Sunday, January 30, 2005


so we have had an election in iraq with 60% turn out. so the terrorists didnt vote? who cares - they don't deserve to anyway. They also scared some of their suporters who also did not vote - but most of the sensible people turned out in much better numbers that you would see in the US or the UK or similar countries.

It is a good day.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

greyshade's Universal marginal rate

This is grey shades universal marginal rate document -
The problem is that if you give a benefit and then remove the benefit when one earns over a certain wage taking a low income job becomes highly unattractive. In fact the calculations here are not complete. Because as a person who has been in this situation one must also consider that there are transportation costs in relation to going to work - lets say 3 stage bus both ways (from a suburb cheep enough to rent - to work in the city) that is about $3.30 lets say both ways comes to 6.60 a day (if they have to use a car it could be worse!) or $1,650 dollars a year but in addition there is also the cost of food at lunch time and coffee breaks etc and uniforms, new shoes, cleaning and washing, exposure to risk (such as the risk of damaging equipment and having to pay for it or of hurting yourself).
In fact person earning 5000 dollars in a part time job that lets say is if the "mowing the lawns delivering papers cleaning houses variety (i.e. close to home no transport not too many costs but limited in quality - seems like a likely assumption) may take a net economic loss by changing to a 15000 dollar full time job in town as the 2370-1650 = $720 needs to cover all of his additional costs related to working besides transport for the whole year let alone the fact that he is being paid probably just under 50 cents an hour for his work (subtracting transport and benefit abatement but not other costs)

I suffered from an even worse situation where my partner began work and thus my allowance (student) was reduced - but because it worked on a "cut off" basis the tax rate was effectively well over 100% - and I was forced to force my partner to work less. Effectively she could not have a full time job or we would loose a significant amount of money.

working families with students with student allowances may also find themselves in the greater than 100% (about 114% I think) tax bracket which is of course much grater because one does not get to deduct job related costs from ones tax (unless one is a contractor I guess).

Grey shade was right - the system is screwed up.

Tribute to Grey Shade

the greyshade has died.
rest in peace.
Somehow you imagine people will just fade away upon death but that was not the case for grey shade....
Although I did not know him personally I had considerable respect for his intelect, and just a few weeks ago he was still debating and researching topics as diverse as global warming and universal marginal rates to a degree that few, if any of us, can emulate.

Tsunami update

the official death toll for the indian ocean tsunami surges past the official death toll for the bangladesh floods (bhola) as it continues to rise far beyond initial figures.

Bhola officially killed 150,000 and 100,000 missing (it would seem also dead).
Tsunami figures are up to 280,000 and may grow further with 1,000 bodies being found per day in aceh.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Now I am prone to have sympathy for the national party positions but one of the sound bites from brash was stupid hypocrisy. He told us that hard working pensioners were subsidizing those dastardly young mothers (or something to that effect). Those pensioners who have worked hard all their lies and need a rest now.
What is my problem with that? Well we are paying the pensioners too, so it is the workers paying not the pensioners! Worse yet we pay them in a much more favorable manner than we pay for the mothers (i.e. less means testing). As for the argument that they have earned it look at the country's deficit - it has grown right? Well that means that the current generation including those pensioners have spent money borrowing against the younger people - i.e. they have spent more than they earned and have already been paid MORE than their work earns. To say they have "earned" an easy retirement - is ridiculous - they have recieved benifits their grand parents did not recieve and their grand children will quite likely be denied.
We can pay them something if we wish but that must be based on the same arguments for funding families - i.e. having a good society as opposed to some concept of "earning".

Saturday, January 22, 2005


A man is saying he wil commit suicide via starvation because euthinasia is not legal.

frankly I found his particular case unconvincing he is planning on starving himself by halving his food intake (or somthign like that) - now the problem is that a human can survive on A LOT less than the average intake of food in NZ. It seems this slow starvation strategy is the work of a massochist and a person who wants as much publicity for his strategy as possible as opposed to a person realy trying to solve the problem. Also he has chosen as noted aove, a rather unplesant way to die.

One has to wonder why he is not going cold turkey or using any of the other usual methods. the voluntary euthinasia method of falling off somwhere high head first has been around for a long time but is not used all that often..
If he asks to go to a bridge (not a moterway one pls that would be too dangerous for others - water would be fine) and rols himself over the edge he will solve his problem.

Having said that if I put on my hard core utalitarian/nationalist hat if we were to make euthinasia easily available and thus we were to eliminate lets say 10,000 people a year it could go a long way to reducing costs of medical care and so forth because the old the physicaly sick the mentally sick and those that judge themselves hopeless would use it. We could then provide much better care to those that remain.

If you find that idea repulsive and a slippery slope then you really need to watch out because it is a rational one. It would be very hard to defend some arbitrary level of difficulty used to arange euthanasia. once it is alowed why not allow pills on the shelf? and "euthanasia councelling" firms?

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Python bewildered by reaction to tsunami tragedy

Terry Jones - former Python shows he has an even looser association with reality than his show did.,3604,1387399,00.html

"I am bewildered by the world reaction to the tsunami tragedy. Why are newspapers, television and politicians making such a fuss? Why has the British public forked out more than £100m to help the survivors, and why is Tony Blair now promising "hundreds of millions of pounds"? Why has Australia pledged £435m and Germany £360m? And why has Mr Bush pledged £187m? "

Terry Jones asks why we are not fundraising for iraq. well Terry Jones is welcome to donate. Somehow I doubt that he is donating though.
I suggest he donates to CARE. They are a good charity and they have a..... oh wait the iraqi insurgents killed the lady in charge and chased them out of the country.. hmmm that could explain why they are not fund raising for iraq I guess...

Donating money is useless unless you can get people on the ground to deliver that aid in a timely and effective way. And aid workers brave as they may be are not mercinaries or soldiers and htey prefer not to go to places where they have a high chance of being decapitated by the people they want to help.

Terry obviously was not watching the news for the last few months that could also explain his other stupid mistake.

He has equated the 100,000 death toll over several years due to all causes with the 150,000 instantanious deaths due to only the primary effect of having a wall of water breaking you in half. The direct deaths due to us shooting people (the equivilent of the tsunami) are more in the order of the iraqi body count ie 15,000(probably a bit lower considering their tendancy to double count and the fact that the iraqi body count counts deaths by all sorts of other means).

"Nobody is making this sort of fuss about all the people killed in Iraq"

In case he has been living on another planet there have probably been several times more articles on iraqi deaths than tsunami deaths over the last few years. Soon he will be telling me the holy land is "neglected". If he wants to find a neglected place he should look at africa. Congo anyone?

Sunday, January 09, 2005


What kind of IDIOT country puts "preserving culture" ahead of fredom of movement AND lives oh .. INDONESIA...

Radical and mainstream Muslim organisations have warned against encroachment by other religions in the province and the Indonesian government last week barred orphan children from leaving the region to preserve Aceh's culture and future.

Yes the government is setting up its own orphanages - but it wont let any other ophanages in unless it is sure they will be islamic and it wont lt wont let the young people leave. Sure their village has been wiped out but afraid they have to stay.

But the Indonesians will find a solution and no one will count the cost in lives.

No wonder they hate "us" (er I mean "un")

The UN peace keepsers have been abusing young girls. No wonder everyone hates the UN.. oh wait that is not how it is supposed to go... how confusing..


Philosophy, et cetera is discussing selfishness

His definition of selfishness is a fairly normal one

selfishness = "an inappropriate disregard for others"

this resuts upon the definition of "appropriate" as long as you define that as "appropriate by my moral standards" then genes have nothing to say about it because your moral standards (or mine) are not physical things in the world that genes could take cues from.

But I wonder what one would do with these definitions that makes them so useful. a key problem is the "first you save yourself then you save the world" (quoting form a song) issue continuing "it doesnt help us very much if you throw the line to someone else".

Excessive amounts of altruism may be bad - in fact a strong capitalist might argue that all but the smallest amounts of altruism (in specific situations) are bad. And the above examples of extreem altruism are obviously ridiculous (in fact worse than evil selfishness) because everyone would drown while throwing the line to each-other (and generally driving each other insane).

So arbitrarily defining altruism as good seems flawed.
The question then is - is utalitarianism altruism? what about socialism? is that a better form of altruism? what if you are a poor socialist?

It seems he is very eager NOT to use biology as a solution in psychology. Personally I see this as a great weakness in psychological research probably a result of people trying to protect their turf. It is lucky chemists do not seem to see physists in the same way.

When one learns about plants one talks about photosynthesis and nowadays one learns the chemical reactions and when one learns about the chemical reactiosn one learns about the electrons and basic physics of it, with things like entropy in mind (using potential energy and turning it into heat). One does not have to talk about entropy when discussing the growth of plants but the chain of logic is possible to follow most of the way - even in a childrens text book.

Anyway sumarising the other argument which skips the moral side..

genes are "selfish"
in general genes "effectively" identify their survival with the human host
genes control the human host
thus genes make the human host selfish.

But obviously that does not stop other effects - In addition there are a number of others - these are
the meme effect as noted by Doug (basically peopel with altruistic ideas are popular so altruism becomes popular)
the general benefits of sharing (evolutionary psychology)
the desire hang over effect as I noted (basically one continues to want to help people if helping them when you were young gave rewards - as long as the cost never reaches a certain point)
spandrel effects as ConciousRobots noted (these are side effects of useful genes)
and just random mutations.

All of which are then moderated by genes but are also "default facts of the universe" (ie a gene would generally have to go to a specific "effort" to resolve the issue).

There is quite a lot of added value and understanding in thee I am surprised anyone would want to deny it.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

fat and starving

Jane Galt notes that reuters amazing fact
""In U.S., So Many Obese, So Many Hungry" says that "In a nation where obesity is the second-leading cause of death, 33 million Americans don't know where their next meal is coming from -- a year-round paradox that only becomes more pronounced during the holidays.""

Makes no sense since it seemingly implies that there are many starving fat people since

"those living below the poverty line have much higher incidence of obesity than those living above it."

As you can see from the comments the debate quickly decended into a debate over whether it was posible to eat healthy food on a budget.

As most commenters noted it SHOULD be much cheeper to eat healthy and the cost of doing so on a very tight budget could be in the region of as little as 1 US dollar and change a day for some commenters and for me about 4 NZ dollars a day (actually geting some meat!). Most of us who have been poor students know this super lazy and cheap sort of diet.

But hte problem is that this debate is obscuring the real question. What we should be asking is "what can we do to improve the situation" as oppsoed to "are poor people lazy or not".

Poor peopel are poor for many reasons BUT on average I think we can say that they are poor partly because they cannot manage money well, if you start expecting them to manage money well all that is likely to happen is that you will be disapointed.

Saying "why dont you manage your money effectively!" could be just as effective as saying "why dont you get all A's in your exams!" to a student or "why dont you make more money" to those same poor people.

We can spend all day debating whether they are bad for not being able to do that but that does nothing.


Looks like Hugo is planning on pulling a mugabe with his land reforms in Venezuela. No wonder the indymedia crowd were so strongly behind him.

"El Charcote," a cattle ranch owned by the British Vestey Group, is to be seized on Saturday "with state machinery, to settle a first group of men participating in the Mission Land and Mission Free Men," said Alexis Ortiz, solicitor general of rich farmland Cojedes State.
VENEZUELA is planning on starting its land reforms - basically nationalize all the productive farms untill they look like Zimbabwae.

""El Charcote," a cattle ranch owned by the British Vestey Group, is to be seized on Saturday "with state machinery, to settle a first group of men participating in the Mission Land and Mission Free Men," said Alexis Ortiz, solicitor general of rich farmland Cojedes State."

No wonder the indymedia people were so strongly behind this fellow.

Australia donates 1 billion

Australia donates 1 billion australian dollars dwarfing the contribution of other countries.

meanwhile on hte private fromt Germany is well in the lead.
Apparently Germany leads in terms of private contributions (with more than a third of all donations!) followed by UK, this implies the US is next and then I assume australia.

Volokh conspiracy debates torture

Volokh conspiracy debates torture

I find this quite compelling

I should say that there are many powerful criticisms of torture that can be made; but too often I hear arguments that simply run more or less as follows: "If we start using torture, we lose any possible claim to the moral high ground." "Once we start using torture, are we any better than al Qaeda?" "When fighting monsters, we must never become monsters ourselves."

It seems to me that this sort of argument is ultimately deeply unpersuasive, because it relies too much on moral abstractions that sound appealing but simply do not confront the powerful realist counterarguments. Moral high grounds, for instance, are well and good, and all else being equal of course we'd like to have them. But lots of very sensible and decent people argue that sometimes we need to sacrifice the moral high ground in order to, well, save the lives of thousands of people (or more) -- and also that a moral high ground that strips us of the power to save these lives isn't so moral after all. Simple appeals to "keeping the moral high ground" just don't effectively respond to this important argument.

Likewise, the argument that "Once we start using torture, are we any better than al Qaeda?" strikes me as fundamentally misplaced. You bet we'd be better than al Qaeda; while means are important, ends are important, too.

But then he moves on to the "slippery slope argument" an argument he seems to WANT to concede in order to remain indecisive even though the argument against it is rather similar

example of the slippery slope... Once torture is legitimized in principle to save thousands, it becomes much easier to urge it to save one important person, and then of course we must be able to use it to save one ordinary person, and then how about using it to break child pornography rings or catch rapists.

The problem however is that if extreme action was required almost any person would accept torture as legitimate and it would indeed happen and everyone knows it (we have seen the movies!). So we are on that slippery slope already.

Worse yet we know how the slippery slope argument can be used in many ways to justify anything let your imagination go wild with potential examples a relevant one might be "if you start giving criminals rights it is a slippery slope until they have full rights and the police are completely unable to do anything about them."

Policeman make similar decisions when they decide to shoot an offender to prevent a murder (for example). In the same way an agent might feel justified to torture a terrorist.

I see many places one can stop the slide down the slippery slope for example by having the same sort of investigations that policemen face after a fatal police shooting.

Many people also claim torture is not effective. Well it is reasonable to assume that it will be effective in some situations and less so in others and some methods will be effective and others not depending on the situation. If one is indeed desperate (e.g. hunting a nuke) one will be willing to take those chances. Besides it is fairly inconceivable that it would be totally ineffective - it doesn’t always get the right answer but it does enough times to make it useable.

As Volokh notes once could destroy a country's faith in the law if one prosecuted a person for saving the country from destruction. Having said that if it gets used too often it may destroy the people's confidence that it will not be used on them personally.

A big problem it seems to me is that information acquired by torture is usually required prior to a trial (i.e. there is no time) so one will have to torture potentially innocent people (lets say a person on the battle field but not a combatant or a combatant but not a "terrorist" etc...

I am also mildly surprised that people seem to see permanent incarceration and death as preferable to torture. It seems a rather arbitrary classification. The shooting of a citizen by the police or the torture of a suspect or the life long imprisonment of a person or the death sentence all of which I see as almost on a par with each other (in themselves ignoring the circumstances).

Now I probably start to sound like a proponent of torture. But just because I dont think the arguments against it are very strong does not mean I suggest we just rush out an legalize it. Like with any law one needs to work out exactly how it would be managed. If you are going to legalize something that you find abhorent one must be VERY clear exactly when it can be used and when it cannot, then make it difficult to change (ie don’t put it in the hands of the police leave it in the hands of parliment – or a constitution). Just making torture legal would be similar to making the shooting of suspects legal.

The requirement to front op to a tribunal of sorts with the reasons for the use of torture, the methods used and so forth could well provide the accountability required. I one only wants the method to be used in saving the lives of thousands then make the proceedure of reporting the event arduous andvery public - if you want it to beused more often make it less arduous.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

United Future crime policy

NRT looks at united future's crime policy and declares it to be basically evil, Some of his attacks however are a bit overdone.

While he is right that many of them seem to be an attempt to make sentences longer I dispute that there is a major problem with hte following.

* making drug dealers accomplices to the crimes of their customers;

If I ate ETA peanut butter and it drove me insane and made me want to kill someone presumably ETA would be in trouble (particularly if they knew it would do that). Surely the same should be true for drugs no?

NRT uses the example of alcohol as a major killer. and says if we dont blame alcohol distributors for thsoe crimes we should not blame drug sellers. but this is a foolish argument. The fact that we have been unable to ban alcohol for various reasons (attempts to do so generally resulted in serious damage to the system, and alcohol may have health benefits in moderation) does not mean we should never ban anything. This is a common but blatantly false argument to put what is being said clearly the argument is as below.

"Alcohol kills millions per year (worldwide) and we don’t ban that" therefore "we should not ban anything that kills less than millions per year".
you may not be able to save EVERYONE but that is no reason to refuse to save ANYONE.

And yet people always use it... why?

* Specialist drug courts

NRT suggests this is in order to change the standard of proof. maybe he is right - but there could be other benefits to having such courts besides changing the standards - won’t they have to pass the laws to allow a lower standard of evidence anyway? if so should that not be the policy that is opposed as opposed to this only loosely associated one?

* lowering the age of criminal responsibility to 12;

Why not? Why have a point or responsibility at all? Why not just test the person to see if the are "responsible" (whatever we mean by that) or not? The same way we deal with mental patients. Personally I see the differentiation between a 15.9yr old and a 16.1 yr old (or whatever the age is that you set the difference at) as a breach of one of their human rights. On the same grounds as one argues against any discrimination - you need a real moral difference - not just an age or race or gender etc difference.

* "voluntary chemical castration for sex offenders as a pre-condition of parole".

Well if a sex offender was willing to properly castrate himself I might well let him out tomorrow without parole (depending on the case). After-all he may well have been completely rehabilitated (and the punishmnt inclined might say sufficiently punished) - in which case why keep him? Waste of his time and ours.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Money rolling in

The Australian branch of Medecins Sans Frontieres is asking donors to stop sending money,4057,11847406%255E28477,00.html

If they recieve too many donations I think they should probably use their expertise in the aid industry to donate their excess money to the most effective charity (they should also tell people that is what they are doing).

Although at some point we WILL have more donations than volunteers !

hat tip tim blair (new site

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Tsunami kills few animals in Sri Lanka

Giant waves washed floodwaters up to 3 km (2 miles) inland at Yala National Park in the ravaged southeast, Sri Lanka’s biggest wildlife reserve and home to hundreds of wild elephants and several leopards.

“The strange thing is we haven’t recorded any dead animals,” H.D. Ratnayake, deputy director of the national Wildlife Department, told Reuters on Wednesday.

same sort of thing is reported in thailand

Good customers or bad ones

Businesses are getting smarter and are starting to determine who are good customers and who are bad ones

what does this mean? well no free riding on others which soulds like a good thing until you realise that like with insurance you will effectively pay for every claim you make - similarly every bargain you buy and every second you talk to the shop attendant you will effectively be paying later down the line.

Also as poorer and richer people become seperated by where they can go one will recreate a class based society. You can hang with a friend who doesnt buy clothes with you but not with one who cannot even get into the store.

Of course it will be more efficient though. One can ask why men should have to pay for all the staff and experiences that women demand in a store. My hair cut already costs only a tiny fraction of a womans.. one day (possibly) so will my clothes and food!

Elephants help

Thai Government is using elephants to find dead bodies

Tsunami Photos

May take a bit of time to load on slower connections
Not surprisingly this website is in Thai not english but the photos speak volumes in any language

Saturday, January 01, 2005


To go with the east timor donation I also note that Beslan is being even more generous - sending 1 dollar per person.
BTW Beslan lost 320 or so people (1% of its population) in a school seige.,5744,11826027%255E401,00.html

those generous germans on the other hand are sending 32 cents per person (last time I checked).

Are muslim countries donating to the tsunami?

Well... UAE is the most generous country at over 12 dollars per person. Kuwait is in the list of reasonable donors and so is the UAE. Saudi Arabia's contribution is about 38 cents per person (or about 70 cents per citizen) lower than many donors but still better than germany and they are rather poorer than most other donors.

BUT as you might have noticed - these 4 countries also happen to be the four main (arab) anti-sadam allies of the USA.

Facts on the ground

It would seem the US and Australia (together with the local government of course) are doing the hard yards on the ground.

this is interesting

“Only really the UN can do that job,” she told BBC Radio Four’s PM programme. “It is the only body that has the moral authority. But it can only do it well if it is backed up by the authority of the great powers.”

Er.. is she saying that you need previous moral authority to provide assistance after a disaster? Or that the US is not allowed to help because it is not moral enough?
Claire short is an idiot.

meanwhile the UN is covering for the immoral USA by taking credit for USAID and australian aid activities.

"I discussed today with Washington whether we can draw on some assets on their side, after consultations with the Indonesian Government, to set up what we call an “air-freight handling centre” in Aceh."

"A UN “air-freight handling centre” in Aceh? Bull! It's the Aussies and the Yanks who are running the air ops into Aceh."