Little to say for myself
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Deals, Blocks and VetosFascinating.
Reported in today's NY Times is the news that Bush would veto any attempt to block the takeover of certain US seaport terminals (New York, New Orleans, Miami and elsewhere), by Dubai Ports World. Apparently some members of Congress had said they would campaign to have the takeover blocked on security grounds.
Aside from the obvious implication that Congress believes every Arab to be a potential terrorist, what's fascinating is that there's virtually no mention of something I would have thought was pivotal. It's not until the last 60 or so words of the NYT's 1740-word piece that there is any mention of the fact that the current owner of those terminals is "Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation of Britain" (i.e. P&O) - and it seems to mention that fact only for the sake of completeness. If you'd blinked you would have missed it.
How, may one ask, would the US Congress have gone about blocking the takeover of one foreign company by another anyway? Is this an example of the US Administration believing everything in America to belong to Americans, or that "big business" is the exclusive preserve of (or at least is answerable to) the USA?
I have a theory about why the NYT omitted to mention this crucial aspect of the story. It reported the takeover 11 days earlier, in its business section, and nowhere in that article was there any mention of the fact that this would include US port terminals. My guess is that their highly-paid business staff and editors hadn't twigged the implications of the takeover, and weren't keen to broadcast that fact.
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
Why do I do it?At first I thought I must have a masochistic streak a mile wide, for why else would I subscribe to the Daily Telegraph's daily news and sport emails? The fact is that they're one of the few mainstream news providers that still offer a free daily service that covers the stuff I want to read about. Most of their news coverage and pretty much all of the sport stuff is fine, but so many of the opinion pieces have me seeing red within the first paragraph.
So, am I a masochist? Well, much as that would be a powerful justification for reading their stuff and writing about bits of it, I'm afraid it doesn't really cut it. What was really happening, I realise, is something I identified (and wrote about) some time ago that I thought I'd given up.
Once again I'd been doing it because I loved being "right" about things, and that was much easier to do when I picked a fight with an idea that was so palpably "wrong" - in my opinion. Where better to look than the Torygraph for fodder?
So, I give that stuff up - again. I logged on here because I was moved to write an indignant post about this opinion piece from today. There was SO MUCH that had me going, "What?? That's such crap! And that! No-no! You're missing the point! Ooooh - how can you SAY these things? etc. etc."
All that was really going on for me was, "A-ha! I can write something really scathing about this, and I'll be RIGHT. I'll have WON!".
Well, that way lies confrontation, posturing and negativity. The very same mindset, in the extreme, leads to riots and the deaths of many mothers' sons over a few cartoons. And that's not what I'm committed to. Read it if you want, and make up your own mind. I'm just going to notch it up to freedom of speech.
Thursday, February 16, 2006
Home AbortionsThis sounds like a step forward to me - news of a successful pilot scheme that may result in women less than 9 weeks pregnant being able to have a chemically-induced abortion at home, rather than have to be admitted to hospital for the treatment.
The bit that concerns me is this:
"it is also likely to provoke controversy from anti-abortion
I realise that this is journalistic speculation ("likely to provoke", "will claim" etc.) about something that hasn't happened yet, but that doesn't stop me having my twopennyworth...
Surely the point about how "easy" the procedure is can be kept separate from the pro-life / pro-choice debate.
I'd be amazed if consideration of the venue entered into such a life-changing choice. Imagine it:
"Well I'd really like to abort this foetus, but I can't be arsed to go into hospital for the procedure, so I think I'll commit to the full pregnancy, the labour, the birth, and eighteen years of child-rearing instead. That'll be the easy way out..."
The outcry from the anti-abortionists, if it ever comes, would therefore have nothing to do with influencing the pregnant woman's choice, and thereby "protecting the unborn child". It would simply be about making it more difficult for her - in other words, punishing her for making the choice they didn't want her to make.
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
"Intelligent Design" loses againNothing fuels my sense of scientific self-righteousness more than another blow to the Creationists and Intelligent Design advocates. OK, so I can give up the self-righteous bit.
In talking about this at the coffee machine just now, I learned two little nuggets which help put things into perspective for me (as if I needed any more convincing).
I'm told (but haven't bothered to look) that the New Scientist recently created a graph showing an evolutionary property of the book "Of Pandas and People", which posits the "controversy" surrounding evolutionary theory. The NS charts, over successive editions of that book, the declining incidence of the keyword "creationism" and the rising frequency of the keywords "Intelligent Design".
[Update: I have bothered to look now, and here's a reference to the graph at The Razor.]
They show remarkable similarity to the incidence of the two types of Peppered Moth (Biston Betularia) beloved of many biology students. In Kettlewell's (flawed, but still valid) experiments on these moths in the 1950s, the darker variety Carbonaria (not to be confused with my favourite pasta dish) survived better on the soot-blackened trees of industrial areas, whereas the paler typica variety thrived on the lichen-mottled trees of rural areas. He attributed this to predation by birds who could pick out the worse-camouflaged variant more easily - i.e. natural selection.
In the same way, Creationists are now easier for predatory critics to pick off from today's secular tree-trunk, whereas I-D fans are better camouflaged against the background of cod-scientific and paranormal "entertainments" populating our current media. Interesting...
Thursday, December 15, 2005
Gender DifferencesYesterday I went to one of my favourite blogs, the Ex-Communicator's Livejournal, which is always a stimulating read, and saw this post about a recent scientific report. The report (from the journal Evolution and Human Behavior) was of observations of vervet monkeys playing with human toys. It seems that male vervets prefer to play with toy balls and trucks, and females prefer toy pots and pans, and dolls.
I ended up writing a lengthy comment on her post, because it seemed that the vast majority of commenters were up in arms that there should be such a finding. They asserted that the experiment must have been flawed, since there can't be such differences in a species that knows nothing of pots and pans or toy trucks. It seemed that the comments came from a reluctance to consider any differences between the human sexes, since this would be sexist.
My first thought about the report was "Oh, that's clever. There's always a debate, especially among right-on parents, about whether their children play with certain toys innately or whether they're influenced by their environment (parents, friends, TV etc.). Here's an attempt at avoiding that debate - by trying it with a species that has none of those influences."
It wasn't until the 29th comment that someone (Temeres) actually addressed the content of the report, rather than simply rail against its existence. To save you the trouble of digging (although I recommend you read The Ex-Communicator's blog), this is what I said:
Bravo Temeres. At least you're looking at the alleged findings of the study and making a stab at interpreting them - rather than just rubbishing the whole thing because it doesn't fit in with a pre-formed, politically correct conviction of gender equality in humans.
Hmm, having read that through I've just had troubling thought: I realise that I've resorted to quoting myself as something to write about. Narcissus has nothing on me...
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Well That's a ReliefWith a certain curiosity I just read an opinion piece in the Telegraph, by Simon Heffer, called The Case for Capital Punishment. I clicked on the link purely out of curiosity as to what it might be about. I assumed that it couldn't be what it literally purported to be - as there is no longer a credible case for killing imprisoned criminals beyond a medieval lust for retribution - so it must be a clever play on words about something else.
But I was forgetting that this is the Daily Telegraph - whose job it is to replay arguments lost decades ago to feed the nostalgia of its readership.
What struck me most, given Mr. Heffer's supposed status (his paid job) as one of our foremost articulators of reasoned argument, was how dim and toothless it all was.
How's this for openers? He describes a conference he attended, about 15 years ago, that was concerned with law and order:
I'd assert that the silence was embarrassed for him. The assembly of crime-prevention professionals - senior police officers, probation officers and criminologists - would be suffciently versed in statistical analysis to know that there's a gulf between the statement of facts and the validity of any causal inference from those facts. It would have been just as accurate (and just as meaningless) to say that the murder rate had multiplied enormously since the Queen's coronation. Has Elizabeth's reign engendered so much more of a murderous rage in us than that of her father?
There have been many studies since that conference, of the deterrent effect of Capital Punishment, which have shown it to be insignificant - but Simon doesn't let that get in the way of a good rant.
(He even pulls off the coup, much later in the piece, of implicating the European Union in the recent murder of a WPC, saying:
Nice one. That's what we're paying you for - now if you could only squeeze immigration and same-sex marriage in there somewhere, we'll be in Pulitzer Prize territory).
So his argument gets off to a pretty weak start. However he soon transforms that when, a few paragraphs later, it completely nose-dives:
So, he's admitting that he can see no difference between the handling of a convicted criminal who is already safely under lock and key, and therefore of no immediate threat to the public, and that of someone who is a suspected suicide bomber who may be about to press a button and murder dozens of innocent commuters.
So what's the logical conclusion of this line of argument? It's obvious:
The return of Capital Punishment would deter suicide bombers.
Of course! Hooray! Problem solved!
Monday, October 31, 2005
They've missed the bus againSo, everyone's in a tizz about banning, or not banning, drinking on public transport now.
They're missing the point again. Like the Police spokesperson said, it'd be of limited effect, because most of the drunks on trains and buses are already hammered when they get on board.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: it doesn't work to ban drinking, it works to place limits on the level of blood alcohol (just like when driving) - and leave people to work with that.
That way, commuters can have their "well-earned" homeward tipple, Eurostar passengers can have their champagne, and everyone else can catch a vomit-free last train home.
They're going to have to do something about drunkenness on trains and buses, granted. Although the pubs may be open 24 hours, public transport won't be, and there'll still be a rush for the last ride home - with much necking of final pints and a mad dash, resulting in lots of upset tums and the inevitable flurry of pizzas parked on the garish upholstery. No, not flurry - what's the collective noun for piles of vomit?
Anyway, it's weird how everyone seems to be missing the point. Have they been drinking or something?
Thursday, October 27, 2005
Free from what?Pretty soon we're going to be able to sit in a pub or restaurant, in an atmosphere free from.... er, what exactly? Logic? Clarity? Principle?
Most countries' non-smoking policies are drawn up to protect the employee's right to work in a hazard-free environment. It's a simple, clear and powerful stance.
By arbitrarily exempting working men's clubs and working class pubs - er, I mean private clubs and pubs that "don't serve food" (whatever that means) - the Government has sent a clear message that it puts votes ahead of the nation's health.
This is a blatant attempt to secure the Labour Party's shift to the right, by targetting the working class and hardline socialists. Are we going to stand by and allow the voice of the left to be silenced by laryngectomy?