Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Enchanted Toasting Fork - Episode 11

(Yes, I finally got my arse in front of the PC and got it written)

"OK, here goes," said Ruby, leaning back on the pillows, "The story of my bright, happy childhood ... You know, it would be a lot easier to believe you're actually interested in this if you'd stop that and just listen."

Petro stopped that and settled himself, rather elaborately; he moved closer to Ruby and with a show of casual nonchalance, managed to get his arm extended across the top of her head. She graciously took the hint, and settled herself on his shoulder, taking one arm out of play. That left his other hand free for that, but once Ruby had clasped it in twined fingers, that was pretty much out of the question. Ruby resumed her tale.

"So the fairy godmothers did their little number and that was that - everyone knew that, as usual, the christening was a right royal total stuff-up, but there was nothing anyone could do about it. So it was off to the palace dining room where the christening feast was laid out, and everyone did their best to put a good face on things with the help of the dozen cases of vintage champagne that had been put aside for the occasion, plus a dozen more that had been set aside for my Confirmation and then they started in on the Royal Wedding stock. It was the most monumental piss-up in the history of the kingdom. Hasn't been rivalled yet, apparently.

"I've only got this second hand, of course, but thanks to that business about 'always presenting a cheerful face to the world', I nearly starved to death within a couple of days of the christening. Normal babies cry when they're hungry - they don't smile angelically, giggle winsomely and then lapse into a coma. Fortunately for me the place physician was smart enough to realise what was what and he gave the wet nurse strict instructions to feed me every three hours during the day, whether I was crying or not."

Ruby drew herself a little closer to Petro; her body quivered against his, her hand trembled. He freed his hand from her grasp - not to do that, though he was tempted, but to draw her closer and, he hoped, still the vibrancy that seemed to be overwhelming her.

"We can skip the next bit, if it's too upsetting," he suggested, "Leave it for another time, perhaps."

"OK," she answered, "We'll skip my happy bright childhood and get tot the first of these ..."

She took hold of Petro's hand again, and guided it to the crest of her hip where a new chrysophrase had just pushed its way through her skin. "Of course, it wasn't a chrysophrase or a garnet - those started to come much later - it was a ruby, and a good sized one too." Petro's hand showed no signs of moving - his mind seemed to be completely off that - so she felt it was safe to move hers. She touched the tip of her nose.

"It was right here." she said.

"It came as a bit of a shock, but I was still stuck with showing a happy, vibrant face to the world, so everyone thought I was taking it in my stride. As if. Everyone in the palace quickly got used to seeing me with precious stones poking out of my complexion, so it needn't have been too bad.

"Except that the kingdom was in financial difficulties and my father had taken on a new Chancellor of the Exchequer whowas dead keen to get the Palace budget into surplus. And the rubies were quite valuable, even uncut. He talked my father into seeing 'fiscal sense' and I ended up in a well guarded room in the top of the highest tower in the palace, with a chamber maid to care for me and a professional appraiser to keep an eye on the rubies. Besides the armed guards at the bottom of the tower stairs, there were archers and falconers on watch round the battlements to make sure that no magpies, bower-birds or other thieving pests could get near me.

"Naturally, word got out that there was an enchanted princess locked in a tower of the Palace and the handsome Princes started to show up, all looking to fight their way past the guards, for the chance of a quick snog with yours truly. One finally turned up who was a little less half-witted than the rest - he brought a rope and a grappling hook and stole into the room by night. We snogged - I felt the magic lift - climbed down the rope and rode away on the obligatory white steed. It was an ex-police force Harley Electra Glide. A week later we were married.

"But that wasn't the end of the spell. Turns out that he wasn't a pure-bred royal. His mother had got a bit frisky with one of the gentlemen of the bed chamber while his Majesty, her husband had been off on a hunting trip or carousing with a couple of the ladies in waiting. Something like that. It happens a lot in royal circles. So I didn't turn out the perfect beauty he expected. And now the gems were nowhere as large and valuable as they used to be.

"After about six months I came home from opening a new health spa to find Prince Bastard and the most exfoliated of our ladies in waiting in bed together. We argued, I left, the next year there was agreat scandal when she brought a little quarter Princess into the world.

"And that's pretty much it," Ruby finished, with evident relief, "So, how did you get to be an out-of-work wizard?"

Petro didn't answer - his mind had wandered back to that and the task of convincing Ruby that, right now, that would be a lot more interesting than listening to his life story.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Duckspeak on Doublethink

According to Dr Jennifer Marohasy of the IPA:

Doublethink is when we hold two contradictory beliefs in our minds simultaneously and accept both of them. Doublethink has been described as a form of trained, willful blindness to contradictions ...
Personally, I think that misses some of the subtleties of classic Orwellian doublethink, as outlined in the postscript to 1984, where Orwell describes his synthetic language, Newspeak and its usage. For example, the Newspeak word duckspeak can be used pejoratively, to dismiss the oratory of an opponent of IngSoc, or in praising a particularly good Party orator - who might be a doubleplusgood duckspeaker.

According to Dr Marohasy, Doublethink is rife in debate on the management of the Murray-Darling Basin - not at the IPA of course, but in the halls of academia, the smoky back-rooms of envirnmental activists, the halls of political power and of course, the offices of the bureaucrats. Take for example, Risks to the shared water resources of the Murray-Darling Basin, Part 2 of the MDBC's recent report on the state of the Basin, in particular, the section on Groundwater Extraction:
It begins by stating that "groundwater stores are declining at alarming rates and this may jeopardise its future use locally". It goes on to explain different ways that groundwater extraction can lead to reduced stream flows...
The first thing that might strike you - it certainly struck me - about this beginning is the lower case "g" in groundwater. Surely, if the section begins with this statement, "groundwater" ought to be capitalised. Well, let's take a look at the section and see how it does begin:
Groundwater is a valuable resource in the Basin. As discussed in the first report in this two part series, groundwater extraction has increased in recent years. In some parts of the Basin, groundwater stores are declining at alarming rates and this may jeopardise its future use locally. [my emphasis]
Well, Dr Marohasy's selected quote is near the beginning - it's no further than two full sentences and an adverbial phrase in. And I suppose Dr Marohasy's presentation of the quote is more accurate than something like this:
Groundwater ... stores are declining at alarming rates and this may jeopardise its future use locally.
But then, if Dr Marohasy had gone that route, the prescence of an ellipsis would have given a lot of readers the hint that the quote was being massaged a little, in the manner of book blurbs and movie posters.

Ah, but where is the double think? Probably here:
Read on [for about two pages of technical discussion] and there is reference to high levels of groundwater extraction in the Shepparton-Katunga region contributing to salinity mitigation...
So there you have it - groundwater extraction bad, because it may jeopardise groundwater supplies (locally) into the future, groundwater extraction good because it mitigates salinity. Except that according to Dr Marohasy, we're not really talking about groundwater extraction in the Shepparton-Katunga region - it's actually:
... code for salt interception schemes are a form of groundwater extraction. [sic]
And here's what the report actually says about the Shepparton-Katunga region:
Other areas where extraction rates are high at present, such as the Shepparton-Katunga and Lower Murrumbidgee regions, have a similarly high level of risk [of environmental damage, particularly to rivers fed by the groundwater aquifers - I think]. However, the situation here is complicated by the presence of a semi-confining layer. In the Shepparton-Katunga region, high levels of extraction contribute to salinity mitigation.
From here on, Dr Marohasy's post lapses into confusion, as she works hew way to posing the question:
But hang-on, how much lower do we want to push Murray River salt levels and what is the tradeoff in terms of lost groundwater?
Lost? The report says nothing about lost groundwater - unless you count groundwater that can't be extracted from aquifers, because the result is an adverse impact on river water quality, as "lost". Read on, and the confusion culminates in this parting question:
At what point will there be a realization that river salinity and rising groundwater are no longer key issues, the real issue is disappearing groundwater and it is likely to be exacerbated by the next salt interception scheme?
I'd like to know where this groundwater is disappearing to. Is there, perhaps, some process of cold fusion going on in Murray-Darling basin aquifers that is turning some of the water into helium and free oxygen? If so, that wouldn't be such a bad thing, if we could find a way to harness to energy that's being released - it might be bad news for the Murray, but it's good news for greenhouse gas emissions.

(Cross-posted at Larvatus Prodeo)