Judo and the KGB

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When President Putin is mentioned in the Western press the phrase ‘former KGB officer’ is often thrown in, presumably to remind readers that this man is smart, wily and not to be trusted. Such a reminder is probably unnecessary. It might be more useful to insert the reminder that he’s a black belt in judo. I Googled ‘principles of judo strategy’ and came up with the following:

Principle #3 Exploit leverage that uses the weight and strategy of opponents against them. Movement and flexibility are prerequisites for judo strategy. They’re crucial to keeping the competition off balance, and they prevent large competitors from dominating smaller, more vulnerable opponents.

This is the principle at the core of President Putin’s success. He looks at the Western allies, which are collectively many times more powerful than the Russian Federation, both economically and militarily. But he sees their weaknesses and understands how to exploit them to his own advantage.

Chief among these weaknesses are democracy, respect for the rule of law, short-termism and a love of comfort. We will make any compromise, betray any promise and scuff out any ‘line in the sand’ to avoid unfavourable poll numbers, shortages, unemployment, encroachment on citizens’ freedoms, accusations of political incorrectness, or armed conflict that might result in a lot of body bags – body bags containing the bodies of our own people, that is.

One could add another to that list: rejection of the nation state as a political ideal. But that’s a big topic that calls for a separate post.

Disclosure: I am working in Ukraine at the moment, and I have every sympathy for Ukraine’s position over Crimea and its eastern parts that are effectively occupied by the Russian Federation. So Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin is not my friend.

“Temperatures could halve…”

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I just read this headline in an Australian newspaper: “The mercury could plummet by as much as half this weekend.” In the same story was the caption: “Temperatures could halve in some places.”

This is stroppy-making balderdash!

Having read the article it was clear that its author was referring to a drop from 20°C to 10°C. If the Fahrenheit scale were used, the drop would be 36%, not 50%. But the only sensible scale to use in this way is the Kelvin scale, in which zero corresponds to absolute zero – colder than which it is impossible to go. On that scale the drop would be a mere 3.4%. That wouldn’t make much of a headline, would it?

This isn’t an isolated instance. Journalists seem to lack basic scientific understanding, and their sub-editors are more interested in concocting clever puns (“Lion Park Roaring Success”) than ensuring accuracy.

Here’s another example. Elon Musk is going to build the world’s biggest lithium battery in South Australia, my home state. It has been variously described in the press as a 100MW battery and a 100MWh battery. The former makes no sense. A watt is a rate of flow of energy. A watt-hour is a unit of energy analogous to a volume of fuel. In fact 1 litre of diesel oil contains about 10,000 watt-hours (or 10kWh) of energy.

This is not actually me

An aside…

When I use the rowing machine at the gym I can maintain an energy flow of about 140W (or 0.14kW). So if I rowed for a living, selling the energy I generate for 23 cents per kWh (which is roughly what I pay for electricity in my home) I would earn 0.14 x 0.23 x 40 = $1.29 for a 40-hour week.

Selfies – No, not that kind

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We’d all agree that self-discipline is the best kind of discipline; self-control is the best kind of control; and a degree of self-respect is necessary to win the respect of others.

But self-regard, self-importance, self-satisfaction and self-aggrandisement are to be treated with suspicion. So too, in the world of business anyway, are self-regulation and self-assessment.

This brings me to today’s stroppy-maker: a story in the Sydney Morning Herald about alleged rorting of an Australian tax-break for research and development – a tax-break that involves paying ‘tax offsets’ totalling A$3 billion per year. There is a list of R&D activities that qualify for these offsets.

The picture alongside is taken from that article. It shows Jamie McIntyre, one of the people against whom the allegation of rorting is made, a sum in excess of A$500,000 being mentioned.

“And how,” I hear you ask, “does the Australian Tax Office assess the validity of claims for these offsets?” Ah, well, there’s the rub. It seems the ATO relies on taxpayers to self-assess and, amazingly, some people are motivated by greed rather than an urge to add to the sum of useful human knowledge.

I’m sure you are amazed as I am – and as the ATO and the lawmakers who passed this piece of legislation must be. Who would have guessed that some people are prepared to tell lies in order to swipe an undeserved share from the public purse?

Let’s hope that this revelation – or allegation as I suppose I must call it – provides a valuable lesson in human nature to those who are responsible for managing honest taxpayers’ money.

The word ‘rort’ is an Australian colloquialism for a swindle; or, as a verb, to swindle.

When humans are over

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Many marvel at my magnanimity, as well as my alliteration. I set up my blog to promote my own writings, yet from time to time I use it to draw attention to the work of my competitors. Today I’m doing it again.

“When humans are over, and have become just another geological stratum, the entirety of our existence will be represented by a layer no thicker than a cigarette paper. Now I find that rather beautifully humbling.”

That is the closing passage of an article in the Guardian Weekly by Philip Hoare (pictured) whose works include Leviathan and The Sea Inside.

These words resonated with me so strongly that I clipped them out immediately. It is exactly this sense of the fragility of our species, combined with its uniqueness, that inspired me to write The Eeks Trilogy.

“What ‘uniqueness’?!” you may protest. “We share Earth with millions of other species that feed, grow, reproduce and die just as we do, and throughout the universe there may be billions more!”

“Aah,” I reply, “but we have yet to meet, or find the skinniest of evidence of, another species with anything approaching our capacity for abstract thought, for curiosity, for imagination or for reasoning. How many dolphins have figured out the Laws of Motion? How many daffodils have made it to the moon?”

If we are unique, if ours are the only minds that have even asked the fundamental questions, we really should take better care of ourselves.

Cowards?

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“Prepare for more pain YOU COWARD.” That’s the 5cm-high headline on page 9 of today’s Sunday Mail. The ‘coward’ referred to is Riduan Isomuddin (aka Hambali), the suspected mastermind of the 2002 Bali bombings, who’s been in Guantanamo for more than 10 years.

Increasingly, world leaders and commentators have been attaching the ‘coward’ label to suicide bombers and perpetrators of other atrocities, and I’m not sure that it’s appropriate.

Whatever one thinks of these people and their motives, and the puppeteers who pull their strings, I don’t think they’re cowards. They have to overcome their instinct for self-preservation, for one thing; and their instinctive empathy for fellow humans. Killing oneself and killing other people takes courage.

But, you may say, if a crime is committed in the name of Islam the perpetrator is promised great rewards in Paradise. True, but what if his suicide vest fails? What if he’s shot but not killed? He faces the prospect of spending the rest of his life locked up, maybe maimed, probably celibate, hoping that failure to complete his mission does not disqualify him from receiving a martyr’s prize.

And surely some of them must consider the possibility that the men who made those promises are themselves misguided – or even liars. Then they face eternity in Hell.

No. I see foolishness, I see wickedness, but I don’t see cowardice.

Does it matter what epithets we throw at them? I think it does. Unless we correctly characterise their crimes and their motivation we cannot counter them effectively.

Sorry: I can think of no suitable picture to include in this post.

Falling pregnant

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I’ve been getting emails offering me help to fall pregnant. I’ve been getting others offering to help me build a chicken coop too. I’m not planning on doing either, with or without help. But the ones about falling pregnant got my strop-meter ticking.

Why do we use such negative words for things to do with love and life? People lose their virginity and fall pregnant. Surely one’s virginity is not lost, but given away in a joyous step along the avenue of life! And why should we bracket conception with falling over, falling from grace, fallen women?

I suggest that we all start using other words and phrases, for example:

  • Not “She lost her virginity” but “She attained post-virginal status.”
  • Not “She fell pregnant” but “She became an incipient life-giver.”

Fallen Woman

Incipient Life-Giver

 

Not as snappy perhaps, but a lot more positive. Anyone got a better idea?

Then what about ‘vagina’?  The first time I came across the word was in a Latin lesson: it’s a scabbard.  Not a pretty association.  The Malay word translates as ‘baby tunnel’.

 

Multiculturalism: Not Just Food and Dancing

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There has been an exposé on Australian television about the extent of influence-buying that the Chinese Government has been engaged in. Evidently it includes making big donations to political parties and then exerting pressure to change policies – towards Chinese imperialism in the South China Sea for example. The donations do not come directly from the Chinese Government or the Communist Party, but through well-connected businesspeople.

Chinese students in Australia – numbering more than 46,000 at the last count – are subject to surveillance and ‘helped’ to participate in demonstrations of support for the party line. Educational and cultural institutes have been set up at tertiary institutions, financed and controlled by the Chinese Government with a plainly political agenda. Yesterday the Australian Broadcasting Corporation drew attention to ways in which the Chinese Government is using the Australian media.

When we embraced multiculturalism in the 1980s we thought it was just about accepting more ethnic diversity, having a new TV channel broadcasting in multiple languages, eating unfamiliar food and watching people dancing in the street in dragon costumes or embroidered peasant blouses. Good clean fun.

But ‘culture’ goes much deeper than that. We find ourselves confronted with halal and kosher slaughtering, female genital mutilation, forced marriages, and dealings in the spheres of business and politics that look a lot like corruption. These and other practices that make us uneasy are probably here to stay.