Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

John Stuart Mill said a bit more about the right to free speech

Peter Brent in Yes but what would Mill say? notes that many people like to quote John Stuart Mill when arguing about free speech. However, he notes that these people tend to be selective in their quotes.
These Libertarians are wont to quote centuries old European philosophers, with John Stuart Mill probably the favourite, on how speech should be unbridled. Sometimes it looks like the results of a Google search.

And that’s a game we can all play. How about this from JS Mill:

“there are many acts which, being directly injurious only to the agents themselves, ought not to be legally interdicted, but which, if done publicly, are a violation of good manners and, coming thus within the category of offenses against others, may rightly be prohibited.”
Brent also writes:
Jeremy Bentham, who JS Mill was (at least initially) a disciple of, reckoned all that earlier stuff about “natural rights” and men being “born free” was the biggest load of rubbish—"rhetorical nonsense”, he called it, and “nonsense upon stilts” and “[a]bsurd and miserable nonsense!”

Now I’m even less of a Mill expert than I am a Bentham one, but I’m quite sure he also believed that human rights do not come out of the earth and rocks, but are indeed “decided”, or at least identified, by someone, or some people. Such as his good self.
There is no absolute right to free speech in any society, and I’m not just referring to defamation laws. If someone stood outside your property for 18 hours a day, week after week, yelling abuse at you and your family, I’m pretty sure you could get the coppers to move them on.

Is it cheaper to pay the pension to everyone and tax super instead?

A number of reports are citing a paper by the Australia Institute arguing it would be cheaper to increase the pension by $5,000 a year and offer it to everyone in return for removing all tax breaks for superannuation.

Super tax breaks the 'Hindenburg' of the Federal Budget: Report
It's super tax concessions, not pensions that are killing the budget

It wasn't Voltaire after all

John Birmingham in Reassuring lies don't belong in climate debate points out that it wasn't Voltaire who made the famous statement "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” but:
Evelyn Hall, writing under the pseudonym S. G. Tallentyre (because who wants to listen to a woman, right?) in a 1906 biography, The Friends of Voltaire.

Joan Robinson's book on economics

In Joan Robinson’s “Introduction to Modern Economics” "Rumplestatskin" recommends the economics text book An Introduction to Modern Economics by Joan Robinson.
For Robinson, rebuilding modern economics teaching meant starting with an understanding of evolving economic doctrines. As such, she begins her revolutionary textbook with a summary of the defining battles within economic philosophy, tracing the key players and their moral and logical arguments since the writings of Fan├žois Quesnay in the 18th century.
As a recently trained economist one of the more shocking things about Robinson’s textbook is the way many core features of neoclassical economics are brushed away in a sentence or paragraph as mere metaphysical reasoning. She defines such reasoning as being “applied to a use of language that conveys no factual information, describes no logical relations nor gives precise instructions and yet is calculated to affect conduct.”
If you want an introduction to economics that acknowledges the rather limited knowledge generated by the field, and starts from fundamental moral foundations, then you could do worse than tracking down a copy of Robinson and Eatwell’s textbook from your local library’s storage shed.

George Brandis is wrong, consensus on climate change is not an attack on free speech

In a recent interview George Brandis criticised the consensus view on climate change as an attack on free speech, citing John Stuart Mill in support. In Brandis misses the finer points of free speech Henry Martyn Lloyd argues that Brandis is wrong.
Brandis seems to think that it is necessary that debate continue until those in error come to accept their error. Mill had no such requirement and nor should he.

For Mill there is nothing in principle that prevents the forming of a consensus view on any matter, scientific, religious, or political. In fact, Mill held that the ideal of knowledge is true consensus. Ensuring liberty of thought and discussion does not prevent consensus, rather the opposite, the ideal of discussion is convergence on truth even though this convergence will always be incomplete and must never become dogmatic.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

IMF warns that income inequality can reduce economic growth

In IMF Issues Income Inequality Warning, Suggests Ways To Slow It Christopher S. Rugaber reports that:
The International Monetary Fund warned Thursday that wide income inequality can slow economic growth and is proposing ways to reduce it.

Its recommendations include: Raising property taxes. Taxing the rich more than others. Raising the eligibility age for government retirement programs.
Government tax and spending policies can be effective in reducing inequality, the report said. Such policies have lowered the income gap by an average of one-third in advanced economies, mostly because of money transferred to the poorest households.

Last month, an IMF research paper concluded that countries with steep income inequality were more likely to have briefer and weaker periods of economic growth. It also argued that efforts to redistribute income don't necessarily hinder economic expansion.

Triclosan may enourage staph nasal infections

Beth Mole writes in Triclosan aids nasal invasions by staph that "Soaps that contain triclosan, a commonly used antimicrobial compound, could actually help disease-causing bacteria [staph] colonize the human nose".
Because triclosan usually kills bacteria, the finding was a surprise, says Boles, who works to understand why only some people harbor staph. A person carrying the microbe in his or her nose, he says, has a much higher risk of a staph infection, which can occur in the skin and blood and cause pneumonia and produce toxic shock syndrome.

In the study, 37 people, or 41 percent, had detectable levels of triclosan in their nasal secretions. Of the people that had very little or no antimicrobial compound in their snot, 27 to 32 percent had staph in their nostrils. This fraction fits with previous studies, which have found that staphcolonizes about 30 percent of the general population. But of the people with higher levels of triclosan, 64 percent carried staph.

Friday, 4 April 2014

How does your country's flag rate

The world's flags given letter grades - Grades by name of country.

So which are the best:
Gambia: A+ 90/100
Pakistan: A 88 / 100
Japan: A 87 / 100
Somalia: A 86 / 100
Cuba: A 85 / 100
Israel: A 85 / 100
South Africa: A 85 / 100
Switzerland: A 85 / 100
Turkey: A 85 / 100
Viet Nam: A 85 / 100
And the worst:
American Samoa: D- 39 / 100
Belarus: D- 39 / 100
Niue: D- 39 / 100
Falkland Islands: D- 38/100
Mozambique: D- 37 / 100
Turkmenistan: D- 37 / 100
El Salvador: D- 36 / 100
Brazil: D- 35 / 100
Guam: F 20 / 100
U.S. Virgin Islands: F 6 / 100
Northern Mariana Islands: F 2 / 100

Australia gets a C - 55 out of 100.

Mind you these are just someone's opinions.

Inequality leading to falling education standards

In Tide of inequity to blame for falling education results David Gillespie explains why the increasing market share of private schools is not a good thing.
But we are on the fast train to inequity again. And, as the studies have predicted, the more the tide of equity sinks, the worse our education results as a nation become.

Running away from the public system is not the solution to Australia's education woes. It simply drives wedges into cracks in Australian society and replays the disaster movie our education system has seen once before. Any government that encourages that as a solution is looking after its bottom line, not your child's future.

Mispronuciations the engine of language change

David Shariatmadari in 8 pronunciation errors that made the English language what it is today explores some of the common errors of pronunciation we all make. He goes on to explain how common types of mistakes have led to permanent changes in English.
There are bound to be things we've read or are vaguely familiar with, but not able to pronounce as we are supposed to.

The term "supposed" opens up a whole different debate, of course. Error is the engine of language change, and today's mistake could be tomorrow's vigorously defended norm. There are lots of wonderful examples of alternative pronunciations or missteps that have become standard usage.
He goes on to document some of his favourite examples.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Criminal justice in Queensland is becoming more medievel

In The Great Leap Backward: Criminal Law Reform with the Hon Jarrod Bleijie Andrew Trotter and Harry Hobbs examine recent changes to Queensland criminal law. The abstract:
On 3 April 2012, the Honourable Member for Kawana, Jarrod Bleijie MP, was
sworn in as Attorney-General for Queensland and Minister for Justice. In the
period that followed, Queensland’s youngest Attorney-General since Sir
Samuel Griffith in 1874 has implemented substantial reforms to the criminal
law as part of a campaign to ‘get tough on crime’. Those reforms have been
heavily and almost uniformly criticised by the profession, the judiciary and the
academy. This article places the reforms in their historical context to illustrate
that together they constitute a great leap backward that unravels centuries of
gradual reform calculated to improve the state of human rights in criminal

Austerity can be deadly

In Greek austerity tragedy shows where not to make cuts Andy Coghlan writes:
Austerity can be bad for your health. Greece has seen drastic increases in infant mortality, suicide and depression since the government made deep cuts to healthcare and social support services between 2009 and 2012. These fallouts may soon be reprised in other countries that have embarked on tough austerity measures, such as Spain and Portugal.

Following the country's financial crash, Greece cut its hospital budget by 25 per cent cut and slashed funding for mental health problems by 55 per cent. An analysis of health statistics shows that as a result, suicides increased 45 per cent between 2007 and 2011 and, over roughly the same period, cases of depression more than doubled and infant mortality rose by 43 per cent.

Needle-exchange schemes and free condoms for injecting drug users were also cut. By 2012, new HIV cases in this group were 32 times what they had been in 2009.

The country has also had its first cases of locally spread malaria for 40 years.