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Monday, August 31, 2015

The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis


Whenever I see a bookcover which displays the author's name in larger print than the book's title, I walk right past it. Not so Padma. She bought me Dan Brown's "Inferno" and, not wanting to let $29.95 go to waste, I began to read it. And what a page-turner and eye-opener it has been!

In it, Dante's Inferno, the Black Death, geometric progression, agathusia, transhumanism, Children of the Corn, Logan's Run, biological warfare, the world's overpopulation, and the Malthusian Theory of Population are all turned into an intellectual cliff-hanger which won't let you stop until you've reached the last page some 600 pages later.

Just consider this: if you picked up a piece of paper and ripped it in half and then placed the two halves on top of each other and then were to repeat the process ... hypothetically speaking, if the original sheet of paper is a mere one-tenth of a millimetre thick, and you were to repeat this process ... say, fifty times ... it would be one-tenth of a millimetre times two to the fiftieth power. It's called geometric progression and the stack of paper, after only fifty doublings would reach almost all the way ... to the sun! --- click here

And thus the book makes its point: that the history of our human population growth is even more dramatic. The earth's population, like the stack of paper, had very meagre beginnings but alarming potential. It took the earth's population thousands of years - from the early dawn of man all the way to the early 1800s - to reach one billion people. Then, astoundingly, it took only about a hundred years to double the population to two billion in the 1920s. After that, it took a mere fifty years for the population to double again to four billion in the 1970s. Every day, rain or shine, we're adding another quarter-million people to planet Earth. Every year, we're adding the equivalent of the entire country of Germany. Genesis 1:28 "Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth" has turned from a blessing to a curse.

If you and I live for another nineteen years, we will have witnessed the population triple in our lifetime. The mathematics is as relentless - and as non-negotiable - as the law of gravity. - Animal species are going extinct at a precipitously accelerated rate. The demand for dwindling natural resources is skyrocketing. Clean water is harder and harder to come by. By any biological gauge, our species has exceeded our sustainable numbers. And the gatekeeper of the planet's health, the World Health Organization's feeble response is to dispense free condoms in Africa! They are followed by an army of Catholic missionaries sent out by the Vatican (who better than a bunch of celibate octogenarians to tell the world how to have sex?) that tell Africans if they use condoms, they go straight to hell. Africa's latest environmental problem are landfills overflowing with unused condoms.

Free condoms in Africa! It's like swinging a flyswatter at an incoming asteroid. The time bomb is no longer ticking. It has already gone off, and without drastic measures, exponential mathematics will become our new God ... a very vengeful God who will bring to you Dante's vision of hell right outside on Park Avenue ... huddled masses wallowing in their own excrement.

The world's politicians, power brokers, and environmentalists hold emergency summits, all trying to assess which of these problems are most severe and which they can actually hope to solve. The outcome? Privately, they put their heads in their hands and weep. Publicly, they assure us all that they are working on solutions - what solutions? solar power, recycling, and hybrid cars? - but that these are complex issues.

Complex? Bullshit! Lack of clean water, rising global temperatures, ozone depletion, rapidly dwindling ocean resources, species extinction, CO2 concentration, deforestation, rising global sea levels - it's all caused by one single variable: global population! If you want more clean water per capita, you need fewer people on earth. If you want to decrease vehicle emissions, you need fewer drivers. If you want the oceans to replenish their fish, you need fewer people eating fish!

I'm neither a 'connesewer' of doomsday books nor a Dan Brown aficionado. I tend to agree with a friend of mine who's banished all Dan Brown books to the darkest and coldest and most unlikely-ever-to-see-the-light-of-day-again corner of his library. But forget about literary merit! "Inferno" has hit so many buttons and made me scurry off into so many directions to seek out additional information that I challenge you to read this book. You can always go back to your state of denial and pious hand-wringing later.

P.S. For another interesting perspective on this subject, click here.


Sunday, August 30, 2015

25,567 days old - but who's counting?


With my 70th birthday only days away, I received this timely email from a friend on Karragarra Island:

"Since you are soon 70, you're rapidly catching up with me (I'm now 77). It's no fun growing old. So far I've had bowel cancer resulting in a colostomy (2003), blepharospasm which renders me functionally blind at times (circa 1998), a crippled foot due to a bad hip replacement (2006), and a busted appendix (2007) - and I haven't even started to get old yet!"

Thank you so much, Tony! Seems I've got a lot to look forward to. ☺ And I had to look up 'blepharospasm'. Now I know what I'm suffering from every time my credit card statement arrives in the mail. ☺


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Falling share prices, rising water levels


The other way 'round would've been better but markets do what markets do and so does Mother Nature which has dished out well over 300mm of rain all of yesterday and last night.

This morning, the lower parts of "Riverbend" look more like SeaWorld and I keep an anxious eye on the upstream pump station at Brooman for its latest reading on what's coming down the Clyde River.

On a normal day, the recorded level at Brooman is around 0.7m with a flow-rate of about 100ML/day. Today's readings are:

  6am 10.16   187,713
  8am 10.32   195,661
  9am 10.36   197,442
11am 10.25   192,319
12am 10.18   188,603
  2pm   9.85   171,610
  3pm   9.69   163,633
  5pm   9.23   142,300

The level is coming down again and so is the flow rate but the next high tide around 6 p.m. determines whether the "Clubhouse" by the pond becomes Noah's Ark. ☺

In the meantime, the rain has eased to become intermittent. What a lovely word! Although, as I type this and look out the window, the rain looks more unremitting than intermitting. Even my scientifically calibrated raingauge shown below has given up gauging.



Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Why is it so?


Unless you are over 50, you won't recognise this person. Professor Julius Sumner Miller was the quirky and highly entertaining physics professor of the ABC TV series "Why is it so?"

The series ran for over 20-years and taught a whole generation about the magic of physics - with the help of a block of chocolate containing that famous "glass and a half of full-cream dairy milk".

Professor Sumner Miller was always asking ‘why is it so?’ and would then proceed to answer the question with a demonstration.

The most powerful questions in the world always begin with why. Prefacing a question with ‘why’ makes you think, makes the other person think and also reveals the depth of one’s knowledge.

The media is full of reasons why the world's sharemarkets are convulsing. I don't know why. How will our market fare today? I don't know. What happens from here? I don't know. Is this 2008 all over again? I don't know.

All I know is that this is perhaps a good time to eat some chocolate containing that famous glass and a half of full-cream dairy milk and take the long view!


Sunday, August 23, 2015

You don't choose a life; you live one


After "A Walk in the Woods" and "Wild", I'm now into my third walk, this time along the Camino in northern Spain.

My friend Rob Krenn walked the Camino after he had visited us at "Riverbend" in 2003 and after he had cycled the length and breadth of New Zealand and after he had cycled the length only of South America. Walking the Camino after all that must've felt like a walk in the park.

During my ill-spent early teens, I hitchhiked all over Europe, at times with another "Fahrenden Gesellen" but most times on my own, even crossing into Africa when I visited the Spanish city of Ceuta just across the Strait of Gibraltar.

As a 14-year-old. 5 months later I started work; 5 years later I went to Australia

After having watched "The Way" and this documentary, I regret not also having walked the Camino. But, of course, I didn't know about it then. Which is hardly a consolation as it only adds another regret, "If only I had known then the things I know now!"

As Soren Kierkegaard said, "Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards". However, he also said, "Do it or do not do it - you will regret both" which kind of evens things out. ☺


Thursday, August 20, 2015

A Journey from Lost to Found


Today was supposed to be swim-day but instead I walked 30-or-so miles of the Pacific Crest Trail - well, as a mental traveller and with the help of the first sixty pages of Cheryl Strayed's book "WILD - A Journey from Lost to Found".

In the summer of 1995, 26-year-old Cheryl Strayed, carrying a backpack nearly half her weight, embarked on a solo 1,100-mile trek along the Pacific Crest Trail which stretches across nine mountain ranges, from the California-Mexico border to Canada.

As soon as I've reached the Bridge of the Gods, I shall watch the movie.


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Sweet memories


The postman has just called to deliver a parcel full of KOPIKO, courtesy of Venki Sankar who visited us the weekend before last - see here. The accompanying letter explained it all:


My dear friends,

I got back to my daughter's home in Sydney after a very restful and pleasant stay at your home in Batemans Bay, made all the more memorable and pleasant by your wonderful hospitality.

A short thank-you is not enough to commensurate with the loving care you showered on me! So I have decided to reciprocate with something sweet that you say you love so much.

Fortunately, Vijaya arrived from Kuala Lumpur last Saturday and I was able to get her to bring with her some of your favourite Indonesian sweets to give you your caffeine-fix - KOPIKO!!!

Enjoy it while it lasts and I hope it leaves behind the same sweet taste in your mouth as I experienced with you.

If either or both of you are in Kuala Lumpur ever again, do call on me so that we can relive some the good times we had together!

Sincerely and with love,


Thanks, Venki! Your parcel arrived just in time to sweeten up an otherwise cool and grey morning.

And Venki is not the only crazy friend who does unexpected things. I've just received a 'handwritten email' from my Canadian friend Chris. Has it something to do with those long cold Canadian winters? ☺


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Just looking!

sold in May 2013 for $270,000 - click here


Ever since we've been trying to sell "Riverbend", I've kept my eyes open for a suitable pied-à-terre that we could call 'home' while we still do some travelling overseas.

I checked out several places on the Queensland coast, from Cooktown down to Cairns and Kurunda, even as far inland as Yungaburra and Atherton; then on Magnetic Island and around Bundaberg and Childers.

In recent years, we visited friends on Karragarra Island - click here - and were quite taken by the sleepy and laid-back lifestyle - there's more going on in the mangroves than on the streets - on the four southern Moreton Bay Islands of Russell, Macleay, Karragarra and Lamb Island. So close to Brisbane and yet so far!

Lamb Island in particular not only attracted my attention because of its attempt to secede from Australia - read more here - but also because it offers some very affordable real estate. After having watched the above video clip, you'll agree that it was a great buy when it sold in May 2013 for $270,000. And there are many more like it!

The name Lamb Island hasn't got much of a ring to it - but then neither has the 'Independent Republic of Nguduroodistan ☺ - but the local residents seem to love it. Their blogs - here and here - suggest that they have found their personal paradise. Why, they even made a short film on the island - click here.

Take the train from Brisbane's Roma Street to Cleveland Station, then Bus 250 to Redland Bay Marina, and a waterbus or ferry to Lamb Island. Travel time about 2 hours

Perhaps I should make my move before all the positions in the new government of the 'Independent Republic of Nguduroodistan' are taken. Independence campaigner and local convenience store owner Tony Gilson says a caretaker government consisting of a king and queen, a prime minister and twenty-one ministers is already in place, and local yachtsman - and newly appointed Minister for Immigration & Maritime Border Control - Clint Mcdonald stands ready to defend the micronation's borders from invasion.

Maybe there's still a vacancy in their Ministry of Silly Walks. Failing a government position, maybe they let me join the committee of the local bowls club ☺


Monday, August 17, 2015

The myth of island living


The dream of an island paradise is often a myth. Rather than idyllic, they are frequently the settings for border conflict, prisons and broken dreams. The reality of island living is much more like hard work.

Living on an island does not measure up to what most people's expectation of living on an island is. People buy with the dream, the aspiration that they're going to sit on the front verandah drinking pina coladas at 4 o'clock in the afternoon when they realise, 'Hang on, I've got to go and turn the septic system on. Hang on, we've run out of milk.' Right? It's those sorts of things that people forget.

The kind of people who want to go to an island that is cut off, think they can escape convention, or they won't be so influenced by society's conventional mores, and they've got more freedom to do what they like. In reality on a small island everyone is on top of each other. And all those strong personalities have to get on together. It's a challenge.

That small town surveillance is what people love and hate about small island communities. People look for isolation, a refuge, but what they often find is the opposite. If you share a small island with other people, it's hard to avoid them.

Listen to Radio National's Background Briefing here (and read the whole transcript here).


Sunday, August 16, 2015

If you liked Barry McKenzie, you'll like the Inbetweeners 2


This film involves four English school friends who meet up again for a holiday in Australia, "a place where people go to get drunk, pick some fruit and get drunk again".

Don’t expect a deep, underlying narrative. This is just a bunch of horny teenagers doing really dumb things. To each their own ... like travelling in a car which has "Mobile Virgin Conversion Unit" written across the back. I got it at the Moruya Markets yesterday for four dollars, so it's a cheap laugh ☺

And here's something else I brought back from the markets:

No married home should be without it! ☺


Saturday, August 15, 2015

I travelled all of Friday and early Saturday morning from Yekaterinburg to Vladivostok


Did you know that Siberia fills one twelfth of the land-mass of the whole Earth? Or, if it were detached from Russia, it would remain by far the largest country on earth?

At almost five million square miles,it is bigger than the United States, including Alaska, and western Europe combined. As the sun is rising over the Urals, it is setting on the Bering Sea.

Colin Thubron has published nine travel books. His latest, In Siberia, gives a lyrical and learned account of this vast and mysterious region, and has again been praised as much for Thubron's literary talents as for his intrepid journeying to impenetrable locations.

When he went to Siberia he was interested to see how deeply the changes that have transformed the old Soviet Union had penetrated. "This is the part of Russia that is most distant and least reported on, and I wanted to see how small communities were faring. Perhaps naively, I hoped to find that things had survived better than they had done. I thought Siberia, with its traditions of robust independence, might have fared better than other areas of Russia. But I found that this wasn't so."

From the beginning of summer through the onset of winter he travels alone, mostly by train and bus but also by way of airplane and thumb (paying the drivers small fares, as was the custom for hitchhikers even in Socialist times). Above and below the Arctic Circle, he visits frigid outposts languishing in neglect, emptied prison camps, misplanned planned cities, cities built by Cossacks and others built by convicts. He takes a steamship north on the Yenisei River to the Arctic village of Potalovo, where he allows himself to be stranded for weeks. In Magadan, ''the capital of sorrow,'' he crawls under barred windows to explore a former detention center, where the walls of the unheated punishment cells are sheathed in ice.

Thubron is never a travel bore and covered a lot of ground. Many of us, though, will be glad that he was the one who made the trip, so that we won't have to.



Friday, August 14, 2015

Of books, a pair of windscreen wipers, a movie and anything else that moves (me)

Click on image to enlarge


This is an early-morning picture of the Batemans Bay Water Gardens. It was just me and the birds while I waited for the car to be serviced.

An hour later I was slugged $300 for a simple 100,000-km routine service. Why? Because the service included something as major as replacing the rubber on the windscreen wipers. In days gone by, I could have bought two strips of rubber for a couple of dollars and replaced them myself. Not anymore! These days they completely replace two perfectly good windscreen wiper arms at a cost of$66. I'm glad I could do my bit to push up this month's GDP number.

To offset this extravaganza, I went shopping at my favourite op-shop and came away with The Unconscious Civilization by John Ralston Saul, All the Wrong Places - Adrift in the Politics of Asia by James Fenton, and Colin Thuborn's In Siberia. Enough to keep the grey matter occupied for another week.

And, of course, we went to see Last Cab to Darwin at the Bay City Cinemas, even though it meant spending two hours of a gloriously warm and sunny day in the dark.

All the news seems to be about same-sex marriage. If that's the only problem we have, we're the lucky country indeed! The pollies want to run a multi-million-dollar referendum or plebiscite (take your pick!) to let the plebs decide. May I suggest we add the question of how much money pollies should be allowed to claim in entitlements?

And just when same-sex marriage has become ALP policy,
Penny Wong is caught out sleeping with a bloke. What hypocrisy!

While on the news, it was also reported that it costs us $2,000 a day to hold an illegal migrant in an offshore detention centre. $2,000 per person per day!!!! I've just checked the Sydney Hilton's website: their deluxe rooms go for around $300 a night. Why not save a whole pile of money by putting them all in the Sydney Hilton?


Thursday, August 13, 2015

Celebrating 130 years of BHP - a pillar of the Australian economy and a pillar of my share portfolio


On 13 August 1885, the Broken Hill Propriety Company Limited was formed. To celebrate the anniversary of this momentous occasion Beyond the Surface looks back at the milestone events and people that have shaped BHP.


I'm a Bill Bryson fan


There are probably only one or two books by Bill Bryson that I haven't read yet - and "A Walk in the Woods" isn't one of them. Check out the rest here.

Needless to say, when the movie comes to the Bay - on the 2nd of September - , I'll be queueing up for a ticket!

It's a comedy about walking the Appalachian Trail — and getting older. "What are you going to do with what time you have left? Are you just going to sit?" Robert Redford asks. "One thing you don’t want to do is be a guy sitting in a rocking chair on a stoop somewhere in a bathrobe and say, 'I wish I would've, I wish I could’ve.’ So, you make the most of your life."


Last Cab to Darwin


I like watching a good movie and I LOVE watching a good Australian movie - and, judging by the trailer, this latest Australian movie, Last Cab to Darwin, promises to be a real beauty.

It's about Rex (Michael Caton of "The Castle" fame), a cab driver who has never left Broken Hill. When he discovers he doesn't have long to live, he decides to drive through the heart of the country to Darwin, where new euthanasia laws could enable him to control his fate.

Unwilling to burden them, or even talk about his condition, Rex leaves behind his best friend and lover Polly (Ningali Lawford-Wolf) and his crew of drinking buddies, and sets off on the 3000km journey.

Along the way, on his very Australian odyssey, Rex meets people who force him to re-evaluate his life. With pitch-perfect performances from the leads and a supporting cast that includes Mark Coles Smith, Emma Hamilton and Jacki Weaver, Last Cab to Darwin promises to draw both tears and laughter.


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Shukran Habibi; do you want fries with that?


While I stayed home and watched in horror as the share market in general, and BHP in particular, received an absolute hammering today following China's second devaluation of the yuan, Padma met up with a whole bunch of 'girls' at Joe's Espresso Yourself Cafe in the Bay for a birthday celebration.

The cafe's proprietor, Joe - an unlikely name for an Egyptian; I just call him 'Habibi' which never fails to get me a discount ☺ - , couldn't resist and joined the crowd. I'm sure you can pick him out from the rest. Here's a tip: he sports some facial hair. ☺