Friday, February 20, 2009

Green Olympics

I have a fine view of the Olympic stadium from my flat. The towering iron work of the main stadium is going up and the concrete being poured as we speak. It will certainly be impressive and bring a big boost to the area in terms of regeneration of a run down area.

But is this really the right thing to be doing. Given the debate about carbon footprints and the destruction of the planet is changing the hosting of the Olympics every four years a good idea. Why don't we all pitch in for 2017 and build a massive stadium and all surrounding paraphernalia back in Greece (where it originated) and then every year from then on reuse. I am sure that there will be arguments about financial benefit but think of it this way. Once the infrastructure is built then it only takes money to maintain and that could come from contributions every four years. Given the billions and billions of savings that would be made that money could be put towards simply upgrading infrastructure in a host company. How would that work.

Every 4 years a country is picked to be the host of the Olympics. They pick a site in their country where they would have built the stadium and then spend, say 1 billion, regenerating that area. They then move all their people to the Olympics who host the games at the Greek stadium and facilities under their badge.

It has to been greener and far less wasteful than what we do today. The Greeks may do well out of this but they would also pay for all the maintenance etc in between while the host country 'hires' the facilities for the games they are the hosts of.

It must be greener.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


Scepticism is defined generally as the denial that knowledge or rational belief is possible. For those of you not familiar with the more formal aspects scepticism you can see examples of it in action in films like the Matrix. Neo had no way in his original life to know whether what he experienced was real or a computer generated interaction with his brain. Other famous examples of this type are the 'brain in a vat' (you are held by aliens and your brain is put in a vat and fed computer generated input for your senses) and Descartes demon (early Matrix).

Scepticism seems unbeatable. If we are unable to answer scepticism it undermines the world to the point where we cannot know anything at all. But we do seem to operate on a day to day basis so how do we answer scepticism?

There have been a number of attempts. One is to not start down that road. I.e. avoid the argument. Someone outlined a method to me to achieve this which leaves me unconvinced. They talk about context sensitivity of language. While we are familiar with the context sensitivity of terms like here, there, I etc (we are able to understand that if someone says "it is cold here" that they mean the location they are in and not necessarily the location the listener is in).
It is argued that other words are context sensitive and one of those is the term 'know'. They argue that two versions of 'do you know that the table in front of you is there?' can be read in different contexts to mean different things. In a sceptical way (academic) it means different to our ordinary experience context.

I am sceptical about this argument.

I have a different option. Sceptical arguments are nearly always used to test or criticize other philosophical positions. If every sceptical argument is unbeatable it undermines most other arguments. One way around this is to examine what claim a sceptical argument is actually making.

Traditional interpretation is the definition above. But this claim makes no sense. A sceptical argument undermines everything it is applied to but adds no value. It is not a counter argument. It just debunks.

I think that we can get around this because if we look at the sceptical claim differently we can work around it. Rather than stating that the sceptical claim is about how knowledge is not possible I would claim that the sceptical argument is about proof. The sceptic is actually saying not that knowledge is not possible but that the ability to prove knowledge is not possible.

This is a subtly different definition of scepticism but one that is still as powerful as the original but one that does not undermine the existence of knowledge. We can see that the ability to prove a belief or prove knowledge does not undermine knowledge itself. We can know that there is a table in front of me but I may not be able to prove it.

The next stage would be to look at what provability means for knowledge. If we define knowledge as true justified belief then can we still make a claim to knowledge that is unprovable. Godel had proved that there are things that are true and unprovable (See Godel numbers). So it seems that provability is not only not necessary for truth in all cases but in many cases proof is simply not possible.

So we can easily dispatch scepticism in this way.

Wealth. Mind the gap.

The concept of wealth redistribution is one that EVERYONE supports. I can hear the grumbling about such a claim here. The question is a complex one. It has a lot to do with the gap that exists in the society you are in, your position specifically in society, your own level of wealth relative to the society you are in and how the obtained level of wealth was attained

Let us start with some extreme examples as they prove the original statement.

1) You live in a society where there exists one family who has 99% of the wealth in the country while everyone else starves. Surely you would not find this a just and fair society and would not be overly concerned (i.e. would support) the redistribution of wealth.

2) You work hard all your life and build up a good pension through your own hard work and frugal life style. You worked hard every day and weekends to build up a good retirement pot and one day the government in your society decides that your pension pot should be redistributed to people who have not saved and spent every penny they earned as they have no pension. Your wealth is redistributed.

I suspect the majority would support wealth distribution in example 1 but not in example 2. Both occur in societies across the world to some extent at some times. Certain extreme examples have left those with wealth having more than their money taken away. They lose their lives.

Where is the right line? It is a hard balance. But what is clear is that nobody likes extremes. People who make too much money in too easy a way at the negative cost to others tends to put us close to that line. This is why the banking problems have caused so much attention. We were all happy for the bankers to make their billions as they spent it on expensive properties and goods and the money flowed. But now it has proven to be a house of cards we are not so keen and are looking for 'wealth distribution'. Our consistency in thinking here is very poor and shows a strong connection to our personal situation.

But the government needs to remember. Wealth redistribution only works if their is wealth to redistribute. Governments do not generate wealth. Business generates wealth, moving money generates wealth and for that we need not only banks but successful banks. And for that we need successful bankers. Successful bankers do not grow on trees.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Strange New World

As someone with a gun license in the UK I am often annoyed by the levels of consistency by the government in this country. Guns are bad is the general view and having widespread gun access is a terrible idea seems to be the norm. I support this position to a large extent. Evidence around the world shows that increase in access to guns results in an increase in gun related deaths. No shit.

Why would anyone want to allow the public general access to something that will increase deaths? We can look at the statistics before gun's were restricted. It is important to note that the government and the majority of people in this country would claim that the rights of the individual gun owner are overridden by the good of society.

So let's look at the stats.

One set of stats shows that deaths were at the rate of 54 per 100,000 population. On top of that there were significant numbers of injuries from gun ownership which were not recorded accurately and so have no exact quotable statistics.

You have to agree that deaths at those rates is unacceptable. As society was fed up of the high loss of life we saw gun control take hold. The arms companies claimed that guns were not the cause of death and that gun owners had the right to ownership and usage of arms.

I have to agree with history. Why would government not put in place arms controls to curb the death rates.

But I have not been quite straight forward. The logic of gun control and essentially banning general usage of guns without good reason has cut gun deaths down to 0.15 per 100,000 in 2002. Success?

Well the other reason I have not been clear is that the statistic of 54 per 100,000 of population is not the death rate by guns but the current death rate by lung cancer caused by smoking. The 0.15 IS the death rate by guns (roughly current). Death rate due to smoking related lung cancer is 360 times higher than gun deaths.

So can anyone tell me why the rights of smokers are different to the rights of gun owners? To put the stats in perspective. Gun deaths in the US where they are relatively freely available is around 3.98 per 100,000.

Nobody would condone going back to widespread gun crime but perhaps it is a simple logical step to say that the rights of people to smoke are no different to the right of gun ownership. Guns kill, cigarettes kill. Isn't it about time we stopped mucking around and just ban smoking.