Thursday, 23 April 2009

An Errant Thought

In these somewhat turbulent and troubled times it might be prudent to consider the following:

Quote of the week:

We have enough youth, how about a fountain of smart?
- Author Unknown

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Free Speech Should be Revered

The ability to speak freely is a treasured right in democratic society. Not the right to slander, nor denigrate but the right to have something to say, and that includes the issues around freedom to publish and print, to draw cartoons and so on. Remember the adage.......a picture is worth a thousand words, or is it that "a cartoon is worth a thousand words".

It has been tested almightily over recent times with the publication of less than positive images of religious figures. And over the years there have been many less than flattering images and drawings of religious leaders of Australians and in Australia.

More recently Bill Leak has had a few cartoons published that mock the Australian Prime Minister. Most Aussies I know think them very satirical, and have a good laugh. Just like they have done with images and cartoons of previous Prime Ministers - Howard, Hawke, Keating, Whitlam, Fraser and others back over the past 50 years or so. And many other cartoonists have also had a go at satirising these same public figures.

Cartoonists do society a great service...........development of the ability to not take one's self TOO seriously, independent of your apparent status in life. Cartoonists have lampooned the "pillars of society" for several hundred years in many English language newspapers and magazines - some of the latter especially famous for satirical political cartoons.

An editorial in the Australian newspaper on 4 April summed it up very eloquently. It is reproduced below and worth reading. Bill Leak's recent cartoons about Kevin Rudd are VERY satirical; just enjoy him taking the mickey out of him........from whatever side of politics!

Laughing with Leak
April 04, 2009
Article from: The Australian

We need people who poke fun at the powerful and po-faced.

Last week, Bill Leak's editorial cartoon in The Weekend Australian offended some readers. To compound the offence, here it is again. This is not done to dismiss critics' concerns. We accept that Leak's work often upsets people. We understand some were affronted in 2003 by his celebrated cartoon of then Labor leader Simon Crean making a very important point to the media, while the press pack found fornicating dogs much more interesting. And we recognise a range of readers were appalled by his 2006 cartoon of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono as a dominant dog sporting carnally with a West Papuan in canine form.

But Leak should continue to draw it as he sees it. Great cartoonists express the issues of an age.

Thomas Nast helped break Tammany Hall's control of New York politics in the 1870s with his savage caricatures of Boss Tweed. Livingston Hopkins cartoons featuring "the little boy from Manly" in The Bulletin summed up Australian politics in the federation years. And when cartoonists are stopped by the state, it is a sure sign of strife for everybody who believes in open political argument.

As Christopher Allen points out in Review this weekend, while political cartooning prospered in regency England, in revolutionary France the tribunes of the people did not encourage criticism. The caustic commentary supplied by politically engaged artists in Weimar Germany similarly stopped as soon as the Nazis came to power.

But while Leak will not be arrested, no matter how many politicians he upsets, he is certainly subject to the censorious tut-tutting of people who believe that people like them are off limits for lampooning. For years, Leak made fun of the follies and foibles of John Howard, to laughter and applause from the cultural establishment - writers and broadcasters from the ABC and Fairfax newspapers - plus their fellow travellers in the blogosphere. But now that Leak is laughing at Kevin Rudd, today's darling of the Left, all of a sudden his cartoons are in bad taste.

This is the same censorious style adopted by people who applauded the persecution of Salman Rushdie after the publication of The Satanic Verses.

It holds that publishing anything that offends other cultures is impermissible, that laughing at people the opinion-makers approve of is out of order. Fairfax journalist David Marr's selective support for art that offends is an excellent example of this. Marr defends photographer Bill Henson for his controversial images of naked children but attacked a Leak cartoon in The Australian that made fun of Henson, saying "it is astonishing that a national newspaper would print such a thing".

Perhaps people outraged by last week's cartoon took offence because they assume their own political opinions and community standards are synonymous. But whatever critics think, Leak's comment on the Prime Minister's desire to demonstrate his fundamental friendship with US President Barack Obama was fair and amusing comment. He should keep it up.

Australia need larrikins who laugh at the powerful - and the po-faced.

Alexander Pope explained why in the 1730s: "Hence satire rose, that just the medium hit, / And heals with morals what it hurts with wit."

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Life Thoughts

Sometimes you read an article that really gels with your own experiences, or evokes some significant thoughts....on any one of a myriad of subjects.

Recently Greg Sheridan wrote an article for the Review Section of the Weekend Australian. It covered his experiences with a range of older colleagues, who helped and mentored him, while a student as well as in his "formative" years as journalist. He is a very respected senior journalist these days, commonly covering politics and international affairs for The Australian newspaper.

The link is,25197,25333293-5013460,00.html and it is worth reading not only for the information about some of his key contacts while a young journalist, but for some key messages.......the role of personal contacts and their influences, often without realising it.

The last two short paragraphs are worth noting -

"What Big Bob and Little Bob had in common was a generosity with young people, a willingness to take them seriously. I've forgotten almost everything they said to me about foreign policy or economics, but the odd lapidary phrase stays forever.

So take care when you speak with younger people. Against all your expectations, they may very well be listening quite hard." [ excerpt from his article]

In this time when often young people are ignored or "written off", they may be listening to offer sage advice, particularly in the workplace, if you want a great workplace culture to thrive. It is the leaders that make that happen, and like it or not, leaders are often a little older, and a little wiser, something that younger people may just need. Not maybe right now.......but as a thought and action forming option to consider.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Yee Ha - I get to swim!

Today was an important first swim for 2 weeks, following the skin cancer cut out off the arm. I did enjoy a serious hit out in the pool for a couple of kms, but am now a bit short on speed, after a two week lay off.

BUT......methinks it will be short lived. I had an important phone call today......the small innocous mark on my upper chest, just below the midpoint of the left clavicle is a nasty squamous cell carcinoma, and I need to go back to have more interaction at the "Casuarina Charcuterie".

They need to be sure that all bits are removed, so there will be a serious incision to remove the other bits close to the edges......tomorrow, shortly after the stitches are removed from the first round of incisions!

Hopefully, the time out of the water will only be a few days this time.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Skin Care 2

It is 2 weeks nearly since "the big slice" on my arm. Finally coming good. It took a while, and the Easter weekend was a very quiet one, unable to do a lot.

Have been exercise restricted for 2 weeks and getting a bit toey!

Stitches come out on Tuesday.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Skin Care Pays Off

Men are not renowned for taking a lot of care with their skin. Whether as teenagers or older it does not seem to happen, especially in Australia. We are too macho.......or stupid. My local doctor used to say "if you are fair skinned and blue eyed - you are a skin cancer suspect"...........he is pretty spot on I think. Yet here we see so many young people very red skinned after most weekends - too much sun, too little protection.

I have recently had another skin cancer removed........from the right forearm, a condition commonly and cynically called "driver's arm syndrome". Yes, simply caused mainly through hanging the right arm on the door sill while driving. Maybe not so likely today, with a lot vehicles air-conditioned, especially in hot areas of Australia.

But, I, like many, who have done many hundreds of thousands of kilometres driving in those times where all airconditioning was through an open window, had an arm on the window sill. About 35 years of doing that is now causing a few problems.

I have had quite a few minor skin cancers removed before, on the same arm, and a few years ago used a therapy with a cream to pick up a lot of incipient damaged pre cancerous cells, including the top of the knuckles [ holding the steering wheel]. This one was larger and needed quite a few stitches to close it after the relatively minor surgery with a local anaesthetic. And the wound has been a bit sore too, since.

But there is good news too..........even though I have spent a lot of time surfing and swimming, sailing and other outdoor sports, I have little skin damage on the face and back, legs etc. Maybe it is those areas that received more sun block cream too.

My mother always insisted we use the old fashioned white or pink zinc cream as younger kids, keep out of the midday sun [ that was easy - surf is better early am anyway before the wind is strong] and as an adult sunblock creams have been used - usually 30+. So that has paid off so far. But the poor old right arm has suffered. Probably missed out on treatment!

With this surgery being done last Wednesday, it has meant a very quiet Easter.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Kick Ass your i - Pod

GM organisms can do great things. Reported today is a new technology that is reported to really boost lithium ion battery power, extend the battery life and, well, do great things for this class of battery now in almost all small devices - phones, computers, i-Pods, MP3 players, cameras etc.

It sounds great. Watch this space!

A tiny virus has been trained to build a more efficient and powerful lithium battery, say US researchers. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) modified two genes in a virus called M13, which caused it to build a shell made out of a compound called iron phosphate.

These shells attached to a carbon nanotube to create a powerful and tiny electrode.

The virus boosted battery could provide more power for MP3 players or cellular telephones, and are far more environmentally friendly than current battery technologies, says MIT materials scientist Angela Belcher, who led the research, which appears today in the journal Science. "It has some of the same capacity and energy power performance as the best commercially available state-of-the-art batteries," says Belcher. "We could run an iPod on it for about three times as long as current iPod batteries. If we really scale it, it would be used in a car," she says.

But Belcher admits that such scaling is some time away.

She says the technology is inherently green because it involves a live virus. "We are having organisms make the materials for us," says Belcher. "We are confined to temperatures and solvents - water - that organisms can live in. It's a clean technology. We can't do anything that kills our organisms."

The viruses used in the battery are a common bacteriophage, which infect bacteria, but are harmless to humans

Battery booster - Current lithium batteries are powerful and light, but they do not release their electrons very quickly. Belcher's team genetically engineered the viruses to grow shells of amorphous iron phosphate. The material is generally not a good conductor, but makes a useful battery material when patterned at the nanoscale - a microscopic molecular scale.

The virus-made material increases the cathode's conductivity inside the battery, making it more powerful without adding too much weight. "My students hate it when I say we sit back and let them (the viruses) do the work. We put a lot of work in too," says Belcher. "But once you have the right genetic sequence and have the right proteins then you just put them in solution with water and ions and they template the battery in the same way an abalone templates a shell. They build little shells around themselves."

The team is already working on a second-generation battery using materials with higher voltage and electrical capacity, such as manganese phosphate and nickel phosphate, says Belcher.