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You can never leave it up to the politicians
April 27th, 2010 under Uncategorized. [ Comments: none ]

<This written in response to reading a post on Law24>

If you believe in democracy you have to concede that ultimately, the people who are elected into office represent the people who you voted for. I think the mistake that is made is thinking that politicians are a different kind of people. We hold them up to idealized notions which the general populace could never live up to. We compare our politicians to those from other countries and ask ourselves, “Why are our representatives drawing such huge salaries?”

No different during the time of apartheid, the makeup of the government workforce is directly related to rewarding those who voted for them. As long as politics is seen as a way to get ahead instead of as a public service, corruption will continue. It is my opinion that most democratic systems suffer from this. So why is it that we sit with such a huge corruption problem?

The reality is that economic empowerment in SA is limited. The majority of South Africans have been denied access to opportunities that people in the first world take for granted. Basic skills are lacking that are required for economic development. What is even worse is that even if the basic skills are there, the current state of the economy inhibits the ability for those skills to be employed. Since there’s not enough business opportunities available, the next best thing then is to go and work for government.

So you end up with two scenarios. Unskilled people in government or skilled people in an organisation (government) where there is no incentive or motivation to excel. In the 1st world, politics is seen as a 2nd or 3rd career choice. Engineers change their career choice to business because of the motivation to earn more money. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I wouldn’t want those kinds of people to be in government. I think the motivation for financial gain is directly at odds with public service. The answer to the question of SA corruption is this: In 1st world countries there is simply less incentive to be corrupt. So how do we fix this?

The answer, as always, is with time and education. I believe that skills and education drive innovation and economic development. If we emphasise these attributes, people will not need to rely on government for opportunities. Government will then do what it is supposed to do: Ensure that the basic rights of people are satisfied and that the way skills and education is employed is ethical and lawful.

So what is the point of this post (or rant). The point is that we should not look to politicians to improve our lives. They are ordinary people just like us with their own motivations. If we want to fix SA then we need to look to ourselves to improve things. It is us who can identify opportunities. It is us who can take risks. And it will be us who will benefit.

Love is only a feeling…
September 9th, 2008 under Uncategorized. [ Comments: none ]

(Drifting a away)

Justin Hawkins

Love is cool!

<Queue visuals of a sea of lighters….>

So basically, my sister gave me an assignment yesterday and this is my response. The question was:

Is love, a feeling, an action or a choice?

My initial reaction is why can’t love be all 3? Why can’t they be 3 different facets of the same diamond? It seems rather short-sighted to limit something as complex as love to one sort of concept. And yet, I can’t help but feel that two are just a natural progression from the first. Here is my attempt at making the sometimes illogical, logical:

Step 1: Love as a feeling

In order to be in the state of love, that would mean that at one point, you weren’t in love with anyone. You then meet someone who makes you feel happy. I think feeling internally happy must have a consequence on the way you go about life so…

Step 2: Love as an action

You’re in love and that will influence how you treat at least one person in your life. Even if you never tell that person, your actions are influenced. You might be more optimistic or you might more pessimistic. You might go to the gym more. You might put yourself in situations where it’s more likely you’ll run into one another. You may think more about the other person or love in general. You might even do things without realising it. At this point, you have two alternatives…

Step 3: Love as choice

Should I tell this person the way I feel? Do I take a leap and take a chance? What if I don’t tell her and it could’ve been great and I just messed up the best shot at happiness I ever had? These are the types of questions would be going through my mind.

Looking at these steps it’s easy to tell that they all occur at the start of the relationship. But if it’s true love, that’s not where it ends. If you’re lucky and you get to spend the rest of your life with the person you love, these “concepts” repeat themselves on a daily basis. If anything, that’s what love has come to mean for me.

But as you see, it all has to start somewhere. Looking at the steps it’s easy to see that it starts off with a feeling, an emotion. Isn’t this the essence of love? The fundamental part that has to exist before anything else happens? Everything els is a consequence. Without that person or thing in your life, you just don’t have the happiness that will hopefully provoke a change to make it permanent.

By now, you’re probably saying “Wow”, this guy is totally wrong. Probably but that’s the point. The question makes you reflect on what love means to you. And that’s all it is. A subjective question. By answering it, you learn a little bit more about yourself.

Counter-Intuitivity (Pt 3)
August 30th, 2008 under Uncategorized. [ Comments: 2 ]

Do you ever think there must be a word or phrase for that concept? You know, like vituperation or some other word that’s difficult to pronounce or spell? Like, what do you call it when you observe things for yourself and then use that as a bias and infer things of other people? Oh that’s right. It’s called the Fundamental attribution error:

Subjects listened to pro- and anti-Fidel Castro speeches. Subjects were asked to rate the pro-Castro attitudes of the speakers. When the subjects believed that the speakers freely chose the positions they took (for or against Castro), they naturally rated the people who spoke in favor of Castro as having a more positive attitude toward Castro. However, contradicting Jones and Harris’ initial hypothesis, when the subjects were told that the speaker’s positions were determined by a coin toss, they still rated speakers who spoke in favor of Castro as having, on average, a more positive attitude towards Castro than those who spoke against him. In other words, the subjects were unable to see the speakers as mere debaters coldly performing a task chosen for them by circumstance; they could not refrain from attributing some disposition of sincerity to the speakers.

So what am I trying to say here? Isn’t it obvious? Don’t jump to conclusions! Holding on to outdated information like they were your pets in a tornado is about as useful as holding on to your pets in a tornado. And yet, people still do it! The economist, John Maynard Keynes, apparently said when he was accused of inconsistency,

When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?

It seems obvious to me that as your gain more information, your views change. I would hate it if I were to meet the me of 5 years ago and I still had the same opinions. As much as it pains me to admit, many people would jump at the opportunity to support me when I say, “I don’t know everything.” And I have a feeling that the same thing applies to you.

Anthropology and social morals
April 20th, 2008 under Uncategorized. [ Comments: none ]

So, last year sometime, I read a story about a Brazilian tribe and the ritual infanticide they perform. I couldn’t really understand or process what I was reading. What was especially disturbing to me was this quote:

“We are fighting against doctors and anthropologists who say we must not interfere with the culture of the people.”

Are you kidding me? We’re not talking about shoving hooks into your back or lengthening your neck with brass coils. The only way I could describe it is ritual murder. It kind of put me off blogging for awhile because I really wanted to write about it but I didn’t really know anything about anthropology (and have barely scratched the surface since).

To try and rectify this, I bought Philip Carl Salzman‘s book, Understanding Culture. Most of what I read was interesting but inherently untestable as is the norm for Social Sciences. I got about halfway and I came across this definition of Relativist epistemology in the glossary:

“A position that what you believe is ‘knowledge’ and ‘truth’ is the result of your social position and cultural background and that for someone with a different social position and cultural background something different and perhaps conflicting will be ‘true’. Thus there is no absolute ‘truth’ and no definite ‘knowledge’ that is not culture bound.”

So the anthropologist line is, we are not equipped to understand it, so we must let it continue. Just stand by and let it happen. I can’t believe what a cop out that is. We’re not talking about free-thinking adults here. We’re talking about defenseless children. Had these children the informed option, I’m pretty sure they’d choose life over ritual death. Why is nothing being done to educate these tribes? Why are anthropologists so hellbent on preserving this bizarre belief system?

What’s more, these people are part of a constitution that claims to respect the, “…inviolability of the right to life…“. Why then are they allowed, to continue these practices and act as if they are a law unto themselves. It just blows my mind. Anyway, let’s pretend that there is no rule of law in Brazil shall we. It makes things way to easy.

I think ultimately it comes down to this. Either the tribes haven’t had the opportunity to be educated or they rejected it when it came along. If it’s the former, then the answer is obvious. It’s the latter that I can’t come to grips with. This tribe treats the children like animals, ready to be slaughtered. What harm would there be in giving them up to the authorities?

Furthermore, according to cultural relativism, I’m as bound to my culture as the tribes are. Therefore, were I in a position to help these children, would I not be compelled to help them?

Context matters
May 9th, 2007 under Uncategorized. [ Comments: 2 ]

I happened across this story awhile ago about Joshua Bell, a world-class violinist, playing in a subway:

On that Friday in January, those private questions would be answered in an unusually public way. No one knew it, but the fiddler standing against a bare wall outside the Metro in an indoor arcade at the top of the escalators was one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made. His performance was arranged by The Washington Post as an experiment in context, perception and priorities — as well as an unblinking assessment of public taste: In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?

So what happened?

‘”It was a strange feeling, that people were actually, ah . . .”

The word doesn’t come easily.

“. . . ignoring me.”

Bell is laughing. It’s at himself.’

Seth Godin comments (promoting his ideas) this is an example of people not giving the seller (the violinist) “permission” to take up their time. The people have chosen to ignore anything else that is not within their focus. I get more from this story than just permission marketing. I get that context matters.

Wason selection cardsHere is a description of a Wason Selection task:

“You are shown a set of four cards placed on a table each of which has a number on one side and a coloured patch on the other side. The visible faces of the cards show 3, 8, red and brown. Which cards should you turn over in order to test the truth of the proposition that if a card shows an even number, then its opposite face shows a primary colour?”

Well no surprise, I got it wrong, but here’s what I found interesting about the problem:

“By contrast, some (though not all) Wason tasks prove much easier when they are presented in a context of social relations. For example, if the rule “Only people over 18 are allowed to drink alcohol” is tested, most people have no difficulty in selecting the correct subjects (those under 18 and those that are drinking alcohol) that must be tested.”

Context matters. It made me think. Growing up, you’re constantly hammered with ideas about what’s wrong and what’s right. I’ve realised that sometimes it’s easy to make snap decisions but really, most situations are different. I’ve even gone so far as to give up the entire notion of right and wrong. It just doesn’t make sense anymore for me how bad things continually happen to good people. Good and bad have been defined for me by society but I have no doubt that were I to live in another time they would almost certainly be different. I guess that makes me a bit of a moral relativist. That’s why I find the church’s position on absolute morals a bit absurd. If I were to become Christian again, which denomination would I choose? Surely they’re all the same? Then again, I guess everyone is free to define their own set of absolute morals.

Atheism halfway between pro-choice and pro-life?
April 9th, 2007 under Uncategorized. [ Comments: none ]

I know this is a touchy subject so I’m going to be as diplomatic as possible in the interest of (hopefully) promoting discussion. To be honest, I’m still new to this being an atheist thing and I find that I’m still changing viewpoints that I have long since held because I’ve reinterpreted them in terms of being an atheist. One of these stances is the abortion issue.

For a long time, I thought if i was atheist, I would have to be pro-choice. To me, the pro-life movement was obviously associated with religious arguments and since they held no sway with me, the pro-choice stance was natural.

Lately, I’ve been contemplating the overwhelming dread I have that there is no life after this one. Think about it. If you’re an atheist, this is the only time you will ever be alive and sentient. This is it. Nothing to come after this. As if you’re asleep and never dream. For me, that is stupendously scary shit. For me, it has put a lot of things in perspective. I get the impression that for religious people, this is the point they say atheists go off the rails. They start asking themselves, “what’s the point of going on/of it all”, etc. and jump off a cliff. For me, it feels like I’ve gone in the opposite direction and I’ve realised how precious life really is. Things like giving your life for someone else, or for a cause. Or taking someone else’s.

This has led me to revisit my stance on abortion. I don’t believe life begins at conception. I believe it happens at sentience which for me, means that brain activity can be measured. If brain activity is a good measure of whether a person is alive or not at the end of his/her life, it seems natural that it should be a good indicator at the beginning. There is fundamentally no difference between removing a group of inanimate reproductive cells from the body and removing a group of harmful cancer cells from the body (Incidentally, I guess that makes me pro-stem cell research). That would make me pro-choice up until the end of the 1st trimester.

Once there is brain activity, to me that means that the fetus is alive. I long thought that a women’s right to her body should be absolute. I now think that there is one universal human right to life. I think you should be responsible for the life you create. From the end of the first trimester onwards, the mother’s life must be considered in addition to the fetus’s life. Triage must be performed under consideration for both lives. Arguments such as being born into poverty or born with disabilities are moot. Given the choice of life or death at age 5, I’m supremely confident that the child’s answer would be life. This would make me pro-life after the end of the 1st trimester.

If you looked at this from an atheist’s viewpoint, does this seem reasonable?

EDITED: Now this is why I should reference the stuff I write I came across an article by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan on abortion where they say fetal brain activity only starts between the 24th and 27th month. This seems to be confirmed by wikipedia.

James Gray missing or The Answer to the Trolley Problem
March 15th, 2007 under Uncategorized. [ Comments: 1 ]

DISCLAIMER: I hope people will read this post the way it was intended. I didn’t know James Gray so I don’t have any personal attachment to him. That, however, doesn’t mean that I don’t find his disappearance tragic and hope for his safe return.

There was a lot of buzz in my myopic view of the Internet about the disappearance of James Gray:

The U.S. Coast Guard is looking for a San Francisco computer scientist who may be lost at sea after he failed to return from an outing to the Farallon Islands Sunday afternoon.

Jim Gray, 63, set out alone on his 40-foot sailboat, “Tenacious,” Sunday morning and was expected back sometime that afternoon, officials said.

For those of you that don’t know, some people regard him as the father of transaction processing and is also a Turing award winner. Needless to say, he’s influenced a lot of programmers and Computer Science as a whole. Some of the same programmers that he has directly influenced setup a Mechanical Turk on Amazon to help sort through satellite images looking for his boat. These images were obtained from a NASA ER-2 high-altitude aircraft which is a derivative of the U2 spy plane.

At around about the same time, I came along this post of missing people:

AUTHORITIES are verifying reports about the mysterious disappearance of 32 persons on Thursday afternoon in the high seas of Luuk town in Sulu.

The missing persons were onboard two motorized pump boats, one of which was identified as Sweet Rose, while the other boat was an unmarked temper type boat. The two small boats departed Pitogo at 3 p.m. of January 25 bound for the town of Tongkil, Sulu.

However, they failed to return on the same day as expected by relatives.

Immediately, it made me think, sheesh, there’s 32 people that have gone missing via the ocean versus 1 and all these people are looking for this one person. Being the amateur philosopher that I am, it made me think of the Trolley Problem:

A trolley is running out of control down a track. In its path are 5 people who have been tied to the track by a mad philosopher. Fortunately, you can flip a switch which will lead the trolley down a different track to safety. Unfortunately, there is a single person tied to that track. Should you flip the switch?

One of the variants of the Trolley Problem is this one:

What happens if, on one of the trolley tracks, the President of the United States has been tied by terrorists, and on the other trolley tracks, five average citizens are also tied up. As in the original Trolley Problem, who should you save?

It seems that in this case, we have the answer.

Counter-Intuitivity (Pt 2)
February 5th, 2007 under Uncategorized. [ Comments: 1 ]

Previous post on this subject can be found here.

So awhile ago, the BBC ran a story on bicycle helmets, the byline of which read as follows:

Cyclists who wear protective helmets are more likely to be knocked down by passing vehicles, new research from Bath University suggests.

It turns out that cars tend to give cyclists more room if they wear helmets. It seemed odd to me that no one could have picked this up. I’ve had arguments with people who believe that seatbelts cause more harm then good. While I don’t hold that view, I was not aware that there is a possible increase in injuries in non-vehicle occupants. Here are some other unrelated examples (that I, at least, found surprising):

  1. Sleep longer than 7 hours a day? Your life expectancy goes down.
  2. The murder rate in South Africa has been decreasing since 1994.
  3. The flu death toll in the USA is the same as having a 9/11 every month.

So what am I trying to say here? The simple fact is, everyone readily relies on their own intitution when it comes to matters that they don’t know anything about. People often overlook the fact that they may be wrong. Here’s a quote from Bill Clinton:

“If you have a philosophy, it generally pushes you in a certain direction or another,” he said. When a person is open to discussion, argument, evidence and new learning, he said that individual may end up making a principled agreement with someone of a different philosophy.

“The problem with ideology,” he added, is that “you already have your mind made up. You know all the answers. And that makes evidence irrelevant and argument a waste of time. So you tend to govern by assertion and attack.”

Obviously, he’s saying that you must always entertain the possiblity that you are wrong or that there is a different way of doing things. In a world of GPRS/EDGE/3G cellphones and wikipedia, is there any reason not to have up to date information when having a discussion?

Frivolous Journalism & Technology
January 17th, 2007 under Uncategorized. [ Comments: 2 ]

In my previous post, I included another topic I’ve got a pet peeve about. Technology and bad journalism. Today I read another article by the great social communities commentator, Clay Shirky. He’s been following the press regarding Linden Labs, Second Life:

Second Life (abbreviated SL) is an online virtual world provided by Linden Lab which came to international attention in late 2006 and early 2007. Through a client program, users interact with each other through avatars, providing an advanced social network service.

Anyways, seems journalists have gone and extrapolated the numbers and have predicted the end of meatspace and the beginning of the virtual world. I, for one, am as skeptical as Clay Shirky is. He correctly points out that journalists and readers will not get the difference between unique visitors and logins and Linden Labs has until recently, been scarce with numbers.

For me personally, I’ve gotten a healthy skepticism w.r.t online communities. I played off and on in a Counter-Strike community for 4 years and the only friends I had afterwards, were ones I had when I started. IRC/GTalk/Skype/MSN are just no replacements for physical interaction. I kind of realised this when I read this opinion piece last year.

Studies show that most people interested in politics associate nearly exclusively with others who have similar political beliefs. In fact, research by sociologist David Knoke at the University of Minnesota shows that if you know whether a person’s friends are Republicans, Democrats or independents, you can predict with near certainty that person’s political views.

Somehow linked to Many-To-Many site, there was this link (just click on ad to read the piece).

On Google’s social networking service, Orkut, Indians are organizing themselves by caste. (Thanks to DesiPundit for the tip.) There are hundreds, maybe thousands of groups devoted to every caste, subcaste and sub-sub-caste that exists in India’s phenomenally splintered and complex caste system.

It seems to me that despite popular misconception, the internet will not blur the lines between race, colour, creed, etc. It seems the internet will not facilitate new social connections but will just support existing ones. How sad.

Perspective & Global Warming
January 7th, 2007 under Uncategorized. [ Comments: 7 ]

I’m sure everyone can agree that the media would not be where it is today if it weren’t for sensationalism. I used to really fear the effect that Global Warming was going to have on earth if we didn’t do something. I remember, after hearing about CFCs for the first time, running around the house, checking all the aerosol cans to make sure they didn’t contain these gases of impending death. Then last year, I read a speech that was given by Michael Crichton. I really can’t do it justice by summarizing his points and you should really go and read it. Suffice to say, I don’t really worry about that kind of stuff anymore.

Now don’t think that I’m disputing commonly held scientific opinion. That’s not my intention. It’s just clear to me, that despite what the media tells you, our civilization is not teetering on the edge of total oblivion. Governments will govern (poorly) and it will be contained. In order to get close to half of the actual truth, it seems you need the same story from at least 5 different sources. I’m just a bit tired of articles on science/technology that tell of an amazing new breakthrough, only to never hear about it again. It just amounts to bad journalism by people who should know better/do more research.

Frankly, I have more important stuff to worry about. Like Nostradamus latest prediction, for instance

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