23 February 2006

A pretty good Avatar Generator

In this world of blogging, it is always good to know about little sites like this one.

This site is, I've found a fairly good Avatar Generator.

Although they're a little bit cutesy, there is an ever so slightly sinister element to these. I love it!

"Australia is committed to Competition"

So says Warren Truss, the federal Minister for Transport.

(I can't post a link because the Fin's page is pay per view and I only buy it across the counter)

Warren Truss, you are a goose.

Australia's monopoly wheat seller, AWB is in serious trouble over kickbacks to Iraqi Ba'ath Party officials, and yet we still feel the need to protect the trans Pacific air ways.

Naturally, Qantas management were rapt.

This is a shocking decision which is up there with Peter Costello's one of a few years ago not to let Royal Dutch-Shell takeover Woodside Petroleum. Effectively, we are telling the world that while we say that we support competition, what we do is something completely different.

Ultimately consumers lose out over this. Because only Qantas and United may fly between the East Coast of Australia and North America, we are, it has been alleged, paying 40% extra per ticket.

And the worst part about this is that it does Qantas not a scrap of good at the end of the day.

By being protected like this by the federal government, their ability to compete in the real world takes a nose dive. Costs balloon. Travellers holiday elsewhere away from the trans-Pacific route because other ones are cheaper. Singaporean authorities get pissed off with us because their airline doesn't get a look in.

Nice. The best part about this, or rather, the only good thing, is that we have got one over the horribly hypocritical Singaporean government.

Which, of course, has never been an excuse anyway. We shouldn't be sinking down to their level.

This correspondent owns shares in Qantas Airways Ltd and is extremely pissed off with this decision. It doesn't benefit me in the long run, and it doesn't benefit consumers, either.

20 February 2006

One down, several million to go...

From Yahoo! a glimpse of not a very good psychic.

I wonder how she got caught? Usually most of these guys have a get out of gaol free pass or something.

A bit disturbing that she brought a cop down with her.

Randi is in a Stable Condition

The great man, James Randi is in a stable condition.

For those who don't know, Randi underwent bypass surgery last Thursday and all appears to be good.

For updates, visit the usual place, JREF.

15 February 2006

They're Just Cartoons...

A lot has been made of the fuss that has been stirred up by the re-publication last week of a series of cartoons that depicted Mohammed in a fairly unpleasant light.

Regular readers of Dikkii's Diatribe will know that this blogger is a big fan of The Two Percent Company's Rants. They certainly didn't waste time getting their thoughts on the matter out there and into the public domain.

For those who may have been living under rocks, this is what happened:

  • Cartoons which are arguably offensive are reprinted
  • Fundamentalist Muslims get pissed off
  • Aforementioned fundies get violent
  • Danish (and other) embassies get firebombed
  • Danish (and other European) companies get boycotted
  • Etc, etc, et bloody cetera.

Not surprisingly, the Two Percent Co has taken the viewpoint that violence in response to what is just a bunch of cartoons is unacceptable. This is dead right.

Speech is free to go wherever it can, provided it doesn't cause harm to anyone.

The Two Percent Co is 100% correct in its assertion that people should be free to say whatever they want without fear of violent reprisals.

Although this article queries specifically religious zealots - T2PC is careful to ensure that fundamentalist Muslims are only discussed as an example - there are a number of other practitioners in other aspects of life that could heed this advice in Australia.

However, this post does bring up a lot of interesting questions, some of which appear to open up other ones, in particular:

  1. Freedom of Speech advocates are usually quick to agree that with this freedom comes responsibility. What these responsibilities are, however, is never explicitly stated.
  2. T2PC and their readers correctly acknowledge that violence caused by this sort of thing is unacceptable, but they then claim that there is 'no right "to not be offended"'. This is common amongst Freedom of Speech advocates. Ostensibly, this means that it is not my fault if I say something that causes an effect. No matter what that effect may be. That's right. In this world of free speech, anything goes.
  3. It necessarily follows that the above two bullet points are inconsistent.
  4. Finally, in return for unmitigated Freedom of Speech, we have to give up what, exactly? Robert A. Heinlein wrote, "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch." What is it that we have to trade off to get this freedom?

Freedom of Speech supporters are all largely a good bunch. They mean well.

But is it time that we all took a closer look at why Freedom of Speech/Expression is so sacrosanct?

I had a conversation the other day. (If you're not Australian and reading this, the background info you should know is that Freedom of Speech does not exist in Australia.) It went a little like this:


"Why should we have freedom of speech?"

Person I was chatting to (we'll call him "Bob"):

"It's a fundamental human right, man!"


"Why is it a fundamental human right?"


"People should be free to say what they like without fear of retaliation from governments, other people, etc."


"Isn't that just rhetoric? Haven't you just paraphrased the words 'Freedom of Speech'"


"Well, would you prefer living in an authoritarian state?"


"Hang on, now you've created a false dillemma..."

I actually had to stop the conversation here before I was "exposed" as an "un-Australian, pro-censorship wowser" or suchlike.

So lets follow the second point above to its necessary conclusion and disregard the first point that it conflicts with.

We'll also disregard the final point and accept the unlikely proposition that we give up nothing for total Freedom of Speech/Expression.

Let's have a look at what unbridled Freedom of Speech gets us.

On 5 November, 1992, it was alleged in the state parliament of Western Australia that a Penny Easton had perjured herself in the Family Court.

This is legal in Australia - members of state, territory and of the federal parliament enjoy Parliamentary Privilege where they can say pretty much whatever they like without fear of any legal reprisals. Unless, of course, the language used is considered "unparliamentary".

Anyway, Easton was at the time in a pretty long and drawn out divorce with her then husband Brian. Easton responded to this attack on her character by promptly committing suicide four days later.

I'm going to stop this story right here and point out that, unlike the member who tabled the petition naming and shaming Easton, it was pretty clear from the outset that the editors of Jyllands-Posten knew full well that if they published the offending cartoons, there would be, most likely, violent reprisals.

The editors published to prove a point. Consequences, which would in all probability arise, were relevant insofar that they proved the point that they were making. That point was that people fear saying certain things about Islam generally or Mohammed specifically because a bunch of neanderthal thugs get offended. After this, as far as the editors were concerned, they could not give a rat's arse for endangered lives, property, etc.

Some would call this conviction. Others would call this gross negligence.

Anyway, to get back to our story about the late Penny Easton, it is generally considered that this event was the straw that broke the camel's back as far as the Western Australian electorate was concerned.

In February 1993, the Labor government headed by Premier Carmen Lawrence was defeated and the Liberals led by Richard Court swept to power.

The naming of Easton in state parliament had caused Easton's suicide and had also caused the final downfall of the incumbent government.

So how do Freedom of Speech advocates view this in line with the above? I chatted with "Bob" again, playing Devil's Advocate:


"People are innocent until proven guilty. Whether Easton perjured herself or not is for a court to decide and not a member of parliament. Easton knew this."


"Irrelevant. Easton was seriously embarrassed by the claims that were made and killed herself accordingly. In any event, due process was not followed as the Director of Public Prosecutions had not launched a perjury case."


"Easton did not have to kill herself. An unsubstantiated allegation was made."


"Irrelevant. She did."


"Maybe the fact that she killed herself proves her guilt?"


"I can't believe that you can be so very, very cold. Needless to say, the question of guilt is highly and unambiguously irrelevant."


"Anyone who reacts like this because of what someone says is clearly irrational."


"What the...? Who are you to decide whether someone is rational or not. While Easton was clearly under some strain, you cannot make judgements about someone's rationality immediately prior to the abuse of Parlimentary Privilege, after the event."


"Look. No one held a gun to her head. Isn't it no one's fault but Easton's that she's dead?"


"This is getting silly. Bob, a majority of the Western Australian electorate voted in their droves on this. They believed that the government was culpable. Even Blind Freddy will tell you that what someone said in Parliament caused Penny Easton's death."

And so on and so forth.

Whether or not the government of the day, or just the member in question, or no one at all is culpable for Penny Easton's death, the fact remains that no one could have foreseen Easton's untimely demise.

Yet that fact is moot - someone shot their mouth off indiscriminately with fatal consequences. And the people held the government responsible for that.

It is interesting to note that since Carmen Lawrence moved to federal politics and became a member of federal parliament the question of culpability dogged her until she was forced to leave parliament. She wasn't even the member who read Easton's name out that fateful day.

Lawrence's political career was ruined by this act.

This is slightly different from the decision of the Jyllands-Posten editors.

They published with the requirement that as much controversy as possible needed to be generated. Anything less would have been completely forgotten and would have defeated editor Flemming Rose's hypothesis that:

The modern, secular society is rejected by some Muslims. They demand a special position, insisting on special consideration of their own religious feelings. It is incompatible with contemporary democracy and freedom of speech, where you must be ready to put up with insults, mockery and ridicule.

This, of course, raises serious questions about society. The point that Rose was attempting to make was a valid one - but did it require someone to actually put it to the test?

It's interesting to note that since the cartoons were published, an Iranian newspaper has offered a competition for similar cartoons designed to offend.

The responses have been uniformly ironic:

  • No one will criticise these cartoons partially out of fear of offending Freedom of Speech advocates, and partially out of fear of being seen as inconsistent with earlier claims that Freedom of Speech is paramount;
  • Any criticisms at all are being buried at the bottom of page 10 by the media who have a vested interest in matters related to Freedom of Speech/Expression;
  • The cartoons are to be mainly Holocaust-denial themed - interesting, considering the initial cartoons were published in a predominantly Christian country. (Further proof that Israel is at the root of all problems Middle Eastern, perhaps?)
It is interesting to note that where the decision was made not to publish, the question of gratuitousness is being increasingly raised.

Indeed, where I am, in Melbourne, daily newspaper The Age has issued this on the subject of why they chose not to re-publish:

"The Danish cartoons were neither insightful nor effective, just stereotypical smears. At the level of content, there was little justification to run them. Even given their curiosity value, such material carries a responsibility to consider whether the point of publication outweighs any likely offence. Having the freedom to publish does not mean we must publish to prove it. Any newspaper ought to be offended, however, by the use of threats or violence to dictate what may be published; an intimidated media is no longer a free media."

What is more important in this case? Freedom of Speech? Freedom from Offence? Freedom of Expression? Freedom from Antagonistic Muckrakers?

We'll probably never know. But if history is a judge - just like the Lawrence government, Jyllands-Posten wll be considered by historians as the party responsible for the carnage that we are seeing.

05 February 2006

Scrapping Superannuation - An "Argument" For

Australian readers would know that compulsory superannuation exists for a reason.

For those of you reading from outside Australia, compulsory superannuation is an enforced savings regime for all employees with significant tax benefits attached to it.

At Deakin University's School of Law, two of the academics there, Mirko Bagaric and Rami Hanegbi, have suggested that it might be a good idea to scrap this system.

Mirko Bagaric, you might recall from early last year, was the sensitive soul who suggested that torture should be made legal.

Thanks to such flagwaving American propaganda as 24 and NCIS, we now have a population in Australia ready to embrace the no nonsense, "It'll never happen to me, only the bad guys," world of legalised torture.

I'll leave Bagaric's torture proclivities for another day.

Bagaric and Hanegbi (B&H) have moved in this recent stroke of genius that scrapping this will be the kind of thing that makes Australian society a much better place to live.

Let's look at their arguments one by one:

1. B&H contend that:
The superannuation juggernaut that was introduced in 1992 by the federal government against alarmist predictions that we can't afford to sustain an ageing population needs to be halted.
Let's look at this one right here. Hysterical use of words like "juggernaut" and "alarmist" are, well alarmist in the extreme. I so wish I had another word to use right now.

It works kinda like this - when one uses that term "juggernaut", the automatic vision is of a huge vehicle out of control and destroying everything in its path.

What's doubly ironic is that the authors then go on to use the word "alarmist" which implies that every word of warning related to this is exaggerated.

You can see the unintended consequence of having these two rippers of words in the same sentence.

Anyway, the word "alarmist" is used far too often these days - and usually only used by those with some agenda to push.

The most obvious example of this is the anti-Kyoto lobby.

Science has known for years that the Greenhouse effect is a legitimate environmental concern. Yet you chat to anyone who stands to be affected by applying some environmental standards and this quickly becomes "alarmist nonsense".

Anyway, our point with regards to this statement of B&H's (hmm, sounds suspiciously like a packet of cigarettes, doesn't it?) is that there is a hard sell at work here. For what reason that may be we'll have to see if we can nut it out.

2. B&H make the next rash statement:

The main winner from this meddling, coercive policy the superannuation industry which makes hundreds of millions of dollars annually charging us fees for money we are forced to hand over and public companies in whom fund managers are effectively forced to purchase shares due to an absence of other investment vehicles (thereby artificially driving up the value of stocks).

Whoa. Stop right there. B&H are literally accusing fund managers of paying over the top for investment assets.

If an investment that you or I see does not represent value for money, we don't invest in it, do we? A point that B&H appear to have not the slightest bit considered.

Fund managers do a similar thing. They leave their funds in cash. Of course, B&H won't be pointing this out.

It's here where B&H show their true colours. "Meddling, coercive policy," to appeal to free-marketers before bringing it home with a tirade against the fees that the superannuation industry charge.

I think I see where they're going with this.

3. The cards come out here:

The Government should cease the policy of compulsory superannuation and allow us to access the approximately $600 billion that we have been forced to hand over
during the past 14 years.
Provision should be made for our old age by
abolishing the erroneous notion of retirement and a providing a non-means-tested
pension to all Australians.

Here we are. Pensions for all. You mad, crazy, greedy schmucks.

What's the bet that they have parents in retirement with investment properties who are unable to draw a pension as a result of unfavourable means testing?

It's the old, "Let me at my super. After all, it's my money," combined with, "Can I have a pension? I swear I didn't just blow all my super at the races."

Towards the end of the middle bit, they just quote mindless statistics that don't necessarily defeat their argument. They don't, however, support their argument, either.

In fact, the use of these stats in the middle is so frighteningly inane, so bizarrely irrelevant, that I wonder how the hell these guys ended up as academics in the first place.

Have a read of this:

As a result of these new efficiencies [technical advances/workplace efficiencies], a government paper in 2003 projected that gross domestic product growth per capita in the next few decades to be between 1.5 per cent and 2 per cent. This will ensure that in the future, despite a smaller percentage of the population being in the workforce, total income per capita will remain similar to what it is today.
Or this:

Moreover, while in the foreseeable future there will be proportionality more dependent old people, the community will make enormous savings by not being required to fund the education of the proportionality fewer young people.

You get the idea? Yeah, me neither.

At no point do they address the original intentions of compulsory superannuation or means-tested social security pension. In fact, they appear to be absolutely oblivious as to why these things exist at all.

Lets' look at why they exist.

Compulsory superannuation exists to repair a situation that was identified in the 1980's. Our population is aging, and we aren't saving enough money.

So, as we are not going to have enough money to retire on comfortably, the Hawke/Keating governments legislated compulsory super into existence.

As we can't save properly, it is legislated that employers contribute an additional 9% of our salaries into super.

Not a bad solution as solutions go - It's only 9%.

And the pension - this is meant to be a safety net for those who cannot save for their retirement.

Why is it means tested?

This is so that only those who actually need it get it, and not those who don't.

Quite responsible, don't you think?

Anyway, B&H appear to think that this should all be abolished and replaced with non-means tested pensions for all. I smell the foul stench of Larouchians.

Here's a few good reasons why this should not even be thought about.

1. The government is about to venture into virgin territory as a saver. Prior to the creation of the concept of the Future Fund, it has mostly been a borrower. Given this appalling fact, the very thought that the federal government should be looking after our retirement savings is a little bit scary.

2. Financial Planners and, increasingly, Fund Managers are plugging diversification between different fund management styles. (I support this, as there is not a shred of evidence that one fund management style is best. I say this as an proud index trouser-wearer.) How is having just the one fund manager, the federal government, going to support this?

3. Why should we all receive the same benefit in retirement? Isn't this straightforward communism?

4. I find it fun managing my retirement savings. What is going to replace that?

5. You say that I don't have a life 'cause I'm into investment and personal finance. Yeah well, what are you into, stamp collecting or something?

6. B&H claim that quite a lot of families can't afford the extra amount that ends up going towards superannuation. Talk about an appeal to the lowest common denominator. Let's take a person earning $40,000 per annum. How in the name of FSM (may we all be touched by His noodly appendage) is an extra $69 per week going to do anything at all?

7. A Pension is meant to be a safety net. Given that under B&H's recommendations, everyone would be getting it, (pension that is) will we go on to complicate matters further by putting a saftey net under the safety net?

8. Speaking of safety net, how is the pension meant to operate as one if everyone gets it?

9. B&H plug a civil libertarian argument on compulsory super. Coming from someone who supports torture (Bagaric), I find this more than just a bit insulting.

10. They actually say this in the article:

Coercive laws are legitimate only where a government can demonstrate that it will encourage compliance with fundamental moral norms that affect the wellbeing of others or where they will promote the welfare of each individual. This test has not been satisfied in relation to compulsory superannuation.

We can all conclude from this that Sony's attempts to destroy Western civilization's braincells with their insidious Playstation are most certainly working.

B&H's recommendations are so far out there that they don't stand repeating. And it's not even creative out-thereness. This is purely reactionary propaganda spewed out by someone who is not disclosing a conflict of interest and arguing from authority.

B&H might be law academics - they're certainly not business ones. 1 star.

01 February 2006

Kids Are Cool

My good buddy Clayton has just created his first web page.

You can check it out here - Kids Are Cool.

He's even put a picture of me there.

A bit of practise and he'll be an IT geek before you know it.