Sunday, September 27, 2009

Richard Dawkins - Doing God's Work

It is Sunday evening and it seems appropriate that I am finishing the day reading Richard Dawkins' wonderful book on evolution - The Greatest Show on Earth. Dawkins finds it necessary to do battle from time to time with the fools who deny one of the greatest achievements of human inquiry - that of understanding how we evolved to have brains large enough to ponder this very question. To illustrate what he is up against in these anti-knowledge nuts, I will quote an anecdote from the book.

"My colleague Dr John Endler, [who] recently moved from North America to the University of Exeter, told me the following marvellous - well, also depressing - story. He was travelling on a domestic flight in the United States, and the passenger in the next seat made conversation by asking him what he did. Endler replied that he was a professor of biology, doing research on wild guppy populations in Trinidad. The man became increasingly interested in the research and asked many questions. Intrigued by the elegance of the theory that seemed to underlie the experiments, he asked Endler what that theory was, and who originated it. Only then did Dr Endler drop what he correctly guessed would be his bombshell: 'It's called Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection!' The man's whole demeanour instantly changed. His face went red; abruptly, he turned away, refused to speak further and terminated what had hitherto been an amiable conversation."

This shows the close-mindedness of those who blindly maintain their belief in the ancient myth of creation when confronted with the overwhelming modern scientific evidence for evolution. I think the most interesting thing about such blinkered thinking is the obvious fragility of the person's religious faith. Surely, if their faith was solid, they would welcome the ability to test it against the scientific evidence and not turn away from the debate?

Ironically, Dawkins is surely doing God's work - if there is a God. Ask yourself whether, if you assume that a supreme being exists, He would rather have His most intelligent biological creations sitting around blindly mouthing obsequious platitudes to Him (i.e. praying) or using that great brain He gave them to understand the true wonder of what He has accomplished. I'm pretty sure He would be handing out points to those like Dawkins, who honour Him by using their gift of intelligence, rather than those who shut down their brains when presented with the overwhelming scientific evidence. If heaven exists, then I'm sure St Peter will usher Dawkins to the very front of the queue!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Credit Where Credit is Due

Anyone who has read my older blogs, and friends who have heard me ranting, will know that I am no fan of the New Zealand news media. In fact that is an understatement and just to avoid doubt, let me reiterate - I think the NZ news media is the worst in the Western world. Our broadsheet newspapers are pretentious versions of English tabloids, our television news reports are infantile and our radio station hosts are poor imitations of American shockjocks (and the worst is National Radio, which is simply talkback for the liberal left intelligentsia).

However, giving credit where credit is due, this afternoon I heard an interview that was the exception to the rule. Maggie Barry's interview of Michael Bain, brother of Robin and uncle to David, on Radio Live was superb. She asked all the hard questions such as, why go public now (is it because David is about to seek the return of the estate in court) and why does he have so much faith in his brother's innocence when he had only seen Robin three times in the last 25 years? What's more, she did it without interrupting all the time and being otherwise offensive to the interviewee.

The interview made me remember what a great current affairs journalist Maggie was before she was put out to pasture as a gardening programme host. Around the same time, we had another great journalist and interviewer in Lindsay Perigo. The amazing thing about Perigo was that no one knew he held rabid right wing political views until after he retired as a political journalist. These days no one is in any doubt of the political persuasion of most NZ news media people (witness John Campbell, who was disgracefully sycophantic towards Helen Clark in his pre-election coverage last year).

Bravo, Maggie Barry. The country desperately needs more of your kind in the media.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The ‘H’ Debacle – Where Will it End?

So the bureaucrats of the NZ Geographic Board have, entirely predictably, decided to change the name of the city of Wanganui. Never mind that the residents of Wanganui overwhelmingly don’t want it changed and the historical case for change is, at best, speculative. They’ve done the politically correct thing and will ensure the city and its businesses incur hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in cost changing everything from street signs to letterheads.

So what is next? Will Petone have to be changed to “Pito-one”, Porirua to “Pari-rua”, and Otago to “Otakou”?

The Maori language is not immutable. Maori themselves have adapted their language to modern times, adding a huge number of new words to the language (such as “kawhe” for coffee) and adapting others where necessary. They have adapted many English words and names for their own use (as such “Poneke” for Port Nicholson). And it is not as if Maori, particularly young Maori, are paragons of usage and pronunciation when it comes to English (yes, it’s “youse bros” I’m talking about).

So, it is a little rich when they come over all indignant and high-handed about a Maori place name has changed marginally over time through common usage, which may be the case with Wanganui (or it simply may be, as I have heard at least one Maori language scholar state, that the word was always pronounced with a “w” sound, not a “wh”).

As other bloggers have been quick to point out, there are far more important problems for Maori to be concerned about such as family violence, criminal offending rates, health and educational achievement.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Yet more taxes

I see the NZ Labour Party is saying they will support the National Government in introducing capital gains tax on property ( That's just what this country needs - yet more taxes!

The thing that amazes me about New Zealand is the way the politicians and media seem to have this impression that there are all these 'rich' people out there living off the pig's back who are capable of paying more taxes.

Let's examine one of these so-called rich people. Charlie works in a middle management role in a bank to support his wife and two children. He earns $100K before tax. He will be paying about $30K in tax and ACC levies, which leaves him with about $70K or $1,400 a week. That sounds like a lot of money but let's look at his expenses:

- $500/week goes to pay his mortgage on the relatively modest villa he and his wife are doing up in the weekends
- $100/week goes to pay the rates and insurance on the villa
- $150/week goes on the energy to heat and light the villa (actually this is low, given the price gouging by the Gov't-owned energy companies)
- $100/week goes on petrol for his (modest) car
- $400/week goes on groceries (again a low estimate for a family of four)
- $50/week goes on a myriad of other Government charges such as motor vehicle registration, 'voluntary' school fees, passport fees, etc.

What does that leave our rich man? $100/week to cover everything else:
- Clothing
- Entertainment
- Furnishings
- Arts/cultural interests
- Sports
- etc.

Of course, on most of the above, the Government takes one-ninth in GST. And the Labour Party want to hit him with more taxes? To fund what? Oh yes, to fund their new Ministry of Social Inclusion! WTF?