Just because I love pondering questions about personal responsibility, here’s the latest one that’s come to my attention. The Daily Telegraph has a report on an Earl, that is one those filthy rich heriditary nobles who make the U.K. look so anachronistic, who is being sued by his local council for having one million old tyres and over a thousand tonnes of shredded rubber on his land. The problem is that the tyres were dumped on the Earl’s lands without his knowledge or his permission. However, because the unscrupulous businessman who was responsible for dumping them and who has already been convicted and jailed for two months back in 2002 doesn’t have the money to properly dispose of the tyres, the local council is forcing the Earl to pay to clean the mess.
It seems that the tyres were dumped there quite a while back and the council issued an order back in 2004 to the Earl to dispose of them in an environmentally safe manner and the deadline was set for 2006. Since then, the Earl’s estate has managed to dispose of two thirds of the tyres at their cost but with over 350,000 old tyres on the property, the council has threatened to prosecute the Earl for not complying with its order. As you might expect, dealing with this much trash costs a considerable amount of money. While it is true that the Earl can afford it, should he bear that cost when he was not responsible for dumping the trash in the first place?
The article could do with some additional details but there seems to be plenty of blame to spread around and no easy answers. My gut instincts are that the council should pay the costs of cleaning up the tyres but should try to recover money from the parties actually responsible for creating the mess in the first place. Even if the actual businessman who dumped the tyres doesn’t have the money, it’s obvious that he was paid by someone to dispose of the tyres. It’s likely that he snagged the contract with an unrealistically low bid without having any intention to do the work in the proper way and the company or companies involved accepted his bid and paid the money just to make the problem go away. If this is the case, it might be possible to sue those companies for hiring an unlicensed contractor in the first place. If no money is forthcoming, then some jailtime, considerably more serious than a mere two months, might be in order for all those involved in the dumping.
Check out this story about a family in the United Kingdom with three generations of people who do not work, live in a government-owned house and live only on government benefits. Apparently, between the lot of them they manage to collect benefits worth 32,000 pounds a year, which is a very tidy sum by Malaysian standards. The worst part of all of it that they’re perfectly content to live like this for the rest of their lives and more disgustingly, believe that it is their right to live like this and it is the government’s responsibility to provide for them. And, by the way, they’d like the government to give them a 10-bedroom house too, because they think their current 3-bedroom house isn’t big enough.
Granted, this story was published in the Daily Mail, which isn’t exactly a paragon of journalism, but if the facts stated in it are broadly accurate, it’s a good example of why socialism is a bad idea. I’ve railed a bit here and there over the populist electoral promises made by the DAP. All too many people, it seems, believes that the proper role of government is to distribute largesse to the people who voted it in, but where does government revenue come from if not from the people themselves?
I’m a little slow on this issue but I felt that this article in the Asia Times is well worth pointing out. On February 7, Archbishop Rowan Williams, head of the Anglican church, made a speech in which he predicted that sharia law would inevitably be accepted in Great Britain. This article is one of many others written in protest against the speech.
There are plenty of reasons to be dismayed by the U.K. granting legal recognition to sharia law alongside with its own national laws including what many commentators have already described as a means of appeasing fundamentalist Muslims, even if it means sacrificing the liberal values that flow naturally from a recognition of universal and inviolable human rights.
Personally, I must also confess that I find the issue of sharia law itself uncomfortable. Inasmuch as sharia covers areas such as marriage, or food preparation standards or finance in which all of the participants voluntarily agree to have any disputes be arbitrated under it, I, of course, have no objections. But since sharia is supposed to apply to Muslims only, it seems more than a little unfair that Muslims who change their minds and renounce Islam find it hard to do so and hence are still subject to sharia against their will.
BBC News has an article on a ebook retelling of the classic “Three Little Pigs” children’s story meant for primary school children being turned down for a government award on the grounds that some might find it offensive. The judges thought that the ebook which was distributed on a CD-ROM might offend not only Muslims due to its use of pigs as characters but also construction labourers since, well, the pigs in the story build houses.
Needless to say, I find this to be an example of political correctness at its most ridiculous. Sometimes a pig is just a pig.
Now, I have long been nonplussed by Isaac’s Alchemical research, but as years have gone by I have perceived that he would achieve a similar triumph by finding a single common underlying explanation for phænomena that we think of as diverse, and unrelated: free will, God’s presence in the Universe, miracles, and the transmutation of chymical elements. Counched in the willfully obscure jargon of the Alchemists, this cause, or principle, or whatever one wants to call it, is known as the Philosopher’s Stone, or other terms such as the Philosophic Mercury, the Vital Agent, the Latent or Subtile Spirit, the Secret Fire, the Material Soul of Matter, the Invisible Habitant, the Body of Light, the Seed, the Seminal Virtue.
– Neal Stephenson in The System of the World
For a book written by Neal Stephenson, I had a hard time getting into Quicksilver, the first book of his Baroque Cycle. This is astonishing because of how much I enjoyed and how quickly I devoured his earlier books, Snow Crash and The Diamond Age. Quicksilver and its subsequent volumes The Confusion and The System of the World, appear at first glance to be a different beast entirely. For one thing, the events chronicled in the novel take place from roughly the middle of the 17th century to the beginning of the 18th century. For another, real historical figures from the period in question play a central role in the story and while most of the exploits described in the novel are fictional, they are skillfully interleaved with real historical events. For these reasons, ever since the publication of the first volume, debate has raged amongst fans and readers on whether or not it even constitutes science-fiction.
Continue reading Books: The Baroque Cycle
My success as a man of science, whatever this may have amounted to, has been determined, as far as I can judge, by complex and diversified mental qualities and conditions. Of these, the most important have been – the love of science – unbounded patience in long reflecting over any subject – industry in observing and collecting facts – and a fair share of invention as well as common sense. With such moderate abilities as I possess, it is truly surprising that I should have influenced to a considerable extent the belief of scientific men on some important points.
– Charles Darwin in The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Volume 1
His is a name taught in every elementary textbook on biology and for good reason. Creationists have ever been eager to pounce on the fact that Darwin was never the first to come up with the theory of evolution, and indeed it is well-known that his first public presentation of his ideas was shared with Alfred Russel Wallace who developed the same theory of natural selection independently of Darwin. Yet it was Wallace who wrote:
“We claim for Darwin that he is the Newton of natural history, and that, just so surely as that the discovery and demonstration by Newton of the law of gravitation established order in place of chaos and laid a sure foundation for all future study of the starry heavens, so surely has Darwin, by his discovery of the law of natural selection and his demonstration of the great principle of the preservation of useful variations in the struggle for life, not only thrown a flood of light on the process of development of the whole organic world, but also established a firm foundation for all future study of nature.”
Continue reading A Biography: Charles Darwin