August 30, 2008


1.  Human waste used by 200 million farmers as fertillizer.  The number seems low to me - problematic but a huge opportunity that someone is hopefully working on.

2.  Obligatory political filter #1:  This is a good and, I think correct, observation from Peggy Noonan:
Another problem with the Michelle speech. In order to paint both her professional life and her husband's, and in order to communicate what she feels is his singular compassion, she had to paint an America that is darker, sadder, grimmer, than most Americans experience their country to be. And this of course is an incomplete picture, an incorrectly weighted picture. Sadness and struggle are part of life, but so are guts and verve and achievement and success and hardiness and…triumph. Democrats always get this wrong. Republicans get it wrong too, but in a different way.

Democrats in the end speak most of, and seem to hold the most sympathy for, the beset-upon single mother without medical coverage for her children, and the soldier back from the war who needs more help with post-traumatic stress disorder. They express the most sympathy for the needy, the yearning, the marginalized and unwell. For those, in short, who need more help from the government, meaning from the government's treasury, meaning the money got from taxpayers.

Who happen, also, to be a generally beset-upon group.

Democrats show little expressed sympathy for those who work to make the money the government taxes to help the beset-upon mother and the soldier and the kids. They express little sympathy for the middle-aged woman who owns a small dry cleaner and employs six people and is, actually, day to day, stressed and depressed from the burden of state, local and federal taxes, and regulations, and lawsuits, and meetings with the accountant, and complaints as to insufficient or incorrect efforts to meet guidelines regarding various employee/employer rules and regulations. At Republican conventions they express sympathy for this woman, as they do for those who are entrepreneurial, who start businesses and create jobs and build things. Republicans have, that is, sympathy for taxpayers. But they don't dwell all that much, or show much expressed sympathy for, the sick mother with the uninsured kids, and the soldier with the shot nerves.

Neither party ever gets it quite right, the balance between the taxed and the needy, the suffering of one sort and the suffering of another. You might say that in this both parties are equally cold and equally warm, only to two different classes of citizens.
3.  Obligatory political filter #2:  As I've said before I've got no dog in this fight, but McCain's choice of Palin . . . . wow.  I know nothing about her save what I've heard on NPR in the last 24 hours but am I right in reading this as a completely calculated political decision (and the jury is still very much out on whether or not it will prove to be a good one)?  I buy into the reasoning that says what the VP choice does best is tell us how a candidate makes important decisions and this one seems to say that McCain is shooting dice and not necessarily concerned about having someone in the wings to run the country if need be.  I'm not asking him to remove political calculations from the mix I just didn't expect it to be present to the apparent exclusion of every other mitigating factor.  Aside:  one of the first things I did this morning while listening to the news was try to find out if there are any precedents for VP nominees withdrawing from candidacy - Thomas Eagleton was the only one I could find, any others?

4.  I missed it in the busyness of moving but apparently the FDA approved irradiation of spinach and lettuce - here's some analysis

August 28, 2008

Bad Teeth Per Person

Lots to catch up on but this new addition to Gapminder World needs to be passed on:
We have added a new indicator: “bad teeth per person” (you find it under “health” in the Gapminder World).
Here we have plotted “bad teeth per person” against “income per person”.  Is dental problems worst in the richest or the poorest countries?  There actually seem to be a tendency for the dental problems to be larger in the middle income countries, while the population in the richest and poorest countries have somewhat better teeth.
“Bad teeth per person” show how many decayed, missing or filled teeth an average 12 year old has in each country. The technical term of the indicator is DFMT for 12-years old and the data is taken from the WHO. We have unfortunatly only data for one year. Note that the data in many cases are actually based on estimates for earlier years.  
Why is Saudi Arabia so high I wonder?  Their BTPP is almost twice as high as the next highest Middle-Eastern nation.  They have a high number of medical doctors and at least average health expenditure per capita.  Is there something culturally that would account for an aversion to dentistry or maybe something in (or not in) the diet that would lend itself to bad teeth?

Up for Air

Still settling in and getting the feel of our new place and new city.  For those who find themselves in a similar position here is a little tip from my recent observations - if you're wondering where the trendy hipster-doofus  areas of town are keep your eyes open for recumbent bikes (you'll also want to keep an eye out for them so you don't kill their riders).  Knowledge for life.

We finally got our dsl service turned on last night, so now I can stop hovering around the windows trying to catch a whiff of a neighbors open network (shout out to "gcourtney"), but I'm sure that any parents in the area have already warned their children to stay away from the strange man who's always poised ominously behind the window shades.

August 17, 2008

Occasionally Music: Context Clues

On the road with all of our worldly goods behind us in boxes.  Really tired.

August 10, 2008


Nice to see Africa getting some lovin' from news aggregation site Alltop.  Pointer and backstory from Erik Hersman.


1.  This is a pretty good article on the evolving symbiotic relationship between Botswana and DeBeers, including this, which I had forgotten about:
Practically from the start, it entered into a 50-50 joint venture with the government; about a decade ago, it also sold the government a 15 percent stake in the company. (De Beers has only two other shareholders: the South African-based Oppenheimer family, which has controlled the company for over 100 years, and the publicly traded Anglo-American Corporation.)
2.  The latest research in the debate over the nutritional value of organic vs. conventional food seems to point to a draw.  Just glance down the "related stories" column to see the give and take in this one over the years.  I'm not sure that this sentence at the beginning of the article is true however, "Many people pay more than a third more for organic food in the belief that it has more nutritional content than food grown with pesticides and chemicals."  There are undoubtedly a subset of consumers who purchase organic foods for that reason but I think the current market for organic products is driven more by "life-style consumers" who are leery of pesticides and chemicals for a plethora of reasons - ethical, moral, environmental and yes nutritional.

3.  Related:  I've had a post sitting in my draft box for about four months now on the rising cost of fertilizer inputs and the consequences of those costs in the midst of the global food crisis and proposed solutions relating to it, but it looks to be sitting there for a while longer.  So, I was glad to see this post at Global Dashboard pointing to a briefing (pdf) on the rise in select food and fertilizer prices.  Here are some figures:
Cotton - up 29%

Beverages - up 41%

Wheat - up 61%

Maize - up 108%

Rice - up 185%

Urea (a key nitrogen fertiliser) - up 160%

DAP (a major phosphate fertiliser) - up 318%    
And here is the closing paragraph that tracks with things we've said here before:
In the longer term, the paper suggests, the focus needs to be on more integrated soil fertility management with greater use of organic materials [i.e. compost and manure] together with smarter use of inorganic fertilisers - an area of work that the big agricultural research institutes like CIMMYT are already focusing on heavily. Moving towards more integrated soil fertility management already makes sense for reasons of environmental sustainability. If fertiliser prices fail to fall in the longer term, these areas of research are also going to be one of the critical front lines in feeding 10 billion of us.
4.  Related:  Will the economic bust stifle organic food?  More thoughts on a food movement not just food choices.

6.  Related:  Freedom Gardens.

August 6, 2008

Little Things Amidst a Big Thing

Apologies for the sparse posting of late.  We're in the midst of moving a few states to the right so I'm hustling to finish up a few projects before we leave town which doesn't leave a lot of time for blogging.  If it did here are a few things I would make note of:

1.  Owen correctly takes the LA Times to task for a farce of an article purporting to cover the threat of famine in Ethiopia.

2.  This is one of the best religion beat articles that I've read in quite a while, it does an admirable job of trying to explore the complexities behind the old adage, "11:00 on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week."  For those interested in the topic, two of the books and authors quoted in the piece are well worth your time - both Divided by Faith and United by Faith are worth the read.

5.  I've got a bit of the voyeur in me and I really like "secret garden" type hideaways so I'm really digging this photo set of "rich people rooftops" in NYC.  (via Kottke)

August 4, 2008

Where's the Love?

I expect this type of behavior from the Washington Post, you know they're all "in the beltway" and stuff, but come on Boston Globe, I have one of your coffee mugs!  Just go ahead and admit you read my blog!

PS - That's some really bad resolution on the Globe graphic, Wordle really needs to let you save as an image; also, the comparison between my wordle's from a month ago demonstrate how much the McCain camp has upped the rhetoric in that time.

August 2, 2008

Occasionally Music: Tighten Up

The whole thing is great but the first 30 seconds of this is one of the greatest things I've seen or heard in, I don't know, . . . . ever.

True Confessions: The President's Weekly Radio Address

I've never listened to one.  Has anybody?  

Every time I see/hear it referenced in the news it always catches my ear because it sounds so anachronistic.  How long till it's called the President's Weekly Podcast?  From what I can glean from the White House Radio page it is essentially a podcast already, you can subscribe via iTunes, with the "radio" portion existing only on the occasional all-talk AM frequency, for which they don't even maintain an up to date station listing.  Oh, by the way, if you google "the president's weekly radio address" this is the top result.

Here's a wordle of this week's address . . . . that's something right?  Any guesses on what the topic was?


August 1, 2008

TB, Loans and the IMF

An interesting pointer from the Poverty News Blog to this short article in the NYT.
The rapid rise in tuberculosis cases in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union is strongly associated with the receipt of loans from the International Monetary Fund, a new study has found.

Critics of the fund have suggested that its financial requirements lead governments to reduce spending on health care to qualify for loans. This, the authors say, helps explain the connection.

The fund strongly disputes the finding, saying the former communist countries would be much worse off without the loans.

“Tuberculosis is a disease that takes time to develop,” said William Murray, a spokesman for the fund, “so presumably the increase in mortality rates must be linked to something that happened earlier than I.M.F. funding. This is just phony science.”

The researchers studied health records in 21 countries and found that obtaining an I.M.F. loan was associated with a 13.9 percent increase in new cases of tuberculosis each year, a 13.3 percent increase in the number of people living with the disease and a 16.6 percent increase in the number of tuberculosis deaths.

The study, being published online Tuesday in the journal PLoS Medicine, statistically controlled for numerous other factors that affect tuberculosis rates, including the prevalence of AIDS, inflation rates, urbanization, unemployment rates, the age of the population and improved surveillance.

The lead author, David Stuckler, a research associate at Cambridge University, defended the study against the fund’s criticisms, noting that the researchers considered whether increased mortality might have led to more loans rather than the other way around.

Instead, they found that the increase in tuberculosis mortality followed the lending; each 1 percent increase in credit was associated with a 0.9 percent increase in mortality. And when a country left an I.M.F. loan program, mortality rates dropped by an average of 31 percent.

“When you have one correlation, you raise an eyebrow,” Mr. Stuckler said. “But when you have more than 20 correlations pointing in the same direction, you start building a strong case for causality.”
More here, from here, the report is here.  

Largo the Film

We only made it to the Largo once while we were living in Los Angeles, but it was hands down the greatest live musical experience of my life and without a doubt the "coolest" club we ever went to while living there.  So I was interested to find this trailer today of a film about the club and its regular band of performers.

We went there for a "secret" Gillian Welch and David Rawlings performance (tip of the hat to random fan site message boards) and they played alongside the Watson siblings, Jon Brion, Benmont Trench, and Greg Leisz.  They played for almost four hours, we stood up the entire time, walked out with our faces melted once it was over, bought one of those "best pieces of pizza you've ever had at 2:30 in the morning" from a dive on the corner and somehow made it home in one piece.  Here's a video from that night's show:

This Lawn is Your Lawn


Club 33

I'm on record as not being a fan of amusement parks in general but if I could hang out at a secret hidden club in the middle of the park while the rest of the folks did their thing I think I would be much more inclined to tag along.  From the Wikipedia page:
Club 33 is a private club located in the heart of the New Orleans Square section of Disneyland. Officially maintained as a secret feature of the theme park, the entrance of the club is located next to the Blue Bayou Restaurant at "33 Royal Street" with the entrance recognizable by an ornate address plate with the number 33 engraved on it. When riding Pirates of the Caribbean, just as the ride departs, the Blue Bayou restaurant is visible, but the balconies above it are actually a part of Club 33.

. . . . .

Club 33 members enjoy access to the club's exclusive restaurant and full bar. It is the only location within Disneyland to offer alcoholic beverages, though Disneyland has a park-wide liquor license and has set up bars throughout the park for private events. Club 33's wine list includes vintages priced at $200.

Club 33 members are privileged with access to the park 365 days a year. Club 33 offers individual and corporate memberships. As of February 2008 the current membership levels are Corporate Membership, Limited Corporate Membership and Gold Membership. The Silver Membership is not currently being offered. As of June 2007, the membership waiting list was 14 years, and membership closed as of April/May 2007.

Those interested in membership must send a written letter of inquiry to Disney and will receive a confirmation letter and information packet. As memberships open, potential members are informed via a letter of intent from Disney.

. . . . .

To enter Club 33, a guest must press a buzzer on an intercom concealed by a hidden panel in the doorway. (A member needs only to insert his/her membership card in a slot near the buzzer and the door will open.) A receptionist will ask for their name over the intercom and, if access is granted, open the door to a small, ornate lobby.
Photos here.  Am I the only one who has never heard of this?

Praying for Rain

I think he's confused about both the nature of prayer and the way the electoral process works.

Truth Still Stranger than Fiction: #27

The Big Picture has some incredible pictures of the Large Hadron Collider up today.  Honestly, the logistics of bringing something like this from conception into reality is so far beyond my comprehension that there is no difference between this and science fiction.  If you ran these through one of those Photoshop filters that makes things look like comic book panels and told me that it was a central part of Marvel's Secret Invasion plot by which Reed Richards was going to turn back the Skrull invasion I would completely believe it.


Friday Trailer

Sometime last week I decided that I was too old for movies like this anymore but we've been re-re-re-watching Arrested Development so I feel a residual fondness for Michael Cera.


Microfinance: The Next Subprime?

From the Financial Times:  
The world’s biggest banks risk creating a subprime-style crisis for millions of the planet’s poorest people if they continue to plough money into the booming microfinance sector, Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel laureate pioneer of microcredit, warned on Monday.

In a broadside against the increasing commercialisation of microfinance, Mr Yunus said overseas investors only served to introduce foreign exchange risks and should stay out of the sector.

“If you build it up that there’s a lot of money to make you can get a subprime kind of thing, but this time it’s the really poor people who will be in trouble,” Mr Yunus said in answer to a question from the Financial Times while speaking to reporters from a microfinance summit in Indonesia.

. . . . .

But many in the industry fear that with the introduction of the profit motive to what was once a strictly not-for-profit endeavor is driving reckless lending at exorbitant interest rates of the kind that led to the meltdown of the US subprime mortgage market.

“When you are making profits you are moving into the mentality of the loan shark,” Mr Yunus said. “We are trying to get that loan shark out.”
I'd like to see some thoughts on this from the collective mind over at Creative Capitalism.

Graphics: Presidency for Dummies (African Edition)

Via Emeka Okafor:

I'll leave it to your imagination to create similar charts for your own country of residence.