Tag Archives: Commentary

A light in the tunnel for Simon Singh?

I think I’ve been neglectful about reporting on Simon Singh’s case. I suppose it’s too late for me to go into a comprehensive summary of the case, but let me hit the high points as I recall them.

Simon Singh is a science writer in the UK, he wrote a critical article about chiropractors and their lack of reliable, objective evidence demonstrating efficacy of some of their claims, particularly with regards to certain childhood ailments and asthma. He used the word “bogus” and, having read the original piece myself, I think it was quite obvious the word “bogus” meant “ineffective” rather than “fraudulent”.

The British Chiropractic Association sued Singh under Britain’s laughingstock-of-the-free-world libel laws. The initial ruling was determined by a judge that Singh meant fraudulent and allowed the suit to proceed. In the face of enormous legal bills and with the support of skeptics, scientists and writers from around the world, Singh continues his fight in the hopes of causing much-needed reform of the English libel laws.

Meanwhile, the BCA has been unable to provide any real evidence that their claims are true, and have been caught instructing their members to remove such claims from their websites. (Nah, they don’t sound like they know their treatments don’t work, do they?)

Today, they were at a pre-trial hearing, and things are, for the first time, sounding good:

Presiding at the appeal court in London today in a pre-trial hearing on the meaning of words in a 2008 article by Singh criticising chiropractic treatments, Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge said he was “troubled” by the “artificiality” of the case.

“The opportunities to put this right have not been taken,” Lord Judge said.

He continued: “At the end of this someone will pay an enormous amount of money, whether it be from Dr Singh’s funds or the funds of BCA subscribers.”

He went on to criticise the BCA’s reluctance to publish evidence to back up claims that chiropractic treatments could treat childhood asthma and other ailments.

“I’m just baffled. If there is reliable evidence, why hasn’t someone published it?” [From Index on Censorship » Blog Archive » Judge ‘baffled’ by Simon Singh chiropractic case]

Update: You can learn more about the “problem” with English libel laws here: The Libel Reform Campaign

Charlie Brooker on Psychics and Creationism

I’ve only recently heard of Charlie Brooker, when one of his videos concerning how news reports are made went viral (or at least viral in the circles I follow.)

Since then, I’ve been “catching up” with his series, Screenwipe and Newswipe where he has a very refreshingly incisive view of television and the news.

Here he is in the newspaper, too, waxing very sensible about psychics (and creationism, too):

I mean, if you want to believe in psychics, fine. You’re a dangerous idiot and I wouldn’t trust you to operate a spoon without putting an eye out … but fine. Your choice. Delude yourself silly. Your world is probably more fun than the real one. There’s no death, just an afterlife filled with magic spirits who like to communicate with eerie, ugly, otherwise-unemployable bottom-of-the-barrel “showmen” back on Earth.

But don’t accuse anyone with the temerity to question your sad supernatural fantasies of having a “closed mind” or being “blind to possibilities”. A closed mind asks no questions, unthinkingly accepting that which it wants to believe. The blindness is all yours.

From The Guardian – When it comes to psychics, my stance is hardcore: they must die alone in windowless cells, by Charlie Brooker.

iPad… is there a gap to fill?

IMG_0139I’ve been shying away from reading commentary today about the iPad, mostly because I wanted to form my opinions in a vacuum (like I always do 🙂 ) on the device.

I’ll say in retrospect that I am one of those people who thinks a tablet computer is generally a bad idea… at least as a mass-produced consumer good. Apart from specialized vertical markets, I’ve just not been convinced that I’d have a reason to use such a device…

…and then there’s the e-book reader.

I can’t get thrilled about e-book readers, either. Certainly, I read enough books (see my pictured current bathroom reading stack) that I ought to appreciate the idea of a single, compact reading device, but I just like books. Equally certainly, I read a heck of a lot of material on a computer screen, so I’ve not got an aversion to screen-reading. The Kindle and the Sony ebook reader both leave me flat. As a small electric device, it will never be where I want it to be, while books are scattered about my house, ready for me to pick up and start reading.

So, given that I don’t like tablets and I don’t like e-books, will the iPad change my mind?

Maybe… but only just.

My iPhone, which I’ve now had nearly two years, was a game-changing device. Most of my e-mail correspondence is done on it. 20% of my blogging, nearly 100% of my Facebooking and 60-70% of my daily news reading is done on it.

I do these things because it’s on my hip or at least within arm’s reach most of the day from the time I get up until the time I go to bed.

I heave learned to rely on it being at hand. No more do I have to get up and toddle into the computer room to look something up or to kill some time reading news. Some might call that laziness, but I call it convenience. I also find that, with constant access, I look more things up. In short, I use more internet time now that I have the iPhone.

Given that, I can say that it would be nice to be using a larger screen, so, provided that the iPad becomes the world’s most expensive coffee table book and I keep it constantly next to my sofa… I might just find it a useful and cool device.

I’ll likely not be running out to the buy one any time soon.

England – Fading on the Horizon

The shoe finally fell tonight.

We’ve known for weeks approximately what was going to happen, but we’ve been in a holding pattern to see what form it would take.

The State of Arizona, like all the states is experiencing a drastic turn-down in tax revenue. Like many governments, Arizona spends its tax money before it receives it. In fact, for all the hype you hear from politicians claiming we ought to “live within our means” – none of them seem to be willing to spend money after it has been collected. The budgeting process is a complex system based entirely on tax forecasts, which as anyone with half a semester of economics can tell you is (eventually) a recipe for disaster.

Arizona; however, is facing the largest percentage shortfall of any state, and they’ve known a storm was blowing for months. We’ve been on a hiring freeze for the better part of a year. They stopped collecting our garbage save for twice a week, the turn up and/or down the thermostats and they disconnected half the light bulbs in our building. As we’ve scampered to save every penny we can, they’ve swept it away to try to float the ship. We’ve been siphoned down past the level of safe blood-letting.

The budget crisis has been in limbo for months because the Republican controlled state legislature didn’t want to negotiate with the (outgoing) Democratic Governor. Knowing that she was going to work for President Obama and that the next-in-line for Governor was a rank-and-file Republican, they waited. Every day they waited, the deficit gets harder to overcome.

The legislature is overwhelmingly ideologically in goose-step opposition to raising taxes for any reason and so, at last, a brutal budget has been hashed out (mostly behind closed doors, of course) and they’ve slashed across the board without regard to individual agencies’ existing funds, requirements, mandates, whatever. “Just give us 10%” of your annual budget back.”

That might not sound so bad except, 10% of the annual means effectively over 20% for the remainder of the year, and, since many of an agency’s expenses are paid in advance, or are contractually obligated by law, for a small agency like ours, it’s closer to 35%. And since they’d already taken anything we’d saved and eliminated any purchases we might have had budgeted, there’s precious little left except personnel costs.

Today we got the word, for starters, all staff will be on unpaid leave for 18 days in the next 18 weeks. Effectively a 20% pay cut for the next 5 months. With the job market being what it is, that’s a whole lot better than being unemployed, but it isn’t a picnic.

The Administration Department laid off all the building maintenance workers for our building last week. Today, we didn’t have toilet paper in our bathrooms. Do they still print Sears & Roebuck catalogs?

I’m not saying that some almost-miraculous circumstances might not pop up, but unless they day, it seems very unlikely that we’ll be going to England this year, despite missing taking Michelle to see the Museum of Natural History that she so dearly wants to see and missing an almost once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the World Twenty20 Cup final.

Perhaps airfare will plummet to under a $500 a person, and we can squeak out 4 days, just enough time to got to the museum, see the game, have some good fish & chips and kebobs and come back?

New Immigration Problems

A lot has been said about the problem with illegal immigrants coming up from Mexico and there’s a lot of mindless polemic on both sides, which I shall not address here.

If you live somewhere like Phoenix where the numbers of immigrants (both legal and illegal) is high, you may have noticed that the recent economic downturn, combined with tougher enforcement seems to have turned parts of town into virtual ghost towns.

But I want to talk about how this inconveniences me.

I went to Kentucky Fried Chicken today and, for the first time in ages, everybody working there appeared to be… um… ethnically and linguistically of a background which would commonly be considered European-descended caucasion US citizens.

The problem is, now that the Mexicans are gone, they’ve had to hire the moron population to take their jobs.

It took 19 minutes to fill our order, of which they had plenty ready food on hand.

It took one of the staffers a full minute to put 2 pieces of chicken and 2 scoups of macaroni on a plate.

We’re all going to starve!

The Kitchen Progresses

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It’s been a frenzied day (and last evening) of building IKEA kitchen cabinets.

Our handyman finished the sealing of the new tile floor and today marked the start of cabinet installation, so I had to get them ready.

I’m actually quite impressed with the ingenuity that IKEA has engineered into their cabinet system – with the exception of the backboard. That seems the rickety excuse, just nailing that flimsy faux-wood cardboard, or whatever it is on the backside. Everything seems engineered, the back just seems flung on there as an afterthought.

Still, after you build 9 or 10 of the things, you can crank them out pretty fast, assuming you’ve got the right ones.

We had a little comedy of errors with the ordering of the parts. I originally laid out the kitchen using IKEA’s kitchen planner software (Windows only – those jerks), and, after much wailing and gnashing of teeth, had arrived at a workable combination – recognizing that my house wasn’t built in an era of standardized cabinet sizes. In the end, along the base we needed four 36″ cabinets and one 30″, unfortunately, the technician at IKEA didn’t download my project file, he just manually re-entered it off the print I had, and he got it wrong – he put us in for five 36″ cabinets. Unfortunately, we didn’t notice either.

They weight a ton, and my back is worthless these days, my wife is small. my usual fallback lifting person has a broken arm and I prefer not to get my 77-year old father to do heavy lifting, so we just had them deliver the stuff. Pity they wouldn’t bring it in the house, so we (and when I say, “we”, I mean my wife) ended up carrying it in piece by piece.

That’s when we discovered the mistake. To IKEA’s credit, they arranged for the right piece to be delivered and the bad one picked up the next day, which was Thursday.

This morning, I cracked the box open only to discover it was bright white, not the natural birch color of all the rest of the cabinets. This time calls to IKEA weren’t as immediately satisfactory, but they were willing to fix the problem, but they couldn’t do it fast enough. In the end, Irene had to take the bad part to the local store and they replaced it.

By the end of the day, all the cabinets are in place (although, they still need securing) and the countertop is being prepared. Tomorrow, we should have the cabinets secured, the countertops installed, the sink and dishwasher installed and functioning. We might not have all the drawers, doors and shelves in place, but we should have a working kitchen again – not a moment too soon.

We can already tell that the new arrangement is a lot better. There’s more cabinet space and the kitchen is more spacious. It’s going to play havoc on continuity shots on the next episode of Fusion Patrol: 1999, but I’ll just have to live with it.

Another thing that’s really exciting – we finally have an ice/water dispenser in our refrigerator! Our “new”: fridge, now over a year old, has a built-in icemaker. That’s nothing surprising in a modern fridge, but this house was built before such things were even dreamed of, and so the “fridge spot” is absolutely nowhere near a water supply. That has been resolved! Cold, fresh, filtered water. Ahhhhhhhh.

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Shooting reporters for the good of China?

When I first read this article, I thought the Chinese had come up with a clever way to get rid of pesky journalists in the run-up to their Olympic-committee sponsored propaganda orgy they’ll be having next month.

Three Chinese reporters attending a police briefing on the success of an anti-gun campaign were accidentally shot, media reports say. An officer picked up one of the weapons on show – a confiscated home-made gun – but it went off in his hand. [From BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Gun briefing backfires in China]

Kitchens – Specifically

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So, we have all that new-found (potential) income and Ikea only holds their prices stable in one-year increments, so, come June 30 prices on the rest of our kitchen cabinets were due to jump – or, possibly, be discontinued. In the last week of June we purchased the cabinets to complete our two-phase kitchen renovation.

The problem is the half gets complicated. First, we have to redo the floor, and while I don’t like tile, it is the most practical kitchen floor in this neck of the woods. So everything has to come out of the kitchen, cabinets, stove, refrigerator, freezer – everything.

We also have to deal with the soffits, which need to be removed, and some plumbing, which was inconveniently short-cut through there. Then, since we’re cutting into the plumbing, we’re getting water run for the refrigerator’s ice maker. After all that, we can put the cabinets back.

Work on that started today. Apart from one mishap when the water got turned on for the house but the (disconnected) kitchen supply lines weren’t closed – which I noticed when the water started pouring under the door into my computer room. – it’s gone pretty well today.

But the house is a mess, and we’re going to be eating out for the next week, at least.