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Alex Anderson, Rest in Peace

One of my wife Kathy’s relatives was Alex Anderson, the creator of Rocky and Bullwinkle.

I have never visited the US, and am sorry I never had the chance to meet him.

Alex was one of the great pioneers of animation, and the creator of the first animated programme for TV, Crusader Rabbit.

Rocky and Bullwinkle were amusing to children. To intelligent adults, they were frequently remarkably insightful social commentary.

Time has published a thoughtful reflection on his life, and especially on the crucial role he played in the development of animated movies and TV shows.

Perhaps even more important than his obvious energy, creativity and insight, he was a caring man who was much loved by his family and friends.

Rudd Worried About Tanner Leaking?!

This is little short of farcical.

Leaker and big noter in chief Kevin Rudd, along with Wayne Swan and Julia Gillard, were so concerned about the possibility of then Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner’s leaking sensitive budget information that after bogus meetings at which he was present, they held other meetings at which the decisions were made.

Three points to note about this:

1. There was no evidence Tanner was leaking anything. In contrast to some of the others in those meetings, he has a reputation for being reliable and trustworthy.

2. Tanner knew he was being shut out, because his staff spoke to him about policy decisions he had not been told about by the gang of three.

3. Tanner has a brain cell. I suspect his disagreement with the three-fold consenus on some key budget issues was the real reason they did not want him around.

So much easier to get things done in an atmosphere of consensus.

It’s just that, when an atmosphere of consensus is built by shutting out anyone who might have a different view, it is usually the wrong things that end up being done.

Engineering, Medicine, Whatever …

Bombs found on planes in Dubai and Britain were large enough to have destroyed the planes mid-air, killing all on board, and causing further casualties if the bombs exploded over populated areas.

A woman named Hanan al Samawi has been arrested in Yemen. The Telegraph headline says she is an engineering student, while later in the text it reports: She was arrested at a house in a poor area in the west of Sana’a, where she is studying medicine at the university.

Engineering, medicine, whatever. These are not areas of study which the poor usually take up.

There are three points here.

First, the Telegraph needs to get some new copy editors. Accuracy is important. It is not good enough in a major national daily to have a headline contradicted by the text immediately below it.

Second, the female of the species is as dangerous as the male. There is no justification for policies which discriminate against men in relation to being held in detention centres, for example, on the basis that they are likely to be terrorists whereas women are not.

And finally, terrorism does not have its roots in poverty. There is a great deal of talk about understanding the causes of terrorism. The commonly identified causes in such talks are Western imperialism and Western monopolisation of consumer goods.

This is nonsense. The major source of terrorist activity is radical Islam. Thai Buddhists, African animists, and Orthodox believers living in Siberia, all of whom suffer poverty compared with the West, are not burning down schools and blowing up planes.

Osama Bin Laden, of course, is a multi-millionaire. Terrorism has nothing to do with poverty.

It has everything to do with what its perpetrators keep telling us is the reason for their actions: They hate infidels, and believe they are commanded to destroy them.

Chuck Norris Kicks a Hole in Time

Did you know that when Walker: Texas Ranger was first screened in France, the French surrendered to Chuck Norris, just to be on safe side?

Now there is evidence he has kicked a hole in time itself.

An unknown elderly woman has been spotted talking on a mobile phone in 1928 footage of the Hollywood premiere of Charlie Chaplin’s The Circus.

The only plausible explanation for this is that Chuck Norris threw a roundhouse kick so fast it disrupted time itself, and the woman, who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, just walked through the portal this created. She’s probably still confused about why she can’t get any reception.

Before you dismiss this, keep the following facts in mind:

Chuck Norris is so fast, he can run around the world and smack himself in the back of the head.

Ghosts are caused by Chuck Norris killing bad guys so fast that death cannot keep up.

Chuck Norris can strangle you with a cordless phone.

Some people wear Superman pajamas, but Superman wears Chuck Norris pajamas.

Actually, Chuck Norris really is a bit of a superman. As well as being a competent actor, genuine martial arts champion, and all around decent guy, he is a clear thinker and talented writer.

You can find his columns on Town Hall, including his latest on the extraordinary and frighteningly wasteful growth in US Federal government spending.

No More Naughty Nurses

Nurses nationwide are banned from flirting with patients after the number of complaints about nurses with professional boundary issues tripled in 2009.

Tripled! Oh gosh. What an appalling problem. Those nurses are just going nuts. Sex crazed poodles the lot of them.

Except that in 2009 there were a total of 17 complaints in New South Wales. No mention of how many of those were found to have any substance. A major problem? Hardly.

Nurses who cross the line will be disciplined. Can I help?  Oops, sorry.

Of course there need to be professional boundaries. And people who are unwell are perhaps particularly susceptible to emotional manipulation.

But I doubt a long list of rules formulated by a bureaucracy is going to hinder the very small number of nurses, male or female, who are inclined to take advantage of  their patients, or more commnonly, I suspect, make a joke or off the cuff comment which someone finds offensive or takes the wrong way.

And this is just ridiculous: Nurses must also keep an eye out for any patients developing a crush, as failing to recognise attraction of a sexual nature is also considered sexual misconduct or assault.

Not being aware that someone finds you attractive is an offence? An assault? For heaven’s sake, get a grip.

Ready or Not

Boats of illegal immigrants are arriving in Australia, or being intercepted on the way here, at a rate of one every second day.

Liberal churches and community groups claim they must be welcomed, given the benefit of the doubt, not placed in detention, made part of the community.

This a regular theme in the Anglican Archbishop of Adelaide’s column in the Adelaide Church Guardian. Be compassionate. Be hospitable. Be welcoming. After all, Jesus was a refugee.

Of course, Jesus wouldn’t have jumped queues or taken short cuts to get ahead of anyone else, there were no language barriers (the common tongue in Israel and Egypt was Koine Greek), Israel and Egypt were both part of the Roman Empire, Joseph had skills that were in demand and would have made them a welcome addition to any community, etc.

But let’s just go with the be compassionate, be welcoming idea.

As long they are being welcomed somewhere else. 

I couldn’t help but laugh at the response of residents of the Adelaide Hills to plans to use army barracks at Inverbrackie as a detention centre.

The Adelaide Hills are home to all sorts of green, loving, trendy type folk. Get your crystals or homespun ethnic clothing here! Of course asylum seekers should be treated compassionately and welcomed into Australia. We can share.

What? You mean here? Where we live?

But darling, don’t you think they’d be happier at Murray Bridge or Salisbury? There are already lots of those sort of people there. They’d feel so much more comfortable.

And besides ‘It basically puts a blight on our area .. And property prices will decrease.’

And the Survey Says …

In the latest episode of Climate Family Feud, activist paper Scientific American ran a survey to guage its readers’ opinions on IPCC traitor Judith Curry and her opinions.

The results show that Scientific American’s readers (over 4,000 of them) are better informed than its editors.

A couple of examples:

What is causing climate change?

Greenhouse gasses from human activity 31.4%

Solar Variation  33.8%

Natural processes  76.7% 

(responders could choose as many answers as they wished)

The IPCC is..

A corrupt organisation, prone to groupthink, with a political agenda  81.9%

How much would you be willing to pay to forestall the risk catastrophic climate change?

Nothing  77.1%

That’s because while climate changes all the time, there is no evidence of any impending catastrophe, and even if there were, we would be better off preparing for it, rather than making Canute like efforts to stop it (unfair to King Canute, but that’s another story).

Via Small Dead Animals

Are There Apprentiships or Trainieships for Peopel in Your Inderstry?

A couple of weeks ago a Year Twelve student from the local school gave me a questionaire on employment in the IT industry.

That was one of the questions. Most of the others had similar errors.

I have two questions of my own.

1. Does the school check questionnaires, letters, etc before they go to members of the public?

Well, obviously not.

Or at least I hope it was not checked by a staff member, because if it was, our schools are even worse than I think they are.

2. How is it that a reasonably intelligent boy in Year Twelve has such appalling literacy?

If a person who is no dimwit can get through twelve years of schooling and have no idea how to spell or construct a sentence, what the heck has he been doing all that time?

And what have schools been doing with all my tax money?

Another Kind of Marriage

With the boundaries of what marriage means being vigorously stretched, this comes as no surprise:

Taiwanese Woman to Marry Herself.

“Age 30 is a prime period for me. My work and experience are in good shape, but I haven’t found a partner, so what can I do?” Chen said.

“I’m not anti-marriage. I just hope that I can express a different idea within the bounds of a tradition.”

Ah, yes. The old ‘different idea within the bounds of a tradition’ trick.

Sadly, Taiwanese law discriminates against such unions, and Ms Chen’s marriage will not be recognised by the state.

But I say, if one person truly loves herself, then why not?

Rare Earths, Monazite, Thorium and China

The rare earth elements are not ‘earths’ but metals. Nor are they rare. They are expensive because they are difficult to extract.

Thorium isn’t a rare earth. It is generally found as a by-product of the processing of Monazite ore for rare earths elements (REEs).

Thorium is a radio-active metal approximately three times as abundant as Uranium. I’ll come back to Thorium in a minute.

REEs are used in the production of automotive catalysts, pigments, batteries and magnets. Many of the ‘high tech’ items we take for granted depend on them. Demand for REEs is increasing.

China produces virtually all (97%) of the world’s rare earths. In 2009 China announced that over the next few years it would reduce supply from about 70,000 tons per year to 35,000 tons per year.

In September of this year, China said that it would cease supply of rare earth oxides to Japan completely. Given that Japan is a leading manufacturer of mobile phones, TVs, electronic medical equipment, etc, this is potentially devastating to Japan’s economy.

Japan cannot afford to be without REEs.

However…   China is not the world’s largest supplier of REEs because it has the largest deposits, but because its low labour costs meant that in the 1980s it was able to force every other producer out of the market.

Up until the middle of last century, most REEs were exported from Brazil or India. Later the US (California) was the leading producer.

Global Rare Earth Production 1950 - 2000

The two main ores from which REEs are extracted are Monazite and Bastnasite. Bastnasite has been preferred because the cost of removing Uranium and Thorium in Monazite has been prohibitive.

Australia has good (nowhere near the most, but good) supplies of Monazite.

Two things are happening which will make Australian production of Monazite viable.

First, China’s massive reduction in exports of REEs.

Secondly, new developments in the use of Thorium in nuclear power generation.

A ton of Thorium can generate as much power as 200 tons of Uranium. Thorium reactions do not produce Plutonium.

Plutonium is one of the key ingredients of nuclear weapons. Weapons production was the reason Uranium based reactors became the standard.

Despite this, Thorium based reactors are now on the verge of being commercially viable.

They are safer, more efficient, and more secure – there is no risk of by-products being diverted into weapons production. So Iran, for example, could have nuclear power without giving everyone the heebie-geebies about the possibility of its developing nuclear weapons.

This means that Thorium will no longer be a low value, nuisance by-product, but a valuable resource in itself. Australia has some of the world’s highest Thorium deposits.

So by investing in the development of Australian Monazite deposits, you could potentially make a fortune, help to deliver energy to the world’s poorest nations, and make the world safer, all at the same time.

Cool!

Keynes Is Out

It is probably still sadly true that John Maynard Keynes is the world’s most important economist.

But that doesn’t mean he is right, or ever was right.

More and more governments are waking up to the fact that you cannot spend your way out of debt, and that the responsible thing for government to do in the face of a recession is nothing.

Meanwhile, in a kind of psycho-keynesian effort to stimulate the economy and secure their jobs and pension payments, protestors in France occupy oil refineries, block roads, vandalise fuel depots, and generally do everything they can to disrupt the supply of energy on which industry and employment depends.

Good thinking guys.

James Cameron Is a Brilliant Dill

I’m not sure that ‘dill’ is the right word. But I can’t think of a polite synonym.

Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer don’t like James Cameron.

They accepted his challenge to global warming sceptics to a ‘high noon’ debate.

He kept changing the rules. They kept agreeing to his new conditions. Finally he pulled out completely.

Now Ann and Phelim have produced a crabby and amusing video about the depth of James Cameron’s hypocrisy on AGW.

Incidentally, I don’t mind James Cameron owning three huge houses, a ranch, a collection of dirt bikes, a humvee firetruck and a few submarines. He is a great film maker, one who loves special effects but never forgets that a good story must be character driven.

It is just the sheer, mind boggling hypocrisy of telling all us lesser folk that we have to learn to get by with less:

Me and My New Camera

My wife has been telling me for some time, and not very kindly, that the picture to the left looks nothing like me, since I am now so old and grey and wrinkly.

So here is a self portrait I took with my new Sigma DP1s a few days ago:

Grey and Grumpy

And this is a more pleasant shot from the same camera, at Destrees Bay on KI:

Destrees Bay, Kangaroo Island

Being Fat is Your Parents’ Fault

But which parent?

Two articles from the UK’s Telegraph.

Fat Women Have Fat Daughters. No surprises there. Whether being fat is genetic or (my God, surely not!) related to diet and activity, what your mum does is going to have a significant influence. So why is this worth a headline?

What makes it interesting is that the same study found that fat fathers have fat sons, but that a child’s obesity was not correlated to the weight of the opposite sex parent.

Second headline: Diabetic Fathers With Poor Diets More Likely to Pass Condition to Daughters. Ah, what? Not the clearest headline in the history of journalism. But possibly one of the dumbest.

The study that was the basis for this article was a study of rats.

Male rats fed a high fat diet developed obesity and glucose intolerance. When those male rats were mated with normal females the female offspring were more likely develop impaired glucose tolerance and insulin secretion as they grew up.

My first thought on reaidng this was ‘Maybe that Lysenko guy was onto something after all.’ But I doubt it.

But really? A few rats are force fed fatty diets and their female offspring are marginally more likely to develop diabetes, and this means human fathers who eat too many chips are going to have diabetic daughters?

No. Being fat is your fault. The only way to stop being fat is to eat less and do more. Having pineapple enemas won’t do it, no matter what Britney Spears says.

But being diabetic probably isn’t anyone’s fault.

Kangaroo Island Doctors Dispute

Full and accurate information is an important precursor to any debate, and to making appropriate decisions. One of the frustrations in the recent debate over the provision of medical services on Kangaroo Island has been the limited information available to island residents about the form of the contract and the amount of remuneration on offer to rural doctors.

For most of my adult life I have lived in small rural communities. In most of those communities I have been involved in the delivery or governance of health or social services.

Most recently I was a member of the Murray Bridge Hospital Board. With representatives of other hospital boards from around rural SA I participated in discussions with the Health Department on the State Government’s plans to make significant structural changes to rural health governance, including the proposal to combine the various rural health regions into Country Health SA.

One positive outcome of the formation of CHSA was the opportunity to implement a uniform contract for the delivery by rural GPs of medical services through local hospitals.

The earlier system had resulted in considerable inequities, with wide variations in remuneration to doctors, based not on differences in remoteness or the size of the community serviced, but on the strength of negotiators appointed by individual practices. The result was often that the greatest financial rewards were offered to doctors who were willing to threaten to withdraw essential medical services, and to use those threats as a means to increase their own pay packets. This was unfair to their communities and to taxpayers who had to pick up the extra burden. It was also unfair to other doctors who worked in equally (and often more) stressful or remote locations for less money.

Over a period of eleven months, representatives of SA Health, the AMA and the RDASA met as a working group to formulate a contract that would ensure supply of key medical services to residents of remote and rural communities, and provide fair remuneration to doctors. Rural practitioners from across the state were consulted, and doctors had opportunities throughout that time to have input, either individually, or through their member organisations.

On 19th February 2010, Dr Peter Rischbieth and Dr Graham Morris, President of the RDASA, wrote to members informing them of the final form of the contract and offer from CHSA, and advising them:

“The RDASA negotiating team feel that the offer that has currently been presented to rural doctors is an acceptable one especially in regards to the oncall payments and taking into account a number of changes that CHSA have made in response to significant concerns from RDASA and its rural doctor membership.”

And that:

“The RDASA negotiators and Executive believe that the current offer even though there are some short comings should be accepted by rural doctors.”

The contract did not attempt to direct practitioners about how their practices were to be managed. Doctors were free to make whatever business structure, practice management and rostering arrangements they liked, as long as contracted services were provided in a competent and timely way.

Of course, doctors were not under any obligation to accept the RDASA’s advice, or the contract on offer. Where the contract was not accepted, Health SA would endeavour to provide essential services, including oncall emergency services, either through locums or by setting up hospital based clinics.

Doctors were free to accept the contract or not. What they could not do (because this would make consistent provision of essential services across the state simply impossible) was accept parts of the contract they viewed as easy or profitable, and decline to perform others which were less profitable or might mean some rearrangement of practice rosters.

A sticking point for some seemed to be the requirement to provide oncall emergency services, and the remuneration offered to doctors to be available if required.

Some of the conditions might be onerous for sole practitioners in remote communities, who would effectively be contracting to be on call 24/7. However, the contract includes provision for regular leave, and for CHSA to fund replacement services during emergency leave, for example if the local doctor is ill or has a family emergency.

But it is not sole practitioners in remote communities who have indicated they are unwilling to accept the terms of the contract and the allowance on offer, but doctors in a small number of monopoly practices.

That allowance is $220 per day Monday to Thursday, and $550 per day Friday to Sunday, a total of $135,000 per year per roster.

The $135,000 is simply an on call allowance. If there is a callout, doctors are also paid standard fee for service rates. Where no other fee is applicable, GPs are paid $224.20 per hour of patient contact time. The same rate applies per hour for travelling time for emergency calls during normal comsulting hours, plus a mileage allowance if they travel further than 20kms.

These figures, sample contracts and other documents are available on the RDASA website.

This means that if a doctor on call had, for example, three callouts and two hours of consulting time, his/her income could easily exceed $1000 per day, and, depending on circumstances, be in the region of the $1800 paid by CHSA to a locum. Locums of course have additional travel and accommodation costs, as well as the inconvenience of being away from their own homes and families.

It is hard to understand how it is not deliberately misleading to claim that locums are being offered $2000 per day, while local doctors are being offered $220 per day, as if that were the entire amount of their income.

The contract and offer made by CHSA has now been accepted by an overwhelming majority of SA’s rural and remote GPs. No matter how long threats to withdraw services continue, or what the cost to South Australia’s taxpayers of providing alternative care arrangements, Country Health SA cannot agree to pay any particular doctor or practice an amount greater than that contracted to other providers.

There are two reasons for this.

First, to offer one group of doctors an amount greater than that offered to other GPs would be a betrayal of the good faith of the RDASA, and of the many doctors who have accepted the contract and offer despite reservations. Doctors have accepted the contract as a first step in moving on from a system of negotiation where level of income was frequently based on threats of withdrawal of service, and which everyone acknowledged urgently needed to be changed to provide consistent services for rural communities, and fair remuneration for doctors.

Many who had reservations, or believed a higher rate of on call allowance would have been appropriate (and this included representatives of the AMA), nonetheless recommended or agreed to the contract because it was openly acknowledged as an interim measure. Negotiations and discussions between the RDASA and CHSA would continue, doctors would have opportunity to air their concerns, and a new contract incorporating any changes, including changes to on call allowances, is planned to come into effect from the beginning of November 2011.

Secondly, to offer one group of doctors in a monopoly practice a higher allowance would completely undermine any future negotiations for a uniform contract. Doctors are no more immune to greed and envy than the rest of us. There will always be some who think their situation is special, and that they should be paid more than anyone else, or who suspect that someone else may be getting paid more than them. If CHSA gives way now, every practitioner would be aware that any negotiations or agreements count for nothing, and all that is required to gain a higher rate of pay is to threaten to withdraw services.

That is not a fair outcome for the majority of GPs, for rural communities, or for SA’s taxpayers.

I am no supporter of the present State Government, but in this instance, the Minister for Health and CHSA executives could not responsibly have acted in any other way.