rain

Not so very long ago, before we embarked on our trip around Australia, I put forward my position on climate change ‘the religion’. Confessions of a climate change denier.

Just the other day I was sent a link to a presentation about CO2 and global warming. It was made in 2007 by the BBC, and I wish I’d watched it years ago. Whether you’re a ‘believer’ in man-made climate change or not, I urge you to give up the time to watch this program. It’s 75 minutes long but worth every second. Please ignore the rather sensational title. Scientists, eminent in their fields,  present hard scientific facts to explain what really causes climate change on planet Earth. And it isn’t the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

I have closed comments on this post. But I’ll post a few pictures anyway.

A rainbow in a rain cell, dawn, Hervey Bay

A rainbow in a rain cell, dawn, Hervey Bay

A summer storm piles up on with a tornado touching down on the horizon

A summer storm piles up on with a tornado touching down on the horizon

A red dawn at the beach

A red dawn at the beach

Mammary cloud under a huge summer storm at sunset - fortunately tracking away from us

Mammary cloud under a huge summer storm at sunset – fortunately tracking away from us

 

Confessions of a climate change denier

NASA photo of Earth from space

NASA photo of Earth from space

The issue of climate change is a very hot topic and has been for years, to the extent that now it has become a form of religion, with the same sort of fanaticism you’ll find when staunch Christians and die-hard atheists are toe to toe. The atheist insists on proof that god exists. The Christian sees that and raises it with, “show me proof He doesn’t.” I’m quoting Ivar Giaever’s speech at the Nobel Laureates meeting 1st July 2015 – well worth watching.

It has become increasingly difficult to have a sensible debate on the subject, but since this is my blog, I can state my position.

Okay, I’ve outed myself as a climate change denier. Sort of. But let’s talk about what a “climate change denier” is, and is not. I don’t deny the climate is changing. That’s a bit like saying the Earth is flat, when we have pictures that show uncontroversially that this is not the case.

OF COURSE the climate is changing. It does that. Our planet is, after all, a living entity. Tectonic plates move, islands are created, volcanoes spew their contents into the atmosphere. The “issue” appears to be about whether or not we Humans are responsible for the current changes. (I note we don’t refer to “global warming” anymore.) And regardless of the answer to that question, what are we going to do about it.

Look, Humans are worse than cane toads. We spread, proliferate at the expense of anything that stands in our way (including other humans). But cause climate change? Because we increase the amount of CO₂ in the atmosphere? I think there has been a LOT of scare-mongering on that subject. We’re told 97% of scientists agree Man is the cause, but there’s plenty of evidence that this figure is inflated. Sure, quite a few scientists say we are contributing towards climate change. That’s not the same thing at all. I’m not posting links. This stuff is easy enough to find if you’re interested. Are the computer models right? Are the models using enough data? Has the data been tweaked? How do you explain the mini-ice age when the Thames froze at the beginning of the 1800’s? Why is Greenland called – Greenland?  Why is the Arctic melting and the Antarctic is icing up even more? What about Al Gore’s hockey stick graph? Was Tim Flannery right when he said the Murray-Darling basin would never fill again?

Climate is notoriously difficult to model. Supercomputers can’t do much better than a few days in advance. Cyclones are tracked on best guesses. And there’s that awful Chaos butterfly wreaking havoc everywhere. I don’t believe the models can predict what the circumstances will be like in 100 years’ time – for lots of good, factual reasons, not because of some sort of ‘faith’.

Right. I feel better now.

Honestly, it doesn’t matter a stuff what I believe. The climate is changing. Can we do anything to stop it?

The answer to that has to be a resounding ‘no’. We have to learn to live with it. Charging companies who release CO₂ into the atmosphere just puts money into Government coffers. Sure, we can move to other forms of energy, but we need something more reliable than wind or solar power. The price hikes for power in South Australia are testament to how well that worked.

Let’s concentrate on the things we CAN change. Clean up the ocean, cut back on the enormous waste in our way of life, preserve the forests. Encourage people to live in more densely populated cities where people don’t need cars.

I don’t know what you do about the over-population of the planet, which is the main reason we’re in trouble. Maybe AIDS and Ebola were Mother Nature’s attempts at control.

On to this week’s pretties. I’ve selected a few landscapes of the wide brown land because we still have a car to take us to these places. In that respect, I count myself truly fortunate.

Wilpena Pound in South Australia

Wilpena Pound in South Australia

Lake Eyre

Lake Eyre

Esperance beach south-west WA

Esperance beach south-west WA

Water churns through the gap in the cliffs at Horizontal Falls

The ocean churns through the gap in the cliffs at Horizontal Falls

Saturday Soapbox

(c) Stock Unlimited 1504852

(c) Stock Unlimited 1504852

Political correctness and inclusion has gone just a bit too far. An article in the Australian prompted this particular rant. You have to subscribe to the newspaper to read the full text, but here’s the first paragraph.

Kids, 5, in sex-change stories uni research trial.

“Children as young as five have been used for storytime sessions featuring books with transgender characters, introducing concepts ranging from cross-dressing to gender reassignment surgery, as part of a university study being used to advocate for the expansion of the Safe Schools program into primary schools”

In this story book mummy explains to her son that she should have been born a man, so now she’s going to be his daddy.

Don’t get me wrong. It happens. I have a friend in the US, father of a son, who has decided to transition to a woman. I have two other friends, born male, who are transitioning to female. It’s a long and difficult journey, made all the more difficult by prejudice and distrust. It’s not an easy decision to start that journey. There has to be a compelling reason why a white male in Western society would want to give up the privilege that comes with that demographic to become a female. As individuals, they have my friendship and respect.

But I do not see any need to raise these issues with tiny children.

Far too often our Western society stops kids from being kids. These sorts of gender complications are surely unnecessary at the tender age of five. Teach them how to read, and spell, and draw. Wait at least until puberty to raise issues of sexuality. I shudder at the thought that kids will start to wonder if they were born the wrong sex. I was the quintessential tomboy in my day. I loathed dolls and anything pink and girly, loved toy guns and played Cowboys and Indians. When I was given a cowgirl suit I threw away the skirt. Was that a sign of a boy born into a girl’s body? I rather doubt it.

And since this matter of white privilege has come up, have you noticed the condescending attitude of male commentators towards female athletes at the Olympics? No? In case you missed it, here’s one article, complete with attempts to mansplain why the remarks were made. This article says a bit more, from a female point of view. There are plenty of others. This, to me, is a FAR more important issue to raise with kids at a young age. Teach boys to show respect for girls. Stop bullying. Promote equality. With that in place, I’m certain people who decide (when they’re old enough to understand what’s entailed, and that there’s no going back) to transition to another sex will receive a bit more understanding.

And now for this week’s pictures. Since it’s nearly spring time, here’s a few from our Greendale garden.

The spring back border - profusion of colour

The spring back border – profusion of colour

A bee gathers pollen from a clematis

A bee gathers pollen from a clematis

Tulips and Dutch iris under a deciduous tree

Tulips and Dutch iris under a deciduous tree