Thursday, November 30, 2006

Why I don't recycle

Via Samizata I came across this, which is funny, and this, which isn't. What they both say, in a nutshell, is that recycling, with the lone exception of aluminium cans, costs more and wastes more resources than making things from scratch. In fact it costs 3 times as much. Another source for costs is Friends of the Earth, who estimate that it costs us £375m to provide a doorstep recycling scheme. In the US it's closer to 8bn. And it's all pointless.

We're not saving the planet by recycling, we're not running out of landfill space, we're not saving money.

So why are governments and people so keen on recycling? I think that these are separate questions. People like recycling because it makes them feel good. It gives them a sense of agency, which reduces anxiety, and makes them feel part of something bigger than themselves, which also reduces anxiety. Also the government lies to them and says that it works.

Governments, on the other hand, like recycling because it looks as though they are doing something, and because it provides lots of jobs for the boys (50,000 according to FoE). It's popular with voters, for the reasons mentioned above, so the government continues to propagate the myth. Additionally, any form of control over our behaviour appeals to the authoritarian nature of our government. Remember, Hitler was a green.

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Saturday, November 18, 2006

Venal, Stupid, Mendacious Politicians - who knew?

Dear gods, I don't want to talk about politics, but I feel like Al Pacino in the one of the later Godfather films; "just when I try to get out, they pull me back in again".

This time it's the government having a pop at bloggers, of all people. Matthew Taylor, ex-strategy advisor to Tony Blair has said that:

"The internet has immense potential but we face a real problem if the main way in which that potential expresses itself is through allowing citizens to participate in a shrill discourse of demands"

He also says that the public are like "teenagers": "demanding", but "conflicted", and are encouraged by bloggers to regard all politicians as "mendacious".

Well Damn Right! Hell Yeah!

The point about blogging is that it is an uncensored way for ordinary people who actually have lives, families and jobs, to comment about the things that they see around them, and in particular the things that annoy them. I'm not a teenager, and I resent the patronising tone in Mr Taylors speech, although it is entirely in keeping with their nannying attitudes to their subjects.

The "shrill" tone of many peoples blogs is frustration, and real anger at their stupid, illiberal, and yes, mendacious policies. And as for having a "more mature discourse" with the government, that can only happen if the government is actually listening. And if it won't listen to a million people demonstrating against their stupid war, it certainly won't be listening to bloggers.

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

2 Things about the Queens Speech 2006

Apparently, about any subject, there are only 2 things that you really need to know. It's an interesting exercise to try and work these out, because it forces you to distill out the essence of a subject in a haikuesque way. It has a sniff of Zen-like austerity to me. These 2 things about being a Briton made me laugh, anyway.

Wasn't the Queen's speech yesterday boring? It's hardly riveting at the best of times, but this tranche was positively leaden. Re-hashing the old themes of anti-social behaviour, climate change and terrorism. All things that they've either made worse, or can't do anything about.

I notice that the Extreme Pornography bill that was promised has been slipped in with the proposed Criminal Justice Bill. I've blogged about this before. I'm not sure whether this is just the government being underhanded or because they didn't want videos of the Queen saying 'Pornography' or possibly because they underestimated the degree of opposition from people like Backlash and are trying to quietly bury it. I doubt that it's because the government has realised that internet porn actually cuts crime, but you never know.

The Guardian sums the speech up with 2 Things:

1. Terrorism
2. Crime

Although my take on it is:

1. More Tax
2. More Surveillance

Mind you, there are only really 2 Things you need to know about life:

1. Sex
2. Death


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Wicked Vicious Faith

My friend Nick has a typically considered post about the Nick Griffin trial. By contrast the Devils Kitchen is a bit ruder.

I can't, for the life of me, see why calling Islam a 'wicked vicious faith' should be considered as race hatred. There's a fundamental difference between insulting a religion, and insulting a race. The difference is that one is born into a particular race, whereas religion is voluntary.

It's easy to change religion. At various times in my life I've been a follower of the invisible pink unicorn, the flying spaghetti monster and the universal church triumphant of the apathetic agnostic (motto "we don't know, and we don't care"). At the last census I embraced the Force, putting my household down as Jedi Knights, and found myself a member of the UK's 4th largest religion, behind the Christians, Muslims and Hindu's, but ahead of the Sikh's, Jews, and Buddhists.

I was brought up in a Christian household, attended a cathedral school, my grandfather was a vicar, and my mother a missionary. I have been an atheist since I was 8 years old.

I vividly remember my damascene un-conversion. I was in bed, listening to my parents argue over something that I'd done downstairs, and thinking about theodicy. My thoughts went like this:
  • I was incapable of being good (or not being naughty).
  • Furthermore, I was doubly incapable of not wanting to be naughty, even if I managed not to misbehave.
  • God was omniscient, so he knew all this.
  • Therefore, there wasn't any point in even pretending to be good, because God would know that I was just pretending to get into His good books, and was naughty really.
  • Therefore I was going to burn in hell for all eternity.
It was with a considerable sense of relief that I resolved this by concluding that it was all a load of old hogwash.

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Sunday, November 12, 2006

Brown to be Terror Overlord

The Sunday Times offers us the idea of Gordon Brown being the Terror Overlord. I must say, the images this conjures up for me are of a demented one-eyed daemon, glowering at the UK from his chilly Northern fortress. Peasants storming the walls with pitchforks and torches. Brown sending out his servitors to spread fear and discord in the land, all to feed his raging hunger for tax income.

Actually that's not too far from the truth. Bring on the peasants with pitchforks.

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Friday, November 10, 2006

Religion is just childish part II

There is a fascinating article called Why Johnny Can't Reason based on the work of Jean Piaget, which in a nutshell, shows 68% of the adult population are incapable of abstract reasoning. Abstract reasoning, in this context is:

"...abstracting from directly experienced objects or situations to broader groups which could not be directly experienced. For still another example, children could begin to grasp the idea of probability..."

In other words, the majority of the population are incapable of reasoning about situations that they have not directly experienced. Such as religion, which almost by definition is not objective.

Why do people get religious in the first place? Young children are naturally predisposed to be religious, because they can only copy what the adults around them are saying, by rote. Older children, and most adults, are unable to look beyond their limited experiences, and analyse what they have been taught.

It would take a whole book to write about where religions come from, but essentially, people are very good at seeing patterns in the world, and making theories about cause and effect, but we don't understand probability, overgeneralise, and become superstitious.

Superstition is a false conception of cause and effect, where we see things happening together, and assume they are connected, when in fact they aren't. So, for example we may reasonably notice that cloudy skies tend to precede rain, and conclude that rain is caused by clouds. We might also see that meat left uncovered becomes maggoty, and conclude wrongly that meat causes maggots (or causes cats to eat it).

In a discussion of programming methodologies Steve Yegge comments obliquely on BF Skinners work on Superstition in the Pigeon, saying: "...superstition isn't necessarily a bad thing! We couldn't possibly go and verify every single fact we've heard that we think is probably true. We'd never make any progress (as individuals or as a civilization). We have to take most things we know for granted. Most of what we know at any given time is superstition. It's normal."

He's right of course, but for 68% of people, that's all they have.

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Sunday, November 05, 2006

655,000 dead. Who cares?

655,00 Iraqi's have died since the start of 'Iraqi Freedom', according to a study by The Lancet. President Bush has said that this is 'not credible'. Well he would say that, wouldn't he. However, this figure is also disputed by who reckon the figure is more like 49,760. I'm using the high estimates here. The low estimates are 426,000 vs 44,803. Athænium has nice posts about it here and here.

I don't care. 655,000 people dead, and I don't care. You probably don't either. Oh, I care in an abstract, it's a bad thing that people die, sort of a way. But not in the deep emotional sense that I would feel if a friend or family member died. Not even in the stressed and saddened way I would react if a person was killed outside my house. It's just news.

This is summed up in a truly brilliant article which explains this, one of the hard problems of human relationships, and is also very funny.

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