Thursday, 24 April 2014

Summer Arctic ice coverage well below the average for recent years

The seasonal Arctic sea ice melt is well and truly underway and the early indications are that 2014 will be another one with summer ice coverage well below the average for recent years.
The latest figure from the National Snow and Ice Data Center shows the area of ocean with at least 15% sea ice is less (solid purple line) than in what turned out to be the record low year of 2012 (the dotted line).
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The pattern for the whole of the summer period (from which the graph above is taken) is shown below.
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Click on graph to increase to a readable size

Free speech, capital in the 21st century and other news and views for Thursday 24 April

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  • Video: Piketty, Krugman, Stiglitz, and Durlauf on ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’ - “”The French economist Thomas Piketty discussed his new book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century at the Graduate Center. In this landmark work, Piketty argues that the main driver of inequality—the tendency of returns on capital to exceed the rate of economic growth—threatens to generate extreme inequalities that stir discontent and undermine democratic values. He calls for political action and policy intervention. Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krugman, and Steven Durlauf participated in a panel moderated by Branko Milanovic.”
  • The Red Line and the Rat Line – Seymour M. Hersh on Obama, Erdoğan and the Syrian rebels
  • John Menadue: This is about more than a bottle of wine – “To mix my metaphors, the bottle of red wine that Barry O’Farrell received is only the tip of an iceberg – a sleezy world of lobbying, influence-peddling and corruption.”
  • Forget Silicon Valley, meet Silicon Bali – “Before I interrupted her, she was busy making tweaks to Mailbird, the 18-month-old company she co-founded, which seeks to streamline the often-clunky Microsoft Windows email system. Already, the eight-person company has attracted thousands of users and glowing attention from trade publications such as TechCrunch. And she isn’t the only tech entrepreneur writing code late into the night here – cybercafe billing firm SmartLaunch and virtual laboratory Labster are also busy working in a place most people go to disconnect.”
  • Free speech from xkcd
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Click to enlarge

It's sushi for a President - Barack Obama at Tokyo's most famous sushi restaurant

It has three Michelin stars, only 10 seats and Barack Obama was the guest there yesterday of Japanese Prime Minister Shinto Abe.
And the presidential verdict on Sukiyabashi Jiro? "That's some good sushi right there," he said. "It was terrific. Thank you so much."

David Gelb, who directed a film about Jiro Ono described for US National Public Radio what it's like to dine at such an iconic place.
For starters, the restaurant is hidden in the basement of an office building and offers only one item on its menu — the omakase course, which can cost between $300 and $400 per person. It consists of 20 pieces of sushi, prepared and served one at a time.
"There are no appetizers, no rolls of any kind," Gelb says. "It's purely his style of sushi, which is kind of the classic Tokyo style, which is basically just fish and rice and seasoning, maybe a soy sauce or a nikiri, which is a kind of sweetened soy sauce."
And if you're fortunate enough to be one of Ono's costumers, don't even think about ordering off the menu — even if you are the president of the United States. "The Jiro that I know would not change his sushi for anyone," Gelb says, adding that "he just gives you what he feels is the best of the day."
There are a few clues on the maestro's website to help us mere mortals improve our own sushi style.
  • Get the temperature right
Sushi rice or vinegared rice (su-meshi or shari) is the first consideration for nigirizushi (literally, hand-formed sushi). And the most important point for shari is to keep its temperature around the human body temperature, otherwise the sushi will never satisfy the customer. Our practice is to cook the rice so that it is done about 30 minutes before we welcome customers, to meet their high expectationsIt takes about 60 minutes from starting to wash the rice until it is done (we only use cast iron gas rice cookers that cook the rice for sushi much better than an electric cooker). The vinegar mixture or dressing prepared for sushi is slowly poured over the cooked rice to blend with it. It is then cooled down to body temperature and placed in a covered wooden rice tub, which is in turn placed in a covered straw container to keep the temperature. The vinegar mixture is absorbed by the rice to make the hardness of each grain of rice perfect for sushi. Now the shari is done.
  •  Choose the rice vinegar carefully
Jiro’s sushi rice or shari is prepared with a slight sourness for a better taste, and we increase the sourness in the height of summer. We use natural salt from salt evaporation pools containing much bittern (or nigari for culinary use in Japanese) to prepare our vinegar mixture for sushi.
Our shari with its mild taste and slight sourness, when topped with neta or sushi toppings, produces an outstanding balance, an exquisite combination of pure flavors between shari and neta, which is very important for sushi.
  • Control the temperature of the toppings 
The flavor and taste of neta or sushi toppings, which are typically raw fish, greatly depend on the temperature at which each topping is kept before use. Some toppings must be kept slightly cool; others must be kept at room temperature or around human body temperature.About 20 different toppings are offered at Sukiyabashi Jiro. We very carefully control the temperature of these toppings until immediately before serving to ensure that each topping is served at the ideal temperature.

Banking on someone else to sleep your bank to the top

Ah, the morality of bankers knows no bounds.
China Resources, the state-owned conglomerate whose chairman was detained last week by anti-corruption investigators, has allocated many of its investment banking deals over the past five years to institutions employing the chairman’s alleged mistress.
From 2009 until 2012, Credit Suisse was one of the most prominent advisers on acquisitions and capital market activity carried out by China Resources and its numerous subsidiaries, according to data from Dealogic financial services information. This period coincides with the employment of Yang Lijuan, who also goes by the name Helen Yang and who is alleged to have been the mistress of the disgraced China Resources chairman Song Lin.
And, surprise, surprise, when Ms Yang left Credit Suisse for UBS the business stopped for Credit Suisse while UBS became the joint bookrunner on two large bond sales and a key adviser on the two largest public acquisitions ever involving China Resources.
I suppose we could call it banking on someone else to sleep your bank to the top.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Rich men and third party politics give a different twist to the Westminster system

Gordon Barton gave us a taste in Australia of rich men flirting with third party politics back in the 1960s with his Liberal Reform Group and opposition to the support of conservative Liberal and National (then Country) parties for the Vietnam war. It transmuted into the Australian Reform Movement and then the Australia Party before he lost interest – or maybe it was his money – although his plaything was kind of resurrected in the the form of the Democrats. And they did use the Senate to have a considerable say in national politics before their disintegration as a party without money and thus influence.
Bob Brown. that deservedly revered founder of the national Greens, understood the importance of men with money too. It was the millions poured into campaigning by the founder of the Wotif online travel website, Graeme Wood, before the federal election of 2010 that saw the Greens emerge as such a dominant force that Labor was forced into a formal governing agreement with them. The absence of an equivalent to that largest donation in Australian political history perhaps explains much of the declining Green vote of 2013 when Queensland’s Clive Palmer was the third party man with the millions of dollars. It was the Palmer United Party that bought enough votes this time to upset the established two-party duopoly.
In Australia the success of rich men sponsoring a third force in politics has owed much to the multi-member nature of our Senate elections although now both the PUP and the Greens have a bum on the green House of Representative benches. Perhaps there are more such third forces to come. The current experience in Great Britain certainly points in that direction with UKIP – the UK Independence Party – coming from nowhere to challenge Conservatives and Labour in the opinion polls with the traditional third party Liberal Democrats languishing well behind in fourth place.
And money is surely playing a part in the UKIP ascendancy. The Financial Times reports this morning that a “reclusive multimillionaire behind the anti-Brussels UK Independence party has vowed there will be “no limit” to his spending in the run-up to next year’s general election.
Paul Sykes, a self-made businessman worth an estimated £400m, said he wanted to counter the tens of millions spent every year by Brussels on promoting the EU. “The British people need the facts,” he said. …
Having quit the Conservatives in the 1990s over Europe, Mr Sykes said he had so far spent about “£1.2m or £1.4m” on a media blitz that includes hundreds of controversial posters attacking the EU. “We haven’t stopped spending yet,” he told the Financial Times. “I’ll spend whatever it takes for the British people to make them aware that power has been transferred from Britain without permission.”
And here’s where the money is going:
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It seems like a very powerful message to me – powerful enough to give a different twist to the Westminster two-party system.
Money might not buy you love but it seems to do alright with votes.

El Niño looking a little more likely

A hotter and drier summer than normal in eastern Australia is looking a little more likely with the Bureau of Meteorology reporting today that the likelihood of El Niño remains high, with all climate models surveyed by the Bureau now indicating El Niño is likely to occur in 2014. Six of the seven models suggest El Niño thresholds may be exceeded as early as July.
23-04-2014 elninooutlookSays BOM:
The Pacific Ocean has been warming along the equator over recent weeks, with continued warming in the central Pacific likely in coming months. Another burst of westerly winds is presently occurring in the western Pacific, and is likely to cause further warming of the sub-surface.
El Niño has an impact across much of the world, including below average rainfall in the western Pacific and Indonesian regions, and increased rainfall in the central and eastern Pacific. For Australia, El Niño is usually associated with below average rainfall, with about two thirds of El Niño events since 1900 resulting in major drought over large areas of Australia.
In Western Australia, where the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) is a major influence, the Bureau suggests, but not as strongly as for the eastern states, that lower rainfall than usual may be on the way.
Model outlooks currently suggest the IOD is likely to remain neutral through late autumn and early winter, with two of the five models surveyed suggesting a positive IOD may develop by early spring. Positive IOD events often coincide with El Niño and are typically associated with large parts of southern and central Australia experiencing lower rainfall than usual.
A couple of earlier stories by the Owl this month on El Niño:

Baptists and bootleggers and other news and views for Wednesday 23 April

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  • Asteroid impact risks ‘underappreciated’
  • Earth Day: A Baptists and Bootleggers Story – “Earth Day was first celebrated on April 22, 1970. It is now observed in 192 countries, and is coordinated by the Earth Day Network. Bruce Yandle offers a hard-eyed look at how the original Earth Day affected U.S. environmental legislation in How Earth Day Triggered Environmental Rent Seeking… One of Yandle’s signature insights is the idea of a ‘Baptists-and-bootleggers’ coalition. Who favored prohibition of alcohol sales? Baptists, on moral grounds, and bootleggers, because government prohibition would limit competition and boost their profits. He makes a strong argument that Earth Day led to a similar environmentalists-and-industrialists coalition, in which environmentalists pushed for laws to reduce pollution, and industrialists pushed for anti-pollution laws that would hinder their competition.”
  • Tony Blair: ‘West should focus on radical Islam’ – “Western leaders must ‘elevate the issue of religious extremism to the top of the agenda’. And they must co-operate with other countries – ‘in particular, Russia and China’ – regardless of ‘other differences’.”
  • Human capital and income inequality: Some facts and some puzzles – “Most developing countries have made a great effort to eradicate illiteracy. As a result, the inequality in the distribution of education has been reduced by more than half from 1950 to 2010. However, inequality in the distribution of income has hardly changed. This column presents evidence from a new dataset on human capital inequality. The authors find that increasing returns to education, globalisation, and skill-biased technological change can explain why the fall in human capital inequality has not been sufficient to reduce income inequality.”