Monday, August 29, 2005

Government in NZ

No Right Turn notes
If the government spent $100 a year:

* $20 would go on health;
* $18 would go on education;
* $13 would go on superannuation;
* $11 would go on other benefits, including family support, the accommodation supplement, and ACC;
* $7 would go on other expenses;
* $5 would go on police and the courts;
* $5 would go on repaying Muldoon's debts;
* $4 would go on core government services;
* $4 would go on roads;
* $3 would go on defence;
* $3 would go on the DPB;
* $2.25 would go on the invalids benefit;
* $2 would go on student loans;
* $2 would go on the unemployment benefit;
* 75 cents would go on the sickness benefit;
* 0.0054 cents would go on hip-hop tours.


If the government spent $100 a year:

* 34% would go on benefits consisting of
* $13 would go on superannuation;

Go to work old people... or get the unemployment/sickness benefit.

* $21 would go on other benefits

Note I add together the benefits because it is stupid to count them separately when you counted things like health as a single unit.

* $20 would go on health;
There is probably a bit of fat to cut out of this. Too many people using the hospital as a GP or any of a hundred different situations where hard decisions need to be made.

* $18 would go on education;
Close all those schools that we wanted to close before because they were inefficient. I don’t care about the protest. Again there is lots of fat to cut here of note is the extremely fatty universities that are always complaining they don’t have enough money. And yet are raking in a thousand dollars an hour or so for a class. (Money gets wasted on useless research, not that al research is useless, inefficient use of resources and so forth)

* $7 would go on other expenses;

Other? Sounds like a code word for "can save money"

* $5 would go on police and the courts;

Not much eh... could spen some more here if we freed up a bit elsewhere

* $5 would go on repaying Muldoon's debts;

We can get rid of this in time if required

* $4 would go on core government services;

Core? Sounds like someone wants to break up "other" and "core" etc to make them look smaller.

* $4 would go on roads;


* $3 would go on defence;

Help the Indonesians are coming - oh wait them aren’t....

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Women vs men IQ

Jim treacher notes men are smarter than women (curious since women seem to do better in school then again I guess most of them are less distracted by the good looking women)

"A study to be published later this year in the British Journal of Psychology says that men are on average five points ahead on IQ tests...

As intelligence scores among the study group rose, the academics say they found a widening gap between the sexes.

There were twice as many men with IQ scores of 125, for example, a level said to correspond with people getting first-class degrees.

At scores of 155, associated with genius, there were 5.5 men for every woman."

I have to agree with Jim, treacher here - MENSA meetings do tend to be full of men.

Theism vs materialism

Maverick Philosopher
examines a debate between materialism and theism.

Theism is arguably superior to materialism because it explains more with less. Its explanation is relatively simple whereas that of materialism must postulate innumerable separate objects that just happen to have the same powers as each other.

The problem with this logic is a common one in the theism materialism debate. Most examples of theism are VERY poor predictors of events. This means they provide very little information about why a particular event happened and we are using a very weak definition of the word "explanation" that implies considerable lack of knowledge.

Materialism on the other hand has very complex rules but is extremely powerful predictor of events. This means the sort of "explanation" it provides is vastly more powerful than most examples of theism.

This means you cannot use Occam's razor to argue that theism explains more with less any more than you can argue "stuff happens" is the ultimate theory that should replace any other because it is simple and explains everything.

In the quotes in the post God is invoked as the reason why sub atomic particles behave in a normal way and this is deemed to be a good argument since it is simple. However actually this theory just adds (at least) one unit of complexity (god) without adding any testable explanitory power (unless someone cares to explain the test and then make it). Worse yet one would then have to explain why god chose to make it work that way (as opposed to any other - and "that is the only way" is not a valid explination unless you can prove that).

case for withdrawl

Alan Bock makes the case for immediate withdrawal from Iraq
making an important point

The argument that now that we’ve intervened we have an obligation to stick around until we’ve made things better has a certain superficial attraction. However, it is almost as certain as that the sun will rise tomorrow that there will always be something imperfect in Iraq – and a strong case can be made that things won’t really start to get better until the U.S. occupation is ended. So it is important for us to attack this line of thinking head-on and make the case persistently that removing U.S. troops from Iraq as soon as possible is the best course available and is not tantamount to surrender and retreat.

People in the US seem so eager to declare themselves defeated - setting impossible goals and then inevitably failing to reach that goal. But it is a pretty odd world where victory can be defined as having another army come in crush your army in a few days and wipe out your organization and then leave.

Dangerrrr — your pet cat could alter your personality

Dangerrrr — your pet cat could alter your personality

THEY may look like lovable pets but Ireland’s domestic cats are being blamed by scientists for infecting up to half the population with a parasite that can alter people’s personalities.

The startling figures emerge from studies into toxoplasma gondii, a parasite carried by almost all the country’s feline population.

They show that half of humans carry the parasite in their brains and that infected people may undergo slow but crucial changes in their behaviour. Infected men, suggests one new study, tend to become more aggressive, scruffy, antisocial and are less attractive. Women, on the other hand, appear to exhibit the “sex kitten” effect, becoming less trustworthy, more desirable, fun-loving and possibly more promiscuous.

Very interesting eh?

Friday, August 26, 2005

should USA spread freedom?

Should the USA impose freedom on other countries?
Putting aside whether such strategies work or not (I note usually they don’t work very well) where they do work should the USA engage in those strategies?

First - I note it is an impoverished definition of freedom to consider freedom to be freedom from the government and to imply that governments or even foreign governments can only reduce freedom. It should theoretically be possible to increace freedom.

Second it is a luxury of people who do not see the big picture to be focused on short term effects and individual events. In the bigger scheme of things as long as the rest of the world has a significantly different view towards tolerance your ability to remain tolerant is in doubt.

This means that you cannot sit next to NAZI Germany and assume that it is someone else’s problem. And it goes much further than that. US citizens should be aware that it is not far in the future when their country will probably fall under the influence of foreign powers. There is two ways this could happen. The first is that a country like china becomes physically stronger than them and starts to impose its will on their foreign policy and encouraging its preferred political system within their country and so forth. Not something many people think about and yet it will occur in maybe a bit less than 50 years. OR via some sort of global democracy where countries with higher populations (such as china) gain influence via that democracy and again can then impose their morals upon US internal affairs (maybe discouraging immoral behaviour of some sort)

This creates a separation between citizens and the government in as far as many citizens just don’t consider long term consequences that they will never live to see, while many leaders will still be concerned about their legacy.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Forestry Policy

Yet again national has been caught out.
they have alowed peopel to find out about a draft policy and brash discovering htat it might be unpopular has backed down making his party and his leadership apear weak.

The issue was whether they would allow the cutting of native trees on government owned land on the west coast.

frankly I support that policy. Why? well generally blanket bans are stupid things. If the native forest is valuable for tourist purposes or for some other reason then we can keep it but if it isnt then why not use it for some purpose if it can be logged in a sustainable manner. No loss to the environemnt and economic gain to the west coast and New Zealand as a whole. It seems idiotic to have a blanket ban.

back downs like this are often worse than jsut sticking with a unpopualr policy because it makes you look disorganized and weak. Having said that I probably would not have mentioned the policy at all in an election period unless i really needed to buy west coast votes.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Can a middle ground voter vote national?

Kiwi pundit accidentally reminds us of something that may well make National more acceptable to middle of the road voters. They will need a coalition with NZ first.
Now NZ first is a party that appears to be falling apart and Winston has stopped making much sense BUT there is a good chance he will neuter all sorts of policy proposals of national's. He may well enforce fiscal responsibility.
NZ first proposes removing GST from petrol - this is a very flat tax break heavily in favour of those on low incomes (it also screws up attempts to obey Kyoto and vaguely encourages a bad balance of payments).
But in the end it doesn’t matter much the negotiation process will eat into Nationals ability to have extreme cuts in services and to offer heavy tax cuts. Result? Probably an even more popularise policy.

Awatere-Huata found guilty

good riddance to the smug lady who stole our money through her charity foundation.

tax cuts

The Lolly scramble of election time has well and truly began.
National and Labour are throwing money around of course national is greater "offender" at the moment but I expect labour with a few billion spare (comparitively) will throw out a couple more lollies.

So what should we do? well frankly from a selfish point of view - vote for the party that offers you the most for the least money. BUT keep in mind that YOU are the one paying for all of this not some imaginary third party.

the most appropriate way to think of this (unless you plan on leaving the country) is to say that every dollar of debt the country accumulates is a debt held by you in direct proportion to the rate at which you would pay tax.

So lets use the following assumptions
1) lets for the moment assume all tax is PAYE (it isnt but other taxes distribute the tax burden in a harder to explain way)
2) lets say the total tax take from PAYE is about $20 billion lets say that permits the government to break even.
3) the total cost of the national tax policy is 2.5 billion per year (give or take).
4) On this assumptiosn tax cust are average 12.5%

If this is paid by debt then this means each person accumulates their share of 2.5 billion in debt. IE if EVERYONE gets a 12.5% tax cut a person paying 8,000 in tax saves $1,000 BUT they accumulate $1,000 in debt since this is their share of the tax cut that they must repay later on (because a country cannot borrow forever).

If they however get a $2,000 tax cut and someone on a higher income gets a lower tax cut (as a percent) then it represents income redistribution and the person on the higher tax cut gets to pay more.

Well we know hte W4F policy of labour redistributes towars families on low to middle incomes. So does the national tax cut redistribute?

The national tax cuts look like they have a redistibutive component - playing around with the tax calculator they redistribute in favour of Poorer poeple. But the rich gets bigger tax cuts! I hear you say - well they do - BUT generally as a lower percentage of their tax responsibility.

Friday, August 19, 2005


A new take on a quote from Weinberg

With or without philosophy, good people can do good things and bad people can do bad things, but for good people to do bad things - that takes philosophy.

Fermi Paradox

Why have we not yet received communication from outer space?
There are two main theories - one is the rare earth theory - one that in its more extreme forms uses the anthropological principle combined potentially with the concept of multiple universes.

The second theory is "phase transition" which argues there has not been enough time for aliens to reach us. The problem with this theory is that if there is anyone else in the galaxy it is likely they are only about 50 million light years from us. BUT it is hard to argue that if lets say mammals not dinosaurs had taken off 265 million years ago we could not - all things going right - have had 65 million years of mammal evolution and be 200 million years ahead of where we are now.
Furthermore humans will be visible to all other aliens in the galaxy of similar technology if not now then in a few hundred years and we will be able to see them also. It won’t be long after that that we can detect planets that have life in the solar system.

This means that if there are aliens that are more advanced than us they are already on their way sending either a message or a ship. But even this underestimates the aliens.

If you were an alien race exploring space you would probably not wait for the light signal - you would probably send a space ship to every plausible planet and investigate it for resources, colonization, communication or other purposes. This would mean there would be a wave heading out from any race more than 1000 odd years ahead of current humans going not too far from the speed of light investigating planets sending back signals etc. there would be little point hiding from a more primitive species so you would probably notice these ships besides the concern would be meeting a more advanced and dangerous species - one where you would want warning and a "buffer zone" where the speed of light limitation would give you time to devise a strategy.

The fact we have not noticed anything like this indicates there is nothing we will be able to see in space that is more advanced than us (there could be a lag of lets say 1000 years plus some function of the distance of course but in the big scheme of things this is not much).

The Phase transition theory is supported by the Carter-Rees arguments in that In temporal terms, it is the interval 9.3* 10^9 years ago to 1000 x 10^9 in the future that is a valid time in which life can evolve - this means we are quite near the beginning of this period and could have out run the other species in fact the Carter-Rees argument implies we have indeed done that. or more weakly the principle of mediocraty implies we should not assume we are specially lucky.

The problem of evil

The argument goes

• If God can prevent evil, but doesn't, then He isn't all-loving.
• If God intends to prevent evil, but cannot, then He isn't omnipotent.
• If God both intends to prevent evil and is capable of doing so, then how can evil exist?

This is pretty bullet proof given a few unstated assumptions

Some religious groups then may argue

"This argument ignores the fact that God will get rid of evil in the future.
There is a Hell for the bad and a Heaven for the good."

This however is a very weak argument. The first flaw involves how they have ignored the timeless nature of god and worse yet the time related nature of humans.
For a "timeless god" anything that happens that is evil goes on his balance sheet as an evil event that he could have prevented it doesn’t matter if he fixes it later because from his point of view present and future are equivalent.
From a human point of view it is even worse sincere may live purely in the evil time one might also question if that is fair.

The real counters to this argument are more unsettling to many religious people.

1) We don’t understand what gods will is - i.e. he actually may wish to cause suffering. He however remains "all-loving" in a sense because despite the fact he doesn’t do what is good for us all the time he may
A) Give us heaven in the end - which may dwarf everything else he does
B) Love you despite hurting you (cold comfort of course)
C) Define his own actions as good (as the final arbiter)

It raises the question of whether we can ever do evil - but you could still never be able to disobey but still be punished for your intentions - i.e. a murder might kill another murderer but since his intent was murder not some sort of civic duty or self preservation he can still go to jail.

2) Maybe he is not omnipotent - this fits well with reality in as far as we don’t see much in the way of godly exceptions to rules - either he REALLY likes rules or he doesn’t have spare energy to go around fixing everything. He could still however be pretty powerful. It could also reflect a balance of powers between two "gods". In other words a relative but not absolute limitation.

Kalam cosmological argument

The Kalam cosmological argument
Argues that big bang theory of the universe means that the universe had a beginning, and it therefore requires a cause.

1. Everything that had a beginning had a cause
2. The universe had a beginning
3. Therefore the universe had a cause

This is very weak since the big bang is the event least likely to require a cause according to normal physics - however modern physics indicates it may, nevertheless, have actually had a cause - totally negating the reference to the big bang in the argument. The alternate theory must offer something that is less likely to require a cause and ascribing that role to a god is nonsense.

1) Time has no meaning before matter existed therefore there was not only no matter to be god over - there was also no "time" to do that god activity in.
2) implying god existed before the big bang is to imply god is part of time and there is any meaning to saying he existed "before" something - that is a fundamental limit on his power - one you can make but may well have interesting implications since if god is governed by time he should also be governed by space (space time duality) and therefore things like entropy and so forth.
The philosophical way around that is to say he exists outside of time and thus exists during every event (in sense) but not "before" or "after" time since that has no meaning.

The Anthropic Principle

The anthropic principle works as follows.
The earth and its potential to support life rely upon a huge number of variables such as the existence of a reasonable sized star in the vicinity and the size of its orbit etc.
They are so unlikely that there is a good argument they should never occur in a single universe and worse yet it is amazing the universe obeys rules that permit life in itself.

the Anthropic Principle solves this problem by arguing that we should expect to be surprised by this because no matter how rare the rules are that allow humans to exist every human that ever exists will be faces with the same odd set of surprising rules. I.e. that
"What we observe about in the universe is restricted by the requirement of our existence as observers"
One could also try to tack the slightly religious interpretation of quantum mechanics onto this and say that the universe exists in order to create an observer that will make that universe's wave function collapse (i.e. to make it real).

The solutions that do not deal with the Anthropic Principle in an at least semi mystical way must use other unobserved and potentially unobservable theories such as multiple universes, rather similar to all the other arguments in this "pure logic" bases set I have covered in recent posts.

So does the observer (or even a "final observer") collapse the wave function? Or is pure luck? Or infinite universes? Most importantly on what do you base your oppinion and do oyu apply similar logic to for example the previous posts?

The Carter-Rees Argument

This argument - similar to the Pascal's wager argument - is another philosophical proposal based on the assumption that we are in a situation of very low information and must try to develop ways of knowing that side step the need to actually observe anything.

The argument works as follows - we (you and I) are humans - we could theoretically have been born at any time in the history of humanity but we were born during this last century 1900-2000. This seems a little odd since
A) It is a fairly special time in human history regarding our discovery of all sorts of laws of physics
And also that our population is rapidly expanding.
The latter doesn’t sound like much of a problem until you realise that the number of humans alive now is not al that far from the total number that have ever lived.
IF the world was to end in 100 years one could say statistically any human is likely to be born into the 1900-2100 time frame - and thus our existence here is not at all surprising.

A depressing theory to be sure, but does it have any value? Before you reject it consider it in the context of my next post on the anthropological principle.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

My theory of Inflation

Waves of gravity are expelled from matter - but it is better to see this as waves of space. An object creates the universe in such a way as to make there more ways to fall towards it than away from it - this means gravity results as a sort of diffusion towards an object.

Inflation is a commonly accepted theory of hte universe which describes how the universe expands faster than it should logically do - disobeying the speed of light apparently. It is required to explain observations about the universe.

But what if it is not space that is expanding but matter that is shrinking?
Let’s say that in order to create gravity each fundamental particle must send off a little bit of itself in order to create the "energy of space (refered to as lambda around .73 of all energy) Each particle has been doing this since the beginning of the universe at the same rate. The most fundamental properties of this particle will change as it does this at about the same rate - for example it will become less massive have less energy etc. HOWEVER any two individual particles that are close will tend to very slowly adjust to the new equilibrium (if they were in an equilibrium to start off) because it happens so slowly. But at the same time distances between objects that are very far will seem to accelerate into the distance.

Red shift is the way in which objects moving away quickly appear more red and less blue. In this theory however it can thus be created not by us getting further away but more fundamentally by us getting smaller relative to the waves.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005



There are two things that are troubling cosmologists
1) That the universe seems to have expanded at more than the speed of light. Comologists have proposed a clumsy theory that there was some sort of inflation of space but cant explain why.

2) That the universe seems to be accelerating despite gravity - they propose an anti gravity but again it is jsut a gap filling theory.

I have a couple of simple solutions.

They center o nthe fact that the universe is expanding at very close to the speed of Light. What if this has had some interesting effects?

the stars with which we compare ourselves are far away on some other surface of the baloon that we consider hte universe. In relitivistic terms time shoiuld have slowed for us relative to "center of the universe".

Now we know that if you went up in a spaceship and flew to a star 100 light years away and back at the speed of light your perception would be instantanious travel but ours would be 200 years of travel - similarly just as with the man on the Rocket in space we can travel vast distances while Experiencing almost no time change. This means that we can travel 80 billion light years in only 13.7 billion Years of subjective time.

I also wonder about the effects of other effects for example - at these relativistic speeds we are shortened in the direction of travel. Therefore compared to any measure we can concieve of the distance in the direction if travel appears larger (ie the space between us and the other side of the universe appears to be large because we are shortened and if we slow it will appear to shrink. It could shrink so much that we appear to return to the relm where gravity again can control the universe.
Or maybe gravity can already control it (ie create a big bang) and these relitivistic effects explain darm matter.

thee is a third point that at the universe level - matter defines space. Shortened matter may effectively define shorter space - what this means is that as gravity slows us the effect of us and the objects on the opposite side of the universe lengthening causes MORE change in the distance than the change in gravity itself causes - this means that it appears everything is moving even faster away from us by almost all normal measures.


Monday, August 15, 2005

Real answers hypothetical questions

Is there such a thing as a real answer to a hypothetical question?
At first this seems like a ridiculous "of course there is" you may think.

But is that the case?

For example let’s say I made a simple proposal "If I was god the universe would be different" or if I wish to avoid religion "if I was you I would act differently"
But what exactly do I mean by "if I was you"? Do I mean if I looked like you? Or if I was standing where you are? This reflects the first problem with hypothetical it is almost impossible to properly define them. This means that almost any hypothetical you can describe will not have a clear answer.

This of course doesn’t mean that there is not an approximate answer or a real situation an example might be "if I work harder I will earn more" and that may be true largely becaue it so closely matches, and will be forced to match by the listener, real events. It may also have some potential for learning but there is no reason to believe this MUST be the case in every example. This means that hypotheticals are almost useless for “proving” anything no matter how hard moral philosophers try. It is quite possible that there is no answer at all to the hypothetical even though there is no clear reason why it is impossible. Or the hypothetical might imply something that is not true.

A further argument relies on the fact that most hypothetical have not happened for a reason. Thus to raise the hypothetical is like writing an equation with an error in it and trying to solve it for an answer for example
x = x+1
x = -x
As soon as there is ANY error at all in the equation there ceases to be a real answer to the equation. Similarly as soon as there is an error in a hypothetical there ceases to be a real answer to the hypothetical. Furthermore it should be possiuble to prove almost anything with a hypothetical (although certain hypotheticals will be rejected intutively by people when htey recognise the flaws that exist in it).

The fact that it is a hypothetical as opposed to describing a real current or future event implies and according to some may well insure that it has no "real" answer.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Liberal values

NoRightTurn notes a study that as you would expect green voters are liberal labour voters are a little less liberal national voters are significantly more conservative and NZfirst voters are even mroe conservative.

Why are the parties of the right almost always more conservative than the parties of the left? is it young voters being on the left? if so are young voters always more liberal no matter what the generation?


Absolute or relitive utility

Richard from Philosophy et cetera in a recent debate on utility proposes the following

"Your recent comments confuse a negative return with the absence of a positive return. These are not the same thing. I suspect this is what's muddling you up."

What he means here is that if you have a two choices between lets say cashing a lotto ticket for first division and selling your winning lotto ticket for five dollars that it is appropriate to think of selling the winning ticket for five dollars as a good thing in which one receives utility and that seeing it as a bad thing is incorrect.

He argues that both of these are positive returns - this intuitively sounds foolish.

So is it best to look at it in this manner? Well two arguments spring to mind

1) The question revolves around practicality - Richard is trying to argue that the problem is unsolvable because both options have in this case infinite positive utility and one cannot decide between them. Usually one would not structure a problem in such a way that you can’t solve it and it is not surprising that it is possible to do such a silly thing as I suggest richard has done here.

2) We have learnt over the years that the way to properly consider anything whether in social setting or physics or economics/accounting is relative to other things. There is no reason why utility should be any different in fact one could argue that there is no valid absolute sense in which to consider it.

However maybe it is possible to defend the absolute definition of utility in this example. Is there some absolute basis against which utility must always be measured in order to be valid?

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Is infinity finite?

There is a question regarding whether a number that is never used actually exists - rather like
1) If a tree falls in the woods does it make a sound?
2) Or if a photon is involved in a slit experiment will it be a wave or a particle?

One could say what is the total number of points in the universe
An equation is then created using planks length and the age of the universe multiplied by the speed of light as a result you get an answer - a HUGE answer but an answer none the less.

Planks length 10^-33 cm cubed
Universe 156 billion light years wide (x 9460800000000 to get km)
( = approx 10^20cm

10^53*10^53*10^53 (the circle square problem is already more or less adjusted for)
10^159 points in the universe
We can also use time as well using planks time of around 10^-41 and the age of the universe. 4 * 10^58 maybe about 10 * 61 in the meaningful lifetime of the universe (assuming it is finite) then 10^220 instances in the universe.

So if you want to know the number of points on a line it cannot exceed 10^53
Or the number of points on a plane it will be up to 10^106
All big numbers - but not infinity.

Maybe there is no non hypothetical equation the universe ever has to do that involves a number bigger than the result of all of this? Physics equations could still have infinities in them but they would be errors and assumptions as opposed to real parts of the explanation for how the universe works.


Maths with infinity

When you take a maths class you will be taught by the teacher that infinity divided by infinity is not 1, they may say there is no answer or that that it is indeterminate.
Actually that is just lazy logic. Infinity is not a "number" per se, it is a class of numbers as a result a specific example divided by another specific example does have an answer we just don’t know what it is until you explain more detail.
It is basically the same as me asking you what is the answer to "a number I just thought of divided by another number I just thought of" (by the way the answer was 2).

Thus the terminology that we use "infinity" obscures information. Thus infinity times 2 is infinity but it is not THE SAME infinity. In maths it may be next to impossible to identify these infinities and thus we may say the answer is indeterminate but this is not a function of infinity it is a function of us not knowing the question.

Here is a link that explains it a bit

I understand at times cancelling of infinity is used very carefully to solve advanced physics problems.

the other side of hte argument

I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.
--Stephen F Roberts

Valid ?

Pascal's wager

Richard at Philosophy et cetera again tempts me by calling Pascal's wager
"Worst philosophical argument ever"

So I thought I would deal with his objections
He argues

1) The argument idiotically assumes that Christianity and atheism together exhaust the theological possibilities

However, the argument only compares atheism with Christianity.

For example if I was to say "2>1" saying "the argument idiotically assumes 2 & 1 exhaust all the possibilities" is only valid in the most irrelevant of senses.

And the argument is only "clearly" applicable to (protestant) Christianity amongst the major religions because most other religions don't work via faith.
However in addition it would theoretically be possible to be Christian AND be saved by other religions. And finally this doesn’t refute the argument anyway - one is placed with choices and one gets to make decisions on each of these choices, noting that there might theoretically be other choices of value is no excuse for not taking any action at all or not proposing one of the best options.

Richard further argues that a beer might improve his chances of being a Christian so he should drink beer. Well maybe, however I am surprised he has reason to believe it would improve or decrease his likelihood of believing - it might also work in the opposite direction. But I don’t really think that was the main point. What he is doing is reduction to absurdity - but not in a particularly valid manner.

In no way does his example counter the argument it merely points out awkward implications of it (which would just have to be taken into account).

He furhter argues

"Now, as Alan Hajek neatly pointed out, this argument "proves too much". For suppose I decide to flip a coin, and will believe in God only if it lands on heads. This process also has a non-zero chance of obtaining infinite utility (by the Pascalian assumption). So the expected utility of this course of action is, again, infinite. "

this has similar problems to most of his objections in that it doesnt really attack the theory in a fatal way.

Actions can only be compared with potential alternative actions and while 2 x infinity is infinity when you divide it by the same infinity to solve the equation you will (I presume) get 2. Then you have lots of confusing equations but no more confusing than the usual utilitarian ones.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Philosophy Logic issues and concious Robots

Richard from Philosophy Et cetera considers himself and a hypothetical Robot

Our behaviours both have physical causes, but they are different physical causes. Maybe mine are of the right type to give rise to consciousness, whereas Bichard's [the robot] aren't.

It is valid for you to exclude the robot because it can’t do something you can do (at the risk of being arbitrary - so one would hope the thing was pretty significant, and I note, usually very poor definitions are used) but that implies the robot does something different to you.

A problem however arises where one indicates that a robot might do all the same things as you exactly - and hten be denied conciousness regardless of the process. the problem is that we have all the evidence that it is conscious as we have for the individual which it is similar to except that it is a machine. For a logical external actor to deny it the status of consciousness they would have to also deny the human that status. Unless they use one of a number of flawed pieces of logic

the first is the "understanding" argument that I will detail as follows.

The "understanding" argument is an implied argument one that one often finds in the justice system and in religion.

There is a complex system and you declare that if you can understand it is let say "not conscious" and if you can understand it is "conscious". In this example a simple computer program "if see LION then take action RUN" is likely to be viewed as not concious while a mysterious object doing exactly the same thing may well be.

Similarly in religion this is used to define a "god of the gaps" - if you can’t understand it, then it is god if you can, it is nature

In the legal system it takes another form again where peoplewonder if htey can understand a criminal - for example if he had a bad up bringing or if there was some reason why he might have been so angry that he comitted a crime. Under htis argument - if you can understand it, then it is OK ... if you can't, it is "evil"

The problem is that understanding is in internal to you and basically a function of how smart and well educated you are - so how can it be valid for judging individuals and facts (or robots for that matter).

There are some other twists of logic people may use here

one is to define consciousness arbitrarily as "what I have" or "what I and every natural born human has" in which case you can deny a conscious robot that can exceed you on every test as a result of him just not being identical (in every aspect) to you. However this is "conclusion by definition" - your definition of convenience defines what your conclusion will be.

Furthermore when Richard says
Our behaviours both have physical causes, but they are different physical causes. Maybe mine are of the right type to give rise to consciousness, whereas Richard’s aren't.

he usues another flawed argument - common amongst philosophers

the tool of defining a hypothetical that is potentially impossible and then marvelling at the fact that it is possible as a result of your hypothetical. tautology strikes again.

for example I might say imagine if two things are pulled towards the earth - but one thing is pulled towards the earth by a different but absolutely identical force to gravity on the same trajectory but you look and find that that one is being effected by gravity while the other is being effected by another force - therefore you cannot say that if something obeys gravity it is being effected by gravity.

Now I guess you can say "yeah that’s true" but few people are using that hypothetical to dispute gravity.

NZ Elections

Many national supporters would like to see Brash as being like Howard - and thus going to lead the conservatives to victory despite good showing in the polls for labour - however actually brash seems more like Latham - the average NZder is quite interested in voting against Labour But they dont trust the leader of the opposition. the odds are that Brash will pull a Latham and fall over at the last hurdle.

Tax and the electorate

I have a theory why electorates seem to respond quite well to tax cuts even though the vast majority won’t receive much.
the first reason is that older people earn more than younger people some people who used to be below average income earners are now above average and expect to earn more in the future they thus have no incentive to worry about what they used to earn.
Also many younger voters are poorer than average now but they are reasonably optimistic about what they can earn in the future and thus expect in the future for the tax cuts to benefit them.

The second reason is the old standard that it is hard for a voter to directly equate hte tax cut with a reduction in the government spending that it will relate to. Sure a lower tax rate may encourage growth (assuming it is at the expense of unproductive government spending) and thus allow a higher relative total tax take but this is VERY unlikely to fully compensate.

In this regard the argument for tax cuts rely upon two errors of judgement by voters.
This does not mean that tax cuts are bad - jsut that fundimentally a redistribution of wealth policy should win votes up until the point at which it reaches a critical level of harm to the economy and most most governments will sit to the right of this "ideal democratic" point although they will sit to the left of the "ideal GDP growth" point which may well reflect better the welfare of future generations.

As for nationals tax policy I predict the electorate will be somewhat disappointed when Labour spells out exactly how much it is for the average NZder. Arguments about NZ economy growing faster will not go down well and are unconvincing in the short term UNLESS somthign bad happens to the economy that highlights a downturn.

I am still predicting a Labour victory with small party support. But I feel now it will be fairly similar to last election just less UF less NZfirst less ACT more National.

Two Men to marry

Two men are going to get married

Why is this interesting? well they are not gay.

this is because
"There are significant tax implications that we don't think the government has thought through."

This is the stupidity of allowing tax to be effected by relationship status.

NZ Herald discussion topic - disabled parking

From my experience (although I don’t have the statistics I need) I think there are too many disabled parking spots, and that they could also double as 5-15 minute parking spots (many people use them like this anyway!). the reason is that I very often see multiple empty disabled parking spaces where I would like to park - This implies that there would be little loss if they sacrificed lets say one of those spaces - in addition I see people with disabled stickers who get straight out of the car and walk away - maybe they have a different form of disability than the ones I thought were required to get the stickers or maybe they are just the care givers for the disabled but either way it defeats the purpose. It seems to me that a time limit on the use of the spaces by non handicapped people would address most of the issues.

There is a marginal public good in making life easier for those with disabilities that might make it hard for them to walk far from their car but I don’t hate people who park in those spaces even though they might deserve the tickets they get.

Speeding PM

As the herald observes it takes one hell of a car and a long straight for you to reach 180kmph and not know that you are going that fast.
Worse yet you will notice when you slow down for another vehicle or do a little fast moving changing of lanes and then look out the window and realise after some considerable breaking you are still doing 100kmph.
It is not credible that she was not know they were going over the speed limit.

Fairfax Poll

Was labour’s student Loans policy a vote looser? I thought it might take some time and thought for that to kick in but maybe they have had enough time.
As I said to Jordan, the middle of the road people in favour of the policy will take a caning over the dinner table.

The seats on the most recent poll would be:

Labour 52
National 51
Green 7
NZ First 7
United 2
Maori 1
Progressive 1

Hat tip David Farrar

Maori party would do a bit better due to winning more seats. The televised debate should help UF, progressives, Labour but since they are fighting for the same votes not a huge effect, and hurt NZ first - in favour of labour probably.

Was not national well behind last poll jsut before the student loans policy?

Self Justification

> Vera at Philosophy et cetera looks at self justification arguing it is morally wrong.

But Vera's arguments are a bit confused so to make it clear in the context of this more politically oriented blog an example of what were talking about is how a person from the far left might say "social welfare is good" possibly because at some stage they needed or still need social welfare. And a person on the far right might say "tax is theft" partly because they want to excuse having evaded tax. These are not the only possible reasons for having these opinions but even if they are the core reason you can’t tell because the person will already have self justified their positions with all sorts of other more socially acceptable reasons.

The problem that arises from self justification is that you get two people arguing about politics (for example) both of whom have already justified that no reasonable person could oppose their position. You therefore get an irresolvable argument. This causes the debate to no longer be a search for truth or the best result and instead one of how to beat the other side.

This is not to say that these things are not sometimes useful.
For example a standard psychological trick for people with "bad" behaviours is to
Separate out the part of them that is causing the problem - give it a name (like the devil or "the alcohol" or a psychological disease etc) and then allow the person to hate it and not the rest of them. It is largely nonsense but it is a useful tool.

However if one cares one can make a reasonable improvement in regard to reducing the amount of unreliable self justification one does. It is hard but I can think of a few simple mind exercises that can help.
One example is to spend some time intentionally not saying anything one is not absolutely sure of or that could be a lie of omission. You will soon realise how difficult that is and how many things are a function of self justification.
Of course you dont have to go htat far - noticing any cases of self justification can be interesting.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Leaders debate

From what I saw.

The worm seemed to like Jim Anderton and Peter Dunne out two leaders who got to the debate by going through the courts. Generally the worm thought Helen Clarke was OK and it was interested in strangling Tariana Turia. The worm thought Winston Peters was ok but not great and national was also pretty average and the same for the Greens.

I Thought Jim Anderton Came across quite well, Peter Dunne didn’t really say anything worthwhile but at least he did not annoy me. I thought Helen Clarke was a bit boring although I expect that from a major party and Tariana Turia was weak and unconvincing having said that she had a tough task since her Party is never going to be a mainstream one. I thought Winston Peters was too aggressive and I was almost embarrassed to hear him talk an outstandingly bad debate for him from my point of view but having said that he is appealing to a certain sector of the voting public here and he may well win it. Finally I thought Janette Fitzsimons was very weak and boring.

As they wrapped up I noted that many parties particularly the greens seemed to say "we needed to vote green to support labour" or equivalent thereof. On the whole this is nonsense if you want to support labour vote labour if you want to support national vote national. Special cases might make exceptions to this rule (for example a national voter might vote for hide in Epsom) but anyway a party should have a better argument for voting for them than just tactical voting. Frankly it is sad when a party feels that is their best selling point.

Controls on Dangerous dogs

Should dangerous dog ownership be restricted?

Those who argue against it use a number of arguments
1) Blame the owners not the dog.
This is an interesting argument biased on the principle that you move blame for anything to the nearest human. It is a similar argument that is used to support gun ownership "guns don’t kill people, people kill people". But this has no implication for policy since it is just a blanket argument against intervention. For example I could argue bombs don’t kill people - people kill people - and yet a smart person doesn’t just hand out powerful bombs to everyone.

2) Dangerous dogs are not dangerous
This of course makes no sense in this form but usually a certain breed like pit bulls is in question. They will argue
A) pit bulls are not aggressive "fill in the blank" is worse
This is a claim that requires statistics - it can be done but the question then becomes why not address both problems? Furthermore usually it is addressed with very poor statistics for example by saying a much more common breed is responsible for more bites.
B) Don’t judge dogs by their looks
This is an idealistic defence - one that no person really does in real life - after all a toy poodle is unlikely to kill you even if it does look aggressive - other types of dogs might be more of a worry.

Often in addition they note exceptions to the rule (for example death by poodle). This doesn't contradict the original statement but when said with enough enthusiasm people might think that it does.

the basic statistics seem to be that some breeds of dogs are in the order of 10 times as dangerous as the average dog to a stranger and some breeds are less dangerous by a similar amount. Most dogs are not very dangerous and most dog bites are on their owners BUT that is only because most dogs spend the vast majority of their time around their own owners.

3 Another argument one can use in almost any situation is something along the lines of this "In a typical year, automobiles kill far more people - so why fear dogs?"

There is a sound argument here which is the one that says "the risk of you dying is not worth the loss of my freedom to own a dog. That is an argument I have some sympathy for but I presume it should be up to the community to decide the exact level of risk they wish to take.

The rest is less convincing - it misses a vital part of the equation. The question is how much it costs you to deal with the thing that might kill you. Otherwise you could easily say "red 5 series BMW's kill less people than pit bulls so that’s why I am not scared to cross the road". Or maybe they kill less people...

Furthermore there is a good analogy with cars. Initially car manufacturers fought the move towards seatbelts and so forth. And while cars are still dangerous, the danger has been reduced. The industry has survived the new safety features introduction and so too have many extra members of the public.


I dont know about the wisdom of the revup campain's "honk day" at 8am tomorrow morning. If someone honks and I dont expect it it distracts me - far worse if EVERYONE honks and even worse if I am on the moterway doing 109kmph.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


Labour has pledged to hire more community police, Sounds like a good idea so Ill have a closer look

"The crime rate for 2004 was 21.8 per cent lower than it was in 1996."

Good work labour - of course much of this may be due to good economic times.

"The resolution rate for all recorded crime is now 44.6 per cent - the best resolution rate since 1987."

This is also good - although still doesn’t sound good in absolute terms.

"In 1999, we pledged to crack down on burglary. We have achieved that."

Cripes - they could have fooled me - all I know is that if someone steals something from your house no one comes to check anymore. Maybe they are just playing with statistics here.

"In 2002, we pledged tougher sentences for the most serious offenders."

This is just knee-jerk politics - the police system should try to achieve something such as reductions in crime not just increased spending on prisons.

Overall a slight improvement on the current situation. Generally I have a positive view of this

Unemployment drops again

The unemployment rate has fallen to 3.7%, the lowest in the OECD.
fantastic, it is hard to get angry and argue that labour is doing a bad job when these sorts of statistics come out. I agree that much of it may have little to do with their policies but we have proof they have not "screwed it up".

Political debate

The issue regarding how many parties should be allowed into the debate is pretty simple you have to reduce the number of politicians somehow and using the most recent polling that you have done is quite a reasonable way to do that.
It is ridiculous that the Judge has ruled the the two tiny parties must have representation.

Nevermind it is alwys interesting to have the progressives there (another point of view) although I find United future rather boring worm or no worm.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005


Jordan at Just Left tells us about labours new campaign to attack National in regard to its potential to sell assets.

As Gooner points out however both the desire to sell assets and this sort of a campaign to keep them are both nonsense and knee-jerk.

"Asset sales are silly. We should be keeping all our state assets. We should definitely not be flogging off state assets to overseas owners.

However, state liabilities should be "gone by lunchtime". On trade me if necessary."

I have to make two arguments here one for the right and the other for the left.
First for the Right

This is the simplistic way of saying if the government can use the assets well enough to make money then why would they sell them? It would just remove an income stream that would have to be replaced by taxation in the long run. Governments have certain advantages over private companies in terms of economies of scale and ability to coordinate strategies and trust from the public as well as the fact that they may just by chance have put in a very good team better than the likely private replacements so it is possible it would be economically foolish to sell assets.

Now for the Left
there is no point holding onto assets that are haemorrhaging money - and it may be a bad idea even if it makes less money than the interest rate - this is because the opportunity cost must effectively be made up in taxation or cuts to other services. This is quite likely for a loss making company because private enterprise often has better incentives to be profitable and may well have other advantages like technology.
A private company may be able to run a loss making industry better and then achieve the government's aims as well as saving them money which can be spent on lets say health. If the government gets really desperate at any stage they can renationalize or just pass regulations to force the company to behave.

Immigration -

Kiwi pundit looks at immigration

Here's a simple approach: any immigrant who is convicted of a crime or who is unemployed for a total of six months or more should be automatically sent home, whether a permanent resident or not. 'Employed' means working and paying taxes, not just living without a benefit. Citizenship should be available after five years and be irrevocable. Family reunification is letting in far too many unsuitable people, and should be limited to one partner and children, whom the sponsor is expected to support.

I expect that "convicted of a crime" means convicted of a serious crime - I think speeding for example would be a silly reason for deportation but I see no problem deporting criminals.

I also think laws like "being unemployed for 6 months are far too arbitrary and also very easy to get around after all there is already a large amount of job fraud going on. furthermore, in practice when you allow people into the country you run into problems demanding people take care of them - for example if someone lets a child into NZ but then abuses them you cant deport the child or send them back. Immigration laws are fraught with such issues.

We must also consider the costs of moving away from UN treaties and
as noted by NorightTurn then again maybe screwing the UN is a positive.

Having said that I accept the need for some standard - proof that they are indeed adding value and the family reunifications policy has long bothered me.
I suggest we gather as much information as possible as soon as possible. A refugee should have to apply on behalf of his whole family so we can consider the full package even if they don’t apply they should provide the appropriate information. If they don’t we can make it more difficult for them.

Money and Justice

Property developer David Henderson has said that he is willing to donate a few thousand dollars to a drugs charity to show he is sorry presumably in exchange for getting out of his drug conviction without a conviction. For those of us with less money it sounds a little ridiculous.

I understand David Henderson is worth about 20 million. His offering of a few thousand is rather like the average New Zealander offering to pay a dollar or so in order to reduce their sentence - that wouldn’t stop me from jaywalking let alone taking a drug if I was addicted. I suggest if the payment is supposed to represent how sorry David is then it should be somewhere in the millions of dollars.

So how would that work in practice? Well I tentatively propose that the court system can engage in a sort of negotiation with the criminal to ensure that they charged the criminal a sufficient enough of money to provide a significant deterrent...

Monday, August 08, 2005

Should your sex partner tell you they have AIDS?

The NZ Judicial system is currently dealing with a landmark case involving a person with AIDS who did not tell his sexual partner that he had AIDS but did use a condom.
The AIDs foundation has come out in favour of a not guilty verdict saying that we should not take our attention away from the use of condoms. But I think they have missed the point.

We all know condoms are fairly effective in stopping AIDs but not PERFECTLY effective - i.e. they may tear for example. Worse yet many don’t use them properly anyway. It is important that someone who has sex is properly informed in regard to the risks they are taking.

It is hard to see how this would discourage condom usage since it is only applicable to people who have a disease like AIDs anyway and then use of a condom exposes them to one charge failure to use a condom exposes them to a far more serious one (murder).

Let us hope that our reckless AIDS patient looses his case and that the AIDS foundation sees the light and stops mindlessly protecting people who have AIDS no matter how much they endanger the rest of us.


I went to the doctor recently.
We have subsidized doctor’s visits for pregnancy - the government pays the doctors a fixed subsidy and the doctors are not allowed to charge for the visit.

I found it very interesting to see the doctor’s attitude towards providing the service.
He mumbled something about how the government was a nanny state and that he only got paid half of his usual very high fees when consulting to pregnant patients - he then proceeded to mention a few of the basic pieces of information that one needs when one is pregnant - rather less detail than I got from my sister and really requiring no more expertise than that of your local chemist store assistant. He made no effort to provide any customer service and clearly intentionally did not have additional information in his surgery.

You can be annoyed at the government but you should not let it effect the quality of medical care you provide. Maybe I am supposed to be annoyed at the state for not paying him enough to make him happy but I can’t get far past the fact that he is a doctor who intentionally provided a poor service I am just thinking. Negligence...

Leftist think tank - Democracy Alliance

The left makes a big move into "think tanks"

At least 80 wealthy liberals have pledged to contribute $1 million or more apiece to fund a network of think tanks and advocacy groups to compete with the potent conservative infrastructure built up over the past three decades.

good on them. maybe Labour can apply to these groups for some help in developing policy. Maybe the Conservatives can do a counter attack by moving into the schools and educational institutions a bit more - the more mixing of quality ideas the better.

Arguing with people FAIRLY

Volokh makes the good point that I made a few days ago regarding NoRightTurn's postings

I've seen lots of people, left, right, or elsewhere, make the same mistake: Just because they think their adversaries are wrong in one way (e.g., propose an unsound view of the Constitution), they feel free to just throw a barrage of epithets at them -- their arguments are criminal, frivolous, pro-terrorist, dishonest, corrupt, Nazi, or what have you. And then, when a third party defends the targets against the unfair criticisms, the critics seem upset. How can you defend these bad people? They're clearly wrong!

Well, that our adversaries are wrong doesn't justify our making wrong (and unfair) arguments ourselves.

Is porn and video violence good for children?

is porn and video violence good for children?

American teenagers are doing better than they've done in decades by trying to figure out why that might be. Teen pregnancy is down, along with teen crime, drug use, and many other social ills.
After that column came out, it occurred to me that I had the answer: Porn and videogames. That's what's making American teens healthier.

It should have been obvious.

After all, one of the great changes in teenagers' social environments over the past decade or so has been far greater exposure to explicit pornography, via the Internet, and violence, via videogames.

More virtual sex and violence would seem to go along with less real sex and violence.

While he says this in part in jest I think he may well have a point, it would seem the two things may well be related. They made such easy targets in their early years with people following the usual logic that anything they dislike or think is immoral must have bad consequences and side effects. But is that true? It would seem at worst there is a negligible connection.
I have a strong suspicion that while some "high moral" people may be dissuaded from engaging in these activities or admitting to these activities by society the net effect of them is probably more as suggested by this article.

The world is a complex place.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Charity donations

What is up with charitable donations being tax deductible?

Using a donation to deduct from your tax is rather like choosing how the government’s money will be spent. Now that might sound reasonable until you realise that it is like giving yourself two votes one regarding how everyone elses money is spent at an election and one regarding how yours is spent when making a donation.

Not only that but it defeats the purpose of both taxation and of donating. there is no point taking money off people for taxation purposes and then giving it back to them as a tax deduction on a charitable donation that is just money for accountants - you might as well just have slightly lower taxation and slightly higher incomes nd thus slightly higher nominal values of donations (if you so wish). Similarly donating anything other than your own money is not really donating.

It seems we create inefficiency in our system for no decent reason at all. Charities should be treated no differently from any other business if they cant survive without these effective government subsidies then they are not meant to survive.

psycho-bombers NOT terrorists

The left argues we should not call the bombers terrorists we should call them freedom fighters or militants. And usually those who are not of the insane left react in a knee jerk way to reject this.

But SageNZ makes a very important point. Calling them terrorists implies that they are actually scaring us. It gives them a sort of victory every time we say it. In stead we should use a more appropriate term like as SageNZ suggests "psycho-bombers" or possibly something with a more futile ring to it and say "they did not terrorise me - screw them".

Hopefully we will not be scared into over reacting to terrorism and also not scared into capitulation.

I invite all visitors to suggest some potential names we could call suicide bombers/terrorists. I am looking for something with just the right futile tone and honesty about what they are doing.

Saturday was Hiroshima day

We can stop for a moment to consider the indiscriminate death that we released on the Japanese in WWII and hope that it never happens again. But unlike many on the left I will not be making a promise of that.

> No right turn writes
Never Again. Never again should we permit our governments to wage war using such indiscriminate means

And quite reasonable that sounds. But when one looks at what that means it starts to offend ones sense of pragmatism.

There are many pragmatic situations one can see where this would be outright foolish.

Just for one example - imagine if a far right party wins in Russia (as is possible in the not too distant future since they have a strong representation in Russia). Russia then starts expanding its territory with the idea - let’s say - of wiping out their Jews and black people eventually attacking "your country". If you 'play nice" and refuse to use indiscriminate weapons - then their best strategy would be to surrender (or to die). Sure it is a hypothetical but if someone else using a weapon is a hypothetical not worth worrying about so is you using that same weapon so if you don’t fear others owning the weapon why fear yourself owning it.

the second argument is more relevant to the Hiroshima issue - assuming the other side never has atomic weapons think how much shorter will a war be when one side has such a large advantage (even if they don’t use it). For a simple example imagine if the US had developed nuclear weapons a bit earlier and had joined WWII earlier. Imagine how much shorter the war with the Germans would have been if they had been able to demonstrate nuclear power at the beginning of the war? WWII would probably have been very short tens of millions of lives would have been saved at the cost of a couple of hundred thousand.

Similarly many people see a daisy cutter bomb or something similar and see it as unfair on the poor people on the ground. But an unbalanced war is a fast and relatively low casualty war - the worst wars are stalemates like WWI or wars where the balance of power shifts wildly like in WWII. If one side is dominant and remains dominant like "the gulf war" far less people will die.

To use a boxing analogy - Sometimes putting the gloves on just means you have to hit your opponent a lot more times.


Did anyone else find that article on the news regarding the new fast bowler in Zimbabwe a bit disgusting? Sure I have nothing against the bowler himself but it was so cheesy and complimentary to him without much regard for exactly why we should think he is any good and in the context of much bigger news such as Zimbabweans life expectancy being less than half what it used to be I think these cutesy human interest stories are not really what I am interested in hearing.

It looks like Mugabe and co just handed them this story as something to write about besides the starving people they have to drive over to get to the cricket games.

Is the war on terror worth it?

The NZ herald asks "Is the war on terror worth it?"

They propose a number of possible problems with governments being given extra power e.g.
Would you allow authorities to install and monitor closed circuit TV cameras in your house, if it helped prevent terrorism?

Impositions that sound unduly alarmist in 2005 may not seem so absurd a generation or two from now as imperilled western societies erode personal freedoms in order to ramp up national security.

Sounds quite bad doesn’t it? But the problem is that we are assuming that the threat of terrorism is constant and so too are our methods of controlling our government and that we cannot be trusted to take rational positions on a case by case basis and thus considering these things as 'by definition" over reactions.

Many (including myself) believe that terrorism will become a more significant threat in the future. At the moment many on the left are right in as far as an act of terrorism just kills a few hundred people and a country of a few million can just absorb that and tolerate terrorism (as the civil libertarians might have us do). The NZ government for example would probably not put CCTV in your house under the threat of the current sort of terrorism like this. In fact as you can tell from alquaeda's gloating regarding the London bombings the media coverage and panic that occurs really just serves to excite those who plan to bomb us.

HOWEVER while the NZ government would probably not put CCTV in your house for those reasons what if the threat was in the order of thousands of people running around trying to plant weaponized Ebola? This is of course being a bit alarmist (I’m just matching alarmism with alarmism here) but the problem is that weapons are indeed getting smaller cheaper and easier to acquire. At some stage it wont be atomic bombs that are the most dangerous weapon it will be something vastly worse and while we may have that weapon under control we will probably have long since lost control of various biological weapons and potentially nuclear weapons just because it will no longer take a huge facility to develop them. If that was the case then the government might well pass such drastic measures but surely the potential to do that if required is appropriate and not something to be scared of "in itself".

But it is not even as bad as we imagine - for example if there were CCTV recording devices in all major streets no one would have the time to go and view them all BUT if a crime was committed there they would catch the guilty person. There would be far less need for police violence or unjust prosecutions because they would not be acting at such an information disadvantage. Thus there is only theoretical invasion of your privacy if no one ever sees it. Furthermoe, our attempts to protect our privacy combined wiht our desire for criminals to get caught etc really jsut forces the invasion of our privacy into other less obvious places. for example if there was CCTV on every car and every corner and in every school there would be no need for locker searches no potential for he says she says cases of police abuse or car crashes no need for extensive delatys questioning strip searches or whatever. One would just go to the recorded evidence.

What we need to do is instead of focusing on stopping these sorts of technologies we should focus on the controls we can place on the government and police to ensure they are handled correctly. For example if there is surveillance of citizens there should also be surveillance of police and politicians available on the public record and the potential for them to be fired or prosecuted in the event of a sandal and records of what surveillance they view and why.

People also attack the system on the grounds of things that might go wrong if it was implemented in a stupid manner.

Queensland Council of Civil Liberties president Michael Cope said a national ID card database would create a huge target for computer hackers.

Again obviously this is a systems problem but with the proper surveillance it would not be possible to get away with this sort of fraud because you would be recorded doing it it would be flagged and you would be caught. So the argument for blanket civil liberties is actually the reason why there is a problem.

As noted above, however, terrorism is still a small problem one that we would do better to pay less attention to. we should not design our policy YET just to stop terrorism or in a kneejerk manner - a wider view to providing a just and safe society is a more appropriate aim.

All blacks loose 16-22

OK so we are one match down but it doesnt matter too muchas long as we give them a good thrashing in our home matches.

Student Loans & Kyoto

Sage NZ draws an important link regarding trust and the Kyoto and Student loan costs.

The question is - can you trust labour to give us the right figures in relation to the cost of their policies when they screwed up so catastrophically (not even in the ball park of the actual cost) in relation to the Kyoto protocol despite all the debate and the time they had to get it right. At least they can't cover it all up until just after the election like they did in germany - but when you make huge errors like that one has to wonder if you are dishonest or worse yet just incompetent.

Bush and iraq

recent polling indicates bush's approval rating has dropped.
however since recent polling is largely of democrats tht is not entirely surprising.

Robert Fisk

Wandering through Robert fisk's site searching for articles to fisk I was largely disapointed. Why? well he seems to be getting somewhat more rational in his old age pointing out
"It’s not difficult to be cynical about the way in which Arabs can both hate the West and love it."
Good to see poeple like fisk making at least a marginal effort to understand.


Here is an interesting article on scoop
Basically we have Intolerance of Intolerance of intolerance .

It just shows how easy it is to become what you are opposing.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Dismissing the opposition

(In a recent debate on the treaty of Waitangi Muerk and I noted that I/S at NoRightTurn follows a policy of dismissing and demonizing his political opponents rather than trying to understand them as I noted

"The problem is it is clear that you are so dismissive of other opinions that if you were wrong there would be no way you could tell."

There is no need for him to agree just to understand.

Muerk provided a very interesting article on a similar topic. How the supporters of the political elites (and the political elites in private spend so much time be-littling sectors of society that cannot be used to support causes.

In the Sixties, critics of populism pointed the finger at 'hard hats' and 'materialist' working people. Today in the USA, such attitudes are expressed through terms like 'Nascar Dads', 'Valley Girls, 'Joe six-pack' or 'rednecks'... The pathological roots of backward attitudes is to be found in the poor quality of parenting experienced by Lakoff's stereotype conservative.

In the UK, Nascar dads have a different name. They are dismissed as 'chavs', 'white van men', 'Worcester Women' or 'tabloid readers'. Since these are people who cannot be mobilised for progressive causes, the best course of action is to try to isolate them and minimise their influence upon society.

It is not just the left that works in this manner of course but at times one side will demonize another and at other times the opposite will be predominant. It would appear that it is the left that is busy doing most of the demonizing and the least amount of understanding.

Minor Parties - the alliance

The alliance is a combination of various issues based parties and so there is the potential for them to loose touch with reality in certain policy areas or to propose things that just won’t work together.

their main policy is that of tax cuts - first 10,000 dollars of income tax free (like sth Korea I think) higher taxes for the rich the net result being much higher and thus plenty of money to pay for everyone's pet project.

Now I support the tax cut but I am a little concerned that they are treating this like free money and not realising the distortions it will cause to the market the attempts to dodge tax the distortion of nominal wages and so forth. Thus if I enacted it would help the economy but if they did it would cripple the economy with wastage.

To give you a feel for their policies (which are detailed but still a little strange even when compared to 99MPs) they state this

"MPs’ pay will be linked directly to the top of basic scale for primary and secondary teachers with a 3 year degree and 1 year of teacher training: $59,537."

Sounds totally arbitrary to me and probably a policy designed by a school teacher.
Also it has little regard for how things work in practice just considering ideology.
Otherwise they have all the left pet causes - free education, lots of protection against unfair convictions harm minimization for drugs etc.

A good party to vote for if you are a one issue person and one of your issues is one of their issues. You may also support them as a generic party of the left. Having said that the greens are a safer place to put your vote to avoid wastage and the progressives / labour have more balanced policies that take into account the effects of their actions.

Minor parties - The Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party

The Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party
"We believe adults have the right to freedom of choice unless that choice harms other people or our planet."

Sigh... the contradictions of the left anarchist.
The problem of course lies in what we define as "harm" and what is a legitimate group that can be harmed. The pure form of "freedom of choice (from government) is far right anarchy. Is smoking a drug going to hurt my children?
At least the libiterianz can say that property rights or "freedom from" is primarily - the left gets issues in regard to exactly where they stop being far right and switch back to being far left.

Having said that they have a good point in that it is very costly to fight a drug war against cannabis where you throw otherwise law abiding citizens in jail and you can’t win the battle since you only catch a tiny fraction of people doing the crime so no one feels significantly scared of being caught. Laws should be enforced if they are not they just create disrespect for the law. Therefore as a pragmatist I am wiling to seriously consider legalizing cannabis and look at Netherlands and the good and bad effects there – although I am also aware of the counter argument along the lines of “you can’t stop child abuse but that doesn’t mean you don’t try to fight it”.

Minor parties - democrats

the democrats for social credit (social credit) are a party that used to have considerable support (as high as 21%) and yet surprisingly do not break down their positions into policies like most of the other established parties do.

they seem to be socially liberal and favour profit from labour over profit from capital (don’t scream communist quite yet).they want to cut the banks out of the loop by using the reserve bank and to change the system to one based on credit for things produced as opposed to debt.

The major problem here is that the rest of the world is not using this system. Rather like the problems the communists faced it is very difficult to start your own separate system because the incompatibility with the rest of the world will result in economic losses for you regardless of whether your system is better.

So who should vote for them? Well maybe some former nationalists or communists who are idealistically in favour of labour and against capital or maybe someone who just believes their theory will work. Some policies are worth a look but you really need to be sold on the principle to go with this party.

Minor Parties - One NZ

Again this appears to be a single issue party opposing special treatment for Maori. Most NZders would feel that National and ACT have this issue largely covered - however I see they have been around since last election and they seem more likely to just axe the whole treaty system the day after they get in office damn the consequences (as most single issue parties would).

I support that policy in principle but as most NZders realise we have started a ball rolling with treaty claims and it may be better to see it to its end (e.g. 2008) and THEN enshrine in our law equal rights.

Minor parties -WINZ party/libiterianz

WINZ party seems to be a single issue party in favour of allowing smoking. This argument is based on the "freedom from action" definition of freedom that has been explored over at Philosophy et cetera of "freedom from" without "freedom to". If they have more than one policy (they may well have no other policies) then they probably follow this to its natural conclusion and are libertarian i.e. to the right of ACT.

Speaking of which there is also a Libertarian party you can vote for – they have much more developed policies than WINZ and even have things like budget calculations on how they will reduce NZ’s taxation to zero.

Libertarians are ideologs rather like the communists or the greens are and as such have problems where they can’t tell where their ideology doesn’t work even if it stares them right in the face.

First their policy on the environment – they state that “Private property rights provide the strongest possible protection for the environment.” This is obviously nonsense – it ignores the problem of negative side effects of behaviours for example if I release CFC’s there is no one specific to sue me but I might still cause huge damage. Having said that I support the repeal of the PMA which was their lead point.
They oppose laws against victimless 'crimes'. There is a good argument for this but there are problems defining what is victimless and what isn’t. For example if I use drugs there may be no direct victim but then again what about children and family?
Similarly they support self defence but where does one draw the line? Direct physical threats (like the current law), people on your property or lynching?
In terms of social welfare they suggest state benefits would be abolished to permit the growth of voluntary charities and private insurance.
Two problems here
1) Charities don’t distribute money very evenly. Some will be helped and some wont based on very arbitrary factors.
2) Charities need to spend a lot of money advertising etc – money gathering will probably be much less efficient than taxation and people in general don’t spend much time choosing charities so little incentive for them to improve. Spending will probably also be less efficient even if it is far from efficient now.
Their immigration policy is open to abuse in that if they accept anyone it would be rational for large amounts of people from the third world to migrate to NZ. Still open boarders are something to be supported philosophically.

I agree that there is a lot of inefficient government spending but what the libiterianz ignore is that it is posible for the government ot have economies of scale or other advantages that it can use to do things more efficiently Furthermore it can use these advantages to get Return on Investment in such a way that they give back more than they take. Even if the government is not doing this now it is theoretically posible and thus their solution falls short of optimal policy.

As for voting Libiterianz would be anti the smoking ban and are a complete party so better than WINZ in as far as one wants government out of their lives.

Minor Parties - Destiny NZ

What can I say - it is the poor cousin of hte CHNZ - their website has hardly any detailed policy jsut saying how they plan on supporting the family. One has to wonder if htey put any thought into policy at all or whether thoe that vote for them will know what they are voting for.
Having said that destiny Church has a reasonably high profile and as far as one issue parties go we can safely assume that they honestly believe what they are saying and will drive the stated aims as their primarly political adgenda. Having said that - on the available information - if your economic moral conservative looking for a christian party vote CHNZ if your are moral conservative economic liberal - Im afraid we can't tell.

Minor parties - Christian heritage party

the CHP is one of the most well thought out of the small parties probably because it has been around for a while and has been close to gaining seats in parliment. they follow standard conservative theory combined with conservative moral positions. This means that if you are a economic conservative and a social liberal you can vote ACT but a social conservative and a economic conservative you could vote for someone like CHNZ (with national in the middle). Of course this is a very specific kind of moral conservatism in that is it Christian.

CHNZ wants to cut taxes, reduce debt, trade freely, user pays basically a national act platform with some aditional policies thrown in in orer to make the family unit more important and to support generally christian morals.

Overall - I wouldnt vote for them - but their policies are generally sensible nothing that I wont end up critiquing in other posts.

Minor parties - 99 MPs

This party is a single issue party focused on reducing the parliament size to 99. Actually most people probably support this policy but the logic behind their argument is a popularist "anti-politics" approach. A quick overview reveals most of their overview policies are quite reasonable however I doubt they (as such a small party) have really looked into the implementation level.

They include policies such as MPs salary increases limited to the rate of inflation.
This is a problem at the implementation level because for a job like "controlling the country" MPs are not paid all that much. Surely we want to attract the best people and in addition we don’t want to make the system inflexible or it will be less able to meet our needs. Their attitude towards senior citizen is also of concern since it seems to be to generally paying more to older people without a wider justification for this. These sorts of blanket promises designed to attract some subset of the electorate are a bit dangerous.

They also have an environmental policy to encourage the use of solar panels. It is not entirely convincing - it sounds easy to cheat and unlikely to make a huge difference but it might be worth a trial. Similarly their policy on making it difficult for government to waste tax money may be difficult in practice it sounds like a huge beaurocracy. "People applying for funds from the public purse will be required to submit a detailed plan of how the money is to be spent and provide fully audited accounts of all expenditure". Although I am not sure how seriously they are taking this and it could just mean something similar to the current system.

I do however support limits to perks while in parliament and in retirement these are probably created by some historical fluke and should at least all be reviewed if not just cancelled. Also, their policies on health education and immigration are all quite pragmatic - they focus health on allowing people to participate, education on preventing people dropping into crime, immigration on filling skills shortages, police on law and order etc.

They propose an interesting idea to have the superannuation fun effectively build our roads and then be paid back from tolls - this is quite interesting. People may actually like the idea of paying back the elderly by driving on the roads.

They have introduced the "sounds good but actually has negligible effect" policy of subsidised new housing (Assistance of up to $10,000 will be granted to qualifying families buying their first home.) The problem here is of course that house prices will be pushed up by around that value.

However, to be fair there are some positive effects in certain situations - the policy would have some interesting wealth effects if house prices were low and the economy was slow when the policy was initiated since everyone who's house price went up would feel richer and be able to spend a little more.

Despite some reservations, overall this is a fairly sensible party for a one issue party. I would feel much safer voting 99MPs than direct democracy.

Minor parties - direct democracy / transaction taxes

Minor parties are a particularly humorous part of the election. It is pretty uncommon for a small group of politicians can get together and propose sensible policy on a wide range of issues.

Anyway we will look at direct democracy this time.

Here is a classic quote from their site
"Alp said if you looked "beyond the spin", the [National] Front and Direct Democracy had several policies in common, which was why Chapman had joined the party."

Something to consider before voting I guess...

They propose binding referendum rather like Switzerland (this seems to be their main policy) and they support a transaction tax on all withdrawals of money - common leftwing sort of aims which often go unchallenged - so lets have a closer look.

Now what is the problem with this?
well the referendum idea sounds ok - although Switzerland is basically the worst performing economy in the civilized world by gdp per capita but maybe there are some other reasons for that.

but the transaction tax seems a bit more dangerous. Why? well here is the seldom made explination...

All goods and services have to have some sort of tax attached but to reach current tax levels each god would need to be taxed dozens of times to get the current share of GDP. But not all goods, services or activities involve the same number of transactions. This means that the tax burden would vary not on anything particularly rational but on whether its production involved many or few financial transactions. Petrol might bear a low tax, while groceries would be taxed heavily this seems counter to man governmental aims as well as just plain stupid.

The introduction of the tax would also cause negative fiscal effects. Note how there is more theoretical money in the economy than real cash and that you can effectively have more money if lets say a man gets you to repair his car you buy a stereo from him and he buys a fridge from you. I.e. the money circulates faster. Transaction taxes will slow hits circulation - reducing efficiency, being deflationary and shrinking its own tax base.

It will also hinder development of a nation’s financial system push investment offshore, and lead to disintermediation from the banking system encouraging people to use primitive financial methods. Furthermore it will be a regressive tax in that wealthy people and big businesses can avoid transactions taxes. Also governments will undermine the ability to raise money with government bonds and will raise interest rates.

Comparing this to other taxes (and others have downsides also) - the best taxes are the ones that cause the least distortion this doesn’t mean the taxes have to be EVEN, because there is a second factor this is the degree towards which the tax can change behaviour.

A consumer (or even a worker) is much less options and is less likely to change behaviour based on a tax difference than a trader is so consumer taxes are likely to cause less distortion of behaviour. Even if one supports distorting behaviour - If you are going to distort behaviour it is much better to do it intentionally than as an unintended side effects like those discussed above.

Cullen fund

Cullen fund returns 14% return on investment - fantastic - of course it is easy to make good returns in a good 4economic environment but that 14% is probably a better return than htat same capital would have made in the hands of individuals so good for us collectively.

Police officers may face random drug tests and covert surveillance

Police officers may face random drug tests and covert surveillance

Well why have they not done this already? If drugs are illegal and you wnat peopel to take drugs to get caught hten you obviously need a police force that doesn't use drugs. And there is an even better argument for surveillance. Imagine a "policemans black box" that records everything while the policeman is on duty - no in general any police complain can be dealt with swiftly and fairly to the policemans reputation and that of the member of the public at a fairly insignificant cost but it need not be used unless there is a problem (like a black box) and as a result we could place more faith in them.
Sure that is not what they are proposing but covert surveillance might be a step i nthe right direction.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Pledge #4 Treaty Claims

Labour has anounced a pledge to a time limit for the lodging of historic Treaty of Waitangi claims. cut off by 1 September 2008, with claims intended to be settled by 2020.

So what does this mean? well it makes labour more paletable to a large number of middle of the road non-maori who have long been concerned the treaty issues would exist forever. It is likely to upset many maori who will be unhappy with not being able to make claims after 2008.

Basically sound policy a fairly sensible timeline (one government term). Labour may loose some maori votes to the maori party - but it has lost most of the maori seats anyway and it to some degree neutralizes one of nationals platforms.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

National looking shakey

As even Paul homes noted this morning - National is starting to look shaky. They are responding slowly and with indecision when caught out talking to Americans and asking them for advice. And seem rather reluctant to offer their tax policy even though they must know they are disappointing the electorate with their delays. Brash was very far from a preferred leader anyway and I am afraid the whole party is not giving us that leadership feeling.

Of course the up-shot is that labour may actually win more convincingly and far left parties might loose influence and we might be able to start dropping members from the unwieldy green/Maori party/labour/united/progressive coalition.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Speeding primeminister

Also in the news lately - Helen clarke is involved in a court case where her motorcade drove at about 150. It is important that we all make sure this is the deciding factor in the election afterall if we vote for her she might sped again and can you imagine how dangerous the roads would be?

More seriously helen should face the law like any other citizen but guilty or not whether she is involved in "conspiracy to speed" or not has very little influence on whether she is a good primeminister or not. Lets hope our elections are decided on more important issues such as, lets say, the economy.

National and the USA

The big issue of the moment is that Labour has discovered that Members of the national party have been meeting with people from the USA and Lockwood Smith is reported as asking for help of a US think tank.
So in the spirit of my previous posts how should this effect you’re voting habits?

Well if you despise the USA and see it as a sort of "evil empire" then you will probably not want to vote for National - then again you were never going to vote for national anyway.

So what has national done? It has asked for a (admittedly biased) foreign group to consider ways of addressing a policy issue in NZ. However this is pretty similar to the meetings of left of centre politicians that labour attends or the very concept of learning from others experiences.
Does this cross a line into propaganda? Well it didn’t even happen so no, not even close. But even if it did all political manoeuvring is related to propaganda. Posting up signs with "tax" and "cut" or ribbons of labour preventing babies from falling into some unknown abyss are all propaganda.

The democratic system functions on the assumption that more information is better and those citizens will be able to sift through it to make a vote. Whether Labour used Americans to think it up or national used Iraqis doesn't really matter very much since we can evaluate each argument on its merits, and if we are too lazy to look at the detail we can evaluate it considering the source (don’t tell me Lockwood was suggesting an anonymous think tank - that is ridiculous). If anything bringing ideas in from all around the world just slightly improves the quality of the debate.

Therefore this whole debate is a storm in tea cup. Lockwood did nothing wrong except in as far as he should have known the US would say no and therefore wasted his breath.

Having said that the US of course did the politically appropriate thing in staying out. US aid is politically a poison chalice.