Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The Unlucky Country

Australia has been known as The Lucky Country. Perhaps we should rename it The Unlucky Country, given the never-ending mishaps that seem to befall the country. 

The climate has warmed by more than one degree Celsius over the past century, causing an increase in the frequency and intensity of heatwaves and droughts. Eight of Australia's ten warmest years on record have occurred since 2005. 

These conditions lead to bushfires that are concentrated mostly in the states of New South Wales and Victoria. The southeast coast is the most severely affected, but fires have also hit every Australian state and territory this season. 

Since September, at least 24 million acres of Australia have burned in one of the country’s worst fire seasons on record. That’s an area larger than Portugal, and more than 12 times the area that burned in California in 2018, the state’s most destructive year for wildfires (Vox, January 13, 2020). 

According to the European Union’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service, Australia’s bushfires have released 400 megatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Burning huge swaths of forest introduces carbon stored in biomass back into the atmosphere, and that carbon will stay there essentially as long as it takes the forest to regrow. 

Where the fires have been quelled, a blackened desolation remains, with thousands of homes lost and communities uprooted. 

Videos of singed kangaroos and parched koalas prompted an outpouring of grief on social media. 

And as the bushfires are being controlled, massive dust storms appear in New South Wales on Sunday, blanketing entire towns and blacking out the sun. Images from the ground showed huge, rolling clouds of dust, at least ten stories high. The dust storm moved fast, darkening neighborhoods in minutes and obscuring what previously was a blue sky. 

The rains came too. But, they weren't enough to put out the flames, and likely won't be enough to end the drought. 

Experts repeatedly sounded the alarm that the extreme heat, drought, wildfires and dust are symptoms of Australia's climate crisis. 

And not just the rains but parts of southeastern Australia were pelted by hailstones, measuring about 2 inches (5 centimeters) wide the size of golf balls, big enough to smash car windows and injure birds, less than 24 hours after this part of the country was hit by humongous dust storms.

Image credit: Twitter @Tom_Swann, Caberra, Australia, January 19, 2020

Tom Swann, a researcher at the Australian Institute based in Canberra said he found an injured cockatoo that "screeched horribly" and took it to the vet, where there was a "steady stream of injured birds coming in". 

"Someone behind us at the vet brought in another galah (Scientific name: Eolophus roseicapilla), another brought a currawong (Genus: Strepera; Family: Artamidae); another a crow (Genus: Corvus; Family Corvidae)", he told CNN. 

And yet, prime minister Scott Morrison has been really slow to respond and worse, he has clearly underestimated the severity of climate change. 

Morrison (left) is the politician who is notorious for a stunt he pulled in 2017, when, as Australia's treasurer, he showed up to a session of Parliament brandishing a lump of coal and a message to his colleagues not to be “scared” by fossil fuels. 

He came to power in 2018 in an internal party coup that unseated then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, whose attempts to set targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions were resisted by rivals within the right-wing Liberal Party. 

Under his watch, Australia stopped payments to the Green Climate Fund, the UN-backed mechanism that assists developing countries hit by climate disaster. When the United Nations chaired a climate meeting in September in New York, Morrison skipped the session. 

And in last month's major climate conference in Madrid, Morrison's government came under particular criticism for thwarting collective efforts to set meaningful emissions targets. 

A report published last month by a group of think tanks that ranked 57 countries on their national climate action policies placed Australia sixth from bottom. 

Another study published in November ranked Australia as third-worst among the Group of 20 nations. Though Australia just produces a bit more than 1 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, it's the world's biggest exporter of coal, whose use is a major factor in the warming of the planet. 

In the midst of the crisis, Morrison persists in his climate denial, pointing to a long history of seasonal fires. No big deal, he seems to be telling Australians. 

How unlucky to have him as prime minister!

The Joker Star Gets Another Award

Joaquin Phoenix added yet another notch to his awards season belt at this year's 2020 Screen Actors Guild Awards. 

The Joker star (left) was honored Sunday night with the outstanding performance by a male actor in a film. 

The talented Phoenix has been on a winning streak for his portrayal of Arthur Fleck, a failing stand-up who descends into darkness. He offers one of the iconic character's most discomforting live-action interpretations, examining how a man succumbs to insanity and nihilism and ends up launching a violent revolution against Gotham City's elite.

Check out these cute protest signs for your cocktails:

This set of 24 PICK-ITS cocktail picks (with 12 different sayings) is available for just $7 from Fred.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Facebook Insult China's Xi Jinping

Facebook insulted Chinese President Xi Jinping. 

It happened during the latter’s much-touted 2-day visit (January 17-18, 2020) to Myanmar – the first made by a Chinese leader in almost two decades – and the historic occasion was blighted by the automatic translation feature on Myanmar’s Facebook page! 

It rendered Xi Jinping’s name from Burmese into English as “Mr Shithole”. 

Now, that is abhorrent, repugnant and disrespectful. 

The name gaffe most notably appeared on the official Facebook page of Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi. 

The offending examples: 

"Mr Shithole, President of China arrives at 4 PM", said a translated announcement posted on Saturday. 

"President of China, Mr. Shithole, signed a guest record of the house of representatives". 

Facebook had since apologized. 

The company spokesperson told AFP the social platform "has fixed the issue regarding Burmese to English translations" on their site. 

Still, an insult is an insult. 

FYI, both countries exchanged memoranda of understanding, letters and protocols covering 33 projects and in the process, buttressing bilateral relations and advancing Beijing's ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, in which Myanmar is a key player.

Legal Challenge Against Lynas' Licence Renewal

Hooray! Lynas Corp on Friday confirmed a legal challenge has been lodged against the Malaysian government's decision to renew their operating licence. 

The Australian rare earths mining company said they had received documents filed by three individuals commencing judicial review proceedings in the High Court of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur. 

The grounds of the legal challenge relate to the process followed by the government in reaching a decision to renew Lynas' licence in August last year despite public concerns over toxic waste from their operations which could impact on the health of those living nearby, and to the environment. 

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad (right) defied an election promise in 2018, and members of his own cabinet, when he agreed to fresh conditions last year that would allow Lynas to continue operating in Malaysia if they agreed to extract the toxic waste offshore. 

And Lynas were given six months to meet the new conditions and are expected to announce details of expansion plans that will extract this radioactive waste in Western Australia before being exported to Malaysia for further processing. 

The legal challenge states the decision to renew the licence should have been made by the Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin (left), and not the cabinet. 

Mahathir, twenty-seven other ministers and cabinet members, the Government of Malaysia and the Atomic Energy Licensing Board have also been named as respondents to the legal action.

Mahathir, if he can have his own way, will have chosen the cabinet below:

Liverpool FC Anthem: You'll Never Walk Alone

Every Liverpool fan should know this song, You’ll Never Walk Alone:
And yesterday’s EPL game against old foes Manchester United saw Liverpool emerged victorious with a good 2-0 scoreline. 

Although we dominated – yet it wasn’t a straightforward home win as we would have liked. Sure, Jurgen Klopp's side were the superior side but we faced late pressure from the Red Devils – and we had to wait until stoppage time to put the game to bed.

Virgil van Dijk had wonderfully opened the scoring on 14 minutes with a powerful header to give us the lead. And Mohamed Salah (90+3) delivered an epic conclusion to the high-octane match, as he latched onto Alisson Becker‘s delivery, raced fast and furious and fired past the Man U goalkeeper. 

With a game in hand on second-placed Manchester City, Liverpool's grip on the title race tightened. Not to mention, a 16-point lead.

Liverpool have kept on winning – and it has become a habit, and a hard one to kick. 

That 1-1 draw against the Reds earlier in the season (i.e. October 20) had become a mere footnote. Indeed, we are ready to take on every challenge – and still stay triumphant and yes, to finally win that elusive title!

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Donald Trump Tells New Yorkers to Get Ready Mops and Buckets

A proposal is on the table to build a six-mile barrier around New York which would shield the city as sea levels surge and ferocious squalls become more common and extreme due to climate change. 

The US Army Corps of Engineers had forecasted the cost of the sea wall to be $119 billion and it will take 25 years to construct. It is essentially a barricade of man-made islands with retractable gates. 

But its critics contended that the bulwark would not be able to guard against flooding from high tides and storm overflow and could shut in sewage and toxins that could damage NYC’s ecology. 

And even if construction is to go smoothly, opponents say, the barrier could be obsolete within decades because, they say, the Corps’s estimates of future sea levels are too low. 

Yesterday, Donald Trump (right) waded in when he tweeted: “A massive 200 Billion Dollar Sea Wall, built around New York to protect it from rare storms, is a costly, foolish & environmentally unfriendly idea that, when needed, probably won’t work anyway”. 

And he added: “It will also look terrible. Sorry, you’ll just have to get your mops & buckets ready!” 

Now we know why the US president, who had previously claimed global warming is a "hoax" invented by China, moved to Florida – although the New York Times suggested he did so for tax purposes. 

Anyway, plans for a sea wall remain in the early stages and the Army Corps of Engineers are also looking at other options to safeguard New York. 

Somebody please tell Trump he cannot compare the structure intended to mitigate the impact of storms to a border wall. 

As someone said: “The bees that live inside (the) president’s head are buzzing extra loudly (that Saturday)”. LOL!

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Reckless Drivers and Needless Deaths

Another Malayan tapir (Scientific name: Acrocodia indica) became a roadkill. 

Johor Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) director Salman Saaban said the carcass was discovered by passersby on Thursday. 

He said based on information given, the tapir was hit at midnight on Wednesday. 

He added that this was the third case of a tapir who was fatally rammed by a vehicle in Johor in January alone. He pointed out that the first case occurred on January 05 at Batu 20 along Jalan Kota Tinggi-Mersing while the second incident on January 13 was along Jalan Tanjung Balau-Sedili Kecil. 

I’m feeling sad. Reckless drivers and needless deaths.

Barisan Nasional won the Kimanis by-election having secured a majority of 2,029 votes. Mohamad Alamin collected 12,706 votes against Parti Warisan Sabah’s Karim Bujang’s 10,677. 

I’m not too surprised by BN’s victory because Warisan are Pakatan Harapan’s allies and Shafie Apdal's party are being punished. 

Pakatan Harapan is a dirty word! 

The Kimanis parliamentary seat in Sabah was declared vacant after the Federal Court on December 02 upheld the Election Court's ruling, nullifying former foreign minister Anifah Aman's victory in GE14. Anifah had won the seat with a 156-vote majority, securing 11,942 votes against Karim's 11,786 votes while another candidate, Jaafar Ismail of Parti Harapan Rakyat Sabah, obtained 1,300 votes.

And in case you're keeping score:

Grawlixes: Creative Obfuscations of Certain Words

What the #@*% Is a ‘Grawlix'?

It’s a typographical symbol standing in for profanities, usually appearing in dialogue balloons in place of actual dialogue. It indicates feelings such as anger, confusion, obscenity, resentment and other likely emotions behind the language 

The grawlix originates in American comics, and was defined by Mort Walker in a 1964 article that was later collected in the 1980 book The Lexicon of Comicana. 

I am asking myself this question – should I now use grawlixes?

Friday, January 17, 2020

National Nothing Day

This is really intriguing, perhaps even kooky.

I read that in the US of A, yesterday, January 16 was actually National Nothing Day. 

San Francisco Examiner columnist Harold Pullman Coffin created the holiday in 1973 "to provide Americans with one national holiday when they can just sit without celebrating, observing, or honoring anything".

This holiday of nothing has continued to be celebrated, I think. It's pretty hard to measure the popularity of a holiday where you do nothing!

I am making a promise here that next year, I will observe National Nothing Day!

Yesterday, I was again at an EcoWorld Toastmasters meeting – but at a different venue, i.e. Bukit Bintang City Center in Kuala Lumpur. I was there to take up the role of General Evaluator. 

The Lunar New Year mood is already present and just as on Wednesday, we had "yee sang"!