Small god rant

A facebook comment that got a little out of hand, responding to someone who does sterling work combatting religious idiocy but sometimes, for me, tips over into a kind of belicose anti-god stance that, for some reason I haven't quite managed to nail down yet, I find difficult to stomach.

I've come across plenty of other people, like myself, who just can't get that hung up about the use of the term "god" and are quite happy living in a world where asking "does god exist" is just a nonsensical question. Is there a beardy skyman I should listen to on all important matters? No. Is there a role in human society for using such concepts to order our understanding of the universe? Maybe. Historically, definitely - including using these forms to actually organise resource management and social structures very effectively.

For me, it's the same mistake planners made in Bali when they screwed their rice production systems up. As Lansing puts it, the history of Western science has been the continuation of "a centuries-old battle against superstition. From this perspective, magic is the antithesis of rational thought."

Don't pay too much attention to word 'magic' there; maybe use "set of socially mediated principles for ordering reality". We have those, we just mostly can't see them because, well - we think it's reality. To an extent we've meshed our weltanschauung with our accretion of scientific knowledge, but that doesn't change our basic nature.

I'm not saying it's purely functional either. My sense of my place in the entire universe, whether I get that from staring at Hubble pictures or my own navel - if I want to call that a spiritual thing, I think I should be allowed without being accused of wanting BeardySkyMan to tell me what to do.

I'm never quite sure what I'm arguing against. It's not like I personally make much use of the "god" concept (or possibly any). But I can see how others might and I don't really see why anyone has a problem with that - so long as they don't go around saying "my god has told me you two men must stop kissing each other otherwise I'll have to stick a spike through your head". If that's the issue, work on stopping people being such intolerant twats. There are plenty of incredibly tolerant and brilliant religious/ spiritual people in the world. I'm unclear why anyone would e.g. want to undermine the stuff going on here.

The Enemies of Promise

Just when I thought Govey couldn't make me any more homicidal, here he is in the Daily Hate:

The new Enemies Of Promise are a set of politically motivated individuals who have been actively trying to prevent millions of our poorest children getting the education they need.

Yes, of course! All those people got into education because they wanted to fuck up the lives of poor people!

Who is responsible for this failure? Who are the guilty men and women who have deprived a generation of the knowledge they need? Who are the modern Enemies Of Promise? They are all academics who have helped run the university departments of education responsible for developing curricula and teacher training courses.

You would expect such people to value learning, revere knowledge and dedicate themselves to fighting ignorance. Sadly, they seem more interested in valuing Marxism, revering jargon and fighting excellence.

There is nothing I can possibly say...

Targets for throwing people into penury

This is horrific. People are having their benefits stopped arbitrarily to meet targets. Jobcentre worker: "it's all about stopping people's money. I got put on a performance improvement plan because I don't sanction enough people. I was told I need to get x amount of sanctions by March, about 2 a week."

Check out the performance improvement plan doc at 3'40: written down targets for staff of 8.6 referrals a month (to remove to entire of people's benefits for up to 8 weeks I think).

Fun food facts for veggies

Here's some fun facts to consider for any veggie (like myself) being smug about horsemeat. (1) Vege sausages and burgers are expensive. (2) Cheapo meat sausages and burgers are not. (3) The gap between the two is potentially a space for squeezing in cheapo meat products that could make dodgy veggie products highly profitable. (4) Large sections of the food industry do not give a shit what they put in their products.

So... has anyone tested them, I wonder?

If we're going to be this stupid, let's do it intelligently

Another P3 comment related to this link about recent permafrost stories (arstechnica; New Scientist).
Update: MT corrects me. "I was pleased that the Ars and New Scientist articles did not flog the tundra-carbon-feedback-bomb panic, which does not have much support among scientists. I am a bit chastened that you still read it in there. // We are being quite stupid indeed. But this particular aspect is a concern that is widespread in the public but not among scientists. It’s not quite as baseless as the “Gulf Stream shutdown” one was a few years back. But both concerns were extremely overdrawn and basically inaccurate."

This really drives home a sinking realisation. While pretty much all our political and research structures continue to develop around a 2 degree target, the reality is turning out to be very different. As a researcher, I see the various UK funding councils fitting into that ‘how do we fix the climate problem’ way of thinking. This is leaving us with no systematic research agenda to address what are looking to be fairly likely outcomes, including a global permafrost hand-grenade thrown into the climate system.

Our research institutions have foresight enough to see the change in currents ahead but they’re ignoring the massive waterfall and the drop beyond.

That’s a huge generalisation, I’m sure there are many working on these kind of what-ifs. My point is, those what-ifs need a much more strategic, broad attack. We are managing to push ourselves towards territory that, really, not that many people bothered to consider in depth because no-one thought we’d be this stupid. We are this stupid. So we have mainly only vague statements like “may threaten the very fabric of civilisation” etc.

For anyone who thinks our civilisation has some value worth fighting for, we’re going to have to do a lot better than that. If we are going to be this stupid, can we at least do it intelligently?

Reassembling meat products

Fascinating breakdown of how cheap burgers are broken down and reassembled by Felicity Lawrence. They are "allowed to contain fat, collagen and connective tissue in the same proportion as they naturally occur in the cut being used" - but the actual source of those additives can and does come from anywhere: "a reconstruction of deconstructed parts, bought around the world from wherever is cheapest. Exchange rate fluctuations might affect where you want to buy your components from week to week."

Future crufts

My prediction for 100/200 year's time: google/facebook search will combine with already patented genetic matching techniques (example); AI will take over, with each ruling its own fiefdom based on some existing corporate entity; each will steer different social/genetic matching systems to breed us like crufts animals. At least one of those AIs will just have fun trying to make REALLY weird-shaped people. (We do the same with dogs, after all.)

Put DDT on your GM cereal

Another P3 comment and an unformed braindump. This is confusing stuff and I'm a long way from spotting a path through it.

There's some digging to be done into the recent resurgence of DDT + GM related stories. I got myself tangled in the GM stuff (defending the tech in the face of what I and others considered a badly misinformed protest) but pull that thread and a whole lot of baggage comes with it. e.g. old Monbiot stories about marxists-turned neoliberals starting science lobby groups (also active during the recent Rothamsted protests) or the GM Watch stuff. Climate scientist Simon Lewis was wondering on twitter: "perhaps it's important to ask of scientific experiments: is this the science of the 1%. Or the 99%", suggesting that any attempt to separate science from the issue of control or money was not possible. (Ironically plenty of climate deniers would completely agree.)

Everything you need to know about the Tories

Via Andy Evans: "Think this says everything you need to know about the Tory party in one handy nugget":

Upon trying to access the internet at the ICC [during the Tory party conference], we were informed that while Conservative party members could surf for free, other attendees would have to pay. One bemused ICC staffer quietly informed us that the conference venue offers universal free web access for the other 51 weeks of the year but was ordered to restrict it especially for the Tory summit." (Research Professional, 17.10.12)

So they demanded an otherwise free resource be denied to others so they could attempt to squeeze some rent from it? Yup, Andy's right, that's an absolutely perfect example of the real meaning of privatisation in Toryland.

(with the caveat that of course it may be too perfect a parable to actually be true but, hell, I'm just gonna go ahead and propagate it anyway...)

"The NHS is now a logo, nothing more." Discuss.

Head of NHS Brand-Offer to the Public: £77,079 - £97,478.

"The post-holder will lead on the development and implementation of a brand strategy for the NHS as a publicly-funded, free at the point of delivery service and on the development and delivery of the NHS Commissioning Board brand and offer to the public. This includes the development of a strategy to encompass corporate, staff and consumer brand offers and associated visualisations and leading on all related brand communications and campaign activity. The post-holder is responsible for ensuring that the NHS brand values are at the heart of the work of the NHS Commissioning Board and the new clinical commissioning system."

I don't even know what kind of person would go for this job. Is it marketing? Is it management? What?

At any rate: congratulations to the ConDems for taking New Labour's bizarre butchery of public and private to new levels of absurdity. Both public and private should play vital roles in the economy. What we've created instead looks suspiciously like all the worst bits of both worlds.

So is the NHS now nothing more than a logo?

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