There is something wrong with an economic system that tolerates beggars

Today marks four months since I moved to Sydney. To date Sydney has been awesome, I do have a few moans about it, mainly around its sheer size, my lack of a car, and unfriendliness of people, however these points are minor compared to one thing I am still failing to understand.

Sydney is a rich city, it has been blessed by money, looking at the CBD there are an uncountable number of buildings over 200m in height, looking at the news you seen rich people complaining they are being taxed too much, every mall has a many designer fashion stores, and one thing you don’t see much of is poverty. Except in one place. Street corners in the CBD. On almost every corner there is a beggar, some young, some old. There is one question that screams out from this: How can a city that is as big and as rich and is blessed as Sydney have people on street corners having to beg for money to survive?

I am informed that Sydney beggars are not as bad as other big international cities, and when I have raised this point with locals in discussion their reply is often runs along the lines that the beggars should just get off their lazy arse and get a job. Sure there are probably a few young beggars who could and should do this, but what about the older generation the people who have been on the streets for years? Surely this problem is a failing of the underlying social system than that of solely their own doing.

And the problems in the social system must lie on the shoulders of the government. It is the government’s duty of care to look after its citizens in particular the vulnerable and the disadvantaged in society and the homeless must be some of the most disadvantaged people in Sydney. I have yet to meet a rich beggar.

However, the failings of the government must lie back in a lack of tax revenue being raised from the people who are blessed, those who are earning money and are wealthy enough to be demanding tax cuts so they can buy their sixth holiday home. But can we really blame or attack people for being rich or blessed? People often work extremely hard to get ahead so who are we to bring them down for it?

Ultimately the issues of wealth, poverty, tax and a failed social system lie with the failure of our economic system, capitalism. A system that in its most fundamental form demands that in order to make a profit another must make a loss and those who make the largest profits win. And that is seen in its raw form with bankers walking past beggars at rush hour every morning in central Sydney.

In a column in today’s NZ Herald union activist Matt McCarten writes:

The left intellectuals we used to rely on to challenge ideas have retreated into academia. The staunch left survivors parroting on about an economic system built around the needs of people, rather than the needs of some to make profits, is rather quaint and eccentric.

The fight between socialism and capitalism isn’t over yet.

I was challenged last week to put this to the test.

So we organised a left versus right debate on Wednesday at Auckland University on the question, “Is Capitalism working?” Unashamed right winger Matthew Hooton, aided by the NZ Herald’s Fran O’Sullivan, with liberal conservative cover from National’s Nikki Kaye, agreed to give us the reasons why capitalism was better than socialism. Unite’s Mike Treen and NDU union leader Maxine Gay joined my team.

The auditorium was standing room only, overflowing in the aisles and outside. We won the overwhelmingly majority of the nearly 400 students present. When the right has to justify its dogma it doesn’t stand a chance with a thinking audience.

It is no surprise that the socialists won in a debate at a university, in the same way the capitalists would win if the debate was held in the middle of the stock exchange floor. However, I do believe that capitalism is not working, and it is not an academic argument, it is an argument that can be shown through beggars on street corners, pensioners who can’t afford the necessities of life, or a decent health system, or the young people of today who are being lumped with huge student loans to be able to get a qualification, a ticket to compete in the corporate world where capitalism turns people into cannibals who will stop at nothing to get to the top of the cooperate jungle.

A new system of economics and life needs to be developed, one that does not tolerate beggars, one that values education and our young people, a system where taxation is fair and leaves no one behind. People can become rich and can be blessed but not at the expense of others. I don’t buy the argument that it is just a fact of life that there will be rich and poor. Sure there will always be unbalances in life, but as socially advanced, aware, and intelligent beings we need to start acting intelligently and ensure that everyone in society is guaranteed shelter, food, health, education and employment.

This is not a left verses right political argument. This is a societal argument. I have no issue with people working for the dole, and I certainly do not like the idea of tax money being given freely to those sitting around watching TV all day. This is an argument about how terribly broken our economic situation is, and how we need to change it before our entire world collapses, the global financial crises was only a small warning sound to a much bigger societal collapse – are we intelligent enough to listen and react to the warning? Or are we truly just deaf, blind, dumb and stupid?

Movie Geeks

Tonight both Toy Story and Toy Story 2 were on TV. It was good fun watching the movies back to back, particularly as I have not seen Toy Story in a number of years, and I have never seen the sequel.

The best thing about Pixar films is the number of references to other movies and items from the real world they hide in their movies. IMDB has a massive list of trivia on their site for both of the movies, one of my favourites is the use of the use of the utah teapot in the original movie during the tea party. One of the more interesting references that I only picked up on tonight is a reference back to Logan’s Run. In that movie they must escape carousel, in toy story they must escape the claw.

Delirious? – The Farewell Show

This morning I got my hands on a copy of Delirious? – The Farewell Show DVD. Delirious? performed their last show in November of last year and this live video of it captures the evening fantastically well. The show is different from their previous live DVDs in that the focus is not on playing their latest songs and using special effects – both visually and musically, instead the show is raw, the audience is in full voice, and the songs are mainly from the back-catalogue.

Because of the nature of any final show it is hard to find a single song that stands out from the rest. However, Jesus Blood had me in my living room with my arms stretched out crying out to God. Personally, for me, my favourite Delirious? song has always been History Maker and in The Farewell Show the boys do it exceptionally well one last time, at the end of the song Martin Smith does a little bit of preaching and in a change from his recent shows instead of reading Ezekiel 37 he read Psalm 23, before charging the audience to go out into the world and preach.

As a bonus feature the DVD also includes the “Cutting Edge Show” which appears to have been performed before the main show. In this 30 minute gig the Delirious? boys perform seven songs from their days as Cutting Edge (1992 – 1996), Thank You For Saving Me / White Ribbon Day is the stand out song here. And if you do get the DVD watch the Cutting Edge Show first – particularly if you have followed the band over the last 15+ years.

It is sad to see the end of Delirious? for me they have been a band that I have grown up with, for Christmas 1997 (or 1998) I was given their Cutting Edge 3&4 CD and since then I have owned every album except Glo, King of Fools, and Metamorphosis, I have also seen them perform live at Parachute Music Festival in 2006. Through my teenage years I made History Maker the soundtrack for what I wanted to do with my life, and it still remains my favourite song, hearing all the older Delirious? songs on this DVD brings back memories of 10 years of doing sound, lighting and AV at church.

Delirious? may no longer be performing or releasing new music but their impact on the Christian music scene will last for a long time, bands like David Crowder Band, Chris Tomlin, Casting Crowns, and many more are now carrying the torch that Delirious? carried for so many years. This DVD will be their lasting legacy of their impact on Christian music and it is a legacy that is well worth remembering and owning.

Autonomous Robot Navigation using A* Path Planning

What I got up to this afternoon:

This is a Pioneer Robot autonomously driving and navigating in my office. I programmed the A* search of the map of the environment and the waypoint generator which is then passed to an autonomoy controller (not programmed by me) which moves the robot.

NZ Budget – Income Tax Cuts offset by GST Rise – Nothing that radical

Apparently the NZ Budget announced today is the biggest change to the tax system in 25 years. It doesn’t seem like much of a change more just adjusting the dials of an old and broken system.

The key adjustments are:

The personal income tax rate changes from 1 October 2010 are:

  • Up to $14K – tax rate goes from 12.5% to 10.5%
  • $14K to $48K – tax rate goes from 21.0% to 17.5%
  • $48K to $70K – tax rate goes from 33.0% to 30.0%
  • $70K+ – tax rate goes from 38.0% to 33.0%

GST will rise to 15% and company tax will drop to 28%.

If you really wanted to make radical changes to the system this is what I would do:

Taxation:

  • Flat tax rate – equal for both individuals and businesses
  • No GST
  • Capital Gains Tax
  • No Working for Families or middle class welfare

Transport:

  • Build and upgrade highways but introduce tolls on most major roads
  • Encourage people onto public transport by building more railways and introducing light rail into busy bus corridors. Make fares much cheaper than driving until a critical mass is achieved and slowly phase out the subsidies once things are paying for themselves.

Education:

  • Free public education until the age of 25 including university or polytech study
  • Universal Student Allowance to everyone in full time study in public post secondary education living away from home
  • No funding to private schools – if parents want to send their children there they can pay for it entirely
  • Increase funding for Research

Healthcare:

  • Free doctors visits and hospitals
  • Remove ACC
  • Introduce Private Health Insurance for accidents with various options around cover but ensure everyone is eligible to be covered

State Owned Enterprises:

  • Sell all SOEs operating in a commercial environment such as TVNZ, and Air New Zealand.
  • Other SOEs do not pay tax as overheads in giving money to an SOE and then taxing it back is just silly.

Defense:

  • Focus on Search and Rescue and Peace Keeping
  • Increase funding for equipment to ensure state of the art equipment is used

Four Days in Cairns – Tropical North Queensland

I have just spent the last four days on holiday in Cairns and the surrounding area.

During this time I saw, did, and ate:

  • Ate Crocodile, Emu, and Kangaroo
  • Ate Crocodile Curry
  • Went on the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway over the Barron Gorge to Kuranda
  • Bought Mango wine
  • Went on the Kuranda Scenic Railway back down the Barron Gorge
  • Climbed the Red and Blue Arrow Circuits behind Cairns and saw a wild Wallaby
  • Went on On The Wallaby tour into the Tablelands visiting a number of waterfalls, cycling about 15km and canoeing down a river where we saw Spiders, a Tree Kangaroo, Platypus, Turtles, and a whole lot of other cool wildlife.
  • Went hunting through a riverbed to find rocks that can be used for face painting.

Right now I am very tired to go into anymore details about the trip. However pictures speak a 1,000 words, so here are 21 photos to speak 21,000 words. (Click on a photo to see a larger version).

Facebook Exodus Becoming a Raging Torrent

For months if not years now privacy groups have be moaning about Facebook, along with MySpace, Bebo, Buzz, Twitter, and anything and everything else about the internet in general.

However it is rare for the technological blog and news websites to complain. They complained about Buzz and within days Google had changed its policies giving users much more control. However, with Facebook something else is happening, there is a massive turn off in the technology community against Facebook.

On the weekend I removed all my photos, applications and personal information from Facebook. Twitter is no longer linked into it and I am no longer posting status updates. At this moment I have not yet deleted or deactivated my account. But everyday I am getting a little closer to doing so.

Articles complaining about Facebook’s new information selling regime are now stretching across the web, last week wired.com ran a number of pieces about Facebook. Now readwriteweb is running an article on how to completely delete your Facebook account – They also have a screenshot of the emotional blackmail when you try to deactivate.

The torrent is also appearing on Twitter. Nearly every post I see about Facebook is about how to delete or deactivate your account. Check this search on Twitter for an example (edit: search may not work, can’t link to a search on twitter).

I saw a prediction on the weekend that Facebook would be dead within 6 months – dead as in dead like MySpace, alive but on life support. At the rate people are getting angry over these latest changes the exodus of tech people could be complete within the month.

The Daily Routine

In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes. – Benjamin Franklin.

This morning I have been cleaning the house and among other rubbish that is being thrown out is a few old bus passes. For some reason I decided to look on the back of my bus pass where each of the trips taken are recorded and it is a little scary how routine my day is:

Trip 1 – On Bus at 8.20
Trip 2 – On Bus at 17.29

Trip 3 – On Bus at 8.28
Trip 4 – On Bus at 17.29

Trip 5 – On Bus at 8.29
Trip 6 – On Bus at 17.20

Trip 7 – On Bus at 8.31
Trip 8 – On Bus at 17.40

The scatter of morning trips is within 11 minutes and three of the four trips are within a 3 minute period on different days. Coming home from uni the spread is over a 20 minute period but two of the four trips are identical times on consecutive days.

The going to uni closeness in times makes a lot of sense I have my morning routine drilled down so well that I can be up at 7.30, showered, breakfast, and walk down to the bus stop within a 10 minute window of variance.

What surprises me more is the pattern in heading home. I try to maintain 9 – 5 hours at uni but the end time is often determined by who I am talking to or what I am working on, it is not the sort of thing you can just stop, I stop when I get to a point in my code I can halt on, or I finish whatever task I was doing, so to manage 4 consecutive days of finishing within a 20 minute window is well scary.

Pot Kettle Black

From an SMH article on Adobe Flash.

“Flash does have some issues, particularly around reliability, security and performance,” said Dean Hachamovitch, general manager for the Internet Explorer browser.

How many urgent security updates has Internet Explorer had issued against it in the last 12 months? How many in the last 10 years? How about this list of updates for IE 6 Service Pack one as an example: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/326489

A Few Thoughts on Facebook and Social Networking Privacy

Growing up in the Internet age I accept that I don’t really have any privacy. It is possible for almost anyone to find out almost anything about me. For instance any company that extends a form of credit to me be it a hire purchase, credit card, or even renting a car will be able to find out my finance history through information sharing services such as Veda Advantage. And if I move house or update one piece of information with a government department suddenly the IRD, Electoral Office and almost everyone else knows my knew address and starts sending me angry letters telling me to update my details. I simply couldn’t vanish no matter how hard I tried.

On the internet privacy concerns have existed since its birth. In the past in order to protect peoples identities many users operated behind aliases and screen names. I have had a few the two most prominent being kiwikidbrad and more recently nzv8fan. However, there are two main problems with screen aliases. The first is they can still quite easily lead back to you, for instance kiwikidbrad suggests my real name is Brad, and I am a kiwi, and still reasonably young (okay I started using this name when I was around 10 or 11 years old). When I switched to nzv8fan it was a little less obvious who I was other than I was from NZ and into V8 Supercars, but still over time you slip and sign off a post as Brad or accidentally post from somewhere that lists your real name alongside your screen name. The second problem with aliases is not knowing the true identity of who is behind them. Even though I just said I could be worked out, if I had a phony identity to start with, and then built an online alias on top of that I can become quite a credible fake.

To get around these problems Facebook did something quite radical when it launched. You would not have screen names rather you would use your actual identity. This is both a good and terrible idea. It is a good idea because it means you can rapidly be found my people in your past who may not know you currently and therefore would have a hard time finding out your screen name. It is also a terrible idea because of how easy it makes you to find.

Initially Facebook introduced some good privacy controls around this, firstly anyone accessing any data on Facebook had to be registered on the site, there was no such thing as a public profile. Secondly a lot of your data was hidden to people who were not your friends and only a limited amount was supplied to people so they could identify you as an actual friend and add you. This system worked quite well.

As a result of this openness about identity but strictness in privacy a lot of people flocked to Facebook as it was a genuine site where you could actually trust people, but as people flocked to Facebook it became too popular for its own good. It got greedy and power hungry. As a result of this over the past two or so years the high walls of privacy that protect users on Facebook have come tumbling down. Now in the latest development (see my immediate prior post) Facebook’s desire to connect everyone to everyone else has seen the creation of public pages that connect anyone with any remote common interest that they list. Essentially everything you write on Facebook will be connected. Forget 6 degrees of separation Facebook is aiming for 1.

The next developments in Facebook’s history will be interesting. I am wondering if a new player will arrive on the stage that brings back the privacy controls that users once had. I wonder if Facebook will buckle and bring in a whole lot of strict privacy controls not the complex mess they have now that is confusing and doesn’t give you much control at all. I wonder if they will be sued by some government department, state, company or individual.

If I were to start some form of Facebook clone there are a few things I would do:

  • Use people’s real names.
  • Allow people to list their birthday – birthday wishes are cool, but not publicly list their year of birth.
  • Allow people to upload and tag photos – but photos tagged of other individuals must have their permission for the tag first.
  • No public profiles.
  • You must be registered on the site to access any other members.
  • People can search for others but only on name, email address (not publically listed but searchable), workplace, school, college or sports team, but not common interest.
  • Not allow applications that access other user’s private details. If you want to do some sort of quiz that is cool, but having third party applications mine other user’s data without their permission is wrong.
  • Have fan pages for companies, and political causes. But disable pages that require you to join something before you can see all the details – and irony with facebook is fan pages often have more privacy controls than user pages.

These are just a few thoughts, I don’t have time, or energy, or the will power to start my own clone and have it reach a critical mass. However, these thoughts are welcome to be used by anyone who is willing too – and please do. I am planning on deactivating my Facebook account in a week’s time.

And for those people who think Facebook is too big to fail just look at what happened to MySpace. This Alexa traffic graph shows it nicely.
Alexa Graph