Thursday, 31 October 2013

News and views noted long the way.
  • How climate change threatens the ability of global populations to rise out of poverty
  • U.S. lawmakers call for action to curb internet child trading
  • These 2 words will make you more selfish — “Students were twice as likely to betray their partner in a Prisoner’s Dilemma if told they were playing a game called ‘Wall Street’.”
  • One third of Australia’s media coverage rejects climate science, study finds — “An academic study has found that 32% of articles dismissed or questioned the link between human activity and climate change.”
  • The end of the British breakfast as we know it. The pressure for Britain to quit the European Union will surely grow now that officialdom in Brussels is seeking to reduce the minimum level of sugar that  a product calling itself “jam” or “marmalade” can contain. Lib Dem MP Tessa Munt argues that if the regulations change, as the government is proposing, “we’ll end up with something much more like the French and German product — and worse still the Americans, where they have things a bit like a fruit butter or a fruit spread. It’s dull colours that don’t taste the same and they certainly don’t last as long.”
    I’m actually quite worried because I think this is going to be the end of the British breakfast as we know it.
    Our jams and marmalades are so important — and we know what to expect when we go into the supermarket or into our local shop or farm shops locally, we know exactly what we’re going to buy when something says jam on it — or marmalade or jelly — we know exactly what to expect.”
    At the minute, we’ve got a jam that we know exactly what it’s like. It’s a fantastic colour, a really good shelf life — it’s going to last a year — it’s beautiful consistency, it’s got a gloss to it.”
    A quote for the day.
    First Law: It is almost impossible by rational argument to persuade people to believe what they do not want to believe. Second Law: Almost any argument, no matter how feeble, will convince people of what they do want to believe. The third law is the non-obvious one; I learned it the hard way, by making mistakes. Third Law: If you think your opponent’s position doesn’t make sense, or that he or she is stupid or uninformed or irrational, think again. Almost certainly, YOU are the one who does not understand”

Those banking ticket clippers - this time it's foreign exchange

As the multibillion-dollar fines for international banks keep coming over past misdeeds, new questions are arising about the way they continue to fleece their customers. The latest potential scandal appears to involve foreign currency trading, with Reuters this morning referring to a number of senior traders from several banks being sent on leave. I say “appears”, because the reason for the gardening leave has not yet been given, but Bloomberg reported that two went on leave after regulators probing foreign exchange manipulation started investigating traders’ use of an instant-message group.

Reducing too quickly - US money printing

The US Federal Reserve is continuing with its money printing as it endeavours to increase economic growth, with the Federal Open Market Committee warning overnight that “fiscal policy is restraining economic growth”. Translated, this means politician are concerned with reducing the government budget deficit and the policy of cheap money is needed to stop growth declining again.
A measure of the brakes that the Congress has put on spending was shown by the latest update from the final budget results released by the Treasury and Office of Management and Budget.

Same old, same old - Labor's power brokers still in charge as new Senator chosen

As they say, the more things change the more they stay the same. After the token experiment with letting ordinary members have a say in choosing the federal party leader, the trade union-based factional bosses are back in control of the Labor Party. In New South Wales there was nothing rank-and-file about choosing a successor to Bob Carr as a senator. The party executive imposed the defeated member for Robertson, Deb O’Neill, into the job after Left faction leader Senator Doug Cameron said there was no point party members nominating for the Senate vacancy because a cross-factional deal had already been struck. Hard to disagree with Shoalhaven party member Michelle Miran, who declared:
Sussex Street is like the politburo with its shady backroom deals. Again it’s the anointed who are chosen, someone who’s lost her seat, said she wants to recontest it, and they’ve decided to give her a job for the next three years. Why bother calling for nominations if you have no intention of honouring them?”
And now its Victoria’s turn as the thoughts of the factional bosses turn to the next state election. Labor’s Victorian factions, the Age tells us this morning, are scrambling to work out a plan for vacant state seats but are keen to avoid infighting ahead of next year’s state election. And then this:
Democracy in action, Labor style.

The price of privatisation

They are having quite a debate in Britain about the pricing policies of oligopolist energy suppliers. From page one of theDaily Telegraph:
Amusing, really, to find that headline in such a newspaper bastion of free enterprise. Maybe they were just giving their readers a definition of capitalism.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

News and views for 30 October 2013 - home insulation incentives

Drawing Australia into the phone tapping controversy. Diplomatic problems surely loom for Australia as south-east Asian nations begin to get agitated about the activities of the United States in electronic eavesdropping. The close links between our Defence Signals Directorate and the US’s National Security Agency will make it inevitable. Following further reports yesterday by Der Spiegel, Asian newspapers are now featuring the story.
Add the daily home index to the list. Capital city home prices in Australia went up just a tick less than 1% yesterday. Now surely that’s the kind of market news that might actually interest a listener to the on-the-hour every-hour radio news. But no. Not a mention of the RP Data-Rismark Daily Home Value Index. Just the boring updates of the Hang Seng something or other, the price of Brent crude and how many New Zealand cents you can buy for one of our real dollars. So here is Chunky Bits showing news editors the way:
Weapons of war. British naval officers have a new weapon in their fight against piracy. Somali pirates, it seems, are frightened off by the sound of Britney Spears.
Reports the British free paper Metro:
Britney Spears is being used as a secret weapon … to scare off Somali pirates.
Her hits are blasted out to deter kidnap attacks, merchant navy officer Rachel Owens revealed.
Spears’s chart-toppers Oops! I Did It Again and Baby One More Time have proved to be the most effective at keeping the bandits at bay.
Second Officer Owens, who works on supertankers off the east coast of Africa, said: “Her songs were chosen by the security team because they thought the pirates would hate them most.
These guys can’t stand Western culture or music, making Britney’s hits perfect.”
Ships in the region are in constant danger from gun-toting pirates boarding and kidnapping crews for multi-million-pound ransoms.
In 2011, there were 176 attacks on ships by gangs of bandits off the Horn of Africa. They are such a threat the Royal Navy has 1,500 sailors on 14 warships operating round-the-clock patrols in the area.
Ms Owens, who regularly guides huge tankers through the waters, said the ship’s speakers can be aimed solely at the pirates so as not to disturb the crew.
It’s so effective the ship’s security rarely needs to resort to firing guns,” said the 34-year-old, from Gartmore, near Aberfoyle, Stirling.
As soon as the pirates get a blast of Britney, they move on as quickly as they can.”
Steven Jones, of the Security Association for the Maritime Industry, said: “Pirates will go to any lengths to avoid or try to overcome the music.”
He added: “I’d imagine using Justin Bieber would be against the Geneva Convention.”
An alternative pink batts story  —  They have given it the headline “A story of a non-price behavioral economics intervention in the United Kingdom” but it gives quite a fascinating insight into the way common psychological factors may cause people to act in ways that differ from what is predicted in a basic economic model of people purposefully pursuing their own self-interest. From the website of the Conversable Economist comes this extract from an interview with interview with Richard Thaler in the September 2013 issue of the The Region magazine, which is published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
Let me tell you another story about the UK. We had a meeting with the minister in charge of a program to encourage people to insulate their attics, which they call “lofts” — I had to learn that. Now, any rational economic agent will have already insulated their attic because the payback is about one year. It’s a no-brainer. But a third of the attics there are uninsulated. The government had a program to subsidize insulation and the take-up was only 1%.
The ministry comes to us and says, “We have this program, but no one’s using it.”  They came to us because they had first gone to the PM or whomever and said, “We need to increase the subsidy.” You know, economists have one tool, a hammer, and so they hammer. You want to get people to do something? Change the price. Based on theory, that’s the only advice economists can give. …
So we sent some team members to talk to homeowners with un-insulated attics. “How come you don’t have insulation in your attic?”  They answered, “You know how much stuff we have up there!?” So, we got one of the retailers, their equivalent of Home Depot, that are actually doing the [insulation] work, to offer a program at cost. They charge people, say, $300; they send two people who bring all the stuff out of the attic. They help the homeowners sort it into three piles: throw away, give to charity, put back in the attic. And while they’re doing this, the other guys are putting in the insulation. You know what happened? Up to a 500 percent increase. So, that’s my other mantra. If you want to get somebody to do something, make it easy.
News and views noted long the way.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

News and views for 29 October 2013

News and views noted along the way.
  • New Seamus Heaney poem published  —   ”Guardian publishes In a Field ahead of its appearance in anthology marking centenary of outbreak of first world war. It describes a man coming home from war:
    From nowhere, unfamiliar and de-mobbed,
    In buttoned khaki and buffed army boots,
    Bruising the turned-up acres of our back field
    To stumble from the winding’s magic ring. …”
  • The global war on thinking bad thoughts  — “Can America really win the battle against Islamic extremism?”
  • Government actively looking into reforming ganja law  — “Justice Minister Senator Mark Golding has said active consideration is being given to reforming the law relating to ganja in Jamaica to allow its use, but within certain parameters.”

Forget the polar variety - global warming helping the grizzlies

The polar bear stranded on an ever shrinking ice berg has become a symbol of the evils of global warming but in the interests of species balance I bring you this research. You could call, I suppose, a 10-year study by University of Alberta biologist Scott Nielsen and his colleagues that monitored 112 bears in Alberta’s Rocky Mountain region, “warm the world and save the grizzly”. The team found that warmer temperatures and easier access to food associated with forest disturbances helped the grizzlies to build more body fat, known to increase the chances of successful reproduction for mothers.
The findings, to be published in BMC Ecology, are that in years when warmer temperatures and less late winter snow brought on earlier spring conditions, the body size of bears as adults was larger. Smaller bears were found in colder and less productive environments or years that were abnormally cool.
We hypothesize that warmer temperatures in this ecosystem, especially during late winter and spring, may not be such a bad thing for grizzlies,” Nielsen said, noting that historically the range for the bears once extended as far south as Mexico and persists today even in the deserts of Mongolia. “That suggests the species won’t likely be limited by rising temperatures which would lengthen the growing season and the time needed to fatten prior to hibernation.”

Snouts in the trough - perks for Chinese politicians

So we have politicians going to a wedding or two, peddling a little on expenses and doing an occasional vineyard tour. Small beer really compared with some of their Chinese peers who really know how to get their snouts in the trough.
Or maybe the word should be should be trotters not snouts. Whatever. Communist Party officials in Henan province are giving a new meaning to the term “government pork.”  They ran up a bill for $US115,000 at a locally famous pig trotter restaurant over the course of three years while entertaining visiting cadres on “inspection tours” which determined the size of government grants.
Henan’s culinary largess ran into problems in this new age of official discouragement of corruption and excess when the restaurant proprietor, faced with bankruptcy because the bills were never paid, used a Chinese variant of whistle blowing to capture attention. According to reportshe tacked up two giant red banners outside his restaurant outlining how much the town Party heads owed. Days later, the local government had settled the bill and the officials were suspended.

That feminine touch - Tony Abbott with women soldiers

The Tony Abbott campaign theme of appearing with women continues. Yesterday in Afghanistan:

PUP in Tasmania

It should be difficult to imagine a more propitious time for the Tasmanian Liberal Party. With an election due next March the coalition Labor-Green government is deeply unpopular. The polls are showing it as a no-contest. Almost daily there are public calls from within the Labor parliamentary ranks for an end to the alliance. That rare thing in the island state — a majority Liberal government — looks a certainty but for one thing — the Palmer United Party.
Tasmania’s multi-member electorates provide the PUP with a great opportunity to build on the success of its recent federal Senate campaign which saw it win a seat in the state. Should the big fellow Clive find  a few more millions to spend on a campaign his party might once again become the holder of a balance-of-power.