Ice Epidemic


There seem to be news stories every day about the damage being done by meth­amphetamine (‘ice’) in Australia. Personally, I cannot understand why any sane person would knowingly take their first dose, its effects and its addictive properties being so well-known.

But within the past few days I heard that someone I know has done just this. He’s married with a young child and another on the way. He’s a skilled tradesman, employed full-time and well-paid until he was made redundant. To overcome his boredom – or so I have been told by a third party – he decided to step into the dark, tragic world of ‘ice’.

The outcome is predictable. His addiction will drive him and his family into poverty. He will become unemployable. He will become abusive toward his wife, and perhaps to his children. Eventually his wife will leave him. She will have to work full-time to support herself and her children. Her mother will have to abandon her own part-time job to look after the children.

Perhaps things will not work out as badly as this, but the risk is there. The urge to self-destruction, visiting great suffering on family and friends, seems to lurk in many hearts. I just don’t get it.

My anger is directed equally to those to make and sell this vile product and to those who become its willing slaves. And yet the addicts are often portrayed as victims. I don’t get that either. There would be no supply without demand. How can the willing buyer be less culpable than the willing seller?

The same inconsistency applies to other products and services too. How can a people-smuggler be a criminal while his/her customers are innocent victims? How can a prostitute be a victim while his/her clients are vicious exploiters? Please explain.

Corporate Shame


When I heard the news story about Volkswagen and its ‘defeater’ system designed to cheat US emission testing, I thought I must have misunderstood it. Directors and managers have a duty to maximise shareholders’ profits, but Google’s motto “Don’t be evil” attracts laughter because it’s just too obvious to require formal expression. In any case, the damage that discovery of an offence like VW’s is bound to wreak upon the company would surely be so great as to deter any board from allowing it.

But cast your mind back. Remember the revelations about LIBOR fixing by major banks? Remember Goldman Sachs’ complicity in Greece’s fraudulent entry into the Euro Zone? Remember the tobacco industry’s persistent denial of the harm for which its products were responsible? The list is much longer than this. I invite you to add your own recollections.

Now allegations are being made about similar malpractices by the sugar industry. It’s too early to use words like “crime” or “criminal”, and perhaps in the strict legal sense no crimes have been committed. But there is plenty of evidence that the food manufacturing industry as a whole has a pretty casual attitude to its customers’ wellbeing.

My first ever post was about dieting. I wrote about Mrs SG’s success with the 5+2 diet and I offered 8 rules to follow for a healthy diet compatible with a modern lifestyle. Here they are again. Numbers 6, 7 and 8 will not make me popular with the food industry:

  1. Consume 1,100-1,300kcal/day normally, but no more than 500kcal on 2 days per week (the ‘fasting days’).
  2. 1,300kcal/day is less than the normal maintenance level for an adult, and it may be exceeded on special days when we entertain guests or go out to eat.
  3. Consume 30-50 grams of protein every day, including the fasting days.
  4. Every day consume less sugar than protein.
  5. Eat small amounts of a wide variety of things.
  6. Don’t buy anything without reading the nutritional data and comparing with other products.
  7. Always eat unprocessed food in preference to processed.
  8. Prepare meals in your own kitchen as much as possible. You don’t know what’s in a restaurant or take-away meal.

When Is Killing OK?


There is a much-loved comedienne in Australia called Magda Szubanksi. She recently revealed that her father, when a boy in Poland, had killed Nazi collaborators as an assassin for the Polish Resistance. This was considered shocking news. I was not shocked at all, however. Magda’s father was quite rightly fighting to free his country from a cruel invader. He was a hero.

A couple of years ago there were shock-horror stories in the British press because Prince Harry revealed that he had undertaken missions as a pilot that involved killing Taliban fighters. But what the hell do we pay military pilots for, if not to kill the enemy?!

Now we have a similar reaction to the news that David Cameron authorised drone strikes that killed UK citizens fighting for Daesh in Syria. To my mind, if a British citizen joins a terrorist organisation and goes abroad to fight on its behalf, the British Government has a responsibility to take all possible steps to prevent that citizen from doing harm.

How is the British Government to achieve that? They could send in a team of highly trained soldiers to capture the renegade citizen and drag him home to face trial. But the risk of failure and consequent injury or death of team members would be high. A drone strike, based on good intelligence, is low-risk and much more likely to succeed.

Admittedly a drone strike carries the risk of civilian casualties. But a civilian living in an area that is under Daesh control, or under Daesh attack, is already in extreme danger of death, injury, kidnap, rape, enslavement or dispossession. And who knows how many innocent lives may be saved by the death of a single terrorist?

Drawing the threads of these three stories together, it seems to me that there are times when the opprobrium usually directed toward the act of killing is undeserved.

Slimming With Cold Water


Like 10 million others around the world, I like to watch Judge Judy. In Australia it is preceded by another American programme in which a panel of doctors advise a live audience on medical matters. I think it’s mainly a vehicle for promoting health-related products, but I’ve only ever seen the last couple of minutes so I can’t be sure.

In those closing minutes the chairman always offers a tip. The last one I heard intrigued me: Drink 5 glasses of cold water daily and lose up to 5lbs annually. In principle it makes sense. Anything cold that we ingest absorbs heat energy from our bodies to bring it up to the core body temperature of 37°C. But 5lbs (2.3kg) per year?

I made my own calculation:

  • 5 x 250ml = 1,250ml = 1,250cc
  • Assume that ‘cold’ means 5°C
  • By definition, heating 1,250cc of water through 32 degrees requires 1,250 x 32 = 40,000 calories (or 40 kilocalories) of energy.
  • 40 x 365 = 14,600kcal per year.
  • Fat stores energy at the rate of 9,000kcal/kg.
  • Therefore 14,600kcal is equivalent to 1.6kg of fat.

So 2.3kg seems a bit high, but it’s the right order of magnitude. And even at the rate of 1.6kg per year, starting at age 20, most people would disappear altogether before they get to 65. So there would be a big saving in pensions.

Murdering Atheists in Bangladesh


I just read an alarming article in the Guardian Weekly. It was about a series of murders of Bangladeshi atheists by Muslim fundamentalists. Mrs SG and I met and married in Bangladesh (or East Pakistan as it then was) so we have a soft spot for the country.

We also have some understanding of Bengali cultural traditions, which are characterised by love of learning and literature, intellectual inquiry, openness to ideas. It is especially painful, therefore, to read that intellectual fascism is gaining ascendancy in that land.

Horrible though the murders are, the effect of intimidation on others is just as serious. People emigrate, stay silent or pretend belief they do not hold, to protect themselves and their families.

Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” This is an eternal truth. All of us, whether writers, politicians, judges, police officers or teachers, have responsibility to resist evil wherever we find it.

This is easy for me to say, of course. I live in a leafy suburb in Adelaide. I do not meet terrorists, murderers or drug-dealers on my way to the post office. The only religious fundamentalist I know is Peter, the Jehovah’s Witness who comes to chat to me once a month in the dim hope that I will one day see the light.

But I hope that, if confronted by raw evil such as now afflicts Bangladesh, I will find a kind of courage that I have never had to call on before.



Yesterday Mrs SG and I went to see a filmed telecast of a performance of Peter Grimes by the ENO (English National Opera). The tickets were much pricier than for an ordinary film, even though the production cost must be much lower – after all, the live audience is paying to see the show and the telecast just involved setting up a few cameras.

The singing, acting and staging were superb, as one would expect from the ENO. But we could understand no more than one word in twenty. They might as well have been singing in Swahili.

Opera singers are trained to use their voices like musical instruments, to produce beautiful sounds and express emotion. This apparently precludes clear enunciation of words. So I will contact the cinema and suggest that in future they ask for copies of such films that have English subtitling.

In fact Mrs SG and I often turn on the subtitles when we’re watching TV, especially during American shows which have more shooting than singing. So I reckon operas should always, always have subtitles or surtitles. Does anyone agree with me?

Begging the Question


All languages evolve and we English-speakers claim to be proud of the speed and agility with which our language does it. We have a word for almost everything, usually half-a-dozen at least. If we lack a word we pinch one from someone else – pied-à-terre, schadenfreude and bimbo come to mind.

But sometimes something that’s just plain wrong gets used so often that, through usage, it becomes right. That’s not useful evolution. That’s just plain ignorance working hand-in-glove with sloppiness. I’m thinking of two egregious examples at the moment.

The first is ‘begging the question’, which means ‘including the conclusion of an argument in the premise’. Nowadays it is much more commonly used to mean ‘causing the question to be asked’. According to Wikipedia (to whom I urge all users to donate money from time to time) the misuse arises from a change in the meaning of the Latin word petitio over time.

The second is harder to understand. People are saying ‘one cannot underestimate…’ when they mean ‘one cannot overestimate’ and vice versa. I’m not sure how this has crept into the language, like a mischievously misplaced apostrophe, but I suspect people think they’re saying ‘one should not underestimate’.

One cannot overestimate the harm that is done to clarity of thought and expression by the misuse of language. I beg my readers not to join the ignorant herd of misusers.

Muslim Takeover of Australia?


I get a lot of emails expressing fear that Australia, or the Western world in general, will be taken over by Muslims because of a) immigration from predominantly Muslim countries, b) Muslims’ high fertility rate or c) both.

Obviously, if Muslims do breed faster then non-Muslims they will inevitably achieve a majority one day. But is it imminent? I constructed a small Excel model and put in some simple assumptions for Australia. Here they are:

  1. Muslims represent 3% of the Australian population now.
  2. Muslims’ natural rate of increase is 1.5%pa while that of non-Muslims is 0.5%pa.
  3. Annual net immigration is equivalent to 1% of the population.
  4. Muslims represent 30% of net immigration.
  5. Anyone born to Muslim parents adopts their faith.
  6. Nobody converts to or from Islam.

This set of assumptions produces a Muslim majority in the year 2289, at which time the total population of Australia will be 3.6 billion.

I’d be happy to receive evidence-based data to replace my crude assumptions; or to send out my little model to be played with by you or anyone else.

As an atheist myself I earnestly hope that nobody follows any religion at all by 2289, rendering this a pointless exercise. Fun, though.

Buying a New Car


Mrs SG and I just bought a new car – the first new car we’ve ever bought. My first car cost GBP60. My first car with 4 wheels cost GBP220. This new car cost AUD25,500!

At least, that’s what we thought it cost when we’d finished negotiating with the salesman. Then a young lady with a lovely smile and a strange title came to talk to us. She explained that if we wanted the really important ‘extras’ – that we might have supposed were already built into the car, what with it being a new car and everything – we’d have to pay another AUD1,700.

So beware, dear reader! Before your sign anything in a car showroom, ask if that’s the lot. I think we’ll go back to buying second-hand… except that at our age this new car is probably going to last longer than we do.

Poster Children


The photo of a drowned 3-year-old lying face-down on a Turkish beach suddenly became visual shorthand for the miserable situation in Syria and the desperation of people seeking refuge.

It is an admirable human trait that our sympathy is aroused by the sight of a child in distress. Indeed, if we did not react that way very few children would make it into adulthood. But I am uneasy about the kneejerk-ism that such sympathy provokes. Complex issues should be addressed thoughtfully and with full understanding of causes and effects.

At the moment nothing is more complex than the tangle of superstition, competition and ancient hatred that characterises the Arab world. I want my government and other governments to behave rationally. I do not want them to be pressured by compassionate electors to take heart-warming, headline-grabbing decisions that buy short-term popularity at the expense of actions that could, perhaps, lead to long-term solutions.