Thursday, 19 February 2015

Jeff the Diseased Lung, Marlboro's new mascot?

John Oliver turned his attention to the tobacco industry, with Australia getting an honourable mention for recent plain packaging efforts:

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Chapel Hill: Not terrorism, and almost certainly not a hate crime

Sam Harris comments on the desire of some to see the Chapel Hill murders, in which three young Muslims were killed by an atheist neighbour, as a terrorist attack or hate crime:

I've tried explaining some of this to people on Twitter in recent days, and have been surprised by how hard it has been to get people to look at the definition of terrorism and see if it fits. It doesn't. It also looks like it doesn't fit the definition of hate crime.

Terrible crimes are not necessarily terrorism. Muslims can be victims of non-religiously motivated crime just like the rest of us. Neighbourhood disputes, even just about parking, result in more shootings in the USA than anti-Muslim sentiments.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Sunday, 8 February 2015

More trouble for Aquis?

I thought I would bump a story from the local blogs section over on the right into the main section as it's rather interesting. Hillbilly Watch reports that a speed bump for Aquis, possibly far bigger than those encountered so far, has been announced by the Chinese government:
Aquis is officially and totally dead.

It's not clear how long it will take the politicians to accept this as fact, but it's now clear to us.

Chinese President Xi Jinxing today issued a second tranche of regulations to govern Chinese citizens gambling activities in overseas casinos.  President Xi set out early in 2013 on a campaign to fight "tigers and flies" - government cadres of both high rank as well as lower-level bureaucrats.
Read on at Hillbilly Watch. I hadn't seen anything about the Chinese government cracking down on their people heading overseas to gamble, so headed to Google News. The reports don't specify Australia as a target, but it's probably a safe assumption our casinos are going to take a hit.

The South China Morning Post reports:
China is to stem the flow of people gambling overseas and online by launching a crackdown on domestic casino-linked business that were set up to attract big-spending clients.

The crackdown - led by the country's powerful Ministry of Public Security - is being seen as a significant extension of the unprecedented campaign to clean up Macau's casinos launched by Beijing late last year. That campaign has already seen a number of major junket operators - the shady firms that bring high rollers to the tables - shrink or close their operations in the former Portuguese enclave.
News that the crackdown would now extend beyond Macau seems to have caused Macau casino shares to climb a little, with investors thinking that while the playing field is still bad, at least other countries will be on the same field.

With the headline China's president just declared war on global gambling, Business Insider reports:
“Some foreign countries see our nation as an enormous market, and we have investigated a series of cases,” said Hua Jingfeng, a deputy bureau chief at the Ministry of Public Security. “A fair number of neighbouring countries have casinos, and they have set up offices in China to attract and drum up interest from Chinese citizens to go abroad and gamble. This will also be an area that we will crack down on.”

In other words, Xi is telling companies around the world that saw their revenue triple when Macau opened up to foreigners that the Chinese gambler will not be following them abroad to countries like Singapore and the Philippines where billions have been spent on new projects to attract those same people.
Let's re-read that last bit - "the Chinese gambler will not be following them abroad to countries like Singapore and the Philippines where billions have been spent on new projects to attract those same people." That sure sounds like Aquis. The viability of the Aquis project has to take a hit from this. Even if Australia isn't in the current round of targets, is there much doubt that we will be in future expansion of targets?

I was hoping our government might save us from Aquis. Perhaps the Chinese Government will instead.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Warmer summers (and other seasons) ahead

Yesterday the Cairns Post had an article giving a local angle on the latest update from the CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology on climate change in Australia.

The article made reference to the fact we will be facing a tripling of the number of days above 35°C. Such days make it difficult for our 37°C bodies to radiate away excess heat. Our summers will be a good deal less comfortable. As Professor Steve Turton said for the article, other species, without the benefit of air conditioning, face an even more difficult future:
“There are also implications for our ecosystem,’’ he said.

“We know that a lot of our upland mammals, particularly, and some of the birds are adapted to a cooler climate above about 800m.

“Some of those animals are very susceptible to heatwaves, so potentially if heatwaves become more common, it’s ­certainly not only an issue for human comfort but also for a lot of the rare and endemic species that comprise the wet tropics.”
Little comment was made in the article of sea level rise, which surprised me a little. We recently had our highest tides for the year, and I had intended to head to the Esplanade to take a photo of the waters lapping against the boardwalk but work got in the way. Imagine what such days would be like with another 50cm of water - the roads would be awash. We're likely to get at least 50cm, and possibly more than double that by century's end. The expense of constructing sea walls will be substantial.

The wingnuts have been quite restrained on the article so far. There are a couple in the comments of the web page, and I expect the usual suspects will appear in the print edition tomorrow or in Saturday's paper. I'm guessing the "NASA admitted there's only a 38% chance that 2014 was the hottest year" argument, trotted out by one wingnut on the story and by a couple earlier this week in response to an earlier article, will get another play. I further suspect "no warming since 1998" or a variant will appear, and Tim Flannery's words will be taken out of context.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Vote Compass: Yep, that's more or less right

During a break in shovelling sand in hot and humid conditions, I decided to undertake the ABC's Vote Compass for next week's Queensland election. I didn't expect to be surprised, and expected be somewhere between Labor and the Greens. Et voila:

I'm a little surprised that the Katter Australia Party is closer to me than the Palmer United Party. I thought the KAP would be further toward the social conservative end of the chart.

Here in the electorate of Barron River we have candidates from the Greens, ALP, PUP and LNP. I'll be voting in that order knowing that it's highly improbable that the Greens will win the seat. My vote will end up with the Labor Party, but the financial reward for first preference ($2.90) will go to the Greens.

Remember: To deny a major party $2.90 in funding, vote for a minor party that doesn't have a chance of winning.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

What fungus is that?

An unidentified and rather eye-catching fungus
I have a rather extensive book collection to help me identify insects and arachnids, even a book dedicated to cockroaches. As yet I don't have one for fungi. I suspect that the diversity in our forests is rather huge, and a guide to their identification may be a rather sizeable tome.

On the Musgravea Trail

Walking trail leading up to Licuala
Next weekend will mark the fourth anniversary of Cyclone Yasi's crossing of the coast in the Mission Beach to Cardwell region, an area with a special place in my heart since my holiday up here in 1999, and where I almost decided to live on moving.

A few weeks after Yasi struck I went down to the area to see what damage had been done, and was shocked by the effects on the forest of the area - it was as if a giant with a whipper-snipper had gone through. I remember finding the scene very depressing.

I haven't been down to Mission Beach since March last year, so today I slipped down for the afternoon to have a look. The forest has thickened up at lower levels quite well, but the canopy is still a long way from returning. The El Arish to Mission Beach road, once like a tunnel in the forest, is still bathed in light. I don't think any branches make it out over the road at all.

I went down to Licuala, on the Tully to Mission Beach road, and wandered along the Musgravea Track that links Licuala to Lacey's Creek. The low level forest, helped along by increased light levels, is very thick - perhaps thicker than it was previously. Some trees are starting to reach up to what once was the canopy, but they're rather sparse.

Although it was a pleasant stroll, I think I've previously been over-optimistic as to how long it would take for Mission Beach's forests to return to their pre-Yasi splendour. It may be another five to ten years or more. Let's hope for some more wet but cyclone-free seasons for the area.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Cairns Post Letters from the Wingnuts #28: NASA temperature probabilities get wingnuts in stereo

After a change in employer I don't get to see the Cairns Post's Letters to the Editor page very often, but I had a quick glance today. A pair of brief rants caught my eye, in part because they essentially repeated the one point. I'll give one a glance, and decline to give any oxygen to the other on this day.
Re: Hottest year ever. Wayne Brandon fails to mention that the "new record" was less than 0.02C (well within the margin of error) and that within hours of the statement being released, one of NASA's chief scientists admitted there was only a 38 per cent chance it was the hottest year, geez! How's that peer review working out?
Andy, Gordonvale
It's true that it's hard to say if 2014 was definitely hotter than 2010. There is no single thermometer that we can check - the temperature is estimated using many different measurements, and the results have some degree of error.

Imagine a game in which I drew a coloured ball out of a hat, There are 100 balls and 5 colours, and in order to win the game you just need to guess the colour. If I have an equal number of each colour, it's a toss up as to which colour you should choose - 20 of the balls are each colour.

But imagine if you knew that the balls weren't 20 of each colour. Imagine that you knew that 38 of the balls are red, 23 are blue, 18 are yellow, 17 are green, and 4 are black. What colour would you choose? I think anyone with half a brain would go for red.

Place your bets...
This is what NASA were describing. The probability that 2014 is the hottest year is indeed 38% (the red balls). The probability that 2010 was the hottest year is 23% (blue).  The 17 green balls represent the probability that 2005 is the hottest year. The 5 black balls represent the climate change denier's favourite year, 1998. The 18 yellow balls represent the probability that any of the many other years was the hottest.

2014 is thus more than 8 times more likely to be the hottest year than 1998. the year that deniers like to claim marked the end of warming.

Our two wingnuts are apparently betting on black.

Friday, 16 January 2015


A message from Brian Dalton, the creator of Mr Deity, to Pope Francis:

I concur.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Bad pun resisted... Otters at Palm Cove

It had been a couple of years since I had been to the zoo at Palm Cove, and there a few notable changes. The red panda has apparently been sent off to breed, and a binturong now resides in that exhibit. A pair of small Komodo dragons are also on display - that's small by komodo dragon standards, they're still very large by monitor lizard standards.

The highlight for me was the Asian small-clawed otters. On first viewing the two otters were happily dozing in a log, though one did come out for a brief wander. Dropping by a little later we found one of them highly active and vocal, letting out a "meh!" sound that struck me as a contact call. My mother and I were able to mimic the call, and the otter definitely responded as it made regular laps of its pool before coming to the side of the enclosure, giving us a look over, and calling out to us.

Asian small-clawed otters (Aonyx cinerea) - cute to the eye but not the nose

I'm not sure how long the otters have been at the zoo. At the moment they're in a ground level display previously used for lizards and freshwater turtles. It would be nice if the zoo would create a better display for them, lifting them up a bit and also including underwater viewing.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

"What we can do is not give a fucking inch" - Salman Rushdie on Bill Maher

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack, Salman Rushdie appeared on Bill Maher's show. It's well worth 15 minutes of your time.