Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Superman, meet Clark Kent

Introducing The Saturday Feature, my other blog, which was set up for the class in features journalism I take at the London College of Printing, or as it's now known London University of the Arts (or "Arse" as I find myself malaproping) - London College of Communications.

Editing the one of the two class magazine is proving a bit stressful for me; having a dyslexic in the job may not have been the best choice. I wrote the first of my two articles last night, on the the Chinese takeaway that delivers itself, the walking, breathing snakehead fish. I'll do the second one tonight, which involves taking Niall Ferguson outside for a serious statistical knife-fight over Colossus.

The Pink Line?

Gavin thinks I've gone pink. Pink is girly, like Barbie. Pink likes nice fluffy bunny-wunnys, and wants to be nice to everyone. I'm black and I'm proud, and barring any more screw-ups with the Blogger templates, black like the Fudo, the Japanese god of order and justice, ready to burn away the obstacles to enlightenment.


Update 1: Fixed broken links

Tomorrow, time permitting, I had planned to go to a talk on climate change given by the New Economics Foundation, who got such a respectful write-up from me recently.

They have just published a new report on energy policy, which I have glanced over. Given my amazement at the incompetence of the last one they produced, I was amazed to find a big write up by the FT's Carola Hoya in Friday's Science features, taking their arguments about the cost of solar and the level of subsidy for fossil fuels seriously. I'll write to my mate there enclosing the relevant post.

But the funny thing about the meeting is that I just know that everyone is to be encouraged to use public transport - but those nice people from the RMT union have a strike tomorrow and will shut down the tube, so I can't travel all the way across London to get there.

One reason I live where I do is that the Docklands Light Railway, the only tube line built under Maggie, runs automatically without any guards, drivers or station staff, such was the justified concern with union power.

But, there's more! My hero is appearing at the Friends Meeting House; Since it's hosted by the Quakers, I suppose that means there'll be no violence, no matter how obnoxious I get?

Monday, June 28, 2004

Green With Hatred

Normally, I wouldn't give an interview with someone describing themselves as "radical feminist" much time, but I thought this interview with Betsey Hartmann in the New Scientist raised some interesting points and gave some startling information. Like Lomborg, she seems to have come to a critique of environmentalism as a paleo-conservative ideology, but goes beyond him to condemn it as taking common ground with the far-right, and as an excuse for militarism, authoritarianism and indifference towards the third-world. The whole interview is worth a read, if only for accessing some new ideas.

Highlights include her criticism of Robert Kaplan and the military for emphasising the security risk from environmental degredation, and highlighting links between prominent neo-Malthusians, including Paul Ehrlich, with unsavory characters of the far-right, including psychologist Kevin MacDonald, a character witness for David Irving at his 2000 trial against Penguin and a collaborator with eugenicist Richard Lynn

Her arguments remind me of what I remember of Germaine Greer's book "Sex and Destiny", which I read as a teenager in the desperate hope that it contained something at least slightly stimulating in the pornography-famine that was nineteen-eighties Ireland.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

More Dempsey

Since the teaser Irish Times article in May, the launch of the book has seen George Dempsey back on the Irish airwaves. This week, he has done a radio interview with David McWilliams, stepped back into the arena at Questions and Answers. The Irish-American Irish Echo has also taken note. Discussion on the Irish Anti-War [although only if the Americans are winning] Movement comment threads would tend to prove his point. It'll be interesting to read the reviews in the Irish newspapers.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Socialist Modernisation in Progress

I'm playing around with the template, to see if I can get more out of Blogger rather than moving to MT. So far, it's not very successful.


I very rarely give into the temptation to by a hardback book, but I've succumbed to the charms of Niall Ferguson's Colossus. The last one I bought was Robert Shiller's New Financial Order, which Dr Ferencz has recently borrowed; maybe he'll get around to writing about it on the new, and so far completely blank, blog that I set up for him.

Looking for One Thing and Finding Another

I went looking this morning for the homepage of Kent Smetters of Wharton, the co-author of the "45 trillion dollar black hole" paper Niall Ferguson mentions in Colossus as signifying the eventual withdrawal of the "American empire" (his phrase, and definitely not mine).

I was looking to see was his model available online - it wasn't. However, I did find what looks like a very interesting, and non-technical paper on insurance mechanisms to protect against terrorism, a subject I've written on before in posts here and here.

Having tried to contact TerrorBet, it seems that they are no longer in operation; I doubt whether a betting exchange as they have planned would work as a practical informaton mechanism, as there would probably not be the business to justify infrastructure cost. Neither can I see what seems to be a business with no real derivatives knowledge or financial strength leaping in to intermediate between the larger institutions.

A Little Light Reading

In Borders tonight, sipping a latte and browsing the magazine rack. My date to go see a movie fell through, so I had a fairly quiet evening instead.

Prospect #100 cover

I grabbed the current issue of Prospect, which has a competition to nominate five of Britain's top public intellectuals. Nothing in it grabbed me very much though, even with a CD of the 100 best articles published since they began.

The New Statesman had an article by Gavin on broadband in Norn Irn, which sounded like some very New Labour initiative to co-opt and smother civil society by bringing together charities, state employees and a few big companies with some minister. I haven't read it yet (it does prejudice one so) but I'll comment when I do. Someone is probably putting the finishing touches to www.kill-all-taigs.com at this very moment.

I heard from a friend of mine today that a Labour hack, very much in the Derek Draper mold, whom both of us know, has been given a senior regulatory position in the UK civil service. We ascribed this to flagrant piece of political jobbery.

However, I did find two really fascinating books. I was really startled to see one by Joe Stiglitz called Whither Socialism?, a transcript of a lecture series published in 1994. In it he laid out shortcomings, based on his sophisticated technical work on the economics of information, some of which I adapted for my undergraduate dissertation, of neo-classical theories of general equilibrium, competition and welfare economics and made extended comments on the practicalities of managing transition economies, including China.

I also found a collection of classic papers by another Nobel laureate, Ronald Coase, which includes those on his eponymic theorem in a simple verbal form, namely that in a "Spherical Cow" world, social costs of producton, given perfect competition, no transactions costs and allocation of property rights, social costs of production will be the same as the private costs. I hadn't read anything in this area before, although I've come across invocations of it in my reading on energy and environmental issues, where carbon taxes or permits are justified as an attempt to capture the costs of CO2 emissions to humanity.

Over time, I might be fundamentally changing how I think, and coming to integrate my social and political world-view with the model-building and testing methods I learn from financial economics. Regardless, most of what I write here could be done much better by some of the bloggers on my blogroll above.

Blog MacNuggets

Words of wisdom, from Rec.humor.funny

"Politics is the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich by promising to protect each from the other."

These shorter posts seem to suit me - maybe I just can't make a sustained effort because I have a short attention sp

Friday, June 25, 2004

The Economist Shines a Light on Bertie

The Economist's Charlemagne column (sub required, I think, so email me if you want me to send it to you) handicaps the possible candidates for the European Commission presidency. They opine that
If Mr Ahern looks in the mirror, the answer stares him in the face. The Irish prime minister comes from the centre-right and has burnished his reputation during the Irish presidency. The French might hesitate about a candidate who does not speak their language and is close to Mr Blair, but they recognise that at least Mr Ahern has dealt fairly with them. Bertie, as he is always known, seems genuinely reluctant to swap Dublin for Brussels. But he might find it hard to resist a concerted effort to draft him. Chairing the meeting that ends in his being dragged to the EU's top job might be a fitting end to an eventful presidency.
I still think that the Dick Cheny solution is unlikely, but then I blithely predicted Bush would never adopt the Irish approach of treating the constitution as a blackboard and support a gay-marriage amendment three days before he actually did.

Dempsey Comes Out Fighting

He's angry and he's just launched his book. George Dempsey's From the Embassy was launched last night with the support of the vigorous Irish free-market think-tank, the Open Republic Institute, which is off to a flying start under the direction of Paul MacDonnell, Moore MacDowell and others.

Owing to pressure of business, I had to stay in London, much to my chagrin and couldn't beg for a ticket to the launch. However, I've got the book, and I will post my comments and an evaluation here shortly.

The infamous Questions and Answers programme on 17th September 2001, when he was barracked by some of the audience can be seen on the RTE website, if you have RealPlayer. I'll try and format this into a file format that can be posted online as and when I can.

They Distort, He Derides...

Scott Burgess points to a correction by the Gruaniad of its report on Bjorn Lomborg's returning to academia (see below). According to the Daily Ablution, which seems to be able to scrub away any whitewash, the mention on the decision against Lomborg by the Danish Commission on Scientific Dishonesty may have been added to the original AP wire story by the Guardian themselves.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Playing the World's Smallest Violin...Just for Them

I've been criticised in the past for being a boring old stick - so now here's some celebrity news, to spice up all those dull statistics.

Imran and Jemima

Dim bulb beautiful people and A-list socialites Imran Khan and his wife of nine years, Jemima nee Goldsmith are to divorce, with "friends of Jemima" reporting that irreconcileable cultural differences, played a big part in the breakup.

Like her brother, she combines photogenic good looks, massive wealth (that Daddy made cutting down trees, not hugging them) and ideas as thick as a Dublin paving slab. According to a recent Guardian interview
Goldsmith is not opposed to growth or to business. His great beef, he says, is the marauding, modern global version of capitalism that is taking over the planet via the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation, allowing huge corporations to plunder and lay waste to the world's resources, further impoverishing developing countries and effectively keeping them in permanent bondage without them ever being able to catch up.
Obviously, he's an acute observer of the world scene; Only today, I was thinking about how little progress the Chinese have been making in their push towards economic growth.

Having renounced her sinful ways for the path of Islam and married life in Pakistan, regular admonishments by Jemima towards our western prejudices have been appearing in the British newspapers.

In 2002 she wrote to the Guardian
The fact that there is a third generation of Palestinian children now growing up in refugee camps is a tragedy we must try to do something about
Well, I'd agree, but perhaps we might first ask the Egyptians, Kuwaitis and Saudis to let their oppressed brothers settle in their countries? Or better the lot of the refugees in Lebanon by pressing the government there to give them citizenship and let them leave their squalid camps to participate in the Lebanese economy. Maybe some true friends, ignoring the rejection of Carter's Camp David accord in the seventies and the scorning of Clinton’s negotiations in 2000, will urge acceptance by Yasser Arafat of the push for compromise by both President Mubarak and Prince Abdullah.

The Guardian backpeddled after she published an op-ed on the Palestine issue. She began with no more than the usual idiocy to be found in the paper, commenting in relation to the televised death of Muhammad al-Durra

I watched this scene on several news channels and all reported that the boy was caught in crossfire. This was blatantly untrue and the captured images showed clearly that the firing was one-sided and unprovoked.
James Fallows dissects this thoery in an investigation in the Atlantic Monthly.

More controversial was her comment
The media are largely controlled by the Jews, as is Hollywood and they account for more than half the top policy-making jobs in the Clinton administration.
Even the Guardian furiously packpedalled at this.
There were remarks in this article which were quite understandably construed as anti-semitic. They caused offence not only to a large number of readers but to people inside the paper who also complained
Apparently, in a typically brilliant piece of sub-editing by the Grauniad
The deputy editor, who saw the article before publication, gave an instruction for a passage which included these remarks to be taken out. Somehow it was left in.

Her near-death experience when a mentally-ill man siezed the controls on a BA jumbo didn't inspire any great sympathetic outrage for the victims of 9-11.
Military strikes on Afghanistan will not prevent something this terrible from happening again, for the simple reason that bombs will not deter people who are unafraid of death and desire martyrdom.

Whatever else she inheritied from her old man, business acumen definitely wasn't included, judging by her business going under in the midst of a dramatic turnaround in Pakistan's economy after the end of sanctions.

This all goes to reinforce my suspicion that an inherited fortune is the worst possible birth defect.

The Sceptical Environmentalist Vanishes



The Guardian rewrites history

The Guardian reports (and good riddance too, it doesn't need to add) that Bjorn Lomborg, controversial author of The Skeptical Environmentalist and instigator of the Copenhagen Consensus project has resigned as director of the Danish Institute for Environmental Assessment to return to academia - the press release is online here. The Grauniad says: But he was found guilty last year of "scientific dishonesty" by a Danish panel which said his work was one-sided, selective and at variance with "good scientific practice".
One panel member said he had crossed the divide between controversial but competent science and "unrepentant incompetence".

After a year-long investigation, the panel said his book suffered from "such perversion of the scientific message in the form of systematically biased representation that the objective criteria for upholding scientific dishonesty have not been met".
With its usual brilliant attention to detail, the paper neglects to mention the subsequent reversal of that verdict to vindicate Lomborg. Well, accidents will happen!

"We distort, you decide!" seems to be the order of the day in Farringdon Road these days.

Link courtesy of the ever-excellent Mr. Scott Burgess, aspiring Guardian writer!

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Sacre Bleu!

French Guard
I'm French! Why do think I have this outrageous
accent, you silly king-a?!

What Monty Python Character are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

The Anti-War Movement on the March

Jon Ihle asks Can anyone recall when another 100 person protest received such prominent national coverage?

Well, it's probably the best effort mounted by the Irish anti-war movement so far this year. I was amused to see on an Indymedia.ie story this photo of the "Mary Kelly Support Group", which shows the people of Galway staying away in droves.

Mary Kelly Support Group stand in Galway

In their defense though, I think there may be another person hidden from view behind the Grim Reaper, although they may be one of the revolutionary vanguard themselves.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Bertie Goes to Brussels?

Political conventional wisdom holds that all political careers end in failure. Now, they seem to end up in Brussels, the cushiest of retirement homes for those who get thrashed at the polls - Neil Kinnock and Chris Patten spring to mind.

According to this morning's Irish Times, our own Taoiseach is "emerging as the leading compromise candidate..."

Compromised he certainly is, after the Bertie Bowl fiasco, electoral losses to Sinn Fein and general fumbling in government. Nevertheless, the European constitution process played to his undoubted strength, the reserve and unegotistical approach he takes to define a solution that allows those holding divided positions to feel that they have at least had an influence, if not everything they would want.I think that he'd make a good job of keeping everyone together, but probably a bad manager of the shambolic bureaucracy.

Whether he gets it is another question entirely. The Irish Times story, telling in classic Machiavellian style of a man reluctantly yielding to his supporters' urgings to accept a promotion, hasn't been repeated elsewhere in the world press, probably because his brother Dermot Ahern, reputed to be Ireland's most media-savvy politician, doesn't have the phone numbers for Le Monde and FAZ.

FAZ doesn't mention Bertie as a contender at all, in this story from yesterday.

Le Monde throws cold water on the idea:
Ireland's Bertie Ahern is mentioned just as often. For his part, he knows he has plenty of support, but says that he isn't interested. He would be vulnerable to a French veto for the same reason as Chris Patten: he hasn't mastered the language of Molière.
Many people think he still hasn't mastered the language of Yeats and Shaw either, but maybe he'll be doing some hurried revision with the Linguaphone this week.

Peter 笔德

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Holding his Footnotes to the Fire

The Age of Consent

Update 1: Added direct quote from TAOC in paragraph 8, history of the Eurodollar market and added more to the last sentence of the article

Whatever about the contents of the main body of the book, I just loved the footnotes of George Monbiot's The Age of Consent; by now, I've read more of them than of the text itself, much of which seems to be a reprint of his previous Guardian columns.

Zoologist he may be, but one animal he doesn't understand is homo economicus. I've written before on his enthusiastic endorsement of the mud-pie economics offered by Bernard Lietaer in his work on interest rates and discounting. Even as an amateur journalist, I'm wondering why, in footnotes 82 and 83 of the paperback, he is quoting some particularly eccentric sources, namely Frank Liu of the Asian Times online "newspaper" (on whom more later) and the London-based New Economics Foundation, which seems to think of itself as the razor-sharp intellectual spear-point of the Indymedia crowd.

The NEF published a twenty page analysis called The United States as a HIPC - how the poor are financing the rich, reporting that
the US pays only $20bn per annum to service this debt, while poor countries are crippled by more than $300bn in debt service payments
highlighting what appears to be a clear case of those American bastards screwing the third world, yet again.

However, their statistics don't seem as firm as they should be. While the NEF reports that America pays debt service of USD 20 billion a year (page 13, footnote 29). For some reason, the source cited for this figure isn't the Fed or other estimates, but a transcript of testimony by C. Fred Bergsten of the Institute for International Economics before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs in May 2002. The problem is that these figures are not gross, i.e. the interest paid, but NET of foreign income: It isn't clear from the speech, but this is probably the net factor income from abroad component of the national income accounts.
Over the longer run, they mean that we will pay rising annual amounts of debt service to the rest of the world with a consequent decline in our national income. These payouts are surprisingly small so far, amounting to only about $14 billion in 2001, because foreign investment by Americans yields a substantially higher return than foreigners' investments here. However, the numbers are clearly negative and will become substantially larger over time.
However, the Fed's Z1 report "Flow of Funds of the United States", published l0th June, shows (page 21, Table F.106, row 14) shows the annualised interest payments on debts of the Federal government as accruing at an annual rate of USD 215.8 billion, showing a trifling eleven-fold underestimation by the NEF of the payment amount, implying an average annual interest rate of 5.27% on the reported USD 4,100 billion of debt held by the public (page two).

So, the NEF is giving the wrong debt service figures, chosen from an unusually indirect source rather than the published statistics, either through ignorance or willful falsification.

Monbiot compounds this by an apparent error in quoting the reports when he says: "...dollar reserves must be invested in assets in the United States". Since when did dollars have to be invested onshore in the US? Some detailed research i.e. opening any textbook and most newspapers would acquaint him with the Eurodollar market where dollars are held offshore, predominantly to avoid restrictions including financial sanctions. This market took its name from the telex address of the Paris branch of Moscow Narodny Bank, which began depositing its dollars with European banks during the Korean War, and took off after the Kennedy administration tried to cap deposit rates, leading to leakage of funds into to the stateless Euromarket.

The NEF is NOT telling of any official IMF policy or rule forcing developing countries to hold dollars - as opposed to any currency, be it Euros, Swissies, Sterling, gold or whatever. While the comment on page three would support this - "forced holdings of high levels of dollar reserves" - they elaborate later on (page 12) - "All countries hold reserves, usually short term liabilities of one of the major reserve currencies, most often the US Dollar".

Country by country data is often a closely-guarded secret, at least in the short-term to protect trading positions, or otherwise is only published at the national level, so I am still looking for aggregated data. The closest I've come seems to be in the Bank for International Settlements Annual Report 2003, Table V.1, page 86, http://www.bis.org/publ/ar2003e.htm, showing the following figures:

Total reserves USD 2,395.2 billion
Dollar reserves USD 1,751.4 billion
Non-dollar reserves USD 643.8 billion

so globally roughly 27% of reserves are held outside the US dollar. I'll report more data as and when I get it for a clearer picture.

That doesn't alter the fact that Monbiot has written something directly contradicting his sources. At least Jayson Blair could blame booze and coke and Philip Glass had a vivid imagination, but why should this bullshit be published? I suppose that a profession willing to give Andrew Gilligan a second chance doesn't hold itself to very high ethical standards. Or maybe it's just another British craft industry like coal-mining or ship-building where the workers won't take any responsibility for their output.

Peter 笔德

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Oil: Peak or Plenty?

The oil discussion group I've been talking about for so long is now up and taking baby steps. Anyone who's interested can come read and post at the site http://www.the-organization.com/oil.

There is also amailing list you can subscribe to here. I moderate (or should that be "I extreme"?) this list.

See my previous posts on the "dollar standard" theory of the Iraq war here and here, on the low standards of debate over environmental issues here, and comments on Gavin's relaying a "peak oil" article here and come join in if you think you're hard enough.

Me and My Environment

One thing which is significantly different from what I was used to growing up in Dublin is just the sheer density of people here. Limehouse is probably equivalent to a much more urban setting in Dublin - maybe the Quays - than the leafy cul-de-sacs of Glenageary. One of my main reasons for choosing to be here in Docklands though is that the river and the canal network creates some kind of geography, avoiding the numbing sprawl of some other places I've lived, particularly in east London.

As you can see from the photo of the view from my bedroom below, I live smack in the middle of some of East London's major transport infrastructure. The road running left to right, where the black cab, van and hatchback are queuing between the traffic lights, is the narrow, one lane entrance that funnels the traffic into the Rotherhite Tunnel, going underneath the Thames to Canada Water.

As you can imagine, the difficulties of maneuvering into a tight space brings out the famous English reserve and politeness in London drivers; when the mood strikes me, I can stand on high like a Roman Emperor surveying gladitorial contests, as they square off and scream threats and insults. Behind the platforms of Limehouse Docklands Light Railway station (daily 5.30am to 12.30am) lies the mainline from Fenchurch Street station to Essex (train horns every 5 minutes during peak times).

The greenery reaching to the sky originates in a bizarrely-sited garden centre leaning against the station. High walls and coiled razor wire surround this botanical Alcatraz. Through the arches of the railway bridge lies the crossroads with Commercial Road, where the traffic lights, like the moral precepts of the Church of England, seem to be fairly indicative guides to behavior.

Children of God

I came across this article on eugenics in Germany, linked from the National Review, which I rarely read, unless I'm insomniac and desperate.

But in a way, the goals of the German scientists and the Nazi Reich began to make a certain natural moral sense to the population. Loath as we are to admit it, we also have a natural aversion to disability.
I grew up next to a major care centre for the mentally-handicapped, run by the St. John of God's order in Glenageary, so seeing their charges come to and from the station was an everyday sight. One thing which strikes me then and now is how much people hold them in contempt, and my own reactions are not something I'm proud of either.

When the Holocaust is such a part of everyday conversation, why is there virtually no common knowledge or discussion of the Nazi gassings of the mentally-ill and handicapped that was the pilot project for the Final Solution? I'm not sure that if something similar was happening today that anyone, apart from victim's relatives, the Catholic church and other religious, would object.

Peter 笔德

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Forthcoming Attractions

Colossus by Niall Ferguson

Why am I going to bed with a smile on my face tonight? Tomorrow evening, I'm off to see that Jamie Oliver of the historical world, Professor Niall Ferguson of Harvard Business School at the IEA. I've watched his TV program and read parts of the book. Interestingly, he used to share a house with my favourite Guardian columnist too.

I've read quickly through bits of the new book. While he's more empirical than most commentators, I find it has much of the flavour of an opinion piece in a good American magazine and not very deeply-reasoned. I'm also not too impressed with some of his use of statistics, such as comparing stock returns of Wal-Mart to that of Halliburton as a measure of the later's "insider" status with the current administration. Neither does his interpretation of the report by one of Paul O'Neil's juniors as implying imminent collapse of the Treasury bond market carry a ring of authority either.

Anyway, the talk is on Economics, Religion and the End of Europe. I will post a summary as soon as I can, but I'm sure Frank and Gavin will have diverging views on this too.

Peter 笔德

I didn't think so either

I just took the hippy test, which didn't throw up any surprises.

What? Am I a Republican? Why did I even bother taken this test?! I guess I’ll back to my George W. Bush fan club and tell them I just wasted 10 minutes of my life. At least I don’t stink, man.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Yet more on the Oil Story

Gavin is thinking about oil, which is fortunate, because so am I. I would take issue with the article from the Washington Montly he posted.

My riposte needs tons more data to be anything near effective, so this is a draft of one to start with. Like the story linked by Gavin, it's a piece of Sunday newspaper economics, a plausible story around a limited number of facts, with little theory and not much empirical support.

First, the shortfall in investment has been predicted. The IEA has been writing for the last five years that the cash-strapped and hidebound OPEC states need to open up to foreign investment go get more of their oil out of the ground. Progress on this has been slow and painful, with Exxon pulling out of talks with the Saudis after several years of dickering.

Second, spare capacity has been declining for a logical reason, namely that it was built by mistake. The producers got it wrong and built up to meet their overoptimistic forecasts of demand. It's convenient to have this spare capacity, mostly concentrated in Saudi, because it can be maintained as a weapon to enforce monopoly power by threat of price war. In a perfectly competitive market, where every producer is a price-taker, none would rationally build this extra production capacity. So, perhaps this is a sign that the oil market, with Russia resurging and new capacity coming on in Africa and Asia, OPEC faces a more competitive market.

Third, American military policy remains that anyone threatening the Saudi oil fields gets a big smack, which is pretty much unchanged since FDR and Ibn Saud first tied up the alliance. Remember how Iraq got whacked for trying? As Iran did in the eighties for threatening shipping in the Gulf? If you want someone to blame, go for Roosevelt. His successors, have had the same policy, and LBJ, Nixon, Reagan and Bush 41 have all used military force, given aid to their allies or made threats.

Fourth, oil demand is quite sensitive to both the state of the economy and the price of oil itself. America uses about 25% of the world’s oil output, 13% goes to motor fuel and about 1% to aviation, according to the IEA (Monthly oil market report, 12 May 2004, tables 1 and 3). If the fuel costs go up, both can be quite reactive – people will do less driving and then buy more fuel efficient cars when they next switch, probably within two to three years at most, and air travel will be cut back. This is probably the key to balancing the market, I expect, but it should be based on an analysis of the statistics, not sweeping generalisations.

As for petrol queues – when the late Mr Reagan abolished price controls on oil, the gas lines disappeared. This was simple common sense in action – once the price was unconstrained, supply was no longer withheld.

The previous oil crises did occur around the time of major recessions. The rule of thumb (reported in an FT article that’s on my office desk but not here at home) is that every $10 to the oil price means a 0.5% fall in growth. With US GDP growth at 4.4% year-on-year in Q1 ’04, a rise to $100 dollar/bbd would be serious but hardly fatal. The oil weapon has been brandished so often that the sensitivity, certainly in Europe, America and Japan, to it is somewhat diminished.

As for this finally being the crunch point, I remain to be convinced. As I’ve said above, almost all energy scholars refute the peak oil thesis, which seems to have a serious following only among quite fringe parts of the environmentalist movement. Note also that the interests who would benefit most from having this widely believed, namely oil producers who would benefit from high prices and slower depletion aren’t pushing this line, having been very hard by over-aggressive price forecasts in the eighties.

I have a problem with the WM article, and efforts in a similar vein, namely that journalists, especially the Yale English grads who write for these limp-wristed East Coast, Ivy League, liberal club magazines don't really know very much about the hard disciplines that should be the foundation of analysis of the energy market or have the practical experience of involvement and decision-making. Geology is one such discipline and my own field of economics another. In particular, the latter would dismiss these attempts at prediction without reporting data and testing them carefully. In the case of this article, the complete absence of a model which involves some research time and good reporting, which I think is lacking in the WM’s piece.

As a rule of thumb, I generally find that most of the economic analysis in the media is seriously and fundamentally flawed, which is why I try to go deeper and use different sources. I’d recommend anyone who can reads Paul Krugman’s excellent book “Pop Internationalism” for a more detailed analysis in the context of the debate on international trade and “competitiveness”.

Yours journalistically,

Peter 笔德

Friday, June 04, 2004

Jobs for the Persons

Queen of Diamonds

The Guardian advertised for trainee journalists this week. I spent about fourteen hours of my free time today to completing the lengthy application form, writing a total of some 6,100 words in answer to a total of 25 essay-style questions, which I presume will be used to evaluate the applicants' writing abilities as well as their experiences. I really can't explain WHY I wasted all this nice day , when I am tied up all weekend, to try to persuade a newspaper that I read only so that I can snipe at it on this blog to hire me. Then an analogy struck me: I think I must have been brainwashed by some dark conspiracy to destroy the paper as a Manchurian Candidate (or perhaps a Mancunian candidate in this case?). You had better not show me any playing cards or I might get violent!

Incidentally, a remake, starring Denzel Washington, of the movie of Richard Condon's brilliant book is coming to our screens shortly. According to the trailer, the villian now seems to be something called the Manchuria Corporation, reflecting today's Naomi Klein/George Monbiot anti-capitalist paranoia.

Is the studio being ironic, suggesting that we are being trapped in irrational MacCarthyite hysteria, which prevents us from understanding a power which is not a threat to us and with whom there will eventually be a warm entente? Somehow, I don't think so. Who do the scriptwriters think makes these movies? Maoist collectives? Amish community gatherings?

The advert seems to be looking for somebody quite different from me. For a start,
Applicants will come from a wide range of backgrounds and will be able to demonstrate an interest in public or community affairs through voluntary work, political campaigning, public debating, social work or other related activity. Applicants will have shown their interest in journalism through writing, broadcasting, cartooning, webcasting or news or feature photography for public dissemination.

So, it seems that they're looking for the young idealistic types who've spent the last year after finishing a third class degree in sociology battling to save the greater spotted toilet-bowl fungus from extinction at the hands of evil corporate interests tied to Halliburton and starting long, argumentative threads about the sacred cause at Indymedia. So, they're basically looking to train the next generation of statistically-challenged crackpot activist/journalists. Am I the only one who thinks there's something wrong with having these pressure group groupies from the NGO world, with their publicity-seeking hysteria, given preferential treatment in access to media jobs? Aren't newspapers supposed to filter facts and opinions? Otherwise isn't it taking the fox in the henhouse? On the same principle, why not just have politicians and businesses write stories about themselves in the same way or nominate the people who do?

The ad also specifies that:
Candidates must be fluent in English and at least one other language, including but not limited to foreign languages, computer languages, English dialects or the vocabulary of music, art or science.
Good, I'm sure I'd find myself conducting interviews and penning articles in C++ or Visual Basic. I listed Chinese and French as my two languages, but I could have suggested my Dublin accent instead by the look of things.

Then, why describe other special expertise as being a language, rather than a skill? It's an unusual usage, particularly strange to see from a newspaper.

The vague promise of future prospects looks positively Clintonian,
Successful completion of the training scheme may lead to an opportunity within GNL
with the probability of a job after performing well, the opportunity to be offered (office cleaner?) and employer (is GNL only the newspaper or some other, random operating company?) lost among weasely evasion.

Final date for receipt of all applications: Friday 4th June 2004

Like any good journalist (you wish!) I thrive on working to deadlines, so I dispatched this at 23:45 on Friday night, which I would regard as being before the deadline, albeit by a slim margin.

I'd put my chances of them grasping the viper to their breat by calling me to interview is very low, and zero if they come to read my scribbling here.

Has anyone else, apart from Scott Burgess actually applied for this?

Peter ??

Jobs in America

Three months in a row of strong jobs growth in the US, according to today's Bureau of Labor Statistics release of the most widely followed-indicator.
Nonfarm payroll employment rose by 248,000 in May
What can I say? How do I get into the nonfarm business?

Maybe if the CAP gets taken behind the barn and hit hard with an axe, Europe can have lots of nonfarm jobs too, maybe?

Peter 笔德

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Blessed are the Cheesemakers...

Life of Brian
The People's Front of Judea, or is it the Judean People's Front?

Spectator I: I think it was "Blessed are the cheesemakers".
Bearded Man's Wife: Aha, what's so special about the cheesemakers?
Bearded Man: Well, obviously it's not meant to be taken literally; it refers to any manufacturers of dairy products.
Recently, I was indulging in a bit of irony tourism at the Irish indymedia site's hilarious coverage of a noted Irish "peace activist":

Mary Kelly, an Irish nurse and mother of four, peacefully disarmed a USAF warplane in Shannon on Jan 29th 2003 by taking a hatchet to the nose-cone installation.
So, to paraphrase the noble words of Isiah (2:4),
"..they shall beat their swords into hatchets...and nation shall not peacefully disarm nation..."
Those of us who read Blog Irish will recall that Mary has a somewhat ecletic group of friends, and at the time of the celebrated siege of Bethlehem, had to make her apologies for not turning up to collect an award - named after a man convicted of gun-running for Ireland's best-known internationally-active NGO - at a gala dinner for supporters of Republican Sinn Fein and the Continuity IRA, as reported at the time in the Indo media.

Another story, from activist Fintan Lane, describes another "peaceful" action at the Phoenix Park:
At this stage a small group at the front, acting in a spirit of non-violent civil disobedience, decided to push against the Garda lines to indicate, in a symbolic way, their displeasure at the curtailment of our right to protest... As this was happening, a stick, a few crumpled beer cans, and, apparently, a bottle were hurled in the direction of the gardai by no more than three or four individuals standing well back from front line.
Maybe I'm being thick, but don't these guys seem to have a strange idea of peace?

There's more PFJ vs. JPF antics, particularly in this thread about a vote on boycotting Coca-Cola at Belfield. Deng Xiaoping famously said that it didn't matter whether the cat was black or white, as long as it caught the mice; these eejits seem to operate on the principle that it's imperative to minutely examine each fine hair of the cat to decide what colour it is, never mind catching the mice.

Peter 笔德

Coming soon!

  • Comments on the FPC report "The Beijing Consensus"

  • Review of Mark Little's Turn Left at Greenland

  • My little climate model

  • More thoughts on Lomborg

  • Intellectual Self-Abuse at the New Statesman

    Rising Tide by Mark Lynas

    Another second-order review, in which your humble blogger reviews a review of a book he hasn't yet read...

    The current New Statesman has a review by Will Self of a new book by climate change activist Mark Lynas. The book seems, on quick inspection, to be a backbacker's guide to global warming, with observations from places around the world - the Chinese dustbowl, the Arctic, the Peruvian Andes - where changing conditions may be attributable to global warming.

    Our Willy lacerates the IPCC, leaving its credibility in tatters:
    I don't doubt that it's going to happen and I confidently expect that the forecasts of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will be shown up as overly optimistic...

    Devastating wild-card factors, such as the so-called "methane burp" and the possible stalling or even stopping of the Gulf Stream - as envisaged in this year's timely disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow - are left out of the mix.

    The idea of states trading "carbon credits" for the right to continue producing emissions is as fatuous as the notion that planting new-growth woodland (or even crops) can vitiate the depredations of grubbing out aboriginal forests
    So it seems that Bill has taken up cudgels against the notorious deniers. No doubt those mere scientists at the IPCC will never recover from this mauling, coming as it is from one of London's most-respected restaurant critics.

    I suppose it's good that this book (which is much more sensible than the review) inspires Will to take action. Maybe, in future, he'll only buy smack off dealers who invest in carbon offset of their drug mules' CO2 emissions during air travel.

    Peter 笔德