Monday, 20 October 2014

ABC botches headline: New CSIRO chief endorses dowsing

Today the ABC carried an interview with Larry Marshall, the new head of Australia's premier scientific research body, CSIRO. They chose to run with the headline New CSIRO head wants to help farmers find water. Reading into the interview with Larry Marshall, we find:
He's interested in the development of technology that would make it easier for farmers to dowse or divine for water on their properties.

"I've seen people do this with close to 80 per cent accuracy and I've no idea how they do it," he said.

"When I see that as a scientist, it makes me question, 'is there instrumentality that we could create that would enable a machine to find that water?'

"I've always wondered whether there's something in the electromagnetic field, or gravitation anomaly."

Dr Marshall believes the CSIRO can 'push the envelope' with such projects and contribute to improving agricultural productivity.
Yes, our new head of CSIRO thinks there's something to water dowsing. He's right that dowsers can sometimes find water in the natural environment, but only by picking up on environmental cues - the lie of the land, watercourses, vegetation, etc. All the stuff with the rods, the actual dowsing part, is utter bullshit. It's just the ideomotor effect at work. This has been established by many controlled tests of dowsers in which they fail dismally, then make excuses. There's nothing "in the electromagnetic field, or gravitation anomaly."

CSIRO rightly copped a bit of mocking on social media:
Somebody at CSIRO noticed, and tried to walk back their boss's comments:
He may not have been saying divining is the answer, but he was certainly suggesting that it's part of the answer and that there's something unexplained going on. There isn't. Dowsing itself does not work. It's embarassing that the head of CSIRO doesn't know that, and felt comfortable uttering such nonsense.

CSIRO shouldn't deny he said what he did or that he believes it, they need to own up to the fact that he said something and believes something stupid, and he needs to learn from it.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Cairns Post Letters from the Wingnuts #26: I guess there's always next year... or the next year... or the next...

On Friday, another of the what I guess we could call short Messages to the Editor of the Cairns Post saw some commentary on the lunar eclipse last week:
I saw God's power the moon turning red (Wednesday). In the Bible the book of the old testament Joel chapter 2v31 tells us that the sun will become dark and the moon will turn blood red before that great and terrible day when the Lord arrives.
Kate Higgins, White Rock
So the Sun will turn dark and the Moon blood red? Well I guess we could count night time as the Sun turning dark, but that's not a terribly miraculous event. And of course it's impossible to have a lunar eclipse and a solar eclipse at the same time or even on the same day - so that would be miraculous if pulled off!.

Anyway, I became curious about how many lunar eclipses have come and gone without the Lord's return. Assuming that Jesus was indeed executed in 30CE, and if the early Jesus movement had connected the scripture in Joel to the second coming of Jesus that early, it must have been quite exciting when the Moon turned blood red in the skies over Jerusalem on 7 October 32 (weather permitting of course). It must also have been a bit of a disappointment when nothing else happened.

And so they may have waited, slowly losing hope, until another blood moon appeared on 31 January 36. "Surely this time!", they may have thought, but alas Jesus again failed to return. Disappointment may have been short lived however, as the night of 26 July 36 brought another blood moon to Jerusalem's skies, but it was, of course, another no show. Years passed, and then another blood moon appeared in the night sky on 19 November 39. No return. 15 May 40 would have been the next disappointment. And so came 7 September 43, 31 December 46, 26 June 47, 25 April 50, 18 October 50, 11 February 54, 7 August 54, 5 June 57, 29 November 57, 24 Mar 61, 18 September 61, 11 January 65, 5 May 68, 11 December 75, 5 June 76, 4 April 79, 22 January 83, 17 July 83, 9 November 86, 4 March 90, 28 August 90, 21 December 93, 17 June 94, and 9 October 97.

And that's just the total lunar eclipses visible in Jerusalem between the claimed execution of Jesus and the end of the first century! Between then and now there have been too many for me to bother counting.

I suppose that the Moon may glow red in the light of our Sun when it goes into its red giant phase in 5 billion years or so, and then the Sun will collapse to a mere glimmer of its former self. Perhaps that will be the Time.

Unfortunately in the red giant phase the Earth and the Moon will probably both be destroyed, so I'm not where Jesus would return to.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Cairns Post Letters from the Wingnuts #25: A wingnut uses a pseudonym

Back on 3 August, looking at the winter sea ice maximum approaching in Antarctica and anticipating wingnuts writing to the Editor of the Cairns Post about increase, I wrote:
One common climate change denier arguments is to point at Antarctic sea ice's growth as if it proves warming isn't happening. Cairns's "leading" wingnut letter writer, Bill Schutz, is one of a few who has included this in his letters to the Cairns Post. Such authors ignore the Antarctic land ice melt and the effect the water from that melt has on sea ice formation, and also the effects of a change in circumpolar winds.
I then linked to an article that discussed our growing understanding of the Antarctic sea ice and the possibility of sensor calibration being behind some of the increase.

And so to this week, when the editor at the Cairns Post chose to let a pseudonymous wingnut have some space:
Here's something that Tim Flannery and the Greens failed to report. The sea ice at Antarctica has reached the highest levels ever recorded at a massive 20 million sq km. So much for the scam of global warming melting the ice caps and us humans to blame for it all. What a joke!
The Black Adder, Mt Sheridan
Well, I have a sneaking suspicion I know who the Black Adder from Mt Sheridan is.

The argument the correspondent makes is regularly heard, and whenever I hear it I can't help but start to wonder about the integrity of the writer. A big part of the answer is there in the very comment - the sea ice around Antarctica. That word "sea" is very important. Sea ice surrounds Antarctica, a continent covered with ice. It's well documented and hardly a secret being kept by environmentalists that sea ice is increasing. But what's happening with that land-based ice? It's melting, and losing far more mass than the sea ice is gaining.

It's hard to believe the author could be oblivious to the fact Antarctica is a continent, though stupidity is sometimes easy to underestimate. Could the author not know that land ice is decreasing while sea ice is increasing? I would be surprised the author would specify "sea ice" if that were so. Could it be that our pseudonymous wingnut knows that his argument is invalid, but chooses to use it anyway?

Either stupid or dishonest, only our pseudonymous wingnut really knows.

Sam Harris on his "discussion" with Ben Affleck

Sam Harris appeared on the Last Word and talked to host Lawrence O'Donnell about an argument about Islam that broke out while Harris was a panellist on Bill Maher's TV show along with Ben Affleck. I'm not much of a movie watcher, and can't recall any Ben Affleck movie that I've seen. I have, however, seen him interviewed on progressive political issues and found him well-spoken and intelligent, and found myself agreeing with him. This is not how he came across on Maher's show.

"Highlights" of the argument lead the below interview, and the interview is better than watching the whole argument.

Hizb Ut-Tahrir is Islamic... and so is the Islamic State

At work I spend much of the day with ABC24 on in the background. It's on in our reception area partly to entertain waiting clients, and partly to make it harder for clients to overhear what staff are saying out the back. Yesterday one of the stories getting play was the ABC Lateline interview with a spokesperson from the fundamentalist/extremist Islamic group Hizb Ut-Tahrir.

If the spokesperson, Wassim Doureihi, does object to the tactics of Islamic State, he butchered an opportunity to distance himself from them. If he was so inclined, he could have responded "Yes, of course we condemn the beheading of aid workers" and defused that line of questioning in a flash. He could then have made his points about western government mistakes in the region with far more authority. If you want to take the moral high ground, you need to step onto it first.

Perhaps Hizb Ut-Tahrir and Wassim Doureihi are appalled by the Islamic State's actions, and he's just not a good enough spokesperson to know how to get on top of an interview. If so, Hizb Ut-Tahrir should fire him and find someone to better present their views.

Perhaps Hizb Ut-Tahrir is a peaceful organisation appalled by the Islamic State, but Wassim Doureihi parts company with them on that count and could not bring himself to condemn those he admires. If so, Hizb Ut-Tahrir should fire him and find someone better to present their views.

More likely, however, is that Hizb Ut-Tahrir is in fact pro-Islamic State, but knows admitting to that would be damaging. If so, Hizb Ut-Tahrir needs to find a spokesperson that is better able to either deflect such questions or just lie and say they condemn Islamic State.

Hizb Ut-Tahrir seeks to implement the same sort of fundamentalist/extremist interpretation of Islam that Islamic State do, but know that while they enjoy their luxuries in the west they need to use other tactics to promote their views.

I found one part of the interview rather amusing, when Doureihi decided to assume victimhood status (9:50 in):
WASSIM DOUREIHI: You can place whatever spin you like. We live it, we experience it.
EMMA ALBERICI: The democratically-elected government in Iraq has invited us in.
WASSIM DOUREIHI: We experience it. And that's why as a Muslim, ...
EMMA ALBERICI: Isn't that a little different to occupying ...
WASSIM DOUREIHI: ... I'm telling the Australian public the reality of what this government is doing in our lands. We live it. It's not an academic exercise. It's not about ...
EMMA ALBERICI: No, you're living in Australia. You're an Australian resident, you're an Australian citizen.
WASSIM DOUREIHI: It's not about point-scoring.
EMMA ALBERICI: You're not living anything in Iraq.
It would be really nice if Doureihi went and actually lived the experience. Let him go and live in Raqqah for a while.

Following the interview, Prime Minister Tony Abbott rightly praised Alberici, and called Hizb Ut-Tahrir un-Islamic. This of course fits in with his many claims that Islamic State is un-Islamic, a worn out assertion he makes routinely. Every time I hear him make this sort of assertion I at least think the word "bullshit", and sometimes mutter it out loud, even at work.

Hizb ut-Tahrir and Islamic State are most certainly Islamic, and the two share many ideals in common. They share many of these things in common with many other Islamic groups and indeed Islamic nations, such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Pakistan. Yes, they even share some ideals with relatively benign Muslim majority nations such as Indonesia, Malaysia, and QANTAS's chosen stopover point for many flights, the United Arab Emirates.

Islam is not a monolithic entity. It comes in many interpretations, and the Islamic State is trying to implement one such interpretation, no more or less "true Islam" than any other. It certainly is not the interpretation we would like to see dominate, and it's not an interpretation that will see Muslims live flourishing lives, but it's Islamic nonetheless.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

There will be countless photos of tonight's lunar eclipse

I may as well add mine. This is the best of a bad bunch.

Focusing on infinity should be easy, but alas.
I couldn't find the mount for my tripod, so I ended up attaching a gorilla grip to frame of my sling chair. The Canon 1000D struggled.

Standing guard

A yellow shrimpgoby (Cryptocentrus cinctus) stands guard at its burrow
The seagrass areas around Green Island are a good place to spot shrimpgobies, which live in a symbiotic relationship with alpheid shrimps. The gobies stand guard while the shrimps maintain the burrow. The only view I got of the shrimps were a tip of a pincers down in a burrow, but I managed to see a few of the gobies. This one was rather brave and stayed out until I got quite close.

I'm thinking I need to make a weighted mount for my camera, leave it next to a hole, then swim off for a bit with either video or time lapse photos being taken if I want to see the shrimp.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Monday, 6 October 2014

Sunday escape

Coral off the main swimming area at Green Island
I slipped out to Green Island for the first time in many years yesterday. My intention was to laze on a beach, read a book, gaze at clear waters, and occasionally leap in. I didn't expect to do a great deal of snorkelling. My previous impression of Green Island for snorkelling was that it was lots of sea grass and not a lot of coral. I thought the only way to get some good snorkelling was to jump on a boat to head out to the more distant fringing reef. In the end, however, I did very little reading and a lot of snorkelling.

The main swimming area at Green Island does have a large field of sea grass in front of it, but it's actually not a long swim before you start finding some very nice patches of coral and lots of fish. The area next to the jetty also has more coral than I remember it having. I'm not sure if my memory is fault, if it has improved naturally, or if they've done some regeneration work.

Highlights of the day included a number of green sea turtles which appeared in the late afternoon, and having a picasso triggerfish charge at me a few times - I assume to try to scare me away from a nest.

One of the big advantages of living up here is that you can head out to the Great Barrier Reef on a whim. Drifting over coral reefs is a wonderful way to relax. I should do it more often.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Australia, the Saudi Arabia of the South Pacific

At Slate, Ariel Bogel and Will Oremus cast their eye at Australia's regress on environmental issues:
Did we mention that Australians’ per-capita carbon emissions are the highest of any major developed country in the world? Welcome to the Saudi Arabia of the South Pacific. No, Australia isn’t a theocracy, and oil isn’t the source of its fossil-fuel riches. But it is the world’s second-largest exporter of coal and third-largest exporter of liquefied natural gas, and minerals and fuels account for nearly 50 percent of its export revenues. Its per-capita carbon emissions actually exceed those of Saudi Arabia. And its behavior of late is beginning to bear an ugly resemblance to those petro-states whose governments seem to exist chiefly to guarantee the spectacular profits of the fossil-fuel industry.
Read more at Slate

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Do you see what I see?

One of the Cairns Post photographers was sent out to get a photo of our treasurer, Joe Hockey, on his visit to Cairns. As any photographer would, I have to assume a fairly large number of photos were taken and then the editor picked out one to use. On Friday's editorial page, the selected photo appeared. When I saw it I immediately laughed. Do you see what I see?

Monday, 15 September 2014

Leunig nails it

Tony Abbott announced his intention to send Australian troops to Iraq to play a role in the campaign against the Islamic State, and made a comment that struck me as a little ironic:
''This death cult is uniquely evil in that it does not simply do evil, it exalts in evil,'' Mr Abbott said. ''This death cult has ambitions way beyond those of any previous terrorist group.''
Leunig had the same reaction I did:

Friday, 12 September 2014

Sam Harris: Sleepwalking toward Armageddon

Sam Harris's piece on Obama's attempt to portray the Islamic State as un-Islamic is essential reading. Among many passages I could choose as a highlight, he writes:
As an atheist, I cannot help wondering when this scrim of pretense and delusion will be finally burned away—either by the clear light of reason or by a surfeit of horror meted out to innocents by the parties of God. Which will come first, flying cars and vacations to Mars, or a simple acknowledgment that beliefs guide behavior and that certain religious ideas—jihad, martyrdom, blasphemy, apostasy—reliably lead to oppression and murder? It may be true that no faith teaches people to massacre innocents exactly—but innocence, as the President surely knows, is in the eye of the beholder. Are apostates “innocent”? Blasphemers? Polytheists? Islam has the answer, and the answer is “no.”
Go read

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

A video update to an old post: clever fish

In April last year I noted some research on interspecies cooperative hunting between coral trout and moray eels:
A study led by Alexander Vail, a Gates Cambridge Scholar at the University of Cambridge's Department of Zoology, found that groupers and coral trout perform a pointing signal to indicate the location of hidden prey to cooperative hunting partners including moray eels, octopuses and Napoleon wrasses. 
Most days I drop in to Underwater Times, an aggregator of fish-related news. Today the first article listed was Watch: Fish And Eels Team Up To Catch Prey--Rare Among Animals; 'Let's Go Hunting', linking to a National Geographic article with this video showing the behaviour: