Sam Harris v Mandy De Waal

July 29, 2011

There seems to be a lot of Sam Harris bashing of late, and the latest example of this is Mandy De Waal’s “Islamophobia and Sam Harris’ tyranny of ‘reason’” in the Daily Maverick.

Sam Harris

Her article is, on the face of it, an attack on Harris’ anti-Islam stance, but a cursory analysis of the language she uses reveals that it is an attack on atheism and atheists in general. For example she says that Harris “intellectually clubs spiritual ‘gurus’ like Chopra, in much the same way fur hunters club baby seals.” Just to make sure we get the point that the spiritual and religious are cute and cuddly and atheists are filled with adamantine ruthlessness, she goes on in the following paragraph: “Intellectually clubbing seals is a practice fairly common among atheists”. She quotes Alister Mcgrath who called Richard Dawkins “Darwin’s Rottweiler”, promotes Harris’ atheism to a more general “misanthropy”, claims that Harris “grinds in the heel of hatred”, describes his followers as “rabid”, and his ideas are “hate speech”.
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Priests and Vampires

July 20, 2011

The Jasna Góra Catholic monastery near the town of Czȩstochowa in Poland is over six centuries old, having been founded by Pauline monks in 1382. It is the home of the famous Black Madonna, an icon credited with several alleged miracles. It is also the site of a conference of exorcists held every two years.

The Black Madonna

Exorcism is the driving out of so-called evil spirits by priests of the church. That there is no evidence whatsoever that these evil spirits exist is neither here nor there, they provide a ready excuse for a junket to Jasna Góra where, no doubt, the priests will partake lavishly of the excellent wines and delectable dishes of the region.
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Length of Life

July 13, 2011

There is a Spanish company called Life Length that claims to be able to conduct a test that will tell you how long you have to live. It measures the lengths of your telomeres, which are the end caps on your chromosomes that get shorter each time the cell divides until they disappear and the cell can divide no more. By measuring the ratio of short telomeres to the average telomere length, Life Length claim to be able to estimate how much time you have left. I am unable to give you more detail of how they work their wonders because their web site is so incompetently built that clicking a link just returns you to the links page, but should you wish to avail yourself of their service you will have to part with the trifling sum of €550.

Chromosomes (grey) with telomeres (white)


But why would you do that? The lengths of your telomeres cannot predict that you won’t die of heart disease, say, or economy class syndrome, or being hit on the head by a meteorite traveling at 12,000m/s, or even a bus moving at 20m/s. The main problem I have with this test is that it ignores all other factors that will play a part in determining when you are going to die. You can have telomeres the length of the great wall of China and it won’t deflect the executioner’s bullet, axe or needle one iota. So even after undergoing the tests you still won’t know what you wanted to find out. And why would you wish to find out? Will it make a huge difference to your life to know that you have a short or long time left to you? I would far prefer to be surprised when the grim reaper shows up.
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Women and Sick Leave

July 7, 2011

There has been a major brouhaha in New Zealand over the last couple of days over remarks made by the CEO of the Employers and Manufacturers Association, Alisdair Thompson. He cited sick leave as the reason for women being paid less than men.

Who takes the most sick leave? Women do, in general. Why? Because once a month they have sick problems. Not all of them, but some do. They have children that they have to take time off to go home and take leave of. Therefore it’s their productivity. It’s not their fault.

It wasn’t long before there was a paroxysm of outrage from feminists and Mr Thompson joined the ranks of the unemployed.

But was he right? Do women take more sick leave than men, and is it justifiable to pay them less than men for that reason?

Statistics are available for several countries, including New Zealand. Here are some of them:

  • In the New Zealand civil service in 2010 men took 6.8 days sick leave and women took 8.4 days on average.
  • In a 2004 survey in the UK, on any given day an average of 1.4% of men and 2.1% of women were on sick leave.
  • Swedish data indicate that women take about 1.5 days sick leave per quarter against 1 day for men.

So the statistics say that women are off work due to illness about 2 days per year more than men. Assuming that there are 200 working days per year these figures would justify a difference in salary of about 1%, not the 12% differential that actually prevails in New Zealand.

However, I don’t believe for a moment that the reason women are paid less has anything to do with sick leave, as Mr Thompson probably knows. The real reason is simply that women are prepared to work for less, and companies, as any wage slave knows, will pay the minimum amount possible to keep workers at their desks or machines.

Is it moral to discriminate against a group of people based on some statistical characteristic of that group? My every instinct says no, that people should be treated as unique individuals who should be judged on their own individual qualities. For example, some motor insurance premiums are higher for male drivers because statistically men have more accidents than women. I feel aggrieved because in the roughly four decades I have been a driver I have only claimed once, and that was because my car was kicked by a horse. I don’t hear mens’ liberationists (masculinists?) going into spittle-flying rages about this, or the CEOs of insurance companies being fired because of it.

But then it’s fine to be sexist provided you are a woman, and it’s OK to be a racist as long as you’re black.

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Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License

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