Friday, July 19, 2002

The Movimiento Libertario is a very interesting political party (Spanish website, English version is here). It is just about the only avowedly-libertarian political party in the world with significant clout in a national assembly. They regularly return a number of deputies to Congress, and have been instrumental in voting down a number of nasty illiberal and expensive laws. I don't know why Libertarian politics should have found a home here, since in many ways the political system here is still old-fashioned paternalist socialist.


I'm still getting the 'Error 503:Unable to load template file' message from Blogger. This has been a little over two weeks now. They say it's an intermittent problem with a server. Huh? Get it fixed already guys. There's no way I could justify going to Blogger Pro right now.

I really wish I could afford my own hosting (by which I mean my machine, running my choice of OS and software, from my house). If I were in the states I'd be looking at $80 or so a month for DSL, with a free router thrown in. Here in CR, the government telecoms monopoly charges $750 a month (!) for 256/128 DSL, plus you have to buy the Cisco router and the modem (another $1000). This is why the Movimiento Libertario, the Libertarian party here has the slogan 'donde hay monopolio, no hay libertad' (where there is monopoly, there is no freedom). $80 is what domestic 256K cable costs here (i.e. a non-routable internet connection so you can't act as a server). I might have to check out co-lo costs in the States.


Oh, this is reassuring. A passenger on board a flight from Bogota to Madrid pulls a box-cutter and starts waving it around. Turns out he was just a drunk nutcase, but it hardly fills me with confidence about flying. I have to make a flight to London in three weeks time. I've never been nervous about flying before, but this time I just know I will have that little frisson of anxiety until we're on the tarmac at Heathrow.


In an email to the inestimable Doctor Weevil I asked him not to think that all BritBloggers™ are as full of themselves as the egregious Brendan O'Neill (the Vast Right Wing BlogSpiracy's whipping boy du jour). He assures me he knows enough Brits to know that is not the case and then leaves me gape-jawed with astonishment at the revelation that of the twelve blogs that Brendan recommends as 'too good for the Blogosphere', one of them is his own blog! The man is besotted with himself.

It's tragic really, because O'Neill is a highly skilled and often interesting writer. But if ever the charge of weblogs being 'vanity publishing' needed evidence then, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I give you Brendan O'Neill.

Sunday, July 14, 2002

One thing I've noticed after reviewing some of my earlier posts is that I use a lot of parenthetical clauses. I wonder if this stems from my job as a software engineer, where often expressing the logic of a task involves embedding it deeply within a hierarchy of nested statements. It might also have something to do with the idea that a good software engineer is aware that a partially-specified problem is a nest of potential bugs. All the caveats, attempting to see the other point of view, etc. are really just good error-handling.


Of course, Nigel Farndale isn't in the same league as John Pilger really. Whenever I read anything of Pilger's I am reminded of Mary McCarthy's withering dismissal of Lillian Hellmann: "every word she writes is a lie, including 'and', and 'the'." Pilger is worse than that. The very dots of his i's and the serifs on the letters are pregnant with mendacity and bile.


Gonna fact check yo ass, beeyotch. Nigel Farndale in the Telegraph pens a classic bit of sloppy, blog-unaware journalism. Now Farndale's alright, really, but for crying out loud, how about this (talking about Exxon calling in favours from GWB):

It takes impressive gall, for instance, to bankroll a presidential election campaign and then call in your favours just days after your man takes office. (Obligingly, George W Bush declined to ratify the Kyoto Protocol to cut greenhouse gas emissions; gave permission for Exxon, among others, to drill in the unspoilt nature reserves of Alaska; and coerced the UN into replacing the independent-minded head of its panel on global warming with a director of an oil company.)

This displays an almost Pilgeresque level of cluelessnes or tendentiousness, you choose. First up: Congress killed Kyoto deader'n mackerel long before W was sworn in. He couldn't have ratified it if his life had depended on it. Second, the notion that Exxon bankrolled the Bush campaign betrays a level of ignorance about the funding of U.S. politics that is wonderful/woeful to behold. Third, two thousand acres of blasted tundra out of millions hardly constitutes the orgy of environmental rapine the more hysterical eco-freaks would lead us to believe extracting oil from the ANWR would involve. Fourthly, Robert Watson was voted out as IPCC chair by 76 to 49. Exactly one of those votes was the US. If anything describes Watson, 'independent minded' is not it. 'Reflexively pro-man made global warming', perhaps. 'Overly politicised laughing stock', maybe. 'Junk science groupie', now that's more like it.

Yeah, I know this is not meant to be a serious thumb-sucker - Farndale's trying to be flippant. But this is the Telegraph, for god's sake, not the Indescribablypisspoor or the Wanker. I count two sentences, four clauses, four crocks of shit. That's a pretty impressive hit rate. Way to go, Nigel.


Robert Matthews in The Sunday Telegraph writes this report about the witless scare story engendered by the results from a Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) study that apparently showed there was a 26% increase in the risk of breast cancer in patients undergoing HRT. Matthews points out that this is a 26% relative increase - a quarter more than a small number is still a small number. It's like the hoo-ha about breast cancer screening using mammograms. The incidence of breast cancer in women under the age of 50 is tiny - but that hasn't stopped the scare-mongers from touting screening as some sort of talismanic solution to cancer. What harm can screening do, you may ask? None, per se, of course, but it is not the most efficient way of allocating a finite health services budget. Cooler heads appear to have prevailed in the drive to introduce mass screening for prostate cancer. More men die with prostate cancer than of it - it is a disease that many men will fall prey to, but usually in later life.

There is an excellent web site, which I urge everyone to visit, called Number Watch. It has been created by a very distinguished Electronic Engineer, Professor John Brignell (if there were any justice, it would be Professor The Viscount Lord Brignell of that Ilk, KCVO, GCMG, OM). He is the author of a book called 'Sorry, Wrong Number' which details the ways in which junk science, ably assisted by its handmaiden the credulous media, and co-opted (if not sponsored) by enviro-fascistic watermelons, foists dubious scientific findings upon us - leading to, variously: gloom; despondency; taxes; disease; desuetude and death. Number Watch brutally fillets many of the dominant scare stories, and does it with verve and wit (and a certain, rather poignant note of despair - familiar to any who have spent time within the halls of acadème).

Prof. Brignell shows how, with a small amount of elementary statistical modelling, plus the notorious 'publication bias' (negative results tend to be suppressed, this being a function of the funding structures extant in modern academia), the purported increased risk is indistinguishable from a random artifact.

HRT is, I believe, one of the most significant therapies in modern women's healthcare. The reduction in osteoporosis and heart disease alone are more than enough to justify its use - the secondary psychological effects of promoting a satisfactory lifestyle, especially in the realm of sexual drive and enjoyment, cannot be overstated. A vestigial increase in the risk of an already rare disease (even if this effect is genuine) is a small price to pay for the many years of enhanced physical and mental health that HRT can bring.

This is why a sound understanding of mathematics and science is so essential to a mature public discourse. It is not so much that the majority needs an understanding of the issues in order to make good choices for itself - it needs it so as to not foist bad ones on the minority, like me, who actually can grasp the issues.


Well, here's a bit of welcome news for a change. It appears that the anti-semitic witch at UMIST who sacked two staff members for the unconscionable crime of being Israeli is herself facing dismissal:

The decision prompted a wave of international condemnation and Prof Baker told The Telegraph yesterday: "I will almost certainly get the sack from UMIST now." Her action has been denounced both by Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, and Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist at Oxford University.

The authorities at UMIST are believed to have privately urged Prof Baker to reinstate the Israelis or leave her university post. The university stated: "UMIST has always had a clear position on this issue: we strongly believe that discrimination is unacceptable, that the Israeli academics should not have been removed and that this decision was wrong." It said a "wide-ranging" inquiry would determine "any further necessary action".

Nice to see British academia showing a bit of spine for a change. Now all we need to do is get rid of that disgusting oaf Tom Paulin.

Musings from Costa Rica

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