Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Post#199 Death Of An Astronaut - Farewell Sally Ride

Astronaut Sally Ride monitors control panels from the pilot's chair on the flight deck of the space shuttle Challenger during her historic space mission in 1983. Floating in front of her is a flight procedures notebook. (From MSNBC Site.)

Sally Ride has died and the event has made small news in Australia. I discovered the event by accident when perusing the outlying parts of the ABC News site. Ride was the third woman to travel in space, preceded by the now 75 year-old, Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova and 63 year-old Svetlana Yevgenyevna Savitskaya. Ride made only two journeys in space, both aboard the shuttle Challenger which later exploded during launch in April, 1986.

Ride was only 61 and died after enduring pancreatic cancer for 17 months. Ride was a low-profile noteworthy who just got on with the job. She was a contributor during all of her adult life and it is a damned shame that she has gone. She had much more to give.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Post # 198 Man Bites Shark

Last Saturday morning, at 9am local time, Ben Linden, a 24-year-old surfer, was killed in a particularly horrific attack by a Great White shark to the north of the city of Perth in Western Australia. It's a news story I reported on BrooWaha, the online paper, simply as a story (Shark Bites Surfer in Half, 15 July

There are aspects to this tragedy that made me uneasy, specifically over the slightly hysterical reaction in the Australian media. However, with the death so fresh and the shock so apparent, I felt it best just to report the bare facts. I did, right until the end. It was only after I found out that surfers were still using the beach in question, despite a local ban, that I felt a brief observation was necessary;

Comment is superfluous in the face of such tragedy, though I think it only right to say that there are some risks simply not worth taking, or if people are prepared to take them the sharks themselves should not suffer the consequences of their foolhardiness. Jaws-style hysteria seems wholly out of place.

Sadly Jaws-style hysteria is what we are getting. Great Whites have been a protected species in Australian waters for more than a decade, after the International Union for Conservation of Nature identified them as vulnerable. Now, in the aftermath of Ben's death, there have been repeated calls for a cull. Norman Moore, the Western Australian Fisheries Minister, said that is now time to reassess the species population numbers and its protected status. "Regrettably", he said, "people are being taken by sharks in numbers which we have never seen before.”

Greater numbers, yes, they are, but what exactly are we talking about here? Precisely this: five people have been killed in Australian waters in the past ten months. I agree; it's not a statistic - its five individual tragedies. Still, the matter should not be taken out of proportion. We have to understand why sharks are taking a greater interest in human swimmers, clearly not part of their routine food population.

The answer is we have attracted them, with new and thoughtless forms of high adrenaline tourism. Cage diving with sharks is a popular pastime in both South Africa and Southern Australia. When you look into the abyss, Nietzsche wrote, the abyss looks back into you.

For sharks this baiting with bait has made them more familiar with a human presence, with humanity as a source of easy food. Great Whites feed mainly on seals. Even the rare human attacks have not often resulted in the total consumption of the victims, little comfort, in that a single bit from these powerful jaws is likely to be fatal. The bites, though, are clearly tests. In future they may become something more.

There were proposals to introduce cage diving into Western Australia. I understand that operators have now been told that they will not be allowed to go ahead for fear of attracting more sharks and more attacks. The link here has been a matter of controversy. Research by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation produced findings which are ambiguous at best. They concluded that baiting kept sharks in an area for longer, but did not prove a link between baiting and attacks on humans. Well, I can only go on a level of simple intuition here but I think it reasonable to assume that more sharks means more attacks. If human are there and sharks are there the rest will surely follow.

Sharks are ancient creatures. They were swimming the waters of this planet before humans appeared. How much longer, though, is now open to question. In all of last year twelve people across the entire planet died as a result of encounters with sharks. In the same year, as reported recently in Prospect magazine, a million sharks died in encounters with humans. The story surely has to be man bites shark, not shark bites man.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Post#197 It's A Tax, Not A Price! (Carbon Tax And Why Barry Cassidy Is Wrong About It.) )

"Labor will tax you, Liberal will encourage you". said the Liberal Party's campaign slogan from the 1980's. They didn't anticipate the new mode of taxing: calling it a price. I've been listening to the Labor Ministers chanting the word "price" as they try to sell the new impost. I think it's to help Julia argue that she didn't breach her promise to not introduce a carbon tax.

A price, dear Julia, is what you pay for something you choose to do or receive. Where statutory coercion is involved, it's a tax. Taxes are also known as levies, duties, excises, imposts, charges, fees. These terms all carry connotations of compulsion and properly admit to being what they are; the state taking away your property without your consent.

I've got all the carbon I need and I don't want to buy more at any "price".

I heard Barry Cassidy on Insiders on Sunday last offering a lame apologia for this rip-off and arguing that  popular animosity will subside. He used the GST as the analogous model for this. Barry, you're dead wrong. The only connection is what happened to the Australian Democrats because of it. The GST we have today is not the GST of 1985 (aka Consumption Tax aka Option C) proposed by Paul Keating. Nor is it the GST of John Hewson which was famously denounced at the 1993 election. It's not even the GST Howard and Costello took to the 1998 election. It's a hybridised, Coalition/Democrat GST. The Democrats moderated the impact of the GST and gave themselves a gold star and an elephant stamp for being such constructive negotiators. The only problem was that their constituents didn't vote for it. They didn't care about the moderation of it. They didn't want it in any way, shape or form. This betrayal of their constituency to kiss Coalition arse was the doom of the Democrats. It was the second step, after the defection of Cheryl Kernot to Labor, on the path to oblivion. In the subsequent elections, the Democrats disappeared from the Australian political map.

It's the lying that does it, Barry. We won't forget and we won't forgive.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Post#196 "Thanks, Far Quit!" - Why Do Fools Yell From Cars?

A tribute to Australian journalism. This delightful lady was doing a "stand up" by a roadside and was subjected to the unwanted honking of passing vehicles.

Okay, with a camera you may be asking for it. But why do so many fools now yell as they pass people on the roadside? The noises range from clear insults to incoherent roaring. Women receive particular attention with the perenially favourite, "Show us your..." and the concise "Slut!", "Bitch!" and worse.
I think it's a combination of the car being a portable "coward's castle" and the imitative principle. At some point it became prolific enough that it began to seem normal and acceptable to a certain type of person.
I often imagine beginning the reversal of the process: Some cretin does it to me and I step into the road. In his rearview he sees me raise the RPG launcher...or the fifty-calibre machine gun and point it after him. It's the last thing he ever sees. If only. Oh, yes, and it's almost always him.