Archive for August, 2012

Needless Bigotry

August 30, 2012 1 comment

I can understand that some people might not appreciate certain other people’s lifestyles. I can understand that some people, who might be a bit less tolerant of diversity, might prefer to ignore the way other people live. Everyone is different and everyone has an opinion which might or might not be worthy of respect. But I don’t think it’s fair to try to push a personal opinion onto other people when the subject being appraised has no real effect on the holder of the opinion.

I’m talking about the subject of same-sex marriage of course – just in case you hadn’t already figured that out considering the prominence the subject has gained recently.

A recent Herald poll asked if New Zealand was ready for same-sex marriage. Here are the results: “now is the time for full marriage equality” 35%; “nearly, most people are probably on board” 4%; “I think most Kiwis don’t really care because it doesn’t affect them” 21%; “no, we’re not ready, it’s a step too far” 12%; and “definitely not ready and never will be” 28%.

So it’s really a remarkably even split. Whether this poll is statistically valid is highly questionable, of course, but I think it’s OK to use it as a guide. Other polls I have heard of seem to indicate that there is a significant majority in favour of marriage equality and the first reading of the new bill got a fairly impressive majority (80 for and 40 against) in favour of it, so I think there is a good case to say that it is something that most people are happy with, or at least unconcerned about.

But the question I want answered is why anyone would object. Whether a same-sex couple live in a relationship which is called a “civil union” (as is the case now) or a “marriage” is irrelevant surely? How does this really effect anyone not associated with the people in the relationship? I can’t see how it does and when I ask people who object to same-sex marriage they usually just give some fairly inadequate answer like: “marriage is a relationship between a man and a women”. Yes, I know that’s what it is now, but social norms change, and what exactly is wrong with changing the current definition?

Another objection is the old “thin end of the wedge” argument. Some people say that same-sex marriage will inevitably lead to marriages involving more than two people, or to bigamy, or to incest, or to marriages involving other species. We can’t tell for sure whether this is likely or not, but if society gets to the point where marriage involving multiple people is considered appropriate then why not? If there is good support for an idea and if “its time has come” then we should change the law to suit.

Yet another issue I hear is that this law could “cheapen marriage”. Ironically at least one proponent of this theory himself comes from a failed conventional marriage. Given the number of dysfunctional heterosexual marriages and the number which end in divorce, sometimes after mere days (especially in the case of some celebrities), it’s hard to see how marriage could be cheapened much more than it already is!

The history of the world has shown a trend towards social liberalisation. Sure there have been periods in history when that trend has been reversed. The “Dark Ages” spring to mind as a well known example. The reversals in greater individual freedom seem to have mostly arisen from religious zealotry. The Dark Ages resulted from the Catholic Church imposing its intolerant and joyless philosophy on the world. Have we not learned from this? We either escape from the oppressive influence of the church which is still with us today and, I think, a major cause of objections to this bill, or we admit that we are still in its power, at least subconsciously.

It is also interesting to note that many of the strongest objections come from Christians. I’m not religious myself (as if that wasn’t already obvious) but I do know a bit about Christian philosophy and I was under the impression that it highly prized tolerance and understanding. Does the bigoted and often hateful attitude to gay and lesbian rights really reflect this ideal? I don’t think so. It’s yet another example where most atheists uphold positive values – which many Christians claim as their own – far better than the Christians themselves do.

So I think it’s time for people to confess where their objections really come from. If they just dislike a group of people whose sexual habits are different than their own then that’s OK but why try to impose your views on others where there is no real effect on you? If their objection is religious then that’s OK too, but don’t go around telling us how tolerant and understanding your religion is because that’s just a lie.

And if you just don’t like change then think about it: do you want to undo other social changes from the past? Should we go back to the time when slavery was OK, when there was no democracy, or if there was only certain groups could vote? Social liberalisation is almost always positive, in fact I can’t think of an example when it wasn’t. You can either accept the inevitability of this or look like the out of touch bigots who objected to the abolition of slavery or the vote for women.

If you want to live in the past and base our laws on religious myths then go and live in a country which is still in the dark ages. Try Iran, I think they have fairly strong laws based on religious bigotry. That should suit you well!


Recursion: See Recursion

August 28, 2012 2 comments

Today I listened to a Radio NZ podcast which discussed computer science. One of the topics they talked about was recursion, but in my humble opinion they didn’t explain it very well. Many years ago I did a computer science degree and have worked as a computer consultant and programmer ever since so I wanted to offer my own contribution to the topic here: that is recursion and programming in general.

First I want to say why I love programming so much. To me it is the ideal combination of art and science. That suits my personality best because I am an analytical and precise person but I also like to be creative. There is no other profession that I know of which combines both of those elements in quite the same way. Writing a program involves solving a problem in an analytical way but many of the elements of creating a program also involve a lot of creativity and “beauty”.

In programming (as in many fields where beauty seems a strange word to use as a description, such as maths) beauty refers more to the elegance, simplicity, and subtlety of a solution to a problem more than any outward manifestation of the item being created. In programming there is often an opportunity to create a visual interface which can be described as beautiful but that’s not really what I am talking about here. It’s deeper and more subtle than that.

When I write a program I don’t just try to solve the initial problem, I try to make the solution extendable, tolerant of errors, fast, compact, and easy to understand. Usually a short program is a far more impressive achievement than a long one which has the same function. And every moderately complex problem has an infinite (or so close to infinite that it doesn’t matter) number of possible solutions, some of which are elegant and beautiful and some which aren’t.

Of course there is a certain amount of subjectivity in judging how good a program is but, as in most areas of expertise, skilled programmers will generally agree on what is good and what isn’t.

Now getting back to recursion. First of all, what is it? Well it’s a way to solve a problem by creating a series of steps (what computer scientists call an algorithm) and allowing that algorithm to refer to itself. The nerdy joke in the computer world is that if you look up recursion in the dictionary the definition will include “see recursion”. There is also the little “in” jokes where some languages have recursive names. For example the name of the scripting language “PHP” is a recursive acronym for “PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor”, and GNU is an acronym for Gnu’s Not Unix.

The serious example given in the podcast was an algorithm to climb stairs which went like this: (I have given the following steps the name “climb”)…

algorithm “climb”:
go up one step
are you at the top?
– if no: “climb”
end (of climb)

You can see in this example that the algorithm called “climb” has a step which refers to itself (the last step “climb”). But this is a bad example because it could also be done like this…

go up one step
are a you at the top?
– if no go back to “start”

This is what we call an iterative algorithm: it iterates or “loops” around until it stops at a particular step. Generally these are more efficient than recursive algorithms.

By the way, I realise that neither of these work properly if you start at the top of the steps already. That sort of thing is a common programming problem and one which is obvious and quite easy to fix here but often not in more complex algorithms.

So what about an example where recursion does make sense? There is a classic case often used in computing which involves processing a binary tree. So what is a binary tree? It’s a structure in a computer’s memory which contains information in a way which makes it easy to search, sort, and manipulate in other ways. Imagine a series of words and with each word are two links to two other words (or the link could be empty). The words are put in the tree so that the left link always goes to words alphabetically before the current word, and the right link to words after.

If the first word is “computers” for example and the second word is “are” the second word would be accessed from the left link from “computers”. If the third word was “fun” then that would go on the right link from “computers”. if the fourth word was “sometimes” it couldn’t go on the right link from “computers” because “fun” is already there so it would go on the right link from “fun” instead (“s” comes after “f”). If the next word was “but” that would go right from “are”. Continuing the sentence with the words “can be tricky too” we would get this…

Now let’s say I wanted to display the words in alphabetical order. First I make a link pointing to the top of the tree. Now I create some steps called “sort” which I give a link to the current word (initially “computers”). Here are the steps…

Algorithm “sort” using “link”:
Is there a left link at the word for the link you are given?
– if yes, “sort” with the left link
– if no:
— display the current word
— is there a right link?
—- if yes “sort” with the right link.
end (of sort)

That’s it! That will display the words alphabetically. The first link points to “computers” but there is a left link so we send a link to that which points to “are”. There is no left link so we print “are” and send the right link (to “but”) to sort. There is a left link so we send that (to “be”) to sort. There is no left link so it prints “be” and finds no right link. At that point the sort algorithm ends but the previous sort which caused this sort to start is still active so we go back to that. That sort pointed to “but” and we had just taken the left link, so we carry on from that and check the right link using sort. That takes the next sort to “can”, etc…

The key thing here is that each time “sort” is used it sticks around until the end, so there can be any number of sorts waiting to continue where they left off before a “sort” further down the tree was started.

Wow, that sounds so complicated but it’s really quite simple. I did all of this from memory and it’s quite easy when you understand the concept. Without recursion sorting a binary tree would be difficult because there is no reverse link back up the tree and no easy way to remember what has already been done at each word. With recursion when one version of sort launches another its information is left behind and creates a way to go back up the tree when the one it started has finished running.

The recursive algorithm in this case is efficient and elegant. It’s also very simple because all of the complexity that might be required otherwise is available as an intrinsic part of how recursion works. It’s a simple example of “beauty” in programming.

Mostly Useless

August 23, 2012 Leave a comment

I like to occasionally offer an appraisal of the performance of the New Zealand government. Generally I’m not very positive about the right-wing parties we have here (and often rather less than totally enthusiastic regarding the left as well) but when the current National-lead government first came into power about 4 years ago I thought they were OK. But since then they have steadily gone down in my estimation and now I would have to rate them as “mostly useless”.

Actually mostly useless is a bit too generous because “useless” implies they just have no real positive merit, but in this case no government at all would be preferable because in general this lot are worse than useless. However I am prepared to be charitable and rate them simply as “mostly useless”. Yeah, I know, I can be very generous!

Anyway what is it about Key and his cronies which has incurred my wrath to the extent that I feel the need for yet another rant against them? Wow, where to start… Just about everything they have done has been a failure. Even the areas where they are allegedly competent – such as stimulating growth in business – seem to be a less than spectacular success. So let’s move on to some specific examples…

When he was in opposition John Key said the number of New Zealanders moving to Australia was a vote of no confidence in the Labour government of the time. During the election campaign Key said he would reverse that trend and that although it couldn’t be turned around overnight they were already making progress. Apparently going from 28,000 in Labour’s time to 54,000 now is progress according to John Key. If that’s how he does his maths it’s no wonder the economy is also such a mess!

At the moment 1000 people per week give up on the government’s promises of a better life here and leave for Australia… strangely enough, where they have a Labour government!

National supporters usually trot out some trite excuse like “it is all the previous Labour government’s fault – they left the country in such mess it will take years to fix it”. Is that right? And how many years exactly are we talking here? I don’t expect miracles but shouldn’t things be getting gradually better, not worse? Maybe an alternative explanation is that National just don’t know what they’re doing. Isn’t that also a possibility?

Another sign of the misguided dogma National are following is their employment policy. The latest change is to allow employers to employ new staff on less than the terms of the collective contract. OK, maybe they think that will encourage more employment or make the economy more efficient or that it might have some other amorphous benefit, but the labour minister insists it will be good for workers and give them more freedom. Surely no one really believes this. Employers already have the opportunity to offer better conditions so all this allows is for them to offer worse. How is this good for employees?

And the minister seems to think that this will encourage employers and employees to negotiate and reach a mutually beneficial and amicable solution. Wow, these people really do live in cloud cuckoo land, don’t they? New employees can’t afford to negotiate, they just have to take what they’re offered. Imagine how they would be viewed by the government if they refused a job because of poor conditions and then had to rely on the welfare system. There is no room for negotiation, but the Nats either don’t understand this or deliberately ignore it.

I agree that employment conditions here have created a few new jobs. For example Heinz moved a factory from Australia to New Zealand to exploit our low-wage economy. About 150 jobs were lost in Australia and 50 new ones (many casual) were created here. Is this the way we really want to progress? Is offering a low wage workforce with no bargaining power the best we can do? Is stealing jobs from our neighbours and encouraging virtual slave labour conditions here the right path forward? Apparently from their lofty heights the top 1% (including Key and his rich friends) think so.

And finally we come to the policy which really defines right-wing governments here: their continual insistence on selling off the assets that the people of this country own, even though the record in the past on these deals has been very poor at best (some would say disastrous). But the asset sales have hit a few roadblocks: Maori claims on water (which I discussed in a blog post “More Sabotage” on 2012-07-12) and recent poor performance of one of the assets up for sale, Solid Energy, have put them on hold.

Apparently the government only wants to sell assets which are performing well. Is this a common business strategy? Most companies sell off the assets which aren’t working for them and tend to keep the ones which are generating a good return. And yes, I know that the better the asset is the more you get for it, but compared with the long term income possible this seems like a very unwise and short-sighted strategy.

It seems that learning from history is not something the political right like to do, which is odd because conservatives often like to live in the past. There are so many examples of failed privatisations that you have to wonder how they can justify more. The New Zealand rail system was sold, virtually destroyed by its new owners, and had to be bought back by the government. Air New Zealand was sold, almost bankrupted, and rescued by the government. Our phone system was sold, turned into a monopoly, and now has had to have a lot of government intervention to make it work efficiently. It’s just one disaster after another yet they just don’t seem to see it. They even want to sell our share in Air New Zealand again! As my old science teacher said: “everyone makes mistakes but only a fool makes the same mistake twice.”

I know that the initial wave of privatisations was done by a Labour government in the 1980s. But that was a party which had been hijacked by the same factions which now control National. I will never forgive Labour for what they did in the 80s but at least they have moved back to a more sensible, centrist position when they realised the great promises of neo-liberalism were fake. National seem intent on pursuing them even though they have been a total failure.

Everything Key and his morally corrupt friends do seems to be designed to increase the gap between rich and poor, to drive down conditions to third world levels, and to create an overclass of greedy, self-centered people who care about nothing except making more for themselves no matter what the cost. I can understand why the top 1% would vote for a party like this but it’s bizarre that anyone else would. On the other hand I do have to agree that the main opposition party, Labour, is extremely uninspiring, both in its leadership (nice guy but not an extremely effective politician) and in its policies (are they really that different from the government’s which Labour criticises?)

Of all the parties out there the Greens are the only one which I have much confidence in and even then there are areas in their agenda which I disagree with. Of course it’s unreasonable to think that there should be a party which agrees 100% with my opinions so I really should accept that I need to choose one which is the least bad instead of one which is perfect.

One thing’s for sure though: this government has to go. I could possibly get over their clear right wing agenda if there were any real benefits apparent from it, but they can’t even get that right. If I went back through their actions I think I could find some which have achieved a good outcome (no one is 100% wrong) but I can’t think of anything right now. As I said before, my most generous appraisal can only be “mostly useless”.


August 20, 2012 Leave a comment

Truthiness seems to be a term which has been gaining some prominence recently, although it has been around for many years. It refers to the idea that many people think certain things are true simply because it seems like they should be: they make sense to them, they are just inherently obvious, or are supported by anecdotes.

As a skeptic I am highly suspicious of this sort of thing, of course. So many things which were previously thought of as obvious have turned out to be not true. And everyone has built-in biases which are likely to lead them to an “obvious” conclusion which might not be obvious to someone with a different bias. And anecdotes are notoriously unreliable. As all skeptics know: the plural of anecdote is not data!

So no important decisions should be made on the basis of truthiness, but so many are. These occur at many different levels in society, including government. A good current example here in New Zealand is Social Development Minister Paula Bennett’s insistence that drug-testing beneficiaries is a good idea. When asked what support she had for the policy she replied with “I just don’t feel that we need to trawl through evidence and give that much kind of evidence to something that is just so obvious.” and she was acting on information from “the visits, from face to face meetings, I don’t know, from some of the international research I’ve seen …” Well there is one part of what she said that no one will disagree with, that’s the part when she said “I don’t know”. The rest is highly suspicious!

In my experience right-wingers like Bennett are far more susceptible to truthiness than many others although I would certainly never suggest there isn’t a similar phenomenon at work on the left. But it seems to me that the left does tend to hold academia in somewhat higher esteem and rely more on expert advice rather than pure instinct.

There is one other factor worth looking at here too. That is that Bennett is more likely to be engaged in a political maneuver rather than a genuine attempt at improving the welfare system. And in this case her instinct is probably quite accurate: many of her political supporters will love this move because it fits in with their opinions that beneficiaries are all useless drug addicts.

You might have noticed in this post that I have been a bit guilty of truthiness myself. I have used the phrase “it seems to me” and “seems to be” and “in my experience” for example. But I am presenting this post simply as an opinion. If I was going to formulate a policy on this issue I would research real evidence from experts. That is the difference between someone who wants to know how they can really achieve the outcomes which they are allegedly pursuing and someone who simply wants to carry out a political agenda.

Truthiness is everywhere in the current New Zealand government’s policies – particularly in health, education, and social welfare. If they just listened to people who know something about what they are trying to achieve instead of listening to their own dogma then the country would be a far better place.

Better Democracy

August 17, 2012 Leave a comment

The old issue of our electoral system has become prominent again. The recently completed referendum made it clear that the majority of people like the current proportional representation system, MMP, but now the details are being debated.

There are many problems with the current system: first there is the threshold where a party needs at least 5% of the total vote to get any list seats, and there is the rule that a party with one electorate seat can have additional list MPs up to their proportion of the vote, then there are the Maori seats which give special privileges to one racial group, and finally there is the “overhang” which can cause extra MPs needing to be assigned to maintain proportionality.

Many of these issues seem the result of rather arbitrary rules. For example, why is 5% the magic number rather than 4 or 6? Why have a threshold at all? Actually there is a very good reason there is a threshold. Look at Israel where the threshold is 2% (up from 1% previously). How many parties in their parliament? There are 53 apparently!

Whether that is a good or bad thing is debatable. I guess it must make the whole system rather unstable and unpredictable but if people wanted less parties and a more stable system why don’t they vote that way? The threshold does seem in some ways like an unfair restriction on what voters might reasonably want. Maybe they want a chaotic environment where there is constant turmoil caused by the interaction of many small parties. The alternative of just a few parties having total control is worse in many ways.

Also, some of the disadvantages of small parties only occur when there are a small number of them. If one small party tries to “bribe” a larger one and there are other small parties available as potential partners then the large one could deal with one of them instead. But if a large party needs a smaller one and only one is available then that small party could be seen as having too much influence. But I would have to say that our experience here in New Zealand hasn’t really been that the “tail wagging the dog” scenario actually happens much.

The rule where a party with an MP elected through the electorate vote then gets seats in proportion to its total vote even when that vote is below the threshold is also strange. What was the point here? If a single candidate was voted in and his party was conspicuously avoided doesn’t that mean that the voters have confidence in the person but not the party? Why would other “hangers on” then get a free ride in as well? That seems unfair and has lead to several dodgy deals here over the years. If nothing else happens then that rule at least really must go!

The Maori seats are another area of great debate. One of the benefits of MMP is to give parties with a specialist support base (for example Maori) the opportunity to participate in the government. The Maori seats should be unnecessary in that situation yet we still have them. Why? They do seem to be an example of reverse racism, which is really just another type of racism. Not only is it insulting to non-Maori because they get less privileges than Maori, but it is insulting to Maori as well because the inference is that they need special rules to do what others can do without help.

Finally there is the extra MPs problem. There should normally be 120 and the majority of people (81% according to a referendum held in 1999) think even that is too many. Having even more is not a popular outcome even when it is done for good reasons.

It’s interesting to hear the different politicians’ opinions on these issues. Some are predictably only interested in getting the best outcome for themselves. John Banks seemed to think the best political system was one which elected John Key. Others supported change even though it might be detrimental to themselves because they thought the changes would make things fairer. I commend them for that, even if I disagree with their political philosophies.

There’s also some bizarre claims from the Nat’s support parties, such as the current system has delivered 3 or 4 high quality members who support the John Key government. And these high quality members are? John Banks? Surely no one really believes that. Peter Dunne? Really? He’s mediocre at best. And both of those won their electorate anyway which leaves the Maori Party. Yes, well, if they have “3 or 4 high quality members” I would hate to say what would represent low quality!

The consensus seems to be that if these rules were changed for the next election it would work against the current government. But I don’t know if that is necessarily true. Hopefully Act will be gone at the next election, but National – which is likely to be the biggest party by a good margin – can still team up with the Conservatives which might benefit from the new rules. And they shouldn’t assume Labour will want a coalition with any other party just to make a majority. That option is open to both major parties.

So in summary I think it’s time to throw out our assumptions and fixed ideas about our voting system. Having many small parties might be quite a positive move because I think we need more variety in government. Bring on a better democracy!

The Dark Ages Beckon

August 16, 2012 Leave a comment

Today I read a commentary praising the US and proclaiming “American Exceptionalism” had returned. Maybe. I have commented on several occasions in this blog that the world leadership of the US seems to be slipping but this commentator obviously disagrees. So who is right?

Firstly let me say that I don’t want the US to lose its prime position in the world if China takes over that place. I know there are many things wrong with the way the US acts globally but I still think I would prefer it to China and most other world powers (with the possible exception of Europe).

The specific event which was quoted as indicating the return of American Exceptionalism was the landing of the Curiosity lander on Mars. I have to say that without doubt that was a fantastic achievement. The engineering involved was extraordinary and involved so many systems where small errors could have resulted in disaster. So I agree it was a brilliant achievement and I congratulate NASA and the US in general.

But we also must look at the other side of the story: at how some parts of the US seem intent on self-destruction because of their insistence on following superstition and ignorance. Two areas where this phenomenon is most apparent are in climate change denial and creationism. And yes, it is a problem which comes almost exclusively from the right and especially from the Republican Party.

A Republican politician from Kentucky wants to reduce or eliminate the teaching of evolution and to encourage the teaching of creationism instead. Does this matter? Maybe not in itself because Kentucky isn’t exactly known as the most progressive or advanced state in the country to begin with. If everyone there wanted to believe a primitive myth instead of the facts it really wouldn’t make much difference in the greater scheme of things.

But it sets a bad precedent and one which other states would almost certainly follow. How long would it be before teaching lies instead of truth started having a significant effect on the country, and then on the rest of the world? This “thin end of the wedge” argument is not always valid but that is the exact strategy that creationists are employing (refer to the famous “Wedge” document of a few years back if you need evidence of this strategy).

Once the possibility that science was wrong and religion right becomes established it could lead anywhere. Encouraging FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) is a common way that one group whose beliefs have no real merit can damage the another group’s much stronger position.

The fact is that religion is never right and science wrong. It just doesn’t happen. Over thousands of years, since anything remotely like science existed, there has been a continuous stream of discoveries by science which have contradicted religion. There has never (as far as I know) been a religious revelation which has overturned an established scientific theory. Not one. OK, maybe it might happen in the future, but that seems very unlikely.

I’m going to quote the state representative attacking evolution (Ben Waide, R-Madisonville) now. Here’s what he said: “The theory of evolution is a theory, and essentially the theory of evolution is not science – Darwin made it up. My objection is they should ensure whatever scientific material is being put forth as a standard should at least stand up to scientific method. Under the most rudimentary, basic scientific examination, the theory of evolution has never stood up to scientific scrutiny.”

This person clearly does not deserve to be in any position of power. There are only two possibilities here: he’s either unbelievably ignorant and/or stupid, or he’s a liar. Either way he shouldn’t be able to make major decisions on education or any other subject important to his country.

Let’s look at his statement: “The theory of evolution is a theory”. Ah yes, it is the “theory” of evolution so of course it’s a theory. But the theory of evolution is a superb explanation of the observed fact that evolution is happening in a similar way as the theory of gravity explains the phenomenon of gravity.

Let me explain. We see evidence of evolution everywhere in living things. It’s the basis of modern biology and without it very little makes sense. But the simple statement that things evolve doesn’t explain the phenomenon. That’s why we have the theory of evolution. The theory explains the observed fact that evolution has resulted in the variety of life we see today. Even in the unlikely event that the theory isn’t true we still have the fact of evolution to explain and creationism doesn’t seem to do that. In fact it explains nothing because it is an ancient myth, and even as a myth it’s rather boring. I like Greek mythology far more!

Then: “the theory of evolution is not science – Darwin made it up”. Well it is science, there is no doubt about that. It has been tested using scientific methodology for years and it passes brilliantly. Also the idea that Darwin “made it up” is irrelevant. All theories have people who were primarily involved with their origin. Other people (mainly Alfred Russel Wallace) were working on the same theory at the time, that’s why Darwin published it when he did. Also the theory has developed hugely since Darwin’s time. He didn’t even know about DNA!

And: “they should ensure whatever scientific material is being put forth as a standard should at least stand up to scientific method”. Well it does. If there is anywhere that evolution does not stand up to scientific scrutiny I’m sure most biologists would be surprised to hear what it is.

Here’s some examples of science confirming evolution. Darwin didn’t know about genetics but for his theory to be true there had to be a way that genetic information could be passed from one generation to the next. But Gregor Mendel was already working on his theory and the mechanism fitted well with evolution. Later when mutations were discovered this gave a source of variation. As more fossils were discovered they could easily have contradicted evolution, but the contrary was true. And molecular evidence more recently could have completely invalidated evolution but yet again, the evidence supported it strongly instead.

Finally: “Under the most rudimentary, basic scientific examination, the theory of evolution has never stood up to scientific scrutiny”. Right, as I said I would like to hear where exactly evolution has failed the immense amount of scrutiny it has been subjected to.

It may be that some people don’t want to know about evolution because it interferes in some way with their religious beliefs. If that’s the case then be honest and say so. Say something like “we don’t want to have evolution taught because we prefer to believe our religion instead”. That approach is stupid and ignorant but at least it’s honest. At the moment these people are stupid, ignorant, and dishonest as well!

I have said before that the US seems like it has two populations: the brilliant, progressive science and technology community, and the ignorant, backward fundamentalist believers. No matter how brilliant the good aspects of a country are they can be dragged down by the forces of darkness, especially when a political party deliberately pursues that group’s votes by pandering to its ignorance, dogmatism, paranoia, and prejudice.

I really hope the current liking the American right (the GOP wasn’t always like it is now) have for valuing superstition and ignorance passes. When you let religion take control nothing good can come from it. The Dark Ages attest to that. For America, the Dark Ages beckon.

Candlestick Makers

August 13, 2012 Leave a comment

Imagine someone sets up an internet service which is used to store files and there is some reason to think that some of the users of the service store material which might be covered by copyright even though there is a clear mechanism to remove that material. What would be an appropriate response in this situation?

Would it be to use the existing mechanism to have the copyrighted material removed? Would it be to notify the operator that the material exists? Or would it be to plan an extensive international operation to have a heavily armed paramilitary force invade the owner’s house, threaten his staff and family, and steal his assets?

Apparently if you are the police in an allegedly democratic country like New Zealand and are approached by the FBI you choose the last option, especially when your government is determined to “suck up” to the Americans as much as possible.

I’m talking about the recent raid on Kim Dotcom obviously, an action which the New Zealand police are currently being severely criticised for in the media, and righty so because the whole thing is a total disgrace. Why use an armed anti-terrorism force (and we all know alleged terrorism is a standard excuse to persecute anyone the authorities don’t like) when a simple visit from a couple of cops would have done? Apparently because the FBI wanted to set an example to anyone else who dared challenge the corrupt monopoly big business has now.

It has become increasingly obvious that this is a political setup, driven by big business in the US, and that the New Zealand police have just been the puppets chosen to carry out this illegal, undemocratic, and immoral action. In some ways you have to feel a bit sorry for the police, and in others not so much.

At the very least there should be several resignations from the senior ranks of police who authorised this complete overreaction. And the police staff who actually carried out the unnecessarily violence should be fired, and possibly prosecuted too. Oh and let’s have the minister of police resign as well – I’ve never liked her!

I do concede that Dotcom has cleverly manipulated the situation to gain public support and I say good for him! The police never hesitate to resort to misleading propaganda to support their various causes so why shouldn’t the other side as well?

I do want to say that I think the New Zealand police are overall OK (yes, just OK, that’s as positive as I can be) and that this is an exceptional case, but it is getting to the point where I am more concerned about the potential harm from a corrupt police force than I am about criminal activity! That’s not a healthy situation and one we would never have thought possible here a few years ago.

The police are trying to excuse their actions by suggesting their “target” (yes they use that term in the audio) might have been armed and dangerous or had a “doomsday device” (what an emotionally charged and inappropriate description that is) which could erase the contents of his servers.

How long does a thorough erase of that much data take? A real secure erase is a very slow process and even after the arrival by helicopter there would have been plenty of time for Dotcom to have initiated it because it took police a while to find him even though they knew the layout of the house. Also, no such device was found. Is this another “weapon of mass destruction” which only exists in the minds of the US authorities?

According to Kim Dotcom in a recent tweet (yes, I follow him): “It sucks being a candlestick maker in an electric light world. Unless you get government to pass laws that attack electric lights.” This is an obvious suggestion that the attack on his service was simply to protect the existing big media companies. But that implies his service is a challenge to them which also implies there is illegal material on his servers. Or maybe the implication is this is conventional movie and music corporations versus the internet in general.

Whatever the facts regarding Dotcom’s guilt or otherwise in relation to hosting copyrighted material the New Zealand’s police conduct was inexcusable. They have either watched too many American action movies and see themselves as some sort of Antipodean Dirty Harry, or they just followed instructions from the FBI (henceforth known as the Federal Bureau of Intimidation) to make an example of Dotcom as a warning to anyone else who might dare to challenge the existing big business model no matter how irrelevant and immoral it has become.

I really hope that things will get embarrassing enough that some senior police managers will resign. That’s who the message really needs to go to. They need to stop wasting public money, stop intimidating innocent citizens, and stop pandering to big business.

We need to let the candlestick makers fail before electric light can succeed.