The Psychiactric hotline

Recently a local psychiatrist set up a hot line to help direct people with psychiatric problems to the most appropriate help. What follows is the message that the caller hears after ringing.

Welcome to the Psychiatric hot-line. Please select from the following options.

If you are obsessive compulsive please press 1 repeatedly.

If you are codependent ask someone to press 2 for you.

If you have multiple personality disorder press 3, 4 and 5.

If you are schizophrenic then that little voice in your head will tell you which button to press.

If you are manic depressive then you can press any number because no one will answer your call.

If you are paranoid delusional we know who you are and where you are and we are coming to get you.

Punish the customer

A few months ago there was a call from Harvey Norman, the CEO of the like named retailing chain for the introduction of GST on overseas purchases of under $1,000.  Up until now these private purchases have been free of GST and import duty, the logic being that to collect the tax would cost more than the tax raised. There has recently been more pressure put on the government by other retailers to start collecting these taxes.

I can see their point however I think it is about more than just the tax and the competition placed on these traditional stores. Over the last ten years the online shopping community has been increasingly placing pressure on the traditional “bricks and mortar” stores and their inefficiencies. The traditional store has remained unchanged for many years and the new tech stores, both online and with physical outlets are seriously under cutting these traditional outlets.  All one needs to do is to browse ebay, and the numerous online stores for retail goods such as electronics, books, DVDs, music etc. Many people are undercutting traditional outlets, even taking into account GST.

Placing GST on personally imported goods will do little if anything for government revenue, it is merely a form of protection for traditional retail businesses. Even purchasing from Australian businesses via ebay, who include GST can achieve substantial savings. If the likes of Meyer, David Jones, Harvey Norman and Target want to compete they have to embrace a whole new business model and come into the 21st centuries way of doing business.

As a good example look at the price of HDMI cables. I can buy a perfectly functional HDMI cable from an online store for $15, which when you add freight comes to $20 to $25. Now if one had to pay GST then you would be adding an extra $1.50 and then the government would need to collect this, which would cost far more than $1.50. Now this price is about the same whether it was from an Australian online or overseas supplier. The same HDMI cable from Harvey Norman typically costs $75.  Take a high end gold plated, shielded heavy duty cable. Online it is about $50 and from Harvey Norman about $200. Both of these companies would be paying roughly the same wholesale price.  Note that both of these cables give exactly the same image quality, it is only the build quality that varies.  The difference in price between the two resellers is with the business model they both use. By blaming GST Mr Norman is putting up a smoke screen and trying to blame consumers for his short sightedness. Do not blame us, fix up your business.

There are certainly customers who will still want to buy in person but as more people are buying on line these traditional outlets need to change or die a natural death.

Science, Pseudo Science and what no one wnts to be true

When I was in sunday school in my youth I met a guy who has since been a great influence on me. I became re-aquainted with him in the early 80s with my then, fairly newish wife.  I shall return to him later.

This article appeared in my Google Buzz feed and on page 5 item 12 reads “Not-so-constant constants. It refers to some research done in 1997 where an Astronomer deduced that some of the physical constants seemed to behave in a way that indicated that they may not be constant. To quote from the 2005 article “[The vale of Alpha]  depends on, among other things, the charge on the electron, the speed of light and Planck’s constant. Could one of these really have changed?” Even more interesting is the idea that one of the proofs that we live in an old universe is dependant on the time taken for light to arrive from distant celestial objects. If the speed of light for instance was much faster in the past then this reduces the amount of time required for light to arrive and thus makes the universe younger. How much younger is still a subject of much speculation.

Of course many physicists (the open minded group that they are) completely reject this hypothesis and declare that the mere thought that any of our time honoured constants have varied could not possibly be true. But is this so silly? And is this the first time that this has been postulated?

Back to my old Sunday School teacher. He produced a paper about 30 years ago that used the observations of the speed of light starting with the Michelson-Morley experiment and continuing with the (then) latest observations. Doing an analysis of these observations produced the startling result that there was a statistically significant trend that indicated a reduction in the speed of light. There was a general ridicule of his results, most of which was based on the similar reaction to the 1997 study. Most of the comments were that even to contemplate a change in the speed of light was unthinkable rather than a sensible and objective analysis of the results. It seemed to me at the time that the results were rejected not based on a scientific analysis of the paper but more because the author, Barrie Setterfield, was a creationist. An extreme case of prejudice if ever there was one. Further proof (if one was needed) of the subjectivity of scientists. I recall a vigorous discussion with a friend who was studying Physics at university at the same time as me, and the whole basis of his rejection of the evidence was that the speed of light is a constant therefore has not changed.

I find this whole has it, hasn’t it discussion quite interesting. Not only for the science but also for what it tells us about the scientists. Many scientists reject theories on the basis of their own pre-conceived notions. When scientists see anything or anybody that uses the “C” word then their automatic reaction is to reject it regardless of the science behind the claim. Although it is true that many creationists use bad science it does not justify the rejection of all propositions merely because that person believes in God. I know many scientists that believe in God, but heaven forbid if they dare to mention such an un-scientific belief. There is nothing more un-scientific than a scientific atheist.

Some things just make less and less sense the more you …

The arts have since time immemorial been somewhat of a peculiar endeavour. They have at times been seen as the herald of a new era, been misunderstood, been seen as rather weird to one generation only to be loved by another. In any case society as a whole (despite the misgivings of some) has always lauded artists whatever the occupation. Since the Renaissance the role of the artist has changed dramatically such that about a hundred years ago the rather antiquated copyright laws were re-written to provide a framework for artistic endeavour, rather than a mechanism for censorship. Apart for some minor revisions they remained more or less the same until the US devised this wonderful thing called the DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act). It strikes me that the whole intent of the DMCA was not to encourage artistic endeavour but to prop up the obscene control large corporations had gained over the arts.

I have been reading an interesting paper published by Koleman Strumpf on the effect of unorthorised downloads on music sales. (Warning PDF link.) In it he suggests that not only are the figures quoted on losses by the recording companies exaggerated but in fact it may be the case that music sharing increases the sales of music. It makes a very interesting read and certainly demonstrates that there are many misconceptions being perpetrated by the music companies.

In light of that, the information here makes the recording industries actions not only counter productive but downright idiotic. Not only are they cutting off the head of the golden goose but they are wasting millions of dollars to do it.

So in summary the recording industry are suing the very people who are in fact buying their music and are cutting into their profits by millions of dollars in doing so. Hardly what one would call a smart business decision. The obvious conclusion is that the recording companies are only interested in maintaining their control over the industry and have little or no concern about the artists that they purport to represent.

Should I believe …

Since the rise of science and engineering our daily life has become dependant on experts in science and engineering.

Where, for instance would we be without the humble automobile? We own a Prius and not many cars are more packed with technology than the modern Hybrid. Batteries, motors, both internal combustion and electric, regeneration, digital control systems. Without faith in the scientists who put this together I would be terrified to take it onto the road. Even with the issues and recalls the actual failure rate is minuscule.

Look at something as mundane as a bridge. Without the mathematics and materials science they would never stay up. We do not consider that we are taking a risk when we drive over a bridge.

Consider the humble mobile phone. I have had maybe six or seven for over ten years and not once has one failed me except maybe for the odd battery. This is a pretty good record.

The examples are endless. TV, DVD, Radio, Microwave, air conditioner, many many domestic examples of science in action.

Then there are the specialists. Take forensic science. Many court cases are decided on the findings of scientists. Then space flight. If the scientists were wrong then there would have been unmitigated disasters in space. As it was there were a few tragedies but only when systems failed and then analysis demonstrated the cause, by scientists. Geologists are finding new sources of energy and minerals daily.

So with scientist’s record of discovery and inventiveness, of getting us out of and into trouble, of their reliability and expertise why is it that when we come to this extremely importing and world changing discovery we distrust them? Why would we believe a lobby group with a vested interested over dispassionate scientists with a track record of getting things right over and over again?

Either drive over that bridge with confidence and accept global warming or prepare to reject almost everything that your consumerist lifestyle is built on. You cannot have it both ways.

Different strokes, Different rules

Are some people more different than others?

Should some people be treated differently because of their profession or calling? Should laws be different because of the special occupation that some people have.

The recent conviction of Jayant Patel raises this interesting question.  Holding doctors to account for their behaviour has been problematic in the past for may reasons. When an attack on a member of the medical profession has occurred the profession has had a tradition of closing ranks. Even in cases of mis-conduct it has often been difficult for the victim due to the difficulties of proving the accusation. Doctors have often been treated as above suspicion when in truth they are no more or less capable of incompetence and indeed malicious acts as any other person. This has been a landmark case and my question is, why should this be so when if it was any other profession it would have been fairly straight forward.

Take for instance a situation where you were driving recklessly. You were already banned in another country from driving because of repeated convictions for dangerous driving. You came to Australia got your licence and went out on the road and drove in such a way that a number of people were seriously injured and some were even killed. Pretty straight forward you say?

What if you were a builder and your building license was revoked due to incompetence. You then came to Australia got your builders licence and then proceeded to build sub standard houses. One of these houses collapsed and killed several people and it was clearly due to your sub standard building practices.

These two examples are clear cases of criminal negligence. However in the case of Patell it proved a “landmark case”.  In my opinion no one should be above the law. What is good for one should be good for all. If indeed it is the case that Patell was banned from performing these procedures in another country due to his incompetence, and that it was due to his behaviour that resulted in the injuries and deaths of his patients then let justice be done and let the law deal equally with all.

There should be nothing special about the medical profession that should allow them to burry their mistakes. Too long have this section of society been protected by the walls they have constructed from bearing the responsibilities of their incompetence. We allow second rate professionals get away with unprofessional behaviour by not holding them accountable.


Now the AMA have weighed into the debate.  After years of coverups, closed ranks and incompetence being rewarded the AMA are now blaming the government. If there is indeded a backlash then the AMA only have themselves to blame. More openness and accountability in the profession would have prevented this from ever happening.

Will the Death die?

In 2007 the British version of Death at a funeral was released. It was so funny it hurt, but that was not the point. The best comedies are subversive and are more than just laughs, they come in under the radar and hit you when you are least expecting it. At their best they are subtle and for this reason many people just see the laughs and the subtext is entirely lost.

One of my favourite examples is the Peter Sellers/Blake Edwards classic The Party. These two were an explosive combination, comedic genius but with an almost homicidally factious relationship. Like death at a funeral it dealt with issues such as class and prejudice in a humorous and disarming way.  In one way Death at a Funeral is a modern remake of The Party. In both there is a setup which demands adherence to a strict social etiquette. Contrasted to this are characters who, by their very nature do not adhere to these expectations. There are even parallels in the opening sequence with the film shoot going wrong in The party and the wrong coffin at Death at a Funeral.

I have been reading the reviews for the US remake of Death at a Funeral and the first thing that striks me is why? What is the point of trying to remake a classic merely three years after the original? What could a Black/White version made with “comedy” actors bring to such a sophisticated and intelligent comedy? To be fair I have not seen the remake but reading the reviews makes me want to see it out of curiosity. I might be wrong of course and it could be a completely fresh take on the theme of class and societal divisions but somehow I doubt it. Especially since almost all of the reviewers consider Chris Rock to be mis-cast.

20th C Fox – Crying all the way to the bank.

One has to feel great sympathy for the desperate plight of the movie studios loosing so much revenue to piracy when they can only raise US$130,000,000 in five days from a disk release.

Clearly all of the downloads have seriously eroded the sales of Avatar, not to mention the lost revenue at the box office.

Personally I don’t know how the studios can survive when they can only take a measly $2,000,000,000 in theatres. Lets hope they can make it up in ancillaries.

Austrlia’s Internet Filter – For why?

The current federal minister for communications Stephen Conroy is proposing an Internet filter which is to provide a mandatory and secret filter to all Internet content in Australia. The extent of the filter is unclear and ill defined, the actual content of the filter is unknown and under the proposal will remain unknown. There is no right of appeal. It is not subject to the same review processes that other forms of censorship that we have. The idea is that all ISPs will have to implement this filter to stop anything that is “Refused Classification” under federal laws and regulations.

The first issue is with effectiveness. As was demonstrated recently on Hungry Beast it takes your average 14 YO about 30 seconds to circumvent. And it only takes one 14 YO to find their way around it before all 14 YOs know how to bypass it. So, the filter is useless for 14 YO teenagers, and you can pretty much say that any body of computer using age will be able to find their way around it in short order.

The second issue is with the secrecy behind the filter. Other forms of censorship are open to public scrutiny and independent review. Not the proposed Internet filter. No one will know what the government is censoring and if the internet site you are running for your primary income is put on the list the government can happily send you to the wall and there is nothing you can do about it. In fact it will be illegal even to tell anybody why they are sending you broke. The government can then proceed to censor sites that do not favour them and no one will ever know. And don’t say that it would not happen, remember Nixon.

Finally the standards applied are so loose that they can be applied to almost anything. This is not the state based censorship that applies to films books and games. This is the federal system that applies to imports and can be changed at any time simply by regulation, no legislation needed. At the whim of the government suddenly a brand new category of site can be included in secret at the stroke of a pen.

I am not as naive or hypocritical as some who in one breath preach against censorship and in the other advise it. I am firmly in favour of censorship but it has to be open and transparent, and effective. To spend many millions of dollars on a secret and ineffective plan to randomly censor the Internet makes absolutely no sense to me. Better to spend the money on real prevention.

The Law is an Ass

Actually the law is only as good as the legislators. I often think that many laws are only there to make people feel good, not to address the real issue, if there is one. People complain about hot spots.  Answer; decrease the speed limit. There is too much drug crime. Answer; increase the penalties. Someone blows up two buildings in NY. Answer; stop people bringing drink bottles onto planes.

A chap in WA had his car impounded Wednesday because his mechanic was an idiot. Read this insanity here. This defies all logic. Now this innocent party has to do without his car for 28 days through no fault of his own.

Lets think about this for a second. What is the possible purpose for this stupid law. Does it provide any punishment for the culprit? No. Does it provide any disincentive for future offenders? Definitely not. Does it encourage rehabilitation for the offender? No. Will this make it more likely that the next pratt will speed in someone elses car? Probably. The only thing that this law does is make the law makers look patheticaly stupid. The responses of the Minister and the Police only serves to make them look even more stupid.

Save us from asses.