Filing from the front

Hugh Stevenson Roberton – or “Peter Snodgrass”.
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HUGH Stevenson Roberton is arguably the most remarkable person who has written for The Land – a farmer and farm leader, columnist, author, soldier, Menzies government minister and Australia’s first ambassador to Ireland.

And for most of his stellar career he kept writing his fortnightly articles for The Land under the pseudonym “Peter Snodgrass”, the name of a character in a play written by his father, Sir Hugh Roberton, a famous Scottish choral music composer and conductor.

Roberton had carried his Hermes typewriter in a metal box during his stint as an anti-tank gunner with the 9th Division in the Middle East during the Second World War so he could keep writing his columns for The Land.

His commanding officer turned a blind eye when he tossed away his gas mask and spare pair of boots so he could carry his typewriter, nor did he ever have any problems with wartime censors.

* Read more about some of The Land’s legendary columnists in our 100-page Centenary liftout free inside the January 27 issue.

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Dairy despair at Coles cut

THE Queensland Dairyfarmers’ Organisation (QDO) has hit out at the decision by supermarket giant Coles to cut the price of its ‘supermarket brand’ milk, warning that the move will place significant financial strain and pressure on already stressed farming families.
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Earlier today, Coles announced that it would be taking advantage of the earnings downturn faced by rival Woolworths to launch a heavily discounted milk offer to tempt shoppers into its supermarkets.

QDO President Brian Tessmann said dairy farmers across the country woke this morning to the unpleasant news, and said that milk prices are under unsustainable downward pressure from the retailers.

Coles will terminate its Smart Buy milk brand and reduce the price of its house brand milk to become its new flagship offering.

The price of a Coles brand two-litre carton of lite milk will come down to $2, a 33 per cent discount in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland. Coles full-cream milk will also be cut down to $2.

“We are now facing the bleak prospect of retail milk prices reaching a point that is unsustainable for the milk value chain. This will flow back through the processing sector and ultimately to farmers,” said Mr Tessmann.

“It is kicking family farmers when they are down. This is happening at a time when the industry is battling the devastation of the massive Queensland floods.

“These floods are taking a heavy financial and emotional toll on farmers, and for Coles to give farmers this announcement on Australia Day is cruel and insensitive. We want our farmers to have confidence in the future and to be rebuilding their businesses after the flood,” said Mr Tessman.

The QDO said that what is ultimately a publicity ploy from Coles will mean farmers will ultimately be paying for the advertising bill.

Mr Tessman said that Coles’ assertion that the price drop would not affect milk processors and dairy farmers was simply wrong.

“We know from a recent Senate Inquiry that the growing trend toward supermarket brand milk is putting a squeeze on the value chain and ultimately the farmer. This price drop will increase the price difference between large retailer ‘supermarket brand’ milk and milk processor branded milk. So of course shoppers will opt for supermarket brand milk and, with that, lower returns go to processors and that will flow on to the farm gate.

“We know that already the price differential between supermarket-brand and branded milk sucks about $90 million from the value chain in Queensland alone every year,” said Mr Tessman.

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Swan opts to fight states, not the miners

Wayne Swan.This time last year, Wayne Swan had spent his holidays reading a top-secret copy of the Henry review, which urged a 40 per cent tax on the mining industry.
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A year on, with one prime minister removed after taking on the miners, the Treasurer’s holiday reading was a far cry from Dr Henry’s tome.

Shortly before Christmas, the former BHP chairman Don Argus handed Swan a report outlining the much watered-down resource rent tax, which has been welcomed by the big miners.

But although he now has much of the industry on side, Swan’s quest to extract more tax from the mining industry is far from over.

After what he admits was a ”bruising” encounter with mining heavyweights in 2010, Swan has effectively swapped a fight with the miners for a stoush with the states.

He is now pleading with Queensland and Western Australia to cap future mining royalties to keep the industry competitive – and the states are having none of it.

Swan’s decision to take on the states raises questions about just how powerful the mining heavyweights have become, with the industry expected to resume hostilities if the government cannot get the states on side.

Making matters more complex, Swan’s showdown with the states comes amid growing evidence Australia should be saving more of the proceeds from the once-in-a-century resources bonanza.

In the turbulent weeks after Julia Gillard replaced Kevin Rudd, quelling the mining industry’s anger was a top priority in Canberra.

She largely achieved this in early July, signing a breakthrough agreement with the big three – BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Xstrata – to soften the tax considerably.

Rather than the 40 per cent tax proposed by Henry, it was agreed miners would pay effective tax rates of 22.5 per cent and enjoy generous deductions. Miners called off their anti-government ad campaign, and restarted work on shelved projects worth billions to the economy.

But although Gillard’s deal with the miners was hailed as a smart political move at the time, it now looks like a temporary solution.

In the secret July negotiations, the boss of BHP, Marius Kloppers, insisted that all state royalties – including future increases – would be refunded by the federal government.

Canberra later hinted it might not credit all future royalties because this would amount to writing states a blank cheque, but Argus’s report affirmed that all future royalties should be refunded.

Swan is widely expected to adopt this recommendation, and has already called on states to promise they won’t increase royalties.

However, the request has been met with vocal opposition from the premiers of Queensland and Western Australia, setting the scene for heated negotiations this year.

The floods – expected to slash Queensland’s royalty revenue – add another layer of complexity. Nevertheless, Swan has elected to fight the states rather than risk provoking the miners. His willingness to do so raises questions about just how powerful the mining industry has become.

The opposition’s spokesman on mining, Ian Macfarlane, says it is now clear the government rushed to sign a deal without fully understanding the consequences. While he opposes the tax in principle, Macfarlane also recognises the power the Big Three held over government.

”I suspect that the government has got itself so far in that they will have to bow down to the mining companies. They got skinned and that’s a fact,” he says.

”The mining companies have achieved the effective abolition of state royalties.” Macfarlane doesn’t blame the miners for this – instead pointing the finger at Canberra’s failure to consult with the industry and states before it announced the original 40 per cent tax.

On the government’s side, the Labor senator Doug Cameron is even more frank about how miners have thrown their weight around this year. ”I think the behaviour of the miners is the most overt case of big business using their power and privileged place in society to protect their own individual interests,” Cameron says.

”This is going to be something that is debated for many years, in relation to how you can ensure the national interest is placed before the interests of mega-rich mining magnates.” More sympathetic observers, however, say the miners were able to make a convincing argument against paying more tax because the public identified with the industry.

A former head of the Minerals Council, David Buckingham, says miners benefited from a perception that the industry had been an important factor in Australia weathering the global financial crisis. Over the previous decade, he says, the industry had also remade its public image around its handling of environmental and Aboriginal issues.

”There’s been an evolution in the position of the industry. I don’t think it’s simply been a case of a big ugly industry using its muscle,” says Buckingham, who supported the concept of a super profits tax.

Whatever the reasons for the government’s backdown, the miners’ strong influence over government will linger.

If Canberra cannot reach a deal with the states, miners have made it clear they will consider restarting their campaign of destabilisation.

In the weeks before Christmas, the boss of Xstrata Coal, Peter Freyberg, repeated his warning that the company would review $20 billion in planned projects if the government failed to refund all royalties.

Indeed, some official sources suggest the mining companies are deliberately seeking to exploit the government’s razor-thin majority in the lower house in anticipation of the debate heating up.

Small miners – who remain deeply opposed to the tax – would only need to convince a few rural independents to oppose the tax to defeat it. Coalition senators are now leading an inquiry which has aired small miners’ concerns, and is scrutinising the government’s deal with the big three.

In spite of this tension between the government and smaller miners over the tax, there is growing economic evidence that now is the right time for a meaningful resource rent tax. In November, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said the government’s mining tax was too narrow – and it should tax more products than iron ore, coal and gas.

While it supported the tax overall, the OECD said this focus on only parts of the resources sector could distort investment and would hurt its ability to raise revenue.

The governor of the Reserve Bank, Glenn Stevens, has also reminded the government that with a once-in-a-century mining boom gathering pace, now could be a good time to increase public sector saving.

In a November speech, he suggested a ”stabilisation fund” that could offset some of the volatility of a commodities boom led by China and India. Stevens didn’t mention the mining tax – but it’s increasingly clear the watered-down MRRT won’t be taking much heat out of the mining boom.

An economist at the Grattan Institute, Saul Eslake, is blunt when asked if the tax could help deal with some of the challenges of the two-speed economy. ”No, because it was not intended to, and now it would seem there are so few companies that are going to pay it,” Eslake says.

Even among companies which will pay the tax – it only applies to those earning more than $50 million a year – there are doubts it will raise the revenue Canberra claims.

According to official estimates, it will raise $7.4 billion, down from the previous $10.5 billion predicted before the election and $12 billion under Rudd’s super profits tax.

The government says the latest revision was driven by the strong Australian dollar, but analysts say the forecast was more likely slashed after officials consulted with companies about how the tax would be paid in practice.

And with each downgrade in how much revenue it will raise, the government is also pushing the friendship with the Greens, needed to pass it through the Senate in 2011.

The Greens leader, Bob Brown, sent the government a reminder in late December that his support is not guaranteed. He described the tax as a ”patched-up deal between the government and the mining barons”. He prefers the 40 per cent tax favoured by Rudd, and it is not clear whether he will support the mineral resource rent tax.

Cobbling together support from Brown, miners and the premiers of mining boom states won’t be easy. But this is the task facing Swan if he is to make the mining tax a reality.

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Price hikes to hit hard for pensioners on pills

The price of Panadol Osteo, made by GlaxoSmithKline, is about to rise. Picture: SuppliedMAKING commonly used medications more expensive could lead to unforeseen complications, pharmacists say, particularly for pensioners and others on a tight budget.
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Pharmaceuticals giantGlaxoSmithKline has announced it will liftthe price of Panadol Osteo by 50 per cent on Friday, at the same time that it, and other common over-the-counter medicines, includingaspirin, and folic acid supplements,arede-listed from the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

The result is a significant price increase, according tothePharmacy Guild of Australia and Health MinsterSussan Ley who has askedtheAustralian Competition and Consumer Commission to investigate.

The minister is also urging consumers to shop around, suggesting there aremore than 30 equally-effective paracetamolalternatives for osteoarthritis sufferers.

Pharmacy Guild Executive Director David Quilty is pushing for the de-listing of Panadol Osteo from the PBS to be reversed, given that the decision was made on the basis it would continue to be available over the counter at comparable prices.

Based on the guild’s analysis, those with a concession card will pay up to $142more per year for Panadol Osteothan they did with a prescription under the PBS.

Windale pharmacist Susan Van said customers were very unhappy about the price hikes,with complaints from more than 100 people so far.“A lot of our patients are elderly patients and they all have arthritisof some form,’’ she said.

GOING UP: Changes to the PBS may lead to complications for some patients who use common medications, says Windale pharmacist Susan Van. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

There was a serious risk that patients may start substituting with other medications still available under the PBS or were cheaper, she said, and people were mistaken if they thought they can easily substitute one type of paracetamol for another.

“If they use somethingelse that is not appropriate or codeine-based, then you have other problems, like bowel obstructions, or they may use other products which are not effective.

“They may be paracetamol based but it’s a different formulation, and if it’s not slow release they probably need to dose more often. I think there is a high chance people will start using codeine with Panadol because it’s stronger.”

Patients may also be tempted to skip certain medicines altogether to avoid paying more, she said.

“You may have people hospitalised if they can’t afford it, especially here in Windale and other lowsocio- economic areas.”

Many of those directly affected agree, saying that althoughthe price differences may seem small to some,it will be a serious budgeting issue for them.

Joanne Hayward, of Windale, said the changes would have a significant impact on herpartner,Darryl Gaynor, who needs regular vitamin B12 injections to help treat a liver condition.

“From $24 to $60 per year on a disability pension, it’s a difference of $35.60 which could be better spent on any number of different things due to his other healthproblems,’’ she said.

New Year’s Eve: The anticipation growsphotos

New Year’s Eve: The anticipation grows | photos Pic by @meimei_618
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Pic by @sydneymorningherald: Crowds gather at @sydneyoperahouse ahead of #NewYearsEve 2015. Photo by SMH photographer Steven Siewert.

Pic by @suzanliu: New years eve!! #countdown #barangaroo

Pic by @christiantan808: All set for the New Years celebration on the Harbour ..happy new year

Pic by @ksuzana: Waiting for New Year’s eve Sydney style 🙂

Pic by @paulymarley: People getting ready for the New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve earlybirds have found spots both comfortable and less so in Kirribilli in preparation for tonight’s events. Pic: Nick Moir

Hundreds already preparing for tonight’s New Year’s Eve celebrations at Blues Point, Sydney. Pic: Nick Moir

New Year’s Eve earlybirds have found spots both comfortable and less so in Kirribilli in preparation for tonight’s events. Pic: Nick Moir

Pic by @locochat25

Pic by @lifuljs

Pic by @newportnewyork

Pic by @daisylaf Crew: All ready for NYE

Pic by @la_phinajosa: We stand up at 4am to stand in this line…waiting forward #nye 🎆

Pic by @ae8233: Hi~Sydney

Pic @juliamilevich_: 3.5 hours in and counting… 🙄 #nye #nye2015 #sydney

Pic by @david_lib: Let the #queues begin! #NYE #fireworks #sydney #visitnsw

Pic by @gerardoalvarez: #operahouse #sydney #austalia

Pic by @justina.lin: Happy new year’s eve

TweetFacebookAnd … in Victoria:What will Melbourne look like with 500,000 people in the city on New Year’s Eve?

More thanhalf a million people are expected to flock to the CBD on New Year’s Eveto usher in 2016, so the city is bracing itself for some pretty large crowds.

If you’re planning to come into the CBD for New Year’s, then chances are the Melbourne City Council will monitor your every step so it can work out how to keep the celebrations under control.

Well, sort of. It’s nothing quite that sinister. Rather, the council has installed a network of foot traffic monitoring sensors at 28 locations throughout the city, which keep track of how many pedestrians are passing through. Read more

Most popular holiday destinations for Australians in 2015 named

Cherry blossom season in Japan. Traveller南京夜网419论坛’s readers were more interested in Japan than any other destination in 2015. Photo: iStockAsia remains the focus for Australians looking for holiday inspiration, if this year’s most searched destinations is anything to go by.
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Five of the top 10 most destinations searched on Traveller南京夜网419论坛 in 2015 were in Asia. But the No.1 destination for Traveller南京夜网419论坛’s readers was not Bali or Thailand, but rather – somewhat surprisingly – Japan.

Number two on the list was perennial favourite New York City, while Bali came in at number three, followed by New Zealand. Our neighbour across the Tasman Sea is the number one destination for outbound Australians, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, with more than 100,000 Australian residents heading there in October alone.

Two islands followed, but each offers visitors a very different experience. Singapore, at number four, is a stopover favourite for Australians, best known for its food and shopping. Meanwhile Hawaii, at number five, has become a popular beach escape for Aussies as well as a stopover option before heading on to the continental US. Between 2010 and 2014, the number of Australian visitors to Hawaii more than doubled to 310,000 and has continued to grow despite the falling dollar.

Vietnam cemented its place as the new Thailand by coming in at number seven, well ahead of Thailand itself – the traditional Aussie favourite failed to make the top 20.

National travel editor Anthony Dennis said Australia’s interest in Japan has grown dramatically over the years.

“It’s really personally pleasing to see Japan take out the spot of Traveller南京夜网419论坛’s most searched destination for 2015,” he said. “When I first started visiting Japan in the early 1990s I immediately fell in love with it but there was near zero interest in it as a destination among my fellow Australians”.

“But, 25 years or so later, cheaper airfares and the extraordinary popularity of skiing there has helped to alert Australians to the appeal of Japan as a whole, along with a growing appreciation of Japanese cuisine. The misguided perception of Japan as a prohibitively expensive destination seems to have dissipated, too.”

Japan also cracked the top 10 of the most visited destinations by Australians, according to the latest ABS figures, which had visitor numbers at 243,000 in the year to October to come in at number 9. The most visited destination after New Zealand was Indonesia, followed by the USA, UK and Thailand.

The most searched destinations in Australia were Melbourne, Sydney and, oddly enough, Broken Hill.

The top 10 most-searched destinations on Traveller南京夜网419论坛 in 2015. Click on the links for our destination guides and features.

The most-visited destinations by Australians in 2015 (based on ABS data to October)

Traveller’s most shared stories on Facebook in 2015

See also: The top 16 countries to visit in 2016 See also: The 16 things you need to know about travelling in 2016

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Top 5 tips for surviving New Year’s Eve in an unfamiliar city with kids

It is the best of times – and the worst of times.
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Counting “three, two, one” to ring in the New Year, we are at the night markets, eating crepes, overlooking the Eiffel Tower.

Our hands warmed with mulled wine, our hearts swelling with sentiment, we know this is the best New Year’s Eve ever.

Until precisely five minutes after midnight, when the crowd converges on the stairs to make the Metro.

We feel like fruit, being squeezed of every last drop.

I clutch Taj’s hand tightly, so he’s not swept beneath someone’s feet.

Grace is on Jason’s shoulders, wearing a mask of terror.

His mother has a smile from ear to ear, as she’s groped by young French men: “Best I’ve felt in years!” she laughs.

We later discover this is fine tradition in the City of Lights: an unedifying crush to cram onto public transport.

New Year’s Eve is often like this, n’cest pas? With children, there’s an added degree of difficulty.

If they’re young, you don’t want to keep them up until midnight. When they’re older, they don’t want to be with you, anyway.

Here are my top five tips for surviving New Year’s Eve, in an unfamiliar city.

1. Research, research, research

The most up-to-date sites are Tripadvisor, Yelp and Twitter. These will help you choose which restaurant to go to, where to see the fireworks, and how to get home.

2. Make sure you rest

It’s a long haul, from 7pm to midnight. The last thing you want is a pair of cantankerous kids ruining all the fun. Bring a blanket and small pillow, so they can nod off.

3. Write your number on their arm

It’s easy to get separated in those throbbing crowds. You can’t microchip your kids (which is a shame). The next best thing is a note in the pocket or indelible marker on the skin.

4. Organise a meeting point

Allow older kids to have their own space, but regroup before midnight. It’s better than enduring a sleepless night, worrying about where your over-excited teens have gone.

5. Stay somewhere self-contained

Sure, going out for dinner on New Year’s Eve is fun. But often there’s a fixed price for three courses, which is a waste of money if you have fickle kids. Eat in your room before venturing out.

This is what we do in Paris, collecting produce from the food hall at Le Bon Marche for a family feast.

After eating the traditional ‘king cake’, kindly gifted by our hosts through Airbnb, we decide to hit the streets.

We can’t believe our luck when we nab a taxi at 10pm.

Later, we realise it’s because only foolish tourists go out on réveillon de nouvel an.

For locals, it’s more like Christmas Eve: a time to spend at home with family or friends.

Whatever you do, and wherever you go, try to relax. If it all goes pear-shaped, there’s always a good dinner party story.

Our Parisian adventure goes down in family folklore as a night Nanna will never forget.

Happy New Year!

Email: [email protected]南京夜网419论坛

Twitter & Instagram: @TraceySpicer

​See also: The best cities to spend New Year’s Eve

See also: Control your kids – there’s no naughty corner on a plane

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Victoria bushfires: Massive effort unleashed

Pic: @CFA_UpdatesStrike team heads to fire zoneTotal fire ban for New Year’s EveBarbecue sparks fire►Around BALLARAT:A watch and act message has been issued for Cardigan and Lucas. The fire is currently not under control. Keep up-to-date here
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►NearPORT FAIRY:Three water bombing aircraft have joined 20 ground crews attacking a grass fire burning near Yambuk. The latest here

►NearBENDIGO:Threegrassfires near Kyabramhave ignited, with the Country Fire Authority sending four trucks to the scene.Get the latest here.

Nightmare conditions return to Great Ocean RoadOne of the largest aerial firefighting operations in Victoria’s history will be unleashed on Thursday in an attempt to control a blaze that could again threatencommunities along the Great Ocean Road.

Emergency services are preparing fora return of the nightmare conditions that saw fire tear through Wye River and Separation Creek on Christmas Day, destroying 116 homes.

One of the largest aerial firefighting operations in Victoria’s history will be unleashed on Thursday in an attempt to control a blaze that could again threatencommunities along the Great Ocean Road.

Emergency services are preparing fora return of the nightmare conditions that saw fire tear through Wye River and Separation Creek on Christmas Day, destroying 116 homes.

Mr Todd said steep terrainand heavyforestmade thefire difficult to fight, meaning a massive air operation involving 60 aircraft was the best hope of stopping it fromspreading.

“Sixty aircraft on the one fire is among the most we’ve ever had and that shows the level of risk of this fire,” he said.

A cool change is expected to pass through the area in the afternoon andthe wind shouldshift south, but no rain is expected.

Residents inLorne have been told to keep watch on a separatefire that continues to burn to its west, with fears a southerly wind change could see it flare up and again threaten the holiday town.

An evacuation order was issued for Lorne and surrounding areason Christmas Day.

Mr Todd said the devastated towns of Wye River and Separation Creek were still closed.Residents were allowed in to view the area but not allowed to say.

A severe fire-danger warning and total fire banis in place for communities along the Great Ocean Road, as well as in the South West, West,Central, and South Gippsland districts.

New Year’s Eve fireworks have been cancelled along the Surf Coast, andthe Great Ocean Road remains closed between Lorne and Skenes Creek.

Firefighter Greg Morris finishes the night shift in Wye River on Wednesday morning. Photo: Penny Stephens

How every bloke duds the next generation

PRIORITIES: Usman Khawaja’s form has him in demand by Australia and T20 cricket fans.MYnephew Sam isa quiet, thoughtful boy who’ssometimes, it must be said,wrong.
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Less sothanother12-year-olds, sure, butnevermore so thanon Christmas Day when wediscussedthereturn from injuryofUsman Khawaja.

Here’sthe equation.

AbatsmanonthevergeofAustralia’sTestteammakesasparklinghundredfortheSydneyThunder,who nowcracklewithpurpose and skillatopthe KFC Big Bash League beforecrowdsof western Sydneysiders.Including Sam.

As reward, Khawajagets to playa brittleWest Indies at a desolate MCG–andstrokesanother hundred. He’s cementedinthe Australianteam andwillplay once,twice morefor the Thunder thissummer.

Normal, right?You play for yourcountry.As a boy, from whenyou feelthe stitchingonyour firstKookaburra to therealisationyou’llnever bowl onefor Australia, that’s the dream.

“If I was him,” yawnedSam, contemplating a prawn, “I’d rather play for the Thunder.”

Ipeeled at the label ofmy TooheysNew.

“Yeah? Dunno about that, mate.”

There wasa silence.DoI shake him? Isthisone of those things a ladsimply works out, boundingacrossthe fortifications of an uncle’s sporting dogma?

Before I couldshake him, my nephew got up tothrow aball at his new light-up stumps.

Eachflash of KFCplastic suddenly helda glimpse of afuturedevoid of Test cricket’s veinynarrative,bereftofquietjoyslikereadinganewspaper,governedbypub lockouts,soaked in mid-strength beer and fueled by the Paleo diet.

In this gluten-free dystopiathekidshadgrown up anddone away withthe thingsthat requireinvestment of time, or looking up froma screen. They’d bought investment properties andsanded awaythe rough edges of the city, thenrubbed it inby beingimpeccableon the dancefloor.Worse, they were actually really nice.

The empty New bottlehit theporch,and realised I wasdoing it. The Old Bloke Thing. Thegloomyforecast weputonthe next generation,after having it put onus.

“Hey,” a nearby voice hadsaida week earlier.A greasyfinger in my ear.

I was doingsmalltalkwith a colleague at a work thing, and a bloke in his 50s was givingme a Wet Willy. He’d been made redundant. We’d exchanged maybe eight wordsin our lives.

Switchingmyschoonerhand,I held out my right,butwas left danglingas Wet Willystruttedupto my small talkpartnerandwinked.

He raiseda thumb tohis chest,“Old Brigade”, then noddedat bumblingme,“New Brigade”.

She snorted. I drooped,but understood.

On hisdashboardwhat wasI but an interchangeableflash in the pan, aklaxon of an onrushing, declining worldhe didn’tunderstand and didn’tcare to? Iget it. Really.

Maybe, though,the grim assessments thatblokes clampon ouryoungersat barbecues, in offices andon sporting teams come fromhinterlands of insecurity anddelusion.

If we say something’s in crisis or decline –namely, the world – we implyit was oncesecure and ascending. When was that, I wonder?

We all mourn, in our way,what we’ve lost. But in2016, Sam,have all the Thunderheroes you want; who am I to stop you?Can wegotoagame?As for you,Wet Willy,there’s a handshake herewith your name on it.

El Nino: The weather of 2015 captured in one image

By area affected, this year’s El Nino is larger than the 1997-98 monster event, NASA says. Photo: NASA Flood water is pumped out of pubs, after flooding, in York, England on Monday. Photo: PA
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An early season bushfire in the NSW Blue Mountains in August. Photo: Wolter Peeters

By area affected, this year’s El Nino is larger than the 1997-98 monster event, NASA says. Photo: NASA

There were many photographs that encapsulated the past year of weather extremes of fierce heatwaves, dangerous floods and wild winds but perhaps the most telling is a computer-coloured satellite image from space.

A grandly named US/European Ocean Surface Topography Mission – thankfully shortened to Jason-2 – captured the imagery of the engine that has been driving the planet’s weather this past year. And the driving doesn’t stop at midnight, New Year’s Eve.

The great and powerful El Nino event of 2015, shown below as a dagger of raised sea levels along the equator striking westwards from South America far into the central Pacific symbolises the huge oceanic circulation changes that have taken place this year.

More to the point is the comparison with the monster 1997-98 El Nino, is regarded as the largest such event on record.

As US space agency NASA noted in a report this week, sea levels in the east – shown as in shades of white – are as much as 25 centimetres above normal. To the western Pacific, the drop – shown in purple – is at least as large.

The mammoth shift in water levels across the world’s largest ocean shows how the usual easterly trade winds that pile water up in the west have stalled, if not reversed. The result is a huge warming in the upper ocean levels to the east and a cooling in the west.

“Clouds and storms follow the warm water, pumping heat and moisture high into the overlying atmosphere,” Alan Buis, from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), wrote in the posting to NASA’s website. “These changes alter jet stream paths and affect storm tracks all over the world.”

Wenju Cai, a CSIRO researcher of El Ninos and climate change, estimates the world’s weather engine has effectively shifted about 10,000km to the east: “This is so huge in terms of the reorganisation of the atmosphere.”

According to NASA, south-east Asia’s rainfall was “sapped”, contributing to the conditions that allowed fires to burn unhindered in the country’s forests, cloaking the region in smoke. Other effects include flooding in South America, a record-breaking hurricane season in the eastern tropical Pacific and widespread coral bleaching.

In Australia’s case, it has meant conditions turning hotter and drier, particularly across the south and inland areas of the east.

Importantly, the El Nino’s impact is far from done – and it may not have stopped growing.

“Although the sea surface height signal in 1997 was more intense and peaked in November of that year, in 2015, the area of high sea levels is larger,” Josh Willis, a JPL project scientist, told NASA. “This could mean we have not yet seen the peak of this El Nino.”

Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology last week said the El Nino “remains near its peak” but may not return to neutral conditions – with the convection engine shifting back westwards – until at least May.

Agus Santoso, a senior researcher at the University of NSW-based Climate Change Research Centre, said the event – while comparable to the 1997-98 one – will probably fall short in its intensity.

“My feeling is that it will be the second highest in terms of sea-surface temperature anomalies,” Dr Santoso said.

The impacts of an El Nino typically linger long after its peak, and include significant flooding in the western US.

Record heat

El Nino years are also notable for elevated global temperatures as the Pacific absorbs less heat from the atmosphere – and even gives some back.

2015 will easily be the hottest year in records going back to the 1880s, eclipsing a high mark set just a year earlier as the El Nino spike adds to the background warming caused by human activity including the burning of fossil fuels.

One element of the bizarre planetary heat has been on display this week, with a huge storm system in the North Atlantic dragging tropical warmth into the High Arctic.

By one estimate, despite being in the depths of its dark winter the North Pole was briefly above freezing for about six hours, according to US meteorologist Ryan Maue: GFS analysis time series of North Pole temps: +0.71°C so above freezing for This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Industry shift into change

LINK: HunterNet boss Tony Cade and vice-president of the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade, Tai’an branch, Zhang Bin. ONLY four percent of companies surveyed by peak manufacturing co-operative HunterNet are exporting but a third of them hope to switch industries within five years and anotherhalf are eyeing Asian markets.
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Chief executive officer Tony Cade said the “relatively low” export result in the organisation’sannual member survey was countered by the fact 51 per cent of the companiessay they want to take part in the joint HunterNet/Austrade Asian Business Engagement program.

The initiative is designed toharness commercial opportunities in Asia, where HunterNet is actively targeting new business windows. Itrecentlysignedamemorandum of understanding with officials from the Chinese city of Tai’an, in Shandong province, that it says will boost the Hunter’s international trade activity.

Thirty seven of HunterNet’s 200 members completedthe survey, this year compiled in conjunction with University of Newcastle researchers,and another32 responded to key components of its expandedformat.

Twenty nine per cent of those surveyed were involved in resources and energy, the same figure again in infrastructure and asset management, while 17 per cent were in other industries.

Sixty percent of firms surveyed said they wantedto nominate candidates for HunterNet’s future leaders program, launched in 2015.

The program teamsthe region’s bestyoung business mindswith veteran industry mentors, with the inaugural winning team pitchinga”world-class” innovation hubat Wickham.

Thirty twoper cent of firmssurveyedenvisaged their organisation shifting to anotherindustry in the next five years, a result Mr Cade said was encouraging given market diversification“has never been so important”.

The results follow RDA Hunter’s push to boost trade with the European Union to capture a bigger slice of an $80 billion market.

Its“smart specialisation” strategyidentifies the region’s competitive advantages infood and agribusiness;mining equipment;technology,medical technologies and pharmaceuticals;oil, gas and energy;advanced manufacturing, defence; and creative industries.

Eating out in Mauritius: The African island that makes perfect Thai food

Port Louis at night, Mauritius. Segae dancer performs on a beach in Mauritius.
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Something to do between meals: Snorkelling in Mauritius. Photo: iStock

The Dorado fillet at Flowers of Paradise.

Boulettes, a national staple, cheaper than chips.

In Mauritius, a land where cultures converge rather than collide, the melding of different peoples is never more evident than in its food.

For a country with a relatively recent history, where there were no indigenous inhabitants and every migrant is new to some degree at least, there is a special sense of sharing when it comes to the dining table.

In the town of Pereybere, on the north-western coast of the tiny island, this is obvious in the spectacular array of restaurants that cover everything from French to Thai to Indian and Chinese.

Royal Road, the island’s main drag and the main street running through Pereybere, is lined with restaurants, many offering the freshest grilled seafood, including fantastic lobster, mussels and marlin, all freshly caught.

At Wang Thai on the town’s edge, the low prices and delicious dishes make for a magnificent combination. The entrees include spring rolls, deep-fried morsels of crispy shells packed with meat and vegetables and satay sticks that could rival those anywhere in Asia.

The Pad Thai is certainly the best I have sampled anywhere, including on several visits to Thailand. It’s sweet, sour, salty and tangy all at the same time, the perfectly cooked noodles supplemented by fresh meat and veg. Yum.

Lonely Planet dubs this upstairs place, with its balcony seating and teak décor, as “[l]ong the best restaurant in town and a pioneer of authentic Thai food in Mauritius”.

While the food there is undeniably fantastic, we cannot support the notion that this is the best restaurant in town. For the price – a two-course meal will set you back about $18 – this place definitely wins. But Wang Thai has a newish rival in Flowers of Paradise.

Attached to a hotel in Beach Lane, just a few metres from Royal Road, Flowers of Paradise offers a small but spectacular menu of largely French cuisine, with the occasional fusion dish.

An entree of lobster ravioli in a truffle-infused cream sauce is unbelievably divine, the creamy, saucy soup delivering a coating of truffle flavour to my mouth. The foie gras-stuffed beef filet that follows is out of this world and exceptionally tender, a beautifully cooked piece of meat that is full of flavour and properly seasoned.

The seared tuna steak is another standout among the mains and the tuna tartare is so fresh, the French proprietor offers the slab as a showpiece to diners seated at their tables. The tartare is flecked with red onions and comes with a passionfruit sauce that brings the perfect balance of sour to the dish. Every mouthful was a delight for me.

A complementary amuse bouche precedes each meal and the desserts too are a thing of wonder. The service is both friendly and faultless. It’s pricey for Mauritius – think along the lines of $40 for two courses, and the drinks and wine list are both extensive and expensive.

Pereybere has its own Chinese restaurant too but the Sino sampling might be best in nearby Grande Baie, a 20-minute walk or short bus ride away.

Here, in a tiny little corridor of a shop is Boulette Ti Kouloir, where dumplings – steamed meat morsels called boulettes, not unlike tiny sui mai – are sold in bowls of tasty, steaming broth.

I gulped down the dumplings – savoury and soft, bobbing in their pool – and contemplated another round, they were so good.

Fried noodles topped with egg round out a small but beautifully executed menu of snack foods. It’s a no-nonsense place, jam-packed with locals getting their fill for a pittance. Yes a pittance. It’s $2.25 for eight boulettes, which is great on every level.

In this island of cultural contrasts, the food is a spectacular highlight. Prices and comfort level are as varied as the cultures themselves, but here, you get at least what you pay for – and often much, much more. TRIP NOTESMORE INFORMATION

MTPA Tourism Office

Discover MauritiusSTAYING THERE

In the tiny town, Hotel Pereybere is one of the more substantial offerings, with double rooms from about $77 – and that includes a huge cooked-to-order breakfast at the adjoining cafe/bar. See Hotel Pereybere

​Rooms are also available at Flowers of Paradise. GETTING THERE

A number of major airlines fly into Mauritius, including Air Mauritius and Emirates. EATING THERE

Wang Thai, Beach House, Royal Road, Pereybere

​Flowers of Paradise, Beach Lane, Pereybere

Boulette Ti Kouloir​, School Lane, Grand Baie. No website, no phone … and absolutely no reason not to go.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

The most overhyped scientific discoveries of 2015

2015 was an amazing year for science, but it was also a year for some amazingly overhyped science.
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We put our hearts ahead of our data when speculating about advanced extraterrestrial civilisations. We so wanted to believe that a looming ice age would save us from global warming. And we were horrified to learn that the internet’s favourite meat product might cause cancer, along with everything else in the goddamn universe. Here are the most overhyped scientific discoveries of 2015, in all their glory. The so-called alien megastructure

It isn’t an overhyped scientific discoveries list without some wild speculation about extraterrestrials, and 2015 did not disappoint. If you weren’t familiar with the term “alien megastructure” before, you certainly are now.

The alien hullabaloo started in early October, when astronomers announced the discovery of KIC 8462852, a weird star in the Kepler database that flickers aperiodically, its brightness sometimes dropping by as much as 20 per cent. It’s certainly not a transiting planet, but it doesn’t look like anything else we’ve seen, either. Still, nobody outside of the astro community would have given a rat’s arse about the cosmic oddity if SETI researchers hadn’t made this humble suggestion: Perhaps the star was being occluded by a giant, alien construction project, a la Dyson sphere.

The citizens of planet Earth worked themselves into a rabid frenzy over the idea, to the point that Neil deGrasse Tyson had to go on late night TV and tell us all to calm the hell down. SETI astronomers capitalised on the momentum, mobilising state-of-the-art observatories to scour KIC 8462852’s cosmic neighbourhood for the radio signals and laser pulses that would lend credence to the wild idea. They found not a single fingerprint.

The latest thinking is that KIC 8462852 is probably being occluded by a swarm of comets — BORING — but I’m personally holding out hope that somebody follows up on the giant space walrus idea.

[Image: Artist’s representation of a Dyson sphere, crumbling like the alien megastructure hypothesis, via Danielle Futselaar/SETI International]Bacon cancer

In October, the world was confronted with some rather unsettling news: bacon, along with other processed meats including hot dogs and ham, is carcinogenic, according to a new scientific paper which evaluated over 800 studies for links between processed or red meat intake and cancer. Unfortunately, many media reports took the “bacon cancer” soundbite and ran with it, leaving readers to imagine that consuming bacon is similar to touching nuclear waste. It’s not.

There are a few reasons we shouldn’t panic about this revelation, as Gizmodo’s George Dvorsky lays out in detail. First and foremost, while the new study did find a real statistical correlation between processed meat consumption and bowel cancer, many subsequent reports failed to identify the magnitude of risk. That turns out to be fairly small. As you might expect, it increases slightly with the amount of processed meat consumed.

To make matters even more confusing, because processed meat is now classified as a Group 1 carcinogen, some articles suggested eating bacon is as bad as smoking cigarettes or asbestos exposure — other Group 1 carcinogens. But again, the Group 1 label has nothing to do with risk magnitude, only the strength of scientific evidence linking a substance to cancer. About 34,000 cancer deaths each year are associated with a diet high in processed meat. Smoking, on the other hand, leads to about a million deaths a year.

If there’s a takeaway in all of this, it’s that it’s probably a good idea to limit your consumption of processed meat — health professionals have been suggesting this for years anyway — and to always be sceptical when reading about new linkages between certain foods and cancer. Because really, when you get down to it, pretty much anything can cause cancer.

[Image via Cookbookman/Flickr]Warp drive?!?!?!

It was in 2014 that we first heard whispers of NASA’s EM Drive, an “impossible” engine that could (in theory) accelerate objects (our future spacecraft) to near relativistic speeds without the use of any propellant, simply by bouncing microwaves around a waveguide. The laboratory “evidence” for the physics-defying engine might have been nothing more than analytical error — or, as one expert put it, bullshit — but that didn’t stop people from continuing to scour NASA engineering forums for additional affirmation of the science fictional technology in 2015.

Lo and behold, the sleuths of the internet found some. Apparently, the engineers working on the EM Drive decided to address some of the sceptic’s concerns head-on this year, by re-running their experiments in a closed vacuum to ensure the thrust they were measuring wasn’t caused by environmental noise. And it so happens, new EM Drive tests in noise-free conditions failed to falsify the original results. That is, the researchers had apparently produced a minuscule amount of thrust without any propellant.

Once again, media reports made it sound like NASA was on the brink of unveiling an intergalactic transport system.

The real problem with the EM drive isn’t the scientists. It isn’t even the science. The problem is that a) NASA hasn’t claimed that the system works; b) there have been no peer-reviewed papers on the subject; and c) as far as we can tell, all evidence for the physics-defying machine comes from a handful of short-term experiments. This is a story of scientists caught in the act of tinkering by people who want Star Trek to happen now.

[Top image via Star Trek Wiki. EM Drive prototype image via NASA Spaceflight Forum]An ice age in 2030? 

You know what would really save us from this global warming mess we’ve gotten ourselves into? An ice age! And earlier this year, it seemed like our prayers were answered, when a new astronomy study suggested that the sun is heading for a period of extremely low solar output — a so called ‘Maunder minimum.’ A press release accompanying the study explained that predictions from the astronomers’ new models “suggest that solar activity will fall by 60 per cent during the 2030s to conditions last seen during the ‘mini ice age’ that began in 1645.”

This led to some confusion.

Even if it’s true that the sun’s output is on the verge of declining to levels not seen in over 350 years — and the likelihood of that varies greatly from study to study — it’s misleading to say we’re on the brink of an ice age. The Little Ice Age saw temperatures drop by about 1º C, whereas real ice ages are characterised by global average temperatures 5º C cooler than today.

It’s also misleading to insinuate that the 17th century Maunder minimum even caused the Little Ice Age. As astronomer Jim Wild explained earlier this year, the Little Ice Age began over a century before the start of the Maunder minimum and continued long after it was over. People still aren’t sure what led to the cold snap — the leading suspect is currently volcanic activity — or if it was even a global phenomenon.

Finally, the overwhelming consensus of the world’s climate scientists is that the influence of solar variability on climate is dwarfed by the impact of increased CO2 in the atmosphere. Indeed, many calculations suggest that a “grand solar minimum” would at best offset a few years’ worth of the warming that’s being caused by human carbon emissions.

Simply put, we cannot bank on the vagaries of the sun to save our collective arses this century.

[Image: London policemen on ice skates on the frozen River Thames circa 1900, via Getty]The tardigrade’s seriously weird genome

Tardigrades — those weird, wonderful, microscopic poncho bears that’re virtually indestructible — got even weirder this year, when researchers at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill decided to sequence the tardigrade genome. Astonishingly, the team discovered that a full sixth of the animal’s DNA was not animal DNA at all: it was from plants, fungi, bacteria, and viruses. Nobody had ever seen anything like it before, which in hindsight, maybe should have been a red flag.

As Annalee Newitz explained last month, the authors suggested the tardigrade’s patchwork genetic code was acquired via horizontal gene transfer, and that this could be related to the animal’s unique stress response:

“When tardigrades are desiccated, their DNA breaks into pieces. Any organisms around them will also suffer the same fate. But when water returns to the tardigrade’s environment, they re-hydrate and return to life. As they re-hydrate, their cell walls become porous and leaky, and fragments of DNA from the desiccated organisms around them can flow inside and merge with the animal’s rejuvenating DNA.”

Furthermore, the UNC authors speculated that the tardigrade’s borrowed genes may help the animal withstand everything from boiling water to the vacuum of space. It’s a fascinating story about an amazing organism, so it’s no surprise the paper got a lot of pickup. But it’s not at all clear that the conclusions are sound.

Indeed, less than one week after the UNC Chapel Hill version of the tardigrade genome was published in PNAS, another lab at the University of Edinburgh posted a pre-print of their tardigrade genome analysis, which painted an entirely different picture. Edinburgh researchers found very little evidence for horizontal gene transfer — as few as 36 genes, compared with the 6600 reported by UNC Chapel Hill.

How could this be? One possibility is that many of the sequences the UNC team called bonafide tardigrade genes were, in fact, microbial contamination. As science journalist Ed Yong explains over at The Atlantic, the Edinburgh team carefully cleaned up their data to remove many sequences that were only present in trace quantities, which the scientists presumed to be contaminants. “I want to believe that massive HGT happened, because it would be an awesome story,” Mark Baltrus, lead author of the Edinburgh study told The Atlantic. “But the problem is that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

On the bright side, what could have become a bitter dispute between rival labs turned into a fruitful collaboration: the two teams are now sharing their data in an attempt to reconcile their disparate findings.

Science is a messy, error-fraught business — and if we think we’re doing it all right the first time, chances are we’re wrong.

[Image via Sinclair Stammers]Explore the smart design, breakthrough science and awe-inspiring tech shaping your future at This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.