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Comment: We need accountability (Score 1) 74 74

Whatever your political disposition, it must surely be obvious that - just as in the world of banking and finance - the incentives are dangerously skewed. The arguments in favour of private enterprise focus on efficiency and the profit motive. So far, so good: but how are we to guarantee the quality of work done by private enterprise? It's surprisingly easy to enter the low bid, and then use weasel methods to deliver far less than was required and promised.

Take the analogy of big banks. They gamble dangerously, so dangerously in fact that they are almost certain to fail after a fairly short time. Because they gamble so riskily, they make big profits. Then, when they step on a mine and get blown up, instead of being allowed to go bankrupt, they are bailed out by government using taxpayers' money. This has been described as "social security for the rich". The obvious solution is to forbid the creation of banks "too big to fail", and then allow nature to take its course. Also, no doubt, to enforce the separation between everyday consumer banking and legalised gambling.

When it comes to government contracts, especially for potentially very dangerous projects such as nuclear power stations, we need to demand a far greater degree of accountability from the contractors. The Romans are said to have required that, whenever a new bridge or aqueduct was built, the designers and architects should stand underneath it. That gave them a powerful personal interest in safety; and they built in such adequate safety factors that much of their work is still standing (and even usable) today.

What is the modern day equivalent of making an engineer stand underneath an aqueduct as it fills with water? If an industrial accident of any kind happens, possibly causing great harm, all those responsible should have to answer for their actions. Maybe the death penalty would be excessive, but certainly very long jail sentences would be in order. For a corporation, perhaps a fine equal to twice its annual profits coupled to prison sentences for all executives involved...

It will be objected that this would raise the cost of such projects excessively. So be it: if there is a serious element of danger, the cost of avoiding that danger must be factored in. If we can't afford the project, again so be it.

Comment: Re:"It's all about perception" (Score 2) 369 369

My, what a long comment! And all based on a misunderstanding. Of course I do know that "Hill Street Blues" is fiction. But one of the reasons I enjoy it is that it appears to be accurate, realistic fiction. Regardless of the many details, the basic plot idea I mentioned - a political boss who is willing and eager to throw a subordinate to the wolves "for the look of it", regardless of the facts - is something that is common in real life.

Comment: Re:"It's all about perception" (Score 1) 369 369

Actually I do think about these things before I write. The Daily Mail story is something quite unusual nowadays: a well-researched, fully documented, professional piece of journalism. We already knew that Sir Tim Hunt was a distinguished scientist who has made great contributions to his field. After reading the story, it's clear that his accuser is not quite what she pretends to be - to say the very least.

In short, my reaction might sound "pretty kneejerk" to you - but it's not.

Comment: "It's all about perception" (Score 4, Interesting) 369 369

We see this kind of outcome all over the place nowadays. It's mostly because those in positions of power are far too worried about public perception. (Of course, their almost complete lack of any firmly held moral principles leaves them adrift, and very much at the mercy of popular sentiment). Obviously Sir Tim Hunt is of infinitely more value to society than Connie St Louis - a glance at the Daily Mail story referred to in the summary makes that clear. So why was he forced to resign as a kneejerk reaction to a wave of ephemeral indignation, which will be forgotten by next week (and it's Saturday as I write)?

Recently I have been glued to a box set of the complete "Hill Street Blues" - yes, I know that telegraphs my age and unadventurous taste in TV. It was only the other night that I got quite angry at the spectacle of the police chief twisting Captain Furillo's arm to get him to abandon his defence of an apparently "bad cop". This guy, a narcotics agent, had shot and killed a young black man while interrupting some suspicious activity in the small hours. The cop claimed that he had given due warning, and fired only after being fired on - all of which was true. Also, the group he tried to apprehend were in fact committing crimes. Nevertheless, the police chief tells Furillo that it's vital for the department to be seen to throw this "bad cop" to the wolves. It's all about perception, he explains. The facts don't matter at all; all that counts is that this is a good time to throw someone to the wolves.

University College London (UCL) has indeed stained its reputation. Its refusal even to consider reinstating Professor Hunt makes matters worse. And Britain, which seems to prefer Ms St Louis to Professor Hunt, will get what it has chosen. Not to its advantage.

Comment: Re:Dont understand the outrage (Score 1) 80 80

"Think every government does this to each other, it just seems the US is better at it. Nations don't have friends they have interests and spying on friends is the norm I think".

Fine. Just don't act surprised next time your government asks ours for help and we tell you "No, because we know you are only pursuing your own interests and everything you say otherwise is a lie".

Comment: Re:Odd... (Score 1) 244 244

Ah. OK. Now I see. When I posted the parent, I had only read the summary on Slashdot. I assumed the research was competently done, and accurately reported. As I finished posting, I realised those are not safe assumptions, so I took a closer look.

Well, folks, the study was done on... mice. Because obviously mice have evolved to eat the same diet as human beings, and react in exactly the same ways to changes in diet. Right.

Reminds me of the early researchers in the "cholesterol will kill you" racket, who did painstaking studies that showed a diet of fatty foods leads to clogged arteries and death. Right - in *rabbits*. Herbivores. Those "scientists" fed exclusive herbivores a diet heavy in *animal fat* - something they would never have consumed in nature - and then wondered that it harmed them.

Comment: Odd... (Score 1) 244 244

As far as I can see, the study concluded that "too much" fat or sugar impairs cognitive function. Presumably the study itself explains what is considered "too much"; but obviously no diet can reduce both fat and sugar very far, or the majority of calories would have to come from protein. And that is very unhealthy. It is well known that deriving more than 40-50% of calories from protein leads to ill health and, in extreme cases, death.

So at least half of daily calories must come from carbohydrate and fat in some combination. And all carbohydrate is rapidly broken down to simple sugars in the gut. Sounds like Scylla and Charybdis.

Comment: Re:Russia's longer hours... (Score 2) 381 381

"You'll always have your very rich who don't have to work and your very poor who choose not to..."

Huh? Run that by me again...

The "very rich who don't have to work" amount to perhaps the wealthiest 1% (or much less) of the population. So we can ignore them, as it's a vanishingly small proportion.

But "your very poor who choose not to [work]..."?

Surely someone who is very poor has the greatest incentive of all to work? According to all economics textbooks, anyway. Remember how the marginal value of income increases the less money you have? Consider that someone who is hungry and cannot get anything to eat has a strong motive to get some money.

Of course you may be one of those superficially sophisticated, callous people who like to feel better by condemning millions of complete strangers for their supposed "laziness". In which case, please think again.

Comment: Worry about real problems instead (Score 1) 76 76

Or you could concentrate on threats that aren't vanishingly improbable.

"As We Show In This Updated list, You’re Much More Likely to Be Killed By Brain-Eating Parasites, Toddlers, Lightning, Falling Out of Bed, Alcoholism, Food Poisoning, Choking On Your Meal, a Financial Crash, Obesity, Medical Errors or “Autoerotic Asphyxiation” than by Terrorists".

Comment: Pick a better ISP, if you can (Score 2) 479 479

You have a serious problem, because you are trying to buck the system. The best solution is to pick an ISP that will listen to you and treat you with respect and intelligence. For most customers, who know very little about networking, that may mean the standard frontline support. But a good ISP will listen, recognize that you know what you are talking about, and talk to you at your level. After all, it's in their interest as well as yours.

Where are you located? I'm in England, and for some years I have used an ISP called (Dark Group). Things very rarely go wrong - and when they do, it's usually the fault of BT, the wholesale provider. But when the problem lies in my setup or theirs, the tech support people are outstandingly helpful.

Comment: Redundant (Score 0) 205 205

The phrase, "finite limit" is grossly redundant. "Finite" simply means "unlimited". Indeed, both of these words are routinely overused, as there are few things in our world that can rightly be called infinite. (Cue lots of people quoting what Einstein supposedly said about stupidity, although to my mind it doesn't sound at all his style).

Comment: Competitive Disadvantage (Score 1) 71 71

How long before legislators and the White House understand that this kind of restrictive export law simply handicaps US researchers and corporations? Competitors from other nations such as India and Russia get a significant advantage over their opposite numbers in the, er, Land of the Free.

The rate at which a disease spreads through a corn field is a precise measurement of the speed of blight.