Sunday, December 30, 2012

Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death

Death in America is largely a foodborne illness. Focusing on studies published just over the last year in peer-reviewed scientific medical journals, Dr. Greger offers practical advice on how best to feed ourselves and our families to prevent, treat, and even reverse many of the top 15 killers in the United States.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A new low for The Economist

Blogging at Democracy in America, Matt Steinglass writes about the Newtown masacre in an article entitled "Fake Tears":

Those of us who view the events remotely, however, unless we start to evince a newfound appetite for gun-control measures to prevent future mass slayings, are doing little more than displaying and enjoying our own exalted strickenness. This is an activity at which we, as a culture, excel. Americans' postmodern eagerness for self-aggrandising displays of grief over events that did not actually happen to us was captured over two decades ago in the still-remarkable "Heathers"; as that movie understood, mass slayings at schools provide the perfect backdrop of "senseless" tragedy against which the public can profile its own angst and bogus sorrow.

Thomas de Zengotita, in his book "Mediated", has a nice analysis of the way the Western public's treatment of media-transmitted tragedies evolved from Pearl Harbor through the assassination of JFK to the death of Princess Diana, as the public gradually came to see these moments chiefly as occasions to stage its own overwrought little emotional performances, like teenagers boasting unconvincingly of how upset they are by another kid's parents' divorce. "Princess Diana's mourners," wrote de Zengotita, «so many of them, so obviously exhibiting their grief, not even pretending that they weren't exhibiting it, understanding that this was their role, in both the sociological and theatrical sense, understanding that they were there for this purpose in service of the Global Show that their very presence was inciting, producing and promoting in real time...»

The killings in Newtown, of course, appear just as "senseless", if one insists on ruling out the idea that such episodes might be forestalled by limiting people's access to firearms. Indeed, it's most convenient for media purposes when such tragedies are truly "senseless"; it lends them a nicely wistful aura, and makes it easier for the grief-performing public to spin them in whatever creative fashion they like. (See Ross Douthat's weepy response, which tacks clear to Dostoevsky and Ivan Karamazov. Alack, the death of innocents; is God even possible in such a world, and so forth.) And as of last Thursday, we certainly appeared to have given up any pretense of trying to prevent future school massacres. (...)

More horrible still — to me at least — is the inevitable lament, “How could we have let this happen?” It is a horrible question because the answer is so simple. Make it easy for people to get guns and things like this will happen. (...)

So unless the American people are willing to actually do something to stop the next massacre of toddlers from happening, we should shut up and quit blubbering. It's our fault, and until we evince some remorse for our actions or intention to reform ourselves, the idea that we consider ourselves entitled to "mourn" the victims of our own barbaric policies is frankly disgusting.
Which is basically a fancy and long way of saying that those who feel sad about the massacre but do not believe stricter firearm laws in Connecticut would have made any difference are simply evil hypocrites. Such a civilised way to raise the bar on what is a complex academic debate in which the evidence actually refutes Steinglass' position.

Ironically, in a post which is all about fake emotions, there is no question raised about the authenticity of Obama's emotional reaction to the shooting (personally I found this one far more genuine). But I guess there can be no doubt about it because he's on the gun-control side.

Further reading:

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Not so long ago

Prof. Philip Booth: We need a revolution in financial regulation
It may surprise many that, until recently, banks did not have their capital regulated. Of course, before 1979, neither banks nor their customers had any expectation of being bailed out – market discipline prevailed. The history of banks’ capital positions is interesting. During the post-war period, banks were pressurising the Bank of England to allow them to hold more capital – they were prevented from doing so because the government and the Bank of England believed that, if the banks raised more capital, there would be less capital available for the non-financial industries. Banks exposed to market discipline were conservative institutions. I wonder if the post-1988 regulatory binge has really achieved anything positive.

Regulation has run riot and so did the banks. Last year alone there were 14,200 new banking regulations worldwide and the US Dodd Frank Act will contain around 30,000 pages of regulations. Furthermore, there is a real danger, when regulation becomes as complex as it is today, that it is only understood by a clique both in government and in the industry. That is a recipe for regulatory capture – in other words, the controlling of the regulatory system by the companies that are being regulated. The approach of the UK government which is trying to create a legal framework so that banks can be wound up safely is to be applauded, but this should replace and not be added to existing regulation.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Um bom resumo da situação

Constitucionalmente falidos (Carlos Guimarães Pinto)
Nos 7 anos imediatamente seguintes à aprovação da Constituição de 1976 foram necessárias duas intervenções do FMI para evitar o descalabro financeiro. Deveria ter servido de aviso. A entrada na CEE e posteriormente no Euro permitiu o adiamento da terceira vinda, mas não eliminou o problema fundamental: a Constituição, e as interpretações que se foram fazendo dela, é um entrave à estabilidade e prosperidade económica. A Constituição salvaguarda o direito à educação, à saúde, à segurança, à habitação, ao emprego e à cultura, mas não gera a riqueza necessária para garantir esses direitos, nem ajuda a criar as condições necessárias para a gerar. Para prosperar economicamente é necessário trabalhar, investir e arriscar. Em vez de salvaguardar exaustivamente objectivos finais, deveria ser papel da constituição definir um enquadramento que crie as condições e os incentivos necessários a estas actividades. A garantia inequívoca da estabilidade das contas públicas e o estabelecimento de limites à carga fiscal seriam passos nesse sentido. Nas últimas semanas, tem-se clamado pela Constituição a cada medida de consolidação orçamental. A interpretação da Constituição passou de um exercício jurídico a um instrumento de intervenção política. Este uso e abuso da Constituição para o exercício de pressão política ajuda à sua descredibilização e sublinha ainda mais a necessidade de a alterar. Caso contrário, ao mantermo-nos constitucionalmente cumpridores, acabaremos constitucionalmente falidos.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Right on the funny bone

Give social networks fake details, advises Whitehall web security official
A senior government official has sparked anger by advising internet users to give fake details to websites to protect their security. Andy Smith, an internet security chief at the Cabinet Office, said people should only give accurate details to trusted sites such as government ones. He said names and addresses posted on social networking sites "can be used against you" by criminals.
Trusted sites such as government ones? Sure, governments would never harvest data from social networks for their own purposes, use it against citizens as criminals would or think of it as just another tool to help quell dissent. And one of the best incentives to provide the government with real data? They will never lose your personal information or make the contents available to third parties.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

As if there were any doubts

Let X be a politician who has fallen out of favour with the members of his own party. He had previously been a minister of a relatively minor department, but he was eventually removed from his office after a cabinet re-shuffle. X is an aging politician, however, and he is suddenly appointed as the third most important figure in the nation's regime. The country is in political turmoil and everyone believes the current government won't remain in office for much longer.

What will this fine specimen of the ruling elite, bred for the single purpose of improving the lives of his fellow men, do with what is perhaps his last change to make a real, everlasting difference? The results are unexpectedly surprising:
Vyron Polydoras, who held the position of speaker for just a single-day during the hung parliament of May 2012, rushed to hire his daughter - Margarita - as an employee of his office. Not only did he hire her on his one and only day in office, despite defending himself by stating he was entitled to hire up to six staff, but he also managed (all in this one day remember) to approve a two million euro 'election bonus' for his staff and police.
And then, maybe not.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Vagamente familiar

Servicio de habitaciones de Ignacio Camacho (ABC)
Tal vez llegó un momento en que la evidencia de la catástrofe fue tan clara que el Gobierno se desentendió de unas responsabilidades que no iba a tener que afrontar al año siguiente. Para lo que les quedaba en el convento, Zapatero y Salgado decidieron que no merecía la pena ocuparse de embridar un gasto que al fin y al cabo administraban —es un decir— en los territorios autonómicos quienes le estaban quitando a trozos el poder. Que se ocupe el PP cuando llegue, que eso del control del déficit siempre ha sido una cosa como muy de derechas. Après nous, le dèluge, se dirían como aquel monarca gabacho. Y vaya si ha diluviado.

El ciclo histórico siempre discurre del mismo modo. Los alegres socialdemócratas gastan y gastan hasta provocar un colapso que acaba llevándoselos por delante. Luego llegan los antipáticos liberales [sic] a reconducir la quiebra con medidas de emergencia que, como es lógico, les ocasionan un inmediato desgaste convenientemente acentuado por las críticas de quienes les dejaron el marrón para situarse detrás de una pancarta. Y con un poco de suerte, el cabreo popular acaba devolviendo al poder a los responsables del desastre, que se encuentran las cuentas lo bastante saneadas para retomar el dispendio. En una sociedad política dominada ideológicamente por la izquierda, la derecha viene a ser un paréntesis necesario, como esos empleados domésticos que entran a ordenar los muebles y recoger los desperdicios entre fiesta y fiesta. Se ha derramado el déficit, qué engorro. Que pase el servicio a ordenar la habitación y avise cuando esté preparada para seguir la juerga.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A lesson in taqiyya

Iran warships enter Mediterranean via Suez Canal
The destroyer Shahid Qandi and its supply vessel Kharg have passed through the Suez Canal but their destination remains unclear. (...) Admiral Sayari was quoted by Irna as saying: "The strategic navy of the Islamic Republic of Iran has passed through the Suez Canal for the second time since the Islamic Revolution." The mission conveyed "the might" of Iran to regional countries and Tehran's "message of peace and friendship". The ships were reported to have docked earlier at Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. Reuters quoted a source at the Suez Canal authority as saying the vessels might be en route to Syria. The mission comes amid heightened tension between Iran and Israel.
Clearly, if you intend to avert any possible hostilities and increase you neighbours' awareness of your friendly intentions, the best course of action is to move a war vessel (whose type is so aptly named destroyer) closer to their territories. I am sure that couldn't possibly be misinterpreted as something else - especially when you announce in the following day that you will be cutting off supplies of your main export to two major European powers (and you had been hitting the headlines for persecuting your own citizens a few days earlier).

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Qual deles?

[Martin Schulz] referiu-se ao contraste entre os modelos de desenvolvimento europeu e chinês, afirmando que este assenta numa “sociedade esclavagista, sem direitos, numa ditadura que oprime implacavelmente o ser humano”. [Público]