I recently watched a short documentary item titled “Land of the free, home of the poor” which discussed the inequality of the spread of wealth in the US. The documentary presenters asked some members of the public to identify which of three different pie graphs they thought represented America’s wealth distribution.
In each graph the pie was broken into 5 parts showing the top, upper, middle, lower, and bottom 20% of the population in terms of total financial value. The first graph showed the segments evenly split representing a flat distribution where the bottom had about the same as the top. The second showed a distribution with the top fifth owning 36%, the next with 21%, the middle with 18%, the lower with 15%, and the bottom with 11%. And the final graph showed the top with 84% of the wealth then 11%, 4%, 0.2%, and 0.1% at the bottom.
Most people thought the middle graph was most realistic. They realised the rich do have more wealth otherwise they wouldn’t be the rich, so the equal graph was obviously unrealistic, but the bottom graph showing the bottom half with about 1% was too outrageous to be true, wasn’t it?
As you will probably have guessed, no it wasn’t. The bottom graph did show the position in the US and the middle graph showed one of the most equal societies: Sweden. The first graph didn’t represent any real economy.
So the top 20% have almost a thousand times as much wealth as the bottom 20% and the second bottom aren’t much better off. Is this really the way the world’s (allegedly) greatest democracy works? It’s barely better than slavery although I do admit that even the poorest in the US are better off than many populations in third world countries: at least there isn’t mass starvation in America.
So the rhetoric around how great America is is clearly just that: unsubstantiated propaganda. This is the land of opportunity, the place where anyone can pursue the American dream? Apparently that promise is real but only if you are in the top income group and prepared to exploit your fellow citizens or preferably those of another country.
An economist commented that the natural reward for commercial success is wealth and that was somehow a justification. But let’s examine that claim. He’s saying having lot’s of wealth is OK if you are successful in business, but the measure of success is accumulating wealth. Is this not a circular argument? Having wealth is OK if you are successful and that success is measured by wealth. It sounds like a typical economist’s double-speak to me!
Those numbers show what a horrendously unequal society the US really is but they barely begin to reveal the real truth. Apparently, in the last 30 years those with the top 1% of the wealth have increased their share by 10% of the total. it’s just obscene. I guess the main reason the American people don’t revolt against this unfairness is because they have been affected by years of propaganda telling them how great their country is and how deserving the rich are.
But it’s all just lies. The US was great once but is rapidly sinking as it becomes more inward looking and corrupt. It seems inevitable that it is on the way out as the world’s leading power. Whether China will make a good substitute for this position is, of course, extremely debatable. America has it’s problems but on balance it is probably one of the more benign global empires the world has seen.
There is an argument to say that the rich create companies which create jobs and wealth through exports, manufacturing, providing services, etc. OK, that is true and I think someone who works hard and creates employment does deserve some reward. But making a thousand (or a lot more) times what the bottom part of the population does is just too much.
Many big companies and most of the rich pay no taxes yet they benefit from the military, scientific, and social outcomes the taxes of others pay for. So the poor are effectively subsidising the lifestyles of the rich. Again I ask, why has their not been riots in the streets like there has been recently in Britain which is similarly afflicted with a grossly unfair society?
I’m not condoning mindless rioting but I can understand why it happened. And I think it is likely to get worse before it gets better. All grossly corrupt societies are eventually brought down by their own citizens and the western countries following neo-liberal economics will be no exception.
The US often criticises China for its unfair work conditions and “slave labour” economy yet its distribution of wealth is almost identical. The same applies to many African dictatorships. I agree that although the distribution is the same the absolute income is greater in the US, but even that is mainly because of their exploitative business practices in other countries.
The truth is beginning to spread though. The right-wing French government recently introduced more taxes on the rich because they asked for them. Yes, some of the most wealthy people in the country asked to be taxed more. A similar thing has happened here in New Zealand. Sam Morgan, who made millions by selling TradeMe to a foreign corporation, pays no tax and wants to know why.
Billionaire philanthropist, Warren Buffet commented on the documentary that he’s rich because he’s good at guessing at what to invest in. But he said himself he thinks teachers and nurses are more valuable members of society than he is. Yeah sure, there’s probably a bit of rhetorical false modesty there but he has a point. Does he really deserve all that wealth and to make little contribution to society through taxes while enjoying it’s benefits? Of course not.
Buffet, along with an increasing number of the very rich such as out old friend Bill Gates, are making donations to worthy causes and I commend them for that. But if they and all the other extremely rich who make no donations paid their fair share of tax I think the world would be a far better place.
The current economic system in most western countries (excluding some of the more progressive social democracies such as Sweden) is just unfair, immoral, and yes, I’ll say it: evil. It must change and it will. It’s just a matter of how soon.
Some people might have been surprised at my not altogether positive reaction to Apple’s latest operating system, Lion, when I first installed it. I originally blogged about it about one month ago now and noted that there were a few “issues” – some of which were quite serious – and that I didn’t really recommend it for the average user.
A month later things have changed considerably. I’m not going to pretend that this is the perfect operating system or that there are no bugs at all, but things are certainly a lot better now and the remaining problems are probably no worse than those with older systems.
There have been three events which have lead to these improvements: first, Apple have released the first major update (Mac OS X 10.7.1); second, several publishers of other applications I use have released updates which have also improved the overall reliability of my system; and third, I have doubled the RAM in my machine to 8GB.
I am also now setting up computers for my clients which are running Lion (including a really nice new MacBook Air – those machines have really improved since the original models) so that will be a chance to see how a more “standard” user copes with the new system.
I am a real power user and I do have a lot of programs running constantly on my computer so I need more memory than a typical user. Most users could manage with 4GB which is the standard amount on most Macs sold today. Also, most users would not be using the same number of extra applications and utilities that I do so their experience with compatibility problems would be less.
I’m not necessarily recommending Lion just yet for everybody, because I haven’t had much feedback from non-experts, but at least it has got to the point now where I can safely let an average user try it. That’s a good thing of course because Lion is the default system being shipped on most new machines and is required for others, so it looks like I won’t have the choice for much longer!
Since Apple’s creation it has lurched from being fabulously successful to being an almost total failure to being even more outrageously successful than it was to start with. And the factor which (at least superficially) seemed to correspond with its level of success was the presence or absence of Steve Jobs as its CEO.
Today we heard that Steve Jobs is resigning as CEO although he plans on staying on as chairman of the board and as an Apple employee. Does this mean that Apple will begin a slide into disaster like it did last time Steve was away? Obviously Apple fans like myself will hope not, but the future – especially in the area of technology – is notoriously hard to predict.
Potentially it could even be a good thing for Apple. Steve Jobs is undoubtedly a brilliant visionary but many people think he sometimes takes things too far, and his pursuit of user experience perfection and design excellence can lead to outcomes which are counter-productive.
Of course it could easily be someone else who has been responsible for these problems. But many of them have the look of Steve’s brand of “social engineering” about them. Here’s a few examples of the type of thing I mean: removing floppy drives on the iMac, dropping support for Classic on Mac OS X, and most recently removing the PowerPC emulation environment “Rosetta” from Mac OS X Lion.
There have been many more as well but the overall theme here is that Apple are about what they don’t give you as much as what they do. Almost universally these decisions do ultimately tend to be good (who wants floppy disks?) but they do create a lot of problems in the short term.
There are also a few Apple products where design has got in the way of function. Again these seem to bear the sign of a Steve intervention. The dreaded “hockey puck” mouse would probably be the most notorious!
So the challenge for Apple will be to maintain their outstanding design and brilliant usability while avoiding making the transition to new products too painful.
Apple can’t afford to become “just another computer company”. Those types of companies are not doing well. Look at how IBM failed after launching the PC in 1981. Look at the dismal failure of HP to do anything useful with either its tablets or its PCs. And look at the continuous slide from dominance of Microsoft in recent years.
In fact Apple should look carefully at Microsoft. Whatever criticism you might have of Bill Gates he was an intelligent and insightful technology leader. And that’s a lot more than you can say about the clown in charge of Microsoft now! So that company seems to have done badly since it lost its visionary leader and the same could happen to Apple.
When the Apple board threw out Jobs in the mid 1980s they had decided that it was time for Apple to “grow up” and they tried to run the company just like all the others. That clearly didn’t work because if you become just one of the others you can only really compete on price and that is a sure path to failure.
So Apple must keep its distinctive culture and it must continue to take risks. It should design new products based on what people will want (even if they don’t know it yet), not on what they are asking for and definitely not on what they have had in the past. But they should be a little bit less extreme about it and try to pay a little bit more attention to backward compatibility.
How hard can it be? Judging from the total failure of almost every company except Apple obviously it is very hard! Can Apple do it without Steve as CEO? I certainly hope so or the future of technology looks rather dreary.
Many skeptics are seen as being a bit too serious, a bit lacking in fun and imagination, and a bit too willing to rant about the harm resulting from various forms of pseudoscience and superstition. And that’s a good point, isn’t it? After all, what’s the harm in believing in the Loch Ness monster, in alien abductions, in creationism, or in the existence of a conspiracy around JFK’s assassination, or the 9/11 attacks, or global warming?
Isn’t it good to have people who disagree with the majority or official opinion and who have the imagination and originality to look at things differently? Well yes, in a way that is true, but there are a few salient points which I think should be taken into account here.
The first is that believing in something which is clearly untrue is basically harmless until the believer goes on some sort of campaign to try to force other people into taking up those views. Creationists wanting their myths taught in schools as science would be one example. The world needs more scientific and technical professionals and believing that something which has been proven untrue beyond all reasonable doubt does not help produce good graduates in these areas.
People who genuinely believe in literal creationism are probably so prone to fantasy or so tied up with the dogma of their church that they will probably never escape the delusion. So it’s pointless trying to help them. But it is important to try to stop the rot spreading to others, at least in a form where it is disguised as science and is being portrayed as a realistic alternative to real theories.
A second point is the existence of the “thin end of the wedge” or “slippery slope” argument. Sometimes this sort of point is made in an invalid way to support a fallacious argument. For example, someone might say: “we shouldn’t let our military be involved in peacekeeping missions because the next thing you know they’ll be starting a war!” or “Obama shouldn’t introduce health reforms because that will lead to America turning to communism”.
It’s usually obvious when a slippery slope argument has been used to stretch a point to a ridiculous degree, but there are times when it makes a valid point and it shouldn’t be automatically rejected. Giving superstition even a foothold in the science classroom is a bad idea for example, because it sets a legal precedent for that to spread. If we let intelligent design in today it could easily be pure creationism tomorrow, and that is a realistic possibility.
If people want to study creationism then they should do it in a phenomenology of religion, mythology, theology, or ancient literature class where it belongs. That’s fine because, like other classic literature, it’s worth studying in that way. But it isn’t science now and it never will be.
There is also the point that people who believe in one absurd theory often believe in others, because these things tend to group together. For example I know a lot of creationists who are also global warming deniers, and a lot of 9/11 conspiracy theorists who also think that using nuclear weapons against what they see as terrorist states is justified, and people who use a lot of natural medicine who also refuse to have their children vaccinated.
So what might be a harmless belief such as creationism (assuming it is privately held and not used to launch a public campaign of misinformation) often goes hand in hand with something which is politically relevant like global warming denial. People vote based on these views and that can be dangerous. Do we really want people with no handle on reality at all deciding who rules a country like the US, because that is partly what’s happening.
The final point I should make is that people should be prepared to let go of their beliefs when they are clearly wrong. The inability to change and to admit when you are wrong is a classic symptom of a fantasy prone personality. Sure I agree, nothing is ever proven 100% but it can get pretty close. Having a belief in an alternative theory is fine to begin with: let’s have the debate. But when a point is shown to be wrong move on. Don’t hold on to ridiculous ideas past the point where they are no longer useful.
Here’s just a few of the things which are proven beyond any reasonable doubt and should no longer be seriously debated…
Evolution is undoubtedly true, although details of the exact mechanisms involved will continue to be discovered. Any theory which excludes evolution is false and that includes literal creationism. In fact literal creationism is disproved by so many other areas of science that it is the most pathetic thing anyone in our modern age could really take seriously.
Obama is a US citizen. The paper work is there and the evidence is good enough to draw a reasonable conclusion. Just get over it, OK? And Obama’s policies bear about as much resemblance to socialism as Stalin’s did to free market economics. If there’s something about his proposed reforms you don’t like say what it is instead of using unrealistic labels like “socialist”.
The buildings destroyed in the 9/11 attack on New York were the victims of the aircraft which hit them and of the debris of those collisions. There’s no reason to think there was a controlled demolition because the mechanisms involved have been perfectly well explained by competent engineers without requiring a vast government conspiracy. If there’s a simple, well-supported answer to a question why instead support one which requires an incredibly complex conspiracy?
Global warming is happening and there’s little doubt that it is primarily caused by human activity. The overall result will be very negative and we do need to do something about it. It will disturb some of the current large corporations who deal with fossil fuel but new industries will replace them and that should be good. Debate the extent or what our response should be to GW but don’t pretend it’s not happening.
So, in summary, I don’t think there is such a thing as a harmless belief in a ridiculous idea and I think the answer is to attack all forms of superstition and false belief, no matter how trivial they seem on the surface, and no matter how much the people involved just seems like harmless cranks.
A common justification for the current enthusiasm for neo-liberal economic theory is the way the benefits allegedly trickle down from the “top” of the economic pyramid to the masses at the bottom. It’s interesting to note that the idea isn’t widely supported in economic theory and the term “trickle down” was first used in a pejorative sense to describe the idea.
So what is the trickle down effect? The idea is that if the government encourages the rich and powerful by giving them tax breaks, subsidies for greater investment, and other benefits, then the (allegedly) inevitable increase in business activity will result in greater employment, more national income, and generally better economic conditions for everyone else as well.
Allegedly (you may notice that I use that word a lot) the benefits to those at the bottom are greater than they would be if the tax breaks and other benefits were given directly to them.
Critics of this economic philosophy (including myself) strongly disagree, of course. I’m sure there are occasional cases where a large company receives these favours from the government, does increase production and/or employment, and this does provide some benefit to the country as a whole, but there are significant questions which should be asked: are these benefits worth the price paid, and are there better ways to increase the overall advantage to the majority?
There are many examples where we have been told that we should see great benefits from the trickle down phenomenon and several of these are prominent right now in New Zealand.
First I would mention dairy farming. Dairy farmers are effectively heavily subsidised by tax payers because they receive significant tax benefits and are not currently being forced to pay for the serious amount of pollution their industry causes. Many are just examples of a business which is the recipient of corporate welfare. And that is ironic since the farming sector have a reputation of being against welfare for others.
New Zealand’s dairy industry is enjoying a period of great profitability at the moment and you would expect the country as a whole should benefit. But is it? It doesn’t seem that way to me. Milk prices here in new Zealand are so high that many people can’t afford it any more. The price of farms has forced many small, traditional farmers out and they have been replaced with bigger, more automated operations which actually employ less people. And the main beneficiaries of the farmers’ extra income are foreign banks and equipment manufacturers. So this famous trickle down is happening where exactly?
I’ve already ranted about the travesty of sport which is the Rugby World Cup. The Rugby Union, foreign corporate sponsors, and the rich and famous are again being encouraged through tax breaks and other government sponsorship. We are told the benefits will trickle down to the rest of the country. But I don’t think that will happen, at least not in a big way.
Most New Zealanders can’t afford to go to the games yet they still must endure the inconvenience of how everything is being re-arranged for the benefit of the competition. They must endure the tedium of the advertising (including the embarrassing and pathetic Telecom “abstain” campaign), and they (as tax and rate payers) are the ones who are paying for a lot of it. So where’s the trickle down here? There is none. Again the rich are simply parasites off the rest of us, and to make things even worse, we’re supposed to thank them for it!
The Reserve Bank (which has really become a bit of a joke and is suspected by many to be just a propaganda source for the government) has estimated huge benefits from the RWC but an academic today said those claims are “wildly exaggerated”. So, just like the dairy industry, it seems likely that the average person will be worse off after the RWC.
Many people are taken in by the overwhelming pro-Cup propaganda which is everywhere but I just can’t wait to get it over with. Then the corporate parasites (including the Rugby Union) can go back to where they came from and we can get on with life… until the next case of parasitism arrives.
Trickle down theory, just like all neo-liberal economic theory, just doesn’t work. It never has worked, and it never will work. It didn’t work in Greece (whose problems are largely due to foreign corporations who pay no tax) or in the US (where tax cuts for the rich have been maintained leading to shortfalls in funding), or in Ireland (where favourable conditions for corporations were exploited) and it hasn’t worked here either (where rabid neo-liberalism was unleashed on the unsuspecting public in 1984).
People need to wake up and look at the facts. Neo-liberalism looks great in theory but it just doesn’t work in the real world.
I’m often criticised for being too much of a socialist and that label often carries the related assumption that I place greater importance on collective welfare than on individual freedom. But nothing could be further from the truth.
According to various ratings I have done, and self-evidently from my opinions, I do tend to the political left, but at the same time I am very much an individual and have little time for collectivism. My socialist attitudes mainly extend to placing more trust in elected governments to provide essential services rather than relying on private enterprise. Neither strategy is inherently more or less free than the other in my opinion.
And yes, I don’t place great trust in governments, just like my more right-wing opponents, but I am even more skeptical of private companies and corporations, and this is an attitude that the dogma of the right prevents them from appreciating.
Anyway the reason I mention the topic relates to a podcast I listened to recently which discussed the decreasing role of the maverick in modern journalism. And it’s not just in journalism where this trend has been evident because it’s happening everywhere in my experience.
The podcast presented an opinion that in the “good old days” of journalism (about 20 to 30 years ago I guess) there was more room for mavericks in news rooms, that older people now say things “aren’t what they once were”, journalism training schools are producing many graduates who are “cut from the same cloth”, that previously people drifted in form a variety of routes and had a “bit of mongrel” in them, and that there were a disproportionate number of “misfits and non-conformists, drunks and womanisers”, but they knew how to unearth stories and were free to develop their own individualistic style and flair.
Wow. It sounds like journalism used to be a really sweet profession! Especially the part about drinking and womanising! But of course the critical part is not whether the no doubt somewhat nostalgic memories of the good old days are actually accurate it’s more about whether individual flair is really being repressed by modern education and management.
It certainly seems that way to me although I concede that perhaps I’m also falling victim of the common phenomenon of reminiscing about the good old days. But I don’t think so. I have noticed a steady tightening of control of the work I can do at my workplace, for example.
The usual justification for tighter controls over workers is to ensure a certain level of quality of work is achieved. If there were no rules and checks on people’s work practices there would be the opportunity for people to do substandard work or even do no work at all.
I agree that is a real issue. But the problem is that by insisting on much tighter controls on people’s work habits modern managers inhibit the truly exceptional workers by dragging them back down to a defined level at the same time as they (in theory) drag the less capable people up.
So there is no gain without sacrifice. If everyone is expected to work in one particular way and at a particular level then it prevents exceptional employees from working at a level higher than that expected. Is it worth sacrificing that possibility even if the performance of lesser people is enhanced?
From the point of view of management it’s probably a good thing. Managers are often lazy and lacking in imagination and original ideas so having a standard level of performance is always going to be easier for them. Encouraging people to work to a potentially higher level by giving them greater freedom is just too hard.
Another factor favourable to managers is that they won’t have superior employees who might be able to make greater demands (for salary, etc) because of their performance. If everyone works to the same mundane level then no one is so important that they have that power. Any awkward employee can just be dismissed and replaced with someone who is more compliant.
Economic theory states that managers optimise the way their employees work to create the best outcomes for their organisation. But theory rarely matches practice in these situations. Managers are far more likely to create a safe environment and not take too many risks even when those risks could potentially result in far superior results.
It explains why big organisations tend to be full of mediocre employees who don’t enjoy their work and don’t work to anything like their full potential because of arbitrary rules and regulations imposed by people who do nothing useful themselves.
So I say throw out the managers and replace them with more mavericks, mongrels, misfits, non-conformists, drunks, and womanisers!
Listening to a deluded nutter like a fundamentalist Christian espouse their philosophy on life is basically a waste of time – unless you are interested in the psychology of delusion of course. But I always take the chance to listen to more intelligent, rational people who are also religious. I have already analysed (and criticised) one person of this type, Francis Collins, in a blog entry titled “Brilliant Stupidity” on 2009-09-22 and today I’m going to do the same here with another religious intellectual.
My victim on this occasion is a Christian theologian at Yale University, John E Hare. I have always been deeply suspicious of theologians because it seems to me that in order to even begin to study their subject matter they must first accept that a god exists and that is their first mistake: it’s all down hill from there. Of course, there are theologians who make a genuine attempt at establishing the existence or otherwise of god but Hare isn’t one of them.
As you can probably tell from my scathing tone, I wasn’t impressed with his arguments. So I’ll go through a few of the topics discussed in the interview I heard and say why I disagree or agree with them (because he did make some valid points). I should say here that I presume the level of argument he uses in his academic publications isn’t quite as transparently ridiculous as those he used in the interview but I don’t have time to read those so I will judge him on what I heard!
Probably Hare’s most significant claim was that people need religion to be good. He also said that many atheist are very moral and put believers to shame. He also said that many religious people commit atrocities (although he doesn’t see them as religious in the same sense as he is). So he made a claim and then refuted it himself. To be fair he did say later that more empirical research needs to be done to establish the truth of this proposition.
So he makes an outrageous claim, then refutes it himself, then says we need research to find out if it’s true, then goes back to the original claim again. In what way exactly is this a rigorous, intellectual argument? It sounds closer to the true meaning of faith: believing in something even when you know it’s not true!
And he does use the word faith many times to justify his position. Like most believers he claims faith is a good thing but how can it be? If you have faith you have already made up your mind on a subject without much supporting evidence (otherwise it wouldn’t be faith). This is supposed to be good how exactly?
Hare says he is ashamed of some people who claim the same faith as him then go on to commit atrocities. He says that any system of faith can be abused and that is true. But as Voltaire said: “Those who believe absurdities will commit atrocities.” I think that is true (although not every person who believes in an absurdity will automatically go on to commit an atrocity of course – they are just more likely to do so). But Hare (quite rightly) says you can’t reject a faith because some people who follow it act badly.
When asked about why God allows so many bad things to happen he quoted a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust who says he questioned God about it but never got an answer on why it had been allowed to happen. But he still felt as if he got closer to God through the struggle with (an incommunicative) God. God was there even though he didn’t give an answer.
Really? And what if God had given an answer? Surely that would have made his belief stronger and shown God exists too. But when the opposite happens and God refuses to answer this is also good. God really does get off easily doesn’t he? Whatever he does those people who have the faith to believe in him are happy. Again I offer my definition of of faith: believing in something even when you know it’s not true.
Hare specifically thinks monotheism is the only true way to experience god. He rejects polytheistic faiths but at least seems to accept all monotheistic faiths have merit although he clearly has the usual Christian blind belief in the power of Jesus.
But when asked about the moral values of classic civilisations who did have multiple gods (such as ancient Greece where many of the morals we still follow today originated) he tries to squirm out of that awkward dilemma and somehow suggest that Greece wasn’t actually that moral. Again I would suggest that if the question is looked at in context he is wrong. The admitted moral weaknesses of ancient Greece (slavery, inequality of women, etc) are nothing compared with the gross immorality of various Christian regimes. But again his faith seems to prevent him from seeing this.
A common trick used by believers who want to try to look rational and disguise the essential silliness of their beliefs is to equate god with real physical phenomena. For example some people will say god is the universe, or god is the collective will of all humans, or something similar. It’s nonsense of course and I’m glad to say Hare doesn’t resort to this tactic.
Instead he says God is a distinct entity separate but sometimes interacting with the universe. He offers no reasons why this should make sense. I guess it all gets back to that faith thing again!
So far everything has been pretty awful, hasn’t it? I mean these are arguments that an absolute beginner in philosophy could refute and are clearly lacking when looked at rationally. But his ideas get a bit more interesting after that.
There was a discussion on the increasing stridency of both religious fundamentalists and the “new atheists”. He claims the atheists have been forced to come out with a more direct attack against religion because their previous assumption that religion would just die in the light of science and rationality has proved to be untrue.
That’s a good point because I think that was the assumption of many. As a sometimes “strident” atheist myself I have to say that I assumed religion would die under the onslaught of the truth being uncovered by science. But I forgot a point made by other commentators on this subject: people don’t become religious for intellectual or factual reasons, they follow a faith for emotional reasons and they don’t usually respond to facts no matter how convincing.
Hare claims reason doesn’t require abandoning faith but I think he’s wrong on that. You just can’t be reasonable while following a belief system for no valid reason. It just doesn’t work that way and the more I hear patently ridiculous arguments about religion from otherwise intelligent people (such as Hare and Collins) the more convinced I am that they have abandoned reason in that area of their lives.
Finally what about the common idea that science and religion are two different things but equally valid in their own way? Science explains facts, religion explains meaning. Well I half agree: science does explain facts, but how can something based on totally arbitrary beliefs and maintained solely through unthinking faith have anything to do with any real objective meaning?
Maybe there’s a sort of internal logic to religion (although even that is often lacking) but it really explains nothing. Even Hare admits religion is often something people reach for because it’s simple and the reality presented by science is complex. But Einstein said we should make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler. And religion has made it too simple to the point that it has no meaning.
So yes, science and religion do exist in their own worlds. Science exists in the world of reality and religion exists in the land of fantasy. If you want to live in a fantasy world then that’s OK, follow your faith, but at least have the courage to admit it and not pretend that it is equal in any way to science.
There’s an old expression which is probably fairly well known in the parts of the world which still have a connection with the old British Empire. That is “that’s not cricket!” and it means that something is not fair or not being done according to established rules.
Perhaps a more topical variation on the theme would be “that’s not rugby” to describe the situation around the Rugby World Cup which is about to start here in New Zealand.
I like watching a good game of rugby as much as anyone else (well that’s probably not literally true because I’m sure there are real rugby fanatics who enjoy it far more than me) but I’ve got to say I’m already sick of the nonsense which is emerging around the RWC and the actual competition hasn’t even started yet!
So what sort of “nonsense” am I talking about? It’s mostly to do with the blatant commercialism which has steadily crept into sport. Anyone who reads this blog will know that I don’t have a lot of tolerance for corporate greed and I am totally skeptical of the rise of corporations, globalisation, and neo-liberal economics.
But what does this have to do with the RWC? Quite a lot actually. I plan to ignore the whole event as much as possible, just like I ignored that other travesty which passed for news recently: the royal wedding.
OK, so what are my specific objections? There are many but I want to discuss three in particular here which are representative of the overall problem.
First, there is the current issue of the price of All Blacks replica rugby jerseys. These sell in New Zealand for $220, about double he price of the same item in the US. That is bad enough but we know the people who manufacture these items are paid about 60 cents an hour. That is obscene and the silly excuses offered by Adidas just don’t hold up to any real scrutiny.
It’s an example of the worst in global corporate exploitation and the All Blacks should have nothing to do with it. But they rely on corporate sponsorship to pay their excessive salaries so I suppose they don’t have a choice. Well I guess greed and lack of moral values is what business is all about but is it really what we expect from sport?
Second, there is how so many aspects of life in New Zealand have been rearranged for the convenience of this one event. For example the first school term has been extended and the last term reduced. This inconveniences both teachers and students and many think it will lead to inferior learning but apparently that doesn’t matter compared with a few big companies making some extra cash from this so-called sporting event.
Extra building has been undertaken, transport has been re-arranged, and numerous other unnecessary projects have resulted from the RWC being run here. Could this extra expenditure not be used elsewhere? The government keeps telling us how little spare cash they have for health and education but apparently that isn’t a factor when it comes to subsidising big corporations.
Finally there is the sickening marketing associated with the RWC. Private police forces will be employed to make sure there is no sign of any brands competing with the official sponsors anywhere near the venues. The event and the All Blacks seem to have an official product of every type imaginable. Marketing is a sick pursuit at the best of times (I often call marketing executives “profesional liars”) but this has just taken the phenomenon to a whole new level of depravity.
Surveys show a distinct rejection of the RWC by many New Zealanders. Only 37% were looking forward to the games according to one recent survey. In a country where rugby is supposedly so well supported this does show how public acceptance of the modern treatment of sport has dropped.
But when the games start I’m guessing most people will watch at least some of them and it will be hard to avoid them as a topic of conversation. But I still say it’s just not cricket!
In my last blog entry I commented on some of the problems I have had since I installed Mac OS X 10.7 Lion. Now it’s time to talk about the good stuff and to decide whether, on balance, the upgrade is worth doing.
I am almost always very positive about Apple products but on this occasion I would advise most people to wait for the first update to Lion which should fix the annoying bugs. And there are many small bugs as well as the more significant problems I mentioned earlier.
But now I really should list the good stuff. This is the stuff that I like already and which many other users will also find useful when they install that first updated version (presumably Mac OS X 10.7.1).
There are two big trends in Lion: the first is borrowing from Apple’s iOS devices and the second is incremental upgrades to what we already have. Many of these might sound minor but they really do make using a Mac a more positive experience and it’s actually quite hard to go back to Snow Leopard – a sure sign that the updates have really worked.
Mail has been majorly re-designed. It is now more like the mail program on iOS devices (especially when it’s in full-screen mode). The overall look is cleaner and simpler and I think it is also easier to use. Other useful functions include the ability to Quick Look URLs to web pages, the show related messages function, message contents folding, a favourites bar, and content preview in the message list.
If an email contains a URL pointing to a web site a single click will preview the page in a pop-up window inside Mail itself. Related messages lists all of the messages in a “thread” or a “related messages” list listed one after the other. If the messages are long they will be “folded” to shorten them by removing quoted information (a really cleverly designed function). The favourites bar makes it easy to view and move messages into commonly used mailboxes. And the message list column can now be displayed vertically and can include a preview of the first line or lines of the message.
These functions are all quite simple but together they make managing email (something that many people spend a lot of time doing) a lot easier and quicker.
The Finder has also had some useful enhancements made. Dragging a file into a folder where a file with the same name already exists now gives the new option of keeping the existing and the new file. The new file is renamed so it doesn’t conflict with the existing one. Two folders of files can be merged in a similar way. As a file is dragged into a folder with a different view the file changes its size (and multiple files change their layout) to reflect their new appearance.
Maybe the most useful feature is the ability to arrange Finder windows in different ways. For example icons can be arranged by the date they were last accessed then sorted by name within those categories. Another useful attribute to arrange by is label (colour), that way icons can be arranged in any arbitrary way by changing their label.
Again none of these are totally revolutionary in themselves but together they just make working with files a bit easier.
There are many other miscellaneous enhancements. Lion uses gestures a lot more than previous systems. This works well on the built-in trackpad on laptops but desktop users might want to consider an Apple trackpad to take advantage of these features. A controversial default setting is “natural scrolling” where a two finger drag moves the document in the direction dragged, just like the iPad. Previously Macs moved the “viewport” in that direction which is effectively the opposite of what makes sense. It takes a while to get used to but after a while it really is more natural, as well as being the same as iOS.
Dragging any window edge re-sizes the window in that direction. Yes, I know that’s the way Windows has done it for years: Microsoft do get things right every now and again!
The new screensaver is nice. While it is running the keyboard can be used for pausing, playing, moving forward and moving back. So the screensaver can become a useful photo viewer if it is set to display a folder of photos.
This blog entry isn’t intended to be a complete list of Lion’s new features, just the ones I have found most useful so far. There are others which will become more prominent as Lion is improved and becomes more widely used. For example the “Airdrop” function which allows easy file transfer to and from nearby Macs also running Lion. The problem is that there aren’t any at the moment.
So in summary, yes I like Lion. But please Apple, send me an update to fix those bugs!