Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Story Writes Itself

Whose figures should we believe for the march this time? The police's figure of 22500 protesters or, er...

Tuesday, 15 January 2008


Blogging in support of Justin, here.

Ideology aside, if most people want to have their organs donated after they die, then we should have an opt-out system out of simplicity. Even with some very strong protections (ie. all it takes is a word from next-of-kin to prevent donation) the number of donations would increase substantially.

And if you opt out of allowing your organs to be donated, I think that it's only fair that you opt out of receiving organ donations from others.

Another Mystery

A single Milky Way costs 20p in the local corner store.

A twin pack costs 47p.

This seems to have been the case since records began. Why?

Sunday, 13 January 2008

National Debates

Is anyone else sick of politicians saying they want a "national debate" on a topic? This is not the most egregious by any means, but it's a stock phrase that is really starting to get to me. We employ politicians to have those national debates. The only other place we get them is the ill-informed and ready-biased mainstream media, which does not represent true public opinion at all. If politicians are so enamoured of the notion of a national debate, then they should put forward a framework for having national debates, culminating in a referendum so that the public can decide on the true outcome of the debate.

Second, to anyone accusing anyone of "generating more heat than light": oh, fuck off. Get a new phrase.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Rise of the Robots

A friend pointed me at a short story a while ago describing the rise of AI and robotization in two countries, the USA and Australia. In the USA, the robots forced everyone to work in shittier and shittier jobs, finally replacing the automaton-like humans at the bottom with robots, and tossing all of the poor people into, effectively, a prison.

In Australia, the robots were harnessed for good - every person was freed from having to work, because each person was awarded enough energy credits to buy enough food, shelter and warmth to live comfortably. Thus, people devoted their time to arts, philosophy, games, etc.

Now, I don't believe that either country would exactly end up like that, but it did prompt me to think, in the wake of people demanding that layabouts get jobs, that surely we already have the technical ability now to 99%+ automate the production of all food, clothes, houses and so on. We could live in such a society as the neo-Australian one, in which everyone gets enough to survive on, and spends their excess energy credits on fun things, or on entreprenurial activities that people would pay them energy credits for, aside from a small group of people engaged in the machinery of keeping everyone alive, of course.

Of course, it's probably not politically feasible. But I always think of this, now, when people suggest that the non-workers should get off their arses and get jobs - because the jobs that they can get are probably crappy minimum wage jobs that no-one wants to spend their life doing, and I think that it's pretty inhuman that the only reason that they are doing them is because it hasn't yet become cheap enough to replace them with robots.


People are moaning about ticket resellers again, to which I have to say: naff off, it's the sodding market at work. If artists wanted to make more money from their tickets then guess what? They should charge more in the first place. The problem is that most ticketing systems charge a flat rate to everyone on a first-come first-served basis, whereas there are some people who would be happy to pay more for those tickets, but don't win the time-based lottery, and thus will pay more than the face value of the ticket.

This incentivizes people to buy up what they view as underpriced tickets from the vendors and resell them at the price that the punters are willing to pay.

Clearly, the solution is for vendors to adopt a smarter approach to ticket prices, perhaps in the style of EasyJet, in which tickets bought early go for cheap, and the price increases as demand increases, and offer almost-at-cost buybacks if cancelled far enough in advance.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008


I've seen yet another person proposing that people be forced to work in order to collect benefits. Oh, and this chap too, more worryingly.

Question - is the work that benefits-seekers are to be drafted into going to pay them the minimum wage? It doesn't seem so, since net benefits (for a single adult) don't add up to the same as the minimum wage. If that's the case, surely by forced labour one is essentially supplying a huge pool of labour who can (unwillingly) give their labour for less than the cost of a regular worker. If that's the case, won't that destroy minimum-wage jobs, as companies queue around the block to get their hands on the cheap slaves? And then they start shedding their existing minimum-wage staff back into the unemployment pool, and "rehiring" them as forced-workers, until there are no minimum-wage jobs left?

Another question - would you really want someone working for you who had effectively been forced into the job? I mean, I realize that a lot of people work in jobs that they don't like, and often it will be because they have little alternative, but isn't there a quantifiable difference between taking a job because it's the only one going that will pay the bills, and taking a job because if you don't, the government will force you onto the streets as a homeless person?

Third question - what would a government do with the heap of discarded people from this ludicrous policy who were homeless and wandering the streets? Existing charities would be stretched to breaking point.

So yeah - forced labour: it may sound seductive on the surface, but seriously, it's a stupid idea.


I'm pretty proud of that one. Thanks.

Before Christmas (topical blog, this) we had Harriet Harman claiming that we need to make prostitution illegal in order to protect trafficked sex slaves. This week, Fiona McTaggart attempts to make a feminist case for making buying sex illegal (and is thoroughly thrashed in the comments for doing so).

What I don't really understand is the mindset that prostitution is bad per se and thus should be criminalized. Of course there is a lot of danger and misery surrounding prostitution in this country and most (if not all) others, but it is not the act of exchanging money for sexual favours which is at the root of the problem. The illegality of doing so is what has led to a lot of the problems associated with prostitution.

Harriet Harman is being utterly cretinous when she asks "can we really stop [the sex slavery] trade when we've still got a lawful sex trade going on?". Can you imagine how hard it would be for government outreach workers to even find native prostitutes if all prostitution became illegal?

Legalizing prostitution and licensing (aha, the penny drops!) brothels would allow us to solve many of the problems that prostitutes face, including slave trafficking. Prostitutes could have a shagging licence (sorry) that would require regular STD checks, and punters would be able to look up the licence number by text message, receiving a photo of the prostitute and STD safety report by return MMS. This also ensures that unlicenced sex workers were not working (hence eliminating trafficked sex slaves), providing that engaging the services of an unlicenced sex worker became illegal. Brothels themselves could be regulated by a similar system, featuring a licence number that could be checked up by punters that would give the address of the licenced premises and perhaps a picture of the outside of the building, too.

This way, everyone has an incentive to play things straight - sex workers get the security of legal premises and can report abuse to the police with no fear of legal action to themselves. They are also easier targets for eg. drug rehabilitation programs since their working locations would be known, and punters would know that they had less chance of contracting an STD. Of course, I expect that the average price of sex services would increase, since the increase in regulation would impose significant operating costs on a sex business, but I can't imagine many punters choosing to use an illegal, unlicenced sex worker when the legal option was available.

Finally, and something I hadn't even considered, Mark Wadsworth points out very astutely that once a prostitute has an offence relating to prostitution on hir criminal record, it becomes very difficult indeed to get other work.