Thursday, 22 May 2008

Terrorism Ltd.

Exxon (well Nigerian government) wants a new subsidiary,

The defence ministry has suggested militant attacks could be brought under control by employing the very militants conducting the attacks to police the pipelines, newspaper This Day reported.

"We will engage them to police oil pipelines, but they must first form themselves into limited liability companies for us to discuss with them," Defence Minister Yayale Ahmed told a House of Representatives committee on Tuesday.

Terrorism Ltd. or maybe they'll make a partnership. Terrorism LLP. Wonder how much equity each partner will get? What will the base be? Are they recruiting? Is Hamas and Hezbollah going to incorporate themselves next? More to the legal point what is the point of terrorists becoming Ltds? They're not gonna be taken to court and a court orders all their personal assets away, you know their Ak-47's. They'll shoot the bailiff's that come to collect!

I hope Jon Stewart picks up on this!

Monday, 19 May 2008

China's Earthquake Death Toll

The latest reports have the toll at 71,000 dead or missing. This is a tragic figure but Earthquakes are natural disasters. There is nothing anyone can do to stop them, all a nation can do is mitigate their effects by building safer buildings.

The death toll has rightly caused international solidarity. However something that is controlled by nations and can be prevented - industrial accidents and road accidents get no outpouring of sympathy. Over 100,000 Chineese die in road and industrial accidents. The 18.5% of the total caused by industrial accidents are especially entirely stoppable, they can be virtually eliminated by better regulation and compensation. There isn't much said about this.

There seems to be a human response where a single disaster attracts more sympathy than slow and entirely preventable deaths. 9/11 versus US policies in Latin America, Hiroshima and Nagasaki versus Iraqi sanctions (200,000 immediate deaths versus 2 million estimated Iraqi deaths) or any natural disaster versus a carpet bombing campaign.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Dean Baker on farming Subsidies

I'm a big fan of Baker, he's the only economist I respect because he sticks to evidence and calling out his profession for having no idea about what is going on in the economy. However his opinions on agricultural subsidies sound like a purely theoretical economist sticking to his starting assumptions. Baker has a post where he argues that farming subsidies in the west lead to cheaper food pricing in the south. Indeed this is true axiomatically, you can use the fancy models and graphs to show this.

But the issue is that incomes are reduced by lack of economic development because of these very policies (dumping). It doesn't matter if 1kg of rice costs only 3 dollars, if you're earning $2 a day. Now it's not entirely the fault of subsidies that sweat shop workers earn $2 a day. But if you cram people into cities from farms, the over supply of labour is huge so the price they command falls.

The affordability of the price is the question, not the absolute price. This is so obvious to anyone that thinks about it for more than 3 seconds.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Courts want Adam Applegarth in jail for 1282051 years

According to the courts and HMRC there is much concern for the public purse. So much so that some chav who claimied £80k in fradulent benefit claims over 13 months is going to jail for 13 months. Why isn't a similar sentence being handed out to Adam Applegarth, CEO of Northern Rock? As CEO he has cost the public purse £100bn. If we are using the courts treatment of the aformentioned Chav as a metric to calculate jail sentences it is equal to one month in jail for every £6.5k from the public purse. £100bn comes out to 1282051 years in jail.

Of course this is ridlcouos. Gordon Brown and Darling are more at fault. But Applegarth is still getting £760k + £475k from the public purse. This works out as 15.8 years in jail, if the laws applied equally to all.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Pinker on the applicability of Darwninan natural selection to human cognative faculties

Pinker uses Dawkins argument in The Blind Watchmaker that a complex organ that looks like it is perfectly designed for the task it performs only has one possible explanation - evolution through natural selection. In Dawkins words, "Natural selection is not just an alternative to chance. It is the only ultimate alternative ever suggested"[1] or as Pinker puts it,

Natural selection is not just a scientifically respsectable alternative to divine creation. It is the only alternative that can explain the evolution of a complex organ like the eye. The reason that the choice is so stark - God or natural selection - is that structures that can do what the eye does are extremely low-probabilty arrangements of matter" p360

However if there is a rich language organ there are also other mental 'organs'. As Chomsky states:

The language faculty is one of [the] cognitive systems. There are others. For example, our capacity to organize visual space, or to deal with abstract properties of the number system, or to comprehend and appreciate certain kinds of musical creation

If we assume UG is true then other mental computation must also have a genetic base. However, it is hard to imagine what selectional pressures led to a faculty to appreciate music or to deal with abstract number lines. These could indeed be examples of random outgrowths of a larger brain due to some unknown law of physics or computation or some concomitant co-evolution of mental organs i.e. a mental organ tagging onto another mental organ. Yet from Dawkins point of view our 'mathematical organ' is perfectly designed to deal with n+1 forever, we can comprehend to keep adding 1 to whatever number we reach, it's trivial. A parrot can't, after 7 it gets stuck. Does this mean natural selection is the only possible explanation? I don't feel it is. I have a (completely baseless) feeling that something as complicated as the human brain has to have a richer explanation than natural selection. Sure the eye is complex but it pales in comparison to the brain.

On the other hand perhaps that is why mathematics is so hard to grasp for so many. It isn't a result of natural selection and isn't properly a mental organ. Every healthy person can converse in a complex rich way. Not everyone can handle even linear equations.

Edit: Dawkins just said something relevant:

there is still controversy over the theory that natural selection is the dominant driving force. I think no body would doubt it is the dominant driving force of adaptive evolution but many people, including me, doubt it's the dominant driving force behind all evolution at the molecular level

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Adam Applegarth CEO, biggest welfare mum in the globe

The revelation came as experts said the former chief executive, whose cavalier business strategy nearly destroyed the bank last year, can expect a pension worth nearly £475,000 a year from the age of 60. Adam Applegarth's "reward for failure" is on top of the £760,000 "termination payment" he currently enjoys.
This money, equal to his basic salary, is being paid on a monthly basis for a year or until he gets another job - which seems unlikely given his epic failure. Meanwhile about a third of Northern Rock's workforce - roughly 2,000 employees - will lose their jobs by 2011, according to the new management team.

The man who ran the bank into the ground is being paid £760,000 + £475,000, this all while homes are increasingly being repossessed. Absolutely disgusting.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

The One Show on Benefit Fraud

The One Show just had a piece about benefit fraud. It costs us £800,000,000 a year. This is a serious issue of course. However no mention was made of the far greater fraud being carried about by private banks. Lets put that £800,000,000 figure into context

  • Northern Rock alone took £100,000,000,000. Benefit fraud in comparison costs 0.8% of that figure.
  • In total the government has spent £150,000,000,000 bailing out private banks. Benefit fraud in comparison costs 0.53%
Is benefit fraud a serious issue? Yes, it takes away money that real claimants need. But it pales in comparison to how we are enriching the top 10% of income earners who own the majority of shares. Yet we are telling those on benefits or defrauding that benefit system to learn personal responsibility and get a job! 0.53% is the definition of tiny. It is a shame no one pointed this out on the show. Shows like this, and papers like the free Metro are far more important than papers like The Guardian or the FT. Millions of people watch the One Show. I e-mailed in, as of yet my comments haven't been read out.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Geoffrey Sampson on natural Racism

I was listening to a Teaching Company course by John McWhorter on linguistics. He mentioned Pinker's book The Language Instinct which I'm reading now. He also mentioned that for a good rebuttal to consult Geoffrey Sampson's Language Instinct Debate. In googling the author I came across a couple of controversies Sampson has had. One was with Chomsky (who hasn't had beef with the guy?!) and another was an article he put up on his website There's Nothing Wrong With Racism (Except the Name). The Chomsky business consisted of the usual nonsense about Holocaust denial in the preface of Robert Faurisson's book. An outlandish statement from Sampson's website is worth quoting:

I think it was only after writing the encyclopaedia entry that I learned how far Chomsky had been getting into bed with the Neo-Nazi movement

An anarchist in bed with neo-Nazi's! Is that yet another type of anarchism? like you know anarco-capitalism, socialism, communism, gayism, feminism and now anarcho-neo-nazism?!

The other business is is the racism article. Sampson was a councilor for the Conservative Party so it caused a stir in the press. I read it carefully and it struck me as written by someone who is very unfamiliar with evolutionary science. Now I'm no expert, infact my 'expertise' in Darwinian evolution derives from a bunch of Christmas lectures targeted at children that Richard Dawkins gave, however that article is awful. The hypothesis is that there is a biological urge towards racism, it is a completely natural feeling much like wanting to get laid. The reason there is that urge towards racism is our minds equate those that look different from us as have different genes. Sampson points out this of course is irrational, our DNA is remarkably similar even across species but our instincts don't know that.

Sampson goes onto point out how we have a natural inclination to care for our children: we pay for expensive schools, leave them inheritance etc. at the expense of other children not related to us. This leads Sampson to the conclusion that racism is as natural as sexual urges or caring for children, they are all to spread our genes.

But this really misses the point. We don't prefer people who share more of our genes over people who share fewer because the latter have particular outward features that we dislike. We prefer the former because they share more of our genes, and we all want our own genes to become numerous. Biology forces us to want that, which is why it forces us to want to get our bodies entangled with the opposite sex.

This hypothesis would be valid on the assumption that racism only ever applied to the opposite sex. Why is it natural under Sampson's rationale to have a racist inclination towards the same sex? It's impossible to have children with them. If it was about propagating genes racism would only apply in the narrow area of mate selection, which I think it does. I, personally, wouldn't call that racism - it's just taste. Nonetheless, Sampson's Darwnian explanation of racism, if I've understod it correctly, seems to be junk socio-biology. The only perceivable worthy hypothesis one can glean from the article is that humans during mate selection chose those similar to themselves. That is uncontroversial, and I think entirely correct. I think he was trying to work Kin Selection into it, but if so he shouldn't mention sexual selection because it gives the mis-impression that they are both as powerful. Furthermore the theory of Kin Selection can't explain why we know who we are related to. There's evidence to show that the marker of 'this is my sister' goes off in a subjects brain when they are brought up together, the classic example being Israeli kibbutzim children who though not genetically related all married outside the kibbutz. This also all applies to actual kin, sisters, brothers members of the same family. Not some white guy down the road. Dawkins has tackled this head on before,

"The National Front was saying something like this, "kin selection provides the basis for favoring your own race as distinct from other races, as a kind of generalization of favoring your own close family as opposed to other individuals." Kin selection doesn't do that! Kin selection favors nepotism towards your own immediate close family. It does not favor a generalization of nepotism towards millions of other people who happen to be the same color as you. Even if it did, and this is a stronger point, I would oppose any suggestion from any group such as the National Front, that whatever occurs in natural selection is therefore morally good or desirable. We come back to this point over and over again. I'm definitely not one who thinks that "is" is the same as "ought."

Further on Sampson even talks about immigration to the UK being this big bad awful thing that has ruined the natural harmony we had in a Utopian Britan, which was full of British people, all related to each other (no jokes pls!)

When I was a child, England and other European nations were racially very homogeneous. Except for a small Jewish community (who don't look much different from the indigenous English anyway), virtually everyone living in England was related to everyone else

In actual fact, however, there are more Britain's living abroad than immigrants living here. Before you begin complaining about immigration, recall all your own people. Class issues before mass migration were also tense.

I haven't read Sampson's book yet but if someone who has apparently ripped apart the Universal Grammar hypothesis, which uses evolutionary arguments, is this bad at biology, I'm not sure I'll be expecting much.

Edit: apparantly mentinoing Chomsky, holocaust and Faurisson triggers spam bots to post holocaust denial articles!

Chief economists of large banks want to keep the housing bubble inflated

That isn't a surprise, large banks of course want to keep the bubble artificially inflated because it serves their bottom lines. Even Nationwide's chief economist, Fionnuala Earley, wants a reduction, (I say even because Nationwide isn't shareholder owned so puts its memebers first.) But it is amazing that the Central Bank wants to keep housing unaffordable for the majority of people, as David Blanchflower of the MPC at the BoE stated,

David Blanchflower, a member of the Bank's Monetary Policy Committee which sets interest rates, said in a speech on Tuesday that house prices could fall by 30% over the next few years if interest rates were not cut.

He added: "I am not suggesting that such a drop will necessarily occur, but it may. Cutting interest rates now may help to prevent such a dramatic fall."

A regular cheerleader for lower rates, Mr Blanchflower said "aggressive action" was needed to stop a downturn in the economy.

Why should the government intervene to keep housing unaffordable for its people?! In what world is that a sane policy?