Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Cairns "News"... coming to another medium-sized town's newspaper soon

I have a little sympathy for newspaper editors and their need to try to come up with something eye-catching for the front page. Slow news days must be a pain in the proverbial, and result in non-stories getting blown out of proportion.

I wonder if Monday's Cairns Post was the result of a really slow news day until a late breaking story squeezed in. At the bottom we had a story about a serious car accident that resulted in a pedestrian losing a leg, and this was hailed in large letters - DRINK DRIVE HORROR. If it bleeds, it leads. A bit sensationalist, but at least it was news.

Above however was a non-story, IT'S OFFICIAL: WE ARE STILL OUT OF THIS WORLD, which breathlessly announced that the Cairns crater on Mars, so named in 1976, will (* drumroll *) continue to be named the Cairns crater.
CAIRNS’ place in space is safe, no matter how large the city becomes.

The city has a 8.6km wide crater on Mars named after it, an honour NASA reserves for Earthly cities with fewer than 100,000 people.

The honour was bestowed upon Cairns in 1976, when the city’s population was 90,000.
Honour? No, we were just another town whose name got used in a generic nomenclature. We weren't specially selected. Mars may not be that big as far as planets go, but it has a huge number of craters needing names for maps.
With the city’s population now about 150,000 people, and estimated to hit 400,000 by 2050, the town could be in danger of losing its crater.
Really? This front page news is years too late! Why didn't they let us know about this threat when we reached 100,000? Maybe they did and I just didn't notice.

So, does the Cairns Post really think that NASA redraws its maps of Mars with population updates, changing crater names every time a new population estimate gets released anywhere in the world? The story continues, and explains that it isn't a story at all.
But Jennifer Blue, from NASA’s Astrogeology Science Centre said that the Cairns crater would forever keep its name.

“The theme of small-town names was chosen because it supplies an almost endless bank of names for the manycraters on Mars,’’ she said.

“The requirement is that the town’s population must be less than 100,000 at the time the name is proposed and approved. There’s no danger that the name would be rescinded because Cairns’ population is now greater than 100,000.

“One of the goals of planetary nomenclature is to keep the system stable.”
I imagine Jennifer Blue was consulted by phone and spent much of the time face-palming and wondering why she had to talk to such idiots as part of her job. Let's give Daniel Bateman the benefit of the doubt, and assume he wasn't the idiot in question. He probably just dropped Cairns's name into a generic template that does the rounds from one medium-sized town's newspaper to another. Come to think of it, that may not be much benefit to give.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Last Week Tonight: Uganda's LGBTI activist Pepe Julian Onziema

John Oliver discusses US progress towards marriage equality and Uganda's anti-gay laws:

The interview with Pepe Julian Onziema continued:

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Along a lightly beaten track

Enjoying the return of blue skies, I wandered north along the beaches to Palm Cove, and then kept going a little further. If you wander around the rocks at Palm Cove you'll find a small bay. I've only ever wandered round there three times, finding it empty once and the other times finding lone nude sunbathers.

We have had some rather low tides recently, and today Haycock Island really lived up to its Scout's Hat nickname.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

The three biggest right wing lies about poverty

Writing about the United States and its Republican Party, Robert Reich identifies The Three Biggest Right Wing Lies About Poverty:
Lie #1: Economic growth reduces poverty
Lie #2: Jobs reduce poverty
Lie #3: Ambition cures poverty
Sound familiar? Much of what he writes applies equally to Australia and our conservatives. Go read.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Joe Hockey's Tea Party Rant

On 12 June, Stephen "The Kouk" Koukoulas wrote:
Last night, Australian time, US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew gave a speech where he openly welcomed the fact that the US economic growth momentum was "gaining traction". It was an optimistic outlook for the US which is only now genuinely emerging from the Great Recession of 2007-2009 which was brought on by a collapse in banking, insurance and the housing market.

In looking at the challenges ahead Lew noted, in comments oozing decency and empathy, that for the many people who were unemployed and those whose wages have stagnated, "this hardly feels like a recovery".

"The ultimate test for all of us will be how inclusive tomorrow's economy becomes and how widely our economic gains flow," he said. "The crisis we face today is the need to make sure the economy is expanding fast enough to support a growing middle class."

At about the same time Lew was discussing these issues of a stronger economy and fairness and equity, Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey delivered a speech which could not have been more at odds with Jack Lew's themes. Indeed, Mr Hockey's speech could have been penned by the US Tea Party fringe given its assault on equity and the contempt he showed for the less well off in society.
Read more at The Kouk.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Cairns Post Letters from the Wingnuts #24: Short and stupid

P.W. English of Manunda joins the Wingnuts today with a mercifully short but really stupid letter to the Editor of the Cairns Post. Our correspondent opines:
I would like to congratulate The Cairns Post for the opinion piece on Tuesday,  June 10.

It is full of common sense and I agree with the sentiments expressed in it.
I assume that P.W. English is referring to a screed by climate change denier Andrew Bolt that ran in the Cairns Post that day. It wasn't a particularly noteworthy article given its source, and mainly consisted of Bolt whining that the left in Australia liked Obama's climate stance but didn't like the George W. Bush's military stance, and somehow that was inconsistent. Anyway, let's stick with our local wingnut. P.W. English, who continues:
It is good to see Tony Abbott standing up to the climate changers, and they are very quiet about the volcano which blew up in Indonesia more than a week ago,  which put more carbon up into the sky in one day than Australia could achieve in five years.
Gee, a volcano emitted more CO2 in a day than Australia emits in 5 years? I'm sure you've already guessed the accuracy of P.W. English's claim. It's spectacularly wrong.

Last year Australia's carbon dioxide emissions total 538.4 million tonnes. The volcano that P.W. English refers to is Sangeang Api, the ash plume of which caused air traffic delays that were reported widely. I'm unable to find estimates of the amount of carbon dioxide it is emitting, but the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, with a similar volcanic explosive index, in 2010 had estimates of 150,000 to 300,000 tonnes per day. All volcanoes together are estimated to amount to 250-300 million tonnes per year.

Contrary to P.W. English's claim, Australia's daily emissions (1.475 million tonnes) dwarf those from Sangeang Api (approx 0.3 million tonnes).
All efforts to control or climate will ultimately be futile.
Well, that's certainly Tony Abbott's goal. Let's hope he fails.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Would you like the good news or the bad news first?

I'll admit to growing increasingly pessimistic about the probability the world will get its act together and act on climate change. Australia's election of Tony Abbott and his denier colleagues certainly didn't help. This week's announcements from the USA and China are certainly promising, but words aren't action. Both are likely to see carbon pricing schemes in a range of measures to reduce emissions.

This week Ezra Klein, formerly of Wonkblog and now running his own show at the highly recommended Vox, voiced his pessimism. In his introduction, Klein writes:
I don't believe the United States — or the world — will do nearly enough, nearly fast enough, to hold the rise in temperatures to safe levels. I think we're fucked. Or, at the least, I think our grandchildren are fucked.

If you were going to weaponize an issue to take advantage of the weak points in the American political system — to highlight all the blind spots, dysfunctions, and irrationalities — you would create climate change. And then you would stand back and watch the world burn.
Go and read Klein's piece. It's depressing reading, but come back and we'll turn to more optimistic views.

Also at the Vox, Brad Plumer takes a slightly more optimistic tone, arguing that while we're likely to miss the much discussed 2 degrees warming goal, there's still reason to hope we can reduce our impact substantially.
But if global greenhouse-gas emissions continue growing on their current trajectory, climate models suggest we could face around 4°C or more of warming by the end of the century (that's 7.2°F).

On the other hand, if every country in the world followed through on the pledges that they've already made to cut greenhouse gases, then we could possibly limit that to somewhere around 3.1°C of warming, according to calculations by the Climate Action Tracker, which keeps tabs on government commitments.

Even those cuts are far from assured — most countries would need to adopt considerably more ambitious policies to limit emissions. What's more, 3.1°C of warming is likely to put a lot of stress on crops and the global food system, lead to significant sea-level rise, and bring increased heat waves, droughts, and so on. But 3.1°C is also still less than 4°C.
Joe Romm of ClimateProgress also decided to reply from the optimist's perspective. Of note to me are the charts illustrating the drop in price for solar energy ($76.67 per watt in 1977 to $0.74 per watt in 2013) and for batteries. Solar energy really is our best option, and it is becoming increasingly viable. (I would love to go solar myself, especially with my aquariums going 24/7, but am in rental accommodation.)

Romm's conclusion:
BOTTOM LINE: I think it is important for climate and policy experts to be realistic. But as politically difficult as serious climate action may be, there’s no doubt it’s something we could do, and I don’t see how anyone can know we won’t. Klein ends his piece:
There are manageable failures and there are unmanageable failures. We’re currently on track for an unmanageable failure. I think it’s possible that we can slowly, painfully pull ourselves towards a manageable failure, but I’m not willing to call that optimism.

On climate change, the truth has gone from inconvenient to awful. Right now we’re failing our future. And we will be judged harshly for it.
Well, even a “manageable failure” would be far better than rendering large parts of the planet uninhabitable and reducing the carrying capacity to far below 9 billion people, which is where we’re headed. But I think it’s possible and indeed likely that we will quickly and not-so-painfully pull ourselves into an even better outcome.
Sometimes I think we will end up with a manageable failure, but most of the time I'm not that optimistic. What would a manageable failure be? I sometimes think about what the Cairns Esplanade is like at a king high tide now, with water splashing through the board-walk, then imagine what it would be like with a highly optimistic 60cm of sea level rise. With 3 degrees warming our reef will likely be dead, and much of our tourism gone.

Maybe I should have titled this post Would you like the bad news or the even worse news first?

Monday, 26 May 2014

Low tide

Double and Haycock Island in the distance from Trinity Park
Unfortunately the beaches around Cairns do not have crystal clear waters, but instead carry a fair amount of sediment from the Barron River. I would like to come upon a day when the waters are clear enough to do some snorkelling around the rocks. I think the above area, along the channel between the shore and the rocks, might be a good spot.

A new style of snorkel mask

A French company has developed a new snorkelling mask with built in snorkel which allows the snorkeller to breathe through his/her nostrils or mouth, and prevents fogging of the glass. I would love to give one of these a go, though it looks like we're unlikely to see them in Australia until 2015:

The air flow is the key, with fresh air passing over the glass and exhaled air being directed around the side and out of the mask:

Sunday, 25 May 2014


Looking toward Yorkeys Knob from the northern end of Trinity Park's beach
After a rather overcast week with some light showers, we were treated to pretty much the perfect day today, with blue skies, light breezes, and a top of 28 degrees celsius. After a lovely breakfast at Fratelli's, I took advantage of the low tide and did a scramble around the rocks to Trinity Park. Alas tomorrow sees me trapped in the office.

A better life

I wasn't aware of Chris Johnson's book A Better Life, a photo-book with interview of atheists which started as a Kickstarter campaign. With his subsequent Kickstarter almost reaching its goal already, I now have to decide whether to get the book or wait to see the movie.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Cairns Post Letters from the Wingnuts #23: Bill has a new friend

I previously made a brief note of another climate change denial letter sent to the Cairns Post by regular wingnut Bill Schutz. I pointed out that in addition to his usual errors about science he had even stuffed up his attribution of a famous quote to Mark Twain. I had intended to come back to the scientific claims in Mr Schutz's letter, but a Robin Willows of Clifton Beach decided to jump on board the wingnut express and double down on Mr Schutz's claims. Mr Willows (I'm guessing Mr) also tacked on a rather amusing end.
Bill Schutz (12-5, "Put warming fees on ice") states there has been no global warming for 17 years and nine months. 
Well, no mistake there. Mr Schutz did indeed make that erroneous claim. He does so regularly, for example here in my Letters from the Wingnuts #15. Oh, and my Letters from the Wingnuts #14.
Bill might have added that this is according to remote sensing systems' (satellites) global; mean temperature change data (land and ocean) which shows no "statistically significant" warming from zero for 17 years and nine months.
There are numerous problems with this claim. Not the least is that it's a case of cherry picking. 1998, which the deniers choose as the starting point for their time frame, was an exceptionally strong El Nino year. It was, at the time, the hottest year on record. The years subsequent to 1998 have continued along the trend set by the years before 1998. A number of years have been hotter, the exact number depending on which dataset is being used.

Global temperature anomalies - from Coltan and Way (via Open Mind)
Simply put, warming has continued with 1998 being an outlier from the trend. Deniers carefully pick a small subset of the data, maximising the impact of that outlier, to get the result they want. Statistics need to be used carefully and in context in order to increase understanding.

For a fuller explanation, please read Global Temperature - the Post-1998 Surprise at Tamino's Open Mind.
This data has not been "adjusted", unlike some of the terrestrial ones, to suit the warming scare.
Ah, the adjusted data gambit. Yes, some datasets do get adjusted as problems with them become understood. This is how science is meant to work. The adjustments are made using methodologies discussed in the scientific literature, and are used to correct known errors, not to suit a political end.
During this time carbon dioxide has increased by about 9 per cent.

I'm amazed most folks don't know about this. Unfortunately, the mainstream doesn't report "good news" regarding the climate and they should so taxpayers can judge for themselves how much of their money should be spent.
I guess Mr Willows doesn't consider the Australian, a newspaper with a long history of climate change denial, as "mainstream media". The Cairns Post, the very paper he is writing to, hosts Andrew Bolt's drivel weekly. Bolt also has his own TV show on Channel 10. I know Channel 10 is struggling in the ratings, but I think we can still call them mainstream media.

And then comes the spit-takingly stupid bit. The bit that made Mr Willows's letter jump out and beg to be criticised:
There will probably be an El Nino event in late 2014/early 2015, which will cause a rise in temperatures, especially in the northern hemisphere, but it will have nothing to do with carbon dioxide, which is 0.04 per cent of the atmosphere.
Yes, Mr Willows starts his piece by taking advantage of a high spike caused by an extremely strong El Nino event, and then finishes by saying the warmth we are about to experience is due to an El Nino so we should disregard it. Odd that he didn't apply his own standard to 1998, isn't it?