Silly ideas of 2016 competition

Eric Abetz got in early with what will probably be the first of many entries

Eric Abetz calls for Tony Abbott to return in Malcolm Turnbull cabinet reshuffle
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He must think Malcolm Turnbull came down in the last shower if he thinks this is likely to happen.

 But it is an indication of how out of touch the old guard in the Liberal party has become.

 We’re looking forward to some very strong entries in this competition from Eric in the coming year.

Climate change, chaos theory and semantics.

Parts of the northern hemisphere are facing widespread devastation as a result of weather developing in the northern hemisphere.

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In addition to storms in the US and UK, there are also predictions that the  winter temperature in the Arctic will go above freezing point in mid-winter. If this continues, then we can expect the normal summer melting of the ice caps to be extended into winter, with calamitous consequences.


No one has been able to predict what the impact of changing temperatures over the Arctic ice cap will be but already the lunatic fringe is saying that this situation is just a “random spike” in the weather patterns.

Events in the UK, US and here in Australia indicate that the severity of the “once in 100 years” events is increasing and that the hundred year time-frame is shortening drastically.

To understand the nature of the changes to our climate it’s worth going back to look at the work of Edward Lorenz, a meteorologist and a pioneer of chaos theory.


Lorenz developed the ideas of chaos theory as result of his work as a meteorologist so chaos theory has direct relevance to our understanding of the way that the climate works and changes.

One of the central ideas that Lorenz developed was the idea of sensitivity to initial conditions.  

This means that in systems that are closely linked and involve large numbers of interactions (such as weather systems), small changes to the starting state of the system can lead to widely divergent results at any time in the future.

This idea gave rise to  Philip Merilees asking Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?,  now known as the Butterfly Effect.

The idea of initial conditions is slightly misleading. Most systems don’t have initial conditions rather they have conditions at any given point in time.  It simply depends on where you start counting from.

This means that large weather systems such as the one that is developing in the northern hemisphere have their origins  in one, or a number of, small-scale events somewhere else in the world.

If we consider that these events will initially occur at a molecular level, then the number of possibilities is astronomically large and unpredictable.

I’ll come back to the idea of predictability later.

When large-scale events such as the “cyclone bomb”  occur, they trigger a huge range of changes to the initial conditions of other parts of the system. These small changes then build into large-scale events in a reinforcing feedback loop.


This is why we can expect the consequences of climate change, floods, bush fires etc to become more frequent and more extreme.

Many of the climate sceptics described these weather events as “random”. It’s important to understand exactly what this word does and doesn’t mean.

The most important meaning is that random events are not predicted, they are unexpected and often difficult to explain.

But they are not without causation.

Something always causes a random event. We may not know what it is but nothing ever occurs without a cause. When climate sceptics use the word random, they are implying that the events are without any cause, in particular they are not a result of any human actions.

This is a dangerous fallacy.

Weather events are not without cause but are part of a dynamic feedback mechanism that covers the entire globe which generates its own behaviour.


Now,  man-made carbon emissions have added an extra variable, another large-scale initial condition, to this dynamic system.

Before man began polluting the atmosphere, the weather system was in  long-term equilibrium. Hot in the summer, cold winter, colder at the poles and warmer of the equator. The idea of equilibrium does not mean that everything is calm, it simply means that things are in balance.

Now that equilibrium has been disturbed and the temperature at the poles is ceasing to be significantly colder than the temperature in other parts of the world.

We need to understand very clearly how carbon emissions are disturbing the equilibrium  of our weather system and that it is moving towards a new equilibrium will involve more events such as storms in the UK and US, rising sea levels in coastal areas and increasingly severe floods and bush fires in Australia and California.

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A late (but clearly winning) entry in the Dickhead of the Year contest

Mr Briggs’ career as a junior minister ended on Tuesday when he resigned, revealing he had been involved in a late-night incident with a female public servant in a bar in Hong Kong where he was visiting in his capacity as Cities Minister late last month.

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When news broke of Jamie Briggs’ resignation from the frontbench after an unseemly incident in a Hong Kong bar, there was sympathy from some colleagues. But not surprise.

“He is a loose cannon on the grog,” one Liberal MP said. “It was always a question of whether he would work his way out of it before it got him into trouble.”

 NSW Nationals senator John Williams even said Mr Briggs’ departure would improve the quality of the ministry.    A Liberal who did not wish to be named said: ‘‘The IQ quota has gone up and the talentless arrogance quota has gone down’’ with the exits of both Mr Briggs and Mr Brough.

This effort easily eclipses Brigg’s earlier entry in the contest.

In September, the day after Malcolm Turnbull rolled Tony Abbott as leader, Briggs was filmed being pushed into a party room meeting in a wheelchair. When rumours emerged that Briggs had injured himself dancing on a marble table in a ministerial suite, his spokesman said he had “seriously injured his leg while on a run this morning”.


If Paint was sold like Plane Tickets

We all have horror stories about our treatment on airlines.

Shit star

Two recently made it into the national media.

WIN network reporter Jodi Lee, who injured her ankle on holiday in Thailand, has lambasted Jetstar for refusing to upgrade her to business class and making her pay for a pillow to elevate her leg.

Russell Crowe is just a dad, at an airport, trying to go on holidays.
Until Virgin Australia refused to check-in his children’s “hoverboards”.
Crowe vented his disgust over the airline’s no-Segway policy on Tuesday afternoon, vowing to “Never again” fly Virgin.

So, if you’re rich and famous or have access to a  national media  outlet, then your gripes, no matter how ill-founded, are likely to get some airspace.

No matter how heartfelt our complaints may be, they always seem fairly trivial, petty or boring to a listener, particularly when the story  involves, as they invariably do, a large amount of tedious detail, which  never makes for good narrative.

As result I will not share  one of my  many stories with one particular airline, let’s call it Shitstar.

Instead I’m going to share a very funny story. I’m not certain who wrote this originally but it’s very clever.

If Paint was sold like Plane Tickets

Buying Paint from a Hardware Store:

Hi. How much is your paint?

We have regular quality for $12 a gallon and premium for $18. How many gallons would you like?

Five gallons of regular quality, please.

Great. That will be $60 plus tax.

Buying Paint from an Airline:

Hi, how much is your paint?

Well, sir, that all depends.

Depends on what?

Actually, a lot of things.

How about giving me an average price?

Wow, that’s too hard a question. The lowest price is $9 a gallon, and we have 150 different prices up to $200 a gallon.

What’s the difference in the paint?

Oh, there isn’t any difference; it’s all the same paint.

Well, then, I’d like some of that $9 paint.

Well, first I need to ask you a few questions. When do you intend to use it?

I want to paint tomorrow, on my day off.

Sir, the paint for tomorrow is the $200 paint.

What? When would I have to paint in order to get the $9 version?

That would be in three weeks, but you will also have to agree to start painting before Friday of that week and continue painting until at least Sunday.

You’ve got to be kidding!

Sir, we don’t kid around here. Of course, I’ll have to check to see if we have any of that paint available before I can sell it to you.

What do you mean check to see if you can sell it to me? You have shelves full of that stuff; I can see it right there.

Just because you can see it doesn’t mean that we have it. It may be the same paint, but we sell only a certain number of gallons on any given weekend. Oh, and by the way, the price just went to $12.

You mean the price went up while we were talking!

Yes, sir. You see, we change prices and rules thousands of times a day, and since you haven’t actually walked out of the store with your paint yet, we just decided to change. Unless you want the same thing to happen again, I would suggest that you get on with your purchase. How many gallons do you want?

I don’t know exactly. Maybe five gallons. Maybe I should buy six gallons just to make sure I have enough.

Oh, no, sir, you can’t do that. If you buy the paint and then don’t use it, you will be liable for penalties and possible confiscation of the paint you already have.


That’s right. We can sell you enough paint to do your kitchen, bathroom, hall and north bedroom, but if you stop painting before you do the bedroom, you will be in violation of our tariffs.

But what does it matter to you whether I use all the paint? I already paid you for it!

Sir, there’s no point in getting upset; that’s just the way it is. We make plans based upon the idea that you will use all the paint, and when you don’t, it just causes us all sorts of problems.

This is crazy! I suppose something terrible will happen if I don’t keep painting until after Saturday night!

Yes, sir, it will.

Well, that does it! I’m going somewhere else to buy my paint.

That won’t do you any good, sir. We all have the same rules. Thanks for painting with our airline.


Climate change: a glimpse of the future

The ferocious storm cell that spawned deadly tornadoes in the US over the weekend is expected to develop into what meteorologists call a “bomb cyclone”, steering exceptionally warm air over the Arctic and more flooding rains into the UK.

The storm will also drag warm air over the high Arctic. with the North Pole temperatures likely to climb to 1-2 degrees above zero on Wednesday – or 41-42 degrees above average for this time of year:

“Needless to say, a 1-2 [degree] reading at the North Pole during late December is about as odd as witnessing Hell freezing over,” wrote. weather blogger Robert Scribbler  “But, in this case, the latest wave of warmth issuing from a human-driven shift toward climatological hell appears to be on schedule to arrive at the North Pole in just a few more days.”

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The North Pole, shrouded in darkness at this time of year, is likely to be warmer than regions of southern California, Oklahoma and Texas, according to US meteorologist Eric Holthuas.
We can only imagine what the impact of this will be but clearly the situation in the UK is going to get worse as the flooding becomes more widespread.

But this is nothing compared with the impact of the warm air over the North Pole. At present, there are no predictions of the extent of the melting of the polar ice cap but this situation can only speed the process up.

Perhaps it would help Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull understand the problem if he took his gin and tonic out onto the patio of his Pipers Point mansion  and watched how long it took for the ice to melt.



Turnbull silent on cause of bushfires

The bush fires that are devastating the Great Ocean Road in Victoria are a grim omen of what Victorians can expect this summer. And in future summers, if the problems of climate change are not addressed.

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Climate change, and in particular hot summers, are now producing bush fires of greater intensity in the past. With this intensity comes massive social and economic dislocation. Already the cost of loss of houses in these bush fires is estimated at around $40m and the loss to the local economy is another $40 million.

Malcolm Turnbull is ensconced in his family home in Piper’s Point in Sydney.


He has warned Australians that his government will not take action on climate change if it damages the economy. He doesn’t seem to realise that it’s not taking action that is going to damage the economy. Already the cost of loss of houses in these bush fires is estimated at around $40m and the loss to the local economy is another $40 million.

To date, he has not a statement of support for the victims of the bush fires.

But more importantly, he has not taken the opportunity to reinforce the need for action on climate change in Australia.


 Malcolm Turnbull is not getting the message on climate change

 What he should be saying is:

“The devastation of these bush fires represents the imperative to halt the  progress of global warming. Australia must be seen as a global leader in the reduction of fossil fuel use.”

But don’t hold your breath.

If he is serious about a significant reduction in Australia’s carbon emissions, then these bush fires represent an opportunity for him to set the national agenda for emission reductions.

But don’t hold your breath.

The statements we had from the government over the Christmas period are an indication of the government’s priorities:

They won’t continue with the Gonski funding and they have started to cut Medicare benefits.

It appears that Malcolm Turnbull does not understand that his phenomenal popularity is not only because he’s not Tony Abbott but also because the Australian electorate expect him and his government to change the policy directions on a wide range of issues.

It also appears fairly obvious that Malcolm Turnbull does not understand  social and economic implications of unchecked global warming.

And if he does, he is not letting on.


Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has praised the tenacity of residents and firefighters in the townships of Wye River and Separation Creek, where 116 homes were destroyed by the 2300-hectare blaze on Christmas Day.

“The damage is total. The houses have been completely wiped out, cars have been completely gutted,” Mr Turnbull told reporters during his visit to the area on Tuesday.


Turnbull prepares to cut public education funding

The Gonski report was hailed as a watershed in funding for public education in Australia. Malcolm Turnbull is a close friend of school funding reform architect David Gonski but that friendship doesn’t extend to supporting the recommendations that would have seen an improvement in public school funding.

This government is clearly going to continue the extraordinarily generous funding private education and the parsimonious funding of public education.

 The Age reports that The Turnbull government will not fund the final two years of the Gonski school funding deals and will not compete with Labor in an election-year battle to shower more money on schools, Education Minister Simon Birmingham says.


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He added that, “I want a school funding system that is genuinely needs-based and is targeting the money where it’s most required.”

This article was accompanied by video clip detailing the spending of just under $200 million by four private Sydney schools mainly for swimming pools.

It would appear that 2016 is going to be a year in which those of us who hoped that Malcolm Turnbull was going to provide a different government from that of Tony Abbott will be deeply disappointed.

It looks like it’s still a case of “same policies, nicer suits.”

Letter to my grandson (iii)

Dear Winton

One of the constant and daily joys in my life is watching you as you explore the world around you. There is a wonderful word that comes from 14th century Middle English.

It’s maistrie.

It was used by Chaucer in the Canterbury Tales where I first came across it. It’s a wonderful word, a cross between mastery and mystery.

In the 14th century, the trade Guilds would travel from town to town performing mystery plays on the back of the cart. The plays were based on the life of Christ, which was well known, so they were not mysteries as we know the meaning of the word.  They were mysteries because mysteries referred to the secret knowledge of the Guilds of tradesmen: goldsmiths, carpenters, masons etc.

Maistrie also had the meaning of mastery, technical competence or skill. The meanings are quite closely related which is why I like the idea of maistrie.

You are developing maistrie. You are surrounded by mysteries and you are exploring them methodically and regularly until you understand them.


The maistrie of the balloon on elastic


The maistrie of letterboxes

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The maistrie of books with Nana Di

The manner in which you are currently exploring the world will remain extremely important throughout your life. Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of Frank D Roosevelt famously said, “The greatest gift you can give a child is curiosity.”

I want to explain why curiosity and enquiry are so important.

You are starting daycare next year and you’ll be the first Victorian cohort of children to begin under the ” No jab, no play” legislation.

This means that some children, those whose parents have refused to have them inoculated against a large number of potentially lethal childhood diseases, will not be allowed to go to your play school and so will not be a risk to you.

It also means that you have sidestepped the possible effects of the terminal and ineradicable stupidity of a small but dangerous group of people.  You see, while we can inoculate against most diseases, there is no vaccine for stupidity. Mind you, I think if there were a vaccine for stupidity, the stupid people would refuse to take it because of possible side effects.

One of the diseases that you been inoculated against is called whooping cough. I had it as very small child, probably when I was about three, and I would not wish that experience on you for anything.

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Tim aged around 3

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 This is where we lived: 30 Clifton Terrace, Wellington

I remember being wracked by bouts of seemingly endless coughing with my grandmother hovering over me like a ministering angel. I survived just as I survived chickenpox and mumps. I still remember all of them. They’re all bad experiences for a small child. Fortunately, you will be spared this because your parents understand the need to protect you and the means to do this are readily available.

Before you were born, both Nana Di and I had booster shots of our immunisation against whooping cough because we did not want to run even the slightest risk of carrying an infection which you may have caught.  Part of the reason for doing this is that both of us understand the science that underlies the idea of inoculation.

The benefits of vaccination have long been understood and they have been demonstrated by medical scientists.  This means that the information regarding the importance of vaccination has been demonstrated beyond any doubt.

This is because of the way that science works. Science involves thinking up ideas, and then examining, experimenting and testing them until they are understood, proved or disproved. Once that understanding has been reached, and generally it’s a matter of a consensus amongst a wide range of well-educated and knowledgeable people, it moves beyond being a matter of an idea and becomes the body of knowledge that intelligent and educated people use to make decisions.

Once upon a time, people believed that the earth was the centre of the universe.The Earth was surrounded by a series of rotating spheres in which the planets were embedded. This idea was based on the observations that the planets and the sun passed through the sky each day on the way around the earth.

It was science, with its habit of examination, experiment and testing that demonstrated that this was not true.


The Ptolemaic Universe

The same occurred with the belief that the world was flat and resting on the backs of three elephants standing on a tortoise.


Now, most people understand that the earth revolves around the sun and that it is not flat.  This understanding is based on the accumulation of verifiable evidence.


Evidence such as this led to a marked decline in membership of the Flat Earth Society

Yet for some strange reason, there is a small but vocal group of people that has difficulty understanding science and its conclusions on a whole range of other matters, such as vaccination and climate change.

You are not going to be one of these people because you’re already developing the curiosity and methodologies of science. When confronted with something new: a gate, a bucket of pebbles or a new utensil for eating, you are beginning a series of experiments to test the nature  (and resilience) of the new object.

You’re a mover and shaker which generally means that  the first stage of your experimentation is to work out whether it can be moved or shaken. There is also a certain amount of testing of the strength and robustness of the new phenomenon, generally conducted by experimenting with bashing it up against something hard and solid.

When you are walking with Nana Di, you test the “moving and shaking” hypothesis on every gate in the street. Sometimes you’re successful, the gate opens and you have to be retrieved from someone’s front yard. If this experiment is unsuccessful, you begin exploring the possibilities of any locks or latches that may be on the gate.  You are now strong enough to lift yourself off the ground,  like someone doing chin-ups, so climbing the gate is not far off and will become part of the scientific repertoire.

When we moved to our new house at 170 Mary Street, you were seven months old and crawling. Our initial plan was to barricade the flight of stairs that lead to the upper level of the house to protect you from danger of falling down the stairs.

We decided against protecting you from this risk and decided instead to teach you how to deal with it.  You very quickly learned how to climb up the stairs and developed a fabulous technique for coming down. This involved stretching out full-length with your hands above your head and turning yourself into a small, flexible plank and sliding feet first down the stairs. It was extremely effective, very fast and very safe.

You have now abandoned this technique and are walking down the stairs, which presents a few problems as each step is still well above the knee height.

Nonetheless, you are undeterred and the maistrie is coming.

Other Letters to my grandson


Is there no end to this?

A Catholic priest who defended Cardinal George Pell at the child abuse royal commission last week was the subject of a historical sexual abuse claim.

ABC TV reported on Wednesday that an apology and $75,000 compensation was given to survivor John Roach in 2012 after the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne accepted Father John Walshe had sexually abused him in 1982.


The Age reports that “The Catholic Church in Melbourne has been hit with child sexual abuse claims just two days before Christmas as police target allegations that fall directly under the leadership of George Pell. The time-frame of the allegations covers the years when Cardinal Pell was archbishop of Melbourne and current archbishop Denis Hart was vicar-general.

Adults Surviving Child Abuse’s Dr Cathy Kezelman said it was ‘‘very concerning’’ that the allegations related to abuse that may have been going on ‘‘in the heartland of the archdiocese of Melbourne’’ when the church’s abuse handling system, the Melbourne Response, was launched in 1996. ‘‘Should these allegations be verified then it would be evidence of the absolute failure of the Melbourne Response to keep children safe,’’ she said. ‘‘This is obviously very much in the heartlands, in the place, at the time, in the centre of the then archbishop’s domain.”

Turnbull’s climate policy: hot air and coal exports

After the photo opportunities and the feel good politics of rubbing shoulders with world leaders at the Paris climate conference, the Turnbull government’s climate policy is playing out in reality.

Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt has approved the dredging and dumping of spoil on land to make way for the expansion of the Abbot Point coal terminal in north Queensland and the shipment of coal from Queensland’s vast Galilee Basin.

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If Australia is going to meet its woefully inadequate carbon emission targets, it has to start somewhere. And that somewhere isn’t Direct Action.

While Australia is one of the highest per capita emitters in the world in its own right, it also contributes significantly to the emission of its coal trading partners.

Refusing to approve what will be the world’s largest coal terminal would have sent a very clear message about the The government’s intentions  on climate change.

Unfortunately, approving it also sends a strong message. Minister Not-for-the Environment Greg Hunt has shredded the remaining tatters of Australia’s global climate change credentials with this decision.

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His greatest achievement to date is repealing the carbon tax. Strangely, that now doesn’t seem to have been such a great idea.