Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The things Clinton did not say

A measured response to Hilary Clinton's speech from Michael Tomaskey at 'The Guardian':

Copyright © 2006-2008 Shane McLoughlin. This article may not be resold or redistributed without prior written permission.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Chinese Games: Overall opinion and analysis

You've got to give it to the Chinese, they know how to put on a show!! A spectacular opening ceremony and equally dazzling and epic closing ceremony wowed China and the World. Overseen by renowned director 'Zhang Yimou'; an 'artful','grand' and 'unparalleled' display captivated its audience, China's spectacle clearly signified the ambitions of a nation.

The ceremonies and the buildings showcased the heights of human capacity as well as the level of sophistication with which technology has reached in the 21st century. But in all of this dazzle, we must ask the question; can we separate art and the aesthetic from the moral? Many commentators on the 21st Century have noted how we live in an increasingly schizophrenic world, is this such an example? Can we appreciate the 'esthetic' knowing the circumstances from which it arrose? or should be shun this spectacle, and cynically denigrate this episode of human history? Thus, how should we think about the games?

The Chinese Olympics passed flawlessly thanks to; human rights abuses, the brute willpower and (what seemed like) unlimited financial means of an authoritarian state. Protests around the world ensued prior to and during the games commencement; the argument being that the Olympic Games and its audience had served to legitimise for China the means through which these games came to fruition, as well as the climate from which these games took place. This being a sad case of the end justifying the means. How could we celebrate these games and its grand ceremonies, when to do so; we vindicate, commend and at best only admonish the Chinese State; in turn fueling the internal propaganda accompanying the spectacle and strengthening it's 'Raison d'ĂȘtre'? Was there a better alternative? Perhaps to Shun the games in protest?

Here are some points for consideration:

In the past I've worked with a number of Chinese people and was always struck by the enthusiasm and conviction they displayed for their country, all seemingly assured that China would gain planetary hegemony in the years to come. Though we might argue in the west that such minds have fallen prey to repetitive propaganda and restrained freedoms relative to the west; we cannot ignore that a significant proportion of Chinese felt proud of their country and it's hosting of the games. As millions of Chinese lay glued to their TV, thousands upon thousands contributed to the organisation, performances and hosting in varying capacities. Though a top down approach, success resulted from the hard work of the Chinese people. Overall, it seems we have to acknowledge their allegiance and more significantly; we must acknowledge and commend the fruits of their labour (however misguided we feel they are).

We must also recognise there have been positive as well as the negative consequences for china. For example, Road, air transport and other infrastructures improved greatly for many parts of Beijing and beyond. World class sporting venues were erected of benefit to chinese athletics. The west learned more of China as China learned more of the West. Internet restrictions were laxed during the games in view of visiting journalists, though we must question whether this will last? The world drew focus on despicable human rights abuses in China, as well as ethnic divides among Han, Tibetan and Uyghur factions, will political good come of this? Up to 1.5 million Beijing citizens were evicted from their homes to facilitate construction, authorities initiated hidden and untold human rights abuses in Beijing to ensure the games were a success. Thousands of performers heavily drilled daily for up to 2 years in advance of the games, the mammoth cost of preparation being something they shall not easily forget. It is in times like these that the character of an authoritarian state is revealed to its citizens and to the rest of the world, we may feel saddened and helpless when it occurs but we can only but hope that change can result as a consequence. What seems clear is that we simply cannot predict or direct the unintended positive and negative outcomes which result from the Beijing games, whether the positive will outweigh the negative or vice-versa is a matter of time. To take an extreme and narrow view on this episode of history at this stage would be foolish and unwise.

Overall, what the West can do is to 'lead by example'. 'Acceptance' is key here. Let us acknowledge and commend the Beijing Games. That does 'not' mean we shouldn't cast a critical eye over precedings or that we should be affraid to issue deep concern and advice to the Chinese people; we simply need to work with the system as well as to challenge it. To do otherwise would fuel bitterness and anamosity towards the West from those who 'know no better'. We need to build bridges to affect change not direct distain and blanket criticism.

In all of this, an argument can be made that the games were a real triumph for sport itself. The world celebrating sport and prepared to dedicate so much time, energy and resources serves to emphasis that humanity can trump sport above economic considerations. China's economy wound down for the Olympic games as other values gained prominence. Though we must recognise the increasing economic ties and economic justification with hosting such games, the games and its athletes won the hearts and minds of countless million spectators. They provided 'in themselves' great joy for Chinese people and the world.

Given that I've explicated points for consideration in how we ought to think about the China games, lets return to and reiterate the central guiding question here; how can we appreciate art and the asthetic dimensions of life given the moral and cognitive dimensions to which they are bound? Paradoxically it seems, to dismiss the aesthetic dimension in such a case, 'is' to act schizophrenically. That is to say; to deny or paint our very senses, our innate appreciation for beauty; is to truly become internally turmoiled. It is in recognising our paradoxes that we reconcile our paradoxes. Our appreciation of art does not take away from our moral fibre or our reasoning. Let us feel one thing but to think and speak another, that is what it can be to be human afterall...

See article: 'China's Totalitarian Games' ;

See article; 'The price of the Chinese Olympic Games';,0,4466878.story

See article; 'Beijing Olympics London 2012 handover blow to British pride.' © 2006-2008 Shane McLoughlin. This article may not be resold or redistributed without prior written permission.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Free audio lectures download.

I came across this site several months ago and thought I'd share it! It's a site aggregator for recorded public affairs lectures. There are a few I've listened to thus far which are particularly appealing and which I'd recommend:
1. The Natural State.
2. The Stuff of Thought: Language as a window into human nature (Very funny too!!!)
3. Darwin Days 2008: Are We Changing Evolution?
4. We-Think: the power of mass creativity
5. The Logic of Life
6. The New Politics of Identity
7. Culture in a time of Waste

The site link follows :


Copyright © 2006-2008 Shane McLoughlin. This article may not be resold or redistributed without prior written permission.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Suggested reads: The Agile Gene

The Agile Gene: by Matt Rigley

I suggest anyone with particularly determist views about genes and DNA should carefully read this book. It serves as a compelling counterclaim to the ludicris notion that genes 'determine' your physical and in some ways mental makeup. Essentially the argument put forward in the book, 'The Agile Gene' is that your life, your environment; influence gene expression. Environment triggers active genotypes. Thus, your genes express and are an expression of your mind and environment. Whats interesting is that Rigley's thinking seems consistent with 'the santiago theory of cognition' proposed by Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela and the 'conceptual framework' for understanding life proposed by Fritjof Capra in the 'Web of Life'.

Copyright © 2006-2008 Shane McLoughlin. This article may not be resold or redistributed without prior written permission.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Smoking increases Stroke risk in women, analysis of news coverage!

Today, a flurry of news articles pick up on new research released which purports to 'show' smoking doubles stroke risk in young women, with heavy smokers nine times more at risk of stroke. This is just the latest in what seems like a bombardment of news reports on new research findings claiming to 'find this' or 'that'!

Certainly, as research studies on certain phenomena accumulate with peer 'overviews' undertaken; a better indication and understanding of 'causations' can come about. What's objectionable however, is the rush by news agencies to inadequately report on single research findings without providing accompanying limitations and critical analysis of such findings. Rarely do I see an adequate summary of the method used. The vast majority of readers are not trained in epistemology and the philosophy of science. Is it a case of news agencies (locked in an audience battle) wishing to overlook such realities in order to grab audience figures? Or it it just a case of scrappy and absent minded reporting? Take this latest research on smoking and stroke risk, out of several news articles published today (Reuters, efluxmedia, irishhealth etc), little to no proper analysis of the findings accompanied such research. Thus, here is my take on it:

It does seem compelling that smoking increases 'risk', we can point to the physiological changes such as those noted by Dr. David A. Meyerson from Johns Hopkins University Bayview Medical Center; "Smoking disrupts the cells lining the blood vessels. It increases blood fibrogen levels, which makes blood more likely to clot. It increases the stickiness of platelets, the cells that form blood clots, and it also decreases the body's natural clot-dissolving mechanism." (Meyerson, 2008)

But it is important to note, the research does not indicate whether smoking participants have similar diet and fitness levels to those who do not smoke. Thus, is the overall profile of smokers different to non-smokers? I suspect it could be! The research focuses on age and ethnicity but no other genetic/psycho/socio/environmental factors are mentioned in the reports which would play a role in risk assessment. Overall, the research may certainly indicate smoking increases 'risk', but figures such as 'double' or 'nine' times an increased risk of stroke; are ostensible at best.

For a research paper critically evaluating scientific claims, see

Copyright © 2006-2008 Shane McLoughlin. This article may not be resold or redistributed without prior written permission.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

How to rake a fortune, comment!

Clive Aslet concludes an interesting article in the Sunday Times Magazine with the words, ' Someone who can devise a crop yielding not only protein (to eat) but ethanol ( to drive the car) and fibre (to make your clothes) while requiring less nitrogen, phosphate and water to grow, will make a fortune. Oh, and save the world too' (Aslet, 2008)

What Aslet failed to consider is that such a crop already exists; Hemp!!

Stupid me!! I'm now realising Aslet was finishing the article with a rhetorical question!

Copyright © 2006-2008 Shane McLoughlin. This article may not be resold or redistributed without prior written permission.

Analysis of discussion on reintroducing third level fees!

Are we unduly focusing on Government funded education without positioning it amongst wider budgetary constraints?

The discussion on reintroducing third level fees has certainly begun. But has the debate gone wide enough? Are we unduly focusing in on third level education funding without orientating the debate amongst wider budgetary issues?

The discussion on reintroducing third level fees has certainly begun. Over the weekend, Noel Whelan of the Irish Times writes;

'It was also argued then and can be argued even more justifiably now that free third-level education is socially regressive because it requires all taxpayers to subsidise a level of educational attainment which by its very nature will always be enjoyed disproportionately by the wealthier classes'

Colm argued that third level education is disproportionately enjoyed by wealthier classes but we must acknowledge too they disproportionately fund education. Similarly Mark Coleman from the Independent laments that the present system unfairly favours the middle and wealthier classes.

'But the main indictment of abolishing fees was that it never achieved what it was supposed to -- getting young people from low- income backgrounds into college. Ten years after abolition, the profile of third-level students remains strongly middle class.' (Coleman, 2008)

Essentially, back in 1993, restructuring of third level funding away from individual college goers and their families towards the general taxation system took place. Thus now, education is funded through the myriad of taxation mechanisms aimed at individuals and businesses. The 1993 move by the labour party was welcomed as 'visionary' by some, both in terms of lessening the financial burden and additionally in terms of removing the associated psychological barriers which particularly affect lower income categories. It has been deemed a success abeit arguably at the cost of underfunded universities and colleges. Though underfunding can arguably prompt lean, more efficient operations (particularly in terms of bureaucracy), it has been argued that research departments and the standards of undergraduate education have suffered in Irish colleges. There remains, it seems, much room for streamlining and efficiency of Irish educational institutions.

Given recent focus on third level fees, the overriding question remains; how do we ensure optimal equality and access to high quality third level education at the least possible cost? At present, college/university funding largely entails a mixture of 'registration fees', 'local authority grants', government funding on fees, 'inflated' foreign student fees, as well as university fund-raising and philanthropy. From a pragmatic stance we must ask; whether the present system is the most efficent and equitable means of funding third level education? or should we seriously consider a move to individualisation (individualisation being a somewhat hidden political agenda of the FF/PD partnership over the past 10 years, 'indirect taxes' or 'stealth taxes' etc.)? It has been suggested that such a move could draw more money from those on the upper-middle to high income bracket, thus improving university funding and the funding of those from lower income categories. Such a move may entail directly seeking fees from families at a certain income threshold, or implementing a student loan system. Two examples of which include the UK and the Australian systems.

Reflecting on the situation in the UK, it seems to me that there is the real danger (given a move to individualisation) of manifesting new invisible inequalities on certain members classed as middle income households. For example, those classed as upper-middle income, but who possess little discretionary income, may become unfairly burdened by the move. We must also reflect on how the 'idea' or 'notion' of 'free third level education' affects teenagers envisioning further education? In otherwards, there is the suspicion that abolition of fees has eased associated psychological barriers, primarily entailing the pressure to commit to a career path and the financial burden attached. Thus, there is for some, a psychological barrier to entering third-level education attached to the individualisation of university funding. Little to no research exists which attempts to quantify and understand how abolition of fees affects entry levels, such insights should be welcomed prior to a move to fees.

We must also question the real benefit and added costs involved in implementing 'reform'. Colm Harmon, UCD professor of economics and director of the UCD Geary Research Institute, calculates at best raising 100 million from high earners paying fees. A real danger too is that, being a political move; the annual 2bn euro education budget may seriously diminish as a result, with perhaps no transparency in its reallocation. The government currently pays third level fees to the tune of 250 million. Thus, what guarantees do we have with regard to how savings made from the abolition of government funded fees are reallocated? Should we expect increased funding for primary/secondary level? In otherwards, emphasising the long term, will this money remain ring-fensed in education? The reality is that government coffers are being heavily squeezed with ongoing pressure for cuts and savings in all government departments as a result of the well acknowledged economic downturn. O'Keefe (who in some ways instigated a rather brilliant but hard-ball political move) may be rightly focusing national attention on education funding, but we must acknowledge that many government departments currently face funding pressures and shortfalls.

In sum, the debate concerning education needs to be orientated around government finances overall. Thus, if we wish to draw money from wealthier individuals and households in view of financial pressures coming from various government departments (not just education), should we not debate increasing the higher 41% tax band? increasing corporation taxes? Or considering 'individualisation' measures in the form of 'stealth taxes'? Should focus and emphasis not lie instead on stimulating the economy and developing strategies to ensure sound long term fundamentals and a desirable revenue stream? (thus, lowering instead of increasing taxes might be the appropriate policy) Would such measures better benefit education funding and other government funding requirements in the long run? Overall, it seems pertinent to question what are the alternatives to reintroducing fees, which can serve to avoid the political unpleasantaries for all involved?

Importantly, by instigating this debate, discussion on related issues has followed; such that granting better third level access to lower income and disadvantaged groups requires increased emphasis and funding for primary and secondary level education. Scrutiny of the efficency and operations of third level institutions has also resulted from ongoing dialogue.

Finally, the issue is not just one of pragmatics (which some would wish you to believe ) in terms of quantifiable access levels to education and reducing inequality. It is also one of 'percieved' and 'real'; flexibility, choice and freedom in ones education. It is also about theunquantifiable benefits to Irish society as a whole. O'Keefe rightly instigated a debate. Lets just hope such a debate is thourough, insightful and fruitful!

Copyright © 2006-2008 Shane McLoughlin. This article may not be resold or redistributed without prior written permission.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Food supply, energy and policy

Peter Baker over at the BBC's 'green'room, makes the argument that the sheer 'complexity' of global supply chains conflated with political policies, means we lose sight of the real value of food, it's calorific 'energy' content, as opposed its total energy cost of production, transporting, warehousing, storage and retailing etc. This point (he emphasises), is particularly relevant to 'how informed', trade policies are towards developing nations.

Examples he cites are that it takes 4 times the energy to produce a tomato in the US compared to its energy value. Or that the US dollar paid per amount of Nicaraguan coffee; does not compensate the energy cost of production and processing. Thus nicaraguans are 'subsidising the coffee' for export.

He concluded by emphasising the merits of locally produced and consumed foods, while lamenting the lack of data and metrics which make apparent the situation at present:

''We are intervening, politically and normatively, in very complex systems that we only partially understand. ' (Baker, 2008)

From my own research, I certainly agree with most of Peter's article, but his utilising of 'the second law of thermodynamics' unnecessarily confuses rather than crystallises his main points. The price consumers pay for food certainly reflects the added cost of production, storage, packaging, advertising, retailing etc (many of these entailing white collar 'informational' jobs). We can talk about the added energy all this brings, but is this fruitful? These are all jobs after all, eliminating the middle men has its consequences. Principly, let's not get overly distracted from the core issues; that of producers being given a 'fair' price for their goods, ensuring policies don't favour and subsidise mono-culture (and the associated 'chemical' and 'fertilising' industries), and ensuring bio-diversification by supporting small-scale farming industries and organic practices. Bakers emphasis on the true 'energy' costs of agriculture may well throw a negative light on monoculture, whilst raising awareness about the purity and nutritional value of food may favour organic. These are of course useful in informing policy though they may delay action. My point is that focusing on key policy principles may remedy many of the associated problems of 'energy' costs to which Baker refers. Getting bound up in the energy costs of food-supply can then be avoided.

The reality is that the value of food doesn't lie in its calories alone; it lies in the proportion of nutrients, minerals and compounds, its emotional value, its scarcity value, its shelf-life, its versatility, flexibility and utility in transport, storage, preparation and processing. Thus, the situation is unfathomably complex and it is doubtful that data or metrics could ever satisfactorily illuminate all that is involved (as Baker seems to suggest). Having more information about foods may not be better information. Instead, past experience, sound theory, principle and practice can aid in developing sound normative strategies for influencing the industry. Below I try to elucidate some of the contingencies absent from Bakers article:

The fact remains that current globalised agri-industry's (fertilisation and its synthesis, production, processing, warehousing, transport, retail etc) are inexobably bound up with fossil fuels. Understanding and decoupling this relationship is of key concern. Today, the cost per barrel currently hovers around $115. Projections on future price all point upwards(because of increased demand, peak oil etc.). Fossil fuels embody energy condensed over thousands of years and the price nowhere near reflects this embodied energy. Our way of life, our food supply, is being subsidised by 'ghost acreage' (past energy accumulations) which constantly diminish and become more cost prohibitive to extract (albeit rising prices have thus far opened up the viability of further extractions and alternative energy industries). We must acknowledge steps and adaptations to increasing energy prices: Options available for coping include; innovations and efficency gains in industry and associated relocalising and diversifying of food markets etc, switching to renewables as well as steps such as switching to organic farming practices. Realisically though, steps taken thus far fail to account for an ever rising global population and a concurrant appetite for western standards of living. Fossil fuels have allowed humanity to overshoot the planets carrying capacity and it remains unknown to what degree humanity can adapt.

With such pressures on global food supply, it is my view that we must throw caution and a critical eye to the prevalence and advocation of mono-culture (powered by a fossil fuel economy) and the push for genetically modified crops as a solution. Monoculture; the large scale 'rationalisation of food supply'; means farmers and consumers increasingly rely on key food stuffs and are thus sensitive (particularly in developing countries) to price fluctuations and shortages as a result of weather systems, commodity/future markets and energy prices etc. Monoculture quells biodiversity with associated ramifications. Monculture overly relies on artificial chemicals and fertilisation with uncalculatable hidden and externalised costs to the sanctity of the land, to biodiversity and to humans. Large scale food-production leaves populations susceptible to large scale contamination and disruption of food supply. Globalised food markets, commodity and future trading leave consumers and producers contingent to ever fluctuating global prices.

Similarly, genetically modified foods require extreme caution and temporal-restraint in their trial and implementation. We simply do not know the short-term and long-term effect on the bio-sphere and the impact on the 'web of life'. For example, GM crops 'designed' to grow 'bigger, 'faster' and more plentiful may do so at the expense of the integrity of the soil, plants don't grow in a vacuum!! In addition, we have already seen how corporations attempt to eliminate seeding of plants to leave farmers reliant on companies. There are additional concerns of the cross-contamination of GM crops into non-GM farms with inevitable patent issues and the farm->corporation reliance that ensues. Bio-diversification not monoculture brings resilience and sustainability of food supply. We simply must not be pushed by vested interests or those with incomplete knowledge, into believing Monoculture and GM crops are a large part of the solution to ensuring food supply. Policies which unnessicarily favour mono-culture and GM crops should be deeply questioned.

We must throw (what seems) positive light on the agri industry in terms of the manifold efficiency increases from reformed agricultural practices and new cultivated seed varieties. Innovation in agri-technology and practices as well as efficiencies in logistics, transport, warehousing and distribution of foodstuffs; have culminated in driving down prices and offsetting burdening oil prices. Related to this, is the move to renewable solar, wind and wave technology ( as well as nuclear); meaning we can make srides in replacing our dependance for fossil fuels which additionally helps curbs further increases in energy prices. At issue however, is that the present 'fossil fuelled' economy effectively subsidises the cost of researching and producing these renewables. Research illuminating the connection between fossil fuels and renewables is needed!

Paramount to all of this is 'truth' and 'price' in the market. To what degree does 'price' (undistorted by politics) in the market drive innovation and change in over food supply, farming practices and consumption? Does spiraling food prices drive diversity in food supply? Will increasing food prices drive change in lifestyles, behaviours and outlooks? For example; a rekindling of farm alotments in towns and cities, a curbing of excess food consumption, refocusing attention on the quality and sourcing of food etc. In otherwards, are we already moving to a situation where the 'truer' price of food (unsubsidised by cheap oil and regulated trade) is better reflected? The entanglement with food 'production' and energy prices has always existed in terms of fertilisation, machinery fuel costs etc. The entanglement though, look set to further increase with the advent of bio-fuels and energy price rises. Not only has farming land giving way to bio-fuel crops such as rape seed, palm oil etc. but crops such as wheat, corn and suger cane can now either be harvested for food or fuel. We must also emphasise how rising energy costs affects farming which relies on regular pesticide use, fertilisation and harvesting. This leads to the difficult question; how will increasing energy prices affect food production and food prices? Overall, to what degree will 'price' result in a restructuring of the market towards organic farming practices, bio-diversifiation and relocalisation of food supply? These are all questions which lack clear knowledge to date! I suppose though that rising prices favour a trend.

As already mentioned, 'efficiencies' and reform in the argi-sectors have made substantial differences to the 'cost' of food and the structure of the market. It is my belief that further efficiency gains and changes in practices will further restructure the industry. Information communication technologies (ICT's) have the potential to support and enhance small scale farming practices (including organic) in out-competing large scale mono-culture leading to sustainability of food supply and environment. A win-win, if you will!! Farmers with access to knowledge and assisted in connecting and communicating with other local farmers, producers and consumers; can enhanse bio-diversification and relocalisation of food supply. Small farmers who have easy access to up-to-date relevant information on market prices, long-range weather and product demand, as well as having access to knowledge repositories on relevant farming techniques, suitable crop varieties and the latest research; can flourish. ICT's importantly have the potential for farmers to better co-ordinate and communicate with local suppliers, retailers and consumers. 'Carrot' and 'Stick' policies which support small-scale food producers and artisans are needed in this regard.

As Baker argues, it may no longer make sense to simultaneously import and export high energy embodied food. I contend; policies which support biodiversification and small-scale farming are warranted, efficencies and reform in the agri-sector are ongoing and finally 'consumers', 'the market' and 'price'; invariably may help address disparities in 'energy' flows as they arrise.

For the full BBC article see:

Copyright © 2006-2008 Shane McLoughlin. This article may not be resold or redistributed without prior written permission.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Heat and humidity can 'clear the mind'?

A recent BBC article entitled; "Bejing heat 'could clear minds'", suggests that research shows higher humidity can result in athletes 'drawing' on mental 'reserves' allowing improved mental performance. In response, a more accurate conclusion may be that 'humidity' forces individuals to adapt by focusing and increasing concentration.

Take for example a recent small study into those who smoke 'weed' before driving. Here, it was found that performance did not diminish but improved primarily because the participating driver remarked that he concentrated and focused more to counteract the effect of the weed. So the weed forced a 'conscious' response as heat or humidity may force such a similar response. Alternatively, it could be argued that heat dampens one's full spectrum of consciousness leaving an individual with a more skewed or focused consciousness, which may be conducive to completing 'single' tasks or 'focused decision making' more successfully.

It must also be noted that if the 'two' hockey players were asked to complete tasks on a treadmill under normal conditions first, it could certainly have skewed results, as players would have been 'primed' to additional decision making when humidity was increased. In anycase, two players seems an extremely small number for testing and there would have to be shown a relatively high 'significant difference' in mental performance to validate results.

Thus, again we find research with knowledge 'claims' which require a degree of skeptisim, research that under testing appears to show two phenomena correlating, but whose explanation for such an 'observed' correlation requires reservation and further testing.

Full article at:

Copyright © 2006-2008 Shane McLoughlin. This article may not be resold or redistributed without prior written permission.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A response to Michael Caseys Article on Wealth and Values in the Irish Times.

Killing the myth that Ireland's wealth has poisoned its values - a response.

Michael Casey, a former chief economist today wrote an article in 'The Irish Times' entitled "Killing the myth that Ireland's wealth has poisoned its values" in which he attempting to dispel the 'myth' that wealth has poisoned Irish peoples values. In response, he is most certainly correct in believing that wealth cannot 'determine' a societies derision of values, but neglects to paint a clearer understanding of how wealth and values converge. In response, it could be argued that wealth opens the door to new 'negative' value thinking as it can close the door to others. Furthermore, as I will show, some of his own comments in the article require further careful consideration.

Firstly, in defence of Casey's belief that wealth and affluence does not deteriorate values, there is the argument of the rise of post-materialist values (the silent revolution) which has been popularised by Inglehart. It professes a transcendence of material values to that of more ethical and asesthetical values when material needs have been met or are not at issue. This would certainly throw positive light on the values of a wealthy, affluent Irish society. If material well-being is not an issue, other positive values can flourish. Unfortunately, one could argue that material values can be difficult to shake off or avoid, particularly for those who have made the 'transition' to wealthier circumstances. They can remain as a point of reference, a familiar habit, which doesn't necessarily diminish quickly. In addition, it can again be argued that material values are not in themselves illegitimate values, the issue again is the threat of their all pervasiveness. In anycase; material values exist regardless of social class to some degree.

Casey's deriding as (largely) nonsense those puritanical ideas, such that wealth creates commodification (leading to us valuing ourselves and others by what we have); requires further analyses. Casey, through the article, seems to rightly object to determinist thinking (and by use of the term 'puritanical', he also objects to 'blanketed' or 'extreme' outlooks). However, to present money as 'neutral' seems to miss the point that 'money' forces 'action' on the individual. Choices are never unlimited, some people can choose inaction as their response, for others, that choice may not have been 'learned' or may not be an 'option'. People are to some degree constrained by their past, in terms of their knowledge, their experiences, their 'worldview' or 'meta-narrative'. Thus, for some, 'wealth' becomes a causal link to a pervasive commodification of life and the tendency has been for class climbers to fall in this myopic trap. In sum, Casey rightly ojects to negative 'puritanical' outlooks on wealth and values but fails to stress that such concerns are legitimate, albeit overestimated to the extreme.

Of particular interest was his view that money 'doesn't change anybody: it allows people to express their individuality more fully.' Again, this requires further careful elaboration as Casey wrongly seems to imply that 'individuality' is a static entity. People have a tendency to adapt to their circumstance, their environment. Money, manifests a new set of circumstances for the individual and their prior 'self' influences (but does not determine) how they respond. In other words, 'money' may change the individual or it may not. Thus, suggesting as Casey does, that it is unlikely that money will change ones preferences and priorities; 'is' determinist thinking' and out of sync with his general argument.

His belief that a 'keeping up with the Jones' mentality, 'living beyond means', 'inconspicuous consumption', 'expenditure on appearance' and on designer goods; is but due to the speed with which one becomes affluent, seems to me to be an ill fit. Many of these trait are endemic at all societal classes and are a general feature of social life as a result of unshakeable stratification in various facets of life coupled with ones 'worldview'.

It seems to me that a more balanced analysis overall is that wealth can open the door to negative values as it closes the door to others. For example, it can open the door to new forms of hypocrisy and self-righteousness; for example those who can afford to live cleaner and greener lives make veritable but (overall) superficial changes to their lifestyle; such as buying organic and fair-trade though continuing to splurge on every other aspect of their life such as energy in heating and lighting of homes etc. At the same time, they may frown on those without the knowledge or capital to have the same choices. Indifference to the situation of individuals from poorer backgrounds is another poignant example. The standpoint epistemology (or outlook) of individuals from wealthy backgrounds ,means they may not possibly grasp, empathaise or understand the life path and situation of those from unprivileged backgrounds. The same is true at the opposite end of the spectrum.

In addition, Wealth may open the possibility for a pathological emphasis on vanity, status, material wealth. This is not to say that fashion, food and retail are not legitimate forms in the lifeworld, the issue is the all-pervasiveness with which they can take hold of the individual because of the increased availability, ease of consumption and greater pervasiveness of the market into the individuals life, particularly in the absence of little else. In otherwards, wealth can bring the market closer into the individuals life.

Overall, what Casey fails to explore in his article are the issues surrounding capitalism and of in-equality; the pervasiveness of capitalism into modern life (for example advertising, short life cycle of products, shopping as a pasttime) and the rising gap between rich and poor. In a meta-physical vacuum, individuals find meaning in the market and the values of the economic sphere, in science and its methodical reasoning away of the world. The economic sphere triumphs the assigning and 'exchanging' of differential value and worth above all else. The sciences triumph reductionist and narrow empirical based scientific results; attempting to find single causal explanations for everything. These spheres hold values other than love, giving, kindness, friendship as values in them selves. In a scientific-capitalist orientated society, wealth facilitates the integration of individuals into such a way of life. Wealth brings new possibilities and compels choices, not all these will be positive.

Related Link:

Copyright © 2006-2008 Shane McLoughlin. This article may not be resold or redistributed without prior written permission.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

ISP's partnering with advertisers, what are the issues?

A company called Phorm in alliance with several UK ISP's, has been put under scrutiny by the EU Information Society Commissoner over the legitimacy of tracking web users habits without their consent in order to tailor advertising.

It begs the question; how far are companies allowed to go in monitoring and accumulating user data in order to target users with tailored advertising. Also, to what degree should users be made aware and given choice?

The utilisation of users content and web habits in order to target advertising is nothing new:

1. Google's Gmail service made popular the tailoring of advertising based on customers email content, users must however grant permission for this to take place, by agreeing to the terms of use.

2. The use of third-party cookies by advertisers and associated websites is also nothing new, though legislation in the US, EU and elsewhere requires that users are made aware of what data is being sought and given the option to deny the cookie. This however, may be nothing other than a link to cookie policy on the page of websites. It doesnt necessarily require actively prompting users.

Pressure on ISP's to form partnership with such advertisers has been increasing as competition drives lower prices in the marketplace coupled with ISP's desire for maximum profitability. This is a legitimate economic activity in itself but conflicts with human values outside the economic sphere, values of choice, autonomy and privacy.

The issue here is about giving the consumers the necessary information and the choice of whether to opt into such a service. Not only (in my opinion) should users be alerted with information of which ISP's carry the service, but users should crucially be given a choice with each ISP ;of an opt in or opt out. This is a key point, because as more ISP's form such alliances and in rural areas where ISP's are limited; users may be left with little to no choice of whether to decide. Furthermore, as ISP's will argue that companies such as 'Phorm' subsidise ISP costs, scrutiny by telecom regulators will be crucial to ensure that the 'price difference' in opting out of tailered advertising is a fair reflection on the difference in ISP's profitiability. Again, the issue of choice crops up here as 'cost' may constrain consumer choice: Those of wealthier backgrounds will be able to choose where-as those of lesser financial circumstances may be constrained thus reinforcing stratification. Of course it is worth noting also, that how companies manage and utilise (for what purpose) user data is also of considerable concern here.

Finally, my last point brings us back to services like gmail. Should such companies like Gmail be additionally required to give users the choice of opting in to tailored advertising? as the same issue of choice becomes resonant here! Is this just a question of the need for 'media literacy' skills by adults and an ever younger online population? Ultimately, the issue is about enabling and increasing the capacity for action by individuals, not constraining it! Regulation that seeks to widen choice seems progress to me and this implies a role for governance and regulators as 'silent guardians' of the people! Agree?

For further details, see news article at:

Copyright © 2006-2009 Shane McLoughlin. This article may not be resold or redistributed without prior written permission.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

New research finds 'Soy' may halve sperm count, what are the possible implications?

New research published finds that even modest regular Soy consumption may half male sperm count. However, empirical evidence has yet to show any link between soy consumption and fertility rates. Thus, there has yet to be shown any negative impact on population as a result of widespread soy consumption. Specifically, research needs to be done into whether Asian men who eat significantly more soy based products are affected with higher infertility rates and whether population levels are affected.

This could become pivotal scientific research: firstly, because with widepread media coverage, it may harm the soy industry; curbing demand for soy and soy based products(though soy only reduces sperm count and does't cause infertility).

Secondly and more significantly, imagine the possibilities and implications of such research: For example, policies impacting developing countries could be influenced by such lines of research. Stabilising world population through favouring the production and distribution of soy products (or food stuffs with similar properties) could be envisioned by such policy makers for underdeveloped or developing countries. Are there other foods which adversely affect sperm count? Could such foods ethically be justified and promoted in developing countries where population growth is a problem? In otherwords, here is a clear example of research with unforeseen and possibly unenvisaged consequences. Can policy makers with an agenda remain uninfluenced when such knowledge comes their way? We are it seems, living in an increasingly complex and contingent 21st century, where the expanding 'production' of knowledge 'claims' requires evermore vigilance and cautiousness.

For a detailed news article, see:

Copyright © 2006-2009 Shane McLoughlin. This article may not be resold or redistributed without prior written permission.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Lidl calls Tesco product's 'Trash' in Ryanair style advertising blitz!

Over the weekend, Lidl 'Ireland' ramped up the ongoing 'battle of the supermarkets' with an explosive 'Ryanairesque' style advertising campaign entitled; "Don't spend your cash on trash", in direct response to Tesco's recent 'cash savers' campaign and promotions; which attempted to position Tesco products on a similar price footing to that of Lidl and Aldi. The campaign accuses Tesco of selling 'trash' food products, by likening the percentage of key ingredients of some Tesco products with that of Lidl. Lidl argument is that key ingredients such as pork content in sausage meat and fruit in Jams and conserves are noticably higher in Lidl products. Tesco had been attempted to compare 'like for like' its own product line in terms of price, with that of Lidl.
The question which needs to be asked is whether Lidl has severely overstepped the mark in terms of 'attention grabbing advertising' (pioneered in Ireland and elsewhere by 'Ryanair'), have standards in advertising been eroded? Furthermore, what are the implications and repercussions of calling food, 'Trash' being sold by Tesco and other supermarkets?

Certainly, Tesco can counter that regardless of the meat content in such products, they remain 'food' and not 'trash'. Furthermore, in many areas where Lidl and Aldi are not available, shoppers who can only afford to purchase Tesco 'cash saver' items, shouldn't be made to feel that they are buying 'trash' because they cannot afford sausage rolls that are 15% percent higher in meat content than that of similar products. (It is worth noting that even the 27% pork content in Lidl sausage rolls seems extremely low in anycase!) In addition, there is a noticable difference between meat which has (for example) been labeled 80% meat content with that being labeled 80% 'lean' meat content. In otherwords, from my experience; 'meat' can be anything from cartilage, grissle and tissue to animal fat. Thus, there is a separate yet related issue of the 'purity' of the ingredients used. Finally, by focusing on just one ingredient of a product and listing it as superior because of a higher percentage; Lidl is ignoring all other ingredients of a product such as the percentage and kinds of preservatives and flavour enhancers used etc.

Thus, the argument I am making is that Lidl's advertising campaign is crude, possibly disingenous and downright offensive to Tesco, its producers and the people who have no choice but to purchase them! What I would like to see is a supermarket war which focuses on the quality and 'goodness' of the products in their totality rather than on one key ingredient. Even then, I object to food being labeled 'trash' on the grounds of semantics, even though I recognise that some 'value' products are limited in terms of 'purity' and 'nutritional content'. Ultimately, do supermarkets really need to stoop to this level? Will this open the floodgates to supermarkets and companies accusing rivals of selling trash? Who knows, but the next 6 months may be an interesting time in the grocery retail sector if Lidl's campaign is anything to go by!

Copyright © 2006-2009 Shane McLoughlin. This article may not be resold or redistributed without prior written permission.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Breakthrough in creating cheap hyrogen using solar cell technology

See full article:

The technology crucially relies on the discovery of a catalyst which speeds up and makes more efficent the conversion of water to hydrogen from electricity. All thats needed now is the maturation of hygrogen fuel cell technology.

Whats promising about this new breakthrough technology is that it bypasses the need for storage of hydrogen, which has been a problematic and inefficent affair thus far.

UK deluded over carbon emissions

The UK has for many years prided itself on its progressive policies and economic climate which has been conducive to carbon emissions cuts. However 2 recent reports have highlighted how such claims are based on restrictive calculations and exclude some of the largest culprits of carbon emissions, namely Aviation and shipping.

In addition, the manufacturing sector in many western countries has declined in favour of importing from low-cost countries and thus carbon emissions arrising from such sectors has been 'exported'. At the same time there has been rising levels of consumption with shorter life cycle of products which have increasingly been imported. Because this increasing proportion of imported goods is not subject to carbon emissions calculations by the importer, WWF and others maintain that the present means for calculating a countries carbon emissions is disingenuous.

Overall it means countries such as the UK , who claim to have made significant progress since Kyoto have made nowhere near the total emissions reductions they claim. The UK only in March had reported a 2% reduction on the previous year, on track to meet its 12.5% reduction by 2012 on 1990 levels. It has been suggested that emissions should be calculated for goods based on the country of consumption rather than production and this would in many ways turn carbon emissions calculations on its head. Such thinking certainly have implications for any post-kyoto deal and could improve the situation for developing countries in terms of their responsibility for carbon emissions.

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