Reality, but make it fashun

I’ve only got five minutes to write today but last night my kid was harassing me about climate change, and some of the pretty scary science that describes it. And it is scary, to be sure, but there’s also the issue of doomerism, uncertainty and the very real fact that we’re aware of the impact of burning fossil fuels and gradually, in a half-arsed, we’re cocking it up, shambling, bitching pissing and moaning kind of way, doing something about it.

It will always be too little, and will it always be too late to return us to what went before, but that’s extremism talking. And extremism, where we must have the absolute answer, the absolute solution, the absolute position to the exclusion of all others, is very much the vibe of the moment. And it’s a product of manipulation. It is how we are being taught to think about problems.

I’m increasingly seeing the media’s portrayal of all issues as either reality-driven or anti reality. We’ve been coddled into this. Ten years of inspirational Instagram tiles telling us to, ‘make our own truth’ and ‘be who we want to be’, to ‘manifest our destiny’. People who think this New Age fuckspeak is without consequences are foolish in the extreme. And it’s not a modern phenomenon either. In the 80s I remember all those books and movies about how the winsome protagonist made his dreams happen because he believed in himself. It’s the lynchpin of shifting the focus from the macro (large organisations, corporates, governments) to the micro (individuals). And now we’ve cultivated the individual so much so that we think we can bend reality. I distinctly remember going to a friend’s place to watch Live Aid, on the tele, interspersed with footage all those poor wee kids with their swollen tummies who had failed to believe in themselves.

A friend’s social media post yesterday alerted me to the newest Covid fad – the Event 401. ‘Look it up! It’s all right there, people just can’t be bothered to even look, they’re such sheep!’

Event 401 was a tabletop exercise run by Johns Hopkins in 2019, aimed at hypothetically testing global preparedness for a SARS-like pandemic.

If you recall, SARS (and MERS) were a bit of a bugger. The global response was broadly effective, albeit in the usual shambling kind of way. And then, when it all died down, everyone got together and went,

‘Phew, that was ugly, thank goodness it will never, ever happen again!’

Oh, hang on. No, that’s not quite right.

In actual fact, they got together and said, ‘Given what we know about the conditions under which SARS and MERS emerged, we should expect another zoonotic to human pandemic within the next 20 years. Let’s prepare for it (including the development of potential vaccines)’.

If Event 401 is supposed to prove that Covid19 is a hoax then I can’t wait to see these idiots discover earthquakes.

But this is where we’re at. We are at the point where completely predictable, observable reality is positioned as proof of a hoax.

“See that? It’s rain! it’s raining!”

“Yes, it is”

“Toldya. Sheep”

I’m now watching my friends argue on instagram about the participation of permaculture activists in the Melbourne protests.

‘You’re protesting with Nazis! And you’re being manipulated by Clive Palmer!’

It perfectly encapsulates the two characteristics of modern thinking about these problems; You have a tribe, and the price of allegiance is to forsake all others. If you’re anti vaccine mandate, therefore you march with Nazis. Therefore, you are a Nazi. Or, if you believe in permaculture, you don’t believe in science. All these positions, from Nazism to permaculture to anti vax assume one thing – a puritanistic supremacy of the individual to force their truth on to reality.

It’s much more nuanced than that. I can understand the position of the permaculture people on vaccines – to see humans as sitting within a web of life, rather than outside of it, and to focus on the web rather than the individual. We are ‘cheating’ nature with vaccines. Nature would have us die. Indeed, nature would have killed somewhere between 15 to 40% of the people at the protests, before they had reached 60. That’s reality.

I’ve personally been saved by modern medicine no less than 8 times in my life, maybe more. And that’s just the direct impact of medicine. And that’s before plumbing.

It’s no good being a puritan about this shit unless you’re willing to accept the endpoint – natural death. But puritan individuality is what we are constantly trained to think about. Because projecting our sense of individual power over our circumstances plays into the biggest fleecing of all – that climate change requires individual rather than systemic change. This cult of the individual is nothing more than fashionable politics. It is adorning oneself with something that makes you feel good, endlessly reinventing yourself in an empowering but ultimately innocuous and futile way. The irony is that it’s often the permaculture/wholeness/wellness people who’re most involved in their own personal identity brands.

We are personalising the political. And it will be the buggering of us.

Navigating the mind and the sea.

Today’s random 500 words is about Polynesian navigation.

I like it. What I particularly like is that the recent history of attempting to account for Polynesian wayfinding is a intersection of theoretical and empirical research. There is nothing like the observation of the sun rising and setting, at higher or lower latitudes, to deduce that the earth is indeed round, although I expect at some point in the near future, this concept to be completely dissolved into a fizzy cup of post-modern relativism. In other words, anyone can observe facts about their world and come up with a theory about what it might look like (round and slightly on the piss) without getting in a space ship for a squiz.

Incidentally this reminds me of an interview I heard with Bruno Latour recently, where he described his bemused surprise that his work on the interconnectedness of things had been used to interrupt the idea of scientific causality. Often theorists pen works that are deliberately abstruse, for their generative effect. That is, they cast out a canvas with some dots and lines on it, and let the reader decide what it means. 

Ultimately, the readers’ interpretation may not have any bearing on the original author’s intent, but may produce something of value nonetheless. And sometimes it just produces rarefied bollocks. Latour appeared tickled at the scale and hairyness of them. 

I digress. What is so intriguing to me about Polynesian navigation is that although the concept of a side reel star chart is relatively easy for the Western brain to apprehend, based, as it is, on the idea of celestial bodies moving from horizon to horizon, the rub is longitude. Westerners use time (speed) from a fixed point (Greenwich) to estimate how far around the globe they have travelled. And, of course, this method required an enormously complex and unfailingly accurate, seagoing clock (H3), with its famous bi-metallic strip. In short, it involved what might charitably be referred to as endless dicking around on boats.

Polynesians quite clearly had a method for estimating longitude that was extremely successful, many thousands of years before Europeans, or indeed, anyone else it seems (although this is contested). Indeed, there are two main theories. One of them is also a form of dead reckoning, measuring distance traveled (the same method that the pre H3 clock knickerbocker set used with varying levels of success) triangulating your position by comparing the prevailing ocean current and leeway against the wind and starting point. It sounds simple, but of course is extremely complex. The second theory is one that is perhaps lost, and is based on an even more complex knowledge of the stars. 

For me, what was most striking, when first reading about Polynesian settlement across the Pacific many years ago, is that New Zealand and Hawaii were the last to be settled. Obviously I knew about Aotearoa, but I had always been told that Hawaiiki was the ‘homeland’ and that the original founders had set off from there. 

But even with my limited experience, I could immediately see that this was unlikely and felt silly to have it pointed out. Polynesian waka sailed upwind to colonise the Pacific, and could easily and safely sail about 75 degrees off the wind, with the knowledge that the downwind run was a quick way to get home. Hawaiiki is well outside that 75degrees, (and so is New Zealand). Their boats had outriggers, and a rudder to steer them upwind further, but even so, travel to NZ and Hawaiiki was probably achieved last because of the colonisation of the Pacific – shorter distances to travel. It’s a long way from Micronesia to Hawaii. 

I suppose what came as something of a surprise to me is that I was so invested in what was essentially a fairy tale. No-one ever really said to me – Hawaiiki is Hawaii, but I think, just from the small amount of knowledge that I had, it seemed like it was. 

I suppose that was a lesson.

I love the history of the 20th century attempts to piece together an account of navigation techniques. It’s a testament to how hide bound we can be in terms of our models of how things work, our epistemology I suppose. It seemed almost inconceivable that one group of people could estimate longitude without (essentially) a chronometer. This was really only ‘discovered’ (rediscovered) in the 1970s, by direct experience – a bunch of salty sea dogs set out into the Pacific and navigated their way all over the show, without western instruments.

It’s very much worth thinking about how we come to know things and what stands in our way.

COVID19, childhood leukaemia and nuclear power plants.

How’s that for a title? It’s literally got it all.

I LOVE a conspiracy theory. Just when I despair at humanity’s thundering lack of imagination, someone joins the dots in a completely new way, and reveals a picture that doesn’t look like a cat at all. It’s like watching the X-Files in real time.

Epidemiology is also about joining the dots in creative ways. And, if you’re not into felting, it’s a serviceable hobby for the middle aged, ‘creative’ thinker. Nowadays, of course, everyone is an armchair epidemiologist, but only when it comes to COVID19. I’ve yet to notice the Twitter shut-ins hold forth on diabetes. YAWN.

Back to conspiracy theories.  Have a look at this town.

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Pretty, isn’t it? This is Thurso, in the Thurso-Dounreay region of northern Scotland. It’s a lovely wee spot with good surfing, if you can eat enough shortbread to maintain a thick enough layer of insulation.

Here’s another picture:

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This is Dounreay, just along the coast. Dounreay is The Capital of Scottish Ping-Pong.

OK, it’s not. That big round thing is a nuclear reactor.

In the late 1970s and early 80s, Dounreay-Thurso’s children started getting sick. More specifically, the region surrounding the power plant had a statistically significant increase in cases of childhood leukaemia;

 Observed numbers of cases of leukaemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and observed to expected ratios with expected numbers based on Scottish national rates were determined. In 1968-91, 12 cases were observed compared with 5.2 expected in the zone < 25 km from the Dounreay plant (p = 0.007). In the latest period, 1985-91, which has not previously been examined, four cases were observed compared with 1.4 expected (p = 0.059). (from here)

Now, if you’re living in the shadow of a nuclear reactor and children start getting sick with leukaemia, it doesn’t take long to cast an eye towards Giant Ping Pong Ball of Doom. Which is, of course, exactly what everyone did.

I’m not going to get into the definition of clusters because that would be exceedingly dull and require another cardigan, but the short version is, you work out an average number of cases per kilometre (or some other metric) and then see if your cluster exceeds what’s expected. And Dounreay did.

Radiation is a bit of a bugger. So much so, that humans have been looking into it for quite some time. In the case of Dounreay, scientists measured the amount of radiation and unequivocally found that it was too low to be causing the cluster of disease. What they did notice, however, was that the region had experienced an influx of workers, which lead them to suspect another culprit;

Population mixing.

Population mixing simply describes the effect of one population with a more robust immunity mixing with another with a more naive immunity. It describes the process where anything from polio to influenza to measles wreaks havoc on a naive community.

Infectious diseases are a dead-set bummer, as 2020 has reminded us with startling alacrity.  Suddenly we’re all feeling a bit less Sex in the City and a bit more Inca.

As we’re all very aware, death is the infectious disease’s primary side effect, but there are other effects too.

It’s long been known that infectious diseases can cause other illnesses, long after the initial illness has passed, like rheumatic fever (which I have personally had the pleasure of experiencing) or the flu and its (still controversial) role in the development of adult onset schizophrenia.

Indeed, everything from diabetes to leukaemia gets the glad-eye from the infectious disease weirdos.

In Dounreay-Thurso, epidemiologists suspected that workers from outside the region were bringing novel infections with them, infections to which the children had little background immunity. It’s long been suspected that infectious disease has a role to play in childhood leukaemia. In 2018 British scientist Professor Mel Greaves released a hypothesis that argued that childhood ALL (the most common type of leukaemia) was likely caused by a combination of genetic predisposition and the timing of novel infections. It looks pretty promising, but then what would I know?

The idea is partly based on the ‘hygiene hypothesis’ – children aren’t exposed to the right kind of viruses and bacteria at the right times.

Which brings me to COVID19. Is COVID19 novel enough for our children’s immune systems to recognise it as a novel pathogen, thus causing an increase in childhood leukaemias in the near future? Or is it close enough to other coronaviruses that children already have some extant immunity?

I’m pretty sure the children of Dounreay-Thurso had some immunity to the kinds of infections that were being introduced into their communities. I mean, northern Scotland is remote, but it’s not Mars.

Conversely, as children are sequestered at home and sanitised like a Woolies chook every time they step outside the door, will this result in an increase of leukaemia, as young children fail to acquire exposure to every day viruses and bacterias? Obviously, in some countries, self-isolation is strongly delineated by class. Will this show up in the years to come?

Will we see a rise in childhood leukaemia as a result of widespread infection with COVID19?

Or, will we see a rise in childhood leukaemia as a result of the precautions we’ve taken against COVID19?

Or is childhood leukaemia simply too rare for these effects to form a signal above the noise?

This is the kind of thing I wonder when I’m lying in bed at night. It may also be why I don’t get invited out to dinner very often.

Gen X The First Generation to Have Worse Fountain Pens Than Their Parents.

Children born between 1976 and the mailbox are three times more likely to suffer from badly malfunctioning ink pens than the generation that came before them. Not only will GenX have a disproportionately high rate of stained handbags, they also have up to 18% more chance of experiencing at least one disappointing Club meal before retirement age.

Can we please stop comparing the economic prospects of Gens X and Y to the Baby Boomers’ fortunes? This is not a linear progression.

Baby boomers experienced one of the greatest increases in ‘life everythings’ the world has ever known. John and Sue were born at the thundering apex of the late industrial revolution. Their greatly enhanced wellbeing galloped in on ten thousand flaming jets of fossil fuel. Of course their lives were going to be better than their parents.

On masse, baby boomers have mostly avoided being blown to bits in war, filleted by heavy machinery or turned inside out by some hideous biological liquifaction. Certainly, when viewed alongside the long and dramatic list of their undoings presented in the media – from mesothelioma and heart disease to adult men in velcro sandals, it’s easy to lose sight of their clear run. However, the fact remains, baby boomers experienced an extraordinary growth in human comfort and material wellbeing.

The grumbling statistician deep within my soul would prefer a more fruitful question – how can we explain the revenge effects of the Boomer’s economic flourishing? Given the cornucopia of food, medicine and elasticated waistbands, shouldn’t the Boomers be a bit better off than they are, stumbling towards their 80s with fistfuls of Lipitor?

I would suggest that Gen X and Y might be economically poorer than their parents and grandparents, but will realise wealth in other ways. For starters, they will recognise the shortcomings of the Boomers’ exceptional wealth and prepare for them. Information is a resource.

Artificial grief

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Straight to the pool room

There’s no shortage of issues to be concerned with at the moment, foremost of which is Australia’s energy ‘restructure’ that will have major implications for this country’s emissions…not that you’d know because no-one seems remotely interested in it.

What everyone is interested in is the ridiculously polarised debate over the detainees on Manus island. Honestly, it’s like the two sides of the media collude to create a brainless duopoly. Missing altogether is any mention of the real mandate of the anti-asylum seeker politicians.

It’s all very well to talk about how few asylum seekers are coming to Australia, or how Australia should admit those who’re currently being held in (or ‘released’ from) the Manus island detention centre BUT the main reason Australians continue to vote against asylum seekers is that they think if Australia admits everyone who comes by boat or plane then more will come.

I personally think Australia should take many more refugees than it does – we are currently engaged and complicit in fucking up the Middle East, and have benefitted massively from its general instability, now and in years gone by. Even the most cursory examination of history will tell you how this works. However, that’s my perspective and I know it’s not a popular one.

What needs to be addressed in the refugee debate is the perception that if more can come, more will come. I have only once seen an acknowledgement or discussion of this idea in the mainstream left media (in The Monthly, several years ago).

Now, it’s hard to imagine a more pressing issue than the status of refugees being abandoned in Papua New Guinea. Or at least that’s what I thought until I read our local newspaper this morning.

The front page featured a group of local fishermen petitioning for an artificial reef. It turns out that after 200+ years of European despoil there just isn’t quite enough shit cluttering up the bottom of the ocean. If only there were just a little bit more!

After all, it’s getting harder and harder to catch fish, so clearly there needs to be something that organises them into a more easily accessible area. And actually, while we’re at it, let’s get rid of the Marine Park as well. Because God knows, that thing has heaps of fish in it.

You might think this issue is a little mundane, but that’s where you’re wrong. Because the fishermen are not the only local group furiously sweating into their heavily branded baseball caps this week. There is another group of ‘concerned locals’ who’re being actively concerned in the direction of the Mayor. This group don’t give a shit about the artificial reef. They’re concerned about sea level rise – specifically, the lack thereof.

Our Council has had the audacity to suggest that the avalanche of scientific evidence regarding climate change is probably accurate. Sea levels are likely to rise. But not without a fight. Because nothing turns back the ocean like a group of crimson-faced fatties belligerently sweating into their nylon short shorts. It’s in the bible, somewhere near the back. Check the index for; ‘coastal inundation’, or ‘double-brick’.

Between artificial reefs and sea level rise it’s hard get a moment of peace.

But all is not lost. There is a delightful symmetry here. Because, on the off-chance that protesting sea level rise does not hold off the inexorable creep of the ocean, our local coastline is set to acquire a rather substantial artificial reef, complete with brick-and-tile patio and floor mounted swivelling bar stools. That’s right, most of the region’s waterfront properties will eventually fall into the sea.

The fishermen would love it for the snagging opportunities alone; ‘Fuck, Bazza, I’m snagged on the rotunda’ would enter the lexicon, a development that is certainly overdue.

The fish would love it too – they could lay their eggs in the entertainment unit and hang fibreglassed humans above the bar.

Why I’m not rich is beyond me.

Wooly thinking part two

Does autism correlate with high IQ?

Or is this simply a form of reverse stigma?

I’ve mused about the apparent paradoxes in the diagnoses of autism before but I’ve yet to find anything that’s making me think that most people with autism are bloody geniuses.

There is a study which suggests that many of the genes implicated in autism are also those implicated in high IQ, but, as anyone who knows anything about genetics will tell you, it’s very difficult to identify ‘a gene for X’. Basically, this is the equivalent of searching for The Bachelorette gene.

I particularly enjoyed this article that told me that people with ASD are brainy because compared to the general population,

Nearly half of children (46 percent) who have been diagnosed with ASD have an above average intellectual ability, however, it differs from person-to-person.

That’s right, almost fifty percent of those with ASD fall above the average! Which I guess means that 54% fall below the average. Which tells me nothing except that as a population people with ASD are slightly dumber than those without ASD. It depends, I suppose, on how they define ‘average’ – for me, I take a pretty straight up mean/median approach, (the sample was 10 000) but maybe they decided that the top of the curve was actually a table top.

I see you, kurtosis, and I place a plate and some chips on top of you!

How good is science reporting? I mean, really. This shit is top drawer.

500 words – science, anyone?

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The reported incidence of Crohn’s disease in Canterbury, New Zealand has doubled over the past decade, crowning the region with the highest reported incidence globally. Scientists around the world believe environmental factors are contributing to this disconcerting rise. In this investigation, we present the research on a disease found primarily in dairy cattle called Johne’s disease, which has the same symptoms as Crohn’s disease and is recognised on over half of all dairy farms in New Zealand. If the MAP bacteria which causes the immune responses in dairy cattle is tested and found in our local drinking water supplies, our air and our dairy products, we could be facing a public health issue of massive proportions.

OMG! Humans have a disease called Crohn’s disease that’s quite a lot like something called Johne’s disease! It even sounds the same, which obviously means it’s caused by the same thing! It’s totally like the time I got a nuclear hangover from drinking Manhattans. And it might be in our drinking water? Our dirty, dirty water? Oh God, I’m totally only drinking Coke Zero from now on! There’s public health crisis of massive proportions looming!

Thank God for plucky journalists who’re willing to lay out the circumstantial case for a public health epidemic.

For listeners at home, here’s the article in a nutshell;

– MAP bacteria causes Crohn’s disease.

– MAP is spread to humans by cow shit in the water. It is virtually un-killable.

– The increasing rate of Crohn’s in Canterbury is a direct result of the dairy conversions of the last two decades.

MAP is causing the increasing rates of Crohn’s disease in Canterbury because of dirty dairying!

And now for a spoonful of Mum’s Anti-Hysteria Elixir…..

There’s nothing new about the link between MAP bacteria and Crohn’s disease. Around 30-50% of cases of Crohn’s are likely due to MAP infection.

The incidence of Crohn’s has doubled in Canterbury in the last decade, but this is in line with the rest of New Zealand. New Zealand’s rate is on a par with many other western countries.

So why single out Canterbury? Presumably because of the initial study in 2006 that showed that Canterbury’s rate had experienced a rather rapid increase (bringing it into line with other western nations). Perhaps something happened in Canterbury leading up to 2006 that caused this increase? Perhaps it was coming off a low base?

Of course, the article is quick to suggest an answer;

A 2008 Canterbury study found that intensive dairy farming and the use of border-strip irrigation increased the concentrations of E-Coli and Campylobacter in nearby groundwater, impacting drinking water supplies. Large scale conversion and intensification of agricultural land in Canterbury is clearly linked to decreases in water quality and the resulting increase in waterborne diseases. The result is that in 2015 alone, E-Coli was detected in Christchurch’s untreated water supply 14 times, raising debate on whether the supply should now be treated.

The water got heaps dirtier! If there’s more MAP in the water, there’s more Crohn’s disease! Right? I mean, JOIN THE DOTS sheeple!

Here’s the thing. MAP is waterborne, but it’s also airborne, through dust especially. It’s in milk. And cheese too. Mmmm cheese…..

It should therefore come as no surprise that the rates of MAP infection are rising all over the world. As dairying intensifies, so does MAP. This is why New Zealand’s rate has doubled in the last ten years. So has everyone else’s.

So yeah, more cows, more intensive dairying causes an increase in MAP bacteria. There are more cows in Canterbury, and therefore more MAP. But to suggest that water is its primary vector is disingenuous – it’s in the air, the food and definitely Cats that Make You LOL.

In fact, so many humans are infected with MAP a better question might be; Why do only some people acquire Crohn’s disease and others don’t?

In other words, why are some people’s digestive tracts able to cope with MAP infection while others are not? (It also doesn’t answer why people without MAP develop Crohn’s, which is surely something Crohn’s sufferers would like to know).

This is what’s known as a multi-factorial clusterfuck. It’s hard to isolate causative factors. And what about the rate of C-sections? Or the widespread use of antibiotics?

It’s unclear why the rates of Crohn’s were high (for NZ) in Canterbury in 2006. Maybe Cantabrians ate more cheese? Maybe the increasing numbers of cows on the plains caused an increase in airborne MAP? Maybe there’s another as yet undiscovered factor at work, perhaps excessive exposure to unflued gas heaters or higher than average ingestion of that caramel popcorn from Countdown on Moorhouse Ave oh how you betrayed me you dirty sticky balls of blissbitch?

Where was I?

Yes. The article does talk about these other methods of transmission, but the focus is clearly on water. Dear reader, the message is clear; Dirty water = Crohn’s disease.

Let’s consider something that wasn’t in the article; Farmers and their families seem to have some kind of immunity to MAP. This is likely due to exposure of extracellular forms of the bacteria, in other words, cow shit. Given the shit-to-water ratio of water in the rest of NZ, perhaps we might argue that the reason Cantabrians have such high rates of MAP is lower rates of immunity amongst the population due to lack of exposure to cow shit as children.

Stand by for the next winning public health campaign;

Come on in, kids, the water’s wade-able! 

Or perhaps; You’re Soaking In It!

I’m all for fanning the hysteria over New Zealand’s appalling water quality. It’s a fucking travesty, but as someone who lobbied ECAN hard in the early 2000s, I can tell you, they came by it honestly. We all knew it was a matter of a few years before Christchurch’s artesian drinking water was gone for good.

No-one gave a rat’s clasper about it then, but it’s heartening that people seem interested now (about 20 years too late).

I often read articles from Wake Up NZ – they do a good, and important job. But cherry picking information to make a case that is at best wobbly and at worst misrepresentative of the data just exposes a weak flank. New Zealand’s water quality is a big enough story without resorting to this kind of ‘investigative’ journalism.


500 words; epic human frailty

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On my way to work, I was listening to an RN Breakfast interview with a representative of the Commonwealth Secretariat, who was describing the ‘radically new’ approach to addressing the challenges of climate change. One such revelation was ‘working with nature to find solutions’. When pressed, the interviewee said this meant taking lessons from nature and applying them to engineering solutions.

An example; there is too much CO2 floating around in the atmosphere and not enough locked away (sequestered) in the ground. Nature, it seems, has a few ways of sequestering carbon, one of which is….trees.

Woah woah woah…trees turn CO2 into something that isn’t CO2? Yep, the Commonwealth Secretariat doesn’t just make coffee and organise the dry cleaning of the Commonwealth Manageriat.

So I thought; OK, what’s the easiest, most efficient trees CO2-sequestration process?

Is it;

A) stop cutting down trees that sequester carbon? Also, plant some more?

B) dream up some other hugely carbon intensive industrial process that uses orders of magnitude more carbon to establish than sticking a sapling in the ground?

Guess which one the engineers went for? That’s right, a new form of concrete that sequesters CO2, so when you build a new building out of concrete (one of the most intensely carbon heavy products known to man) it will perform some of the same sequestration as a tree.

Some people like to build houses out of trees. They grow the tree, cut it down, build their house and another one grows in its place. Architects have also figured out how to build large structures out of engineered structural timber, instead of steel and concrete, two materials with very high embedded energy.

To be sure, this is not an argument about whether planting more trees would ‘fix’ global warming. It is a discussion about the most efficient tree-like way to sequester CO2. My money’s on….a tree.


Opportunity Knocks

 Prominent ears and moustaches

A selection of headlines and bylines from the NZ mainstream media, regarding Gareth Morgan’s new political group, The Opportunities Party (with some artistic licence provided for clarity)….

Morgan Compares Self to Trump! (

When asked who he most resembled, Donald Trump, Ghengis Kahn or that sidekick chicky from Zena with the fringe, Morgan compared himself to Trump, saying he was not really like him.

Gareth Morgan; good for ‘local colour’ (

John Key’s opinion of Morgan, who has consistently provided informed criticism of his National Government, is that he’s cashed up and good for a laugh. Don’t pay any attention to him.

Gareth Morgan Only Relevant to Cats! (thespinoff)

A searching treatise on Gareth Morgan’s new political party, completely comprised of cat-puns! It’s hilarious! Forget Morgan’s long-time, studied engagement in some of the most pressing issues of economic management and social justice, THE MAN DOESN’T LIKE CATS! Stand-by for Morgan’s position on leaf-blowers and microwaving vegetables with the Glad Wrap still on.

Morgan Too Arrogant For Parliament* (

Gareth Morgan thinks he is Socrates. And he thinks he’s so clever he can solve all New Zealand’s problems single-handedly. He thinks politicians won’t solve New Zealand’s problems because they don’t want to ‘disturb the voters’.  Also, his son is rich, not him. Also, he’ll never make it. Also, he’s not very good at political spin, which, as a journalist dealing in political spin, clearly makes him an idiot.

*yes, really!

Sure, it’s easy to pass off all this negativity as normal New Zealand treatment of anyone who has,

A) given some thought to something,


B) decided to do put some skin in the game.

Belting the shit out of their own is what kiwis do best.

However, I think there’s more to it than that. Anyone who is subject to such an immediate (clumsy and feeble) attempt at marginalisation by the media is obviously a very real threat to the status quo.

I know bugger all about Morgan (except his economic thinking, of which I know almost bugger all) but his appeal is evident from space. Morgan appears to be continuing an informed, intellectual interest in some pretty important social issues that the government keeps telling New Zealanders they don’t really care about.

Watch this space.

Sea burials for the living


Doesn’t really narrow it down, Murray.

Several years ago I wanted to start an eco-burial business. We’d just gone through the plastic procedure of death via hospitals and funeral homes (spoiler alert; a home is actually where you live) and couldn’t escape the feeling that it could be done better. As we navigated the mechanical decency of the mourning industry, I thought; why are we treating this person like an expensive piece of furniture? I wouldn’t want to be shunted around in a level box. Does everyone else?

So I started to look into other options. There are companies that offer bush burials where the dead are buried, unprocessed, in the bush. I like the idea of mourning via nothing more than a GPS locator and a can of Aerogard. But then I realised that what I really wanted was to be returned to the sea, the place where I’ve spent many of the best times in my life. Also, there’s something deliciously ‘Checkmate!’ about being eaten by a shark after I’m already dead.

Sea burials are legal in Australia, but very rare. The difficulty lies in the planning – you must ‘dump’ the body far away from shore, in a manner that won’t have predictable repercussions (there goes Nanna’s suitcase burial).

You can read more about this burial option in a recent (beautifully written) piece by Claire Konkes.

Konkes tells us that sea burials are legal but difficult, heavily dependent on weather and location. My solution would be different, a kind of tuna farm approach, where the deceased is deposited in a cage dangling from a particularly rugged piece of coastline. The cage is then lowered to the deep, where-upon animals (mostly sea lice I imagine) would nibble away at the mortal soul, finally freeing their silicon tits and pacemakers to join the ever-expanding ocean gyre of rubbish. Landlubbing relatives could gather on the cliff edge (carefully) for a service, whilst their loved one is committed to marine grade stainless.

I think this has got legs (but not for long!).