Monday, March 24, 2008

aw ref

Clearly in order to make democratic government answerable for its actions you need reference back to the people on important decisions. The current system seems to favour referendums (even though they hardly ever actually carry them out). This is a rubbish way of making a decision: it means that you get a large audience who are basically ignorant of the issues involved (informed by those two great oracles: the media and the man in the pub/street) and vote on gut feelings and ill-founded prejudices. In effect it gives the decision to the most widely read newspapers.

Surely a jury is a much better idea. i.e. a small well informed audience informed by a range of experts on all angles in depth and detail. As this would be much less costly than getting everybody to vote it would allow a far greater range of policies to be decided. After all the jury trial of those accused of a crime is seen as one of the pillars of democracy so there really can't be much of a ligitimate argument against the same process to trial acts of parliament.

Imagine a jury selected from all walks of life, representative of the makeup of the country (the polling organisations seem to have effective selection techniques) who are then seconded for a period of maybe two weeks to consider the pros and cons of say a proposal to build a nuclear poerstation. The government of the day would act as prosecution calling expert witnesses to support their case while any other organisation could put forward their alternative views (not necessarily directly against but giving different point of view). There would have to be a selection process to limit the number of witnesses. Then the jury would retire to consider their verdict which would act like the House of Lords in passing the act or throwing it back to parliament to be rewritten.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

the cutting edge of the blade

Consider Oscar Pistorius (check spelling): banning him from competing against so-called 'able bodied' runners is discrimination. Pure and simple.

First strip aside all the faff about return of energy through his blades being more efficient than a normal ankle; strip aside the scientific mumbo jumbo of testing him against some other athletes and plotting their effort:speed ratio; this is giving you answers but you are asking the wrong question.

What are you measuring when you judge a running race? It's who can run the distance fastest given (and here is where the AAA is getting its knickers in a twist) that everybody has the same conditions and doesn't get an advantage by breaking the rules. Rules which are the same for everybody. Now these blades are not mechanical - they are not bionic legs. They are sprung metal and should fall into the same category as running shoes. Presumably there are rules as to what a running shoe may be made of and so forth. If you measured a runner's efficiency in running shoes against those in bare feet this would show an advantage (if it didn't they wouldn't wear shoes) All sports have non-mechanical equipment which aids the competitor - consider swimmers' suits which reduce drag, muscle fatigue etc. When you are looking at very fine differences even the material that shirts and shorts are made of makes a difference.

So if you ban something just because it increases efficiency then you're really back to ancient greece and naked athletes, which is fine but, well there's no room for the sponsors' logos is there? Even then there are advantages to be gained from living at altutude etc. The AAA really needs to avoid looking at this as one arsy south African and as the next era in competitive sport. All that is needed is regulation on the makeup of the blades just like there would be on a new shoe. That then is equality in as much as anything is ever equal which it clearly isn't. Does it diminish the spectacle or the result having a runner with blades instead of legs? No it doesn't. All the effort and speed is down to the runner it doesn't come from any aid. If he had been born seven feet tall it wouldn't disqualify him so neither should not having legs.

Ben goldacre would have a field day with the 'scientific results' of the tests in Germany I have no doubt. The efficiency of a human ankle must fall in a range from 'hopeless' to 'very good' - there is no 'normal'. What are you going to do? Take an average? Estimate what each competitor's ankle efficency would have been if they had any? OP might have had ankles better or worse than anybody you measure him against so what are you proving anyway?

He shouldn't be allowed to compete in the Olympics this year though. Not because of his legs but because they should be being boycotted by everyone.

Thursday, March 06, 2008


Just for the record: biofuel - really bad idea. And I reserve the right to say "I told you so".

World population 6 billion; a couple of billion starving and land is going to be more valuable for growing fuel crops to sell to rich countries than growing food crops. The worst of it is that these rich countries will be feeling all warm and guilt free as they drive, fly and heat their way through these new fuels because they're not from the limited fossil fuel reserves (which are tucked neatly away underground and in oceans and frozen tundra and deserts where you can't grow anything anyway) but instead are renewable and carbon neutral-ish as the plants absorb the CO2 while they grow that they release when burnt. If you ignore the energy of harvesting, processing and transporting. And the effect of the fertilisers on the environment. And the fact that food crops find their way back into the food chain much quicker to lock up more CO2 in the next generation. Read James Lovelock if you don't believe me.