Final update on charitable pledges

Thanks to a reader at this blog, Nicola’s one per cent pledge has been successful. Congratulations to Imogen!

Meanwhile today is the last day for my Niger famine appeal. So far readers have donated $250, and my matching contribution makes a total of $500. To restate, I’m asking people to donate money to help with the Niger famine (feel free to substitute an alternative cause or organisation if you think it would be more worthwhile). Just send in a comment announcing your donation, or advise me by email, by Sunday and I’ll match it, up to a total of $1000. I’m giving to Medecins sans Frontieres.

Remember this is all tax deductible. So, if you’re on the top marginal tax rate, a donation of $100 actually costs you only $50. With my matching $100, the total amount given will be $200, enough to save many lives. But, if your budget is tighter, and you don’t benefit from tax deductibility, even $10 or $20 can make a difference.

Appeal closed Generous readers, listed below, have raised a total of $720. With the matching contribution, that’s a total of $1440. In comments, Ian Gould has announced another forthcoming appeal on the same lines, in support of the LifeStraw, a low-cost water purification device.

Thanks to everyone who contributed.

wilful 50
Stephen L 100
Mark Bahnisch 150
Youie 50
Jack Strocchi & Claire Rodda 20
Harry Clarke 100
wbb 50
James Farrell 50
email 150
Total 720

In praise of speciesism (crossposted at CT)

Nicholas Gruen at Troppo Armadillo is unimpressed by Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation. Nicholas argues that the whole idea is an unnecessary and unhelpful, since we can justify concerns about animals suffering from the simple observation (the basis of Jeremy Bentham’s argument for laws against cruelty to animals) that animals suffer. He says

What does the term ‘speciesism’ add to this? If Oscar Wilde had nothing to declare but his genius, Peter Singer’s book and its central concept of speciesism had nothing to declare but its circumlocution.

I haven’t got a fully consistent position on all this, but I think that, however ugly it is as a word, speciesism is a meaningful concept, and I’m in favour of it. That is, in opposition to Singer’s views on the subject, I’m in favour of treating all human beings, from birth to brain-death as having specifically human rights, simply by virtue of the fact they are humans, and whether or not they are self-aware and capable of perceiving themselves as individuals. I’d argue for this on rule-utilitarian grounds, which I understand to be Singer’s general viewpoint, though the same conclusion could be reached in other ways.
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Charitable pledges update

Nicola’s one per cent pledge needs only one more signatory to come into effect. Here’s you chance to be decisive!

Meanwhile, my Niger famine appeal has raised $500 ($250 from generous readers, and a matching amount from me). It runs until Sunday, so there’s plenty of time to check the lounge cushions for a cache of lost gold coins or whatever.

Academic exercises

Sinclair Davidson had a piece in the Fin the other day, attacking the Australian Research Council, which pays my salary (Davidson also gets ARC Grant Money, as he notes). The argument turns, not on specific deficiencies of the ARC but on the general claim that pure research undertaken with government funding has little economic benefit. In the good old days, when confronted with this sort of claim, we research types would wheel out a few trusty examples like cactoblastis and ENIAC, but they’re getting a bit old and tired nowadays.

I remember talking about this a decade or so ago, and somebody said the universities were developing this great new communications system that would revolutionise the economy. What was it called? Interweb? WorldWideNet? Mosaica? Can anyone remember what happened to it? If someone could find any evidence that this idea had an economic impact, it might help to counter Sinclair’s argument.
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The $10 solution

As with most aspects of telecommunications policy, I’ve been singularly unimpressed by the government’s handling of digital TV policy. We seem to be lumbered with an incredibly costly design, to which we will all be forced to switch in 2008 or thereabouts. However, I’ve been contacted by Alex Encel who argues that the government could resolve many of the problems by bulk ordering set-top boxes (he estimates $10 a box), giving them away (I may be reading this into his proposal, but I think that’s what he ends) and shutting down analog broadcasts immediately. The revenue from reselling the spectrum would more than offset the cost of the boxes. I can’t see an obvious flaw in this, though I’m taking the $10 cost estimate on trust. As Alex points out, you can buy a VCR for $99 these days, and it has a whole bunch of moving parts as well as the basic electronics. Anyway, I hope there are some technically minded readers who can comment on this.
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