The Pencil Guy: Hourann's illogical blog

A little catch-up post

Wednesday 15 October 2008 at 11:38 pm
  • Blog, woe! I honestly didn’t mean so much neglect, although in my defence the Real World has been throwing me a fair few curve-balls lately.
  • As a result of said curve-balls, I have a chance to travel! Thus I’m in Washington DC and just left the neighbourhood bar where I was watching the last presidential debate (oh, and pretending to be an American). This was particularly entertaining for the jeers that spread through the room when the candidates spoke about the school system here! Both candidates did a decent job, although Obama didn’t really address the terribly unbalanced federal budget and McCain struck me as more than a tad hypocritical. My favourite quote from the locals: “I don’t care about the parties, I’m voting for DC statehood!”
  • A few weeks ago, I jumped on the tram to Santa Clara for the PHP developers’ event ZendCon, which was awesome! I scored a book because no one else knew about JAWS (tsk, tsk), and spent too much time at Yahoo’s party writing a solver for their Sudoku puzzle with Shaddy of! (Here’s a few thousand solutions). My favourite sessions were Jay Pipes on databases (“never assume anything about the MySQL optimiser“) and Terry Chay’s uncon session with its gratuitous excrement references :-)
  • The economic crisis that started in America and suddenly gripped the world had me quite startled! I mean, it was obvious that it was coming, but I’d have never predicted when or how bad (and the red arrows on my meagre NYSE portfolio demonstrate as much!). I am surprised by the measures that have been taken by governments (particularly the Americans!) in the hope of prompting a recovery — and yet John McCain still speaks of small-government conservatism! So much for laissez-faire.
  • Last week, Victoria formally decriminalised abortion! This is pretty cool.
  • And finally, the Western Australian government has held together, hooray! although I’m yet to see them actually do anything, other than make threats like cutting the budget a la John Howard’s first term.
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More ‘slow inevitability’ than ‘controversial debate’

Thursday 14 June 2007 at 11:45 pm

HeLa cells with blue nuclear stain

The current debate about using embryos for science is, in my estimation, primarily made up of hot air rather than any real hope of changing the minds of MPs who are already in favour. Indeed, most of the ink-spilling has been about Catholic leaders in Sydney and Perth (and in the latter case, the intent probably was just to describe the official contradiction in being pro-cloning and Catholic — but then, some Catholics use condoms).

Ever since the Federal ban on embryonic stem cell research was dropped late last year, there’s been a new impetus for complementary State rules. The bill to do this in NSW comfortably passed through their lower house last week, while WA’s bill is currently being discussed in the lower house. The Victorian parliament approved their bill back in May.

As far as I can tell, the other states haven’t much moved — for instance, Queensland’s bill seems stuck in the hands of the folks drafting it. Internationally, somatic cell nuclear transfer is legal in the UK, several other EU countries, much of East Asia, and the US (although Americans have to contend with a patchwork of state regulations and a federal funding controversy).

Since I’m generally in favour of abortion (specifically, the argument that a foetus isn’t human enough for its rights to override those of a fully-fledged human), it seems logically inconsistent for me to oppose therapeutic cloning. And I’m hardly alone in supporting it — while I’ve no data for the public at large, the counts that newspapers have done of how MPs intend to vote suggest a majority acceptance that’s in line with the international consensus. So it strikes me as just a matter of time (and impassioned bluster) before stem cell research is legal nationwide.

(Incidentally, it would be consistent to say that stem cells at 14 days aren’t human while a foetus at 28 days is, and therefore therapeutic cloning is OK but abortion isn’t. I’d like to see someone seriously make this argument, but I’ve only seen newspaper letters that didn’t-quite-embrace it.)


Another rant about housing affordability

Tuesday 13 February 2007 at 9:53 pm

This blog is now working again (or so I hope? I broke a bunch of links yesterday), my e-mail is back in action, and after a somewhat annoying DSPAM setup I have a shiny new anti-spam solution (I might even have to document what I did sometime). So I shall now return you to your regularly scheduled programming: random rants on the state of the State, with a bit of geeky tomfoolery and international politics thrown in for good measure.

There’s been some buzz, for some time, about property prices in Perth and their perceived effects on people who can’t afford a house (naturally, the loudest claims are coming from these guys, and they’re still beating their “taxes must be cut!” drum). Although I wonder about the limited evidence that this is an actual, real, screwing-with-social-welfare problem, it’s definitely an issue with votes in it. So yesterday Mr. Carpenter announced that he’d pitch in up to 40% of the cost of a house less than $365k, for families earning less than $60k per annum.

It’s a clever solution, and in the long term, there could even be profit! It’s also not a new idea, with similar schemes active in Scotland and other parts of the UK, though I’ve found little about whether these have worked.

I see only one flaw: $300 million is an awful lot of money to spend to help just three thousand families, even if it will be returned eventually. There are a lot of things that can be done for less that’d be of benefit to many, many more people. That said, the existing Keystart home loan scheme has also been rather pricey over the years … so maybe that’s just the cost of this kind of welfare.

Finally, and unrelatedly, an international smattering: despite some (predictable) opposition, abortion law in Portugal looks likely to change. I’m intrigued by the way that whaling is in the news again. And while it’s great to hear that there’s a new deal to relieve tensions surrounding North Korea, I wonder how long it’ll be before one of the involved parties breaks their commitment? (As pessimistic as that sounds, it’s been the pattern for years now — and there’s plenty of blame to go around.)