The Bribe Factory


The Sydney Morning Herald and the Huffington Post claim to have uncovered a major corruption scandal. It is centred on a Monaco-based company called UnaOil that is owned and run by the Ahsani family and involves some very well-known Western companies in and connected to the oil business.


The two newspapers claim to have solid evidence in the form of many thousands of leaked emails which name names and make quite clear the corrupt nature of UnaOil’s dealings in the Middle East and North Africa.

Please click on the link in the 1st paragraph. It’s a 10-minute read plus a 4-minute video clip.

Roundism, Patterns and Solar Power


Last year a posted my thoughts on roundism – our obsession with round numbers: special birthdays, wedding anniversaries and the like. So I thought, “When the meter that records the cumulative output of our solar panels reaches 25,000, I’ll photograph it and put up another post.”

But I missed it. I estimated when the meter would hit 25,000 and then I forgot to go to the garage with my camera.  So I thought, “I know, I’ll wait for 25,252 and do a post about our obsession with patterns and palindromes – and put in a plug for solar power.”  And this time I didn’t forget!


Solar panel against blue sky

Our 3 kW array of photovoltaic cells was installed on my late mother’s 100th birthday, so I can’t forget the date and I know we’ve been harvesting the sun’s energy for 1,301 days.  That means we’ve averaged 19.4 kWh per day, earning/saving us close to A$6 per day.  That’s like having over A$90,000 invested in 20-year US treasury bills.  And the system cost us only A$6,800, so that’s pretty good.



I don’t suppose either Jacqui Lambie or Glenn Lazarus is a regular reader of my blog, but I owe them both an apology.

Last night, on the popular ABC TV programme ‘Q&A’ Jacqui Lambie (pictured below) stated forecully that she would not be blackmailed. This was in connection with the present shenanigans in the Australian Senate, where she sits as an independent. She was referring to the pressure being applied by the Government to independent senators (the ‘cross-benchers’) to pass a contentious bill or face an early election and perhaps lose their seats.


“That’s not blackmail!” I spluttered. “How dare these people mangle my language, the language of Shakespeare, the language of Milton, the language of J K Rowling!”

This morning Glenn Lazarus, another independent senator, was reported as saying exactly the same thing, so I spluttered again – while eating porridge.

But before sitting down to post about it I checked the Oxford English Dictionary and found the following:


  • n. the action of demanding money from someone in return for not revealing discreditable information.  >  the use of threats or unfair manipulation in an attempt to influence someone’s actions.
  • v. subject to blackmail.

– DERIVATIVES blackmailer n.

– ORIGIN C16 (denoting protection money levied by Sc. chiefs): from black + obs. mail ‘tribute, rent’, from ON mál ‘speech, agreement’.

I think the little arrow symbol means ‘Derived meaning’ or something like that. If so, I have to concede that ‘the use of threats or unfair manipulation… ‘ comes pretty close to what Ms Lambie and Mr Lazarus meant. So… sorry for spluttering at you.

However, I offer only condemnatory bile to those who persist in using ‘bacteria’ and ‘criteria’ as singular forms. I frown at those using ‘data’ in this way, but that battle’s lost already.

Sugar Tax


Thanks to long-term lobbying by Jamie Oliver (pictured below in celebratory mood) and others, the UK Government has announced a tiered tax on soft drinks containing more than 5% sugar.  The most popular fizzy drinks are more than 10% sugar.


The tax will not start until 2018 and HMG has not told us what the tax rates will be, but according the CNN “Government documents suggest the tax rate could be equivalent to £0.18 ($0.25) and £0.24 ($0.34) per liter, depending on the sugar content.” This would add a pretty solid percentage to the retail price and yield revenue estimated at £520 million per year.

The policy is supported by an excellent report by a Government agency called Public Health England.

I’m in favour of letting people make their own decisions, good or bad, but I’m also in favour of pricing things to reflect the full cost of their production and consumption. Since excessive sugar consumption imposes enormous costs on society in the form of health care and lost productivity, I consider the Old Country’s sugar tax a partial correction of a market imperfection.

Actually, Mexico has already done it and the evidence suggests that it’s working as intended.  So well done, Mexico. But – unfairly perhaps – people are likely to take more notice of what the UK does, and perhaps emulate it.

Nanny Gym


Three times a week I go to a nearby gym called Goodlife to pump iron and such. When I go away for more than a couple of weeks I tell them and show them my itinerary: they charge me a reduced membership fee while I’m away.  It works well, and having that facility was an important criterion when I was choosing a gym.

I returned from such a trip a few days ago and resumed my usual work-out schedule. This morning I received this by email:


What?! They think I’ve been skiving!  They think I’m weak-willed and under-motivated!  They think I need a computer to nanny me and give me a nudge!  But they know I’ve been away!!

I hit the reply button to give them a dose of stroppiness. Then I noticed the address from which the offending email came:

Foiled again.  That ‘noreply’ is a pretty good hint that this is a one-way conversation.

Nuclear Waste


Today is the 5th anniversary of the Fukushima accident.  It comes at a time when my state (South Australia) is contemplating setting up a nuclear waste depository.  Proponents say that this would close the circle of the nuclear fuel cycle, since Australia mines and exports much of the world’s uranium ore.  Opponents point to the obvious risks.

Mrs SG and I have second-hand experience of the consequences of mismanagement in the nuclear industry, having spent two years in Belarus and longer in Ukraine, both countries still heavily affected by the Chernobyl disaster.  But on balance I support continuation and expansion of nuclear power generation and, as a corollary, the reprocessing and safe storage of spent nuclear fuel.


I also support South Australia’s entry into this final stage of the fuel cycle. We have a huge area of desert, with no ground water vulnerable to contamination, and stable geology.  And having lost our automotive and most other manufacturing industries, what else are we going to do to maintain our material living standards?

Every economic unit – be it a country, a state, a town, an enterprise or a household – has to find an economic niche where it has an advantage. Saudi Arabia has oil.  Singapore has a great harbour in a great location, a lot of smart people and ready access to cheap labour in neighbouring countries.  New Zealand has sheep and cows and the Tolkien films.

If one’s natural endowments cannot support the lifestyle to which one aspires, one has to look for economic activities that other people don’t want to be involved with. They may be dirty, risky or morally questionable.  In most cases they require changes in policy and law.  I’m thinking of assisted suicide services, driverless cars, drugs trials on human subjects, legalisation of marijuana, storing other countries’ unwanted migrants… and storing other countries’ nuclear waste.