Episode 13 – 11th December 2009

[Direct MP3 Link]

Special Extended Episode!
Libel Reform Campaign launch (1:13) by Jack of Kent
Homeopathy Select Committees (9:26) by Martin Robbins
The future of NATO (16:24) by James O’Malley
Darwin’s Detractors (23:07) by Liz Lutgendorff
In defence of Bob Crow (27:38) by Pete Hague
Cult of the Phone Geek (34:00) by Gareth Buxton
People with colds (41:21) by Martyn Norris
The end of the World As We Know It (44:17) by George Poles

Follow-up links from the episode:

22 thoughts on “Episode 13 – 11th December 2009

  1. 1) I’ve been enjoying the Pod Delusion, but but the libel reform segment was just impossible to listen to. I know you’re working with limited time and technical resources, but it’s really offputting to have such poor quality audio in the podcast.
    2) I was dismayed by the segment on Bob Crow, or at least the part about the Swiss minaret ban. If this ban was about a rejection of an architectural feature, then we need to wonder why skyscrapers were not banned, nor church steeples. And just what is this minaret problem anyway? How many minareted mosques being built in Switzerland anyway? It is just plain bad faith to say that since mosques and Muslim houses of worship are not being banned, everything is OK. This is clearly religious discrimination that believers in religious freedom need to combat. And as to the statement that the 57% in favor of the ban among the 53% of voters who came to the poll didn’t really mean it, and that they wouldn’t think of actually stopping someone from building a minaret, that is again totally bad faith: no one has to physically stop anything, least of all these voters, since they have APPROVED A BAN ON MINARETS. When you have a legal ban, you have government authorities, the police, the army to do your dirty work. No upstanding Swiss citizen will need to bother attacking a minaret with a pickaxe.

  2. Glad you’ve been enjoying the show, Marc. Audio quality is a constant challenge with the nature of how the show is put together – it’s a balancing act between ensuring we can get the best contributions against the technical considerations that we need to take into account.

    Word on the street is that Jack of Kent has bought a new microphone since recording this piece though – so his next contribution will be easier on the ears.

  3. Marc,

    I very much agree with you about the minarets. There are, I understand, a total of four minarets in Switzerland. It seems fairly clear to me that this isn’t about architectural merits but about fear of Islam and old-fashioned racism.

    I’ve found it particularly instructive to hear the soi-disant libertarians – you know, the ones who want a small state that’s just there to protect property rights – rallying to support the state restricting property rights when Islam is involved. All a bit depressing.

  4. I thought that it was a shame that ‘Jack of Kent’ had poor audio, but I know from his twitter feed that he had a real challenge of getting it out. Most importantly, the words were powerful and made sense.

    I felt that the Bob Crow piece missed the point spectacularly, but Pete (who I’ve never met/talked to) and I would probably have to argue about that one. He never comes across as someone I would want to spend some time with, and I grew up on a council estate and am only the second person in my whole family to go to university. But presumably that extra education makes me one of the snobs…

    Many union leaders are so far out of touch with their membership base it’s unreal. My father has been a union member since he started work and will tell you this. They are more worried about their own political career.

    Bob Crow earnt over £90,000 last year, not including pension contributions and expenses. That’s more than an MP. Yet he pontificates constantly about the upper class.

    OK, you might say, it’s not all about the wage of the union leader, it’s about the average wage of the members of the union.

    Fair enough, so what’s the average wage of a tube driver? If you think they’re low paid, think again. How does £40,000 strike you? (sorry for the pun there).

    Surprised? Just look it up. Both Bob Crow’s pay and London Underground workers’ pay is out there in the public domain. And it’s more than teachers, nurses, paramedics etc. etc. etc.

    Plus holiday, retirement at 60, regular working week etc.

    And they still want above inflation increases?

    THAT’S why Bob Crow is a figure of hate. Not necessarily because of his ideology. And if you disagree with him, he and others will tell you that it’s just because you’re an educated elitist (as shown by him when he tried sparing with Ian Hislop).

  5. Oh, and incidentally Righteous Indignation had a very good discussion on minarets the other week. I agree that there are other ways to show your disagreement with religious buildings, and banning them isn’t the way forward.

    If you ban them, you should ban all obvious symbols of religion on buildings, and not just those from a certain faith. It sends out a very concerning message.

  6. Not sure about Bob Crow personally but in defence of 40 grand for driving a tube train… I think there is a compelling argument about having the emotional burden of passenger safety and all that, especially given the high number of suicides on the tube and being willing to put up with that distressing probability.

    Whether that’s worth 40 grand though I don’t know…

  7. It is of course hard to compare like for like, but in terms of human suffering, compared to a nurse and paramedic? I honestly feel sorry for them, I’ve been the first aider on site when somebody practically died in my arms due to a stroke (although obviously they weren’t pronounced dead on the scene) and it does stay with you for a while. I’m sure that it’s horrific to watch someone commit suicide. But I’m sure that many others in other professions see trauma every day, just a couple of times in their career.

    And don’t forget that the figure I quoted there is a starting salary. Emergency services start on a lot lot less….

  8. Not sure what I think about Bob Crow. Unboxing videos are totally moronic though. I really wish someone would make an unboxing video which would consist of a geeky person opening up the box of a gadget only to find a giant piece of poo or a few bloody fingers or maybe some anthrax. Sort of a horror movie unboxing video. I’d do it myself, but I’m lazy. So, someone else needs to do it, okay?

  9. When I went to a recording of the Guardian’s Media Talk Live, and saw Scoble in the flesh I thought he was some cool, technologist who I should want to be.

    Now seeing that photo I wonder if I’m the cool one, out of the two of us…

  10. I tend to agree with the criticism regarding JoK’s report – it just wasn’t good enough audio quality to start the podcast, and I couldn’t really listen to it. If we’re going to include that sort of standard again, I’d recommend putting it at the end with an announcement beforehand “apologies for the sound”. Putting it at the start may have put a lot of people off continuing with the subsequent pieces, and to be honest with the amount of submissions we have there’s no need for it. JoK’s contributions will be great, once he can get a handle on the technical side of things.

  11. I don’t think that £40,000 is too much for a tube train driver, I think that less than £40,000 is too little for people like nurses and teachers (such as my wife). And as for the accusation that the particular union in question is ‘out of touch’ with its base, that doesn’t seem to fit with the face its base has nearly doubled under Mr. Crow.

    The only things he was booed and ripped on for on HIGNFY, and the only reasons given in these comments for ‘hating’ him, are that he appears to do his job well. So essentially, you are attacking the concept of organised labour and not the man who is implementing it. This is a bit surprising for the audience of this podcast (who are generally, I’m told, leaning to the left).

    I’m also surprised to be described as a ‘libertarian’ and being accused of being a snob (I came from a council estate as well). Regarding the minaret issue, I can’t help but think it would be a total non-issue if minarets were not religious structures. How would you feel if the Tory party erected towers with loudspeakers broadcasting their ideology all the time?

    I realised when I made the piece I might touch a few nerves, but I think that elitism is a real problem, and the reason why, despite the spectacular failure of our government with regard to the war in Iraq, and the economy, there hasn’t been a mass movement against them. There were a couple of protests by the regular lot, but most of the population just shrugged, because the people who go to marches in London are totally alien to them.

  12. I should start by saying thank you to all of The Pod Delusion’s contributors – the podcast truly is packed full of interesting things. It is probably a sad measure of me that the first section to move me to comment was one that I disagree with!

    I realise that I’m probably in a minority within the skeptical community being a fan of free markets but I find it a little strange given that mainstream economics is a broad follower of the scientific method – if not quite so mature as traditional science.

    I agree with Pete to the extent that Bob Crow is disliked because he is good at his job – or at least he appears to be. The problem I have with Trade Unions is that they don’t fight for the rights of ‘the workers’ they protect the few; and they largely do this by holding employers to ransom.

    In a healthy labour market there is no need for unions because employers have to compete to recruit the best workers and theories like efficiency wages state that employers should pay above the market wage especially where it is difficult to monitor employees.

    By demanding higher wages Trade Unions choke off recruitment at best, and worst actively cause unemployment, all under the auspices of protecting the worker.

    Take for example the London Bus strikes headed by Unite – for a professional driver in London there are a plethora of potential jobs, even for a bus driver there are a choice of 8 different companies. The Union led strike action for a centrally bargained wage because of the discovery that wages varied (quite widely) among the bus companies. Why would a driver work for company X paying less than company Y? Maybe company Y have less favourable conditions, company X more convenient or provide better training opportunities. The central point is that why do the union want to bargain a central wage? For the benefit of the workers? They could work for the better paying companies now if they wanted (and crucially if they were recruiting) but they chose not to. The union aren’t fighting for the workers they are attempting to justify their own existence.

  13. I would imagine most skeptics do support free markets. Assuming they pay tax etc.

    Central pay bargaining is good for employers essential but low skill labour. Otherwise they would have to risk paying market prices that are unpredictable. For cheap mass labour you obviously don’t want unions to drive up prices – for a low number of high skilled jobs you bargain per person.

  14. Mich, like you say, in a health labour market and in theory, free markets work fine. Trouble occurs once you translate abstract numbers on a spreadsheet into the real world and they become people.

    If there were no jobs in Liverpool but tonnes in London, free markets would dictate that people move to London – though this in reality obviously isn’t practical for real people with social/familial/etc ties, not to mention the sheer logistical difficulties and all that.

    Without unions it’d be a ‘race to the bottom’ as companies can slash wages – indeed, the fact we have unions is to maintain a standard of living for it’s members by standing up to the few in power (indeed, its curious how you characterise the people in unions as the few…). This is already happening in an international context as we see corporations move around the world to produce goods at the cheapest possible price, with no accounting for basic human rights and standards of living.

    Also worth bearing in mind, for lower-skilled jobs especially, the work is commoditised in that you don’t need a PhD in astrophysics to work a checkout in a supermarket – the only thing that’s keeping employees working and paid to a decent standard of living is the unions – without them it’d be easy to replace people at the drop of the hat and employ even lower paid people instead.

    Obviously I’ve no real idea how this applies to the Tube, though.

  15. I should think that the dismal failure of the financial sector would’ve made any skeptic scoff at the notion that the ‘market’ will sort things out if you just leave it be, just as they would scoff at the notion that ‘god’ will make everything turn out alright. And as for economists following the scientific method; that is a bit of a funny notion to a scientist. The complete failure by mainstream economics to see the current crisis coming has not resulted in a mass migration away from mainstream economics, merely a temporary diversion into Keynesianism for bankers and then pretty much back to business as usually with their old schools of thought. If some object blew past the Earth faster than the speed of light, contravening relativity, physicists would not react in this way. Once the reality of a situation that contravened their theories was confirmed, they would never go back to them.

    And DE, the “cheap mass labour” you refer to are human beings, and if you address them as such then you are unlikely to get support from them for any of your positions on either politics of skepticism.

    Regarding what people are ‘worth’ in their workplace, I’ve seen this report recently that should be of interest: http://www.neweconomics.org/publications/bit-rich

  16. Re Bob Crow, look, I’m fine with people wanting to join unions to keep dodgy employment practices in check, but Bob Crow can disrupt the lives and economic activity of, what, 10 million people? And does so.

    Underground drivers earn £40k, get 43 days’ holiday and 100% pension at age 60. And then they go on strike for better conditions? That to me looks like taking unfair advantage of Londoners, and Bob Crow deserved the ribbing he got on HIGNFY.

  17. Alan, why do you begrudge what Tube drivers get rather than ask why other professions who serve the public (teachers and nurses have been mentioned as good examples) don’t get the same?

    A further question to ask is why does it appear necessary to be able to disrupt millions of peoples lives in order to get decent working conditions?

  18. I would like to apologise for the poor sound quality of my item: entirely my fault. I had never done a podcast before and I understimated what was involved.

    It was very kind of James to use my item, and it was all rather last-minute.

    Had it not been for the iminent launch of the libel reform campaign, I am sure he would not have used it. I am very grateful for his flexibilty on this.

    It is a real pity it did not work out as one would have hoped.

    Again, very sorry.

    Best wishes, Jack

  19. Many of the issues uncovered by the miners strike do sometimes re-emerge today. In the 80’s, as the standard of living rose, sending men (aka cheap mass labour) down mineshafts to collect fossil fuel was not profitable.

    On reflection, that was a good thing. Like stopping sending small boys down chimneys was a good thing. But due to some of the byproducts of socialism (class struggle) miners connected their way of life with their jobs and fought the closures.

    Tube drivers are doing it the right way around. They will only do their job for more money, and good conditions. They don’t want their kids to do the same labour. Eventually they will get replaced by the next level of Eastern Europeans before the whole of the tube is automated. I’m sure Bob Crow recognises this – and it is not his fault that London transport is so poorly run it is easy to hold it to ransom.

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