Thursday, 23 October 2014

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

23-10-2014 makeover
  • 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.”
2014-10-23_rhino
  • 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.”

Castrating hogs on an Iowa farm – my favourite political ad for this season

“I’m Joni Ernst. I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm. So when I get to Washington, I’ll know how to cut pork.”
It is certainly an ad you are likely to remember.
NPR features some other memorable moments from this year’s Congressional campaigns.

World in 2014 still heading towards a record hot year

The relative plateauing of world temperatures since the late 1990s has become the major argument of those who argue that global warming is nonsense. But I wonder what they will say if 2014 turn out to be a new record high point? Personally I’m looking forward to Andrew Bolt’s explanation.
And an explanation is looking more and more likely. I reported earlier this month how, according to NASA, September just gone was the warmest September globally since records began being kept in 1880. Now the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has reached a similar conclusion and has speculated as well with a couple of graphics on what the whole year will end up like.
The graphics compare the year-to-date temperature anomalies for 2014 (black line) to what were ultimately the five warmest years on record: 2010, 2005, 1998, 2003, and 2013. Each month along each trace represents the year-to-date average temperature. In other words, the January value is the January average temperature, the February value is the average of both January and February, and so on.
The first graphic shows the basic year-to-date comparison.
2014-10-23_yeartodaate
The second graphic zooms even further to what were ultimately the five warmest years on record, and shows several end-of-year results based on the following scenarios:
The years 2013 and 2014 are the only years on this list not to begin during a mature El Niño event. The years 1998 and 2010, each of which became the warmest year on record at the time, ended the year in a strong La Niña event, as evidenced by the relative fading of global average temperature later in the year.
The anomalies themselves represent departures from the 20th century average temperature. The graph zooms into the warmest part of the entire history.
2014-10-23_scenarios
(Click on graph to enlarge)
As for the prospects of an El Niño event to kick temperatures along even further, Australia’s Bureau of Meteorologysaid on Tuesday that El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) indicators, as well as Australian rainfall patterns, continue to show some El Niño-like signatures, but remain in the neutral range.
The tropical Pacific Ocean has remained warmer than average for more than six months, while the Southern Oscillation Index has remained negative since early June. However neither has reached typical El Niño levels for any sustained period, and only weak atmosphere-ocean coupling appears to have taken place so far.
International models surveyed by the Bureau suggest that warmer-than-average tropical Pacific waters are likely to persist. While there has been some easing in model outlooks over the past month, three of eight models reach El Niño thresholds by January and another two remain just shy of the thresholds for an event.
Australia has generally been dry and warm over recent months. A warmer central tropical Pacific late in the year typically heralds warmer and drier conditions for parts of eastern Australia, as well as a reduction in the number of tropical cyclones in the Australian region and increased bushfire risk in the south.
The Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) is likely to remain neutral. The IOD typically has little influence on the Australian climate from December to April.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

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

  • 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.”

Monday, 20 October 2014

Are women better decision makers? Forget the glass ceiling – think about the glass cliff.

  • 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
2014-10-20_clive james
  • 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.”

Sunday, 19 October 2014

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

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.”
2014-10-19_dogs
  • 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.”

Compost brings some climate change good news

The Los Angeles Times reports this morning on how  a compost experiment that began seven years ago on a Marin County ranch has uncovered a disarmingly simple and benign way to remove carbon dioxide from the air, holding the potential to turn the vast rangeland of California and the world into a weapon against climate change.
The concept grew out of a unique Bay Area alignment of a biotech fortune, a worldclass research institution and progressive-minded Marin ranchers. It has captured the attention of the White House, the Brown administration, the city of San Francisco, officials in Brazil and China, and even House Republicans, who may not believe in climate change but like the idea that “carbon farming” could mean profits for ranchers.
Experiments on grazing lands in Marin County and the Sierra foothills of Yuba County by UC Berkeley bio-geochemist Whendee Silver showed that a one-time dusting of compost substantially boosted the soil’s carbon storage. The effect has persisted over six years, and Silver believes the carbon will remain stored for at least several decades.
The experiments were instigated by John Wick and his wife, Peggy, heiress to the Amgen biotech fortune, on a 540-acre ranch they bought in Nicasio. What began as a search for an artist’s studio turned into a seven-year, $8 million journey through rangeland ecology that has produced results John Wick calls “the most exciting thing I can think of on the planet right now.”