Saturday, November 27, 2010

The cost of coal

Coal is a combustible black brown sedimentary rock composed mainly of carbon and hydrocarbons. It is a non renewable source of energy. In other words, the supply of coal will eventually run out.

The biggest use of coal today is to produce electricity.(94% in the United States for example.) Coal is burned to produce steam which is pressurized and then used to drive turbines which creates electricity. Coal is also used in iron, steel and cement production. It is used to make a multitude of everyday items like car brakes, pencils, washing machine powder, aspirin and other medicines, and fertilizer. Coal is used for road surfacing, waterproofing, the production of paint and, of oil which is then used to make petrol for cars. Is anyone sensing any addiction to coal? We need coal. Can't live without it in fact. This isn't, or shouldn't be news to anyone.

Some forecasts have world coal consumption nudging ten billion tons by 2030. I don't care if we, because of our insane lust for power and comfort, exhaust the earth's supply of coal. I don't. I don't lie in my bed at night fretting about the coal well running dry. People say we should switch to other, greener forms of energy production, in order to save the coal and save the environment. Sooner or later, one way or another, we will be using alternative methods of energy production. However, I have no anxiety related to this issue. That isn't the sound of my teeth grinding that you can hear.

What does trouble me though, is the fact the people die to get the coal. The only loss of life involved in the production of the food I eat is that of the plants and animals themselves. That's okay with me, that is their purpose: to feed me. But coal mining is dangerous. In the 21st century it has been less dangerous thanks to technological advances but men and women, and let's not forget that children worked and perished in coal mines during the glory days of the industrial revolution, die to extract the coal that society craves.

Last week 29 men died in a coal mine explosion in Greymouth, New Zealand. In the United States coal mining is listed as the second most dangerous occupation. Thankfully, multiple fatalities are rare in developed countries but in less developed countries like China, death rates are shocking. Think about 6 027 people dying in coal mines in 2004 alone.

What's my point? I am not an environmentalist but I do care about people, and I appreciate sacrifice so I simply want to say thank you to coal miners. Take care.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Necessity of Lies

In the Ricky Gervais film, The Invention of Lying, nobody in the whole world tells lies. They don't even know what a lie is. There is no word for truth because truth can only be defined in relation to its opposite. There is no trickery, no deception, no falsehood, no pretense and no fiction.

Imagine such a world where advertising is factual and straightforward. The slogan for Pepsi is: when they don't have Coke. Visualize a world where there are no movies other than historical documentaries made by the Lecture film company, and read to camera by serious academic looking types. Think of a world where people are offended, wounded and humiliated on a daily basis because of the dearth of sensitivity and tact. Put yourself in a world where everybody says exactly what's on their mind whenever they want to. Where truth is the only option. Anybody want to live there?

Truth is upheld by most people, in most societies, as a quality of infinite worth. It is to be cherished and treasured, honored and protected. However, there is nowhere on earth like the fictional town in The Invention of Lying where there is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The people there are uncreative, motivated by pure selfishness, and are without hope because there is only absolute truth.

When Ricky Gervais' character lies to his mother about the after life in order to comfort her on her death bed, she dies in peace. Her fear disappears and she fades blissfully into eternity. When news of this lie spreads from the hospital to the whole town and then to the whole world, it's a mind blowing revelation which shows us how desperate people are for hope. They latch on to the lie about a wonderful afterlife and hold it tight because it's a beautiful lie. It gives them hope and makes them happy.

The Invention of Lying is a very funny film, but it is also very profound. A world without lies would be horrible but a world without truth would be equally bad. A can of worms has now been opened. When is a lie okay or even necessary? When is it vital? And if truth is absolute then how can we draw lines of relativity in the sand, and allow everyone to decide for themselves when truth should be used? How can we safely allow the selective application of such a powerful instrument? Is truth a healing balm or a hammer?

Does anyone see a problem here?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Here On Earth: An Argument For HopeHere On Earth: An Argument For Hope by Tim Flannery

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the first book of Flannery's I have read. There is something very appealing about his writing. Despite being an unrealistic optimist, a classic humanist, when it comes to the destiny of man, he comes across as being quite rational and reasonably passionate. I don't share his view that mankind's salvation is in mankind's hands nor do I understand fully, let alone totally accept, the climate change bogeyman. Overlooking his ill informed and cynical view of religion, I put forward a couple of noteworthy tidbits from the book.

The highest level of radioactivity ever recorded in a living thing was in a krill in the Mediterranean Sea after the Chernobyl disaster.

The disruption to trade that is an inevitable consequence of war is almost as great a deterrent as war itself.

Here on Earth: full of amazing and interesting facts and alleged facts with enough science and statistics to easily bamboozle feeble minds like mine.

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Saturday, November 13, 2010

More Chewing Gum Anyone?

You may well wonder what on earth chewing gum could teach us about life. (see November 6, 2010 for my initial musings) Life is short and then you die. Chewing gum gets chewed up quickly and then discarded, often carelessly. Whatever pleasure it may have provided is soon forgotten. It is a question of comparisons, of relativity. I could eat a whole packet of Extra but still feel infinitely more satisfied with a baked dinner. Life lesson #4: in crude terms life is packet of chewing gum whereas Heaven will be a banquet.

Is the chewing gum fulfilling its calling in life? After the initial burst of flavour it gives, chewing gum soon becomes a taker; the more you chew the harder you have to chew. Someone should invent a slow release chewing gum. That would be a better, more balanced approached which would prevent the chewing gum suffering burnout. Life lesson #5:Godly people are nothing like chewing gum in this regard. In fact the harder life chews them, the more flavour they release, and they don't get hard or become hard work for others. God's power is more than sufficient to sustain the righteous. Love doesn't get tired.

Life lesson #6: Even the humblest, most mundane things in the world, like chewing gum for example, can be used by God to teach an open minded soul who is listening. Are you listening?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

This post is rated MA

As I listened to radio talkback callers this afternoon on the subject of Joel Monaghan, one word erupted continually in mind like a psychological Mt Merapi: hypocrisy.

Why is is that the outrage is greatest when some variation of sex is involved? In the Monaghan case, for those who don't know, he was photographed simulating intercourse with a dog. His friends, family and rational compassionate strangers, say he is a good person who made a stupid mistake. His enemies and a vociferous minority of puritans say he is the Devil incarnate. Some people are even more worried that the dog may have been mistreated than they are about Monaghan and his family.


Most adults have sex and apparently most of those people do it their bedrooms with their husbands or wives. Every other variation on the theme gets dismissed with the slightly ridiculous statement that people can do whatever their like behind closed doors in private. Unless of course they are footballers, movie stars or politicians then they can still do whatever they like, but the public has to know about it and has to moralize about them and their disgusting behaviour, and they'll have to stop doing it.


My friends and family presumably think I'm a good bloke. But if I gather them all together and confess that I watched a video of a gang rape and found it arousing, what would they think then? What about if said I have sex with prostitutes, and sometimes dogs if I can't afford a decent hooker? Or, suppose I casually mentioned that I was a proud paedophile? Maybe, I just lust after every woman I see, and have been actively plotting to seduce a married woman? Felatio on horses or group sex anyone? Even if I had ever participated in any of the aforementioned variations on a sexual theme, there's zero chance I would tell anyone, and if the reason isn't obvious, then may I suggest you have a brain scan?

Most people's private lives are exactly that: private, but sex has become so twisted and depraved in the way it is portrayed in the media and in movies, including pornography, and the way it is used to sell us all the things we need, that incidents like Joel Monagahan's appalling attempt at humour spark explosions of moral outrage. And before all you God haters start patting yourselves on the back and saying, "I'm so proud that I'm not a hypocrite like all those Christians", I should warn you that hypocrisy is a human disease of pandemic proportions which afflicts the righteous and the unrighteous alike.

The old prophet Isaiah was right on the money when he denounced the hypocrites of his day, as having outer shells of virtue with inner wickedness. We are no different.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Scared to LiveScared to Live by Stephen Booth

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The was the first Fry and Cooper novel that I've actually read. I listened to all the others. The plotting is amazing as usual and I love the characters but it takes too long, there's too much stuff too wade through. Some of it is interesting but a lot of it makes me want to fast forward to the good bits if you know what I mean. If the narrative moved faster I would happily rate all Booths Fry and Cooper novels as four out of five. It's a minor criticism really. I really recommend Booth's crime fiction.

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Saturday, November 6, 2010

Does Your Chewing Gum Lose its Flavour on the Bedpost Overnight?

The other day I was feverishly working at opening a packet of Juicy Fruit chewing gum. But just as I succeeded at one end, the other end of the packet opened by itself and a couple of pellets of gum were deposited on the floor of my van.

In a blinding flash of revelation, I was struck by an epiphany.Chewing gum became my sagacious teacher, a wellspring of wisdom.

Life lesson #1: Sometimes success can come in unforeseen ways. Life lesson #2: Sometimes we can be very zealously attacking a particular task but going about it the wrong way, wasting time and energy in the process.

I popped two pellets of gum in my mouth in eager anticipation of the burst of freshness they would provide and I was not disappointed. It was so good while it lasted, but it didn't last long. After a few minutes, I was chewing a tasteless piece of rubber. Life lesson #3: People are always looking for a burst of excitement in their lives, a buzz, something new and invigorating. We long for mountain top experiences, emotional highs which enable us to enjoy life and suffer the mundane. Many things can deliver this freshness into our lives but no matter where these thrills come from, they don't last.

We have all experienced the flat feeling when some event we had been looking forward to for ages is over. In life when the fun is over, the work begins, but I reckon work should be fun and fulfilling as well. Perhaps the reason it is not, is because we expect too much and live for the weekend instead of gratefully accepting and wisely using each day as it comes.

Juicy Fruit freshness will come into our lives periodically, but the gum will soon transform into tough insipid rubber. Good times come and good times go. We should not depend on the highs to get us through the lows, we should depend on Jesus Christ who does not just offer to help us survive the ups and downs, but promises to give us abundant life. Guaranteed.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Race that Stops Our Sanity

They call it the Sport of Kings and bathe it with timeless romanticism but it leaves me as cold as the weather in the sporting capital of Australia. The Melbourne Cup is held every year on the first Tuesday in November. Believe it or not, punters, socialites, and various assorted horse people have been gathering at Flemington racecourse for 150 years. I have no idea why.

If you love horses, which I don't, then I can understand how joy is derived from watching them do what they do very well: run. If you love gambling, which I don't, then I can understand the ecstasy of winning money by betting on the outcome of a horse race. I leave aside the devastation, and the there-goes-my-hard-earned-money-down-the-toilet feeling, when you lose. Apart from these two pull factors, what is the appeal?

Which brings me to Melbourne Cup day when people who never even think about horses let alone speak about them with other people or waste their money betting on them, suddenly and miraculously, in a burst of communal euphoria, are overwhelmed by the excitement of the great event. People take time off work to attend the race itself or special luncheons/booze ups to celebrate something. And they dress up fancy. Man, do they dress up.

Here's a quick quiz. Can you name another occasion for which people don their best formal attire and take time off work in the middle of the week?

Funerals. People dress up for funerals, weddings and the Melbourne Cup. How often have you attended a mid week wedding? Never. That's because weddings aren't as important as the Melbourne Cup. It must be important because a total of $98.1 million was spent on bets at Tabcorp in New South Wales and Victoria.

All this adds up to either absolute collective madness, or just a bit of harmless fun in the true Aussie spirit. You can decide which but I think you know where I stand.