The Windup Girl — Paolo Bacigalupi

My opinion about this book is difficult to nail down. It was rich and textured and engaged all the senses, the characters were fascinating, too, and the extrapolation and some of the ideas were excellent. I particularly liked the kink-spring technology and the semi-retro tech based on it, like the disc guns that are a reminder of a childhood toy. I enjoyed the genetic manipulation and the wind-up girl herself, though of course there were shades of Blade Runner there. However, what gave me pause was the heavy reliance on scares generated by the ‘green’ movement and the MSM, but of course, in present day establishment thinking, it is right on.

We have the scares about global warming and sea-level rise here, and you all know my opinion on them. Yes, we do have global warming, and we’ve had it since the Little Ice Age and it hasn’t come close to being as high as in the Medieval Warm Period and has flat-lined for over a decade. As for sea-level rise, putting aside Al Gore idiocy and desperate IPCC spin, the last time I looked it was few millimetres a year (as it has been for 8000 years), and if we can’t cope with a metre rise in sea-level in three or four centuries then we might just as well give up right now (it has also been dropping for the last three years). However, the clue is in the label. This is science fiction so writing about a future globally-warmed and flooded world is valid, though, extrapolating from historical climate cycles, and writing about a new Ice Age, would be more so.

Then we have the scare about genetic modification or, more specifically, the fear of GM under the control of the evil corporations (sigh). Here we seem to be going into Daily Mail ‘Frankenfoods’ territory, combined with the ‘capitalism is evil’ shibboleth of the left. I am a little doubtful about the idea that our scientists are going to abruptly pull masses of world-devastating monsters out of their arses that billions of years of competitive evolution has failed to manage. But whatever, again this is valid for science fiction, and is of course a very useful spanner in the SF toolbox. I also get tired of that constant portrayal in fiction and film of the evil corporation. It strikes me that corporations seem to come up with most of what improves our lives, while it’s the governments that enjoy bombing people back into the Stone Age.

(I also have to wonder … where are the windmills and tide-generators supplying if not electricity then joules for those kink-springs? Where, with such advanced biotech, are the tank-grown hydrocarbons and the CO2 absorbing microbes? Where, also, are the nuclear power stations? Maybe in the rest of the world?)

Thereafter, if the scares were true, the extrapolation in the book is on the button. I do see Luddite environmental police (white shirts much like Hitler’s brown or black shirts) destroying illegal and dangerous technology and pillorying those who are profligate in energy use. I do see an economy based on calories, and the kind of life-styles depicted in this book. And I do see human life being cheapened.

Now I have to add something more. I have, over time, started to make it a rule that I won’t review books I either don’t like or don’t finish. That I finished this book, considering my personal opinions, is testament to how much I enjoyed it. It’s a valid look at a future from one point of view and, unlike what I have seen in other SF books that venture into this sort of territory, the characters are people struggling to get on with their lives in difficult circumstances, and are not vessels created just to deliver righteous homilies.

Cue the visits by trolls to enlighten me in the ways of correct political thought.   

Linear no Threshold Hypothesis

From a Sierra Club insider:

With junk science, it is easy to scare people. There are many things that are bad for us that are present at low levels in the environment — for example, mercury, lead, radiation, or tobacco smoke. The junk science approach to trace toxins is to claim that if a high level of the bad thing would cause X people to get sick, then a level 10,000 times smaller must cause 1/10,000 as many people to get sick. Given 300 million people in the country, this math can give you thousands of people getting sick from low levels of mercury, lead, radiation, or secondhand tobacco smoke. This approach is known as the linear no threshold hypothesis.

So considering this approach, don’t you think this toxic substance should be banned or controlled?

For Frack's Sake

On (I think) April 2nd last year this happened:

While we sat in the sunshine sipping cold beers the earth shrugged, grumbled then continued shaking. Some people ran out into the street – one Greek woman all hysterical and crossing herself and doubtless praying to the god who chucks tsunamis about. We remained seated, since we weren’t anywhere anything was going to fall on us, and watched the street lamps whipping about like reeds and nearby trees thrashing. I’ve experienced quakes here before but never seen that.

As far as I recollect this was an earthquake of 6.3 on the Richter scale. On April 1st and May 27th fracking in Lancashire caused, respectively quakes of 2.3 and 1.4, and immediately the media and green hairshirts were shouting for a moratorium on this country accessing an energy supply that might just drag us out of the pit (in fact, do a search of ‘fracking’ and yu get pages and pages of hysteria). So let’s take a look at the Richter scale:

Here is the simplest explanation of it:

A logarithmic scale used to express the total amount of energy released by an earthquake. Its values typically fall between 0 and 9, with each increase of 1 representing a 10-fold increase in energy.

So, the earthquake I experienced in Crete was roughly 10,000 times stronger than the strongest one caused by fracking. In fact, as you can see from the graph the lowest one is in the region of ‘not felt’ and the highest one is ‘minor’.

Now go read Counting Cats and the comments. This one I find particularly illuminating;

A butterfly flapping its wings in Mexico will cause small seismic tremors in Lancashire. Even the lefty dolts at wikipedia know that earthquakes under 2.0 occur “continuously” and those of 2.0-2.9 are ‘Generally not felt, but recorded.’ with 1.3 million of them per year.

Let’s do some maths. A 2.0 quake has 63 MJ of energy, a 2.5 one has 360 MJ. Gasoline contains about 35 MJ/L. Every time some lefty jerk drives to a demo and burns 2 litres of gas he releases as much energy as a 2.0 quake. For a 2.5 quake the dolt has to drive for a couple of hours. Big deal.

Devil’s Kitchen also has something to say…

Here’s a link to an interesting report passed onto me. If this sort of stuff is of interest to you then read it carefully and consider the words ‘correlation is not causation’, or even, ‘which came first the chicken or the egg?’ Remember too that one of the big criticisms of the alarmist film ‘Gaslands’ was that people had methane in their water supply before any fracking.

The Bully State – Brian Monteith

The End of Tolerance

‘Even if I am a minority of one, the truth is still the truth.’ – Mahatma Gandhi.

This is pretty good as it covers the lies and fact twisting used to push through legislation ‘for our own good’. I didn’t, for example, know about the measurable rise in deaths in countries that introduced the seatbelt law – the unintended consequence of people feeling safer so driving faster and closer to the car in front – nor how the statistics in Britain were skewed by the drink drive ban. Nor did I know the story of Fred Hill, who was a WWII dispatch rider, and his protest against being forced to wear a crash helmet – a protest that led to him dying in Pentonville prison. It was also interesting to read about how the IRA killed more people than any Muslim terrorist in this country yet no need was felt for ID cards and all the rest of the autocratic anti-terror legislation. I of course did know about the lies, fact twisting and ‘consultations’ with bought-and-paid-for NGOs used to push through the smoking ban, and how the same methods are being used on alcohol and ‘unhealthy’ foods.

‘The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule it.’ – Henry Louis Mencken.

This book ventures into the mindset of the people who want to control every aspect of our lives, and points out that though the majority of them are politically correct dicks in the Labour Party, and their useful idiots in local councils, they are by no means unique – the urge in politicians to lecture and admonish and generally treat voters like idiot children is a strong one. To a certain extent it is dated, in that it was published under the Anti-Midas Gordon Brown, and an awful lot has happened since then. However, this does not undermine the central thesis of the Nanny State turning into the Bully State in which advice and nannying to try and change people’s behaviour have turned into fines and prison sentences.

‘The smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights, cannot claim to be the defenders of minorities’ – Ayn Rand.

April into May

Monday April 25th

The temperature has climbed in a minor way, hovering at about 12C up here in the mountains and maybe rising as high as 20 down in Makrigialos. It’s still nowhere near where it was last year and my shorts are still confined to a chair in the bedroom. The apotheche door is still jammed shut and I still have no need to divert grey water for the plants here.

However, on the good news front, the ruin is all but complete. But for the discovery of an unattached pipe for the water tap outside, the plumbing is complete and not leaking. The walls are painted, ceiling and other interior woodwork is varnished and the lights are up. Before we move the bed up there all that’s needed is a shower booth, things like toilet roll and towel holders and a bathroom cabinet. Then we have to get a fridge, a small cooker and other smaller items like waste bins etc.

Wednesday April 27th
So many of the programs we pick up on the satellite are platforms for snake-oil salesmen, whether that snake-oil is God or slimming pills or surgery, so I shouldn’t really complain about BBC World. However, those other programs make no claim on balance and integrity. Yesterday we were hit repeatedly with the phrase ‘refugees fleeing the violence in the Middle East’ yet all we got to back this up were interviews with young Tunisian men in railway stations. Now, according to the BBC, freedom and democracy have arrived in Tunisia, the despot has stepped down and all is tea and cucumber sandwiches. What we basically have here, as anywhere the welfare state hasn’t spread its stifling tentacles, is young men looking for work. These ‘refugees from violence’ are actually fleeing the thing that had them chucking rocks at their leaders in the first place: poverty. It’s the economy, stupid. Of course there doubtless are refugees from the violence in Libya out there, but they’re probably a bit far from the hotel bar for our intrepid BBC correspondents.

Ah, now that’s more like it. We went up to Handras and then Ziros to celebrate someone’s birthday and in a kafenion were put in contact with a guy selling a nice rose wine for €1 a litre. We bought five litres and will doubtless be seeing him again – he’s not going to be running out any time soon since he has 25,000 litres on tap…

We had more pissing rain last night, and there’s still no sign of the promised global warming. We’ve ordered another two tonnes of wood for the stove, which will maybe turn up today. I’m hoping we won’t get to use much of it this ‘spring’ and can save it for next autumn and the start of winter. But it seems that every time it’s looking like it’s warming up, another shitload of cloud comes over the horizon and the temperature drops.

Monday May 2nd
I moved the bed and some other bits and pieces up into the ‘ruin’ over the weekend (the words ‘the ruin’ have stuck despite it being cleaner, drier and newer than the main house) and can now concentrate on other work. Having cleaned out the spare room I bleached the mould on the walls and ceiling, treated and varnished the beams and used up the remainder of the paint on the walls. I’ve also been varnishing the pergola and generally working on other stuff until completely knackered. The weather is still crappy – cloudy, damp and cold – though things are looking better this morning. During the royal wedding, when I intended to go fishing with ‘the boys’ whilst Caroline watched the wedding with ‘the girls’, it absolutely chucked it down, so I ended up drinking far too much wine.

We’ve just seen on the news that Osama Bin Laden has been killed. Perhaps it is a good thing to have access to BBC World, since when Michael Jackson died we didn’t find out about it until about three weeks afterwards. Then again, does knowing these things make any difference to us at all?

The cynic in me immediately wondered what news was being covered up by this, that maybe the killing of Gadaffi’s family was something the powers that be wanted kept low key, but, just maybe, the announcement was being held over until after the wedding. Anyway, this is a good media victory for America and has reduced the number of murderous people-hating psychos by at least one.

Wednesday May 4th
I’ve just received an uncorrected proof copy of The Departure (thanks Julie) and here, for your delectation, is a picture of what you can’t have until September…

The temperature is climbing. This morning at 10.40 it is over 20C – the first time it has risen so high since we’ve been here. I’m actually contemplating putting on my shorts and venturing outdoors.

Meanwhile, I was going to post a picture of Makrigialos beach for Chris (Dutch physics teacher) showing how much the sea level has dropped here. However, the one time I remember to bring my camera down the sea is back where it was before.

April Showers, Wind, Cold.

Saturday April 2nd

We came back to damp patches scattered about the walls of our bedroom with one obvious leak that had spilled muddy water on the floor, water marks on the walls of the spare room from a leak where the step between roof slabs has been shifting and washes of black mildew in there, and general patches of mould scattered everywhere. This was all a bit depressing when thoroughly knackered after the flight from England, especially on top of being told that the constant fault in our car had got worse. However, just a bit of cleaning up followed by a few glasses of wine and then some raki gave us a sunnier outlook and, after firing up the stove, dehumidifier, electric fire and an electric blanket, the damp began to disperse,

The next day we set to work properly even being able to venture out into the garden and everything improved. Still some problems: we can’t get into the ruin or the apotheche (small outbuilding that serves as a garden shed) because the doors have swollen with the damp and are all jammed shut; I’ve had to strip paint from one wall of the kitchen since the sealer I used last year didn’t work; the stove pipes need cleaning out but to do that I need my big stepladder, which is in the ruin…

On day three, having used up the supplies some friends left in our fridge, we drove down to Makrigialos and Koutsouras for some more. The car was no problem at all, we stocked up, paused on the sunny sea front for a while to view the new stretch of beach recently revealed by a drop in the sea level here of about two feet (super moon?), then stopped in the new ‘pub’ for a beer (the landscape of bars here changes every year) before coming home.

Martin and Vicky, the two who had been looking after our house, popped round whilst we were working in the garden. Since he had been pulling up weeds in the garden we thankfully had not come back to a chest-high jungle. He had a thick bandage on his hand from which protruded only three fingers. Apparently he’d cut one off with a saw. Horrified, I asked him if they’d managed to re-attach it whereupon he opened a little box to show me the finger. I now felt slightly ill, until he waved the finger about in the box. Bastard. It’s only today that I made the connection: it was April 1st.

We learnt from this couple that even their house, which in previous winters had been dry, was also full of damp. It has been the wettest winter here they’ve have for quite a few years – three years worth of rainfall coming down in the first few months, along with a couple of heavy falls of snow. So, a cold, wet winter, plus exceptionally low sea-level … I guess Crete won’t be getting a mention in the next IPCC report. It’s just not behaving to plan.

In the afternoon we met the above couple along with a two more couples at a kafenion in a mountain village called Handras. It was notable that whilst Caroline and I were in jeans and T-shirts these permanent ex-pats were clad in two or three layers. I was boiling. Whilst we sat in the sunshine sipping cold beers the earth shrugged, grumbled then continued shaking. Some people ran out into the street – one Greek woman all hysterical and crossing herself and doubtless praying to the god who chucks tsunamis about. We remained seated, since we weren’t anywhere anything was going to fall on us, and watched the street lamps whipping about like reeds and nearby trees thrashing. I’ve experienced quakes here before but never seen that. The super moon, two years of a quiet sun – go ask Piers Corbyn.

I woke to a crack of thunder this morning, followed by heavy rain. I think it’ll be while before I can open those bloody doors in the ruin and apotheche…

Monday April 4th
We’ve had two days of heavy rain, complemented by wind on the second day. On the first day I made the mistake of letting the stove go out, struggled to light it, struggled to find dry wood to burn and since then I haven’t let it go out. We’ve had the dehumidifier running continuously too, and for every cup of tea or coffee and for a large pan of stew we’ve used the water out of it. We’ve also found a patch of water in the bedroom that keeps reappearing after being mopped up. It could be that if I pulled up a tile or two we’d have our very own bedroom spring.

However, on the rainy Saturday with no Internet available I sat down at this laptop and simply wrote. Julie Crisp had asked for a short story for a giveaway ebook anthology from all the Tor writers. I have various ones that have been published before but suggested a new Owner story would be best. After writing the April 2nd entry above, I sat down and wrote that, finishing the first draft and polishing off over 4,000 words in total.

Oh, and we had another visitor yesterday who confirmed that this last winter has been the wettest they’ve had here for as long as anyone can remember. This is probably very true, but over the last twenty years I’ve become very aware of how very short people’s memories are of the weather and how limited is our knowledge of it.

If it is hot, dry, cold, wet, frozen, it always seems to be ‘unusual’ and ‘something must be happening’. Yes, something is happening and it’s called weather: the state of perpetual change that is Earth’s climate – ‘climate change’ if you like, though in essence that’s tautology. I was going to add that the words are similar to rain fall, since when does rain do anything but fall? However, having spent many childhood holidays in Scotland, I’m well aware of phenomena like horizontal rain along with the kind that shoots up your trouser legs from the ground.

Tuesday April 5th
It was another cold and windy day yesterday, the temperature failing to climb above 12 centigrade, and now mould is starting to appear on the bedroom ceiling. However it wasn’t so rainy and I did manage to plant some seed for radishes, rocket, lettuce and onions along with some small onion sets provided by Martin. He also turned up with the head of a hoe he’d made, something which, oddly enough, I’ve been unable to buy here. It’s also worth noting that our small lemon tree and orange tree, having been protected over the winter with nylon netting, have produced. I haven’t taken the netting off yet but peering inside I see at least three oranges and ten to fifteen lemons.

I sat down and concentrated on getting back into Jupiter War, completing 2,000 words and taking it above 10,000 words – about a chapter and a half. There’s a fair bit in the story about cerebral technology but, really, if you’re writing about a high-tech future that’s something the implications of which you cannot avoid … unless you set said story in some low-tech backwater – a technique I and many others have used.

Other financial and political implications of technology have to be looked at too, because the questions the Luddites were asking haven’t gone away. In simple terms: if the machines are producing the products that people buy, how do the people earn the money to buy the products? And this question becomes more critical when you factor in a growing population. I’ve read arguments about technological growth leading to an increasing range of jobs, but most of those will be skilled so what do you do with the dumb fuckers? Much as I hate to admit it, the socialist idea of state control of industry and state redistribution of wealth seems to be the future. If it stopped there, and it was fair i.e. if it wasn’t run by humans and Banks’ Culture AIs were on the job, then that would be fine. I suspect it won’t be.

This morning, though it is still cold and windy, the sky is a lot clearer and hopefully things will start to dry out again and we’ll be able to get outside to do some weeding. We’ll also be popping down to Makrigialos for some shopping, and also to fill up the car at a cost of over €1.70 a litre (over £1.50). Like governments everywhere the Greek one is trying to tax its way out of trouble – parasites keep sucking blood even while the host is dying.

Thursday 7th April
First thing yesterday morning I took down the stove pipes and cleaned them out, since there’s nothing worse than them blocking up on a cold, wet and miserable day and ending up with the fire out and windows open to get the smoke out. As it happened they weren’t too bad, but it’s best to be sure. It was a relatively bright day so I then borrowed some tools from a neighbour (we still can’t get into our apotheche) and spent all day gardening. I’ve turned over all the front garden and we’ve cleared most of the weeds from the side border. After such unaccustomed labour I felt thoroughly knackered, but in a good way.

In the evening we watched the final two episodes of The Shield. What an excellent series this has been: non-stop drama over seven seasons, excellent characters and storylines all the way through. Caroline was a little disappointed with the ending but I think that was more because it was ending rather than the way it went. I thought it just about right considering how invested I was in the characters and how certain story threads had an almost inevitable conclusion. I was also glad of the ending for one particular character who was a shit, but a shit I really liked…

The forecast for today is rainy and cold. Thus far they’ve got that completely right. Time to just stay indoors and write.

Friday April 8th
Well there it is again if ever proof were needed. The weather did stay horrible throughout the day. I can’t get in the ‘ruin’ to do anything, there’s no point painting inside the house until things are drier, we weren’t going out, we have no Internet, so my choices were reading, watching TV (DVD only unless you like Greek soap operas) or writing. I wrote of course because, well, there’s that work ethic thingy I can’t be shot of, and polished off 4,700 words. Other than make a stew and keep the stove running that’s about all I did all day.

At this point I have to add that those attracted to the idea of ‘being a writer’ need to be thoroughly aware that the largest part of a writer’s life is simply writing. Now that seems like the blatantly obvious but needs to be said. Any vocation in life usually has a large clue about the main activity it entails in its title. For example, if you want to be a champion Olympic runner, then you spend an awful lot of time … well, running. The rest of the time you spend in other training, eating the right food, making sure you get enough sleep, maybe shooting up some steroids if you’ve decided to cheat. It’s not all about winning on a track and the adulation of the crowd.

Being a writer means hour upon hour spent in the thoroughly introverted pursuit of making stuff up in your head, sitting before a computer screen and writing that stuff down. Communication with others close to you is usually the occasional grunt. This is why I am perpetually baffled by the idea that writers, once they’ve ‘made it’, are required to give talks, readings and meet and greet their public – activities for which they generally have zero in the way of experience, training or inclination.

Monday April 11th
Excellent, after two days of sunshine I was actually able to fight my way into the ruin, though taking a chunk out of the side of the door on the way in. I then planed some wood off the side of the door too, but not too much – I’ve gone through the rigmarole of cutting down a door then finding it too small with the summer shrinkage. However, the apotheche door is still closed up solid. Plumbing and painting need to be done next, though I’ll get someone else to do that since I’ve got books to write.

I’ve also got plenty of seeds in pots, the main vegetable patch planted and am now considering planting some of the exotic seeds I’ve brought along. Some camellia sinensis seeds are soaking – these are seeds for tea plants – I have coffee, Venus fly trap and pitcher plant seeds too. I don’t know how successful I’ll be with any of these but as always they have two chances.

Wednesday April 20th
How extremely bloody annoying to get a text telling us it is 23C in Essex whilst here it had just struggled up to 14C. We keep telling ourselves that it’ll be different later, that once the sun gets into its stride we’ll be warm as toast. In fact, three days ago I was actually in shorts and optimistically looking forward to the steady rise in temperature. Well, this morning it’s grey, pissing down and the temperature is just up to 8.

Interesting fun with plumbing we’ve had in the ruin. The toilet cistern leaked because it was such a struggle to tighten it down properly. I’ve had to buy the Greek equivalent of plumber’s mate and hessian to wrap many joints to stop various leaks – PTFE tape doesn’t work so well on threads loose as a prick in a bucket (as my old engineering boss used to say) and which have chattered while being cut. We also discovered that the distributor block for the hot water was short one connection for the hot water in the kitchen. I had to go and buy another block and sort all that out, which was fun since the pipe wasn’t in the right position and trying to bend about three inches of 10mm plastic pipe to fit into a joint is a great way of removing chunks from your knuckles.

Painting in the ruin has now commenced and I’ve had my illusion that this would be the easy part completely dispelled. Prior to applying the paint we put on a coat of ‘astari’ which is a primer and sealer, and that was easy, but painting rough concrete for the first time – especially cutting in at edges – is not easy, and of course the walls will need two coats. I also decided that the best option to protect the wooden ceiling would be clear varnish and started applying that in the bathroom. After about two hours I finished off a half tin of varnish and three quarters of that section of ceiling, and this morning have had to apply biofreeze to my back. I reckon on about six tins of varnish and a couple of days work followed by a wheelchair.

Thursday April 21st
So, on a visit to the nearby village of Lithines to find out about wood from ‘Pedro’ we talked to an English couple and caught up on a load of gossip. So, there seems to be some row between ex-pats in the village of Agios Stephanos because of something someone put on Facebook, and I actually know little more than that (I’ve edited this sentence because the details change depending on who I hear them from). Another couple’s marriage looks rocky because the guy had an affair with the female of a German couple, incidentally putting that marriage on the rocks too. An Austrian guy has gone on the run after ripping people off, owing too much money, telling too many lies and reaching the point where Mafia-type characters were looking for him. He left a woman behind him screwed over and in debt.

There were other stories, but I think you get the gist. This is all little different from the kind of stories we heard last year when we came back, and yet, all the people here behaving like adolescents are my age and upwards. Is it the heat, the excess of alcohol, the boredom I have wondered, but in the end have come to realize that no, this is just people behaving like they always do, everywhere. I can remember similar shit going on when I spent far too much of my time up my local pub and the fact that we don’t encounter it now in England is because, frankly, we’re unsociable sods. It strikes me now, as I get older, how amazing it is that our ‘civilization’ manages to function at all.

This weather is bloody ridiculous. Yesterday we had to put on jackets and jumpers for a trip to Sitia where we trudged about in the pouring rain whilst the streets ran like streams, Papagianades was turned into a water feature last night and at 9.15 this morning the temperature is 8.7C and windy, with a forecast temperature of 14C, though probably not where we are at 700 metres above sea-level. In the stove I’m currently burning a load of kitchen board I picked up from a dump, and am waiting on a delivery of wood from Pedro. We’re also waiting for a satellite dish to be fitted…

Saturday 23rd April
Ah, a nice load of wood has been delivered at the bargain price of, wait for it, €100 a tonne. I don’t know what it is for a truckload of wood in England now, but I do know that if I had a wood burning stove there I would be out with a chainsaw and a trailer anyway. Here I do have a chainsaw but finding stuff to cut up to burn isn’t easy on an island almost wholly populated with olive trees and with just about everyone operating stoves. Anyway, that price was a saving of €50 on a load we had last year and €80 on what some others are being charged.

We also have a satellite dish now through which we can pick up some English speaking channels like BBC World, Euronews and others. There are also numerous channels showing English language films etc. We can also pick up loads of middle eastern stuff, which usually consists of some old guy in a turban preaching at the camera. No wonder they’re revolting…

Super Moon?

Here’s a picture of the Makrigialos shoreline along from the beaches we frequent while in Crete. According to the photographer, Richard Graves, the sea level has been this low for two weeks. Seeing this I was reminded of when we were chatting to the owner of a bar we frequent called Revans, the owner, Yorgos, talked of how, twenty years ago, he used have a much larger stretch of beach next to his bar. Interestingly, it’s been twenty years since the moon was this close to Earth. Coincidence?

Fukushima Radiation

Thanks Peter Walker for directing my attention here. Wow, I’m astounded to read this on a BBC news website (though he lost me a bit with his mention of climate change), and really wish this kind of sanity appeared in its TV news programs . It doesn’t. I select out the BBC in this respect mainly because it’s funded by a compulsory tax, yet ITV and Sky have been just as bad. I must add that I have found a TV news program that seems free of much of the bias of the ones above and from which I at last obtained some sensible perspective on what’s happening in Libya. Ironically that program is ‘Russia Today’.

And Chernobyl? The latest UN report published on 28 February confirms the known death toll – 28 fatalities among emergency workers, plus 15 fatal cases of child thyroid cancer – which would have been avoided if iodine tablets had been taken (as they have now in Japan). And in each case the numbers are minute compared with the 3,800 at Bhopal in 1984, who died as a result of a leak of chemicals from the Union Carbide pesticide plant.

So what of the radioactivity released at Fukushima? How does it compare with that at Chernobyl? Let’s look at the measured count rates. The highest rate reported, at 1900 on 22 March, for any Japanese prefecture was 12 kBq per sq m (for the radioactive isotope of caesium, caesium-137).

A map of Chernobyl in the UN report shows regions shaded according to rate, up to 3,700 kBq per sq m – areas with less than 37 kBq per sq m are not shaded at all. In round terms, this suggests that the radioactive fallout at Fukushima is less than 1% of that at Chernobyl

Go read the whole thing.

Freeman Dyson Email Exchange.

I’m afraid there’s only one reaction possible to this: Steve Connor is a complete dick head. He gets the opportunity to have an email exchange with Freeman Dyson, arguably the greatest living scientist on Earth, and seeks to lecture him on global warming. He seeks to sell his religion to a man who, intellectually, could have him for breakfast. I understand Dyson’s exasperation and dismissiveness. It’s rather like seeing a chicken trying to out-fly and eagle.

A few of Dyson’s comments:

“My impression is that the experts are deluded because they have been studying the details of climate models for 30 years and they come to believe the models are real. After 30 years they lose the ability to think outside the models.

Unfortunately things are different in climate science because the arguments have become heavily politicised. To say that the dogmas are wrong has become politically incorrect. As a result, the media generally exaggerate the degree of consensus and also exaggerate the importance of the questions.

Of course I am not expecting you to agree with me. The most I expect is that you might listen to what I am saying. I am saying that all predictions concerning climate are highly uncertain. On the other hand, the remedies proposed by the experts are enormously costly and damaging, especially to China and other developing countries. On a smaller scale, we have seen great harm done to poor people around the world by the conversion of maize from a food crop to an energy crop. This harm resulted directly from the political alliance between American farmers and global-warming politicians. Unfortunately the global warming hysteria, as I see it, is driven by politics more than by science. If it happens that I am wrong and the climate experts are right, it is still true that the remedies are far worse than the disease that they claim to cure.

I wish that The Independent would live up to its name and present a less one-sided view of the issues.

With all due respect, I say good-bye and express the hope that you will one day join the sceptics. Scepticism is as important for a good journalist as it is for a good scientist.”

Here at the end Dyson has realized he was talking to an idiot, but decided to conclude the interview politely. Go and read the whole thing if you can stomach it.

Oh, and let me just add this from the comments:

Freeman Dyson, B.A. Mathematics, Cambridge University (1945), Research Fellow, Trinity College, Cambridge University (1946–1947), Commonwealth Fellow, Cornell University, (1947–1948), Commonwealth Fellow, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton University (1948–1949), Teaching Fellow, University of Birmingham (1949–1951), Professor of Physics, Cornell University (1951-1953), Fellow, Royal Society (1952), Professor of Physics, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton University (1953-1994), Chairman, Federation of American Scientists (1962-1963), Member, National Academy of Sciences (1964), Danny Heineman Prize, American Physical Society (1965), Lorentz Medal (1966), Hughes Medal (1968), Max Planck Medal (1969), Enrico Fermi Award, United States Department of Energy (1993), Professor Emeritus of Physics, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton University (1994-Present)

Notable: Unification of Quantum Electrodynamics Theory.

Guns, Germs and Steel.

Having heard about the book Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond (I think it was Richard Morgan who recommended it) I managed to pick up a copy from a local charity shop. However, when I tried to read it my eyes started glazing over and I ended up sticking it to one side. It then ended up in that pile of books destined to be sent to a charity shop under the label ‘Life’s too Short’.

A number of weeks ago I then noticed a Channel 4 documentary with the same title and recorded it. Just yesterday, feeling knackered after having to get up at 4.15AM to drive my mother to Gatwick, I decided to do something less mentally taxing so sat down to watch it.

The essential question posed was, ‘Why have the Europeans always been the winners?’ Why have they generally been ahead of the rest of the world? Jared Diamond’s reasoning is essentially this: most of the animals that can be domesticated are only found in Eurasia, which took farming in this region beyond the subsistence level thus freeing up human resources for technical and social development e.g. the smelting of metals like steel and really, the building of civilization. This domestication of animals also led to an increase in the diseases the Eurasians suffered and subsequently gained some immunity to. So, armed with steel, rapidly developing technology and a shitload of diseases they went off and conquered the world.

This is, of course, a simplification. The documentary itself was almost certainly a simplification of the book.

A particular case cited is that of the Conquistadors. Armed with steel, experience of warfare and mounted on horses, Francisco Pizarro and his men first defeated the Incas in battle (mainly because of the naïve stupidity of their emperor), then the small pox the Spanish carried finished off the job. Yes, historical fact, but was it necessary to imply in this documentary that the small pox was somehow deliberate?

The logical thread of this is very attractive and certainly has much truth. However, the continuous use of the liberal buzz-word ‘inequality’ throughout should have clued me in to how specious some of the reasoning was. The first hiccup was with that domestication of animals and non-subsistence farming. This happened in the Middle East and with a bit of hand-waving and talk about how it spreads latitudinally, it magically became the big advantage to the people of Europe. One then has to ask the question: why wasn’t it the middle easterners with their ‘guns, germs and steel’ conquering the rest of the world? I’ll take the forgiving view that this is all a bit more complicated than portrayed in the documentary, so perhaps I really should read the book.

Next we go to tropical South Africa which the Europeans struggled to conquer because their farming methods didn’t work and because the diseases were on the side of the Africans. However, the Europeans did win there because the steel was on their side – mainly the Maxim machine gun, then the train. Okay, I get that – more historical facts. But what got my back up here was the glorification of the native and the life style of the ‘noble savage’. And please stop it with the implication that the Europeans destroyed some wonderful agrarian idyll and that a return to that life style might be a good thing. Yes, the life-span in the place depicted is about 40 now, but did those ‘noble savages’ live any longer? Did the women enjoy popping out baby after baby until dying of it? Did they all enjoy labouring every day just to put food in their mouths?

Diamond then moved away from his central contention to claim that the similarities between tribal languages indicated a previous single underlying language and an African civilization, on the bones of which the Europeans built their African empire. I can see the point of the language thing when we look at the ‘romance languages’ and the like. If you want to you can contend that the Europe we know is ‘built on the bones’ of earlier civilizations (The Greeks and then the Romans). Thing is, we’re still digging up those bones. Nothing remains of this particular African civilization because they built nothing long-lasting and invented no more than had already been current in the Stone Age, which is a curious and highly convenient definition of civilization.

It would have been better if this had stuck to Diamond’s original contention about ‘guns, germs and steel’ rather than straying into the apologia and fatuous fact-twisting of political correctness.

In the end this documentary was another of those liberal self-flagellation fests; another deep revel in white guilt and the present practically Luddite attitude towards technology. It was highly selective of its ‘facts’, quite good at confusing correlation with causation (another common one nowadays). Yes, I perfectly understand the point that no single race possesses some underlying superiority, but I damned well disagree with the idea here that because luck and circumstance put the Europeans on top that they should feel guilty and be all apologetic. The reality of this documentary is that those who produced it don’t really understand their own proposition of underlying equality, which is that if the ‘guns, germs and steel’ had arisen elsewhere in the world, it would have been the Europeans who got the kicking.

Strange isn’t it, how the politically correct revel in a guilt that stems from their own assumed superiority.
Noblesse oblige.