Entries tagged with “Australiana”.


Yeah, well, y’know. I’m just not sure I want these people tampering with my wiring.

You may remember that some time back I told you about the exceedingly odd Bleeding Tooth Fungus that grew in my backyard. Well now, after Violet Towne spotted the above seaweed-like stuff on our driveway the other day, I think I may have to start up a new Cow Category called ‘Weird Shit That Mysteriously Appears In My Garden’. There were dozens of clumps of it, and it looks just like something you might find on the beach at low tide.1 Only we’re 20 kilometers away from the nearest ocean, and this stuff was still damp.

Turns out that this is the colony form of a rehydrated genus of cyanobacteria called Nostoc. Nostoc can be found pretty much everywhere in the world, and due to the bacteria’s ability to survive (and even thrive) in harsh environments it is even quite happy in the Arctic and Antarctic.

Most of the time the Nostoc colony goes completely unnoticed, but after a lot of rain, it may swell up into jelly-like blobs such as the ones in my garden. Its sudden appearance on the ground with no apparent cause has earned it the folk name of Star Jelly, as it was thought to have fallen from the sky.

Nostoc is also known (much more evocatively) as Witches’ Butter or Troll’s Butter and some species are in fact eaten, particularly in Asia where people seem to delight in gobbling down disgusting things. There’s no way I’m chowing down on it. For one thing it’s been found to containe Beta-methylamino L-alanine, a toxic amino acid that has been implicated in degenerative brain diseases.2

I have a simple dietary guideline in this respect: Never eat or drink anything that looks or smells like some kind of biological excretion. It has served me well thus far.

  1. Or in a troll’s nostril. []
  2. Although I have to say that in my opinion anyone who would consider eating it is well along the degenerative brain disease path in the first place… []


Image CSIRO

The Conversation is carrying an enormously insightful article by Dr Matthew Bailes, the Pro-Vice Chancellor of Research at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne.

Dr Bailes was one of the discoverers of the ‘diamond planet’ that you can’t fail to have heard about recently if you follow any kind of science news. It even made a sizeable appearance in the mainstream media all across the world.

…the diamond planet has been hugely successful in igniting public curiosity about the universe in which we live… Our host institutions were thrilled with the publicity and most of us enjoyed our 15 minutes of fame. The attention we received was 100% positive, but how different that could have been.

How so? Well, we could have been climate scientists.

As Dr Bailes goes on to point out, the scientific process involved in discovering a diamond planet is exactly the same scientific process involved in gathering data on climate change. And yet, the media and the general public is happy to accept the scientific community’s assessment of one and not the other.

I highly recommend you read this article and Tweet it, Like it and otherwise recommend it to your friends.

(Oh, and seriosuly, make sure you subscribe – for free – to The Conversation. Real news, real journalism, no agenda. As it should be.)

The beginning of Spring has seen our garden leap spectacularly into bloom this year, probably a consequence of all the rain we’ve been having. VT and I have a mostly native Australian garden with the occasional European intruder (either remnant plants from the garden that was here before, or things we’ve planted for some nostalgic reason).

The little flower you see here is a native plant called boronia. This one is a cultivar of the common or ‘brown’ boronia which looks similar but is more brown (duh) with a yellow inner petal, giving it the appearance of having been painted on the inside.

It’s an unprepossessing little plant in visual terms – its charm is mostly in its scent. The perfume is a little tricky to describe for you because it doesn’t really smell like anything else. It’s a delightful, sweet, almost sugary floral scent, very pretty, but delicate and not at all sickly. It is also quite ephemeral – you get little wafts of it on the breeze, or in the evening, but it’s very subtle if you smell it directly.

One of the very interesting things about the scent of the boronia is that some people can’t smell it at all. It’s estimated that between 12% and 20% of people have ‘boronia anosmia’. No-one really knows why, and I have been unable to uncover any research into it.

Atheists are the most hated minority group in America. From About.com:

Lead researcher of the University of Minnesota Study on American Attitudes Towards Atheists & Atheism, Penny Edgell said that she was surprised by this [result]: “We thought that in the wake of 9/11, people would target Muslims. Frankly, we expected atheists to be a throwaway group.” Nevertheless, the numbers are so extreme that she was led to conclude that they are “a glaring exception to the rule of increasing tolerance over the last 30 years…

“Given the relatively low number of atheists in America, and the even lower number who are public about their atheism, Americans can’t have come to their beliefs about atheists through personal experience and hard evidence about what atheists are really like.”

Although it’s unlikely that Australians are quite as polarized as Americans, I imagine Professor Edgell’s speculation in that last paragraph still holds for us. Because, when all’s said and done, this is the sum of The Terrifying Atheist Agenda:

OK, well, as I hinted in the first part of my examination of Transforming Melbourne‘s hysterical Christian diatribe, I’ve saved the most misleading and offensive portion of it until last. As I’ve been writing, I’ve realised that it was getting rather longer than I like, so I’m going to break my analysis up into chunks, and intersperse them with other funnier stuff. See how much I love you all?

Shall we resume?

After making some valid points about the current role of religion in Australian society,1 Mr Isaachsen eventually says what is on his mind. And what an enlightening glimpse into the thinking of a religious person it is:

SOCIETY UNDER ATHEISM
Atheists have a very powerful voice in the media in Australia, frequently broadcasting biased opinions about the importance of rejecting all religion (especially Christianity) claiming it is of no value to society, is non-rational and a deception to the population. They have staged major conferences (including with government assistance) to promote atheism and denigrate religion and are calling on governments to end to the opportunity for any Christian content to be allowed in state schools and certainly to cease any funding for such!

Whoa. I’m almost tempted to laugh here, so hyperbolic does this document become in such a short few sentences. Atheists have a very powerful voice in the Australian media? Really? That comes as a big surprise to me, and I am pretty tuned in to such things. I think what is most upsetting for Mr Isaachsen and his Church is that atheists are actually voicing any opinion at all. He makes it sound like atheists are in control of the airwaves in Australia and that is very far from the truth. If there is anything surprising at all about atheist voices in the Australian media, it is that they have mostly been conspicuous by their absence until recent times. Atheist opinions are significantly challenging for the Church, which has for most of Australian history, had a kind of carte blanche – an unspoken imprimatur, even – to do be the sole arbiter of morality and ethics in Australian life. They really don’t like having that status quo questioned. And the pointed addition of ‘They have staged major conferences (including with government assistance)’ is spectacularly petty. Any assistance given to humanist, rationalist or atheist movements, as Mr Isaachsen must clearly be aware, is a piss in the ocean compared to the kind of government benefits accrued by religions in Australia. Is he trying to get Christians annoyed that some of their tax dollar is going to atheists? Well, sir, welcome to our grievance.

Mr Isaachsen accuses atheists of having biased opinions – a self-evident proposition if ever there was one. They’re hardly going to be unbiased when dealing with the enormous self-righteousness of Christians. He probably believes his bias is superior because he’s got God on his side…

In a vast and incorrect generalization he blankly states that atheists claim that religion ‘is of no value to society’. I doubt you’d find many atheists who would be that extreme and that declamatory. Religion quite evidently has brought value to society, but the question is how much currency that value now has, what that value actually is, and how important or relevant is the religious component of that value? This is a big problem for religion, and for Christians in particular, because their morality and their charity is so caught up in the edict of Jesus to evangelize that they simply can’t understand that good deeds can be, and are, done without an agenda imposed by a supernatural agency.

For example, earlier in the Transforming Melbourne tract, Mr Isaachsen has gone to great pains to point out all the wonderful things that Christian charities have achieved, and the heavy implication is that without them, non-religious people would commit no charitable acts of any kind, ever. He neglects to mention that huge compassionate non-profit organizations like Amnesty International, Médecins Sans Frontières, Malaria No More, Humanist Charities, the Red Cross and many, many others operate without having heeded ‘Jesus’ call to compassion and justice’. What’s more, these organizations can easily be argued to be more selfless than any of Mr Isaachsen’s examples of Christian charity, for the simple reason that they act out of human compassion and human compassion alone. They are not acting on a command to be good, or being goaded on by the Big Carrot of Heaven or the Big Stick of Hell.

Rob Isaachsen is trying to paint a picture that says an atheist can have no compassion, no care, no charity, no love, no human empathy. And yet it is a trivial task to show he is wrong. He might do well to reflect on the fact that one sincere act of atheist kindness makes nonsense of his whole religion.

[…to be continued…]

  1. Contrary to what Rob Isaachsen and his fellow Transformers think, rational people like myself can see that various Churches have done good things for Australian society. What we question is not the charitable acts, but the motivations behind them. []