Thursday, December 31, 2009

New year's resolutions

I make 'em all year round... and I'm not very good at keeping 'em. This year, I refer you to my friend Shayne's blog for a list she posted from a teacher at her daughter's school.

Happy new year!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Quantum lords a-leaping

"Quantum leap" is one of the most misunderstood terms in the modern idiom. People use it to mean an enormous, almost impossible passage from one point to another, and then others complain that, because quantum theory is actually used to describe the universe at the most minuscule scales, a quantum leap is actually a very tiny step. I was one of those people, until yesterday.

I finally finished reading The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene. This marathon explanation of the workings of String Theory took me a few years to digest, mainly because I was mostly reading it in bed–and there is no cure for insomnia like a good dose of supersymmetry!

Despite regularly feeling as though I'd never wrap my brain around the concept of branes, I must have managed to absorb some fundamentals, because it occurred to me in the middle of Chapter 13 that a "quantum leap", like a four-dimensional sphere, bridges both a very short distance and a very large distance, depending on how you look at it. So the idiom as it is widely understood is actually correct, and the pedants (me included) are not wrong, but not completely right either.

Last night when I closed the cover of the book for the last time and turned out the bedside light, I dreamed of Calabi-Yau spaces. Now I've ticked that book off the list of classic texts I must read before I die, I'm not sure what's next: perhaps it's time for me to tackle Marcel Proust at last. Can anyone recommend a good English edition of Swann's Way?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Cutting off your nose...

While I'm on the subject of politicians who can't make a brave decision (*cough* Copenhagen *cough*), what's up with the Greens? I can't believe they voted against the proposed emissions trading scheme (ETS).

As my grandmother used to say, it's like "cutting off your nose to spite your face".

When John Howard begrudgingly gave us the chance to vote on whether Australia should be a republic, he framed the question so that we had to agree to a particular presidential model at the same time. So, despite the fact that more than two-thirds of Australians want to live in a republic, many of them voted "No" in the referendum because they didn't like the model that was proposed. And many of them told me, "We'll vote 'Yes' next time, when they offer us a different model".

I argued that any republic is better than no republic, and any model of presidential election is not going to please everyone. I warned several of my friends and family that there would not be a "next time": Hello! Ten years later, is there any sign of another referendum? Not even close!

This, it seems to me, is what the Greens have done with the ETS. Surely, any ETS is better than no ETS: but, no, the Greens said, "It doesn't go far enough, so we'll vote against it". What they should have done is voted for it, then campaigned for additional, stronger measures in subsequent bills.

There are an awful lot of noseless politicians around Canberra this year.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Playing politics

So, I sent off my protest against the stupid Reclaim Your Vote campaign that the Sydney Morning Herald is running. Today's newspaper claims they have collected approximately 19,500 signatures online and 3000 by mail, and the accompanying opinion piece (written by an Opposition flunky) declares this evidence of the need for a public recall option for elections in NSW. He does, however, add the following caveat:

Yes, recall elections would represent a serious constitutional change. The proportion of the population petitioning for a recall election would have to be suitably large so that interest groups are not able to hijack the political process.

Note those words, it would require a "suitably large" proportion of the population. Now, let's do some maths, kiddies:

Let x= the number of people who want to "reclaim their vote"; let y= the population of NSW. If you divide x by y and multiply it by 100, you get z= the percentage of the population who want an end to fixed terms for state pollies.

22,500 divided by 6,980,000 equals approximately 0.32 per cent.

That means a whopping 99.68 per cent want to stick with fixed terms, either because they believe it's a good system, or because they don't really care either way. What do you think, Andrew? Is 0.32 per cent a suitably large proportion to justify faffing around with the Constitution?

I agree that the current government is doing nothing for the state. I think they should suck it up, spend the next 12 months making hard, unpopular decisions that will have a lasting, positive effect on public infrastructure and social issues, then get voted out with a small shred of their dignity intact at the end of their term. I know that, instead, they will probably spend the next 12 months fighting internal faction wars and achieving nothing of importance. But I don't think that allowing a disaffected minority of the population to petition for more elections (when we can hardly be bothered to vote wisely in the ones we've got) is going to make the pollies of any stripe more accountable; I think it will make them even less likely to do anything that takes real political courage.

His Honour quoted something he'd read recently, and I'm not sure who wrote it: "The Right Wing of the Labor Party are not interested in running the state, they are only interested in running the ALP". I think that just about says it all.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Xmas tree

Here's this year's christmas tree. It's about 50cm high, with a base the size of a dinner plate. I made it out of green wool bouclé, stitched over a cardboard cone. Giant gold rick-rack stands in for a strand of tinsel. The star is a pale creamy-gold printed cotton fabric stuck to a cardboard template, with the edges turned under: I made two and whip-stitched them together around the edges.

The green bouclé fabric remnant was 2.5m x 140cm wide; so I've got more than two metres left over. I think it might make a nice winter skirt, but there's probably enough fabric for two or three skirts. Who wants the leftovers?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Democracy: can't live with it...

This is the form I'm going to send in to the Sydney Morning Herald to add to their call for a referendum on fixed terms for the State Government of NSW.

Yes, we are all sick of the current Labor government with its faction-based leadership spills every other month but, hey, we voted for them. It's time the electorate faced up to the consequences of their actions.
It's all very well demanding the right to force a democratically elected government to hold an election every time they make a policy choice you don't agree with, but what are you really going to achieve by doing it? You'll just vote in another slightly different bunch of politicians, none of whom will be prepared to take any really tough but necessary decisions, for fear of losing power at the next (early) election.
In this particular case, look at the options: if you were able to put public pressure on the government to hold an election now, who would you vote for? Or, more importantly, what would you be voting for? Can you tell me what Barry O'Farrell's party policy is on any of the major issues that are facing our state? Or do you just want to get rid of Kristina Keneally because you don't like her American accent, or her friends?
Instead of wasting our time complaining when the democratic processes of our constitution actually work--that is, we had a change of leadership in a majority parliamentary party without an assassination or military coup--we should remember the other way that democracy works: if you don't like a government's decision, lobby your local member; join a public advocacy group; sign or start a petition to the government about a REAL issue. Don't just stamp your feet and say, "I want an election, and I want it NOW".