From USA Today
Aid Watch: Help the World’s Poor: Buy Some New Clothes
This is a guest post written by Benjamin Powell, an assistant professor of Economics at Suffolk University and a Senior Economist with the Beacon Hill Institute. He is the editor of Making Poor Nations Rich, and is currently writing a book entitled No Sweat: How Sweatshops Improve Lives and Economic Growth.
Back to school shopping leads many people to buy apparel that was made in sweatshops. Rather than feel guilty for “exploiting” poor workers, shoppers should rejoice. Their spending is some of the best aid we can give to people in poorer countries.
When workers voluntarily take a job they demonstrate that they believe the job is the best alternative available to them – even when that job is unsafe and the pay is very low compared to wages in the United States. That’s why economists with political views as divergent as Paul Krugman and Walter Williams have both written in defense of sweatshops. ...
Tennessean: 'Almost Christian' teens trouble church scholars
Be nice to other people and pray if you get into trouble.
That's what most teenagers are learning in church these days, says Kenda Creasy Dean, professor of youth, church and culture at
PrincetonTheological Seminary. Instead of learning the Bible, young people are drawn to a cult of niceness, Dean said. Being nice is OK, but it doesn't have much to do with Jesus, she said.
"The problem is that it's an incredibly selfish way to look at faith," Dean said. "It means that God is out there to make us happy."A major study of religion in youth found that many young people are "almost Christian" — they believe in God, but they don't believe Christian doctrines. That has caused several local youth ministries to move from fun and games at youth groups to more intense Bible studies. They also want kids involved in more outreach and in volunteer work. Leaders believe this approach will make faith stick so young people will retain their faith when they go to college or into the work world. ...
Exclusive 'Skeptical Environmentalist' and critic of climate scientists to declare global warming a chief concern facing world.
The world's most high-profile climate change sceptic is to declare that global warming is "undoubtedly one of the chief concerns facing the world today" and "a challenge humanity must confront", in an apparent U-turn that will give a huge boost to the embattled environmental lobby.
Bjørn Lomborg, the self-styled "sceptical environmentalist" once compared to Adolf Hitler by the UN's climate chief, is famous for attacking climate scientists, campaigners, the media and others for exaggerating the rate of global warming and its effects on humans, and the costly waste of policies to stop the problem.
But in a new book to be published next month, Lomborg will call for tens of billions of dollars a year to be invested in tackling climate change. "Investing $100bn annually would mean that we could essentially resolve the climate change problem by the end of this century," the book concludes. ...
... Lomborg denies he has performed a volte face, pointing out that even in his first book he accepted the existence of man-made global warming. "The point I've always been making is it's not the end of the world," he told the Guardian. "That's why we should be measuring up to what everybody else says, which is we should be spending our money well."
But he said the crucial turning point in his argument was the Copenhagen Consensus project, in which a group of economists were asked to consider how best to spend $50bn. The first results, in 2004, put global warming near the bottom of the list, arguing instead for policies such as fighting malaria and HIV/Aids. But a repeat analysis in 2008 included new ideas for reducing the temperature rise, some of which emerged about halfway up the ranking. Lomborg said he then decided to consider a much wider variety of policies to reduce global warming, "so it wouldn't end up at the bottom".
The difference was made by examining not just the dominant international policy to cut carbon emissions, but also seven other "solutions" including more investment in technology, climate engineering, and planting more trees and reducing soot and methane, also significant contributors to climate change, said Lomborg.
"If the world is going to spend hundreds of millions to treat climate, where could you get the most bang for your buck?" was the question posed, he added.After the analyses, five economists were asked to rank the 15 possible policies which emerged. Current policies to cut carbon emissions through taxes - of which Lomborg has long been critical - were ranked largely at the bottom of four of the lists. At the top were more direct public investment in research and development rather than spending money on low carbon energy now, and climate engineering. ...
The lifestyle changes of the 20th century affected the four groups under study somewhat differently. Identifying the deep causes of the long-run trends is outside of the scope of this study, but the “creeping” nature of the epidemic, as well as its persistence, does suggest that its roots are embedded deep in the social fabric and are nourished by a network of disparate slowly changing sources as the 20th-century US population responded to a vast array of irresistible and impersonal socio-economic and technological forces.
The most obviously persistent among these were:
- the major labour-saving technological changes of the 20th century,
- the industrial processing of food and with it the spread of fast-food eateries (To illustrate the spread of fast food culture, consider that White Castle, the first drive-in restaurant, was founded in 1921. McDonald started operation in the late 1940s, Kentucky Fried Chicken in 1952, Burger King in 1954, Pizza Hut in 1958, Taco Bell in 1962, and Subway in 1962.),
- the associated culture of consumption,
- the rise of an automobile-based way of life,
- the introduction of radio and television broadcasting,
- the increasing participation of women in the work force, and
- the IT revolution.
These elements – taken together – virtually defined American society in the 20th century (Chou et al. 2008, Cutler et al. 2003, Hamermesh 2010, Lakdawalla and Philipson 2009, Offer 2006, Philipson and Posner 2003, Popkin, 2004).
Noteworthy in this regard is that the timing of the first accelerating phase after World War I among whites coincided with the spread of radios and automobiles, while the timing of the second accelerating phase of the 1950s cohorts among both blacks and whites coincided perfectly with the spread of television viewing and the spread of fast food consumption.
The fact that the obesity epidemic started earlier than hitherto thought also implies that the current weight and BMI standards published by the Centre for Disease Control are inaccurate, i.e., not ideal for gauging the true extent of the obesity epidemic especially among children and youth. Reference charts are supposed to reflect what is “normal” within the society. In this case, however, they do not do so, insofar as they incorporate BMI values obtained at a time when the transition to post-industrial weights was already under way, i.e., at a time when obesity was already more widespread than in historical times. That was an arbitrary choice. The current standards are thereby misleading as they suggest that the weights obtained in the midst of the obesity pandemic were actually normal ones. As a consequence, many overweight and obese children and youth are misled into believing that their weight is normal – when it is not. The US should strive to adopt standards such as those in the Netherlands, where policymakers are less content to stand by and watch an obesity epidemic spread unabated.
For all the praise that brand advertisers have for social media, they must be aware that it’s very much a double-edged sword. And for all the free marketing, advertising and brand promotion via Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and other platforms used to help build an identity and relationship with your customers, it can just as quickly turn on you and your brand.
Social media disasters occur for a number of reasons, the first being that your company probably messed up. It may not have been intentional, but something, somewhere down the line, went wrong enough for someone to complain and it was enough for others to vocalize that complaint en masse. One mistake is all it takes for social media to turn against your brand.
No one is perfect and you can’t expect to please everyone all the time, so the best trick is to be prepared for how to handle things if your company finds itself under attack in the social realm. Here are three examples of companies who were attacked by social media and how they handled, or should have handled the situation. Learn from their mistakes or successes so you can stay on social media’s good side. ...
Interesting article on how social media is impacting advertising and business in general.
WASHINGTON — Government anti-poverty programs that have grown to meet the needs of recession victims now serve a record one in six Americans and are continuing to expand.
More than 50 million Americans are on Medicaid, the federal-state program aimed principally at the poor, a survey of state data by USA TODAY shows. That's up at least 17% since the recession began in December 2007.
"Virtually every Medicaid director in the country would say that their current enrollment is the highest on record," says Vernon Smith of Health Management Associates, which surveys states for Kaiser Family Foundation.
The program has grown even before the new health care law adds about 16 million people, beginning in 2014. That has strained doctors. "Private physicians are already indicating that they're at their limit," says Dan Hawkins of the National Association of Community Health Centers.
More than 40 million people get food stamps, an increase of nearly 50% during the economic downturn, according to government data through May. The program has grown steadily for three years.
Caseloads have risen as more people become eligible. The economic stimulus law signed by President Obama last year also boosted benefits. ...
Christian Century: Who’s counting China?
I was perilously close to becoming an agnostic—at least about certain statistics. Specifically, I really didn't know the data on Christians in China, and for a while I was not sure if anyone did. Only now, perhaps, do we have the glimmerings of an answer to one of the most pressing questions in global religion: just how many Chinese Christians are there?
This question matters enormously because of China's vast population—now over 1.3 billion—and its emerging role as a global superpower. If Christians make up even a sizable minority within that country, that could be a political fact of huge significance.
Some years ago, veteran journalist David Aikman suggested that China's Christian population was reaching critical mass and that Christianity would achieve cultural and political hegemony by 2030 or so. Writing in First Things last year, Catholic China-watcher Francesco Sisci agreed that "we are near a Constantinian moment for the Chinese Empire." If we could say confidently that China today had, say, 100 or 150 million Christian believers, that would also make the country one of the largest centers of the faith worldwide, with the potential of a still greater role in years to come.
But what can we actually say with confidence when honest and reliable authorities differ so widely on the basic numbers? Estimates of Christian numbers vary enormously, from 25 million or so to an incredible 200 million. If current estimates are so contested, then so are growth projections. ...
... Putting the Templeton and Pew materials together, we can reasonably place the number of Chinese Christians at around 65 to 70 million, or a little less than 5 percent of the population. That falls a good deal short of any vision of "converting China." Christians constitute just a small minority within that country, roughly comparable to the percentage of Muslims in Western European nations.
Even viewed in these somewhat reduced terms, though, the Chinese number still inspires awe. Those 65 or 70 million Christians outnumber the total population of major nations like France, Britain or Italy. Put another way, China has almost as many Christians as it does members of the Communist Party. Moreover, the Christian figure represents a phenomenal growth from the 5 or so million who witnessed the communist takeover in 1949 and from the subsequent decades of massacre and persecution. If not quite a miracle, this is a profoundly impressive story.
Bad news for everyone out there who was eager to hold the third edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (that exceedingly portable 20-volume set of wordy goodness): Thanks to the rise of the Internet, the next OED will probably be online-only.
Granted, OED3 is still about a decade in the making (according to The Telegraph, a team of 80 lexicographers have been working on it for the past 21 years), but seeing as how the OED has never posted a profit since its inception back in 1879, the move to online-only seems like a long time coming.
The second edition of the dictionary (which came out in 1989) has been online for about 10 years now and garners about 2 million hits per month from subscribers. Add to that a plethora of online dictionary sources, and the stack of books that make up OED3 seems a bit, well, like an unnecessary massacre of trees.
Oxford University Press, which prints the dictionary, will still continue to publish the slimmer Oxford Dictionary of English, however, which should set your mind at ease if you’re one of those folks who likes to keep a giant dictionary on a pedestal in the parlor. ...
PARIS, Aug 25, 2010 (IPS) - Africa is heading towards a bright economic future, according to a new book co-authored by the former director of the French state agency for economic cooperation and released recently in Paris.
In the book "Le temps de l'Afrique" ("The African Age"), Jean-Michel Severino, until last April director of the French state agency for economic cooperation, and his co-author Olivier Ray argue that sub-Saharan Africa has started the new millennium under far better economic and social circumstances than generally assumed.
To support their thesis that "Africa is rushing towards affluence", as Severino put it in an interview, the authors use the most recent economic and social data, showing rapid economic growth, high investment and sinking poverty.
"The vision that we in Europe have of Africa -- of a continent frozen in poverty and disease -- is simply wrong," Severino declared. "On the contrary, today's sub-Saharan Africa is a region of high economic growth, with numerous business opportunities. Sub-Saharan Africa is now a high speed train rushing towards affluence and prosperity."
Severino recalled that since the beginning of the century, the sub-Saharan African economy "has grown by a yearly average rate of 5.5 percent, against only 1.35 percent in the euro zone".
Severino quoted a recent study by the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), which shows that African poverty "is falling rapidly".
The NBER paper, by economist Xavier Sala-i-Martin and his research assistant Maxim Pinkovskiy, predicts that if "the present trends continue, the millennium development goal of halving the proportion of people with incomes less than one dollar a day will be achieved" by 2015.
"We are not nursing dangerous illusions about Africa," Severino told IPS.
All regional indicators, from demographic growth to foreign investments, from urbanisation to participation in international trade, aided by political stability, support the thesis that Africa is steadily moving towards prosperity.
Severino explained that the demographic evolution in the region is now marked by a simultaneous fall in the birth rate and a more moderate population growth. ...
Huffington Post: Cuba Enacts 2 Surprising Free-Market Reforms
HAVANA — Cuba has issued a pair of surprising free-market decrees, allowing foreign investors to lease government land for up to 99 years – potentially touching off a golf-course building boom – and loosening state controls on commerce to let islanders grow and sell their own fruit and vegetables.
The moves, published into law in the Official Gazette on Thursday and Friday and effective immediately, are significant steps as President Raul Castro promises to scale back the communist state's control of the economy while attempting to generate new revenue for a government short on cash.
"These are part of the opening that the government wants to make given the country's situation," said Oscar Espinosa Chepe, a state-trained economist who is now an anti-communist dissident.
Cuba said it was modifying its property laws "with the aim of amplifying and facilitating" foreign investment in tourism, and that doing so would provide "better security and guarantees to the foreign investor."
A small army of investors in Canada, Europe and Asia have been waiting to crack the market for long-term tourism in Cuba, built on drawing well-heeled visitors who could live part-time on the island instead of just hitting the beach for a few days. ...
Three of life’s major milestones became a little scarcer last year.
The United States birthrate fell again in 2009, according to a report released today by the National Center for Health Statistics.
There were 13.5 births per 1,000 women aged 15–44 years last year, compared to a rate of 13.9 births per 1,000 women in 2008. In 2007, the rate was 14.3 births.
Here’s a chart showing the total number of births per year over the last century, courtesy of Calculated Risk:
The marriage and divorce rates also fell in 2009. The center estimates that there were 6.8 marriages per 1,000 people in 2009, after a rate of 7.1 and 7.3 marriages per 1,000 people in 2008 and 2007, respectively.
In the states for which data were available, there were 3.4 divorces per 1,000 people in 2009, following rates of 3.5 divorces per 1,000 people in 2008 and 3.6 divorces per 1,000 people in 2007.
Social networking use among internet users ages 50 and older has nearly doubled -- from 22% to 42% over the past year. ...
Half (47%) of internet users ages 50-64 and one-in-four (26%) users ages 65 and older now use social networking sites. ...
One-in-ten (11%) online adults ages 50-64 and one-in-twenty (5%) online adults ages 65 and older now say they use Twitter or another service to share updates about themselves or see updates about others. ...
Email and online news are still more appealing to older users, but social media sites attract many repeat visitors.
The most depressing aspect of this story is that I qualify as an "older adult."
Wall Street Journal: Morality Check: When Fad Science Is Bad Science
Harvard University announced last Friday that its Standing Committee on Professional Conduct had found Marc Hauser, one of the school's most prominent scholars, guilty of multiple counts of "scientific misconduct." The revelation came after a three-year inquiry into allegations that the professor had fudged data in his research on monkey cognition. Since the studies were funded, in part, by government grants, the university has sent the evidence to the Feds.
The professor has not admitted wrongdoing, but he did issue a statement apologizing for making "significant mistakes." And beyond his own immediate career difficulties, Mr. Hauser's difficulties spell trouble for one of the trendiest fields in academia—evolutionary psychology.
Mr. Hauser has been at the forefront of a movement to show that our morals are survival instincts evolved over the millennia. When Mr. Hauser's 2006 book "Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong" was published, evolutionary psychologist and linguist Steven Pinker proclaimed that his Harvard colleague was engaged in "one of the hottest new topics in intellectual life: The psychology and biology of morals."
Not so long ago, the initial bloom already was off evolutionary psychology. The field earned a bad name by appearing to justify all sorts of nasty, rapacious behaviors, including rape, as successful strategies for Darwinian competition. But the second wave of the discipline solved that PR problem by discovering that evolution favored those with a more progressive outlook. Mr. Hauser has been among those positing that our ancestors survived not by being ruthlessly selfish, but by cooperating, a legacy ingrained in our moral intuitions.
This progressive sort of evolutionary psychology is often in the news. NPR offered an example this week with a story titled "Teary-Eyed Evolution: Crying Serves a Purpose." According to NPR, "Scientists who study evolution say crying probably conferred some benefit and did something to advance our species."
What that "something" "probably" is no one seems to know, but that doesn't dent the enthusiasm for trendy speculation. Crying signals empathy, one academic suggested, And as NPR explained, "our early ancestors who were most empathic probably thrived because it helped them build strong communities, which in turn gave them protection and support." Note the word "probably," which means the claim is nothing but a guess.
Christopher Ryan is co-author of the recent book "Sex at Dawn," itself an exercise in plumbing our prehistoric survival strategies for explanations of the modern human condition. But he is well aware of the limits of evolutionary psychology. "Many of the most prominent voices in the field are less scientists than political philosophers," he cautioned last summer at the website of the magazine Psychology Today. ...
... Mr. Hauser had boldly declared that through his application of science, not only could morality be stripped of any religious hocus-pocus, but philosophy would have to step aside as well: "Inquiry into our moral nature will no longer be the proprietary province of the humanities and social sciences," he wrote. Would it be such a bad thing if Hausergate resulted in some intellectual humility among the new scientists of morality?
It's important to note that the Hauser affair also represents the best in science. When lowly graduate students suspected their famous boss was cooking his data, they risked their careers and reputations to blow the whistle on him. They are the scientists to celebrate. ...
Diaspora, a nascent open competitor to Facebook that raised $200,000 from online contributors, will launch their much-anticipated service on Sept. 15, the company said today in a blog post.
The project aims to create a social network that puts users in charge of their own data.
Or as they put it a “privacy-aware, personally controlled, do-it-all, open source social network.”
Diaspora was started by four New York University students earlier this year after hearing a talk from Free Software guru Richard Stallman Eben Moglen, who said that Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg had done more harm to the world than anyone his age ever had.
Diaspora’s idea of taking on the social network giant gained momentum and wide publicity in the spring following yet another controversial Facebook attempt to make users share more information publicly. ...
The Economist: People habitually underestimate their energy consumption
ENVIRONMENTAL asceticism has created a vogue for upgrading light-bulbs and tweaking thermostats. But according to a new piece of research, many of these actions—however virtuous—arise from faulty perceptions of energy savings.
Shahzeen Attari of Columbia University and her colleagues used Craigslist, an online marketplace, to recruit 505 volunteers from across America. Each was asked to estimate the energy consumption of nine household devices (such as stereos and air conditioners) as well as the energy savings incurred by six green activities (like swapping incandescent bulbs for fluorescent ones). The researchers then compared the volunteers’ estimates with the actual energy requirements or savings in question.
Their results, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest that although people do grasp basic energy trends, they are decidedly hazy on the details. On average, participants underestimated both energy use and energy savings by a factor of 2.8—mostly because they undervalued the requirements of large machines like heaters and clothes dryers. As a result, they failed to recognise the huge energy savings that can come from improving the efficiency of such appliances.
Miscalculations like these hinder conservation efforts. When asked to rank the single most effective way to save energy, participants typically endorsed activities with small savings, such as turning off lights, while ignoring what they could economise on larger devices. This suggests that people misallocate their efforts, fretting over an unattended lamp (at 100 watts) while neglecting the energy they could save by nudging their washer settings from “hot” to “warm” (4,000 watt-hours for each load of laundry). ...
The Economist: Meet thy maker
HERE is a curious finding: doctors who hold religious beliefs are far less likely to allow a patient to die than those who have no faith. That, at least, is the contention of Clive Seale, a medic at Barts and the London hospitals and an academic at Queen Mary, who yesterday published a paper on the subject in the Journal of Medical Ethics. Interviewed by the BBC this morning, Dr Seale said that, when questioned about the most recent patient to die in their care, non-religious doctors were twice as likely as religious ones to report that they took a decision either partly intended to end life or one in which they expected death would result.
That seems odd, because you might expect believers to accept death as God’s will and, while not attempting to force his hand by hastening a patient towards it, they might avoid delaying his intention by intensive medical techniques. Atheists, by contrast, believe their patients have no afterlife, so they might be expected to extend their presence on the planet by as much as possible. However Dr Seale's finding have a ring of truth because they concur with a separate study published 18 months ago that examined believers' and non-believers' attitudes to their own deaths, which also reached a surprising conclusion.
The researchers found that cancer patients who reported “seeking God’s love and care” to help them through difficult times were more likely to ask for mechanical ventilation to keep them breathing and to sign up for resuscitation should they slip away than were those who did not call on God for help (we wrote about it here). A third study showed that when doctors had frank conversations about dying with people who were terminally ill with cancer, patients typically chose not to request invasive medical interventions. However such chats barely influenced “religious copers”, most of whom still wanted doctors to make every effort to keep them alive. ...
Don't know what to make of it but it is interesting.
Calfia Beach Pundit: 20 bullish charts
Pessimism is rampant, and most of the articles and commentaries I see have some doom-and-gloom flavor to them; indeed, many pundits are already claiming to see a double-dip recession either in progress or as imminent. I think the "conservative" bull case—that the economy is growing at a sub-par trend rate of 3-4%, which will leave the unemployment rate uncomfortably high for some time to come—is not getting its fair share of the news. So here is my attempt to balance the scales: a collection of charts that to me point to ongoing economic growth, however mild that might be, with not a hint of a double-dip recession. All charts contain the latest data available, and they are shown in no particular order. I've discussed all of these in recent posts, so for long-time readers this just a recap of how I see things today. ...
The post goes on to give 20 charts illustrating his key points.
One of the most persistent claims I hear made over and over again is about the injustice of growing global poverty and inequality. I've linked some of the below graphs before but I thought it might be good to remind us of what has been happening over the past forty years. From Parametric estimations of the world distribution of income.
World poverty is falling. This column presents new estimates of the world’s income distribution and suggests that world poverty is disappearing faster than previously thought. From 1970 to 2006, poverty fell by 86% in South Asia, 73% in Latin America, 39% in the Middle East, and 20% in Africa. Barring a catastrophe, there will never be more than a billion people in poverty in the future history of the world.
Four important graphs:
For the second and third charts, the violet line at the top is the world number and the other lines are for various world regions. For on explanation of the GINI Coefficient in the fourth chart click here. The lower the number the less the inequality.
Editor's Note: Last week, Paul Solman talked to "rational optimist" Matt Ridley about why he believes that life on earth for humans is getting better and better. Ridley agreed to answer some of your questions -- his replies are below. ...
Long an admirer of Mr. Ridley's science writing, I picked up the "Rational Optimist" tome. While well composed as writing, the arguments were not entirely persuasive. It would be enlightening to hear his thoughts on any or all of the following issues:
The Gini index showing increasing inequality, and is it a proxy for the degradation of social and political life.
The fact that neither the U.S. nor U.K. made it in the top 10 countries rankings of human development (UN Development) nor the WHO rankings pertaining to health. Why not? Seems like we're moving retrograde.
The fact that, say, the Economist Intelligence unit has put quality of life rankings in the U.S. and U.K. below the top 10. Why so if we're evolving toward prosperity?
If the Flynn effect pertaining to average intelligence increases is to be believed (it widely is), then why principally in the 'anglosphere' nations aren't people happier today than, say, in the 1950s? In other words if we're collectively smarter on average, more rational, if you will, then why aren't we on average happier?
Could one not also have been a fully credible 'rational optimist' in, say, spring and summer of 1914? How can one be optimistic without robustified institutions?
If there is one thing we have learned or should have learned from the 20th century, what is your best suggestions? Some rational and clear-eyed academics, e.g., the late Mr. Judt, asserted that it's as if the 20th century never happened in terms of our neo-Edwardian, rosy view toward globalisation.
Final thought: Isn't the hedonic treadmill of consumption a misleading proxy for well being, a veritable red queen phenomenon in itself--akways running, but only to stand still?
Regrets for the verbosity. Thanks for your time.
This is not true globally. In the world as a whole, the Gini coefficient is falling. You can see the graph from Pinkovskiy and Sala-i-Martin in Figure 3 on this page.
Only relatively. In absolute terms, human development indicators are still improving in the U.S. and U.K.
Again this is a relative measure. The falling of the U.S. and the U.K. tells you that poorer countries are catching up, which is good news for them.
Short answer: We are! The latest research shows that happiness does improve with income both within and between countries and within individual lifespans. I discuss this in my book. The decline in happiness with wealth is a myth. Here's a link to the work of one researcher. Mind you, the very, very rich do seem to generally be unhappy, but this then makes the rest of us happy! (joke)
Sure, and I say in my book that all sorts of things will still go wrong. But remember by 1940 the average citizen of the world was much richer than in 1914, health outcomes were better, technology was more advanced etc etc. It had been a very bad three decades for many people, but nonetheless a steadily improving one for the average person.
Institutions matter, yes, and I discuss this in my book especially with respect to Africa - why Botswana is richer than Tanzania, for example.
The one thing I would learn from the twentieth century? Never give any government too much power. Democracy may be messy and imperfect and even inefficient at times. But it's better than Hitler, Stalin, Franco, Mao, Pol Pot, Kim-il-Sung, Duvalier, Amin and Mugabe. Yes, we may find we are walking towards war as the Edwardians were. I hope not. Who knows if Edwardian globalization had had another ten years, it might have got to the point where war became less likely?
Yes! I do agree with this (I'd have to having written a whole book about the Red Queen effect!). To some extent. Just as today we moan about poor cell phone signals, so in 2100 we will moan about how useless the intergalactic internet is at dispatching dematerialized humans beyond 5,000 light years without delays, or something. We will take things for granted and forget how lucky we are. But, as I said above, despite this we DO get happier -- a bit. Can you imagine facing the inevitable loss of some of your children and returning to happiness? Many fewer people now face that fate. Child mortality is down by two-thirds in my lifetime.
I like Gregg Easterbrook's line:
Researching this book, and thinking about the alternatives, has caused me to begin whispering a regular prayer of thanks. Thank you that I and five hundred million others are well-housed, well-supplied, over-fed, free and not content; because we might be starving, wretched, locked under tyranny, and equally not content. ...
I'm not targeting Alan here (who asks legitimate questions) but it has always been fascinating how open and receptive people are to the slightest hint that things are getting worse and the idea that we are ever tiptoeing near the precipice of doom. Any discussion of the stunning improvements to human existence in recent generations must immediately be qualified by all the evil things that are happening ... that utopia is not here (as though acknowledging significant improvement somehow is to be equate with being utopian.) Yet presentations of apocalyptic doom are let by with no mention of the remarkable positive developments. What is it in the human psyche that craves gloom and anxiety?
From Carpe Diem
The first chart shows a straight downward slope for BTUs per GDP while the second show a sharp decline in total energy consumption. That tells me that the total energy decline is almost entirely due to the recession. However, starting about 1996 you do see a slight flattening of the rate of increase. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in coming years.
New York Times: Good Intentions, Bad Policy
Perhaps the single most important policy-related insight in economics is that changes in policies lead to behavioral responses. More generous unemployment insurance leads to longer spells of unemployment; implicit government guarantees of financial institutions lead to too much risk-taking. Well-designed policies, like a congestion tax or carbon tax, can reduce social problems by getting the right sort of behavioral response; interventions that create an offsetting behavioral response can push the world in the wrong direction.
That insight is associated, above all, with the great English economist William Stanley Jevons, who started worrying about energy conservation 150 years ago.
The Jevons Paradox tells us that improvements in fuel efficiency can lead to more consumption of fuel, and its logic goes beyond tougher vehicle-emissions standards. It also suggests that low-tar cigarettes can increase the prevalence of lung cancer and that low-calorie snacks might actually make people fatter.
Of course, the Jevons Paradox is not some immutable law; more fuel-efficient cars can and do typically lead to less energy use. But Jevons’s warning should always be heeded: Well-meaning policies can easily create the wrong sort of behavioral response. ...
What was causing the exhaustion of Britain’s coal supplies, and what was to be done about it?
Britain’s 19th century coal conservationists seem to have been quite enthusiastic about more fuel-efficient engines: “It is very commonly urged that the failing supply of coal will be met by new modes of using it efficiently and economically.” Jevons throws cold water on this optimistic notion: “It is wholly a confusion of ideas to suppose that the economical use of fuel is equivalent to a diminished consumption. The very contrary is the truth.”
As he explains:
As a rule, new modes of economy will lead to an increase of consumption according to a principle recognized in many parallel instances. The economy of labor effected by the introduction of new machinery throws laborers out of employment for the moment. But such is the increased demand for the cheapened products that eventually the sphere of employment is greatly widened.
Jevons supports his argument with evidence documenting that coal usage soared just as engines were becoming more efficient.
The key condition for the Jevons Paradox to operate is that the demand for the thing in question (power, vehicle miles, tasty cookies, cigarettes) has to be sufficiently elastic with respect to the thing’s price. In the case of fuel-efficient cars, the Jevons Paradox will operate only when a 10 percent reduction in the fuel cost of driving leads to a greater than 10 percent increase in the amount of driving. A 50 percent reduction in calories per cookie lead to heavier people only if the number of cookies eaten doubles. ...
... But the real point of the Jevons Paradox is not that fuel efficiency is a bad thing. It is not. More fuel-efficient cars enable people to enjoy driving more and lower-calorie cookies abet the enjoyment of eating.
The real lesson is that a change in the effective price of a commodity leads to a behavioral response, and, in some cases, that response can be so strong that it reverses the desired effect. As America considers new policies in public health, environmentalism and financial regulation, Jevons is as relevant as ever.
But the main driver of coffee prices right now is more prosaic: Colombia has had a few years of weak coffee harvests because of too much rain, which has reduced the global supply. And coffee drinkers keep buying coffee, even as prices rise (in other words, demand is inelastic).
The higher price of beans — up about 40 percent since March — means higher prices for the coffee you buy by the pound. But it probably won't affect the fancy coffee you buy by the cup.
Smuckers, which sells Folgers and Millstone coffees, recently said it was raising its prices because of the higher cost of beans. Starbucks, on the other hand, said it would absorb the higher cost of beans without raising prices.
"You see it much more in the grocery store because the raw materials are a big component of cost," Jose Sette of the International Coffee Organization told me. "In a coffee shop, your big expenses are rent and labor. ...
(HT: Victor Claar)
Economix: Tragedy of the space commons
THERE is a Leader this week on the increasingly crowded conditions on the outer edge of earth's atmosphere. Satellites have been accumulating for decades now, along with other random space agency junk, raising the prospect that a crucial orbit for communications technologies could become too detritus-filled to be usable. ...
... But it's worth pointing out that part of the reason for the current sorry state of orbit is the lack of well-defined property rights. Space is a commons, where China's decision to test an anti-satellite weapon, in the process creating gobs of junk, is unpunishable. Both private and government satellite owners have an incentive to protect their equipment while it's operating—but not thereafter. Space junk is pollution, and as we have learned on earth there must be a clear line of responsibility for pollution, or public spaces will be ruined.
The Leader advocates for the creation of an international body to oversee the cleaning of space. Ideally, such an organisation would also look into ways to change the incentives of those launching new satellites, the better to keep satellite deaths tidy and space neat.
The Columbia Partnership: The Death of Middle Judicatories
We probably should have seen it coming. I have been aware of it and ringing the alarm in my own denomination for fifteen years or so, but that is no claim to genius. It has been coming for forty years in many denominations. What is it? It is the death of middle judicatories. The same cultural forces that have been killing so many denominations and congregations are decimating middle judicatories too. [Note: These observations are also applicable to other categories of regional denominational organizations such as districts, conferences, state conventions, annual conferences, etc.]
This is bad news for congregations, because while many pastors have written middle judicatories off as irrelevant or worse, the fact is that they are extremely important to healthy congregational life. At their best, they help grow and maintain a strong and healthy clergy, they head off destructive conflict and help congregations engage in healthy conflict, they hold individuals and congregations accountable to the whole Gospel, they confront parochialism and interpret the work and life of the wider church, and they model health. In doing all of this they build life-giving relationships between individuals and congregations. As a former middle judicatory executive myself, I have some times seen these things happen and rejoice in them.
Middle judicatories provide the connective tissue between congregations and their wider church family or denomination. Or, to use another biological image, middle judicatories are like the arteries and veins of denominations. When the flow in one of these vessels is partially blocked or cut-off, bad things happen both to the local and to the whole.
Here is the crux of the matter: many middle judicatories are still doing their work as though it were 1960. That is, many operate in a hub and spoke model, with the executive and/or staff being the hub. ...
The Mission Society: Building their future their way
Long-term effects of short-term mission teams can be disastrous – broken relationships, increased dependency, decreased esteem among the national people. This Nicaraguan community, however, provides a view of short-term missions that fosters dignity, builds friendships, and represents the Kingdom of God.
When one speaks of “missions” in Central America nowadays, what comes to most church members’ minds is short-term mission trips. For me, this has been a relatively new phenomenon. During our years of missionary service in Kazakhstan, we only received teams on three occasions. Kazakhstan is not exactly in great demand on the short-term mission circuit! So when I came on the staff of The Mission Society and began working with our missionaries in other places, I was almost overwhelmed by the numbers of short-term mission teams trekking out each year.
While I had no doubt of the transformative effect the experience might have on those who went on the trips, my missiologist mind immediately went to the hosts. During my missionary training, instructors emphasized the need for long-term commitment, for spending the first year or two in language learning, culture adaptation, and in building relationships and trust. So the phrase “short-term trip” didn’t sound compatible at all with that understanding of missions! I wondered how career missionaries were able to function in their own roles within a culture if they ended up spending large amounts of time hosting North American teams. And I wondered how local churches and communities might be impacted by the influx of outside money and by projects defined and operated from the outside by people who did not have an indepth understanding of the culture.
It didn’t take me long to realize that these are indeed huge issues in missions today, especially in Central America. In fact, often long-term missionaries and missiologists cringe at the mention of short-term mission teams due to some of the missteps that have become common since the phenomenon took off about two decades ago. But one missionary couple I visited in Nicaragua seems to have avoided some of the most common problems that are often associated with a place frequented by teams. ...
... Again, this is anecdotal, but I think it points to some principles that could inform U.S. churches, missionaries, and receiving churches in their involvement in short-term mission trips. Here are some principles to consider:
The focus has been on long-term relationships. ...
Ronnie and Angi themselves know the people, have worked at the language, and are comfortable in the culture, so they can be an important bridge for the visiting teams. ...
The teams from the U.S. are smaller, usually under 12. ...
Projects started small and were defined by the community. ...
The bulk of construction is done by local people. ...
Short-term team members listen. ...
Philadelphia City Paper: Got a blog that makes no money? The city wants $300, thank you very much
For the past three years, Marilyn Bess has operated MS Philly Organic, a small, low-traffic blog that features occasional posts about green living, out of her Manayunk home. Between her blog and infrequent contributions to ehow.com, over the last few years she says she's made about $50. To Bess, her website is a hobby. To the city of Philadelphia, it's a potential moneymaker, and the city wants its cut.
In May, the city sent Bess a letter demanding that she pay $300, the price of a business privilege license.
"The real kick in the pants is that I don't even have a full-time job, so for the city to tell me to pony up $300 for a business privilege license, pay wage tax, business privilege tax, net profits tax on a handful of money is outrageous," Bess says.
It would be one thing if Bess' website were, well, an actual business, or if the amount of money the city wanted didn't outpace her earnings six-fold. Sure, the city has its rules; and yes, cash-strapped cities can't very well ignore potential sources of income. But at the same time, there must be some room for discretion and common sense.
When Bess pressed her case to officials with the city's now-closed tax amnesty program, she says, "I was told to hire an accountant."
She's not alone. After dutifully reporting even the smallest profits on their tax filings this year, a number — though no one knows exactly what that number is — of Philadelphia bloggers were dispatched letters informing them that they owe $300 for a privilege license, plus taxes on any profits they made.
Even if, as with Sean Barry, that profit is $11 over two years. ...
Demonstrating yet again the pervasive mindset of government: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. If it stops moving, subsidize it.
FORTUNE -- There's a debate brewing in the world of do-gooder banking, pitting the father of microfinance Muhammad Yunus against a few entrepreneurs who have put an unlikely spin on Yunus' model of lending to the poor.
Earlier this week, India's biggest microlender, SKS Microfinance Ltd., made its debut on the Bombay Stock Exchange. Shares surged 18% on their first trading day.
An IPO is a rare and controversial step for a major microfinance company to take, since these lenders typically rely on donations, governments and international organizations such as the World Bank for funding. Only a handful have raised public money on the idea that helping small entrepreneurs like farmers and basket weavers gain access to financing is not only the right thing to do, but also a profitable venture.
But after SKS's strong reception, others will likely follow its lead to the public market. SKS founder Vikram Akula says going public is perhaps the only way to shore up more capital to serve more of India's poor. He wants to prove critics wrong, including Yunus, who argues an IPO would essentially mean profiting off the poor. The Bangladeshi banker and economist has been credited for pioneering microfinance, and in 2006, his founding of Bangladesh's Grameen Bank earned him and the bank a Nobel Peace Prize.
"Microcredit should not be presented as a money-making opportunity," he told The Wall Street Journal in July. "It is an opportunity to make an impact on poor people's lives."The industry faces a sticky dilemma: to pursue morals or profits. But public microlenders argue they can have both. ...
New York Times: India Tries Using Cash Bonuses to Slow Birthrates
SATARA, India — Sunita Laxman Jadhav is a door-to-door saleswoman who sells waiting. She sweeps along muddy village lanes in her nurse’s white sari, calling on newly married couples with an unblushing proposition: Wait two years before getting pregnant, and the government will thank you.
It also will pay you.
“I want to tell you about our honeymoon package,” began Ms. Jadhav, an auxiliary nurse, during a recent house call on a new bride in this farming region in the state of Maharashtra. Ms. Jadhav explained that the district government would pay 5,000 rupees, or about $106, if the couple waited to have children. Waiting, she promised, would allow them time to finish their schooling or to save money.
Waiting also would allow India more time to curb a rapidly growing population that threatens to turn its demography from a prized asset into a crippling burden. With almost 1.2 billion people, India is disproportionately young; roughly half the population is younger than 25. This “demographic dividend” is one reason some economists predict that India could surpass China in economic growth rates within five years. India will have a young, vast work force while a rapidly aging China will face the burden of supporting an older population.
But if youth is India’s advantage, the sheer size of its population poses looming pressures on resources and presents an enormous challenge for an already inefficient government to expand schooling and other services. In coming decades, India is projected to surpass China as the world’s most populous nation, and the critical uncertainty is just how populous it will be. Estimates range from 1.5 billion to 1.9 billion people, and Indian leaders recognize that that must be avoided....
Kansas City Business Journal: Kansas City ranks among the most tattooed cities in America
Kansas City’s image as an unassuming Midwestern city may be changing.
Website totalbeauty.com included Kansas City in its list of the “top 10 most tattooed cities in America.” Kansas City ranked No. 9 — one spot above Los Angeles. The website did its rankings based on the number of tattoo shops per 100,000 population.
Kansas City made its mark with about six tattoo shops per 100,000 population. That may seem like quite a few, but it’s barely a splotch compared with No. 1 Miami Beach, which had about 24 tattoo shops per 100,000 people, according to totalbeauty.com.
Tattoos no longer are viewed as a bad mark on their owners’ reputations. A study by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found that 36 percent of what it calls “Gen Nexters,” or those in the 18-25 age range, have a tattoo. The study said 40 percent of Gen Xers have a tattoo. ...
And this would include Kansas City Presbyterians such a PCUSA vice-moderator and pastor of Liberty First Presybterian, Landon Whitsitt, with the PCUSA logo tattooed on his left forearm, partially visible in the photo below.
Publisher's Weekly: Self-publishing: Changing Model, Getting Respect
Self-publishing was once the uninvited guest at the publishing table. But as technology advances and authors develop marketing savvy, first-time and even some experienced authors are turning more often to what many in the industry are calling custom publishing. In religion publishing, this has particular appeal for religious leaders who already have an audience.
Technically, "self-published" applies to any book the author pays to have published. But the lines are beginning to blur as companies such as the WinePress Group, Credo House, Brown Books Publishing Group (and its new Christian division), Creation House, and WestBow Press produce quality books that flow through traditional distribution channels and are edited, designed, and printed by professionals. Add to that the newest print-on-demand publishers such as CreateSpace and Gut Chuck Press, e-books and their carriers, and companies that combine print-on-demand technology and online marketing savvy such as Pot-Boilers.
"We're turning the traditional publishing model on its head," says Tim Beals, owner and president of Credo House Publishing in Grand Rapids, Mich., which started in 2005. "Traditional publishers are stuck with one model, but we can do it all based on the author's abilities and our abilities."
Custom publishers put themselves somewhere between established self-publishing giants such as Xulon and PublishAmerica and traditional royalty-paying publishers. The WinePress Group started almost 20 years ago, one of the first in custom publishing. It publishes about 350 books a year, from four-color children's books to novelty books, memoir to theological titles;10% to 15% are novels.
"We've made it possible for people who have really good books to succeed," says Carla Williams, editorial director for the company. "WinePress has worked hard to bring up the quality of self-publishing. We customize what the author needs, including cover design, coaching, all levels of editing, marketing, and publicity." ...
The Bible and Interpretation: “Gentiles for Moses”: The Debate about the Nature and Intensity of Jewish Proselytizing Efforts in Ancient Judaism by Michael Bird
... I wouldn’t bother Googling “Gentiles for Moses” or “Gentiles for YHWH” (actually I tried it and found nothing) because modern Judaism is for the most part not as missionary oriented as other contemporary religious movements. But was there ever a time when Judaism was a missionary religion? That leads to the topic of my discussion here.
It is widely accepted in scholarship that early Christianity was a missionary religion that actively sought to gain converts to its faith. In the words of the Martin Goodman: “Christianity spread primarily because many Christians believed that it was positively desirable for non-Christians to join their faith and accrete to their congregations.” 2 There are obviously debates about the methods, precise numbers, and the sociology behind it all. But no one doubts that Christianity took off fairly quickly and experienced spurts of growth and decline in various regions of the Mediterranean and in the near east. But where did it start from? Where did the impetus for outreach and conversion derive from? Did Christianity win over the Roman Empire by using Jewish weapons? Did Christianity simply represent a more inclusive brand of Judaism or was it a more attractive form of ethical monotheism? A cursory glance at Paul’s epistles and Acts indicates that Christianity spread largely through the network of Diaspora synagogues in the eastern Mediterranean with their clientele of adherents (“God-fearers”) and converts (“proselytes”). So we must ultimately look to Judaism to see how missionesque it was in order to understand the continuity and discontinuity between Judaism and Christianity when it comes to conversionist attitudes and practices towards Gentiles. Therein the debate lies. ...
... What I’ve provided is a rather scant overview of two pieces of evidence in the debate. Others will want to interpret it differently. Yet the fact remains that it is rather difficult to categorize all forms of ancient Judaism under the labels “missionary” or “non-missionary.” Different Jewish communities and individuals had wide-ranging views on the fate of the Gentiles, the limits of acceptable interaction with the Graeco-Roman polis, the role of the synagogue in a city, and the means and necessity of Gentiles entering into Israel. Some groups were more interested in proselytes than others. This generated a constellation of views and practices towards Gentiles. What pagans saw in Judaism would depend entirely on what they saw of it, and that would vary from Alexandria to Antioch, from Gaul to Galilee. There were indeed conscious attempts to give pagans a positive disposition to Judaism, to defend Judaism against criticism, to demonstrate the parity of the Jewish way of life with Hellenism and a willingness to receive incomers. There was also great pride in the number of Gentiles who imitated or adopted the Jewish way of life. Second Temple Judaism did attract proselytes and facilitate the conversion of Gentiles that wanted to convert to Judaism, much to the ire and contempt of some Greek and Latin authors, but it was not self-conscious missionary since the role of Israel, the Torah, and the synagogue was never directed unequivocally towards Gentile recruitment....
... Perhaps this sums up ancient Jewish attitudes towards Gentile converts: a warm willingness to receive, but not necessarily a self-conscious need to pursue. Given the various pressures placed upon Jewish communities in the ancient world this was probably a sensible attitude to take.
New York Times: U.S. Debt Is Staying, for a Change, in U.S.
NEARLY a decade ago, when budget deficits ballooned in the United States, it was widely said that Washington — like Blanche DuBois in “A Streetcar Named Desire” — “depended on the kindness of strangers.” In Washington’s case, foreigners — mostly foreign governments — stepped in to buy most of the new Treasury securities being issued.
Budget deficits have ballooned again, but the story is different this time. Americans are buying most of the new Treasuries being issued. Foreign governments, whose purchases were once critical, were net sellers of Treasury securities in the first half of 2010, according to figures released this week.
That buying has reduced the Treasury’s need to attract foreign capital and has helped to keep interest rates very low....
Ridley makes the case that trade leads to greater trust and cooperation, and ultimately to prosperity. See my earlier post touching on the same theme, Do Market Economies Nurture Positive Social Behavior? I've just ordered Ridley's book. I look forward to reading it.
The Economist: Contest of the Century: China and India
As China and India rise in tandem, their relationship will shape world politics. Shame they do not get on better.
A HUNDRED years ago it was perhaps already possible to discern the rising powers whose interaction and competition would shape the 20th century. The sun that shone on the British empire had passed midday. Vigorous new forces were flexing their muscles on the global stage, notably America, Japan and Germany. Their emergence brought undreamed-of prosperity; but also carnage on a scale hitherto unimaginable.
Now digest the main historical event of this week: China has officially become the world’s second-biggest economy, overtaking Japan. In the West this has prompted concerns about China overtaking the United States sooner than previously thought. But stand back a little farther, apply a more Asian perspective, and China’s longer-term contest is with that other recovering economic behemoth: India. These two Asian giants, which until 1800 used to make up half the world economy, are not, like Japan and Germany, mere nation states. In terms of size and population, each is a continent—and for all the glittering growth rates, a poor one....
... Globally, the rules-based system that the West set up in the second half of the 20th century brought huge benefits to emerging powers. But it reflects an out-of-date world order, not the current global balance, let alone a future one. China and India should be playing a bigger role in shaping the rules that will govern the 21st century. That requires concessions from the West. But it also requires commitment to a rules-based international order from China and India. A serious effort to solve their own disagreements is a good place to start.
Tall Skinny Kiwi: The Future of the People of God
Andrew Perriman, who was at the Christian Associates gathering last week in Germany, gave me his new book "The Future of the People of God: Reading Romans Before and After Western Christendom." Thanks Andrew!! I had an enjoyable Sunday reading through the book.
Perriman's book is great contribution to the current conversation on Romans, in light of the New Perspectives on Paul and the Reformed theologians attempt to defend their territory. At the heart of his book is the argument that Paul writes the letter to the Romans to prepare them for the suffering that is coming upon them, something that is located historically and temporally in the oikoumene of the Grecian-Roman empire, something related directly to the persecution under Roman leaders and the disastrous war of AD 66-73, and Paul writes without the privilege of foresight into a future where Christianity becomes the dominant religion. This special focus on suffering and "living by faith(fulness)" in order to allow the people of God to stay intact through the suffering gives a strong eschatological and martylogical reading to Romans, one more localised than N.T. Wright, distinct from other New Perspective writers, and certainly a long way from Reformed authors, and yet the focus is still on the glory of God and his righteousness in keeping his promise to Abraham to establish and preserve a community that would bless the nations.
One issue that will make good conversation among the Anabaptist crowd is Perriman's argument that the vindication of God's righteousness, the remnant that is saved from the Day of the Lord and established because of its faith(fulness), the community of the Son of Man that inherits the nations as prophesied by Daniel, is shown to be Christendom as instituted by Constantine. Yep, Constantine. ...
SAN FRANCISCO — On Wednesday, Facebook plunged into the location-based services market in a long-awaited move that should further popularize such mobile "check-in" services and establish Facebook as the leading player.
Facebook Places lets mobile device owners with Facebook accounts share their exact location and find the whereabouts of their friends. The free service, starting to roll out now, can be accessed from iPhone, iPod Touch, Android devices, BlackBerry Torch and the iPad.
Facebook's entry legitimizes a burgeoning online service that is spreading quickly among consumers, advertisers and small businesses but is largely fragmented, says Greg Sterling, an independent social-networking analyst.
The new feature might raise privacy concerns, as Facebook members use a GPS-like monitoring service on themselves and their friends. Facebook spokeswoman Meredith Chin says Places comes with easy-to-follow control settings to opt out of the service. ...
Millions of pieces of plastic — most smaller than half an inch — float throughout the oceans. They are invisible to satellites, and except on very calm days you won’t even see them from the deck of a sailboat. The only way to know how much junk is out there is to tow a fine net through the water.
Scientists have gathered data from 22 years of surface net tows to map the North Atlantic garbage patch and its change over time, creating the most accurate picture yet of any pelagic plastic patch on earth.
The data were gathered by thousands of undergraduates aboard the Sea Education Association (SEA) sailing semester, who hand-picked, counted and measured more than 64,000 pieces of plastic from 6,000 net tows between 1986 to 2008.
“The highest concentrations that we observe in the North Atlantic garbage patch are comparable to that of the North Pacific, but we don’t have enough data about the size of the North Pacific one to say whether they are comparable in size,” said oceanographer Kara Law of SEA, lead author of the study published August 19 in Science. ...
Beloit College: The Beloit College Mindset List for the Class of 2014
Most students entering college for the first time this fall—the Class of 2014—were born in 1992.
For these students, Benny Hill, Sam Kinison, Sam Walton, Bert Parks and Tony Perkins have always been dead.
1. Few in the class know how to write in cursive.
2. Email is just too slow, and they seldom if ever use snail mail.
3. “Go West, Young College Grad” has always implied “and don’t stop until you get to Asia…and learn Chinese along the way.”
4. Al Gore has always been animated.
5. Los Angelenos have always been trying to get along.
6. Buffy has always been meeting her obligations to hunt down Lothos and the other blood-suckers at Hemery High.
7. “Caramel macchiato” and “venti half-caf vanilla latte” have always been street corner lingo.
8. With increasing numbers of ramps, Braille signs, and handicapped parking spaces, the world has always been trying harder to accommodate people with disabilities.
9. Had it remained operational, the villainous computer HAL could be their college classmate this fall, but they have a better chance of running into Miley Cyrus’s folks on Parents’ Weekend.
10. A quarter of the class has at least one immigrant parent, and the immigration debate is not a big priority…unless it involves “real” aliens from another planet.
11. John McEnroe has never played professional tennis.
12. Clint Eastwood is better known as a sensitive director than as Dirty Harry.
13. Parents and teachers feared that Beavis and Butt-head might be the voice of a lost generation.
14. Doctor Kevorkian has never been licensed to practice medicine.
15. Colorful lapel ribbons have always been worn to indicate support for a cause. ...
Even if we could farm on Mars, astronauts might be too weak by the time they get there to help plow the fields.
The first cellular analysis of muscles from astronauts who have spent 180 days at the International Space Station shows that their muscles lost more than 40 percent of their capacity for physical work, despite in-flight exercise.
No matter how good their shape was before the astronauts left, they returned with muscle tone that resembled that of the average 80-year-old. In fact, the astronauts who were in the best shape before they launched were the most likely to come back with withered, or atrophied, muscles.
NASA currently estimates it would take a crew 10 months to reach Mars, with a one year stay, and 10 months to get back, for a total mission time of about three years. These studies suggest they would barely be able to crawl by the time they got back to Earth with the current exercise regime. ...
Church attendance is plummeting. The youth are abandoning their Evangelical heritage in droves. The church has become too feminized and men are leaving the church. Evangelicals behave no differently than the rest of the culture.
You've no doubt read similar headlines in recent years but are they true? Enter Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites...and Other Lies You've Been Told: A Sociologist Shatters Myths From the Secular and Christian Media by sociologist Bradley Wright of the University of Connecticut. Using the most reliable data sources, Wright takes us on a insightful journey through the statistical data that addresses these issues. He exposes the all too frequent statistical malpractice of the press and the misrepresentations by stalwart Evangelical advisers like Josh McDowell and the Barna Group. The actual shape of the evangelical world is frequently far different than the pundits portray.
The book is written in accessible conversational language with charts and graphs to highlight key points. You won't get lost in a lot of technical sociological and statistical minutia, but the book will give you enough insight that you can critically assess the claims made in daily headlines. While the book is targeted toward understanding the shape of the Evangelical world, it touches on other Christian traditions as well. Anyone interested in Christianity in general will benefit from the analysis.
This book is a real treasure. I highly recommend it to anyone who would like to get beyond punditry and fear-based marketing campaigns to the real nature of religion in the United States.
The Economist: The industrial revolution: Why it started in Britain
“REVOLUTION” is an overused word; the latest footling change often hyped into the biggest revolution since the last one. But in the case of the industrial revolution, the mechanical transformation of Britain, and later Europe, during the 18th and 19th centuries, it is entirely justified. William Rosen, an American former editor and publisher, ranks it alongside the invention of agriculture as one of the two most important developments in history.
One peculiar characteristic of the industrial revolution is that it was, at least at first, confined to Britain. That is the mystery this book sets out to explore. Rather than a history of inventions, Mr Rosen’s book is a study of invention itself, the process of tinkering with an existing mechanism to make it better. ...
... The author dismisses the more traditional explanations about why the industrial revolution began in Britain—such as an abundance of coal or the insatiable demands of the Royal Navy—concluding, instead, that it was England’s development of the patent system that was the decisive factor. By aligning the incentives of private individuals with those of society, it transformed invention from a hobby pursued by the idle rich into an opportunity for spectacular commercial gain open to anyone with a bit of skill and a good idea. That allowed England to harness the creative potential of its artisan classes in a way that no other country had managed before.
It is a plausible conclusion and Mr Rosen makes a powerful case. Having wisely waited until the very last chapter to reveal that his book, in the end, plumps for intellectual property as the biggest single spur, Mr Rosen retires, content with that thought. That is appropriate in a history, but it would have been interesting to know what Mr Rosen thinks of the way intellectual-capital laws are being challenged at the moment. ...
I might have to read this one but I'm convinced there was more than intellectual property rights that gave birth to the industrial revolution. I think William Bernstein does a more comprehensive analysis.
Modern life is making us miserable because we have too much choice, claims new research.
From the foods we eat, to the television channels we watch, to the schools we send our children too and the career we choose to pursue, society has never offered us so much variety.
But while the ability to choose is generally a good thing, too much freedom of choice is crippling us with indecision and making us unhappy, claims the new research.
People can become paralysed by too much variety and wracked with uncertainty and regret about whether they have made the right decision.
Ultimately they can be less satisfied by the choices they have made.
The study believes that the problem is that when you have too much choice, you become obsessed about what your decision will say about you.
Then when you have made the choice you worry that it is wrong.
Choice can also foster selfishness and a lack of empathy because it can focus people on their own preferences and on themselves at the expense of what is good for society as a whole.
Professor Hazel Rose Markus, the author from Stanford University's Department of Psychology, said: "We cannot assume that choice, as understood by educated, affluent Westerners, is a universal aspiration, and that the provision of choice will necessarily foster freedom and well-being.
"Even in contexts where choice can foster freedom, empowerment, and independence, it is not an unalloyed good. Choice can also produce a numbing uncertainty, depression, and selfishness."
The authors looked at a body of research into the cultural ideas surrounding choice.
They found that among non-Western cultures and among working-class Westerners, freedom and choice are less important or mean something different than they do for the university-educated people. ...
Marginal Revolution: Robert Sloss predicted the iPhone in 1910
Well, more or less. Or is it an iPad? In 1910 Stoss published an essay called "The Wireless Century," intending to predict the world of 2010. In this world everyone carries around a "wireless telegraph" which:
1. Serves as a telephone, the whole world over.
2. Either rings or vibrates in your pocket.
3. Can transmit any musical recording or performance with perfect clarity.
4. Can allow people to send each other photographs, across the entire world.
5. Can allow people to see the images of paintings, museums, etc. in distant locales.
6. No one will ever be alone again.
7. Can serve as a means of payment, connecting people to their bank accounts and enabling payments (Japan is ahead of us here).
8. Can connect people to all newspapers, although Sloss predicted that people would prefer that the device read the paper aloud to them (not so much the case).
9. Can transmit documents to "thin tubes of ink," which will then print those documents in distant locales.
10. People will have a better sense of the poor, and of suffering, because they will have witnessed it through their device (not obviously true, at least not yet).
11. People will vote using their devices and this will empower democracy (nope).
12. Judicial testimonies will be performed over such devices, often from great distances.
13. People will order perfectly-fitting fashions from Paris; this guy should be in the Apps business.
14. Married couples will be much closer, and distance relationships will be closer and better.
15. Military targeting and military orders will become extremely precise.
The essay is reprinted in the Arthur Brehmer book Die Welt in 100 Jahren. The book is interesting throughout; a bunch of the other writers thought in 2010 we would be fighting wars with large zeppelins.
The Economist: Riders on Swarm
Mimicking the behaviour of ants, bees and birds started as a poor man’s version of artificial intelligence. It may, though, be the key to the real thing.
ONE of the bugaboos that authors of science fiction sometimes use to scare their human readers is the idea that ants may develop intelligence and take over the Earth. The purposeful collective activity of ants and other social insects does, indeed, look intelligent on the surface. An illusion, presumably. But it might be a good enough illusion for computer scientists to exploit. The search for artificial intelligence modelled on human brains has been a dismal failure. AI based on ant behaviour, though, is having some success.
Ants first captured the attention of software engineers in the early 1990s. A single ant cannot do much on its own, but the colony as a whole solves complex problems such as building a sophisticated nest, maintaining it and filling it with food. That rang a bell with people like Marco Dorigo, who is now a researcher at the Free University of Brussels and was one of the founders of a field that has become known as swarm intelligence.
In particular, Dr Dorigo was interested to learn that ants are good at choosing the shortest possible route between a food source and their nest. This is reminiscent of a classic computational conundrum, the travelling-salesman problem. Given a list of cities and their distances apart, the salesman must find the shortest route needed to visit each city once. As the number of cities grows, the problem gets more complicated. A computer trying to solve it will take longer and longer, and suck in more and more processing power. The reason the travelling-salesman problem is so interesting is that many other complex problems, including designing silicon chips and assembling DNA sequences, ultimately come down to a modified version of it.
Ants solve their own version using chemical signals called pheromones. When an ant finds food, she takes it back to the nest, leaving behind a pheromone trail that will attract others. The more ants that follow the trail, the stronger it becomes. The pheromones evaporate quickly, however, so once all the food has been collected, the trail soon goes cold. Moreover, this rapid evaporation means long trails are less attractive than short ones, all else being equal. Pheromones thus amplify the limited intelligence of the individual ants into something more powerful. ...
... Digital ants and birds, then, are good at thinking up solutions to problems, but Dr Dorigo is now working on something that can act as well as think: robots. A swarm of small, cheap robots can achieve through co-operation the same results as individual big, expensive robots—and with more flexibility and robustness; if one robot goes down, the swarm keeps going. Later this summer, he will be ready to demonstrate his “Swarmanoid” project. This is based on three sorts of small, simple robot, each with a different function, that co-operate in exploring an environment. Eye-bots take a look around and locate interesting objects. Foot-bots then give hand-bots a ride to places identified by the eye-bots. The hand-bots pick up the objects of interest. And they all run home.
All this is done without any pre-existing plan or central co-ordination. It relies on interactions between individual robots. According to Dr Dorigo, bot-swarms like this could be used for surveillance and rescue—for example, locating survivors and retrieving valuable goods during a fire. ...
...All of which is encouraging. But anyone who is really interested in the question of artificial intelligence cannot help but go back to the human mind and wonder what is going on there—and there are those who think that, far from being an illusion of intelligence, what Dr Dorigo and his fellows have stumbled across may be a good analogue of the process that underlies the real thing.
For example, according to Vito Trianni of the Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Technologies, in Rome, the way bees select nesting sites is strikingly like what happens in the brain. Scout bees explore an area in search of suitable sites. When they discover a good location, they return to the nest and perform a waggle dance (similar to the one used to indicate patches of nectar-rich flowers) to recruit other scouts. The higher the perceived quality of the site, the longer the dance and the stronger the recruitment, until enough scouts have been recruited and the rest of the swarm follows. Substitute nerve cells for bees and electric activity for waggle dances, and you have a good description of what happens when a stimulus produces a response in the brain.
Proponents of so-called swarm cognition, like Dr Trianni, think the brain might work like a swarm of nerve cells, with no top-down co-ordination. Even complex cognitive functions, such as abstract reasoning and consciousness, they suggest, might simply emerge from local interactions of nerve cells doing their waggle dances. Those who speak of intellectual buzz, then, might be using a metaphor which is more apt than they realise.
In India, the system that delivers subsidized food and fuel to the nation’s poor is badly broken. Many people who are supposed to receive the subsidized fuel and bags of grain do not, and “studies show that 70 percent of a roughly $12 billion budget is wasted, stolen, or absorbed by bureaucratic and transportation costs.”
This is according to a recent NYT article by Jim Yardley, which frames the current debate about what should be done as a struggle within the ruling Indian National Congress Party between Sonia Gandhi and her “left-leaning social allies” on one side, and “many economists and market advocates” on the other.
Sonia Gandhi wants to include a “right to food” in the Indian constitution, while expanding the reach of the existing distribution system to cover everyone, and increasing the level of benefits it provides. (For the moment, the Indian constitution directs the State to consider “raising the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people” as “among its primary duties” but does not spell out a specific “right to food.”)
The economists and market advocates, on the other hand, are fed up and want to experiment with vouchers, food stamps, or cash instead of the notoriously leaky bags of grain.
We’ve hosted many heated discussions on this blog about the “rights-based approach” to development (see the end of the post for a list). I wonder if we can avoid rehashing these same debates and instead ask WHY it appears to be so much more popular for politicians to promise a “right to food” than to devise a system that might actually deliver that food to the starving and the malnourished. [Emphasis mine]
It’s true, we don’t know for sure that vouchers or food stamps would reduce the corruption in the system and make sure that the benefits get to more people who need them. So why not run some pilots and test several methods?
But it’s pretty certain what the people of India will get if their politicians vote to expand a broken system: More of a broken system, more injustice, and less food reaching the poor.
–Aid Watch posts on the rights-based approach to development: ...
New York Times: How Puritans Turned Capitalist
You certainly won’t find the Rev. Samuel Willard on the list of founding fathers, but his role in shaping the nation was considerable, according to ”Heavenly Merchandize,” a new book by Mark Valeri, professor of church history at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Va. Mr. Valeri’s book, subtitled “How Religion Shaped Commerce in Puritan America,” explains how a series of catastrophes in the mid-17th century turned Puritan preachers like Mr. Willard from disdain for the market to praise for it as morally necessary, for economic growth and hence the social order:
[He] preached during a period when Boston merchants believed that their occupation was essential to the commonweal — to England’s prosperity and therefore to Protestantism and liberty. Their strategies to convey goods, credit, and power throughout the British Atlantic proved them to be patrons of the empire. Many moralists, Willard included, valorized them in such terms. His successors, leading Boston pastors of the 1710s, 1720s, and 1730s, went further. They, along with their parishioners, sanctioned the practices that guaranteed economic success as moral mandates, and the rules that governed commercial exchange as natural and divine laws. Their convictions informed a market culture that, by many accounts, came to maturity by 1750 and provided motives for rebellion against the British Empire after the cessation of war with France. ["Heavenly Merchandize" (introduction); author interview, The Boston Globe]