Friday, May 11, 2007

Australian scientists agree to listen to rainmakers

Closed minds being pried open. See a previous story on this matter on July 11 last year. Also note that rainmaking is common in China

After fiercely opposing cloud seeding for years, critics from CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology have agreed to sit down with the world's best scientific rainmakers. The intellectual detente comes as experts gather in Melbourne for a three-day symposium to review scientific advances in weather modification technology and consider projects in Australia. University, CSIRO and BOM scientists are meeting with hands-on cloud seeding experts from Hydro Tasmania and Snowy River Hydro, Israel, the US and Japan.

Cloud seeding boosts rainfall by dispersing small amounts of chemicals, like silver iodide, into clouds to help form rain drops and increase precipitation. Scientists like Daniel Rosenfeld - a cloud physicist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem who will attend the symposium - have enhanced the effectiveness of cloud seeding with real-time remote sensing techniques. "I'm delighted that there's finally a will to advance the subject," said Nationals MP John Forrest, the driving force behind the meeting. He said he hopes the meeting will recommend trials in Australia.

The civil engineer and member for the drought-ravaged Mallee in northwest Victoria has long-advocated rigourous seeding trials as part of a suite of measures to tackle problems of water shortage. But Mr Forrest faced strong opposition from prominent CSIRO and BOM scientists whom he alleged had provided politicians and policymakers with misleading advice on the effectiveness of cloud seeding. "They're standing in the way of political action," Mr Forrest told The Australian last July. He blamed their stance on personal jealousy and competiting for funding.

Undeterred, Mr Forrest obtained private funding for this week's symposium which was matched by the Federal Environment Department. "The meeting provides an opportunity to hear about the latest science in this field and to see whether there are opportunities to make more use of this technology," said assistant environment and water minister, John Cobb. He asked Mr Forrest to to represent him at the symposium, hosted by the BOM.

According to the bureau's chief scientist Neville Smith, while the BOM is not directly involved in weather modification it does conduct cloud physics research. Dr Smith welcomed the oppportunity to meet with experts like Professor Rosenfeld and Deon Terblanche, head of South Africa's Weather Service and chair of the World Meteorological Organization's weather modification group.

Mr Forrest said that he was encouraged that the assembled scientists acknowledge the link between weather modification, cloud physics and climate change research. "They've tweaked to the connection, he claimed. Hi-tech cloud seeding operations are under way in Israel, Thailand, France, South Africa and the US states of California, Utah and Texas.

In Australia, only Hydro Tasmania encorporates seeding into its water-management system. It has used light aircraft to seed clouds over catchment areas since 1964. Mr Forrest recently obtained $4 million to enable Snowy Hydro to document its ground-based seeding trial. He also supported moves by the Labor Beattie government to fund cloud seeding studies for southeast Queensland. "I'm kicking goals," said a delighted Mr Forrest.


Aboriginal origins

Australia - along with the rest of the world - was first settled by a single group of settlers who left Africa more than 55,000 years ago, DNA research suggests. Once there, they apparently evolved in relative isolation, developing genetic characteristics and technology found nowhere else until the arrival of the first European settlers. The uniqueness of Australia's ancient Aborigines and archaeological finds on the continent have previously threatened to undermine the "out of Africa" hypothesis of human origins favoured by most experts. But the latest research by geneticists at the University of Cambridge reinforces the theory that all modern human beings belonging to the species Homo sapiens are descended from a small number of Africans who left their home between 55,000 and 60,000 years ago.

According to the fossil record, Homo sapiens emerged as a new species about 120,000 years ago in central East Africa. It is thought to have migrated from there into the Middle East, southern Africa, Europe, central Asia, and the New World, replacing older human species such as Neanderthals and Homo erectus in the process. Critics of this theory say that modern human beings may have evolved in a number of different places, arisen through interbreeding, or made several trips out of Africa.

Their main evidence comes from Australia, where skeletal and tool remains are strikingly different from those on the "coastal expressway" route the early settlers are supposed to have taken through south Asia. Some anthropologists have argued that this is evidence against the idea of a single common origin for modern-day humans. But a study of DNA samples from Aboriginal Australians and Melanesians from New Guinea appears to verify the single migration theory. Both populations were found to share genetic features linking them and other Eurasians to the exodus from Africa more than five millennia earlier.

Their ancestors would have travelled to Australia via Arabia, Asia and the Malay peninsula, dispersing at a rate of about one kilometre a year, according to Peter Forster, who led the Cambridge research, which is reported today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Dr Forster, who is now at Anglia Ruskin University, said yesterday: "Although it has been speculated that the populations of Australia and New Guinea came from the same ancestors, the fossil record differs so significantly it has been difficult to prove. "For the first time, this evidence gives us a genetic link showing that the Australian Aboriginal and New Guinean populations are descended directly from the same specific group of people who emerged from the African migration."

The scientists found no evidence of any interbreeding with Homo erectus, Australia's original inhabitants. The timing of Ice Age coolings, and the amount that they lowered ocean levels, specifies the geological periods in which it was possible to migrate to land masses otherwise separated by water. Fifty thousand years ago Australia and New Guinea were joined by a land bridge, which became submerged 8,000 years ago. Early settlers could have reached New Guinea across narrow straits, which were all that separated the region from the main Eurasian land mass.

The DNA patterns suggest that there was little gene flow into the region after the migration. That Australian and Melanesian populations evolved on their own explains why some of their shared features are so unusual, the scientists say. Toomas Kivisild, from the Department of Biological Anthropology at the University of Cambridge, who co-authored the paper, said: "The evidence points to relative isolation after the initial arrival, which would mean any significant developments in skeletal form and tool use were not influenced by outside sources."


A missing option

VICTORIA needs more boys-only government schools to improve boys' academic performance, an education expert says. Instead of having to pay expensive private school fees for a single-sex education, parents should have the option of sending their sons to boys-only state schools just as they can send their daughters to girls-only state schools, according to Ian Lillico, an international consultant on gender and boys' education. "It is a shame that we haven't said: 'Let's give some alternatives to boys'. If you are saying you want to choose single sex, and there are good reasons to do that, then they (parents) have to pay for private education - it doesn't make sense at all," Mr Lillico said. There are eight all-girls state schools in Victoria but only one all-boys alternative, the select-entry Melbourne High, which offers only years 9 to 12.

In New South Wales, where Mr Lillico is an adviser to the Education Department on gender and boys' education, there are 22 all-boys government schools and just five of those are select-entry schools.

Some co-ed Victorian schools that are near girls-only government alternatives have a gender imbalance in their student make-up. For example, Camberwell High has 800 boys enrolled and just 400 girls. Principal Elida Brereton said the school ran up to three all-boys classes in years 7 to 10 to keep some classes co-educational. "We sometimes have parents who complain to us that their boys are not getting a co-education, but have enrolled their daughters at (nearby single-sex school) Canterbury Girls. "You can't help but think, if they sent their girls here, the situation might be different," Ms Brereton said.

Research showed that not all boys thrived in a single-sex school, Mr Lillico said, but those who played team sports did. He said that single-sex education for boys and girls was most beneficial in the middle high school years. "If a boy doesn't play team sports, then going to an all-boys school could be a disaster for him. There is still that underlying thing where he might be thought to be a bit of a 'sis' or 'a wuss' or a 'gay'," Mr Lillico said.

Gentle, bookish and musical boys fared better in coeducational schools, he said. But if boys played a team sport and had an interest in a musical instrument or drama, they often fared well in all-boys schools.

But not all experts agree on the need for more boys-only schools. Ken Rowe, a specialist in gender and education at the Australian Council for Educational Research, dismissed the need for single-sex education. "It has truly got nothing to do with the gender of the kid or the gender of the teacher but it has got to do with the quality of the teaching," Dr Rowe said. He said girls did better than boys educationally the world over, but much of the success of single-sex schools came down to the enthusiasm of parents and school communities for creating boys-only or girls-only schools. "I think it may be in the minds of parents as an issue, but it is not an issue," he said.

A spokesman for Education Minister John Lenders said the Department of Education would monitor demand for single-sex education. "There has been a continuing decline in demand for boys-only schooling options in Victoria in recent years and there is no overwhelming evidence to suggest a change. This trend has not been mirrored in levels of demand for girls-only schools," he said.


Who Killed John Curtin?

By Hal Colebatch

John Curtin is still much revered in Labor party circles as a great Prime Minister but in his day he was a victim of furious Leftist jealousies

There is no doubt that John Curtin was a very good and very decent man. He gave his life for his country as much as any soldier in battle. However, though it has been glossed over or suppressed by generations of historians, the wartime performance of the Curtin government, which came to power in October, 1941, a few weeks before Pearl Harbour, was in many ways disgraceful. That, and deliberately applied psychological torment, is what may have killed him.

The Government, despite Curtin's efforts and protests, condoned all manner of industrial disruptions and strikes and denied the fighting men essential supplies and equipment. Official statistics show that after the Curtin Government came to power the number of strikes in strategic industries greatly increased, and it appears that they were to some extent condoned by Labour and National Service Minister Eddie Ward and others on the Left in the Government. At the time of Curtin's death three of his closest political associates said or suggested that this had been what killed him. There is reason to believe Ward set out deliberately to destroy Curtin physically and mentally.

During the whole war, about 6 million working days were lost directly through strikes in Australia, while the number lost indirectly was a considerable multiple of that. About two thirds were after the Curtin government came to power (figures are skewed by a prolonged coal-srrike on the NSW fields early in the war). Ship-building was a paradigm case of unimpressive industrial production. It took in general almost as long, though in some cases longer, to build 800-ton Bathurst-class corvette/minesweepers with engines of 1750 or 2000 horse-power, with a main armament of a single 4-inch or 12-pounder gun, in Australia as it took in America to build 35,000-ton, 150,000-hp. Essex-class aircraft-carriers. The Essex-class carrier Franklin was completed in 14 months - as fast as or faster than half the Bathursts.

Frigates and destroyers laid down during the war were either not completed until the end of the war or after it was over, or were cancelled incomplete. Despite the desperate need, almost no major merchant ships were built. This was in glaring contrast to the performance not only of the US and Britain, but also of Canada. Factories and industries such as aircraft production without a strong tradition of union militancy tended to perform much better.

No new AIF Divisions were raised by the Curtin Government, and Curtin was virtually a lone voice in his own cabinet advocating the possibility of conscription for service outside Australia in 1942. As he put it, a conscript could be sent to Darwin to be bombed, but not to Timor to prevent Darwin being bombed.

Curtin told Menzies at Christmas, 1942, this that his health was "only fair" and that he was suffering from a condition which may have had a psychological cause. In the Bulletin of 6 January, 1943, Norman Lindsay drew a cruel cartoon of a hunched, cringing Curtin begging humbly to be allowed to address the ALP Conference on conscription, which in fact was not cartoonist's license but a depiction of exactly what happened. Curtin wept when Ward told him that he was: "Putting young men into the slaughterhouse, although 30 years ago you wouldn't go into it yourself!"

Ward (who saw himself as a potential party leader with Curtin out of the way - he nominated for the leadership in 1958 and for the deputy leadership several times, the last time in 1960) was pushing Curtin's psychological buttons so as to cause him maximum distress and damage. Curtin wept. Some who knew the two men have described Ward's hatred of Curtin as pathological.

When Australian forces were sent to New Guinea and other islands they were plagued by shortages of food and ammunition, the result of constant strikes. On at least one Australian corvette the crew, quite without food, tried to catch fish with depth-charges. I have a file of many letters from former serrvicemen giving accounts of running out of ammunition in battle, and blaming the Government for not tackling the constant waterfront, coal, and other strikes firmly.

A strike early in Curtin's Prime Ministership played an indirect part in the loss of HMAS Sydney, for which Curtin seems to have unjustly blamed himself. It delayed the troopship, Zeelandia, which Sydney had been escorting, and had Zeelandia sailed on time, Sydney would not have fallen in with the Kormoran. Despite the wartime alliance with the Soviet Union, Communists and other leftists on the wharves and elsewhere, including the small Trotskyite faction, deliberately caused the maximum amount of disruption at every opportunity. The ALP Left had an ambiguous relationship with these. A strike at the end of the war even prevented the British aircraft-carrier HMS Speaker berthing to land Australian POWs liberated from Japanese prison-camps.

Curtin's biographer Lloyd Ross recounts Curtin's futile entreaties to a deputation of striking watersiders. It appears Curtin, never fully understood the ideological character of these strikes. His words of bewilderment are pathetic: "I'm fed up. I can't satisfy you. I grant you conditions you have been demanding for years - and that I have always regarded as your right. I can't satisfy you. What will satisfy you? There's a war on."

Curtin died, probably of a combination of exhaustion, hypertension and heart-failure, on July 5, 1945. Less than a fortnight after Curtin's death, his successor Ben Chifley made an extraordinary speech at Lithgow which has been recorded in Professor Crisp's biography of Chifley but which has been notably ignored by some other historians: "I deeply regret the trials that were imposed on Jack Curtin, not only by the rank and file of the Labour Movement, but by some of those closely associated with him. These made heavy demands on his strength ... It was easy to hurt Jack Curtin and he had to withstand barbs not only from without but also from within the party ... [He was] too fine a gentleman for politics. He was too good to be mixed up with the feuds and personal animosities that go with politics. The blitz of the press never hurt him as much as the barbs of the people with whom he was associated."

Chifley could hardly - without precipitating both a fratricidal split in the Labor Party and the Government and a grave national crisis - have gone further in blaming Ward and his Leftist colleagues as well as the strikers for Curtin's death. It is possible Ward and the others who this plainly referred to could have sued for defamation but did not want the matter tested in court. Lloyd Ross, on the penultimate page of his classic biography of Curtin says: "Attacks from non-Labour he could stand, not the criticism that came from within the movement. Such attacks, especially from those who had known him for a long time, troubled and tormented him to a degree that is almost beyond understanding in an experienced politician."

Ross reports Curtin's last talk - shortly before he died - with former WA Labor Premier Philip Collier, who like Chifley was a close political colleague of Curtin's for many years and who knew him very well. According to Collier, Curtin: "Was shocked at the outlook of unions in New South Wales towards the war. `Their damnable attitude,' he called it, and added in a burst of anger: `Don't they know the nation is fighting for its life? They don't care a damn!'" Collier commented: "They hurt him very much, nearly worked him into his grave. Men in the Party, mostly from New South Wales, caused him terrible worry . They broke his heart, the strikers. And some of the men inside the Party. Some of his own men."

Curtin was like a man struggling to move a rock with a papier-mache crowbar. To a number of his colleagues the only war that mattered was the class-war. Or is it more accurate to see in his tragedy that of King Lear, who learnt his friends from his enemies too late?


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