Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Our return to the dark side

The so-called “Pacific Solution” to Australia’s refugee issue is a fraud and a national disgrace.
 The politicians on both sides may have deluded themselves into thinking that they really care about the refugees, but its crap.
Their objective has nothing to do with refugees – it’s all about getting re-elected. It’s all about opinion polls.
The whole issue hangs on two flawed assumptions:

  1.  We are being inundated with boat people.
  2.  The rest of the world wants to come and live in Australia.
Compared to refugees around the world, the boats coming to Australia are an issue only to the politicians and the journalists who feed on them. The numbers are just not significant that is la verita.
That the masses in Australia should be ignorant and parochial enough to think that “this is the best little bloody place on earth” and therefore we must protect it from being overrun by the hordes is only natural. For the politicians to join in this delusion and feed it is unforgivable.
Very few people in this world ever want to leave their home – that is la verita.  Australia is a great place, but so is Disneyland. They are great places to visit on holiday.  But if you ask people from anywhere on earth where they want to be, where they want to raise their children, you will soon realise “there’s no place like home”.
That’s where they were brought up, that’s where their parents were brought up and that’s where their grandparents were brought up.
So don’t worry Aussie’s, they are not all planning to come over here to steal your telly.
We have some of the most poverty stricken people on earth living just off our shores – almost within swimming distance – but they are not piling on to boats to get to “a better life” in Australia. They want to stay home.
Boat people do not come from our near neighbours, they come from war zones.
So, with respect, Mrs Prime Minister, Mr Abbott, here’s an idea – if you really want to stop “boat people” coming here, then why don’t you stop bombing their fuckin’ homes!
If you really want to stop refugees, focus your efforts and your resources on ending the wars, and achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals.
Now really, why the hell do I have to write this stuff? What has happened to our journalists?
I’m really busy right now. I left newspapers 15 years ago. I am just recovering from the flu and I was looking forward to having a nice easy day on the couch playing my son’s Xbox.
Then this morning, as our politicians are debating their “Pacific Solution” legislation in Canberra, I hear Richard Towle, UNHCR Regional Representative for Australia, New Zealand, PNG and the Pacific, reveal to Fran Kelly that he hasn’t yet been consulted.
Talk about ruin my day! I couldn’t fuckin’ believe it! What the fuck is going on!
Now the legislation has just passed the House of Representatives – well hoo-fuckin-ray!
And protesters have come out in the streets to object – well God bless them, but they haven’t got a chance. They don’t understand the political forces, the levels of delusion they are fighting against.
With no leadership in Canberra, most journalists out to lunch or out of a job, and both major parties now singing to the choir of xenophobia. the poor refugees haven’t got a fuckin’ chance.
Let’s be clear here, former Defence Force Chief Angus Houston may be an expert at creating refugees but he is not an expert at dealing with them -- Richard Towle is.
As Richard told Fran this morning he had “some concerns” with the Gillard Government’s “Pacific Solution”. Which is diplomatic speak for “it stinks”.
His idea of a regional solution would involve raising the standards of treatment in the region, not lowing Australia’s standards. That’s why he wasn’t consulted.
The fact is torturing refugees is not the way to solve the problem. Nor is it the way to thwart the people smugglers. The way you do that is make it safe for people to stay home.
And as for Tony Abbott singing the praises of the Howard solutions – and calling on the Prime Minister to apologise for criticising them – I would like him to explain to me why those responsible for implementing the Howard policies should not be charged under The Crimes Act with child abuse.
As Richard mentioned in passing this morning we are still trying to deal with the mental illnesses caused by the Howard policies.
I still shudder when I remember a child being returned to Wimmera Detention Centre against the medical advice (and protests) from the government phychiatrist, back in those dark days. Torturing refugees maybe a vote winner in this country, particularly in some marginal electorates, but it is also a crime against humanity.
I’m not a lawyer, and I’m frankly too busy to look it up right now, but I would like Tony to explain to me why members of the government can be exempt from child-abuse laws – particularly given that the Immigration Minister is the legal guardian of unaccompanied minors.
If this had happened in Bosnia in the ‘90s, we would be pursuing them to the ends of the earth. So why aren’t we charging all those who knowingly inflicted harm on refugees, and all those public servants who sadly “were only following orders”.
That’s enough, it’s time to start treating refugees like refugees. Don’t make me have to tell you again.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Adults only announcement on energy

It is with great sadness that I have to make an announcement. The solar and wind energy dream is over.
It is my responsibility to make this announcement because nobody else can.
The last time I felt like this was when I had to fess up to my children that there is no Santa Claus – it was always just me and your mum. Those nasty kids at school who teased you for believing, I’m afraid, where right all along. “I’m really sorry honey for not telling you earlier, but I didn’t have the heart. You so wanted to believe it’s true.”
It’s the same with society’s love affair with solar and wind energy.
All the major energy corporations of the world have known this for a long time. But whenever they try to say it they just become the “nasty kids at school”. Saying hurtful things like: “Solar is the energy of the future – and always will be.”
All the politicians who have known this for some time can’t say it, because if they did you wouldn’t believe them and they would just be voted out of office. As the global financial crisis bites our politicians are trying to quietly creep away from all the grandiose solar promises they made.
The major institutional investment firms that underwrite the energy industry have known, but why should they tell, it’s none of their business. They just go on investing our pension funds in fossil fuels like they always have.
This doesn’t mean to say that we won’t see wind turbines or solar panels anymore, we will. Wind and solar is beautiful, clean energy and we should use as much as we can afford. But it’s time we realised it is not the panacea for the imperative problems facing civilization today.
Wind and solar will always be to energy what bicycles are to transport.
It all has to do with one word – capacity. Those mentioned above – and engineers everywhere – understand the importance of this word. But the rest of us in the egosphere are easily confused by it.
For example, I can ride my bicycle down a steep hill at probably 100 kilometres an hour (60 miles per hour). So the speed capacity of my bike is 100kmh. But that doesn’t mean that I can ride my bike 100 kilometres in one hour. In fact I don’t think I could ride 100 kilometres in a week.
A little motorbike, on the other hand, that has a top speed of 100kmh, has the same speed capacity as my bike. However, it could feasibly travel 100 kilometres in one hour.
My bike and a motorbike can have the same speed capacity – 100kmh – but very different “capacity ratios”.
Over any 100 kilometre stretch the capacity ratio of me on my bike – that is the percentage of the journey I could do at my speed capacity of 100kmh – would be about 1 to 2 percent provided there were some really steep downhills. Whereas the capacity ratio of the motorbike would be closer to 100 percent.
A 100kmh-capacity bicycle is not the equivalent of a 100kmh motorbike, and for the same reasons a 100 megawatt windfarm is not the same as a 100 megawatt gas turbine.
Bicycle technology keeps getting better. Today’s bicycles are significantly faster and lighter than bikes 20 years ago.  In fact, bike speed capacity has reached 220kmh (Eric Barone, downhill on snow, in 2000). But this doesn’t mean that it’s only a matter of time before bicycles will be competing in the motorcycle Grand Prix.
In the same way wind and solar technology is getting better and better, but, sadly, it will never be competing with fossil fuels.
Politicians have long been playing to delusions about energy promising to deliver a “clean energy future” based on renewable energy. Here in Australia we have one of the, if not the, most conducive environments for solar energy.
Politicians here have no problem getting the public, journalists and even academics to believe we are about to switch over to a “Solar Dawn” any day soon – a “Clean Energy Future”.
But in its current Draft Energy White Paper it gazes into a crystal ball to model what we could have in the year 2050. The best it could dream up for solar is 3 percent of our electricity by 2050. Three percent, and only if there are some technology breakthroughs.
I’m really sorry kids, but there you have it.
The competition in the motorcycle market is between names like Ducati, Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha. There will never be bicycles competing here.
Competing in the power generation market is coal, gas and nuclear. Right now there is no viable alternative. There will never be wind and solar in this league. There is some renewable energy making a marginal contribution, but this is almost entirely hydroelectricity and biomass, essentially wood-fired power generation.
Yes, there will have to be a new energy frontier sometime. But there is no way of predicting what that will be or when. In the meantime we have to work with what we’ve got. Wind and solar are not new energy sources for the future – they’re old energy sources. They have both been around longer than bicycles and we have tried so hard, particularly in the past 30 years, to make them work. But they just can’t do it.
Once again, it really saddens me to have to announce that this dream is over. And the ones I feel the most for are the Greens.
I know how much of their platform relies on, particularly, their solar energy vision, and I hate to have to tell them that the big corporations – those “nasty kids in the playground” – were right all along. There is no Santa and there is no solar energy future.
So why am I doing this? Why am I bursting their balloon?
Because I am a big admirer of the Greens and the environmental movement as a whole. I have been voting Greens for as long as Australian Governments have been throwing refugees into jail.
As far as I’m concerned, the Greens are the only party with a grown-up approach to the many social issues that are important to me. I want to see them adopt this same grown-up approach to energy.
We face some very serious energy challenges today and solar dreamers are poisoning the debates and preventing the discussions we really need to have.
The Greens have been a powerful political force in Germany since 1980. Germany has adopted one of the most aggressive attempts to make solar power generation work. It has spent billions over the years and yet today it only gets about 1 percent of its electricity from solar.
Greens have done a lot over the years to improve our environment and raise environmental awareness. Now we need them championing rational approaches to the huge problem of supplying the world’s growing need for real energy while, at the same time, reducing our emissions.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Titanic – the greatest disaster in Newsland

I have always been fascinated by our fixation with the The Titanic sinking. It certainly was a very tragic event and a great story, movies etc. But since then there have been four worse peacetime maritime accidents. Who could name two of them?
The worst of all time happened just 25 years ago. The Dona Paz sank in flames after a collision with a petrol tanker killing more than 4300 people – almost three times the death toll on the Titanic.
The difference between the two is that one happened in “Newsland”, while the other only happened in the real world.  I used to work in Newsland, it’s an amazing place. But it’s nowhere near as amazing as the real world. Today Newsland seems to be drifting off into space and I’m beginning to lose touch.
I few years ago I thought about the Dona Paz and why it never made it to Newsland.
I can’t wait for the Dona Paz 3D movie.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Exposing the Secret Power of Our Superheros

N order to be a superhero it seems there are two prerequisites – the ability to perform spectacular feats and anonymity.
The first is self-evident – I mean, derr, if you can’t perform spectacular feats the interview is over.  But the need for anonymity is an enigma. Sure, it is obviously convenient. The last thing you need when you’re a busy superhero is your “Bat Phone” running 24/7 with cries for help from people who really are just too lazy or stupid to solve their own problems.
However, “convenience” does not completely explain the mystery. There is something fundamental about superheros that shields them from public gaze. It appears to be linked to the suppression of ego and lack of charisma. In fact they tend to be anti-egotists – introverts.
Now I know what you're thinking – Batman, Superman, introverts? Have you seen their costumes, you dick?
But these flamboyant vigilantes aren’t real superheros, they’re fictional characters. They are caricatures of superheros created by egotists.
Egotists depict superheros as narcissists who feel somehow compelled to at least try to conceal their insatiable need to be the centre of attention. Hence their outrageous garb tends to include a mask. Like a string bikini, it’s a faint flag of modesty fluttering in a gale of rampant exhibitionism.
Real superheros don’t need masks or costumes, because they are actually invisible.
I discovered their existence quite by accident when I stumbled over the keys to their camouflage. When I peered behind their curtain I was astonished by what I found. Their influence permeates every facet of our modern life.  I suddenly realised just how dependant we mortals are on them. They are continuously performing spectacular feats, day-in day-out right in front of our faces and yet we just can’t see them.
We walk by, oblivious, humming to the tune on our ipod.
They are everywhere, controlling our lives. They regularly hold mass meetings right in the middle of our capital cities where they honour esteemed members and bestow awards for magnificence, but I guarantee you won’t read a word about it in the newspapers or hear a mention on the television.
By some mysterious conjuring, they have induced a somnolent, narcotic effect on the community – their camouflage cloaks their activities no matter how spectacular or astounding.
We called for their help recently when the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan crippling the nuclear power stations, and when BP’s Macondo well exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, when floods and cyclones ravaged Australia in 2010 and an earthquake shattered Christchurch.
So powerful is their magic that when I expose their identity their spell will immediately kick in. You will be overcome first with a sense of disappointment. Feeling let-down you will not notice the veil quietly closing as your attention is diverted elsewhere and they drift back into invisibility.
These superheros are our engineers.
Throughout history, engineers performing spectacular feats have transformed the human race from a tribe of clever monkeys who poked sticks into holes to get the ants out into what we are today. It’s a process that continues at an ever-accelerating pace – yet how many of us could name just three of them?
It was engineers who built the pyramids, the Acropolis, the Roman aqueducts, the Great Wall of China, the steam engine, the combustion engine, aeroplanes, spacecraft. It was engineers who moved vast armies across theatres of war and delivered the devastating ordinance that changed the political course of history.
Yet when we think back over all these events, or read the historic literature, there is not a lot to recall these engineers. As a society we focus on the egotists – the charismatic political leaders, generals, admirals, or decorated heroes.
 “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender...” What was implied by Churchill but never stated was: “Exactly how we will achieve all this will be up to the engineers.”
I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth." Again the missing quote: “Exactly how we will get there and back will be up to our engineers.”
We know who went to the Moon, we know who sent them, but who knows who got them there and back?
Every time we get behind the wheel of a car, step on to a train or a plane or into an elevator, or drive over a bridge we put our lives into the hands of these superheros with their algorithms.
Fictional Hollywood superheros have bi-polar personas. One is the charismatic, gaudy exhibitionist who uses super powers to save the world in spectacular fashion. The other is the opposite – a nerdy, introverted character who blends into the community with a bland, everybody camouflage, shunning like kryponite the limelight that we egotists bask in.
This logic would suggest that for a real superhero trying to blend into Hollywood, the modern egotists’ Holy See, these poles would be reversed.
Consider Hedy Lamarr – here’s a superhero who disguised herself as an egotistic megastar in tinsel town. Feted as “the most beautiful woman in the world”, her adoring fans were oblivious to the superhero who was busy trying to save the world and who had a hand in changing the future course of mankind.
In the dark days of World War II, Lamarr applied her covert electronic engineering skills along with a Hollywood neighbour, avant-garde composer George Antheil, to design something they knew the US Navy desperately wanted – a secure torpedo guidance system.
However, their frequency hopping communications design, US Patent 2,292,387, was ahead of the electronics technology of the day and so it did not see service during that war.
It first saw action 20 years later when the heat was turned up to boiling in the Cold War. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, as the world and the human race moved towards the brink of destruction, the Lamarr-Atheil anti-eavesdropping technology was used by the US Navy to develop secure communications between its ships, blockading Cuba.
The Lamarr-Atheil spread-spectrum communications system, originally based on the idea of synchronised pianola reels, lies behind a range of modern secure wireless communications applications in systems from US defence satellites, to radio transmissions, to mobile phones.
Lamarr helped save life on earth, including mankind, from destruction, yet managed to avoid being named along with other Hollywood egotists Oprah Winfrey, Marilyn Monroe and Lucille Ball on Time Magazine’s list of The 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century.
Instead Lamarr is remembered for her beauty – and for being the first woman to get her tits out in a feature film.
So how exactly did she do it? (Remain invisible that is – not get her tits out.) How do these engineers so effectively hide their activities? How do they construct mammoth buildings, fly millions of people around the world, tunnel beneath our cities, put a man on the Moon, wrap the globe in an instant-communications network, span vast waterways with dangling steel without ever really being noticed? Given that drunken pop stars can have their faces splashed across news outlets around the world just by falling down outside a nightclub, or swearing at a photographer.

s I said, I think I have discovered the secret to the engineers’ powers of invisibility – it’s the pencils they use. Those seemingly stupid little retractable pencils that look like pens. Only engineers, or people who think like engineers, can use these pencils. If an egotist like me tries we keep breaking the lead until we fling the contraption at the wall in frustration.
My father was an engineer.
As a child I recall how he used to correct my maths homework using his stupid retractable pencil. I was never any good at maths. When forced to do my homework, I would sit gazing blankly at the hostile sums my teacher set and try to remember a morsel of what she said in class.
But nothing would come. Instead my mind would wander off to some distant imaginary land where whatever I was doing would make me a superhero and the centre of everyone’s admiration.
Then my father, knowing I was making no progress, would fold his newspaper and place it on the coffee table and come over to help me. He would take his magic pencil out of his shirt pocket. “These sums aren’t that hard,” he would say while pressing the button on the end and focussing on getting it just right before releasing the button, closing the tiny jaws around the protruding lead.
“All you have to remember is that ...” After dragging me back from my imaginary land where everything I did was magnificent, he would then humiliate me by doing each of my equations with his pencil asking me questions along the way like “what’s 13 minus four?” I would look blank.
 “13 minus four?”
 “Surely you know what 13 minus four is!?”
What he didn’t realise was that whatever the question, I couldn’t hear it. Instead all my mind was processing was the situation of me sitting here being tested and judged by my father and failing on every count.
He would just persist doing my equations in the margin of my exercise book. His sums and his process didn’t match my teacher’s in any way. But surprisingly his answers were always right.
“That’s not how WE do it,” I would feebly suggest. “We use New Maths.”
“Maths, is maths, however you do it,” he would say before leaving me ashamed, as he went back to reading his paper.
My father never talked about his work.
With his slide rule, theodolite and magic pencil he changed the lives of many people in the UK, Africa and Australia. These people are not aware of his role in their lives. Engineers don’t cut the ribbon when their work is done.
In Nigeria he built roads and bridges. This was a time when there was very little infrastructure in the country. He had to improvise on a lot of the services taken for granted in a modern, developed country – services such as ready-mixed concrete. My father had to mix his own concrete for the bridges and culverts on site with local labourers. He was constantly getting out his little pencil and adjusting the formulas of the mix in order to prevent cracking in the piles under the variable wet and dry tropical conditions.
“How are the piles going Peter?” the other expats would joke back at the club, suggesting he may have had an unspeakable medical condition.  
When an engineer constructs an all-weather road to an otherwise remote town or village they profoundly change the outlook of that society and its people forever. The same goes for connecting communities to the electricity grid, train network, gas or water supply, sewerage or even broadband internet. But rarely are we who live in these communities aware of who these engineers are or of the incredible feats they have to perform and the perplexing problems they have to overcome in order to get us what we take for granted.

My father, Peadar, with my mother, Nadia, at one of his work sites in Nigeria. When an engineer constructs an all-weather road to an otherwise remote town or village they profoundly change the outlook of that society and its people forever.

discovered the powers of the retractable pencil quite by accident not long after the turn of the century. I was working as an “embedded” journalist in a large corporation that was run by, and dominated by, engineers. Their stationery cupboard was full of these pencils disguised as pens. Whenever I presented something I had written for them to review, they would take out their retractable pencils, triggering a visceral flashback to my homework days. They would correct my spelling and grammar and then explain why some of the intuitive conclusions I had cleverly reached were based on flawed assumptions. These engineers were always calm, gracious but never condescending and, like my father, always so infuriatingly bloody right.
I was constantly energising around “brilliant”, innovative ideas only to see them torn to shreds by these quiet engineers with their confounded retractable-pencil logic.
But eventually I grew to enjoy these clashes with logic.
With fellow journalists we could sustain a loud, complex argument for hours, fuelled by beer and what Barry Humphrey’s referred to as the authority of total ignorance. With engineers the energy behind the idea would last for mere moments. It was either a good idea, in which case they would suggest further reading – essentially all those who had developed the same idea down through history – or it defied logic and would fall crashing to the floor like an improvised flying machine.
Gordon was one engineer I particularly loved bouncing things off.
“Gordon, if the laws of physics are sound then everything is predetermined,” I suggested one day. “Molecules have no choice in how they react, their reactions are set. Therefore, at the molecular level, our destiny has been set since the moment of the big bang, just like the destiny of balls on a pool table once you break. True?”
Gordon commended me on coming up with such a big idea, then calmly explained Heisenberg’s “uncertainty principle” and introduced me to the world of quantum mechanics. This caused a brain explosion. I fell down a rabbit hole and met Schrodinger’s Cat, which is not alive or dead, but is alive and dead.
Coming from daily newspapers where everything was reduced to a “good yarn”, this confrontation with in-depth logic proved to be quite game changing. I had never had to face such due diligence on everything that I wrote. But after a few years I found this scrutiny reassuring. Delving into the detail of complex technical issues and then trying to find new ways of expressing these concepts in the everyday, emotional language of journalism can be quite an intriguing challenge.
It’s not unlike trying to learn a second language late in life. The hardest part is letting go of assumptions you have grown up with. For example, in English objects are inanimate, whereas in Italian, like French and German, you have to think of them as male or female – boy or girl, masculine or feminine.
It was while studying Italian on a train, travelling from central Victoria into Melbourne that I stumbled across the power of the retractable pencil. I read an Italian phrase that I wanted to remember. Reaching into my coat for my pen I realised that I only had one of those stupid retractable pencils that I had picked up by mistake. After breaking the lead once, I pushed out another tiny bit of lead and tried again, writing ever so gently and carefully: ci penso di quando in quando (I think of it from time to time).
Suddenly I was engulfed in an orgasm of awareness. Everything stopped. While the train continued through the wheat fields at about 160 kmh, I was floating in a sea of stillness.
So this is how they do it. This is how those with a technical mind can create clarity and wonder from what seems to an egotist like me to be a chaotic confusion of tedious facts and figures. This is the power of the retractable pencil – the kinetics of writing. What you write with can have a subtle or profound impact on what you write.
You can’t write thundering columns, angry notes, graffiti or placards with a retractable pencil.
When it comes to jotting down notes at an interview a ballpoint pen is perfect. Keyboards have taken over our written communications – emails, blogs, articles, books. Even thumbs for SMS, chats or tweets.
However, when it comes to dealing with the big issues, the really tough questions, you need a retractable pencil. Intractable dilemmas require retractable pencils.

When the numbers really count: After famously reporting "Houston we have had a problem" Apollo 13 Commander James Lovell reached for his retractable pencil and starting jotting down these sums that would help get his ship safely home from the Moon. When the going gets really tough, those who don't have retractable pencils call those who do.

hen the going gets really tough, those who don’t have them call those who do.
When your house is on fire you call the fire department. But if a nuclear reactor is on fire we call the engineers. When oil comes spewing out from deep below the ocean, we call the engineers. If you’re lost in the woods you can call emergency rescue. But if you’re lost in space between Earth and the Moon, you call engineers.
Bringing the Apollo 13 astronauts home safely required a team consisting of hundreds of engineers stretching the limits of technology with algorithms, knowledge, lateral thinking and retractable pencils. In many respects this was as great an achievement, if not greater, than the first Moon landing. Controlling the Macondo oil well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico was an engineering feat on the same scale.
To hear and read commentators urging our political leaders to step in and takeover the operation shows just how out of touch we egotists have become. It exposes a fundamental flaw in our democratic system – we have a system built on popularity that elevates the loudmouths and shuns the thinkers.
It alienates those deep, introverted thinkers we rely on to solve the big problems. The nice, polite retractable-pencil people whose names you can never quite remember.
We egotists are the communicators, we are the butterflies in the garden. Thinkers tend to live a cloistered existence – geologists talk to geologists, neuroscientists to neuroscientists, engineers to engineers. We ferret them out and expose their work to a wider world. We cross pollinate ideas. This crucial cross fertilization opens the way to new amazing developments that benefit us all. Such as MRI technology used by clinicians for medical diagnostics or geoscientists looking deep into the earth, or the wide-spread, eclectic use of isotope analysis technology.
Necessity may well be the mother of invention, but serendipity is the father.
So what?
Well the fact is, essentially we journalists, we egotists, are failing to fulfil our role in the garden.
As a result we find that at a time when technological advances are opening up new and increasingly complex horizons of knowledge, the gap between scientific knowledge and public perception is widening. We journalists are failing to raise the level of technical understanding in the community and this is seriously hampering our ability to take full advantage of technical advances and is leading to serious public policy mistakes.
We have governments that find it difficult to draft quality, long-term policy decisions in some of our most important areas. For example, trying to site a nuclear waste storage facility anywhere in a democracy will raise a barrage of outrage, fear and misinformation. Not to mention policy paralysis in areas such as genetic engineering, medical research, energy and environmental management.
As a species, we are heading down the road of populism. Rather than enlightening and educating the population, journalists, and as a result politicians, are being drafted into harvesting ignorance and prejudices by promoting what is popular. Experts are brushed aside in favour of opinion polls and focus groups when it comes to determining solutions to some of the most complex problems we have ever faced.
The result is photo-opportunities involving grinning world leaders signing up to future commitments that have no chance of being fulfilled. Commitments such as the Millennium Development Goals, Kyoto and Copenhagen greenhouse gas emission targets, and nuclear non-proliferation treaties.
We egotists are just as important as our scientists and engineers. We are the artists, the musicians, the poets, the chefs, the filmmakers, the politicians, the movie stars. But we need to be aware of what we can do and what we can’t do.
We need more engineers. But we also need James Joyce, Jane Austen and Jimmy Buffett.
Egotists make life worth living, engineers make it possible. It's about as hard to love a building designed by an engineer as it is scary to drive over a bridge built by an artist.
The time has come for us egotists to go back to doing what we do best. We  have to pick up the “Bat Phone” and call the superheros. The people who are in the best position to do this are the journalists – real journalists.
We are the ones who have to change the public discourse. We have to present more facts and less opinion. We certainly have to resist the urge to seek popular opinions to complex issues. Please don’t ask any more pop singers for their views on climate change or world politics.
The role of the journalist is to narrow the gulf between what is known selectively and what is known collectively.
We have to drag more superheros into the limelight to help raise our overall awareness of what we face on the road ahead and what our realistic options are. We need facts that we can climb up on.
My advice to any journalist who feels they may actually have the answer to any of our big problems is try it out on someone who uses a retractable pencil – find your Gordon.
We all know what needs to be done. We all know the mission. We all know where our “Moon” is. We now need to get behind those with the knowledge to develop the algorithms that will get us there.