Friday, 8 May 2015

Not Hitler Again

According to Godwin’s Law, if an Internet discussion goes on long enough, someone will eventually mention Hitler. And, at that point, the discussion is closed, because no one has anything interesting to contribute.

Ousted University of the Witwatersrand SRC president Mcebo Dlamini apparently has attempted to go one better, by mentioning Hitler before discussion reached the Internet. Apparently this happened only after he was threatened with discipline action for other unspecified misconduct. So possibly the “H” word was mentioned so he could turn the issue into attacking the Zionist conspiracy that runs the university in the form of Vice-Chancellor Adam Habib (that is apparently now a Jewish name?).

For anyone who thinks there is something theoretical about what Hitler would have done to black people this is not true. Read this.

Also, aside from the holocaust, Hitler triggered a world war that killed nearly 50-million people (80% on sides opposing him and his fellow dictators in Italy and Japan). In addition to Jews, gays, Gypsies, the disabled and Soviet prisoners of war to name a few categories of victims were brutally put to death. Anyone who sees Hitler as some sort of role model is either deeply ignorant or mentally ill.

Hitler’s “ability to organise a nation and get the people to rally behind him” that Dlamini admires was also greatly admired by the apartheid regime. Next thing he will eulogize the apartheid regime for its positive qualities. More reading here.

None of this of course justifies misbehaviour by anyone else. But let us argue on the basis of the facts, and not reinvent history to suit the argument. We can argue separately whether Zionism has a case to answer, and whether South African society – more specifically, education as a sector – has adequately transformed.

But what this is not is an instance of racist power being wielded on a defenseless victim.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

The Sad Panda

Spot the difference.

Sad PandaTlouamma

Only Agang aficionados will get it.

If you do, sign the no confidence and recall petition.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Banking Liberation Movement

Back in the 1970s, when a high-end supercomputer had about the performance of today’s entry-level cell phones and networks were expensive proprietary technology, ATM transactions were … wait for it … free.

And you earned interest on a cheque account.

Banks made almost all their money on the difference between the deposit and lending interest rates.

Core computer technology, based on Moore’s Law, is about on billionth of the cost it was 45 years ago (price per transistor roughly halves every 1.5 years).

Never in all the fields of human endeavour has such a massive improvement in efficiency been so extraordinarily wasted.

So what made everything so expensive? Not having higher paid more skilled staff in the branches – that has also gone backwards. The mind only boggles at how banks have destroyed such a massive opportunity. With careful design the cost per transaction could be almost zero, and saved costs shifted to quality customer relations.

If companies like Google and Facebook can offer free services on a massive scale, only making money on a tiny fraction of total transactions, how hard can it be?

Banks have fallen into the trap many enterprises fall into of trying to maintain outdated systems on the basis that it is too expensive to re-engineer them from scratch, with the result that their software accretes more and more layers of cruft and becomes harder and harder to maintain.

If banks cut their services back to what they had on offer in 1975, carefully coded to maximum efficiency and small total software size so it was manageable, then put a web front end around what you could do back in 1975, you would have most of what you can do today and it would cost a tiny fraction of what they spend today on software. The biggest cost would be ensuring you had the best possibly security (and some banks don’t even have that…).

So why don’t they do that?

Each major bank has accumulated an army of software developers dedicated to maintaining the complexity of the existing systems to maintain the need for an army of software developers. And if they all do it, they can pass the costs on to the customer.

Nice work if you can get it.

So what can we do?

How about this for a radical idea? Free banking software. The free software movement has delivered some of the best operating systems in use today, web browsers, sophisticated database engines and the most robust network stacks available today. Why not the back-end of a banking system?

It could be done in 1975 with one-billionth of the computing power available today. How hard can it be?

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Queensland Greens and Open Tickets

Queensland election update – less than a week before polling day.

Just Vote All?
Let’s examine the reasons for Campbell Newman’s Just Vote 1 strategy. Queensland state elections have optional preferential voting: you can number 1 or more candidates.

When it has suited the major parties, usually the one in the lead, they have adopted a Just Vote 1 strategy.

This makes it possible to win on a minority of the popular vote, and takes smaller parties out of the equation.

The ostensible reason for this strategy is it prevents a hung parliament. The UK has a first past the post system (essentially the same as Just Vote 1) and their last election delivered a hung parliament and the latest polls show that as the most likely outcome next time. So that is not a really plausible reason and in any case, up to Peter Beattie’s time, Just Vote 1 was the Labor strategy. Back then, the Libs and Nats were at each others’ throats. Times change and so, apparently, do principles when they no longer suit you.

Why does it suit the LNP now? After all, conservative minor parties and independents add up to a bit more than the Greens – depending which polls you believe. It’s a matter of marginals. The LNP will have done polling that shows they gain more from stifling preference flows from Greens to ALP than they lose from stifling preference flows to them from minor parties and independents on the right. I can’t find stats for past Queensland elections, but most other minor parties in the 2013 federal election had a roughly even split of preference flows to Labor – even if they were nominally on the right (possibly an indication of where Labor is positioned?).

So overall, Labor, who derive significant benefit from Greens preferences, loses out more than the LNP from Just Vote 1.

Labor is in a poor position to complain: optional preferential voting was introduced by the Goss Labor government and it worked for them when they could exploit the divide between the Liberals and Nationals.

Open Tickets: So What?
Meanwhile Labor is attacking Greens for issuing “open tickets”, i.e., How to Vote cards that tell the voter to make up their own minds. This is nothing new, and if we look at past elections, the effect has been pretty much that the ALP gets 80% of Greens preferences once they drop out irrespective of what is on the HTV.

Even in the 2012 election where ALP most certainly did not advocate Just Vote 1, nearly 70% of Labor voters (vs. nearly 80% of LNP voters) only marked 1 on their ballot. In doing so, they created the risk that if the Greens candidate came second, there would be insufficient ALP preferences to beat the LNP candidate.

50% of Greens voters also went for Just Vote 1 despite the fact that the Greens have never advocated this position. 80% of Greens preferences go to Labor.

What Labor should really do is to think about what it takes to be attractive to Greens voters, and focus on countering Just Vote 1.

They will win a lot more votes that way than going negative. Do the math: 50% of 80% is 40% of the total Greens vote (3-4% of the total vote) that is up for grabs as ALP #2 if they attack the Just Vote 1 strategy. For LNP, the extra votes they win if every Greens voter fills in every box is a quarter of Labor’s gain so no wonder they do not want everyone to fill in the entire ballot (stats from Anthony Green’s blog).

There is therefore absolutely no basis for the ALP complaint that Greens “open tickets” risk handing the election to LNP. The stats actually indicate that Labor voters are far more likely to behave in a way that is perverse to their interests.

The 20% of Greens voters who put LNP ahead of Labor are probably converts from LNP on enviro or other issues where Greens are ahead of Labor and aren’t going to put ALP ahead of LNP no matter what. What would Labor prefer? That these people stay with the LNP?

Labor meanwhile is issuing a call to “put LNP last” which implies filling in all the squares, and is getting huffy about anyone who suggests variants. No doubt they are worrying about confusing the message. If they had not invested so much in confusing voters before (like Peter Beattie’s Just Vote 1 campaign) they would have an easier time now. Their attempts at portraying the Greens as spoilers are not matched by the historical stats.