Tag Archives: opinion

What I think about Wikileaks

The whole Cablegate affair from Wikileaks is highly entertaining but it also warrants some real thought. It’s more complex than just delighting in the embarrassment of the US government.

I recently read an excellent blog post on the topic which helped to firm up my opinions on the matter.

1. Secrecy vs. Transparency – We need a balance

Complete secrecy is fairly obviously something that we need to avoid in a democratic state. Without some transparency we get an unchecked government (and businesses) that can act as it pleases. Transparency is important.

But, complete transparency is also something to be avoided. Private speech is a necessary component of democracy. People need to be able to negotiate, to change their minds, and to keep some secrets.

What is needed is a suitable balance between secrecy and transparency. Democracy is full of such balancing acts.

2. Wikileaks is a necessary shock

In the short term I believe that Wikileaks is a good thing:

  • Wikileaks pushes the secrecy vs. transparency balance towards transparency. I believe this was necessary.
  • Wikileaks is the shock to the system that should pull us into a new world. Democracy must react.

In the long term however an unchecked Wikileaks would be a bad thing. Wikileaks currently represents pure transparency without any checks and balances. Democracy and law must catch up.

3. The US is reacting shockingly

I am horrified by the reaction of the US government to Wikileaks. This is not what I would expect from the government of a freedom loving democracy.

Two quotes from the original post neatly capture my thoughts on the US government’s reaction.

When authorities can’t get what they want by working within the law, the right answer is not to work outside the law. The right answer is that they can’t get what they want.

The leaders of Myanmar and Belarus, or Thailand and Russia, can now rightly say to us “You went after Wikileaks’ domain name, their hosting provider, and even denied your citizens the ability to register protest through donations, all without a warrant and all targeting overseas entities, simply because you decided you don’t like the site. If that’s the way governments get to behave, we can live with that.”


  • Democracy needs a balance between secrecy and transparency.
  • Wikileaks helps move us toward transparency.
  • But pure transparency as represented by Wikileaks should be controlled by laws.
  • The US government has reacted innapropriately to Wikileaks.

Purpose of Life

Cartoon showing that there is no purpose to life

“What is the purpose of life” is obviously not a stupid question. It’s a very good question.

The purpose of life is more life.

All life is purely trying to create more copies of itself. The purpose of every living organism on this planet (yourself included) is to create as many copies of it’s genes as possible.

That is all.

That’s not what you meant right? What is the deeper purpose of life? What is the meaning of life?

That question is actually a lot like “What is the square root of a tomato?”

It doesn’t make sense.

There is no deeper purpose of life. Life just is. It is a bleak realization, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

I was recently reading the preface to Richard Dawkins’s Unweaving the Rainbow which contains this excellent quote:

Gone is all purpose; all that is left is direction. This is the bleakness we have to accept as we peer deeply and dispassionately into the heart of the Universe.

Julius Malema should not have been convicted of hate speech

Julius Malema is a moronLet me be clear: I think Julius Malema is a complete tool. I can’t stand the man and I wish that the ANC would do something about him. He makes me afraid for our nation.

So I was pretty happy when I heard that he had been convicted of hate speech. But I’m conflicted. I disagree with the judgment…

Malema claimed that Jacob Zuma’s rape accuser was lying because she had not fled after the alleged rape:

“When a woman didn’t enjoy it, she leaves early in the morning. Those who had a nice time will wait until the sun comes out, request breakfast and ask for taxi money”.

I think that is an offensive, ignorant and downright deplorable statement to have made. If the ANC were at all responsible they would have fired him on the spot. They are not that type of organization and that is a problem for all of us.

That said, I really don’t believe that the state should be able to fine Malema for this statement. Anyone making statements like this should be judged by society.

When the state enforces what you can and can’t say then things start to go wrong.

There’s a little thing called freedom of speech. I think it is quite important.

The South African law on hate speech says:

No person may publish, propagate, advocate or communicate words based on one or more of the prohibited grounds, against any person, that could reasonably be construed to demonstrate a clear intention to –
(a) be hurtful;
(b) be harmful or to incite harm;
(c) promote or propagate hatred.

This is too paternalistic. Just imagine the impact on freedom of speech.

Malema should be ridiculed. The ANC should have fired him long ago. But he should not be fined by the government for saying something offensive.

Criticize Jacob Zuma, but not for polygamy

Jacob Zuma with his three wives

It seems like everyone is having a go at Jacob Zuma.

I believe that he is in the wrong. But it seems my reasoning is different to that of the majority of South Africans.

Unprotected Sex

By having unprotected sex with various women Zuma is setting a shocking example. He is selfishly risking the lives of his wives.

He deserves strong criticism because:

  • It shows terrible disrespect to his wives. Zuma has literally risked the lives of his wives so that he could have a shag.
  • It also sets a horrendous example to the men of a country plagued by rape and by HIV/AIDS.

For these reasons Jacob Zuma should be vilified.

Polygamy is not morally wrong

Many people are criticizing Zuma for practicing polygyny (one man with more than one wife).

But why is polygamy morally wrong? People assume polygamy is wrong but they seldom back up their conviction with reason.

If all parties are voluntarily entering the relationship I don’t see the problem.

Many people assume that polygyny is bad for women. In fact polygyny is beneficial for most women. Sharing half of the best man is often better than all of a bad man.

Monogamy benefits the average men, who would have no wives in a polygynous society. It does not help the average woman who could have a happier life in a polygynous society.

These women are voluntarily marrying Jacob Zuma. If they were unhappy then they would leave him.


  • Zuma should be criticized for unprotected sex
  • Zuma should not be criticized for having multiple wives

Ugandan poster about polygamy and AIDS

Perhaps doping in sports should be allowed

With the Tour de France just over and the Olympics now underway, doping in sports is a topical issue. You don’t often hear the argument for doping, but this article from The Economist argues well that doping shouldn’t be cheating.

Why should doping be cheating? There are two arguments against allowing athletes to enhance their abilities by doping:

  1. Fairness. Athletes go to all sorts of lengths in the quest for a little extra performance – why is doping any more unfair than some of those measures? Why is doping cheating when complex nutritional compounds are not? Why isn’t the new Speedo swimwear that offers a significant advantage unfair? Modern athletes routinely go to great and unnatural lengths to excel – why should doping be any different?
  2. Safety. The far more compelling argument against allowing doping is on the grounds of safety. Many think that doping is unsafe and in many cases it may be. Unsafe doping should be banned, but if doping were opened up it could be better regulated. Athletes would be required to list exactly what substances are being used thus making regulation easier – and doping safer.

Doping should be allowed or not based on safeness – and there is a case to be made that opening up doping could make it safer for athletes. Interesting.

Xenophobia isn’t just shameful, it’s stupid

If Bob is really good at making hammers and Alice is a nail making genius, they can get further by sticking to their specialties and trading – better and cheaper hammers and nails for all.

Lesson 1: Specialization is good

Now Frank comes along and he’s also pretty good at making hammers. Not such good news for Bob, but the competition between them leads to a decrease in the price of hammers – good for the rest of town.

Lesson 2: Competition is good for society
Lesson 3: The current winners don’t want competition. Competition means they must work to stay in the same place

So Bob wants to prevent Frank from coming to town and forcing him to work harder. He convinces the rest of the townsfolk that Frank is bad for them – he is going to steal their jobs and housing. Bob’s nasty plan works and Frank can’t get work in town.

What are the results? The town loses (hammers are more expensive) and only Bob wins (he doesn’t have to work hard).

Lesson 4: Blocking immigrants is bad for the economy – it only protects the lazy

A frustrated Frank goes to another town and sets up a shop there. He is hard working and business is good so he hires an assistant (more jobs) and has a house built (more housing). Frank has stimulated growth in the new town.

Lesson 5: Welcoming skilled immigrants is good for the economy

Frank’s hammers are so good that people from other towns start coming over to buy his hammers. They don’t go to Bob’s town anymore, so Alice also sells fewer nails and soon they are both out of work. Everyone in town now has to travel to the next town for hammers and nails.

Lesson 6: In the long term blocking immigrants hurts everyone – even the lazy

The Economist on the stupid American skilled immigration policy

The Economist has an article about how those silly Americans are shooting themselves in the foot by preventing talented immigrants from getting in. This is something that I have personally encountered and I have to agree with The Economist – it’s pretty dumb.

America is in the enviable position of being the goal destination for thousands of the world’s most talented people. That is a position that other countries would love to be in. Indeed America’s restrictive laws and the efforts of Europe, Canada, and Australia are starting to suck talent and companies out of America.

Each year only 85,000 H1B visas for highly skilled and company sponsored immigrants are allowed. This is so far below the demand that they are all gone on the first day. Remember that these are people who would really add to the American economy:

  • Almost 25% of American Nobel prize winners are immigrants
  • Great American companies like Google and Intel had immigrants among their founders
  • 40% of America’s science and engineering PhDs go to immigrants
  • Bill Gates (and several economists) have calculated that on average each foreigner who receives an H1B visa creates jobs for 5 Americans

So why do American politicians shoot their country in the foot like this? Because those politicians are elected by a largely ignorant and isolationist public. These guys think that allowing some of the most talented and skilled workers to add to their economy is a bad idea.

Nuclear power is good – it has an unfair reputation

Humans need a lot of energy. We consume energy for light, heat, transport, food… Basically everything we do requires energy. The problem is that using energy in it’s popular forms is doing some serious damage to our environment.

Currently most of the energy we use comes from fossil fuels (oil, natural gas and coal) which we burn to create energy. Unfortunately burning those fossil fuels also pollutes the air and drives global warming. Global warming = bad.

So we need to change our habits (waste less energy) and we could change our energy sources (to those less damaging). There are renewable sources like solar and wind power which basically make use of the copious amounts of energy the sun beams down to earth every day. However, these sources are expensive, inconsistent, and chew up large amounts of space.

Nothing is ideal, but you should be rational and not emotional in your decisions.

There is another great option, also not ideal, but the best (in my opinion) currently available. Nuclear power has an unfairly bad reputation. When used properly it is an excellent energy source – and it produces no air pollution! As the Economist says:

  • Nuclear power offers the possibility of large quantities of electricity that is cleaner than coal, more secure than gas and more reliable than wind. And if cars switch from oil to electricity, the demand for power generated from carbon-free sources will increase still further. The industry’s image is thus turning from black to green.

The Economist has articles here, here, here and here describing that:

  • Nuclear power is very clean as the graph below shows.
  • Nuclear power can be safely generated. Even taking into account Chernobyl (4,000 dead) and Three Mile Island (0 dead) nuclear power is extremely safe – and getting safer.
  • Nuclear power can be generated cheaply. Initial costs are extremely high, but over time it makes economic sense. This would be especially true were the negative environmental costs of fossil fuels built into their already high cost.
  • There are pretty good ways of storing the radioactive waste generated.
  • Many previous nuclear protesters and “greens” are changing their minds and advocating nuclear power.

The Law of Evolution

I’m frequently confronted by people who say something like: “Evolution is just a theory – it’s not fact.” This just proves that the person doesn’t actually understand what a “theory” is – I have already blogged on the issue.


  • “In science the word theory means an explanation of how the world works that has stood up to repeated, rigorous testing. It’s hardly a term of disparagement.”

Wired has an article on the subject which calls for a change in phrasing:

  • For truly solid-gold, well-established science, let’s stop using the word theory entirely. Instead, let’s revive much more venerable language and refer to such knowledge as “law.”
  • It performs a neat bit of linguistic jujitsu. If someone says, “I don’t believe in the theory of evolution,” they may sound fairly reasonable. But if someone announces, “I don’t believe in the law of evolution,” they sound insane. It’s tantamount to saying, “I don’t believe in the law of gravity.”

I’ve always felt that the best thing to do is improve people’s understanding. The problem is that getting the message across is really tricky (I blogged about the problem here). This guy reckons that:

  • It’s time to realize that we’re simply never going to school enough of the public in the precise scientific meaning of particular words. We’re never going to fully communicate what’s beautiful and noble about scientific caution and rigor. Public discourse is inevitably political, so we need to talk about science in a way that wins the political battle — in no uncertain terms.

Is organic necessarily good?

The Economist has this article discussing the latest trends in ‘green’ foods like organic farming and buying local. I am regularly reminded of the article when I hear people advocating organic farming, etc.

If you look at the whole picture, organic farming is not as good as it seems.

  • Farming is bad for the environment – that is a given.
  • We need to minimize the impact of farming, but still feed the masses.
  • Organic farming is not nearly as efficient as that assisted (even responsibly) by synthetic fertilizers, genetic modification, etc
  • Therefore, unless you want people to starve, it is better to use more intensive (non-organic) farming methods
  • The alternative is to farm more land which would have disastrous impacts on the environment

For instance, the article points out that:

Global cereal production tripled between 1950 and 2000, but the amount of land used increased by only 10%. Using traditional techniques would have required a tripling of the area under cultivation.

It’s great that people are willing to make the effort to “go green”. But you have to look at the bigger picture when evaluating the impact of your actions.