Monday, August 30, 2004

The anti-Bush NY protest

BBC News covers the NYC protest - impressive as it may be visually, numerically it does not add up to much. Even using the 500000 figure given by the organisers, this amounts to 2.6% of the population of NYC. Michael Moore's suggestion then, in a speech to the protest, that they (the protesters) are in the majority, seems as much a stranger to fact as his last film. Even if the protest was 10x as big, it would mean that 74% of the population of NYC had better things to do.

for min Svensk hjartan avbrytare

...from Marlena de Blasi's A Thousand Days in Venice:

Yes, it did happen once to me. But I was afraid the sentiments would change. I was afraid of some form of betrayal and so I walked away. I betrayed it before it betrayed me.

Republican convention blog by Reason

Religious environmentalism II

To follow the Posner and religious environmentalism posts below, comes this statement from Fr. Bernard in the newsletter of Our Lady & St.Joseph's Church, Hanwell (NW London) - 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time - 29th August 2004:

Whether these summers' rains and heats are directly due to global warming one cannot say, but the world's scientists seem mostly agreed that extremes of weather will be an increasing feature of our planet, with bigger and more frequent storms. Global warming is the biggest threat to the future of humanity.
Let us pray then that the American Presidential election will produce a President who will take this threat seriously. The USA, with Russia, has still refused even to sign the Kyoto Agreement...One smells the influence of the powerful oil lobby on the presidential mind. Pray hard for for a change of heart (or of President).

Well, if you are not religious, instead of praying you could support your local environmentalist group. And, according to both institutions, I guess, if you don't support them, you are going to hell.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Posner on climate change part 4

Judge Posner responds to a comment I made on one of his previous posts, offering good reasons in support of generalism.

How else, except in the blogosphere could I have a famous judge respond to my amateur thoughts within a few hours. Amazing.


Number of caffe (espresso) drunk this week = 20 had an amusing post on academic coffee consumption in April - NYU president John Sexton apparently drunk 33 cups in one day!!!!! That some were decaff is little comfort.

Piacere, guarda il suo website

POPS, SMILE : mixed media, wooden board, 2004
by my extravagantly talented Japanese friend, Kanako.
Many more paintings and other art are available on her website

Anarchy and Somalia

Somalia attempts to move beyond anarchy. It would seem (although I am judging from a distance with very few data) that anarchy has not worked in Somalia, although the experiment (forgive the terminology here) is far from completed.
Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution had a good discussion of the situation a while back.

Food photo of the week

Confit duck legs
I cooked 8, ate 4 (not all by myself) and have 4 maturing nicely in the fridge. I took the meat off the bones and dry fried it until crisp and mixed it into a baby cos lettuce and cucumber salad.
I also confited chicken legs in bacon fat which were delicious.

Religious environmentalism

Palookaville links to a sharp speech by Michael Crichton on the shared characteristics of environmentalism and religion (no, that isn't a good thing):

So it's time to abandon the religion of environmentalism, and return to the science of environmentalism, and base our public policy decisions firmly on that.

The problem of consumer choice

The Observer reports on potential moves to further liberalise trading hours.
The chairman of the Keep Sunday Special campaign is quoted: The time has come now for the people of this country to admit we made a mistake allowing Sunday work to become normal for so many people. We need a new act to guarantee a shared weekly day off for everyone.

What particularly struck me was the use of the plural we. How are we to admit our mistake and produce a new act - a deliberative democratic consultation exercise, a referendum perhaps? My alternative is as follows: allow shops to open when they want - no restrictions, and if we decide we want a special day (or whatever) it will be apparent because less people will shop on that day. Why should a minority (or even a majority) be able to determine when the rest of us buy a loaf of bread or a can of Coke? Surely there are more important things for the government to spend scarce resources on then this?
Also, in London at least, you can shop every day of the year thanks to the racial diversity of shop owners. Why should they keep Sunday special, and if there is a loophole for them on religious grounds (or whatever) what about a loophole for atheists or agnostics or anyone who doesn't agree that sunday is special?

Bush snubs Howard

Karl Rove is quoted (R) as telling Conservative leader Michael Howard (indirectly): You can forget about meeting the President. Don't bother coming. You are not meeting him.

Good point (R) by Matthew d'Ancona - that the Bush team are not concerned with losing the favour of Howard because they do not see him as a potential Prime Minister.

Rugby's here

My boys win again, Paul Ackford previews (R) the new season, an interesting piece (R) on the business acumen of Sir Clive, and the value bet is Northampton at 8-1.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Posner on climate change part 3

Judge Posner's response to his critics takes an environmentalist-ideologue turn for the worst. Two comments:

1 - he rather bitterly criticises the Copenhagen Consensus on the grounds that none of the economists were experts on climate change - in other words because they are commenting outside their field, their work carries less weight. Isn't this exactly what Posner is doing? He should concentrate on the science (which he does address) and leave out the petty academic stone-throwing.

2 - In arguing that the conclusions of the Consenus were mistaken, he states: Malnutrition and malaria are serious problems too, but one effect of eliminating them would be to cause a population surge, which would in turn increase global warming.
Surely he is not suggesting that it would better for malnutrition and malaria to go untreated?

The benefits of gastronomic globalisation

Tyler Cowen's excellent speech on the benefits globalisation brings to gastronomy:
The world is more alike in the sense that you have more choice everywhere.

The speech echoes some of the themes from Cowen's brilliant book Creative Destruction (reviewed here) and adds new ones.

Boris Johnson

Extracts (R) from Boris Johnson's forthcoming novel

St John reviewed

St John gets a good review from Jan Moir in The Telegraph (R)

Attack of the consumer clones

The unfortunately titled New Economics Foundation (presumably coincidentally named after Lenin's New Economic Policy) has released its latest report/survey which, as frequently seems to be the case, has received disproportionate coverage - eg: see the Times and the BBC.

Essentially, it seems to argue that because supermarkets have risen to prominence, and displaced small or independent shops, our high streets are in danger of becoming clone towns. Cue wonderful quotes by Andrew Simms (NEF policy director)

- Natural scientists since Charles Darwin have understood the value and importance of diversity in maintaining healthy and stable ecosystems. Clone towns imperil local livelihoods, communities and culture by decreasing the resilience of high streets to economic downturns and diminishing consumer choice.

How much more diverse could you get than a supermarket which sells thousands of lines of products by thousands of different companies? Indeed, not long ago, on the back of this book the media warned us that supermarkets offered us too much choice, which is somehow bad for us.

- H. G. Wells, Aldous Huxley and George Orwell all wrote nightmare visions of a future world that would conform increasingly under unidentified totalitarianisms, and that would determine the life and consumer choices of the ‘masses’.

Is there any similarity at all between the life of an average consumer in London today and in Orwell's 1984? Simms has cleared jumped off the deep end here...

Good rebuttals by Sean Rickard in the BBC report (If supermarkets have grown big and strong and powerful, as indeed they are, it's by the choices made by individuals - not by anyone forcing anyone through their doors) and Richard Hyman in The Times (All major retailers of today were very small once and grew by delivering a more relevant offer, more often than their competitors. The chattering classes do their shopping at supermarkets and do not practise what they preach.)

Hyman's point is particularly important because often, when people criticise certain conditions in society (footballers earning too much, too many supermarkets) they ignore or do not realise that these conditions have arisen mainly because of the combined, voluntary actions of millions of individuals. To attempt to micro-manage the situation is to interfere in the free choices of millions of people.

This is report is yet another example to illustrate Nozick's Wilt Chamberlain theory.

Mortality does funny things

An animal rights campaigner has choosen to receive drugs tested on animals in an effort to survive cancer: I can do more good for animals staying alive than dying.

Obviously there is no shame in such a choice but it would be intellectual cowardice if this person were to survive and continue campaigning, which it seems she will. By campaigning in the manner that animal rights activists do, she is, however indirectly, slowing the development of drugs for fellow cancer sufferers. She even complains that doctors have not yet found a cure for cancer - perhaps this is because the doctors are more worried about being bombed, beaten or attacked by the activists and their companies are using scarce resources to protect them and their families.
Sometimes, what goes around, does come around.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Posner on climate change

Richard Posner has some very interesting thoughts on (enhanced) global warming, although I think he is a little unfair on the more intelligent critics - the comments are equally interesting.

Environmental news

Via Commons blog 2 unsurprising bits of news:

- North Korea has environmental problems

- Paul Ehrlich has re-emerged and is back to type: For the first time in human history, global civilization is threatened with collapse.
If I had the resources, I would set up an institute to study Paul Ehrlich.

Evil multinationals part 1009

The famous McLibel trial is going to the European Court of Human Rights in September. Dave Morris (half of the team who are described as anarchists) is quoted in today's Evening Standard (sorry no link):

It was in Holloway in 1975 and i had to deliver [McDonald's] post every day. I thought there was something pretty sinister about it, this new cafe with workers in colourful uniforms...smiling all the time.

I have also always been afraid of smiling people in colourful uniforms. More here

Biggest tag sale ever?

The state of California is having a tag sale / yard sale / car boot sale. Seems like an excellent idea - perhaps next we can sell off prime government offices and maybe even civil servants and politicians.


The situation in Najaf seems to be improving.
The only positive of this situation seems to be that the solution (which it hopefully is) came about after action by Iraqis against other Iraqis. Hopefully, this will be the first of many such efforts where Iraqis take responsibility for running their own country, no matter what a hash the US... have made of it.
No doubt much blame can stuck on the US and allies but pursuing this to the exclusion of rebuilding Iraq is surely not the way to go.
Incidentally, I remember in the early days of the invasion (or whatever you want to call it), when looters stripped hospitals of equipment and hoped it was not a precedent. Vandalising your own country (or someone else's country in the case of the mercenaries) as some sort of protest action is a sorry situation.

The trouble with supermarkets...

Editorial from The Scotsman on the evils of supermarkets:

Big supermarkets are comfortable, convenient and a cornerstone of modern life. The government ought to do something about them.

No, they are not being sarcastic. The argument seems to go that because lots of people like shopping in supermarkets, and therefore the supermarkets have become very powerful (in the economic sense), the government should do something. They bemoan the loss of independent butchers, the strong arm tactics of supermarkets...

However, one fairly fundamental point ought to be picked up. How did the supermarkets become so powerful? Most of the answer stems from the fact that they offer people what they want. They do not force people to buy stuff, they do not hypnotise people to buy stuff.... It is very safe to assume that people shop at supermarkets because they prefer them to the alternatives for whatever reason.
It is mainly because British food culture is so awful that price comes before quality. Supermarkets (like any evil multinational) would after all sell ice to the eskimos if it were profitable. That they do not sell good quality (however defined and debatable anyway) products is simply a function of the nature of consumer demand. The very fact that farmers' markets are increasing in popularity is evidence of the producer - consumer relationship.

If the demand for good quality stuff were sufficient, why wouldn't the supermarkets sell it? Theories such as the Scotsman's have to answer that supermarkets would rather lose money than sell good stuff. Which is a pretty stupid, on all accounts.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

America's fastest growing sport....apparently

The new champ is a 100 pound woman who ate about 10% of her bodyweight in lobster - see the International Federation of Competititve Eating website if this is your type of thing. If this is truly America's fastest growing sport, it can be added to the list of reasons why Americans are so large.


Interesting comparison (R) between the sporting mentality of GB + Australia vis quitting.

Monbiot's manifesto

George Monbiot proposes a new way of living.

A surplus of available energy is a remarkable historical and biological anomaly. A supply of oil that exceeds demand has permitted us to do what all species strive to do - expand the ecological space we occupy - but without encountering direct competition for the limiting resource.

Humans, however, suffer less from environmental constraints in this sense, because our ingenuity means we can invent solutions to problems we face and problems we will face in the future. This is how Julian Simon taught us why Malthus was wrong.

New turns out to be very old - very little use of fossil fuels (except the good ones - parafin and wood), very little machinery, commune.... However, it is curious that the people who live this way (a large majority of 3rd world inhabitants) choose to migrate to the West or aspire to live like us in the West. I see few reports of impoverished Africans risking their lives to get to the UK or US and going to live in eco-communes. Perhaps the media bias is just not reporting these stories.

Should we stay out of the sun?

Possible evolutionary reasons for not using sun screen.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Should the stupid be allowed to vote?

The ever smart Will Wilkinson on democracy:
All this raises the question of the moral legitimacy of democracy. For here we are imposing coercive sanctions on people solely due to the fact that some critical mass of essentially ignorant people have happened to decide to choose one way rather than another. Although I am inclined to shit on democracy when given the chance, I acknowledge that it is superior to the alternatives. My main argument for a broad franchise is that it tends to create the illusion of legitimacy, and the illusion of legitimacy lends itself to a kind of political stability that each of us has reason to desire.

I too am not inclined to lavish too much praise on democracy, although whilst it is easy to poke serious holes in majoritarianism, it is less easy to construct realistic alternatives, and it is even harder to say to people living under despotic regimes that democracy is perhaps not want they really want. Life in democracies is not always better than in non-democracies, and vice-versa - the more important issue is substantive: ie - are the desires of the majority benign? Democracy is more about imposing the will of a certain group than imposing the right view (however defined).

Kerry, Bush, Vietnam...

Mark Steyn on the Kerry Vietnam thing. If democracy, that wonderful salve-all panacea, cannot rise above this petty sniping or if this is the level of debate that democracy engenders, we have a problem.


Brad DeLong and Tyler Cowen discuss just what, if anything, Marxist thought helps us understand.

? cheers for democracy

Review of The Case Against the Democratic State by Gordon Graham - an elegant pamphlet I cannot recommend highly enough.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Today I am happy for I have bought bread

Best bread in London comes from here

The Sudan question

Jack Straw travels to Sudan to talk a solution. It is interesting to view this IR episode post Iraq: we have UN involvement, diplomacy...etc. We seem to be doing it the right way.
We also have 50000 murdered in 18 months (with the State complicit) and more than 1000000 displaced. We have hundreds and thousands dying every day the talks progress. This should never be forgotten - just because important people are talking about something does not mean people are not dying. Does this mean that those guilty of talking too much are guilty in some way of causing suffering - in my opinion yes. See the excellent Stephen Pollard on this. Let's hope that a post-Iraq fetish for diplomacy at all costs does not develop in IR.

Uplifting poem

Stirring poem by Berton Braley via Johan Norberg


Richard Posner, for it is he, blogs here

The fallacy of government minimum standards

Alex Tabbarok at Marginal Revolution, one of my favourite econ blogs, exposes the fallacy of minimum standards. Why do minimum standards (ie all appartments must have x,y and z) actually impose net cost on consumers?

We and They

Jacob Levy at posts Kipling's We and They I hadn't read it before + it struck me as pithy and powerful.

Public goods

Is GPS a lighthouse? I think not because technological development must be such that use of a given GPS system can be ringfenced to subscribers...however we will no doubt find out the answer in the future.


Sharp euroscepticism from Robin Harris in the Telegraph:
European federalism is another of those secular religions, like communism or fascism, whose attractions prove so great because they reassure people who have lost their inner bearings that they are still on the winning side of History

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Paula Radcliffe pulls out of the marathon in Athens - one of the most upsetting sporting moments I can remember (comparable to France beating Italy in Euro 2000) Posted by Hello

The tragedy of Ayn Rand

Will Wilkinson contiues his interesting series on Objectivism (The Philosophy of Ayn Rand) discussing Rand's strange view of human social interaction.

Islam and civil society

The tension between all encompassing Islamic law and pluralistic civil society is discussed by Charles Moore (requires registration) and Barbara Amiel: 'the problem arises when the state begins to recognise and give official status to tribal or religious laws'. A liberal democracy cannot claim to be neutral between competing visions of the good life - it cannot avoid imposing a view on its citizens, but because it interferes minimally, or ought to, in civil society, it can claim to be everybody's second best option.

Scottish parliament

Not only does the new Scottish parliament look awful, it has cost 10 x the original estimate and it leaks - a report out next month seems set to criticise everyone involved and rightly so. Financial scandals are one sphere where the public is rarely knowingly outperformed by the private. The joy one can have with other people's money!

Education in the UK

The annual fallout over grade inflation continues. Matthew D'ancona in the Telegraph and Chris Woodhead in the Sunday Times. If the A-level currency continues to be devalued, employers and universities will increasingly evaluate employees and applicants by other means, some for better - some for worse. Perhaps this will be fairer, however this is defined, but it is another example of unintended consequences: it might be thought that it is a good thing if everyone does better, but if this results in evaluation by potentially obscure methods or reversion to old-boy networks or some such, the experiment or whatever it is to be called, has certainly backfired. Woodhead cites researchers at the maths department at Coventry University who concluded that a failure at A-level in the early 1990s is equivalent to a grade B now. That cannot be a good thing.

GB win coxless 4 in Athens - great photo. Posted by Hello


Have you noticed how the first caffe you make with a fresh tin of coffee always tastes the best? It normally produces a crema even with a moka machine. After that its downhill all the way

How to cook tripe

Have found the best – indeed, perhaps the only way, to eat tripe: deep-fried in beer batter. Tripe is the stomach lining of an ox. I have tried it Italian style in Treviso (cooked in tomato sugo) and Irish style in Cork (cooked in milk and served with onions and drasheen - a liver sausage far inferior to Italian liver sausage) and both were unremarkable.

Method: Slice tripe (pre-blanched) to desired size and boil in (beef) stock for 10-20 minutes and allow to cool in the stock. When cold, remove from stock and dry well with kitchen paper. Allow to dry out in fridge and when sufficiently dry, deep fry in normal beer batter.

I apologise for innocent plagarism if this is a well-known recipe, but I haven't seen it anywhere.

Lessons from the Soviet experience

Recently finished Robert Conquest’s Reflections on a Ravaged Century. No doubt, academics will disagree for a long time about politics, philosophy...., but the answer to one type of question is unavoidable – why do people risk death sailing from Cuba to the USA? Or, why didn’t people go from West to East Germany? Or, why don’t people go to North Korea on holiday? Or, why don’t Western Europeans hide on trains and trucks heading east? Ad infinitum...(Clue – the answer is not of the form “well, obviously these people are suffering a false consciousness....”) If only ideologically challenged intellectuals would look at the real world, they might be able to work out theories that have some basis in reality as it is, not as they would like it to be.


So, it appears I don't know how to use this properly yet, hence I have two photos of me where they should not be, and none where I want them. I'll stick to text posts for now

Saturday, August 21, 2004

First post

Well, here goes. This could be the start of nothing or something.
Why am I doing this? Well, because I can't answer the question 'Why not?'...