Our Heritage

Fort Macquarie on the banks of Sydney Harbour was built in May 1798, just ten years after the First Fleet arrived. An important part of our heritage it was demolished just after it’s 100th birthday to make way for a tram depot.

Fort Macquarie

The Fort Macquarie Tram Depot was built in 1901. In spite of being an important part of the heritage of Sydney it was torn down in 1958 to make way for a theatrical venue.

Fort Macquarie Tram Depot

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Interpreting and translating

Whilst our system of government is a conservative enterprise, limited as it is by the rule of law and by a mostly static constitution, it is none the less an open system. There is a clear process by which the constitution, in light of new understanding or changed values, can be altered. It does not happen often but it does happen. This is the case with most modern democratic systems. Even the constitution of an oppressive nation like Iran has encoded within it the means for constitutional amendment. Although in the case of the Iranian constitution certain fundamentals, such as the state religion, can not be altered.

Much of religion has often struck me as a somewhat closed system of thought.  Judaism, Christianity and Islam and are each centered on a set of scriptures (the Torah, the Gospel and the Koran) that is closed to amendment and revision. They are not intended to be amended or updated. Although clearly the Gospel and the Koran are presented as extensions of the Torah.  Not being terribly religious I wouldn’t much care about any of this except for the fact that a large quantity of people on this planet are religious, some of them deeply so. It concerns me that people should wed themselves to a system of thought that is closed. In some regards it actually offends me. We should be open to new ideas and if the new ideas are superior we should abandon old ideas.

Over the last decade, whilst remaining an atheist, I have acquired a more nuanced understanding of the Christian faith. One thing that has become apparent is that whilst the written Bible is a closed text, the Christian faith relies on more than this written doctrine. It has a substantial oral tradition that evolves and supplements the closed text. The text of the Bible has an openness called “open to interpretation”. In fact a great amount of effort is expended trying to sell one form of interpretation over another. For instance whilst the Bible says that woman should not speak in Church (1 Corinthians 14:33,34) alternate interpretations based on the context of this passage allow contemporary churches to rationalize their way around the decree. Stories that if taken literally would represent quite a dire conflict with contemporary values are taken as allegoric or limited to a specific context and any such crisis is averted. To me it seems a strange system but who can question the enduring nature of something that has stood for over 2000 years. In one sense it creates a necessary illusion of consensus amongst people who in fact have quite a lot of disagreement. Continue reading

BitCoin – a monetary revolution

E-gold was an exciting development in the world of money. E-Gold is a kind of private currency, although to be strictly correct it is an electronic account keeping and payment system that monetises gold. E-Gold provides an electronic means of making payment in units of value called gold grams. Every electronic gold gram is backed by a real gram of gold. If you had enough electronic gold you could trade it in for real gold. I thought the system was brilliant. At it’s peak the annual value of transactions in E-Gold was worth the equivalent of billions of US dollars even though most transactions were very small. And this volume was growing at about 50% per annum. However a few years ago the velocity of the E-Gold currency plummeted to zero following US government action against the operator of the system. I regard the treatment dished out by the government as malicious but that’s another story. The point is that what looked for a short while to be a revolutionary new form of private currency, divorced from direct government control, and on a rapid growth trajectory, was quickly cut down by a hostile government. There are alternative digital gold currencies that still operate such as GoldMoney, but they don’t seem to have the same momentum as a payment system that E-Gold once offered.

Governments will always be able to shut down any serious alternate money schemes. Or at least that’s what I thought until I recently discovered BitCoin.

BitCoin is a cryptocurrency. It entails using encryption techniques to trade and verify electronic tokens between computer users. It is essentially anonyomous like cash. I had looked at such systems in the past but all seemed to rely on the need for a central clearing house during any exchange of the tokens to avoid fraud such as double spending of the same electronic token. And any private currency based on a central clearing house is vulnerable to shutdown by hostile government authorities. BitCoin has a clearing house but BitCoin get’s around the clearing house problem in a really neat way. The clearing house is a distributed peer to peer system. There is a clearing house but it does not live anywhere and is not controlled by anybody. It is a community based system tied into a set of open source algorithms that can’t be changed unless the majority of the community agrees to change them by replacing their individual implementation. And the larger the community the harder it becomes to change the core algorithm. A hostile government authority can’t kill the system by going after a person, a company or a particular datacentre. In a way the BitCoin clearing house is like the BitTorant network that people use for sharing pirated movies and music. Even if they make it illegal nobody can police it. In essence BitTorant looks on the face of it like a private online currency that is unstoppable. The future of online commerce will be a BitCoin cash economy.

There is a lot more to say about BitCoin. About how the unique BitCoin creation process will soon lead to BitCoin deflation (BitCoins are currently exchanging at about US$0.90). However none of this really matters because the technique is now available to create BitCoin competitors if it turns out that there are economic limitations that impact the practicallity of the original. The code is open source. Anybody with the right programing skills can create BitCoin2, expound it’s superior benefits, create an anonymous peer to peer community based clearing house and compete with the original.

One other cool thing about BitCoin. Nobody knows the real name of the BitCoin inventor. It is just “out there”.


Is the US constitution dead?

Both presidential candidates George W Bush and Barack Obama said that the USA should not be the worlds policeman or engage in foreign nation building. In doing so they paid lip service to the US constitution. Here another potential presidential candidate, Rand Paul, says the words that must be popular (why else would they keep saying it). However I doubt he will use his senate position to argue that the current president be impeached. That would hurt his popularity. It is however the only way for congress to assert that it has ultimate authority in such matters.

My view on the Libyan no fly zone is layered. In the first instance it is nothing to do with Australia so we should in essence ignore it. From a US constitutional perspective it seems clear that the UN is seen by many as having more moral and practical authority than congress. From a military perspective it seems mad to enforce a stalemate and if your going to make yourself an enemy of the Libyan government you should make the destruction of the Libyan government a core military objective. I don’t see any shining lights in this fiasco.