Thursday 9 October 2008

The stupidest prize ever.

I'd never heard of Adnan Oktar before today. He's obviously heard of James Randi, though, as he's offering a prize of a quite staggering 4.4 trillion pounds "to anyone who produces a single intermediate-form fossil demonstrating evolution."

But this is nonsense. Thousands of such fossils have already been found, including fossils of creatures more human than chimpanzees and more chimp-like than humans. But no doubt Oktar is defining the word "intermediate" on his own terms, to mean something quite different to what it says in the dictionary. In other words, what he'll give you the money for is a fossil that changes his mind. And he'll never change his mind, because he has faith.

Besides, I don't get it. If you're religious, what, exactly, is wrong with the "God put the dinosaur bones in the ground to test our faith" explanation? That's the whole point of faith: it doesn't depend on evidence. And the whole point of an omnipotent being who created the universe is that, if they exist, their existence explains everything — even things that might appear to be proof of their non-existence. When that's what you believe in, regardless of whether you understand the fossil record, why challenge it? Really, what's the point?

Wednesday 8 October 2008

Playing the game.

A lesson in cluelessness:

[Joseph Biden] expressed alarm that the McCain campaign might be encouraging speculation among their supporters that Obama is himself a questionable character

Oh, the horror.

Thursday 2 October 2008

Leadership and belief.

There's a nice post here from Tim Newman about how baffled he is that believing in Creationism attracts so much more opprobrium than believing in any other stupid, ignorant, nutty, ridiculosity.

Sarah Palin believes in creationism, and she might one day be president. Yet the incumbent president, and our own glorious leaders, believe in trade tariffs. Putting all the evidence together on a table, which belief is more irrational? And which belief causes more harm?

Sarah Palin chooses to defy scientific findings, close her ears, and believe the earth was created 6,000 years ago. Most of the world’s leaders choose to defy an awful lot of scientific findings, close their ears, and believe the earth is heating up uncontrollably, and we the public must stump up billions in taxes to do something about it. Which is the more irrational? And which is most likely to cause me, you, and everyone else serious harm?

This prompted me to look up this old piece by John Derbyshire and — lo and behold — I find that he need do little more than change the word "Bush" to "Palin" and he could republish it tomorrow as is, topical as ever.

My ideal nursing-home attendant, auto mechanic, or president would be a cheerful, capable, well-motivated person who was thoroughly au courant with the theory of evolution — and indeed with all the most recent advances in astronomy, biochemistry, cosmology, dendrochronology, endochrinology, fluviology, geomorphology, hydrodynamics, ichthyology, jurisprudence, kinesiology, limnology, microbiology, neuropathology, ophthalmology, psychometrics, quantum chromodynamics, rocket science, seismology, trichology, urology, virology, wiretapping, xenodocheionology, yachting, and zoology.

Life, however, often consists of making a choice between unsatisfactory alternatives. Invited to choose between having my kids educated, my car fixed, or my elderly relatives cared for by (a) people of character, spirit, and dedication who believe in pseudoscience, or (b) unionized, time-serving drudges who believe in real science, which would I choose? Invited to choose between a president who is (a) a patriotic family man of character and ability who believes the universe was created on a Friday afternoon in 4,004 B.C. with all biological species instantly represented, or (b) an amoral hedonist and philanderer who “loathes the military” but who believes in the evolution of species via natural selection across hundreds of millions of years, which would I choose? Are you kidding?

I'm sure I've said this before, but at least Creationists, as a rule, have some understanding of evolution — and they disagree with it. In my experience, most of those who agree with it haven't got the faintest clue how it works and will give laughably bad explanations if asked to explain, for instance, why peacocks have such elaborate tails or why there's a gap in the fossil record. The gleeful derision towards Creationists by those who are every bit as ignorant, if not more so, but who are confident that The Truth they believe in has been certified by experts, always strikes me as a rather good illustration of the essential repulsiveness of mobs.

There's more to being right than believing something that happens to be true.

Wednesday 1 October 2008

Who should suffer.

I work in the investment banking sector at the moment. It was horribly busy the week after Lehman's went down, but WaMu and Monday's crash seem not to have had the same effect. Funny old world.

Anyway, here's what I think.

Ordinary everyday members of the public have better things to do with their time than to snort the FT every day, subscribe to Bloomberg, and move their savings between banks every couple of weeks depending on market conditions. Insisting that they do so would simply lead to the collapse of the economy as no-one would ever have the time to do anything else. So it is right and proper that the government should use taxpayers' money to guarantee savers' deposits when a bank goes under.

Investment bankers, on the other hand... well, it's their job, isn't it? They are supposed to trawl through every bit of financial information they can get their hands on and assess profit, liability, and risk from one minute to the next. It's what they do. And, when they completely and utterly screw it up, it is not the taxpayers' job to bail them out, any more than it's our job to guarantee jobs for journalists who can't write or builders whose work keeps falling over or gardeners who kill everything they touch.

Bradford & Bingley were going under for a reason: they were crap. Our idiot leaders, by nationalising them, are keeping that crap alive and kicking so that its influence can continue to poison the rest of the system. Great. Only, given the track record of nationalisation, they won't just be preserving the crap: they'll make it crappier.

Bought a British car lately?