Thursday, 22 April 2004
Go Ask Alice.
The mud puddle at right is the so-called "spring" for which the town of Alice Springs is named. It isn't really a spring: It's just a place where the underground water table happens to be close to the surface. When the surveyors came through this part of Australia in 1871, looking for water sources and a suitable path for the telegraph line, it had rained the previous day and the water level was higher than usual—so the surveyors thought they had discovered an oasis, and they named it after the boss's wife. I think that was the last time it rained here, too.
Here we see Ye Olde Telegraph Station. These buildings were constructed between 1872 and 1905ish, and have been restored to their original condition. The people who lived here were the only whites in the area (at first), and the telegraph line through Alice Springs was Australia's first connection to the outside world, running from Adelaide to Darwin and then from there to Java by undersea cable. The telegraph brought news from Great Britain in a matter of hours, where it had taken two months to arrive by sea.
The first crew to live at the station included a stationmaster, four telegraph operators, a cook, a blacksmith (who was really a jack of all trades), their wives and children, and a teacher/governess. The station was in operation 24/7 and the operators took six-hour shifts. The station also supported two linesmen, but the linesmen didn't live at the station: They each lived 150km up or down the line, and rode out to repair it as needed. When they did return to the station about once a month for supplies, they lived in tents like these. The station itself was re-supplied once a year ("imagine going a year between shopping trips," said our guide), and was largely self-sufficient.
There were seven stationmasters here between 1872 and 1932, when the station moved to the township of Stuart—which promptly decided it liked the name Alice Springs better than it liked Stuart, and so the town renamed itself after the telegraph station. Being a stationmaster was a high-risk profession; something like four of the seven died in office or soon afterwards. At least one of the stationmasters is buried in a small cemetery on the premises.
This was also a first for me: After three years of living in Australia, I've finally seen a wild kangaroo. (How many deer and buffalo do you see on a regular basis?) The small blurry blotch in the middle of this photo is an inland wallaroo, M. robustus erubescens, also known as a "euro." If you look really closely, you may be able to see the baby kangaroo (a "joey") in her pouch.
We also had the pleasure of eating kangaroo (and emu, crocodile, and camel, for good measure) at one of Alice Springs's local restaurants. Kangaroo is in the "tastes like beef" category; I had actually eaten it before—it can be found on some menus in Sydney—but it was a first for my parents. Emu tastes like ostrich, which tastes like beef, and is pretty good. Camel tastes like beef, but has a sort of squishy, slimy texture (it was our least favorite of the four), and crocodile tastes sort of but not quite like chicken.
The next morning we got up painfully early and took a hot-air balloon ride, which I had never done before. This was probably the best way to see kangaroos in the wild; kangaroos are nocturnal animals, so they were hopping off to bed as we were getting up and inflating our balloon. We saw a few stragglers, but they were even further away than the wallaroo above and the photos didn't really turn out well. (Sorry.)
Next: Ayers Rock and the "Sounds of Silence:" Dinner by starlight in the Outback.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 7:00 am. comments.
Thursday, 22 April 2004
Blogroll updates, RSS feed changes, search engines and more. I've more or less raided the blogroll of (Southern Cross) Words and "borrowed" (ahem) several of his links: Yet another American in Oz, an Aussie in Paris, an expat group blog, and an exciting collection of authentic Aussie blogs.
I discovered Kevin Drum's blog (formerly known as CalPundit) when he became the in-house blogger for Washington Monthly magazine, and since then he's become an indispensable voice of reason from the middle. I've also updated my link to Howard Bashman's How Appealing, since he's now become the in-house blogger for Legal Affairs magazine. (Hmmm. I'm still waiting for the phone call from Highlights for Children inviting me to write their in-house blog, but until then….)
Another new link goes to the Australian chapter of Democrats Abroad, which is on the verge of becoming a real live organization down here. Greg has already blogged about yesterday's meetup, so I'll just say in passing that I've never been this politically active either. (Well, not since college, anyhow. And that was an accident.) Until this election cycle, voting was the full extent of my political activity — but between Howard Dean and the slow-motion train wreck called the Bush administration, I've gotten my act together and started getting involved.
Syndication-wise, you may have noticed that I've switched back to including the full content of the article in my RSS feeds, instead of just the first sentence. As the newsfeed-readers get more sophisticated, they're starting to act more like web browsers than clipping services — so it probably makes less sense than it did a year ago to serve up only part of the article. I've also retired the blog's Tech category and RSS feed; after 18 months of blogging I apparently have very little to say about technology. Or, at least, I have a lot more to say about travel and politics.
And, finally, the search engine that quietly appeared in the sidebar two or three weeks ago is available for your browsing pleasure; if you want to find everything I've written about Ayers Rock, now you can. (It only shows the most recent six articles, though, so you may not be able to dig up everything I've ever written about Iraq or George Bush in one pass.) Enjoy!
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 4:52 am. comments.
Thursday, 22 April 2004
Land of the Flies.
Notes for visitors to the Australian Outback: The first thing they don't tell you in the tourist brochures is about the flies. Millions upon millions of houseflies. They'll be trying to land in your ears and nose as soon as you step off the airplane. This is the reason why I'm wearing what looks like an oversized hair net in the photo at right; it's not a question of whether you want to look silly or not, but whether you want to look silly wearing a net on your head or look silly trying to shoo away dozens of flies all day long.
I'm told that the flies are only really a problem during the "off season," which runs from about October to the end of April; apparently the best time to visit the Northern Territory is during its winter (June to August), when daytime temperatures are merely in the 25° C (80° F) range. We were definitely ahead of the season on this trip. The flies go away at night (perhaps they have a pressing engagement elsewhere), so if you retreat to your air-conditioned hotel room during the hottest part of the day, you can enjoy a cooler and relatively fly-free tour in the early morning and late evening. Also, mercifully, there aren't any biting or stinging bugs to speak of — so the problem is limited to preserving your sanity while a team of houseflies attempts to explore your head.
On our first day in Alice Springs, we toured the visitors' centre of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, which provides health care to the isolated communities of inland Australia. (Alice Springs itself has a population of only about 28,000, and this is the large city in central Oz; the town exists mainly to serve as the regional headquarters for a lot of vital services, and to support tourism. It is, as my parents noted, not much larger than the southern Illinois town they departed from.) The R.F.D.S. was the world's first aerial medical service, and it developed (through Alf Traeger) one of the more clever inventions of the 1920s: The Traeger Pedal Radio, a combination typewriter, Morse Code generator, and radio transceiver, all powered by pedaling as you typed.
Tomorrow: Australia's first telecommunications network, a.k.a. the Alice Springs Telegraph Station, and the actual "spring" for which Alice Springs is named.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 4:43 am. comments.
Wednesday, 21 April 2004
Bushes, Saudis, oil prices, quid pro quo…
Captain Renault: I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!
[A croupier hands Renault a pile of money]
Croupier: Your winnings, sir.
Captain Renault: [sotto voce] Oh, thank you very much. [aloud] Everybody out at once!
I know we're supposed to pretend that foreigners have no interest in American Presidential elections, and no business in trying to influence the outcome… but who are we kidding? America's choice of leader affects every country from Australia to Zimbabwe; Tom Friedman was right when he said that, for many in the world, the actions of America's government have more impact on their lives than their own government. Of course they care deeply about our elections. You would too.
So I can't say I'm shocked that the Saudis would manipulate oil prices in an effort to tip the election Dubya's way, or that Muqtaba al-Sadr has one eye on the Gallup polls as he incites his followers in Iraq. I suspect that every foreign leader wants to influence the American elections, but most are wise enough to refrain; trying to navigate the American political scene is difficult even for American politicians, much less outsiders. Tony Blair or John Howard could just as easily trigger a backlash, cause an international incident, weaken his own standing at home, etc., if either were to jump in and endorse a candidate.
Where I will draw an ethical line is when an American politician does something to improve his (re-)election chances at the expense of the common good. I'm thinking specifically of Nixon's under-the-table negotiations with North Vietnam during the 1968 elections, sabotaging the Paris peace talks in an attempt to hurt the Democrats' election chances; if there were evidence that Bush had done something like this, and was seeking to lower oil prices only to improve his own fortunes at the ballot box, I'd call that corruption. If he was simply pressuring the Saudis to lower oil prices, independently of the election calendar, I'd say that's within the scope of his duties — short-sighted and irresponsible in terms of energy policy, but not necessarily immoral.
Naturally I expect Team Dubya to tell me that Bush was manipulating oil prices to improve the economy regardless of what his actual motives were, because Team Dubya will lie about anything (see previous article) if it helps their re-election chances.
And, in any case, I suppose it must be reassuring for the Bushies to have at least one foreign leader on their side… seeing as how Kerry has locked up all the others.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 5:44 am. comments.
Sunday, 18 April 2004
Moment of truth.
It was September 12, 2001, and the White House press secretary had just uttered a transparent lie: Bush had spent most of 9/11 flying from one undisclosed location to another, Ari Fleischer claimed, because a specific threat had been lodged against Air Force One.
Fleischer had spoken the truth in his briefing the day before, while en route to the White House on the afternoon of 9/11: Bush spent the day in midair because that's what the playbook says to do. The plan for responding to an attack on Washington, written back in the days of Truman and Eisenhower, starts with getting the President airborne and to (relative) safety; the attack was always assumed to be nuclear, but nonetheless Step One in the federal government's response to any attack on D.C. is to get the President in motion and preserve the National Command Authority.
Nonetheless, Bush or his handlers apparently decided that the truth — that Bush was in hiding for most of the day on 9/11 — might be a bit damaging to the President's image, even though it was the appropriate course of action for the commander in chief. And so, instead of defending the truth, the administration adopted a convenient lie. Air Force One was a target, they proclaimed, in spite of the obvious absurdity: How could a hijacked passenger jet possibly find Air Force One, much less intercept it? Commercial aircraft are not equipped with Top Gun-style radar systems that identify friends and foes — and even if they did identify the plane by sight, they wouldn't be able to catch it without active cooperation from Air Force One's pilot.
The moment I heard this impossible claim, I realized that its source was someone who could never be trusted: If you're willing to lie about something like this, at a time like that, you're willing to lie about anything. Given the choice between admitting an unpleasant truth and inventing a lie to cover it, someone in the Bush Administration instinctively chose the latter; conceding the truth and defending the President's actions would have cost almost nothing, but for this person the lie came quickly and easily.
If this had been an isolated act by one person — if one bad apple had been the culprit — then I'd have been willing to give Bush the benefit of continued doubt. But too many people from within the Bush Administration came forward to confirm the details of a story that was entirely bogus. Fleischer. Rove. Cheney. In a matter of days the truth came out, and it was clear that Bush's press secretary, his senior adviser, and his Vice-President were brazenly lying to the American people.
There was never a threat to Air Force One on 9/11. Senior members of the Bush Administration made up a terrorist threat, for partisan political gain — and if Bush saw anything wrong with that, the silence was deafening.
Before 9/11 Bush's credibility was already thin in my book: His explanations for why millionaires needed tax cuts shifted along with the economy, and his plans for a missile defense sounded great so long as the North Koreans never learned about boats. But it was really on September 12th that I realized that Bush just couldn't be trusted: Not with the economy, not with homeland security, and not with the plain and simple truth.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 12:44 pm. comments.
Sunday, 18 April 2004
You might as well quit scuba diving now,
said the guide, because you'll never have another dive like that one again. It was our first dive in deep water, after a final practice session in the pool, and the Heron Island dive boat took us students (along with 12-15 experienced divers) to a point on the reef called Heron Bommie. We dived to a depth of 12 meters (40 feet) and drifted with the current to Pam's Point; on the next three dives we'd demonstrate the skills we learned in the pool, from removing and replacing our weight belts to performing a controlled emergency ascent — but the first dive was simply a "fun dive," as the instructor put it, to get us used to the gear and the environment.
Large sea animals like sharks and mantas are a relatively rare sight when diving, I'm told — most people will make several dives before they spot anything larger than a big tuna. Diving at the Great Barrier Reef improves those odds, but nonetheless we hit the jackpot on our first time out: Two of the largest mantas anyone had ever seen, one with a wingspan of four meters (13 feet) and the other only slightly smaller; three white-tipped reef sharks, each about a meter and a half (4 to 5 feet); a regular riot of tropical fish, including several we could identify from the Finding Nemo aquarium; and enough coral to build a house. Our instructor, who had been diving for seven years, said that it was the biggest manta she'd ever seen; another diver on the boat said he'd been on 230 dives, and this was his best one yet.
I don't have any pictures of this epic undersea adventure, alas (the instructor sensibly suggested that I learn to dive first, and then struggle to master underwater photography), so you'll have to take my word for it: Heron Island is a great place to learn how to scuba dive. I do have some other photos of the island and the reef, including some taken from the air as we flew to the island (the helicopter ride is highly recommended), which I'll try to get online in the next few days.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 11:27 am. comments.
Saturday, 10 April 2004
One more thought before I vamoose: Is the current military action in Fajullah essentially what the right wing believes we should have done in Somalia? Clinton's response to the "Black Hawk Down" incident was to bring our troops home, which right-wing pundits have since decried as a sign of weakness that contributed to the 9/11 attacks; should we have closed the exits from Mogadishu and scoured the city, as Bush's armies are doing now? Does the action in Fajullah appear to be having the desired effect as a deterrent? Is it bringing the perpetrators to justice, and making future terrorist attacks less likely?
Just asking. I'd hate to think that, after all these years and all that criticism, it turns out Clinton's decision to fold was the right one.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 3:26 pm. comments.
Saturday, 10 April 2004
Sometimes we create a new word
because the old words aren't descriptive
enough. "Blog" is one example; it's what linguists call a
portmanteau, a word formed by combining two existing words.
Web plus log becomes blog, just as smoke
plus fog becomes smog or binary digit becomes
bit. We coined a new word for blogging because the older words
didn't fit: "Log" doesn't capture the element of two-way communication,
and "web" means a lot of different things.
Sometimes we create a new word because the old words are a little
too descriptive. "Ethnic cleansing" sounds like something you'd
do during spring cleaning: Scrub the bathroom, mop the kitchen floor,
kill that Muslim family down the block, do the laundry.... It sounds so
much more pleasant than that nasty older term — "mass
murder" — and it gives the casual reader a lot less information
about what's really happening.
"Fisking" is a new word coined in the blogosphere. It replaces the
older term ad
hominem (Latin for "to the man"), and describes a debate where,
instead of discussing an idea, one attacks the person who raised the
idea. The name originated from an incident in Afghanistan involving one
Robert Fisk, an anti-war journalist from the UK, who was attacked and beaten up by Afghan
refugees and then commented that, if he had been through the same
ordeals as they had, he'd probably want to beat up some Westerners too.
The warbloggers lifted up this incident as a prime example of the "blame
America first" (or "blame the West first") mentality, and began using
Fisk's name as a verb.
Fisking implies that the opposing argument is so stupid and repugnant
that the opponent deserves an actual, physical beating, and not just the
metaphorical slap that the blogger righteously delivers. It usually
involves a writing style where the blogger makes a point-by-point
rebuttal of the original article, quoting each paragraph and following
it with snide comments addressed personally to the original author. The
tone is as sarcastic and condescending as humanly possible; the purpose
is not to engage the other person's ideas, but to portray the person as
an idiot who is only deserving of ridicule.
Now, changing the name of something doesn't
change what it is—ad hominem is still the lazy man's approach to
argument, and says that you fear having a real discussion—but from
the way the warbloggers rejoice after each new Fisking, you'd think they
had discovered a revolutionary new technique for converting the masses.
At best a "good Fisking" can be entertaining, in a Jerry Springer-y
puncture-the-windbag-with-a-chair sort of way... but most people who try
their hand at Fisking end up sounding just as smug and pretentious as
the ones they're mocking. (Of course, most people who feel their words
are so important that they should be broadcast to the entire
online world, and go through the trouble of setting up their own
blog just to do so... well, we're pretty opinionated folks to begin
I also find it odd that the people who decry the term "chickenhawk," or who claim
to value straight-shooting plain-talking speech and clear meaning, are
willing to use the word "Fisking" to describe an ad hominem attack.
Next they'll make up a word to describe the actions of the Senate when
it exercises its Constitutional authority to reject an ultraconservative
judicial nominee. Oh, wait. We did that already.
Update: Found an even better link for "chickenhawk"
today, so I used it instead.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 2:29 pm. comments.
Saturday, 10 April 2004
Under the sea:
I'm off for a well-deserved holiday to the Great Barrier Reef, where last week's scuba-diving lessons will be put to good use. (I hope — my lady-love is coming down with a cold, and you can't scuba dive if your ears are blocked.) I'll be gone for a week, so it looks like I'll miss the collapse of the Iraqi Governing Council and the first few hints that Condi Rice committed perjury yesterday. (It really looks like it's going to be that kind of week.)
Next week I'll try to come up with a strategy to get from where we are now to a successful outcome in Iraq… but I'm afraid it's too late to correct the most serious blunder — the disbanding of the Iraqi army — and Dubya simply doesn't have any favors left to call in. At this stage we need 500,000 troops on the ground to restore order, and Bush has no way to get them.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 1:34 pm. comments.
Friday, 09 April 2004
I didn't watch Condi Rice's testimony before the 9/11 panel (it aired at about 2 AM local time here in Sydney), so I'm relying on blogs to tell me how it went; so far, after reading most of the usual suspects, I still have no idea. Aside from the delightfully cynical Stuart Benjamin at The Volokh Conspiracy, who prepared a Bingo scorecard with words that partisan pundits would use, I've yet to find a description of Rice's testimony that doesn't sound like mad spin-doctoring.
For the record, my sources for this exercise are (listed roughly in order from far-left to far-right): Daily Kos, Whiskey Bar, Washington Monthly, Daniel Drezner, One Hand Clapping, Instapundit, and USS Clueless. Part of the problem here is that three of my middle four (Billmon, Drum and Drezner) punted this morning, leaving their commenters to battle it out; the remaining pundits' reactions were, shall we say, easier to predict in advance.
On the left side of the spectrum, nearly everyone described Rice as being nervous, hesitant, evasive and insecure. These comments tapered off as you move towards the right, where pundits were more likely to criticize the 9/11 Commission itself (using words like "farce", "ineptitutde", and "partisan jackasses"). The liberals were also much more likely to note that the President's Daily Briefing on August 6, 2001 was titled "Bin Laden determined to attack inside the United States", and that it mentioned the possibility of Al Qaeda hijacking airplanes.
The right was, above all else, pissed off at Bob Kerrey. Already they're warming up the hate machine, preparing to give Kerrey the full treatment: Kerrey joins Richard Clarke, Paul O'Neill, Joe Wilson, the people of Spain, and pretty much everyone who's not already a neocon on the right wing's Official Enemies List. Kerrey's sin was that he directly questioned the wisdom of Bush's war in Iraq, which (as far as the wingnuts are concerned) is the lowest form of high treason — and, more to the point, has very little to do with the mandate of the 9/11 Commission.
It was difficult to find any analysis of the substance of Rice's testimony, especially on the right: Steven Den Beste went straight to ad hominem attacks on family members of 9/11 victims; Instapundit highlighted the back-and-forth between Kerrey and Rice (and made the bizarro observation that Dr. Rice is a black woman — apparently a crack team of wingnuts worked round the clock to unearth that bombshell); and Donald Sensing dismissed the entire proceedings as a farce. One anonymous Instapundit reader claimed "if Dr Rice didn't refute nearly everything Dick Clarke said, I was clearly asleep for 3 hours", but offered nothing further to back up this bold assertion.
Daily Kos contributor DHinMI was really the only one to step forward and offer substantive analysis of Rice's testimony. Not surprisingly, he observed that Rice was "not forthcoming about actions and decisions," that Rice spent more time challenging the questions than she spent answering them, and that she didn't accept responsibility for failing to prevent 9/11. DHinMI also compared Rice's testimony with Clarke's, contrasting the relative candor of both officials and noting how each addressed structural problems.
Overall I get the impression that Rice's testimony didn't do much to restore the Bush administration's credibility, compared to the impact that officials like Richard Clarke and David Kay have had in recent weeks. Partisans on both sides are unswayed by her comments, centrists are still harboring the same doubts that they had the week before — and events on the ground in Iraq will have more impact on public opinion than anything Rice said today.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 1:49 pm. comments.
Thursday, 08 April 2004
(Southern Cross) Words is another blog by an American expat in Sydney; the author discovered my blog earlier today, and is apparently browsing my archives right now to find out more about me.
Reading his blog, though, I've realized that he's in for a surprise: We've met. We both attended the Democrats Abroad caucus in February, where I spoke on Howard Dean's behalf; I think we even spoke to each other briefly, just after the caucus.
What are the odds?
Update: There's more! Web-goddess and gadgetgirl have now popped out of the woodwork, making a total of four American expats blogging away here in Sydney. I'm happily updating my list of expat blogs so that you can get four, count 'em, four slices of bloggy goodness from Down Under for your reading and entertainment pleasure.
And yes, to answer Greg's question, I do attend non-Dean Meetups here in Sydney. :-)
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 12:55 pm. comments.
Thursday, 08 April 2004
Plan of attack.
I think I've figured out George W. Bush's strategy for promoting peace and stability in Iraq — his plan is elegant in its simplicity, and if we stay the course long enough our success is almost certain.
- Kill everyone who doesn't want peace.
No further planning is necessary. All we need now is a bold leader with the will and the vision to see us through the difficult first step; we're not cutting and running this time, no matter what the liberal pansies say.
Thank goodness we have a strong leader like George W. Bush
protecting America and defending our freedoms in this time of crisismmmmghggHAAAAAAAGGHH! What in the name of all that's good and
Sorry. Better now. Let me try again:
We're twelve weeks away from June 30th, and the Bush Administration's plan for transferring sovereignty to Iraq has only two small problems: Our efforts to impose law and order are falling short, and no one on the Iraqi side is ready to pick up the ball. Bush's slap-dash approach to nation-building has always been the Achilles' heel of this project; there was never any doubt about the military outcome, but there were plenty of questions on our ability to transform post-war Iraq into a peaceful democratic state.
Iraq has a population of 24.7 million, half of whom are under the age of 19. The U.S. has about 130,000 soldiers and 26,000 Marines in Iraq, plus 26,500 troops from the coalition of the
bullied willing. That makes a grand total of about 182,500 personnel, or about one soldier for every 135 Iraqi civilians.
Successful peacekeeping operations require about one soldier for every 50 civilians. In order to secure Iraq effectively, we would need 500,000 troops on the ground; in order to sustain that level of commitement over time, we'd need 2.5 million people rotating in and out. Just for Iraq.
(Sources: CIA World Factbook, GlobalSecurity.org, the RAND Corporation.)
American plans to create a new Iraqi army envisioned a troop strength of 40,000; by the end of last year we had recruited 700, of whom 300 resigned over low pay. Under Saddam, Iraq's army numbered about 300,000 to 400,000 troops. Paul Bremer disbanded that army in late May, possibly under orders from above.
Iraq's national police force should grow to 50,000 policemen by 2006; Baghdad, a city of 6 million, currently has 8,000. It takes 13,705 officers to maintain law and order in Chicago (population 2.9 million); New York City has 39,110 officers for a population of 8 million.
(Sources: U.S. Census, Chicago Police 2002 Annual Report, NYPD Frequently Asked Questions.)
Iraq's Governing Council has all the credibility of a hand-picked collection of toadying exiles, in part because it is a collection of hand-picked toadying exiles, but also because it's done nothing in the past year to dispel that perception or to win the trust and support of the Iraqi people. The presidency of the IGC rotates every month, making it impossible for a political leader to emerge on the national or international stage; in the absence of a political figurehead, religious leaders like Ali Sistani have stepped into the gap where Iraq's Hamid Karzai should be.
In short, we have less than half the number of bodies required to maintain even the illusion that the rule of law is in effect; George W. Bush's June 30th date is based solely on domestic political considerations; the Iraqi Governing Council is hopelessly unable to assume sovereignty; and our efforts to establish a government of the Iraqi people, by the Iraqi people, and for the Iraqi people, are so woefully inadequate that we are in danger of turning Iraq into the next Lebanon.
My support for the war in Iraq was based on humanitarian grounds (i.e., that Saddam was a genocidal tyrant), and on the assumption that our government would at least be minimally competent to administer post-war Iraq. The Bush Administration has succeded at removing Saddam and his sons, but failed at almost everything else: When you look at all that we could have gained by reforming the government in Iraq, we've accomplished only the bare minimum that followed directly from deposing Saddam.
Yesterday John Kerry called the situation in Iraq "one of the greatest failures of diplomacy and failures of judgement that I have seen in all the time that I've been in public life." I think he understates the case.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 12:39 pm. comments.
Wednesday, 07 April 2004
Addicted to style.
I'm not stealing money to support my CSS habit (yet), but I've created yet another style sheet for your viewing pleasure. Native Aussies may recognize the color scheme here; Oz's "team colors" for national sports are green and gold, and the national rugby team is called the Wallabies. America's national colors are of course red, white and blue, taken from our flag — but Australia's flag is also red, white and blue (mostly blue), as are the flags of England, France, New Zealand and many other nations.
So the Aussies sensibly decided to use some other colors, and settled on green and gold sometime around 1928 or so. Sports in Australia usually means rugby, cricket, Olympic swimming, or Lleyton Hewitt; there's some basketball here, but no March Madness… and sports like baseball, hockey, and what I refer to as "football" are harder to find.
Anyhow, if you don't like the new color scheme, you can always change it back by selecting your old favorite from the "Style" menu in the sidebar. (The previous default was "Gray Box".) Enjoy!
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 5:36 am. comments.
Monday, 05 April 2004
A fellow expat provides a link to a pop quiz, which claims to measure how many Earths we'd need if everyone consumed as many resources as you do. (You greedy scoundrel.) This problem with this claim is that it relies on a blatantly misleading premise, which you'll only learn by closely reading the site's FAQ:
Footprint results are expressed in global acres (or global hectares in metric measurement). Each of those acres (hectares) corresponds to one acre (hectare) of biologically productive space with world-average productivity. [Emphasis added]
The quiz is calculating what would happen if we increased the world's average consumption level to match yours—while holding the world's average production level at its current rate, which is well below yours. The implication is that the world's "biologically productive space" is working at its peak efficiency—that there is absolutely nothing we could do anywhere in the world to increase crop yields, raise energy output, or improve the productivity of the average human being. The earth is red-lined at its maximum capacity, and we can't even squeeze out one more lousy ear of corn; our only option is to conserve, conserve, conserve, or else start preparing for the coming Malthusian collapse. No more wealth can be generated.
To put this claim in its proper perspective, I'd like to offer an alternate quiz: This one holds worldwide consumption at today's levels, and measures what would happen if we raised or lowered per capita production. In other words, the quiz will sneakily imply the problem is not that some people are consuming more than their "fair share" of resources—instead, it will insinuate that certain tree-hugging deadbeat socialists are not pulling their weight on the global production scale. Get with the program, slackers! Let's see how you do on this quiz:
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 1:25 pm. comments.
Saturday, 03 April 2004
Swimming with the fishes.
The reason for light blogging this month is that I'm learning how to scuba dive. I spent most of my spare time last week reading up on regulators and nitrogen narcosis and other exciting diving safety lessons, and spent most of today watching instructional videos and being tested on what I'd learned. We tried on our diving equipment for the first time today (it feels like wearing a big metal tortoise shell) and tomorrow we go into the pool for our first lessons on breathing.
(The first rule of scuba diving: Never stop breathing. If you inhale a lungful of air from your scuba tank, hold your breath, and then ascend, the air expands in volume and your lungs will rupture like leaky balloons. You don't have this problem during normal swimming, because you can never inhale more than one lungful x 1 atmosphere; with scuba gear you can inhale up to five times as many molecules, all packed together by the water pressure. It's like how the air is thinner at the top of a mountain, only in reverse.)
After we finish our lessons here in Sydney, my lady-love and I are off to Heron Island, to complete our training and dive the Great Barrier Reef. I'm hoping to equip my digital camera for underwater photography (I think there's some kind of waterproof shell you can buy), so ideally I'll bring back pictures.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 10:19 am. comments.