Posted by: Skeptical Moose | December 12, 2009

L’esprit d’escalier, OR, What I should have said was …

[The poem below was recently selected for inclusion at a British Humanist Association music and poetry event]

It’s late and it’s dark, and I should be sleeping

But rest I can not, for my mind is creeping

And whilst I don’t fret, and happily ‘chillax’

The witty dinner table response is, perhaps

Often not something I’m able to say

Maybe it’s not ‘good dinner table etiquette’, or it might be my esprit d’escalier

The lack of cutting riposte is simply not fair

Rarely at the table, but so often at the stairs

How is it that one is unable to cope?

My opponent reads a tabloid horoscope

Thus you find me here, with ample time

To conjecture some objections, and, somewhat self-indulgently, considering their serious nature … put them all in rhyme

A few basics …

1  I don’t need a God and neither do you, 2

The removal of a supernatural being on which so many rely could only help humanity, 3

Politicians and businessmen make careers and money out of war, 4

Learn about evolution and you’ll realise how lucky you are to be alive, 5

And even luckier to be sat somewhere warm, well fed, reading and understanding this, 6

When it all ends we become the earth once more – our impersonal and interchangeable atoms of awareness and discovery make a final transition back into the world that spawned us. That’s Amazing with a capital A. Why on Earth do we need a construction called ‘heaven’?, 7

Everyone means something different when they say the word ‘fate’, 8

It isn’t cheesy – it’s factual – when one says: ‘what’s mine is yours, what’s yours is mine’, 9

If we don’t re-think ‘boom and bust’ capitalism RIGHT NOW, it will all happen again, 10

The majesty of science is that everything we hold to be true can be altered, under accepted experimental conditions, in a moment; such as the once denied, then disputed, then accepted fact that the Earth moves around the Sun. And on that topic, I return you to 1

You see, what we’re dealing with here isn’t heresy, or jealousy, or treason

It’s science, self-reliance … reason

I don’t want Bible-freaks or dagger-wearing Sikhs, but truth

No ghetto-loving Jews, or post-modern Druze … but proof

What do you call ‘alternative medicine’ that actually works?

Medicine

Just look at this society we’ve managed to create

Where Big Brother Live replaces reasoned debate

And what a bizarre human state

That’s it rare to love, and more common to hate

Is this our future? Vacuous consumerisation

Says I, born ‘79, child of the MTV generation[1]

But why oh why am I telling you this?

I had my chance; an opportunity missed

His irrational ramblings I had to ignore

Alex, please leave your scepticism at the door

Frustration vented, it’s time for bed

All of the above, is what I should have said


[1] Follow the theme here

Posted by: Skeptical Moose | December 9, 2009

The Tragedy of the Commons and Telegraph Readers

I didn’t intend on publishing anything today, but sometimes a right-wing article just gets you so mad …

Provoked by this selfish drivel … http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/christopherbooker/6763409/Copenhagen-climate-summit-Blindfolds-at-Copenhagen-are-hiding-the-crucial-issues.html?state=target#postacomment&postingId=6768782

… I felt I simply had to comment (as below).

For those that haven’t heard of it, ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’ exists when multiple individuals rationally (and that is key) and independently exploit a limited resource, even if it is clear that it is not in their long-term interests. Come on Telegraph readers, look up from your cricket supplement for one minute and think about what I might be referring to.

For your pleasure …

I am truly astounded that a flat-earth forum like this still exists. Shall we debate gravity and the Holocaust while we are here? Yes, people, it’s all a conspiracy: 30 years of research (mostly unpaid journal submissions) just to stop you using coal. Wake up!!

I am a skeptic, but this article is misleading nonsense and most of the people commenting here are either stupid or corrupt. Yep, that’s a bold statement, but I’ll stand by it. No, calm down, don’t get angry at me: stop and think why you don’t want to live on a better planet!!

Booker, well done on using last year’s numbers, but I’d love to know how come you are able to doubt the IPCC? Readers, forget the ‘scary’ $ and £ and realise that, even at the very height of 2008 fear, we were talking about 1% of GDP (please heed Lord Stern at this point). This amount is trivial; absolutely nothing! The banks make and lose these figures yearly (well, it was daily) and the war in Iraq is costing £billions every week for the UK and US. What will that achieve, other than inspiring more terrorism?? I digress: I am not writing to debate the Iraq war, so please don’t comment on that; but NEVER, EVER be so utterly fallacious and disingenuous as to use money as a reason for not doing something. We found the money in World War II and it is incredible what we can do when we put our minds to it.

And so what of the financial burden? When did morality die in this country (and specifically amongst Telegraph readers)? When did we start caring more about our short-term financial income than the health and wealth of the planet? Let’s say you earn £100,000p.a.: we are talking about £1000 to work on ensuring a safe and reliable planet for your children and grandchildren …

I am an economist and a corporate financier, but now fully admit that free-market capitalism has, and will always, fail, primarily due to sad facts of human nature. The rich get richer; the poor get poorer. You are all obviously in the former category and therefore remain apathetic, but please don’t deny the truth. Business only succeeds BECAUSE of government. Don’t believe me; why are there six healthcare lobbyists for every US Congressman?! Incidentally, I remain a capitalist, but have some radical views on where it needs to go … but hey, we’ll leave that for another time.

Anyone now vehemently opposing a clean-up of the world (and remember, climate change is just one component of a sustainable society for EVERYONE, even the completely selfish) clearly has a vested interest.

Booker, please stop making a career out of digging up old science and deceiving people. You and your kind will kill millions if you get your way: stop and think about that as you count your book sales!!

Why are we all (primarily politicians) so scared of change? Here’s a thought: is it because they are paid by the big firms to enforce the status quo; maybe it’s because they only have a few years ‘in the hot seat’ and need to maximise votes while they can?? It’s most probably some of the above and a whole lot more, but no leader ever ‘leads’; they just follow when The Sun tells them to. Likewise, Obama will not achieve a thing, because every Republican reverts with well-founded statements along the lines of, “many of my biggest donors are oil men; I can’t be seen to vote for this”.

Honestly readers, find the real science and you will see the light. DO NOT TRUST THIS MAN!!

Rant over; now the pleasant bit. Ignoring Booker, me and all the above … Why aren’t we crying out for a new and improved world of renewable energy, social justice and sustainable living? It costs relatively little and we all benefit both now and for the long, long term. WE ALL WIN!!

I dare someone to offer me one reason that this world would not be preferable? Come on, give me one reason!!

Posted by: Skeptical Moose | December 6, 2009

Healthy, Skeptical, Evolved Humans

I wanted to introduce you to an amazing book that I recently discovered.

Evolution Rx, by Dr William Meller

Get this if you are interested in health, psychology, free-thinking or improving your quality of life! Don’t pursue if you get your medical/scientific advice from Labour politicians, Jenny McCarthy or cereal packets.

I don’t want to give the game away, but here are 10 sound-bites that will get you thinking. Much of the below concurs with other articles in my blog (e.g. this defence of food), or on various excellent sites like Goldacre’s ‘Bad Science’ and Dunning’s ‘Skeptoid’.

Naturally, for supporting evidence of these statements you’ll have to read the book. Why should I all the hard work?!

  1. Stretching before exercise generally does more harm than good (that’s 15 minutes of my life every Sunday morning for the last 20 years!)
  2. Women with fewer periods have a lower risk of cancer (an amazing fact that relates to the risks of cell division!!)
  3. Painkillers are “too good”, in that they mask the necessary symptoms … and thus may extend your affliction
  4. People in Western countries often have Vitamin D deficiency as they increasingly avoid direct sunlight (an example of over-compensation for sure and may actually cause more cancer in the long run)
  5. Our backs are still designed to be horizontal, explaining why we’ll all suffer with back pain at some point in our lives (the whole bipedal thing took us by surprise I guess … and we’re still the only species that does it!)
  6. Organic food is not healthier for you (perhaps more environmentally friendly, but that’s a whole other debate)
  7. Yes,  1 or 2 units of alcohol are good for you … but no-one has proven why
  8. You will live longer if you eat less (we really don’t need so much food, though I can’t talk)
  9. GM food production will be necessary to feed a rapidly growing planet (I agree)
  10. Coughing and sneezing is primarily for the bacteria’s benefit (i.e. to spread to their next host), rather than for us

 

Everything in the book relates to our evolutionary history which, as regular readers will know, absolutely fascinates me (both our journey getting here and where we might go next). Just think about it:

  • From several million years ago to about a million years ago we were utterly nomadic herbivores
  • 1 million years to 10,000 years ago: we worked out that eating meat (hunter-gatherer-carnivore) was a lot easier (and more nutritious) and this actually came to dominate our diet
  • 10,000 to present: we clocked food production and became omnivores
  • 1950 to present: by (over) exploiting people and planet many in the West developed a quite phenomenal standard of living; unfortunately combined with gluttonous and sedentary consumption … and that’s where the book comes in!!

 

Brilliant stuff, highly recommended!

One for a stocking perhaps …

Posted by: Skeptical Moose | December 4, 2009

The Primark Price: Globalisation in practice!

Question: how come this multi-sequined top is retailing at an exceptionally cheap price?

Primark Answer: we monitor costs closely, practice excellent supply chain management, utilise bulk discounting, yada yada

Real Answer: we get a 5-year-old to do it for a criminally low price

Ethical standards and poverty campaigner ‘War on Want’ and the BBC (2008’s Panorama investigation) have both uncovered evidence of Primark’s horrendous abuse, yet the public aren’t too fussed as long as they can buy a shirt for £3. What does that tell us about our values?

Take a look at these latest findings, released today in The Independent. I won’t say any more (much of my thinking is summed up here), but please consider this when deciding on where to purchase that £50 suit …

Primark’s code: And what the workers say

Wages

Primark’s code of conduct says wages would be “enough to meet basic needs and to provide discretionary income”

Workers in Bangladesh claim to be paid as little as £19.42 a month – half a “living wage” of £39.74. War on Want says they cannot afford nutritious food, decent housing or adequate healthcare

Hours

Primark’s code says “workers shall not be required to work in excess of 48 hours per week” and overtime must be voluntary

Workers say they work up to 14 hours a day, six days a week. Overtime is “mandatory.” The average week is 70 hours. Workers are “exhausted and malnourished”

Conditions/Abuse

Primark says factories must provide a “safe and hygienic” working environment, clean toilets and potable water. The code bans physical and verbal abuse and sexual or other harassment

Workers say there is no safe drinking water and toilets are dirty. Women say they suffer physical and verbal abuse for enquiring about pay and overtime

Posted by: Skeptical Moose | December 4, 2009

The Copenhagen Conference: perhaps our last chance to save the world

The title sounds dramatic … and for good reason!

Let us begin by considering the sombre fact that the 21st Century may be our last. Simply put: economically, socially and environmentally we are entirely unsustainable.

That last word is used a lot nowadays and we are bombarded by corporate and public ‘greenwash’ informing us that the product, action or policy is ‘sustainable’. The truth is: most aren’t! The majority of our actions are not circular, but linear … and guess what, we need the former. If you need convincing, take 20 minutes of your life out to watch Annie Leonard’s short-film, ‘The Story of Stuff‘.

History tells us that those societies who pursued unencumbered growth soon found themselves without a society left.  Have a read of this post and specifically the references (at around Footnote 11) to Jared Diamond’s awesome ‘Collapse’.

This is not a vacuous doomsday prophecy (and don’t let that nagging ennui tell you otherwise). Some of the world’s most respected scientists are converging on the view that, at our current rates of avarice and over-consumption, our time on this Earth is limited. No less than Sir Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal, suggested that we have only a 50% chance of making it through the century.

What will end the party? Perhaps environmental disaster (the boundaries between natural and man-made are beginning to blur), an act of catastrophic terrorism (quite possibly linked to climate change) or sinking in to Churchill’s “abyss of a new dark age” (the growth of religious dogma could see to that!). Rees is most certainly not alone and all but the most stubborn (or corrupt – US ‘corporate advisers’: you know who you are!) of intellectuals now agree that we are on a most slippery path, headed towards being the first known species to record its own demise.

I won’t always agree with Chris Patten’s politics, but I am warming to him as he, seemingly, warms to me. What Next? Surviving the 21st Century is a very sensible assessment of the above1 and merges neatly with the likes of Jeffrey Sachs’Liberal Multilateralism’.

Globalisation, capitalism, free trade, etc are all features of modern humanity that can be used for good … but presently are not. With relatively few exceptions, globalisation helps the rich and exploits the poor (don’t believe me? Read this). Free market economics generally does the same, as Grandpappy Adam Smith himself recognised; yet this is something which has baffled such ‘brains’ as Alan Greenspan, perhaps more responsible than anyone (even Clinton or Bush) for the direction of world growth in the last 20 years. The rich have got richer, the rest of us have stagnated, or declined. Is that how we define progress?

One thing is for sure: we can’t go on like this! ‘Triple Bottom Line’, ‘Sustainable Growth’, ‘Regulated Capitalism’: whatever you call it, we need to think bigger and better, circular not linear, truly for the future.

Other blogs of mine go into more detail on that, but this one is just about making us aware that if we don’t start thinking, our great grandchildren won’t even have the choice!


1 And there’s an excellent Q&A with patten at his recent LSE lecture, here or via iTunes. (I receive all the LSE podcasts and they are 80% excellent (20% quite astonishingly boring))

Posted by: Skeptical Moose | December 4, 2009

And who says you can’t watch evolution?

Ok, you may have to be patient and maintain a solid scientific approach, but I love the fact that we humans are constantly evolving.

Take a look at J Frater’s ‘Top 10 Signs of Evolution in Modern Man’: the list is naturally debatable and I dare say others would add, subtract or question.

Can the appendix actually be used to house beneficial bacteria (seemingly, we don’t need them, but they are getting larger over time, perhaps because the smaller ones get infected more easily)?

Is our little toe just for balance?

And ears are pretty fascinating! Why do we have earlobes (other than for procreating with those who enjoy a Camden Market)? Why are some upper ears pointy and some rounded (see ‘Darwin’s Ear’)? Do we really need all that ear hair and muscle: surely they will be on their way soon?

Plenty to consider, and it reminds us that we are as much at the mercy of natural selection as we have ever been. So, of course, are the harmful organisms who constantly evolve resistance to the drugs we use to protect ourselves against them. Both are simply searching for that higher performance level …

Posted by: Skeptical Moose | December 4, 2009

Food, or The Artist Formerly Known As Food

It is worth a read of Michael Pollan’s ‘In Defense of Food’, describing how we have replaced food with ‘food-like substances’ that scientists have created (is it me, or am I saying food a lot here?!). As we spend less on food, we spend more on healthcare: is there a correlation?

As we are learning all the time, present food production methods are causing huge environmental and social pressures, particularly in the Developing World. The oft-repeated mantra of ‘think global, act local’ (manifested to this end by perhaps using neighbourhood farmers’ markets, avoiding meat, etc) is a challenge that regularly pits us up against the food-marketing machine. Pollan declares that in the US alone, $32 billion is spent on food marketing each year. Yes, that’s not producing or distributing, merely the food ‘scientists’ (in the loosest possible sense) telling us what wonderful nutrition we may find in that microwaved ham!

Some of this we already know – don’t eat too much, avoid processed foods, stick with plants – but it is very well explained and will affect how you think about such a fundamental part of our lives.

Why do we have such an irrational hatred of fats; and love anything ‘instant-diet’ or ‘snack-size’?

Why do we have such an ingrained fear of anorexia, when obesity is far more qualitatively and quantitatively significant?1

I would love to bring more pleasure into food consumption, as they do in the Mediterranean countries (don’t get me started on San Sebastian). Good food, good wine, enjoyed socially: as early as possible in life. For me, it is a massive chunk of cultural benefit that the English have mostly ignored!

The book is simple, informative and not patronising. A few key rules are all we really need, such as: “’Avoid Food Products Containing Ingredients That Are A) unfamiliar, B) unpronounceable, C) more than five in number, or D) that include high-fructose corn syrup”.

If you can’t be bothered with the whole tome, there is an interesting interview provided by the masterful Terrence McNally (listen or download here).

“If your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognise it, don’t buy it!” Pollan, 2009

p.s. those who know me will vouch that I love my food nutrition. If one google image search could sum it all up, here’s the boy! Use it wisely and lovingly!!


1To be clear, anorexia and bulimia are very serious medical conditions: it is simply that obesity is just as damaging mentally; and far more threatening physically, socially, financially, etc

Posted by: Skeptical Moose | November 28, 2009

Animal Rights: how to judge the heart of a man

My family is involved with the RSPCA and it is hard to understate the amazing work that they do (along with the RSPB, Dog Charities, etc). Remember, even though it sounds glib, it is important to note that the beneficiaries don’t ever thank them!

 

Further, humans that harm animals should be punished far more severely than is presently the case. With my ‘societal breakdown’ hat on, the deliberate harm of a defenceless creature is often an indicator of a more serious violent streak that is dormant or developing.[1] If they were really tough, they’d take on a lion, but no, it’s always a small dog. Get into a tree with a hungry leopard and see who comes down first!

 

Please don’t ignore cruelty: not only for the animal itself, but because it speaks of a wider collapse in our collective morality and must be reported.

 

“He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.” Immanuel Kant, German Philosopher

 

There’s plenty more to add, but I just wanted to get down, in writing, my admiration for those who support animal welfare.

 

Keep up the good work!!

 


[1] If you want to learn more, read my article on Serial Killers

Posted by: Skeptical Moose | November 28, 2009

A Few Facts About the ‘Richest’ Nation on Earth

To add to the below, some interesting EU vs US comparisons (non-Ryder Cup) – however bad we think the EU might be right now, it’s a LOT healthier than the US. And, due to their predisposition for arrogance and insularity, they show no sign of copying …

The EU as a trading block is nearly as large as China/USA combined; far less spent on healthcare, though the best as voted by WHO; twice as energy efficient; eco-footprint half the size; a typical American works 400 more hours per annum (with no increase to productivity).

Just looking at Germany (which, as much as it may pain some, we should be doing …): how is that they have created a wealthy country, with fairly decent levels of equality, yet also with excellent, vocational education (sadly missing in the UK) and a huge export industry (now 1 or 2 in the world).

And all the stuff below still stands …

Keeping it brief, here are some stats about the US that you will find fascinating and quite incredibly scary. I’ve added a few opinions in there as well. I wanted to get these first few up and I’ll add more soon …

Health

  • Despite spending 50% more on health care than any other country in the world, America ranks 15th in preventable death, 24th in life expectancy, and 28th in infant mortality
  • There are 50 million people with no insurance (if you are seriously ill, it’s best to die very quickly)
  • Primarily because … there are 6 healthcare lobbyists for every member of congress
  • Obama is struggling to change this because the Republicans are blocking everything in the interests of “freedom” (freedom to die if you are poor, one would assume)

Education / Religion (I put them together because they are generally inversely correlated)

  • 50% of people don’t make it through high school education
  • Standards are far lower than Europe and falling rapidly (unless you are rich, in which case you are absolutely fine)
  • Most schools don’t teach evolution as fact; some don’t accept it at all (ergo, Americans grow up believing the gospel is, well, gospel)
  • Science is seen by many as ‘just another type of faith’
  • 10s of millions believe in the Rapture (see what I say here), including many in high political office

War

  • Bush estimated Iraq at $50-$60 billion and has therefore had to conceal the full economic toll (now estimated at $3 trillion … and several $billion PER WEEK). Taxes have not been raised to pay for the war—in fact, taxes on the rich have actually fallen. Americans will have to pay for the war at some point—and when they do, they will be paying not the Bush markdown but the full price  …
  • Much of which was borrowed from China and the Chinese now have the US exactly where they want them
  • This money could have sorted many of the US’s domestic problems; not to mention the enormous suffering that they have caused throughout the world (via Big Business, the world Bank et al)
  • The US has consistently disregarded the Geneva Conventions (torture, false imprisonment, ignorance of due process, etc).  Obama is still letting it go as he is “looking forward, not back”. [Why are we accepting this? If I told you the Nazis should be punished for their war crimes, we’d all agree …]

Politics / Aid

  • The political system is highly corrupt and very inefficient (e.g. Obama can’t get anything done as Republicans are able to vote against and stall progress … because they are being paid to do so). Let’s leave it at that and there’s more from me here

Societal Inequality

  • 10% of the population currently hold 70% of the country’s wealth; compared to 61% in France, 56% in the UK, 44% in Germany, and 39% in Japan
  • Old, rich people receive huge social security … for no sensible reason. This will have to change as America is broke
  • The peak income year for the bottom 90% of Americans was in 1973; when the average income per taxpayer (adjusted for inflation) was $33k, roughly $4k higher than the current figure
  • The US has far lower social mobility than pretty much any African country you care to name. The American Dream is just that; a dream. If you are born poor, the odds are you’ll stay poor all your life. Don’t let Hollywood fool you!!
  • In summary, the rich are getting fabulously richer, the vast majority are somewhat worse off, and the bottom half are being systematically ruined

… and I haven’t even startedwith Climate Change, which many STILL WON’T ACCEPT. Is it because they are stupid (see above), corrupt (see above) or both??!!

There’s plenty more I could say, but it will start getting tiresome. Just have a think about what we mean when we say ‘the richest nation’ …!

Posted by: Skeptical Moose | November 28, 2009

The US Lets Us Down Again

Once again, it looks as though the morally bankrupt USofA will let the world down. It seems highly unlikely they will be able to offer the necessary emissions reductions at Copenhagen, for fear of slowing economic growth.

A few questions spring to mind:

Is this a big deal?

Yes, absolutely. Without the US, China (historically not victorious in the Most Moral Country Award, but to be fair, they didn’t get us in this mess) will not commit. Without these two, accounting for approximately 40% of world emissions, the others are just there for the bacon!

I thought Obama cared?

The truth is, he most likely does. The US political system’s biggest strength and weakness, however, is that the President can not get anything done without the support of Congress … and they are not budging. Let’s remember: the US Congress is just about the most politically corrupt body in the world. It is now so embedded in the hands of Big Business and Big Religion that it will be almost impossible for any progress to be made. It is the same with health care, where there are six healthcare lobbyists for every member of congress … … (check this out)

How astonishing that in 2009 accurate and respected science can be negated by the power of money and supernatural beings!!

Will it slow growth, as the Yanks say?

As discussed elsewhere in this blog, absolutely not! The ‘Green New Deal’, will stimulate every single sector of the economy, generate huge employment opportunities and, by far and away most importantly, protect this planet and its people. However ardently capitalist you are, remember that without the planet, your stock portfolio is worth nothing … which is about 3% less than its present valuation!

But will it cost plenty of money to cut emissions?

Shall we scare everyone with $100bn per year, a figure often used to exemplify just how enormous a challenge it is (there’s no reason why it should be that high, but let’s stick with the worst case)! Four words answer this: Get out of Iraq! The war will cost the US $3 trillion … if they leave soon! Just for the record, Bush estimated this as $50 billion … and therefore borrowed it all, mostly from China. Clever!

In fact, while we’re here, just think of the minor little issues that we could do deal with if each country donated its defence budget to a worthy cause: ending poverty, providing food and sanitation to the world’s poorest people, preventing climate change mitigation and adaptation. But how would that help Halliburton and BAE– I’m not sure?!

And are we really going to argue that money is more important than lives. How much do you think your grandchildren are worth? (If you are considering an answer to that, I suggest moving to Texas)

So, addressing climate change is good for people, planet and profit. It’s impossible to argue against that in the long-term (and the ‘Deniers’ have tried), but selfish, immediate interests of large firms and NIMBYs are stalling everything.

We can not let them win.

See you at http://www.stopclimatechaos.org on the 5th and let’s keep up the fight.

We get this wrong; we all suffer!!


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