There's one of those sad stories on Slashdot, today, illustrating the real purpose of the Iraq war...
It points to a New York Times story about how the Iraqi army is using, basically, divining rods to detect explosives at checkpoints. There's a predictable slew of comments attacking unscientific methods in general and dowsing in particular, uncited studies supposedly debunking unverifiable anecdotes, all of it illustrating the boundless arrogance of random people on the Internet. But what really strikes me is the price of these divining rods.
Apparently, the Iraqis buy them for anything between US$16,500 to US$60,000.
That's a lot of money for a stick.
And they bought them - 1500 of them, so far - from a British company. That is to say, from one of the occupying powers.
I don't know how much Britain has spent on the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Billions, I presume. So it's nice that they've got $50 million or so back like this. Except, of course, that the money came from the taxpayers, but the return is going into the pockets of private investors. In other words, it's yet another redistribution of cash from (everyone) to a very select group of people.
It'd be vastly more efficient, to say nothing of costing many fewer lives, simply to let them dip their hands in the till directly. Looked at in that light, the "MPs' expenses" business looks positively enlightened.
Personally, if someone offers me a dowsing-based bomb-detection system, I'm perfectly willing to listen. If they put on a good demo, I'll even set up some tests of my own. But I also have this belief, which I can't quite shake, in the concept of a "fair price" - something that is at least vaguely related to the cost of production. Don't tell me that price was set in a free market.