Thursday, March 22, 2007

[sorry] toothache kills blogging

Really sorry. Toothache. No blogging. Way behind visiting The ThunderDragon, Sicily Scene, Lord Nazh, Praguetory and so on but it's bed for me now, I'm afraid.

Better now thanks, Westminster Wisdom, The Cityunslicker and Lord Nazh. It's a wonder what a double dose of Pentalgin can achieve.

[the precautionary principle] blind technophilia is ominous

Just been reading a highly slanted article on technological innovation, using terminology such as "increasingly seized upon by green activists" [meaning 'believed in'], "other romantics" [meaning 'impractical people'], "an unanswerable credo" [the only correct assumption in the article].

Basically, what the anonymous author is so down on is that when considering technological innovation, one should exercise caution with regard to its potential consequences. And what? Should we not? Here are some of the other things in this article:

At every stage the opponents of technological progress argue that just because there is no evidence of harm, that does not mean that something is not harmful. We have to 'prove' that it is not harmful before we embrace it.

Yes, you do have to prove it when public safety is involved, e.g. in aircraft, boats and trains. Are technophiles really suggesting that accountability and rigid testing should not be the norm?

This form of pre-scientific thinking presents a serious obstacle to rational discussion.

Actually, the diametric opposite - it's precisely what is needed, rational discussion but technophiles are so enamoured of a new idea, e.g. the new TGV, that any questioning voice is ruthlessly suppressed.

I cannot prove that there are no fairies at the bottom of my garden. All I can say are two things: firstly, sustained observation over the past 20 years has revealed no evidence of their presence, and secondly the existence of fairies, in my garden or elsewhere, is very unlikely on a priori grounds. This is how science works – precisely in accord with the principles of Karl Popper that hypotheses cannot be proved, only refuted.

This is the great technophile drift from the truth. Quite apart from the spurious analogy which has no relevance to the development of hi-tech transport, quite apart from 'science' being quoted as an uncountable noun and therefore an unassailable oracle [which was the basis of my last post], quite apart from the gratuitous use of Karl Popper's notion of the non-provability of hypotheses as a precondition of their truth - this has nothing whatever to do with the development of hi-tech transport where every hypothesis must be rigidly and empirically tested and if unprovable, must be discarded.

This is what makes the principle so dangerous. It generates a quasi-religious bigotry which history has taught us to fear. Its inherent irrationality renders it unsustainable.

Yet again - how is it irrational to demand that all possible known permutations and ramifications be tested, including operational testing which would reveal things which did not arise at the drawing board stage? The perfect example is the BC Ferry disaster where there is sound evidence that the crew switched off the new navigation system because of the glare. Operational testing at night would have revealed this. Plus, the author is invoking the experience of history which is in itself empiricist.

Everything in life involves a risk of some kind. [The article then invokes the Pilgrim Fathers in their fragile ships and advances in medicine.]

So, it's fine to kill off a few dozen people in the interest of medical advancement [
the Mengele principle again].

In reality, the precautionary principle presents a serious hazard to our health which extends way beyond the generation of unnecessary neuroses.

Non sequitur.

The narrow philosophy which surrounds the precautionary principle is fundamentally conservative in both political and literal senses.

Yes it is. It assumes human error and is very, very conservative when the lives of masses of people are involved. An example is the Aeroflot Airbus A310-304 in Siberia. The pilot had his sons and daughter on board and allowed the 15 year old to sit in the pilot's seat whilst he was otherwise engaged.

The boy gripped the half-wheel and 'playing pilot', turned it past 30 degrees, which automatically disengaged the auto-pilot on the ailerons. It was only when the plane began to bank to the right that the pilot sprang into action and demanded of his son what he had done.

The boy was terrified and said, "Nothing, Papa" [on the voice recorder]. So they then ran a rapid check of the auto-pilot to root out the malfunction [of course it was actually switched off]. All 75 passengers and crew were killed.

This article is not arguing against technological advances. It is arguing that human error and human stupidity must be assumed, organizational and bureaucratic glitches must be assumed. The technology might work perfectly, even in operation but that's not enough. The technicians feel their work is done when the machine is in operation and hasn't crashed after a few runs.

This is not good enough in a life or death situation and the attitude revealed in the emotive language in the Precautionary Principle article is the chief concern. Blind devotion to the shiny new toy and thorough factory testing is no substitute for a worst-case-scenario analysis.

In the end, the truth is that such analyses cost money whereas lives cost nothing [in technophiles' metallic cold and bureaucrats' Glory Boys logic]. Except that they do cost money in the end -
billions in compensation.

[generation next] breaking the social contract

A vicious gang of hell's grannies showing an ASBO
a special type of hugging

Generally speaking, the past few generations can be grouped this way:

The War Generation - born 1920 to 1931, now 76 to 87 years old
The Silent Generation - born 1931 to 1946, now 61 to 76 years old
The Baby Boomers - born 1946 to 1961, now 46 to 61 years old
Generation X - born 1961 to 1976, now 31 to 46 years old
Generation Y - born 1976 to 1991, now 16 to 31 years old
Generation Z - born 1991 to 2003, now 4 to 16 years old

Of course these years can be extended either side and there is considerable overlap but the pattern which emerges here is of two parallel sets of generations running side by side down through society:

This would explain the increasing Gen X hostility to the Boomers. It's not the ire of a child against the parent but that of a generation following 12 years or so later who have nothing to do with the former - they're not the children of, not personal friends, they're not anything to one another. Hence the total indifference and name calling.

I wrote this article about the coming generation wars and of course it's debatable. Now there's an interesting article on the cost of the aging generation, from the Gen X viewpoint.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

[old poll down] new poll up

[old poll down] new poll up

Results for the last poll: The 2012 London Olympics are way over budget. Should Britain:

# Pull the plug now? 85%
# Run them anyway? 12%
# Run cheap games? 4%
# Fourth alternative ? 0%

52 votes total free polls

New poll: Should people who won't assimilate be:
# deported
# executed
# incarcerated
# re-educated
# other

[blogfocus wednesday] curmudgeonry training

1 The Man in a Shed is one of my favourite curmudgeons, which he'd probably take exception to, which is as it should be:

So Blair has won his Trident vote. I can hear newsnight in the background with Kirsty (I'm a real leftie) Wark leading up. Some of the Labour MP's wanted to delay a decision - they have local parties to appease. I'd assumed that Blair wanted the vote out of the way before Brown got in. However one of the few clear commitment Brown has given is to Trident.

So why have a vote now ? Given that in the future there will be less Labour MPs - its hardly going to get more difficult is it? Well perhaps you know something is coming that would make this vote very had to win afterwards ...

2 Liam Murray is the new kid on the block, according to his February, 2007 start date but he writes like a pro - is there something I've missed here?

Cover story in this months Prospect magazine ask the question 'what will replace the left/right schism in the 21st century?' They asked 100 thinkers and commentators (it's a shame 'profession' no longer appears on passports - what would such people put?) for their view and it's worth a read. A few of my favourites (either because I agree or they make me laugh with derision, I'll let you speculate which is which) below in no particular order:

You'll have to click on the link to read the list. Liam has a way to go in the curmudgeonry stakes.

3 Colin Campbell, not noted for his curmudgeonry, neverhteless has a quite passable shot at it in presenting academic corner all the way from Glasgow this evening:



1. Shuggie has bought half a kilo of cocaine to sell. He wants to make 300% on the deal and still pay Mad Malky his 10% protection money. How much must he charge for a gram?

2. Wee Davie reckons he'll get £42.50 extra Marriage Allowance a week if he ties the knot with Fat Alice. Even if he steals the ring, the wedding will cost him £587. And he'll have to start buying two fish suppers at £3.95 each every night instead of one. How long will it be before Davie wishes he'd stayed single?

… and so on.

Another nine bloggers here.

[uk budget] is this as bad as it looks

[sound of music] cast of bastards

Confession time - I always liked The Sound of Music - the sets, Julie Andrews, Edelweiss, the happy memories with my own parents and so on. The hills were certainly alive - that is, until today. I've just read the most curmudgeonly, cantankerous, ornery blogpost on the film by Jack Marx and while it was a chuckle, still, it got me thinking about just how good the film was after all. Jack opens with:

While it's true that there may be more important issues to be addressing today … I fear I may never be able to discuss that which troubles me greatly about what went on in The Sound of Music … a fine piece of entertainment for which director Robert Wise deserved his armful of Oscars. It is my belief that the talent and good looks of the cast, the toe-tapping melodies, the edge-of-seat drama of the plotline and the occasionally witty volleys of dialogue in the production have, for more than 40 years, successfully masked a very awful truth: that every single character in The Sound of Music is a bastard.

Here are some of his comments on a few of the characters:

Maria assumes the role of Liesl's defendant by insisting "she and I have been getting acquainted tonight." This is a downright lie, told by a woman entrusted with the safety of another's children to the very man who has vested that trust in her, and had the Captain known the truth - that his daughter, far from safely chatting with her new governess, had been outside in the dark getting slippery with a Nazi - he'd have been forgiven for suspecting his new governess was not only a "flibbertigibbet", but a fascist collaborator who'd sell his children to the Third Reich for a song [and not a very good one at that].

Rolf is a Nazi and there's nothing redeemable about that. Furthermore, blind Freddy could see that he's gay. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but his denial of the truth is grossly unfair to Liesl, who's so hot for it she probably wouldn't notice if it were the guy from Little Britain who was spinning her round the rotunda.

The Children There is so much wrong with the von Trapp children that I dare not discuss it, and I know perhaps you don't want to hear it, but you've got to ... Louisa, I'm not real sure about ... and the little ones just want to be loved. But I don't love them. I hate them.

One commenter remarks: "I think this person [Jack Marx] & the article stink. The film was, is & will always be a classic! Films are just not made like that these days ... what a pity. Posted by: Ligia

Another disagreed: Personally, I’ve always thought the Captain was a bit of a nasty piece of work: while the Baroness isn’t the most interesting woman around – rather more style than substance - the way he strings her along while eyeballing the hired help is a rather poor show indeed. And tempting the ire of the Nazis by tearing their flag off his house, while seemingly heroic, is irresponsible and selfish in the extreme considering he is the sole provider and caretaker for those children. In regard to Maria, you forgot to mention how she deliberately manipulates the children in order to pit them against their father in her struggle for power in the household - a spot of psychological abuse, anyone? Posted by: sausage

And finally: I take issue with your statement that "there may be more important issues to be addressing today". Posted by: James

What is it with people called James?

[technology] only as an adjunct to experience

Have a look at Nigel Sedgwick's business site and I think you'd agree - the man knows what he's talking about when it comes to technology. Predictably then, he was never going to be enamoured of this Luddite post of mine.

He argues that technology, after all, is only working to make life more livable for the average person, to streamline his daily commitments and that, of course, all the ramifications are factored in. In the case of the TGV, the whole product solution necessitates the purchase of new land to provide straighter tracks, a complete re-thinking of safety aspects and so on and so on.

All that is so but it still doesn't eliminate key concerns:

1] The bigger the project and the more teams involved in it's realization, the greater the chance of error and the more disastrous the consequences when it does happen;

2] The more that the technology replaces human intervention, the greater the reliance on the human intervention which created that technology in the first place - it just transfers the onus retrospectively;

3] The moment there is an agenda, e.g. first to the moon, the Great Race, the fastest train and so on, the more a gung-ho corner cutting and sometimes unreasoning demand for completion-by-date and mania to run it under budget seeps in - there are reputations involved. Reputation was very much part of the Tenerife disaster, for example.

4] Many disasters are the consequence of a chain of circumstances, rather than due to any one cause. Take the BC ferry disaster, for instance:

The Queen of the North sank about one hour after running full tilt into rocky Gil Island, 150 kilometres south of Prince Rupert, where it had left for an overnight passage to Port Hardy on Vancouver Island. How could the Queen of the North have strayed so far off course without anyone in charge of navigating and steering the ship noticing?

A report from B.C. Ferries' own inquiry into the mishap is expected to solve large parts of the mystery when it is released Friday, or Monday at the latest. But company investigators were hampered by the refusal of two key union crew members to answer questions.

Reports have suggested the ship may have been on autopilot when it ran into Gil Island, without a crucial course correction having been made to swing the vessel safely into mid-channel.

An early finding by the Transportation Safety Board also revealed that the monitor on the ship's new electronic chart system had been turned off because crew members did not know how to reduce its glare.

Sometimes, that's all it takes - glare - which wouldn't have entered the boffins' heads who'd designed the state-of-the-art chart system in the first place. How could it, with them not being in an operational capacity? This then comes down to project managers and team leaders. They can learn from the debacle so that it never occurs again but can't reverse the disaster itself.

A 320 kph TGV, French pride and one or two random factors such as glare is all it takes for a whole lot of failure analysis to ensue. Sorry Nigel but this Luddite remains unconvinced.

[george w bush] rarely is the question asked

"No, Sonny, hold it like this when you read."

Love this one from the Asia Times:

President George W Bush's reading tastes - which have been a remarkably good predictor of his policy views - are moving ever rightward. Apocalyptic titles now on his bedside table - such as America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It - suggest we'd all better finish our books before it's too late. - Jim Lobe

This is even more poignant when compared to his previous reading efforts:

In the summer of 2002, for example, Bush was seen carrying a just-published copy of Supreme Command by neo-conservative military historian (and recently appointed State Department counselor) Eliot Cohen. The book argued that the greatest civilian wartime leaders, notably Abraham Lincoln and Churchill, had a far better strategic sense than their generals.

An entertaining read. Apocalypse when?

[thogging] gus and the mindless bloggers society

Donatello's David in thinking pose, minus figleaf, possibly reflecting on Gus Rodin's later snub

To be fair to the great Chris Dillow, he did preface his post on Thogging with: "I was hoping to avoid this meme," then he reflected that:

"Lots of blogs make me think. Iain and Guido make me think: are people really interested in this tittle-tattle? Harry's Place makes me think: don't these guys ever get bored of making the same point? I could go on ... Anyway, my five nominees are: Paul, Shuggy, Fabian, Matthew and Not Saussure. I've excluded those kind enough to nominate me. I've left out Norm, Samizdata, Civitas and Wat as they don't need the traffic. And I've left out US bloggers - though I find Bryan Caplan and Overcoming Bias, to name but two, very stimulating."

As one blogger who indulges in a bit of Blogfocusing a couple of times a week, I certainly noticed some new blogs from Chris' list but at the same time, my exclusion from his list seems to inidicate that I am not a thinking blogger. Ipso facto, I must be a mindless cretin and to shamelessly mix metaphors, [which I'm not doing as this is the only metaphor used to this point], I'll now take my bat and ball and go home. Hence the following exchange on Chris' site:

Delighted I was passed over. Think I'll start up the Mindless Bloggers Club.
Posted by:
jameshigham March 17, 2007 at 06:54 PM

James - that was exactly why I was trying I avoid the meme. You just annoy everyone who's not in your list, for no very good reason. Sorry.
Posted by:
chris March 18, 2007 at 04:50 PM

Thanks for the mention.
Posted by:
Fabian Tassano March 19, 2007 at 05:49 PM

Chris, I wouldn't be annoyed with you, particularly as you were kind enough to link the Malcolm Marshall thing. It does create divisiveness though [speaking generally here, not specifically] and this is the big problem with my blogroll - how not to elevate some to the exclusion of others.
Posted by:
jameshigham March 20, 2007 at 08:38 PM

I should have added "… and how not to lose close blogfriends somewhere in the large lists of blog-humanity."

So, there it is. If I had come upon this post by accident, I would have left a comment: "Methinks the man [Higham] doth protest too loudly. Relax. Get a life." To which Higham might reply: "Welcome to the Mindless Bloggers Society, one and all."

Of course, the important issue is what to do about one's blogfriends, vis a vis listmaking.