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PM Scott Morrison, religion, and fitness to govern

Rant: on

We often hear the argument that a person’s personal religious views are not relevant to their role in government.


If someone is going to make decisions that affect me and my children and so on into the future, I want that someone to have an understanding of the processes of science and knowledge gathering, and to appreciate that not all data are equal and that some people know what they are talking about and some don’t. If that decision maker lives in a belief structure that prevents them from doing that, they are not fit to govern.

Let’s take the obvious example — climate science. A crucial aspect of climate science is time scales. Ice cores going back 2.7 million years show us not just whether the world has ever been this hot or had this much carbon in the air but, even more crucially, how quickly the levels change. The rate of change on human time scales we are seeing now is completely unprecedented (though not unpredicted), but if you believe that the world is 6000 years old, then all of time is the human time scale and you are literally incapable of understanding the evidence. Therefore incapable of formulating adequate policy about it, therefore incapable and unfit for government.


Similarly, if they believe that one group (say, Christians) is worthy and is going to be saved and go to heaven, and the rest of us are going to hell and deserve punishment unless we change our ways, how can they then say the serve us all, govern for us all? They can’t. Either they believe one group is special, or they don’t.

Clearly, I am an atheist. I’d like to believe in something beyond the material world. I just don’t see it.

For example, prayer. Ain’t it remarkable how prayer has healed a lot more people after the invention of penicillin? These days so many more people survive illness, many of them infidels, unbelievers and downright awful people. A few hundred years ago, the most innocent of babies (though don’t get me started on the insanity of original sin) or devout of believers died a lot more often than the most heinous of blasphemers do now.

Gee, maybe it’s because prayer does not work and penicillin does.

That is, faith does not work but hard work and science and thinking do. (Oh, sure, faith might work on the personal level of making people feel better about themselves, or guiding them in their actions — rather like meditation — and that might lead that person to be a better influence in the world; though faith often seems to guide people to do pretty unsociable things).

If this Prime Minster is not prepared to be guided by hard work and science and thinking, then his decisions will be as bad as someone using prayer instead of antibiotics. I don’t want that doctor, and I don’t want that Prime Minister. I mean, his job is, basically, to make decisions. If he’s going to do that based on an illogical belief system, he’s got to go.

I don’t care how personal his beliefs are, they are not personal, they are national. If he wants the luxury of personal beliefs, he cannot be Prime Minister.

Rant: off

Text News — news in plain text

Recently I got a account. The account comes with 2 directories — public_html and public_gopher. So I started messing around with gopher, using the gopher client and the gopherus client (and lynx works too).

One of the most useful gopher pages I found was Text News. It sucks down RSS feeds and presents them as nicely formatted plain text.

Very nice, but as an Australian I’d like to read some Australian news. At present I’m not going to make my own gopher page or anything like that, though it would be possible to use the gopher server on tilde to do that, and I might (and/or html).

Very kindly, the Text News page explains how to use the script that grabs HTML and RSS pages and formats them for plain text reading.

So …

  1. Using gopher, visited Text News on gopher and then downloaded the text file that describes how it works; saved to …
  2. $ mkdir installs/rsstotext
    $ mv instructions.txt installs/rsstotext/
    $ cd installs/rsstotext
    $ cat instructions.txt
  3. Viewed the file and installed stuff:
    $ sudo apt-get install python python-pip #python2
    $ sudo pip install html2text requests readability-lxml feedparser
    $ git clone
  4. Went to find some feeds
    $ links2 -g
  5. Searched for a list of Aussie RSS news feeds; found one at:
    Downloaded as ausfeeds.html
  6. Viewed the file and worked out how to most easily pull out the URLs of the feeds; don’t mind if it is a little bit manual.
    $ grep xml ausfeeds.html | cut -d'=' -f2 > ausfeeds
  7. Checked usage:
    $ cat instructions.txt
  8. Edited the resulting file, including prepending the appropriate command to each line, and commenting out the ones I don’t want just now.
    $ vim ausfeeds
    $ cat ausfeeds
    #! /bin/bash
    echo "Consider cleaning up in  /home/username/installs/rsstotext/saved!"
    cd /home/username/installs/rsstotext
    echo ABC ...
    python /home/username/installs/rsstotext/ --rss -n --url
    #echo SMH ...
    #python /home/username/installs/rsstotext/ --rss -n --url
    echo Age ...
    python /home/username/installs/rsstotext/ --rss -n --url
    echo Huffington Post Australia ...
    python /home/username/installs/rsstotext/ --rss -n --url
    echo Canberra Times ...
    python /home/username/installs/rsstotext/ --rss -n --url
    #echo WA Today ...
    #python /home/username/installs/rsstotext/ --rss -n --url
    #echo Brisbane Times ...
    #python /home/username/installs/rsstotext/ --rss -n --url
    echo Done! News stored in /home/username/installs/rsstotext/saved
    sleep 2s
    cd saved
  9. Made it executable (later made a soft link into ~/bin):
    $ chmod +x ausfeeds
  10. Try it…
    $ ./ausfeeds

It takes a while, but works fine. A text mode file manager is a good way to view the results; Here we use vfu; here is what it looks like.

A news feed viewed as a formatted text file

Viewed in vfu

Once the directories are populated, it’s best to not rerun the script until an updated list of stories is desired — just use vfu to browse the existing downloads.

Gopher it!

The Prime Minister of Australia is either a hypocrite or a fool

If he cannot recognise the need to battle climate change, he’s a fool.

If he does recognise the need to battle climate change, then his response to it is utterly hypocritical.

It’s one or the other.

Climate strike!

On September 20th, 2019, Biotext, where I work, is joining the climate strike.

I congratulate the Biotext management for their wisdom and foresight.



Logical climate change denial

Tony Abbott is clearly railing against climate change, but just as clearly lacks the intellectual tools to argue for his point of view. As a kind of service to our (shudder) former prime minister, I offer this simple guide to logical climate change denial.

How about:

Mass of the Earth: 5.972 × 1024 kg.

Mass of all humans: approx. 6 × 1011 kg.

Clearly when Earth is 1013 bigger than us there’s no way we can affect it. Therefore climate change is impossible.

How about this one:

God said: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” (Somewhere in Genesis.)

Here is the definition of subdue (courtesy google):

verb: subdue; 3rd person present: subdues; past tense: subdued; past participle: subdued; gerund or present participle: subduing
  1. overcome, quieten, or bring under control (a feeling or person).
    “she managed to subdue an instinct to applaud”
    synonyms: conquer, defeat, vanquish, get the better of, overpower, overcome, overwhelm, crush, quash, quell, beat, trounce, subjugate, master, suppress, gain the upper hand over, triumph over, tame, bring someone to their knees, hold in check, humble, chasten, cow; More

    informal lick, thrash, wipe the floor with, clobber, demolish, hammer, make mincemeat of, walk all over
    “he is said to have slain or subdued all those who had plotted against him”
    curb, restrain, hold back, constrain, contain, inhibit, repress, suppress, stifle, smother, check, keep in check, arrest, bridle, rein in;
    control, govern, master, quash, quell;
    moderate, tone down, diminish, lessen, damp;
    informal lick, nip in the bud, keep a/the lid on
    “she could not subdue her longing for praise”
    • bring (a country or people) under control by force.
      “Charles went on a campaign to subdue the Saxons”

So there you go. We have to beat Earth, we have to bring it to its knees! Humble it. Subjugate it.  Climate change is a key part of our overall strategy of smothering and lessening. We have to make mincemeat out of the Earth. And we’re on track! All we are doing is fulfilling our mandated destiny, and anyone who tries to stop that is immoral, unethical and simply wrong.

How about this one:

There are many ways to succeed. Who’s to say that a planet is not at its best with a high-carbon atmosphere? The idea that there is only one way for Earth to be and that we know what that way is is presumptuous and arrogant. Who are we to say what’s the ‘right’ amount of carbon for an atmosphere? How high the oceans should be? How much ice there should be at the poles? We have a long history of thinking we know what we’re doing and being proved wrong, and of forcing our beliefs on others. Instead of telling the planet how it should be, we need to let it develop as it would, and with an understanding that we are products of that planet and part of that development.

How about this one:

Scientists have been wrong en masse before. They used to (almost) all think the Sun went around the Earth, that plague was caused by ‘bad air’ and that aliens built the pyramids, though not that last one. Probably they’re (almost) all wrong now and really the Earth is cooling, carbon is good for the environment and it was the Eiffel tower that was built by aliens.

How about this one:

God just wouldn’t let that happen. He might let it happen to you but he wouldn’t let it happen to me.

How about this one:

All the carbon that’s in the ground used to be on top of the ground. The atmosphere is on top of the ground. Therefore, we are just putting the carbon back where it used to be. We’re tidying up. It’s a good thing.






Ignorant reflections on US politics

But There’ve been some comments in the light of the recent US election about reforming/abolishing the electoral college — after all, apparently, like Gore in 2000, Clinton got more votes but they were in the wrong places and so Trump won. Votes in less populous states count more, and so on.

I would argue, based on what I’ve read and seen, that there are more important things. The US needs an electoral commission, independent of Federal and State governments, that makes sure polling booths are equally available to all groups across the country. Voting systems need to be uniform. There need to be as many booths in non-white communities as in white, for example, and they need to be open. It needs to be easy to vote by post, in advance and from overseas. Recall Florida 2000 — Federal votes need to be immune from state-based interests.

That is a far bigger factor than the EC. I mean, sure, reform that — but you need to fix the bigger problems first. It needs to be easier to vote, equally easy everywhere. Once everyone gets to vote under a more uniform system, then you can get the inputs into the EC system to be more representative. At the moment the EC is GIGO, Fix the garbage going in first.

Second, once you’ve made it easy for everyone to vote, you would (ideally, though this will never ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever happen) introduce what I call ‘compulsory attendance’. Put simply, you can fail to vote if you want to, but you have to show up (or postal vote or whatever) and tick the Brewster’s Millions box (draw a funny face on the ballot paper, whatever) or the Feds come after you. Failing to vote through apathy, or showing up and choosing not to vote for anybody because they all suck are two very different things, and send two very different messages, and what it does — and this is very important — is it removes the effect of voter turnout. Getting out the vote is discounted as a factor. That means there can be more focus on policy and genuine comparison of the parties. And you have to appeal to a wider range of voters, which tends to cut down on the more extreme ideas like Mexican walls. it is not undemocratic, because you do not have to vote, you just have to actually choose to not vote, rather than just be lazy.

But there’s no way you can have a law like that until everyone has an equal chance to vote, and right now that’s not the case.

A Fearful World of Walls

As I write this, Trump looks like wining the presidency of the USA. His capturing so much of the vote says much about the mindset of many people, and not just in the USA.

A happy people would not vote for Trump. A hopeful people would not vote for Trump. Forward looking people would not vote to Brexit, and generous people would not vote for governments that persecute people fleeing persecution — as both sides of politics do in my own country of Australia.

Clearly, the world, even (especially? no) the bits of it that are supposed to be wealthy, is not a happy place. Not confident. ‘Progress’ has let us down. Globalisation has given us cheap TVs but lousy job prospects, or so the narrative goes. The climate is about to make our way of life a lot more difficult. Things do not look good, whether you are following your gut or thinking very carefully. It looks more and more like the baby boomers will be the peak of western affluence, with the seemingly endless climb finally cresting and falling away as we spend our time dealing with the world as we have made it and they have left it.

And so countries want to retreat, to blame somebody then keep them out.

Trump is not a cause, but a symptom. Despite all the interconnections in the world, the web being pre-eminent these days, we either have not come to understand each other any better, or if we have we don’t like what we see.

His win is not the cataclysm some would suggest. He is such a policy-free zone (except for thought bubbles) that what really matters is which GoP figures end up pulling his strings. When, after the election, he is desperately casting about for actual programs and policies, then the GoP establishment can swoop in, present him with a ready-to-go program which he can preside over. The question is, what will that program be?

The real impact of a Trump presidency depends on who gets to put the agenda in front of him. We are in the hands of a Republican Party that has the House, the Senate and the Oval Office.




Pretty good at what it is: The Professor by Rex Warner.

The Professor, Rex Warner, Penguin 1944 (171 pages).

This is a decent novel and a fascinating artefact. First published in 1938, it is a direct response to the tide of totalitarianism that was then sweeping across Europe. My copy was published in 1warecon1-prof944, when that trend had reached its dreadful apotheosis, and is distinctly of its time. Here I reproduce some of the adverts found on the back cover and inside the back of the book. ‘The front’ is a current metaphor for fighting the bristles on your chin; we have advice for extending the useful life of a nightie, and we’re told to remember how useful a product is, even though right now it is in short supply. The book itself is produced in accordance with the war economy standards, and the paper is noticeably thin and the cover rather floppy (yet here it is 70 years later, speaking something to what was considered a ‘cheap’ edition back then, and making me wonder whether some our standards might not be irrecoverably lower now than they were then). Having said that, the design is clearly pre-Tschichold, with it’s penguin that looks ready to collapse and blobby ‘Penguin Books’ logo at the top. One would think that if a book company is going to save trouble by not designing the covers individually, the least they could do would be get the one design they were using right.



To the story; it is a fable, taking place in an unspecified county (not Britain) that shares a border with a great power — rather like a Baltic state glancing fearfully at the Russians, say, or Austria in 1937. The little country knows it cannot fight and win, and there are sections of its own population attracted to the certainty that dictatorship offers. As the government is in free-fall they try offering the Chancellorship (a position akin to the German position, or to a Prime Minister in a Westminster-type government) to The Professor, a respected academic whose work has centred on Greek and Latin literature, and the like. The Professor is intelligent but not worldly, and events soon overtake him. His options narrow, the people around him have their own agendas, and eventually the inevitable eventuates. On the way we meet a cross section of the community, we see how people cope with living under the imminent cloud of envelopment — some embrace it, some disappear into fantasy and denial, many do not really understand it and so manage quite well.

The Professor himself is a somewhat unsatisfactory and pedantic figure. Some of the supporting cast, through the very fact of being drawn more economically and perhaps therefore bluntly, are more alive than he is. He never quite becomes more than the puppet the plot, and the philosophy behind the work, demands. The prose is… precise, bordering on pedantic. Every clause carefully set off, every verb correctly subjected, no infinitives even within a mile of splittedness; it is as if the words are designed to match the personality of the protagonist; prim, academic and correct.
These things add up to making The Professor a very interesting book if you like looking at books and how they work. It is not a story for the fan of plot and counter plot and subplot and action and suspense.

Is it a book that speaks to our times now? I suspect the inhabitants of Ukraine or Taiwan or Tibet would say, ‘Yes, though Rex Warner doesn’t know the half of it.’

It’s short; if you see it kicking around, give it a go.

Or not.

We did fine at the Olympics, how about some other competitions?

So Australia apparently came 9th or 10th in the medal tally in Rio 2016, lower if you look at medals per per team member. So we had a relatively inefficient team; or we are more inclusive, who’s to say? The problem is, we are trying to be one of the ‘big’ Olympic nations when we have better things to do.

Anyway. There’s discussion in the Australian media about an under-performing Olympic team. Will it result in more funding? Less funding? Funding moved around seemingly at random? Probably the third. How are we doing on some more meaningful metrics? (These stats are from various recent years; some tables may even change. The ranking are as noted by me when I wrote this, in August 2016. I’m not being terribly scientific here.)

OECD Education ranking: 14th (and falling).

Life expectancy for females at birth: 9th.

Size of economy (GDP): 12th to 13th.

Research and development spending (real terms): 14th. As fraction of GDP: 16th.

Democracy index: 9th.

Welfare spending (fraction of GDP): 25th. Fraction spent on the poorest 20% of the population: 1st. (Benefits are heavily means tested in Australia.)

Gender equity index: 11th.

Intentional homicides per capita (36th, where 1st is lowest rate, which is a good thing).

Suicide rate: Approx. 57th (1st is lowest).

Number of Nobel Prize winners: Equal 15th.

Patent applications (2014): 10th.

Advertising spending per capita (2014): 2nd.

Global Peace Index (2014): 15th.

Manufacturing output: 15th.

Population: 57th.

Disposable income: 10th. Obesity: 44th.


And so on. Key point is, if we want to be ‘top 5’ in the world at the Olympics, then our priorities are all screwed up. There are dozens of much more important metrics where we should be aiming for top 5. Gold medals is not one of them.


Bah, humbug.

The Road to Hell, etc.: The Hohenzollerns by A.D.Innes

T.C. & E.C. Jack, London, 1915 (94 pages)

This excellent little history was written as world war I was breaking out, when the German unification under Bismarck and the Kaiser had reached its apotheosis but not yet its nadir. It begins, though written in 1914, with the assertion that Kaiser William II is unlikely to get what he wants from the current war, and that “an appreciable curtailment of the powers of the house of Hohenzollern will be the inevitable and fortunate alternative.” Much of what the author says is equally perceptive.

The book begins with an introduction, then moves on to explore the founding of Prussia, its rise to prominence, the epochal figure of Frederick the Great and then the consolidation of the fragments of the German region — bits of the Holy Roman Empire, various duchies and independent cities — into the German empire. And then we seen how the same concerns that drove Hitler — the will to power, the sense of destiny, the fear of encirclement with France and the British Empire on one side and Russia on the other, even the belief in world-wide conspiracies designed to prevent the German nation achieving its destiny — lead to military build-up and, with utter inevitability, world war.


The Hohenzollerns by A.D.Innes.

“…the Kaiser has always found it necessary — and not at all difficult — to persuade his people that he is the least aggressive of men, and that any appearance of aggression must be attributed entirely to the hypocritical craft of treacherous foes. The Kaiser’s greatest and tragical triumph lies in this, that to-day the bulk of the German nation is probably honestly convinced that William in 1914, like Frederick in 1856, drew the sword only to save the German nation from destruction at the hands unscrupulous and wanton enemies of whom the most unscrupulous and the most wanton is Great Britain.”

The same words could have been written about a different dictator in 1939 and it is nice, though perhaps taken for granted, that this is marginally less likely these days in Europe, at least in the major nations (excluding Russia) (add other caveats here). Even now, with the UK voting (misguidedly? regretfully?) to leave the EU, there is still a preference for talk and collaboration. Today one has to look elsewhere, notably Russia and China, to see these attitudes; though sadly they are there. The sense of entitlement (like in the South China Sea right now), the us-against-them rhetoric, the “everybody else is to blame” pronouncements; they are all old tactics. Europe, it seems, has learned a little; but not humankind as a whole. It is sad that one part of the globe cannot learn from the tragedies of another part, that victors (for so the Russians were in WWII, and so the Chinese Communist Party was in 1948) cannot learn the lessons forced upon the vanquished.

Yet so it would seem. Reading history shows us that until nuclear weapons gave us the power to actually wipe out entire nations, and to (more importantly) be wiped out ourselves, war, all-out war between major powers, was indeed an acceptable, even popular, means of conducting foreign policy. Given the proxy wars, the civil wars, the religious wars, that go on and on and on, one is forced to conclude that even if we dislike war as individuals, we approve of it as a species, and we have learned next to nothing. Perhaps to-day we have a better sense of how we should behave.

The road to Hell, etc.

History does not tell us that we learn nothing from history; but the learning is rather incremental while the lessons are appallingly expensive.


Incremental as anything.