Social-technological inertia ‘increasing addiction to coal’

By Neil Perry, University of Western Sydney

Yallourn power plant: building more of these locks us into the existing techno-institutional complex Marcus Wong

HRL’s proposed brown coal-gas hybrid plant in the La Trobe Valley in Victoria was last year limited in size to 300 megawatts by a Victorian Environmental Protection Agency decision.

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A challenge to this ruling was upheld by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) in late March which would allow HRL to build a 600 megawatt (MW) plant on the basis that it was ‘best-practice’.

HRL last month announced that it had frozen design and pre-construction work because the decision to allow the size increase was linked to the Federal government’s ‘contract for closure’ approach which is part of their Clean Energy Future Policy. The ‘contract for closure’ approach commits the government to closing the most emissions-intensive plants worth some 2000 MWs by 2020.

The linking of the VCAT decision to this Federal government policy has created too much uncertainty for the plant to go ahead for now. Private funding for the plant is conditional on government grants – a promised $100 million from the Federal government and $50 million from the Victorian State government – and these grants now require the completion of negotiations to close or reduce the scale of higher emitting coal-fired power plants such as Hazelwood, which is also in the La Trobe valley.

Map of the major towns and power plants in the La Trobe Valley Nick Carson

Despite the HRL announcement, the plant could still go head in the future and this is only one example of plans and negotiations to build new coal-fired and other fossil-fuel based power stations. There are many other proposals and commitments in Australia. Around the world, the International Energy Agency estimates that the equivalent of some 1100 new 1000 megawatt coal-fired power stations will be built by 2035 with 86% of these in China, India and the US, a capacity increase of 73% in China and a doubling of installed capacity in India.

What is interesting, then, is the continuing government support for the existing techno-institutional complex of electricity provision. This support is both the result of, and further entrenches, carbon lock-in.

Carbon lock-in refers to the systemic bias against carbon-saving technologies despite their obvious economic and environmental advantages. It results because of inertia at the corporate, government and system-wide levels and these inertia are themselves the result of the historical development of the technological system at hand.

The current system of centralised and large-scale electricity provision is an historical artefact linked to Samuel Insull in the US. Insull, a one time employee of Thomas Edison, vice president of General Electric and eventual controller of his own multi-billion dollar empire created in the early 1900s a centralised network to reap the benefits of economies of scale and monopoly profits from a new coal-fired technology.

Once this design for electricity provision had won out, it became very difficult to change because an entire technological, institutional, governance, and even social system had built up around it.

For example, the techno-institutional complex of electricity provision involves the power producers, the coal-mining industry, their lobbying and financial backing of governments, the relevant labour unions and the industries inventing the gadgets which utilise electricity. It also includes the social institutions surrounding these gadgets such as labour-saving devices in the home and those used for leisure.

The current method of providing electricity is not necessarily, or even probably, the best way for electricity to be provided. This becomes more obvious when environmental externalities are considered. The reason for the continued dominance of the current method is simply the result of carbon lock-in.

As part of the techno-institutional complex, governments continue to support this lock-in through the structure of subsidies, grants and political support for the relevant industries. This may not favour any individual firm but certainly favours the existing techno-institutional system. We can witness this in the current case through the promise of $150 million in government grants.

Even when new plants are built under the ‘contract for closure’ proviso of reducing existing, older plants – for example, in the HRL case – carbon lock-in becomes further entrenched. In particular, the building of new plants extends the life of the existing techno-institutional complex.

In a 2010 Science article, Davis, et al. estimated the cumulative future emissions and global warming from existing transportation and energy infrastructure such as coal-fired power plants. Encouragingly, if we ceased building CO2-emitting devices such as power plants and motor vehicles but allowed all existing devices to live out their normal lifetimes, the resulting CO2 atmospheric concentration would be within the IPCC’s acceptable range. In contrast, continuing to expand the fossil-fuel based infrastructure will lead to atmospheric concentrations well outside the IPCCs acceptable range. This leads the authors to conclude that “sources of the most threatening emissions have yet to be built”.

As a developed economy, we have a duty to set the agenda to a more sustainable future and stop building fossil-fuel based power stations. Even when these replace more emissions-intensive, older plants, they continue to support the existing path dependencies and continue to lock us out of a renewable future.

Neil Perry does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.


Blog: A costly taste of freedom

The tear gas canisters rained down, and the ski-mask wearing police dragged away the youths brandishing the mobile phone cameras.

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Journalists were beaten and had their equipment smashed, and for all the world it was a scene from the heady early days of what came to be known as the Arab Spring, when Tunisians showed their neighbours just how to get rid of an unwanted dictatorship.

The demonstration in central Tunis last Monday – my first taste of the wave of democracy which began in this small North African country – heralded the worst violence since the new government took office following the revolution of January 2011, as the police tried to enforce a ban on demonstrations along the city’s main thoroughfare.

Tunisians have fought for their freedom, and many now have a taste for dictating terms with their leaders.

The protests took place on the public holiday set to mark ‘Martyrs’ Day’, in memory of those who died in the struggle against French colonial rule. But for some, the martyrs in mind this year were those who died fighting the last regime, with family members from the deprived towns of the interior joining secular graduates – many jobless – in criticising the new Islamist-led government.

Indeed, unemployment is higher than it was when a young unemployed man set fire to himself to kick off the revolution, and the economic situation is not entirely promising. Tunisians are ‘grumbling’, as one of the scores of newly-liberated, brash newspapers proclaimed on its front page the day after.

Many Tunisians – with different political viewpoints – give the government some credit. A grand coalition of moderate Islamists (Ennahda), leftists and independents, members of Parliament have paid for their place in government with years in exile and imprisonment at the hands of the former regime, which did all it could to crush opposition – particularly of the Islamic kind.

Some Tunisians are willing to admit that democracy took years to flower in Europe, but many have extremely high expectations. There was a real sense amongst protesters last week that police firing tear gas and hitting protesters meant that an Islamist dictatorship is around the corner. Yet a visit to Berlin on May the 1st – or Athens on any given day of protest – would suggest that such police behaviour is not unique to dictatorships.

But in Tunis, patience with such behaviour is in short supply.

Secular demonstrators say their protests are treated more harshly than those displayed by conservative Salafist muslim groups, and express real fear that Ennahda is kowtowing to its fringe. I’ve spoken to religious minority groups here who say they have good reason to be worried.

But the religious right also feels let down. The men who feel confident to grow their beards and the women who feel liberated enough to don the hijab – because that is the word – cannot be relied upon by Ennahda the next time that voting is called for. They argued long and hard for Sharia’s place in the constitution. One Salafist I spoke to says that his new Islamist-government, when it came down to it, did not deliver for him.

Thus the government is pressed on both sides by an increasingly polarised electorate with opinion makers on all sides not afraid to be the one who shouts the loudest, from strike-leading unionists to religious agitators – and Tunisians certainly know how to shout.

The country has experienced a remarkably peaceful period since it overthrew the last government – people see all to visibly what has happened in neighbouring Libya, where arms are awash, and further afield in Egypt, let alone Syria.

Democracy could be the fuel that sets Tunisia further on a path of upheaval, rather than stability – whether the government is doing a reasonable job or not.

“After the revolution everything is different” one young protester told me, before checking himself. “Sorry, I mean at the start of the revolution.”

In the new Tunisia, everyone has an opinion. A friend’s primary school-aged son and his class had had enough of their teacher one day, so began to shout ‘degage’; the French-language refrain which saw President Ben Ali toppled from power.

The same night, the friend’s son insisted that he should have a sandwich, and not couscous, for his evening meal. When his mother refused, he threatened to hold a sit-in of the kinds that are adding to the government’s catalogue of challenges.

As for protests on Tunis’s main avenue, the howls of outrage from a hostile media saw the ban lifted just a few days later; the coming weeks will show if Tunisians have the urge to take to the streets en masse once more.

If Tunisia’s government can pull through the next six months with a population as keen on change for change’s sake as this one is, then more power to them.


Review: Apple’s new iPad

After months of speculation, Apple’s new CEO Tim Cook last week announced its third-generation iPad during a keynote speech in San Francisco.

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SBS’s Trevor Long was there, and for the past week he’s been testing one of the few 2012 iPads currently in Australia – here are his thoughts.

The new iPad is called just that – the new iPad – dropping the number from the name is likely a sign toward simplicity in naming for the long term as well as possible future spin-off variations to the standard device.

One of the big selling points of Apple’s 2012 iPad is its new “retina” display which features a higher pixel density on the screen, making for a better viewing experience as well as richer colours. The “retina” display first featured in the iPhone 4 in 2010.

I’ve been using the new iPad for a week now and there really is a stark difference in the screen when you compare it side by side with the iPad 2 or use one after the other.

The other key visual difference is the thickness and weight. The device is 0.6mm thicker (unnoticeable unless you sit them side by side and look really hard!) and weighs an additional 50 grams or so – the weight is something you can notice if you’re a regular iPad 2 user.

Once switched on, the new quad-core processor will provide developers with the opportunity to boost the graphics performance of apps, in particular games with some full-featured action titles set to take full advantage of this power.

The 5 megapixel rear camera has been upgraded and includes some of the technology introduced to the iPhone 4S last year. This is nothing ground-breaking in the portable device market, however the still images it produces are a dramatic improvement on the iPad 2. The tablet’s video recording capabilities have also been upgraded to record full HD at 1080p.

There were rumours the next iPad would feature Apple’s heavily marketed ‘personal assistant’ Siri – however that did not eventuate. Instead, the device features a new dictation feature allowing one-tap dictation of any written field.

Australian English is supported, however, as with most voice recognition systems, the accuracy leaves a little to be desired unless you work hard to specifically talk to the device in a way it expects.

Finally, the device was unveiled with great fanfare as supporting “4G LTE” on the AT&T and Verizon networks in America.

In Australia, Telstra is currently the only telco with a 4G network, and tests have confirmed the device operates on a different spectrum to its system. This means that we’re buying a 3G, rather than 4G, device when operating in Australian conditions.

The largely unwritten upside though is that the new iPad does support Dual Carrier HSPA+ – in layman’s terms this effectively means double-speed 3G.

Telstra is the only network to support this technology, so if you have a new iPad on the Telstra network you can expect download speeds well into the 10-12Mbps range compared to 4-5Mbps with the iPad 2 on 3G.

My tests showed speeds up to 12Mbps and as low as 1-2Mbps, however each time a test was conducted the iPad 2 at the same time and location it getting half that speed.

Now for the pricing – for the second year in a row we’ve benefited from the strong Aussie dollar with the retail price of the iPad coming down once again.

The first iPad started at $649, while the iPad 2 started at $579. The new iPad will be available from $539 to $899, depending on specs.

Interestingly, Apple are also keeping the iPad 2 on sale for $429 ($150 less than its original RRP). This large range of tablets means a tough challenge for competing Android device manufacturers.

Overall, the third generation iPad takes the design and technology successes of the iPad 2 and improves them in some small and some very large ways.

At these price points, there’s no foreseeable end to the domination of Apple in the Australian tablet market.

Trevor Long travelled to San Francisco as a guest of Apple.


Higgs the musical: the sound of the ‘God particle’

By Archil Kobakhidze, University of Melbourne

The July 4 discovery of a particle that closely resembles the Higgs boson opens a new era in science: it should help us understand some fundamental mysteries, such as how microscopic particles attain their masses, or how gigantic galaxies and stars are formed.

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The supposed importance of the Higgs boson in shaping our universe and, ultimately, our own existence is fully reflected in its popular nickname, the God particle.

But what do the recent results sound like? That’s a question we now have an answer to, thanks to a process called sonification.

It took 48 years from the theoretical prediction of the Higgs boson by British theoretical physicist Peter Higgs, and independently by Robert Brout and Francois Englert, and Gerald Guralnik, C.R. Hagen and Tom Kibble, to its apparent discovery using two major detectors at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) – the ATLAS detector and the CMS detector.

Chris Halderman

Largely because of its supposed universal role in generating masses for all the other particles, the Higgs boson is rather hard to detect. Once produced in high energy collisions of protons, it decays very quickly, long before we have a chance to photograph it. Scientists can’t catch the Higgs boson directly, but they can detect some particles the Higgs boson decay into.

Different product particles manifest themselves differently in the detector. By looking at which particles are detected, and tracing them back, one can infer that a Higgs boson was created in the detector.

This is an incredibly complicated process, because each second about a billion collisions happen at the LHC and many particles produced in those collisions behave similarly to the products of the Higgs boson decay.

Initial, raw data collected from the detectors are in the form of electronic signals (streams of ones and zeros). These raw data are analysed and processed using powerful computing software, and are converted step by step into more sensible data, such as the number of detector hits, energy deposited in the detector, and so on. Using this processed data, scientists are then able to identify particles in the detector.

Information collected this way is displayed in the form of various graphs and histograms, such as the one shown below.

Mass distribution for the two-photon channel CERN

The clearly visible bump around 126 gigaelectronvolts (GeV) corresponds, it is believed, to a Higgs boson.

But are there ways to “witness” the supposed God particle other than in boring graphs? Enter sonification – the process of converting scientific data into sounds.

A team of researchers lead by Domenico Vicinanza from DANTE (Delivery of Advanced Network Technology to Europe) sonified the data collected by the ATLAS detector. As a result, the graph shown above has been turned into the sheet music you can see below.

Higgs boson sonification sheet music GÉANT

Semiquavers in the sonification correspond to data points on the graph separated by 5 GeV intervals. As numerical values of data points increase or decrease, the pitch of the notes grows or diminishes accordingly.

The bump corresponding to the God particle is represented by an F (Fa) note which is two octaves above the preceding F (Fa) note, a C (Do) note which is the most acute note in the music (also two octaves above the subsequent C note) representing the peak of the Higgs, and a E (Mi) note.

The tune is surprisingly catchy and listenable, as you’ll discover below.

It may be hard to see how sonification would be useful for purely scientific purposes. Strange as it may sound, scientists in their studies are usually more comfortable with formal numbers and “boring” graphs than their musical representations.

But sonification can definitely help the general public feel and accept fundamental discoveries as a part of global knowledge, just as art or music masterpieces are associated with the cultural heritage of civilisations.

Sonification plays a role in public awareness of science. After all, significant discoveries, such as the potential discovery of the God particle, contribute to society by producing fundamental knowledge that ultimately shapes our understanding of the world around us and our place in it.

Further reading:

CERN discovers a Higgs-like particle: let the party (and head-scratching) begin Explainer: the Higgs boson particle

Archil Kobakhidze does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.


FIFA insist doping not a problem in soccer

FIFA’s chief medical officer Jiri Dvorak has insisted that doping is not a significant problem in soccer.

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While athletics has suffered some high-profile positive tests over the last two months and cycling began the year with the news that Lance Armstrong finally owned up to his spurious past, football has largely avoided any negative publicity with regards illicit drug-taking.

There was the Diego Maradona positive test from the 1994 World Cup and several Italian-based players were banned for doping in the early 2000s but football’s record on drugs is relatively good compared to certain other sports.

And according to Dvorak, that’s because there isn’t much of it happening.

“I am confident that there is no systematic doping in football,” he told FIFA’s official website on Friday. “There is no systematic doping culture in football. I am confident of this.

“Of course there are individual cases, for sure. We do more than 30,000 sampling procedures every year and we have between 70 to 90 positive cases, most of them for marijuana and cocaine and we have also anabolic steroids, but these are individual cases.”

FIFA launched biological profiling back in February, similar to the biological passport in cycling.

It was tested at June’s Confederations Cup and will be again at next year’s World Cup.

Dvorak says FIFA will try to get other organisations on board.

“And now we are also in discussion with UEFA and other confederations to start this biological profile in the confederations so all the top players will be registered,” he added.

“And if we have a suspicion then we go into the more intelligent and targeted testing.”


US, Israel condemn Palestinian UN vote

The United States and Israel downplayed Thursday the Palestinians’ new upgraded status at the UN, saying it changed nothing in actual practice and even made peace with the Jewish state a remoter prospect.

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Palestinians rejoiced at the historic albeit largely symbolic vote at the UN General Assembly in New York, firing guns into the air in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, shooting off fireworks and embracing each other with glee.

In between the two ends of the spectrum were major powers like Britain, which said it respected the vote but abstained on the grounds that the Palestinians had not unconditionally agreed to negotiations on a lasting two-state deal with Israel.

Britain pledged support for efforts to reach an elusive peace accord, as did France, which voted for the resolution but called on Israel and the Palestinians to resume peace talks without conditions and as soon as possible.

The Vatican welcomed the 138-9 vote, saying it reflected the majority sentiment of the international community and the Holy See had long encouraged more global involvement to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Peace needs courageous decisions,” it said in a statement.

But top US diplomats warned the Palestinians that they had essentially achieved nothing, while Israel sounded as angry as the Palestinians did joyful.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’s speech before the General Assembly ahead of the vote on the status upgrade was “defamatory and venomous.”

“The world watched a defamatory and venomous speech that was full of mendacious propaganda against the IDF (army) and the citizens of Israel,” the statement said.

The American ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said the Palestinians’ joy would be short-lived.

“Today’s grand announcements will soon fade and the Palestinian people will wake up tomorrow to find little of their lives has changed, save (that) the prospects of a durable peace have receded,” she said.

“This resolution does not establish that Palestine is a state,” she said, echoing an earlier speech by the ambassador to Israel. “Today’s vote should not be misconstrued by any as constituting eligibility for UN membership.”

Rice said that “only through direct negotiations between the parties can the Palestinians and the Israelis achieve the peace that both deserve.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking in Washington, used exactly the same language to denounce a decision that she said “places further obstacles in the path to peace.”

The United States and Israel were among just nine countries bucking global support for a resolution giving Palestine non-member status at the United Nations.

Speaking prior to the vote, Netanyahu said in Jerusalem: “The decision at the United Nations today won’t change anything on the ground.” He added, “It won’t promote the establishment of a Palestinian state; it will distance it.

“Israel’s hand is always extended in peace, but a Palestinian state will not be established without (a Palestinian) recognition of the State of Israel as the Jewish people’s state,” Netanyahu said.

Among the allies of Israel and the United States was Canada, whose foreign minister John Baird said giving Palestine non-member observer status, a step on the path to full UN membership, “undermines the core” of attempts to broker a Palestinian-Israeli peace deal.

But nothing would spoil the Palestinians’ big day.

The hardline Hamas movement, which had opposed its rival Abbas’s drive for the status change on grounds it was unilateral and not a product of consensus, welcomed the vote as a victory.

And while some in Ramallah recognized it was a half-triumph, they savored it nonetheless.

“I’m happy they declared the state even though it’s only a moral victory. There are a lot of sharks out there, but it feels good,” 39-year-old Rashid al-Kor told AFP.

Ethar al-Asmar, a teacher, was pragmatic about the approval.

“Israel isn’t going anywhere,” she admitted. But, she said, the moment felt historic nonetheless.

“We have been waiting for this for so long. I never thought this day would come.”


US slams CNN use of slain envoy’s diary

The US State Department has accused CNN of ‘distasteful’ reporting after it used the contents of a private diary kept by slain US ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens without the consent of his family.

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Senior State Department aide Philippe Reines told reporters in a statement over the weekend that the television network engaged in “atrocious behavior” in making use of the late envoy’s diary as it reported on events leading up to his death at the hands of militants who stormed the US consulate in Benghazi earlier this month.

Reines said CNN removed the journal from the US mission in Libya after the deadly attack, which also killed three other US diplomatic staff, and then went on to use information obtained from it against the wishes of the diplomat’s family.

Reines said the family told a network executive in a conference call they they did not want the journal used until they had had an opportunity to review its contents.

CNN said it felt the public had a right to know what it had learned from multiple sources about the fears of a terrorist threat before the attack on the consulate.

“We reached out to the family of Ambassador Stevens within hours of retrieving the journal and returned it through a third party, within less than 24 hours from the time we found it. Out of respect to the family, we have not quoted from or shown the journal,” it said.

What CNN is “not owning up to is reading and transcribing Chris’s diary well before bothering to tell the family or anyone else that they took it from the site of the attack,” Reines wrote in a lengthy memo sent to reporters on Sunday.

“When they finally did tell them, they completely ignored the wishes of the family, and ultimately broke their pledge made to them only hours after they witnessed the return to the Unites States of Chris’s remains,” he said.

Reines cited reports by CNN last week claiming it had obtained “exclusive information about the climate that led up” to the storming of the US diplomatic post in Libya.

Specifically, the network said, it had learned from “a source” that Stevens in the months before his death “talked about being worried about what he called the never-ending security threats, specifically in Benghazi,” CNN news anchor Anderson Cooper said in one report last week.

“The source (is) telling us that the ambassador specifically mentioned the rise in Islamic extremism, the growing Al-Qaeda presence in Libya, and said that he was on an Al-Qaeda hit list,” Cooper said.

What CNN did not reveal, Reines said, is that Stevens’ journal was the basis for much of that reporting.

“Whose first instinct is to remove from a crime scene the diary of a man killed along with three other Americans serving our country, read it, transcribe it, email it around your newsroom for others to read, and only when their curiosity is fully satisfied thinks to call the family or notify the authorities?” Reines wrote.

He added that only in subsequent reporting did Cooper reveal that “some of that information was found in a personal journal of Ambassador Stevens in his handwriting.”

“At their request, we returned that journal to them. We reported what we found newsworthy in the ambassador’s writings. Our reporting followed up on what we found newsworthy, as I said, in the ambassador’s writings,” Cooper said in a report on Friday.

Reines said, however, that Stevens’s relatives had specifically requested that CNN not issue any reports based on the journal or even make mention of its existence, and that CNN had reneged on its agreements to abide by the family’s wishes.

CNN issued a statement over the weekend defending its actions.

“The reason CNN ultimately reported Friday on the existence of the journal was because leaks to media organizations incorrectly suggested CNN had not quickly returned the journal, which we did,” the television network wrote.

The network’s position appears not to have mollified officials at State Department, however.

“Given the truth of how this was handled, CNN patting themselves on the back is disgusting,” Reines said.


Zach attack pays off as Johnson hits the front

While the American was making an electric start to the third major championship of the year, world number two Rory McIlroy’s troubles continued as he crashed to an eight-over 79.

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Mark O’Meara was flying a surprise flag for the ‘golden oldies’. The 56-year-old American moved to four-under through 12 holes, level in second place with Spain’s Rafael Cabrera-Bello (67).

Most of the players were finding the treacherous knee-high rough difficult to cope with and scores were generally high on the banks of the Firth of Forth.

The parched and dry links course was also making it tough for the 156-strong field to control the ball on the fairways and the greens.

Johnson fared the best and he waved his putter like a magic wand to birdie the third, sixth and seventh and eagle the long fifth.

The 37-year-old made further inroads on par at the par-four 12th before dropping his only stroke of the day at the 14th.

“Any time you shoot under par in an Open or a major, for that matter, you have to be putting at least somewhat decent and I putted great,” Johnson told reporters as temperatures rose to a balmy 80 degrees in East Lothian.

“This is the Open and you expect difficult conditions but a couple of the pin positions were pretty tough.”

SUNDAY AGONY

Johnson was pipped for the John Deere Classic title in Illinois on Sunday when he was beaten in a playoff by 19-year-old compatriot Jordan Speith.

“I felt great about last week, I’ll be honest with you,” he said. “I don’t want to say I lost the golf tournament but I certainly had ample opportunities to win it.

“The last nine holes in particular I hit great shots, just didn’t make many putts. If anything from last week, what I’ve embraced is the fact I’m playing great and I can put that into play, and I’m certainly confident in what I’m doing.”

O’Meara matched Johnson’s start with a barnstorming run of four birdies in six holes. Another birdie at the ninth took him to the turn in 31 before he faltered with a bogey at the 10th.

At the other end of the leaderboard, McIlroy dropped strokes at the fourth and fifth before getting one back with a birdie at the seventh.

McIlroy then frittered away shot after shot on the back nine, carding double-bogey sixes at the 12th and 15th, and he sported a look of sad resignation when he walked off the green at the end of another disappointing effort.

The Northern Irishman has struggled with his new Nike clubs all year, after deciding to ditch his old Titleist equipment, and is still searching for his first win of 2013 after topping the money lists on both sides of the Atlantic last season.

Phil Mickelson, bidding for back-to-back wins after landing the Scottish Open title in Inverness last week, fired an encouraging 69.

U.S. Open champion Justin Rose slipped to a 75 while title holder Ernie Els could manage only a 74 that included a double-bogey six at the 16th where he needed three strokes to get out of a greenside bunker.

Six-times major winner Nick Faldo, in his first competitive outing since 2010, marked his 56th birthday by returning a 79. Playing partners Tom Watson and Fred Couples fared better with matching 75s.

Late starter Tiger Woods made a poor start, bogeying the first hole after launching a wayward hooked drive into the rough.

The world number one then returned to level-par with a birdie at the fourth.

(Editing by Stephen Wood)


Afghanistan dominates Biden talks in India

US Vice President Joe Biden has held talks with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as he sought to calm fears over the exit of US troops from Afghanistan and capitalise on growing investment opportunities.

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Biden also met President Pranab Mukherjee and a top opposition party figure, Sushma Swaraj, and will be guest of honour at a dinner hosted by his counterpart Hamid Ansari in the capital later on Tuesday.

Biden, the most senior US official to visit India since President Barack Obama in 2010, discussed with Singh the security situation in Afghanistan during a 75-minute meeting, according to the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency.

The vice president has said the world’s two largest democracies share common goals on a range of regional security issues.

But there is widespread unease among Indian leaders over what will happen in Afghanistan once US combat troops have left in 2014, with many fearing that Pakistan has most to gain from the withdrawal.

During talks, the pair confirmed that Singh will meet Obama during a six-day visit to Washington from September 20, PTI quoted sources as saying.

They also discussed implementation of a landmark civil nuclear deal and ways to build up two-way commerce, the sources said.

Boosting bilateral trade is expected to form the cornerstone of a keynote speech Biden is scheduled to make in Mumbai on Wednesday.

India has spent more than $US2 billion ($A2.1 billion) of aid in Afghanistan since the Taliban, hardline Islamists who were strong allies of Pakistan, were toppled in a 2001 US-led invasion.

Even though plans for talks between the US and the Taliban collapsed last month, the possible return to power of the insurgents alarms many in India.


Parents arrested over UK fire deaths

The parents of six children killed in a house fire have been arrested on suspicion of murder.

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Mick Philpott and his wife Mairead were arrested in Derby city centre in connection with the blaze at the house on May 11.

Their children Jade, 10, and brothers John, nine, Jack, seven, Jessie, six, and Jayden, five, all died in the fire, and a sixth sibling Duwayne, 13, died of his injuries in Birmingham Children’s Hospital two days’ later.

Petrol was used to start the blaze at the house in Victory Road, Allenton, Derby, police have revealed.

Derbyshire Police said a 55-year-old man and a 31-year-old woman from Derby were arrested together but did not name them.

Five days after the fire, Mr and Mrs Philpott faced the media in an emotional press conference.

Mr Philpott thanked those who tried to rescue his children and spoke of how he and his wife had decided to donate Duwayne’s organs for transplant, saying it “takes a bit of the pain away”.

The 55-year-old, who is believed to have fathered 17 children, was said by police to have made “valiant” efforts to rescue his children during the blaze.

Dubbed Shameless Mick in 2007 after demanding a larger council house, he is well known in the local community because of media reports about his large family, and has also appeared in a reality TV show alongside former government minister Ann Widdecombe.

This morning a mobile police office van was parked outside the Philpotts’ semi-detached house and a uniformed officer stood guard outside the taped off property, where numerous floral tributes still lay. Announcing the arrests today, Assistant Chief Constable Steve Cotterill urged anyone with “crucial information” to come forward.

He said: “I suspect there may still be people with crucial information who have not yet come forward to speak to us.


Timeline: Liberia under Charles Taylor

Key dates in the life of warlord turned Liberian president Charles Taylor, who has been convicted by an international court of arming rebels who killed and mutilated thousands in Sierra Leone.

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– December 24, 1989: Taylor leads a rebellion by the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL).

The uprising leads to one of Africa’s most brutal civil wars, involving at least seven rival factions and claiming between 250,000 and 300,000 lives.

In June, 1990, a month-long siege of the capital Monrovia takes place. In August, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) sends a peacekeeping force which secures Monrovia in October.

– March 23, 1991: The notorious Revolutionary United Front (RUF), led by former army officer Foday Sankoh, crosses the border from Liberia into Sierra Leone.

The civil war, which lasts until January 2002, leaves some 120,000 dead and thousands of civilians mutilated.

The wars are marked by atrocities by drug-fuelled combatants who gain notoriety for murders, systematic rapes, abductions, amputations and the kidnapping of thousands of children who were then forced to fight among their ranks.

– July 19, 1997: Taylor wins elections in Liberia and is sworn in as president on August 2, marking the culmination of a peace accord.

– August-September, 1999: Fighting rages in Liberia between government troops and forces in the north.

– January 25, 2001: The United Nations accuses Taylor of fuelling the civil war in Sierra Leone and profiting from trade in “blood diamonds” and arms traffic, and slaps sanctions on Liberia.

In June, 2003, a UN-mandated court in Freetown announces it has indicted Taylor for war crimes relating to Sierra Leone’s civil war.

– August 11, 2003: Taylor, under pressure from rebels and the international community, hands power to his deputy and heads for exile in Nigeria.

– March-July, 2004: The UN and the United States freeze Taylor’s assets.

– March 29, 2006: Taylor is arrested in Nigeria, deported to Liberia and taken to Freetown where he is put behind bars at the UN special court.

On June 20 he is transferred to the Netherlands.

– June 4, 2007: Taylor’s trial opens in the Hague, to which he was transferred for security reasons. The trial wraps up on March 11, 2011.

– April 26, 2012: Taylor becomes the first former head of state convicted by a world court since the World War II Nuremberg trials.


Sharks, skulls feature in Hirst retrospective

British artist Damien Hirst this week opens his first major retrospective in typically brash style, with expensive merchandise sitting alongside key works like his dead sharks and diamond skull.

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From Wednesday for five months the Tate Modern gallery in London will showcase the work of the enfant terrible-turned-multi-millionaire as part of a festival of arts which has its finale at the 2012 Olympics.

The exhibition, which opens on Wednesday and will run until September 9, features 70 works including classics like “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living”, a shark suspended in formaldehyde.

Another major draw will be “For the Love of God”, a life-sized platinum cast of an 18th-century skull encrusted with 8,601 diamonds, which will be on display under tight security in the Tate’s massive turbine hall.

But as well as seeing Hirst’s artworks on show, visitors can go to the gift shop and spend £36,800 ($A56,508) on a plastic skull decorated in the style of one of Hirst’s so-called spin paintings.

For £700 ($A1,074) they can get a limited edition roll of wallpaper with prints from his butterfly series of paintings, a butterfly-print deckchair for £310 ($A476) and a spot painting skateboard with signature for £480 ($A737).

The 47-year-old, who shot to fame in the 1990s as one of the so-called “Young British Artists” rejected criticisms that he had become more of a self-promoter interested in making money.

“You get the Mona Lisa and then you get the postcards, the T-shirts, the mouse-pad, the earrings and the mugs,” Hirst told reporters on Monday.

“One thing is the artwork and the other is getting it out there and I’ve always been torn between the two.”

MIXED REACTIONS

The retrospective has drawn mixed reactions from Britain’s art critics, whom Hirst has long divided.

Julian Spalding, a critic and former curator who has written a book called “Con Art — Why You Ought To Sell Your Damien Hirst While You Can”, said the artist’s work would soon become “worthless financially”.

“The bubble that is Con Art blew up, like the sub-prime mortgage business, in the smoke and mirrors world of financial markets, where fortunes have been make on nothing,” he wrote in the Independent newspaper.

In September 2008, just as the bank Lehman Brothers was going bust, Hirst made headlines when he sold his own work direct through Sotheby’s auction house and raised an astonishing £111 million ($A170 million).

But Ann Gallagher, the curator of the Hirst retrospective, rejected the criticism and said Hirst’s work had long been interested in the relationship between art and commerce.

“I think visitors that are just walking in this exhibition and if they haven’t seen any pictures of his work, they may be startled by some of the exhibits,” she said.

She said Hirst’s work focuses on traditional themes such as life and death, but is also “very interested in belief in value systems…. that includes science, it includes religion, it includes art, and also wealth.”

Hirst, born in 1965, was brought up by his mother in the northern English city of Leeds.

He burst onto the scene with his early works including the pickled shark but his reputation in Britain has dipped in recent years, with criticism that much of his output is produced in workshops.

The retrospective includes not only the sharks but other animals suspended in formaldehyde in glass cases; a cow and a calf (“Mother and Child Divided”), sheep and fish.

Also on show will be “A Thousand Years”, featuring a cow’s head, flies and an insect-killing light element.

Works fashioned from medical instruments will be on display, along with rooms full of the famous spot paintings, in which Hirst demands of the painters in his workshop that no colour be repeated next to itself.


Goodes ‘gutted’ by racial slur

Sydney Swans player Adam Goodes says he was called an “ape” by a Collingwood fan in last night’s clash at the MCG.

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Goodes was visibly distressed towards the end of the game, pointing out the fan to security staff who later ejected the young girl.

She’s believed to be 13 years of age.

Her comments come in the indigenous round of the AFL, and as the league launches its anti-racism campaign.

Goodes says it’s vital players and the community are united in the fight against racism.

“Racism has no place in our industry, it has no place in society, hopefully any person out there that’s been named-called, that’s been verbally abused, can stand up for themselves after seeing what happend last night.”

Goodes says it is not the first time he has been subjected to racial slurs, but that this latest attack has hit him hard.

“When I saw it was a young girl, I was just like ‘really?’. I was just like ‘how could that happen?’ This week is a celebration of our people, our culture.

“It’s not her fault. Unfortunately it’s what she hears, it’s the environment she’s grown up in that makes her think it’s OK to call people names.

“She would have no idea how it makes someone feel, calling someone an ape. She’s 13, she’s uneducated. If she wants to pick up the phone and apologise, I’ll take that call.

He says when asked by police he refused to press charges against the girl and urged people not to start a ‘witch hunt’ against the girl over the incident.

Instead he says there should be more education on racism and how it can hurt people.

“It affected me so much I couldn’t be on the ground to celebrate a victory last night, to celebrate indigenous round.

“I’m still shattered; personally it’s tough.”

AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou says it’s disappointing to have an incident of racism in the league’s Indigenous round.

Mr Demetriou says he will offer support and counselling to the 13-year-old girl and her parents to assure they’re not the target of unnecessary retailiation.

He says while the AFL has come a long way in raising awareness in racism, there’s clearly a long way to go.

“But I again remind everyone this is a 13-year-old girl. And we need to be very, very careful. Having said that, I want to reiterate again though, we have a zero tolerance policy around these issues. You’ve seen the great awareness campaign of this week for our indigenous round, the great contribution that our indigenous players make to the game, the great contribution that this code makes to this nation when we talk about the significant role that indigenous Australia plays in this nation.”

Geelong captain Joel Selwood has led the tributes to Sydney AFL star Adam Goodes who was visibly distressed after being the victim of the racial taunt during Friday night’s MCG match.

Dual Brownlow Medallist Goodes was arguably best-afield in Sydney’s 47-point win over Collingwood in the round-nine fixture with 30 disposals and three goals.

However the 33-year-old left the field shaking his head late in the game and went straight into the change rooms to compose himself after clashing with a female fan in the closing stages of the contest.

The fan was evicted from the stadium after Goodes stood only metres away and pointed directly at her in a bid to identify the Collingwood supporter to security staff.

“Much respect for Adam Goodes on all fronts tonight,” Selwood said on Twitter.

Sydney midfielder Dan Hannebery said the incident was sad, while Richmond forward Jack Riewoldt was speechless.

“The person who did that has to have a hard look at themselves,” Hannebery told afl.com.au website.

“It is a disgrace considering the era that we’re in. It’s just completely unacceptable.

“I’m really shocked.”

Riewoldt said on Twitter: “Something clearly said to Adam Goodes, sitting on the couch speechless and really flat! #bloodydisappointing.”

West Coast ruckman Nic Naitanui, whose parents are from Fiji, said: “Not to assume the worst, but to disrespect a legend on Indigenous Round is appalling.

“Racial Vilification has no place in sport and goodesy dealt with it like a champ. Lets NOT let it shadow how well he performed tonight tho,” Naitanui added.

Melbourne onballer Nathan Jones said: “Racial vilification has no place in footy or society. Ignorance is no excuse, What a legend & icon @adamroy37 is for our game. #inspiring.”