Reuben Sportsbar
Cold comfort and warm beer


Sunday, August 31, 2003  

LIES, DAMN LIARS AND STATISTICS

Good line from Mark Kleinman: "He uses statistics the way a drunk uses a lamppost: for support rather than illumination."

posted by JD | 7:37 PM
 

DUMP SOME SUBSIDIES, NOT ALL
That's what SIngle Planet recommends. A good site.

posted by JD | 7:05 PM


Thursday, August 28, 2003  

THE BENEFITS OF SUPERSTORES
Brad DeLong argues that the greatest good arises from a full range of food stores: tiny market stalls, medium-sized groceries, and, yes, big evil impersonal superstores.

I'm far from convinced that superstores don't push the mom & pops out of business, but I do agree with him when he argues that poor people benefit from giant stores.

In the short run, that is. I'm still unconvinced about what happens in the long run. Do small towns get Walmartised, seeing jobs disappear? When that happens and Billy Bob is suddenly making three bucks an hour less than he used to and no longer has health insurance for his family, has he actually benefitted?

I recall reading in Monbiot (hardly and unbiased source, of course) that per job, the average sueprmarkets sell five times what corner stores do. That means significant job less in the community. Or does access to all that cheap frozen beef give poor people the vim they need to suddenly become entrepeneurs?

The comments to this post are full of interesting info.

posted by JD | 5:36 PM
 

CAN YOU CARE AND STILL BE SEEN AS STRONG?
Not a great article onthe myth of Republican competence, but an excellent argument:

"Republicans, at least since the 1980 election, have gotten lots of mileage out of billing themselves as the party of competence. They knew how to deal with the Russkies. They understood a budget. They knew how to crack down on the crooks and hoodlums. They understood the bottom line, and they knew what was right for America. The Democrats, meanwhile, were supposedly more interested in their dainty little social-engineering schemes than in success. Lots of people bought all of this, and of course there was a little bit of truth to it -- then. But the labels stuck hard. Democrats still have to take dramatic steps to prove their competence while Republicans are presumed -- by the mainstream media, anyway -- to possess it until they demonstrate otherwise. "

As Joe Conason points out in Big Lies, so much of what makes America great came from the efforts of liberals. And shit, dems were in charge during WWI and WWII. And we started Vietnam! How the hell did Republicans get the reputation for being tough warriors?

I think this relates to Amy Sullivan's musings on whether or not public money should be used to help the poor. (I think I linked to this a few days ago; can't be bothered now.)

Is it a case of the American public being a bit like those adolescent teenagers who associate caring (eg for the environment or for the poor) with weakness? Is this an image problem? In Europe, where it's accepted that the strong will to a large degree help out the weak, caring doesn't preclude strength. In the US, I fear it does.

posted by JD | 5:23 PM
 

THE POLITICAL IMPERATIVE UNDERLYING BUSHIAN ECONOMIC POLICY

Political Aims has a great post discussing the far right's desire to bankrupt the state. It comes down to this:

"Right now, the people in power are busy starving the state, cutting popular public programs and running up record deficits that will, in turn, be used as an excuse not to spend more in the future (unless it's for defense.) This is by design, and the right ducks under the cover of its economic justifications because its political goals are not popular ones. It's time we started calling them on it."

posted by JD | 5:15 PM
 

THE GOOD NEWS BOOK LIST
Americans read about politics - and they read what lefties write. Encouraging stuff.

Quoth Billimon:
"Franken should kiss Bill O'Reilly for inciting this whole loopy episode. Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them is currently at #1 on the Amazon nonfiction top sellers list, followed by Joe Conason's Big Lies.

Jim Hightower's Thieves in High Places is at #5 on the list, while Ann Coulter's Mein Kampf ... um, I mean Treason clocks in at #6. Molly Ivans' Bushwacked is at #7; Michael Moore's Stupid White Men hangs in there at #8, while Robert Baer's Sleeping With the Devil is at #9. Greg Palast's Best Democracy Money Can Buy is #10."

posted by JD | 4:54 PM
 

A PROBLEM WITH OXBLOG
I visit OxBlog almost every day, but David Adesnik is a bit too much of a chest thumper for my taste. I hope he's not planning on going into government - his belief in his own rightness and that of his friends is already a bit too muscular for objectivity. Over time, this will only get worse. Hopefully he'll won't become one of these policy makers who always opts for ideology over evidence.

posted by JD | 11:46 AM
 

Memorisation and the very young. An interesting post from Kevin Drum about the
seemingly mysterious instance of a pre-kindergarden girl losing her math skills
between the ages of 3 and 5. The comments lend a good insight into how young brains learn and why.

posted by JD | 8:58 AM


Tuesday, August 26, 2003  

The incredible shrinking food pound In a paper entitled Some Benefits and Drawbacks of Local Food Systems, Professor Jules Pretty says a much smaller percentage of food money is now going to farmers:

"One of the reasons why farmers struggle is that the proportion of the food pound or dollar
returning to farmers has shrunk. Fifty years ago, farmers in Europe and North America
received between 45-60% per cent of the money that consumers spent on food. Today, that
proportion has dropped dramatically to just 7% in the UK and 3.5% in the USA, but remains
at 18% in France. So even though the global food sector continues to expand, now standing
at one and a half trillion US dollars a year, farmers are getting a relatively smaller share.

...

Over time, the value of food has been increasingly captured by manufacturers, processors
and retailers. Farmers sell the basic commodity, and others add the value. As a result, less
money gets back to rural communities, and they in turn suffer economic decline. A typical
US wheat farmer, for example, receives six cents of each dollar spent on bread, about the
same as for the wrapping."

When the proportion of the food pound is ever-shrinking, you've got all the more incentive to squeeze out more (subsidised) production.

Re that France figure, I wonder: Are some sorts of subsidies ok, or at least more ok than others? US and UK-style subisidies reward production without regard to market demand, and everyone loses except the biggest producers. If the French use subsidies differently, in a way that encourages smaller farming (and thus a more viable and thriving rurality), then they're using htem for a better purpose.

Why are they better? Because more people benefit from them. Bad policies are those which benefit the few at the expense of the many.

But what is good policy? That which benefits as many as possible while hurting as few as possible? And how do you meld internal and external policies?

posted by JD | 5:11 PM
 

Fading. Greg Maddux is just barely on pace to win 15 games. If he doesn't, it'll be the first time in 16 incredible years. Will he make it? Go Greg.

posted by JD | 4:54 PM
 

Dreary. Where I come from, the phrase "summer coat" doesn't exist. I live in London now, and have mine on today. Very depressing.

Not so bad as my first summer here, though. That was one of England's rainiest on record, offering by far the most depressing weather I've ever experienced. I used to try to ride my bicycle everywhere, and - I swear - every single time I got on the thing, I got rained on. That winter, I spent three weeks recuperating in Spain, where the rain may fall on the plain, but didn't once fall on me.

I'm a little better acclimatised now (lower standards), and this summer truly has been lovely. But does it really have to end so soon?

posted by JD | 4:51 PM


Monday, August 25, 2003  

Water, water. The Guardian has published a special report on water and the billion-plus people who struggle to get it everyday.

Earlier this month, the Observer focused on the multi-billion dollar bottled water industry.

posted by JD | 8:35 PM


Friday, August 22, 2003  

I think it's alright; how about you? Accidentally opened my copy of Fowler's to its entry on alright/all right. In a snarky, condescending entry, it says that "the use of all right, or the inability to see that there is anything wrong with alright, reveals one's background, upbringing, education, etc,. perhpas as much as any word in the language."

Yeh, just like ending a sentence on a preposition, Lord Pantsuit.

Here's what the 1996 AmHer Book of English Usage says:

"Is it all right to use alright? Despite the appearance of alright in the works of such well-known writers as Flannery O’Connor, Langston Hughes, and James Joyce, the merger of all and right has never been accepted as standard. This is peculiar, since similar fusions like already and altogether have never raised any objections. The difference may lie in the fact that already and altogether became single words back in the Middle Ages, whereas alright (at least in its current meaning) has only been around for a little over a century and was called out by language critics as a misspelling. You might think a century would be plenty of time for such an unimposing spelling to gain acceptance as a standard variant, and you will undoubtedly come across alright in magazine and newspaper articles. But if you decide to use alright, especially in formal writing, you run the risk that some of your readers will view it as an error, while others may think you are willfully breaking convention."

Why do otherwise rational observers of the language insist that alright isn't alright? As AmHer rightly points out, the merger of all with other words is well accepted in our language. More pertinently, do these ding-dongs not realise that "alright" has a different meaning from "all right"? Alright is much more akin in meaning to "fine" or "good enough" than to "all right". All fluent speakers of English know this; except, it seems, a bunch of prescriptivists who see this as a battle that might yet win.

posted by JD | 4:52 PM
 

The Hutton Inquiry is incredible. Powell's email shows that only a week before Blair's "45 minutes" speech, his inner circle knew the evidence for the claim just wasnt' there. Hoon looks likely to lose his job. Gilligan comes off like a complete hypocrite, having cried "gotta protect my source" while giving that source away to a friendly Liberal MP. That MP misled the Foreign Affairs Committee by implying that he'd got Kelly's name from Susan Watts.

And now, on the week's last day of testimony, it comes out that Kelly told a mate he would "probably be found dead in the woods" if the American and British invasion of Iraq went ahead. Next up, Tony Blair himself. Holy cliffhangers, Batman!

The Hutton Inquiry website
The Guardian's Hutton Inquiry special report.

posted by JD | 4:38 PM
 

Fair trade good. Jacob Levy offers a solid summary of why, then ends it with a silly appeal to rub the Frenchies' noses in it.

However, he does have this excellent statement:
"Still, the costs agricultural policies impose on their own societies are manageable in the huge economies of the developed world. The costs they impose on the rest of the world are often devastating."

To me, that sums the whole fight up.

posted by JD | 1:07 PM
 

More Josh Marshall on war haws. He's dead on the money when he says they're in thrall to their ideology.

"I hesitate to throw wisdom after foolishness. But Lincoln captured some of what's necessary when he said: "The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present ... As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disentrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country."

But look what we're getting.

In an article about the recent reverses in the Middle East, Ken Adelman told the Post: "We should not try to convince people that things are getting better. Rather, we should convince people that ours is the age of terrorism." Richard Perle said: "It may be a very long time before we've so substantially eliminated the source of terror that we can pronounce that we are safe."

The logic of these comments and others from administration-connected hawks is that the president should stop telling the public that things are getting better. Things really are as bad as they look in Iraq. But that's because we're in an all-out global war against the terrorists.

Rather than these guys disenthralling themselves, they're yet again trying to bend logic and chronology into a metaphysical pretzel in which the failure of the policy becomes the justification for the policy."

I find that Adelman quote particularly 1984-ish: "We should not try to convince people that things are getting better. Rather, we should convince people that ours is the age of terrorism." And it being the age of terrorism, anything our government does is right.


posted by JD | 12:51 PM
 

After the UN suicide bomb, Josh Marshall argues that war hawks are trying to have their cake and eat it too. No matter what happens, he complains, the war hawks are spinning it as a positive:

"I'm probably getting certain particulars of this wrong, but there's a basic principle in scientific theory: an hypothesis, to be a real hypothesis, must be capable of disproof. In other words, for an hypothesis to be a valid basis for research, there must be some data which, if found to be true, would prove the hypothesis was false. Otherwise, there's no way to test it.

Now, foreign policy is no science. But some looser version of this principle must apply here as well. To be a policy, as opposed to a theological position, there must be some potential results that would show the policy was not working. The proponents of the policy should be able to say ahead of time that if this or that result happens, the policy has failed.

The utility of requiring this would be that if the result of the invasion of Iraq is an Islamic theocracy, governed by Osama bin Laden, and purchasing nuclear weapons from Pakistan at bargain-basement prices, we'd have the hawks on record saying this was in fact not a positive development.

Now, we've already had the 'flypaper' theory: that guerilla attacks against American troops are a good thing because we're pulling 'the terrorists' out of the woodwork and attacking them on our own terms. And now we have what I guess we could call the 'paradoxically positive mass-casualty terrorism event' theory: that mass-casualty terrorism events show the success of our policy since they are a sign 'the terrorists' are becoming desperate.

For my part, I don't think either guerrilla attacks or mass-casualty terror attacks in themselves show the administration's policy is a failure. This is a difficult business. But they also don't strike me as positive developments.

So I think it's time for the hawks to give us a few examples of events that would show that our policy was not working or at least facing setbacks. You know, just so we can put down some benchmarks, so we can know what we're working with ..."

posted by JD | 12:40 PM
 

Up the tube! Earlier this week I scolded Josh Chafetz for being driven by belief rather than facts. (See BBC post below.) Today I say "You go, Josh!" as he scolds some ideologue at the bufoon over the charge that higher zone one tube rates are "socialism". Josh writes:

"ANDREW STUTTAFORD INEXPLICABLY WRITES IN THE CORNER that:

London's ill-judged 'congestion charge' has inconvenienced millions and hit business. To add injury to injury, the city's leftist mayor is now proposing that 'tube' fares be increased by 25 percent - but for central London only. Overall, ticket prices for the London Underground will be increased by a rather less onerous 3.6 percent. Why the discrepancy? Passengers boarding the trains in the central zone tend (allegedly) to be from higher income groups or, worse still, are tourists. They must, therefore, be punished.

Socialism - a bad idea that just won't go away.
Not to be pedantic or anything, but this is neither socialist nor a bad idea. Price discrimination is, in fact, a profoundly market-based solution, and it's quite a good idea. Look, this is just Econ 101: Profit is total revenue minus total costs (ð = TR - TC). Total revenue is price times quantity sold (TR = p x q). Now, at p1, q1 people are willing to buy the product. Let's suppose that p1 is the market price -- that is, q1 is equal to the quantity of the product demanded at p1. So, the price gets set at p1, and q1 people buy it. But, among those q1 people, most of them would have been willing to pay some price higher than p1. For the firm to really maximize its profits, it needs to find a way to price discriminate -- that is, to sell q1 of the product, while charging the last (i.e., the marginal) customer p1 and charging all of the other customers px > p1, such that, for customer X, px is the highest price that he would be willing to pay for the product. In other words, every customer is the marginal customer at the price that that particular customer is charged.

Of course, perfect price discrimination would have such absurdly high transaction costs as to be unworkable. But plenty of forms of price discrimination do exist. To take two examples, consider hardback books and Saturday night stay requirements for airlines. Publishers release books in hardback before they release them in paperback because they know that some (e.g., diehard fans of the author, or, more often, libraries) are willing and able to pay more for the book. They then release it in paperback to get the rest of us to buy it. And for airlines, the Saturday night stay requirement is a way of getting business travelers, who want to spend the weekend at home with their families, to pay more (which they can afford to do), while charging vacationers (who want to be away from home over the weekend -- or at least, don't mind as much) less. If they tried to charge the vacationers the business travel prices, many vacationers would stay at home, or rent a car, or go by train. But if they charged the business travelers the same price as the vacationers, they'd lose out on some of the profits they could make. So they price discriminate.

Now, assuming that Ken Livingston (the mayor of London) is right that the people boarding the Tube in central London are willing and able to pay more for the ride, then charging them more is perfectly sensible -- it's price discrimination. To say that it's "punishing" the wealthy or tourists is like saying that hardback book prices "punish" libraries. Now, London isn't trying to make a profit, but by charging the wealthy riders more than the poorer ones, it allows the city to subsidize the rides of its working class residents, which seems like a perfectly acceptable idea, and no more socialist than the fact that many US cities subsidize their public transportation out of tax revenue.

(NB: I know that Livingston is known as "Red Ken," and that he considers himself a socialist. All I'm saying is that this particular scheme hardly smacks of socialism. It's a use of the market mechanism of price discrimination so that the largest number of people can ride the Tube without lowering prices so far that the Tube goes bankrupt. Similarly, in fact, the "congestion charge" is a perfect example of a city using a market mechanism to discourage unwanted behavior (behavior which has significant negative externalities, by the way), rather than simply banning it outright. Both of these uses of market mechanisms seem to me to be good things ... )"

posted by JD | 12:33 PM


Thursday, August 21, 2003  

As I'll be visiting Monticello soon... I thought I'd share this little titbit (from Electrolite):

"As a result, even in his lifetime he was scorned by many more doctrinaire Christians, but admired by those whom religious tests might have consigned to second class citizenship: Commodore Levy, a Jew, bought Monticello from its first purchaser after Jefferson’s death (he died bankrupt) with the intention of preserving it because he believed Jefferson’s championing of religious freedom was responsible for his own advancement in the Navy. And Baptists in Massachusetts presented Jefferson at his inauguration with the world’s largest wheel of cheese."

That's some beautiful shit, man.

posted by JD | 5:17 PM
 

Are they kickin' AAS yet? Over at kick AAS someone posted about the low number of comments the site has received. In response, the moderator pointed out that yesterday kAAS was the most-linked to joint in the blogoshere. While that's a short term triumph, it only exacerbates my long term worries over the success of the site.

As a campaigning blog, is kAAS going to have a lot of new information or draw many comments? If it doesn't, is it going to draw repeat visitors? I fear not. Does that mean it should restructure? I would say yes, though with Cancun only a month away, I would wait until afterwards.

Anyway, here's a comment I left:

"Yes, you've made it onto the radar of many of the big American blogs. Good stuff. I wonder, though, how many repeat visits a campaigning blog can get. The most popular left-ish Ameerican blogs, Yglesias, CalPundit and the like, thrive on intelligent debates that result in a lot of information being exchanged.

But to have debates, you have to have differing opinions. My fear is that by being campaign-based (anti-subsidies) rather than issue-based ("subsidies: discuss"), you may actually draw less people to the issue and thus do less good. Any thoughts?"

So far, no replies. Still stuck at 101.

posted by JD | 5:11 PM
 

Sweet home. Down Alabammy way, the evangelical Christian governor is arguing for tax reform, but not for the usual reasons. He argues that, because it hurts the poor, the current tax system is immoral. He wants it to be restructured so that poor people suffer less; on the Right, some are absolutely livid, others agree.

In Europe, you're not going to generate much heat with an argument over whether caring for the poor is a public responsibility. But as Amy Sullivan points out, in America this is big news.

SOME SNIPPETS:

Alabama Republican Party Chairman Marty Connors paused on a recent day over hash browns and eggs in a local Cracker Barrel, struggling to make sense of the latest turn in Alabama politics. "We've got a conservative, evangelical Christian, Republican governor," he said, enunciating each word as if to get his head around the details, "trying to get a massive turnout of black voters to pass a tax increase so he can raise taxes on Republican constituents."

Seizing Alabama's crisis as an opportunity to right historic wrongs, he says the state should act to improve schools funded at the nation's lowest level per child and to lift the tax burden from poor people, who pay income taxes starting at $4,600 a year for a family of four while out-of-state timber companies pay $1.25 an acre in property taxes. The changes would move Alabama from 50th to 44th in total state and local taxes per capita, he says

The born-again Baptist governor is telling voters in this Bible Belt state that their tax system, which imposes an effective rate of 3 percent on the wealthiest Alabamians and 12 percent on the poorest, is "immoral" and needs repair. "When I read the New Testament, there are three things we're asked to do: That's love God, love each other and take care of the least among us," Riley said in his office in the antebellum state Capitol.

And he is telling the state's timber and agricultural interests, who for generations have thrived on Alabama's low land taxes and cheap labor and who helped elect Riley last November, that they should pay more taxes so that public schools can produce a 21st-century workforce and a modern economy and the state can address other long-standing needs -- such as 28,000 inmates now jammed into a prison system built for 12,000 and a state police force at 50 percent capacity, with only six troopers patrolling 67,500 miles of roadway after midnight.

"We have a philosophical difference of opinion," Riley said of these one-time supporters. "I believe in a fair tax code. They don't. I believe we have to make investments in education that keep us from being tied for dead last. They don't. They have had special treatment at least for all of my adult life. And even after this modest increase, they'll still be paying less than in any of our surrounding sister states."

"Alabama needs to raise some revenue; there's no question about that," said the GOP's Connors. "But this is not a tax increase any longer. This is a massive redistribution of wealth. We are the Republican Party -- of Alabama! If a Democrat had proposed this, we would be burning down cities."

The plan would raise the tax threshold from $4,600 to $20,000 for a family of four, and raise the exemption per child from $300 to $2,200, which Riley says would cut or leave income taxes unchanged for two-thirds of the state's taxpayers. The top third of earners would pay more, as would corporations and large land and timber holders. Alabama's lowest-in-the-nation property taxes would rise on average to $490 a year on a $100,000 home (a $136 increase) and to $1,540 on a $250,000 home (a $536 increase), according to the governor's figures.

Somewhat paradoxically, polls show the strongest opposition is among black voters, who make up about a fourth of the electorate, and people with incomes under $30,000 -- the very Alabamians who would receive the largest tax cuts. Riley and his emissaries are campaigning hard among black voters, who opposed him overwhelmingly in November. He is encountering distrust embedded in Alabama history.

But the Christian Coalition of Alabama, which opposes all tax increases, staked out the other side. "We applaud tax relief for the poor. You'll find most Alabamians have got a charitable heart; they want to do that," said the group's president, John Giles. "They just don't want it coming out of their pocket."

That last line is just brilliant.

You go, god boy!

posted by JD | 4:52 PM
 

Which parts of the Bible are Christains allowed to ignore? Kevin Drum asked, Mark Kleiman answers.

posted by JD | 4:44 PM
 

Electricity made skyscrapers possible. This is how.

posted by JD | 4:38 PM
 

Prison as social policy. Crooked Timber (I'm so proud when I can understand what they're writing about) has an interesting post on how incarceration affects the labour market.

The researcher finds that "a criminal record is associated with a 50 percent reduction in employment opportunities for whites and a 64 percent reduction for blacks."

That doesn't seem like such a surprise to me. But this certainly does:

"Controlling for education and skills you are better off being a white male with a felony conviction than a black male with no criminal record."

Sweet jesus!


posted by JD | 4:35 PM
 

Teenagers are scarier. From the same day's paper, this interesting story of Thirteen, which seems to be a unique and informative movie. But that doesn't make the teenage hellcat at the centre of it any less of a pestilence on her poor mom.

UPDATE: After seeing Thirteen,
Amy Sullivan has some thoughts on growing up a girl. As she was so atypical, I'm not sure how relevant they are. Certainly something to aspire to, though.

posted by JD | 9:35 AM
 

Kids are scary. On Monday I linked to an article and letters in the Guardian re not having kids. Yesterday I read this petrifying article about a spoilt and insufferable little princess throwing tantrums at her fourth birthday party. Are all kids like this? Or just the children of successful, liberal journos? And isn't it a bit worrying that a four-year-old is walking over to her mom, putting her hand down mom's shirt, and saying she wants to "eat booby"? Does mom lack the discipline to tell her "little bean" that breast feeding is supposed to end well before one's fourth birthday?

On a contrary note, I've read somewhere that while adults know to reserve horrible behaviour for enemies and manual labourers, children learn boundaries by, at least in part, trying out terrible behaviour on their friends. So perhaps it's fine that mumsy seems to let Little Bean get away with calling her friends "ugly sisters".

Frighteningly, though, Mum also seems to let one of her daughter's friends get away with saying of Lucy, the au pair: "Lucy's my servant. She's supposed to look after me." I'm sure it was very cute at the time, but privileged middle class kids need to learn early and learn fast that au pairs and other manual workers aren't their servants.

I suspect that Barbara Ehrenreich is right to fear that most children who grow up with housecleaners and servants will grow up looking down on those who pick up after them.

posted by JD | 9:32 AM


Wednesday, August 20, 2003  

It must suck to live in Europe. After all, we're all poorer than we'd be in the US, and most of us are currently stuck on a bus.

A thread from earlier this month, in which Yglesias & co compare European and economic policy. Great stuff.

posted by JD | 4:54 PM
 

Can subsidies be eradicated? After visiting kickAAS, Matthew Yglesias gives an impressive run-down of why it won't happen in the US. He thinks that the best chance for more fair trade is for the EU to overcome its own, less substantial hurdles.

posted by JD | 2:19 PM
 

How do budget airlines make money? This short article breaks down the costs and expenditures of each flight. On average, EasyJet makes £545 per flight. As you would expect, turnaround time is king.

posted by JD | 11:17 AM


Tuesday, August 19, 2003  

It's different over here. And I don't just mean the tall buses. CalPundit has an interesting post on how the Hutton inquiry "highlights some rather startling differences between political culture in the U.S. and Britain."

posted by JD | 5:52 PM
 

The Guardian has set up a blog devoted to eradicating global agricultural subsidies. This is a Good Thing, but at first read it seems all good intentions and very little heavy duty substance. It needs to argue its point with facts, as Oxfam's papers do, rather than assume we're all happily in agreement. Even if we do all agree, part of the blog's remit should be to give people like me a better arsenal of arguments.

posted by JD | 5:40 PM
 

I could spend all week here. The Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project kicks ass.

posted by JD | 5:38 PM
 

American religious fervour. The biggest difference between us and the rest of the world, says Nickolas Kristof, is we're really fucking religious.

According to his figures, Americans are three times as likely to believe in the Virgin Birth of Jesus (83 percent) as in evolution (28 percent). I think I'm getting the yips.

Do you need to believe in God to be moral? 58% of Americans say yes (what percentage of religious ones say yes?); only 13% of French do.

MORE FROM KRISTOF:
"The most stunning religion survey I found is the one in which 47 percent even of American non-Christians say they believe in the virgin birth. The source of that data is a Harris Poll from Aug. 12, 1998, with a sample of 1,011 adults. That survey found that 94 percent of adults believe in God, 86 percent believe in miracles, 89 percent believe in Heaven, and 73 percent believe in the Devil and in Hell.

The comparisons with other countries come from a different source: “Views of a Changing World, June 2003,” a multi-nation poll conducted by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, www.people-press.org. Incidentally, the Pew survey finds that the American emphasis on the need to believe in God to be moral, while rare in the industrialized world, is common in developing countries like Nigeria and Pakistan.

The figure for belief in evolution comes from a separate Gallup poll."

73% believe in the Devil and Hell? Yeh, I've definitely got the yips.

posted by JD | 5:34 PM
 

The value of a university degree. From TAPPED:

First, rising enrollment rates don't by themselves drive up the cost of college for everyone; they do so only in concert with decreasing government funding for public universities and, to a lesser extent, private ones. (If you don't think the government should be financing higher education at all, keep reading.) Second, the actual proportion of university students who drop out is about one-third, according to the conservative National Center for Policy Analysis, so Graham should get his facts straight. Finally, the notion that college degrees are less valuable when more people have them is plain silly. College enrollments have been going up for decades now, but as of the 2000 Census, holders of a bachlor's degree enjoyed lifetime earnings of nearly twice as much as people with only a high school degree. That number isn't going down. (This article lists a number of other attendant benefits of having gone to college.)

Now, that 1/3 dropout rate is high -- significantly higher than in, say, Japan. By Graham's logic, it would be better if those people had never bothered to enter college in the first place. Tapped believes Graham would be hard-pressed to find a single Fortune 500 CEO who agrees with him. American businesses need educated workers to thrive and be competitive in the global marketplace, and mostly for demographic reasons, more and more of the U.S. workforce is going to come from less-advantaged parts of the population. If you want America to stay at the top, you need to get more of these folks past a high school diploma. But we're doing a worse job at it these days than we used to. As recently as the early 1990s, the U.S. ranked at or near the top of all countries in terms of the proportion of its young people who enrolled in college. We now rank no better than the bottom half of the thirty or so industrial nations that are members of the OECD. These are the countries with whom the U.S. competes. To put it another way, in a world in which wealth and prosperity is driven by human capital, the U.S. has fallen to the bottom of the heap.

posted by JD | 5:19 PM
 

The sugar baron myth. Letters to today's Guardian. I especially like the first one.

There is a convenient myth that all farmers in the developed countries are "sugar barons" or similar fat cats trousering enormous subsidy cheques at the expense of the taxpayer and poor farmers in the south (Kicking the subsidies, August 18). In fact, just 20% of farmers and landowners have received 80% of the subsidies.
With official figures showing that 1,000 farmers and farmworkers are leaving the land every week, and average incomes down to just £10,000, the majority of UK farmers are clearly not getting fat on the CAP. Most farmers don't want subsidies, they simply want prices for what they grow that meet their costs of production.

Your admirable intention to help poor farmers in the south should recognise that farmers in the north are also being screwed by the world trading system. Our farmers would be delighted to see your "kick ass" initiative applied to the rear ends of the few, very large agribusiness commodity traders, food processors and supermarkets who are the real beneficiaries of a subsidy-driven "cheap food" policy.
Robin Maynard
National coordinator, Farm


Great campaign! Just one point: only about one-third of the annual $300bn total support to OECD farmers comes from subsidies. Two-thirds of support comes from consumers through higher market prices supported by trade barriers (which is why significant trade liberalisation in the WTO is key) and by domestic market intervention (output quotas, set aside, intervention buying, etc).

Now $100bn each year is not a small figure (compared with a 2002 OECD aid budget of $57bn) but if you wish to free up the total value of support you must also propose explicitly raising taxes by the remaining $200bn, which may be harder than abolishing agricultural support.
Jim Rollo
Sussex European Institute, University of Sussex

posted by JD | 4:53 PM
 

CalPundit and crew on London's congestion charges. Here.

Not sure what to make of this yet. On the one hand, I'll support almost anything that moves London's buses faster through the city. But if the financial losses far outweigh the gains (in time, less pollution, calmer streets, etc.), then the system needs to be altered, or, if alteration doesn't work, scrapped.

There have been a few studies arguing that businesses are losing money. (But of course these seem to only appear in the Evening Standard and Telegraph.) Has anyone looked at whether or not people are making it to work on time more often? If we are, one would need to compute the financial benefits of that before coming to a final decision.

posted by JD | 4:34 PM
 

Dodge, feint. Jab! Jab! Jab! And it's a KO, ladies and germs! The three jabs vaccine debate presents an interesting example of bungled social policy. As far as I know, every study yet done on it shows that on a societal level the triple jab reduces children's risk of measles, mumps and rubella. The problem is that there's some evidence (ist all anecdotal?) that, in some children, the triple jab has led to autism.

Two issues immediately spring to mind. One, in a situation where there is some risk, people tend to be much more comfortable not doing something and possibly suffering from it than they are doing something and suffering from it. If I don't get my kid vaccinated and he gets some terrible disease, it's becuase the world is a tricky and sometimes cruel place teeming with risk and danger. If I get my kid his MMR and he develops autism, it's because I got my kid an MMR. It's my fault.

Other issue: The government has been less than forthcoming on this issue, thus fueling public speculation and conspiracy theories. Why does it not cover single jabs on the NHS? My guess is that its research shows that while the single jab is safer, a cost-benefit analysis of single versus triple jabs shows that not enough lives are saved to balance out the increased expense of single jabs. This is pure speculation on my part; haven't had time to do any reading on it.

There was a good programme early this summer on Radio 4. Look it up if I ever find the time.

posted by JD | 1:23 PM


Monday, August 18, 2003  

Mamas don't preach. Last week the Guardian ran a piece asking Will I regret not having a baby? (It wasn't about me, though.) When I saw that the writer was only 27, I had to laugh. Jeebus, Guardian, can't you find someone old enough to have opinions that matter? (That is, my age or above.) But then I saw that it's a reprint from Salon. Still, though, 27. As if those who disagree with you need any more evidence before dismissing the article.

Thankfully the artcile doesn't focus on the non-maternal feelings of a writer who has been out of university for all of five years; she actually looks at sociological data. Significantly, one study indicates that childless people are no more likely than those with children to turn into lonely old gits:

Tanya Koropeckyj-Cox, a sociology professor at the University of Florida, recently completed a study based on surveys of 3,800 men and women between the ages of 50 and 84.

"For years we have heard warnings that if you don't have children, you will regret it later," she said. "But beliefs about childlessness leading to a lonely old age are not supported by our study." In a previous report published in 1998, Koropeckyj-Cox concluded that there is "no significant differences in loneliness and depression between parents and childless adults".


That's a load of my mind. One of the few personally compelling arguments I can find in favour of having kids is that they'll give my potty old mind and heart something to focus on when I'm old and gray. It's good to know that canasta and backgammon will serve me just as well.

The day after Goldberg's article appeared, the Guardian ran this letter:

I was amused to read Michelle Goldberg's piece (Will I regret not having a baby?, G2, August 11). I can identify with every word: at the age of 27 I could never see what was so wonderful about having children. The thought of plastic toys littering my home made me grimace every time I visited a friend with little ones - I couldn't even stand the mild, soapy, milky smell all babies seemed to come packaged with. Give me my nights out, my successful career as a magazine editor and my two-seater car any time. "Feminism gave us the choice not to have children," I told anyone who would listen and I whole-heartedly intended to embrace that choice.
Then I hit 30 and what can only be described as the thunderbolt that is mother nature hit me. At 27 you have no idea that your hormones will suddenly become more potent than any Martini cocktail. Now at 35, I race home from editing Cosmopolitan at 5.30pm on the dot to collect my one-year-old from nursery, balancing her on my five-month pregnancy bump as I load her into the Jeep. Never say never - the feminists should have told us that too.
Lorraine Candy
Editor-in-chief, Cosmopolitan


Today they have this one:

At 27 I too could never see what was so wonderful about having children. Now at 35, I race home from my engineering job at 5.30pm on the dot to put my feet up and enjoy the peace of my child-free home, and the ability to do whatever I and my partner want with our time. I still have zero desire for children and know this will never change. Women in their 20s do not need to be told they are too immature to know what they want. Only time will tell, so allow them the freedom to find out for themselves.
Michele Wilkinson
Stretham
Cambs


And this:

The "whether or not to have children" debate always seems to focus on the babyhood end of things. Babies become children in the blink of an eye and before you know it you have some special adult friends to enrich your life. If they have babies you can of course always hand them back.
Stephanie Bailey
Somerset


In that last letter, our faithful correspondent rightly points out that we focus too much on babyhood. After all, she argues, babies grow up. Ain't that grand?

Like fuck it is. If they could grow up in a few years like sensible animals, I think I'd be willing to give kids a go. But they take 18 frigging years to get out of the house. 18!

I can suffer sleeplessness and soiled nappies for three years if I know I'm gonna get all that fun and joy of having a beautiful little life form toddling about the house. But a twelve-year-old? A teenager? Where are the rewards there? And you can't just send them back.

Kids should grow up in a few years, like horses. Their outright refusal to do so shows a complete lack of respect for taxpaying Americans.




posted by JD | 12:07 PM
 

Aunty war bias? Josh Chafetz at OxBlog has written a silly little hatchet piece on the BBC's supposed anti-war bias. There's a good discussion of it at the ever excellent CalPundit.

My problem with Chafetz's piece is that it wilfully ignores the compelling evidence that the BBC was less anti-war than any other British channel.

Funnily enough, he quotes "columnist Barbara Amiel", the UK's very own Ann Coulter, to bolster his argument. This is the same "columnist Barbara Amiel" who is married to Lord Conrad Black, owner of the Telegraph. Remember when Lord Black wrote a letter to his own paper, not mentioning that it was his own paper, declaring that Aunty "has become the greatest menace facing the country it was founded to serve and inform."

The greatest menace. Welcome to his team, Josh.

UPDATE. I emailed Josh, he emailed me, I emailed him:

Hi Josh

I agree with your comments on Yglesias' critque, but was startled by one of your statements.

You say in your blog that you've "seen nothing that even comes close to convincing me either that (a) the BBC isn't guilty of egregious misconduct in the Kelly/Gilligan affair, or (b) the current scandal doesn't fit into a larger pattern of anti-war bias by the BBC."

I'd be very interested to know what you think about this widely-reported study indicating that the BBC's coverage was less anti-war than that of any other British channel. Do you feel that it's bogus? Or do you feel that since you're talking about the BBC, you don't need to compare it to other British channels? If the former, I'd love to hear your evidence. If the latter, I'd say you're being willfully disingenuous; after all, it's silly to look at any channel outside of its national context.

Cheers
JD

---------------------------------

From: Josh Chafetz [mailto:joshua.chafetz@merton.ox.ac.uk]

I haven't paid enough attention to other channels to really say, but I don't think there's anything disingenuous about focusing on the BBC. I'm not forced by law to pay for any of the other channels simply because I own a TV. Moreover, none of the other channels have anything like the national or international reach of the BBC / BBC World.

Yours,
Josh Chafetz

-----------------------------------

Hi Josh

Thanks for your reply.

I have to disagree, though. It's disingenuous to ignore compelling evidence indicating that the BBC was less anti-war (or more pro-war) than any other British channel. While the Beeb has an international reach, it is a British station. Empirical evidence indicates that the Beeb was more likely than any other British station to depend on gov't reports and less likely to depict the suffering of Iraqis. If being 50% less anti-war than every other British station isn't enough, what is? 100% 200%? Who sets the bar? Surely not Barbara Amiel.

Yes, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence indicating individual acts of anti-war bias at the Beeb, and they are deserving of criticism. But your wilful ignorance of empirical evidence that doesn't fit your thesis makes your article smack of the polemic. British and American journalism have enough of that already.

Hope this doesn't sound too harsh. It's not meant as a personal criticism, merely as a critique of your journalism on this particular article.

Keep up the good work with the blog. It's nice to be able to read a blog that's based (at least partly) over here rather than back home.

Best
JD

-----------------------------

Good on the boy for responding to my initial email. Aren't Oxford students supposed to be busier than that?

posted by JD | 11:51 AM
 

London blogger in fabulous weather shocker! Never thought I'd say this, but the weather in this country has been too damned good to do any blogging of late.

I have the sneaking suspicion that'll be changing soon.

posted by JD | 9:25 AM


Friday, August 08, 2003  

Teen rape victims in an adversarial court system. I read a letter to the Independent arguing for an inquisatorial judicial system rather than the current adversarial one. Does anyone else get slightly nervous when someone says, "I know how to fix it - let's have an Inquisition!" To steal a hubcap from that grumpy guy with the cigar, adversarial judicial systems are the worst judicial systems in the world, except all the others.

But then what do you do about child witnesses, particularly in rape trials?

posted by JD | 4:41 PM
 

When trousers attack. My promise to you: when trousers go bad, I'll be there to tell you about it.

posted by JD | 4:40 PM
 

The paper bride. Some Anglicans argue that
they don't support the nomination of Gene Robinson
because, in the words of Andrew Carey of Anglican Mainstream:

"The rest of the Anglican church adheres to the teaching that marriage is primary and that sex should only be in marriage, and chastity outside. The American church, by taking such steps, seems to have put itself outside the Christian tradition."

This is a such a paper tiger. "We're not against gays; it's just that he's having sex outside of marriage." Ok, wanker, how about if we let gays marry? Then will you be fine with it?

On a more disgusting note, the UK is experiencing a rash of nude ramblers. May the nettles strike these fiends where it counts, and countless times!

posted by JD | 4:38 PM
 

Vive la difference, baby. A global poll by a PR agency has found that Amnesty International is the most trusted "brand" in Europe, with 76% of those asked saying they believe its campaigners. AI was followed by the WWF (67%) and Greenpeace (55%). At the bottom was Monsanto (12%). McDonald's scored (26%).

And in the US? Hey, it's Bizarro World! The most trusted brands are Microsoft and Coke, both at 56%, followed by Mickey D's at 55%. Amnesty and Greenpeace both scored in the low 40s.

At first glance I think jeez, this really fits in with Europe and America's regular struggle to agree on anything of substance. Then I think, hell, it's just a fricking pr poll. But then I come back to my first thought. Why is it that Americans trust people who are trying to make money off us more than we trust charities who are ostensibly trying to better the world? Is it that we mistrust do-gooders? Is it that we distrust foreign organisations? Do we take NGOs with a far bigger grain of salt than Europeans do? Or do we just disagree with them, and distrust what they say because of that? I remember canvassing for Greenpeace long agon (I lasted less than a week - couldn't stand asking people for money) and having an old codger go crazy on me when I mentioned Greenpeace. They were anti-American communist bastards, he yelled. Why? Because they sometimes argued against American policy. McDonald's and Coke will never do that. McDonald's and Coke are American policy.

posted by JD | 4:26 PM
 

Them brown people sure are wisdomy. On behalf of a much bigger cheese than me, I'm writing an open letter to the new Children's Minister. As a rhetorical device, I've chosen (fallen into, more aptly) to use an ancient Chinese proverb.

Now in the US, something like this is a sure-fire winner. Everyone (even the right?) loves being splattered with a pearl necklace of wisdom from Lao-Tzu or some Buddhist monk. But here in the UK, I have my doubts about how well it's going to go down. I can't shake the feeling that people are going to read this little bit of universal wisdom and think "Bloody foreigners - what the hell do they know?" Guess I'll find out when the Great Gouda has her read.

posted by JD | 3:38 PM


Thursday, August 07, 2003  

26 photos from a doubledecker bus. This is fab.

posted by JD | 4:46 PM
 

More on kids.

From the Observer, a better article on children struggling to find places to play. Guess who's louder, children or adults?

"Yet adults 'at play' are usually noisier than children, the study shows. The average noise level of a group of 40 children playing, monitored from 50ft away, was 57 decibels compared with 75 decibels in a busy restaurant, 80 for rush-hour traffic and 108 when a goal is scored at Arsenal football stadium."

THE TROUBLE WITH GIRLS. The cult of perfectionism amongst middle class teenage girls. It definitely appears to be related to class. Julie Burchill must be so happy.

"West measured levels of anxiety and depression in two large, representative samples of 15-year-old children in 1987 and again in 1999. Among the bottom social class, girls' rates rose only slightly - but in the top class the rise ranged from 24 per cent to a startling 38 per cent. Even more disturbing, West discovered that serious mental illness - the kind that can require hospitalisation - has risen threefold in middle-class teenage girls.

...

Meanwhile, contrary to popular perceptions of a teenage male emotional apocalypse, researchers report no significant increase in problems among boys."

posted by JD | 4:30 PM
 

Here an oink, there an oink. An everywhere an agribusiness executive. In a standfirst, the G-thang tells us that "the steady decline of small farms in the UK is being accelerated by the sale of country land to townies." But that standfirst is just a come-on to lure in people who blame cityfolk for the countryside's problems - 'cause the sale of country land to townies is a symptom of our rotting countryside, not one of the major causes. (The sub-editor is clever: she implies that townies are a big problem, but doesn't actually say it.)

The true problem, it seems to me, is that the industrialisation of farming means fewer jobs, thus fewer viable plots of small land. It's a damn good article; go read.

Could the industrialisation of first world agriculture actually work without subsidies? The impression I get is no, but I don't know the answer.

posted by JD | 4:25 PM
 

Prison literacy programmes. From Mark AR Kleinman:

PRISON LITERACY PROGRAMS AS CRIME CONTROL

Since crime competes with licit work for the time of ex-offenders released from prison, and since literacy contributes statistically both to the chance of getting a job and to the wages available, it stands to reason that improving the reading skills of inmates would tend to reduce their recidivism. That appears to be the case; graduates of prison literacy programs are about 20% less likely than otherwise similar non-graduates to return to prison.

Since the cost of a typical prison literacy program is only about $1000 per inmate, if that difference reflected a real program effect prison literacy programs would be among the most cost-effective crime-fighting techniques, preventing serious crimes at a cost of about $2000 per crime averted. Preventing crime by just building more prisons costs at least half again as much.

[I learned about this from my students Audrey Bazos and Jessica Hausman, who wrote a prize-winning master’s project on the topic.*]

Moreover, even a modest reduction in reincarceration, far smaller than the published estimates, would make literacy programs better than a break-even proposition in purely fiscal terms. The cost saving to a typical state the state from avoiding a two-year prison term is between $40,000 and $50,000; a program that costs $1000 only needs to reduce the recidivism rate by two or three percentage points to pay for itself in reduced reincarceration costs alone.

But in the absence of a true random-assignment experiment, it’s hard to know how much of the measured difference in recidivism between program graduates and other inmates reflects the factors that lead some inmates, but not others, to enter literacy programs and stick with them, rather than the effects of the programs themselves.

An experimental test of this idea would be conceptually simple and operationally manageable. Identify a group of, say, 400 serious offenders within a few months of scheduled prison release. Randomly identify half of them, and use some combination of program availability, persuasion, and incentives to attempt to raise the participation of that group, but not of the control group, in literacy training. Use automated criminal history systems to track reincarceration, and compare the two groups: not just the graduates of the literacy program, but everyone in the group randomly selected for aggressive "marketing" of literacy training.

For example: in California prisons, educational programs and work programs are scheduled for the same time slots. Prisoners who don't get money from their families or friends -- who tend to be the poorest, most socially disconnected, and least literate, and who have therefore among the highest recidivism rates -- need to work for canteen money, and therefore can't take reading classes. By selecting a group of such inmates, dividing it randomly in half, and offering to pay the inmates in one half the pennies per hour they would otherwise be earning in prison jobs to learn to read instead, one could boost participation in the "experimental" group and not in the "control" group, without the moral onus of assigning anyone to a no-treatment condition.

Even if operational or ethical concerns made random assignment infeasible, it would be possible to design interventions to raise the rate of literacy-training participation in one or a few prisons, and use as controls inmates of other, similar prisons or releasees from those same prisons in the period before the program started.

With somewhat greater difficulty and expense, the outcome measures could be expanded past reincarceration to cover workplace and family functioning, physical and psychological health, and self-reported crime.

One reason for the rather sad performance of most in-prison rehabilitation efforts is that they focus on behavioral change. In creating behavioral change, environment matters: talking to someone about not using drugs when he’s in prison may have little effect on his drug use when he’s out of prison. Because literacy is a set of skills rather than a set of behaviors, it seems likely to be much more portable.

It is a sad fact about American politics that "crime" as a political issue has very little to do with figuring out ways to actually reduce victimization or the criminal riskiness of various social environments. Even if it were true, as I think it probably is, that putting a million dollars into prison literacy programs would prevent substantially more crimes than putting that same million dollars into locking up another forty inmates for a year, a politician who preferred literacy programs to prison construction would bear the politically devastating label "soft on crime."


[Mitch Daniels, before he started running for governor of Indiana, when he was still helping GWB wreck the fiscal stability of the federal government as his first OMB Director, specified the teensy program of Federal aid to state prison literacy programs as one of the things that ought to be cut to restore balance to the budget. (*) Anyone who can close a twelve-significant-figure deficit by cutting an seven-significant-figure program shouldn't be wasting his time in the public service; he should be out there in the private sector running Ponzi schemes. But of course the point of his proposal wasn't to save money, but to indicate his dedication to the holy cause of making bad people suffer.]

So it would be fatuous to imagine that just showing that funding prison literacy programs is cost-effective crime control will magically make those programs popular.

Still, there is some benefit to knowing whether prison literacy is as good a deal socially as it appears to be. Anyone who knows of a corrections official who might let his or her institution be used as an experimental venue will earn my gratitude by putting me in touch with that person.

posted by JD | 4:09 PM
 

Glass churches. The Vaitcan has just announced that gay marriage is "an evil". Fair enough - what the hell do we expect from them? But then they go and say that adoption of children by same sex couples "does violence" to those children. More violence, I'm sure, than not having any parents at all.

Of course, the Vatican is well nigh inassailable on matters of good and evil:

"CBS News Correspondent Vince Gonzales has uncovered a church document kept secret for 40 years.

The confidential Vatican document, obtained by CBS News, lays out a church policy that calls for absolute secrecy when it comes to sexual abuse by priests - anyone who speaks out could be thrown out of the church.

The policy was written in 1962 by Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani.

posted by JD | 2:43 PM
 

Breeding terror better. That's really not our aim, is it? Then why do the US and the UK seem to be trying to inculcate it, even in places where it hardly existed before? Matthew Yglesias has a good take on the recent bombing of the Iraqi emabassy in Jordan:

"The incident emphasizes — as if it needed more emphasis — that the sort of people taking up arms against the US in Iraq are basically nasty people. What's most disturbing about it, though, is that it raises the distinct possibility that the lack of effective law enforcement in Iraq is turning it into a theater of operations for the various terrorist groups that exist in the region. It will be a bitter irony indeed if a war that was ostensibly undertaken to save us from the nonexistent threat of Iraqi terrorism actually brings about the very problem from which it was designed to save us."

posted by JD | 1:33 PM
 

First around the pole, so to speak. Is the UK more socially libearl than the US? On most things, yes. As a nation, Britain is less fundamentally religious, less fiscally selfish, and generally more desirous of working to create and maintain an equitous society. Living here, that's great - I'm far less likely to blow a gasket over the morning papers than I was in Atlanta. But it's depressing to feel that your home country (do right wingers living outside the US now say homeland?), is stuck in a nastier, more brutish past and crawling further back into it at every opportunity.

So it's with a flush of pride that I learned that the US Episcopal church has conferred an openly gay bishop. The man's an active dick-smoker, and he's been declared a Bishop, even after a sleazy smear attempt (let's just call it bashing the bishop) by the right! Hossanah! If I wasn't afraid that someone would respond by doing the wave (known here as the Mexican wave), I'd be tempted to break into a chant of "We're Number 1!"

Will it split the Anglican Communion? In the article I've linked to above, Amy Sulivan says no. We're Protestants, she says. We quibble, not fracture. But as she acknowledges in an update, that doesn't take into account the international church, which is very conservative, very retrograde, and very angry. I don't know anything about the structure of international Anglicism, but it seems to me that if there's disagreement on so contentious and fundamental an issue, the Africans will have to split.

And what if they do? I genuinely don't know. It seems to me that the high command should let them go on their way. But what does that mean losing? Numbers, certainly, but is there any additional reason for wanting them to stay besides the fact that it gives your organisation more muscle, and perhaps more money?

That's my question: What is the advantage of keeping the African Anglicans in the communion? If I have to guess, I'd say that the high command wants this version of faith to continue to grow, and know that Africa is a prime site for that. But if they can only grow in lands where the people hold strongly conservative views, should this purportedly liberal church pursue this?

What will

posted by JD | 10:33 AM


Wednesday, August 06, 2003  

Sufferin' succotash - those little children! To mark National Playday (what the fuck am I doing in the office, then?), two children's charities have released research indicating that despite all their bitching about kids sitting inside glued to the telly or the computer, adults make it way too hard for kids to play outdoors.

When I lived in the states I was appalled at the way adults seemed to really resent children for not having to be adults yet. All over the country playgrounds were paved over and recesses were eliminated - because "school is for learning, not playing", as one child-hating troglodyte said. Yet I'm sure this idiot is more than happy to rail against children who aren't physically active enough. And who the hell came up with the notion that children are little automatons who are capable of working concentratedly all day long without a break for some play? And I wont' even go into all the studies showing that play time helps children's cognitive and social development, and lack of play time hampers it. Like cutting Head Start, banning recess is a short-sighted "solution" that has nothing to do with making society either happier or more productive and has everything to do with wanting to punish people because punishing them is fun.

Among the factors this particular article addresses is parental paranoia - the fear that if we let our children play freely, something dire is sure to befall them. Will address this tomorrow.

Will also look at the miserable situation teenagers find themselves in. There's nothing constructive for them to do, so they end up hanging out in front of chippies. But would they do something constructive anyway? And just how constructive are adults? Don't we spend most of our free time down the pub?

With that, I'm off. Not to the pub, but to South Bank. It's one of Britiain's hottest days in recorded history, and the wife and I are meeting for a little drinky poo. Now let's just hope there aren't any teenagers lurking around.

posted by JD | 4:56 PM


Monday, August 04, 2003  

Hear me. Does educational inclusion for the deaf make sense? Some deaf people (and/or their parents) say no, others say yes. The yes side also says this:

The RNID recommends simple steps to make comprehension and communication easier for a deaf child in a mainstream classroom: the teacher shouldn't stand with their back to the window, as it casts their face in shadow, making it difficult to read facial expressions; they should develop noise awareness, putting rubber tips on chair and table legs and making sure the classroom door is closed. Learning materials should be modified; at the simplest level, there should be written materials to support spoken lessons. And everything should be in plain English, with uncomplicated vocabulary. "Modified texts and straightforward sentence structure, initially prepared with deaf pupils in mind, in fact benefits almost everyone, especially pupils with English as a second language," says Andrews.

Are you fucking kidding me? Because there's one deaf kid in the class, the teacher's supposed to avoid complicated vocabulary? She's supposed to focus not on needs of the 29 hearing kids in the class, but on those of the one deaf one? Great, it benefits "almost everyone". EXCEPT CHILDREN WHO AREN'T DEAF. Which is, um, almost everyone.

Is mainstreaming really supposed to be about making sure that both deaf children and hearing children receive a half-assed education?

UPDATE: A deaf colleague says that he went to a deaf-only school from ages 4-11 and then a mainstream one from 12-18, and that he prefers mainstream education, primarily because it increased his confidence when dealing with the hearing world. It's because of mainstreaming, he believes, that he has the confidence to work in a position of responsibility alongside hearing people. That's a strong argument in favour of inclusion.

One major fact he points out that this article doesn't mention, though, is that mainstreamed deaf students get interpreters. (They do in London, at least; he says he can't speak for the rest of the UK.) This article doesn't indicate that.

And apparently there are about 18,000 deaf people in the UK.

posted by JD | 2:08 PM


Friday, August 01, 2003  

If you want to wear the white hat, you can't shoot people in the back. Normally I trust the BBC more than Blair, but here they're twisting his words. And if they do it here, how can we trust them not to do it elsewhere? From OxBlog:

MORE ON BLAIR AND THE BBC: Patrick pointed out yesterday how the BBC was twisting Blair's words at his press conference yesterday to make him sound more power-hungry. An emailer points out that today's Telegraph uses exactly the same formulation. So, for the record, here's the complete transcript of Blair's press conference. The "appetite for power" formulation was brought up by a reporter (it doesn't say whom):

QUESTION:

At the weekend your friend and Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, said quite categorically that you would stand at the next election and serve a full third term. Was he speaking with your full authority?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well as you can see from the work that we have outlined here, there is a big job of work still to do, and my appetite for doing it is undiminished. But who the country elects is ultimately a matter for the country.

QUESTION:

Just on the broader question of the BBC, what is your attitude to how well it is doing its job at the moment, and your reaction to the comments of its Chairman about the government's attitude?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that is very tempting, but I have learnt to resist temptation.

QUESTION:

You say your appetite for power is not diminished, but will there come a point if weapons of mass destruction aren't found, where you would feel you would have to resign, because advertently or misadvertently you had misled the country? ...
From my quick skim of the transcript, it appears that Blair never said anything about his "appetite for power."

Now, this may seem like a minor quibble, but it's indicative. Like consistently mispronouncing Wolfowitz's name or selectively using scare quotes to mock certain events, it suggests an agenda at work, an agenda that the BBC is not supposed to have.

posted by JD | 4:55 PM
 

If you want your family released... turn yourself in.

US troops picked up the wife and daughter of an Iraqi lieutenant general. They left a note: "If you want your family released, turn yourself in." This really isn't good. Doesn't seem to be a lot of hoolabala about it here in the UK, though.

posted by JD | 4:51 PM
 

Bitte, mon ami. A very interesting post on the Franco-German language axis. Basically, France and Germany are teaming up to bolster both language's international importance.

posted by JD | 4:44 PM
 

Avoid confirmation bias today! Julian Sanchez recommends a good short argument in favour of glabalisation.

posted by JD | 4:37 PM
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