Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Some remarks on pandas

According to today's Guardian, China's entire population of wild pandas are facing extinction because the fussy buggers refuse to eat bamboo, which is coming into flower (as it apparently does once every 60 years). Pandas, you see, are, as we scientists put it, rubbish. They should be carnivores - they have the metabolism for it - but they eat bamboo, and so have to eat half their body-weight of the stuff each day simply to survive. This to my mind, is the clinching argument (should another be needed) against creationism. If they were designed by a rational creator, surely they wouldn't be so crap. They'd be carnivores, and thriving. As it is, they've found an evolutionary niche, which allowed them to develop into where they are, but had nowhere to go beyond - not unexpected, given that natural selection solves immediate problems as cheaply as it can, with no regard for the future.
A similar argument has been posited concerning Ichneumon wasps - wasps that lay their eggs in a living host. How could a rational creator permit such an unpleasant method of reproduction? This falls down, however, on its assumption that said creator is moral - this, to me, is one of the weakest assumptions theism makes. Why should he/she/it be? On the evidence I've seen so far, I'd suggest a complete amorality is far more likely.
I suppose the panda argument could, of course, fall down, if we were to argue that the creator is a bumbling moron. But other problems arise from that tack...
Still, pandas - rubbish. Remember that. It's important!

Friday, March 18, 2005

so where are we now?

Lots has been happening. Not all of it has had its significance recognised. It seems to me that Cosmopolitan magazine, not a publication I would normally read (and in fact I haven't read it now, merely read of it) is performing a very useful task in asking the leaders of the political parties their views on abortion. Particularly when they all seem to want to turn the clock back. I read that the last election in the USA was largely argued on 'moral grounds'. Weasel words, if ever there were. Right-wing bigots seem to want to claim their half-baked prejudices, usually against gays and women (or at least women's rights to control their own bodies, which amounts to the same thing) are in some senses 'moral' when, it is patently obvious, they are just old-fashioned bigotry. If this is to be avoided in the UK, it must be understood, and the fact that Cosmo is pointing this out can only be a good thing. Meanwhile, on the moral front, the head of the Catholic Church in England, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor (is he taking the piss with that name? "I'm more Irish than you, you know!") commends Michael Howard's desire to restrict abortions, as a first step to making them illegal altogether. This is, of course, the same Cardinal O'Connor who, as Bishop of Arundel, moved a priest he knew to be a paedophile to a new chaplaincy, rather than informing the police, thus allowing him to continue to abuse children for several more years. Just the sort of man to be telling the rest of us how to live our lives.
And as a final remark on morality (yes, I am the new head of the Ethics Police) it appears that our glorious former Home Secretary, David Blunkett, has taken a new job, at a company called Indepen - a management consultancy which is bidding for contracts from various government departments, including the Ministry of Education, Blunkett's old stamping ground. Now let's ignore, for the moment, the fact that he took the position with them in January (according to the latest Private Eye) - only a month after his resignation from the cabinet, when ex-ministers are obliged to wait three months before accepting these private sector appointments, and simply consider the matter of whether MPs, who are paid £57,485 per year (plus expenses and allowances which the more corrupt pocket, and the more trustworthy use to pay researchers, etc), should even be allowed to take private sector jobs. Most people in the country would consider the wage a decent one, and if they're meant to be representing our interests, isn't there some sort of conflict when they're paid by some private company (who will, presumably, want their interests looked after, for the money...)
Still, I'm sure all these people are acting completely ethically. After all, if they weren't, there'd be hell to pay - right? Erm....

Monday, March 14, 2005


I wanted to write something about the Queen meeting an Italian fascist, but somehow the opportunity seems to have passed me by. And the royal family supporting fascism is hardly a new story, be it Edward VIII and his support for Hitler, or the late, unlamented Queen Mother, and her support for apartheid in South Africa. So let's think of something else. And the only thing that springs to mind is religion.
A thought I had today. Doubt is one of the most useful human traits. Imagine what people would be like if they didn't know doubt - if they were convinced they were always right, regardless of the evidence. Then take a look at Prime Minister Blair...
But also, consider the way that religion treats doubt. Doubting Thomas is the obvious example. A man who, when presented with an implausible claim ("Jesus has risen from the dead") came back with a very reasonable response ("Prove it to me"). And yet he's castigated as some sort of pariah in the Christian Church for not accepting the truth of what he's told, without question. Which shows, ultimately, the problem of religion. No room for doubt. No room to say, "But what if we're wrong?" So they condemn people to hell, blow up hospitals, and so on, in the sure and certain knowledge that they are doings God's will. And if two of them are doing God's will, but contradicting each other...? Erm....
Still, mustn't doubt, eh? God told us not to...

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Political correctness gone mad...

"Freed!" screamed the headlines of those august organs, the Mail and the Express, on Friday. Yes indeed - 8 men who have committed no crime have been freed. This is, apparently, A Disgrace. Why should innocent people be allowed to walk our streets? What sort of insanity is this? Still, on the bright side, Mr Tony has at last managed to get parliament to pass his "Terrorism Act", allowing the government to have people who haven't done anything tagged, curfewed and have their movements seriously restricted.
Hooray! Less freedom for all! Vote Labour/Conservative. Etc...

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Are you feeling scared yet?

Apparently, according to an article written by "Sir" John Stevens, in that most trustworthy of journals, The News of The World, there are "over 100" terrorists, trained by the bogeyman de-nos-jours, Osama Bin Laden, out there, on our streets. No evidence seems to be presesnted for this claim, although these brown-skinned assasins of Allah are intent on our destruction, living only to bring chaos, anarchy and the downfall of civilisation. So quake, little people. Hide away in your homes, cower under your beds, and sign away the last remaining threads of your civil liberties. Only then will you be safe under the new Junta...

Saturday, March 05, 2005

The triumph of the trivial

Today, I shall be adding my voice of complaint to the 9 - yes 9, out of a population of around 60million - objectors to the marriage of Mr Charles Saxe-Coburg-Windsor to Ms Camilla Parker-Bowles. Having a divorcee on the throne, and married to the head of the Church of England, is utterly reprehensible. After all, it's not as if one of the reasons for the schism of the Church of England from the Roman Catholic church was the desire of a king to get a divorce and remarry, was it? So yes, I feel it important to make myself heard. And be yet another nutter to whom reams of press space is given, when clearly nobody is interested.
I feel it in all your best interests that I speak out in favour of family values and morality, before heading off to a brothel, and then popping to the chateau in the south of France where I keep my mistress.
Question: Which is worse here - the banality, or the hypocrisy?

The latest mass-debate in the Mr Tony vs Mr Michael popularity poll

You can almost hear the shouts "Our NHS policy is better than yours" "No! Ours is better than yours..." With nothing to back up the claims. It's all very exciting, isn't it? Who do you prefer, the baldy foreign-type from the right-wing party with racist undercurrents, or the smarmy public-schoolboy from the right-wing party with racist undercurrents? Who has the most fluid - Punky Meadows or Jeff Beck? (No, I don't understand either, I've just been listening to Frank Zappa...)
So we now have the edifying spectacle of a pensioner's wait for her shoulder operation becoming the latest political football. But more intriguing was the comment from a Radio 5 "expert" that this was all signifying we were lining up for one of the most "ferociously fought" election campaigns in history. Intriguing because, one has to ask, what exactly are they fighting over? Where are the battle lines? Where do the differences lie? As the Tories - a party who have always opposed the NHS since it was first founded - now feel they can challenge Labour on their health policies, whilst Mr Tony is doing his "I'm more neo-Liberal than you" act to anyone who cares about his obsession with deranged, provably false economic dogma, the rest of us are bound to feel a tad confused.
Still, at least they're sending a firm message on immigration out, eh?

Friday, March 04, 2005

Es tut mir leid

I always seems to rant. In fact, I do little else. So for that I apologise. But some things need to be ranted about. This morning, or, indeed, yesterday morning, given it's now gone midnight, there was some woman on the radio, being asked to talk about MMR and autism. Except that it wasn't some random woman. Oh no, she's some sort of anti-MMR campaigner. Now that's her proactive, and I'm sure it's all fine and good, but when she starts coming out with lines like [in response to being told that the latest Japanese study casts further doubt on the already flimsy MMR-autism link] "Well, it's all just statistical rubbish". So how, then, are we expected to determine the truth or falsity behind many of these claims, if not by "statistical rubbish"? She then went on to admit that nothing would convince her that there wasn't a link between autism and the MMR vaccine. In which case, why was she asked to talk about these things on a radio show? Surely a debate is meant to be an exchange of opinions. She did say that she saw her child slowly degenerate after being given the MMR vaccine. Which is of course very sad. But simply because event one happened after event two doesn't mean that it was caused by it.
A certain degree of detatchment is required to comment upon these issues - people who have already made up their minds, and then say that no amount of evidence would convince them to change them, are not reliable witnesses...