Thursday, November 25, 2010

Away for a week and some

I'm about to start the Great Victorian Bike Ride. 9 days, 590km on a bicycle.  No blog updates.  See you in a while

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What is the upside for North Korea here?

So, North Korea is now using artillery against South Korean civilians.  (Telegraph)  I'm not sure what they could possibly think will come of this, outside of even more of their population starving to death as the international community further withdraws aid.  Possibly the internal situation is now so bad that only being at war will prevent internal rebellion?  I hope not, but the whole thing is moving from farcical to absurd.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Supermax Prisons: Cruel and Unusual Punishment?

Some interesting thoughts raised at LGM regarding the Ghailani verdict.  In particular, the idea that it may actually be a worse situation being sentenced to 20 years in a Supermax prison within the civilian criminal system, than being held indefinitely at a military institution.  Why?  Because the conditions in Supermax prisons are so degrading, so foul, that they may breach international law, and indeed, the law of the United States itself, regarding cruel and unusual punishment.  This article at alternet compares the situation to torture, while there has apparently been a  UN Committee against torture ruling condemning the conditions at Supermax prisons.

I didn't realise the US did things like this.  I mean, I know it is cliché to ridicule the US system for its misguided approach to most everything to do with punishment, but really? 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

More on US Airport security.

It is getting worse for the TSA and their silly rules.  We have another blogger equating TSA enhanced pat-downs with sexual assault (which it would be, if it was done by anyone else), and more media getting on board the TSA hatewagon. (Bloomberg)

Monday, November 15, 2010


...Has got itself a serious public relations problem.  According to this article, another Qantas plane was forced to turn back to origin, the fifth fault in 11 days to get media attention.

Add to that that Qantas is expensive and the service is bad comparative to other full priced airlines, and really, for any flight you absolutely must make out of Australia, Emirates or Air New Zealand are surely better options.

Functional Healthcare

I notice there is a new report (via ABC) being shopped around the news media in Australia about doctors thinking of giving up the profession because of worries about liability (or more accurately, worries about litigation, irrespective of their liability).  This is not a trivial concern, and the need for doctors to take out expensive insurance policies to protect them against lawsuits is part of what drives the price of medical care upwards in Australia and (to a much greater extent) the US.  Indeed, the US is the paradigmatic example of litigiousness losing all sense of scale and reason.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, insofar as this will not happen), there is an alternative system available, which strictly curtails litigation and thereby makes medical care affordable.  This is the kind of no fault compensation scheme, government run, that is found in New Zealand: The Accident Compensation Corporation.  It is an option that should be considered far more than it currently is, and while the US is unlikely ever to be sensible enough to do anything like it, Australia at least potentially still could move towards the system.  As an added bonus, Australians have the benefit of seeing the teething problems with the NZ system and preventing them from occuring, rather than having to fix them on the fly as NZ has had to do.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Trouble for the TSA

So people are starting to call the TSA in the US on their lies about security.  I'm fortunate enough not to have to go to or through the US when flying, but I have felt increasingly sorry for the poor people corralled into their separate lines at Auckland or Melbourne airports for stricter, invasive, completely useless security measures.  Be interesting to see how this plays out.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The problem with workfare...

...Whether it is called workfare (, or work for the dole, or anything else, is that it relies on an often baseless assumption; that there are jobs available for the people who are unemployed and eligible for welfare.  Sure, there are some jobs, and some people who are unemployed could do some of them.  But the systems we have in place do not guarantee a job for every person, and there certainly are not as many jobs as there are people unemployed (there are not even as many as there are people looking for work).

Workfare laws in a situation where there aren't jobs for all the unemployed, will end up punishing those whose fault is not willingness to work, or lack of effort in seeking a job, but working in the wrong industry at the wrong time.  This is hardly desirable.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Hunting the LRA

A very interesting response by Human Rights Watch to a suggestion about the use of the US military to pursue Joseph Knoy, the head of the Lords Resistance Army, was posted at Lawfare today.  It is a good insight into the background to HRW campaign practices, and it provides a good guide to an international law enforcement based approach to targetting small scale dangerous figures, as opposed to the now prevalent military approach, which has a number of obvious flaws.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


People appear to actually use 'sez' instead of 'says' in written english now.  I have even seen it in newspaper headlines.

Australian River Systems

It isn't that I hate farmers.  Rather, it just seems obvious that it is more important to avoid destroying river systems through overextraction of water, than it is to postpone the loss of some thousands of farming jobs in areas where farming is ecologically unsustainable in the long term.

Yet, the amount of complaining coming from farmers on the basis of a report that recommends doing the bare minimum (The Age) to sustain the Murray-Darling system makes it seem as though a whole lot of people do not share this intuition.

Losing jobs is bad.  But losing more jobs in a few years because we have carelessly destroyed a major river system through overuse isn't just bad, it is crazy.  Yes it hurts to lose jobs, yes there may be flow on damage to the wider economy, particularly in terms of things like food pricing, but these dangers are at least ones we are forewarned about, and may actually be able to prevent.  Unlike the harms that would come from losing major river systems.

The official report can be found here.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Can we get pluralism going at the level of normative ethical theories?

(Some WIP thoughts)

And if we can, does doing so force us into any particular meta-ethical position?  I think we can, and that it does not (but looks like it works out well for error-theories of meta-ethics).

The idea would go something like this:
  • There are multiple sufficiently plausible moral codes (aka sets of instructions on how to act morally).  
  • These roughly correspond to things like 'the current best account of utilitarianism' and 'the current best virtue ethical moral framework'.  
  • None of these current best accounts is universally preferable to any other best account, but each is universally preferable to any other account from within the broader category (utilitarianism, virtue ethics, Christianity).
    • It may be that this lack of universal preferability merely means that multiple accounts provide equally plausible means of decision-making in particular contexts.
  • Utilising any one of these codes will enable an actor to act morally in the (vast) majority of circumstances.
  • It is at least unclear and possibly indeterminate which of the codes offers the best chance of acting morally in the greatest number of circumstances (particularly once the chance of acting immorally is discounted in virtue of the likelihood of the situation arising).
  • There are practical reasons mitigating against using some combination of best theories.
So, to act morally is to utilise any one of the sufficiently plausible moral codes in guiding your decision-making.  In particular instances, this will result in the moral thing to do being A (for code X) & ~A (for code Y).  This isn't a problem, given the above.

So what is going on meta-ethically here?  I would think that what our normative theories are doing is pointing not to moral truth, but to something akin to usefulness or suitability.  Despite acting as though they state moral truths, and systematically failing to do so (evident in virtue of their disagreement with each other while all falling within the realm of the moral), these competing systems each individually provide the right kind of enabling framework to allow actors to interact morally.