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Last week I learned how to download podcasts to my mobile phone. It wasn’t that difficult: it just takes time to set up and download. I needed first of all to subscribe to the website RSS stream, then I had to download the MP3s to the computer and after that (whew) I had to use Nokia’s file download facility to transfer the stuff via a Bluetooth connection to the mobile phone.

The quality of the podcasts is very good. I was listening to the Skeptoid series on the phone while I was in London for a day last week, and often I thought that someone beside me was talking to me. It’s like my own “on demand” radio series for listening to when nothing else seems worthwhile listening to, which is kind of cool. I also downloaded the “Lie of the Land” series from RTE about the history of map-making in Ireland. I’ve been listening to that over the last few days.

The amount of space available on my phone is tiny: only around 400 Mb, which isn’t much when I am trying to download a few radio series to the phone. I suspect I will need to delete early and often if I am to get any benefit from it at all. I then discovered a dreadfully inconvenient problem with my Nokia. It doesn’t have any “Forward” or “Rewind” functions. When listening to a 30 minute show, this can be irritating in the extreme.

Do you listen to podcasts, and do you have a favourite show that you listen to?

I’ve been listening to the excellent “Whistleblowers” series on RTE Radio 1. In the past it has featured interviews with Jeffrey Wigand (Brown and Williamson tobacco), Sherron Watkins (Enron) and Craig Murray (British Ambassador to Uzbekistan). Today the subject was Harry Templeton, a Glasgow printer who stood up to Robert Maxwell in the late 1980’s, and got duly shafted for his troubles.

Another story worth listening to is the tale of David Kaczynski, who discovered that his brother, Ted, was the Unabomber.

You need Real Player installed to listen to these programmes.

You couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried..

On March 28th of this year, Richard Downes of RTE radio show Morning Ireland interviewed Councillor Colm Wiley (FF) of Clare County Council. Here is the interview (go down to “Deer causing havoc in Co Clare”. You’ll need RealPlayer), and here is the transcript…

Richard Downes: Next to County Clare and a problem with deer. Councillor Colm Wiley is on the line to tell us more about this. You’ve got a problem with deer in County Clare, is that right?

Colm Wiley:
Yes, good morning Richard. Yes, we have a serious problem. Deer have become numerous. Years ago they were a very rare sight to see one deer but now you can see up to as many as ten, fifteen, up to twenty, grazing on the land of farmers, and they’re doing terrible damage, utter damage of course, apart from the fact they’re eating the grass, they are also driving the cattle berserk and they’re coming out onto the roadways and they’re causing accidents to motorists and everything at night time.

Richard Downes: And you want them shot.

Colm Wiley: Yeah, we want them culled some way, and er, there are rangers there to do the job but they are so numerous they wouldn’t be able to come and get on top of them so I requested that the army come and be of assistance to us, but Minister O’Dea seemingly feels that they have more to do than coming out to help the people of rural Ireland and that is the fact.

Richard Downes: But I think the Defense Minister, Willie O’Dea said that the army actually had better things to do than going around the country, em, shooting deer. You can kind of see his point, can’t you?

Colm Wiley: I can but, what, what are they doing? The only thing I see of them going around the country is minding the money being transported to banks, other than..

Richard Downes: A couple of missions in West Africa don’t they, and in Central Europe, so they are actually very busy and stretched. So, the deer problem is so significant, you say down in County Clare, that this is the only option that you have, is it?

Colm Wiley: That is the only option we have because they graze at night time and early in the mornings and it’s not the easiest of things to do to shoot them, but you can get within a hundred metres of them. One time you wouldn’t get within four hundred metres of deer, but it’s come around they are a bit more domesticated and one can get within a hundred metres of them and you know, it’s possible to cull them, and we need assistance.

Richard Downes: And who owns the deer?

Colm Wiley: Who owns? Sure, the deer are wild. They live in the forestry and, in actual fact, they are doing damage to the forestation too because they are eating the barks of the trees, but then of course the grass is more palatable for them so they will come out and it’s well known that fourteen or fifteen deer – I was with a farmer last night over in Tulla and he explained to me that fifteen deer would eat more grass than twenty cattle, and you know, it is very serious.

Richard Downes: We have our own native species – the Red Deer – very small numbers of those.

Colm Wiley: Yeah the Red Deer, and the Fallow, yes it’s mainly Red Deer now we have here. Mainly Red. But of course again you might have a bit of crossing between Red and Fallow, but it’s mainly the Red ones. And, you see twenty, fifteen, sixteen of them, and we have a lot of forestation in Clare and they tend to shelter in the woods and come out then to eat and go back in again.

Richard Downes: Yeah – you were – er, am I, am I reading this correctly – are you worried about them interbreeding with cattle?

Colm Wiley: Yes. It’s possible that sooner or later, because in County Clare, most of our agricultural industry is related to the suckling industry, so people have cows and heifers way out in the fields, way out away from houses and its very possible that, at the end of the day, stags could come in contact with them. They are, stags are grazing with them, they are in mingling in between them every day and every night so it’s very possible that you could have interbreeding and if they did..

Richard Downes: Have you ever come across a case of interbreeding between cows and deer?

Colm Wiley: Well no, but I have seen some red weanlings and I thought myself there was a little bit of a strain in them so, they seemed to be very alert, so it’s very possible that if this comes in to being we could have seriously alert animals altogether.

Richard Downes: (laughing) Ok we’ll leave it there, Councillor Colm Wiley, thank you very much..

This interview caught my attention on the radio this morning: Richard Dawkins was pitted against David Quinn, a leading Irish Catholic writer. Dawkins has just written a new book called the “God Delusion” (definitely on my reading list).

It didn’t seem however as if Dawkins was terribly prepared for Quinn’s onslaught.

The main arguments coming from Quinn were that physical matter was evidence of God; that atheists could not explain free will (which was also evidence of God); and that atheists were just as responsible for fundamentalism and violence as religious people.

On the question of the existence of matter, just because scientists don’t know everything about the world, it doesn’t mean that “God” is immediately the answer. Quinn, quite unashamedly, invoked a false dilemma, and Dawkins didn’t pick him up on it.

Dawkins completely avoided the question of free will – which was curious because Quinn’s argument seems to be that atheists believe that we humans are completely controlled by our genes, and that we are therefore somehow mechanical in nature. I think he needs to read up on quantum theory, complexity theory, and the unpredictability and emergent effects that arise out of systems as complex as the human brain. It’s not necessary, in my mind, to invoke outside agencies to bring about decisions of free will – the billions of neurons in our brain are well able to yield complex and unpredictable effects when working in concert with each other. Another point about free will is that it appears to me to be a theological concept mainly – it’s never discussed by scientists terribly much. Maybe talking about free will is the equivalent to talking about the colour of the Angel Gabriel’s wings – i.e. a rather meaningless discussion in the first place. In any case, I was a bit surprised that Dawkins steered completely around the question, saying he wasn’t interested in talking about it. In doing so he dug a hole for himself that Quinn was quite happy to shove him in during the final seconds of the interview.

The last piece, on the subject of atheistic morality, Quinn made some good points – particularly regarding atheists who cherry-pick the worst that religion has to offer without balancing this against it’s more benign effects. However, Quinn tried to lump atheists in with some of the worst 20th Century dictators and their followers. He implied that, because atheists do not believe in God, that they often believe in some other weird or cruel world theory that is even more invalid. Shouldn’t a true atheist should be skeptical of everything unless there is proper evidence for it? So, just as an atheist would have problems with Islam or Christiantity, so too should he have problems with eugenics or extreme nationalism or Communist utopianism.

Maybe Dawkins was somewhat unprepared for Quinn’s rather aggressive stance, but he didn’t manage to get his point across very well in the short time allotted. I would have loved to have heard a longer debate on the subject.

It starts from about 8 minutes into the program, and you need Real Player to listen to it.

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