Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Common Sense On Anti-Depressants

Between Russell Brown and Ben Goldacre you'll find more sense on anti-depressants than anywhere else right now.

Recommended Reading

I'm only half way through this article on Hugo Chavez (from the Nation) but thus far it has proven to be one of the best articles I've read on him.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Trunk Monkey

Thank you Brad Delong. This is wonderful.

Monday, February 25, 2008

A Must Read

Via Dani Rodrik we have Pranab Bardhan writing in the Boston Review, explaining why the conventional wisdom on the politics and economics of India and China is wrong. It's a must read for anyone who is interested in the development of these two countries.

Saturday, February 23, 2008


"If I really wanted to waste my time," the T-Shirt says, "I'd be arguing on the internet".

Ignoring everything I wrote, Poneke continues with zeal (not to mention a persecution complex) and I'm tempted to keep arguing...but what's the point. And mores the point, do we really gain much debating online? At times in the past, on the best threads, I feel like I have learnt things. But even then I've never really escaped the nagging doubt that there must be better ways I could spend my time.

(from the comments box at Crooked Timber; I don't know who drew it)
(update: the comic's creator is XKCD - thanks Tussock)

Friday, February 22, 2008


Rightwing newspaper the National Business Review has discovered aid and development. As one might expect the results aren't pretty nor, despite the name of the blog in question, in any way insightful.

Social Democrats rate countries on their foreign aid donations, which is why rich Nordic nations are held up as exemplars.
...and there I was thinking that the Nordic countries' domestic social models had something to do with Social Democrats love for them. As for rating countries on their foreign aid donations, the people who do the most of the OECD. The OECD aren't exactly a Social Democrat pressure group as far as I'm aware - their main interest in rating countries is holding their wealthier members to the commitment, made in 1970 and reaffirmed several times since, to giving 0.7% of GNI as aid.
But foreign aid statistics throw up some strange facts: the US, Japan and the countries of western Europe give by far the most.
...which is solely because these countries have larger GNI's. It's easier for them to give more - because they are bigger. But in terms of effort (what they give as a proportion of what they could give) the USA ranks down the bottom of the OECD donor countries.
But Swedish economist Stefan Karlsson has estimated the largest is, in fact, China based on its low yuan policy of transferring vast amounts of wealth to foreign countries by undercharging for its exports.
...Swede? I think we're more likely to be dealing with a turnip. China's undervalued yuan isn't an aid programme. It is, in effect, a subsidy for Chinese businesses. Sure this makes its exports cheaper. And sure consumers in other countries benefit from this. But producers don't - it undermines their ability to compete. And for most developing countries, which need to produce something before they can start consuming, this simply holds back their development.
The US Institute of Peace calculates that Palestinians, better known for their terrorism, are the world’s largest recipients of foreign aid per capita.
No they don't, they state the Palestinians were the largest recipients of foreign aid per capita. (Aid was curtailed once the Palestinians elected Hamas). You've got to love the logic though. Some Palestinians are terrorists. Therefore no Palestinians are human. Therefore aid given to Palestinians is not humanitarian. Yup, we're orbiting in the outer edges of the lunisphere now.
The debate over the effectiveness of government aid has long been a topic of concern to economists, with the most compelling criticism coming from Professor William Easterly, of New York University.
William Easterly does offer a credible critique of the way that much aid is given (he still supports its giving though) but Easterly's arguments are far from perfect.

Finally, the article criticises NZAID (our government aid body) on the weight of the auditor general's report. But this report, while identifying some real accounting issues, doesn't change the fact that - as the Council for International Development notes - NZAID's actual aid giving practices are universally considered to be some of the best in the world.

Aid and development are complicated topics and if this is the depth with which they are going to be addressed it would be better if the NBR simply didn't bother.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


Martha Nussbaum has a wonderful take down of Judith Butler here (PDF). I want to write some more about it but not tonight.

Quackidy quack, quack, quack

It looks like a duck. It quacks like a duck. Yip. It's another Poneke post extolling the virtue of climate, cough, scepticism.

I replied in comments. I'm reposting my reply here because Poneke's spam filter appears to be zapping link-rich comments, and reposting here seems like the best way of providing some references to my claims while not getting zapped.

My comment is below but, before I start, I do want to acknowledge one thing: Poneke is a great writer and has an excellent blog (climate lunacy notwithstanding). I wanted to mention this because I only ever comment on Poneke's* climate change stuff here, and that's not a complete representation of the quality of his/her blogging.

==My Comment==

Here we go...

Many eminent scientists continue to be concerned at the media and political hysteria that rages around the climate change issue.
Not true. The vast majority of climate scientists are concerned not by media and political hysteria on climate change but rather the fact that we are failing to take action to prevent it. Can you name me 10 climate scientists (defined as people trained in climatology with peer reviewed papers in respected climate journals) who share the views of Linzden?
One of them is Richard S Lindzen, the Alfred P Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
And seeing as Lindzen feels free to speculate on the motives of other climate scientists let us return the favour. From PBS:
Dr. Lindzen has claimed in Newsweek and elsewhere that his funding comes exclusively from government sources, but he does not seem to include speaking fees and other personal compensation in this statement. Ross Gelbspan, who did some of the first reporting on climate skeptics' links to industry, wrote in Harper's Magazine in 1995: "[Lindzen] charges oil and coal interests $2,500 a day for his consulting services; his 1991 trip to testify before a Senate committee was paid for by Western Fuels, and a speech he wrote, entitled 'Global Warming: the Origin and Nature of Alleged Scientific Consensus,' was underwritten by OPEC."

Dr. Lindzen is a member of the Advisory Council of the Annapolis Center for Science Based Public Policy, which has received large amounts of funding from ExxonMobil and smaller amounts from Daimler Chrysler, according to a review Exxon's own financial documents and 990s from Daimler Chrysler's Foundation. Lindzen is a also been a contributor to the Cato Institute, which has taken $90,000 from Exxon since 1998, according to the website and a review Exxon financial documents. He is also a contributor for the George C. Marshall Institute.
You write:
“Climate is always changing,” he writes. “We have had ice ages, and warmer periods when alligators were found in Spitzbergen.
Yes but at present no known natural phenomenon can explain the current change and we know, thanks to basic physics that, cetrus paribas, rising levels of C02 in the atmosphere will lead to higher temperature. And we know that C02 levels are increasing at unprecedented rates at present. And we know, thanks to Carbon Isotope measures, that human actions are causing this rise. So we have very strong reason to believe that the bulk of the current variation is not natural. And, therefore, that we can do something to arrest it.

As for 'gators at the poles, how cute. If Lindzen or anyone thinks that human civilization can survive a transition over the space of a couple of centuries to this sort of climate state without immense suffering they are dreaming.

You then write:
You won’t often read articles by outspoken climate scientists like Professor Lindzen in the daily news media
Not true. As Naomi Oreskes and others have shown, climate change "sceptics" get almost equal coverage in the mainstream media (see how often Lindzen et al get coverage in the WSJ for example). The one place they don't get such equality of coverage is in peer reviewed journals. This is for one simply reason: their science is bunk.

Then you write
I am not someone who would try to claim that the recent unusual cold snap in China, or the one in Greece (it was sno:wing, heavily, in Athens this week) are evidence against global warming, despite the tendency of climate change promoters to say every major storm or drought is proof of their position.
Once again, not true: you actually did something very similar several weeks ago with your ill-informed 'gotcha' post on the Wellington temperature record.

Then you write:
Global warming theory postulates a rise in average temperatures over a century, not a year. But I can’t help noticing the accumulating evidence that average global temperatures have not risen during all of this century, after rising in the decade beforehand, despite the rise in carbon dioxide emissions caused by the greatest economic growth the entire world has ever enjoyed.
Huh? Do you mean over the last hundred years? If so, then temperatures rose significantly over this period of time (careful to look for th right graph here). The did not rise over all of the last 100 years only because of the offsetting forcing of aerosol pollution. Something that is well known.

Still at least you and Reid have found a conspiracy theory you can agree upon. :)

P.S I'm going to repost this comment at my blog, with links. That way those who are interested can check my claims while I avoid the risk that your spam filter nabs the links here.

*Update: Gender specific term modified - thanks George.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Drug Research

Dean Baker makes the case for the government being the primary funder of medical research:

The place to start is through public financing of clinical drug trials. This is by far the most corrupt part of the drug development process, since clinical test results are most immediately associated with the approval and marketing of drugs. If the tests can be taken out the control of drug companies who have a direct material stake in their outcome, it will remove the major source of corruption in the prescription drug industry.

The government can appropriate a sum of money approximately equal to what the industry now spends on clinical trials (around $20bn a year). It can then arrange long-term contracts (10-12 years) with independent testing firms, who would then decide which drugs to test. Renewal and expansion of the contracts would depend on the effectiveness of the contractor in finding and testing new drugs and preventing unsafe drugs from coming to market.

The government should impose strict rules on the contractors to prevent the sort of abuses that we currently see in the industry. First, there should be no overlap of financial interests between the firms doing the testing and the drug companies. All communications between the two, for example petitions to test a particular drug, should be in the form of public documents posted on the internet. Any other contact should be treated the same way as if a lawyer contacts a sitting juror in a pending case - it's called "jury tampering" and you spend years in jail for doing it.

Also, all the data from the tests must be publicly posted on the internet. This will allow any researcher anywhere in the world to independently analyze the data. This should substantially reduce the likelihood of mistakes or misrepresentations of results.
It would also enormously facilitate comparative effectiveness assessments of different drugs. This will allow for much better and more timely research.

A more honest system with fewer incentives to cheat.

An important additional argument, I think, is that such a system could also be a big improvement on the current state of play where rewards to investment in research on new medication are provided primarily through patents. By allowing companies that develop drugs monopoly pricing for a period of time, patents are supposed to provide incentives to research and allow drug companies to recuperate the costs of such research. Yet, patents contribute to grossly inflated prices for new drugs (such as Herceptin) and also to critically needed medication being denied to the world's poor.

If we were to nationalise the research process this would remove the needs for patents. And the problems that come with them.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Feeling Bad, Feeling Better

A couple of days ago my bus was late. I'm not a particularly patient person so instead of waiting I hopped on a No. 1. and got off at Island Bay. From there I walked. The walk wasn't bad, actually it was pretty good. 15 minutes up hill as suburbia did its best to put on a pleasant face in the lazy evening light.

A couple of years ago I tried a similar trick. My own bus had obviously vanished into a hole in the space time continuum somewhere along Lambton Quay so I caught the Number 1. My plan was different back then though - I figured I'd get off and call my girlfriend from the pay phone at the Island Bay shops. She could come and get me. The trouble was, the pay phone was broken and my plan derailed. Back then the hill up to my house stretched away like an unassailable alp. Climbing it would have taken me at least an hour and involved considerable pain. Fortunately, I was rescued by a friend who just happened to walk out of the library at the right moment allowing me to use her cell phone to call my partner.

A year before that I decided that my outdoors task for the day was to go and visit the library. I never got there. I couldn't get a park within a block of the library and couldn't bear the thought of hobbling two blocks on crutches.

Things aren't perfect now - I lost sleep last night to a gnawing pain in my back, my wrist is sore as I type this - but they are a lot better.

And that really counts. I'm stating the obvious but being mobile makes life a whole heap better, and happier. That's obvious but the strange thing is that it took me a long time to realise just how exhausted and disheartened acute arthritis left me. I'm really glad to be free of that burden for now. And really, really full of admiration for people who carry similar or much heavier ones. Now I've had my feet in those shoes I know just how uncomfortable they are.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008



Here's Bob Mould.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Happy Australian

From a recent paper by Angus Deaton we get this snapshot of reported happiness across age groups.

The results for New Zealand are similar to the other wealthy OECD papers. We see a U-shaped trajectory: the young and those of retirement age are happier than us middle-aged folk. It's easy enough to think of explanations for this, but what I don't get is why the trend isn't apparent in Australia. Australians appear to stay about as happy as they ever were throughout their lives.


Thursday, February 07, 2008

Someone's been reading something?

My partner and I are planning to get married sometime soonish. We've been using email and Facebook to let friends know. So far so non-blogworthy, but today I went to, logged in, and, to my surprise found - instead of the usual recommendations for dry political science texts - adverts for rings!

Possibly pure coincidence, but I wonder whether someone (Facebook probably) has been on-selling my data. They certainly don't promise not to in their terms and conditions.

Six Degrees

Want an idea of what our world may be like up to six degrees warmer than it is at present? Have a watch of these short excerpts of the National Geographic film of the Mark Lynas's Book Six Degrees.

One Degree

Two Degrees

Three Degrees

Four Degrees

Five Degrees

Six Degrees

Tuesday, February 05, 2008


Over at the Nation Christopher Hayes offers a more sober, video free, endorsement of Barak Obama:

Insofar as the issues discussed during a presidential campaign are circumscribed by the taboos and pieties of the political and media establishments, they tend to be dispiriting for those of us on the left. Neither front-runner is calling for the nation to renounce its decades-old imperial posture or to end the prison-industrial complex; neither is saying that America's suburbs and car culture are not sustainable modes of living in an era of expensive oil and global warming or pointing out that the "war on drugs" has been a moral disaster and strategic failure, with casualties borne most violently and destructively by society's most marginalized and--a word you won't be hearing from either candidate--oppressed. And yet, this election is far more encouraging (dare I say hopeful?) than any in recent memory. The policy agenda for the Democratic front-runners is significantly further to the left on the war, climate change and healthcare than that of John Kerry in 2004. The ideological implosion of conservatism, the failures of the Bush Administration and, perhaps most important, the shifts in public opinion in a leftward direction on war, the economy, civil liberties and civil rights are all coming together at the same time, providing progressives with the rare and historic opportunity to elect a President with a progressive majority and an actual mandate for progressive change.

The question then becomes this: which of the two Democratic candidates is more likely to bring to fruition a new progressive majority? I believe, passionately and deeply, if occasionally waveringly, that it's Barack Obama.
Read the rest.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Oh Heck Yes!

Partly because someone in New Zealand has to join the You Tube Obamamania, and partly because it's a good excuse to muse some more, here's that video:

It's not that Obama's not without his faults (health care policy, university of Chicago economics advisers...). It's not that Obama is not without his risks (Hillary, whatever else you might say about her, has surely had all the skeletons pulled from her closet before now. That may not be the case with Obama).

It's just that Obama also brings with him potential. Or, at least, it really feels that way.

Potential in the first instance to beat McCain. McCain, remember, leads both Clinton and Obama in many of the polls. And I just can't see Clinton changing that. Obama though - he could generate the momentum.

Potential also, perhaps, to shift the polity in the US. And maybe make space for something more positive to grow.

The obvious analogy is Kennedy. It's an analogy that's fun to carry through too. Maybe Obama will win but won't actually change that much in terms of policy. But maybe he'll be the president which shifts the way the nation thinks just enough for his successor to force through the great society reforms so desperately needed again.[/totally crazy speculation]

Oh yeah, the speech is utterly meaningless. I did notice that. On about the second watch.

Prison by Numbers

A little while ago No Right Turn linked to an Eric Schlosser article on the Prison Industrial Complex. The article is, as No Right Turn suggested, a must read.

Here's some numbers:

  • 5,100: the number of volts administered by the 'death fence' around New Folsom prison.
  • 2 to 1: the ratio of prisoners in California's prisons to the capacity they were designed for.
  • 8 to 1: the ratio of the number of prisoners currently held in Californian prison system compared to the number 20 years ago.
  • 6: California houses more prisoners than the following six countries combined: France, Great Britain, Germany, Japan, Singapore, and the Netherlands.
  • 1.8 million: the number of people behind bars in the USA
  • 50-80,000: the annual increase in the USA's prison population.
  • US$35 billion: the amount spent each year operating the US's prisons.
  • 70: the percentage of prison inmates in the US are illiterate.
  • 200,000: the number of US prisoners estimated to have a serious mental illness.
  • 60-80: the percentage of the US prison population estimated to have a history of substance abuse.
  • 80,000: the number of woman imprisoned in the United States.
  • 70: the percentage of woman prisoners who are non-violent offenders.
  • 75: the percentage of woman prisoners who have children.
  • 1 out of every 14: African Americans men are currently in jail. 1 in 4 will end up in jail at some point in their lives.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

What Have Unions Ever Done For Us?!?

Via DailyKos, this is great. It's Australian but most of it's true (terminology differences aside) for us here in NZ

Clinton vs Obama

Will someone please think of poor Matt Taibbi. The vacuity of the media's coverage of the Democratic primaries is driving him insane:

This relentless fragging from the media led to state of affairs in Iowa, in which all of the candidates were enjoined in a seemingly endless piss-fight over the most mind-numbing minutiae imaginable. Clinton and Obama spent days haggling bitterly over, of all things, tea. When Obama insisted that his foreign experience went beyond who "I had tea with," the Hillary camp actually went through the trouble of releasing a statement from Madeleine Albright insisting that Hillary, in fact, drank many different beverages in her travels.
He's right. With all the issues confronting the planet the banality of media coverage of the US elections is hard to stomach.

I'm still trying to figure out who to (hypothetically) support now that Edwards is out.

Paul Krugman's done more than enough to convince me that Obama's proposed health care reform package is inferior to Hillary's. But, on the other hand, Obama is much better on foreign policy (his lead adviser is Samantha Power!). And, courtesy of this fascinating post at Crooked Timber, we learn that Obama has a discernibly more liberal voting record in the senate (the actual axis is not quite liberal conservative, but close enough).(Click here to read the rest of this post...)

On the other hand, Obama is gathering his economic advisers (and, presumably, his bad advice on health care) from the University of Chicago.

On the other hand, I think he's more likely to beat McCain(?) than Hillary.

And that's still what tips it for me. Neither Hillary Clinton not Barack Obama has really great politics but, compared with "bomb, bomb, bomb, Iran" McCain, anyone's an improvement.

Finally, returning to trivia (justified by the New Zealand connection), here's Alan Thomas over at the Liberal Conspiracy:

He [Christopher Hitchens writing in Slate] begins with a small but telling anecdote from 1995 when, after meeting him, Clinton announced that her mother had named her after Sir Edmund Hillary. Of course, the only problem here is that Clinton was born in 1947 and Hillary’s name-making ascent of Mount Everest was in 1953. When challenged on this rather obvious fact, Clinton spokespeople palmed off the inconsistency on to Hillary’s mother, claiming she had made it up to inspire “greatness” in her daughter.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Quack? Quack, Quack. Quack! Quack! Quack, Quack, Quack!!!

Years from now, when we are dealing with the consequences of anthropogenic global warming we will look back and wonder just how in God's name a supposedly reputable paper could publish nonsense like this in the name of forestalling action.

The article is so illogical it's actually hard to Fisk.

The core argument, as best I can determine, revolves not around science but around words.

Environmentalists, you see, use the term 'climate change' as shorthand for anthropogenic climate change. But, the writer informs us, the Earth's climate has always changed. Therefore the term 'climate change' is misleading. Therefore anthropogenic climate change is not real.

People also, we learn, talk about 'carbon trading' and 'carbon emissions'. This is misleading as carbon and carbon dioxide aren't the same thing and using the term carbon in place of carbon dioxide makes people think that a natural gas is a dirty pollutant. Therefore Carbon Dioxide emissions can't be causing climate change.

Arguing this is a bit like saying that people use the term radiation to refer to nuclear radiation. Therefore nuclear radiation is harmless. And, anyhow, radiation is natural, therefore it can't cause cancer.

Having wowed us with words, the oped concludes by telling us that relationship between rising CO2 and rising temperature is "a point of strong debate among climate scientists". After all the linguistics, a nice simple lie.

Why does this nonsense keep getting written? Why does it keep ending up in the Herald?

The Shorter Mike Moore

Forcing the people behind anonymous well funded political smear campaigns to declare their names = silencing dissent.

Oh, and I am a very, very important thinker. I speak French and I has read Volataire.