January 30, 2013 | Ronda Jambe

Own goal for climate change deniers

Here’s a conundrum for the climate change sceptics:

A report has just come out describing the affects of hot cities on the upper atmosphere. Since very large cities generate a lot of energy, and the energy gives off heat, and the hot air rises, and the winds carry it far, far away. This is not a fairy tale, correct me if any of the above embedded phrases contradicts your understanding of science, or constitutes, in your mind ‘an unsupported assumption’.

Thousands of kilometers away, places are warmer because of the heat generated by huge cities.

If you doubt the heat effect of urban places, you need to visit Las Vegas. That fairly small city generates way above the norm of energy, due to all those flashing neon lights and pseudo baroque fountains. Enough to keep the place warm at night. Down the road, smaller gambling’ villages’ with fewer lights are much colder at night, as one would expect in the dry desert. Is it a stretch to see that mega cities like Shanghai or Mexico City could generate enough heat to alter the air above them?

Now if you are a climate change sceptic AND you accept the above obvious connections, you are in a quandary, because then you have acknowledged that human activities can affect the atmosphere.


(just google ‘city heat effect and upper atmosphere’ and take your pick of the offerings)

Here’s a quote from the author of the study:

“The energy consumption in highly populated areas can cause changes in wind patterns, and that causes climate change far away from the heating source,” said meteorologist and study author Ming Cai of Florida State University.

The study was published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Do you believe this, or is there some reason we should doubt this author?


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January 29, 2013 | Ronda Jambe

Under the Moruya Moon (14)

Nearly a year has passed since my last message about this project on the NSW south coast, and surprisingly little has changed since then. We are up against the dual walls of cash and knowledge limits. If money were endless, we’d just take the insane quotes that sometimes are offered. If our skills were greater, we’d be more savvy in getting quotes in the first place.

I’ve learned, from the organic gardening course I did part of last year at the local TAFE, that you can manufacture soil. And you can store more water. Both are long term processes, and for now I have to be content with accessing (at long last) the 15 year old goat poo that has been preserved in the dryness under the house. I hope it is still capable of fertilising my patches around the house:

goat poo


For me life and travel are all forms of research. It is a truism that everything takes longer than you think. Double that for landscaping on clay or influencing public opinion to wake the sleepers from their dream of endless consumerism and boundless energy. My dreams, too, assume access to lots of resources. Hard to keep my nose out of local politics, and I was pleased when last September a new brush swept into the local Council. Now the fun is underway, and it will take more than one round to bring greater accountability. I’m happy to be a background player, talking and contributing my bit to community activities. The local gardening group now has a Farmer’s Market, and their pizza and film night last week attracted about 80 people. The sense of belonging reinforces the sense of contentment I feel here.

But I wasn’t too content before the rains of the past few days, as it looked like the water for my veggies from the chook shed would soon run out. Unlike the unfortunate towns up north, we got an amount that seemed just right: enough to fill tanks and water plants, but no flooding. Farmers here might have even wanted more, but my little dams are overflowing.

Dreams of an edible landscape here are still a ways off. Being overseas for a good while slowed me down, but also reminded me how beautiful a lush countryside can be. Is anywhere more lovely than the French south coast? Seeing Venice and Rome again, and gorgeous Padua, even in the heat of July, planted joyful memories. I adore Europe, and spent some time chasing Caravaggio sites in Italy. Now, when weeding or peeling a carrot, flashes of those streetscapes enter my mind and make me smile. I’ll keep going back as long as I am able, and keep coming back here to the beautiful south coast to continue my saga of sustainability. Long road ahead.

A new plant can be like a new friend. The previous tenant here gave me some of this Asian green, which I now have by the thousands. I feed some every day to the chooks which the new tenant keeps in our reclad (I tell people it’s been renovated) chook shed. Now I know it is a Japanese mustardy green called Mizuna, and I eat some nearly every day:


After a visitor explained them to me, I have become enamoured of French curves. These have changing radius, and are perfect for items such as our cement patios (all that embedded energy!) which are intended to complement the curves of the ridges and also of our converted Nissan hut. Rather than a uniform sector of a perfect circle, they trace out a graceful shape that fits the site. Someday we will tile them to pretty them up, but already they are useful, front and back, for bit of furniture and a solid level area. I would like to plant the slope around it with strawberries, but for now it has grass. The bush beyond is a constant reminder that our human intrusions are meagre and probably impermanent. The old lace curtains in this picture are one (of many) attempts to deny the wildlife a free lunch:


These peasant pleasures sit without contradiction in a knowledge that none of this can ever be taken for granted. All the data about climate change revises the predictions in one direction only: upwards. And my involvement with the peak oil group in Canberra informs me that shale oil and coal seam gas, fracking and tar sands are at best postponing the inevitable decline of liquid fossil fuel while intensifying climate change.

Meanwhile, having time to grow a few things and be part of this community is very satisfying. An ABC radio national program this morning was talking about the psychological impacts of climate change, and how children might be taught to ‘fall in love with nature’ as a way of helping to build positive attitudes towards the environment. From my days as a tree-climbing explorer of neighborhood woodlands, nature has been part of me. Pantheism always seemed more reasonable than men in fancy hats. And isn’t a healthy plant almost as good as looking at a Caravaggio?

zucc plant

It was said that the painter Picasso would meet a woman, ravish her, and then paint her. I like to cultivate plants, photograph them, and then eat them.

One bit of progress last year was a planter box off the end of the deck. As a ‘bespoke’ item, it wasn’t quite a success, as it had no bottom to hold the soil. After a bit of head-scratching and some reseach in hardware shops, we acquired a staple gun and lined it with mesh and then weed mat. Now it will be safe from the kangaroos and rabbits, but I have no idea whether the corriander seeds will work there. But it is balanced and pleasant to look at without being intrusive:


If the landscaping is still elusive, the infrastructure is progressing. We have solar panels now, along with solar hot water. The retailer discouraged us from getting a bigger system, because the electricity retailers are not obliged to pay more than about 7 cents per KWH for the energy we feed into the grid. However, they charge the full retail rate for our net drawdown. That does not seem to me to be an equitable arrangement or one that would contribute to diminishing our green house emissions, but perhaps that will change over time. So far I have been stymied when trying to find domestic wind energy options, but that will come in time too, I am sure. Since we sit on a ridge back from the ocean, the wind generally comes up at night. But I am told it wouldn’t be sufficient to warrant the investment.

Our larger dam (just a visual element, not very big) has now been cleaned and strengthened, and our new garage will soon hold another water tank. Little steps, but progress. Now that the rain has cleared, I might drag the mattress out onto the daybed and have a cuppa. That bed, too, was revived and cut down from a garage sale purchase. The saga continues, time for a break.

day bed


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January 27, 2013 | Ronda Jambe

Nova’s appointment a disgrace for democratic process


If the ALP has been unable to identify and nurture members who might have strong ethnic ties, overriding party rules and due process is hardly the way to address the issues.

The PM is not Julia Caesar, and should not behave like an empress.

What message does that send to the party faithful, who actually attend meetings, read policy documents and put forward motions (ignored even when they get passed, but at least there is a theory of due process in operation)

ACT MP Andrew Leigh spoke on radio about the appointment (the only term that can be applied, as no democratic process was involved, not even membership in the ALP), and used weasel words like ‘any reasonable person’ would find it just fine.

I guess that makes me very unreasonable (and very angry) that this is the best our political system can offer.

How many ALP reviews and attempts at reform have come and gone over recent decades? And this is the outcome?

The only honourable option for Nova now is to politely decline the position, and then join the ALP and go through normal procedures to see if she can gain pre-selection. That would show firstly that she actually has the appetite for political life, and would give her credibility and bring respect to Aboriginal people. The current situation brings nothing but ill feeling and diminished respect to all involved.

Glad I quit years ago, the party was broken then, too.


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January 22, 2013 | Ronda Jambe

Michael Crichton – the posthumous interview

In a world first, Ambit Gambit blogger Ronda Jambe publishes her exclusive interview with acclaimed writer, the late Michael Crichton. The interview focusses on his 2004 novel State of Fear, in which he posits a media/legal/political conspiracy to create fear in citizens. His philosophy, deeply informed by his wide reading and probably genius level intelligence, is that science should be continuously examined for bias through independent mechanisms. This, he believes, would have stopped the eugenics movement in its tracks before the Germans extrapolated its implications with devastating efficiency.

This is the edited transcript:

RJ: Mr Crichton, since publication of State of Fear in 2004 the evidence has continued to pour in on climate change. Have your opinions changed at all?

MC: I believe I was absolutely correct in my argument that the science underpinning policy on climate change is tainted. However, my assessment of who is pulling the strings and why has shifted somewhat. I also see now that the evidence of multiple stressors on a wide range of planetary support systems is overwhelming.

RJ: Do you still think the legal/media/government forces are aligned to misguide the public?

MC: Yes, I do, but my understanding has become much more nuanced. You see, even in my present circumstances I have access to wifi, and have done a great deal of reading about both the science and the politics of climate change. The influence of the fossil fuel industry, and the interconnections between those with the most power and ability to fund communication projects, such as banks and global media outlets, often works against the remaining democratic activities of the state. Right now we are seeing that in relation to the gun lobby in the United States, which is largely funded by arms manufacturers. Because I am insistent on research and rigour, I have provided some links to articles about the funding of the NRA, which I thank you for publishing.

How to Break NRA’s Grip on Politics: Michael R. Bloomberg


Jul 26, 2012 – The NRA is a $200 million-plus-a-year lobbying juggernaut, with much of its funding coming from gun manufacturers and merchandising…

Who Really Funds the NRA? Not It’s Members


RJ: Thank you, our readers appreciate that. Is your concern really about governance?

MC: Most natural systems, including social systems, can be modelled as non-linear complex adaptive systems. In physical systems, the laws of physics, chemistry, gravity, etc drive the systems. But in human systems, shared values drive the system. Systems of governance are subject to these same rules, but look different in every culture. Thus, what passes for good governance in Nigeria is more violent and corrupt than the US version, but maybe not by all that much, as Nazi Germany showed us all.

The power of these values can be, and is, manipulated by those who can speak the loudest. That usually means those who have the money to buy time and influence through the media and politicans.

The crunch comes when this powerful elite don’t pay attention to the big bifurcations in the system that their own imbalanced efforts create. Think: the Reformation and the papal corruption. Traces of that self-serving but ultimately self-destructive mind set can be seen today in the many sex abuse scandals that are plaguing the Catholic Church all over the world.

RJ: Do you accept the view that a huge catastropic collapse of society, a bifurcation, as you call it, is likely to happen on a global scale in this century?

MC: Even mathematically, any system with a number of exponentially increasing indicators is inevitably going to break and form a new system. And certainly all the indicators of environmental change are increasing at rates far above what humanity and many other natural systems can adapt to, with population as the leading example. We see this in the work of the Stockholm Resilience Centre and others on planetary boundaries. What is likely is that some elites will find niches of safety for themselves and their families.


RJ: So for you the global economic problems are just a side show?

MC: The words for economy and ecology come from the same Greek root, meaning ‘to manage’. They are different aspects of the human impact on our limited system, the age of the anthropocene, as Paul Cruxen and others have dubbed our recent past.

RJ: Do you see any way to avoid the coming multiple collapses of human and natural systems?

MC: The evolution, genetics and therefore the psychological programming of homo sapiens is oriented towards protection and promotion of the group. Only in the past century has humanity even begun to think in terms of groups larger than the tribe, or town, or nation state. There have of course been precursors, such as the Holy Roman Empire,which had limited authority and didn’t, in any case, face global constraints such as we now have. It will shortly become a struggle for what’s left that can create pockets of greater resilience. If we can shift our thinking and action and self-management to focus on securing the fundamentals of food and water and security, then some areas and some groups will be more likely to ride out this century successfully.

RJ: One last observation – You have great resonance with the work of Bjorn Lomborg. He, too, in The Sceptical Environmentalist, argues for evidence-based policy. Yet the rules of evidence are, as you eloquently point out at the end of State of Fear, are themselves subject to agenda setting. 

MC: Yes, I have said that everyone has an agenda, except me.

RJ: That’s another thing we have in common, then. Thank you so much. Is there anything you would like to add?

MC: I would only like to draw the sceptics attention to a recent report from NASA, whose records I trust, on the speed and scale of global climate temperature rises.

Scientists say 2012 was the ninth warmest of any year since 1880,
continuing a long-term trend of rising global temperatures. With the exception of 1998,
the nine warmest years in the 132-year record all have occurred since 2000, with
2010 and 2005 ranking as the hottest years on record.
-- full story > http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130115190218.htm

Next week Ronda, wearing a NASA-surplus astronaut’s suit, warmly chats
 with Hitler.

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January 16, 2013 | Graham

Crikey says subscription model won’t work. Huh?

A bizarre article in Crikey claims that Andrew Bolt couldn’t make enough money from blogging to earn a living because US blogger Andrew Sullivan could.

Yet he managed to stun media watchers around the world earlier this month by announcing he would take his highly-read blog, currently housed at The Daily Beast, independent. In a seemingly unprecedented move, Sullivan’s ad-free blog will be run under a New York Times-style metered model, with regular readers asked to pay $20 a year for access. Was this the ultimate act of hubris, many wondered, or a sign of things to come?

The experiment, so far, seems to be working. Sullivan is on track to reach his first-year funding goal of US$900,000 after raising a third of that sum within 24 hours after announcing he was going solo.

But even if he pulls it off, Sullivan’s strategy appears unlikely to be reproduced successfully any time soon — especially in Australia.

While it’s true that you can make more money from online subscription publishing in the US than here, it’s not true you can’t make money from it, and Crikey itself proves that point deriving its income from onsite advertising and subscriptions.

Not only does Crikey make money, but its stablemate The Eureka Report, also an online subscription publication, sold last year to News Limited for $30 million, in the process making its founder Alan Kohler a multi-millionaire.

The source for Crikey’s speculations appears to be Tim Dunlop, a pioneering blogger in Australia whose Road to Surfdom had a great name but limited patronage. Dunlop is an opinionated leftie who is frequently wrong, as in this case, but is nothing but dogged in pursuing his ideological biases.

That is no doubt how Bolt got his name into this article. Dunlop is antagonistic to Bolt, and would presumably want to prove in advance that he was more successful than Bolt, and as he hasn’t made any money blogging, then neither would Bolt.

So, put that prediction into Crikey, and it is the closest thing to fact that one can get.

The real question of course is “How many Australians, including Bolt, will do a Kohler?” because the facts of the matter are that the subscription model is the future of online publishing.

Although you do need to offer real value, which Bolt and others can.

On the basis of this article you wonder what the value proposition is for Crikey these days. But then it is the Christmas break. Things may improve when the A team gets back to work.


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January 14, 2013 | Graham

Gun buyback falls victim to the Cobra effect

I was startled, but not surprised, to hear a news report this morning that Australians now own as many guns as they did before the 1996 gun buyback. Startled, because it has been a well-kept secret, but not surprised, because it is a species of a well-known economic phenomenon called the Cobra effect.

According to News Limited:

Professor Alpers said Port Arthur was one of a series of gun massacres and overall more than a million guns were surrendered.

“What our research found was that a huge number of people gave in their guns for no compensation at all,” he said.

“These hadn’t been added into the discussions. So a million guns were taken out of circulation and put into the smelter.”

Gun imports increased after 1996 as people replaced banned guns, then crashed, Prof Alpers said.

“Gradually for the past 10 years, they have been creeping up again.

But they are not the semi-automatics specifically banned after Port Arthur.

The Cobra effect describes an attempt by the British to eradicate poisonous snakes around Delhi by paying a bounty for them. What this led to was a vigorous industry in the production of even more snakes for sale to the British, not a decline in overall snake numbers.

In the case of the gun buyback it would appear that something similar has happened. People still want to own guns, so many have surrendered guns they didn’t want or need, and then invested, over time, in guns they did.

Unlike the Cobra effect there have been some benefits to the government in that the composition of the total arsenal has changed, and there has been a 50% decrease in the numbers of gun deaths.

However, there also appear to have been substitution effects with people now being relatively more likely to be knifed:

The Australian Institute of Criminology homicide study shows gun murders have steadily declined from the late 1980s and now are far outnumbered by murders with knives.

News doesn’t provide the actual figures for knifings, so it is possible they have stayed static at the same time that gun homicides have declined.

We don’t have any reliable figures on mass murders as to whether they have declined or not. They are relatively rare as Wikipedia shows and so data is at best lumpy.

There are lessons here, including in the difficulty of changing citizen behaviour by government coercion.

I was a supporter of the Howard gun buyback, and remain so, but I was always conscious that it is not a simple issue. It was a “better safe than sorry” move but as time goes on, its benefits are not as easy to quantify as common-sense would suggest.


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January 12, 2013 | Ronda Jambe

Thank you, India, for reminding us about cultural relativism

…and what a crock it is, was, and always will be. Human rights are universal, especially the right to be free from violence. If religion was a refuge for the cowardly criminals that raped and murdered the female student in Dehli, women would be out protesting in support of the defence lawyer. That person (guess the gender) said the victim should not have been out at night. Just another way of saying ‘she asked for it’.

Is that why no one helped the couple for nearly two hours after they were thrown naked from the bus? What cultural attitudes does that reveal about the capital of what could be a great democracy? To their credit, a large group of lawyers refused to defend the accused group.

A ‘spiritual guru’ (the devil may also lay claim to this description) has also gone on record saying that she would have been saved if she had ‘chanted  God’s name’.

The whole sick episode makes me want to find some cross-cultural research on violence against women: is there less or more in permissive societies such as ours, where women can flaunt themselves in gear that many would equate with prostitution? Or do places where women are compelled to cover up totally and not leave home without male assent really protect women? I have a good guess what the findings would be.

Cultural ‘norms’ often exist just to justify control, power over the weak, and irresponsible lack of care.

Let us insist that such cultural norms never become tolerated in Australia.

Have Indian leaders in Australia made this clear?

And let’s never forget about the 13 year old who was shot in the head by the Taliban in Pakistan for seeking the right to an education. She is alive, and rescued, for now, but death threats against her and her family continue.

In San Francisco it is apparently not illegal to sit naked in cafes (as long as you place a handkerchief on the seat, for hygiene).

Copying this practice, like dressing up in sexy revealing gear, is not something I aspire to (I’m too old for it to be fun for anyone).

But I will proclaim loudly and long the right for women and everyone else to do as they wish when it doesn’t hurt others, and be free from violent attacks because they dare to use the streets and public transport that should be guaranteed safe.

Hurrah for all those in India, males as well as females, who have stood up and called for an end to this violence.

Time for the law to assert basic human rights.

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January 04, 2013 | Graham

Books available for review

As a complement to On Line Opinion’s January feature “Books I recommend” Copyright publishing has offered a complimentary copy of any of the titles below for review by existing On Line Opinion authors. Please send me an email editor@onlineopinion.com.au if you are interested in participating in this offer.

Needed but not wanted – Chinese in Rabaul 1884-1960 by Dr Peter Cahill <http://www.copyright.net.au/details.php?id=149> Scholarly but readable history of Chinese in an exotic but doomed town in a New Guinea volcanic crater. Taken by Rafe Champion

Simply one life by Frances and Adrian Bowler <http://www.copyright.net.au/details.php?id=145> A mother and son describe living with late onset schizophrenia, its management, embellished with some beautiful poetry.

Scorched – pushing the boundaries across the Sahara <http://www.copyright.net.au/details.php?id=144> A true story of adventure – crossing the Sahara from north to south in a Kombi van in the early 1970s.

The versed writing of Jock McPoet <http://www.copyright.net.au/details.php?id=143> Poetic snapshots from over 30 years of political and social observation. All poems have rhythm, rhyme and meaning.

Pounding along to Singapore by Caroline Gaden <http://www.copyright.net.au/details.php?id=142> Letters home by one of the heros of the fall of Singapore skilfully edited with background commentary by the author.

The Pitts in Paradise by Laraine Dillon <http://www.copyright.net.au/details.php?id=139> A novel of life in the raw by a writer who has experienced what she describes in a search for a sea change – a tropical paradise is what you make it. Taken by Kevin Rennie.

A Lethal Occupation – but some people thrive on it by Dr Monty Morris <http://www.copyright.net.au/details.php?id=138> The vicar of Bangkok for 10 years where a Vicars had a short life expectancy. Entertaining and informative stories of western life in an eastern culture

Priska goes to the theatre – the evolution of the Gospel of John by Dr John Steele <http://www.copyright.net.au/details.php?id=137> A scholarly look at the history of the Bible by one of Australia’s finest theological and historical writers. Taken by David Pohlmann

A Surgical Life – dreaming things that never were by Dr John Frawley <http://www.copyright.net.au/details.php?id=128> Autobiography of an Australian surgical pioneer. Gripping and well written.

And all our Yesterdays by Fleur Lehane <http://www.copyright.net.au/details.php?id=110> A fitting sequel to the Author’s best seller Heartbreak Corner. The stories of the Durack and Tully families are the stuff of pioneering in Australia. The east coast equivalent of Kings in Grass Castles.

Bold Bhutan Beckons by Tim Fischer and Tshering Tashi <http://www.copyright.net.au/details.php?id=113> The tiny kingdom of Bhutan in the Himalayas, wedged between two superpowers, India and China, is a lesson in survival and an inspiration in the search for happiness. Taken by Winton Bates.

Cape York – the savage frontier by Rodney Liddell <http://www.copyright.net.au/details.php?id=102> Describes the territorial disputes and genocide between Cape York mainland tribes, Torres Strait tribes and Papua New Guinea tribes from the time of white settlement. After the inevitable skirmishes, never has there been such a time of peace on the Cape since then.

Starlight – an Australian Army doctor in Vietnam by Dr Tony White <http://www.copyright.net.au/details.php?id=130> Autobiography of a quiet hero, one of many who have helped defend this country.

The Pearls of Broome by Aji Ellies <http://www.copyright.net.au/details.php?id=127> An exquisite coffee table book about pearls, Broome and five generations of a pearling family. Cultivated pearls were first developed at Cape York in Queensland by a British oceanographer stationed there. Two Japanese gentlemen spent 6 months there, took the process back to Japan, patented it, and Mikimoto became the richest man in Japan.

Understanding Personal and Economic Liberty by Ronald Kitching <http://www.copyright.net.au/details.php?id=61> A tour de force commentary through the literature of freedom. Taken by Rafe Champion

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January 02, 2013 | Graham

What has become of human evolution?

Evolution occurs in response to environmental pressures, but what environmental pressures are there left to operate on man in such a way that he might continue to evolve when we have a cradle to grave nanny state whose duty is not only to protect him, but to find cures for all defects, even those caused by his DNA?

Faced with this question I long ago came to the conclusion that man might be one of the first species to experience what you might call negative evolution – a species in which his actual body became less adapted to his environment, even though, by externalising properties of his body he will actually come to dominate environment more than he does even at the moment.

However, some recent observations have caused me to muse about whether, while the whole species may be likely to physically deterioriate, some parts of it may still be subject to evolutionary pressure. In making these observations I am not thinking of those few remnants of man still dominated by their environment, but in fact those tribes that inhabit the highest spots in the modern environmental ecosystem.

The observations to which I refer are reports that cane toads are evolving faster than thought, over as few as 50 generations. The other is an anecdotal sampling of the student populations at two Brisbane high schools with quite different socio-demographic bases.

Cane toads are apparently becoming stronger and longer-limbed. The evolutionary theory here is that only the fastest toads are at the forefront of the toad invasion, and they tend to be long-limbed. As a result their mates are also long-limbed, and the species evolves as their offspring are more likely to be long-limbed also. This is not to say that all toads have evolved like this. Presumably the more home-bodied toads have stayed much the same, mate with other home-bodies, and produce undistinguished progeny, but in the areas where toads first established themselves.

The point here is that species may evolve into subspecies, and thus may evolve to a point where they become distinct species. Cane toads may be on this trajectory, at least temporarily.

My partner’s daughters are both willowy beauties. Over twelve months ago they moved from a school in a lower-middle class area to one of the two or three best state schools in Brisbane in one of the highest socio-economic catchments. At their old school kids were continually asking them why they were so thin. At their new school, while I’m sure they still stand out, leanness is the order of the day.

We know, at least in Australia, that obesity and low income tend to run together. We attribute this to poor education, and cost pressures, leading to overconsumption of calorie-dense foods, like Macdonald’s. But could it be more complicated than this?

Could part of the reason be that people in higher socio-demographics select mates for intellectual and aesthetic reasons tied to the urge to succeed? As we know again that good looks help us to succeed, are this subset of our species selectively breeding not just more successful offspring, but offspring who are more likely than others to have a biology that favours good looks, of which leanness is an integral part?

Are the obese and over-weight to some extent victims of negative evolution? Something to think of over the leftover plum pudding, especially if you think fat taxes and “Life. Be in it.” campaigns are the answer.


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