Category Archives: Life and things

It’s Black Friday in America

It might be Saturday morning here in Australia but over in the USA it’s Black Friday, which is the American equivalent of our Boxing Day sales. The Americans don’t ‘do’ Boxing Day. It’s a very English thing which we have inherited. Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving. Even more so than Halloween, Thanksgiving is a quintessentially American festival, probably (from an observer’s point of view) more about family, friends, giving thanks and sharing than Christmas in that country.

I’m glad to say that while the retail stores are doing their best to foist Halloween on Australia, they haven’t tried that with Thanksgiving. After all, Thanksgiving is really a harvest festival, thanking whichever god you believe in for the fruits of the season before the cold winds of Winter arrive in earnest. In Australia that would be downright silly in late November. It’s very nearly Summer and the swimming pools are up and running. Who wants pumpkin pie and roast turkey? More to the point, who wants to cook it?

However, the fact we don’t have Thanksgiving hasn’t deterred the retailers. They will give us Black Friday whether we want it or not. It’s called Black Friday because retailers offer (apparent) bargains and they end up making vast profits – hence being in the ‘black’ not the ‘red’. So far, we haven’t seen the unseemly stampede of shoppers charging the doors that we see in the Boxing Day sales and, indeed, the Black Friday sales in the US. But time might tell. Certainly we’re being offered AMAZING BLACK FRIDAY DEALS – even those of us who have no idea (since it’s not the 13th) what Black Friday is. In fact, say ‘black’ and a day of the week and many Aussies conjure up visions of bushfires.

Why Australian retailers should respect the past and rename their ‘Black Friday’ sales

And now I’ll meander into personal philosophy. The older I get, the more I believe globalisation sucks. All our so-called festivals are turned by the retail industry into sales opportunities. When I was a kid we’d never heard of Halloween. Later, I came across it in books and TV – but it was American. Same with Thanksgiving. Yes, we celebrate Christmas but we inherited that from our European forebears. So much of it is still about the mid-Winter feast to celebrate the return of the sun and believe me, that’s not an issue at mid-Summer in Australia. Some people do Christmas in July, which makes much more sense.

The retail industry is sucking away regional diversity. Macdonalds, Starbucks, Dominos pizza (they’re even opening stores in Italy!), KFC, Burger King/Hungry Jacks, Subway. That’s just the fast food shops. You’ll find the same fashion chains and supermarket chains in Hong Kong, London, Frankfurt, Berlin – everywhere in the world. Globalism means you can buy bananas in London in mid-Winter and frozen berries from Chile or China all year round in Australia. And although the label on the packet might say the fish is Australian, look closer and you’ll see it’s Australian caught, but processed in China or Thailand and sent back to Oz. Yes, OF COURSE it’s the same fish that went into the factory. And don’t get me started on over-packaging.

I’ll bet a few of you are wondering what ‘Thanksgiving’ is all about. I certainly did. And you know, it’s a bit like Australia Day, where there’s a difference of opinion according to who you ask. Certainly, 26th January is the anniversary of the first official white settlement of Australia at what’s now Sydney. But some aboriginal Australians call it ‘invasion day’ for obvious reasons. There’s a similar dichotomy over Thanksgiving. My American friend and fellow-blogger, Laurie Green, wrote a post about what Thanksgiving means for her. It’s a lovely family gathering and all about being grateful for what they have. On the other hand, this article, written by a native American, tells a very different story. I make no judgement here. The world was a very different place in the 1620’s or, indeed, the 1780’s and there is a tendency to whitewash the past.

But in the end, none of it matters, does it? As long as the cash registers jingle cheerfully.

 

Is there anything out there worth watching?

I’m glad the cat likes it. I don’t. Increasingly, free to air TV is wall-to-wall ‘reality’ TV shows. Married at First Sight, the Bachelor, the Block, Bride and Prejudice, The Biggest Loser yada yada yada. And (oh joy) it seems Big Brother is about to reincarnate. Cue eyeroll. I can’t fuckin’ wait.

Big Brother was one of the first ‘reality’ shows. Some time back in the ‘nineties Pete and I had flown up to Brisbane from Melbourne. Back at Melbourne airport we had to pick up our car from long-term parking. We shared the bus that shuttles commuters from the terminal to the car park with a bunch of people who’d been to visit the Big Brother house in Brisbane. We listened with our eyebrows inching ever higher as these people talked about the contestants as if the whole contrived nonsense was real. I suppose that’s why ‘reality’ shows are so common. They’re popular.

One of the few ‘reality’ shows I’ve been known to watch is Masterchef. I like cooking shows. But I won’t spend a moment of my time on My Kitchen Rules – the ads are quite enough (do they have MKR in the US or UK?). MKR is a prime example of the adversarial ‘reality’ show model, where one couple among the contestants is designated the bitches, another is the nasties etc etc. It was tried one year on Masterchef and I was just one of the many viewers who switched off. The following year the show returned to being a cooking contest, with contestants competitive, but supportive of each other.

I’ll watch an occasional bit of something like Border Force. It’s quite interesting to see what people try to smuggle into countries. The rest are, as far as I’m concerned, contrived crap. I’d rather play Solitaire. I’m not much interested in soaps, either – although Home and Away seems to be the only one left. I don’t watch the show, but one can’t avoid the interminable ads.

While I’m being a grumpy old boomer, have you looked at breakfast TV lately? No? Neither have I. Pete watches it but when he turns on the telly, I get out of bed. There’s about five minutes of actual news and a heap of light entertainment, affording random people across the country with five seconds of fame to make the weather report interesting, chats with visiting musicians and lots of jolly japes with the team of presenters.

And talking of news and weather, how about the dolly-birds made up to look like avatars standing somewhere telling you a story the news reader could have covered just as easily? I shudder to think how much it costs to send a camera crew out to film real  events like fires and floods, or the footpath outside the supreme court. Although, of course, sometimes the dolly-bird just stands in front of a screen showing the flood/fire/drought/court house and pretends to be there.

These days all the watchable shows seem to be on the TV channels’ secondary services: shows like New Tricks, Poirot, Midsommer Murders, DCI Banks etc. And so are all the good cooking shows. Nigella, Rick Stein, the Cook and the Chef etc. That’s all well and good but the ads drive me nuts. They’re not too bad at the start of the show, occurring every ten minutes or so. But later in the program, when the Powers That Be assume they’ve got you hooked, it seems you get five minutes of ads after two minutes of show. If you channel-surf it doesn’t help much because all the TV companies seem to be in cahoots when it comes to programming and placing ads.

Which leaves me with our rather large DVD collection. But I’ve seen the ones I want to see and reruns are down to every now and then.

There’s always streaming services. But we’ve tried Netflix which in Australia doesn’t come close to the American offerings. Since I’m not a great watcher of the box at the best of times and Pete couldn’t find much to whet his appetite, we didn’t renew after our three-month free trial which came with a new telly we bought.

But then we found Amazon Prime, fairly accidentally. I signed up for my one-month free trial so I could watch Amazon’s screen adaptation of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s wonderful book, Good Omens. It was fantastic. Then Pete had a look at what else was on their list, found a lot to interest him, and signed up for a year at a rather better price than Netflix. Using his login I watched the excellent series, The Looming Tower which is about the 911 attack.

And then a new thing happened. Disney has started its own streaming service, Disney+.

Oh my. That means Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, and National Geographic. That’s me in a teacup!!!

I’ll be able to watch all the Star Wars Rebels animations and Disney’s new spin-off, the Mandalorian. And whatever other goodies they put out.

I can’t wait. Really. I mean it.

Meantime, here’s a trailer.

 

 

Sharks and politics and gardening

Photo by GEORGE DESIPRIS from Pexels

A rag-bag of topics have tickled my fancy this week. Let’s start with sharks, everybody’s favourite ocean-going boogy fish. Two young men were bitten while swimming up in the Whitsundays recently. That makes five attacks in that area in just over a year, one of them fatal. Inevitably, the calls have gone up. There must be retribution (culling) and/or protection (drum lines or shark nets).

Let’s get this into perspective. In an entire year, around the world, six people are killed in shark attacks. Six. [1] People go into the shark’s environment, often wearing wetsuits that make them look like seals, the fish’s natural prey. There will be attacks. Sharks are apex predators. But there aren’t that many of them out there and their numbers are dwindling. Fishermen catch sharks, cut off their fins for the Chinese market, and chuck the fish overboard to die. Smaller sharks end up in your Friday fish and chips. So how many sharks do humans kill in one year? A bit more than six.

Culling is stupid and only called for by people who thought the Jaws movies were real. Sharks don’t come back to eat people. Most of the time they mistake humans in wetsuits for seals. And often they take a bite, go YUCK, and move on. Unfortunately, with all those teeth, even a nibble is enough to sever an artery.

Drum lines are offshore floats with baited hooks on lines. Read more here. They’re set to protect popular beaches and are designed to catch and kill sharks, although recent changes require councils to check the drums each day and release sharks since some species are endangered. Um… I’ll opt out of removing the hook from a three-metre great white’s mouth, thanks. It’s obvious drum lines will catch more than sharks and claims they reduce shark attacks at beaches is disputed.

Shark nets catch much more than sharks. Lots of other innocent fish, dolphins and turtles (which drown), and every year at least two or three whales have to be cut free during their migration.

I spent many, many long summer days at the beach in Perth when I was growing up. There were no nets or drum lines, but there was an aircraft (the surf patrol) that regularly checked the beaches and reported any shark sightings. On the rare occasion that one showed up, a siren sounded, we all went ashore and watched as the boys launched a surf boat to scare the shark off.

These days with drones so accessible (and cheap) surely aerial surveillance is a simple option.

Next topic, political advertising. Recently on Facebook the feed is full of Brexit and the interminable American presidential election campaign. And in both cases, most of the posts I see are personal attacks on candidates. It’s all so narrow and negative. I don’t really care if somebody smoked dope when they were at university, I want to know what their policies are, whether they’ve been costed, and why I should give them my vote.

Okay, I’m off the soap box now. A few weeks ago I shared some garden pictures in my post ‘Spring has sprung’. Goodness, how everything has grown.

Green beans grown from seed, with marigolds along the bottom. That’s around 2.4 metres (8ft). We’re still picking. There’s nothing like eating beans picked ten minutes ago 🙂

Three tomato plants – one big, one cherry, one roma. They’re covered in unripe fruit but we’ll have to get them before the fruit flies. That’s a fruit fly trap hanging next to them.

Cucumbers

A pair of paw-paws. They’re steaming along, though no sign of fruit yet.

We’ve managed to pick our bananas before the birds noticed them starting to ripen and shared our bounty with the neighbours. And I have hopes that at least some of the mangoes will actually get to ripen this year. They seem to go in a biennial cycle, with a reasonable crop every other year. Here’s hoping.

And we’ve got lots of herbs, rocket (arugula), and lettuce.

Sage in flower

A hoverfly with the sage

A scary Halloween story

Things that go bump in the night. Photo by Heorhii Heorhiichuk from Pexels

Halloween has just been and gone, and since I like to get into the spirit of the times (even if we don’t ‘do’ Halloween in Australia), my thoughts have turned to large companies and their ability to do good and evil. An article he read caused Pete to buy me a copy of a tome about the British East India company, the one that started in Kolkatta and eventually ended up ruling the Indian sub-continent. This is a brief extract from Dalrymple’s book, THE ANARCHY.

“One of the very first Indian words to enter the English language was the Hindustani slang for plunder: loot. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this word was rarely heard outside the plains of north India until the late eighteenth century, when it suddenly became a common term across Britain. To understand how and why it took root and flourished in so distant a landscape, one need only visit Powis Castle in the Welsh Marches.

The last hereditary Welsh prince, the memorably named Owain Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn, built Powis Castle as a craggy fort in the thirteenth century; the estate was his reward for abandoning Wales to the rule of the English monarchy. But its most spectacular treasures date from a much later period of English conquest and appropriation.

For Powis is simply awash with loot from India, room after room of imperial plunder, extracted by the East India Company (EIC) in the eighteenth century. There are more Mughal artefacts stacked in this private house in the Welsh countryside than are on display in any one place in India – even the National Museum in Delhi. The riches include hookahs of burnished gold inlaid with empurpled ebony; superbly inscribed Badakhshan spinels and jewelled daggers; gleaming rubies the colour of pigeon’s blood, and scatterings of lizard-green emeralds. There are tiger’s heads set with sapphires and yellow topaz; ornaments of jade and ivory; silken hangings embroidered with poppies and lotuses; statues of Hindu gods and coats of elephant armour. In pride of place stand two great war trophies taken after their owners had been defeated and killed: the palanquin Siraj ud-Daula, the Nawab of Bengal, left behind when he fled the battlefield of Plassey, and the campaign tent of Tipu Sultan, the Tiger of Mysore.”

In its day the East India Company was one of the wealthiest entities in the world, richer than many countries, and with its own armies. It was only disbanded in 1874, after the slaughter of Indians in the Indian Mutiny of 1859. I suppose it became an embarrassment to the British Crown. Certainly its ruthless trading ethos led to the Opium Wars with China and its tea was thrown into Boston Harbour by rebellious Americans.

Mind you, it wasn’t the first such mega-corporation. In India, the British East India company took over from the Dutch East India company, which retreated to its secure base in what is now Indonesia. The Dutch weren’t ‘nice’ colonial masters, either, fighting wars with the locals and stealing their assets.

In both cases, these companies spread from their tiny home lands to dominate vast swathes of territory in exotic foreign places.

There’s something about ‘companies’. People run them, of course. Enormously wealthy people, like the twelve merchants who ran the Dutch EIC. But somehow the people at the top were apparently excused the need for morals, especially when it came to dealing with the ignorant foreigners.

Who is the puppet master?

You can see the same sort of behaviour today, where vast mining companies like Rio Tinto or BHP exploit sites in places like South America or Papua New Guinea and leave behind dangerous tailings dams, or polluted ground water, all for the sake of investor returns.

Maybe we should be grateful that those companies are pale shadows of the mega-corporations of the past.

What’s really happened, though, is the trading giants have been replaced by the enormous techno companies. Anybody with a computer uses them every day. They’re household names. While they were at uni Larry Page and Sergey Brin invented a search engine for the newly-popular world-wide web and called it Google. The word, which is a misspelling of ‘googol’ originally invented to describe the number 1 followed by 100 zeros, has evolved into a verb – “google that question”. The search engine is referred to in jest as Doctor Google.

Then there’s Microsoft, the operating system constructed on the shoulders of the earlier DOS in Bill Gates’s garage. From there it grew tentacles that spread into personal computing and made Gates for a time the richest man in the world.

With personal computing and the internet firmly ensconced, Jeff Bezos took a risk with a little company called Amazon, which didn’t make a profit for many, many years. He’s now the richest man in the world.

Then a kid at university wrote a little system to help him connect with his friends. Zuckerberg called it Facebook.

And so it goes.

These corporations are trading companies, too. But unlike their predecessors, they don’t trade in commodities. They trade in information. Yours. And mine. That information is gold when it comes to marketing. Have you ever done one of those surveys in the hope of winning a cruise or something? They’re usually harmless looking check boxes. Which of these ranges fit your age? Which of these fit your income? What about education – primary, secondary, graduate, post-graduate? Which magazines do you read? Which of this list are you interested in?

Google, Facebook etc do a MUCH better job. You don’t get a survey, they just watch what you do online. They track which websites you visit, which ads you click on. I use Firefox for browsing. It prides itself on security and protecting your privacy so it has some protection to prevent tracking. I also use Adblock so I don’t see ads on pages unless I turn it off. It’s is a standard add-on for Firefox but runs on just about any browser.

Even so, here’s what Google knows about me.

Just some of what Google knows about me

That’s an alphabetical list so there’s plenty of extra items. And if you know me at all you’ll realise a fair few are just plain wrong. Eg American Football. Even so, it knows quite a bit about me. This information is used to target advertising, a powerful tool for any company. Since I use gmail, Google makes sure I get at least links to ads that way. I do use another email product that gives me more privacy but gmail has its advantages.

Facebook collects information, too, and uses what it knows to select the ads it shows you. I use the FBPurity app which filters out ads, but before I did that, the usual fare was how to meet singles over sixty, food and cooking, fashion (ha ha), and the latest in weight loss.

I buy books from Amazon but not much else. The system has a nice algorithm which matches what I bought against what other people who also bought that book had purchased. It also records my browsing history even if I didn’t buy. It’s nice. You’re given a curated list of what you might want to read.

These days, with the ubiquitous smart phone these systems also track where you go. A friend uses Google on his phone a lot. He was able to show us via Google’s data where he’d been for the last five years or so – cities, restaurants, airports – anywhere he’d used his phone. Facebook has similar algorithms. You can ‘check in’ wherever you are.

And there’s the rub.

These applications are all useful. Google is, to my mind, still the best search engine around. I’ve tried DuckDuckGo, which doesn’t track you but it’s not quite as good as Google (IMO). I use Adblock plus, and my Firefox browser has settings so I can avoid being tracked to some extent. I don’t use Edge or Chrome to reduce my exposure to Microsoft and Google. But even so, I use Google maps to get around, especially overseas. Google is great for finding things like restaurants near where you are and we do buy a lot of stuff online. Facebook allows me to instantaneously keep in touch with friends and family who live thousands of miles away. Google, Amazon, and Facebook are free to use. But nothing’s really free, is it?

Please note, also, that these mega corporations are extremely wealthy. They may not employ armies (I don’t think so, anyway) but their influence is enormous. Google mail has pretty much taken over most of the other free email services like Yahoo and Hotmail, a role it shares with Microsoft’s Outlook. Amazon has taken over Goodreads and Book Depository. Some online book retailers of ebooks are still holding on by their fingernails but in many, many cases, sales via Amazon are much greater than elsewhere. That’s certainly true for me. All of these applications deliver information which can be used not only to target advertising, but also to provide a profile of individuals. There’s a reason why police look at Facebook, Twiiter and other social media to help solve crimes or understand criminals.

But you’ve heard all that before.

The thing these modern corporations have in common with their historical predecessors is a lack of morality. The only thing they care about is their share-holders. People like us are just grist for the corporate mill. Unscrupulous people/governments/organisations use these platforms to create false accounts to influence public opinion by spreading libel, gossip, and false news via social media. These days that’s even more powerful than a mercenary army.

Are you scared yet?

 

 

 

The Goldilocks years

This one wasn’t too bad 2018 – sound and fury and 15mm of rain

Rainfall can be such a hit-and-miss business in Australia. I can’t remember the last time when it was a non-issue; that is, not too little, not too much – just right. Remember Goldilocks? Even going back to my childhood in Perth, we watched and waited for the winter rains to fill the hollows in the hills and set the little streams running to fill the dams. If the winter rains were late, the level of angst would rise. It’s a Mediterranean climate over there, so every year, summer is dry. There might be an occasional summer storm, usually associated with the remains of a cyclone up north, but that’s a rarity. As summer approached in Perth, I’d pack up my jeans, my winter woollies, and my umbrella, confident I wouldn’t need them until around March. Maybe. If the winter rains had failed, we’d be up for water restrictions, too.

Mind you, I remember one year, around the late seventies(?) when it rained and rained and bloody rained to the extent that we wished for a break. Every day of every week for pretty much all of July and August the skies were grey and the streets sodden. We weren’t used to it and it affected everyone’s moods. The winter blues wasn’t normally a big thing in Perth. We had our rain days but every once in a while, you’d get calm, clear, cold days full of sunshine to brighten the spirits. But not that year. It was probably one of the few years where the dams actually overflowed, a much-celebrated event.

When I left Perth I went to live in Greendale, a little rural spot in the Pentland Hills west of Melbourne. I had imagined it would be wetter than Perth, being further south and all that. I was wrong, At the time, average rainfall was around 700mm to Perth’s 733mm. The rainfall pattern wasn’t the same, either. Although most rain falls in the winter months, rain can fall any time of the year. The first year we lived in Greendale the rains were good. I don’t know if my moving over to Victoria had anything to do with it, but 1996 was the start of a long period of drought. Since we relied on tank water for all our needs, we started keep daily rainfall figures in 2003.

You’ll see back then the average was taken to be around 700mm but the closest we came in those years was 600mm in 2004. The monthly graph shows how random the rainfall was by month. Feb 2005, Oct 2004 and Dec 2006 were boom months. Those pale blue columns that form a wave? That’s the BOM averages. The actual figures are nothing like as predictable.

Over here in sub-tropical Queensland it’s a bit different. We’re supposed to get our rain in summer, or what we optimistically call the wet season. Our winters are warm and dry, and cool at night. It’s perfect for long walks along the beach, with little wavelets lapping at your feet. The tourists up here from Victoria, or from Europe, go swimming or lie on the sand sunbathing. It’s too cold for us locals to go into the water but it’s a lovely time of year.

Winter at the day. with tourists

But if the dry goes on too long, we watch the sky, or more often these days, the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) radar maps. Being within cooee of the coast, our average rainfall here is rather higher than either Perth or Greendale, coming in it at 1,062mm. But once again, we found that the Goldilocks years were few and far between.

That’s how it is in Australia – if you’re not having a flood, you’re having a drought. It all depends on whether el Niño or la Niña is affecting the weather in the Pacific, and what’s happening with the Indian Ocean dipole index. As for this year – it’s not looking good for a decent wet season.

Here’s our rainfall graph for the last 10 years. Up and down like a prostitute’s drawers.

Here are the figures by month.

Once again, apart from saying it doesn’t rain as much in winter, what’s to say? In 2012 unseasonal rain was pretty common. In 2010 more than half a year’s worth fell in December.

It’s always interesting looking at accumulated rain each year.

I picked up the BOM average figures for our area from the website and I also calculated the actual 10-year average from our own figures, which gives a figure of 1100mm for the year.

Unless some significant rain happens between now and the end of the year, we’re looking at our lowest rainfall in all the time we’ve lived here. 2019 is the yellow line at the bottom.

But it’s all okay. The Indian Ocean index will reverse, la Niña will arrive, the rain will fall, and we’ll complain about the wet.

I’ll finish with the iconic poem by John O’Brien, SAID HANRAHAN, first published in 1919.

SAID HANRAHAN

“We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan,
In accents most forlorn,
Outside the church, ere Mass began,
One frosty Sunday morn.

The congregation stood about,
Coat-collars to the ears,
And talked of stock, and crops, and drought,
As it had done for years.

“It’s lookin’ crook,” said Daniel Croke;
“Bedad, it’s cruke, me lad,
For never since the banks went broke
Has seasons been so bad.”

“It’s dry, all right,” said young O’Neil,
With which astute remark
He squatted down upon his heel
And chewed a piece of bark.

And so around the chorus ran
“It’s keepin’ dry, no doubt.”
“We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan,
“Before the year is out.

“The crops are done; ye’ll have your work
To save one bag of grain;
From here way out to Back-o’-Bourke
They’re singin’ out for rain.

“They’re singin’ out for rain,” he said,
“And all the tanks are dry.”
The congregation scratched its head,
And gazed around the sky.

“There won’t be grass, in any case,
Enough to feed an ass;
There’s not a blade on Casey’s place
As I came down to Mass.”

“If rain don’t come this month,” said Dan,
And cleared his throat to speak–
“We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan,
“If rain don’t come this week.”

A heavy silence seemed to steal
On all at this remark;
And each man squatted on his heel,
And chewed a piece of bark.

“We want a inch of rain, we do,”
O’Neil observed at last;
But Croke “maintained” we wanted two
To put the danger past.

“If we don’t get three inches, man,
Or four to break this drought,
We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan,
“Before the year is out.”

In God’s good time down came the rain;
And all the afternoon
On iron roof and window-pane
It drummed a homely tune.

And through the night it pattered still,
And lightsome, gladsome elves
On dripping spout and window-sill
Kept talking to themselves.

It pelted, pelted all day long,
A-singing at its work,
Till every heart took up the song
Way out to Back-o’Bourke.

And every creek a banker ran,
And dams filled overtop;
“We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan,
“If this rain doesn’t stop.”

And stop it did, in God’s good time;
And spring came in to fold
A mantle o’er the hills sublime
Of green and pink and gold.

And days went by on dancing feet,
With harvest-hopes immense,
And laughing eyes beheld the wheat
Nid-nodding o’er the fence.

And, oh, the smiles on every face,
As happy lad and lass
Through grass knee-deep on Casey’s place
Went riding down to Mass.

While round the church in clothes genteel
Discoursed the men of mark,
And each man squatted on his heel,
And chewed his piece of bark.

“There’ll be bush-fires for sure, me man,
There will, without a doubt;
We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan,
“Before the year is out.”

 

I mean no disrespect to the farmers doing it tough out there in a seemingly never-ending drought. I’m just making the point that it isn’t new.

 

Hervey Bay is the world’s first whale heritage area

WHOOPEE!!!

Every year I write about the whale migration up (and down) Australia’s east coast, and visit the whales when they stop for a bit of R&R in the calm waters of Platypus Bay between Fraser Island and the mainland. Every year more and more whales participate in the long swim from Antarctica to the tropical waters around the Whitsundays where the females give birth to their calves. They drop in on the way back down, pausing in Hervey Bay to fatten up their calves for the polar cold. The pre-adult youngsters do a bit of socialising with each other and with the funny little air-breathers on the boats. The adult males are more interested in fighting and sex. (That seems to be fairly common in males of many species.) The adult females look after their calves, which a male will brush aside in his hurry to get to a female, even if she’s not necessarily interested in his advances. (Understandable. She’s just squeezed out a six-metre baby that’s been in her womb for a year and she’s feeding her bub fifty litres of milk a day. She’s probably not feeling very sexy.)

A mother humpback whale and her calf approach the boat in Platypus Bay. They’re so comfortble with the boats they bring their calves up to say hi.

This very young baby whale rolled around on the surface while her mum had a nap under the water. Mum eventually took baby back down to the bottom for more feeding.

The point is the whales hang around for as much as a week or more before they continue on back to the feeding grounds in Antarctica. About anywhere else on the coast they’re moving. They might put on a short performance but in Hervey Bay you’re sure to see a show.

The whale has lifed its snout above the surface to get a better look at the visitors. Its eyes are underwater but it can see just as well through water as air.

She’s looking at the people as she cruises around the boat. She hung around for nearly an hour so the boat couldn’t move.

A closer shot. Her eye is just near that white splotch

In short, our bay is a wonderful place to meet the big cetaceans. The days when whales were hunted are fading but it’s as well to remember that as recently as the nineteen seventies the whales were at the brink of extinction, with only a few hundred remaining. These days somewhere around ten thousand whales make the big swim from the South – and that’s just on the East coast. Others swim up the west coast, and up the coasts of Africa.  Most of our visitors are humpbacks but as the years go by, we’re seeing the occasional Minke and Southern right whales.

She’s deliberately spraying water everywhere and some of us got wet.

Blowing rainbows

Hervey Bay takes the whales very seriously. For the months from late July to late October the whale- watching boats are busy taking visitors out to see the whales. We have a week-long whale festival in late July to welcome the whales back to our bay. You’ll see statues of whales in three different places in what’s a fairly small town. There’s one at the cultural centre, named after Nala, a female who comes into the Bay every year. There’s one at the water park, and there’s a fairly simple one at the harbour, greeting visitors as they step off buses to get to the boats.

And now the Bay’s claim to be one of THE great spots to meet the ocean’s giants has been officially recognised. Hervey Bay is the world’s FIRST whale heritage area.

May there be many more.

Time-keeping for seniors

Back when we used to be working people we used to get up before six in the morning and get on the road to Melbourne before seven, and we’d get home again by about seven in the evening. That meant we had the weekend to Get Things Done. You know – washing, ironing, house-cleaning and the like. We often did our shopping on the way home from work but if we didn’t then that was another chore for Saturday or Sunday.

And it all got done, every weekend.

These days, when we don’t have much in the daily calendar at all, it’s not quite so clock work. Most of the time we don’t even know which day of the week it is. We tend to know when Wednesday ticks around because we have to put the bins out, and Saturday’s when the paper gets delivered. Apart from that, the day of the week is whatever it says on the computer. As for the jolly little people at the checkout who ask us what we’ve got planned for the weekend… um… kick tyres in the mall?

Since we’re not sure what day it is, vacuuming happens… when we get round to it. Washing’s a bit more regular, though not always on the same day of the week. We do that when the knicker drawer starts to look a bit sparse. And shopping, I have to say, has become something to do to get out of the house.

What it boils down to is you can do all those jobs in your own sweet time and fit in fun things, like reading, taking photos and travel.

Speaking of photos I’ve been trawling through my pictures of late, so this week I’ll share some of my favourite bird shots. I hope you like them.

Pelicans at Burrum Heads

A young grey butcher bird blending perfectly with a frangipani

A welcome swallow at the harbour

A noisy miner bird sucking up nectar

Our local male magpie

A pair of kookaburras

A pale-headed rosella perched on a garden stake

Australian ibis cruising down the beach

It’s early morning and an osprey is catching some sun

Brahmani kite has just caught a fish

Osprey checking the scenery

Rainbow lorikeet confrontation. See those RED eyes?

A crested pigeon

The problem with climate change

Since I don’t live under a rock I have heard all about sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg’s epic voyage across the ocean to speak to the UN about the inaction on climate change. And, of course, the student (and others) ‘strike’ across the world.

In Australia, the news was full of the marches in the cities. The media ‘interviewed’ a five-year-old, who said he was marching to save the world, and two eleven-year-olds, who wanted to get rid of ScoMo and the Adani coal mine. Both convincing arguments. Just a minute while I unroll my eyes.

I wonder what all the tub-thumping is going to achieve. I suppose one outcome is that more people will give some thought to where the world is headed and what we can do about it, and that’s a good thing. I also admire this young girl who is trying to make a difference. She’s already getting lots of applause – and also a lot of opprobrium, and I hope those looking after this kid will help her through all of that.

She’s getting plenty of media attention from both sides of the argument. My Facebook feed is full of her photos. But here’s one reader’s comment from The Australian’s article headed Greta Thunberg berates world leaders at UN climate summit that struck a chord with me. “A privileged Swedish 16-year-old claiming that climate change has stolen her dreams. Really!! How about she, whilst on her study break, travels to the slums of India where her peers struggle to make do with 1 power point and no running water. Where they have only one dream, a chance of a fair go so that they could turn their circumstances around.”

In India, they ARE trying to make things better for their people. So are the Chinese. To do that they need industry and they need power and for reliable power supplies they need coal-fired power stations. India and China are building hundreds of new coal-fired power plants, even as they are harnessing as many renewable sources as they can. [1] If they don’t get good quality ‘clean’ coal from Australia, they’ll buy the dirty stuff from somebody else so the net effect on the world’s climate by not digging up our coal will be a negative value.

Not that it matters anyway. CO₂ doesn’t cause lobal warming. Whether you’re a ‘believer’ in man-made climate change or not, I urge you to give up the time to watch The Great Global Warming Swindle. It’s 75 minutes long but worth every second.  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 carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. I’d love for Greta Thunberg to watch it, too. It might set her mind at rest – or maybe divert her considerable energy to more worthwhile causes, like the state of our oceans.

Sure, the planet has problems but cutting CO₂ emissions isn’t going to help. In fact in some ways it makes things worse. In Australia older coal-fired power plants have been shut down in the name of climate change and the cost of power in those states has soared, harming business and also our most vulnerable people – those on fixed incomes. If, in one of the richest countries in the world, older Australians are dying of cold because they can’t afford to pay power bills, we have a problem. [2] And if it’s bad here, imagine how bad it is in undeveloped countries in Asia and Africa. It’s very difficult to raise the standard of living anywhere without reliable power.

If you’re still supporting the “CO₂  causing global warming” argument,  Greta Thunberg’s address to the UN included a number of alarming predictions based on ‘scientific’ climate models. My understanding of the scientific method is that someone puts up a hypothesis which is tested by experiment. The hypothesis is used to predict results, which must be repeatable. Evolution is accepted as a theory, many times tested and proved. Einstein’s famous equation is also a theory, constantly tested and proved.

The same can’t be said for current climate models. Remember back in the 1970s we were on the way to a new ice age? Oops. Perhaps not. Then it became ‘global warming’ and now it’s the one in the middle – climate change. That’s at least safe. To test a climate hypothesis, scientists collect data from the past and see if the predicted outcomes fit what actually happened. The trouble is, accurate climate data doesn’t go back far enough to provide realistic results using the current models. We have seen climate model after climate model predicting terrible outcomes. Here’s a list. None of them actually happened.

And although I have no doubt many scientists are ethical that’s not always the case. Scientists can, and do, manipulate data to support a position. Look at Dr Michael Mann vs Dr Tim Ball. Mann produced the famous ‘hockey stick’ graph used by Al Gore in his ‘inconvenient truth’ campaign. Ball questioned the data. “In 2003 a Canadian study showed the “hockey stick” curve “is primarily an artefact of poor data handling, obsolete data and incorrect calculation of principal components.Read the whole story here. Professor Ball is one of the scientists interviewed in The Great Global Warming Swindle. In this presentation Physicist Dr Willie Soon describes Dr Manning’s representation as ‘fradulent’. He discusses this and several other ways in which data has been manipulated ro serve a purpose. He has a few withering things to say about the climate models being used. Well worth your time.

Closer to home, respected marine physicist Professor Peter Ridd was sacked from James Cook University for questioning some of the research on the ‘demise’ of the Great Barrier Reef. His appeal against unlawful dismissal was upheld. More about that case here. And then there’s Dr Ian Plimer, a geologist who is a well-known climate sceptic, arguing that the climate has always changed. Read more about him here.

Greta Thunberg is not the first youngster to bring her concerns to the UN climate summit. In 2014 Kathy Jetnil-Kijner read her poem about rising sea levels and how they would swamp the Pacific islands. The trouble is, they’re not. Three studies have found most of the islands are, in fact, growing. [3] So much of what we’re being fed is alarmist, often with little regard for the facts. Yes, sea levels are rising but not by the metres alarmists claim. [4]

Here’s Andrew Bolt giving his position on Australia’s climate change guru and alarmist-in-chief, paelentologist Tim Flannery. Ignore Bolt’s hyperbole and listen to his FACTS. Bolt on Flannery

I would urge young Greta – and maybe everybody else – to listen to what Bjorn Lomborg has to say on the subject.

The climate will change without us, but there’s still plenty we CAN do. We contribute to the destruction of our world in lots of other ways –

  • Deforestation
  • Over fishing,
  • Species extinction, often because of loss of habitat, also because of stupidity such as trophy-hunting and absurd traditional medicines
  • Plastic waste
  • Over population (that’s the big one and short of war, famine, and/or pestilence, the only answer to it is education)

Perhaps everyone could focus their attention on some of those issues, where what we do will make a difference. I read today France has banned the use of single-use plastic cutlery, plates, and cups. [5] It’s a great start. As Mister Lomborg suggests, we should be looking for innovative alternatives. Instead of stopping all air travel (yeah, right) we should be investing in research to find better engines or using things like Skype for conferences instead of travelling. We should be using biodegradable materials to make throw-away cups, plates, and cutlery. We should be buying wooden toys instead of plastic junk… etc.

Here’s a thought. Why don’t we give up on globalism and go back to sourcing as much as possible of what we need locally? Think of the outcomes. Jobs, less introduced plant pests, no more sending fish caught by Western fishermen to China for processing, no more producing far, far more than we need to sell overseas.

At the end, though, the answers in our increasingly complex world won’t come from going back to the stone age. I’d vote for putting more money into innovation and research.

And please – watch The Great Global Warming Swindle.

 

 

Sanitising history

When I went to university I studied history. One of the reasons was my own family history – that is, what my family endured during World War II in Amsterdam.  It was all relatively fresh back then. My four sisters were all born before the war and the older of my two brothers was born just after the Germans marched into Holland. In Australia, many of my friends’ parents had been in the army fighting the Japanese. The memory of the war years was a part of life.

But as the years turn into decades and those who survived start to die off, memories fade and facts become fuzzy. In particular, the horrible reality of the Holocaust has, for far too many, become a late-night movie shot in tones of sepia, something that wasn’t real. Some world leaders (and others) state the Holocaust never happened. And in Europe and America and Australia, too, angry young white men wave Nazi flags to show their superiority. They wave a flag that their grandparents fought to tear down. Have they forgotten, or did they never know?

I read an article in The Australian the other day – I won’t link it because it’s a subscription newspaper. The headline is “Golden oldies out of tune with the taste tests of today”. As you’d expect, it’s about musical lyrics from the sixties and seventies which these days would (apparently) cause people to raise their eyebrows.

Examples include:

  • Summer Nights from Grease: That line “did she put up a fight?” had to go (see above)
  • Rolling Stones’s Brown Sugar: “Hear him whip the women just around midnight” is not acceptable and Mick Jagger no longer sings those words.
  • Beatles’s Norwegian Wood: Apparently about a man who is annoyed with a woman who won’t sleep with him, so he burns down her house. Can’t have that. (To which I’ll add it had never occurred to me that’s what the song was about until I read the article)
  • Johnny Cash’s A Boy Named Sue: Gender stereotypes.
  • Etc

Artists have been forced to change the words, or the songs are no longer played by some broadcasters.

This isn’t new. Enid Blyton’s gollywogs had to go because they were seen as demeaning black people. That connotation never occurred to this avid reader. Gollys were just dolls.

Agatha Christie’s excellent 1939 murder mystery And Then There Were None was originally titled Ten Little Niggers, after the children’s rhyme of the same name which plays an important role in the plot. You’ll find the words of the rhyme – several different versions – in this article. But the word ‘nigger’ was deemed offensive in the US, so the name was changed for that market. And I accept that’s fair enough. That’s marketing. For instance, Jack McDevitt’s book Slow Lightning was called Infinity Beach in America for the same reason.

These days, the title Ten Little Niggers has been changed to And Then There Were None for everybody. I suspect ‘ten little Indians’, which was the version of the rhyme I remember from my childhood, was just as offensive. For me it was a counting rhyme with no particular connotations at all. In fact, I don’t see how words in this sort of context can offend. Sure, words can be weapons – either in person or on social media, cruel epithets flung at people. But something like a book title?

Then there’s all the tub-thumping about statues. In the US it’s the Civil War monuments. In Australia, Captain Cook’s statue has been defaced. In Holland people argued about the statue to Coen (governor of Batavia in what is now Indonesia) in his birthplace of Hoorn. In Oxford, Cecil Rhodes’s legacy is under attack. Benjamin Franklin is criticised for owning slaves. Lord Nelson is criticised for participating in the slave trade.

All of this bothers me. It’s white-washing history, trying to sanitize the past to fit in with what’s acceptable now and I think it’s counter-productive.

These events happened. Those beliefs were common, and acceptable. If we try to pretend none of it ever happened, we’re kidding ourselves. That’s how you end up with white supremacists waving Nazi flags as though that’s the New Order to which we should aspire. Isn’t it better to accept that bad things happened in the past and move on? You know, actually LEARN from history?

Going back to the musical lyrics, one has to ask if the current gangsta rap music is going to be held to the same standards as the golden oldies from the sixties? Or is it okay for current music to talk about sex, drug-taking, rape, and murder? The rappers themselves contend they’re ‘singing’ about the reality of inner cities, where poverty, drugs, and despair are a way of life. Songs written in the sixties and seventies likewise reflected the era.

Perhaps in fifty years or so, when the current hits become the golden oldies, they’ll be sanitised then.

The dawn of terrorism

Tributes lights over the skyline of Manhattan, New York on Memorial day 9-11-2014

I suppose in everyone’s life there are indelible moments, times you don’t want to forget, others you couldn’t forget if you tried, and others that mark monumental events in time. For me, one such was the Moon landing in 1969.

Another was the attack of the World Trade Centre in New York in 2001.

Last Wednesday marked the eighteenth anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Centre’s twin towers in New York city. It’s one of those iconic dates, referred to by Americans as 9/11 and I guess even we Australians accept that date means the eleventh of September, not the ninth of November.

In the early morning of 12th September I was listening to ABC radio while Pete was in the shower getting ready to go to work. I’d just been retrenched, so I was in no rush. And then I heard something disturbing about New York. When Pete appeared from the bathroom, I said, “Something terrible’s happened in New York.”

We turned on the TV and saw the awful vision of first one plane, then another, ploughing into the towers. Pete went to work while I tuned into the news, gathering everything I could. There’d been a third attack on the Pentagon, and a fourth attack ended in a field, heroically prevented by the passengers. When the TV died (they pick the BEST moments) I tuned into the radio and listened to the talking heads.

Over the days we got a new TV and watched the footage of the planes hitting, the dust and smoke, first one tower, then the other, collapsing with the precision of a controlled demolition. People walking down dark, crowded stairwells while the building burned above them. The fire fighters and police killed in the line of duty. And the people, trapped above the levels where the planes hit, jumping to their deaths. That’s the vision that haunts me.

Through it all, although so far away, I could feel the sense of disbelief that something like this could happen in America, of all places. Things like that happened in the Middle East, not in the West. Americans weren’t the only ones who were left shaken and perhaps prophetically, a lot more vulnerable.

People visit the memorial to the vistims of 9/11. Photo by Tobe Roberts from Pexels

Life goes on. The young people who weren’t born when the attack happened could be forgiven for not quite understanding the depth of feeling of those who remember the event. There has been endless speculation and conspiracy theories. And many people who weren’t killed or injured on the day have had to live with post-traumatic stress disorder. Many have died of diseases acquired because of the toxic dust that swept through the city. They were the most immediate effects. But looking back, I think it’s fair to say that this event marked the beginning of the overt war between the West and Islam, and the start of terrorism, to which we have become all too familiar.

I appreciate the first shots were fired much earlier, when Saddam Hussein tested the metal of the West by invading Kuwait. Although that battle was won, it left lingering resentment, and that, I believe, led to the attack on New York. That in turn gave George W. Bush the excuse to finish the war against Saddam Hussein which his father had started when freeing Kuwait. The result of ousting Saddam has been on-going instability in that region which Western powers cannot ‘fix’.

9 11 was also when the war in Afghanistan started, to root out the terrorist group Al Qaeda, deemed responsible for the attack on New York. The war in Afghanistan has continued since that time, beginning to rival some of the medieval European wars – the Hundred Years War between France and England, and the Thirty Years War both come to mind. Again, the West can’t ‘fix’ Afghanistan. You can’t force democracy on people. By definition, really. “Government by the people”[1] only works when the ‘people’ have a commitment to making it work. And where the powerful elites, especially the military, are also committed to making it work.

That kind of segues neatly into the recent death of Robert Mugabe, dictator of Zimbabwe. He came to power in 1980 after a protracted war with Ian Smith’s majority white government. At the time the then Rhodesia was a jewel in the African crown, a prosperous, well-run nation. It was understandable that Mugabe and other black leaders like Joshua Nkomo wanted to see their own people share that wealth, so they encouraged buy-outs by blacks of white farms. But soon enough the policy turned to eviction of white farmers, who left the country in droves. It wasn’t just the whites, though. Like so many African countries, Zimbabwe was beset with tribal conflicts. Political leaders were attacked. Here’s an example. In a public statement Mugabe said, “ZAPU and its leader, Dr. Joshua Nkomo, are like a cobra in a house. The only way to deal effectively with a snake is to strike and destroy its head.” He unleashed the Fifth Brigade upon Nkomo’s Matabeleland homeland in Operation Gukurahundi, killing up to 20,000 Ndebele civilians in an attempt to destroy ZAPU and create a one-party state. Nkomo fled the country.” [2]

Since those times Zimbabwe has become a basket case, with soaring inflation, starvation, and general unrest suppressed by Mugabe’s military. In contrast, Mugabe lived in luxury, in a twenty-five bedroom mansion, as shown in this article. Mugabe comes across as a man who was obsessed with power and keeping it. It’s just a shame that his ousting and death won’t make any difference.