Thursday, 27 July 2017

Life in North Korea

In Fear, loneliness, and duty — an American journalist on daily life in North Korea Sean Illing interviews the author of the 2014 book Without You, There Is No Us: Undercover Among the Sons of North Korea’s Elite, Suki Kim about living in North Korea.

Are carbs really the problem?

In We’ve long blamed carbs for making us fat. What if that's wrong? Julia Belluz writes about a study that casts doubt on carbohydrate-insulin hypothesis, the theory that
... suggests that a diet heavy in carbohydrates (especially refined grains and sugars) leads to weight gain because of a specific mechanism: Carbs drive up insulin in the body, causing the body to hold on to fat and suppress calorie burn.

The top 100 solutions to climate change

In A new book ranks the top 100 solutions to climate change. The results are surprising. David Roberts interviews Paul Hawken about Hawken's book Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming.
Unlike most popular books on climate change, it is not a polemic or a collection of anecdotes and exhortations. In fact, with the exception of a few thoughtful essays scattered throughout, it’s basically a reference book: a list of solutions, ranked by potential carbon impact, each with cost estimates and a short description. A set of scenarios show the cumulative potential.
...
The number one solution, in terms of potential impact? A combination of educating girls and family planning, which together could reduce 120 gigatons of CO2-equivalent by 2050 — more than on- and offshore wind power combined (99 GT).
...
Also sitting atop the list, with an impact that dwarfs any single energy source: refrigerant management. (Don’t hear much about that, do you? Here’s a great Brad Plumer piece on it.)

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Most of the 2016 USA election results were pretty typical

In Why did the 2016 election look so much like the 2012 election? Ezra Klein reports on work shoing that most voters in the USA vote according to partisan identity, not policies or candidates.
A few months ago, I stopped by Larry Bartels’s office at Vanderbilt University. Bartels, alongside Christopher Achen, is the author of Democracy for Realists, which I’d become a bit obsessed with. The book argues that decades of social science evidence has shattered the idealistic case made for how voters in democracies act, and the reality is that “even the most informed voters typically make choices not on the basis of policy preferences or ideology, but on the basis of who they are — their social identities.”
I sat down with Bartels shortly after the 2016 election, and I had a dozen ideas for how his book helped explain the unusual results. But he wasn’t buying my premise. To him, the election looked pretty typical.
The Democratic candidate won 89 percent of Democratic voters, and the Republican candidate won 90 percent of Republican voters. The Democrat won minorities, women, and the young; the Republican won whites, men, and the old. The Democrat won a few percentage points more of the two-party vote than the Republican, just as had happened four years before, and four years before that. If you had known nothing about the candidates or conditions in the 2016 election but had been asked to predict the results, these might well have been the results you’d predicted. So what was there to explain?

Monday, 24 July 2017

The limits of human compassion

In A psychologist explains the limits of human compassion Brian Resnick interviews Paul Slovic on "psychic numbing". It seems our levels of concern appears to be inversely proportional to the number of victims. That's why we ignore mass atrocities but give when there's only a single individual victim (e.g. a child with cancer). Unfortunately, an individual is worth more than the sum of a group.

The interview explores several topics:
  • There is no constant value for a human life
  • We’re compelled to help individuals. But the world’s problems are too large to be solved one person at a time
  • Psychic numbing begins when the number of victims increases from one to two
  • Three factors keep people and politicians from intervening in humanitarian crises
  • We might be able to build machines more moral than humans
  • Even partial solutions save whole lives

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Sympathise with the victims, not the perpetrators of domestic violence

In ‘We didn’t recognise that he was dangerous’: our father killed our mother and sister Rossalyn Warren talks to the sons of a man who killed his wife and daughter after they left him. The sons are upset that the media tended to be sympathetic to their father:
The Sun and Daily Telegraph quoted locals who described Lance as “a nice guy”, while the Daily Express reported that he was “a DIY nut”. The Daily Mail spoke to others who described Hart as “always caring”. In every report, there was speculation that the prospect of divorce “drove” Lance to murder, and little mention or description of Claire or Charlotte.
The reality it seems is very different. Although Hart had never been violent, he had terrorised the family and made their live's hell.
“I was shocked at the ease with which others, sitting behind their desks, could explain our tragedy away within an afternoon,” Ryan says now. “It was very difficult to read that they were sympathising with a man who caused Mum and Charlotte misery their entire lives. One writer even dared use the word ‘understandable’ to justify why they were murdered.” This second Daily Mail article, a column by psychiatrist Max Pemberton, argued that a man killing his children “is often a twisted act of love”. The article was later removed from the site.
“You’re reading it and thinking, ‘This is bollocks,’” Ryan says. “But you know people around the country are also reading it, and those ideas are being driven into their minds. It reinforces in the abuser’s mind that what they’re doing is OK.”
“They kept saying this was a money issue,” Luke adds of the news stories. “It wasn’t about money. That’s what made me really angry. Sometimes news is just entertainment. They couldn’t have known our history, but it was weird: in the absence of information, they chose the side of a terrorist who committed murder.”
...
They now want to live life the way Claire and Charlotte would have wanted them to. Their favourite thing is to walk Indi and Bella, because their fondest memories are of their mother and sister playing with the dogs. They refuse to see Claire and Charlotte as victims. “Vulnerable women and children are not treated as heroes, for standing up to their oppressors even when they are murdered, or given a national day of mourning,” Luke says. “But they should be.”

Terrorism linked to domestic violence?

In Terrorism and domestic violence Martin McKenzie-Murray explores the possible links between terrorism and domestic violence.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Most of Trump's supporters were well off

Nicholas Carnes and Noam Lupu write in It’s time to bust the myth: Most Trump voters were not working class that most of Trump's supporters were relatively affluent:
Among people who said they voted for Trump in the general election, 35 percent had household incomes under $50,000 per year (the figure was also 35 percent among non-Hispanic whites), almost exactly the percentage in NBC’s March 2016 survey. Trump’s voters weren’t overwhelmingly poor. In the general election, like the primary, about two thirds of Trump supporters came from the better-off half of the economy.

David MacKay on Sustainable Energy

In 2008 David MacKay FRS, the Regius Professor of Engineering at the University of Cambridge, wrote a book Sustainable Energy – without the hot air. This book is available free at his site www.withouthotair.com

The biggest takeaway I had from the book was this:
Have no illusions. To achieve our goal of getting off fossil fuels, these
reductions in demand and increases in supply must be big. Don’t be distracted
by the myth that “every little helps.” If everyone does a little, we’ll
achieve only a little
. We must do a lot. What’s required are big changes in
demand and in supply.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Don't restrict public housing to the most needy

In The public housing paradox: by helping only the neediest, we undermine the entire system Professor Jenny Stewart, visiting fellow in the school of business at UNSW Canberra, explains that restricting public housing to the most needy denies the revenue that public housing authorities need to maintain their services.
There's no doubt that Australian cities are changing fast. It's difficult enough for those with reasonably good jobs to buy their own home. Public housing could, and should, be an important factor in the mix. But to rejuvenate the sector, more flexibility is needed. If we want to use the state to help the disadvantaged, it is sometimes necessary to think beyond our own good intentions. In public policy, it is easy to do the wrong thing for the right reasons.

How to fold a fitted sheet

Jill Cooper shows in this YouTube video how to fold a fitted sheet. I suspect it's harder than it seems and probably requires some practice.


An example of why flexibility in sentencing is good

In Juvenile justice system needs discretion to judge Apex and other Sudanese teenagers differently noted Melbourne crime writer John Silvester gives the example of two young men, both involved in two robberies, to explain why judges need flexibility sentencing.
On the facts presented to court Mayoum is a bad young man while Mawien may well be a young man who did something bad. On Wednesday Judge Gaynor sentenced Mayoum to four years' jail with a non-parole period of two years.

Courts need to punish to deter but there is also a need to offer hope. While it is true the punishment should fit the crime is it not also true that the punishment should fit the offender?

Monday, 5 June 2017

The new jihardis - nihilists?

Olivier Roy in Who are the new jihadis? explains that modern jihadis in the west have certain features in common:

  • They are normally second generation immigrants
  • They have recently converted or reconverted to Islam - that is "born again" Muslims. Their conversion takes place in places like prisons, or in small group situations, or on the Internet. It does not take place in a mosque.
  • They are fascinated by death
  • They often had a background in petty crime
  • They are often not very knowledgeable about Islam

He basically argues that these people are radicals with a hatred of society, who find in Islam a reason for their radicalism. However, Islam does not turn them into radicals - they were already radicals. Islam merely offers an excuse.
To summarise: the typical radical is a young, second-generation immigrant or convert, very often involved in episodes of petty crime, with practically no religious education, but having a rapid and recent trajectory of conversion/reconversion, more often in the framework of a group of friends or over the internet than in the context of a mosque. The embrace of religion is rarely kept secret, but rather is exhibited, but it does not necessarily correspond to immersion in religious practice. The rhetoric of rupture is violent – the enemy is kafir, one with whom no compromise is possible – but also includes their own family, the members of which are accused of observing Islam improperly, or refusing to convert.
...
As we have seen, jihadis do not descend into violence after poring over sacred texts. They do not have the necessary religious culture – and, above all, care little about having one. They do not become radicals because they have misread the texts or because they have been manipulated. They are radicals because they choose to be, because only radicalism appeals to them. No matter what database is taken as a reference, the paucity of religious knowledge among jihadis is glaring. According to leaked Isis records containing details for more than 4,000 foreign recruits, while most of the fighters are well-educated, 70% state that they have only basic knowledge of Islam.
...
Oddly enough, the defenders of the Islamic State never talk about sharia and almost never about the Islamic society that will be built under the auspices of Isis. Those who say that they went to Syria because they wanted “to live in a true Islamic society” are typically returnees who deny having participated in violence while there – as if wanting to wage jihad and wanting to live according to Islamic law were incompatible. And they are, in a way, because living in an Islamic society does not interest jihadis: they do not go to the Middle East to live, but to die. That is the paradox: these young radicals are not utopians, they are nihilists.

What is more radical about the new radicals than earlier generations of revolutionaries, Islamists and Salafis is their hatred of existing societies, whether western or Muslim. This hatred is embodied in the pursuit of their own death when committing mass murder. They kill themselves along with the world they reject. Since 11 September 2001, this is the radicals’ preferred modus operandi.

The suicidal mass killer is unfortunately a common contemporary figure. The typical example is the American school shooter, who goes to his school heavily armed, indiscriminately kills as many people as possible, then kills himself or lets himself be killed by the police. He has already posted photographs, videos and statements online. In them he assumed heroic poses and delighted in the fact that everyone would now know who he was. In the United States there were 50 attacks or attempted attacks of this sort between 1999 and 2016.

The boundaries between a suicidal mass killer of this sort and a militant for the caliphate are understandably hazy. The Nice killer, for instance, was first described as mentally ill and later as an Isis militant whose crime had been premeditated. But these ideas are not mutually exclusive.

The point here is not to mix all these categories together. Each one is specific, but there is a striking common thread that runs through the mass murders perpetrated by disaffected, nihilistic and suicidal youths. What organisations like al-Qaida and Isis provide is a script.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Anarchists, the forunners to Islamic terrorists?

Johann Hari in Blood, rage & history: The world's first terrorists looks at the similarities between today's Islamic terrorists and the anarchist movement from a century ago. He explains the causes of the anarchist movement and why it eventually died out.


John Quiggin on the non-problem of population ageing

In Time’s up for ageing alarmists John Quiggin argues that many of the articles on our ageing population ignore the fact that our health and quality of life for a given age are also improving. So we shouldn't think of our advancing years as an increased burden, but instead it'soffering us opportunities.
The increase in longevity produced by improved medical treatments, reductions in the risk of death, and healthier living is a huge boon for Australians, individually and collectively. Yet the framing of the issue around “population ageing” has presented it as a near-catastrophe, not only creating unnecessary negativity but also closing off discussion of the opportunities created by our longer lifespans. We need to stop talking about “population ageing” and start talking about people living longer and healthier lives.

An ageing population may not necessarily be lowering the dependency ratio

A few years back Ross Gittins wrote a column Australia's ageing population need not be a burden on taxpayers in which he argued that Australia needn't worry about the economic affects of our ageing population. This is because the actual dependency ratio is not changing. Children are also dependants, and as we age the proportion of children in the population is declining, offsetting the increase in older dependants.

He based his column on the paper ‘The ageing of the Australian population: triumph or disaster?’ by Katharine Betts, Adjunct Associate Professor of Sociology at Swinburne University of Technology.


Saturday, 3 June 2017

Pursade people by arguing using their values

In The Simple Psychological Trick to Political Persuasion Olga Khazan reports on research that shows the best way to persuade people with a different political outlook is to frame your argument to suit their values.
Feinberg and his co-author, Stanford University sociologist Robb Willer, have extensively studied how it is that liberals and conservatives—two groups that now seem further apart than ever on their policy preferences—can convert people from the other side to their way of seeing things. One reason this is so hard to do, they explain, is that people tend to present their arguments in a way that appeals to the ethical code of their own side, rather than that of their opponents.
...
In a later study that’s currently under review, Feinberg and Tilburg University’s Jan Völkel found this even worked to get conservatives to dislike Donald Trump, and liberals to disavow Hillary Clinton. Conservatives were less likely to support Trump if arguments against him were presented in terms of his patriotism— “has repeatedly behaved disloyally towards our country to serve his own interests”—rather than a tendency to overlook the marginalized (“his unfair statements are a breeding ground for prejudice.”) Liberal participants, meanwhile, were more likely to be swayed by Clinton’s ties to Wall Street than by the incident in Benghazi.