Saturday, April 05, 2008

Scrutinising internet

This piece from Maxim is thought-provoking;

This week, a report commissioned by the British Government was released, titled Safer Children in a Digital World. The report examined internet usage amongst children and adolescents, pinpointing both its risks and its possibilities. The overwhelming advice given is the need for children to use the internet within reasonable boundaries. There are new risks for children associated with the internet, but these also provide opportunities, as learning to manage risk is an important part of a child's development. The report points out the need to "Equip children to deal with exposure to harmful and inappropriate content and contact." Coinciding with this report is an editorial in the American Journal of Psychology that speaks of a more disturbing impact of the internet on society. Authored by psychiatrist, Jerald Block, the editorial describes internet addiction as a serious medical issue, characterised by markers such as withdrawal, fatigue and lying. The problem is so bad in some places that "After a series of 10 cardiopulmonary-related deaths in Internet cafes ... South Korea considers internet addiction one of its most serious public health issues." Both the report and the editorial tell us what we already know but struggle to negotiate—that the internet has rapidly changed the way we interact, for good and for bad. The temptation is to vilify the technology itself when issues such as internet addiction are raised, when in reality the problem lies with our willingness to let the technology rule our choices and with our lack of boundaries.

The reported incidents of internet addiction worldwide are small, yet they speak grave and important words to us, if we listen. They speak of people trapped in the cravings for instant sensation and connection. They speak of people losing an ability to function physically as the virtual world rules their head. And they speak of a society that builds internet cafes that are cheaper the longer you stay, and then watches as people sit for hours, interacting only with a computer. They are words that we need to hear, not to spark paranoia, but to recognise that responsibility is crucial in the way we interact with information technology. The problem does not lie with the internet. It lies with a boundless culture, instant communication and a glut of sensation. It lies with fickle beliefs and an inability to siphon information. Somehow we must slow down, turn off some switches and speak to each other again about how to be discerning.

This rings bells with me. People are looking for response and sensation. You only have to look at the blogosphere to confirm that, where so many people say things they wouldn't say in a face to face situation.

We have two computers side by side. I am frequently on one and the kids are on the other. So I am well aware of what they use them for. It's fairly varied. My daughter has got into some dubious chat situations which I have persuaded her to curtail considering some of the seedy and silly comments people make. What is the point I ask her? Mostly she uses it for music and sits singing along. This can go on for long periods of time but then at her age I was getting into radio, and taping music on my little cassette player and also singing my heart out. And the music she is getting into is exactly the same stuff. Motown for example. So our behaviours aren't very different.

My son is a little more of a problem as he is less physically-inclined but still very sociable. He spends a lot of time playing interactive Xbox games. But he also plays piano and uses the internet to search sheet music and u-tube for demonstrations. His music teacher told me the play station and x-box manipulation adds to his manual dexterity. He certainly handles and enjoys lightening fast pieces. If he hears jangles or ad music he likes he can instantly access other music by the artist. Thus he has recently discovered Frank Sinatra. He listens to John Key's journal entries because he likes to hear rather than read argument and has developed a strong interest in politics debating with the "socialists" at his school.

The important thing is to make sure they retain real and varied human contact (one of my reservations about home-schooling which I know will be refuted but I cannot put to rest). School provides a good deal of this. Sleep-overs, which we have lots of. Sport. Lots of.

I have never put limits on how much time they spend using computers or playing games. They go to school which I always tell them is the equivalent of going to work. When they work hard at school, attend to whatever other obligations they have (piano practice, sport practice, homework) they can then spend their time doing what they enjoy. I wouldn't accept being treated any differently myself.

The internet is a wonderful, marvellous thing. Yes, it has it's pitfalls (I should be mowing the lawn by now). But like most things, used but not abused, it gives great benefits.

Friday, April 04, 2008

The tale of two worlds

Children going to school unfed or without a packed lunch. Much hand-wringing. Rapidly growing need for charities to meet.

Nationwide, almost 20,000 children a week need feeding during their school day because of empty cupboards at home.

Next up kids are getting too much food to eat.

An Auckland primary school is banning birthday cake as it prepares for new national healthy eating guidelines.

Schools throughout the country are already purging high-fat and high-sugar items from tuckshops.

Oteha Valley principal Megan Bowden said some classes had four cakes turning up in a week, a rate many families would consider to be unhealthy.

This doesn't represent the material extremes in society. It represents the extremes in parental attitudes.

While some don't really give a rat's arse, spending every last cent on their own indulgences, others are busy catering to their children's every demanded indulgence.

This is modern life. Too much neglect and too much spoiling. And I have to admit that I am too often guilty of the latter.

The left would insist these contrasting stories confirm the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots. It is actually about the widening gap between attitudes. And that is why redistributing income doesn't make a difference. Perhaps we need to be redistributing values.

Thursday, April 03, 2008


On NewstalkZB tomorrow after 11am talking about Winston First's anti-immigration stance, banning texting-while-driving and what the crime stats mean. I don't think I will be wanting for an opinion. Don't know who else is on the panel at this stage.

Update - The other guests are playwright Dave Armstrong and journalist Karl "curmudgeon" du Fresne

The race card

The Peters Party is pushing their anti-immigration band wagon again stoking and stroking fears about the rapid growth of the Asian percentage of New Zealand's population. But two fifths of the projected increase will not come from immigration but natural growth (births minus deaths). I wonder if NZ First will be promoting some sort of compulsory birth control for Asians?

And why is it that Asians remain Asians even when they are born here whereas Poms one generation removed are unquestionably Kiwis? My kids certainly are.

A different type of efficiency

Yesterday I was driving away from Eastbourne around the bays. A van pulled out in front of me from the local garage. It was a bit tight but no big deal. And at least it didn't then dribble along at 50kmph (like so many) when the speed limit is 70kmph. Before entering Lowry Bay however, where the speed limit drops from 70 to 50 kmph, it pulled out with no indication, crossed double yellow lines to overtake not just the car in front of it but the small truck in front of that. Neither of those vehicles was going under the speed limit and there was a vehicle approaching from the north. It was sheer bloodymindedness.

I had noticed the business van's e-mail address and registration plate "we c8tr" so later googled it. Sure enough. Eastbourne-based. This is from their website.

We have been actively implementing sustainability strategies for some time, from utilizing cost efficient, low energy appliances, lighting & natural ventilation, to working towards more fuel efficient deliveries.

I suppose not using one's brake and accelerator or indicators could be considered, "Working towards more fuel efficient deliveries."

It's a common quirk of people who claim to care about the environment that they care little for those who share it.

"Bleeding hearts but tight fists"

US research shows that conservatives are more generous than liberals. Perhaps you might think that is because they have more income to be generous with. Well no. Have a look.

People who reject the idea that "government has a responsibility to reduce income inequality" give an average of four times more than people who accept that proposition.

I wouldn't be surprised to find they give more of their time to charitable efforts as well.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Philosophical question

Here's kind of a philosophical question: If a sniper fires a gun in the woods and nobody's around, does Hillary Clinton still hear it?

— Jay Leno, The Tonight Show

(Hat tip FFF)

National and choice

The NZ Herald editorial exposes yesterday's 'big' policy from John Key for what it is - essentially meaningless.

National has been in no hurry to spell out what it might do in power, and probably hopes to keep contentious commitments to a minimum from now to election day.

The writer finishes with this,

Sir Roger's return might wake up their ideas.

Mike Moore wrote about Sir Roger in yesterday's DomPost pretty much along the same lines, describing National as having "no core principles." He concluded,

"ACT may well save Labour. Every time they make a statement, it will put the heat on National who will melt under Labour's blow torch."

Poor National. It is not very happy about offering real political choice. In fact there is little evidence they like the concept of choice. And now they are faced with making one of their own.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Violent crime up - again

From the just-released Crime Statistics, violent crime is up 12.3% on the prior year.

That is one heck of a jump. Especially after the 5 percent increase the year before.

Apparently the rise is mainly driven by family violence. This will be reported as good news because it demonstrates a growing intolerance of family violence and more reporting.

My question is, at what point does it stop being good news? Has anyone figured that out? Has anyone put a time limit on how long all the lefty brow-beating about domestic violence can go on for before we see a reversal in trend? Two years? Ten years? Or do we have to put up with nanny nagging us permanently simply because it creates an impression that 'something is being done'?

The welfare cycle

I was aware of this research but hadn't seen it summarized before;

Child psychologists Betty Hart and Todd Risley tested the effect of class on the differences in how parents interact with their young children. They were able to document dramatic differences in the intensity and nature of the verbal stimulation the kids were getting:

* Professional parents directed an average of 487 "utterances" per hour toward their children, as compared to 301 for working class parents and only 176 for welfare parents.
* Among professional parents, the ratio of encouraging to discouraging utterances was six to one; for working-class parents, the ratio slipped to two to one; and welfare parents made two discouraging utterances for every encouraging one.
* By the time the children in the study were around three years old, the ones from professional families had average vocabularies of 1,116 words; the working-class ones averaged 749; the welfare kids, 525.

This partly explains why children from welfare homes are far more likely to themselves become beneficiaries. It's very sad.

National's $50 crime levy

Some questions about National's $50 crime levy

1/ How many levies will be paid for by a special grant from Work and Income? (Just as fines are paid to help beneficiaries avoid debt)

2/ If 100 percent of the 100,000 levies were collected - resulting in $5 million a year - what percentage of this sum will go on running the new structure tasked with collecting and administering them?

3/ While so many fines remain unpaid - $600 million at June 2006 - what chance the crime levy can be successfully collected?

4/ Why is the levy a flat fee when the victim of violence is likely to be more traumatised and in need of substantial reparation than a victim of property crime?

5/ If all crime attracts the same surcharge why not the same sentence?

6/ Isn't Labour justified in its derision of this idea?

7/ While National talks about compensating victims of crime is it leaving ACT to talk about reducing victims of crime?

Monday, March 31, 2008

More on the monopoly that is NZ Post

I sent the last blog entry to the CE of NZ Post in the form of an e-mail. I received a reply which contained the following;

I understand your reaction to the price increase. It is
never desireable or easy to be raising prices particularly in a
competitive market.... The fact is you have choices and we want you to continue to do business with us.

I am not happy with this response and have sent the following to newspapers;

Dear Editor

Once again the consumer is being held ransom by an effective monopoly. A couple of months ago it was ACC and their premium hikes . Now NZ Post has raised the cost of sending an A4 envelope by a breathtaking fifty percent. But I am assured by their CE , John Allen, that "the fact is you have choices" in a "competitive market".

The only fact is that NZ Post still dominates and accounts for 95 percent of the letters market. According to the Consumer Postal Council, "New Zealand Post profits remain respectable". It returns 43 percent of its surplus to the government. My choice is to pass on the increase to my customers, absorb it or shut up shop. The first would probably result in the last.

I am left with the second option - watching more of my income go into government coffers.

NZ Post - daylight robbers

This is a classic case of paying attention to what isn't being said.

However, thanks to recent increases in charges, and a five-year $85 million investment in new mail processing facilities, the domestic letters business remained profitable, unlike similar services overseas including Australia, Allen said.

A further rise in the standard domestic letter rate, which rose 5c to 50c last year, was unlikely for some time, he [NZ Post chief executive John Allen] said.

This is a statement from last Wednesday.

Sure enough. When I went to buy stamps for my business this morning the postage charge for a standard envelop had not gone up. Unfortunately I use more by way of A4 size envelopes so you can imagine my disbelief when I was told that instead of $1 stamps they would now require $1-50 stamps.

"Do you think I could get away with putting my prices up 50 percent?" I enquired of the somewhat apologetic assistant.

Of course I couldn't. While I am in the position of providing a monopoly service people do not have to use it.

It's an outrageous price hike which will cost certain businesses dearly.

New Zealanders worth much more than Australians

Road deaths in New Zealand numbered 442 at the end of February 2008. According to the DomPost,

The costs are huge - over $4 billion a year, equal to about a third of Government spending on health.

That's $9 million per death.

Let's double-check that. According to the Ministry of Transport in 2001,

The estimated social cost of a road death in New Zealand is
$2.485 million.

That's $5.3 million per death. Looks like the DomPost used the cost of all accidents - not just deaths.

But look at the most recent research I can find from Australia. This breakdown put the cost at $2.92 billion for 1700 deaths in 1996;

Cost of crashes by injury category were:
Fatal crashes:
$2.92 billion
Serious injury crashes:
$7.15 billion
Minor injury crashes:
$2.47 billion
Property damage only crashes:
$2.44 billion

A diagramatic analysis is shown here. Apparently,

Each fatal road crash costs the community more than $1.7 million.

Why the huge anomaly? I haven't the time to figure it out. It sure as hell isn't inflation. All I know is that the difference amounts to some $3.6 million a life. How we manage to be so much more valuable than the Aussies is something of a mystery when we earn considerably less. Perhaps our bureaucrats (propagandists) are simply more ambitious.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

And we are so much more civilised

Trotter writes that the money you earn is not yours.

To concede that everything the citizenry receives by way of wages, revenues, interest, rents and dividends belongs to them and to them alone is to accept the Right's assertion that "all taxation is theft".

According to this argument, people only put up with paying tax because, by allowing the state to transform their hard-earned cash into publicly-provided health care, education and other essential services, their individual interests are better served than if they attempted to acquire all these things out of their own pockets.

But, even this refinement of the "taxation is theft" argument leaves the sovereign individual at the centre of the fiscal equation. The money taken in tax is still his money.

But is it his money?

The social-democrat would say "no, it isn't".

Money is simply the mechanism advanced societies have developed to enable their citizens to enjoy a more varied and expansive life. In this respect, money is no more individual property than the language we use to communicate with our neighbours. It is a crucial adjunct to our social existence, whose value just like language manifests itself in the processes of exchange.

While they remain unspent, the notes we carry in our wallets are no more than pieces of paper. We can't eat them.

If you doubt the truth of this argument, then I'd invite you read up on the history of the Weimar Republic. There you will discover what happens to people when the state pretends that money can be separated from its social function.

You will also understand exactly what the US Supreme Court Judge, Oliver Wendell Holmes, meant when he said: "Taxes are the price we pay for civilisation."

So as taxation has risen, we have become more civilised. What bull.

'Civil society' (a nebulous term I loathe) is the sum of individual VOLUNTARY effort and exchange. When compassion becomes something that government forces out of us through taxation it is no longer a virtue (thank you Michael Tanner). Civil society turns on virtues and constructive values. People act through mutual self-interest. People treat each other the way they want to be treated.

Does that sound like present day New Zealand?

People like Trotter have a very dark view of the world. They think so little of their fellow citizens that they cannot believe anything charitable or philanthropic will emanate from them by choice, so government must extract it through compulsion. And why do they think that way? It must be because they judge others by their own standards and impulses.

OK. The money the government takes off me is effectively not my own because to withhold it would be to break the law. But the social democrat is saying more than this. He is saying it belongs to the public as of right. The state can nationalise third of my effort and transfer it to someone making no effort. That is what it does. Is either party incentivised by the transaction? No.

Not only does Trotter ignore the damaging effects of redistributing effort, he would like to step up the pace. If taxation is the price we pay for civilisation, why not take two thirds of the fruits of people's effort? We could be even more socially advanced.

No wonder people are leaving in their droves.