Archive for August, 2009

Zeitgeist! What an entertaining load of …

August 12, 2009

Warren! This is for you, because I’m sick with flu and have nothing better to do today and I’ve had this conversation one too many times.

Let me start by saying the show is very entertaining viewing. In fact I highly recommend everyone gets it out and watches it with friends and pizza… provided you can take almost all of it with a pinch of salt. It gives you that feeling of -all the dots are connected man- running up and down your spine. I briefly looked for a decent commentary of it on the net (so I wouldn’t have to write one) but most of the decent detractors out there seem to use an argument of “if you have common sense, you know it’s BS”. That’s not helpful for people who want to know why. The problem is that it takes a lot of work to explain why it’s BS in full. Like the Myth Busters episode debunking the moon landing nay-sayers (a great show!), it took a lot of work to go through each claim to show why we actually DID land on the moon. However, I’ll give a stab at some of the points. Not all of them… I have a life.

It’s been said that a lie is more dangerous depending on the amount of truth it contains. There are three major claims if I remember correctly. One, that all the major religions share the same story based on the pagan astrology. That 911 is a government created conspiracy. Lastly, the conspiracy that central bankers and politicians cause all the wars for profit and oil.

I’ll start with the most ridiculous claim, that 911 is a conspiracy. More specifically that some large secret organization was responsible for collapsing the world trade centres and that it wasn’t the airliners crashing into them. I’ve worked for some time in the VFX industry in London on movies with a fair number of explosions (Poseidon, Kingdom of Heaven, Harry Potter), admittedly on the CG side of things but I know how much time/effort (months/years) and planning the pyro guys take to prepare for much much simpler drops. Now if you’re talking about having demolitions specialists drop the World Trade Centre (THE BIGGEST DROP IN HISTORY) there would only be a very short list of companies with enough experience to tackle such a project. So the creators want us to suspend disbelief that not only was such a group of people found, but they were acquired to perform this drop despite moral misgivings, all keep quiet about it, prepare for it all without twin tower workers suspecting, perform it on not one but two buildings! And sync the drops with just after two airliners had hit the buildings to give them credibility. And lastly (phew) ensure that all the charges and triggers laid would go off exactly as planned despite the disruption that airliners hitting the building would cause? Sure, I have no problem believing this theory 😉

A much less theoretical approach to dismiss this is to tackle the claim proposed by a so called “expert” that there is no way a building like that can cascade collapse due to a fire caused by airline fuel. To see this as bogus, it’s worth looking at the collapse of a much smaller building, a faculty of Architecture in the Netherlands. Here a simple fire started by a fault in a coffee machine which spread throughout the building and eventually caused it’s demise in a very similar fashion. In this case the fire wasn’t as equally concentrated because there was no aid of jet fuel and the building wasn’t as top heavy, and yet still similar results are seen. You can click on the video here on youtube. Also the claim that lower floors are seen shattering before the building had reached them could be explained by the centre of the building collapsing faster than the exterior, causing pressure to explode out the windows… but hey… I’m no expert.

The claim about the religions being simplistic folk tales is not one that I really want to bash… because I agree with it. Even still, anyone critical can’t buy in to the extent of the conclusions that they draw. Never mind that the difference between -sun- and -son- only works in the English language, which wasn’t the language of Christ. They go through fact by fact from messiahs in various religions showing how the data is EXACTLY THE SAME. A simple follow up of Horus on wikipedia shows that he was principally the sky god and a sun god in as much as the sky contains both the sun and the moon. There are also many other sun gods in the Egyptian religion. If he was of a virgin birth, it was a bizarre one. Two female gods ‘merged’ together and out he came… whatever that means (ask an Egyptian). Feel free to look up the deities in other religions but the point is that the creators of the film cherry pick facts and twist them to suit their argument so it seems the details are identical. I think the theme is right, but it is not nearly as awe-inspiring as they would have you believe. I know my religious friends will hate me for saying this.

The most dangerous claim is the one about bankers. Hey… having switched industries I now work at Allan Gray, an investment bank, so obviously you can’t believe what I’m going to write because I’m technically a banker. Haha. Let me just state that the views stated on this blog are my own and in no way reflect the views of my employer. The claims are dangerous because they are mixed up in a lot of truth. If you are looking for a more rational conspiracy theory about the Federal Reserve then check out this podcast interviewing Edward Griffith, the author of “The creature from Jekyll Island” about the creation of the Fed. It’s at least a much more measured conspiracy theory, but at least goes to show how complex financial situations are and that to say that wars are created by bankers is far fetched. Even this however is far too conspiratorial, but I’ve already listed my complaints about that interview in a previous separate blog post. The bottom line is that central banks can do a lot of damage and a lot of good, and anything futher than that has yet to be properly resolved. It is particularly relevant for the current crisis and we’re all waiting to see what changes are in the pipeline if any.

In conclusion. Zeitgeist gives us the illusion that big brother is out there, the world is not what it seems and there is indeed a target that we can blame for all our troubles and misfortunes. The idea that “we now know the REAL story” is an incredibly empowering feeling. It is much less satisfactory to delve into the complexities of the world and find that our misfortunes are the results of complex ever changing scenarios which tend not to be clear cut nor someone’s fault specifically. Definitely not the witch-hunt that Zeitgeist claims. Zeitgeist’s simplistic point of view of stories that are easily digestible ultimately shares a lot of parallels with the way it describes the dogma of the major religions.

People that have invested too much in these concepts are likely to retort “But the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist”. I read this as saying that a world without the stories of good and evil is a much sadder ordinary world and people are simply not ready to believe it.

Apologies for spelling and grammar. I simply don’t care too much.

Vouchers and Medical Aid

August 12, 2009

I was watching family friend and South African talk show host Judge Dennis Davis on his show You be the Judge. The topic was about the free market vs government on service delivery. I came in late in the show so there may have been more discussed but really it looked like from where I was standing that the free market speaker was losing the debate. Quite simply he didn’t have good arguments which was a pity for the free market camp. Instead of accepting accusations that the free market allows for some powerful players to have disproportionate impact on consumers, but showing how this tends not to be a problem when there are lots of players in the market and the service delivery is still better on aggregate than government, he chose instead to deny the existence of this problem. This had the effect of making him look phony compared to the speakers arguing in favour of government intervention.

However the debate centred around the interesting problem of national health. Now I could site material that my dad told me about showing how life expectancy in the US on terminal diseases was better than that of the UK NHS but I won’t. It’s a mute point as France has come out tops in health ratings by a number of studies over recent years. France has had private doctors but public health care (and public hospitals for doctors to operate in) for all citizens, although there is some evidence that is not financially sustainable. The sustainability can be left for a different debate.

To the pro government speaker’s credit, he didn’t mention whether he wanted state provided health or state funded health (not that I saw anyway). We’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he was only proposing state funded health like France and not like Britain. Now his argument can be put as follows “Even if a government solution provides better health care for the people than a private one, players in South Africa like the company Discovery health insurance will fight against such proposals by scaring patients with marketing claims of how they will be left destitute and lobbying against proposed bills to make sure they aren’t passed”. I personally don’t think Discovery has that much power … but again that’s not the point.

The point is I started wondering if there wasn’t a solution that would work for both debaters. My dad had always told me about the benefits of a voucher system for education, and so successful they are in countries like Sweden that despite it’s more socialist attitudes can’t do anything to remove it. Could the same system not be used for medical aid?

It seems so simple that I couldn’t believe that no-one else had thought of it. I did a brief search in google but found only rru.worldbank.org/Documents/PublicPolicyJournal/243Sandi-042302.pdf describing how the voucher system lowered the emotional transaction cost of providing health at clinics in a poor country case study. Not the same thing.

So this is how it would work. The country would offer medical aid vouchers to all citizens at a particular value defined by the budget to give whatever health standard the government could afford to pay from taxes for the entire population. These vouchers would only be redeemable from registered health insurance firms. The government would also create and maintain a default insurer similar to France with policies on what they are and not prepared to cover for that amount for equal cover for all citizens. This is where it gets interesting. You would be able to move your voucher to any private insurer that you wished. The private insurers would have to offer a basic plan equal to that of the government one, BUT would give you the option of topping up the amount for more cover. The top up feature is unique to that of a voucher as opposed to pure public health which doesn’t offer better service even if you’re prepared to pay for it. See more about the advantages of that on education vouchers on wikipedia. Also by empowering the population with vouchers, it gives people the power to decide which insurer they are going to move their account to, which improves service delivery. Discovery might actually make more money under such a system as they would potentially have revenue from the budget assuming they delivered a good service. Everybody wins!

There are other details that need ironing out like insolvency of firms and past payments, and moving people back to the default insurer, but all these issues can be sorted out. I think that such a system would improve the lifes of all. Is it likely to happen? You’d need some serious visionaries in power to suggest and implement such a system, so I’m not hopeful.