Archive for January, 2010

Has the State nationalized Global Warming?

January 11, 2010

I can only offer one suggestion for the very cold weather throughout the northern hemisphere, given that my acceptance of the scientific explanation of sunspots causing weather changes has me branded a “denier.”

The government must have nationalized climate change: that’s why the warming is late and crap.

The UK’s Meterological Office (a tax funded body which is up to its neck in the warmist propaganda) has already decided that this is the warmest winter for years. Dominic Lawson writes here [hat tip: Instapundit]:

one of its staffers sniffily protested in an internet posting to a newspaper last week: “This will be the warmest winter in living memory, the data has already been recorded. For your information, we take the highest 15 readings between November and March and then produce an average. As November was a very seasonally warm month, then all the data will come from those readings.”

A test for the “Wisdom of Crowds”

January 10, 2010

Tomorrow (that’s Monday, 11th January 2010), I shall be giving a talk about James Surowiecki’s excellent little book, The Wisdom of Crowds, at the Institute of Education in London, at an event organised by “the other LA.”

Given the inclement weather, the fact it’s the first meeting of the year, there’s a new venue, I only told friends about it this evening, and the problem that either the speaker or the subject might not be as exciting to others as it is to me, I consider this a good test.

If no one shows up, how can I possibly argue that crowds lack wisdom? But then if I’m right, surely lots of people will want to know more about it.

I shall be talking about markets, taxes, voting, opinion polls and fairness. There will also be a little quiz.

If you cannot (or will not!) make it, I suggest Surowiecki’s book to anyone remotely interested in psychology, economics or epistemology, or to use less fancy language: how people think, work together and acquire and use knowledge.

It’s very readable, it has only one error of reasoning in my opinion [not fair to tell yet] and the only technical flaw is the lack of an index.

[UPDATE 8 Feb 2010: The flaw mentioned above is the claim that taxpayers consent to being taxed. The missing ingredient is the extent to which coercion (actual or potential) affect one’s decision to comply with taxation or not. If the various tax authorities of the world did not have the power to drag people before courts, confiscate assets and prison sentences weren’t relatively longer than say, for stealing food, I imagine that tax revenue rates would plummet.]

Smallville, China

January 3, 2010

A spectacular, if botched demolition in Liuzhou, caught my attention on several grounds. First the awesome image here of what was briefly a leaning tower to make that of Pisa look stable.

But two other thoughts occurred. First, this is no clearing of slums, or destruction of an ancient residential quarter. I’d guess the building being demolished was no more than 20-25 years old. I find this a telling incident in the development of China as a leading industrial country.

Destroying a recent structure to put up something more useful is not something one does when money is tight, or investment prospects are uncertain. It may be a case of Parkinson’s Law concerning new buildings, but I suspect not.

The second is that this story is a reminder that outside the tourist destinations and familiar names of Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, perhaps Nanjing and Guangzhou, there is a huge country. Here’s a list of Chinese cities with a population estimated at over 2.5 million inhabitants:

[taken from Wing Chan “Misconceptions and Complexities in the Study of China’s Cities: Definitions, Statistics, and Implications,” July/August 2007 issue of Eurasian Geography and Economics, which was cited here.

Shanghai 13.46 million
Beijing 9.88 million
Guangzhou 7.55 million
Wuhan 6.79 million
Tianjin 6.76 million
Shenzhen 6.48 million
Chongqing 6.17 million
Shenyang 4.6 million
Chengdu 3.96 million
Dongguan 3.87 million
Xi’an 3.76 million
Nanjing 3.51 million
Harbin 3.46 million
Dalian 2.87 million
Changchun 2.75 million
Qingdao 2.72 million
Kunming 2.64 million
Jinan 2.64 million
Taiyuan 2.54 million
Zhengzhou 2.5 million

To put this in context, here’s the equivalent table for the European Union [adapted from national data here].

London 7.56 million
Berlin 3.43 million
Madrid 3.21 million
Rome 2.73 million
Paris 2.20 million

Anyone wondering how long China will pretend to pay lip service to Western political correctness may do well to ponder where current demographic and economic trends are taking us.

2009 and all that…

January 1, 2010

Every year since 1997, I have compiled a list of 100 New Year’s resolutions, spread over such areas as my debt vs savings, reminders to keep in touch with various family members, an income target, commitments on fitness, reading, study, hobbies and travel. It’s about as personal a document as I ever produce so don’t expect me to broadcast it. I look at it roughly once a month, to keep some track of how I’m doing.

Originally, I started with 56 things I wanted to do in 1995, then a few more got added in ’96, before I found myself with a list of 97 items in 1997, at which point I thought of rounding it up.

I don’t have an easy way of getting a list of all the things I did do, and some are repeated each year, but it now stands at 218, though only nine were successes in 2009.

Off the top of my head, I can think of a few definite things I wouldn’t have done without the list: flying to New York in Concorde, visiting a new country each year (Greece, Ireland, Egypt, the Netherlands, and I’m not counting years where I went to several others [e.g. Italy, the Vatican, the Czech Republic since it split from Slovakia]) and taking part in the Hastings Christmas Chess Tournament (where I won a prize).

I might never have enrolled on my MBA course in 2008 (I’d been toying with the idea for many years), would not have moved when I did in 2003 or bought a camera last May.

On the other hand, I have only once exceeded my income target, in 2003, which I hope reflects the high bar I set myself… For better or for worse, my strategic direction for the year is set with my resolutions.

Perhaps it’s me, but yesterday I found myself asking “where does the idea of New Year’s resolutions come from?” Is it modern, like Mother’s Day in France or turkey for Christmas lunch? Is it ancient, like the seven-day week?

Wikipedia was surprisingly vague on this topic, and most of the claims of antiquity are not well documented (astrologers claiming a Babylonian origin [link in French] are not entirely without an interest in talking up that culture).

The reason I doubt the ancient world as being the original source of the NY resolution custom, is that it seems too modern a preoccupation to think about “must write to mother more often” or “must go to the gym more often.”

There were Jubilee Years announced roughly four times a century by the Popes since 1300AD, which included releasing people from their debts and making pilgrimages, but the NY resolutions seem more personal, more of a form of self-development.

Fortunately, Fugitive Ink had some leads, after I’d suggested that diarists would provide a good starting point:

Possibly, though, I’d start the research slightly earlier than you would – amongst the puritan diarists of the mid-17th century, both in England and the American colonies. They were, after all, great makes of ‘resolutions’ and no slouches when it came to making self-improving promises to God.

When I first started thinking about this, I worried that such pious folk might find the secular New Year insufficiently significant to be worth much in the way of resolutions. But then I had a swift glance at Ralph Josselin’s diary. (He was an Essex clergyman, 1616-83, of broadly puritan inclination, although remaining in Anglican orders.) Look at this, from 1653:

http://linux02.lib.cam.ac.uk/earlscolne/diary/70006970.htm

Admittedly, this isn’t exactly a ‘resolution’ per se (despite the odd fact that the word ‘resolution’ occurs in the next sentence), and Josselin is always asking God to do things like that, but all the same, Josselin is evidently using the occasion to ask God to give him ‘a new holy heart’, which in some sense comes rather close to the ‘make me a better person’ end of the contemporary NYR scale, if not the ‘lose a stone’ end of it.

It strikes me therefore that there is no obvious answer to my question, but that the habit of making commitments for the coming year (whether praying for help in achieving them or not) is a reflection of the emergence of a belief in the possible redemption of Man on Earth.

If it did date from Babylonian times, and if it really had persisted through the ages, I wonder if it could be considered one of the most enduring expressions of individual self-development?