Friday, September 26, 2008

Fish Friday

Too young to kill?

This is the photo that greets one after clicking the blog link Is fishing cruel? that appeared in the SMH on Wednesday. The title of the blog - which appears immediately above the killer child - is Hooked on a cruel sport. The author, Steve Jacobs who describes himself as "acting environment editor", goes on the write a piece which provides background for the question proposed by the blog: "So what do you think? Can fish think and feel pain and should we treat them as fellow living creatures rather than as toys?"

The nature and wording of the question rather gives the game away. Automatically we are treating fish as toys unless we view fish in terms of ourselves. The question, less emotively put, is worth considering. Unfortunately Mr. Jacobs is not interested in any consideration as his blog makes abundantly plain. Following from the egregious "too young to kill" caption under the photo the acting editor diligently constructs a highly one-sided argument that resorts to the basest of emotive prods designed to elicit a certain response.

Jacobs quotes one Bidda Jones (chief scientist of the RSPCA) as saying "In parts of Australia, until very recently, fish didn't count when it came to animal welfare legislation - the legal definition of an animal excluded them". As one respondent pointed out:
Animal ethics legislation has covered vertebrate fish (ie those with a backbone,but not shellfish)for a great many years. The statement to the contrary in the second paragraph of this blog is simply not correct.

But it is not factual innacuracies that annoy, it is the highly emotive and one sided nature of the piece - intended to skew the response - that irritates. The reason we don't debate this, according to Jacobs, is that there are some five million fishers in this country who don't wish to know. Further, Jacobs states that while it is one thing to kill fish for "nutritional benefit" it is entirely another to "kill fish for fun". Personally I know no one who kills fish for fun. When a marine biologist pointed out that very few anglers "kill for fun" and that the scientific evidence about fish and pain had been ignored, Jacobs responded with: "There is a counter argument from a fishing correspondent attached to the blog posting, which is given for balance." What complete and utter rubbish. Two lines and a link are all that exists as far as "balance" goes.

An idea of the of balance of Mr. Jacobs is the following:
Should we be alarmed at the smile of joy on a child's face when he or she has caught a fish? After all, if the child had killed a puppy, we would be worried that he or she was on the way to becoming a serial killer.
What an ugly conflation. The child - which may or may not have been too young to kill - in the photo is now well on the path to becoming a "serial killer". Seems her "habit" began with murdering fish.

From such does Ivan Milat come I suppose.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

A spot of ABC science-reporter bashing

Oh dear, it seems there’s a problem with Earth’s “cosmic radiation defence wind”:

Scientists say the solar wind which is a stream of particles that flows from the sun and helps protect the earth from cosmic radiation, is at its lowest level in 50 years.

They say there is nothing to fear because the earth is also protected by a magnetic field.

Oh good, we’ll still be in reasonably good shape for the death knell when the LHC comes back online next March.

But they say the situation could make things more difficult for astronauts who go beyond Earth’s orbit.

No, there’s never been any astronaut who’s gone “beyond Earth’s orbit”, nor are there any immediate plans to send any.

It’s when astronauts venture beyond Earth’s “magnetic field” that the difficulty danger arises.

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Thursday science & technology bashing

An exciting news update from our very own CSIRO:

The US space agency NASA has announced that CSIRO research scientist, Dr John Bunton, is to receive a NASA Space Act Board Award for research into the development of a novel ‘beamformer’ capable of providing a live video link from Mars.

Well actually, the best that could be achieved is an almost-live video link from Mars, given that the absolute limitation imposed by special relativity means any video link from Mars will have an unavoidable delay of anywhere between 5 and 20 minutes, depending on the relative positions of Earth and Mars within the celestial clockwork.

Anyway, Dr Bunton is to receive the award for developing a design for the ‘Deep Space Array Based Network Beamformer’ in which video data from a ‘large antenna array’...

... is divided into narrow channels and transported to beamformer boards. Each board sums the narrow channel data from all 400 antennas. This data can then be reconstructed back into a broadband signal.

This all sounds quite splendid... but it’s one thing to design a system, while it’s quite another to get it to work. The Large Hadron Collider is a handsome design — if only it had legs! The latest news has it that the LHC will be down for repairs until March 2009.

We’re assured, however, that a “prototype system [of the ‘beamformer’] has been built at the JPL and shown to work on signals from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft mission to Saturn.”

Unfortunately we seem to have missed the first-ever ‘live’ video link from Saturn (albeit with up to 90 minutes delay) ... unless maybe someone’s put it up on YouTube...?

Apparently the ‘beamformer’ solution is necessary because “the current Deep Space Network does not have enough ‘sensitivity’ for the task , even with its 70m antenna.”

Obviously, then, what’s needed is a more sensitive, new-age Deep Space Network antenna. I’ll take the credit for this revolutionary brainwave — and the award, thanks NASA — but I’m afraid I’ll have to delegate the actual development and design to the boffins.

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Thursday blast from the past

view at youtube

Margret Roadknight
“Girls In Our Town”

(a.k.a. The Other Newcastle Song)

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Homo Lardarseus and limits to girth

A recent speaker at Melbourne University gave an interesting perspective on the warning by Thomas Malthus, over 200 years ago, that population tends to increase exponentially until checked by famine, plague and war.

Professor Matthew Connelly of Columbia University notes that in Malthus’s time ...

... the average Englishman was 5 foot 6 and averaged about 135 pounds. And these Englishmen were among the largest and best fed people in Europe.

People today on the other hand, have an average body mass fully a third larger than when Malthus was writing.

So it might be observed, the recent appearance on the evolutionary scene of Homo Lardarseus has introduced a further dynamic in the vexed relationship between humanity and its planetary home.

Put simply, the better fed and nourished we humans become, the more food and nourishment we tend to require.

And as we become healthier and plumper, the carrying capacity of our fair blue planet in terms of our sheer numbers tends to actually diminish.

Now, what was all that some have been saying about an ‘intelligent designer’?

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Tough times ahead

We all know about this kind of pain:

“I talked to one guy who had to give up his private jet recently. And he said of all the trials in his life, giving that up was the hardest thing he’s ever done.”

Tim Dunlop has promised to “get a link up later so you can donate to help him out. I think Oxfam are organising an appeal.”

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