Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

Vandalising free speech

29 October, 2008

Although I hate seeing all the signage up during elections and don’t particularly like to see tax dollars go to support advertising to ‘put the party back in political party’, I appreciate free speech.  What political sign vandals don’t realise is that they are paying for the signage they destroy, and at the same time are making a statement about free speech.  If I was a National supporter, to see a labour sign defaced and a national sign left untouched would mean that there was a national supporter out there that I wouldn’t want to share a party with. If your not happy with free speech and all it’s trappings then move yourself to one of the many dictatorships.  It’s kind of sad that people don’t realise that by having their ‘say’ they are not only vandalising signs but the right to speak.  If you want to protest – go and vote or write your own blog and stop trampling on others right to speech and property.

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Think before you handshake.

29 October, 2007

One thing that has always surprised me is the lack of hand washing in the first world. I can only comment on my own gender of course. During my construction worker days it was quite common not to be able to wash your hands out in the bush as there was no water around or the porta toilet didn’t have the capability. That was something you dealt with as part of the job and it was unfortunate but understandable and you took care. These days I work in offices and the number of times people I know who do their thing and leave without even hesitating at the sink really astonishes me! Sure, none of these people may have been to a country where evil diseases roam but surely they know about personal hygiene?? They are often highly educated! You tend to have an aversion to opening the bathroom door after you see someone leave in a hurry or reviewing the document they have just handed you….

Maybe our hygiene is going backward, either way, don’t handshake before lunch.

(Well that is that pressing issue off my chest for today)

Street level browsing

5 October, 2007

Some great new developments in the virtual world as different companies vie to become the leading online providers of street level panoramas and imagery linked to the overall map. The scene is moving along fast and it seems as though every time I look it up its gone through the next step change with companies such as EveryScape putting up a technology preview of its annotatable 360deg bubbles taken at geo-referenced locations… its smooth and an exciting preview of what’s to come.
Also check out goggle’ssteetview for locations such as New York…. or ogle earth’s podcast on the latest developments. And if you want to be blown away, go see what Microsoft is pouring some of its coffers into with photosynth. I’m not sure how long this one will take to become a reality or piece of software that we can start to put our own photographs into but it shows tremendous promise.

Catch phrase…

16 August, 2007

The last little while has been hectic – professionally and privately. Thus the lack of blogs.
Always think about blogging something but after a while, it all builds up and then there is just too much swimming around in my head for me to zero in on one.

I’ve always been a sucker for a good original quote, so here are a few I’ve been the benefactor of recently…

“… that looks like it was built by the first two little pigs!” Danny Bhoy

Rather appropriate considering the roof blew off the site office I’ve been working in.
I’m also saving this up for a site inspection at some point…
Went to watch him (quoted above) last night which was good fun. Couple of thoughts on watching comedians though. I’m used to listening to people speak in either a university setting, work presentation, or church. So when listening to a speaker your often watching for an argument, opinion or strong bias of some sort. Funny thing was with this guy was that it was just a string of random thoughts, most of them funny but most of them not giving away anything that would alienate him from his audience aside from the occasional rude or slightly anti religious joke. I was entertained but my attention wandered, and I realised that the opinion is what keeps me interested. A strong argument engages me. A bias gets my blood going. Just a thought.

“Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” Tom Standage

The statement that makes all of us agnostic at best… said in the context of the scientific community attempting (impossibly) to prove a negative. The case in context: damage caused by cell phones. Or GM. Or the effect of overhead power lines.
Some bold and great thoughts from the imaginations of many in a book I’m reading called “What we believe but cannot prove – today’s leading thinkers on science in the age of certainty” edited by John Brockman.

“Perhaps your spreadsheet is poorly concieved and does not capture the complexity of the real world” Asok in Dilbert 08/08/07

Everyone who has done any excel modeling will be nodding…. This was played out for me the day I recieved this particular beauty. For those of you who are not getting it, all the better for you.

Death to America

5 July, 2007

Was recently engrossed by a BBC radio documentary of the same title. Whether it be expressed in such extremist language or couched in intellectual phasing the sentiment is the same. Anti-Americanism has become the popular world wide liberal intellectual standard.

Here in New Zealand there is a very strong underlying anti-American sentiment as well. There was shock when the twin towers were hit, but the resulting synopsis by your average kiwi was generally that America shouldn’t have been so surprised. It was comeuppance for meddling.

The reason I have found this documentary series so good is that it has not only served to confirm or debunk some of my theories on American empire building but that it has shown me how careful I need to be. I tend to pride myself on being tolerant, on being open minded and able to live alongside other cultures and races, however, in hearing others expressions of rage (rational or otherwise) against the USA I have often felt the same chord being played in my own mind.

That may be fine when there is a clear case of American exploitation but something tells me that I have to watch myself. And when others rage is turned to violence against the USA and its interests I tend to find myself vaguely satisfied and realise that at the heart level there is not a bit of difference between myself and them. The rational arguments against empire building give way to irrational stereotyping, anger, and approval of violence. I’ve crossed the line. It’s almost like racism. I have joined the extremists that I’ve abhorred on the TV.

So, I have endeavoured to rationalise my feelings towards America. I still maintain some very strong views on American foreign policy but I will not let the popular sentiment push me over the extremist edge, even if it is never acted upon.

This blog is sounding like a confessional but hey, we all have to start somewhere. =)

The West Coast

25 March, 2007

Went to Piha (40min west of Auckland) on Saturday with friends. Its been too long since I’ve been to a real beach!

East coast beaches have a polished look to my west coast eye. I prefer the rugged cliffs and black of the sand.

Auckland west coast beaches are quite dangerous or so they tell us. People die. My suspicion is that they are frequented by Aucklanders used to dipping there toes into the gently lapping waters of the Hauraki Gulf at the somewhat less inspiring beaches of Mission Bay (sorry Richard) and Kohimarama. Beaches that present the sea in a tamed, dumbed down and placid mood. No respect of the sea is gained.
Those same toe wetters blithely enter the Tasman, where the mood is more excitable, and are sucked toes and all into the turbulent water. The seas respect is quickly regained, unfortunately too late for some.

Anyway, its so refreshing to be swimming in the surf. The feel of a wave as you duck underneath and feel its turbulence roll over your back. The taste of salt water when you’ve half drowned after that rouge wave set has dumped you.

Help me solve the riddle of the beach patterns i photographed from lion rock. I cant see any footprints… how on earth did they do this and get the curves so symmetrical??

2007-03-24 Piha

Water. Commodity or Human Right

13 March, 2007

“Water promises to be to the 21st century what oil was to the 20th century: the precious commodity that determines the wealth of nations.”
Fortune magazine, May 2000

It is indeed a challenging and exciting era for those involved in water resources. This means me as a water engineer, and of course everyone. There is allot of money to be made in water in the coming years.

What I have become increasingly aware of in the time I have been more involved is the increasing complexity of the issue. Not of the logistics and science but the ethics.

How does water get to your house? In many places here in New Zealand water is plentiful and if you have a good tank you can often gather enough for your self from what falls on your own roof. For those not so fortunate water must be piped or otherwise distributed. This may be from the nearby river, it may have to be transported thousands of miles. It is no secret that water supplies in many areas of the world are minimal, in fact, billions of people do not have basic access to clean drinkable water.

Increasingly, water costs to supply, in some places more than than the oil for your car, and while some are willing to pay, allot of us, although willing, have not the money.

Here is the great dilemma: Is water a fundamental human right or a tradeable commodity?

If a fundamental human right, who is to pay? If a commodity, how to pay?

I’m not here to present an argument solely for either as the answer is different in every situation and lies (as most do) in a balance between the two and some finer definition of the the ‘who’ and ‘how’.

What scares me whenever I come across this dilemma, is the way it seems to be going. Of course there are allot of interested investors out there, and increasingly water sources are becoming privatised. Sources that may have been freely accessible in the past (albeit paid for by the government) are now only able to be accessed by those with money up front. Pre-pay your water or go thirsty.

Of course i will be following this issue closely and for many of us it will be unavoidable. Will one day what the heavens provided be charged for or else? It used to be that anyone could take what he needed from the nearest river but this is no longer so. At the moment I can open my mouth and let the rain wash in, i can collect it on my roof. Is the day coming when I will have to pay the company with rights to the rainfall over my district for the privilege?

Access to safe water is a fundamental human need and, therefore, a basic human
right. Contaminated water jeopardizes both the physical and social health of all
people. It is an affront to human dignity.

Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary-General.

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and
well-being of himself and of his family.

Article 25, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)

The human right to water entitles everyone to sufficient, safe, acceptable,
physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic uses.

General Comment 15 on the right to water, adopted in November 2002 by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, World Health Organisation

Some interesting links.

World Water Council
WHO (on water as a Human Right)

Thoughts on World Poverty

22 January, 2007

“If that makes living a morally decent life extremely arduous, well, then that is the way things are.”

Karen drew my attention to another Singer article done for the The New York Times in 1999 found here.

This guy is hugely controversial but his writings although i strongly disagree with allot of them have gotten me thinking about quite a few different things. Cheers Karen.

Consequentalisim

14 January, 2007

!heavy topic alert!

Myself and my sister have been having some discussion lately regarding a controversial philosopher, Peter Singer, based at Princeton. She send me this article he wrote about homosexuality in india and i suppose in general.

Interesting article…

It seems that the author subscribes to a human centered consequentialism. In other words, in this philosophers opinion the result of ones action and the good or harm caused to others is the criteria for determining the morality, or ‘goodness’ of the action.

Consequentalisim generally runs into problems when you have to weigh the value of the consequences. To decide the value of a particular consequence, you have to continue asking the question, “is the consequence of this consequence good”, ad-infinite.

Also, in simplistic situations, this theory may be useful but where a decision may affect an entire family or society the consequences are complex and far-reaching. Are the consequences judged on how they affect individuals or society as a whole such as is the argument for “just” wars and the “greater good”? Also, how does the person acting figure into the equation? I would have thought a true consequentialist must put what is judged a greater good before their own personal happiness. Either way the decisions tend to be highly subjective.

I suppose I’m implying that the consequences of homosexuality on an individuals family or the society are difficult to determine. Maybe it is true that a homosexual relationship has neutral consequence on those around, but when that relationship involves family, and particularly children, the consequences become harder to unravel.

One thing I don’t like about the article is the way the author uses ‘weasel words’ and ad-hom arguments to attack the Indian law against homosexuality. Does Vikram Seth, or Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, decide right and wrong or are they more capable in weighing the consequences? Who are the “notable” Indians? It is interesting for those involved to know the opinions of important people but irrelevant to the outcome. I think the author should rely on their (probably quite good) logic rather than name calling. But I’m sure this issue is emotional for all involved and it is easy to do. I do it all the time. =)

My own opinion it is very regrettable that homosexuals in India are marginalised but I don’t think that the harassment of homosexuals or the fact that some countries legalise it is a basis for determining its morality. This is morality by consensus and although may be a way of keeping the peace may only be a way of determining by majority decision the value of a consequence. Should India change its laws depending on what is the most fashionable or is there something deeper?

I suppose you will be disappointed to know that I see my self as an extrinsic teleologist. I mean that you will be disappointed because it seems to be the easy way out. Sort of like those disregarding all science to do with origins with a casual mention of genesis. However i think that some sort of telelogy is the the obvious end of the consequentalist reasoning. The consequentialist must finish by asking the question, ‘what is the goal or purpose of a person?’ (and, maybe, ‘what is the consequence of this being diverted?’.)

So maybe i am also a consequentialist after all. I do believe in weighing the consequences, i think that sometimes I should sacrifice myself for the greater good. But i don’t think I’m a natural or humanistic consequentialist.

The difference is that I would have to admit that I include spiritual consequences in the equation in the attempt to answer that final question regarding the value or purpose of the human life. I also would have to admit that as a judge of what the consequenses of everyday decisions are, i can only go so far. Some actions involve consequenses that are to far into the future to see clearly. (the butterfly effect and all) How can anyone judge these effects even on their own lives? How can someone be so presumptuous as to assume they may judge them for others? So something from the outside is needed… a word from God as it were.

Of course if you chose to answer the whole thing by saying that there is no intrinsic or extrinsic finality then who cares. Anything could go really and people tend to go back to “do to others as you would have them do to you” type stuff.

Check out other articles by this guy here and of course let me know what you think… especially if you disagree =)