Guest Post: Why it is pure folly to implement a Fibre-to-the-Node network in Australia

By James Chisholm (james at chisholm dot id dot au)

On one hand, I can see why Malcolm Turnbull wants to press forward with his inferior technology plan for the future… he firmly believes that the National Broadband Network was a major reason people voted for the Coalition in the recent election. Sadly, as has been proven by the recent campaign on www.change.org/nbn as launched by Nick Paine, over a quarter of a million of Australian voters have disagreed with him – the overwhelming majority of people who voted Liberal did so despite the inferior NBN plan. I don’t claim to be an expert on xDSL technology; just a geek who has worked in IT since 1995, and has a more than average knowledge of tech issues, but someone needs to point out to the Coalition that enough people care about this issue to sign a petition which they so arrogantly dismissed. They need only look at the NBN forum on Australian broadband website Whirlpool to find hundreds upon hundreds of informed opinions debating the merits and deficiencies of both proposals.

In case you are unaware of the differences between the two technologies, there’s a very good website called nbnmyths.wordpress.com which I’ve yoinked this summary from:

• FTTN is a short-term “stop gap” using old technology

• Most countries that have installed FTTN are now replacing it with FTTP (i.e.: To the same system as the Labor NBN plan)

• The investment in FTTN would be largely wasted when the inevitable upgrade to FTTP is required

• FTTN would be almost as expensive to implement in Australia as FTTP

• FTTN’s Speed-to-Price ratio is poor

• FTTN delivers vastly different performance levels depending on location

• FTTN delivers very low upload speeds

The detailed explanation goes into exactly why it’s not a good fit for this country. I strongly recommend you read it, and then follow up that reading with the ex-CTO for British Telecom, who explains here why deploying FTTN was a huge mistake for BT.

Australia currently sits at a very low place on the world internet speed rankings (as of January, we were ranked 40th) and has the opportunity to take leaps and bounds by implementing the right kind of National Broadband Network – such as NBN Co has been rolling out to date. However, the Coalition FTTN network is no substitute for this – even the manufacturer’s claim Fibre to the Node is a stop-gap technology till a Fibre to the Premises network is achievable.

I personally read the coalition plan for FTTN on the day it was announced and my co-workers distinctly recall me swearing profusely, in amongst shrieks of “what lies!”. I work in a software development company and our proxy server cached the request to download the PDF document from the Liberal website, such that when all 30 of us went to read the document, it only appeared to their server as one request. To suggest that each of us haven’t actually read the document is not only insulting but ignores the fact that their document was summarised into hundreds of news articles in the days and weeks following the Coalition announcement. As the internet would say, tl;dr  – Too Long; Didn’t Read – there several pages of complete crap which were purely anti-labor propaganda in what was supposed to be a policy document!

I hope Malcolm Turnbull realises that Telstra weren’t lying in 2003 when group managing director of regulatory strategy, Tony Warren, told a Senate enquiry that the copper network has a maximum viable life of 15 years left. The Coalition’s “fraudband” Fibre to the Node network will never achieve the speeds that Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott are promising. Malcolm Turnbull in particular keeps pointing out technology trials conducted in lab conditions which use much higher grade copper wiring than is out in the wild in Australia, over shorter distances than most people will ever be able to get to a “node” or exchange. Two of the countries which Malcolm Turnbull regularly refers to as having successfully rolled out FTTN technologies are New Zealand and the UK. What he fails to mention, without fail, is that both of these countries are now looking at replacing FTTN with FTTP solutions, as are many of the other countries which have implemented FTTN. It remains really unclear as to why you would choose a technology which has not only been implemented but is now being superseded!

Turnbull is claiming that the copper will eventually deliver 100mbps by 2019 – however, the technical trials which that speed was achieved in was over a 400m distance on a much higher grade copper than Telstra have ever deployed, and only ever in lab situations. Considering that the Nodes are due to serve a radius of up to 2km, it’s impossible to believe that everyone will be capable of getting 100mbps from this technology which the manufacturer’s state will only work to a distance of 400m. As a side note, it’s interesting in that Alcatel-Lucent report on VDSL2 vectoring that they state “While fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) remains the ultimate goal” which implies that even the VDSL2 manufacturers acknowledge that it is an inferior technological solution to the Labor FTTP NBN plan!

Furthermore, the copper, which Telstra were being paid $11bn to decommission as part of the Labor Fibre to the Premises National Broadband Network, has been made so vital to the Coalition plan – and Malcolm Turnbull has stated he expects Telstra to give it over for no additional remuneration. Telstra’s CEO, on the other hand, David Thodey, has stated that he fully expects the contract with NBN Co to be paid out in full as well as expecting additional remuneration over and above what they are contracted to get from NBN Co already, to prolong the life of the copper – which will, in turn, make this slower FTTN network more expensive than putting in place a full FTTP network.

The Labor FTTP option is being deployed currently at speeds of 100mbps and is upgradeable to 1000mbps (1gbps) and is not subject to slowdowns during wet weather (when the Telstra pits fill with water), and won’t eventually degrade like the copper will. Most of the Telstra copper network is degraded to the point where it will not sustain a high speed signal – and if you doubt this, see here for a few examples. I have just moved house to a place which is 300m from the local telephone exchange, and in theory I should be getting 24mbps ADSL2 – yet I’m getting a lower speed than when I was living 3.2km from the same exchange. It took me 54 minutes to upload a 91 second HD movie of my daughter to YouTube on Sunday night. This same copper is supposed to provide me with a VDSL2+ connection at speeds up to 100mbps?

The initial Coalition plan is to migrate the copper ADSL2+ networks, theoretically capable of going at 24mbps download speeds, to VDSL at 25mbps (and upload speeds still stuck at the same, 1mbps). That will then be upgradeable in the future to a maximum of 50mbps and again to 100mbps by 2019. Whereas those in areas which have already had Fibre to the Premises NBN connections installed can get 100mbps today!

As most of Australia has known for the last few years, climate change (which the Coalition would have you believe is a myth!) has lead to some of the most extreme weather this country has ever seen. We have had record high temperatures, record floods, record droughts… what’s going to happen to Queensland when, invariably, as they have for the last 3 years during summer, they have major floods? All of a sudden you have all this mains-power running to all these cabinets and everything inside them will short out. What will the insurance premium be on these? Will an insurer even provide a policy for such a device in such an area – knowing full well it will be very likely to suffer catastrophic water damage? Have replacement costs been factored into the coalitions plans?

Another thing which needs to be highlighted is that Malcolm Turnbull is happy to invest in companies overseas who are replacing FTTN networks with FTTP networks, but doesn’t want the country to get the same kind of advantage he’s personally investing in! This is hypocrisy of a terrible scale.

Then there is the inevitable lawsuits from councils who don’t want the ugly and noisy FTTN cabinets every 2-3km throughout the suburb – see here for an example of what they look like overseas – and if anyone has a memory back to the Optus cable rollout of last millennia, there were many councils which not only balked at having the cables run from the power lines, but sued Optus to prevent the rollout occurring. I also feel it necessary to mention that they require power and air-conditioning to operate – not that the Coalition even cares in the slightest about the environment – and if (or should we say, when) a car veers off the road and knocks over a cabinet, all the houses around will lose their internet and phone until it is replaced.

I’ve completely avoided the issue of the Foxtel and Optus cable networks up till here – which are to be incorporated into the Coalition NBN network rollout as another technology option in addition to FTTN. Arguably, another reason for the Coalitions plan to leave these 20 year old networks in place is that the advent of IPTV, a service which provides HD quality TV shows for as little as $10 per month, will drastically eat into the cash-cow which Foxtel has over cable TV. I must confess I was personally disappointed when we moved house recently that my wife was talked back into getting Foxtel re-connected (via satellite) for $30 a month (half price, but only for 6 months) – I had even chosen an IPTV service which provided as much content and the ability to watch it in multiple locations, unlike Foxtel. By preserving the cable networks, the Foxtel bottom line is boosted for many further years… and let’s not even touch on the issue that cable internet is a shared medium and how badly it slows down during peak hours. I personally have witnessed a Telstra Bigpond cable connection go from 100mbps down to about 4mbps around 4pm due to congestion at my former employer – sadly, I haven’t kept the speedtest.net results from a year ago when this occurred – but this technology whilst technically delivering a 100mbps connection, will not provide 100mbps of throughput to all the houses it deploys to.

So between the additional remuneration required to Telstra, the cost (and wasted time) of lawsuits from Councils, it’s really difficult to see why Malcolm Turnbull would want to spend at least $30bn rolling out an inferior solution, which will need to be completely replaced with the original $44bn solution. If we’re spending billions of dollars of money to roll out a high speed national network – do it once, do it right, and don’t put all the power back into Telstra’s hands – wasn’t that why Telstra was forced to undergo structural separation in the first place – because they were abusing their monopoly power?  The NBN was originally conceived as a wrench to prise  Telstra’s monopoly grip on premier networking services away from them – hence why they are receiving such a large amount of remuneration for the decommissioning of the copper network. Here’s a rather paranoid thought – what if, under the FTTN plan, Telstra, as the monopoly provider of copper from node to premise, were to turn around and say we’ll only fix your line problem if you switch to our service on a 24month contract? Or will only provide 100mbps capable copper connections to their own customers? Without a Universal Service Obligation (which is currently in place for ADSL) they may well be within their rights to only maintain the copper for their direct customers. The potential for Telstra to put in place anti-competitive behaviours which provide them with untold advantages over this network is staggering – and I would not be surprised to discover that they have already analysed to great extent what the potential for getting a larger cash-cow from this FTTN network is.

Yet another thing to consider in this folly of a fibre-to-the-node plan is the number of nodes/cabinets being deployed. The coalition plan is for approximately 60,000 cabinets to be deployed nationwide – there is some significant speculation on the aforementioned Whirlpool forums about the density of each cabinet’s reach. It’s hard to project a radius from a cabinet as housing doesn’t necessarily neatly fit all that well into a circle, however if the average node cabinet costs $50000 (I’m guessing at this price, by the way) to deploy and the number of cabinets required grows by only 10000 then that blows the cost of the rollout out by a factor of $5bn. To provide all houses with a 25mbps capable connection will probably require more like 90000 cabinets, especially in lower density areas.

Malcolm Turnbull has also stated that a cost-benefit analysis will be done on the NBN project – however I suspect, strongly, that the terms of reference for this cost-benefit analysis will be very limited (possibly as far as two election terms) and make ridiculous assumptions, such as obtaining the Telstra copper at no cost. Malcolm Turnbull has repeatedly stated that the FTTP project will end up costing $90bn, and most recently, in his attack on all the constituents of Australia who have signed the change.org petition, increased that to $100bn – with no justification as to why. A fully informed cost-benefit analysis needs to be forward looking with a scope to the implementation and operational costs over the course of the next 20 years; accounting for how much of the Telstra copper network is already stuffed and barely capable of lasting more than 10 years.

Simon Hackett, CEO and Founder of Internode, has recently made several publicly available speeches on the problems with FTTN and how to build a FTTP network on an FTTN budget. Simon has run one of the most successful ISPs Australia has seen, without the benefit of having a behemoth of a cash cow behind him like Telstra, and has done a brilliant job of it. I would STRONGLY urge Malcolm Turnbull and the rest of the coalition to consult with Australian industry leaders such as Simon, and get their input as to how best provide Australia with a world class National Broadband Network and bring this great country into the future with a future-proof and upgradeable technology path.

I fully expect that Malcolm Turnbull, if he ever does read my comments, will call me out on my pricing assumptions and number of required nodes. However, I stand by my belief – that a Fibre to the Node National Broadband Network is completely unsuitable for this country, for all of the reasons I’ve listed, and more, and truly hope that the terms of reference for the cost-benefit analysis factor in a longer period of time than the next two election cycles, and that if the Coalition proceed with the folly of their FTTN plan that they are held to account at the 2016 election – as I highly doubt that there is any chance with a FTTN network that they can provide the guaranteed minimum of 25mbps as stated by Tony Abbott during the policy launch, and that it will end up costing far more than Labor’s FTTP rollout will.

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Guns and mental illness again

I have to clarify this, because it’s a point that screams out for repeating.

Why do people’s minds get blown, or why do I get flat-out denial, when I point to studies showing that mental illness isn’t even correlated with violent criminal behaviour?

The only scary correlation here is that the mentally ill are more likely to be victims of violent crime.

If you want good reasons for immediate, massive funding of public mental health programs, I can give you a half dozen off the top of my head.

Preventing violent crime isn’t one of them.

That’s why the motivation for thia sudden support for universal healthcare by Republican gun nuts annoys the living shit out of me.

Pointing to this fabricated correlation extrapolated from a handful of cases as a good reason to fund mental health is just wrong (and anti-scientific). It’s predictably fucked up when the far right do it, but it’s utterly perverse when the left follow along like sheep.

Stigmatisation comes from false stereotypes like this.

To push it is to hurt the mentally ill and to buy into the NRA agenda. It distracts from the real problem of gun culture and the need for the United States to properly regulate firearms.

Gun ownership is actually correlated with violent crime; and a causal relationship isn’t difficult to establish. If you’re serious about stopping violent crime, tackling gun ownership should be the focus.

A cry I’ve anticipated, but thankfully haven’t yet heard, from the left (who accept the evidence) is that any delusion that brings the far right to the table on universal healthcare is OK, as long as it gets the job done.

I don’t think it’s worth throwing the dignity of the mentally ill under a bus for a deal.

It’s hard enough seeing a psychiatrist for the first time without everyone else assuming that you’re a danger to society.

Look at the evidence and think things through, please.

What the fuck is wrong with you people?

I’m sure you’ve all seen all the repugnant things religious leader fuckheads have said in the last few days. I’m not going to comment on that because it makes me feel ill.

This post has three sections.

Gun Control

Seriously, the sheer number of American pathological gun nuts I’ve dealt with online in the last two days is staggering.

I’m finding exactly the same problems I have with religion, especially when religion is driving good people to kill and giving bad people an excuse to kill (and an excuse to get good people to kill). It’s a faith-based claim that offers no rationale except for bullshit cliched arguments that have clearly not been critically examined by someone who cares about anything other than feeding on confirmation bias.

So my problem is faith. I just typically go after religion because it’s the largest and most prevalent manifestation of this defective way of thinking; and so it just happens to piss me off more often.

But now I find myself forced to go after the American gun cult.

Something about children being killed with legal weapons just makes me fucking mad, you know? There’s also something about the callous self-justifications from trigger-happy traditionalist idiots, while families are mourning, that just begs to be called out.

So here it is.

America’s gun laws fail so hard at preventing homicides, robberies, accidental shootings and suicides according to evidence from peer-reviewed literature (not reports from “think-tanks” and other bullshit sources); but that doesn’t matter. The solution is moar guns! It’s a Second Amendment right!

Yes, more guns is exactly what America needs.

Here, by the way, is the Second Amendment:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Hmm.

The Second Amendment argument is stupid, and clearly nobody has read it — if it were still relevant it’d imply that citizens should be allowed access to nuclear weapons. Besides, interpreting the Second Amendment on an individual protection level is problematic and unsophisticated.

Then times changed, democracy got better (fine, it’s actually a polyarchy, but whatever) — making revolution less meaningful. Also, civilisation is qualitatively different now than it was at any other point in history.

Violence, all over the world, is in decline (help speed it along!), and liberalisation is rising, despite some other depressing statistics (I’ll get to them). The revolution in the United States will not be televised, because it won’t happen; it’s little more than another American Dream.

Second, guns for personal protection? Bullshit.

I looked through a bunch of my university library’s research databases and all I came up with, from reputable psychological and medical journals, was strong evidence that legally owned guns for self-defence are rarely used for self-defence; they’re more likely (22 times!) to be used in homicides, accidental deaths, suicides and to intimidate family members. This general trend of this study has been corroborated by numerous others.

(In light of those studies, which, most charitably, paint private gun-packers as highly incompetent and dangerous people, rather than autonomous agents capable of defending themselves; would a militia comprised of these people really capable of overthrowing a hypothetical tyrannical government? That might be a little too much to expect…)

Here are two charts that should hit this crime rate point home:

Number of guns per 100 people, OECD

Interesting, because “Switzerland” I hear a lot. I guess nobody bothered to look up how that actually works.

Gun-related murder rates in the developed world.

That’s another bullshit claim I hear: “What about Mexico? That’s what gun restrictions on law-abiding citizens does to reduce crime!” Yes, what about Mexico? Where do Mexican cartels get their guns from?

A more in-depth analysis can be found here. I guess facts really do have a progressive bias.

The cost-benefit analysis, if you care about protecting people, just doesn’t justify guns for personal protection.

Some might be tempted to use this against me when I advocate full drug-legalisation. They’d be wrong. Drugs are an individual choice, and you can’t use drugs to kill lots of people, only yourself (if you’re so inclined, or if you’re an irresponsible user, or by accident — but then, mountain climbing can kill you in that way). Drugs should be illegal in situations where they can play some causal role in harming others: like when you’re driving. If you drug-and-drive, fuck you. You’re a criminal because you put others at risk.

(Incidentally, in some U.S. states, car licenses are more heavily regulated than gun ownership.)

So, being a rabid supporter of “the right to bear arms” is to buy into a bullshit faith-based enterprise, with its own mythology and various off-shoot sects. The fact that it’s about providing false-consolation and a false sense security and the fact that it’s totally contrary to the evidence makes it exactly like religion.

And, on exactness: this is exactly why I go after religion. Religion is based on faith, which is essentially pretending to know things you don’t know. Appeals to faith are used to justify tribalism, delusion and all manner of bullshit. When someone says “that’s what I believe” you’re supposed to avoid being disrespectful. Fuck that I say.

People can be wrong, and there’s nothing wrong with exercising your own free speech to hold them to account. And making light of the majority hard-headed among them in front of fence-sitters.

So fuck those idiots against gun control. There is blood on their hands.

Mental Health

This is important to me.

I have lived with bipolar disorder since my early teenage years and I’m now in recovery.

I’ve never shot anyone, but I’ve faced discrimination in personal, professional and schooling situations due to the stigma associated with mental illness.

I don’t care about it, personally, because I’ve been lucky; it hasn’t ever really gotten in my way. But discrimination affects others badly. Really fucking badly. And I totally understand why.

The mentally ill don’t need to be singled out based on the actions of criminals. It’s offensive to do so, and it doesn’t even make sense.

The amount of demonisation I’ve seen the mentally ill as a group subjected to — surreptitiously by the hard right (because it wasn’t guns!) and inadvertently hiding in articles in the PC left media (smacked down here) — since this recent mass murder in the United States is mind-boggling.

It’s quite simple: the United States has worse healthcare than some developing countries (Columbia!); but look at these fucking statistics. Now, what should the priority be following Friday’s Connecticut shooting? It’s pretty fucking obvious to me.

To start with: to demonise people with autism spectrum disorders is to demonstrate a profound ignorance of established facts about abnormal human psychology.

Second; what effect does mental illness have on crime? The first clear-cut example is psychopathy; but does psychopathy predict criminal behaviour? A bit of arithmetic carried out on Baylor College’s neurolaw-focused blog, using some estimates and some quantified statistics indicated that 15% of all psychopaths currently living in the United States are incarcerated for some crime or another. Would increased mental health funding, and more accessible high-quality treatment help these rates? No. Psychopathy is untreatable, and very difficult to diagnose.

What about the mentally ill population as a whole? That’s a point of contention too, and it shouldn’t be, because there are more of these things called facts — and they’re in. The mentally ill, as a population, are overwhelmingly more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. Check this in the peer-reviewed literature for yourself, and look through other articles.

This is the crux of my argument: if the mentally ill are more likely to be victims of violence rather than perpetrators of violence, then taking measures to reduce violence also protects the mentally ill. Tackling gun violence is a step towards protecting the mentally ill, and a step towards protecting everyone else.

Better healthcare is an absolute imperative. There are some shocking stats associated with mental illness in the United States. The one I find scariest is that only one-third of adults and one-half of children with diagnosable mental illnesses actually get to talk to a professional in any meaningful capacity.

Clearly, mental health services in the United States need to be fixed, and they need to be fixed soon; but right now, a scourge that infects American culture as a whole must be fixed. This is gun culture.

This is a hard calculation to make with objectivity, but right now, America’s progressives and concerned conservatives should try to rewrite the gun laws.

Now is the time. This isn’t an either-or thing; it should be a both thing — but smart progressives should not lose sight of the myopia of their fellow countrymen.

Help everyone first: fix your fucking gun culture.

Ethics

Now, you could say that who am I, an Australian descended from undesirable colonisers (I’m not, but that’s what I was told) — to derive morals from facts (as Hume supposedly prohibited) and moreover, how dare I use my moral standards to judge another country’s laws and culture?

Because fuck you. If ethics aren’t about minimising suffering and maximising flourishing for all conscious creatures, then ethics is a waste of everyone’s time — and anyone who believes that has no grounds to support any moral cause, or to judge the behaviours of others. That’s why.

Why should we be interested in minimising suffering and maximising harm? Well, would you apply the same standard to medical research? How about physics? No. I didn’t fucking think so. So why do people hate it when you try to come up with a normative system of ethics? Out of respect for unjustified, unsubstantiated bullshit faith-based opinions.

Also, you didn’t read Hume properly. He used inference to the best explanation (induction) all the time, despite pointing out a “problem with induction” (that modern epistemology and philosophy of science has easily accommodated in the form of evidentialism; even verificationism), and he was an empiricist. He’d be fine with physics and medicine; and if he knew about consequentialism, he’d be fine with that too. (The problems in that BBC link have largely been resolved, it just covers naive consequentialism really, but you can find that shit out yourself. Go read some Peter Singer and even Sam Harris — neither of whom I totally agree with — and make up your own mind.)

My thoughts go out to all the families who lost loved ones last Friday. If children, a teacher and a psychologist being murdered in cold blood with legal weapons isn’t a wakeup call for America, there’s something wrong with the American leadership, and by extension, the people who elected those leaders.

Disagree?

Before you tell me, read what I wrote. Read it again. Check my sources. I don’t like repeating myself. I will approve your comments (I do that anyway), but only to enshrine you as a dunce.

Free market Lysenkoism

Trofim Lysenko (1898 – 1976) worked under Joseph Stalin as the director of Soviet biology. He was a remarkably egregious pseudoscientist whose claim to fame was a technique he termed ‘vernalization’, which promised to quadruple crop yields for the struggling collectivised Soviet agriculture sector.

Lysenko took his cues from the ideas of Ivan Vladimirovich Michurin (1855-1935), an honourable member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. In a characteristically extensive academic propaganda campaign, the Soviet regime sold Michurin as the father of so-called Soviet biology, which was considered superior to the ‘capitalist’ (and accurate) theory of Mendelian genetics.

The Soviets believed that adopting Lysenko’s agricultural practices, they would be able to fight off famine and demonstrate the greatness of the Soviet social model to the world. Questioning Lysenko’s theories was seen as an act of sedition; sceptics were smeared as bourgeois fascists. This is not to say that the people behind the Soviet propaganda machine didn’t believe in Lysenkoism – most of them probably did. Today, most of Lysenko’s research is rightly considered fraudulent; junk science manufactured to support unstable and paranoid politics.

Lysenko and his Soviet comrades frequently publicly decried proponents of evidence-based biology as ‘fly-lovers’, ‘people haters’, and ‘wreckers’. Mendelian genetics was seen as an impediment to communist productivity and national progress; a pitiful manifestation of Malthusian capitalist nay-saying.

Now, the term ‘Lysenkoism‘ is used to refer to the distortion of science to support a particular political ideology.

Yesterday’s leak of thoroughly incriminating internal documents from the Heartland Institute (check out the source) got me thinking – I mean about more than the fact that nine documents contained a hell of a lot to worry about compared to the tepid contents of the thousands of emails and hundreds of documents that made up the entire ‘climategate’ package. (But that is worth pointing out.) We also already knew that climate denialism was little more than a racket.

It actually reminded me of a point that had always seemed so obvious to me, but that I rarely see discussed. It stems from the fact that anthropogenic global warming deniers will often call mainstream climate science ‘Lysenkoism’ in the media. The obvious question to ask is: who are the ones skewing science for politics? Certainly Al Gore is no central-planning socialist.

What do almost all of the AGW deniers and lukewarmists have in common? Let us list some names, and we’ll see if we can isolate a common variable:

Penn Jilette; Matt Stone; Trey Parker; Alex Jones; Alan Jones; Christopher Monckton; Andrew Bolt; S.E. Cupp; Anthony Watts; Glenn Beck; Ron Paul; Matt Ridley; Bjørn Lomborg; the staff of (the unfortunately named) media outlet Reason TV; the signatories of this letter

The answer? An infatuation with the so-called free market. Really, check Google; or better yet, read some of their books.

Even die-hard fans of the free market know that if scientists are right about anthropogenic global warming, effective solutions will necessarily begin with top-down market intervention. Moreover, the fact of global warming also contradicts the ideal that free trade, unfettered by oversights, can only be a good thing for humanity. People who are committed to ideas – especially utopian political ideas – tend to get a bit clingy.

Former doubter Michael Shermer explicated this sentiment when he came out as accepting climate science. To wit:

Nevertheless, data trump politics, and a convergence of evidence from numerous sources has led me to make a cognitive switch on the subject of anthropogenic global warming.

Though, later on he did add some free market caveats.

Let’s watch Chris Monckton push for an Australian Fox News:

His talk of discrediting climate science is firmly within the context of promoting the free market. Interesting, no?

And this can be found on the Heartland Institute’s About page:

Mission: Its mission is to discover, develop, and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems.

We can easily note a clear trend of one of humanity’s greatest achievements in science (ie, figuring out what could kill most of us before it happens) being subverted, corrupted and bastardized for political purposes. So, apparently, for many, data does not trump politics. To disseminate global warming denialism, whether knowingly or unknowingly, is the praxis of free market Lysenkoism.

Practically every single prolific climate change sceptic utilizes propaganda originating from someone who has some connection the Heartland Institute. The kind of media manipulation for dissemination of discredited theories, paying off scientists and, the cherry atop this outrageously pernicious pie, promotion of the indoctrination of school children in the discipline of junk science, all expressly advocated in the Heartland Institute’s documents, leave me wondering why anyone in their right mind could continue to take the global warming denial/dilution project seriously.

I do mean to write up my developed take on the free market in the near future, but I’m a little busy for the moment. In the meantime, I’d like to urge the free market cadre who are responsible for most of my hate mail, and the more well-spoken and intelligent free market advocates who have raised the issue of my blog in real life, to do something to quell the disturbing trend of Lysenkoism flourishing among their colleagues. It’s making you all look ridiculous.

You can read more about the Heartland leaks themselves herehere and here (especially for Australians). Nothing on any of the Australian Murdoch newspaper websites, though.

Fukushima’s global fallout

Yoshihiko Noda last week replaced Naoto Kan as Japan’s prime minister due to a widespread backlash against what the public perceived as Kan’s mismanagement of the nation’s recovery following the devastation of the Tohoku quake. Noda is the country’s sixth prime minister in five years. He has barely been on the job for a week and he’s already pledged to do something ill-considered with dangerous international ramifications.

On March 11 this year, the Japanese people suffered what is locally known as the Great East Japan Earthquake. Despite this relatively simple fact ‘Fukushima’, the name of a prefecture within the affected Tohoku region, is the proper noun practically everybody associates with the disaster. Maybe I’m weird, but I think a catastrophic natural disaster that killed thousands of people and left countless more injured is just a mite more important than a comparatively benign peripheral industrial accident. Reports fuelling widespread nuclear phobia have eclipsed coverage of the real tragedy, and this is rapidly generating a series of much larger problems.

Last Friday Noda promised to continue with the previous administration’s plan to slowly phase out the nation’s dependence on nuclear energy. Wait a second, the power plants didn’t cause the earthquake, so what’s going on here? This is where those other problems creep in; the largest being the global issue of anthropogenic climate change and the growing threat of a runaway greenhouse effect, which could potentially kill billions and displace any survivors.

According to Japan’s National Police Agency, the Tohoku quake killed 15,760 people, injured 5,927 and left 4,282 missing. You can find this with references on Wikipedia. The Fukushima Daiichi meltdowns caused by the quake left two workers dead from blood loss. Another 45 people died while or after being evacuated from Futaba hospital in the Fukushima prefecture, many of them from dehydration.

Comparisons were quickly made to that other nuclear accident, the 1986 one in Ukraine, which killed significantly more people but nonetheless scored the same on the IAEA’s international nuclear and radiological event scale. Naturally, politicians around the world promptly reacted by pledging aid for Japan and shitting bricks over the ‘dangers’ of nuclear power. That was when a well-managed industrial accident became a global disaster. It was exasperating to hear not only Australia’s own odd couple Bob Brown and Julia Gillard brainlessly bleating, but also of Germany’s plan to cripple its nuclear energy facilities; a move which analysts predict will cause eight million tonnes of carbon to be released into the atmosphere within three months due to the re-commissioning of coal-fired power plants.

This has happened before on a much larger scale, and it wasn’t pretty: the cancellation of dozens of planned nuclear plants from 1979 onwards in response to pressure from the anti-nuclear movement, in the wake of the Three Mile Island partial meltdown, led to the construction of numerous coal-fired plants through the 1980s. These new plants dumped tens of billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Now, in the 21st century, we really should know better. Environmentalist author Mark Lynas wrote in his recent book The God Species that “[anyone] who marches against nuclear today, as many thousands of people did in Germany following the Fukushima accident, is in my view just as bad for the climate as textbook eco-villains like the big oil companies.”

News outlets played a huge part in catastrophizing public fears. The appearance of the ‘mutant’ bunnies of Fukushima on international television raised the media’s scare campaign to the scale of the Kuwaiti propaganda that arguably lead to the United Nations Security Council intervention in the first Gulf War. Their unspoken aim appears to be to inculcate the public with a blatantly false impression of the risks of nuclear power. By relishing this, the ‘environmental’ factions of the anti-nuclear movement are unwittingly playing right into the hands of their powerful big oil and big coal comrades. For Australia’s union-run Labor Party, this embrace of pollution over facts seems inevitable; but for the Australian Greens, who love to claim the ‘scientific’ high-ground, this is just insane.

Nuclear power is far less dangerous than other forms of power generation. Nuclear fission reactor technology efficiently and reliably meets national requirements for baseload power in ways that current renewable energy technologies cannot. It emits no greenhouse gases and when correctly deployed is otherwise safe for the environment. I would have thought those misanthropic scienticians at Greenpeace would have been quite taken with learning that the ecologies of human-purged nuclear accident sites recover rapidly. Moreover, nuclear waste is less radioactive than coal ash and unlike coal ash, nuclear waste can be consumed using existing technologies to generate more clean electricity. Nuclear power could be better, but I will discuss possible meltdown-proof and waste-consuming reactor technologies in another post. The fact is that the so-called ‘green’ arguments against nuclear energy are unscientific, reactionary and facile.

Which brings me back to Chernobyl. Yes, as I said, it is true that the Fukushima Daiichi incident was ranked by the IAEA as disastrous a nuclear event as Chernobyl. But how bad really was the Chernobyl accident? According to the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation report, the corroborated death toll from the accident stands at around 50. Over the long term, about 4,000 children suffered cases of thyroid cancer due to exposure to radioactive iodine following the accident (which could have been prevented had the Soviets handed out iodine pills to evacuees), but thankfully only 17 of these cases proved fatal. The claim that leukaemia rates were elevated amongst evacuees and their children has all but been been refuted scientifically (the exception is a doubling of leukaemia risk amongst Chernobyl liquidators), and there is no scientific evidence to support claims of an increased incidences of deformities or illnesses in children as a result of radiation exposure. To quote the World Health Organization report: “reviews by the WHO Expert Group revealed no evidence of increased cancer risks, apart from thyroid cancer, that can clearly be attributed to radiation from Chernobyl.”

Try weighing this against the hazards of coal power. Last year alone, for example, coal mining accidents killed 2,433 people in China. This point bears repeating: for every one person who dies per terawatt of electricity generated by nuclear power facilities, pollution and accidents associated with the operation of coal-fired plants kills 4,000 times that number of people for the same amount of electricity.

Even so, radiation exposure can lead to horrible consequences, and we need not look further than the survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings or the more recent victims of poisoning from ‘depleted uranium’ weaponry. But looking at the data, the biggest impact of the Chernobyl accident appears to be the psychological harm suffered by the survivors which has lead to higher rates of depression, somatoform disorders, alcohol abuse and suicide. There was even higher rates of abortion among the population of Eastern European women who believed they had been exposed. Mark Lynas writes in The God Species: “The unfortunate truth is that the general post-Chernobyl anti-nuclear hysteria, reinforced by exaggerated death tolls and impacts published over subsequent years by environmental groups, has probably worsened the victim status trauma suffered by the people who lived in the area.”

Perhaps the real humanitarian disaster of the Fukushima Daiichi accident is that this toxic scaremongering is happening all over again, despite the fact that the Japanese government handed out iodine pills to affected children. The situation in Japan is worse in some respects than Chernobyl. Due to caesium-137 contamination, there is likely to be an increased risk of cancer for those whose homes were located in the most contaminated regions of the disaster exclusion zone; and that area may need to remain evacuated for about 30 years, which obviously makes permanent relocation a real possibility for a number of people. Even so, these statistics indicate that the potential mortality rate from the increased risk of cancer pales in comparison to the almost 16,000 deaths that occurred directly because of the Tohoku quake. These nuances have been largely overlooked by the media, which seems quite content to contribute to the psychological suffering of those marked as victims. Of course, this won’t be helped by those aforementioned bricks shat and still being shitted by our world leaders.

Following the Tohoku disaster, Julia Gillard has again expostulated that we simply don’t need nuclear energy. This is despite our nation’s horrendous pollution profile, and the well-known fact that Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions on a per-person basis are the highest in the world. Not one to be left behind, what with this being his shtick and all, Greens senator Bob Brown entered the fray with the ridiculous claim that nuclear energy generation is outside “the limits of human safeguards.” Yeah, not cool. Also, totally false. In fact, only the Coalition’s scientifically literate (how’s that for an oxymoron) former leader Malcolm Turnbull has offered meaningful commentary on the issue by sticking to his assertion that Australia needs nuclear power to cut our carbon emissions. Yeah, I’m still (grudgingly) voting Green, but I must admit, Turnbull gives me pause here.

Since the tasteless hysteria surrounding Japan’s nuclear accident began, Australia’s ‘Greenhouse Mafia‘ must have found themselves cackling on the inside with the current government’s reactionary regression into anti-nuclear sheepdom. In the past, Australia has succumbed to economic enticements and misinformation from the carbon lobbies to resist going nuclear. But now, what do we have to lose? The carbon tax? What about nationalized nuclear energy instead of carbon taxes? With more sensible and socially responsible taxation measures and initiative, it could be done. Australia hosts some of the world’s richest uranium deposits and therefore we have a very strong uranium mining industry. Our four mines supply 20% of the total uranium consumed by the world’s nuclear plants. Our uranium exports reduce global greenhouse emissions by about 400 million tonnes each year. (This is now likely to be reduced if more countries follow the anti-nuclear fad.) That’s a pretty commendable carbon emissions offset effort, and it’s something we should be proud of. Why not go that way locally?

If Julia Gillard and Bob Brown want to take home a lesson on the risks posed by earthquakes and tidal waves on electricity generation, why not focus on the 1,800 homes that were washed away when a Fukushima district dam used for hydroelectric power generation collapsed during the disaster? Perhaps the dreaded invocation ‘Fukushima’ more appropriately refers to the risks posed by dams built in earthquake-prone regions.

I am not the first Green to embrace nuclear energy. I’ve referenced the recent work of Mark Lynas extensively here. Soon after the Fukushima Daiichi meltdowns, environmentally-inclined Guardian columnist George Monbiot made the switch. Even James Lovelock, de facto Pope of religious Greenism and originator of the batshit crazy Gaia hypothesis, has said “I am a Green and I entreat my friends in the movement to drop their wrongheaded objection to nuclear energy.” Honestly, the switch doesn’t hurt, and it gets better.

On the upside, the decision of the current Japanese administration could give rise to better renewable energy technologies for the rest of the world. The most high-tech nation on the planet may very well end up pioneering solar energy collection satellites and refining geothermal power generation to the point where it could be deployed globally (or maybe not, because the Japanese islands are much more volcanically active than most other countries). But that doesn’t justify Yoshihiko Noda’s reactionary nuclear power policies; and it certainly doesn’t justify the collective puling of the world’s politicians. Thankfully China, home of the world’s second largest and fastest growing economy, has remained grown-up and unfazed by the anti-nuclear panic.

Too many people miss the fact that all life on earth is fuelled by the really big nuclear reactor at the centre of the solar system. We in the Green movement love to play Socrates and ask our opponents to back up their claims with solid proof. This is a really good thing, but we also need to learn to accept the proof we’re given. We shouldn’t cling to beliefs that are no longer supported by the best available evidence. We have a serious climate change problem on our hands, and one of the most important tools we have to address it is nuclear power.

Miranda Devine: your god, not mine

I resent the charge that modern Australian society is the product of a Judeo-Christian heritage. In fact, if Miranda Devine wasn’t such a shining example of a literate simpleton I’d be offended by her saying so; and perhaps if she had any semblance of authority, we all should be.

The dextral dickhead columnist is yet again pining for the 1950s. This time her ire has been roused by the proposed switch from religious dating conventions (BC and AD) to secular dating conventions (BCE and CE) in the Australian school curriculum. At least she’s giving the rabidly inane homophobic rambling a rest.

To get stuck into the nuts and bolts of Devine’s thesis: where in the Bible is a democracy like ours supported? Or intelligence praised? What we actually find in the scriptures is a great deal about the virtue of blind faith in an all-powerful but deeply insecure Invisible Father Figure who wants us to feel guilty about being born and as penance, to worship His bloody murder of His own son (who is really Him in disguise). Logically, blind faith in such flagrant absurdities is violently incompatible with the scepticism intrinsic to a functioning democracy.

According to the Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen, to drop the ‘Before Christ’ and ‘Anno Domini’ (Latin for “in the year of our lord”) designations from dates represents an “intellectually absurd attempt to write Christ out of human history.” (This is one of the several quotations present in Miranda Devine’s tedious whinge, I’ll get to the rest.) Intellectually absurd? Really? What about the fact that there is very little evidence that Jesus of Nazareth actually existed? While we’re at it, even Isreali archeology has totally debunked the historical claims made in the Old Testament. But then, it’s supposed to be a ‘faith thing’, yeah?

One hopes that the argument being alluded to is that we’re writing the influence of the Bible out of history. (You can never be sure with these people.) We’re not. Children will still study the Dark Ages in the history curriculum, and the Bible was undeniably the beacon of the stultification of reason and progress that put the ‘dark’ in the Dark Ages. Familiarity with the Bible is also a prerequisite to gaining a proper appreciation of the works of Shakespeare. But what of the supposed biblical influence on modern Australian society?

Fred Nile, a serious contender for this year’s coveted No. 1 Dextral Dickhead Award, said making the letters that follow dates more accurate was “an absolute disgrace … the direction of the national curriculum is towards almost a Christian cleansing to remove from our history any references to the role Christianity had in the formation of Australia and still has today.” This act of intellectual high treason was echoed by the (aptly named) Federal Opposition education spokesman Christopher Pyne. Well, Fred, Chris, one could quite trivially make the case that a cleansing of the role of Christianity in our present society can only be a good thing. Watch me.

Last year, I attended the annual StepAhead Australia conference for spinal cord injury research. Many of the speakers agreed that curing literally thousands of complete spinal cord injuries is well within the grasp of modern science with the help of unused IVF embryos. So what’s stopping these treatments from being clinically trialled and deployed? The occasionally pervasive and reliably pernicious influence of Christian leaders on Western society, of course. Not bad, hey?

What happens when secularism increases in other democratic countries like Sweden, Denmark and Norway? Well, a cursory glance at the facts about the de-Christianized state of these countries supports the notion that we’re much better off without the superstitions, magical thinking and bankrupt morality of the Middle Eastern Bronze Age.

Australia was demonstrably not founded on Christian values, and we should thank goodness for that. Monotheism is inherently totalitarian, as demonstrated in countries like Iran where they still take the Man in the Sky seriously. Christian regimes are no better. Two minutes on Wikipedia will show you that the Vatican that existed when Australia was being settled was not a fine example of moral integrity, and things haven’t really improved in the interim. And as polemicist Christopher Hitchens rightly points out: the Church of England was founded on the family values of Henry VIII, and its ‘divine’ mandate has been abused to bolster some of the more objectionable behaviours the British Empire committed when they still believed their ridiculous theology was true. (Actually, the Church of England did sanction the genocide of Australia’s aboriginal population when the British first settled, so I should probably concede that the brutality of Christianity did have some influence on our nation’s early history, in synergy with the brutality of the settlers.) Even without factoring in the cruel homophobia and blatant sexism integral to these faiths, the case for Australia being in any way a Judeo-Christian society is a deeply problematic one.

What is so good about Judeo-Christian values, anyway? Why would anyone want to claim them as the valid foundation of a just society? The Ten Commandments aren’t stellar by any modern standard. Apparently God was more concerned about his sheep whoring with rival deities than with preventing child rape. If you must draw morality from a religion, what about Buddhism, which really does teach compassion (despite its flaws)? Or Jainism, perhaps the only religion that is actually centred around pacifism (Jainist extremists will fret over accidentally stepping on an ant, rather than decide to bomb unbelievers)? How about the reasoned ethics of Aristotle?

To get back to Jesus: turning the other cheek can be deeply unethical, but then the man-god Himself wasn’t exactly consistent with that point, was He? (See Luke 19:27.) Is sending sinners to roast for all eternity, as Jesus supposedly taught, an example of turning the other cheek? The profound inconsistencies in the Christian scriptures creates an egregious problem for everyone who wants to call their morality Christian. When practically everything can be justified by a proactive reading of the scriptures, the fact is that anyone can correctly claim their morality as Christian; therefore to call Australian society Judeo-Christian is at best meaningless, and at worst disingenuous.

To further complicate things, in order to meaningfully attach the label ‘Judeo-‘ to ‘Judeo-Christian’ in the strict context of religious ideology, you kind of have to profess the goodness of some really heinous shit in the rabbinical literature, including the Old Testament. Does Miranda Devine really propose we do that? Old Testament teachings certainly would have resonated with our nation’s early history, but we currently live in the 21st century.

When you strip Christianity down to its core teachings, to an outsider it’s clearly a cult of human sacrifice which revolves around the observance of necessary redemption by proxy because humans are born hopelessly abject (as the result of the original sins of a couple that simply didn’t exist) and in need of saving. I don’t think human sacrifice, self-hatred and vicarious redemption are very moral or (dare I say) very Australian. For perhaps 200,000 years before this Jesus figure is supposed to have existed, was the human species bereft of altruism, tribalism and empathy? If so, how did they learn anything, or even survive together? What about the overwhelming evidence garnered from recent advances in neurobiology that suggests solidarity and altruism had to be innate in humans from the dawn of the species?

Perhaps I’m not being fair. There is a general consensus of what constitutes Christian morality professed by the majority of those afflicted by this virulent memeplex, fundamentalists and moderates alike. This generally accepted narrative teaches that anyone can be saved from eternal punishment, regardless of how disagreeable or antisocial their behaviour is (see Acts 13:39). What you can’t be forgiven for is questioning the existence of the Holy Spirit. So the only thing you’re really not allowed to do is ask difficult questions, because to do so will quite literally land you in the lake of fire. Fortunately, this attitude isn’t exactly enshrined in Australia’s laws.

Often parroted by the faithful and accomodationists on the secular side is the refrain that Christianity can make people be more charitable. In contrast to this common misperception, neuroscientist Sam Harris conjectures that Christian values can be understood to be inherently psychopathic; good deeds are supposedly ‘rewarded’ with a ticket to heaven, sins are to be avoided because they lead to, well, that aforementioned eternal suffering thing. Never mind just being good just because it’s the right fucking thing to do. I don’t even need to break out the Euthyphro dilemma to demonstrate just how incredibly flawed the idea of theistic morality actually is. Australian values simply do not gel with biblical values.

A parsimonious and more optimistic explanation in light of evolution for the apparent charitableness of some devout Christians is that they are simply indulging their natural altruism, and they are choosing to dress this up in the language of Christianity. The same must be said of those who push the notion that there is anything biblical about the society we live in. But language is clearly misleading. Moreover, if religious groups want to claim acts of goodness done by themselves or their fellow adherents as earnest expressions of faith, then they automatically have to claim the countless wicked acts committed in the name of faith too. I’m not saying that religious faith inexorably leads to cruelty, I’m simply addressing this bullshit on its own terms. People are good or wicked regardless of their faith. But sometimes, really evil things can only be done with a great deal of faith.

I don’t believe that we live in a psychopathic or delusional society. Australia was not founded on the principles of guilt, blind faith or superstition. Australia, like any real democracy, is a direct product of the Enlightenment, also referred to as the Age of Reason. The Enlightenment was marked by a rise in secularism and the wider dissemination of ideas which lead to modern democracy. Since it was the Age of Reason that gave rise to our society, our public schools should be run in accordance with that noble tradition. To deny children secularism is to deny them the progressive spirit that has driven the phenomenal progress made in recent history.

We live in the Common Era, not Anno Domini. No one aside from a handful of illiterate Middle Eastern tribes was sitting around waiting for the messiah to show up before two thousand years ago; and only a fraction of their very literate descendants are still waiting. The Chinese were inventing writing and gunpowder. The Sumerians had cities built and complex mathematics long before the God of Abraham and Jesus was even dreamt up.

The thing about facts is that they’re indifferent to incoherently nebulous concepts frequently invoked by Devine and her ilk like ‘political correctness‘. Sorry Miranda, you can have your own opinions, but you can’t have your own facts. The little facts indicate that the big fact is, to put it simply: we do not live in a Judeo-Christian society. No one is murdered for not keeping the Sabbath holy. We prefer psychiatry to exorcism. Most people have sex before they get married. The Australian summer is far too uncomfortable to make modest dress practical. People tend to be afraid of death despite what they say they believe about the afterlife. Miranda, we’re really not that stupid.

This seems like a fairly innocuous topic to get worked up over, but it has its consequences. When we pay lip-service to the intellectually barren notion that Judeo-Christian values are influential on our culture, we give vocal Christian leaders like Fred Nile, Bob Katter and the Pope a chance to have their poisonously ignorant public ejaculations taken seriously. Generally we don’t listen to them, but sometimes those in power do, and that’s why we can’t have nice things like stem cell therapies or institutionalised tolerance for homosexuality. I propose we just drop it. The idea that our society is in any way biblical really is an absurd thing to cling to.

Australian society as it is today is not a product of anything that could accurately be called a Judeo-Christian heritage. Our society is the product of the values rooted in the tradition of the Age of Reason. The values integral to our democracy exist in spite of our frequent mistaken nods to a dubious Judeo-Christian tradition. It’s time we grew out of our superstitions and ritualized lip-services. So no, I’m not insulted by Miranda Devine because as ever, she clearly has no idea what the fuck she’s talking about.