Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Why I am not an economist

I was reading The Times and came across this from Dominique Strauss-Kahn,the head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) - "The IMF has called for governments in leading economies to spend a combined 2 per cent of global GDP, or $1.2 trillion (£1,075 billion), to try to fend off the danger from global recession.“If we are not able to do that, then social unrest may happen in many countries - including advanced economies,” Mr Strauss-Kahn suggested.

Kind of reminds me of what Peter Singer argues for in One World, among other places, where he calls for members of the developed world to donate 1% of their annual income, which he argues will not only meet the UN Millenium Summit Goals of halving world poverty, but eliminating it. (see pp 180-195, in particular p 193)

Now, I read these comments by Strauss-Kahn, on the necessity to deal with a global recession, and think of Singer's arguments and a certain frustration builds up in my liver. Trillions of dollars so far have been spent on saving a global financial system which is at best plagued by problems, at worst pathological, yet millions of people world wide live in preventable poverty. Citibank amongst others was 'too big to fail' yet a scheme like Thomas Pogge's pharmaceutical re-incentivisation scheme, estimated to cost 45-90 Billion US anually, seems too big to fund. Simplifying the issue, white collar jobs and investments trump basic health.

Now I am sure that there are peoples out there wondering what loose connections I am drawing, pointing out that what Strauss-Kahn is demanding is 2% of GDP, while Singer's 1% is individual contribution, or that the collapse of Citibank would precipitate great suffering, while Pogge's pharmaceutical ideas are suspiciously socialistic. All true, but this is why I am not an economist. I don't care about protecting an endangered habitat like the Global Economy, or saving endangered species like those poor financial specialists with the dodgy 700 Billion US Bailout.
In fact I don't really care about much at all. But my blood angers up at the weird disconnect that is going on world-wide at the moment between throwing money at a problem for reasons like the importance of national stability, whilst ignoring other preventable causes for unrest. And don't just listen to me. Try that bastion of left-wing intellectualism and academic communism, the US National Intelligence Council:
New and reemerging infectious diseases will pose a rising global health threat and will complicate US and global security over the next 20 years. These diseases will endanger US citizens at home and abroad, threaten US armed forces deployed overseas, and exacerbate social and political instability in key countries and regions in which the United States has significant interests."

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Animal Ethics = Freedom Of Choice

I was reading an article about the 'shonky awards' today. These are put out by Choice Magazine each year.

One of the beneficiaries of this was the Australian Egg Corporation which won an award for their 'Free Range' barn laid eggs. Their free-range birds have the option of leaving the barn, and roaming in an open range area. Yet, many of the birds in the barn do not do this. Choice Magazine thought this was shonky. The managing director of the AEG, James Kellaway, defended their product through the lovelly use of a free-will argument. Here he is, taken from the Sydney Morning Herald:
"As for access to the open range, the corporation was not about to start strong-arming chickens out the barn door each morning."We need to ensure each bird has access to an open range, but it's a chicken's freedom of choice," Mr Kellaway said."


Without wanting to ruffle the feathers of those of you who hate counting a pun before it is hatched, I would say that Mr Kellaway's argument is Eggsellent.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Iraq War Is Over (If You Want It)

It was reported in a copy of the New York Times today that the Iraq War IS OVER!

Thank you John Lennon:

And so this is Xmas (war is over)
And what have we done (if you want it)
Another year over (war is over)
A new one just begun (if you want it)
And so happy Xmas (war is over)
We hope you have fun (if you want it)
The near and the dear one (war is over)
The old and the young (now)

Who said students live tough?

To those students who whine about being poor poor poor, let me fill your heart with joy.
It was announced today that the average Australian income is $1,147.00. Let me reinforce that point, the AVERAGE income is $1,147.00.

Feel better?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Hello Pot, This Is Kettle.

Today Tony Abbott joined with Mr Sincerity Malcolm Turnbull in criticising Kevin Rudd's people skills.

This from Abott, Howard's gaffe-man of the 2007 election. Remember his attack of asbestos campaigner Bernie Banton, just days before Bernie died? And then there was his lovely handling of his late arrival to the health debate later that day.

Yes. Tony Abbott is a man whose people skills are second to none.

(Which isn't to say that Kevin 'working families' Rudd is not an automaton. I just don't really dig Abbott or Turnbull having a go at people for their personalities, or lack there-of.)

On Internet Filtering

I was going to write a big diatribe about how this is destined for failure, and how we should all write letters to the Minister, and then Nicholas wrote an awesome letter.

I think you should go read that instead. Oh yeah, and write a letter. Cos Internet filtering is really stupid.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Why I'm For Palin-Plumber ticket in 2012

Now that the dust is settling on the U.S. election, and the fallout is only just starting to come out we* are confronted with the issue of Sarah Palin.

Basically there are two chief extremes, with a range of variation in the middle. Extreme 1 is that Sarah Palin's political career is over. She is destroyed by bitter Republicans, liberal media elites and her own political stupidity.Extreme 2 is that she powers on to become the Republican nominee for 2012. Hopefully with J-T-P as her running mate. I'm all for extreme 2 - let's have a Palin-Plumber as the Republican ticket in 2012. I want you, dear reader, to start the campaign today.
Clearly many of you are jumping from your padded computer chairs, inadvertently spilling your chardonnay onto your leather-bound copy of Das Kapital. Why would I, a wannabe darling of the middle class bourgeoisie set, be putting my alias forward in support of Palin, a political monster of Frankenstein-like proportions?
The simple answer is divide and conquer. Since Regan's time in the Oval Office, the Republican party has been propelled forward by the unholy alliance between the conservative Christian right and conservative Libertarian minded intellectual and big business elites. Forging a bond between the so called moral majority and a variety of big business business concerns, the republicans dominated the political landscape from 1980 onwards. Even Clinton, despite being a two-term Democratic president, found his position framed by Republican dogma. By cementing this link between two fundamentally different streams of conservative thought, Bush Jnr increased the dominance of conservatism in U.S. life, campaigning in 2000 as the 'compassionate conservative.'
Yet during this 2008 campaign, Republican nominee John McCain, long known for his opposition to the conservative tentacles of the Republican party (in part due to personal beliefs, and in part due to his personal battles with Bush Jnr in 2000) was forced to become the 'reformed maverick' and select as his running mate someone who would appeal to moral majority brand of conservatives. That running mate was, of course, Sarah Palin.

Now, to get the point of this story, the idea - dare I say unyielding hope - is that Palin will fight tooth and nail for the Republican nomination in 2012. And the reason for my hope is that this will divide the coalition forged by Regan et al since 1980. That, as the intellectual and business elite of the Republican party express their disgust for Palin, the real and profound differences between these two aspects of the Republican party will effectively destroy any chances of the party returning in the near future.

(Clearly such division will allow Obama to ram through his extreme socialist agenda like health-care for sick people, international engagement over unilateral military invasions, and more more regulations for the market. His puppet master will be pleased. iViva Revolucion!)

* And by we I mean the whole world. While the U.S. is (arguably) a superpower in its twilight years, the decisions made by its leaders still have some pretty far reaching effects on those of us not entitled to vote.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Curiouser and curiouser!

After a recent talk here at CAPPE on virtual friendships, I have been a little interested in the various questions and concerns raised by having internet only friends. One of the problems that people find with virtual friendships is that they remove the need for social interaction, thus reducing contact with real in-flesh'd humans, leading to less ability to socialise etc etc.

And then I read this article: Japanese Man Petitions To Marry Comic-Book Character.

Edited highlights include:

A Japanese man has enlisted hundreds of people in a campaign to allow marriages between humans and cartoon characters, saying he feels more at ease in the "two-dimensional world."...Taichi Takashita launched an online petition aiming for one million signatures to present to the government to establish a law on marriages with cartoon characters..."I am no longer interested in three dimensions. I would even like to become a resident of the two-dimensional world," he wrote..."However, that seems impossible with present-day technology. Therefore, at the very least, would it be possible to legally authorise marriage with a two-dimensional character?"

Now, am I being a stupid old-fart here, and not being up-to-date, hip-wit-da-kidz and down-with-it or has this guy completely lost the plot?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

McCain = Yesterday's Hero

Though one doesn't want to count chickens before the egg, it looks more and more likely that in the U.S. Presidential election, McCain is going to lose badly, and Obama may win really really big. So much so that the Republican strategy is less surge and more retreat with damage control. The news media in the U.S. are trying to 'maintain suspense' about the outcome.

Now again, this is not a forgone conclusion, and a number things can happen in the next week, but it looks more and more like Obama will win. Who cares, you may ask. Well, given the mess that the world economy is in, potentially leading to a massive destabilisation in many many countries, as a result of many things not the least being that incompetent twit 'W', the spectre of McCain and his moronic side-kick Palin, many many people will suffer under 4 more years of Republican incompetence, stupidity, greed and moral bankrupty. So I hope, with the deepest sincerity that I can muster, that the Republicans are not returned, and that the Democrats do something tangible and worthwhile if they get in.

This from today's Age gives me reason to hope:

"Senator McCain attracted several hundred to his indoor rallies in Iowa while Senator Obama was speaking to 100,000 at the Denver rally and to 45,000 at a rally in Fort Collins, Colorado."

Monday, October 20, 2008

John McCain = Human Garbage

As part of his last ditch attempts to fool people into not voting for Obama, John 'I'm a Maverick' McCain has gleefully descended into into the human filth that seems to compose the Republican party.
The focus of his campaign now seems to be scare voters away from Obama. In their final debate McCain pitifully bleated that a voter enrolment group, ACORN (associated with Obama) "is now on the verge of maybe perpetuating one the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, MAYBE DESTROYING THE FABRIC OF DEMOCRACY." (My emphasis)
Now, these are serious claims, and they certainly warrant investigation and explanation. Yet the political import McCain's pig-screams cannot be understated. Democrat Congressman John Conyers raises the issue of the FBI leaks about the ACORN investigation. The concern here is that the leaks from a supposedly independent arm of the government were intended to influence the outcome of this year's election.

But, to my main point, how can John McCain say this crap and maintain his dignity as a human? Let me repeat his words - "maybe destroying the fabric of democracy'. My response to that consists of three words (and one letter) George W Bush President? This is the party who, through electoral fraud, stole the 2000 election. Stole? Yes. Whether it was the erasing of racial minorities from voter rolls, the collusion of the conservative dominated media in swinging the Florida vote or the role that Republican judges played in deciding that George W was the president, to name but a few examples, the 2000 election made a sham of democracy.

Well, that was just once, a one off, one might say. Wrong. The 2004 election was again plagued by Republican manipulation. And now, the same process is being repeated. Now, maybe I am simply a commie, blinded by my liberal bleeding heart, deliberately searching for facts to match my bias. But these examples seem factually accurate, and display the Republican party as willing to sacrifice democracy to keep their talons on the position of the president.

Over reaction? Perhaps. But when one reads that some republicans are attempting to prevent voters from voting in this election, because the banks have foreclosed on their home, one finds the bile rises to throat quicker than you can say 'democracy is the right to equal representation'.

No, John McCain, the ACORN situation is not a threat to the fabric of democracy. The Republican Party tore that fabric up years ago, wiped their arse with it, and now you want to jam that stinking rag in the face of U.S. voters? You sir, are garbage.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Basic Human Rights in the U.S. Election.

Well. Its about time someone stood up and offered some words of truth in this U.S. Election. Finally, 'Joe-The-Plumber' a.k.a. Joe-SixPack a.k.a. Average Joe has put the voice of common people into the mouths of those talking man shaped puppets, Obama and McCain.

Observe the wisdom of Our Joe, quoted in today's Australian: “Because you're successful, you have to pay more than everybody else? We all live in this country. It's a basic right,” he added. “And Obama wants to take that basic right and penalise me for it, is what it comes down to.

“That's a socialist view and it's incredibly wrong. I mean, 250,000 dollars now. What if he decides, 150,000 dollars and, you're pretty rich too. Let's lower it again. It's a slippery slope. When's it going to stop?”

I think its about time that we, as philosophers and ethicists pulled ourselves down from ivory towers and confronted 'the battler'. Yes, being successful is a basic human right. Much more so than eduction, healthcare, fair and equal representation, partner choice in marriage, blah blah blah. All these things that bleeding heart lefties yabber about day in day out.
As for slippery slopes, well, Our Joe has really found his mark as a philosopher there. What starts at taxing 250,000 dollars could end up with poor students like ourselves having our money theived from us, by a Socialist Government. Castro would be laughing in his grave (if we had been allowed the right to 'ventilate' him like Che Guevera, John Lennon and JFK).

I think its high time that human rights and slippery slopes were brought to the front of this election campaign, to show us what real applied philosophy is like. When Obama (who is clearly a commie-monster-in-waiting)says things like "its time to share the wealth around" we all know it is time to arm our bears.

The tyranny of words

A joke to lighten the mood...

A monk joins an abbey ready to dedicate his
life to copying ancient books by hand. After the first
day though, he reports to the head priest. He’s
concerned that all the monks have been copying
from copies made from still more copies.
“If someone makes a mistake,” he points out.
“It would be impossible to detect. Even worse the
error would continue to be made.”
A bit startled, the priest decides that he better
check their latest effort against the original which
is kept in a vault beneath the abbey. A place only he
has access to.
Well two days, then three days pass without the
priest resurfacing. Finally the new monk decides to
see if the old guy’s alright. When he gets down there
though, he discovers the priest hunched over both a
newly copied book and the ancient original text. He
is sobbing and by the look of things has been
sobbing for a long time.
“Father?” the monk whispers.
“Oh Lord Jesus,” the priest wails. “The word is

…taken from a book I’m currently reading

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Moral Radar

Test your Intuitions -- this test presents you with moral dilemmas, so that you might judge each one. It kind of reminds me of the talk at the AAP by Rob Sparrow about human enhancement.


The Ethics of Ethics

So it's a bit mean of me to pick on the Ticking time bomb argument (TTBA) in any of its forms, because it gets so much bad press. As it stands, I'm not really going after the conceptual problems with the TTBA, but more the practical realities of some of the empirical presuppositions I think it reast on.

Today's news article that brings all this up was on the cover of the wikinews site, which I use because its often a cross-referenced amalgam of a number of news sources, which I find intuitively somewhat more promising. At the very least it provides a convenient dump site for the big reports on the same issue across the massive news industry that sprawls the length and breadth of Interwebia.

The article, stating that Secret memos reveal Bush administration endorsed torture made me a touch cross. The kicker was when apparently Condeleezza rice, in all her obvious care and compassion, had questioned whether or not waterboarding was legal or not.


wait for it.



Honestly! How can these people live with themselves? How can they be so STUPID!? Legal? Did anyone stop to even look up what Waterboarding was? Who cares if its allowed (which I'm pretty sure its not, Condie)? TORTURE!

And yet, philosophers and lawyers alike persist in constructing scenarios which could give these people a foothold for legitimacy? I mean, we worry about the scientists doing the research to give the technology to build the weapons, but the ethicists are creating and legitimising the tools by which corrupt administrations will attempt to vindicate themselves! Should we be analysing the ethics of giving these logical tools? Its worse than guns, we're giving these people the tools to send our sense of decency back to a place that even cavepeople would look and go "Grarg? (translation: What the F***?)"

Maybe I should start another dissertation on dual-use ethics. Because sure, its a nice little set of thought experiments, but its like the bright idea of whoever it was to give George W. Bush the words "just" and "war." Should we as philosophers be culpable for giving evil people the tools to try and justify atrocities?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A bit of a rant.

So this girl that went missing in Croatia, since found dead and decomposing? Her family seem to have the complain dial set to 11.  Fair enough, some might say. However, comments such as this, from today's front page report on the Sydney Morning Herald website:

Ms Lapthorne's father, Dale, in Dubrovnik, said he was frustrated and upset by the lack of information in the report, which he called almost "childish" in its content. It provided only a description of the state of her body.

"It is purely descriptive and it says there is no visible sign of an act of death of how she might have died because the body is in such poor condition," he said.

"It is a false statement. The body is in such a bad state of decomposition that it cannot be determined whether foul play was involved or not. It didn't say that there is no evidence of foul play, of course there is no evidence of foul play. The body is in such a poor state that nothing can be determined from it without scientific testing or forensic evidence and that hasn't been undertaken at all."

So this is the failing of the modern media and entertainment industry. There is no super-attractive Temperance Brennan, who, with a glint in her startling eyes and a flick of her fantastic hair will suddenly find that a subtle change in the rings on the bone marrow in a chip on the girl's jaw means that at 9pm she was in a Croatian 7-11 the night before she went missing. This is science. When a body washes up after a week in the water, its not going to be much help. Its unfortunate, yes. But don't blame the coroner. Sue God for creating such damn inconvenient principles under which bodies decay in saline solutions filled with all sorts of bacteria who love the taste of human flesh. "Scientific Testing"? "Forensic Evidence"? get with the program people. There is no "cause of death" machine. And to start with calling it purely descriptive, then asserting it is a false statement because it doesn't tell you what you want, and then stating that all it tells you is exactly what they said it told you (which, presumably, makes it a true statement) is just bizarre.

It isn't this guys fault. he's obviously wrecked up. But it seems just a little bit of review-grubbing emotional chain-jerking to keep on labouring this point. Especially the last point about the judge taking a swim in the bay where she was found. how does that reflect anything about her case handling?

Hey media, grow some integrity. When Milton and mill signed off on an all access pass on your behalf, they did it in the name of a certain set of laudable ideals, not so you can go about being pants-on-heads idiots about what is a tragic situation that you are milking well past even your normally poor sense of decency.

Demo-kratos and other lovely concepts.

One of my favourite authors, Patrick Rothfuss, wrote an interesting blog post today. Rothfuss, author of The Name of the Wind (which I heartily recommend you all read) describes in his self-styled Public Service Announcement why Americans should not vote. That's right, not vote. Let's take what I think is one of the funnier parts of the open letter to the American public (i.e. the interwebbers who watch his blog) is this:

For example, I was eating dinner the other day at a local restaurant and I heard someone at a nearby table say, "I'm voting for McCain. I heard Obama's into gun control. Nobody's taking away my guns." I'm not making this up. I'm not exaggerating or paraphrasing. These words have been echoing around in my head for weeks, and it's entirely possible that I will never be rid of them. If this sounds like something that might come out of your mouth, you need to realize that you are not very smart. I'm not saying you're a bad person. I'm not saying you're evil. What I'm asking is that you consider the very real possibility that you might not be capable of casting an intelligent vote. Let repeat myself just for clarity's sake. If you're willing to throw in with one candidate based on senseless fear and "something you heard" you are not well-informed, and you shouldn't vote. Again, I'm not saying you're a bad person. What I am saying is that the fate of the nation is probably too complicated for you to deal with properly. You should stay home on election night and watch some Nascar instead. That's right. Nice, comforting Nascar.
It raises what I think is one of the most interesting problems of democracy, or with any normatively significant practice: when rights or freedoms become duties or obligations. I'm a big fan of a view towards democracy that goes like so: every citizen has a right to vote. This right is given under a certain set of expectations, namely that such a citizen has the obligation to vote, and under an expectation that they will vote in an informed manner. Unfortunately, as with most of my beliefs, this is somewhat too good to be true. It seems that of the 224 countries who have universal voting processes, only 19 of them enforce compulsory voting. And, as Pat wishes to point out, maybe that's for the best. Whether or not compulsory voting leads to more extreme political stances is an empirical question, and one I'd love to have answered. It seems that the standard intuitive response is to the affirmative, that to allow voluntary voting within a western, developed, media-dominated democratic nation does lead to a more extreme stance by those who do turn out to vote. But I'm not really sure what this means: is this skewed towards one end of the spectrum or the other? I'm not a big fan of left or right extremism, and i don't think that the answer is so simple as one lovely blogite seems to imply, that if such an extremism is symmetrical than they cancel each other out. Please people, learn to math. These are vector sums at their simplest, although I'd suspect we'd need some pretty sophisticated, high ranking Tensors to sort that shamozzle out.

Also, it should probably be made clear that democracy does not presuppose libertarian views: some reasonably rudimentary history should settle that. Go look up some wikipedia, Indian Times opinion piece guy. If we are going to take the tack that we seriously want a liberal democracy , than maybe we want to say that one of these rights we've concocted to give people is that of voting, and right does not imply obligation, etc. Maybe so. Such arguments usually rest on some pretty boring and awful construal of everyone's favourite piece of philosophical cheap shots, The Harm principle. A whole swag of dead Afghanis and Iraqis, a crushed economy, and a streak of rights defacement beg to differ with how you use your vote, people. And as the right to vote does nothing to tell us when we shouldn't exercise such a right, maybe (don't faint, libertarians) we should be empowering voters to make the decision to vote or not. That means education, which may mean government involvement. Ha! Who would have thought that in order to live free of a restrictive government in a fashion which would allow for maximum preference satisfaction, we'd need some government involvement? Aaaah, Irony.  As my good friend Adam related though, democracy is not the right to decide how you live your life, but the right to ruin how others live theirs.

Ah, a bit of a convoluted post.  I've been away too long from the blogosphere.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Palin into insignificance

I just red some leftist propaganda about my sweet love, Sarah 'I-can-see-Russia' Palin.

Supposedly, McCain's (i.e. Palin's boss) support among women is far behind that of Obama. One poll puts 55% of women backing Obama, while 38% back McCain. I must admit, I am a little bamboozled. She is a women, a pretty one too. Isn't this enough for women to support her? Why are they so stupid. She is a women and so are other women. Women should vote for her, that's how it works. (Ignore her failings as a politician, her inexperience, her jarring ignorance and general ineptitude and vote her in dammit!)

Tonight Sarah Palin gets to go toe to toe with Joe Biden tonight. Fairness dictates that no-one will ask her any questions that she cannot answer. It will be telling to see how the heartless baby-murdering democrap sympathisers show their hands by asking questions that they know she cannot answer. I mean, sure, she may not know much about foreign policy, economics, health care, but she was a beauty queen. And as George W has shown, a lack knowledge of foreign policy, economics and health care is certainly no impediment to a successful presidency.

iViva Life!

Best Book Review Ever

I've always admired AC Grayling, but this book review of his takes the cake.

Some choice excerpts:

It is sometimes hard to know whether books that strike one as silly and irresponsible, like Dissent over Descent, the latest book from Steve Fuller, are the product of a desire to strike a pose and appear outrageous (the John Gray syndrome), or really do represent that cancer of the contemporary intellect, post-modernism.

And in the next paragraph:

[...] at the end of these nearly 300 pages of wasted forest he tells us what science needs in order to justify its continuation (oh dear, poor science, eh?) and what Intelligent Design, a theory he defended before a US Federal Court in the 2005 Dover Trial, needs to “realise its full potential in the public debate” – that is: how a theory trying to bend the facts to prove its antecedent conviction that Fred (or any arbitrary and itself unexplained conscious agency) designed and created the world and all in it, can attain its full potential in the public debate. This, note, from a professor at a proper British university. Well: if this is not proof of the efficacy of Jesuit educational methods, nothing is.

It just gets better from there.

Of course, it gets particularly interesting when Steve Fuller responds.

I wish I could repay AC Grayling’s compliment by naming an exotic mental pathology after him, but regrettably his review of Dissent over Descent displays disorders of a much more mundane kind: he has merely failed to read the book properly and does not know what he is talking about.

And then Grayling has the last word:

Steve Fuller complains, as do all authors whose books are panned, that I did not read his book properly (or at all). Alas, I did.

...OR IS IT?

(Thanks to OTF Wank for drawing my attention to this.)

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Failure of democracy or evidence of its success?

For those of you following the current US economy, no doubt you are enthralled by the failure of the US$700 Billion bailout of their economy. The proposed emergency legislation was canned last night, in a decision of 205 for and 228 against. ( Interestingly, the party split was 33% Republicans in favour and 60% Democrats in favour. Despite this, however, some lay the failure of the rescue plan at the feet of the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, who is a Democrat.)

Bipartisanship aside, it seems that one of the decisive factors was the looming election, and politician's fears of supporting an unpopular policy. “People’s re-elections played into this to a much greater degree than I would have imagined”

So this raises the question, is this evidence of a mortal failure of the model of representative democracy or a rallying cry, screaming that it is very much alive and kicking? On one hand, this may show that a politician's chief concern is re-election: Blind to all other considerations until this condition has been met, politicians are willing to sacrifice anything to maintain personal power. On the other hand, however, this may show that politicians are deeply receptive to the fears and wishes of their constituents, and won't be bullied into supporting something that they don't believe, simply because their party leaders command them.

So what does it all mean? Are we watching the collapse of representative democracy as we know it, or witness to its phoenix-like rise from the ashes?

Friday, September 26, 2008

The SMH and copyright

Apparently we, in Australia, have little to fear from the copyright police. No RIAA-style grandmas in court for the Disney album little Tinkerbell downloaded from the internet, not at all! In fact, we have one of our largest newspapers telling us, despite discussing just how illegal it is, exactly how to do it.

Um. Yeah. :)

Can I get instructions for shoplifting next, please, SMH?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

As the US economy shits itself, we look on in confusion...

I am not an economist. I know nothing of economic theory, and have a five year-old's grasp of economic practice. Yet even a five year-old can see that there is something hideously wrong with the US/World economic system. Some of the big thingies* in the US have encountered troubles - Bear Stearns, Freddie Mac, Fannie May. Now the US federal reserve has bailed out the insurance company American Insurance Group with a loan of US $86 Billion.

It seems that the so called 'sub-prime' crisis is tearing apart the fabric that holds together modern economic theory. Fascinating to watch, unless of course, your house is being repossessed, your job cancelled, or your food is too expensive to buy for eating. No-one, it seems, knows how long this recession will last, what the long term effects may be, or if there even is a recession at all. (In The Doubter's Companion John Raulston Saul argues that the world economies have been in a depression since 1973 (pp 95-99). Coincidentally, the same year that Black Sabbath released Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. But I don't think you can blame them entirely). I am sure that there are a stack of tricksy economic sleight of hand tricks to pull, and like rabbits out of a hat, we will all emerge unscathed and better for the experience.
One idea, that is so simple that it must surely be wrong is put by former US senator in a NY Times article today: “We’ve been consuming more than we’ve been producing. We’ve been spending more than we’ve been earning...It’s been a big holiday.”

Governments in the developed world have followed the mantra of privatisation to the letter, and privatised debt, shifting debt from a public responsibility onto the backs of 'working families'. Now, the US government is throwing money hand over fist to prevent full scale collapse of the US and world economy. For years, free market advocates have been voiciferously opposed to the state interfering in economic matters. Should we now demand that the state remove its hand and let the world economy collapse, or will the invisible hand come to the aid of struggling economists to explain why the system is not working?

As should now be entirely clear, I don't really know what I am talking about, and have no idea of what I want to say. But when US $86 Billion is thrown at something, I wonder what in hell is going on, and could that money be spent elsewhere?

* Again as the use of the technical term 'thingies' shows, I am not an economist. I don't know who these Freddie Mac or Fannie May people are, why they had a fight and are now not talking. And I don't know who let the Stearn Bear into the US stock exchange, causing a Bear-ish market. I think there is some gun related freedoms going on here: as some of you know I fully believe the Second Amendment and the right to arm bears, but maybe not in a crowded stock exchange. But more on that some other time.

Why Digital Rights Management is lame

Digital Rights Management (DRM) is lame. Here's my most recent example of why:

Spore is a recent game designed by Will "The Sims" Wright as basically a "sim evolution" game. It's had a lot of hype and seems pretty fun for a Sims-fan like myself (although it didn't play so well on my Macbook, unfortunately). It's currently retailing in Australian computer game shops for around $90-100. Which is a lot for a game, in my opinion.

In order for EA (the publishers) to extract as much money as possible from people who wish to play the game, they decided to put DRM on the game. This is pretty standard practice in the game industry. Usually the DRM is along the lines of "you have to register online to play" or something that makes it really hard to rip a copy of the disk using basic disk ripping tools. Or registration keys, etc. etc. Game distributors know that it's pretty much inevitable that their games will end up being pirated anyway, since hackers are pretty smart and like to get things for free, so will poke away at it until they succeed. So DRM acts basically as a "speed bump", hopefully slowing the flow of pirated copies until the first couple of weeks sales (which is usually when games sell the most copies) come in.

This time, however, EA decided to a) get greedy, and b) piss off their customers more than usual with DRM by using a 3 installs and you're out system. Now considering that it's actually recommended that you reinstall Windows at least once a year or so, this effectively gives your copy of the game 3 years if you're particularly careful (not of course, barring the fact that you may end up buying a replacement computer and wanting to install it on that, or you get infected with a virus and need to reinstall, etc.).

So given that DRM is really just a "speed bump", this is lame, lame lame. Why? Because even before Spore was available for sale, a leaked, pirated, cracked copy was available to download, that was playable without having to worry about how many times it was installed. The DRM was effectively useless. And it seriously disadvantaged the people who actually bought the game, leaving pirates, once again, the winners of the DRM game, and people who want to support the games industry the losers.

More Spore DRM fun:
Spore DRM is a screw-up: "Firstly, SecuROM [(the DRM tool EA used)] didn't even work, as the game was pirated before release. Secondly, this game was much anticipated by gamers as one of the most significant releases of the year, so the idea that you could not have a single worldwide release date, and expect people in North America to resist the temptation to pirate it was just silly."

Spore rated down on Amazon as a protest against its DRM: "[Jeff Brown, vice president of corporate communications at EA] described EA’s SecuROM DRM as standard for the industry and cited Apple’s practice of only allowing downloaded music to be played on three devices. “We are extremely pleased with the popularity of Spore and the critical response to it,” he said. The latest figures on Amazon are 1,676 one-star reviews out of 1,812."

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Things making me laugh today

I agree with Catie. Things make me angry. Morons is stupid. Me is the smart one.

Proof? Read these and make with the laff-laff.

Here is the Washington Post's 2008 Mensa Invitational, which once again asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition.

The winners are:

1. Cashtration: The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.

2. Ignoranus: A person who's both stupid and an asshole.

3. Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.

4. Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.

5. Bozone: The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozonelayer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

6. Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.

7. Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.

8. Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.

9. Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

10. Hipatitis: Terminal coolness.

11. Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)

12. Karmageddon: It's when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, and then the Earth explodes, and it's a serious bummer.

13. Decafalon: The gruelling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

14. Glibido: All talk and no action.

15. Dopeler effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

16. Arachnoleptic fit: The frantic dance performed just after you've accidentally walked through a spider web.

17. Beelzebug: This is when Satan, in the form of a mosquito, gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

18. Caterpallor: The colour you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you're eating.

Things making me angry today:

Okay, it's really only one thing right now.

Recently a Muslim school plan in the outer Sydney suburb of Camden was rejected, causing a lot of outcry about racism (a pig's head was found staked to the potential site with nasty signs and a lot of residents showing terrible behaviour).

The council ended up rejecting it based on the apparent fact that the plans didn't meet requirements.

However! Now a Catholic school has applied for a similar school (but with Catholics of course :P ) and the president of the local residents group, Emil Sremchevich, who campaigned very loudly against the Muslim school, said that this new school application should be just fine because they're Catholics (before he even looked at the application).

"Why is that racist? Why is it discriminatory? It's very simple: people like some things but don't like other things. Some of us like blondes, some of us like brunettes. Some of us like Fords, some of us like Holdens. Why is it xenophobic just because I want to make a choice? If I want to like some people and not like other people, that's the nature of the beast."


Let's hope the council treats this application the same way as the Muslim school. Mob rules are not okay!


Friday, September 5, 2008

George Orwell

For those of you who like the work of George Orwell, I found about a blog that is putting his diaries online, each day as they were written, 70 years ago.
I quite like a bit of old EAB's work (that' wanker-talk for Eric Arthur Blair, George Orwell's human name) and personally find this to be quite interesting. Some of the entries aren't the most enthralling ie September 1: Fine and fairly warm, but the more interesting stuff is set to come online from the 7th of September, where his political ramblings enter into his writing.

This blog is pretty interesting. At the moment, Orwell is (i think) off the coast of Portugal, at Cape Vincent. You can follow his travels on a Google Maps link that the blog peoples have put up.

If you like Orwell and his stuff, get on board. If not, shoot me with a big gun.

Bye now.

re: Why Bother?

Usually, if we wait until policy or the technology itself decides the matter for us - decides our fate that is - then it is already too late. This is why philosophers & ethicists must get in there first and do the intellectual groundwork while there's still time to think about what the consequences of our policies and technologies may be...And if this is the job of scared little kitten's (which means all of us) then so be it. Pollan's article looks interesting.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Ethics: Why Bother?

Having the heart of a puppy, it is easily crushed by the Iron-Boot of reality and ofttimes this leaves screaming in rage or sobbing in a dark corner. Everything is shyte, has gone to far, and why should we bother at all? This presents quite a problem for the aspiring ethicist: am I doing this to actually try and change something, or is it more some form of self-interested egotistical mind-wank where I am doing this to feel good about myself or atone for some existential sins of the past (and future).
Basically, why bother?

Well, I am just reading the article 'Why Bother' by Michael Pollan a fellow who writes some pretty beautiful and elegant books, one of which - The Botany Of Desire - I have read and can strongly recommend. Anyway, in this article, Pollan puts forward a case for trying to do something about climate on an individual level, which is pretty heartening and maybe evening a little empowering.

One of Pollan's lovely lines from Why Bother reminds me of why we should bother: "For us to wait for legislation or technology to solve the problem of how we’re living our lives suggests we’re not really serious about changing — something our politicians cannot fail to notice. They will not move until we do."

So, Take heart, my kittens. The world may be the darkest of places, but there is hope for change, and it can only be done by people (with the hearts of puppies perhaps).

U.S. Federal Election

I am sure that some of our loyal and devoted fan base (consisting of millions, no doubt) have been following the recent developments in the U.S. Federal Election.
First off, we have Obama as the first 'non-white' major party candidate, then McCain names Sarah Palin as his running mate/potential Vice President. She is young (mid fourties) conservative, and she is female. She also has five children, one of them 17, pregnant and - shock horror - unwed. As the dirt diggers fire up their engines, and rumours and scuttlebut abound, I am become more and more fascinated by this election. Obviously the outcome wil be interesting, but to see what happens during the process leading to the outcome will be really really interesting.

Just to add a little slacademic fuel to this fire, this is a quote from our girl Sarah P from today's Australian: She is expected to highlight her focus on ethics issues in Alaska and other accomplishments...

Hmmm, I wonder if she takes an irrealist or a non-descriptive cognitivist approach, or whether she is a full blown realist. Methinks the last.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Public Ethics Radio

Two far more charismatic ethicists than the writers, Christian Barry and Matthew Peterson, have now launched Public Ethics Radio, in conjunction with the CAPPE and The Carnegie Council. Their first podcast interviews Thomas Pogge on his pharmaceutical incentivisation project.

Check it out.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

You learn something new every day.

Apparently dinosaurs helped to build the pyramids!

More stupid:

“When man landed on the moon (in 1969), they expected the landing module to sink in a deep layer of dust. But the layer was only a few inches deep. This proves that the universe is still young!”

Actually the best bit is that the Maltese education director is named "Dr. Borg".

Thursday, August 21, 2008

"Hacking" the Olympics: an exercise in censorship & fraud

A very interesting article came to the fore today: the "hacker" (I use this term loosely, for all he really did was come up with some specific search queries for various search engines) Stryde went through some search engines to discover that the gold medal winning gymnast, He Kexin, is potentially underage for competing in the Olympic games. The official age requirement is 16 years, where the evidence uncovered by Stryde has shown that she was in fact only 14. You can read his initial discovery here, with a follow-up here.

Now the interesting part for me isn't so much the fraud, which is yet to be commented on by anyone official, but that there is something at work busily taking these sites and documents referring to the girl's theoretical real age down, which is most likely the Chinese government. This annoys me particularly because it's just the most recent development in a line of information-barring moves they have made over the Olympics, such as blocking journalists from various Websites after saying that journalists would have unrestricted access to the Internet, cancelling press conferences because hard questions were being asked, and general restrictions on things to be reported about (no Tibet, no protesters, etc.). This worries me because of China being such an increasingly influential nation that the world is essentially tiptoeing around, wanting to get in on the opening markets, not wanting to offend anyone by mentioning dreadful human rights records, for example. And the Chinese are getting away with pressing it on us because they know they hold the balance of power (for example, China owns about 502 billion US dollars of the US national debt, the second highest foreign owner after Japan). Does this mean that China can essentially start to force its crazy censorship and other oppressive acts, such as sentencing elderly women to "re-education through labour" because they wanted a protest permit?

As a society we give up more and more of our freedom every day, through surveillance and personal information sharing, bit by bit these are whittled away by our own governments and corporations, and yet we are generally apathetic about this sort of "lack of freedom creep", as long as it doesn't upset our daily lives (and may even welcome it if it seems to improve our lives!). Perhaps we will start to see the fastest growing economy's influence increase in our own society due to our own apathy.

I hope for one that the Olympics will open the Chinese people up to the outside world and see that there are ways they can keep their unique culture but become free from oppression through access and distribution of information, and put pressure on their government to change.

(yeah, sorry about the rant, this just annoys me!)

Emo Brings Down The Russian Bear

Supposedly, according to the Blogosphere Russia is banning Emos, because they might kill themselves or bring down the Russian Government.

Well, it looks like I might have to ditch the Heavy Metal/Punk stuff that I have been holding onto for so long, and get with the real winners, Emos.

To paraphrase Bill Hicks:

A guy says, “I hate Emos,” and I said, “Why?” He goes, “Because they killed Russia.” They believe that. If I believed that the Emos killed Russia, I’d worship the Emos, ’cause shit, there’s some badasses on that team, man. I haven’t seen Russia ever, I see Emos all the time – go figure.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Ethics And Politics?

Yes, though strange befellows they may be, it looks like some people are trying to arrange a marriage between the most unlikely of partners: Ethics and politics.

This brings to mind the old joke - How do you know if a politician is lying? Their lips are moving.
Also bings up a new joke - How do you know if a politician is acting ethically? Their lips are moving, but no forks are involved, and they are standing.


In the U.S. the 2007 'Honest Leadership and Open Government Act' has had what some would consider a strange effect on the current electioneering process. As reported in the NY Times article "Corporations and convention party planners are scrambling to comply with sweeping ethics rules in the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 that prohibit lobbyists from paying for gifts, including meals and music, for members of Congress and their staffs." Some lobbyists are finding it so hard to work out what is allowed (hence ethical) that they are having to resort to talking to lawyers to find loopholes to exploit. And in the worse case scenario, the poor lobbyists have had to cancel events.

Boo hoo. In a system where there are more lobbyists than congresspeople and where almost US$3,000,000,000 was spent on lobbying politicians in one year, perhaps these parasites, predators and vermin can do with a little less food, and a little more self reflection.

Whether legislating 'ethics' will actually work or not, is a different question. As we all know, basing laws on good intentions can have some horrible results. As the old saying goes, if you outlaw ethics, only the outlaws will have ethics. Spooky eh?

Monday, August 18, 2008

A dark and cynical ray of hope

I was reading this little article on Jon Stewart.

It was quite refreshing (or distressing) to read that he is seen by Americans as the fourth most admired journalist in America. Now, to give this a bit of context, he is a satirist, presenting a farcical and absurdist view of American/Global politics. Taking the piss out of politicians in a humerous and gifted way, whilst exposing the hipocricy and idiocy of modern politics and world affairs.
I think our old mate Freud once spoke about laughter and black humour as a way of cleansing us of the darkness that builds up, and given the dark times that are kicking about at the moment, an abusrd voice of reason is like cool water to the parched desert traveller.
An alternate view is that when the journalism and the media are so perverted and corrupted that a comedy show is seen as one of the most important voices of truth in a country, we know that something is horribly horribly wrong.

Anyways, check out Stewart's Bush - Bush debate for one example of his comedic stylings. OR, if you have nothing better to do, trawl your way through the Daily Show's website. Its a nice.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Psychologists and torture -- the APA saga

When the US government started using psychologists in interrogation techniques against terrorism suspects at Guantanamo, the members of the American Psychological Association expected some sort of condemnation from their professional organisation. Instead they argued about whether psychologists had actually been present and essentially avoided discussing the issue. Eventually a task force of members was set up to investigate the ethics of psychology and interrogation, but it turned out that most of the members of the task force were part of the military. The report was denounced by the non-military members and since then some anti-torture resolutions have been established, but they are full of exploitable legal holes, not to mention the fact that they haven't applied these to a single case, even though there have been some high-profile obvious cases of psychologists being involved in interrogation.

This month a lot is happening in the APA, as general elections are being called. It'll be interesting to see how it unfolds.

More info from The Boston Globe and Mind Hacks.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The apocalypse


I read in the paper today about a robot controlled by brain cells.

"A multidisciplinary team at the University of Reading has developed a robot which is controlled by a biological brain formed from cultured neurons."

Looks like humans are soon to be outdated. I for one hail our new robo-rat cyborgs as gods and masters, and renounce all humans as egotistical meat-bags.


One final postscript: The scientists used rat neurons on this one. Perhaps to prevent our imminent collapse, in the future they could use puppy neurons?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Olympics and the Two Child Policy

Yes. What a joy to behold, the world together as one, capitalist, communist, hedonist, all united as sportists under a banner of corporate sponsorship and nationalism. Finally, we all come to believe in peace as determined by gold medals. Joy.

Despite this glowing sense of hope and unity springing from corporatised nationalistic sporting fervour, a little cynicism creeps in. I don't know if China are telling the truth or not. What? No, this is not some violent Tibetan media conspiracy.

First, there was the digital footprints left by the opening ceremony. And now I am thinking more of the One Child Policy being enacted by the nonahe(a)dral politburo in China. That vision of sweetness in the little red dress who sang so beautifully, turns out to be chimeric construct of voice and face. As the Spice Girls once sang, 'Two become one.' Now, don't get me wrong, this is not a moral travesty of the level of Milli Vanilli, (but that's just because Germans are evil.)

Perhaps the truth of the Chinese agenda is being uncovered in ways that the politburo could not forsee. Oh well. All we can do is hope, like the Dalai Lama that Chinese Democracy will come soon.


Friday, August 8, 2008

No ranting this morning.

I've got some, y'know, work to do. However, for those interested in how to change the world, I think that this demonstration by His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso, is just phenomenal. Some linkies below.

The Dalai Lama on the Beijing Olympics

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Why we (or I) fight.

So I've been reading a bit lately on the imminent launch of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the latest and certainly most ambitious project by CERN, at the French-Swiss border. It reminds me of why I do what I do (or at least how I can justify why I do what I do, which may be as good as I can get). Now, one question is "but Nick, you work in Ethics. How does a big-ass atom smasher give you pause about why you do what you do?"

Well, it is partly because of my science background, but also at the sheer scale of this project that CERN is attempting. I mean, in my romantic vision of the function of the philosopher, it is the uncovering of some deeper truths in our world that enlighten the philosopher, the colleagues they work with, and (at least I sincerely hope and my be deluded as a result of this belief) the world at large. Yes, continentals, I hear you sneering and muttering dark saying about the crimes of Descartes. But I sincerely believe that you also have made a very positive contribution to my life, even if only because I spend so much time scratching my head about things you've said.

But, as usual, I digress. While I'm doing so, take a look at some funkay pictures

If philosophy is the seeking out of truths for the noble purpose of raising humanity up, and not merely the sitting about ranting about minor problems with semantic content in papers written by those long dead (although that is also, in some respects, important in its own way), then the women and men who have worked on the LHC are philosophers without compare. Far be it to merely talk about what the deeper structure of the universe might be like, they have instead decided that they'll try and actually find out, by smashing together a set of particles together at such a speed that space and time itself are sundered, and hopefully a bunch of particles will be seen that every individual in the world who has studied particle physics up to (and of course beyond) a postgrad level is hoping exists. And if they don't, so much is the better because unlike (it seems) many aspects of philosophy, physics can be concisely disproved, torn asunder, and left to die. And physicists in general seem to be pretty okay with this. Don't mistake me: they aren't all, and nor is this typical of most sciences. Physics, in many ways, has it easy.

And no, this isn't going to solve world hunger, the energy crisis, global warming, extreme antibiotic resistant tuberculosis, corporate paedophilia, the rampant injustices of the free-market economic rationalist state, vertical power structures, retributive justice and all its worries (good luck to Chuck on his impending thesis submission!), or any of the plethora of terrible problems that plague our world.

But it is, in its own way, very beautiful, and enthralling to those who have seen what has been written on it. And why else is the world worth being in to the point that there are a growing number of philosophers trying to get out of the ivory tower, hit the streets and get some change happening? not that we are doing so very fast, but this is a growth period for the movement, I feel. Still, Clive does it well.

More than people might think, the LHC is the magnum opus of much of current science. It is one of the projects that those who practice, study, or merely dabble in the hard sciences are so keen to see happen. And I think a world where there is less of the above problems, less affluenza, and more experiments that might not even occur because the experiment itself will go back in time to stop itself happening. This thing pushes the edges of human understanding about the limits of our collective power over the universe, the strangeness of the world we live in, and (to this writer), gives me more faith in the wondrous aspects of science enriching our lives than anything Richard Dawkins had to say on the subject. It is my hope that the more of my world will be able to see and appreciate these wonders, and not just the rich white folk like myself (ha, I called myself rich). And that, at least, is one of the many reasons why I do what I do.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Getting back to old school.

I'm not a huge fan of graffiti as the vernacular conception of it is portrayed. That is, the graffiti that is synonymous with vandalism. Random, indecipherable tags, or crude and poorly drawn images being sprayed on any surface just doesn't do it for me. Sure, if someone manages to tag somewhere that makes me go "holy ****, how did they manage to get there, much less have a hand free to spray?" then that's kinda cool. But generally, not a fan.

However, some graffiti can be beautiful. And (see the famous "Romans go home" sketch from ye olde Monty Python) some of ti can be highly political, which has been one of the functions of such street art since time out of mind. So, without further a do, take a look at this.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Time for a rant.

It is unfortunate that this blog post will go almost unread on the interwebs, but as the history of this great institution of online communication has shown me, that's hardly to the point now, is it?

So, McCain. A war hero. A patriot. A veteran. Gotta say, the man has the political chops needed to convince just about any American that he is worth voting for. I mean, what could make for a better leader? Especially in a country so devoid of understanding of its own military history that romantic militarism isn't just a problem, its THE problem. "He understands our world is dangerous":

Isn't this beautiful? Can't you see the craftsmanship that has gone into this particular piece of political garbage?

Now, don't let me put you offside and get words unceremoniously shoved into my mouth. He was a victim of one of the more horrible places to be in the world: a POW camp. The place on this earth that hasn't got "Geneva" in the dictionary. And that makes him a remarkable spirit, make no mistake. I'm a bit miffed in the above ad as to why voluntary imprisonment through denial of early release counts as an honourable, American thing to do. "Sure, I'll stay in for another round of solitary!" Wow, shows the guy definitely is canny. That'll show em. I think?

Back to my point, the juxtaposition of the war against the "summer of love" is a masterpiece of spin. Of course, while the hippies were out taking drugs and banging each other senseless in an unchristian show of prurient, lustful action, John McCain was out fighting for your freedom. But wait, wasn't part of this strange lefty movement a protest against your unjust war? And if that's the case, then every thing McCain says is up for question, isn't it? Well, unless you are a conservative, military realist. So I suppose its all okay, right?

But that wasn't what got me into this rantin' mood. Well, if I'm going to be honest, my recent Bill Hicks pilgrimage may have something to do with it, and it is terribly unfortunate that I'll never have the skills in dark poetry and satire that Bill did. But while reading this post in (to my mind) the quite respectable Framing Science Blog by Dr. Matt Nisbet, I came across this:

Isn't this great? Gotta love them always honest, considerate American politicians. I'm so ignorant! Of course the only solution to the oil crisis in America in a world with dwindling supplies of this natural resources is to invest even more money in creating an entirely new site where we can dig up the planet and kill a whole bunch of land, using a resource that is going to run out very soon! Wow! Thanks John McCain, for enlightening me. As for Obama, well, the fact that he won't endorse the offshore drilling projects or new oilfields is obviously because he has absolutely no policy on energy!

Or maybe, because he isn't on the payroll of the oil industry.

To at least try to introduce some ethics into this diatribe, consider the very basic ethical problem we encounter when the money of lobby groups impacts in such a way so as to not educate the public on the issues at stake in their voting, but instead lead to lead to what Nisbet refers to as "playing fast and loose with the truth" in order to fulfill the preferences of the said lobbyists. Truth, Justice and the American way indeed.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Bad Science for the masses

So the SMH, in all its scientific integrity, reported on pot smokers being not so mellow. The venerable Kate Benson, medical reporter, writes:

More than a third of people who present at Sydney emergency departments after smoking cannabis are violent and half have mental health problems such as severe anxiety and suicidal thoughts, shattering the image that dope smokers are relaxed and sleepy, researchers have found.

Wow, my impressions are certainly shattered. Who would have thought that out of the (no doubt) hundreds of thousands of pot smokers in my country alone, that the ones who ended up in an emergency room were representative of all of them? And further, that the pot smokers who ended up in emergency were likely to be somewhat distressed? I mean, its not like from my visits to emergency (not many of them involving me as a patient, thankfully) I don't see angry, upset or violent people in emergency. This presentation of the study reeks of, among other things, a massive problem with their attribution of causation, and a sampling problem. But, I'm sure that the SMH hoped they could pass it off on the unwitting masses and "do some good"

If the levels of THC in hydroponic gardens are that high, that's a danger, and it may be leading to an increase in psychotic drug users. But I don't think any myths have been shattered here.

I'm wondering if this is the University of New South Wales' bad science, or the SMH's lousy reporting. I'm hoping it is the latter.

Wild speculation

So, I was reading this article in the Sydney Morning Hearld yesterday, and began thinking about Nozick's Experience Machine (as one does).

The computer game industry is fast becoming a defining element of our world. Unbelievable amounts of effort, talent and creativity, not to mention money are poured into this field year after year to satisfy an increasingly widespread demographic of our population. Unfortunately, marketing being as it is, games are fast becoming required to be more and more consuming of the user's resources in order to maintain dominance over the hearts, minds and wallets of the client base. This is not to mention that due to the intensely interactive nature of games today, art no longer imitates life so much as it leads to its creation (seriously, hang out on the Internet for more than about an hour and you will discover entire languages. Forget antrhropology in the world, far stranger cultures exist online). However, I can't help but be concerned by the levels of immersiveness being implied by the article. While Nozick's argument was designed as a refutation of hedonism, as I understand it, I think that it speaks to something else, which is a questioning of the fantastic as a dominant force in a person's life. What does it mean when a former recreational activity can be integrate and come to dominate someone's life, providing pleasure, but consuming substantial resources and creating social interactions which, while genuine, are weaker than those formed in the corporeal world due to the removal of some of the basic risks of the social world? When fun turns into duty (and if anyone out there has a friend who plays Everquest or World of Warcraft, you know what I'm talking about), and social interactions with non-players become left on the wayside?

I don't wish to postulate that computer games are in and of themselves bad things: computer games have for years been an extension of other games functioning as learning and teaching tools, often without the user realising it. They teach decision making, visuo-spatial recognition, and a wide range of teamwork behaviours, they really do. But the same body of literature emerging from psychology about their merits also carries with it a darker set of observations. I'm not necessarily talking about violent computer games making violent people. While that is certainly on the table (sorry gamer kids, it really is), the weakened but still rationalised social features, the immersiveness and escapist quality that can endlessly stimulate many minds, indicate to me that as technology continues to advance in this area at a mind boggling rate, Nozick's machine might leave the realm of thought and actually pose us an applied ethics problem: possessing this machine, do we allow ourselves or others to use it? Especially knowing what we know from thought experiments in the past, and on the problems associated with addictive activities.


Monday, July 28, 2008

Ethical DNA - what a load of shyte

I recently completed this online questionaire. I don't have time to go into the problems I have with it yet, in terms of surveys, questions etc etc. The thing that gets my goat the most is the term 'moral DNA', which really goes into reinforcing the folk conceptions of genetics.
For those of you who are interested in this type of stuff, check out Paul Griffith's site, in particular this article.
There is a stack of links to his publications on his site, and for anyone interested in genetics, in particular folk conceptions of genes and 'public understanding of science' type stuff, his work is pretty cool.

That is

Friday, July 25, 2008

A little lightening of the mood.

With all the killing of puppies that's been going on ( see below), I thought I'd record an event that happened today that made me smile and remember that, despite all these terrible things happening in the world, and the way that the business world loves jerking us around, etc., that there are still nice people around. So, I little back story will be needed, but bear with me.

I'm building a bike at the moment from some old parts, and I needed to deconstruct an old 3-cog chainring setup. It requires a tool that looks a bit like this, a tool which (until now) I did not have access to. So, I rock into a bike shop at lunchtime, and enquire about said chainring wrench (the above tool). The guy doesn't have one for sale, but lends me his, on the verbal agreement that I'd bring it back tomorrow.

It sounds like a small thing, but little things are important. That a person would be willing to lend me a specialty tool instead of forcing me to order one is fantastic. An added bonus? When I enquired as to where I could purchase a T25 torx key, he gave me one of his. For free. Not every day one gets gifted like this.

Its been a good day. For those out there nerdy in their pursuits, I invite you to observe this. The orchestra isn't great, but it is a bunch of non-pros playing. Still, fantastic.

I think what is missing from Rawls is a theory of being awesome.

Politicians and integrity

This topic could run on for ever, but I just read this rad thing on Victorian politicans. In particular, I would like to call your attention to this awesome factoid:

"The Government's reliance on the car came under fire in April when Premier John Brumby used a chauffeur-driven car for a 400-metre trip from Parliament House to 55 Collins Street — to sign an agreement to cut greenhouse emissions."

I don't know why, instead of getting angry about this, it just makes me feel warm inside and very smiley. Like my blood is made from puppies.

Anyone else get that feeling, or have I completely lost the plot?
Also, if anyone else finds such beautiful factoids about politicans and integrity, my eyes would like to look at them in order to maintain this PFB delusion (PFB being 'puppies-for-blood').

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A brief follow up

Apparently, Qantas has something to answer for when it comes to the distribution of information. See here.

The Data Smog

So, I was passed on a link this morn to the NSW Food Authority's register of penalty notices, released in early May this year. My contact expressed her happiness that such information would be released. Her justification, unsurprisingly, was that now people can know who is violating what when it comes to food. Note that this is the penalty register: the offences register is on a separate page. We'll get to a comparison of the two momentarily. For now I want to focus on the former.

Because, being a PhD student, I have a problem with the site, much as I have a problem with lots of things. Too many books = whinges a lot.

So what is what is wrong with this site, for me? It can be summed up best in Alasdair Roberts' catchphrase: data smog. Data Smog is the effect where an institution releases a whole bunch of information under the guise of being a good citizen and letting the folk know what's going on in their world, but ends up releasing so much information so quickly and in such a messy state that they may as well have not released any data at all. The site is a table (sortable by a number of categories) that lists those businesses whom the Food Authority has slapped with a fine regarding a food-related matter: storage, cleaning of food or premises, handling, sale, labelling, etc. On the surface, it looks reasonably manageable. However, the information doesn't really give any substantive insights. To get any information about what particular penalty a particular business has been given, one must click on the link embodied by the penalty code off to the right of the table. This code, again non-descriptive, takes you to the particular information on the case, where you can see the details of the infraction for that business. So, conceivably, if one knew where one was going to dine, or what area, one could scroll through the table to find specific restaurants or restaurants in a particular area.

However, this is all done manually, and requires shifting back and forth from the table on the front page to the specific penalty incurred, and back again, for each offense. Not just each premises, but each offense. So, if an inspector has been having a bad day and goes nuts on a particular joint, there may be a number of incidental penalties that appear in sequence, that one has to look at separately if they are to assess how serious each claim is. For instance, a particular supermarket was fined for labelling a pack of mutton as lamb. Not a serious offense, but still, it is flagged.

Now, I have no problem with all these incidentals being released per se. I'm sure that there are particular religious denominations or others who will find value in such info. But there is no way to screen for a particular offense, for example. So, if someone has a life-threatening condition, say, a bad nut allergy, they can't find who has been charged within the last 2 years (the time period which penalties are noted for) for accidentally introducing nuts into meals. This is important for them, and may influence their choice on where to go based on repeat, or single infractions. However, if one wanted to know this, they'd have to search through all this data manually to get what they wanted. Simple filtering systems aren't exactly new or complicated: If a Microsoft product can do it, it shouldn't be too problematic. Or even just to put a brief description of the infraction within the initial table, for easy viewing.

Never mind that there is no consistency between the penalties and offences tables. In penalties, you click on the penalty rego number to get details, in offences, the business name. Of course, this isn't noted.

I'm all for free information. But it seems like a waste of time and money to throw it out there without at least some rudimentary ability to filter through such information. I mean, because of the two-tier structure of the penalties notices, one couldn't even copy the first table into, say, excel and go from there. They'd have to copy each offense individually. I dont' believe it is enough for governments to provide information to their citizens. They have to provide it in such a way that someone without expert knowledge on the subject can approach the data and manipulate it to acheive their goals, particular when such goals are related to health.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Death's the disease, I'm the cure

yes. To perhaps be paraphrasing that greatest of philosophers, John Rambo, death is now a disease that can be treated with patentable pharmaceuticals. Whew, finally.

A 'small' pharma company has been bought out by Glaxo-SmithKline one the strength of two pharmaceuticals used to prolong life (or to treat death). These pharmaceuticals are still in the clinical trials stage, and despite their potential to supress fertility in subjects (which may even be potential targets for new patents) are said to potentially increase life expectancy by 5 - 10%. And then you drop dead. Aaaah, life. And how do they do this? One pharmaceutical activates the body's sirtuins. Why?

"The hope is that activating sirtuins in people would, like a calorically restricted diet in mice, avert degenerative diseases of aging like diabetes, heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer's. There is no Food and Drug Administration category for longevity drugs, so if the company is to submit a drug for approval, it needs to be for a specific disease."

So here we have the crux of it. Instead of eating healthy, and exercising the body, reducing pollution and exercising mind (all often linked to decreasing diabetes, heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer's) we have drugs, patentable drugs, to do this for us.

Forgive my cynicism, but now that death is a disease that is treatable by patentable pharmaceuticals, one has to wonder what (the) good life is.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

I can't believe its not Nietzsche

In response to Catie's earlier post of 'I can't believe its not Kant' I have knocked up this little doozy.
Get on board your favourite 'philosopher as pet' train. All the kids are doing it.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

What is a good person? + Nature/nurture debate

After a couple of interesting talks at the AAP conference this week, I stumbled across this BBC article on goodness of character and the nature/nurture debate, both subjects of which I attended talks about throughout the week.

Luke Russell first off talked about what made an evil person, deciding that our intuitions were a good basis for this, but that current models of evil weren't quite up to the task, and Paul Griffiths today talked about the nature/nurture debate, and how you can't really separate nurture from nature (his example from the animal kingdom was the development of rats and their gene expression based on how much grooming they received from their mother (among other examples)), and that the idea of "human nature" is not just explicable by our DNA (or by our environment).

Anyway I'm a little tipsy right now after the AAP conference dinner so I'll leave it at that for now, IMO the BBC is a little behind in the most recent thinking on these debates! ;)

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Wikileaks -- when does freedom of information go too far?

I read with great interest this article on wikileaks.org, a fascinating site that allows whistle-blowers to do their thing. As the article mentions, it's already played a huge part in several astonishing cases around the world -- disclosure of information about the looting of Kenya by a former president, money laundering by a Swiss bank, and US interrogation procedures in Guantanamo Bay.

The article looks at criticism of its "free-for-all" policy, publishing actors' tax bills with their SSNs, or scripts for upcoming movies, and for its publishing of Scientology and other secretive religious documents.

All this got me wondering, where should the line be drawn? The old saying "information wants to be free" seems to be the key ethic of wikileaks itself, but how is publishing movie scripts or innocuous tax bills at all useful?

I'm all for freedom of information, but if there's no greater good to be gained from the publishing of it, it seems purely malicious and somewhat counterproductive to the aims of wikileaks itself (establishing it as a reputable source for information, for example). There are certain industries where whistleblowing, although legal, will get you in a lot of trouble if you go through the official channels, and wikileaks adds a good level of anonymous abstraction to the process which can certainly be used for a lot of good.

What do you think?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

I Can't Believe It's Not Kant!

I saw this article on Cute Overload and just *had* to share.

I Can't Believe It's Not Kant!: "

While the common dog enthusiast may content himself to costume his cur in the guise of hackneyed pop-culture icons, retro-urban folk archetypes, or even perverse attempts at species confusion, the intellectual dog owner seeks to cloak Man's Best Friend not in the artificiality of cloth, but in the transcendence of Truth.' It is for these enlightened few that The Cute Overload School of Philosophy Gift Shop is pleased to offer ...

The Immanuel Kant Doggie Dress-Up Kit!

philosopher (L) pupster (R)

Each kit includes a deluxe leather-bound edition of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason translated into Dog, a set of Categories of the Understanding flash cards, and an easy-to-learn guide to teaching your dog pensive philosophical poses.

To order, contact Ian O.


(Via Cute Overload.)

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Measure of a Robot (from io9)

io9.com gives us this amazing chart, The Measure of a Robot:

I find it intriguing how they explain the placement of the robots on the good/evil axis: they explain that some robots are good because they were just programmed to be evil, yet many of those far on the evil scale are just pure evil. How do they know? Surely those robots are as much a victim of their programming as the good ones?

I'm sure there's some dual-use dilemma stuff in here, Nick!

But what I want to know is, where does GladOS fit? :) (and since when is a "box" a robot? HAL & MCP & the Wargames computer were computers, not robots...)

(Via io9.)