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The US Congressional moves to stop data collection

May 21st, 2015 Comments off
  • Rand Paul launches bid to block NSA surveillance programme – “We do need surveillance — what we do not need is indiscriminate surveillance,” Mr Paul said. “The collection of records that is going on is beyond your imagination.”
  • An NPR Reporter Raced A Machine To Write A News Story. Who Won?
  • Fighting for History – Paul Krugman writes: … in a postmortem on the UK election Simon Wren-Lewis notes one failure of Labour in particular: it made no effort at all to fight the false narrative of Blair-Brown profligacy. Wren-Lewis writes, I suspect within the Labour hierarchy the view was to look forward rather than go over the past, but you cannot abandon the writing of history to your opponents. … But I’m with Wren-Lewis here: progressives are much too willing to cede history to the other side. Legends about the past matter. Really bad economics flourishes in part because Republicans constantly extol the Reagan record, while Democrats rarely mention how shabby that record was compared with the growth in jobs and incomes under Clinton. The combination of lies, incompetence, and corruption that made the Iraq venture the moral and policy disaster it was should not be allowed to slip into the mists.
  • Restoring the Public’s Trust in Economists
  • “Consistent With” – In discussing Paul Romer’s wonderful concept of mathiness, Peter Dorman criticizes economists’ habit of declaring a theory successful merely because it is “consistent with” the evidence. His point deserves emphasis. If a man has no money, this is “consistent with” the theory that he has given it away. But if in fact he has been robbed, that theory is grievously wrong. Mere consistency with the facts is not sufficient. This is a point which some defenders of inequality miss. Of course, you can devise theories which are “consistent with” inequality arising from reasonable differences in choices and marginal products. Such theories, though, beg the question: is that how inequality really emerged? And the answer, to put it mildly, is: only partially. It also arose from luck, inefficient selection, rigged markets, rent-seeking and outright theft.
  • You Just Lived Through The Earth’s Hottest January-April Since We Started Keeping Records – With April, we have once again broken the record for the hottest 12 months on record: May 2014 – April 2015. The previous record was April 2014 – March 2015, set last month. The record before that was March 2014 – February 2015. And the equally short-lived record before that was February 2014 – January 2015.
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Attempts to debunk political rumors may only reinforce their strength

May 17th, 2015 Comments off
  • Why No One Wants The Rohingyas  – The spectacle of thousands of desperate Rohingya Muslim “boat people” being denied landfall in Southeast Asia has laid bare the region’s religious and ethnic prejudices as well as its fears of being swamped by an influx of migrants. … The Rohingya practice a blend of Sunni and Sufi Islam. At best, the migrants have been received with resignation — at worst with contempt — even by the region’s Muslim nations.
  • Rumors, Truths, and Reality: A Study of Political Misinformation – Bad news, fans of rational political discourse: A study by an MIT researcher shows that attempts to debunk political rumors may only reinforce their strength. “Rumors are sticky,” says Adam Berinsky, a professor of political science at MIT, and author of a paper detailing the study. “Corrections are difficult, and in some cases can even make the problem worse.” More specifically, Berinsky found in an experiment concerning the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that rebuttals of political rumors about the supposed existence of “death panels” sometimes increased belief in the myth among the public.
  • Robert Fisk: Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It amazes me that all these warriors of the air don’t regularly crash into each other. … The sectarian and theological nature of this war seems perfectly clear to all who live in the Middle East – albeit not to our American chums. The Sunni Saudis are bombing the Shia Yemenis and the Shia Iranians are bombing the Sunni Iraqis. The Sunni Egyptians are bombing Sunni Libyans, it’s true, and the Jordanian Sunnis are bombing Iraqi Sunnis. But the Shia-supported Syrian government forces are bombing their Sunni Syrian enemies and the Lebanese Hezbollah – Shia to a man – are fighting the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s Sunni enemies, along with Iranian Revolutionary Guards and an ever-larger number of Afghan Shia men in Syrian uniforms.
  • Beyond Quid Pro Quo: What Counts As Political Corruption?
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Nina Simone sings Randy Newman’s Baltimore

May 2nd, 2015 Comments off

nina simone baltimore

  • Baltimore – For this week’s Plus One Podcast we take a closer look at a song that seems to be on a lot of people’s minds this week: Nina Simone’s cover of Randy Newman’s “Baltimore.”
  • Black Culture Is Not the Problem – It is policy and politics, the very things that bind together the history of Ferguson and Baltimore and, for that matter, the rest of America. Specifically, the problem rests on the continued profitability of racism. Freddie Gray’s exposure to lead paint as a child, his suspected participation in the drug trade, and the relative confinement of black unrest to black communities during this week’s riot are all features of a city and a country that still segregate people along racial lines, to the financial enrichment of landlords, corner store merchants and other vendors selling second-rate goods. The problem originates in a political culture that has long bound black bodies to questions of property. Yes, I’m referring to slavery.jo brand labour ad
  • Jo Brand stars in new Labour Party Election Broadcast – Comedian Jo Brand stars in the Labour Party’s latest election broadcast which puts the spotlight on the Conservative Party’s record on the NHS. This is exactly what a party election broadcast should be.1. It’s single-minded.2. The language used by the talent feels vaguely authentic.3. The delivery isn’t forced.
  • An Unending Refugee Tragedy: Europe’s Path to Deadly Partition – Germany and its European Union partners want to prevent further refugee dramas in the Mediterranean Sea. But a look back at the policies adopted after the 2013 tragedy in Lampedusa shows they have made a terrible situation even deadlier.
  • Pope Francis Calls Gender Pay Gap A ‘Pure Scandal’
  • The Trans-Pacific Partnership is great for elites. Is it good for anyone else?
  • The joke was that Obama wasn’t joking
  • Norway’s sovereign oil fund earns more than government spends – The Government Pension Fund Global, which invests Norway’s oil wealth, made more money in the first three months of the year than the government spent in the same period — and then some.
  • A Better Way to Rein In Lobbying – It’s easy to get depressed about the state of American democracy. But we don’t need to be. The solutions are not overly complicated: Give government the resources it needs to think for itself and to develop policy without having to depend almost entirely on outside lobbyists. Make sure all sides have the resources to make their best case. The politics of checks and balances can do the rest.
  • Gay Marriage: Unthinkable or Inevitable? – Twenty-five years ago, same-sex marriage was for all practical purposes unthinkable. Today, it seems close to inevitable. This remarkable shift highlights the particular difficulty of the marriage equality case that came before the Supreme Court on Tuesday—but also points to the right result. On the one hand, the petitioners are asking the Court to recognize a constitutional right to something that until recently few Americans even deemed conceivable, and the Court is not the usual forum for radical change. On the other hand, once the question began to be asked, it turned out states had no good reason to deny recognition to gay and lesbian couples who seek to marry, as has become ever more clear over the past two decades. At this point, the Court has only two choices: to vindicate the demands of equality and liberty, or to validate discrimination. There is no third way.
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Will Pope Francis make climate change an issue for Tony Abbott

April 28th, 2015 Comments off
  • Pope Francis Steps Up Campaign on Climate Change, to Conservatives’ Alarm  – Since his first homily in 2013, Pope Francis has preached about the need to protect the earth and all of creation as part of a broad message on the environment. It has caused little controversy so far. But now, as Francis prepares to deliver what is likely to be a highly influential encyclical this summer on environmental degradation and the effects of human-caused climate change on the poor, he is alarming some conservatives in the United States who are loath to see the Catholic Church reposition itself as a mighty voice in a cause they do not believe in.

 

  • Obama Finally Gets Angry At Climate Science Deniers And It’s Hilarious b- President Barack Obama just gave pitch-perfect delivery to one of the most brilliant pieces of writing on climate change you are ever going to see. At the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner Saturday night in DC, Obama used devastating humor to express rare passion and anger over climate science denial.
  • U.S., Japan unveil new defense guidelines for global Japanese role
  • Waiting for the fallout: Australia and return of the patrimonial society – So, Australians have no room for complacency. In an economy dominated by capital, and in the absence of estate taxation—briefly discussed, and quickly dismissed, in the recent Treasury tax discussion paper (Treasury 2015)—there is little to stop the current drift towards a more unequal society from continuing and even accelerating. On the other hand, Australia’s relative success in using the tax and welfare systems to spread the benefits of economic growth provides grounds for optimism. Australia’s experience belies the claim that any attempt to offset the growth of inequality must cripple economic growth.
  • Gay Liberal senator Dean Smith slams Tanya Plibersek over gay marriage move – Deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek has “wrecked” progress within the Liberal Party towards a conscience vote on same-sex marriage, the Liberal Party’s first openly gay federal parliamentarian says.
  • How Thatcher and Murdoch made their secret deal – In 1981, Mrs Thatcher needed a boost from the press. By supporting Rupert Murdoch’s bid for the Times and Sunday Times, she made sure she got it. Harold Evans, who led an unsuccessful staff takeover bid, recalls a historic carve-up.
  • Elections are now about digital loathing, not what the newspapers say – Wade through the digital comment at the bottom of so many election pieces and you stumble into web swamps heaving with hate. … Apparently today’s version of democratic freedom means avoiding reading something you don’t agree with.
  • “Smaller and simpler” mantra rings through banking boardrooms – Deutsche Bank’s plan to jettison much of its German retail bank and withdraw from one in ten countries sees it join a growing list of banks choosing to shrink and simplify to survive. The benefits of size and reach, for years considered the holy grail of global banking, are now viewed as being outweighed by the cost and complexity of running businesses across dozens of countries. Many bank bosses have given up on trying to offer everything to everyone. But as unwinding years of expansion proves difficult, pressure for action has intensified, from politicians who show little patience with institutions they consider too big and complex and investors wanting more return on equity
  • Could a Carbon Tax Finance Corporate Rate Cuts? – How about using revenue from a carbon tax to help pay for corporate tax rate cuts? That’s the idea proposed yesterday by Rep. John Delaney (D-MD). His political calculation: Democrats would back the bill as a way to reduce carbon emissions and slow climate change. Republicans would support the plan to cut corporate tax rates while retaining at least some popular business tax subsidies. Delaney would use revenues from a $30-per-ton carbon tax to cut the corporate rate from 35 percent to 28 percent. Some of the cash would also provide a tax credit to reduce the burden of the energy tax on low- and moderate-income households. Still other dollars would help coal industry workers who would likely lose jobs as a result of such a tax.

The world-wide growth in house prices

April 27th, 2015 Comments off
  • Since 1900 house prices in advanced economies have increased threefole. The overwhelming hare of this increase occurred  in the second half of the 20th century.

    Since 1900 house prices in advanced economies have increased threefole. The overwhelming hare of this increase occurred in the second half of the 20th century.

    house prices australia

    No price like home: Global house prices 1870-2012 – How have house prices evolved over the long‐run? This paper presents annual house prices for 14 advanced economies since 1870. Based on extensive data collection, we show that real house prices stayed constant from the 19th to the mid‐20th century, but rose strongly during the second half of the 20th century. Land prices, not replacement costs, are the key to understanding the trajectory of house prices. Rising land prices explain about 80 percent of the global house price boom that has taken place since World War II. Higher land values have pushed up wealth‐to‐income ratios in recent decades.

  • Nobody Said That – Imagine yourself as a regular commentator on public affairs — maybe a paid pundit, maybe an supposed expert in some area, maybe just an opinionated billionaire. You weigh in on a major policy initiative that’s about to happen, making strong predictions of disaster. … But nothing you predicted actually comes to pass. What do you do? You might admit that you were wrong, and try to figure out why. But almost nobody does that; we live in an age of unacknowledged error. … Refusing to accept responsibility for past errors is a serious character flaw in one’s private life. It rises to the level of real wrongdoing when policies that affect millions of lives are at stake.
  • 8 Obama Jokes That Stood Out From The White House Correspondents Dinner

poetry

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  • Poetry is going extinct, government data show
  • Why So Many Americans Feel So Powerless
  • Can we predict happiness? – What makes us happy? Well-being researchers have identified many variables related to happiness, but we still don’t know exactly how the events of our daily lives combine to influence how we feel from moment to moment. People should get happier when good things happen, but clearly this is not the whole story. We designed a study to investigate the relationship between rewards and happiness. We brought people into the lab and asked them repeatedly about their happiness as they chose between safe and risky monetary options. Risky choices were gambles with equal probabilities (like a coin toss) of a better or worse outcome. If they chose to gamble on a given trial, they then found out whether they won or lost. Based on the data, we developed a mathematical equation to predict how self-reported happiness depends on past events. We found that happiness depends not on how well things are going, but whether things are going better or worse than expected.

    Happiness depends on safe choices (certain rewards, CR), expectations associated with risky choices (expected value, EV), and whether the outcomes of risky choices were better or worse than expected. This final variable is called a reward prediction error (RPE), the difference between the experienced outcome and the expectation. The neurotransmitter dopamine is thought to represent these signals which might explain how people learn about rewards (if you get more than you expected, next time you should expect more).

    Happiness depends on safe choices (certain rewards, CR), expectations associated with risky choices (expected value, EV), and whether the outcomes of risky choices were better or worse than expected. This final variable is called a reward prediction error (RPE), the difference between the experienced outcome and the expectation. The neurotransmitter dopamine is thought to represent these signals which might explain how people learn about rewards (if you get more than you expected, next time you should expect more).

PJ O’Rourke tries to make sense of the UK election

April 26th, 2015 Comments off

o'rourke

  • “PJ O’Rourke on the UK Campaign Trail” – In this year’s British general election the traditional two party system looks set to be blown apart with up to seven parties having a say in the result. It could be most interesting campaign in decades but it could also be the weirdest. PJ O’Rourke travels across Britain trying to work out why party politics in the UK is being shaken up. From the Tory heartlands of the South that do not seem that keen on the Tories any more to Labour’s battle for Scotland, PJ meets politicians, pundits and the voters, to find out what it takes to get elected to the mother of Parliaments in 2015.
  • Republicans want a bumper sticker world – The case for Mr Obama is that in seeking to deploy economic and diplomatic power, and to leverage US influence through multinational coalitions, he has recognised the complexities of this new landscape. The case against is that he has sometimes gone too far in drawing the limits of US power. What has been missing is an overarching framework — a set of principles clear and practical enough to deter adversaries and to reassure allies. A grand strategy, in other words, that balances ambition and realism. Republicans used to have a reputation for such thinking. Now they prefer bumper stickers.
  • Humans aren’t the only ones to genetically modify crops. Nature does, too. – Now, as a new study shows, horizontal gene transfer in nature has likely modified some of the very crops we eat without any human input at all. Nearly 300 samples of human-grown sweet potatoes, as well as some wild ones, contain bits of DNA originally found in some of the very bacteria that inspired genetic modification, researchers reported this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Their findings suggest we might rethink how “unnatural” GMOs really are.
  • Oklahomans Feel Way More Earthquakes Than Californians; Now They Know Why – A magnitude-3.0 earthquake is small, but most people can feel it. Historically, Oklahoma got less than two of those a year, but in 2013 it became two a week. It’s only gotten more active since then — last year, the state had three times as many earthquakes as in the entire seismically active state of California. This morning, the U.S. Geological Survey will issue its first comprehensive assessment of the hazard posed by earthquakes linked to oil and gas drilling. In the preliminary report, the survey details oil and gas-related quakes in eight states. The earthquake surge is strongest in Oklahoma, where the state government has formally acknowledged the link for the first time earlier this week.
  • The Fight Over Canada’s Patriot Act – Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government has introduced an ambitious and unpopular intelligence reform agenda. Can anyone stop it?
  • The United States Does Not Know Who It’s Killing – A remorseful acknowledgment of the drone deaths of American civilians is not an acceptable answer for a counterterrorism policy out of control.
  • Europe’s asylum seekers and the global refugee challenge – The human tragedy of thousands of asylum seekers floundering—and dying—in the Mediterranean highlights an unprecedented global challenge for the 21st century. … We should by all means tackle this human tragedy and end the horrors being witnessed in the Mediterranean. But we should also recognize that the global problem is getting worse as the wars in the Middle East and elsewhere continue, and people are displaced, killed, and maimed every day. Closing doors and building fences work in very limited ways. Refugees can have an impact on whole societies and regions decades after the tragedies that led to their displacement. Just as we are doing with climate change and global epidemics, it’s time for a global response to the refugee crisis—before it further destabilizes an already fragile global order.
  • Eight officers stormed into my bedroom shouting Met Police’: Reporter’s three-year ordeal ‘for writing story about a fox’

Thoughts on the UK election and links to other interesting news and views

April 25th, 2015 Comments off
  • UK election: Who will run Britain? – The polls have been static for weeks, with the Conservative and Labour parties stuck on roughly 34 per cent each. So the real drama is likely to take place after 10pm on polling day, as David Cameron, the Tory prime minister, and Ed Miliband, his Labour rival, try to claw their way to power. The bookmakers name Mr Cameron favourite to win most seats in the House of Commons, but expect him to fall short of an outright majority. They reckon Mr Miliband is most likely to be Britain’s next prime minister.
  • Politics and the Australian language – Sexism, plain talking (when it suits them) and obfuscating euphemism: politicians down under abuse language, too
  • Republicans want a bumper sticker world – The case for Mr Obama is that in seeking to deploy economic and diplomatic power, and to leverage US influence through multinational coalitions, he has recognised the complexities of this new landscape. The case against is that he has sometimes gone too far in drawing the limits of US power. What has been missing is an overarching framework — a set of principles clear and practical enough to deter adversaries and to reassure allies. A grand strategy, in other words, that balances ambition and realism. Republicans used to have a reputation for such thinking. Now they prefer bumper stickers.
  • Oklahomans Feel Way More Earthquakes Than Californians; Now They Know Why – A magnitude-3.0 earthquake is small, but most people can feel it. Historically, Oklahoma got less than two of those a year, but in 2013 it became two a week. It’s only gotten more active since then — last year, the state had three times as many earthquakes as in the entire seismically active state of California. This morning, the U.S. Geological Survey will issue its first comprehensive assessment of the hazard posed by earthquakes linked to oil and gas drilling. In the preliminary report, the survey details oil and gas-related quakes in eight states. The earthquake surge is strongest in Oklahoma, where the state government has formally acknowledged the link for the first time earlier this week.
  • Clinton Rules – So there’s a lot of buzz about alleged scandals involving the Clinton Foundation. Maybe there’s something to it. But you have to wonder: is this just the return of “Clinton rules”?

March 2015 Easily Set The Record For Hottest March Ever Recorded

April 21st, 2015 Comments off

noaa temperature map for march

  • New Report: March 2015 Easily Set The Record For Hottest March Ever Recorded – This was easily the hottest March — and hottest January-to-March — on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA’s latest monthly report … :

    March 2015 was not only the hottest March in their 135-year of keeping records, it beat “the previous record of 2010 by 0.09°F (0.05°C).”

    January-to-March was not only the hottest start to any year on record, it also beat “the previous record of 2002 by 0.09°F.”

    March was so warm that only two other months ever had a higher “departure from average” (i.e. temperature above the norm), February 1998 and January 2007, and they only beat March by “just 0.01°C (0.02°F).”

    Arctic sea ice hit its smallest March extent since records began in 1979.

    Last week, NASA also reported this was the hottest three-month start of any year on record. In NASA’s database, though, this was the third warmest March on record. It was the warmest in the dataset of the Japan Meteorological Agency. These three agencies use slightly different methods for tracking global temperature, so their monthly and yearly rankings differ slightly, even as they all show the same long-term trend driven by carbon pollution.

  • Up to 1m migrants waiting to enter Europe, warns Italian prosecutor
  • Conservative Election Manifesto by Robert Skidelsky – The Conservatives have continued to spin their familiar yarn of having rescued Britain from ‘Labour’s Great Recession’. This, as they must know, is the mother of all lies. The Great Recession was caused by the banks. Governments, the Labour government included, by bailing out the banks and continuing to spend, stopped the Great Recession from turning into a Great Depression. Yet practically everyone seems to believe that the Great Recession was manufactured by Gordon Brown.albrechtsen2
  • Fun times over for power-hungry ICAC – ICAC has unwittingly delivered a model case study of the perverted influence of power within a body charged with hunting down systemic corruption. After being told by Australia’s highest court that you have acted outside your jurisdiction, the normal response is to immediately acknowledge your error, accept it and learn from it. In ICAC’s case, that means returning to its legislative role of investigating serious and systemic public corruption. Instead, this star chamber seems to think it’s part of some kind of tin-pot dictatorship where it can expect government cronies to bolster its power. In its statement, ICAC demanded the NSW government retrospectively amend the ICAC Act to reflect the way ICAC has always operated. Even a first-year law student knows the most basic principle of the rule of law is that laws should be prospective, not retrospective.
  • France’s ‘Pathetic Reality Family Show – Marine Le Pen is betting that this is the far-right National Front’s moment to triumph. But will a feud among the founding family tear the party apart?

Assaults on Jews rose in 2014

April 20th, 2015 Comments off

cartoons

  • Tel Aviv University says violent anti-Semitic attacks spiked in 2014 – An annual report from Tel Aviv University researchers reveals that anti-Semitic incidents rose dramatically worldwide in 2014, with violent attacks on Jews ranging from armed assaults to vandalism against synagogues, schools, and cemeteries.
  • The Terror Strategist: Secret Files Reveal the Structure of Islamic State – An Iraqi officer planned Islamic State’s takeover in Syria and SPIEGEL has been given exclusive access to his papers. They portray an organization that, while seemingly driven by religious fanaticism, is actually coldly calculating.
  • Greece Flashes Warning Signals About Its Debt – That Athens might still be exploring ways to restructure its debt underscores how close the country is to defaulting.
  • Greece short-term bond yields hit another high
  • KFC’s new ad sees the peddler of peppered poultry sink to new lows – Few would have thought it possible for KFC to come up with something even more monstrously unspeakable than popcorn chicken, but it’s managed it. The chain is now using orphans to flog its food.
  • The marriage calculus – Women with money and education tend to get and stay married in America. Why don’t working-class women do the same?
  • Why Kill Charlie? – [Slain editor, Stéphane Charbonnier – “Charb”] Charb’s choice of symbolism and rhetoric marked him out as a distinctly old-fashioned leftist – of the kind which has no hang-ups about hurting other people’s feelings and whose instinctive reaction to fascism is to oppose it without equivocation. It also shows that he too had a sense of being embroiled in a “grande bataille” – one that transcended the everyday mediocrity which he scorned in his weekly column entitled “Charb n’aime pas les gens” (Charb doesn’t like people). For Charb the freedom to ridicule was a higher value, beyond normal practical considerations. It was a quasi-religious cause for which he was overtly prepared to sacrifice himself – a show of defiance that is at once inspiring and unnerving. Did he overdo it? Of course he overdid it. Did they have to publish the caricatures? Of course they did not have to publish them. They chose to do so. That is the whole point. Freedom of speech only becomes an issue when others decide to shut you up.
  • Abe breaking arms taboo with Japan’s first defense trade show – Japan will host its first international defense trade show next month, underscoring Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s bid to loosen the shackles of its postwar pacifist Constitution amid territorial tensions with an increasingly assertive China. … The lifting of the ban on arms exports allows Japan to take part in joint development projects, as well as potentially exporting finished products to bring down unit costs for its military. While talks are underway about a sale of its Soryu submarines to Australia, doubts remain as to the level of success Japan will have in boosting overseas shipments.
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Global military spending decline, a note on Crowding In and the Paradox of Thrift and other interesting bits and pieces

April 20th, 2015 Comments off

military spending

  • Snapshots of Global Military Spending – Since the Great Recession hit, global military spending has dropped a bit (as measured in inflation-adjusted dollars).
  • Crowding In and the Paradox of Thrift – From Paul Krugman’s blog: … these days you can pretty much count on the semiannual World Economic Outlook to offer some dramatic new insight into how the world works. And the latest edition is no exception. The big intellectual news here is Chapter 4, on business investment. As the report notes, weak business investment has been a major reason for global economic weakness. But why is business investment weak? … it manages in passing both to refute a very widely held but false belief about deficits and to confirm a highly controversial Keynesian proposition. The false belief is that government deficits necessarily “crowd out” investment, so that reducing deficits should free up funds that lead to higher investment. Not so, says the IMF: when governments introduce deficit-reduction measures, investment falls instead of rising. This says that the deficits were crowding investment in, not out. And there’s another way to look at it: when governments introduce austerity measures, they are trying to reduce their net borrowing – in effect, they are raising their savings rate. What the IMF tells us is that such attempts to increase saving actually lead to lower, not higher, investment – and since saving equals investment, actual savings fall. So what we have here is an empirical confirmation of the existence of the paradox of thrift! Remarkable stuff.

bouvier's monkey

  • Critically Endangered Monkey Photographed In Congo’s Newest National Park, Ntokou-Pikounda – Two primatologists working in the forests of the Republic of Congo have returned from the field with a noteworthy prize: the first-ever photograph of the Bouvier’s red colobus monkey, a rare primate not seen for more than half a century and suspected to be extinct by some, according to WCS (the Wildlife Conservation Society).
  • Deal Reached on Fast-Track Authority for Obama on Trade Accord – Key congressional leaders agreed on Thursday on legislation to give President Obama special authority to finish negotiating one of the world’s largest trade accords, opening a rare battle that aligns the president with Republicans against a broad coalition of Democrats. In what is sure to be one of the toughest fights of Mr. Obama’s last 19 months in office, the “fast track” bill allowing the White House to pursue its planned Pacific trade deal also heralds a divisive fight within the Democratic Party, one that could spill into the 2016 presidential campaign.
  • Marco Rubio: the 2016 presidential campaign’s $40 million man – “Marco Rubio will have the resources necessary to run a first-class campaign, that’s already been determined,” said billionaire Florida auto dealer Norman Braman, a former Jeb Bush supporter who is now one of Rubio’s highest-silhouette donors.
  • Gazing Into Those Puppy-Dog Eyes May Actually Be Good For You – Gazing into your dog’s eyes apparently triggers happy feelings in both parties – suggesting that dogs really may love us back. … If you’re a dog owner, this question may have crossed your mind. Does she really love me, or is she just looking at me that way to get a treat? New research out this week in the journal Science may provide some clues.
  • What in the world does China own?
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A renewable energy nightmare

April 17th, 2015 Comments off
  • American Companies Are Shipping Millions Of Trees To Europe, And It’s A Renewable Energy Nightmare – With climate change already contributing to the frequency and intensity of forest fires and associated loss of forest, the addition of a profitable, extensive, and poorly overseen biomass industry could push the forests further into disrepair.
  • Renewable energy – Not a toy – Plummeting prices are boosting renewables, even as subsidies fall
  • Abbott government’s energy white paper fails to face reality – By failing to take global warming seriously, the white paper discourages solar power, encourages doomed coal investment, hobbles the RET, and misses the chance to raise petrol taxes.
  • Bali tourist areas exempt from beer ban – The Trade Ministry’s new regulation on alcoholic beverages, scheduled to take full effect on Thursday, will not be enforced on Bali as the ministry has decided that tourism areas would be exempted from the ban.On Thursday minimarkets, small vendors and beachside beverage vendors across the country were to stop selling beer. Bali administrations, retail associations and vendors had expressed opposition against the beer ban
  • The Jakarta Post | Editorial – Stop drinking? – Simple solutions are appealing, a fact that politicians here and everywhere know well. As such, it has not only been moralists pushing for legal instruments to regulate behavior at the local and national levels. The latest evidence is a bill that seeks to ban liquor, which has received backing from almost all political parties that control the House of Representatives. It is appealing to millions of citizens concerned over violent drunks and long-term excessive consumption of liquor. Though we share the concerns, which, along with smoking, contribute to the ruin of poor families, we oppose the bill, which is driven not only by the Islamist political parties.
  • The Westminster museum of artless bullshit: a look inside the post-debate spin room – Spin doctors scurry around trying to parrot the same scripted observations to as many hacks as possible – frankly, the whole thing is crying out for infiltration by a telly satirist

choice on anz

Lies, damned lies and the British election and links to other interesting stories

April 16th, 2015 Comments off
  • Lies, damned lies and the British election – Promises mean little when the parties have only the vaguest idea of how things will turn out
  • Blackwater’s Legacy Goes Beyond Public View – “This industry is now truly global,” said Sean McFate, author of “The Modern Mercenary,” a book on the private security industry. “That’s the legacy of Blackwater — they didn’t really make the business, but they’ve symbolized it. They’ve become the hood ornaments for an industry that was for centuries pretty much illegal, and now it’s pretty much re-emerged.”

ft shame

ft editorial

  • From today’s Financial Times of London editorial – a bit different to our Financial Review?
  • U.S. Soldiers, Back in Iraq, Find Security Forces in Disrepair – American troops returning for the first time since 2011 said they were stunned by the state of the army they had once trained.
  • Vatican Announces Major Summit On Climate Change – Catholic officials announced on Tuesday plans for a landmark climate change-themed conference to be hosted at Vatican later this month, the latest in Pope Francis’ faith-rooted campaign to raise awareness about global warming. The summit, which is scheduled for April 28 and entitled “Protect the Earth, Dignify Humanity. The Moral Dimensions of Climate Change and Sustainable Development,” will draw together a combination of scientists, global faith leaders, and influential conservation advocates
  • Meet The World’s Expert On Climate Change And ‘Game Of Thrones’ – She is not Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons. She is Manjana Milkoreit, a post-doctoral Fellow with the Walton Sustainability Fellowship Program at Arizona State University. …  If you are wondering how one becomes the world’s expert on climate change and “Game of Thrones” [aka GOT], the answer is two things. First, you write a 40-page scholarly paper, “Winter is Coming”: Can Game of Thrones change Climate Change Politics? Then you get Reuters to write a story about you, “Is ‘Game of Thrones’ aiding the global debate on climate change?”
  • Driver’s License Suspensions Create Cycle of Debt
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Moore’s Law at 50

April 15th, 2015 Comments off
Here's a figure showing the trends of semiconductor output and price over time. Notice that both axes are measured as logarithmic scales: that is, they rise by powers of 10. The price of a transistor was more than a dollar back in the 1950s, and now it's a billionth of a penny.

Here’s a figure showing the trends of semiconductor output and price over time. Notice that both axes are measured as logarithmic scales: that is, they rise by powers of 10. The price of a transistor was more than a dollar back in the 1950s, and now it’s a billionth of a penny.

  • Moore’s Law at 50 – the driving force behind information and communications technology has been Moore’s law, which can understood as the proposition that the number of components packed on to a computer chip would double every two years, implying a sharp fall in the costs and rise in the capabilities of information technology. But the capability of making transistors ever-smaller, at least with current technology, is beginning to run into physical limits. IEEE Spectrum has published a “Special Report: 50 Years of Moore’s Law,” with a selection of a dozen short articles looking back at Moore’s original formulation of the law, how it has developed over time, and prospects for the law continuing.
  • An economic future that may never brighten – Martin Wolf on how the decline in potential growth leads to debate about the savings glut and secular stagnation

break your routine

  • Is Your Job ‘Routine’? If So, It’s Probably Disappearing – The American labor market and middle class was once built on the routine job–workers showed up at factories and offices, took their places on the assembly line or the paper-pushing chain, did the same task over and over, and then went home. New research from Henry Siu at the University of British Columbia and Nir Jaimovich from Duke University shows just how much the world of routine work has collapsed. The economists released a paper today, published by the centrist Democratic think tank Third Way, showing that over the course of the last two recessions and recoveries, a period beginning in 2001, the economy’s job growth has come entirely from nonroutine work.
  • The Cost of Trout Fishing – If we continue to ignore the impact of hatchery fish on aquatic ecosystems, we will soon regret what has been lost.
  • Can the Greens keep the bastards honest? – The Greens have continually defied predictions they will go the way of the Australian Democrats, but they do face some challenges to the slow gains they’ve made over the decades, writes Mike Steketee.

game of thrones

  • ‘Game of Thrones’ Ratings: HBO Show Returns With Series High – Once considered something of a niche show, “Thrones” is now delivering numbers topped on cable only by AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” Nielsen estimates than an average audience of about 8 million watched the initial telecast of “Game of Thrones” on Sunday — up 1.16 million viewers (or 17%) from its year-ago debut of 6.84 million. It’s also about 800,000 more than any other episode of the show to date.
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A warm world for a Paris climate meeting?

April 14th, 2015 Comments off

The odds are increasing that the United Nations Climate Change Conference to be held in Paris from 30 November until 11 December will come at the end of another record hot year for the planet. January and February provided the warmest start to a calendar year apart from 2007 and an emerging El Niño is laying the foundation for hot temperatures to continue.

el nino alert (1)

Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology today upgraded its ENSO Tracker to El Niño ALERT. This means the likelihood of El Niño developing in 2015 is at least 70%. All international climate models monitored by the Bureau indicate that El Niño thresholds will be reached or exceeded by June. Earth’s previous hottest years have coincided with an El Niño

el nino predictions

The BOM reports:

All eight of the surveyed international climate models indicate the central Pacific Ocean will warm further during the coming months. All surveyed models indicate that NINO3.4 will reach or exceed El Niño threshold levels by mid-year. All models suggest that SSTs will remain above threshold levels for a sustained period. The average value of NINO3.4 expected by the end of the southern winter is about +1.5 °C; however, it is too early to determine with confidence how strong this potential El Niño could be.

Model outlooks spanning February to May (the traditional ENSO transition period) have lower confidence than forecasts made at other times of year.

A depressing view of economics and elections and links to other interesting news and views

April 7th, 2015 Comments off
  • Economics and elections – A depressing quote or two from Paul Krugman: Economics and Elections: [A] large body of political science research [on elections shows] … What mainly matters is income growth immediately before the election. And I mean immediately: We’re talking about something less than a year, maybe less than half a year. This is, if you think about it, a distressing result, because it says that there is little or no political reward for good policy. A nation’s leaders may do an excellent job of economic stewardship for four or five years yet get booted out because of weakness in the last two quarters before the election. … What, then, should those of us who study economic policy and care about real-world outcomes do? The answer, surely, is that we should do our jobs: Try to get it right, and explain our answers as clearly as we can. Realistically, the political impact will usually be marginal at best. Bad things will happen to good ideas, and vice versa. So be it. Elections determine who has the power, not who has the truth.
From The Laughing Bone where I learned Lemming suicide is fiction. Contrary to popular belief, lemmings do not periodically hurl themselves off of cliffs and into the sea. Cyclical explosions in population do occasionally induce lemmings to attempt to migrate to areas of lesser population density. When such a migration occurs, some lemmings die by falling over cliffs or drowning in lakes or rivers. These deaths are not deliberate "suicide" attempts, however, but accidental deaths resulting from the lemmings' venturing into unfamiliar territories and being crowded and pushed over dangerous ledges. In fact, when the competition for food, space, or mates becomes too intense, lemmings are much more likely to kill each other than to kill themselves.

From The Laughing Bone where I learned: “Lemming suicide is fiction. Contrary to popular belief, lemmings do not periodically hurl themselves off of cliffs and into the sea. Cyclical explosions in population do occasionally induce lemmings to attempt to migrate to areas of lesser population density. When such a migration occurs, some lemmings die by falling over cliffs or drowning in lakes or rivers. These deaths are not deliberate “suicide” attempts, however, but accidental deaths resulting from the lemmings’ venturing into unfamiliar territories and being crowded and pushed over dangerous ledges. In fact, when the competition for food, space, or mates becomes too intense, lemmings are much more likely to kill each other than to kill themselves.”

  • Are Money Managers Lemmings? – It was once widely believed that the rise of professional investors would make financial markets less prone to manias, panics and crashes. Lately, the opposite belief has begun to take hold. … a burgeoning new official literature on the problems with asset managers. … The main problem with asset managers, one learns from reading (or, in a couple of cases, skimming) these papers and reports, is that they behave too much like other asset managers. That is, they “herd” — buying into particular securities or asset classes mainly because lots of other asset managers are doing it. In the process, they make market highs go higher and market lows go lower. This acknowledgement that professional investors don’t automatically drive prices toward something close to their correct levels is a welcome shift in economic consensus.
  • A Penny for Your Sugar: Setting a Price on Sin – What do you have to drink in your refrigerator? I’ve got kids in grade school, and our fridge always holds their favorite: Juice boxes filled with 100% apple juice. I felt pretty good about that “100%” until I looked at the label. There are 18 grams of sugar in one 6.75-ounce serving. Coca Cola? Six ounces contain 19.5 grams. Oops. Look: Sugar tastes great, but in excess, it can do a real number on a waistline. I can take some solace in the fact that my kids’ juice has no added sugars. The American Heart Association recommends that we all cut back on added sugar to help curb obesity. Sugar-added beverages are pretty popular, and given the US obesity rate and its associated costs, they pose a problem. Can the problem be solved with a sin tax? Or in this case, as it’s more palatably known, a “soda tax?” (That is not an all-inclusive term, it just rolls off the tongue more easily than “sugar-added beverage tax.”)
  • Clinton campaigns for underdog status – As Hillary Clinton prepares to announce her long-awaited second bid for the White House, her advisers are touting a new strategy to dispel the air of inevitability that hangs over her candidacy.

capitalism

  • How Criminals Built Capitalism – Whenever buyers and sellers get together, opportunities to fleece the other guy arise. The history of markets is, in part, the history of lying, cheating and stealing — and of the effort down the years to fight commercial crime. In fact, the evolution of the modern economy owes more than you might think to these outlaws. That’s the theme of “Forging Capitalism: Rogues, Swindlers, Frauds, and the Rise of Modern Finance” by Ian Klaus. It’s a history of financial crimes in the 19th and early 20th centuries that traces a recurring sequence: new markets, new ways to cheat, new ways to transact and secure trust. As Klaus says, criminals helped build modern capitalism.
  • At this election, British politicians can afford to speak out against Rupert Murdoch – In the past all parties have played it safe but after the phone-hacking scandal, with its exposure of the abuse of power, they have nothing to lose but their fear

The curse of the petrified pollster

April 6th, 2015 Comments off
  • Election punditry is tricky when the polls are this greasy – “Miliband flops”, crows the Telegraph. “Miliband riding high”, replies the Mirror. But that brings us to the heart of the problem: the curse of the petrified pollster.
  • In poverty-stricken Philippine militant breeding ground, farmers plow in fear – Two months ago, the farmer’s marshland village of Tukanalipao was the site of a daylong battle between Muslim militants and police that left more than 60 people dead as security forces hunted down alleged top terrorists. The latest carnage has seriously jeopardized efforts to end a four-decade Muslim separatist rebellion that has claimed 120,000 lives, dimming hopes again that people such as Pangaoilan will be able to prosper in peace.
  • The hidden penalties of being a mother in the workforce – … it’s called the Motherhood Penalty. … According to Diversity Council Australia, mothers experience a 17 per cent loss in wages over a lifetime. They take an average 4 per cent pay cut after the birth of their first child and a 9 per cent cut for each subsequent child.
  • Malaysia opposition faces challenging times – Nurul Izzah, daughter of Malaysia’s jailed opposition leader, thinks Malaysia is becoming Islamicised, under the guise of a Malay agenda.
  • Johnston Press shows there is life in local newspapers yet – “The digital tipping point” has been reached, declares Ashley Highfield. He’s the man who swapped developing new technology at the BBC such as the iPlayer for an ink-stained desk at Johnston Press, owner of The Scotsman and the Yorkshire Post.
  • Science vs Conspiracy: Collective Narratives in the Age of Misinformation – In spite of the enthusiastic rhetoric about the so called collective intelligence unsubstantiated rumors and conspiracy theories—e.g., chemtrails, reptilians or the Illuminati—are pervasive in online social networks (OSN).
  • The mute button – The problem with free speech is that it’s hard, and self-censorship is the path of least resistance. But, once you learn to keep yourself from voicing unwelcome thoughts, you forget how to think them—how to think freely at all—and ideas perish at conception.

Joe Hockey and tax and things – The Owl gets a larger audience

April 5th, 2015 Comments off
  • The bankers behind Hockey’s tax Re:think – “When Joe Hockey delivered Re:think – Better tax, better Australia, he employed the Coalition’s preferred method of delivering policy: eschew details in favour of three-word slogans. Hence the official summation of this week’s taxation conversation starter: Lower, simpler, fairer.” Looking at the detail of the prelude to the government’s make-or-break 2015 budget, Richard Farmer finds telltale thumbprints of Hockey’s internal office. In choosing advisors, Hockey has forgone the choice of previous treasurers: experienced political operatives sceptical to the pleading of business. Instead, Hockey has filled his office with those very people: ex-banking executives and corporate bosses.
  • This Woman’s Job Is to Recast Hillary Clinton’s Image – To get a brief reprieve from the pressures of working in the White House, Kristina Schake, a former aide to the first lady, Michelle Obama, took a class about her favorite painter, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. … Having helped shape Mrs. Obama’s public image into that of an accessible everywoman, Ms. Schake is about to face what may be her toughest challenge yet: working to get another first lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton, elected president.

heretic

  • Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s ‘Heretic’ – Following the events of the Arab Spring, Ayaan Hirsi Ali writes in her latest book, “Heretic,” she came to the conclusion that “ordinary Muslims are ready for change.” Hirsi Ali has strong thoughts on what form that change should take for Muslims: a major overhaul of their religion. “Without fundamental alterations to some of Islam’s core concepts,” she says, “we shall not solve the burning and increasingly global problem of political violence carried out in the name of religion.”
  • Inside the List – At least since the frenzied days after 9/11, some pundits have called on moderate Muslims to criticize the more extreme elements of their faith from within. Ayaan Hirsi Ali would seem to fit the bill: Born in Somalia to a Muslim family, she fled to the Netherlands rather than submit to a forced marriage, and has since been vocal in chastising radical Islam for its embrace of violence as well as its treatment of women, gay people and nonbelievers; in short, she’d like to see Islam evolve to become more secular and ecumenical. … A professed liberal, she applied for work with left-leaning think tanks when she moved to America in 2007, but found no takers. “They didn’t say it to my face, but I got the feeling that they were uncomfortable with what I had been saying about Islam,” she told the author Sam Harris last year. Instead she found a home with the conservative American Enterprise Institute, which seems at peace with her message that Islam is a religion of war.

havoc

  • All hail the messy Pope? – The dramatic gestures and demotic pronouncements of this extraordinary pontificate usually require some decoding, as well as an informed understanding of the culture in which their initiator was shaped. This is a task for which Ivereigh, a journalist and commentator with a published doctorate on religion and politics in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Argentina, is well qualified.
  • Gender difference in moral judgments rooted in emotion, not reasoning, study finds – If a time machine was available, would it be right to kill Adolf Hitler when he was still a young Austrian artist to prevent World War II and save millions of lives? Should a police officer torture an alleged bomber to find hidden explosives that could kill many people at a local cafe? When faced with such dilemmas, men are typically more willing to accept harmful actions for the sake of the greater good than women. For example, women would be less likely to support the killing of a young Hitler or torturing a bombing suspect, even if doing so would ultimately save more lives.
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Green Energy Investments Worldwide Surge

April 3rd, 2015 Comments off

religions

Click to enlarge

  • World’s Muslim Population Will Surpass Christians This Century, Pew Says – Islam is growing more rapidly than any other religion in the world, according to a new report by the Pew Research Center that says the religion will nearly equal Christianity by 2050 before eclipsing it around 2070, if current trends continue. … The finding is part of the center’s report on the future of the world’s religions. You can see the full report at the Pew site, which has also published an interactive tool to help readers drill down by geography and religion.
  • Iceland has a radical plan to redefine money – Iceland’s prime minister commissioned a report from Frosti Sigurjónsson, a parliamentarian, that argues banks shouldn’t have the power to create money.
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Making individual tax returns public information by putting them on the web

April 2nd, 2015 Comments off
  • Should Individual Tax Returns Be Public Information? – Norway is the world leader in disclosure of income tax information. … In the fall of 2001, a national newspaper offered online access to tax information for the whole population through the web version of the newspaper, and soon all of the major national newspapers followed. Now, one could simply sit at home by the computer and obtain information about relatives, friends, neighbors, or celebrities. … The web pages offering search engines for tax information have been among the most popular websites in Norway, especially shortly after the release of new annual information.
  • German government approves controversial fracking bill – German cabinet has decided to allow shale gas fracking in Germany, but only under strict regulation and for testing purposes. Even so, lawmakers criticized the proposed bill for not being strict enough. According to the government proposal, fracking should be prohibited in so-called sensitive regions such as nature parks or water bore areas, and in depths above 3,000 meters. However, the bill allows for exceptions such as scientific tests, and it does not eliminate the possibility of commercial drilling past 2018. The public remains hostile to the plan, with environmentalists, unions and even churches criticizing the proposal. There is even strong resistance within the ruling coalition itself, which holds 504 out of 631 seats in the German parliament.
  • .N. site on flight in conflict zones to start up Thursday – The website, a test program proposed after a Malaysian airliner was downed in Ukraine last year, will be accessible to the public at the url www.icao.int/czip starting on Thursday.
  • Where the right to speak is howled down – It is hard to avoid the depressing conclusion that at Sydney University today mob rule works. – Peter Baldwin, minister for higher education (1990-93) in the Hawke-Keating government, writing in The Australian

russian growth

  • Russia Economic Report 33: The Dawn of a New Economic Era? – The World Bank projects a negative growth outlook for Russia in 2015-2016, with the economy expected to contract by 3.8 percent in 2015 and modestly decline by 0.3 percent in 2016.
  • In 20 years, the world may run out of minable gold – According to Goldman Sachs, the world has about 20 years’ worth each of known minable reserves of gold diamonds and zinc. Platinum, copper and nickel reserves only have about 40 years or less left.
  • Obama Removes Weapons Freeze Against Egypt – Seeking to repair relations with a longtime ally at a time of spreading war in the Middle East, President Obama on Tuesday lifted an arms freeze against Egypt that he had first imposed after the military overthrow of the country’s democratically elected government nearly two years ago. Mr. Obama cleared the way for the delivery of F-16 aircraft, Harpoon missiles and M1A1 Abrams tanks, weapons prized by Egyptian leaders, who have smoldered at the suspension. In a telephone call, Mr. Obama assured President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt that he would support the full $1.3 billion in annual military assistance the Cairo government traditionally receives, even as others seek to cut it, the White House said.
  • The U.N.’s War on Israel – The United Nations is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year. It was intended to be a temple of peace, but this once great global body has been overrun by the repressive regimes that violate human rights and undermine international security.
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The cost of investing in virtue and punishing sin

March 31st, 2015 Comments off
The Vice Fund invests in businesses that are considered by many to be socially irresponsible. Recently renamed the Barrier Fund, it has assets of USD 290 million invested in “industries with significant barriers to entry, including tobacco, alcoholic beverage, gaming and defense/ aerospace industries.” The Social Index Fund tracks an index screened by social, human rights, and environmental criteria. Constituents have superiorenvironmental policies, strong hiring/promotion records for minorities and women, and a safe workplace. There are no companies involved in tobacco, alcohol, adult entertainment, firearms, gambling, nuclear power, and unfair labor practices. It has assets under managementof USD 1.5 billion ...

The Vice Fund invests in businesses that are considered by many to be socially irresponsible. Recently renamed the Barrier Fund, it has assets of USD 290 million invested in “industries with significant barriers to entry, including tobacco, alcoholic beverage, gaming and defense/ aerospace industries.” The Social Index
Fund tracks an index screened by social, human rights, and environmental criteria. Constituents have superiorenvironmental policies, strong hiring/promotion records for minorities and women, and a safe workplace. There are no companies involved in tobacco, alcohol, adult entertainment,
firearms, gambling, nuclear power, and unfair labor practices. It has assets under managementof USD 1.5 billion …

A different study comparing "sin stocks" to market returns for a variety of countries from 1970 to 2007. In most countries, sin stocks comfortably beat the market. The "sin" industries in this study included  alcohol, tobacco, "adult services," weapons, and gambling.

A different study comparing “sin stocks” to market returns for a variety of countries from 1970 to 2007. In most countries, sin stocks comfortably beat the market. The “sin” industries in this study included alcohol, tobacco, “adult services,” weapons, and gambling.

  • Invest in vice or virtue? – In most countries, sin stocks comfortably beat the market. The “sin” industries in this study included alcohol, tobacco, “adult services,” weapons, and gambling.
  • Recent warming of Pacific Ocean could be early indication of El Niño – Recent warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean has primed the Pacific for El Niño. However, history has shown El Niño does not always develop from the ocean trends currently observed. International climate models monitored by the Bureau [of Meteorology] indicate the central tropical Pacific Ocean is likely to continue to warm, with all models predicting El Niño thresholds will be reached or exceeded by mid-year.
  • No Easy, Reliable Way To Screen For Suicide, Specialists Say – Even a careful psychiatric examination of the co-pilot involved in last week’s Germanwings jetliner crash probably would not have revealed whether he intended to kill himself, researchers say. “As a field, we’re not very good at accurately predicting who is at risk for suicidal behavior,” says Matthew Nock, a psychology professor at Harvard. He says studies show that mental health professionals “perform no better than chance,” when it comes to predicting which patients will attempt suicide.
  • Greek Voters Want Their Government To Show Some Fight – The leftist Syriza party swept into office on a promise to stand up to European austerity demands. But the new government has had to soften its tone. Some Greeks worry the party is giving in.
  • Fortress of Nationalism: Russia Is Losing Its Political Morals – The murder of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov reveals that Russia has become morally unhinged. The country is transforming into a nationalist fortress and the powers that be are happy to ignore the potentially dangerous implications.
  • China’s New Normal and America’s Old Habits – China is generating a lot of confusion nowadays, both at home, where senior officials now tout the economy’s “new normal,” and abroad, exemplified by America’s embrace of Cold War-style tactics to contain China’s rise. On both counts, the disconnects are striking, adding a new dimension of risk to the impact of the “China factor” on a fragile world.
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Dementia and the coherence of self

March 27th, 2015 Comments off
  •  The disremembered – Dementia undermines all of our philosophical assumptions about the coherence of the self. But that might be a good thing
  • Senate to launch broad inquiry into wine industry – South Australian Senator Anne Ruston, who lives in the state’s Riverland wine region, moved for the inquiry to investigate whether there was market failure in the industry and whether government policies could help the industry become more profitable.mortgage1mortgage2
  • Mortgaging the Future? – In the six decades following World War II, bank lending measured as a ratio to GDP has quadrupled in advanced economies. To a great extent, this unprecedented expansion of credit was driven by a dramatic growth in mortgage loans. Lending backed by real estate has allowed households to leverage up and has changed the traditional business of banking in fundamental ways. This “Great Mortgaging” has had a profound influence on the dynamics of business cycles.
  • Xi Jinping’s challenge is to be strong enough to loosen control – China’s president will face resistance if he fails to readjust

noodles

  • Nissin Offers Virtual Date Experience for Ramen Lovers – Nissin Foods Holdings Co. has launched a special site for ramen lovers who feel a bit lonely slurping down their instant noodles alone. The website, called Mitsumete Light+, features Japanese actor Takumi Saitoh gazing at the visitor from the other side of the screen while they prepare and enjoy their snack. Users are asked to click on a button once they pour hot water into their ramen cup, at which point a timer starts counting down the three minutes until the food is ready.
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Give us all a pill – making people more sensitive to inequality

March 24th, 2015 Comments off
  • Altering brain chemistry makes us more sensitive to inequality = What if there were a pill that made you more compassionate and more likely to give spare change to someone less fortunate? UC Berkeley scientists have taken a big step in that direction. A new study by UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco researchers finds that giving a drug that changes the neurochemical balance in the prefrontal cortex of the brain causes a greater willingness to engage in prosocial behaviors, such as ensuring that resources are divided more equally.
  • An exceptional autumn hot spell in northern and central Australia – Many records were set during this hot spell. The Northern Territory and Queensland had their hottest March days on record in area-averaged terms, whilst the event also included the highest temperature ever observed in Australia in the second half of March.
  • Why Greek default looms
  • The new authoritarianism – In recent decades, new forms of dictatorship based on manipulating information rather than on mass violence, have emerged. This column explores the trade-offs and techniques of the modern dictator. Such dictators can survive using little violence in the face of moderate economic underperformance. Economic downturns often prompt an increase in censorship and propaganda. Though new information-based dictatorships are better adapted to a modernised society, modernisation and access to information, as well as economic contractions could undermine them.
  • Thomas Piketty: Student Loan Debt Is the Enemy of Meritocracy in the US – Higher and more equitable growth in the United States requires more public support for higher education, argues economist and best-selling author Thomas Piketty. Changes are necessary for the stark reality of higher education to match the purported American values of meritocracy, hard work, and equal opportunity/mobility. If we really want to promote these things, says Piketty, we need to do something about student debt.
  • We’re Frighteningly in the Dark About Student Debt – The … United States government … has a portfolio of roughly $1 trillion in student loans, many of which appear to be troubled. The Education Department, which oversees the portfolio, is … neither analyzing the portfolio adequately nor allowing other agencies to do so.
    These loans are no trivial matter… Student loans are now the second-largest source of consumer debt in the United States, surpassed only by home mortgages. In a major reversal, they now constitute a larger portion of household debt than credit cards or car loans. … The frightening reality, however, is that we are remarkably ignorant about student debt…, we can’t quantify the risks that student debt places on individual households and the economy as a whole. …
  • Controlling the past – In his novel 1984 George Orwell wrote: “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” We are not quite in this Orwellian world yet, which means attempts to rewrite history can at least be contested. A few days ago the UK Prime Minister in Brussels said this. “When I first came here as prime minister five years ago, Britain and Greece were virtually in the same boat, we had similar sized budget deficits. The reason we are in a different position is we took long-term difficult decisions and we had all of the hard work and effort of the British people. I am determined we do not go backwards.” In other words if only those lazy Greeks had taken the difficult decisions that the UK took, they too could be like the UK today. This is such as travesty of the truth, as well as a huge insult to the Greek people, that it is difficult to know where to begin.
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Labor gains in Morgan Poll

March 23rd, 2015 Comments off
  • Federal ALP increases lead as NSW prepares to vote in State Election – ALP support increased to 56% (up 2.5%), still well clear of the L-NP 44% (down 2.5%) on a two-party preferred basis.  If a Federal Election were held now the ALP would win according to this week’s Morgan Poll on voting intention conducted over the last two weekends, March 14/15 & 21/22, 2015, with an Australia-wide cross-section of 3,146 Australian electors aged 18+. Primary support for the ALP increased to 40% (up 2%) now ahead of the L-NP 38% (down 1%). Support for the other parties shows The Greens at 11% (down 0.5%), Palmer United Party (PUP) 1.5% (down 0.5%) while Independents/ Others were 9.5% (unchanged.
  • Will the real Netanyahu please stand up? – Doomed to endless occupation, Palestinians will become more not less violent, says Simon Schama
  • Alex Salmond predicts vote-by-vote deal with Labour – Alex Salmond has predicted a “vote by vote arrangement” between a minority Labour government and the SNP is the most likely outcome of the election. Scotland’s former first minister said his successor as SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon, would lead the negotiations. Mr Salmond also said he wanted the SNP to form a “progressive coalition” with Plaid Cymru and the Greens.
  • Asia’s deadly secret: The scourge of the betel nut – It is used by almost a tenth of the world’s population. It gives people a buzz equivalent to six cups of coffee and is used variously as a symbol of love, marriage and a cure for indigestion and impotence.nBut it is also leading tens of thousands to an early grave. The culprit? The humble betel nut. Found across Asia, these nuts are harvested from the Areca palm and are chewed for their warming glow and stimulating properties. Such is its effectiveness, that alongside nicotine, alcohol and caffeine, betel nuts are believed to be one of the most popular mind-altering substances in the world.

sin city

Warming world trend continues

March 16th, 2015 Comments off

 

mpvingaverage globalfeb temps

  • NASA: Earth Tops Hottest 12 Months On Record Again, Thanks To Warm February – NASA reported this weekend that last month was the second-hottest February on record, which now makes March 2014–February 2015 the hottest 12 months on record. This is using a 12-month moving average, so we can “see the march of temperature change over time,” rather than just once every calendar year.funds
  • How Many Mutual Funds Routinely Rout the Market? Zero – The bull market in stocks turned six last Monday, and despite some rocky stretches — like last week, when the market fell — it has generally been a very pleasant time for money managers, who have often posted good numbers. Look more closely at those gaudy returns, however, and you may see something startling. The truth is that very few professional investors have actually managed to outperform the rising market consistently over those years. In fact, based on the updated findings and definitions of a particular study, it appears that no mutual fund managers have. …
  • Vatican backs military force to stop ISIS ‘genocide’ – In an unusually blunt endorsement of military action, the Vatican’s top diplomat at the United Nations in Geneva has called for a coordinated international force to stop the “so-called Islamic State” in Syria and Iraq from further assaults on Christians and other minority groups. “We have to stop this kind of genocide,” said Italian Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s representative in Geneva. “Otherwise we’ll be crying out in the future about why we didn’t so something, why we allowed such a terrible tragedy to happen.”
  • Bad thinkers – Why do some people believe conspiracy theories? It’s not just who or what they know. It’s a matter of intellectual character
  • Media blackout: would I be happier if I didn’t read the news? – Writer Jesse Armstrong couldn’t go even a few minutes without checking the headlines. So he set himself a challenge: no news for a month. Would he feel better about the world – or just out of the loop?

Cardinal George Pell carries out sweeping reforms

March 14th, 2015 Comments off
  • Pope Frances’s Financial Reforms Rattle Vatican’s Old Guard – Pope Francis has made significant progress in bringing transparency to the Vatican’s finances. Cardinal George Pell is carrying out sweeping reforms.
  • To fix inequality, Democrats are pushing unions – At a time when GOP is gaining ground in very public attacks on labor, the left is coming to the defense of collective bargaining. … In recent months, a collection of left-leaning politicians, economists, and public intellectuals have started making a renewed case for collective bargaining as a tool to heal the ailing middle class. The pitch doubles as an effort for Democrats to preserve a key constituency they’ve long relied on to win elections, at a time when conservatives are making strong gains in often very public attacks on union power.
  • The Next Internet Is TV – Websites are unnecessary vestiges of a time before there were better ways to find things to look at on your computer or your phone.
  • The Biology of Being Good to Others – Altruism may seem a good thing—unless you happen to be an evolutionary biologist. Then it may seem a mixture of a mystery and a curse. The reason isn’t hard to see. How could a ruthless process like Darwinian natural selection give rise to altruistic organisms, human or nonhuman, that act in ways that are costly to themselves and helpful to others?
  • Can the world get richer forever?
  • To tip or not to tip? – Tipping is confusing, and paradoxical. We tip some people who provide services but not others who work just as hard for just as little pay. It is insulting to leave any tip in Tokyo but offensive not to leave a large one in New York. It is assumed that the purpose of tipping is to encourage good service but we leave one only after the service has been given, when it is too late to change it, often to people who will never serve us again. Tipping challenges the sweeping generalisations of economists and anthropologists alike. To understand how and why we tip is to begin to understand just how complicated and fascinating we human beings are.
  • CU Denver study shows product placement, branding growing in popular music – Many people thought music was the last bastion free of marketing but that train has left the station. Many musicians these days make less money from their recorded work so they must become marketing entities since the music doesn’t entirely pay the bills
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Spanking kids still overwhelmingly acceptable

March 6th, 2015 Comments off

spanking (1)

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China’s slower growth rate – Australia to feel the pain

March 5th, 2015 Comments off

 

  • China Warms Up to ‘Low’ Growth Rate Other Countries Would Kill for – Today, China’s leaders are increasingly aware that what really matters is ensuring adequate employment and growing incomes. That’s particularly true of Li, premier since March 2013, who has a law degree and a Ph.D. in economics from Peking University and who is known as an advocate for more economic reform. The leadership can even afford to miss its GDP target, as arguably it did last year, when the goal was “about 7.5 percent,” as long as Chinese are employed and keep earning more. It’s been working. Last year, Li promised that China would add 10 million urban jobs and then handily beat the target, with 13 million. People’s livelihoods improved, too. … Expect the real pain to be reserved for resource-rich countries such as Australia and Russia. The value of crude oil, steel, and iron ore imports to China is already falling rapidly, a trend likely to continue as China’s property sector and new construction cools.  insect
  • Insectophilia – In Japan, beetles are pets, grasshoppers a delicacy and fireflies are adored. Is the creepy-crawly a Western invention?

the banker

  • Eurozone meltdown: how can it be avoided? – Resolving the eurozone crisis is one of the greatest challenges facing the global economy. Steady global growth cannot resume until a proper solution is found, as nearly all major economies – the US, China and Brazil – are impacted by failure in the common currency area. But, for the past five years, the euro area has lurched from one disaster to another, amid bitter argument over who is to blame and with reform and key initiatives moving at a snail’s pace. [ Free registration required]
While the tropical Pacific Ocean is currently neutral, the odds of an El Niño developing in 2015 has increased. Therefore, the ENSO Tracker status has been raised to El Niño WATCH.

While the tropical Pacific Ocean is currently neutral, the odds of an El Niño developing in 2015 has increased. Therefore, the ENSO Tracker status has been raised to El Niño WATCH.

  • Renewed warming in the tropical Pacific Ocean – The Bureau’s ENSO Tracker has been upgraded to El Niño WATCH. This is due to a combination of warmer-than-average temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean and models showing that further warming is likely in coming months. El Niño WATCH indicates about a 50% chance of El Niño forming in 2015.
  • Mugabe’s New Best Friends in Brussels – Why is Europe suddenly cozying up to Zimbabwe’s nonagenarian kleptocrat?

Tony Abbott the flag man

March 4th, 2015 Comments off

flags

  • Surge in poles: Tony Abbott’s flag count hits a new high – The PM’s latest speech at Parliament House was backed by no fewer than eight Australian flags, marking a steady rise in recent months
  • Cash Today – Student loans are in principle a straightforward business. The government lends students money; after they graduate, they begin repaying it. From the perspective of politicians and the Treasury the advantage of loans over grants is clear: the money isn’t simply given away, it comes back over the lifetime of the loan. Even better, in the national accounts the loans are classified as ‘financial transactions’, not ‘expenditure’, and are excluded from calculations of the deficit.​
  • Saudi Award Goes to Muslim Televangelist Who Harshly Criticizes U.S. – He has publicly declared that “the Jews” control America, that apostates can be killed, that the United States is the world’s “biggest terrorist” and that the Sept. 11 attacks were an “inside job” by President George W. Bush. But last weekend, Dr. Zakir Naik, a prominent Muslim televangelist from India, appeared at an elaborate ceremony at a luxury hotel in Saudi Arabia, where the new monarch, King Salman, gave him one of the country’s highest honors. The award for “service to Islam” highlighted the conflicted position of Saudi Arabia as an American ally that continues to back Islamists who espouse hatred of the West.
  • Iran’s biggest threat to the world isn’t the one Netanyahu will describe today – Netanyahu’s Ahab-like fixation with his white whale—Iran’s nuclear program—draws attention away from the many other ways that the regime in Tehran represents a clear and present danger to the world. He is right that sanctions relief will empower that regime, but it’s hardly a given that the billions of dollars unlocked ($1.6 billion a monthin oil income, by some estimates) will be poured into a clandestine program to build The Bomb. Much more likely, the money will accelerate and amplify the many conventional (as in non-nuclear) programs Iran conducts in the open—supporting despots, exporting terrorism, destabilizing the Middle East. And, yes, threatening Israel.
  • Finland: Speeding millionaire gets 54,000-euro fine – Finland’s speeding fines are linked to income, with penalties calculated on daily earnings, meaning high earners get hit with bigger penalties for breaking the law. So, when businessman Reima Kuisla was caught doing 103km/h (64mph) in an area where the speed limit is 80km/h (50mph), authorities turned to his 2013 tax return, the Iltalehti newspaper reports.
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Some thoughts on lobbying and other interesting reads for today

March 3rd, 2015 Comments off

lobbyist

  • A Lobbyist Just for You – And two other solutions to counter corporate influence in Washington.
  • Has the global economy slowed down? – Big macroeconomic changes happen slowly, sometimes they aren’t clearly visible until years later. We may currently be living through a structural change in the global economy as big as any since World War II without fully realising it. The world economy may be becoming less integrated, with one of the important drivers of globalisation swinging into reverse. This week the Dutch Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis released its latest estimates of world trade. This widely-followed measure showed that world trade grew by 3.3% in 2014, that’s up from 2.7% in 2013 and 2.1% in 2012 but still well below the long term average of growth of 5%.

explosion

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Explaining electoral gerrymanders

March 2nd, 2015 Comments off

2-03-2015 gerrymandering

  • This is the best explanation of gerrymandering you will ever see – Gerrymandering — drawing political boundaries to give your party a numeric advantage over an opposing party — is a difficult process to explain. If you find the notion confusing, check out the chart above — adapted from one posted to Reddit this weekend — and wonder no more.
  • Protecting Fragile Retirement Nest Eggs – A new study by the White House Council of Economic Advisers has found that financial advisers seeking higher fees and commissions drain $17 billion a year from retirement accounts by steering savers into high-cost products and strategies rather than comparable lower-cost ones. The report has rocked the financial services industry — not because it is news but because the industry sees it, correctly, as a forceful statement of the Obama administration’s determination to do something about the problem.
  • Australia’s top 20 greenhouse gas emitters
  • Food Waste Grows With the Middle Class
  • That ugly fruit and veg –  EndFoodWaste.org believes at least 20% of all produce is wasted just because of it’s size, shape, color, or appearance.
  • Despicable Us –  Maybe those of us who write about politics and campaigns should adopt a bristly uniform of hair shirts, so that we’re constantly atoning for our sins. Maybe we should wear targets, the better for our critics to take aim at us. Oh, how we’re hated.
  • Is the Junk-Food Era Drawing to a Close?
  • Brazil – In a quagmire: Latin America’s erstwhile star is in its worst mess since the early 1990s

Harassment of Jews worldwide reaches a seven-year high

March 2nd, 2015 Comments off

religion

  • Latest Trends in Religious Restrictions and Hostilities – Worldwide, social hostilities involving religion declined somewhat in 2013 after reaching a six-year peak the previous year, but roughly a quarter of the world’s countries are still grappling with high levels of religious hostilities within their borders, according to the Pew Research Center’s latest annual study on global restrictions on religion.The new study finds that the share of countries with high or very high levels of social hostilities involving religiondropped from 33% in 2012 to 27% in 2013, the most recent year for which data are available. These types of hostilities run the gamut from vandalism of religious property and desecration of sacred texts to violent assaults resulting in deaths and injuries.By contrast, the share of countries with high or very highgovernment restrictions on religion stayed roughly the same from 2012 to 2013. The share of countries in this category was 27% in 2013, compared with 29% in 2012. Government restrictions on religion include efforts to control religious groups and individuals in a variety of ways, ranging from registration requirements to discriminatory policies and outright bans on certain faiths.Looking at the overall level of restrictions – whether resulting from government policies or from hostile acts by private individuals, organizations and social groups – the study finds that restrictions on religion were high or very high in 39% of countries. Because some of these countries (like China and India) are very populous, about 5.5 billion people (77% of the world’s population) were living in countries with a high or very high overall level of restrictions on religion in 2013, up from 76% in 2012 and 68% as of 2007.

harassmentAs in previous years, Christians and Muslims – who together make up more than half of the global population – faced harassment in the largest number of countries. Christians were harassed, either by government or social groups, in 102 of the 198 countries included in the study (52%), while Muslims were harassed in 99 countries (50%).

In recent years, there has been a marked increase in the number of countries where Jews were harassed. In 2013, harassment of Jews, either by government or social groups, was found in 77 countries (39%) – a seven-year high. Jews are much more likely to be harassed by individuals or groups in society than by governments. In Europe, for example, Jews were harassed by individuals or social groups in 34 of the region’s 45 countries (76%).

  • South Korean court decriminalises adultery – South Korea’s top court has ruled that adultery is no longer a crime, revoking a 1953 law under which cheating spouses could be jailed for up to two years. South Korea was one of only three Asian countries to criminalise infidelity – about 5,500 people have been convicted since 2008.

2-03-2015 brains

  • Shake it off? Not so easy for people with depression, new brain research suggests – Rejected by a person you like? Just “shake it off” and move on, as music star Taylor Swift says. But while that might work for many people, it may not be so easy for those with untreated depression, a new brain study finds. The pain of social rejection lasts longer for them — and their brain cells release less of a natural pain and stress-reducing chemical called natural opioids, researchers report in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

 

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The Twee Tribe and other news and views

February 25th, 2015 Comments off

the twee tribe

  • From The Times Literary Supplement -Consider the following phenomena: owl-shaped cushions, bird-print textiles and kitten ephemera. French horns, ukuleles and accordions. Grown women with wispy fringes who dress like little girls, grannies or Jean Seberg, and young men who sport excessively neat haircuts, horn-rimmed glasses and waistcoats. Cotton candy, gluten-free acai berry cupcakes and quinoa fritters with probiotic goat yoghurt. Anything that is locally sourced, vintage or artisanal. Cream-coloured retro bikes with wicker baskets and 1950s sun dresses in ice-cream shades. Polka dots and cocktails in jam glasses. The comic strip Peanuts, J. D. Salinger and Maurice Sendak. The Smiths and Belle and Sebastian. Taxidermy, stamp collecting and home baking. The films of Wes Anderson. What do they all share? According to Marc Spitz, they are emblems of “Twee” – “the most powerful youth movement since Punk and Hip-Hop”.
  • Basic personality changes linked to unemployment, study finds – Unemployment can change peoples’ core personalities, making some less conscientious, agreeable and open, which may make it difficult for them to find new jobs.
  • Knowledge Isn’t Power by Paul Krugman – … while the education/inequality story may once have seemed plausible, it hasn’t tracked reality for a long time. “The wages of the highest-skilled and highest-paid individuals have continued to increase steadily,” the Hamilton Project says. Actually, the inflation-adjusted earnings of highly educated Americans have gone nowhere since the late 1990s. So what is really going on? Corporate profits have soared as a share of national income, but there is no sign of a rise in the rate of return on investment. How is that possible? Well, it’s what you would expect if rising profits reflect monopoly power rather than returns to capital. As for wages and salaries, never mind college degrees — all the big gains are going to a tiny group of individuals holding strategic positions in corporate suites or astride the crossroads of finance. Rising inequality isn’t about who has the knowledge; it’s about who has the power.
  • Marijuana Is Now Legal In Alaska, The 3rd U.S. State With Legal Pot
  • A Threat to Europe: The Islamic State’s Dangerous Gains in Libya
  • Australia’s Champagne Cambodia Deal To Dump Refugees Is Turning Sour – Scott Morrison sealed a deal to dump refugees in Cambodia with a glass of champagne. But the deal is in trouble, writes Carla Silbert. … With Australia agreeing to bear the cost of resettling refugees from Nauru at the same time as Cambodia is publicly asserting it has no intention of respecting refugee rights, Australia must move to terminate the resettlement agreement.
  • Predictive Intelligence – Think Hillary Clinton is likely to win? Think again.
  • On the origins of dishonesty: From parents to children – Dishonesty is a pervasive and costly phenomenon. This column reports the results of a lab experiment in which parents had an opportunity to behave dishonestly. Parents cheated the most when the prize was for their child and their child was not present. Parents cheated little when their child was present, but were more likely to cheat in front of sons than in front of daughters. The latter finding may help to explain why women attach greater importance to moral norms and are more honest.
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Indonesia’s President: Fan Of Megadeth, Defender Of Death Penalty

February 24th, 2015 Comments off

joko widodo

  • Indonesia’s President: Fan Of Megadeth, Defender Of Death Penalty – Indonesian President Joko Widodo took office a little more than 100 days ago, buoyed by sky-high expectations for political change. He’s seen as very different from the strongmen and power brokers who have dominated the country for decades. And he’s certainly unconventional. He’s an avid fan of heavy metal groups like Metallica and Megadeth. He’s been photographed wearing black Napalm Death T-shirts and flashing the “devil’s horns” hand sign. But some of his supporters are dismayed by the unexpectedly strong stance he has taken in favor of the death penalty. Last month, Indonesia executed six convicted drug traffickers — five of them foreigners — by firing squad. Two Australians and a British grandmother are among the foreigners still on Indonesia’s death row. So far, Jokowi, as he’s known in Indonesia, has refused all appeals for clemency.
  • NSW Labor has to go Green or go home
  • Oscars Get Political, As Acceptance Speeches Wade Into Social Issues
  • If Your Teacher Likes You, You Might Get A Better Grade – A newly published paper suggests that personality similarity affects teachers’ estimation of student achievement. That is, how much you are like your teacher contributes to his or her feelings about you — and your abilities.
  • Why Some States Want To Legalize Raw Milk Sales – The federal government banned the sale of raw milk across state lines nearly three decades ago because it poses a threat to public health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association all strongly advise people not to drink it.But individual states still control raw milk sales within their borders. And despite the health warnings, some Midwestern states have recently proposed legalizing raw milk sales to impose strict regulations on the risky — and growing — market. Raw milk has become popular in recent years as part of the local food movement: An estimated 3 percent of the population drinks at least one glass a week. Many of its fans are fiercely passionate about what they see as its benefits. They say they buy raw milk because it doesn’t contain the growth hormone rGBH, they like the taste, and they enjoy having a direct connection to the food they eat.
  • Hillary Clinton’s grandmother gambit – “Grandmothers know best.” Hillary Clinton attached that line as a hashtag to a tweet about the importance of measles vaccinations earlier this month. Given that Mrs Clinton’s tweets are read like messages from the Delphic oracle, it hasrekindled speculation that the former secretary of state will be leaning on her new grandmatronly status in her all-but-announced upcoming presidential campaign.
  • WHO urges shift to single-use smart syringes – Smart syringes that break after one use should be used for injections by 2020, the World Health Organization has announced. Reusing syringes leads to more than two million people being infected with diseases including HIV and hepatitis each year. The new needles are more expensive, but the WHO says the switch would be cheaper than treating the diseases. More than 16 billion injections are administered annually. Normal syringes can be used again and again. But the smart ones prevent the plunger being pulled back after an injection or retract the needle so it cannot be used again.

Pernicious inflation and an imploding Europe – a few things for Joe to think about

February 22nd, 2015 Comments off

22-02-2015 consumerprices

  • Feeling down – Deflation can be a good thing. But today’s version is pernicious – “Deflation poses several risks, some well-understood, one not. … The least-understood danger is also the most serious, because it is already here. Deflation makes it harder to loosen monetary policy. … Policymakers should be more worried than they appear to be, and their actions to avert deflation should be bolder. Governments need to boost demand by spending more on infrastructure; central banks should err on the side of looseness.”
  • An orderly Greek exit is the only option for Europe – “The euro will eventually break up. But, before it does, we’ll see a lot more democratic transgressions as big countries, aided by the Brussels machine, impose their will on smaller neighbours.’If we aim deliberately at impoverishment, vengeance, I dare predict … will not limp,’ Keynes wrote in 1919. ‘But who can say how much is endurable, or in what direction men will seek at last to escape from their misfortunes?’ I’m not predicting war in Western Europe. But I am saying the eurozone will generate ever-rising tensions and spiralling financial instability until it finally implodes or is deliberately dismantled.
  • The hideous dialectic of Isis savagery – “The methods of the jihadi blackshirts are chillingly savage. But Isis is chillingly smart too.”
  • Facing Up to the Democratic Recession  – Democracy has been in a global recession for most of the last decade, and there is a growing danger that the recession could deepen and tip over into something much worse. Many more democracies could fail, not only in poor countries of marginal strategic significance, but also in big swing states such as Indonesia and Ukraine (again). There is little external recognition yet of the grim state of democracy in Turkey, and there is no guarantee that democracy will return any time soon to Thailand or Bangladesh. Apathy and inertia in Europe and the United States could significantly lower the barriers to new democratic reversals and to authoritarian entrenchments in many more states.”
  • Why Do Many Reasonable People Doubt Science? “We live in an age when all manner of scientific knowledge—from climate change to vaccinations—faces furious opposition. “Some even have doubts about the moon landing.”
  • The Great Jewish Exodus – “Israel is indeed the home of every Jew, and that is important, a guarantee of sorts. It is equally important, however, that not every Jew choose this home. That is another kind of guarantee, of Europe’s liberal order, of the liberal idea itself.”

22-02-2015 shape

Group decision-making exacerbates men’s tendency to lie

February 17th, 2015 Comments off
  • Honesty in groups: Gender matters – “Many nations and corporations strive to raise female membership in decision-making bodies. This column discusses new experimental evidence suggesting that there is more lying (and more extreme lying) in male groups and mixed-gender groups than in female groups. Moreover, group decision-making exacerbates men’s tendency to lie while the opposite is true for women. This suggests that the gender composition of decision-making bodies is important when the goal is to limit the scope of unethical behaviour.”

cancer drug price

  • The Rising Price of Anti-Cancer Drugs – “As the best-fit line shows, back in 1995 the new drugs were costing about $54,000 to save a year of life. By 2014, the new drugs were costing about $170,000 to save a year of life. This is an increase of roughly 10% per year.”
  • The Drug That Is Bankrupting America – “In December 2013, the Food and Drug Administration approved Sovaldi, and another formulation, Harvoni, which is sofosbuvir used in combination with another drug. Gilead set the price for a 12-week treatment course of Sovaldi at $84,000, amounting to $1,000 per pill. Gilead set the price of Harvoni at $94,000.According to researchers at Liverpool University, the actual production costs of Sovaldi for the 12-week course is in the range $68-$136. Indeed, generic sofosbuvir is currently being marketed in India at $300 per treatment course, after India refused to grant Gilead a patent for the Indian market. In other words, the U.S. price-cost markup is roughly 1,000-to-1!”
  • With Quakes Spiking, Oil Industry Is Under The Microscope In Oklahoma – “Austin Holland, the state seismologist … says that Oklahoma used to have, on average, one or two perceptible earthquakes a year. Now the state is averaging two or three a day. There were more magnitude 3 or greater tremors here last year than anywhere else in the continental United States, and the unprecedented spike in earthquakes has intensified. Holland suspects that modern oil production techniques are triggering the jump in quakes.”
  • Can de-industrialisation be reversed? – “A new study from the Brookings Institution argues that American prosperity is being driven by advanced industries. It raises the question as to whether de-industrialisation can be reversed.”
  • Tropical Pacific Ocean remains ENSO-neutral – “… all international models surveyed by the Bureau indicate tropical Pacific sea surface temperatures are likely to remain warm, but within the neutral range, until at least May. Beyond that time, outlooks favour warm-neutral or El Niño-like ocean temperatures.”
  • A Dynamic Theory of Romantic Choice – In the tradition of “The Theory of Interstellar Trade” – “I propose an answer to the question “why are all the good guys taken” through a dynamic model of romantic search. Search and matching modelsare workhorses in labor economics. I apply this framework to romance and explain why there are lots of single “boring Bernards and psycho Suzies”, as well as discuss the model’s welfare implications. The key mechanism in the model is that good couples stay together for longer. As such, even if there is a large share of good romantic partners, most single people are crazy.”
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The great cricket sham and other news and views

February 16th, 2015 Comments off

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  • Bitter Cup – Cricket’s marquee tournament is a sham – “Over time, the one-day international has gradually shed any pretense of contest—in cricketing terms, a duel between batsmen and bowlers—and recast itself as a glorified showcase of the bat-manufacturer’s craft, where second-rung players routinely found lacking in Test conditions can get away with edges and mishits. Any ball a batsman—even at his most arthritic—cannot hit with ease has been systematically outlawed (one bouncer per over by strict ration; nothing pitching outside leg stump; nothing wider than a foot of off stump, and so on).”
  • Negative rates to shake up financial system, say experts – “It has a huge impact on a lot of simple things like pension funds and insurance companies, and how their whole model works,” said Henry Cooke, executive director at Gryphon Capital Investments. “It is putting them under a lot of pressure . . . and when people are put under a lot of pressure, they take a lot more risk.”
  • Corporate bonds: Emerging bubble – Signs of distress are appearing in companies’ debt

london review of books

  • The Austerity Con by Simon Wren-Lewis – “Of course it is also the case that large sections of the print media have a political agenda. Unfortunately the remaining part, too, often seeks expertise among City economists who have a set of views and interests that do not reflect the profession as a whole. This can lead to a disconnect between macroeconomics as portrayed in the media and the macroeconomics taught in universities. In the case of UK austerity, it has allowed the media to portray the reduction of the government’s budget deficit as the overriding macroeconomic priority, when in reality that policy has done and may continue to do considerable harm.”
  • The War Next Door: Can Merkel’s Diplomacy Save Europe?
  • The World of Our Grandchildren – Noam Chomsky discusses ISIS, Israel, climate change, and the kind of world future generations may inherit.
  • Jailing People Has Little Effect on Crime Levels – At some point, the data indicates, more people in prison doesn’t translate to fewer crimes
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The risks of an apocalypse and other news and views for cheerful Sunday reading

February 15th, 2015 Comments off

apocalypse

  • Twelve ways the world could end – “What are the chances of all human life being destroyed by a supervolcano? Or taken over by robots? A new report from Oxford university assesses the risks of apocalypse.”
  • Corruption: doing the dirt – “The annual yearbook of equity returns, compiled by the London Business School, shows that the more corrupt a country is, the better the returns its equity markets offer.

inflation rates

swedish font

  • Not Too Much, Not Too Little: Sweden, In A Font – “Sweden recently commissioned a team of designers to come up with a font to represent the country on its websites, press releases, tourism brochures and more. The offices of Soderhavet look exactly the way you would expect a Scandinavian design firm to look: clean, sleek and warm, with tasteful bursts of color sprinkled among the minimalistic furniture. And the typeface that these designers created looks pretty much the way you would expect a Scandinavian typeface to look, too.”
  • Obese could lose benefits if they refuse treatment – PM – “People who cannot work because they are obese or have alcohol or drug problems could have their sickness benefits cut if they refuse treatment, the PM says. David Cameron has launched a review of the current system, which he says fails to encourage people with long-term, treatable issues to get medical help. Some 100,000 people with such conditions claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), the government says. Labour said the policy would do nothing to help people to get off benefits.
  • Tracing the rise of EU anti-establishment politics, By Professor Archie Brown, University of Oxford – “A darkening cloud looms over mainstream European politicians in the early months of 2015. It is the rise of parties and movements seen by them as either extreme or nationalist, sometimes both. That these relative newcomers have become major players in national politics is viewed not only as a dangerous departure from the natural political order but also a serious threat to the territorial integrity of the state.”
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Case against Abbott Government builds at The Hague

February 13th, 2015 Comments off
  • Case against Abbott Government builds at The Hague – “The Independent Member for Denison, Andrew Wilkie, and human rights advocate and lawyer Greg Barns have taken the next step in their formal request for the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate crimes against asylum seekers by members of the Abbott Government.”
  • How Tony Abbott came within 11 votes of oblivion – “This is the story of a leadership spill missing brilliant strategy, cunning organisation or sophisticated internal machinations that brought a Prime Minister within 11 votes of oblivion.”
  • This time the random walk loses – “Notwithstanding the progress made in the field of exchange rate economics, we still know very little of what drives major currencies. This column argues that the best that one can do is to assume that currencies move to gradually restore (relative) purchasing power parity. Contrary to widely held beliefs, this is in general a much better strategy than to just assume that the exchange rate behaves like a random walk. “
  • Do derivatives make the world safer?

cleaner air

  • Stopping at red lights could be slowly killing you – “The average UK commuter spends about 1.5 hours a day at the wheel. While not great for stress levels in general, there are other ways that the daily churn through traffic can negatively affect health. Research by my team at the University of Surrey has shown how drivers and pedestrians are being exposed to very high levels of air pollutants at traffic lights.”
  • Justice Deferred Is Justice Denied – Review of Too Big to Jail: How Prosecutors Compromise with Corporations by Brandon L. Garrett – “At bottom, corporate fraud amounts to little more than executives lying for business purposes, and prosecution depends on proving that the lies were intentional. Are the changes forced upon companies by deferred prosecution agreements likely to materially change the decision of these individuals to lie when it suits their goals?”
  • Author Sono calls for racial segregation in op-ed piece – “A prominent Japanese author and columnist who advised the government has called for Japan to adopt a system to force immigrant workers to live in separate zones based on race. In a regular column published in the Feb. 11 edition of the conservative daily Sankei Shimbun, Ayako Sono said immigrants, especially those providing elderly care, would ease the difficulties in Japan’s nursing sector. She also said that, while it was fine for people of all races to work, do research, and socialize with each other, they should also live apart from each other. “Since learning about the situation in South Africa 20 or 30 years ago, I’ve come to think that whites, Asians, and blacks should live separately,” Sono wrote. Sono, who was appointed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to an education reform panel in 2013, cited an unspecified whites-only apartment complex in Johannesburg that black South Africans moved into after apartheid ended. She said there was a problem because black people tended to bring large families into small apartments.”
  • Labor’s first test: putting integrity before politics in Queensland

The nonsense rhetoric about debt and stealing from future generations

February 10th, 2015 Comments off

Debt Is Money We Owe To Ourselves – Paul Krugman blogs: Antonio Fatas, commenting on recent work on deleveraging or the lack thereof, emphasizes one of my favorite points: no, debt does not mean that we’re stealing from future generations. Globally, and for the most part even within countries, a rise in debt isn’t an indication that we’re living beyond our means, because as Fatas puts it, one person’s debt is another person’s asset; or as I equivalently put it, debt is money we owe to ourselves — an obviously true statement that, I have discovered, has the power to induce blinding rage in many people.

The Recent Rise and Fall of Rapid Productivity Growth – Information technology fueled a surge in U.S. productivity growth in the late 1990s and early 2000s. However, this rapid pace proved to be temporary, as productivity growth slowed before the Great Recession. Furthermore, looking through the effects of the economic downturn on productivity, the reduced pace of productivity gains has continued and suggests that average future output growth will likely be relatively slow.

On the recent US-China agreement on climate change – China and the US have recently agreed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. This column asks what quantifiable impact the new targets will have, whether they are any better than previous approaches, and if so, whether they are enough to avoid dangerous climate change. While insufficient for keeping temperature increase below the 2°C limit, the US and China’s bilateral commitments are a step in the right direction, and form the basis for a stronger international agreement in Paris later this year.

monarch butterfly

The monarch massacre: Nearly a billion butterflies have vanished – Threatened animals like elephants, porpoises and lions grab all the headlines, but what’s happening to monarch butterflies is nothing short of a massacre. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service summed it up in just one grim statistic on Monday: Since 1990, about 970 million have vanished. It happened as farmers and homeowners sprayed herbicides on milkweed plants, which serve as the butterflies’ nursery, food source and home.

Turning Carbon Dioxide Into Rock, and Burying It

Her Majesty and the Curious Mystery of the Disappearing Corgis – The Queen’s favourite dog breed is on the brink of extinction – and everyone’s looking suspiciously at Buckingham Palace. There’s only one solution: eBay.

 

The lost art of rhetoric

February 9th, 2015 Comments off
Among all this sloganising, I find myself thinking back to the Greek philosopher Socrates - or at least as Plato presented him. He was about getting to the bottom of an argument. About not giving up on it. About facing his own ignorance and confronting his own prejudices. Most of all, he was about having a real conversation.

Among all this sloganising, I find myself thinking back to the Greek philosopher Socrates – or at least as Plato presented him. He was about getting to the bottom of an argument. About not giving up on it. About facing his own ignorance and confronting his own prejudices. Most of all, he was about having a real conversation.

  • Have modern politicians lost the art of rhetoric? – “When we listen to politicians, we often complain that their words don’t seem to mean anything. And that’s because they don’t … There’s a mismatch between political ideas and politicians’ words. It’s not that the poor things don’t have ideas – they’re just not usually allowed to utter them. The party machine is too risk-averse to countenance real speech. In ancient Greece and Rome, on the other hand, the art of rhetoric was at the heart of political life. Rhetoric can have a bad name, as if it means tricksy or deceptive speech. But the bottom line is it’s a skill of using reasoned argument to persuade. Recapturing some of that lost art might be a good idea, and might get us beyond pretty much indistinguishable soundbites.”
  • No one in control: The algorithms that run our lives – “Software is deciding who gets a loan, who counts as a citizen and what prices you pay online. Who will step in when the machines get out of hand?”
  • California Moves to Ban All Vaccination Exemptions
  • Putin’s Peninsula Is a Lonely Island – No tourists, frightened tatars, and Russians have taken all the jobs. Welcome to Crimea in winter.
  • Don’t forget health when you talk about human rights – “Last week, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released World Report 2015, their 25th annual global review documenting human rights practices in more than 90 countries and territories in 2014. … when one delves deeper, there is a hidden story that often does not make the headlines. That story is the health dimension of human rights. Viewed through the lens of health, the report contains several compelling and disturbing themes.
  • Keep daffodils away from food, supermarkets warned. “Supermarkets have been urged to keep daffodils away from fruit and vegetable aisles this spring – in case they are mistaken for food. In a letter to major stores, Public Health England warned the flowers could be confused with onions or Chinese vegetables, and consumption of them was an “emerging risk”. Daffodils contain toxic alkaloids that can cause severe vomiting, it said.”
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Legalised bribery – an American opinion with relevance for Queensland

January 27th, 2015 Comments off

Legalised bribery – “Corruption exists when institutions and officials charged with serving the public serve their own ends. Under current law, campaign contributions are illegal if there is an explicit quid pro quo, and legal if there isn’t. But legal campaign contributions can be as bad as bribes in creating obligations. The corruption that hides in plain sight is the real threat to our democracy. Think of campaign contributions as the gateway drug to bribes. In our private financing system, candidates are trained to respond to campaign cash and serve donors’ interests. Politicians are expected to spend half their time talking to funders and to keep them happy. Given this context, it’s not hard to see how a bribery charge can feel like a technical argument instead of a moral one.”

2015-01-27_productivity

  • Productivity of High-Income Countries in the Long-Run – “No matter how you slice it, productivity growth is low all around.”
  • Scientists Just Found a Way to Make GMOs Much Safer – “Biotech researchers think they’ve found a way to keep modified genes from escaping into other organisms.”
  • Ending Greece’s Nightmare – “So now that Mr. Tsipras has won, and won big, European officials would be well advised to skip the lectures calling on him to act responsibly and to go along with their program. The fact is they have no credibility; the program they imposed on Greece never made sense. It had no chance of working. If anything, the problem with Syriza’s plans may be that they’re not radical enough. Debt relief and an easing of austerity would reduce the economic pain, but it’s doubtful whether they are sufficient to produce a strong recovery.”
  • Defying the Assassin’s Veto – “The massacre of Charlie Hebdo journalists in Paris on January 7 was an attempt to impose the assassin’s veto. Where the heckler’s veto says merely ‘I will shout you down,’ the assassin’s version is ‘dare to express that and we will kill you.’ Instead of the academic’s metaphorical ‘publish or perish’ we have the Kouachi brothers’ ‘publish and perish.’ In the quarter-century since the fatwa on Salman Rushdie, this has become one of the largest threats to free speech in the West, and certainly the most extreme.”

Arsene Wenger is a great economist

January 26th, 2015 Comments off
  • Frederic Bastiat and football punditry – “In the day job I call Arsene Wenger a great economist. I’m making a serious point. … there is a close affinity between economics and sport; each can illuminate the other. I suspect you could learn more about economics from football than you could from the empty suits at Davos this week. “
  • U.S. Research Lab Lets Livestock Suffer in Quest for Profit – Animal Welfare at Risk in Experiments for Meat Industry – “Pigs are having many more piglets — up to 14, instead of the usual eight — but hundreds of those newborns, too frail or crowded to move, are being crushed each year when their mothers roll over. Cows, which normally bear one calf at a time, have been retooled to have twins and triplets, which often emerge weakened or deformed, dying in such numbers that even meat producers have been repulsed. Then there are the lambs. In an effort to develop “easy care” sheep that can survive without costly shelters or shepherds, ewes are giving birth, unaided, in open fields where newborns are killed by predators, harsh weather and starvation.”
  • Still Waiting for Davos Woman – “The Alpine retreat is both absurd and worthy — but can’t achieve its goals as long as it is primarily a guy thing.”
  • A fault in our design – “We tend to think that technological progress is making us more resilient, but it might be making us more vulnerable.”
  • In Rain and Snow, It’s Clear That Patriots Are a Good Bet – “Over the past 12 seasons, the New England Patriots have played so well in wet conditions that their margin of victory in those games has exceeded the betting spread — set by a global market that tries to take all known advantages into account — 80 percent of the time, according to an analysis by Covers, a sports betting information website. The analysis suggests that the Patriots have an edge in wet weather that neither the general public nor professional bettors have taken into account. But the analysis sheds no light on what that advantage, or those advantages, might be. The Patriots exceeded the spread 56 percent of the time in their other games during that period, the analysis shows.” Note: You will find links to some other interesting pieces about betting at Punting – the Owl’s notes.
  • Let statisticians cry foul when politicians bend the truth – “… those who are responsible for government statistics should not be working for ministers. Create within each department an independent statistical and analytical unit. … the independent number crunchers would be expected to comment publicly on the interpretation placed on their material by politicians and the media; especially when that crossed the line between half truth and outright lie. The rough and tumble political debate about numbers and data would continue, vigorously and uncensored. But the playing field would be levelled. And for the first time there would be a referee empowered to blow the whistle when there is a foul.”
  • Not Seeing Luck – “I claimed the other day that those of us who are in the global 1% are apt to under-estimate our good fortune. There is, in fact, quite robust evidence from other contexts that we tend to under-rate luck and over-rate skill and causality. … This is probably because of a self-serving bias… However, other research shows that people also see skill where none in fact exists even in other people. … This sort of behaviour has been confirmed in laboratory experiments. … I suspect that this is part of an older-attested phenomenon – that people under-rate randomness and over-rate causality, which is one reason why we draw overconfident inferences from noisy data. … You might see this as an echo of David Hume’s claim, that our ideas about causality result merely from custom and habit and so are fallible. It also, I suspect, helps explain a claim made by Hume’s good friend. If we over-rate causality and under-rate luck, we will exaggerate the extent to which the wealthy deserve their fortune. As a result:

    We frequently see the respectful attentions of the world more strongly directed towards the rich and the great, than towards the wise and the virtuous. We see frequently the vices and follies of the powerful much less despised than the poverty and weakness of the innocent…The great mob of mankind are the admirers and worshippers, and, what may seem more extraordinary, most frequently the disinterested admirers and worshippers, of wealth and greatness. (Adam Smith – Theory of Moral Sentiments, I.III.29)”

A real health cost crisis to think about – Médecins Sans Frontières on immunisation

January 21st, 2015 Comments off

The right shot

  • Rocketing vaccine cost warning – “The price of life-saving vaccines has skyrocketed leaving some countries struggling to fully immunise children, Medecins Sans Frontieres warns. A report by the charity says there has been a 68-fold increase in prices between 2001 and 2014. It accused the pharmaceutical industry of overcharging and highlighted cases where rich western countries were getting a better rate than poor ones. Industry said its pricing reflected the cost of manufacture.”

price to immunise

msf

  • Hating Good Government – “… most self-proclaimed conservatives are actually reactionaries. That is, they’re defenders of traditional hierarchy — the kind of hierarchy that is threatened by any expansion of government, even (or perhaps especially) when that expansion makes the lives of ordinary citizens better and more secure.”

oecd employment rate

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Another sign of an Australian economy trudging sideways

January 19th, 2015 Comments off

longtermcarsalesshorttermcarsales

TOTAL NEW MOTOR VEHICLE SALES
Trend estimates: The December 2014 trend estimate (92 618) has decreased by 0.1% when compared with November 2014. The trend estimate has now decreased by 0.1% for five consecutive months.
Seasonally adjusted estimates: The December 2014 seasonally adjusted estimate (94 903) has increased by 3.0% when compared with November 2014.

  • Cover of darkness – The cypherpunks are winning the second crypto-war against government spies. What will happen when everyone is anonymous?
  • Oasis or Mirage? Jordan’s Unlikely Stability in a Changing Middle East – “Jordan’s stability and security are not figments of the imagination, especially considering the revolutions, civil wars and endemic terrorism that seem to have afflicted most of the country’s neighbors. Yet the calm may not be sustainable, as Jordan confronts its own continuing struggles over reform and change; faces seemingly countless threats in terms of its internal and external security; and attempts to deal with its own economic crises and challenging energy needs.” (Sign in required)
  • Death rate drops when top heart surgeons are away – “Among the most severe cases of cardiac arrest, 70 per cent of those admitted when no cardiology conference was taking place died within 30 days. But among those admitted when expert cardiologists were away at meetings, the corresponding death rate was 60 per cent (JAMA Internal Medicine). The results suggest that for the most seriously ill heart patients, the risks of emergency interventions such as artery widening may outweigh the benefits …”
  • The Hemingway Law of Motion: Gradually, then Suddenly – ‘Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 novel The Sun Also Rises, which is available various places around the web like here, includes the following snippet of dialogue:

    “How did you go bankrupt?” Bill asked.

    “Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually and then suddenly.”

    Many economists will recognize this as a version of an apercu offered a number of times over the years by the prominent macroeconomist Rudiger Dornbusch, who liked to say (for example, in this interview about Mexico’s economic crisis in the 1990s):

    “The crisis takes a much longer time coming than you think, and then it happens much faster than you would have thought.”

    What I am dubbing the Hemingway Law of Motion clearly has wide applicability.’

Something for Catholic PM Tony Abbott to think about – Pope Francis convinced global warming mostly man-made

January 18th, 2015 Comments off
  • Pope on Climate Change: Man Has ‘Slapped Nature in the Face’ – ‘Pope Francis said Thursday he is convinced that global warming is “mostly” man-made and that he hopes his upcoming encyclical on the environment will encourage negotiators at a climate change meeting in Paris to make “courageous” decisions to protect God’s creation. Francis has spoken out frequently about the “culture of waste” that has imperiled the environment and he elaborated en route to the Philippines. While there, Francis will meet with survivors of the 2013 Typhoon Haiyan, which the government has said was an example of the extreme weather conditions that global warming has wrought. “I don’t know if it (human activity) is the only cause, but mostly, in great part, it is man who has slapped nature in the face,” he said. “We have in a sense taken over nature.” “I think we have exploited nature too much,” Francis said, citing deforestation and monoculture. “Thanks be to God that today there are voices, so many people who are speaking out about it.” ‘
  • Catholic groups rally against climate change amid intense church debate – ‘Catholic environmental groups from around the world on Wednesday (Jan. 14) announced a new global network to battle climate change just as many Catholic conservatives are sharply criticizing Pope Francis’ campaign to put environmental protection high on the church’s agenda. “We are certain that anthropogenic (human-made) climate change endangers God’s creation and us all, particularly the poor, whose voices have already spoken of the impacts of an altered climate,” the new Global Catholic Climate Movement says in its mission statement. “Climate change is about our responsibility as God’s children and people of faith to care for human life, especially future generations, by caring for all of God’s wondrous creation,” the statement continues.’

A new temperature record? Japan’s meteorologists think so

January 7th, 2015 Comments off

JMA world temps

crude oil price

7-01-2015 navylaser

  • The Pentagon’s newest weapons look like something out of ‘Star Wars’ – “One of the newest weapons in the Pentagon’s vast arsenal is a concentrated beam of light, a laser that zaps and burns, delivering destruction by the kilowatt, as if in “Star Wars.” Under development for years by the military and the defense industry, lasers have moved from science-fiction fantasy, to the laboratory and, just recently, to the Persian Gulf. They sizzle rather than go boom, providing pin-point accuracy that proponents say can prevent the kind of collateral damage that’s unavoidable with missiles or bombs.”
  • Europe’s Trap – Paul Krugman writes: “There are many risks in the world economy right now — a possible Chinese hard landing (local governments depend heavily on land sales for revenue? Oh, boy), a financial crisis in Russia and other oil exporters, etc.. But one thing is not a risk, because it has already happened: the euro area has entered a Japan-style deflationary trap. … So don’t think of Europe as having a tough but workable economic strategy, endangered by Greek voters and such. Europe is at a dead end; if anything, Greece is doing the rest of Europe a favor by sounding a wake-up call.”
  • End the feud between the spinners and the fourth estate – “The digital revolution will ultimately strengthen journalism, but so far public relations has managed the web far better.”
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Foreigners fighting against the Islamic State in Syria

January 6th, 2015 Comments off
  • Foreigners fighting Islamic State in Syria: who and why? – “So far an estimated few dozen Westerners have joined Kurdish fighters battling Islamic State in northern Syria, including Americans, Canadians, Germans, and Britons. The Syrian Kurdish armed faction known as the YPG has not released official numbers confirming foreign or “freedom fighters” and academics say it’s hard to assess the total.  But the number pales compared to an estimated 16,000 fighters from about 90 countries to join Islamic State since 2012, according to the U.S. Department of State figures.”
  • The Isis economy: Meet the new boss – “Signs of discontent are evident across the ‘caliphate’ as people tire of its taxes, price caps and shoddy services.”
  • Tropical Pacific waters show signs of cooling – “El Niño-like conditions in the tropical Pacific Ocean weakened over the past fortnight, after being close to or exceeding El Niño thresholds for several weeks. Despite this easing, the Bureau’s ENSO tracker status remains at El Niño ALERT.”
  • Knocking on tax haven’s door: Multinational firms and transfer pricing – “Allegations of tax-avoiding transfer pricing by multinational firms are common, but economic evidence is scarce. This column discusses detailed price data for intra-firm and arm’s length transactions that reveals tax-driven transfer pricing, and suggests that it may be reduced by focusing on a small number of large firms in a small number of tax havens.”
(A) Two dogs, Molly (left) and Charlotte, playing tug-a-war. This game went on for more than five minutes and was interspersed with social and self-play. (B) Three dogs (left to right), Yekeela, Charlotte, and Molly, playing during which they rapidly changed positions and used a variety of actions including bows, biting accompanied by head shaking, and body slamming. (C) Ruby (left) performing a play bow in front of Scone. (D) Scone (right) mounting Ruby.

(A) Two dogs, Molly (left) and Charlotte, playing tug-a-war. This game went on for more than five minutes and was interspersed with social and self-play. (B) Three dogs (left to right), Yekeela, Charlotte, and Molly, playing during which they rapidly changed positions and used a variety of actions including bows, biting accompanied by head shaking, and body slamming. (C) Ruby (left) performing a play bow in front of Scone. (D) Scone (right) mounting Ruby.

  • Playful fun in dogs – “What we know of fun and play in domestic dogs – particularly its apparent role in socialization.”
  • Study: Disparities seen in immigrant application results – “Immigrants to the U.S. with job offers often apply for work authorization. But immigrants from Latin America are less likely to have those requests granted than are immigrants from other regions, according to a new study conducted by scholars at MIT and Brown University — a study that also suggests a potential remedy for this problem, by finding that this regional disparity does not exist when officials examine cases in greater detail.”
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Twitter has lots of problems – should sell itself to Google

January 5th, 2015 Comments off

shopping malls quote

  • The Economics (and Nostalgia) of Dead Malls – “Premature obituaries for the shopping mall have been appearing since the late 1990s, but the reality today is more nuanced, reflecting broader trends remaking the American economy. With income inequality continuing to widen, high-end malls are thriving, even as stolid retail chains like Sears, Kmart and J. C. Penney falter, taking the middle- and working-class malls they anchored with them. … Almost one-fifth of the nation’s enclosed malls have vacancy rates considered troubling by real estate experts — 10 percent or greater. Over 3 percent of malls are considered to be dying — with 40 percent vacancies or higher. That is up from less than 1 percent in 2006.”
  • Brazen Attempts by Hotels to Block Wi-Fi
  • Let this be the year when we put a proper price on carbon – “The fall in oil prices and declines in other energy prices make the case for a tax overwhelming”
  • Japan plans new communities to lure seniors out of shorthanded cities – “To encourage people in their 60s to vacate big cities while they are still fit and healthy, the government is trying to establish a new type of community in which senior citizens can live comfortably while staying socially engaged.”

passenger pigeon

  • The great extermination – “On October 4th last, in referring to a WWF report on the dramatic collapse in the numbers of our fellow creatures on earth, an Irish Times editorial talked about biodiversity loss and our consumerist culture: “the human family appears intent on spending down its natural resources to the last fish and the last tree.” Plus ça change … It’s an old story and the sorry extinction of the passenger pigeon in North America is a pertinent case study. Professor John Wilson Foster’s Pilgrims of the Air is a fascinating account of this extraordinary bird and its sudden demise at the end of the nineteenth century
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The multi-billion dollar cost to shareholders of bad behaviour by bankers

January 4th, 2015 Comments off
The CCP Research Foundation data shows that rolling conduct costs and provisions for 12 of the most-fined banks in 2009 to 2013 were £166.63bn ($261bn), compared with £154.96bn for 2008 to 2012. Shareholders are understandably starting to complain that they are paying the price for misconduct by executives, often of banks that no longer exist but have instead been taken over. Regulators have some sympathy with this argument, and the UK began consultations in July 2014 on a new senior managers’ regime, which would require executives to certify that they had done everything possible to prevent illegal activity in their bank. Bonuses would be subject to seven-year clawback provisions in the event of misconduct or heavy losses emerging in the bank. The response from the City was very critical ...

The CCP Research Foundation data shows that rolling conduct costs and provisions for 12 of the most-fined banks in 2009 to 2013 were £166.63bn ($261bn), compared with £154.96bn for 2008 to 2012. Shareholders are understandably starting to complain that they are paying the price for misconduct by executives, often of banks that no longer exist but have instead been taken over. Regulators have some sympathy with this argument, and the UK began consultations in July 2014 on a new senior managers’ regime, which would require executives to certify that they had done everything possible to prevent illegal activity in their bank. Bonuses would be subject to seven-year clawback provisions in the event of misconduct or heavy losses emerging in the bank.
The response from the City was very critical …

  • 2014: the year of banks behaving badly – “Growing geopolitical risk and the rising toll of misconduct fines overshadowed what should have been a year of strengthening economic recovery.” (Free registration required for this review by The Banker)
  • Hillary Versus History – “When Hillary Clinton thinks about running for president, do you think she contemplates the fact that no Democrat has been elected to succeed another Democrat since James Buchanan in 1856? … What do you think this means? Actually, there weren’t all that many Republicans who were elected to succeed Republicans either. “
  • How Fox News Covered Pope Francis’ Action On Climate Change – Skepticism, Fearmongering, And Comparison To “Widespread Population Control”
  • Tensions Mount as Israel Freezes Revenue Meant for Palestinians – “Israel is withholding $127 million in tax revenue it collects for the Palestinian Authority in response to its move last week to join the International Criminal Court, further escalating tensions with a step that could have serious repercussions for both sides.”
  • Understanding the Issues in the 2015 Nigerian Presidential Election – “In the past few years, several separate, regional political parties merged into the All Progressive Congress, creating the opportunity for a credible opposition to pose a real challenge to the ruling People’s Democratic Party, which has been in power since the transition to civilian rule in 1999. Tensions in the country are high: Regional economic inequality has exacerbated the long-standing north-south, Christian-Muslim divides. Similarly, President Goodluck Jonathan’s decision to run again has disrupted traditional power-sharing agreements among the regions and religions. Boko Haram continues to threaten security around the country, especially in the north. The post-election violence of 2011 also continues to cast a shadow over the country.”

A new kind of labor movement the one thing that can save America

January 3rd, 2015 Comments off

steering

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The deterministic theory of politics – people know how they will vote months in advance

January 2nd, 2015 Comments off
  • Britons know their political destiny – “Britain’s general election takes place in May, but it is already over. Most people know how they will vote. Waverers who end up making a late choice were always going to go that way. Elections are decided by fundamentals that take shape over years, not by the vicissitudes of a campaign that starts now. This is the deterministic theory of politics. It does not allow for the purchase that campaigns can have on a race as tight as this one, but it is generally right. The coming months — the posters, the manifestos, the daily media cycles “won” by one party or another — will matter less than the accretion of events since the last election. May’s result is encoded in the minds of voters already: all politicians can do is bring it out.”
  • Japan’s Population Declined In 2014 As Births Fell To A New Low
  • Happiness and satisfaction are not everything: Toward wellbeing indices based on stated preference – “There is growing interest in alternative measures of national wellbeing, such as happiness or life satisfaction. This column argues that a small number of survey questions are unlikely to capture all the aspects of wellbeing that matter to people. Using a stated-preference survey, the authors find several aspects of wellbeing to be important that are not commonly included in wellbeing surveys, such as those related to family, values, and security. This approach could be used to provide weights for wellbeing indices.”big fat surprise
  • Are some diets “mass murder”? – Richard Smith ploughed his way through five books on diet and some of the key studies to write this article for the Beitish Medical Journal – “By far the best of the books I’ve read to write this article is Nina Teicholz’s The Big Fat Surprise, whose subtitle is “Why butter, meat, and cheese belong in a healthy diet.”3 The title, the subtitle, and the cover of the book are all demeaning, but the forensic demolition of the hypothesis that saturated fat is the cause of cardiovascular disease is impressive. Indeed, the book is deeply disturbing in showing how overenthusiastic scientists, poor science, massive conflicts of interest, and politically driven policy makers can make deeply damaging mistakes. Over 40 years I’ve come to recognise what I might have known from the beginning that science is a human activity with the error, self deception, grandiosity, bias, self interest, cruelty, fraud, and theft that is inherent in all human activities (together with some saintliness), but this book shook me.”
  • Assessment of the potential for international dissemination of Ebola virus via commercial air travel during the 2014 west African outbreak – From The Lancer: “Based on epidemic conditions and international flight restrictions to and from Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone as of Sept 1, 2014 (reductions in passenger seats by 51% for Liberia, 66% for Guinea, and 85% for Sierra Leone), our model projects 2·8 travellers infected with Ebola virus departing the above three countries via commercial flights, on average, every month. … Exit screening of travellers at airports in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone would be the most efficient frontier at which to assess the health status of travellers at risk of Ebola virus exposure, however, this intervention might require international support to implement effectively.”
  • Where Will All the Workers Go? – “Recent technological advances have three biases: They tend to be capital-intensive (thus favoring those who already have financial resources); skill-intensive (thus favoring those who already have a high level of technical proficiency); and labor-saving (thus reducing the total number of unskilled and semi-skilled jobs in the economy). The risk is that robotics and automation will displace workers in blue-collar manufacturing jobs before the dust of the Third Industrial Revolution settles.”

Another war waiting to happen in Gaza

January 1st, 2015 Comments off
  • Gaza Is Nowhere – “There is another war waiting to happen in Gaza. The last one changed nothing. Hamas rockets are being test-fired. A Palestinian farmer has been shot dead near the border. Tensions simmer. The draft Security Council resolution at the United Nations, championed by the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, seeking a withdrawal of Israeli forces from the West Bank by 2017, amounts to an elaborate sideshow. The real matter of diplomatic urgency going into 2015, for the Palestinian people and the world, is to end the lockdown of Gaza.”
  • Tony Blair says Labour ‘left-wing’ warning ‘misinterpreted’ – Tony Blair has insisted he is fully behind Ed Miliband despite appearing to suggest Labour risks being too left-wing to win the general election. The former prime minister told the Economist May’s poll could become one “in which a traditional left-wing party competes with a traditional right-wing party, with the traditional result”.Asked if this meant a Tory win, he replied: “Yes, that is what happens.”hangover
  • You’re gonna get soooo wasted tonight, and Google knows it – “Google searches for “hangover cure” spike by an insane amount on New Year’s day.”
  • A year in a word: Novorossiya – “Vladimir Putin’s use of the word led many to fear Russian expansionism, says Courtney Weaver. Novorossiya – noun — the Black Sea territory that was part of the Russian Empire from the late 18th century until the Revolution of 1917. While most of the world considers the territory part of modern-day Ukraine, a group of pro-Russia rebels in eastern Ukraine and the Moscow leadership beg to differ.”
His first notable caper was in 1975, at Bellewstown, an Irish track more noted for its lovely setting than the quality of its racing. Mr Curley’s horse, Yellow Sam, had not finished above eighth in two years; it was carrying 10kg less than some of its rivals. Yellow Sam’s performance, however, was not Mr Curley’s only concern, or even his main one. The real worry was the odds.

His first notable caper was in 1975, at Bellewstown, an Irish track more noted for its lovely setting than the quality of its racing. Mr Curley’s horse, Yellow Sam, had not finished above eighth in two years; it was carrying 10kg less than some of its rivals. Yellow Sam’s performance, however, was not Mr Curley’s only concern, or even his main one. The real worry was the odds.

  • Only fools and horses – The Economist recounts how the perfectly legal heists of a racehorse-trainer and former seminarian made him the bane of the bookies.
  • Debt piled up – A review by Eric Rauchway of THE SHIFTS AND THE SHOCKS – What we’ve learned – and still have to learn – from the financial crisis by Martin Wolf 496pp. Allen Lane. £25. “Over the course of his new book on the current economic unpleasantness, Martin Wolf conveys a sense of increasing frustration. …  Governments, banks and international institutions did “just enough, almost too late” to prevent the worst possible result, which would have been a note-for-note replay of the 1930s including a slide into fascism and world war. But having done no more than avoid world-historic catastrophe, we find ourselves mired in a dim morass of our own making, with no sunlit uplands in sight. No wonder Wolf is exasperated.”
  • Our new pro-science pontiff: Pope Francis on climate change, evolution, and the Big Bang

Fox the clear US cable news winner again

December 31st, 2014 Comments off
The O’Reilly Factor the top news program

“The O’Reilly Factor,” was again top dog among all cable news programs

  • Fox News Dominates Cable News Ratings in 2014; MSNBC Tumbles – In a generally overall down year for the cable news genre, Fox News remained the dominant ratings force in 2014, while CNN made some meaningful demo strides relative to a sagging MSNBC. Behind the highest-rated programs in cable news — including “The O’Reilly Factor,” which was again top dog among all programs — Fox News finished on top in both total viewers and the adults 25-54 news demo for a 13th straight year, according to Nielsen’s “most current” estimates through Dec. 26.
  • Greece’s election: The euro’s next crisis – Why an early election spells big dangers for Greece—and for the euro
  • A Greek Crisis, but not a Euro Crisis
  • Pot Pie, Redefined? Chefs Start to Experiment With Cannabis – Recreational marijuana is both illegal and controversial in most of the country, and its relationship to food does not rise much above a joke about brownies or a stoner chef’s late-night pork belly poutine. But cooking with cannabis is emerging as a legitimate and very lucrative culinary pursuit. In Colorado, which has issued more than 160 edible marijuana licenses, skilled line cooks are leaving respected restaurants to take more lucrative jobs infusing cannabis into food and drinks. In Washington, one of four states that allow recreational marijuana sales, a large cannabis bakery dedicated to affluent customers with good palates will soon open in Seattle.
  • The big kill – New Zealand’s crusade to rid itself of mammals.
  • Working Too Hard Makes Leading More Difficult
  • Broken sleep – People once woke up halfway through the night to think, write or make love. What have we lost by sleeping straight through.
  • 31-12-2014 yachtingforsaleCYC bans Oz reporter Sue Neales from Sydney to Hobart for her story – ‘When seemingly unbeatable Wild Oats XI glided first across the finish line of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race on Sunday afternoon for the eighth time in 10 years, cheers rang out from thousands of admiring spectators lining Hobart’s historic wharves. But elsewhere around Australia there were collective groans from less avid sailing fans. Social media was full of posts and tweets that repeatedly linked the great race with the words “boring”, “predictable” and, most worryingly for race organisers, “yawn” and “I’m not interested any more”.’

There’s never been a safer time to fly

December 30th, 2014 Comments off

safer time to fly2014 air fatalities

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In cricket two neutral umpires are better than one and certainly better than none

December 26th, 2014 Comments off
  • Not really cricket: Home bias in officiating – “There has been interest among both sports fans and academics in whether pressure from home crowds affects decision making of officials. This column investigates this problem using new data from cricket matches. The authors find that neutral umpires decrease the bias against away teams, making neutral officials very important for a fair contest. “
  • 26-12-2014 thegreatreformer
  • Chronicle of a papacy foretold – The ideological roots of Latin America’s Jesuit pontiff, Pope Francis – “The pope also shows more sign than his predecessors of understanding the human dilemmas posed by abortion and assisted suicide, but still hews to the church’s teaching on the sanctity of life. Even among people who disagree with all those views, Francis commands sympathy. For his part, he has acknowledged the integrity of people, including atheists and Marxists, whose beliefs differ from his own; and the respect is often mutual. His idiosyncratic humanism, forged in a land of political and economic turmoil, seems infectious. This book explains where it comes from.”
  • Religion Without God – “… God-neutral faith is growing rapidly, in many cases with even less role for God than among Unitarians. Atheist services have sprung up around the country, even in the Bible Belt. Many of them are connected to Sunday Assembly, which was founded in Britain by two comedians, Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans. They are avowed atheists. Yet they have created a movement that draws thousands of people to events with music, sermons, readings, reflections and (to judge by photos) even the waving of upraised hands.”
  • Video games should be in Olympics, says Warcraft maker – “Millions watch the most popular games, both at stadium-sized events and online.”
  • Race to Deliver Nicotine’s Punch, With Less Risk – “The rush by Philip Morris and other tobacco companies to develop new ways of selling nicotine is occurring as more consumers are trying e-cigarettes, devices that heat a nicotine-containing fluid to create a vapor that users inhale. While only a small percentage of smokers have switched to the devices — experts say early e-cigarettes did not deliver enough nicotine to satisfy a smoker’s cravings — major tobacco companies are deploying their financial resources and knowledge in a bid to dominate a potentially huge market for cigarette alternatives.”
  • Growth slowdowns: Middle-income trap vs. regression to the mean – “Dozens of nations think they are in the ‘middle-income trap’. Lant Pritchett and Larry Summers present new evidence that this trap is actually just growth reverting to its mean. This matters since belief in the ‘trap’ can lead governments to misinterpret current challenges. For lower-middle-income nations the 21st century beckons, but there are still 19th century problems to address. Moreover, sustaining rapid growth requires both parts of creative destruction, but only one is popular with governments and economic elites.”

The quality of your grade three teachers matter throughout life

December 24th, 2014 Comments off
  • The Importance of Teacher Quality – From an interview with he John Bates Clark medal winning economist Raj Chetty: “Much to our surprise, it immediately became evident that students who were assigned to high value-added teachers showed substantially larger gains in terms of earnings, college attendance rates, significantly lower teenage birth rates; they lived in better neighborhoods as adults; they had higher levels of retirement savings. Across a broad spectrum of outcomes, there were quite substantial and meaningful impacts on children’s long-term success, despite seeing the same fade-out pattern for test scores.”
  • Politicians ought to have a pint with their opponents more often – Politics without blind tribal dogma? I’ll drink to that.
  • The more things shuffle, more they stay the same – “Reshuffling the cabinet is like changing who wears which colour skivvy in the Wiggles: it doesn’t make any difference, and they all end up singing the same old tunes, writes Tim Dunlop.”
  • France PM calls for calm after spate of attacks – “French authorities have called for calm after a string of attacks across the country left dozens of people injured, saying there was no evidence to connect the spate of violent acts.”
  • Is Saudi Arabia Trying to Cripple American Fracking? Well, it’s said as much, but the real reason for the flood of new Saudi oil is more complicated. “Saudi Arabia isn’t flooding the oil market to cripple America’s shale revolution, it’s doing it to win favor with Washington by weakening Russia and Iran.”
  • Average temperature in Finland has risen by more than two degrees – “According to a recent University of Eastern Finland and Finnish Meteorological Institute study, the rise in the temperature has been especially fast over the past 40 years, with the temperature rising by more than 0.2 degrees per decade. “The biggest temperature rise has coincided with November, December and January. Temperatures have also risen faster than the annual average in the spring months, i.e., March, April and May. In the summer months, however, the temperature rise has not been as significant,” says Professor Ari Laaksonen of the University of Eastern Finland and the Finnish Meteorological Institute. As a result of the temperature rising, lakes in Finland get their ice cover later than before, and the ice cover also melts away earlier in the spring. “

Basic rights for an orangutan

December 23rd, 2014 Comments off

sandra

  • A court in Argentina has ruled that a shy orangutan who spent the last 20 years in a zoo can be granted some legal rights enjoyed by humans. Lawyers had appealed to free Sandra from the Buenos Aires zoo by arguing that although not human, she should be given legal rights.
  • Peter Singer on The Ransom Dilemma – “Governments that pay ransoms are saving the lives of some of their citizens, but putting the remainder of their citizens – and others – at greater risk. The refusal to pay ransoms to terrorists can seem callous, but in truth it is the only ethical policy. Every government should adhere to it.”
  • A change is gonna come – “The great civil rights song turns 50 – the political made personal, and heartbreak transmuted into fiery action”
  • Army of Spin – “Following in Putin’s footsteps, the Turkish government is gearing up for full-fledged information warfare.”
  • Japan: ‘Solo weddings’ for single women – “A travel agency in one of Japan’s most beautiful cities, Kyoto, has started organising bridal ceremonies for single women. Kyodo news agency reports that Cerca Travel’s two-day “solo wedding” package includes choosing your own special gown, bouquet and hairstyle, a limousine service, a stay at a hotel and a commemorative photo album. “This package boosted my sense of self-esteem… the effect was equal to a more extraordinary experience, such as visiting a World Heritage castle,” says Tomoe Sawano, one of the first to try out a “solo wedding”. About 30 women from across Japan have become “solo brides” since the service was launched in May.”
  • Sky: All to play for – “Broadcaster is facing the toughest competition of its 25-year history”

A slowing growth in China, the myth of the American dream and other news and views for Monday 8 December 2014

December 8th, 2014 Comments off
  • China trade data well below expectations – “Trade data from the world’s second largest economy, China, came in well below expectations on Monday, heightening fears of a sharper slowdown. China’s exports rose 4.7% in November from a year ago, compared to market forecasts of a 8.2% jump. Imports fell 6.7% in the same period against predictions of a 3.9% rise.”
  • David Murray has gone rogue – “David Murray, and panel members Craig Dunn, former CEO of AMP, and Carolyn Hewson, former director of Schroders and BT Investment management, seem to have had a late life conversion, realising that the system they’ve been part of has failed. Consumers, it says, have not been getting fair treatment and the current regulatory framework ‘is not sufficient’. This is directly contrary to what the government, and the banks and retail super funds such as AMP, have been saying.”
  • It’s Brown, It’s Barrel-Aged, It’s … Gin? – “While many know gin for its light, bright and dry characteristics — citrusy, herbal flavors that go so well with tonic water — another gin sits at the opposite end of the spectrum. Malty, lightly tannic, and with the subtle sweetness and spice of a young whiskey, dark, barrel-aged gin is pushing the frontiers of this spirit forward. Dark gins are distilled the usual way, then spend months or even years resting in oak barrels — the same ones used to age whisky, wine and sherry. That final step yields surprisingly complex results. The wood tones down the intensity of the juniper, and adds notes of vanilla, caramel and often baking spices, somewhere between a bourbonlike gin and a ginlike bourbon.
Maca root

From Wikipedia

The pupils made their games using software made available with the popular medieval fantasy game Neverwinter Nights 2 - University of Sussex

The pupils made their games using software made available with the popular medieval fantasy game Neverwinter Nights 2 – University of Sussex

  • Girls better than boys at making story-based computer games, Sussex study finds – “Researchers in the [Sussex] University’s Informatics department asked pupils at a secondary school to design and program their own computer game using a new visual programming language that shows pupils the computer programs they have written in plain English. Dr Kate Howland and Dr Judith Good found that the girls in the classroom wrote more complex programs in their games than the boys and also learnt more about coding compared to the boys. There are persistent concerns about the underrepresentation of women in computing – only 17% of the UK’s computer science graduates in 2012 were female, despite a promising reduction of the gender gap in maths-related subjects at school level.”
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The future looks incredibly bleak for social democrats

December 7th, 2014 Comments off
  • Surfers Without Waves – Is Social Democracy Dead In The Water? – “No social democratic party anywhere in the world is on the front foot. Sure, parties may find themselves in government – as they do in Denmark, Sweden, Germany and France, in their own right or as part of a coalition – but this happens by accident and tends to be down to the failures of the right. And in office, social democrats tend to follow austerity or austerity-lite measures. No social democratic party has a strident and confident set of intellectual and organisational ideas that propel a meaningful alternative political project. The future looks incredibly bleak. Why? … The brief upturn in the electoral fortunes of social democrats in the mid 1990s around the third way, the new middle and Clintonism was won at the expense of the further erosion of an increasingly ignored electoral base. In the mistaken belief it had nowhere else to go, core support was traded for core values and reliance pinned on a dysfunctional financialised capitalism that backfired spectacularly in 2008 with social democrats caught with their fingers in the neo-liberal till. … Instead of more things we didn’t know we wanted, paid for with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t know, social democrats are going have to talk about more of other things – more time, public space, clean air, community and autonomy.
  • Antarctic seawater temperatures rising – “New research published … in the journal Science shows how shallow shelf seas of West Antarctica have warmed over the last 50 years. The international research team say that this has accelerated the melting and sliding of glaciers in the area, and that there is no indication that this trend will reverse.”
  • Racial Divide: The Tragedy of America’s First Black President – Police killings of black youth in Ferguson and Cleveland have outraged many in the US. The tragic events show how deep the societal divide remains between blacks and whites. Many have given up hope that President Obama can change anything.
  • The Last Chapter – Books and bookselling have been with us for a couple of thousand years, in which time they have progressed out of the libraries and into bookshops and homes, away from institutions and towards individuals. A great success story, but nearly all stories have an ending.
  • New Asahi Shimbun chief promises to restore public trust in daily – “The Asahi Shimbun’s new president vowed Friday to rebuild domestic and international trust in the beleaguered paper by broadening the range of views expressed in its pages, correcting erroneous information in a timely manner and being more careful with investigative stories. Masataka Watanabe, 55, formally assumed his new post as president Friday, taking over from Tadakazu Kimura, who stepped down to take responsibility for errant reporting based on the transcript of a government interview with Masao Yoshida, the late head of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.”

New Republic

  • Have You Resigned from The New Republic Yet? – “Yesterday, the magazine’s two top editors, Franklin Foer and Leon Wieseltier, quit before they could be fired. Gabriel Snyder, a former editor of Gawker and the Atlantic Wire, is the new editor of the magazine, which will reduce its frequency from 20 issues per year to 10. (Foer reportedly learned he was going to be replaced from reading a post on Gawker.) … The pair’s ousting has led to a mass exodus from the masthead, which began yesterday when contributing editors Jonathan Chait and Ryan Lizza cut ties via Twitter, and picked up this morning. By our count, 33 of the magazine’s editors and contributors have also resigned.
  • Can anyone be a journalist? UGA researcher examines citizen journalism – Citizen journalists are expanding the definition of journalists. And new research by a University of Georgia professor looks at how two court cases work together to uphold freedom of expression.
  • Looking at El Niño’s past to predict its future

World’s hottest year without El Niño and other news and views of the day

December 4th, 2014 Comments off
This year we are poised to set the global temperature record in an ENSO-neutral year. And while eastern tropical Pacific sea surface temperatures have been warmer than normal in recent months, those temperatures were colder than normal in the beginning months of the year, so the net effect of ENSO on 2014 global temperatures has been minimal.

This year we are poised to set the global temperature record in an ENSO-neutral year. And while eastern tropical Pacific sea surface temperatures have been warmer than normal in recent months, those temperatures were colder than normal in the beginning months of the year, so the net effect of ENSO on 2014 global temperatures has been minimal.

  • 2014 Headed Toward Hottest Year On Record — Here’s Why That’s Remarkable – 2014 is currently on track to be hottest year on record, according to new reports from both the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the U.K.’s Met Office Wednesday. Similarly, NOAA reported two weeks ago that 2014 is all but certain to be the hottest year on record. … It’s usually the combination of the long-term manmade warming trend and the regional El Niño warming pattern that leads to new global temperature records. But not this year.”
  • A Global Health Care Spending Slowdown: Temporary or Permanent?
  • Better Off With Bibi? – “Despite all the petty politics and infighting, there are still reasons we shouldn’t be so quick to assume that elections — and (possibly) a new prime minister — will solve Israel’s problems.”
  • How Monsanto’s Big Data Push Hurts Small Farms – “Genetically modified seed/pesticide giant Monsanto envisions itself transforming into an information-technology company within a decade, as a company honcho recently told my colleague Tim McDonnell. A year ago, Monsanto dropped nearly $1 billion on Climate Corp., which ‘turns a wide range of information into valuable insights and recommendations for farmers,’ as Monsanto put it at the time. … Big Data may help monocrop farmers use less fertilizer and pesticides per acre harvested than they had been before, but if they drive out more diversified and less chemical-intensive operations, the result might not be as clear-cut as the agribusiness companies suggest.”
  • Profiling the Islamic state – n a new Brookings Doha Center Analysis Paper, Charles Lister traces IS’s roots from Jordan to Afghanistan, and finally to Iraq and Syria. He describes its evolution from a small terrorist group into a bureaucratic organization that currently controls thousands of square miles and is attempting to govern millions of people. Lister assesses the group’s capabilities, explains its various tactics, and identifies its likely trajectory.
“Strangerland” (Australia, Ireland) Director: Kim Farrant Cast: Nicole Kidman, Joseph Fiennes, Hugo Weaving, Lisa Flanagan, Meyne Wyatt, Maddison Brown

“Strangerland”
(Australia, Ireland)
Director: Kim Farrant
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Joseph Fiennes, Hugo Weaving, Lisa Flanagan, Meyne Wyatt, Maddison Brown

  • Sundance Film Festival Unveils 2015 Competition, Next Lineups – World Cinema Dramatic Competition – “In the World Cinema dramatic competition, [director of programming Trevor] Groth noted a number of titles pairing emerging filmmakers with established-name actors, including Australian director Kim Farrant’s “Strangerland,” a marital drama starring Nicole Kidman, Joseph Fiennes and Hugo Weaving”
“Partisan” (Australia) Director: Ariel Kleiman Cast: Vincent Cassel, Jeremy Chabriel, Florence Mezzara

“Partisan”
(Australia)
Director: Ariel Kleiman
Cast: Vincent Cassel, Jeremy Chabriel, Florence Mezzara

The man called M — and a cuckoo called Goo

December 3rd, 2014 Comments off
  • Nest of spies – The cuckoo is both an icon of Englishness and a symbol of suspicion and deceit — a perfect pet for an MI5 officer, then – “When I was small, I read a book by a man called Maxwell Knight. It was the story of how he had reared a baby cuckoo. Back then I thoughtA Cuckoo in the House was just another animal book from the 1950s, and that Knight was just an ordinary man. But the BTO project spurred me to read it again, this time knowing more about Knight. On rereading, I found it a very different book — a fascinating and troubling fable about the meanings we give to animals, and a book that unwittingly revealed all sorts of strange collisions and collusions between natural history and national history in post-war Britain.This, then, is the story of Maxwell Knight — the man called M — and a cuckoo called Goo.”
  • Is Tunisia a role model for the Arab world? – “When Tunisians vote in their presidential run-off election later this month, it will be the fourth time they have been to the polls in as many years.Tunisia not only started the Arab Spring, it is now leading the way in terms of democratic development in the Middle East and North Africa.”
  • Tunisian policeman beheaded by militants in Kef2014-12-02_hobbitt
  • Film Review: ‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies’ – “This is the way “The Hobbit” ends: not with a whimper, but with an epic battle royale. True to its subtitle, “The Battle of the Five Armies” (revised from the initially more pacific “There and Back Again”), the final installment of Peter Jackson’s distended “Lord of the Rings” prequel offers more barbarians at the gate than you can shake an Elven sword at, each vying for control of mountainous Erebor. The result is at once the trilogy’s most engrossing episode, its most expeditious (at a comparatively lean 144 minutes) and also its darkest — both visually and in terms of the forces that stir in the hearts of men, dwarves and orcs alike.”
  • Feeling Like A Holiday Glutton? It May Be Time To Try A Fast
  • Le Pen’s French National Front eyes route to power
  • The Teen Brain “Shuts Down” When It Hears Mom’s Criticism – “… when listening to Moms’ criticism, and for a period afterwards, the teens’ brains showed more activity in areas involved in negative emotions (no surprise there), but they actually showed reduced activity in regions involved in emotional control and in taking other people’s point of view. This suggests, the researchers said, that in response to maternal criticism: ‘youth shut down social processing [and] possibly do not think about their parents’ mental states.’ They add: ‘… the decrement in brain activity in regions involved in mentalizing or perspective taking could help to explain the high frequency of maladaptive conflict resolution in parent-adolescent dyads.” ‘

2014-12-03_fmristudy

xkcd comment:
They also showed activation in the parts of the brain associated
with exposure to dubious study methodology,
concern about unremoved piercings,
and exasperation with fMRI techs who won’t stop talking about Warped Tour.

 

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The new round of climate talks

December 1st, 2014 Comments off

pepperrobot

A benefit of global warming – winter deaths decline in UK

December 1st, 2014 Comments off

2014-12-01_winterdeaths

  • Why don’t we hear about the beneficial side of climate change? “There is a very good reason why excess winter deaths fell so sharply in the space of a year. Last winter was particularly mild: December and January were 2° Celsius above the long-term average. The winter 2012/13, by contrast, had prolonged periods of cold. There is a long term correlation between cold winters and excess winter deaths.”
  • The Language of Climate Change – “The data in this report will be used by policymakers when making reforms. This importance makes the act of understating the findings—so as not to repeat the wave of criticism of the fourth report—a questionable endeavor. It also strains the IPCC’s relationship with international policymakers. If it is muffling the data so as not to scare people, it might not be fully trusted to provide legitimate information for future changes.”
  • Deficit fetishism – John Quiggin writes: “As the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook approaches, talk about the budget deficit is approaching panic. This piece from Deloitte, warning that ‘the budget is burning’ is typical.”
  • Nicotine Without Death – “Are e-cigarettes completely safe? asked Saul Shiffman, an addiction expert at the University of Pittsburgh. ‘There is not enough data to say that,’ he acknowledged. But on a relative basis, electronic cigarettes are far preferable to the old-fashioned kind. After all, e-cigarettes are essentially nicotine delivery devices, and while nicotine is addictive, it is the tobacco in cigarettes that kills.”
Jeff Koons - 'Self portrait' (1991)

Jeff Koons – ‘Self portrait’ (1991)

Jar Jar Binks and political popularity

November 30th, 2014 Comments off

2014-11-30_jarjarbinks

People who think they’re entitled to standing—because they are brainy, rich, or famous—almost always lose. They forget you earn your standing, you are not entitled to it. That’s the best thing about democracy, the single reason why we’re not yet entirely governed by wealthy oligarchs.

I may have come into politics with an unacknowledged condescension toward the game and the people who played it, but I left with more respect for politicians than when I went in. The worst of them—the careerists and predators—you find in all professions. The best of them were a credit to democracy. They knew the difference between an adversary and an enemy, knew when to take half a loaf and when to insist on the whole bakery, knew when to trust their own judgment and when to listen to the people.

As I learned while watching wiser colleagues than I in a democratic legislature, it is really something in life to be utterly disabused about human motive, venality, capacity for double-crossing, and yet still come to work every day, trying to get something done.

Liberalism will become an enclave conviction of a shrinking minority unless those who call themselves liberal reconnect their faith in tolerance, equality, opportunity for all with the more difficult faith in the dirty, loud-mouthed, false, lying business of politics itself. This disdain is cynicism, masking as high principle. The ultimate allegiance of a democratic politician is not to party, not even to principle, but to the venal process called politics. So my final advice is this: Politics is not a vulgar means to a goal, it’s a noble life unto itself, and unless you love it, you can’t do it well. I didn’t get there, but I hope you will.

China To Cap Coal Use By 2020

November 23rd, 2014 Comments off
  • China To Cap Coal Use By 2020 To Meet Game-Changing Climate, Air Pollution Targets – “The Chinese government announced Wednesday it would cap coal use by 2020. The Chinese State Council, or cabinet, said the peak would be 4.2 billion tonnes, a one-sixth increase over current consumption. This is a staggering reversal of Chinese energy policy, which for two decades has been centered around building a coal plant or more a week. Now they’ll be building the equivalent in carbon-free power every week for decades, while the construction rate of new coal plants decelerates like a crash-test dummy.”
  • octobernoaaClick to enlarge
  • State of the Climate: Global Analysis – The combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces for October 2014 was the highest on record for October, at 0.74°C (1.33°F) above the 20th century average of 14.0°C (57.1°F). The global land surface temperature was 1.05°C (1.89°F) above the 20th century average of 9.3°C (48.7°F)—the fifth highest for October on record. For the ocean, the October global sea surface temperature was 0.62°C (1.12°F) above the 20th century average of 15.9°C (60.6°F) and the highest for October on record. The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for the January–October period (year-to-date) was 0.68°C (1.22°F) above the 20th century average of 14.1°C (57.4°F). The first ten months of 2014 were the warmest such period on record.
  • Study shows the media has a clear bias — in favor of dogs
  • The writer who foresaw the rise of the totalitarian state – “The 19th Century Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote about characters who justified murder in the name of their ideological beliefs. For this reason, John Gray argues, he’s remained relevant ever since, through the rise of the totalitarian states of the 20th Century, to the ‘war against terror’.”
  • Poverty is a hard sell for newspapers flogging braised endives – “Leftwing papers have to strike an uneasy balance between the lure of aspirational advertising and their mission to report.”

How the Democratic Party Lost Its Soul

November 21st, 2014 Comments off
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Are terrorists winning the war on terror?

November 20th, 2014 Comments off

Terrorists

  • Global Terrorism Index Report – “17,958 people were killed in terrorist attacks last year, that’s 61% more than the previous year.17,958 people were killed in terrorist attacks last year, that’s 61% more than the previous year.
    . 82% of all deaths from terrorist attacks occur in just 5 countries: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria.
    . Last year terrorism was dominated by four groups: the Taliban, Boko Haram, ISIL, and al Qa’ida.
    . More than 90% of all terrorist attacks occur in countries that have gross human rights violations.
    . 40 times more people are killed by homicides than terrorist attacks.
  • Once Tolerated, Westerners Are Now Targeted By Radical Islamists – “For more than a decade now, extremist groups scattered across the Muslim world have been targeting Westerners to such an extent that large swaths of territory are no-go zones, including many parts of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen.”
  • With Cash And Cachet, The Islamic State Expands Its Empire – “Islamist militant groups from the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt to the coast of eastern Libya are pledging allegiance to the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS. The Sunni extremist group primarily operates in the chaos of Iraq and Syria but is using chameleon-like branding and the draw of cash to get militants who focused on local issues to join their brutal empire.”
  • Indonesia: ‘Virginity Tests’ for Female Police – ‘Testing’ Applicants Is Discriminatory, Cruel, Degrading
  • Bob Marley family launches “first world cannabis brand”
  • White House Putting Up ‘Fierce’ Fight to Conceal Torture Report – “The White House is fiercely resisting the release of a 6,300-page Senate report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, Senate aides tellForeign Policy, raising fears that the public will never receive a full accounting of the Bush administration’s post-9/11 torture practices. At issue is the report’s identification of individual CIA officers by pseudonyms. The CIA and the White House want the pseudonyms and references to other agency activities completely stricken to further protect the identities of CIA spies. Senate aides say many of those redactions are unnecessary and render the report unreadable. Now even after Senate Democrats agreed to remove some pseudonyms at the White House’s request, the Oval Office is still haggling for more redactions.”
  • Fat places $2tn burden on world economy, says McKinsey report
  • High heels may enhance a man’s instinct to be helpful – French study is the first to investigate the effect of a woman’s shoe heels on men’s behavior

Lobbyists spending billions to help earn trillions and other news and views for the day

November 18th, 2014 Comments off
  • Top Spenders On Capitol Hill Pay Billions, Receive Trillions – ‘How much power should corporations wield in Washington? It’s an enduring question — and now the Sunlight Foundation has devised a new way to gauge that power. The foundation took the 200 corporations most active in Washington, analyzed the years 2007-2012 and applied several metrics: what the companies got in federal contracts and other federal support, what they spent on lobbying, how much their executives and political action committees gave in campaign contributions. Bill Allison, the Sunlight Foundation’s editorial director, says there aren’t permanent majorities governing in Congress and the executive branch — “but there really are permanent interests in Washington,” he says. With some companies, a policy of giving big to political campaigns might seem pretty obvious; at other companies, it’s less obvious. “But federal spending is a big part of their business model,” Allison says. He says the top 200 corporations accounted for nearly $6 billion in lobbying and campaign contributions. Those same corporations benefited from more than $4 trillion in federal contracts and assistance.’

2014-11-17_theriver

  • A Reserve So Deep, You Could Drown – Hugh Jackman Stars in ‘The River’ on Broadway – “In Jez Butterworth’s “The River,” the poetic tease of a drama that opened Sunday night at the Circle in the Square Theater, Mr. Jackman conveys an impression of mightily self-contained silence, even when he’s talking like Wordsworth on a bender. And in banking his fires so compellingly, he ascends with assurance to a new level as a stage actor.”
  • Japan Through the Looking Glass – Paul Krugman writes: “Long ago I argued that what Japan needed was a credible promise to be irresponsible. And deficits that must be monetized are one way to make that happen … As I and other people like Paul McCulley have tried to explain many times, the liquidity trap puts you on the other side of the looking glass; virtue is vice, prudence is folly, central bank independence is a bad thing and the threat of monetized deficits is to be welcomed, not feared.”
  • Why Keynes is important today – “The current debate on the efficacy of Keynesian stimulus mirrors the resistance Keynes met with when initially advocating his theory.”
  • The Netherlands Is Set To Open The World’s First Solar Bike Lane
  • Why are the Conservatives so incompetent at running the economy? – “If that question seems odd to you, you are one of the majority in the UK who think the Conservatives are better at managing the economy than Labour. Why do people think this? My guess is that it is very simple. The financial crisis happened while Labour was in power. This led to the largest recession since the Great Depression. But surely everyone knows that the financial crisis was a global phenomenon that started in the US? Surely everyone knows that if the Conservatives had been in power there would have been just as little financial regulation, so the impact of the crisis on UK banks would have been much the same? The problem is that most people do not know this.
  • The career prospects of overeducated Americans

Putin’s information war – disinformation on a mass scale and other news and views for Sunday 16 November

November 16th, 2014 Comments off
  • Putin waging information war in Ukraine worthy of George Orwell – “… the Kremlin’s latest weapon: disinformation on a mass scale and in multiple languages. … The purpose of the media offensive isn’t so much to present an alternative point of view as to create a parallel reality where crackpots become experts and conspiracy theories offer explanations for the injustices of the world. The target audience is Western citizens skeptical of their own system of government. The goal is obfuscation. Lying – blatantly and repeatedly – is considered a legitimate weapon in the arsenal of hybrid warfare that Putin has unleashed in the struggle for Ukraine. Words may seem harmless in comparison to bullets and bombs, but their effect has been no less deadly.”
a) NOAA Sea Surface Temperature anomaly (with respect to period 1854-2013) averaged over global oceans (red) and over North Pacific (0-60oN, 110oE-100oW) (cyan). September 2014 temperatures broke the record for both global and North Pacific Sea Surface Temperatures. b) Sea Surface Temperature anomaly of September 2014 from NOAA's ERSST dataset.

a) NOAA Sea Surface Temperature anomaly (with respect to period 1854-2013) averaged over global oceans (red) and over North Pacific (0-60oN, 110oE-100oW) (cyan). September 2014 temperatures broke the record for both global and North Pacific Sea Surface Temperatures. b) Sea Surface Temperature anomaly of September 2014 from NOAA’s ERSST dataset.

  • Warmest oceans ever recorded – “This summer has seen the highest global mean sea surface temperatures ever recorded since their systematic measuring started. Temperatures even exceed those of the record-breaking 1998 El Niño year,” says Axel Timmermann, climate scientist and professor, studying variability of the global climate system at the International Pacific Research Center, University of Hawaii at Manoa.

    From 2000-2013 the global ocean surface temperature rise paused, in spite of increasing greenhouse gas concentrations. This period, referred to as the Global Warming Hiatus, raised a lot of public and scientific interest. However, as of April 2014 ocean warming has picked up speed again, according to Timmermann’s analysis of ocean temperature datasets.
    “The 2014 global ocean warming is mostly due to the North Pacific, which has warmed far beyond any recorded value (Figure 1a) and has shifted hurricane tracks, weakened trade winds, and produced coral bleaching in the Hawaiian Islands,” explains Timmermann.
    He describes the events leading up to this upswing as follows: Sea-surface temperatures started to rise unusually quickly in the extratropical North Pacific already in January 2014. A few months later, in April and May, westerly winds pushed a huge amount of very warm water usually stored in the western Pacific along the equator to the eastern Pacific. This warm water has spread along the North American Pacific coast, releasing into the atmosphere enormous amounts of heat–heat that had been locked up in the Western tropical Pacific for nearly a decade.
    “Record-breaking greenhouse gas concentrations and anomalously weak North Pacific summer trade winds, which usually cool the ocean surface, have contributed further to the rise in sea surface temperatures. The warm temperatures now extend in a wide swath from just north of Papua New Guinea to the Gulf of Alaska (Figure 1b),” says Timmermann.
    The current record-breaking temperatures indicate that the 14-year-long pause in ocean warming has come to an end.

  • Europe Takes Aim at Deals Created to Escape Taxes – The Tax Attraction Between Starbucks and the Netherlands
  • Conservatives: Let’s Prove We Can Govern by Shutting Down the Government and Impeaching Obama 

Using football to combat cocaine addiction and winning on and off the field

November 6th, 2014 Comments off
Scotland has the highest rate, per capita, of cocaine use in the world, according to the United Nations’ World Drug Report 2014. Hamilton Academicals hosts regular meetings for recovering addicts, giving away hundreds of tickets for the families of those affected, advertises Cocaine Anonymous  as well as providing meals for the homeless.

Scotland has the highest rate, per capita, of cocaine use in the world, according to the United Nations’ World Drug Report 2014. Hamilton Academicals hosts regular meetings for recovering addicts, giving away hundreds of tickets for the families of those affected, advertises Cocaine Anonymous as well as providing meals for the homeless.

While Celtic, the giant of Scottish soccer attracts 50,000 spectators to a game and has sponsors paying millions, the Academicals average 1000 fans and promote a driving instructor

While Celtic, the giant of Scottish soccer attracts 50,000 spectators to a game and has sponsors paying millions, the Academicals average 1000 fans and promote a driving instructor

  • Scottish Club Hamilton Academical Combines Soccer and Sobriety – “… this season, after an unlikely ascent to the Scottish Premier League, Hamilton Academical, or the Accies as it is known, had risen as high as first place. The club moved up to the top of the league with a surprise 1-0 victory over nearby Celtic … About 10 years ago a group of local businessmen bought the club for £1 (about $1.60) and committed to building a team with young players that was intimately connected to the community. McGowan vowed to use the club to help overcome what he saw as the biggest problem facing Hamilton — and, more broadly, the country. “I’m a co-owner of the football club, but I’m also an alcoholic and a drug addict,” he said. “I’ve been in recovery for 31 years. I don’t forget the pain and suffering I caused others. I’m putting a wee bit back in.” … Hundreds of addicts have come through the club, he added. Not every case is a success. “Some relapse, some die, some take their own lives,” he said. “There’s always going to be casualties. But it’s the ones that make it.”

5-11-2014 yamazaki

The El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) Tracker status remains at El Niño WATCH level. The current observations and model outlooks indicate the chance of a weak to moderate El Niño remains at least 50%, meaning there is double the average likelihood of an event occurring by early 2015.

The El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) Tracker status remains at El Niño WATCH level. The current observations and model outlooks indicate the chance of a weak to moderate El Niño remains at least 50%, meaning there is double the average likelihood of an event occurring by early 2015.

  • Warm tropical Pacific Ocean, but ENSO remains neutral – The Australian Bureau of Meteorology reports: “The existence of warmer-than-average water in the tropical Pacific sub-surface supports a continuation of the current near-El Niño conditions. International climate models surveyed by the Bureau suggest that warmer-than-average tropical Pacific sea surface temperatures are likely to persist. Three of eight models reach El Niño thresholds in January 2015, and two remain just shy of thresholds. Australian rainfall and temperature patterns show some El Niño-like impacts, with the country generally warmer and drier than usual over recent months. Warmer central tropical Pacific waters late in the year typically result in warmer and drier weather for parts of eastern Australia, an increase in bushfire risk in the south, and average to below-average numbers of tropical cyclones in the Australian region.”
  • Why Your Brain Wants To Help One Child In Need — But Not Millions
  • Apple borrowing billions to pay shareholders is everything wrong with capitalism today

Morgan Poll also has Labor pulling ahead – just like Newspoll

November 4th, 2014 Comments off

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A starling, one of the common European bird species found to be in decline in a new study. Credit: Tomas Belka, birdphoto.eu

A starling, one of the common European bird species found to be in decline in a new study. Credit: Tomas Belka, birdphoto.eu

  • A staggering 400 million birds have vanished from Europe since 1980
  • How marijuana will fare on election day – “Voters in four states will decide how the next chapter of marijuana reform will be written. If several of the measures pass, it will likely build momentum for a growing public consensus on legalization. On the other hand, if all or most of the measures fail, legalization proponents may need to take a step back and reassess their strategies for legalization efforts already planned for a number of states in 2016.”
  • The outlook: Prolonged low growth or another crisis – Contrary to widely held beliefs, the world has not yet begun to ‘delever’ and the global debt-to-GDP is still growing. Growth and inflation are also dangerously low. This Vox Talk discusses the findings and policy recommendations of the 16th Geneva Report. It argues that much more can and should be done to improve resilience to debt shocks and discourage excessive debt accumulation.
  • What Have Economists Ever Done for Us?

Always gamble on an empty stomach and other news and views for Monday 3 November

November 3rd, 2014 Comments off
  • Always Gamble on an Empty Stomach: Hunger Is Associated with Advantageous Decision Making – “Three experimental studies examined the counterintuitive hypothesis that hunger improves strategic decision making, arguing that people in a hot state are better able to make favorable decisions involving uncertain outcomes. Studies 1 and 2 demonstrated that participants with more hunger or greater appetite made more advantageous choices in the Iowa Gambling Task compared to sated participants or participants with a smaller appetite. Study 3 revealed that hungry participants were better able to appreciate future big rewards in a delay discounting task; and that, in spite of their perception of increased rewarding value of both food and monetary objects, hungry participants were not more inclined to take risks to get the object of their desire. Together, these studies for the first time provide evidence that hot states improve decision making under uncertain conditions, challenging the conventional conception of the detrimental role of impulsivity in decision making.”
  • New battery aims to transform electric cars – “A new battery that promises to solve two of the biggest grumbles about electric cars – high prices and low driving ranges – is headed for shop floors in just over a year. The lithium battery, which experts say could be a game-changing “killer app” for the global car market, can triple the driving range of an electric vehicle and significantly lower its costs, say the US scientists who developed it.”
  • Brands of nonsense – John Quiggin writes: “Key branding efforts focus on intangibles. In this respect, university branding has been an embarrassing failure both by the industrial standards of the advertising sector and by the intellectual standards that universities are supposed to uphold. For example, virtually every Australian university has adopted (replacing the Latinate motto that used to adorn its crest) a branding slogan: “Know more. Do more.” “Where brilliant begins”. Good luck trying to match a particular slogan with its respective university. (Disclosure: I am, perhaps, bitter that my own proposed branding slogan—”UQ, a university not a brand”—did not find favor with my institution’s marketing department.) … The idea of universities as corporate owners of brands is directly at odds with what John Henry Newman called “the Idea of a University.” To be sure, that idea is the subject of contestation and debate, but in all its forms it embodies the ideal of advancing knowledge through free discussion rather than burnishing the image of a corporation. In the end, brands and universities belong to different worlds.”
  • Amid Record Waves of Refugees, Italy Finding Limits to Its Compassion – “Tattered migrants arriving from Africa bring harrowing tales of escape, and new challenges for Europe.”

2014-11-03_tomatoes

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Backyard windmills, locally owned solar panels and other news and views for Sunday 2 November

November 2nd, 2014 Comments off

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  • A 19th Century Novel Explains Quantitative Easing – “The Way We Live Now, Trollope’s longest and greatest novel, is … a novel about a society corrupted by finance, one in which money holds sway and everyone is fantasizing about getting rich quick. … It’s a novel about a bubble, which is especially relevant today, with the economic news dominated by the Federal Reserve’s announcement that quantitative easing, the post-credit-crunch experiment in loose monetary policy, is now over. The American economy is recovering, and normal service can now be resumed. The money people are hoping that QE hasn’t accidentally created a giant bubble in asset prices. As chance would have it, the speculative bubble in The Way We Live Now is also based on American assets — a railway between Salt Lake City and Veracruz. Spoiler alert: It doesn’t end well.”
  • The Grapes of Wrath: France’s Great Wines Are Feeling the Heat – “In France, climate change is no longer just an abstract problem. The culinary country’s grand wine culture is threatened by rising global temperatures. Vintners are fighting to save a part of our world culture heritage that spans the last two millennia.”
  • Violence against children in Cambodia: breaking the silence – “Findings from the first-of-its-kind Cambodia’s Violence Against Children Survey, coordinated by UNICEF Cambodia, reveal that many children are subjected to violence at the hands of people they know and should trust in places that should feel safe.”
  • The Secret Life of an ISIS Warlord – “Abu Omar al-Shishani has a fierce, gorgeous Chechen bride. He learned intelligence operations from the U.S. And his older brother may be the real genius of ISIS.”
  • If the Republicans Win Big on Tuesday, So Will the CIA – “The intel community has spent years being bashed by Senate Democrats. Things will be very different if Richard Burr is in charge.”

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  • Opera is dead, in one chart – “Opera is officially dead. Or maybe not completely dead, but at best ekeing out a zombie-like existence in a state of undeath. As proof, I submit this fascinating chart of Metropolitan Opera performances, which shows that for decades the Met has rarely performed any operas composed in the preceding 50 years. … Opera, as a genre, is essentially frozen in amber – Raman found that the median year of composition of pieces performed at the Met has always been right around 1870. In other words, the Met is essentially performing the exact same pieces now that it was 100 years ago.”
  • Alcohol calorie content: Labels needed, say doctors
  • Why the Chess Computer Deep Blue Played Like a Human – “When IBM’s Deep Blue beat chess Grandmaster Garry Kasparov in 1997 in a six-game chess match, Kasparov came to believe he was facing a machine that could experience human intuition. “The machine refused to move to a position that had a decisive short-term advantage,” Kasparov wrote after the match. It was “showing a very human sense of danger.” To Kasparov, Deep Blue seemed to be experiencing the game rather than just crunching numbers. … Deep Blue programmer Feng-Hsiung Hsu writes in his book Behind Deep Blue that during the match, outside analysts were divided over a mysterious move made by the program, thinking it either weak or obliquely strategic. Eventually, the programmers discovered that the move was simply the result of a bug that had caused the computer not to choose what it had actually calculated to be the best move—something that could have appeared as random play. The bug wasn’t fixed until after game four, long after Kasparov’s spirit had been broken.”
  • Peter Cullen gave lobbying a good name, writes Laurie Oakes

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  • How often is ‘antifreeze’ added to food and drink? – “Fireball Cinnamon Whisky “tastes like heaven… burns like hell”, its manufacturer, Sazerac Company, claims in marketing materials. According to market research firm Nielsen, the whisky is one of the top 10 bestselling drinks in the US, beating popular brands such as Jose Cuervo tequila. The drink has been removed from shelves in Norway, Sweden and Finland after batches of the whisky made to a recipe acceptable in North America – where 50g of propylene glycol per kilogram of food or drink is acceptable – made their way to Europe, where the limit on the substance is lower, at 3g per kilogram.”

The ways of lobbyists seeking favorable deals

October 30th, 2014 Comments off

2014-10-30_golf

  • Lobbyists, Bearing Gifts, Pursue Attorneys General – “Attorneys general have become the object of pursuit by lobbyists who use campaign contributions, personal appeals and other means to sway investigations or negotiate favorable deals, an investigation by The New York Times has found.”
  • Singapore upholds law that criminalizes gay sex – “Singapore’s highest court ruled on Wednesday that a law that criminalizes sex between men is in line with the city-state’s constitution, rejecting two separate appeals by three men that the measure infringed their human rights. The judgment comes as gay rights have become an increasingly thorny issue in Singapore’s traditionally conservative society.”

2014-10-30_growthrates

  • Is economic growth permanently lower? – “The assumption that the mean growth rate is one of the great economic constants in advanced economies is simply wrong. … The slowdown in long run growth in the developed economies therefore seems to have become a permanent fact of life, rather than a temporary result of the financial crash that will disappear over time. But the actual path for GDP has fallen well below even the depressed long run equilibrium path since 2009.”
  • France grapples with rising tide of homegrown jihadis
  • Afghanistan: ‘A Shocking Indictment’ – A review of No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes by Anand Gopal – “His new and shocking indictment demonstrates that the failures of the intervention were worse than even the most cynical believed. … Again and again Gopal reminds us that the state, which the West was supposed to be developing, was far weaker than anyone acknowledged—and often simply didn’t exist. In truth, international statements about establishing “the rule of law, governance, and security” became simply ways of saying that Afghanistan was unjust, corrupt, and violent. “Transparent, predictable, and accountable financial practices” were not a solution to corruption; they were simply a description of what was lacking. But policymakers never realized how far from the mark they were. This is partly because most of them were unaware of even a fraction of the reality described in Gopal’s book. But it was partly also that they couldn’t absorb the truth, and didn’t want to. The jargon of state-building, “capacity-building,” “civil society,” and “sustainable livelihoods” seemed conveniently ethical, practical, and irrefutable. And because of fears about lost lives, and fears about future terrorist attacks, they had no interest in detailed descriptions of failure: something had to be done, and failure was simply “not an option.”
  • Hillary Clinton’s New Image: Cool Grandma. Can She Maintain It? – ‘When did Hillary Clinton become cool? … Whenever her ascent began, it reached a peak in March, when GQ published an interview with musician Pharrell Williams. In one of the most convoluted sentences ever recorded in the English language, he not only endorsed Clinton for president in 2016 but also predicted her win, one that would usher in purple-tinted national unity and a worldwide pro-choice matriarchy: “When we are a country and we are a species that has had a Martian Rover traveling up and down the crevices of this planet looking for water and ice, okay, and we’ve had a space station that’s been orbiting our planet for sixteen years—but we still got legislation trying to tell women what to do with their bodies? Hillary’s gonna win. Listen, I’m reaching out to her right now. She’s gonna win.” ‘
  • Do You Have To Open That Bottle Of Wine A Guest Brought To Your Home?

Democracy is for infidels – An Islamic State recruiter on the group’s vision for the future and other news and views for Wednesday 29 October

October 29th, 2014 Comments off

We are following Allah’s word. We believe that humanity’s only duty is to honor Allah and his prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. We are implementing what is written in the Koran. If we manage to do so, then of course it will be a success. …

A Muslim is a person who follows Allah’s laws without question. Sharia is our law. No interpretation is needed, nor are laws made by men. Allah is the only lawmaker. We have determined that there are plenty of people, in Germany too, who perceive the emptiness of the modern world and who yearn for values of the kind embodied by Islam. Those who are opposed to Sharia are not Muslims. We talk to the people who come to us and evaluate on the basis of dialogue how deep their faith is. …

Democracy is for infidels. A real Muslim is not a democrat because he doesn’t care about the opinions of majorities and minorities don’t interest him. He is only interested in what Islam says. Furthermore, democracy is a hegemonic tool of the West and contrary to Islam.

  • The Sectarian Apocalypse – “Despite fighting bitterly against each other in Iraq and Syria, many of the Sunni and Shi‘a militants who have been drawn to the battlefield are motivated by a common apocalyptic belief. … One might expect that the recent entry of infidel armies into Iraq and Syria would lessen the internecine tone of the prophesying and focus attention on the Mahdi’s battle with the infidels. But it has only heightened the sectarian apocalyptic fervor as each sect vies to destroy the other for the privilege of destroying the infidels. Little wonder such a heady reenactment of the End Times drama on the original stage where it was performed is drawing an unprecedented number of Sunni and Shi‘a foreign fighters to the theater. In the sectarian apocalypse, everyone has a role to play in a script written over a thousand years ago. No one wants to miss the show.”

2014-10-29_seats

  • Who Will Win The Senate? – According to the New York Times: “According to our statistical election-forecasting machine, the Republicans have a moderate edge, with about a 68% chance of gaining a majority.”
  • Are Economists Ready for Income Redistribution? “It’s not the job of economists to tell society whether or not they should redistribute income, or if fiscal policy should be used to combat recessions. It’s to inform society of the potential consequences of policy actions, good or bad, and how to best reach particular goals. Too many economists allow their ideological beliefs to color the research they conduct, the advice they give, and the presumed goals of policy.”
  • Address of the Holy Father Francis at the inauguration of a bronze bust in honor of Pope Benedict XVI at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, 27/10/2014 – “Are you addressing the issue highly complex evolution of the concept of nature. I will not go at all, I understand well, the scientific complexity of this important and decisive question. I just want to point out that God and Christ walking with us, and are also found in nature, as stated by the apostle Paul in the Areopagus speech: “In God we live and move and have our being” ( Acts 17:28). When we read in the Genesis account of Creation in danger of imagining that God was a magician, complete with a magic wand that can do all things. But it does not. He created beings and let them develop in accordance with the internal laws that He has given to each one, because they develop it because it arrived to its fullest. He gave autonomy to the beings of the universe at the same time in which he assured them of his continued presence, giving being to all reality. Thus, the creation has been going on for centuries, millennia and millennia until it became what we know today, because God is not a creator or a wizard, but the Creator who gives being to all entities. The beginning of the world is not the work of the chaos that has another of its origin, but is derived directly from a supreme principle which creates love. The Big Bang , which today stands at the origin of the world, does not contradict the divine creator intervention but demands it. Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve.”

2014-10-29_oysters

Some new old Bob Dylan while Neil Young saves the earth along with other news and views for Tuesday 28 October

October 28th, 2014 Comments off

2014-10-28_dylan

  • First Listen: Bob Dylan, ‘The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11’ – “Recorded during a period of seclusion after Dylan’s 1966 motorcycle accident, The Basement Tapes present the already-iconic figure as he intentionally departs from the confrontational invective and tightly wound wordplay of the triumphs in his recent past — among them the single “Like A Rolling Stone” and the album Blonde On Blonde. Driven by what sounds like a desire to simplify his art, he begins by diving deeply into traditional American gospel (“My Bucket’s Got A Hole In It”) and modern offshoots (a tremendous version of Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready”), folk (“Po’Lazurus”) and country (Johnny Cash’s “Big River” and “Folsom Prison Blues”). The Band’s Robbie Robertson has said that during this early phase, Dylan was “educating” his collaborators on folk and other styles they’d only recently encountered; they’d been primarily an R&B band before the Dylan tour. From there, Dylan wrote at a torrid clip, generating simple ballads, allegorical blues and story songs. These follow the general outlines of the covers; they eschew fancy language in favor of blunt declarations, and are built on the crisp, regular cadences of the blues. Though they’re not exactly heavy treatises, Dylan does at times venture into heavy topics — like the nature of goodness, salvation and the meaning of existence, themes he tackled more directly on his next album, John Wesley Harding.”

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  • A new green anthem – “Who is going to stand up and save the earth … this all starts with you and me.” A blunt-force environmentalist protest song — “End fracking now,” Neil Young demands at one point. Even Alan Jones might play this one from the Storytone album due out early next month.
  • The Pope and the Precipice – “To grasp why events this month in Rome — publicly feuding cardinals, documents floated and then disavowed — were so remarkable in the context of modern Catholic history, it helps to understand certain practical aspects of the doctrine of papal infallibility. On paper, that doctrine seems to grant extraordinary power to the pope — since he cannot err, the First Vatican Council declared in 1870, when he “defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church.” In practice, though, it places profound effective limits on his power. Those limits are set, in part, by normal human modesty: “I am only infallible if I speak infallibly, but I shall never do that,” John XXIII is reported to have said. But they’re also set by the binding power of existing teaching, which a pope cannot reverse or contradict without proving his own office, well, fallible — effectively dynamiting the very claim to authority on which his decisions rest.”
  • Companies shouldn’t cave in to the demands of climate-change activists
  • It’s my belief and I’m sticking to it – “Part of the reason American voters have become more polarized in recent decades is that both sides feel better-informed. … A common response to this increasing polarization is to call for providing more unbiased facts. But in a phenomenon that psychologists and economists call “confirmation bias,” people tend to interpret additional information as additional support for their pre-existing ideas.”

2014-10-28_election

  • How the election could go into overtime – “Runoffs, quirky candidates and tight races in a number of states may mean that control of the Senate won’t be decided on Election Day.”
  • Your Creativity Might Be Stifled by Your Expertise – “It’s great to be an expert, right? Of course it is. But is it possible that your expertise is actually undermining your ability to think creatively and be open to new ideas? Recent research has revealed that this is exactly what can happen. Innovation–by definition–includes an element of newness. The more you know about a topic, though, the less likely you are to be open to truly groundbreaking advances in the same area. Put another way, the expertise that got you ahead can actually limit your creativity and willingness to consider new ideas.”
  • Who’s Going to Get Rich Fighting the Islamic State? – “Obama’s small war means big profits — and little oversight — for defense contractors and hired guns.”
  • Comcast: Broadband battleground – “The group may become the world’s largest media company. Content companies are worried. … The recent, shortlived $71bn bid for Time Warner, owner of HBO and CNN, from Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox was driven in part by a need to create a company big enough to stare down Comcast in negotiations on distribution over its cable systems.”

Fairfax’s Adele Ferguson exposes a government looking after its financier friends

October 27th, 2014 Comments off
  • Call on CommBank Royal Commission disappointing and shallow – “The decision by the federal government to reject a bipartisan call for a royal commission into the Commonwealth Bank was always on the cards, but its reasoning was both disappointing and shallow. Its response to a landmark Senate inquiry into the performance of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, outlined in a press release on Friday, essentially says CBA’s revised compensation scheme, a so-called “open advice review”, is enough. This glib response fails to take into account the Senate’s original call for a royal commission; that it was “unable to get answers from the regulator or the bank”. “We tried and failed and decided it is important that this is cleared up,” it said. What it did was take a dissenting report by one of its own, Liberal senator David Bushy, and embrace it.”
  • National armies for global health? – From an editorial in The Lancet: “… the security of one nation’s citizens is inextricably linked to others through both global health and climate change. Therefore, the military seem set to play a greater part in global civilian health in the future. The question is what should this role look like in the 21st century?”
  • The rise of the female diplomat
  • Treasury’s War on the Islamic State – “The green-eyeshades crew is taking the lead in trying to choke off the illicit millions that fund the terrorist group. But the Islamic State’s own overreach may cost it more than sanctions.”
  • What have British troops achieved in Afghanistan? – As British troops end combat operations in Afghanistan, BBC Kabul correspondent David Loyn asks if the war was worth it.
  • The world’s biggest economic problem – “Deflation in the euro zone is all too close and extremely dangerous.”
  • The Zombie System: How Capitalism Has Gone Off the Rails – “Six years after the Lehman disaster, the industrialized world is suffering from Japan Syndrome. Growth is minimal, another crash may be brewing and the gulf between rich and poor continues to widen. Can the global economy reinvent itself?”
  • Why Europe is doomed, in 3 paragraphs  – “This, from Reuters, tells you everything you need to know about Europe’s continued descent into depression:

    According to German officials, Merkel felt betrayed by Draghi’s speech at a central banking conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming in August in which he pressed Berlin for looser fiscal policy to stimulate the economy.
    Her entourage is also deeply skeptical about Draghi’s plan to buy up asset-backed securities (ABS) and covered bonds in the hope of encouraging commercial banks to lend.
    Most of all, politicians in Berlin worry that if this scheme doesn’t work, the ECB president will be tempted to launch full-blown government bond buying, or quantitative easing. This is a taboo in Germany and a step Merkel’s allies fear would play into the hands of the country’s new anti-euro party, the Alternative for Germany (AfD).

How Physical appearance influences who wins elections and other news and views for Thursday 23 October

October 23rd, 2014 Comments off

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  • It Is a Beauty Contest – “It’s shameful, of course, that physical appearance should affect something as important as who gets elected president. But the reasons for that are pretty obvious, and they pre-date democracy by several million years. That doesn’t make them right or wise or inevitable, but it does make them hard to avoid.”
  • Capitalism’s Suffocating Music – “I kept thinking of another writer, David Foster Wallace. His novel “Infinite Jest,” published in 1996, imagines a tomorrow in which time itself is auctioned off to the highest bidder and the calendar becomes a billboard. There’s the “Year of the Whopper,” the “Year of the Whisper-Quiet Maytag Dishmaster” and even the “Year of the Tucks Medicated Pad” — a 12-month paean to posterior discomfort, 52 weeks in honor of hemorrhoids. Is that future so far off? While recording devices have liberated many of us from commercials on television, the rest of our lives are awash in ads. They’re now nestled among the trailers at movies. They flicker on the screens in taxis. They’re woven so thoroughly into sporting events, from Nascar races to basketball games, that it’s hard to imagine an era when they weren’t omnipresent.”

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  • Death Of Northern White Rhino Leaves Only Six Left In Existence
  • Bertha and the French Professor: Lessons for Public Private Partnerships – “Jean Tirole is an influential, respected, and by all accounts gracious man who won this year’s Nobel Prize in economics. Bertha is a 7,000-ton tunnel boring machine that’s been stuck under Seattle for nine months—but is still tweeting—as state officials and a private contractor battle over who should pay to get her out. What do Prof. Tirole and Bertha have in common? They show the strengths and weaknesses of public private partnerships.”
  • Sins Of Commission – How thirty years and nine official inquiries obscured the truth of the 1984 anti-Sikh violence – On Wednesday 31 October 1984, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two of her guards, both Sikh. In the ensuing violence, which lasted roughly three days, 2,733 Sikhs were killed in Delhi. Sikhs were also attacked in several other Indian cities, including Kanpur, Bokaro, Jabalpur and Rourkela. It remains one of the bloodiest and most brutal episodes of communal violence in independent India. Over the next two decades, nine commissions of inquiry were instituted. Seven of these investigated specific aspects of the tragedy, such as the death count, which was officially established by the Ahuja Committee in 1987. Two of the panels—the Ranganath Misra Commission, constituted in 1985, and the Justice GT Nanavati Commission, whose final report was published in 2005—were required to look at the violence in its entirety.”

Learning from the Australian ant eating spider and other news and views for Wednesday 22 October

October 22nd, 2014 Comments off
  • Cover Your Face, Then Pay a Fine and Miss the Show – “… both France and Australia, which have minority Muslim populations, have walked a fine line between nationalism and security and xenophobia.”
  • Snake in the grass – Animals and viruses practise deception, fast and slow, in ways that help us understand human predators and scammers – “There are spiders in Australia that smell and behave like ants: some are so convincing that the ants will allow a spider to live permanently as one of them. This spider will then feast upon its new friends, but it won’t eat all the ants, or even a significant number; instead, it extracts resources slowly, sustainably, and over time. … No one likes being a cynic. No one wants our trust in others to erode. But we must never forget that there are those who would misuse our trust for selfish gain, and prey on our sympathies for exploitation; deception is a Darwinian trait, by evolution pre‑ordained. Any one of us could be the next big victim. Soon after you finish reading this story, someone will try to deceive you with a false ad, misleading sales pitch, or worse. Be careful about whom you trust, be willing to admit when you were wrong about someone, and resist the urge to say: ‘But I know him so well!’ Recall that some Australian ants ‘think’ the same thing about spiders. It wouldn’t hurt us humans to take a tip or two from the rest of the animal world.”
  • A Physicist Ponders the Pause – “After surviving a storm-tossed voyage, King James I concluded that witches must have conjured tempests to do him ill because nothing ever happens by chance. In promoting the notion that climate trends are shaped by an industrialised world’s CO2 emissions, warmists are in the same boat.”
  • Amazon’s Monopsony Is Not O.K. – “In economics jargon, Amazon is not, at least so far, acting like a monopolist, a dominant seller with the power to raise prices. Instead, it is acting as a monopsonist, a dominant buyer with the power to push prices down.”
  • Fifty Years After The Bullet Train, Japan Approves Plan To Build Super-Speed Maglev Train Line
  • In the Syria We Don’t Know – “As Bashar’s prospects improve with each American sortie against his enemies in the east of the country, Damascus and the populous towns to the north have been enjoying a respite of sorts from war. The Syrian Ministry of Education reported that, of the 22,000 schools in the country, more than 17,000 of them reopened on time in the middle of September.”
  • The IKEA effect: When labor leads to love – “In four studies in which consumers assembled IKEA boxes, folded origami, and built sets of Legos, we demonstrate and investigate boundary conditions for the IKEA effect—the increase in valuation of self-made products. Participants saw their amateurish creations as similar in value to experts’ creations, and expected others to share their opinions. We show that labor leads to love only when labor results in successful completion of tasks; when participants built and then destroyed their creations, or failed to complete them, the IKEA effect dissipated. Finally, we show that labor increases valuation for both “do-it-yourselfers” and novices.”
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Are women better decision makers? Forget the glass ceiling – think about the glass cliff.

October 20th, 2014 Comments off
  • Are Women Better Decision Makers? – “Credit Suisse examined almost 2,400 global corporations from 2005 to 2011 — including the years directly preceding and following the financial crisis — and found that large-cap companies with at least one woman on their boards outperformed comparable companies with all-male boards by 26 percent. … From 2005 to 2007, Credit Suisse also found, the stock performance of companies with women on their boards essentially matched performance of companies with all-male boards. Nothing lost, but much gained. If we want our organizations to make the best decisions, we need to notice who is deciding and how tightly they’re gritting their teeth.Unfortunately, what often happens is that women are asked to lead only during periods of intense stress. It’s called the glass cliff …”
  • No Consensus at Vatican as Synod Ends – “A closely watched Vatican assembly on the family ended on Saturday without consensus among the bishops in attendance on what to say about gays, and whether to give communion to divorced and remarried Catholics. … Pope Francis addressed the bishops in the final session, issuing a double-barreled warning against “hostile rigidity” by “so-called traditionalists,” but also cautioning “progressives” who would “bandage a wound before treating it.” The bishops responded with a four-minute standing ovation in the closed-door meeting, Vatican spokesmen said afterward.”
  • The Ebola Conspiracy Theories – “The spread of Ebola from western Africa to suburban Texas has brought with it another strain of contagion: conspiracy theories.”
  • Why Germany is so much better at training its workers

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  • Clive James: ‘I’d be lost without poetry’ – “Writer and broadcaster Clive James, who suffers from leukaemia and emphysema, has just had a new volume of essays published, called Poetry Notebook. In an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr, he explains why the book means so much to him and how it is hard to have a serious literary reputation if you are on television regularly.”
  • This Age of Derp – “derp … is a determined belief in some economic doctrine that is completely unmovable by evidence.”
  • Inflation Derp Abides
  • “Inflation derps” are people from the concrete steppes
  • Regret and economic decision-making – “Regret can shape preferences and thus is an important part of the decision-making process. This column presents new findings on the theoretical and behavioural implications of regret. Anticipated regret can act like a surrogate for risk aversion and could deter investment. However, once people have invested, they become attached to their investment. This commitment is higher with better past performance.”
Figure 1 plots a simple transformation of the value of the unemployment rate, measured on the left axis, and the real value of the S&P, measured on the right axis, in log units. This graph shows a clear correlation between these series and a more careful investigation reveals that this correlation is causal in the sense in which Clive Granger defined that term: there is information in the stock market that helps to predict the future unemployment rate.

Figure 1 plots a simple transformation of the value of the unemployment rate, measured on the left axis, and the real value of the S&P, measured on the right axis, in log units. This graph shows a clear correlation between these series and a more careful investigation reveals that this correlation is causal in the sense in which Clive Granger defined that term: there is information in the stock market that helps to predict the future unemployment rate.

  • Don’t Panic — Yet! – “Volatility has returned to the stock market and most of the gains of 2014 were wiped out in the last week. Is it time to panic? Not yet! … For a market panic to have real effects on Main Street it must be sustained for at least three months. And there is no sign that that is happening: Yet.”

Cruelty to pigs and other news and views for Sunday 19 October

October 19th, 2014 Comments off
The primatologist Jane Goodall writes that “farm animals feel pleasure and sadness, excitement and resentment, depression, fear and pain. They are far more aware and intelligent than we ever imagined ... they are individuals in their own right.” But when abnormally enclosed, their muscles and bones waste away, and they go insane from boredom. Just as you would if you couldn’t move.

The primatologist Jane Goodall writes that “farm animals feel pleasure and sadness, excitement and resentment, depression, fear and pain. They are far more aware and intelligent than we ever imagined … they are individuals in their own right.” But when abnormally enclosed, their muscles and bones waste away, and they go insane from boredom. Just as you would if you couldn’t move.

  • Free Pigs From the Abusive Crates – “Would you cram a dog into a crate for her entire life, never letting her out, until you took her to the pound to kill her? Of course you wouldn’t, and yet that’s effectively what happens to most mother pigs in this country. They spend their lives in what are called gestation crates, tiny stalls that house pregnant sows. They cannot even turn around, and are immobilized in these crates until they are taken to the slaughterhouse.”
  • The Secret Casualties of Iraq’s Abandoned Chemical Weapons – “From 2004 to 2011, American and American-trained Iraqi troops repeatedly encountered, and on at least six occasions were wounded by, chemical weapons remaining from years earlier in Saddam Hussein’s rule. In all, American troops secretly reported finding roughly 5,000 chemical warheads, shells or aviation bombs, according to interviews with dozens of participants, Iraqi and American officials, and heavily redacted intelligence documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.”
  • Uncle Sucker to the Rescue – Washington is making all its favorite mistakes in (another) Iraq war.
  • A Blunder Down Under – Waleed Aly in Foreign Policy argues: “Australia is trying to combat homegrown terrorism. Sending 800 police officers and a helicopter after suburban wannabes isn’t how to do it.”

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  • Dogs – ‘A Wolf Called Romeo,’ by Nick Jans, and More – Bronwen Dickey, who is writing a social history of pit bulls and their people, reviews three new titles.
  • What Markets Will – Paul Krugman explains how the financial turmoil of the past few days, especially in Europe, have policy crusaders again sure that they know what the markets are asking for. “It’s also instructive to look at interest rates on “inflation-protected” or “index” bonds, which are telling us two things. First, markets are practically begging governments to borrow and spend, say on infrastructure; interest rates on index bonds are barely above zero, so that financing for roads, bridges, and sewers would be almost free. Second, the difference between interest rates on index and ordinary bonds tells us how much inflation the market expects, and it turns out that expected inflation has fallen sharply over the past few months, so that it’s now far below the Fed’s target. In effect, the market is saying that the Fed isn’t printing nearly enough money.”
  • The bad news about the news – “People living through a time of revolutionary change usually fail to grasp what is going on around them. The American news business would get a C minus or worse from any fair-minded professor evaluating its performance in the first phase of the Digital Age. Big, slow-moving organizations steeped in their traditional ways of doing business could not accurately foresee the next stages of a technological whirlwind. Obviously, new technologies are radically altering the ways in which we learn, teach, communicate, and are entertained. It is impossible to know today where these upheavals may lead, but where they take us matters profoundly. How the digital revolution plays out over time will be particularly important for journalism, and therefore to the United States, because journalism is the craft that provides the lifeblood of a free, democratic society.”

New genetically engineered corn and soybeans approved and other news and views for Thursday 16 October

October 16th, 2014 Comments off

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  • New GMOs Get A Regulatory Green Light, With A Hint Of Yellow – “Government regulators have approved a new generation of genetically engineered corn and soybeans. They’re the latest weapon in an arms race between farmers and weeds, and the government’s green light is provoking angry opposition from environmentalists. The actual decision, at first glance, seems narrow and technical. The Environmental Protection Agency has announced it had “registered” a new weedkiller formula that contains two older herbicides: glyphosate (better known as Roundup) and 2, 4-D. Versions of these weedkillers have been around for decades. But farmers in six Midwestern states will be allowed to use the new formula, called Enlist Duo, on their corn and soybeans. And that counts as big news. Farmers will now be able to plant new types of corn and soybeans that have been genetically engineered by the biotech company Dow Agrosciences to tolerate doses of those two weedkillers. (The beauty of herbicide-resistant crops is that they make the herbicides exquisitely selective: They kill the weeds but not the crop.) So farmers can spray either glyphosate or 2, 4-D (or both) to wipe out weeds without harming their corn or soybeans.”
  • Tony Abbott’s own side may put paid to parental leave
  • Is the Pope a Communist? – “At the height of the economic crisis, the appearance of the modestly dressed and humble Pope Francis seemed a statement in itself. His relatively non-judgmental approach to homosexuality surprised conservatives and perplexed liberals. His criticisms of capitalism soon after had the Christian world talking again, with many commentators on the left grudgingly welcoming his comments while some figures on the right, such as radio host Rush Limbaugh, were less than impressed.”
  • Freedom vs. Stability: Are Dictators Worse than Anarchy? – “Although there is always reason to celebrate the toppling of an autocrat, the outcome of the Iraq war and the rise of Islamic State have demonstrated in horrific terms that the alternative can be even worse.”
  • Thailand’s Leader Hints At Putting Off Return To Democracy

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  • Forget Facebook, Abandon Instagram, Move To A Village – “People who live in a traditional village — that means a community of about 150 people — are far better off than the rest of us. The author of a new book explains ‘the village effect’.”
  • To G-20 Leaders: Urgent Need to Boost Demand in the Eurozone – “No doubt, under their powerful communication weapons, the G-20 Leaders will give the impression that a vast armada is being marshalled to attack the global growth problem. It will look impressive. … But besides the communication strategy success, the truth remains that, in the absence of a major reconsideration of macroeconomic policies, the G-20 meeting in Australia in November will be another non-event.”
  • Do Plastic Bag Bans Work?

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France and Europe’s currency crisis and other news and views for Tuesday 14 October

October 14th, 2014 Comments off

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Antarctic sea ice grows while land ice declines at staggering rate

October 12th, 2014 Comments off
  • NOAA: Record Antarctic Sea Ice Growth Linked To Its Staggering Loss Of Land Ice – “NOAA said in a news release Tuesday that “as counterintuitive as expanding winter Antarctic sea ice may appear on a warming planet, it may actually be a manifestation of recent warming.” The most important thing to know about Antarctica and ice is that a large part of the South Pole’s great sheet of land ice is close to or at a point of no return for irreversible collapse. The rate of loss of that ice has reached record levels, tripling in the last five years alone. Only immediate action to sharply reverse carbon pollution could stop or significantly slow that. And that really matters since 90 percent of Earth’s ice is in the Antarctic ice sheet, and even its partial collapse could raise sea levels by tens of feet (over a period of centuries) and force coastal cities to be abandoned.”
  • Inequality and the Fourth Estate -From the blog of Roger Farmer (no relation but a man with some similar views) – “The power of money to influence elections suggests an answer to what is otherwise a perplexing question. Why are taxes on large estates currently set at such low rates? After all, we live in a democratic society in which the rules of the game are set by elected representatives in which every U.S. citizen gets one vote. Further, as Piketty reminds us, 1% of the U.S. population controls 30% of the wealth. Why don’t the 99%, as a matter of course, choose to confiscate wealth from the richest 1% of the population?”
  • The much-delayed war on procrastination
  • UKIP: How far could they go?
  • Free markets need socialism
  • German model is ruinous for Germany, and deadly for Europe – “France may look like the sick of man of Europe, but Germany’s woes run deeper, rooted in mercantilist dogma, the glorification of saving for its own sake, and the corrosive psychology of ageing.”
  • Hardly anyone uses heroin. So why do we keep freaking out about it?
  • The Great Lightbulb Conspiracy – “The Phoebus cartel engineered a shorter-lived lightbulb and gave birth to planned obsolescence.”

How much of Africa punishes sodomy and other news and views for Thursday 9 October

October 9th, 2014 Comments off

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  • The Closeted Continent – “38 out of 55 African nations have laws punishing sodomy. And things may get worse before they get better.”
  • It’s time to vote for a party that promises to step back and do nothing at all – “In the lead up to next year’s NSW state election, where both sides will offer slight variations on the same theme, it’s time to question the role of state government. … Paul Keating once famously said never stand between a state premier and a bucket of money, but that’s precisely what we need to do. We like to think that Australians have an anti-authoritarian character, yet baulk at putting brakes on power. While it is counterintuitive to the culture of promises, it’s worth considering: would you vote for a party that promises less?”
  • Three Election Trends That Could End in 2014 – “I’m not certain how long a trend has to exist before it earns the status of an immutable political “law,” but three longtime truths are threatened this election cycle. Will all of them fall in November?”
  • The free-will fix – “New brain implants can restore autonomy to damaged minds, but can they settle the question of whether free will exists?”
  • Lawsuit Testing Personhood Of Chimps Gets Its Day At An Appeals Court

How Canberra rates with the world and other news and views for Tuesday 8 October

October 8th, 2014 Comments off

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  • Trying to glimpse the ‘grey economy’ – “Despite the growth of online and card payments, the ratio of currency to GDP in the UK has been rising. This column argues that rapid growth in the grey economy has been a key cause. The authors estimate that the grey economy in the UK could have expanded by around 3% of UK GDP since the beginning of the Global Crisis.”
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Act like a loser to get the political donations rolling in and other news and views for 7 October

October 7th, 2014 Comments off
  • ‘Losing Messages’ Boost Online Fundraising – “A recent study by researchers at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and the University of California, Berkeley found that donors and would-be donors are more likely to click on a fundraising email and contribute if the candidate highlights a recent poll that shows him or her trailing by a narrow margin.”
  • Why public investment really is a free lunch – “What is crucial everywhere is the recognition that in a time of economic shortfall and inadequate public investment, there is for once a free lunch – a way for governments to strengthen both the economy and their own financial positions. The IMF, a bastion of ‘tough love’ austerity, has come to this important realisation. Countries with the wisdom to follow its lead will benefit.”

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  • The criticism that Ralph Lauren doesn’t want you to see! – “Last month, Xeni blogged about the photoshop disaster that is this Ralph Lauren advertisement, in which a model’s proportions appear to have been altered to give her an impossibly skinny body (“Dude, her head’s bigger than her pelvis”). Naturally, Xeni reproduced the ad in question. This is classic fair use: a reproduction “for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting,” etc. However, Ralph Lauren’s marketing arm and its law firm don’t see it that way. According to them, this is an “infringing image,” and they thoughtfully took the time to send a DMCA takedown notice to our awesome ISP, Canada’s Priority Colo. One of the things that makes Priority Colo so awesome is that they don’t automatically act on DMCA takedowns. Instead, they pass them on to us and we talk about whether they pass the giggle-test. This one doesn’t. So, instead of responding to their legal threat by suppressing our criticism of their marketing images, we’re gonna mock them. Hence this post.”
  • NBA lines up $24bn TV deal as demand for live sports escalates – “… more than three times the value of its previous contract.”
  • Alcohol abuse linked to number of licensed premises – “Scottish neighbourhoods with the most licensed premises have the highest rates of alcohol-related illness and deaths, according to a new study.”
  • Drug cheats in sport could benefit ‘for decades’, scientists find
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Polar sea ice trends continue in different directions and other news and views for Tuesday 23 September

September 23rd, 2014 Comments off

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  • Scientists debate polar sea-ice opposites – “Arctic sea ice has passed its minimum summer extent, say polar experts meeting in London. The cover on 17 September dipped to 5.01 million sq km, and has risen slightly since then, suggesting the autumn re-freeze has now taken hold. This year’s minimum is fractionally smaller than last year (5.10 million sq km), making summer 2014 the sixth lowest in the modern satellite record. The Antarctic, in contrast, continues its winter growth. It is still a few weeks away from reaching its maximum, which will continue the record-setting trend of recent years. Ice extent surrounding the White Continent has just topped 20 million sq km. The marine cover at both poles is the subject of discussion at a major UK Royal Society conference taking place this week.
  • The fight of their lives – The White House wants the Kurds to help save Iraq from ISIS. The Kurds may be more interested in breaking away.
  • The Limits to Fighting the Islamic State – Gareth Evans writes – “… as the US-led mission is currently conceived and described, it is not clear whether its objectives are achievable at acceptable costs in terms of time, money, and lives.”

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  • The drinking habits of AFL supporters – “Considering that 14 of the 18 AFL teams are sponsored by an alcohol brand or retailer, it seems an apt time to take a look at the booze preferences of AFL fans. In the year to June 2014, supporters of most AFL teams (with the exception of Greater Western Sydney, Western Bulldogs and Port Adelaide) were more likely than the average Australian adult to have drunk alcohol in an average four weeks.
  • Who’s made Australia’s most sexist comments? Check out the shortlist – “Tonight, more than 350 women will come together to judge the 22nd annual ‘Ernie Awards for Sexist Remarks. Through a technical voting system of ‘booing’ while the short-listed offenders are read out during the gala dinner, the honourable award winners will be determined.”
  • Giving Chickens Bacteria … To Keep Them Antibiotic-Free
  • Short-Term Benefits of Climate Change Policy – “If the case for reducing the use of carbon-based energy can be made right now, in terms of immediate health benefits, then that seems a useful starting point for discussion. “

The glaringly obvious guide to the next crash and other news and views for Monday 22 September

September 23rd, 2014 Comments off
  • The glaringly obvious guide to the next crash – What sell signals will future generations wonder at our ability to ignore, asks James Mackintosh
  • Fukushima cleanup going painfully slow – “Three and a half years after Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power station spewed massive amounts of radioactive materials into the air and water, decontamination work in Fukushima Prefecture has yet to draw to an end. The government initially hoped to complete the decontamination by the end of last March, but the process continues to lag far behind, prompting the government to push back the goal by three years to 2017.”
  • The dangerous revival of nationalism – Separatist movements have a pull for voters even in a borderless world of bits and bytes

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  • Broadway’s ‘The Lion King’ Becomes Top Grossing Title of All Time – “Disney’s “The Lion King” has claimed a new crown: Top box office title in any medium. The Associated Press did the math and discovered the 17-year-old stage musical, which on Broadwayhas undergone an extraordinary spurt of B.O. growth in recent years, has logged worldwide sales of more than $6.2 billion, taking the lead from another Broadway longrunner, “The Phantom of the Opera,” which has pulled in $6 billion. That tally makes “Lion King” more successful than any single movie in history. The top film earner of all time is “Avatar,” weighing in at $2.8 billion.”
  • Largest Climate-Change March in History Unlikely to Convince Idiots

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The problems of backing rebels – the US experience

September 21st, 2014 Comments off
  • When The U.S. Backs Rebels, It Doesn’t Often Go As Planned – “As the U.S. steps up arms and training, Syria’s “moderate” rebels are joining a long line of resistance movements the Americans have backed over the decades, from Angola to Afghanistan. … U.S. support has consistently given rebels a boost in the short term, sometimes leading to outright victory. But battlefield success is never the end of the story. Unanticipated consequences often play out years later, casting the mission in a very different light.”
  • The invasion of corporate news – “The lines between journalism and PR are rapidly becoming blurred as business interests bypass traditional media to get their message across.”

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  • Dogs can be pessimists too – “Dogs generally seem to be cheerful, happy-go-lucky characters, so you might expect that most would have an optimistic outlook on life.In fact some dogs are distinctly more pessimistic than others, research from the University of Sydney shows.”
  • Hell in the Hot Zone – “As the Ebola epidemic rages, two questions have emerged: How did the deadly virus escape detection for three months? And why has a massive international effort failed to contain it? Traveling to Meliandou, a remote Guinean village and the likely home of Patient Zero, Jeffrey E. Stern tracks the virus’s path—and the psychological contagion that is still feeding the worst Ebola outbreak in history.”
  • Domestic violence likely more frequent for same-sex couples – “Domestic violence occurs at least as frequently, and likely even more so, between same-sex couples compared to opposite-sex couples, according to a review of literature by Northwestern Medicine® scientists.”
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Strong measures to limit carbon emissions might actually lead to faster growth

September 20th, 2014 Comments off
  • Could Fighting Global Warming Be Cheap and Free? – Paul Krugman writes: “I’ve just been reading two new reports on the economics of fighting climate change: a big study by a blue-ribbon international group, the New Climate Economy Project, and a working paper from the International Monetary Fund. Both claim that strong measures to limit carbon emissions would have hardly any negative effect on economic growth, and might actually lead to faster growth. This may sound too good to be true, but it isn’t. These are serious, careful analyses.”
  • Forget the national debt. The new budget threat is climate change – “Shaun Donovan gave his first speech as White House budget director Friday, and he didn’t even mention that Washington obsession of recent years, the $17.8 trillion national debt.No, in the run-up to next week’s United Nations climate summit in New York, the Obama administration is focused like a laser on a different threat to federal finances and the U.S. economy: the consequences of global warming.”
  • Listen up, fellow DORCs, I have a bridge to sell you – “The whole idea of basing user charges on the imaginary current replacement cost of an asset that already exists is ideological claptrap. It says that you tell your kids that they can’t afford to drive the old Volvo in the yard because a new one would cost $ 100,000.”
  • Tax cuts can do more harm than good – “Tax cuts are the one guaranteed path to prosperity. Or so politicians have told Americans for so long that the claim has become a secular dogma. But tax cuts can do more harm than good, a new report shows. It draws on decades of empirical evidence analyzed with standard economic principles used in business, academia and government. What ultimately matters is the way a tax cut is structured and how it affects behavior.”
  • Russia is our most dangerous neighbour  – Russia is both a tragedy and a menace writes Martin Wolf. “In the Financial Times this week Sergey Karaganov offered an arresting insight into the blend of self-pity and braggadocio currently at work in Moscow. It is as depressing as it is disturbing. Western policy makers seem to believe the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (known as Isis) is the greater danger. But Russia is the nuclear-armed rump of a former superpower and, ruled by an amoral autocrat, it frightens me even more. For Europe and, I believe, the US, there is no greater foreign policy question than how to deal with today’s Russia.”
  • How To Inoculate Angry Teens Against Islamic Extremism – Maajid Nawaz used to be a recruiter for an extreme Islamist group in the United Kingdom. NPR’s Scott Simon speaks with Nawaz about how the recruiting process works, and how it can be thwarted.

Dealing with returning Islamic fighters and other news and views for Thursday 18 September

September 18th, 2014 Comments off
  • Islamic State: Germany Struggles to Deal with Returning Fighters – “Hundreds of radical Islamists from Germany have headed to Syria and Iraq to fight for Islamic State. Many have since returned home. Now the country’s court system is gearing up for the coming legal battles — and facing myriad challenges.”
  • U.S. Falling Into the Islamic State’s Trap – “There are many reasons the U.S. shouldn’t go to war with the Islamic State — and the best may be that it’s exactly what they want us to do.”
  • On the Necessary Execution of a Prince – “Was the recent arrest, trial and execution of North Korea’s number two politician just another sign of the madness of the regime? Or was it perhaps a sign to the people that things could actually change for the better and that no one – none of ‘them’ – was necessarily too powerful to evade punishment?”
  • The US Has Been the World’s Sole Superpower for the Last 13 Years—Why Hasn’t It Done Anything Good? – “Now, across a vast and growing swath of the planet, the main force at work seems not to be the concentration of power, but its fragmentation.”
  • The Economics of Violence – Bjorn Lomborg on another subject – “What is the biggest source of violence in our world? With the brutal conflicts in Syria, Ukraine, and elsewhere constantly in the news, many people would probably say war. But that turns out to be spectacularly wrong. … domestic violence against women and children imposes a social cost of $8 trillion each year, making it a huge – and vastly underreported – global issue. Second, there are solutions that can help to tackle some of these problems very cost-effectively. That is why reducing domestic violence belongs on the short-list for the world’s next set of development goals.”
  • The Ties that Bind: The Chinese Misunderstanding of Innovation – “The restrictions that hinder innovation lie not only in the system of higher education but permeate deeply into the Chinese economy. They are the ties that bind. They create a constrained environment for Chinese engineers, an environment that would be unacceptable to their peers in other industrialized countries. They limit innovation by favoring ideas that emphasize stability rather than transformation. You find this atmosphere in universities, of course, but it is also prevalent in laboratories, offices, and engineering professional societies.”
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Replaying the 30s in slow motion and other news and views for Wednesday 17 September

September 17th, 2014 Comments off

 

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What constitutes a “real” refugee? and other news and views for Thursday 11 September

September 11th, 2014 Comments off

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  • What constitutes a “real” refugee? – Katy Long, Lecturer in International Development at University of Edinburgh and an editor of The Oxford Handbook of Refugee and Forced Migration Studies, writes: “We are increasingly skilled in crafting complacent fictions intended not so much to demonise refugees as exculpate our own consciences. In Australia, for instance, ever-more restrictive asylum policies – which have seen all those arriving by boat transferred off-shore and, even when granted refugee status, refused the right to settle in Australia – have been presented by supporters as merely intended to prevent the nefarious practice of “queue-jumping”. In this universe, the border patrols become the guardians ensuring “fair” asylum hearings, while asylum-seekers are condemned for cheating the system.”
  • The American fear-mongering machine is about to scare us back into war again – “Did you know that the US government’s counterterrorism chief Matthew Olson said last week that there’s no ‘there’s no credible information’ that the Islamic State (Isis) is planning an attack on America and that there’s ”no indication at this point of a cell of foreign fighters operating in the United States’? Or that, as the Associated Press reported, ‘The FBI and Homeland Security Department say there are no specific or credible terror threats to the US homeland from the Islamic State militant group’?”
  • All eyes on Rupert Murdoch over the Sun’s Scottish independence stance
  • Sports concussion ‘breathalyser’ proposed – “Among the new proposals is a breath test, which successfully detects key chemicals in early laboratory trials. Produced by the damaged brain, these chemicals are known to indicate a brain injury when found in the bloodstream.”
  • How Do Citizens React When Politicians Support Policies They Oppose? Field Experiments with Elite Communication – “Politicians have been depicted as, alternatively, strongly constrained by public opinion, able to shape public opinion if they persuasively appeal to citizens’ values, or relatively unconstrained by public opinion and able to shape it merely byannouncing their positions. We conduct unique field experiments in cooperation with legislators to explore how constituents react when
    legislators take positions they oppose. … These findings suggest politicians can enjoy broad latitude to shape public opinion.”
  • Climate change deniers raise the heat on the Bureau of Meteorology
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Julie Bishop rates much higher with voters than Tony Abbott and other news and views for Tuesday 9 September

September 9th, 2014 Comments off

2014-09-09_ministerratings

  • Julie Bishop knocks Malcolm Turnbull off popularity high in cabinet rankings – A new poll reveals the foreign minister is the most popular minister and Joe Hockey is the least popular. – “Julie Bishop has overtaken Malcolm Turnbull as the federal government’s highest-performing minister, while the budget has dragged Joe Hockey into last place, according to a survey ranking each cabinet member.McNair Ingenuity Research polled 1,004 voters late in August, just before the first anniversary of the Abbott government’s election victory. Participants were asked to rank each minister on a scale of 100 for excellent, 75 for good, 50 for average, 25 for poor or zero for terrible.
  • As the party faithful drift away, can Bill Shorten reinvent Labor? – “Bill Shorten, who seemed so impressive as a union leader and minister, is shaping up as the least inspiring opposition leader since Alexander Downer. … Shorten’s position is safe thanks largely to the complexities of choosing a party leader. But unless he can construct a new narrative and distance himself from the apparently moribund party machine that created him, he is unlikely to replace Abbott. Labor needs a leader who can simultaneously transform the party and create a new narrative of governance. Waiting for Abbott to self-destruct is not enough.”2014-09-09_worldorder
  • Long View of History Includes Today – In ‘World Order,’ Henry Kissinger Sums Up His Philosophy – “In this book’s most compelling sections, Mr. Kissinger uses his realpolitik lens (with its emphasis on balance of power, linkage and triangular diplomacy) as a revealing prism by which to look at, say, the roots of World War I and the sources of conflict in the modern Middle East. He similarly uses his knowledge of various countries’ historical proclivities and their self-image over the centuries as a frame of reference for current developments like the Arab Spring and America’s increasingly ambivalent role on the world stage.”
  • Bold reform is the only answer to secular stagnation
  • When Yes Means Yes – California Lawmakers Redefine Campus Sexual Assault
  • Dreams on hold, Brazil’s ‘new middle class’ turns on Rousseff – “… a faltering economy and mounting frustration over poor public services are dimming the outlook for Brazil’s ‘new middle class.’ As that happens, leftist President Dilma Rousseff is watching a once-loyal base – and her chances of re-election next month – slip away. Her main rival, environmentalist Marina Silva, has surged in the polls and is favored to win a likely second-round runoff against Rousseff.”
  • Adelaide poet David Ades wins $15,000 in inaugural University of Canberra poetry prize

The Australian’s editorial fires a warning shot over Abbott’s way of ruling

September 9th, 2014 Comments off

9-09-2014 ozeditorial

  • Labor’s coup was brainless and doomed two prime ministers – Similar danger signs are starting to emerge under the Coalition. – “… A year after Tony Abbott’s election victory, there are similar danger signs emerging. The May budget was riddled with policy inconsistencies. Promises have been broken and his government’s policy priorities are unclear. The Coalition’s messaging is too scripted to be effective. The Prime Minister’s Office has replaced cabinet as the fulcrum of government. Mr Abbott, so aware of the failures of the RuddGillard governments in opposition, must be careful not to repeat them. … To be a successful, long-term reforming government that maintains the trust of voters, it is essential to focus on only two or three core policy areas in a term. The danger is that governments that try to do too much too soon end up doing nothing well. A clear set of priorities leads to a disciplined message about the government’s overarching purpose. Key lines cooked-up in focus groups and compiled by the Prime Minister’s Office are not the most effective way to communicate to voters. Governments have been infiltrated by an army of political staff, devoid of substantial policy or governing experience. Their focus is pure tactics rather than long-term strategy.”
  • New Mexico nuclear waste site may be hobbled for years – “It may be years before an underground nuclear waste dump in New Mexico shuttered by a radiation leak is fully operational … An investigation into the incident at the site, where contaminated refuse from nuclear labs and weapons sites is buried in a salt mine a half-mile below ground, has centered on a container whose contents included a chemically reactive mix of nitrate salts, organic matter and lead. Preliminary findings from the probe indicate that a chemical reaction generated excessive heat and caused the waste drum from Los Alamos National Laboratory near Santa Fe to rupture, releasing high levels of radiation in the mine and low levels aboveground, where 22 workers were contaminated with amounts not expected to harm their health.
  • The death of the political interview – “… for the most part interviews with frontbenchers are an arid, ritualised affair: interviewer suggests politician’s policy or position is flawed/inconsistent/unfunded; politician denies the charge/ignores the question/suggests that real people in his or her constituency care about something different. They repeat this a few times, typically for somewhere between four and 10 minutes. The interviewee considers it a success if he or she hasn’t said something that will attract the ire of their party’s PR capos. The interviewer considers it a success if the exchange has produced “a line”, though more often than not it will be the line the politician came to deliver.”
  • Teachers Day speech: PM Modi says no climate change

9-09-2014 co2

  • The Keeling Curve Gets a Much-Needed Boost from Google’s Schmidt – “The new Schmidt grant will allow the Scripps team to chip away at a years-long backlog of air samples to measure changes in the ratio of carbon isotopes, which provides information about manmade sources of CO2. Eric Schmidt is the executive chairman of Google, and the Schmidts have a history of funding environmental projects. This video, from the American Museum of Natural History, expands on the history and importance of the Keelings’ observations.

9-09-2014 keelingscurve

  • How to see into the future – “So what is the secret of looking into the future? Initial results from the Good Judgment Project suggest the following approaches. First, some basic training in probabilistic reasoning helps to produce better forecasts. Second, teams of good forecasters produce better results than good forecasters working alone. Third, actively open-minded people prosper as forecasters. But the Good Judgment Project also hints at why so many experts are such terrible forecasters. It’s not so much that they lack training, teamwork and open-mindedness – although some of these qualities are in shorter supply than others. It’s that most forecasters aren’t actually seriously and single-mindedly trying to see into the future. If they were, they’d keep score and try to improve their predictions based on past errors. They don’t. This is because our predictions are about the future only in the most superficial way. They are really advertisements, conversation pieces, declarations of tribal loyalty – or … statements of profound conviction about the logical structure of the world.”

Building capacity to reduce bullying and other news and views for Saturday 6 September

September 7th, 2014 Comments off

5-09-2014 bullying

  • Building Capacity to Reduce Bullying – “Bullying – long tolerated as just a part of growing up – finally has been recognized as a substantial and preventable health problem. Bullying is associated with anxiety, depression, poor school performance, and future delinquent behavior among its targets, and reports regularly surface of youth who have committed suicide at least in part because of intolerable bullying. Bullying also can have harmful effects on children who bully, on bystanders, on school climates, and on society at large. Bullying can occur at all ages, from before elementary school to after high school. It can take the form of physical violence, verbal attacks, social isolation, spreading rumors, or cyberbullying. Increased concern about bullying has led 49 states and the District of Columbia to enact anti-bullying legislation since 1999. In addition, research on the causes, consequences, and prevention of bullying has expanded greatly in recent decades. However, major gaps still exist in the understanding of bullying and of interventions that can prevent or mitigate the effects of bullying. Building Capacity to Reduce Bullying is the summary of a workshop convened by the Board on Children, Youth, and Families of the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council in April 2014 to identify the conceptual models and interventions that have proven effective in decreasing bullying, examine models that could increase protective factors and mitigate the negative effects of bullying, and explore the appropriate roles of different groups in preventing bullying.”
  • An asteroid will just miss Earth tomorrow. We won’t always be so lucky
  • Obama Enlists 9 Allies to Help in the Battle Against ISIS – “Mr. Obama spoke after aides had unveiled what Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called the “core coalition” to fight the ISIS militants, the outcome of a hastily organized meeting on the sidelines of the NATO summit talks. Diplomats and defense officials from the United States, Britain, France, Australia, Canada, Germany, Turkey, Italy, Poland and Denmark huddled to devise a two-pronged strategy: strengthening allies on the ground in Iraq and Syria, while bombing Sunni militants from the air. … An administration official said the reasons for assembling a coalition went beyond any political cover that such an alliance might provide with a war-weary American public. For one thing, the official said, certain countries bring expertise, like Britain and Australia in special operations, Jordan in intelligence and Saudi Arabia in financing. “
  • How Did Oil Make a Comeback? – “Just five years ago, experts were predicting an imminent peak and decline in global oil production. Instead, we’re in the middle of a historic boom. What happened?”
  • The Value of Life and the Rise in Health Spending – “Health care extends life. Over the past half century, Americans spent a rising share of total economic resources on health and enjoyed substantially longer lives as a result. Debate on health policy often focuses on limiting the growth of health spending. We investigate an issue central to this debate: Is the growth of health
    spending the rational response to changing economic conditions—notably the growth of income per person? We develop a model based on standard economic assumptions and argue that this is indeed the case. Standard preferences—of the kind used widely in economics to study consumption, asset pricing, and labor supply—imply that health spending is a superior good with an income elasticity well above one. As people getricher and consumption rises, the marginal utility of consumption falls rapidly. Spending on health to extend life allows individuals to purchase additional periods of utility. The marginal utility of life extension does not decline. As a result, the optimal composition of total spending shifts toward health, and the health share grows along with income. This effect exists despite sharp diminishing returnsin the technology of life extension. In projections based on the quantitative analysis of our model, the optimal health share of spending seems likely to exceed 30 percent by the middle of the century.”
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What it’s like to be so in your head you leave your body and other news and views for Thursday 4 September

September 5th, 2014 Comments off
  • Glenn Gould In Rapture – “In the video below, the great musician Glenn Gould, supreme interpreter of Bach, is sitting at his living room piano on a low, low chair, his nose close to the keys. He’s at his Canadian country house in his bathrobe. Through the window, you catch snatches of his back yard. It’s a windy day and he’s got a coffee cup sitting on the piano top. He’s working on a Bach partita, not just playing it, but singing along in his swinging baritone. As he plays, he gets so totally, totally lost in the music that suddenly (1:57 from the top), smack in the middle of a passage, with no warning, for no apparent reason, his left hand flips up, touches his head; he stands up, and walks in what looks like a trance to the window. There’s an eerie silence. Then, in the quiet, you hear the Bach leaking out of him. He’s still playing it, but in his head, he’s scatting the beats. Then he turns, wanders back, sits down, and his fingers pick up right where his voice left off, but now with new energy, like he’s found a switch and switched it.”

  • A Western Strategy for a Declining Russia – “It is natural to feel angry at Putin’s deceptions, but anger is not a strategy. The West needs to impose financial and energy sanctions to deter Russia in Ukraine; but it also must not lose sight of the need to work with Russia on other issues. … Despite Putin’s aggressive use of force and blustery propaganda, Russia is a country in decline. Putin’s illiberal strategy of looking East while waging unconventional war on the West will turn Russia into China’s gas station while cutting off its economy from the Western capital, technology, and contacts that it needs.”
  • The Dying Russians – “Why are Russians dying in numbers, and at ages, and of causes never seen in any other country that is not, by any standard definition, at war? In the seventeen years between 1992 and 2009, the Russian population declined by almost seven million people, or nearly 5 percent—a rate of loss unheard of in Europe since World War II. Moreover, much of this appears to be caused by rising mortality. By the mid-1990s, the average St. Petersburg man lived for seven fewer years than he did at the end of the Communist period; in Moscow, the dip was even greater, with death coming nearly eight years sooner.”
  • Perdue Says Its Hatching Chicks Are Off Antibiotics – “Perdue Farms says it has ditched the common practice of injecting antibiotics into eggs that are just about to hatch. And public health advocates are cheering. They’ve been campaigning against the widespread use of antibiotics in agriculture, arguing that it’s adding to the plague of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.”
  • Ministers back Food Crime Unit recommendation – “Britain is to get a Food Crime Unit to fight the trade in fraudulent foods.The special force is a response to last year’s horsemeat scandal, which saw contaminated beef products reaching supermarket shelves across Europe.
  • Can NATO Find A Way To Contain Russia?
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El Niño development remains possible and other news and views for Wednesday 27 August

August 27th, 2014 Comments off

27-08-2014 elninowatch

  • Little change in the tropical Pacific Ocean – “Despite tropical Pacific Ocean temperatures remaining at neutral levels, models suggest El Niño development remains possible during the coming months.”
  • Regulation gets real for virtual currencies – “Both the EU and New York are looking to bring digital currencies under a full regulatory regime, but their approaches are rather different.” (The Banker – registration required)
  • France and the shadow of the euro – “The fear stalking the eurozone is of a jobless recovery; years of stagnation which will test social cohesion. What the French crisis has underlined is that the eurozone, despite all the claims of recovery, still has the potential to trouble governments, banks and the wider European economy.”
  • A New Reason to Question the Official Unemployment Rate – “Americans are less willing to respond to surveys than they used to be. A new academic paper suggests that the unemployment rate appears to have become less accurate over the last two decades, in part because of this rise in nonresponse.”
  • Could The U.S. Fix Taxation of Multinational Corporations With A Sales-Based Formula?
  • News on social media suffers a ‘spiral of silence’: Pew study – “If social media users think their followers don’t share their opinion on the news, they are less likely to post those views on Facebook and Twitter, according to a new Pew Research Center report. … The authors connect these findings to the ‘spiral of silence,’ a phenomenon where people who think they hold a minority opinion don’t speak up for fear of social exclusion. “One of the possible theories [for this study] is that when people see diversity in opinion, they don’t want to challenge other people, or upset them, or risk losing a friendship,” said Keith Hampton of Rutgers University, one of the study’s authors, in a telephone interview. For the authors, the study implies that the long-documented suppression of minority opinion exists online just as in real life.”
  • We’re Living in a Golden Age of Investigative Journalism – “Newspapers in America may be closing up shop, but muckrakers around the world are holding corrupt officials and corporate cronies accountable like never before.”

27-08-2014 marriage

  • Couples who smoke marijuana are less likely to engage in domestic violence – “A new study by researchers at the University of Buffalo finds a significantly lower incidence of domestic violence among married couples who smoke pot. “Couples in which both spouses used marijuana frequently reported the least frequent IPV [intimate partner violence] perpetration,” the study concludes.”

The political disappearance of the garden gnomes and other news and views for Monday 25 August

August 25th, 2014 Comments off
  • Soon, Europe Might Not Need Any Power Plants –  “Within a few decades, large-scale, centralized electricity generation from fossil fuels could be a thing of the past in Europe. That’s the word from investment bank UBS, which just released a new report anticipating a three pronged assault from solar power, battery technology, and electric vehicles that will render obsolete traditional power generation by large utilities that rely on coal or natural gas.”
  • TV Habits? Medical History? Tests for Jury Duty Get Personal – “Jury questionnaires have become a familiar presence in courtrooms across the United States, with some lawyers routinely requesting them in major cases — transforming the standard voir dire procedure into a written test.”
  • Inside Clive Palmer’s inner circle – “Palmer does have a string of close associates who he uses as sounding boards for his ­political and business strategies. Of course, whether he takes their advice on board is an entirely ­different matter.”
  • The Irish Redhead Convention takes place in County Cork

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  • Austrian party rues disappearance of 400 garden gnomes – “Four hundred garden gnomes have gone missing in Vorarlberg in west Austria. The gnomes, known as “Coolmen”, are the property of the left wing Social Democrat Party. They were being used as political campaign advertisements in the run up to provincial elections in Vorarlberg on 21 September.”
  • Andrew Forrest, the founder of Fortescue Metals Group – The Financial Times’ Monday interview – “No one can accuse Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest of lacking big ideas or being slow to bring them to fruition.”
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How Murdoch News Corp could shif