Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Public Service Announcement

Dear Loyal Readers (TM),

After careful consideration, we are moving to Wordpress.  Its been fun.

Please find us over at cappepg.wordpress.com

Friday, September 4, 2009

Nietzsche's Children Or Lonely Boys?

Kind of following on from Riuex's recent post on Conan, I thought I would post a link to this documentary. It looks at Norwegian Black Metal, with a particular focus on Gaahl, singer and multiple felon.

What is interesting (aside from the Black Metal - some choice music cuts are to be heard on there) is the Nietzschean angle that these kids often take. i.e. One of the ubermensch, and the duty to transcend conventional human values etc. The question is, do people like Gaahl actually get Nietzsche, or do they just need a hug?*

* It should be pointed out that Gaahl has stated that he doesn't have a lot in common with Nietzsche, despite releasing an album called 'Twighlight Of The Idols'.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What is best in life...

Rawls' famously suggests that persons are free and equal by virtue of their having two 'moral powers'. The first is a sense of justice, understand as:

...the capacity to understand, to apply, and to act from the public conception of justice which characterises the fair terms of social cooperation....a sense of justice also expresses a willingness, if not the desire, to act in relation to others on terms that they also can publicly endorse

Essentially this limits our desire for instituting systems which infringe upon each others liberty...i.e. by allowing power to be concentrated in the hands of a few, or instituting discriminatory practices which leave the worst-off in states of abject poverty for the greater glory of the majority.

The second moral power, is the cacpity to have a conception of the good, or:

...the capacity to form, to revise, and to rationally pursue a conception of one's rational advantage or good.

Essentially we can understand how we form these conceptions as the perennial question, commonly asked of young men on the open steppes: "What is best in life?"

In view of Conan's musings, what are we to say about his fitness as an equal and free person, and the tenability of Rawls' political liberalism (on the open steppes, or elsewhere)? Certainly Conan has a conception of the good: crushing enemies, seeing them driven before you, and hearing the lamentations of their women. Tick for Conan.

But would Conan publicly endorse his concept of the good as being reasonable? Obviosuly he thinks it is perfectly reasonable from his current position in the social order (sitting on that lovely throne of his). It is debatable, however, whether he would be as keen for slaughter if he didn't know what his position in the social order would be and whether his conception of the good would include the pleasures of pillage. But he might...indeed much like feudal systems of yore, the worst-off in 'Barbarian' society might be strongly resigned to the divine justice of a might-makes-right philosophy. The justice of death at the hands of Conan might be reasonable and rational...but probably not.

In any case, Conan the Barbarian shouldn't be acting as our representative when formulating the social order - atleast if we want Rawls's version of it. In fact putting Conan in a position of any political power would be an act of collective madness. Only a society so enamoured with the reflected glow of the powerful that it wishes for and actively encourages the accumulation of power and wealth in the hands of a small minority would conceive of such a scheme....

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Satan's Game

Thought I'd not rant about how the health care saga continue to turn into bizarro world, but rather on something that comes from a place rather closer to my heart.
I'm an avid fan of Jerry "Tycho" Holkins and Mike "Gabe" Krahulik and their long-running comic strip Penny Arcade. Today they linked to a story about a man who attempted to kill two friends of his with a hammer. The story describes how the man apparently got into some form of violent rage, and in the article motive was assigned to two things: 1) a Dungeons and Dragons game gone wrong; and 2) a girl. Horrific to be sure, but mundane in a sense -- people kill each other for much, much less. The story is a month old, the original article reporting financial issues as part of the motive. The guy it seems, has a pretty rough life, is a missionary of some sort, which can be hard on people, and it was claimed completely uncharacteristic of him. Pretty standard really.

What seems to have Holkins incredulous is the apparent blaming of the attack on Dungeons and Dragons. The comments section seems to be following (or preceding, I haven't checked the time stamps rigourously) Holkins' lead. Now, the moral panic over Dungeons and Dragons seems to be a particular piece of American history, and something I'm not personally familiar with (apart from this hilarious depiction). But I can't see the implication. The piece explains that motive was established as involving D&D. That's a correlation, certainly, and there are causal elements to it, but it certainly doesn't follow that the implication is that D&D causes people to bash each other in the head with hammers. What does follow is that this particular individual, by a particular game, was lead to do this. He's still culpable, and it doesn't line D&D up for the burning. If you replaced every instance of D&D with "card," we'd have a poker player gone mad. That's not something we'd blame poker on.

What D&D does cop is its status as an involved game. D&D is an involved pursuit. No more than philosophy (recall Popper and Wittgenstein), football, or finance. I can understand the concern at the future construal of D&D as "Satan's game" considering the events of the past, but I don't believe that this article presented that facet. In fact, the comments seem to indicate that the people most concerned about this are D&D players. The rest of the comments were along the lines of "this guy is a crazy person, chill out!" As to the status quo comment response that follows the line: "I play D&D, I haven't brutalised anyone, therefore D&D doesn't make you brutalise people," -- that doesn't follow either. D&D can lead to you brutalising people. It can be a direct causal factor in leading to someone snapping. How do we know? Because this is the motive established. But it is just that - a motive. It doesn't follow that arguments like the one Langton has used on pornography (more specifically, sexualised violence in pornography).

Why is this of so much interest to me? Because in liberal society we seem to suffer this problem. Hell, forget liberal, as people we suffer from this distinction's nuances tripping us up. As it is, most of my thesis revolves around a non-D&D (unfortuantely, it'd be so much fun to write a thesis on the ethics of gaming) version of this. Scientists claim that they haven't exploited or subjugated a population with science, therefore science doesn't cause this. It may not cause in the sense that it alone creates the disposition to subjugate, but it certainly fulffils a causal process. Its parsing this that interests me, because humans are notoriously bad at cause/correlation and necessary/sufficient distinctions, and we get wrapped in them very easy.

Maybe the article is stating that D&D is once again Satan's game. I don't believe so, I believe it is stating that this person had it as a causal contributor to some pretty horrific stuff. I approach it with the same level of interest that I do science, football and philosophy being causal factors in terrible things. But that's the mens rea. That's what it is all about.


EDIT: My apologies, that's a Legal Fail. Motive and Intent are distinct in modern law, with mens rea covering the latter. Carry on.

Oh, PPS, I'm thinking I'll change the drapes on this site soon. The brown is getting to me.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The latest in a string of riciulous moves.

So the picture to the right appeared this morning on Digg. I must say, this little piece of rhetoric from the right has gone beyond the traditional rhetoric of the free market, and into something a little bit more crazy.

The pamphlet is distributed by a lobby group, LaRouche Political Action Comittee. LaRouche has cited that the US health system reforms proposed by Obama and his cabinet are akin to the eugenics programs of the Nazi Party in the lead up to and druing the second world war. Their justification (based on my understanding of this video)

  1. The German eugenics program pre-world war two involved a panel of experts to decide who was clinically unfit to foster the German people.  Obama's new healthcare will be streamlined and rationing decisions will be made by a panel of experts (because of limited resources and a large distribution problems).  The existence of this panel of experts, much like the panel of experts in Hitler's regime means Obama is evidently a facist.
  2. The creation of an independent board of experts to oversee health reforms is beyond congressional oversight, and thus is the sign of a dictator.
Now, if I remember correctly, this board that is being set up is in direct response to republican concern that medical treatments would be distributed by non-professionals.  As it is, although Peter Orszag proposed the new board, he is not on it.  If Ezekiel Emmanuel is on it, his "fascist" tendencies come from a number of articles he's written over the years about the allocation of medical resources when we can't meet all required needs.

Because the market so obviously can meet those needs.

Have a look if you can stomach it.  I'm a bit too busy on this particular day to trawl through all the mindless rhetorical maneuvering that goes on in the video.  The sad thing of it is, most people who see that flier aren't likely to follow it around the webs tracking down what's moving underneath.  Its just another piece of lunacy by those who believe in freedom (TM).

Sunday, August 9, 2009

I love drugs

So, I am in the Netherlands, the oft claimed home of drugs and hookers, and was sitting in my room, reading this article from the UK Times about 'love shyness'. In essence, this is supposedly an emergent phenomenon (very very weak epistemological emergence, if you could even call it emergence) whereby a bunch of lonely adult males piss and moan about the fact that they were ten years old when had their last girlfriend. Observe:

John has been in love. “Probably just the once. When I was 10 there was this girl I really liked. She was younger than me, so when I went to secondary school I lost contact with her and never saw her again.” He has an enduring memory of playing outside with the girl, and of the sun slowly going down, and never feeling happier. In fantasy he often takes the memory further and, imagining himself as a child again, he kisses her.

Now, this is clearly indicative of some deep seated emotional abnormality, and I don't mean to be cold hearted and lacking empathy when thinking about this - clearly I read this article for a reason, and if I am in a culture renowned for its liberal approach social norms yet sitting inside and reading newspaper articles, I think it safe to say that I am not the most successful pants-man who strode the earth. But then I read this section, and my humour and cynicism and bitterness returned:

Seb says the first step to getting better is recognising that something is wrong and the label helps with that. “I believe LS can be overcome,” he says, “but it’s a long, hard road.”

There are drugs to treat shyness, mainstream antidepressants such as Paxil. But the many possible side-effects include sweating, nausea, lowered libido and suicidal tendencies

Nice. You want to treat a problem that has depression and sexual relations central to it, by application of medications known to lower libido and increase suicidal tendencies? And make the people sweaty and nauseous while on dates? Nice thinking, arse-clown. Maybe just force these guys to smoke Ice and give them a handgun. Might solve their problems, sure it might also have some negative side effects, but hey, as long as we're helping these people, who cares what happens to them.

Which brings me to the vague point of these ramblings - that labelling of socially non-standard behaviour dances easily to the music of medicalization, which as i'm sure we all know is perhaps not the best solution to a given set of problems: I'm lonely, cold inside and my last girlfriend was an eight year-old, twenty-two years ago. Clearly I need drugs to find love.

The words 'parasite' and 'exploitation' seem to bounce around in my head for some strange reason.

Friday, July 31, 2009

US and Health Care Reform...WTF?

Speaking of health care reform, and failing empires, and following Nick's lead, I am going to post some link to a tv show that expresses myself for me.

But before clicking mice and staring vacantly, I just have to ask, WTF is going on in that country? The standard rhetoric of opponents to health care reform in the US seems to claim that
a) a government bureaucrat will make your health care decisions for you
b) anything the government runs is inefficient
c) a citizen's taxes shouldn't be spent on something that doesn't directly benefit them

Let me just point out the bleeding obvious
a) in the US most health care decisions are made by an insurance company, often hired by the patient's boss. Yes. That sounds fair and equal - an industry designed to make money by restricting services to life's necessities, (and by that I mean living) coupled with the idea that if you get sick, you lose your job, and so lose your health care. And die. Dang. But at least its not the government. Because that would be socialism, and that is evil.
b) The US currently spends 15.3% of GDP on health care (more than double the OECD median), yet comes in at 50th in terms of life expectancy per birth, compared to all other countries. Yes! That's efficiency!
c) The list of wasted tax dollars in the US would make a British MP blush. This list could go on for ever, but two immediate examples spring to mind. 1 - The cost of the Iraq war: almost US$ 900 Million. 2- The cost of corn subsidies: US$ 56 Billion (1995- 2006). Tax dollars going to kill people (around 500 Iraqs per day) and citizen soldiers (4,331) in overseas wars and cheaper junk food that probably kills them at home. That's directly beneficial.

I just don't understand how people swallow the steaming pile of lies that is being shat out upon them. It boggles my mind. How? How? How? god, shoot me in the face with a big gun.

Anyway, this was meant to be short and to the point. The point being this little link to a tv show. Enjoy: The Daily Show on Health Care Morons.

Peace out.

Racism in America

A nice little piece of Colbert.  I thought it was a good depiction of how race is being dealt with in the US.
(Lifted from Lean Left.)
The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Word - He Who Smelt It, Dealt It
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTasers

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Tell me, what do you see?

So Adam Man Tium sent me a most interesting article yesterday.  The New York Times has posted that a bit of a stink has been thrown up about the publication of common answers to Rorschach tests. It is a really good article, filled with all sorts of juicy little morsels for our brains to feast upon.

First, there is the issue of the release jeopardising the validity of a famous psychological test. While I can see why the clinical psychs are a bit cranky, I don't particularly see any objection to such a move. I mean, other fields that deal with people encounter this all the time. Hell, psychologists have to deal with the fact that people learn. That they can learn faster now just means that new scales will have to be designed. The fact that there are apparently tens of thousands of papers written trying to link behaviours and results on the tests doesn't seem to matter. I mean, for research psychs - shouldn't you guys be happy? You now have more work. Get over it. As to the wringing of hands about posterity, that's a touch weak as far as I'm concerned. if the cryptographers cried every time someone on the internet cracked a code, the world would be awash with their tears and broken dreams.  My experiences with people who are in the business of fooling psychs is that if someone wants to fool a psych, faking a Rorschach isn't going to be the only trick up their sleeves.

What is more interesting is the concern that leaking psychological diagnostic tests may lead amateurs to wrongly diagnose people they know.  More importantly, this is seen (it seems) as a violation of the psychological professional code of conduct.  Now, my own internal jury is still out on whether this in the Rorschach case has sufficient empirical grunt to follow through, but I actually think this kind of argument is quite a pressing one.  There is already a growing worry about self-diagnosis and subsequent prescription of medical treatments.  Of course, it hasn't stopped a whole swag of individuals jumping on the home-medicine bandwagon, and considering the US health problems of the day maybe this is justified.  Nonetheless, there is a reason that people train as long as they do in health-related disciplines.  The harms potentially caused by misdiagnosis and malpractice (as liability premiums for medical practitioners show) can be quite catastrophic.  Again, if you are only doing it for yourself, maybe that's okay.  But anecdotally, if someone thinks they know how to cure your particular brand of sniffles, they are going to go around telling everyone they can.  Noone just keeps their home-medicine to themselves.  That's how medicine evolved.  Unfortunately, in our society, the risks are that much greater, and there are weighty ethical concerns that accompany the trial-and-error way of the home doctor.

What is startling about this article is that the above concerns about harms and professional responsibility is actually shown nicely by the very person who is the staunchest defender of the postings, Dr. James Heilman. Before I do that, I'm going to take the chance to e-ridicule him:

Heilman, the man who originally posted the material, compared removing the plates to the Chinese government’s attempt to control information about the Tiananmen massacre. That is, it is mainly a dispute about control, he said.
IDIOT. You think this is in anyway like the cover up of Tienanmen, because of control? So by your logic, the protection of patient details, or the identity of rape victims, or any other form of control of information based on the risk of considerable harm caused is like Communist repression. I mean, come on people! The mere attempt to exert control over something doesn't make you any [insert favourite political scapegoat of the day]. Heilman obviously hasn't been engaging with the arguments on any substantive level, because otherwise he'd be focusing on actual argument, rather than meaningless hyperbole.

To cap it off, we have his own personal coup de gras:
To illustrate his point, Dr. Heilman used the Snellen eye chart, which begins with a big letter E and is readily available on the Wikipedia site. 
“If someone had previous knowledge of the eye chart,” he said, “you can go to the car people, and you could recount the chart from memory. You could get into an accident. Should we take it down from Wikipedia?” 

And, Dr. Heilman added, “My dad fooled the doctor that way.”

So doc, what you are saying is that you let your dad endanger the lives of other people by faking a really quite justified intervention into people's right to drive their cars around (i.e. whether or not they can see), and this is somehow meant to act as a rebuttal to those psychologists who are worried about harms caused by misuse of their diagnostic materials?  Yeah, that's totally coherent.  In fact, I would be tempted to say YES.  Yes we should.  Not only have you shown that leaving the loaded gun on the kitchen table risks kids shooting each other with it, but you've got video footage of little Jimmy running off with it to play cops and robbers with his friends.  You've proved their point!  Hell, all they need now is a little push in the empirical direction to show its not only you and your dad who are menaces to everyone around them, and there's a case for regulation right there!  I mean, right to freedom of expression is one thing.  Right to cheat on your driving eye-test is quite another.

I mean, there is a better solution to the eye thing - just randomise the letters.  But I'm not in the biz, so I don't know if that is feasible or jeopardises the reliability of the test.  It probably does. Still, an interesting article all in all, filled with equal amounts of the good, the bad, and the stupid.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Very Creative Turn Of Rhetoric (while we wait for the end)

Some of you may have been following the intellectual jousting match that is Steve Fielding v Majority World Scientific Opinion. In an effort to be a good representative to his constituents (2% of whom actually voted for him), Australian Senator Fielding thought he ought to do the good thing and explore the science of climate change. As he put it recently on, Lateline "Look, I don't think it's matter of being sceptical or extremist on this issue; it's too important to play politics with... And I think it'd be derelict if I didn't inform myself." Like a good engineer, Fielding sought information from 'both sides of the argument' in the US. These sides were the Obama governmental representatives and conservative think tank marketing group the Heartland Institute. In his crusade to separate climate change from politics, he visits he US government and a thinktank intended "to discover, develop, and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems." Lucky he avoided politics there! Returning to Australia, Fielding was now convinced that there were too many doubts scientificially about the links between climate change and human activity.

While Fielding's disproportionate power in the Australian Senate is of interest itself, I am intrigued by the way in which the debate about 'climate change' has shifted. Fielding's own explorations are indicative, I believe, of a fascinating turn of rhetoric in how 'energy conservatives' are dealing with the problem that very few people believe them any more. Pesky phrases like '[w]arming of the climate system is unequivical' and '[m]ost of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic GHG concentrations,' taken from the 2007 IPCC Climate Change Summary Report, keep jumping out at them. How can they deal with what seems the massive weight of scientific opinion? Enter the re-branding of climate skeptics as 'climate mavericks' (my term).

Consider Fielding's comments, again from Lateline: "up until now, I, like most Australians, have just believed one side of the story totally. I've never - we've never really considered as Australia, there's been never a real debate about looking at the other side of it. And I think we've all just believed that it's definitely global warming is a real issue and global warming is driven by carbon emissions." Like his understanding of global warming trends, it seems that Fielding's memory of Australian socio-political history is extremely shortsighted. For those of you unfamiliar with Australian politics, the previous government, who were in power from 1996 - 2007, were open skeptics about climate change. Only late into their failed 2007 election campaign did the sitting Government openly acknowledge some possibility of human influence on global climate. Second to this, the massive coal industry - Australia is the largest exporter of coal worldwide, approx 1/3 of the world's coal comes from Australia. Finally,we are heavily reliant upon cars (i.e. petrol) as the major form of personal transport. Basically, the status quo in Australia was, and still is skewed heavily towards carbon intensive industries and carbon intensive lifestyles.
Yet somehow, folks like Fielding paint a view that they are a maverick, standing up against the conservative green-minded folks who accept climate change without thinking. Check conservative mouth-piece Miranda Devine's casting of Fielding as warrior for freedom:

He has been derided by people without any training in mathematics or scientific disciplines, who regard science, probably, as they do their computers - as a little black box to be understood only by an elite council of infallible gurus who are incapable of impure motives. Who is the gullible one?...Fielding has been smeared as a religious nutter, even though the real religious nutters are the green zealots who are hell-bent on destroying farming and mining for the sake of, at best, a minuscule environmental benefit.

As the weight scientific opinion has shifted more and more to the links between human activity, climate change, and the damage it will probably cause, the skeptics lost their position of authority. How to deal with this? It seems that there is a shift in how climate skeptics deal with the issue of public opinion. Rather than the rhetoric of 'fringe dwelling wierdoes' of the '80s, or 'not enough scientific evidence' of the '90s, it is now 'mavericks wanting the public to know both sides of the story.' Big carbon producing industries and their political lackeys are now the underdog, fighting for the rights of the down-trodden middle classes.
Yes, when violent green radicals like Ross Garnaut peddle such socialist ideas that "[t]he weight of scientific evidence tells us that Australians are facing risks of damaging climate change. The risk can be substantially reduced by strong, effective and early action by all major economies," we need someone to stand up and question the green radicals. Enter, Mr. Fielding, truth-crusader, climate maverick. Oh, wait a minute, that's right...People did that for decades, and they have been shown to be wrong, wrong wrong.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Why Does Obama Hate Freedom?

Now that the O-Bomba is flexing his muscle, the dreaded SHCA hydra is returning to U.S. politics. Yes, that old many headed serpent, the Socialist Health Care Agenda is back, and by Zeus, it has got teeth.
As any liberal with a bleeding heart can tell you, people often seem to support the idea of institutionalised health care. (Usually it is because they are closet commies - no doubt the blood of those demanding fair access to health is red like Marx.) Some people even go so as to say that health care is morally important. I truly wonder why people hate freedom?
Fortunately, like any good citizen group, the CPR have swiftly stood up to the monstrous threat to choice that is socialised health care.
In a series of advertisements released in the U.S., the Conservatives for Patients' Rights have finally spoken the truth about health care. Following is selected chunks from Chris McGreal's article in today's Guardian:

[The CPR campaign claims that] "a state-run system strips patients of control over their healthcare. "[People] lose control over their own destiny in the health system,"...[This] campaign is being co-ordinated by the same public relations firm that masterminded the "Swift boat" attacks by President Bush's campaign against John Kerry in the 2004 election...CPR says that Obama's plans to control costs, while widening access to care for some 45m people without health insurance, means that the US will introduce rationing of treatment and drug supplies...[describing] Britons as "trapped" by the NHS, with medical decisions made by bureaucrats, not doctors.
Yes. The U.K. health care system is obviously a nightmare. Waiting lists can be long. Choice relating to doctors is limited. In contrast, the current U.S. system truly supports freedom: I can get the best health care in world if I truly want it. Choice is more important than being alive to make choices. I sure as fudge don't want some pesky socialist bureaucrat telling someone who oversees an institution to tell a medical Dr what to tell me. I would rather die from freedom than live in a world where I get healthcare without choices. As the founder of the CPR Richard Scott points out "What you see is when the government gets involved, you run out of money and health care gets rationed." I assume it follows that those who don't have money to begin with deserve their poor health. In fact those who don't have the money to pay for health ought to follow Scott's entrepreneurial model.
We ought avoid those pesky ideas like 'health' or 'wellness' in the world of healthcare. Healthcare needs only Scott's four pillars: "choice, competition, accountability and personal responsibility." Anything else must simply be a socialist conspiracy.

60 days till midnight...

Swine flu is the Y2K of our time, the beast that roared but never bit, the River Phoenix of the disease-disaster constellation....right? Wrong...

The first few days of swine flu seemed like the aporkalypse. 1800-odd cases, 80 deaths and plane-loads of coughers and sneezers on their way to threaten our 'border security'. Antivirals were in short supply, pork was suspicious (if not unsafe) and we needed to close the airports and stick thermometers in tourists in order to keep ourselves safe. The ABC was doing its bit for the nation with some hard hitting reportage on scurrillously unhindered passengers at Sydney Airport. The end was nigh...

But then it wasn't.... no one that mattered was getting sick, there wasn't any Australian cases and masks were not the newest fashion accessory in Mosman. Besides; Madonna was getting remarried, the government was inventing words and abusing idiom (see "nation-building", "forged in the fire") and NRL players were objectifying women again. All was right with the world, the danger had passed.

At this point, most right-thinking media consumers probably saw a furphy...the eggheads and politicans had sold us a pup!! The cynical saw an availability heuristic in action; "suspicious thinkers" saw a consipracy at every-turn. Pockets had been lined, Roche had sold a bucket-load of Tamiflu and curious troop movements were seen in the Arctic...we'd been hoodwinked and there was actually nothing to fear. Just another beat-up by rent-seekers and panic-button pushers.

The problem with this perfectly reasonable view is its distance from pesky reality. The latest scientific information, based upon initial case and fatality data from Mexico, turns up some interesting information. Firstly, the speed with which the virus spreads seems to be relatively slow...for a pandemic (in germ geek-speak; R0=1.6). The number of people who will likely die once they have been infected also seems to be quite low (CFR <0.6%). style="font-weight: bold;">is
a potential Lilliputian.

Of course, that doesn't mean it's not going to affect you, just that it might take some time before it does. The impression that the H1N1 flu was a fizzer is tempting, but misleading; especially when the models of how disease spreads through a population seem to tell us that pandemics can have relatively long periods of stasis before reaching a tipping point beyond which the disease spreads rapidly and effectively.

Therefore, to put the provisional R0 of 1.4-1.6 in context, we need to go down in the weeds a little bit. For those of you allergic to graphs...shield your eyes now.

(A) Given our value for R from the Science paper. The delay before an epidemic-inducing 20 concurrent infectious cases in Australia (or any country outside of North Am) has a 95% probability of being between 40 and 70 days from initiation of the epidemic in the source region.
(B) Number of travellers leaving source region and arriving in at-risk country per day has a negligible effect on the median delay once number of travellers >100 (i.e. remains at ~60 days for R0 of 1.5)
(C) Screening incoming travellers for symptoms has a negligible effect on delay
(D) “In general, the additional delay achieved by introducing non-pharmaceutical border control measures is generally small in comparison with the natural delay”

The (highly) general conclusion from this is that we may have to wait up to two months for the natural introduction of the pandemic into Australia....and that border screening will do very, very little to alter this. Sixty days is a long time for the media-land goldfish (and its ADHD brother, the blogosphere), and hence the tendency is towards swiftly shifting attentions and the phenomenon of rapidly appearing and dissappearing threats.

The idea that disease could take a long time to get to Australia also works counter-intuitively in a world were the bananas on your kitchen table were in the Phillipines two days ago. But the confusion is lessened when you realise that the probabilities of any one passenger on a flight to Australia being infectious with a disease that has only infected a few thousand people in a country of 100 million, while rising towards 1, are relatively small in the initial stages of an epidemic.

Hence the idea that we are 60 days from midnight...or atleast 60 days from when I'll be proven wrong...

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Economic Rationalism And Smoking

In what is perhaps the greatest news story/public policy on the face of the planet, read the following excerpt from an article in today's Age titled Chinese Ordered To Smoke Until They Drop:

LOCAL government officials in China have been ordered to smoke nearly a quarter of a million packets of cigarettes to boost the local economy during the global financial crisis.

The edict, issued by officials in Hubei Province, in central China, threatens to fine officials who "fail to meet their targets" or are caught smoking rival brands manufactured in neighbouring provinces.

Even local schools have been given a smoking quota for teachers, while one village was ordered to buy 400 cartons of cigarettes a year for its officials.

This is part genius and part rational. While the absurd(ist) moron in me is giggling with excitement about this, I find it hard to see how this is very much different from Rudd's cash-splash. Spend, dammit, spend. Don't save, don't invest in the future, spend now. Even if it means putting a shotgun to a child's head and screaming at them to start smoking, (slight exaggeration here), we must support the economy at all costs.

In fact, if you expand this out a little, this is the very argument put forward by the Australian coal lobby et al. that we can't afford to impose hefty carbon debts on high polluting industries. Jobs (as an abstract economic quantifier) are for more important than the health or well being of the people inhabiting those jobs, their families or those in their community. So smoke up, kiddoes, because Jobs are jesus, and the Economy is god.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Troubling Times

In a weird twist of world events, i have found myself in (indirect) support of Philip Ruddock. Yes, he of the 'pacific solution', who (on some accounts) officially co-ordinated the institutional abuse of some of the world's most vulnerable people.

Yes, today finds me at odds with my morally sound belief that the sooner Ruddock is permanently removed from public life, the safer the world will be for all of us. Yet, as I read an article in today's Australian, I actually found bile entering my blood stream in such a way that the blood-brain barrier was passed and I though for a second, 'these people have no right to demand Ruddock's departure'.

So what rubbish am I babbling about today? In a sign of how Australian politics works in practice, let me quote from today's Australian:

MAJOR business donors to the Liberal Party have put Malcolm Turnbull on notice that their continued financial support is now conditional on the Opposition Leader personally driving a large scale renewal of MPs in the parliamentary party.

The business figures have compiled a list of MPs who they believe should stand down at the next election in order to allow new talent to come through and to demonstrate to voters that the Opposition is looking to the future, rather than the past.

The list of 14 MPs across all states includes senior figures from the Howard era such as Philip Ruddock, Bronwyn Bishop, Kevin Andrews and NSW powerbroker Bill Heffernan.

Now, believe me, dead wood needs pruning, and in this case a good burn-off would go well. But there is something fundamentally pathological in a society where:
a) it is the donors to a political party who decide the content of a political party. I was under the impression that democracy was concerned with the elected members serving the interests of the electorate, and not who 'donates' money to them.
b) this is public knowledge and no-one seems to be concerned about it at all. Are we so far gone as a society that we see it as o.k. that donors to political parties can make demands as to who represents the people?

Now this is not a problem of the Liberal Party, i'm sure this sickness poisons the integrity of the Labour Party as much as any other. The bile that has now filled the cavity of my brain is screaming that something has gone horribly wrong here.

Does anyone else hear these voices? Am I the only one?

Monday, April 20, 2009

J.G. Ballard R.I.P.

For those of you into your distopian fiction, you may be interested to know that J.G. Ballard died in the past few days. His work was visionary, poetic and in some strange way, numbly comforting.

It is a shame that we won't get the chance to experience his vision of the world no more.

For those of you unfamiliar with his work, perhaps now is the time to check it out.


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Why we deserve our probable extinction

I read today about the PUMA. It is an 'invention' that GM (of cars fame) and the Segway company are working on, to help solve the environmental and social issues associated with having automobiles as our cheif source of mass transportation.

Quoting from today's Age:

"We're excited about doing more with less," said Jim Norrod, chief executive of Segway, the maker of electric scooters. "Less emissions, less dependability on foreign oil and less space." The 136 kg prototype runs on a lithium-ion battery and uses Segway's characteristic two-wheel balancing technology, along with dual electric motors. It's designed to reach speeds of up to 56 kmh and can run 56 km on a single charge.

Now when I first read this, I naturally thought (as any left leaning petty bourgeoisie untillectual ought to think) 'cool'. Less cars + less pollution + less space = good. 'This seems really good', I Puma is not good. In fact, this Puma is absolute poison. Let me state that again 'ABSOLUTE POISON'. No ifs, no buts, nothing but POISON.

'Now, whoah there, Trotsky,' one might say 'why would you say such things about a cool new invention that resolves a lot of practical problems with our current world?'

Two words: 1) Bike. 2) Fat. To explain -
1) Bike. Let me quote from today's Age again: "A solution to the world's urban transportation problems could lie in two wheels not four, according to executives for General Motors and Segway." Yes. A two wheeled solution exists. It is called bike. Like the GM and Segway folks, you might be unaware of this thing called 'bike'. It is an invention that has been around for almost 200 years. Fact: We do not need a new motorised two wheeled invention, we already have one. In fact this 'bike' as I call it, actually doesn't need a fossil fuel powered engine. Which segues into the next point -
2) Fat. Currently there are approximately 1.1 BILLION people suffering from 'over-nutrition' in the world. That is, there are a lot of people who, for a number of compounding reasons, have reduced health due to their weight. One of these reasons is that we do not exercise enough. And I don't mean 'go to the gym' exercise. I mean, we sit, and sit and sit - this sedentary lifestyle is harming many many people. Michael Pollan, in 'The Omnivore's Dilemma' claims that 19% of meals in the U.S. are eaten in the car. A 2006 article in The Lancet puts 'Overweight and Obesity' as the 7th largest cause of death worldwide (behind High Blood Pressure, 1st and High Cholesterol, 3rd). The Puma is not a mobility device, it is a sedentary device. It does not move you, it means to stop you from moving. This is bad.

Basically this Puma is a steaming pile of moron vomit. In fact, not only is the Puma entirely unnecessary, it will no doubt be incredibly unhealthy for us. Yes, we have a need for alternate transport. This need is already met by bicycles. Or feet? You remember those, or is it so long since you have seen them that you forgot that they were there? Ride a bike, or walk. Yes, that's right, WALK!

This 'new invention' is an amazing example of how we have now gone so far down a particular path of cultural 'evolution' (and I use the term evolution veeeeeeeerrry loosely here) that this device can seriously be proposed as a solution without these people being laughed at. WTF? This is not a solution, it, this Puma, is proof of a mode of thinking is the very cause of many of the world's problems. We are poisoning the earth and becoming land-bound dugongs, killing ourselves and everything else in the process, and yet our brightest sparks of innovation produce this?


Monday, April 6, 2009

Why Global Warming Is A Myth

Those hippie tree-huggers out there are no doubt coughing into their Macchiatos. As a giant shelf of ice breaks off the Antarctic we will no doubt be assailed once more by leftist doomsayers claiming incontrovertible evidence of the impending demise of humankind's time on earth.

But don't be fooled, friends. For as any rational believer can tell you, this is merely the next step in a secular rapture. What this indicates is that the Antarctic entry points to the hollow earth are becoming exposed, precipitating what will be our final confrontation with gateways to the third human gender.

The future awaits peoples...Will you stand ready?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Rome is burning

For those of you who like to watch the decline of civilizations, I think that we have front row seats to a slightly less sexy Berlin Wall de(con)struction (though with far less immediacy, imagery or baaaadddddd music).

What caffeine fuelled apophenia am I babbling about this fair morn? Well, the call to re-consider the almighty U.S. dollar as the world's key reserve currency.

To paraphrase an advertorial 'its not happening overnight. But it is happening.'

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Religion V Religion

Morning folks.

Well come back. '09. And what a year it has been. So far, we have seen floods fires and famine. Whoever said that armageddon didn't happen when the clocks ticked over on '99 certainly didn't have a grasp of armageddon stretching out over a few years.
Speaking of religious intolerance, my brain was s(t)imulated by an article in the paper today.
Very simply described, a comedian in Israel has responded to recent a holocaust denier/revisionist/moron from a certain club by having a skit where jesus walking on water and mary's virginity are called into doubt.

While this itself is of little interest to me, I was wondering if this parallels the Jyllands-Posten controversy? If it does compare are we able to draw conclusions about different religious behaviours, and if it doesn't compare, then what is morally different between the two satires?

Any thoughts and ramblings would be encouraged.

Yours, in love, Mr. TriSickle.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Happy New Year

Well, we're back. I got a bit slack come year's end about blogging, so I'll kick it off with a welcome, and then a shout out to the Obamarama. I found this on Uncertain Principles today: A picture tells 1,000 words.