Wednesday, 31 October 2007

A brief note on certain recent terrorist arrests

When you have someone buying army camo pants, this is a pretty dubious indicator that he's dangerous.

When he's buying them on line with his home address, this is an even more dubious indicator of his intended crimes against the state.

When it emerges that he was looking for size XXXXL, your case against him as a dedicated urban revolutionary has just taken a massive credibility hit...

"I blame that lot over there!"

The Listener points out a certain aspect of nationalism:

- The Italians called it “the French disease”.
- The French called it “the Italian disease”.
- The Dutch called it “the Spanish disease”.
- The Russians called it “the Polish disease”.
- The Tahitians called it “the British disease”.
- The Turks, covering all possible bases, called it “the Christian disease”.

We are, of course, talking about syphilis. Can anyone think up a justification for calling it the Australian disease, off-hand?

Saturday, 27 October 2007

Get 'Miles' away.

One thing I'm irritated by is "Buy New Zealand" campaigns. We have a persistant balance of payments problem in this country but, in a world of floating exchange rates, it's not to be cured by attempting to substitute domestic production for imports. It is due to our capital flows - we need investment, we need to pay off profits to overseas owners of assets, we don't save enough. Therefore we must import other people's currency, and therefore we run a trade deficit.

Little New Zealand flags on boxes won't solve this. KiwiSaver might.

Environmentalism can serve a similar purpose to nationalist campaigns. One of the current fads in Europe is the idea of "food miles", that consumers should attempt to eat produce produced locally because transporting it has less of an impact on the environment - most importantly CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions. It's big in the UK (although Walmart in the US is making noises about it) and, as you might imagine, is enthusiastically supported by British farmers.

It also has obvious implications for NZ exporters - and if your image of NZ mostly involves 40 million sheep, consider that New Zealand is expected to earn more this year by exporting wine than by exporting wool.

Problem is, it doesn't work.

Check it out - research from Lincoln University (pdf) and a report on UK research - when you take into account efficiency of production, greenhouses vs fields, transport on trucks vs shipping, integrated production chains - food produced in NZ, in Southern Europe, in Africa still has less of a carbon footprint than food produced in the UK. The same probably applies to the US, which I would imagine has even more carbon intensive farming techniques than the UK, given the size of the country and the reliance on mechanical inputs.

How the CO2 emissions compare:
UK New Zealand
2,849kg CO2 per tonne of carcass 688kg CO2 per tonne of carcass

Lettuce (winter)
UK Spain
3,720kg CO2 per tonne of lettuce (indoor production) 3,560kg CO2 per tonne of lettuce

Apples (in May when off season in UK)
UK New Zealand
271kg CO2 per tonne of apples 185kg CO2 per tonne of apples

Netherlands Kenya
35,000kg CO2 per 12,000 stems 6,000kg CO2 per 12,000 stems

More resources here.

Assessing carbon emissions is a useful exercise, and one which puts environmental decisions in the hands of buyers. Various exercises are being taken to standardise these sorts of calculations - I know that MAF is working on it. But "food miles" is a misleading simplification that seems to be a greener looking equivalent to waving the flag or slapping packages with pictures of kiwis, or bald eagles, or Lizzie Windsor. If someone tries pushing the idea on you, ask who is sponsoring it and whether the science adds up.

On the other hand, it's Saturday morning, and I'm off to the Waitangi market to see if I can pick up some cheap veges directly from the farmers at the stalls...

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Medieval Scandinavians had their priorities right

Little known fact for the day:

The Finnish epic poetry saga, the Kalevala, dedicated 200 verses towards the creation of the Earth. It dedicated 400 verses towards beer.

This probably explains the Winter War - the Soviets annoyed them in the middle of a really bad hangover...

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

"It's got what plants crave!"

Okay, so I'm weeks behind the times, and only about a million people have made this connection first, but I contend that I, also, made the connection by myself as soon as I saw the story.

Atlanta is suffering a drought. They have something like three or four months of water in the reserves, and that's it.

And the biggest user of water in the place, one which they're having problems getting to cut back, is a Gatorade factory.

Gatorade - it has electrolytes!

If you don't understand the reference, hie thee to your video store and ask about this...

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Spring - and too much information from women

Just a couple of brief notes for two women who shall remain anonymous:

i, I don't want to know about you, Person A, sloping off into the bathroom to jill off because of your boyfriend's texts. It just makes me dubious about my project of trying to get you to read books - if there's fingerprints on them when they return, I'm going to be very annoyed.

ii, And while I appreciate emails from you, Person B, mentioning you're not wearing knickers as much as the next guy who's spent a lot of time trying to get into them, you had to spoil it by going on to mention why, didn't you? Okay, okay I started it by suggesting the bed pictured looked too fragile for your, uh, needs - but we both know you're grosser than I am. You win!

I mean, Jesus, I spend my time trying to develop a reputation as a pervert and as soon as spring rolls around, women show they can effortlessly outdo men in this field without even trying.

Scene from Oriental Bay today

It's spring. If you've never been to Wellington, Oriental Bay is a main promenade along a bathing beach - it soaks in the sun for most of the day and is a favourite spot for Wellingtonians during the few days with tolerable weather.

This is one of those days. It's warm as spring starts finally breaking in. There's a breeze from the ocean, and the sky is a deep blue with the sun coming through well. I'm getting the walking in after work, and enjoying the day. Work is on a roll, my health is on a roll, everything is pretty good.

There's a young couple kissing on a bench overloking the bay. He's kissing her neck, and she's laid her head on his shoulder, with her eyes closed.

She looks almost exactly like a girl I was in love with back in college.

There's no way to express the look on her face. Incredible tenderness mixed with contentment. At that moment, I think, she was feeling what we all know we live for and want. If I was an artist, I could spend a decade trying to capture it.

I don't think I've ever felt that way.

And the Beth Orton swells up in the headphones:

"If I lose you, could you find me,
or would you walk right by me?
The soul and the spirit
Each have got their own limit.

And I can't waste another second,
Living in hell like it's some kind of heaven..."

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Your vagina is a public good

One of the reoccuring issues I keep seeing in the intersection between politics and economics is that of private choice vs public good. Individuals make decisions all the time based on their own private welfare - and it is essential to freedom that they do this - but the consequences of these decisions are not so great when aggregated in a community.

I noted recently in a local paper (Sunday Star Times, 30 Sep 2007, p.A6) an article which illustrates this in a pretty stark fashion. Training in New Zealand medical schools is suffering problems because students, especially male students, are being banned from delivery suites by women giving birth. The requirement used to be attending fifteen normal births during training; this has been reduced to five, and even here students are finding it impossible to make the grade - especially as they have to compete with midwifery students. In the US, many universities are using birth simulators. Think about that - training doctors on birth simulators!

Now, from the point of view of the individual woman and family, banning students makes sense. I'm pretty sensitive about who gets to stare at my genitals, and I'm not pushing a baby through them at the time. Not to mention the blood, the pain, the shit and sweat - you really do not need a bunch of young strangers standing around and taking notes while you go through it.

But medical practice is just that - a practice. If your doctor is in charge of a birth for the first or second time (and face it, doctors will have to go through their first or second times), how many other women's births do you want them to have attended as a student?

That answer is simple - as many as possible. Fifty or sixty. You want them to know the subject backwards and forwards, to know precisely what to do, to have bloody marinated in the subject. You want those fifty or sixty unknown women to have let a medical student to take a good hard stare at their vaginas before he or she gets any responsibility for what happens to yours.

You just don't want to let medical students do it to you.

Which illustrates the continual social problem of balancing individual freedom against a functioning society. One answer would be to have women ban students without condiering the consequences - and then scream about liberals causing medical training to deteriorate based on political correctness. Another would be to run students through without asking the woman or family involved, or to browbeat them into allowing it. Or you could muddle through - perhaps. Or you could export your problem with freedom - let students stare at many overseas poor vaginas before they touch your rich one in solitude. Or perhaps offer serious discounts at teaching hospitals for maternity cases where the woman is willing to provide live theatre.

Do people have the freedom to drive whatever car they want? Should people be allowed to eat whatever they like? Can society forbid you from smoking crack, from smoking pot, from smoking tobacco? If you won't get off your fat ass, should we make you? If you like looking at pictures of naked people who got paid to take their kit off, should society stop you?

We can dismiss questions like gay marriage - nobody has yet to show any credible damage that would occur if Larry and Barry tied the knot, despite all the huffing and screaming.

But on what principles should liberals advocate drawing lines when there is a cost to society from exercising individual freedom?

Friday, 5 October 2007

October pessimism - the reasons

The reason to bomb Iran (from Steven Ruggles - it might allow a boost for whichever Republican candidate best suits Bush. It would require a hell of a boost, but I'm sure if the media pundits have enough orgasms over the event, it will do the trick well enough for the Diebold factor to look plausible.

The reason not to invade Iran - Congress is already shovelling the maximum amount of US taxpayer money (or, rather, US taxpayer future money) towards tax cuts for the rich and government contractors that it can. It doesn't need another reason - such as sending soldiers to occupy yet another chaotic clusterfuck of American creation where they are not wanted. Iraq is quite adequate for that.

Reasons not to be cheerful, part 1 - the range of the Chinese Silkworm (obsolete now) is 95 km. The Straits are 21 km wide at their narrowest.

Why people flee across the Tasman

With thanks to Bekitty, the difference between Australia and New Zealand.