Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Post#110 Mushroom Ragout Recipe from the Chef at Travian

I cut and pasted the following recipe from the forum at Australian Server 2. Travian caught my eye back in September when I saw that it was being widely advertised as the most popular browser-based strategy game. I've never had anyhting to do with this particular sort of Internet pastime so I decided to have a go. It's apparently played by people aged from seven to seventy and some people become quite addicted to it. If you have a couple of friends who can mind your account for you ("sitters" as they call it), you can play it fairly successfully without a lot of time being invested.

I saw this recipe posted on the forum by a player using the handle "Tylers". If you want to take him up on his invitation to respond you'll need to register to play on Australian Server 2 to access the forum.

"As most of you will know by now I am a Head Chef in a restaurant... and today I had to make the MOST amazing recipe I have ever tasted and I wanted to share it with you... it's cheap, quick and easy to make:

Mushroom Ragout (Serves 2)


-About 7-10 medium sized mushrooms (Any kind)
-Half a glass of white wine (Any kind)
-Thickening powder, if not then flour (Plain or corn)
-Some frying oil (Sunflower, rapeseed etc.)
-3 cloves of garlic
-300ml Fresh Double Cream
-Some rice or pasta etc. to accompany


1. Chop your onions and slice your mushrooms, put a saucepan of water on the boil for your rice/pasta.

2. Put about 3 tablespoons of oil into a frying pan and put your onions and mushrooms on until nice and golden brown.

3. Put your rice/pasta on the boil.

4. Put your fried up mushrooms and onions into a saucepan and add the cream (Stir regularly).

5. Add your garlic and as much of the wine as you like. If you like your food nice and rich, then add the whole half glass; if you only want a bit, just add a splash.

6. Leave it to simmer for 5-10 minutes whilst stirring it regularly.

7. Add some thikening powder/flour until the ragout sauce is the consitency of custard.

8. Plate up your rice and top it off with your ragout.

9. Grab a beer or a glass of wine and enjoy I really do emplore you to try this out... it is sooo nice!

Oh and by the way if you do make it then post your thoughts or possible additions or improvements to the recipe! - T"

Post#109 A kick in the Qaeda (How many words does the English language contain?)

Last night I heard a BBC programme relayed through ABC NewsRadio. The crew were discussing someone's computer-generated prediction that in 2009 the vocabulary count for English would reach one million. As the guy being interviewed pointed out, the question is: How do you define "word"? He gave the example "is, are, was". I think it's fairly easy to accept that the various parts of verbs and plurals of nouns can be excluded. There's only one instance of "case" left in English, as far as I know; that's the personal pronouns, as in I, me, us, we, etc. That can get tricky, with argument about whether they rate as unique words, whether the old forms "thou" and "ye" and so on can still be counted. Then there's the issue of whether words of the type "my" and "mine" are genitive cases of pronouns or "possessive adjectives". I support the former view. Same goes for who and whom and myself. Pronouns all. The grammar-meddlers who say otherwise can visit the taxidermist for a good stuffing. Anyway, there are so few words in this category that we can ignore them in this context.

What is harder is dealing with words like "table". Apart from the furniture it denotes a collection of figures or words organised in a rectangular array for comparative or computational purposes. Unlike with "bear" the beast and "bear" the deed, these aren't completely separable etymologies with an accidental coincidence in modern spelling. The figurative use of "table" to describe the written data derives from the use of table-tops for ciphering and writing. I.e. actually writing on wood with chalk or drawing in sand spread on the table. So, are these two separate words or two connotations of one word? (Discuss in a ten-thousand word dissertation and have it on my desk by three-thirty p.m. on Monday.)

On firmer footing is the issue of loan-words. I think I've found an original slant on this. I've heard a lot of argument over many years about when a word imported from a foreign language is truly an English word. I think the easiest way to settle this bugbear is to apply a benchmark usage test. I'd propose that if a word can be understood by most randomly-chosen English-speakers that you say it to then it has become an English word. A good example is the vocabulary we've acquired from the Western Asiatic disturbances of the past thirty years. This includes ayatollah, fatwa, fedayeen, imam, jihad, madrassa, muezzin, mullah and mujahideen. Shahid (martyr) is probably familiar to people who take a particular interest.

"Allahu akbar" is a phrase which everybody on Earth has heard and which, if accepted as intelligible to most English-speakers, can now reasonably be called part of the English language. It's an example of a phrase which denotes a cultural context or can be used in a narrative. For example, if you're telling a story about a political rally or other event involving Muslims and you say or write, "The crowd were chanting 'Allahu akbar' ", you don't really need to explain its meaning. Having said that, I'll now dispute its meaning...

Although a phrase such as "Allahu akbar" can be understood in essence when translated into other words more familiar to English language speakers, there is a tendency to try to exoticise foreign-origin phrases or even to try to make them sound simplistic or awkward. This is, I suspect, to emphasise the weirdness of the foreign language or of the foreigners themselves. This is where translation occurs at a literal level without conveying a correct semantic impression. The usual translation given for "Allahu akbar" is "God is great" or "God is the greatest". This sounds to an English speaker like a rather crude choice of words; as though "God" was the name of a brand of cola drink. A more reverential tone would be struck by translating it as "The Lord is Supreme". A similar case is "Al Qaeda". This is usually translated as "the base". It may well be the word used in Arabic for "base" as in "base of operations" or "military base". However, to give a more significant and accurate translation to English, I feel that "foundation" is the right word, (even though there is another Arabic word meaning "foundation" as in a developmental institution). Thus, "Al Qaeda" would be "The Foundation".

To finish; an interesting example on these lines is the German word panzerkampfwagen. This is usually rendered as "tank" in English. The complete word can be comfortably translated as "armoured fighting vehicle." Someone wanting to make German look dopey could literally translate this as "panoplied struggle wagon". (That phrase reminds me of the embellished panel vans that Australian teenagers used during the 1970's and 80's for extra-domestic inter-gender relationship development. That's another story...)

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Post#108 Christmas comes - just in time to beat Easter! (Commercialism and holidays)

I can't be sure when it started, but I think it's been in the past decade that the retailers began jumping on the holiday bandwagons much earlier than most people think reasonable. I first spotted Christmas decorations and seasonal foods on sale this year at Woolworths in Centro Dianella in the early days of October. Other retailers soon followed.

The remnants of the left-over Easter eggs had barely been sold off at gross discounts before their place was taken by the Christmas goods. Those Easter chocolates now include a great range of chocolate rabbits and the battling Easter bilby. (Click that, scroll down and you'll see a cute furry animal and two humans nearly throttling it. And here for a better view of the furry beast). These left-overs are often partially crushed/melted and are the wounded debris of the last days of pre-public-holiday shopping. Their metallic paper wrappers are usually dented like a depressed-fracture of the skull and they are about the most pitiful-looking stuff to ever hit the remainder shelves. Only a few years ago they were disposed of more discreetly, now they're shamelessly flogged.

(Alston, the cartoonist for The West Australian, has done a couple of good cartoons on this in recent years. In the first he shows the Easter Bunny riding with Santa Claus in his sleigh and saying "Thanks for the lift, mate. Joining forces is a good idea in the current economic climate." In the next year's the Bunny was being unpleasant, abusing a tardy Santa in a store: "Come on, you lazy old bastard, get a move on! It's my turn!")

Woolworths has a nauseating jingle they keep playing over their speaker system that contains the phrase "We're Woolworths the fresh food people". This is sung as, "Ther freshh fooood pee-pullll" in an unctuous and conceited tone by the sorts of voices you hear in jingles. All so loving and sweet. I loathe the blasted thing. A few weeks back I was in their Dianella store with a female friend and I busted out singing my own take on it: "We're Woolworths the greeeedy baaastaards and we're ripping you off! we're ripping you off!! we're ripping you off todaaay!!!" She joined in and a couple of other people chimed in as well in the aisle we were in. Other people in other aisles could be heard laughing. Then security was called for over the speakers and a couple of people prowled the aisles looking for the "offenders". They didn't have a clue who'd done it so I approached one of these twits and told her that it was a couple of bikies who'd just gone out the exit lane. They lost interest at that point. I couldn't believe it at the time, but in retrospect it was only to be expected. They're allowed to sing irritating songs to you. You can't reciprocate.

IGA at Dianella also has a cold eye and a hard jaw. Once, in IGA, I saw a store employee clearing the bakery shelves and chucking the unsold bread, cakes, etc. into a trolley very roughly. I asked her, "Does this all go to the tip?" She replied that it did. Baker's Delight at Dianella gives their daily surplus to charity workers who collect it at the end of business. I mentioned this and asked why IGA didn't do the same. She said, with some disgust, "I know; we've suggested it to the management here, but they don't want to know." Yep, they're all great lovers of humanity and full of generous spirit.

These two festivals, Christmas and Easter, bookend important sales phases in the business calendar and Jesus is the last thing on their minds. I've often thought we should bring back the pagan gods for these sorts of events. They liked a good booze up and cutting a deal or two. No-one had to pretend they were in it for love and self-improvement. We don't really have to believe in them, they can just be useful commercial vehicles. And there are so many of them. They'd fill the calendar. Actually, maybe I could sell that idea for something...

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Post#107 "Wow, Enceladus!" (A story Dugg from the blog "The Bad Astronomer")

The Bad Astronomer discusses new Cassini images of Enceladus, a tiny water-ice moon orbiting Saturn: "...water and organic materials, and a known mechanism (tidal heating) to keep the water liquid, and to help mix it. Provocative, isn’t it?" Check them out!

read more digg story

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Post#106 Patriotic Squandering (The Australian Government's Economic Stimulus Package for 2008)

I couldn't really take in what was happening until a few days ago. Then it got through to me that the Commonwealth Government was giving money away. Just giving it away. And the only squawk from their so-called Opposition was that some people would spend it on booze, gambling, drugs and whores and that others would just sit on it as savings. Apart from what I think of the idea in general, I think these are just the same sort of nit-picking nonsenses that Malcolm Turnbull is making into a standard practice. The money that is saved by being banked is ultimately providing capital for loans and the vice industries are just as real a part of the economy as a delicatessen or retailer of vacuum-cleaners.

My exasperation with it is because the government has found over a thousand million dollars to spend on a scattergun subsidy rather than thinking about investing in a long-term restructure. A good starting point would be the banking and housing sectors. That's where the current furore began and it would be a good place to begin with repairing the system.

The Road to Housing Hell

The perennial treadmill with these two sectors is the rent-trap into which prospective buyers are forced as they attempt to save to purchase a home. Those savings are eroded as the landlords attempt to extract maximum profit from the rental properties. At the same time, the prices of homes for sale also rise, as the vendors attempt to make the greatest possible return on their capital.

The rent-slaves don't like their servitude and respond by trying to increase their incomes. Those employed by others seek higher wages, those who own businesses raise the prices charged to their customers and/or try to cut their costs. One of the cost-cutting measures may be shedding staff; trying to do the same or more with less. Some of those shed will be those rent-trappped ones trying to get money together for a home purchase. So there's a stimulus right there to inflation and unemployment. What happens to the unemployed who can't find new employment quickly? The landlord still wants that rent and if they can't continue to meet it they're out, looking for cheaper accommodation.

These are complex issues, and complicated. I have heard people say that they prefer renting to owning their own home but those people seem likely to be in a very small minority, so these stresses will affect most people in the developed world.

Housing has become a focus for those who study the economic indicators. The figures for new construction commencements are scrutinised fiercely each quarter and the progress of prices is tracked breathlessly in the financial media. I see in this a main feature of the problem. The fundamental purpose of housing construction must provide housing. Not to provide incomes to constructors, realtors, conveyancers, landlords and speculators. Nor to housing industry analysts. This is the same malaise that afflicts money markets. When currency becomes primarily a speculative commodity the price of it ceases to have any relevance to the real-world value of what is being marketed. Money should be valued according to what can be bought with it, housing should be valued according to the quantity and quality of the work and materials applied to the construction and the utility of the site.

(More to follow...)

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Post#105 Murder Two - And Some Rapes (Fatal Choices by Female Crime Victims.)

It is a truism familiar to law officers and connoiseurs of crime that most crimes against women are committed in their own homes by men who are closely asociated with the victim. When any woman turns up dead or suspectly missing, the police searchlight swings around seeking the (usually estranged) husband, boyfriend, father, brother, son, etc. That is, unless there is a self-evident circumstance that indicates a different class of offender.

In any interview with a "dial-a-quote" type on the topic of women and crime there's now a mandatory phase in which the expert informs the audience that women are in most danger from their own "friends" and family. It's become a commonplace datum which most people are aware of due to dint of repetition. The usual focus of the argument is that fictional accounts of crime are weighted in favour of depicting "stranger danger" because it provides better material for creating dramatic tension.

I don't contest any of that, but it still leaves a large body of crime that is committed against women by strangers. I've observed a pattern in these events that is an ironic and tragic counterpoint to the threat from one's familiars. Again and again I read accounts of women raped and /or killed in a repeating scenario which I call Fatal Error Number One or "The Angry Girl Storms Out".

An example which is close to hand is the case of the 1963 murder of Rosemary Anderson in Perth, W.A. The prelude to her death was a horribly trivial tiff over a piece of fried fish. While visiting her boyfriend she tried to pilfer a piece of battered fish from his plate. He, seeing a hand sneaking into view, mistook it for the hand of his younger brother and snarled, "Get your own!" in a very savage tone of voice. Rosemary was appalled by the cruel response to this bit of mischief and gathered her gear and left the house in a distressed state. According to John Button, her boyfriend who was later wrongfully convicted in the matter, Rosemary had done this before when affronted and was impervious to reason when angered. She set out to walk home and was the victim of vehicular homicide by Eric Cooke. John had followed her in his car hoping that she would cool off and allow him to drive her home. It was during an interlude when she was out of his sight that Cooke ran her down with a stolen car. This case is definitively covered in Estelle Blackburn's books Broken Lives and The End of Innocence and John Button's work Why Me, O Lord!

Another famous case in W.A. is the rape and murder of Anne Zappelli in 1969. She was at a drive-in theatre in Geraldton when she became bored or irritated and decided to leave her friends in their car and...walk home. A man later made a death-bed confession; there's a link to an ABC story about it here.

An episode that caught my attention was a brutal rape that occurred in Perth in the early hours of New Year's Day in 1993. A young woman took a taxi home from celebrating the New Year and asked the driver to let her disembark at a corner a short distance from her home. According to the taxi-driver, a man walked by as she left the car and she called out "Happy New Year!" to this passerby. He didn't respond. She was later found unconscious in an alley; severely beaten, raped, her clothes torn to bits and her shoes missing. When she was able to speak, she alleged that the passerby she'd greeted was the offender. I never heard further on this case after the initial report. I have no idea whether he was caught but I do know this to be an example of Fatal Error Number Two or "The Girl Snatches Peril From The Jaws Of Safety". In this scenario simple impatience or penny-pinching or not wanting to impose or some other such exasperatingly trivial impulse leads to horrible consequences. A short-cut through a car-park, a playing field, a poorly-lit laneway. Saving a bus or taxi fare. Not waiting for that friend to provide a ride home. Not wanting to take someone a kilometre out of their way.

Again and again the stories appear. Women fleeing the safety of their friends' company and delivering themselves into the hands of monsters. Women unwittingly taking grave risks for petty reasons. "Reclaim the night!" Sure. Call me when it happens. Until then, I wish I could scream in the ears of all those who may make these errors: "Don't! Don't! For Christ's sake, DON'T!!" As a less histrionic aid I'd advise any young woman to find a copy of Gavin de Becker's book The Gift of Fear and recommend that they read it twice and be prepared to answer questions. The answers could save their lives.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Post#104 Murder One: Lesbian Vampire Killers and Their Unjust Deserts (Western Australian Murders and Penalties)

The notorious case of Jessica Stasinowsky and Valerie Parashumti has notched up another milestone. The inevitable appeals alleging harshness of sentence are now appearing in the court lists. The lovely Valerie Parashumti has stuck first with an application for reduction of sentence. Her barrister has argued to the Appeal division of the Supreme Court of Western Australian that the sentences imposed earlier this year were excessive. This is a standard part of the cycle of such cases and usually makes the average person wonder what kind of maggot-nest a criminal defence lawyer must have for a brain. However, although it's a familiar routine and I've become used to it, a note was struck in the report of the plea on Parashumti's behalf that staggered me. The defence advocate has contended that the offence in this matter was not in the worst category.

This genius of the forensic arts proposed that the most serious categories of murder are those involving assassinations of public officials such as judges or police officers. So, a bullet in the back of the head to one of these, is worth a more serious sentence than the deeds of the two offenders in this matter. This really is a provocation.

The problem we have in these islands is that we've seen the removal of the death penalty as a standard penalty for wilful homicide. This was done at the discretion of politicians with no plebiscite and without the matter being contested in the context of an election campaign. It was slipped in under the radar by MP's who believed that they knew better than the bloodthirsty canaille. Now judges are obliged to try to grade murders and reserve the longest sentences for the worst. The trap in this is that there is never going to be a "worst" murder. There's no bottom with these offences; whatever one may imagine, there will always be a worse. Under the old system, a life deliberately taken was worth a life. It still is. The law simply doesn't recognise the fact.

The other significant issue in this case is the familiarity which the gruesome subject matter is acquiring. We had another murder in this State shortly before this one which was of a similar style; two teenage girls murdered another girl in a shared house in the town of Collie. These were the sorts of killings which would have been beyond imagining in WA thirty years ago. Now they're forming a pattern.

Whenever the accused and their friends appear at the courthouse the casual observer could mistake the gathering for a convention of fans of the vampire movie genre. I may be overestimating it, but there seem to be a lot more of these vampire lesbians around these days. The curmudgeons who keep railing against the decadent influence of the entertainment industry used to attract barrages of derision from the "progressives" who kept insisting that fantasy and reality had no causal connection and that someone could immerse themselves in as much horror and violence as they pleased with no ill-effects. The evidence for the righteousness of the curmudgeons appears to be accumulating.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Post#103 Fomalhaut Planet

A while back I saw a news item about the discovery of a visible planet orbiting the star Fomalhaut. Television news showed a brief video clip simulating the planet's orbit. It seems to be following an eccentric orbit around the star and approaching quite close to the star. It's not a plausible candidate for supporting life of any kind but it should finally settle the hash of any remotely sane skeptic on the topic of the existence of planets outside our solar system. That is, if all the gravity-distortion data hasn't convinced them already.

It was only a few years ago that there were astronomers seriously proposing that our solar system may be the only one in the universe with planets or that ever has or will have them. How anyone could be that far into solipsism beats me from here to Brisbane. Was it ever remotely likely that in all of space and time our star system was so defiantly unique? As a hypothesis it really should have been relegated to the category of the infinitesimally probable during the nineteenth century.

I don't put much stock in the prospect of aliens pestering us in the recent past or future but I think it would be ill-advised on the same scale as the "no other planets" hypothesis to hold to an absolute denial of their existence. Of course, most other life in the universe will be of the sort which existed hundreds of millions of years ago on this planet. Other types may have progressed in a more benevolent star's orbit, where the extinction events which have disrupted the history of our planet may not have occurred. This could put them ahead of us intellectually and technologically. Of course, Nature being capricious, a planet which has been subjected to great plagues of extinction events may be harbouring a supremely adaptive and relentless species which is just about to take over the Universe. (In which case, let me be the first to welcome our new overlords.)

I was reflecting today on the indifference of these facts of Universal life to our opinions and perceptions. These alien planets have been there through all of recorded history and well before it. If they are trees in the Galactic forest, no human observer has been required to permit their growth or fall to occur. And there are probably wonders and mysteries out there which we may come and go without ever knowing or even imagining the existence of.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Post#102 An thou bloggest, thus shall it be... + Blogsoldiers!! Abandon ship!

I started at Post#2 by saying:

"In olden days they used to say, "Hire a hall if you want to make a speech!" Now it's "Start a blog!" People should be careful about saying it. The recipient of the advice might take heed and do just that. But what to blog about? There's everything and nothing. Let's have a bit of everything to start:"

And, so I started. The "Hire a Hall" series of rants and raves were subtitled to show them as part of the categories "Everything" and "Nothing". By that I meant to separate the topics into the great and the trivial. Looking back, I see that hardly anything made its way into "Nothing". Most apparently trivial things lead back to the great issues of life. This is something the makers of parables have known forever. Jesus, or whoever wrote his material, applied it all the time. There's probably some arcane Classical Greek rhetorical term for this type of exposition. Something meaning "arguing from the particular to the general". In fact I'm sure there is; I just can't think of it. So, I've decided to dispense with the "Hire a Hall" device and title the posts with whatever seems fit.

One thing I've noticed in roaming the steppes of blogdom since April is that a large number of blogs are moribund. People start with a burst of whatever it is that starts them and fizzle out. The blog servers must be strewn with the wreckage of millions of withered blogs that people gave up. The most plausible reason is an apparent lack of readership. The counterpoint to this is all the blogs urging other bloggers to "monetise" their blogs. Hub sites like BlogCatalog, MyBlogLog and Spicypage are full of spruiking on this topic. These are the efforts of people hoping to make money by blogging to other people about how to make money by blogging to other people... The revenue stream is apparently supposed to come from the advertisements on the site which will be clicked by the millions of visitors you'll receive. Just send a payment to this account and you'll learn the secret. I find it a bit sad; it's just like those gambling/real estate/whatever schemes that are offered by post or email. The anomaly is: if the sender knows the secret to becoming filthy rich, why are they bothering to fiddle around with a mail-order business? If they're doing it for love of humanity, why don't they just post it publicly once, for free?

I can think of plenty of ways of attracting visitors. Most are common sense and are given away as free advice by the "traffic ehancement" experts as a tease for the potential customers. They're also superficial. They attract people to blogs but usually don't entice anyone to actually read the damn things. Tricky titles for posts, leaving comments on other people's blogs, including images in posts; they're well-worn features of the blog culture.

Then there are traffic exchanges. These are sites where you receive credit points for visiting member's blogs and receive reciprocal visits according to how much credit you have acquired. The same problem afflicts this concept as with much of bloggery; people want others to visit their blogs and read their writings and click on their ads...they're not all that keen on being the readers and clickers. An economic model of this pattern would feature many sellers and few buyers. Even though these sites usually have timers that require you to access a blog for a minimum period, many people seem to simply open the site, reduce the window to a size just big enough for the navigation controls to be visible and then just click on it occasionally as they do something else. So they can't even see the blog sites they're "visiting". Several of these sites also are poisoned by bad management by the site owners. They want to receive income from paying members and don't look after the non-paying accounts to a degree that would encourage them to upgrade. I had this experience at Blogsoldiers which was, unfortunately for me, the first such site I tried. I didn't know enough at that stage to recognise the signs of a dying site and I wasted a lot of time on it that would have been better spent elsewhere. The main indicator that I should have spotted is that a lot of the blogs on the site had not been updated for a long time. Their existing credits were slowly being eroded by the small remaining community of users. Having jumped on a sinking ship I paddled away for several weeks acquiring useless credits by surfing blogs which would never provide me with any traffic. This happened in the period when i was waiting for my blog to be listed. This took about three weeks and, when it happened, amazed me with the lack of result it produced. I currently have 248 credits remaining which I'm allowing to run down to nil before I delete my account there. If you're reading this blog from Blogsoldiers you must be one of the fifty or so regulars there who still haven't jumped. I recommend you do so and join me at Blogexplosion, where things are a lot more lively. The rule I follow when surfing is to at least have a look at every site I visit and scroll down and see what the general quality of the posting is. I blogmark any that attract my attention in a positive way. I figure that the exchange traffic concept is a bit like speed dating. If you discover one blog in fifty that you'd like to read and there's a prospect of developing a correspondence with its author, you're doing well.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Post#101 Want To Be PC? - It's Easy As ABC!

I usually break out the flamethrowers to defend the Australian Broadcasting Corporation from the yellow cringing dogs of the Right (aaak- ptooey), but last night I heard something that wore even my Socialist patience out. A presenter on ABC Regional Radio was conducting a session in which listeners were attempting to answer each other's questions on the meaning of various sayings. One of the topics of discussion was the origin and meaning of the American phrase "Jim Crow". A listener, who had a timid manner to begin with, offered a quote from an American author which she prefaced by saying, "Now I'm quoting here, this isn't my choice of words.."

It turned out that the quote referred to racism in the USA and, inter alia, the epithet "nigger" was cited. The presenter interjected sternly, "I really wish you hadn't used that word...", further intimidating the caller. I busted out at that point with a few epithets of my own. I know that the word is as dangerous as nitroglycerine in the US. Media types there are cowed to the extent that they now use the expression "The N-word". Not without reason. For a white person who has any aspirations, to use the word "nigger" in any context is career suicide. A few years back a senior executive in a corporation there destroyed himself by unthinkingly using the expression "nigger in the woodpile" during a press conference. That's an ironic turn of events because that expression derives from the activities of the Abolitionists who ran the Underground Railway for absconding slaves. One of their tricks was to build hideouts for the slaves which would be concealed under a pile of firewood. Most people today seem to think that it means some kind of obnoxious intrusion, as with "fly in the ointment"; it actually denotes a dangerous secret, like "skeleton in the closet".

Lots of these sayings float around in the background of cultural memory and pass unnoticed until they're brought out carelessly into the unkind light of a politically correct day. The old version of "Eenie , meenie, minie, moe.." used when I was a child, contained the line "Catch a nigger by the toe!" Kids learned that by rote and didn't even know what "nigger" meant. If someone had bailed me up on that at the age of four and said "What is a nigger?", I couldn't have said whether it was animal, vegetable or mineral; real or mythical. I know what it means now. I know what goes with that word: Redlegs, Jayhawkers, Copperheads, Abolitionists, "Burning Kansas" (and Lawrence thereof), Quantrell's Raiders, Andersonville, Chickamauga, Gettysburg, Shiloh and on and on. And then Reconstruction and the Ku Klux Klan. That word "nigger" is soaked in blood and hate. It's been spat from the mouths of men who've hauled other men up into trees with rope necklaces or dragged them, first behind horses and wagons, then Model A Fords and more recently 4x4 pickup trucks. It's been the last word heard in this world by the ears of men being flogged on a tree or tied to a burning log or hearing also the blast of close-range gunfire or the whoomp of a firebomb.

When I grew older I discovered that I was a distant relative by marriage of Ulysses Grant and that members of my father's family live still in the United States, cousins whose names and numbers I can't even guess at. Some of their kin and mine are no doubt buried in those cemeteries that contain the tens of thousands of dead from those battles. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, those great slave-driving freedom fighters, bequeathed that also with their slave Constitution. And still it goes on. I read an article in the Weekend Australian's magazine a couple of months back (when Hillary was a contender and Sarah wasn't) in which a redneck customer in a gun shop was quoted saying, "I ain't votin' for no woman and I ain't votin' for no nigger." I suppose if he kept his word he must have refrained from voting. (Praise the Lord!) Nor should we forget Mr Rodney King and his eponymous riot. "Why can't we all just get along?" he asked. Good question. Perhaps when the aliens arrive they'll tell us what it's all about. Or the AntiChrist will. Or the real Christ. Or not.

In the meantime (mean time), we battle on fighting the bushfire of bigotry, flame by flame. Perhaps that's what that twit of a presenter thought he was doing when he chided the caller for saying "nigger". I wouldn't choose to use that word about anyone. In the context of addressing someone with it or calling them by it behind their back, I surely don't want to hear it on the national broadcaster. But really, mate. Complaining because someone referred to it in the context of a discussion about racial discrimination? Being that silly just puts fuel in the tank of the likes of Janet Albrechtsen.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Post#100 "Jelly balls" may slow global warming - A story from the Sydney Morning Herald via Digg.

VAST numbers of marine "jelly balls" now appearing off the Australian east coast could be part of the planet's mechanism for combating global warming...

(Refers to the salp, an obscure invertebrate which soaks up CO2.)

read more | digg story

Monday, 17 November 2008

Post#99 George Bush Proves That Imran Khan is Right!

I haven't bothered to pay a lot of attention to the story about the leaking of Kevin Rudd's telephone conversation with George Bush, but I gather this is the gist of it:

George Bush spoke to Kevin Rudd by telephone when Rudd was at Kirribilli House and was entertaining some media folk. The Australian subsequently published a story claiming that Rudd had said to Bush that a meeting of the G20 to discuss the economic crisis would be a good idea. Bush is supposed to have responded with a puzzled "What's that?" This apparently indicated that he didn't know what the G20 was, not that he hadn't heard correctly. Now, the White house spokespersons denied this "angrily", and the US Ambassador to Australia made some representations.

Mr Rudd issued a statement to the effect that Mr Bush had not spoken those words and thereafter clammed up, basically referring to the US authorities in a "what they said" manner. Mr Rudd also repeatedly insisted that this non-existent faux would not affect US-Australian realtions, or his personal dealings with the US.

Here's the anomaly: If it didn't happen, and Mr Rudd never claimed that it did, what was there for anyone to be angry about or make representions about? The final proof that it must have happened is the calculatedly unfriendly reception that Mr Rudd received from Mr Bush at the G20 summit. Bush seemed to be deliberately lavishing affection on everybody else to emphasise the minimalist greeting which Rudd received. So if it's all just the imaginings of malicious journalists, why is Bush so offended?

By snubbing Rudd he's proven the tale true. Which brings me to Imran Khan. When Andrew Denton interviewed him recently on Enough Rope he asked Khan to describe George Bush in three words. Khan replied, with exquisite moderation, "He is not very clever."

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Post#98 Hire a Hall / Everything (The Wheel of Fortune)

I've just read The Pinstriped Prison by Lisa Pryor. It has a refreshingly clear style and is a much easier read than many works on "lifestyle". It provoked this response from fellow Perth blogger Sunili. It was seeing this post which inclined me to read it.

Pryor's work is an interesting attempt to describe and explain the way in which a small group of professions have managed to acquire elite status in the minds of aspiring students. They now lure the cream of the intellectual crop of graduates from high schools into preparatory degrees and also, subsequently, from other degree courses with no apparent relationship to the professions in question. The most impressive point that Pryor makes is that these three "glamorous" professions; management consultancy, law and banking are absorbing those who have particular talents which suit them to other professions which are subsequently impoverished for talent as a consequence. The graduates are attracted by the money and the verbose and deceptive promises of "dynamic" and exhilarating endeavours. The truth turns out to be that grunt work in glamorous professions is still grunt work. It's just intellectually harder. Wracking your brains over a client's tax position or corporate structure is really no more fun than laying cement. And none of it really breaks ground in advancing civilisation.

I found particularly resonant the description of how expenditure expands to absorb available income. I've experienced and observed this myself. I once held a middle-range position in an organisation in which the CEO didn't seem to have much more disposable income than I did. He was spending it at the same rate as he received it by keeping up the appropriate lifestyle.

On the other hand, things can be worse. I've also read Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in Working Class America. The author went "undercover" as a seeker of employment as an unskilled labourer. (She discovered inter alia that no job is truly "unskilled".) The cruelty of the plight of those who are trapped in this stratum of society is very thoroughly demonstrated. The two issues are brought neatly together in Lewis Lapham's documentary The American Ruling Class which has featured on SBS in Australia.

What it comes down to, I believe, is that the "system" industries of capitalism are providing massive earnings to those who control the corporations that grease the wheels for short-term profit to be made. They need wage-slaves for their mills and this provides the impetus for the intense recruitment drive to the consulting, legal and banking industries.

The long-term effect is the devaluing of those who would make the constructive changes in technology and provide high-quality social services. Thus industrial design, architecture, teaching, nursing, etc. are driven down towards the base of the status pyramid. Those who might have once aspired to these professions see that they don't get no respect and that they're shortchanged on pay whenever those paying can manage to do it. It's a vicious circle in which the recipient of the service is treated to the efforts of a progressively dumbed-down workforce. In teamwork situations, the poorly-trained, unmotivated operators also wear out the patience and morale of their colleagues who want to do better. Guess which ones drop out in disgust.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Post #97 Tapping in and washered out.

Last night I gave up on strangling the taps in the shower to stop their insidious dripping and accepted that it was time to try the washers I'd bought. These are a new type with a recess in them to use the water pressure to buttress against itself. They're made by Doust Plumbing Products, a firm operating out of my home town, Perth, Western Australia.

Here's a link to the page on their site which explains how they work.

I found they worked pretty well but I'm having to turn the taps off harder than I expected. I'm wondering whether it's that the tap needs reseating or the newfangled washer is not up to the contents of the blurb. Time will tell.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Post#96 Hire a Hall / Everything (A rack o' bamab? Rack off Obama!!)

(Not that I've got anything in particular against him, but I can't turn on a radio or television or read a newspaper or a blog without having him for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The trend in Australia is to pronounce all the a's in his name to rhyme as "ah" and run it together, thus: "Bahrahkohbahmah". The commentators are busting a gut trying to fit it in as many times as possible in any utterance. Perhaps it's easier to say if it rhymes. I swore a blood oath on the altar of Mars that I wouldn't blog about him yesterday and I managed to refrain from joining the stampede. Sufficient unto the day was the blogging thereof...but today's another day. I think I've found an angle on this that's actually new, so here goes.)

I proved again that I won't be joining the ranks of "earning" psychics by expressing preference for a McCain victory in my Post#2, whereat I wrote:

"The US presidential election? I don't make any pretence about it; I'm well to the left of the Australian Labor Party these days. So, if I was a US citizen, who would I vote for? Clinton or Obama? John McCain. Yes, that's strange on the face of it, but true. The history books may well show the old white guy defeating the first plausible female candidate or the first black guy with a real chance. No doubt the future will judge it to be a reversion to type. Perhaps the last gasp of the old right guard. They'll be wrong. It'll be a victory for common sense. The only "qualification" the other two have is a desperate thirst to get their hands on the controls at any price. I hope not."

I wouldn't change a word of that. The intensity of preoccupation with Obama's ethnicity is the most prominent fact of this episode in history and it prompts me to propose that an interesting inversion has occurred. If I'd thought of it I'd have asked the question, "Would you vote for Obama if he was white?" A quick look in the Googlebox shows that some people did. But not very many. Now that the American electors have got it out of their systems and elected a "black" President, what does the cold light of the next morning reveal? An unknown quantity. I'm sure he's not a cryptoMuslim, soft on terrorism or a secret hater of America. But those weren't very plausible accusations, so refuting them doesn't really win many points. More dangerous and plausible is the possibility that he's overambitious and out of his depth.

On the SBS Dateline programme broadcast on the day of the election I saw George Negus ask an American commentator, "What will his first mistake be?" George didn't get an answer to that. But it's coming, nonetheless.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Post #95 Anagrams of a Mabo

A long time ago in that past which is another country; before Al Kyder and his mate Terry Wrist hung a shingle outside a cave in Afghanistan; before the infamous Israeli agent Lewinsky infellatrated her way into the White House*; back in the days when most people didn't have mobile phones; there lived a man named Eddie Koiki Mabo. And for a while his name was one of the most recognisable in the Commonwealth of Australia. I hadn't thought about him in a long while when I noticed that Obama spelt backwards is "a Mabo". No real connection of course, just a string of letters that prompted a memory. Synchronicity did her trick and provided an episode of First Australians about him last night, just to let me know She's still messing with me and that I shouldn't become complacent.

In 1992, most Australians heard of him for the first time when the High Court found in his favour in a case which became known simply as "Mabo". (It was a posthumous victory; like Moses he had died shortly before the Promised Land was opened for business.) It was the decision which established the principle that indigenous title may endure in Australia. It had all begun in a rather trivial dispute between Mabo and another native of Mer island, named Dipoma, about ownership of a small piece of land...the explosive finding on native title was a mere byproduct of this dispute. Mabo and Dipoma had been feuding for a long while over it and I heard a letter Mabo had written quoted in a TV documentary, in which he wrote, "Dear Mr Dipoma: Your letters are full of what drops off in the toilet after a good feed..." First change the world, then get down to the serious business. The decision has been the subject of so much blathering argument by spoken word and pen that I won't bother writing more on its technicalities. I find it thought-provoking for the ironies it embodies. One hundred and four years had passed since the beginning of the British Conquest of Australia. The highest of our courts had now decided that customary genealogical inheritance of land title applied in Australia, just as in Europe. Not a bad effort, really. The Vatican took much longer to concede on Galileo.

And what did it do for Aborigines in the world outside jurisprudence? Next to nothing. Just like the 1967 referendum everyone drags up, or the efforts of the tragically misguided Vincent Lingiari. He led a "successful" campaign to obtain the right to equal pay for equal work for Aboriginal workers in the pastoral industry. Without a right to security of tenure of employment or residency on the stations where they lived. Without a law preventing racial discrimination in the giving of employment. The station owners expelled the Aboriginal communities and started them on their long path to degradation as unemployed fringe-dwellers. The helpful government gave them "sit-down money" to buy the alcohol they needed for this strenuous work. They're at it to this day. But the government's coming to help them again, so they'll be alright.

Another great victory for the cause was the appointment of an Aborignal man, Douglas Nicholls, as Governor of South Australia. Everybody now forgets that he nearly renounced the position within a few days of the government announcing its intentions. He was grievously offended by the media's disrespectful harping on his ethnicity. Their approach was, essentially, to repeatedly challenge him as to whether he did not find it a wonder of the world that he was to be appointed. There was a nasty racist undertone to this: "Aren't you as amazed as us that a boong is to be Governor?" Not that "boong" was spoken. He didn't fail to hear it, though, and he was right. I remember with disgust the media pack trampling his rose bushes as they swarmed into his front yard, ignoring his furious demands that they depart, bleating their taunts. They'd never have dared it with a white pastor.

So, who said, "Change we can believe in?"

(*Oops!! Gave away an international security secret there. Well, it was a long time ago. Maybe it won't matter...)

Monday, 20 October 2008

Post#94 "Interview on Writing Fiction Books" - Dugg from CuteWriting

"Author Carol Denbow on virtual tour teaching how to write and publish a book."

From a post at CuteWriting by Lenin Nair which I Dugg.

read more | digg story

Post#93 Hire a Hall/Everything (It's Payback Time for the Liberal and National Coalition!)

Now that the dust is settling from the W.A. State election of September 6th, the outlines are emerging of where the new government is going to be staking its claim to power. In the West Australian newspaper a couple of days ago I read a report of the intention of some Liberal backbenchers to revisit the issue of compulsory balloting. Yeah, sure, backbenchers. Just bringing up a matter of personal concern. Just like those Dorothy Dixer questions that backbenchers ask all on their own initiative. One of these concerned fellows is the recently scraped-in new MLA for Riverton, Mr Mike Nahan, a thirty-year refugee from North America. He found a nice little niche advising Richard Court, former Liberal Premier of W.A. and then moved, after Court's ouster, to the Institute of Public Affairs. Here's a reader's comment copied from the PerthNow website where Nahan's election spiel was posted

Dr Mike Nahan was the Executive Director of the extreme right wing "privatise at all costs" Institute for Public Affairs for ten years. Mike chooses not to mention this in his CV. Why is that? He supports the "astroturf" environmental front group the Australian Environmental Foundation, which has a base case of denying climate change, whether it is human induced or not.

Can't find anything to disagree with in that. Nahan's mates at the IPA have a relentlessly Thatcherite view. It's free-market anarchy that they preach; their idea of economic Paradise is located at the point on the eternal wheel of ideas where the lunar left and the lunar right meet. Karl Marx wrote of the "withering away of the organs of the State". Nahan and Co. want to cut off those organs with chainsaws. They bleat like the brainwashed sheep from Animal Farm: "Private good! Government bad!" The facts of private ignorance, corruption, incompetence, indifference to the future and so forth are of no matter to them. It's not really surprising. They're hooked up to an umbilical that provides a steady supply of sustaining funds from the very interests they support and praise. Not a bad money-spinner really. You establish a "think-tank" that unflinchingly (and unthinkingly) sings the praises of the would-be plunderers and they pay you by the word.

So good ole Mike has come out in favour of non-compulsory voter registration and balloting. Just like in his former homeland. Of course, the idea is that the removal of compulsion would make life a lot harder for the Labor party; supposedly its lower-socioeconomic demographic would be less likely to register and turn out. The Labor party really only has itself to blame for this. Apart from the grossly cynical decision to call an early, self-serving election they tampered with the electoral system to give themselves an edge by pushing the specious "one vote, one value" principle. That was a dangerous precedent to set. They did it for no reason other than their own electoral advantage and now they will have to drag that baggage uphill if they fight the Tories on this one.

How is "one vote - one value" specious? It purports that there is an ubiquitous merit in having all representatives elected by the same numbers of electors, i.e. the same number of electors in each electoral district. Weighting votes by having some candidates elected by smaller numbers of constituents than others is supposed to be as heinous as gerrymandering. I heard Stephen Smith, our Foreign Minister and MHR for Perth, W.A., pushing this line on a TV panel show recently and was provoked by his simpleton surety on the matter. If Steve really believes it he's lost his marbles. The practice of weighting votes in the W.A. electoral system to allow smaller constituencies in the hinterland isn't unreasonable. It's petty compensation for the uphill battle that the bush fights against the eternal "flight to the cities" and the negative discrimination this brings. The indisputable fact is that the hinterland is where the main wealth of the State comes from. Cutting back the opportunities of those who choose to make a home there isn't really very clever. Can we really stuff Perth full of three or four million people and then run the entire non-metropolitan economy on a "fly-in, fly-out" system? I thought we had a water supply problem and a sewage treatment problem. And what about those famous housing costs everyone's been squawking about for the past twenty years? Did I imagine all that blarney about "decentralisation" and easing the pressure on urban resources?

Without representation out of proportion to the size of the population, those hinterland areas will suffer an acceleration of the process of withdrawal of services and consequent loss of population. There won't be a political incentive to resist the process. And why is this being done? Because the hinterland seats have consistently returned conservative members to the State Parliament. Simple as that. They kept the Labor party from controlling the Legislative Council for many years and returned Country/National Party members to the Assembly. Well, now the Labor party has had its win over them. But, oh...what happened on the 6th of September just passed? They lost the election! Yep, the new, "fair" system returned a conservative Coalition government and gave a new lease of life to the National party. And now the conservatives, with the likes of Nahan leading the charge will have their turn. With equal hypocrisy and self-serving falsity they will push the idea of voluntary registration and balloting. And they may have the numbers to get it through.

For the sake of attacking each other's support bases the main blocs are hacking away at what was an exemplary system. And here's something for the likes of Stephen Smith to think about: What if this "unbreachable principle" of "one vote, one value" was applied in the context of the Commonwealth electoral system? If disproportionate representation is such anathema, each province of the Commonwealth should have the number of House seats and Senators that its proportion of the nation's population would indicate. So, where would that put Stephen Smith's home state, Western Australia? Certainly not with 12 Senators. Perhaps 8. Would the ACT and NT still qualify for 2 Senators? And if the provision in the Constitution that all original States of the Federation are guaranteed at least 5 seats in the House was removed, Tasmania would be reduced from 5 to 2. As well as dropping from 12 senators to 3. South Australia would certainly lose at least 4 Senators. And the Big Three, New South Wales/Victoria/Queensland would collectively gain as many as were lost by the others.

Obviously, the Senators don't sit in provincial blocs, nor do they often vote across party lines to defend a provincial interest. This often leads to mockery of the Senate in response to its title "States' House" (although it should now be "States and Territories" , since they've received Senate representation). The omission in this viewpoint is that the existence of those Senate seats provides a motive for the parties to give consideration to provincial concerns from the less-populated provinces which would otherwise be neglected. They don't often clash within their party ranks in the Senate because all parties have a vested interest in going along with certain main trends in national policy. If some parts of the nation could be reduced in electoral importance the inhabitants thereof would begin to notice that the Senate we have now wasn't just a paper tiger for provincial interests. Unfortunately, some people will only cotton to that when they're actually being thoroughly treated like dirt by Canberra. And that's the risk being run by Western Australians like Stephen Smith when they throw away that protective principle in the State context. What will Steve say if the Premiers of the three largest States demand application of "one vote, one value" to the Commonwealth's Constitution? Not much of coherence or consequence I reckon.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Post#92 The New Mini E (lectric) - Emissions Free Car - from Digg

"The BMW Group is about to become the first manufacturer of premium automobiles to deploy a fleet of nearly 500 all electric vehicles for private use in daily traffic. Powered by a 150 kW (204 hp) electric motor and fed by a high-performance rechargeable lithium-ion battery, the vehicle will be nearly silent and emissions free."

A story from Digg.

read more | digg story

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Post#91 Hire a Hall / Everything (An enl-eye-tening discovery)

I was checking out some of my blogmarked sites at Blogexplosion (click the referral banner at the top of this page to check them out) and I discovered a post on a blog called "Eye See - Eye Talk" dealing with retinal detachment in platform divers. I found this pretty shocking and disheartening. I'd never heard of this and had never suspected that this was one of the hazards in the sport. I thought knocking your head on a board or platform (bad enough to be enough, I think) was the only peril its practitioners faced.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Post #90 A Science Experiment

I was in a store a few days ago and saw fire blankets for sale. They're non-flammable fabric squares which can be pulled from a package hanging on your wall and thrown over any fire involving the sort of fuels which don't respond well to application of water, e.g. cooking oil.

It triggered a memory from school days about the misguided efforts of a teacher to demonstrate the process known as "sublimation". This is the direct translation of a substance from a solid to a gaseous form. This could have been a difficult thing to demonstrate in the bare-boards science classroom that my high school featured; things that will turn from solid to gas at room temperature usually aren't lying around loose on shelves, for obvious reasons. However, an apparently fortuitous circumstance helped out the would-be demonstrator. In the classroom was a CO2 fire extinguisher. The enterprising teacher figured that he could show us the process by improvising with this device. He pulled the retainer pin from its trigger and blasted the extinguisher repeatedly against a blackboard. After several minutes of this a lump of solidified CO2 was sticking to the board. We were then exhorted to observe how it vaporised and disappeared into the air. For the benefit of those slow to catch on, or having trouble seeing from the back of the room, he put more of it in place with repeated furious blasts from the nozzle of the extinguisher. I didn't think this was all so amazing. Perhaps if a lump of solid metal had disappeared, it would have been worth the build-up, but this exercise just seemed to me to be showing the boring obvious and to be a waste of the contents of the extinguisher.

A week later when the great "sublimation" show was a fading memory, the same teacher was placing various items on the lab bench at the front of the room for an experiment when he spilled some kerosene on the bench top. He made a rapid grab at the flask he'd spilled it from and knocked over a Bunsen burner. The burner was operating and ignited the kerosene which was now spreading along the bench-top. The teacher thought he'd settle the burner down by pulling its supply hose from the gas tap at the end of the bench (The burner was lying in a spreading pool of burning kero by now). That stopped the burner fuelling the fire at its end of the hose but allowed gas to vent directly from the tap. The valve had a habit of sticking open and removing the hose plug hadn't popped the valve out to stop the gas flow. Of course the gas stream now ignited from the flames coming from the kero. It came out at full pressure, not the small flow the burner's outlet valve had been set to, and it was blazing a metre-long flame down the bench. One of my classmates was of Austrian ancestry and was a World War Two buff. He called out, delightedly, "Achtung! Flammenwaffe!!"

Now there's a dilemma: You've got burning kero spreading down the bench towards containers of volatile materials standing at its end (sulphur powder, acids, alcohol, other such goodies...). You've also got a gas flame a metre long that's doing God-knows-what to the gear on the bench top which is also surrounded by the burning kero. What do you do first, fight the kero fire or try to shut off the gas? I didn't know then and I still don't, but I guess there was a main tap near the bench or under it from which you could stop the gas. The teacher probably knew but he didn't seem to remember...anyway he decided that the kero was first priority. A reasonable decision; the gas flame was of finite length and coming from a fixed outlet, the kerosene was spreading fast along the four-metre long bench. He decided to give the kerosene the benefit of the trusty extinguisher's attention. In a smooth, commando-svelte motion he turned to the red cylinder of salvation resting in its wall bracket, hefted it, pulled the retaining pin (...close breech cover, draw back actuator lever...), pointed the uncompromising black metal nozzle at the kerosene fire and pulled the trigger lever. A blast of ice-cold fire-smothering CO2 jetted forth. For one second. Then, nowt but a feeble puff. Yes, he'd tested it to death. It was empty.

Now, you may be thinking, "What were the students doing while this..." Those of us at the front were taking a keen interest because the first students' bench was actually right up against the front of the lab bench. I was sitting at that bench with several others and was collecting my equipment and preparing to retreat from the kerosene which was burning only a few centimetres away. The others in the class were just watching, surprisingly, without laughing. There were about thirty of us in the room and no bastard, me included, was trying to help the guy. Anyway, there wasn't really a damn thing we could do. This is why the fire blankets in the shop triggered my memory of that day. They would have been just the thing to stop the progress of the fire. There weren't any in the lab. I don't believe there was one in the entire school.

Having discovered that his mate, the extinguisher, was extinct, the teacher cast about frantically for an alternative. Not having a suppressor blanket he applied his improvising talent again and seized upon a large cloth lying on a side table. Now that cloth had been hanging around the lab for years. It had done sterling service as a wiper-up of messes of all kinds and had collected within its fibres every chemical which had ever been used and spilled or dropped in that lab.

I once heard an American commentator on international affairs use a metaphor to describe errors in US foreign policy which was a story about a man walking through a perilous forest: "As he's walking along, in the gloomy light under the forest canopy, he sees a stick lying on the ground ahead him, a small curved branch that's fallen from a tree. In the poor light he mistakes the stick for a snake and panics. Casting about for something to hit the snake with, he sees something lying on the ground behind him which he wrongly believes is a stick...and he grabs it up..." That perfectly describes the situation of that fire-frightened teacher. That old cloth was probably the most flammable piece of textile product within the borders of the Commonwealth of Australia. And that's what he chose to beat the fire out with.

It caught in one millionth of a second and he was waving a blanket of fire as he spread the still-burning kerosene even further. I also remember that every speck of old spillage adhering to the bench-top was now igniting in this ideal fire environment. Little spurts of purple and yellow flame flickered into view for a fraction of a second as chemicals were liberated from the bench surface by the heat of the fire. Brilliant white sparkles showed where long-forgotten magnesium powder spills had occurred. At least it was getting a good clean-out.

As the cleaning-cloth was now beyond being held in a bare hand it was thrown to the floor and the teacher began futilely stamping on it. He had to give up and let it burn as the kero fire licked at the containers of combustibles standing at the end of the bench. He began grabbing them and transferring them to a waist-height shelf that was along the side of the room at right-angles to the lab bench. In this, at least, he succeeded.

Now he had a real inspiration. The lab bench had a metal sink. He decided to squeegee the burning kero into the sink using two large steel rulers that were on the blackboard shelf. He pushed the kero back, corralled between the rulers, and forced it over the rim of the sink. This required some suffering on his part because those rulers were excellent conductors of heat, but he'd beaten the fire at last. Most of the kero was in the sink, the little left on the bench was burning out. The burning cloth was now a smouldering, greasy black twist on the scorched wooden floor. That just left the flame-thrower gas tap. Picking up a piece of steel tube from under the bench, he advanced on the outlet, reached out and tapped it with the pipe. The valve popped out and shut off the gas.

There were some moments of silence as we all surveyed the now-quiescent scene. Then a burst of applause and sarcastic cheering. "All right, settle down, you blokes", said the teacher and proceeded to use some unburnt cloths to mop up the mess he'd made.

I always laugh at the memory of that episode but I knew from the moment it happened that it was nearly a catastrophe. I'm ever more amazed as the years pass at how ill-judged he was and how ill-equipped that place was. The thing that beats me most is how a man past thirty could be so foolish as to waste the contents of the fire extinguisher in the one room in the school where it was most likely to be needed. I have wondered if he had to tell the headmaster that he'd used up the CO2 in a dopey experiment. It's occurred to me that he may have said that he used it up in fighting the fire. Maybe he never said a word and just left the empty extinguisher for someone else to find out about the hard way. None of the students would have gone to talk about it with the headmaster. They were different days. There were lines you didn't cross. What happened at school stayed at school. What happened with a teacher might be discussed with other students but no-one would have crawled to the boss and informed about it. Today he'd be up to his neck in that burning kerosene.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Post #89 West African Scam "Babes"

Here are some pictures of some intriguing African ladies...a selection from the trophy room at the 419Eater site.

So why are they holding those signs? Because the anti-scammers at the site have set tasks for the scammers to perform and they have, in turn, enlisted their female friends or relatives to play the part of the character who is supposedly emailing the target of the attempted scam. Read all about it at the 419 site and learn about "mugus" and the incredible stunts they are led through on their chase for other people's money. I've made a small contribution to wearing them out and I'll post about it soon.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Post #88 Hire a Hall / Everything (The Extortionist's "Thong"*)

To clear this up for the American readers; this is what Australians call a "thong". The undergarment is known in Australia as a "G-string" or "V-string". You can peruse examples here.

The prompt for this post was my hearing a female opinionator on a radio programme talking about "corporate paedophilia" and the "sexualisation of young girls". I didn't find anything to quarrel with in her denunciation of the practice of cataloguing sexy underwear for the under-sixteen market. I did become exasperated with the way that the interview was led along the usual path in attacking the manufacturers and the retailers for producing and proffering the stuff.

Pleasing as the attacks are to my (apparently) socially conservative ears, I thought, as I do every time this yarn is rehashed, that every bastard is missing the most obvious point. Nobody seems to get past saying that it's wrong. The motives of the purveyors of this stuff are never examined in detail.

The garment industry (AKA "rag trade") is well-known to be a brutally cold-blooded business. At the production end it's about nothing but money and at the retail end it's about more money. Some designers may be indulging their aesthetic inclinations but the mass-produced material that makes it from drawing board to sales rack in real life is purely a product of commercial mathematics. So, is it really plausible that the money-grubbers are trying to "sexualise" anybody by way of their product? The real reason is egregiously obvious if you simply look at the prices charged for the products. Sexuality may be a lure to the purchaser but it's simply a vehicle for the real purpose: persuading people to pay disproportionate amounts for very small quantities of materials and labour.

I've had enough to do with tailoring to know that the cutting table is where the profitability of a garment business is decided. If a customer can be persuaded to pay x price for a piece of fabric and a certain amount of machinist's time which is half or one quarter of what might be required to make a larger garment sold for the same price, where's the smart money? The "string" garments and skimpy tops and short shorts aren't being cranked out to advance the rebuilding of Sodom and Gomorrah; they're just a logical commercial decision. Take a look at the ratios of prices in any supermarket catalogue. The skimpy stuff is sold for a price which approximates 80% of the price of full-form garments. If the retailer is in a particularly gouging mood you can find "string briefs", "medium briefs" and "full briefs" all at the same price per pack of however many. And it's not just women's/girls' clothing that's on this trend. Manufacturers have been offering samples of "G-strings for men" to the retailer's buyers for twenty years. Praise the gods, it hasn't caught on, at least not to the same degree.

I saw an episode of The Simpsons in which Homer takes the family to "Itchy and Scratchy World" and is offered a a chance to buy "Itchy and Scratchy Money". When he asks what it's about, the girl at the counter says "It's fun!!" and giggles. Homer responds "Give me a thousand bucks' worth!" He assumes, naturally, that's it's for use in the fun park; for making purchases. Inside he finds every shop with adamant signs stating "We don't take Itchy and Scratchy Money!" He's been had; his non-refundable play-money isn't worth a brass razoo. Substitute the skimpy gear for the play money and the words "It's sexy" for "It's fun" and you see the picture.

Should "the government do something"? Not this time. Let's just make a simple agreement to not be idiots. Don't buy that crap for your kids or let them spend money on it that you've gifted them. If they do and then wear it to make it non-returnable before you find out; send it to the tip in shreds. Best to explain this all before you set out upon this path, of course. Start by educating them as to what a rip-off is. And buy a DVD copy of the documentary "China Blue". They can see how a teenage Chinese girl works thirty hours straight to make garments for a pittance and thereby learn about the other end of the rip-off process. Oh yes...and don't buy it for yourself or any other adult person.

Sex may be the bait, but the hook is just exploitation of all concerned.

(*The title's meant to be a pun on "The Executioner's Song". If you had to read the asterisk...I guess it didn't work.)

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Post #87 Hire a hall / Everything (And yet again with the bale-out bail-out!!)

Perhaps I should take up psychicing! But then it was such an easy prediction that I made. The exact words are: "I'm just waiting for the first of those scum to take a pile of that public money to give themselves a golden parachute of several million dollars as they leave the burning wreck of the company they've put into a death-dive." It wasn't perfectly accurate, but the gist of it was fulfilled when I heard on ABC NewsRadio this morning that executives of American Insurance Group, an entity recently bailed out by the U.S. government, have spent US$400,000 on a corporate "love-in" at a resort hotel. And now the pundits are saying that the US$700,000,000,000 that's being offered ...won't be enough. Double that might do it, they murmur.

It's really very simple: Nothing will "do it" for the little guys. The worst is going to happen for them regardless. After all, they're just the ones who do the real work and create the real wealth. Still, they're tough. They can get used to living in vans and working three jobs. If they aren't already. Mmmh, I wonder what's on the menu in the dining rooms at the US Congress.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Post #86 Hire a Hall / Everything (Licensed Psychic)

A while ago I made some comments about psychics and their interventions in criminal cases.
The idea has been at the back of my mind for a long time to put the challenge issued by the Australian skeptics into a statutory form. It used to be unlawful to "pretend to tell a fortune". This law was removed from the statute books in Western Australia some years ago, perhaps because the legislators thought it was a nonsense to "pretend" to an act which was, to their minds, an impossibility. That hasn't stopped the pretenders. They've proliferated to a ludicrous degree. Every medium imaginable is now rife with their phony purports.

So here's my happy medium (okay, that's twice for the same pun..) solution. Let's not prohibit them; nor should we allow them to play free as they do now with the gullible. We should license them! Yep, let them be regulated like any other service provider. And to be very generous, we'll issue these licences free of charge. The only requirement (only!) will be to specify what type of psychic service is to be offered by the licensee and...prove competence in the field by passing a reasonable test of ability. There'll be a one-off fee for organising the test; that will depend on the nature of it and what resources are required. Mind readers can read minds, predictors of future events can make some predictions; each will be treated according to their claimed talent.Those who pass will receive a licence. Those who don't, won't. Can't be fairer than that.

This process can be administered by the Commonwealth department for Communications. I have a feeling they won't be issuing many licences but I'm open-minded. I don't reject all claims of the paranormal, I just want to see the evidence. If someone can do the business no-one should object to their providing their service for a fee.

In passing, I just remembered something that I read in Herodotus' histories about the punishment that an ancient people (I've forgotten their name) applied to false soothsayers. These fakes would be bound up and thrust into a cart filled with kindling. The kindling would be ignited and the oxen hauling the cart would be flogged to start them running. Of course, the flames would be fanned by the airstream and the kindling would begin to really fire up. The fire in turn would frighten the oxen who would run faster, fanning the flames more. Herodotus comments that in some cases the boom of the cart would burn through and the oxen would escape the fire they were dragging. On other occasions they'd be cooked, along with the false soothsayers. Herodotus was perhaps concerned for these creatures, as should any humane person be. (He doesn't waste a word of pity on the passengers in the cart.) I've thought, over the years since I first read this, that it might be a fine treatment for stockbrokers, economists and other such characters who now fill the niche once occupied by these ancient professional prophets. Now that I think of it, at least purported psychics can be tested in a definitive manner. The financial gurus have a line in bogosity that defies verification; their speculations are too nebulous for empirical certainties as to results. Recent events should stimulate us to ponder on this...

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Post #85 Science Friction

!. Here are the lyrics to the Divinyls' song "Science Fiction":

I thought that love was science fiction Until I saw you today Now that love is my addiction I’ve thrown all my books away When I was young I was so naive I didn’t believe no I didn’t believe I didn’t believe Never thought that we’d last this long Always thought that they’d dropped the bomb Drop the bomb (didn’t) I thought that love was science fiction Until I saw you today Now that love is my addiction I’ve thrown all my books away When I was young I was, so naive I didn’t believe no di' di'n't believe I didn’t believe I’ve been waiting for a man from space To come to earth to meet the human race The human race (didn’t) I thought that love was science fiction Until I saw you today Now that love is my addiction I’ve thrown all my books away

(Well, so much for that. I wouldn't want a speck of anybody that wanted me to throw all my books away. )

2. I've just read "The Dreaming Void" by Peter Hamilton. It's a continuation of the scenario used in the "Commonwealth Saga". I finished that wishing to read more about the characters and themes contained therein and I discovered, again, the truth of the caveat "Be careful what you wish for." It was a real letdown and it prompted me to consider how many series fall apart.

In the case of science fiction I've noticed it particularly happens when the technology becomes so far-fetched that it seems to stump the author as to how to progress the storyline with credible behaviour from the characters. The same thing happens when an author spreads their efforts over various scenarios. Alastair Reynolds is a good example of this. He writes his best stuff when the characters are recognisably human and not behind a semi-opaque technological curtain. Ultimately, it's the characters and the tension created in their lives that engages the reader. The technological conceits that provide the storylines can only be interesting to the extent that they affect characters that the readers care about. Who gives a damn about thoughtless robots bashing each other?

Friday, 26 September 2008

Post #84 Hire a Hall / Everything (Again with the bale-out bail-out.)

Well, the free market has done its best work and a bunch of trusting folk are now finding themselves run ashore in their barb-wire canoes at the headwaters of Shit Creek. And the U.S. Government, which hates socialism so much, is being urged to save the very pigs who waved those folks on with cries of "trust the market" and "this boom will never end" and all the usual good stuff. It's the same con that dragged hundreds of millions of dollars into the black hole of W.A. Inc. Unfortunately, that government is listening and heeding.

When the fall-out reaches Australia our government will, no doubt, be subjected to the same exhortations. I say, "Let 'em burn!"

We've been told again and again that these types have to be saved or we'll all go with them. Let's put that to the test. If governments want to make gifts of thousands of millions of dollars of public funds, let the gifts be given to people who are being threatened with mortgage foreclosure. Pay off their mortgages. Pay off the loans of small businesses. Pay off the debts of owner-driver truckies. Pay for timely medical treatment for those whose conditions will worsen while they languish on public hospital waiting lists. Give interest-free loans to viable businesses to help them weather these storms. Then it won't matter what the Hell happens to the screen-jockeys and their blathering masters.

I'm just waiting for the first of those scum to take a pile of that public money to give themselves a golden parachute of several million dollars as they leave the burning wreck of the company they've put into a death-dive. For once, the politicians are showing a speck of sense and baulking at the prospect. I hope they've got the nous to hold their nerve for once and hold off the lobbyists.

Seeing the pigs fall without a parachute would be a mighty fine entertainment.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Post #83 Samso, the Danish island living off-grid (PICS)

"Photographer Nicky Bonne travels to the Danish island of Samso, where the residents have completely eradicated its carbon footprint by using wind power. Everyone on the island owns a turbine, and with its simple grid of solar power, wind farms and sheep, it's selling its power to the mainland."

A story from Digg.

read more | digg story

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Post #82 Poker machines

A blog post by Michael Gorey from Mt Gambier on the insidious devices.

read more | digg story

Monday, 15 September 2008

Post #81 Hire a Hall / Everything (Coughing up some sense)

Enough with the partisan politics. I've meant for some time to address an issue that may be the greatest public health problem in Australia and is, amazingly enough, the most easily solved. Can you guess?

It's tobacco use. Note I don't write abuse. It's a substance for which there is no dichotomy of usage types because there is no safe, responsible level of consumption. Use and abuse are synonymous for this weed. The anomalies in the treatment of this plant are enormous. If someone attempted to propagate its use as a recreational substance today, they would be stamped flat in a nanosecond, but it continues to kill with comparative impunity. Other substances, such as the opiates, cocainoids and cannabinoids have been ruthlessly proscribed without hesitation or regard to the useful pharmaceutical or industrial uses to which they can be put. The only explanation apparent is that reason has little to do with why governments prohibit substances; the social context is the determinant. The exemption of tobacco to this point from prohibition is due purely to the fact that there have been and are, so many addicted to it. Those addicts vote. The dealers who supply them have a lot of money to throw about for lobbying purposes. Governments also have an addiction to the revenues from tobacco taxes. The fact that many more people die from tobacco-related disease than from use of all the prohibited substances put together doesn't make a dent in this situation.

I read recently that Western Australia has the lowest rate of smoking in Australia: one in seven adults. That figure doesn't explain an interesting change in the demographic of smoking; very few of those adults began using tobacco after reaching their eighteenth birthdays. Where it was once unremarkable for people in their twenties, thirties, forties and even fifties to begin smoking, it's now almost unheard of in Australia. The pervasive anti-tobacco education programme has ensured that almost anyone old enough to be called a legal adult has too much understanding of the nature of the tobacco industry and their product to be taken in. The only age cadres from which new tobacco addicts can be recruited are children and junior teenagers. I.e. those who haven't reached their sixteenth birthdays. The industry says it doesn't sell its product to children. I call this one of the Three Great Lies of the tobacco industry. Here they are:

1. Tobacco isn't harmful to your health; it may even be good for you.

2. Tobacco smoking/chewing isn't physically addictive.

3. The tobacco industry does not market its products to children.

The first two were disproven by the research of the tobacco companies themselves, although they kept on telling them until they were proven to be lying by force of scientific argument and leakage of their own studies on the subjects. The despicable history of this behaviour is well-enough documented that I won't waste space on it here. You can find plenty about the lies of the tobacco industry by way of a bit of Googling. You can also find their stooges at work posting about "the lies of the anti-tobacco lobby". Most of the latter is focussed on attacking attempts at punitive taxation of tobacco in the USA; what a revenue-raising rort is all is, etc. Perhaps it is; I don't care at all, because I'm arguing for absolute prohibition of tobacco and the abolition of the industries that purvey the stuff.

The main argument against prohibition is that it hasn't worked with other substances and the prohibition of alcohol in the USA in the early years of the 20th Century is the exemplar of this folly. I've always waited for this factoid to receive the gut-kick it deserves and been disappointed. The anti-tobacco campaigners haven't ever said this to my knowledge; perhaps I'll be the first:

The prohibition of alcohol in the USA is not analogous to any attempt to prohibit tobacco in Australia. The American attempt was effected by a Constitutional amendment which was obtained by focussed, high-profile lobbying of legislators and did not have genuine majority support in the community. How can an amendment to the US Constitution be made without community support? Simple: In the US the Constitution is amended by legislators' votes alone. The proposed amendment is put before the Congress and, if passed, is referred to the State legislatures for ratification. The safety net in the Australian system is a requirement for ratification by the electors in a referendum. Grossly unpopular measures can't be introduced to the Australian constitution because of this. The lack of this in the US explains why the prohibition of alcohol failed so dismally; it never really had the heartfelt support of the majority to begin with.

The other flaw in using alcohol as an instrument of analogous argument is that it is a type of fundamental organic compound which probably occurs throughout the Universe. It can be derived from the fermentation/distillation of any organic matter with a high sugar and/or starch content. You may as well try probiting carbon and hydrogen. Tobacco, conversely, is a plant group which could actually be made extinct. It isn't the only plant type which produces nicotine, but it's the only one which does so in commercially-useful quantities. My ideal solution to tobacco would be a disease which would wipe the tobacco plant completely from the Earth. While we're waiting for that, let's go back to the Third Great Lie. It's easily disproven; if the tobacco industry didn't market its product to the young it would be out of business very quickly in First World countries. It isn't out of business so it must be. Once you've sussed that, it's a question of knowing where to look.

My analysis of their strategy leads me to believe that product placement is the main vehicle of marketing to the young and exceptionally impressionable. Tobacco use appears in connection with macho action movies, sexual encounters (the post-coital cigarette, etc.), sports events (car racing, yachting). They constantly push the edges of the restraints on their high-profile marketing and it takes a long while for the legislators to catch up. One of the saddest things I've seen was a former Health minister of the Commonwealth of Australia bragging in 2004 that, by the end of 2006, tobacco advertising would be banned from yacht spinnakers . That was supposed to be a big achievement...

The tragedy is that the process of education is very slow and every day a new crop of victims are added to the multitude already hooked. Can we really wait for this toxin to abate with time? We can, but I believe we should not. More than 80% of Australian adults are non-smokers; snuff (powdered tobacco) is already banned in Australia; the chewing of tobacco is almost an unknown practice; there's enough in those numbers to make the last push against tobacco feasible.

The last defence of the tobacco industry, when confronted with the death toll, is that theirs is a legal product. The time has come to take that privilege away.