Excellent News!

Teachers are leaving the profession in increasing numbers, with a quarter of a million no longer working in schools, according to figures published by the Conservatives yesterday.

w00t w00t!

So we\’re training too many teachers, which means we get to close down a few of the teacher training colleges!

Great, anyone got a list?

Errm, OK, Zoe

This is female sexuality packaged up as a product geared to generate profit: capitalism with tits, basically.

In a society where sex and sexuality are still oriented from a sexist, capitalist perspective, it\’s almost normal then for women to place value on how they are viewed by men, simultaneously objectifying and undermining their own sexuality in the process, as Ariel Levy highlighted.

This viewpoint is now practically ubiquitous: many women\’s attitudes around sex stem from the profit-driven perspective and they see and describe their own sexual desire as just an adjunct to the male experience – just like that young woman at the party.

What\’s the answer to this? How can we teach young women to place value on their own pleasure and their own experience? How can we teach young men that mutual respect and appreciation, not to mention mutual consent, are the pre-requisites to good sex? How can we ensure that sex is seen as something healthy and positive and fun, and not just a means to make money or a way for women to win male validation?

I believe we need to challenge the old-fashioned views of male and female sexuality where sex is something to be obtained by men, from women; we need to reject the sexist and offensive imagery in porn and replace it with a more progressive view of sexuality; we need to oppose the commodification of sexuality and refuse to buy into it; and most importantly we need to properly educate young people about sex and relationships so that they learn the value of each other, as well as the pleasure they can share.

My only question here is how? I\’m rather of the impression that the current state of affairs (sorry!) is a result of the last attempt to replace the prevailing ethos with a more progressive view of sexuality.


The centre cannot hold, and that\’s the good news in the United States these days. Quietly, doggedly, cities, regions, counties and states have refused to march to the Bush administration\’s drum when it comes to climate change, the environment and the war. Some of the recent changes are so sweeping that they will probably drag the nation along with them – notably efforts by Vermont, Massachusetts and California to set higher vehicle emissions standards and generally treat climate change as an environmental problem that can be addressed by regulation. The Bush administration has notoriously dragged its feet on doing anything about climate change, and it will now be dragged along by the states, themselves prodded forward by citizens.

The US is a federal state! Amazing finding, innit?

w00t, w00t!

A drug that reverses severe liver damage could be used to treat disease in heavy drinkers who find it impossible to give up alcohol. Scientists developed the drug after discovering a way to prevent the formation of excessive scar tissue caused by cirrhosis, hepatitis and other medical conditions.

To their surprise the drug not only slowed progression of the disease but also reversed damage to the organ.

Decent present for the New Year, ain\’t it?

Such a Pity

A girl of five who had half her brain removed has taken her first steps.

The careers that are closed to her. She\’s still vastly over qualified to be a politician for example.

Unintended Consequences

There\’s a reason this is happening:

The Chinese town of Guiyu is the graveyard of Christmas past.

It is where presents – game consoles, laptops, mobile phones – come to die.

It is also where they are reborn. In this giant scrap-yard, so dangerously polluted that its children are being clinically poisoned, the electronic objects of desire, a million tons of them a year, are broken apart, melted down, and washed in acid to be recycled into a new flood of imports for Christmas future.

Money, of course.

But no, it\’s not the gross capitalist exploitation of the workers sort of stuff at all. Rather, it\’s the environmental regulations imposed here in Europe that are causing it. A pile of electronics contains a number of valuable metals: copper, lead, tin and gold just to start with. There are a couple of ways to extract it: the hand method these Chinese are using (which allows you to extract the working chips as well) or you can have a highly mechanised operation. Essentially, you chop everything up into fine powder and then separate the metals as if it were an ore.

You can also be more sophisticated, there\’s a plant in Cheshire that recycles the solder for example, by exploiting a certain property of gold and solder. At 280 oC or so, they form a eutectic alloy (ie, the gold dissolves into the solder) so you can run the boards through a bath of the solder you have previously melted, and you get all the solder and the gold off the board. The chips then fall off and you have the copper and the board itself, which you can separate by chopping and flotation tanks. The fibres can be made into excellent insulation, the metals all recycled.

Now all of these methods are roughly comparable in cost….some cost more to do but you get more value from the recyclables, so the nett outcomes are comparable.

Except….except….most electronics waste streams also include monitors. The electronic parts can be treated the same way (there\’s also  nice plug of tungsten in there as well). But the glass on  CRT or TV is 25% lead oxide. There\’s no sensible (ie economic) method of recycling this. The logical thing is to recycle all the rest and stick the glass into landfill. But, of course, you\’re not allowed to stick lead into landfill, are you?

Which is something of a pity, for while metallic lead, or lead oxide, would indeed be dangerous to those in the future, lead tied up in glass is not. Glass is, in fact, one of the most stable materials known to man. The lead does not leach out into the groundwater. Not even acids extract it (which is why we use glass carboys to transport acids of course).

But the environmentalists see "lead" and insist that it cannot be landfilled, it must be treated as poisonous and thus disposed of in a very expensive manner. This then means that the more sophisticated, mechanical, recycling methods do not make economic sense to do here in Europe. Thus the trade to China where people are, as the article points out, killing themselves and their children in doing said recycling.

Wondrous, isn\’t it? By insisting on too much recycling, the rules make certain that not enough is done, by insisting that there should be no landfill, no lead entering the environment, they make sure that more lead does enter it.

Well done, eh?


Excellent News!

Isn\’t it?

Children as young as five are routinely being used to quarry stone for the booming British patio and garden landscaping market, one of Britain\’s leading stone importers has warned.

Chris Harrop, a director of Marshall\’s Plc, said that large sections of the gardening industry were turning a blind eye to the use of child labour in the sandstone quarries of Rajasthan, western India, in order to maximise profits.

Only about a third of the 200,000 tons of patio stone imported into the UK from India each year was sourced ethically, Mr Harrop said, with the rest often being produced in atrocious conditions.

Jobs, incomes, good things to have, eh? Sadly, that\’s not the way this bloke is thinking (quite apart from the fact that he imports "ethical" stone and faces price competition from those who don\’t). But it is the way he ought to think. Paul Krugman:

When the movement gets what it wants, the effects are often startlingly malign. For example, could anything be worse than having children work in sweatshops? Alas, yes. In 1993, child workers in Bangladesh were found to be producing clothing for Wal-Mart, and Senator Tom Harkin proposed legislation banning imports from countries employing underage workers. The direct result was that Bangladeshi textile factories stopped employing children. But did the children go back to school? Did they return to happy homes? Not according to Oxfam, which found that the displaced child workers ended up in even worse jobs, or on the streets — and that a significant number were forced into prostitution.

The point is that third-world countries aren\’t poor because their export workers earn low wages; it\’s the other way around. Because the countries are poor, even what look to us like bad jobs at bad wages are almost always much better than the alternatives.

So, buy ethical stone and force children into prostitution. Good idea, eh?

Charitable PR

Not a lot going on really, so why not print the PR release from a charity?

The credit crunch is driving more and more middle-class children to shoplift expensive gifts denied them by their parents, a charity has warned.

Now there\’s a reason to lower interest rates, eh?

He estimates that up to half the youngsters whose cases CCAS deals with are from "affluent but fractured backgrounds" – often as a result of divorce and separation. Young people tell counsellors they steal because of the boredom and "the buzz".

Ermm, so it\’s not the interest rates or the credit crunch then? Pretty good when your own press release belies your own point, isn\’t it?

And a Merry Christmas One and All!

Yes, I know, that\’s tomorrow. But read this.

Solar PV at less than $1 per Watt. Panels at less than $2 per Watt.

Plus a variation of Li batteries that provides 10 times the storage.

That\’s cheaper than electricity from coal for the capital costs. Plus, of course, no fuel costs, nor CO2 while running.

They\’re actually shipping such cells, started last week.

Of course, the climate change opera ain\’t over until the fat lady sings, but this sounds like some pretty decent arpeggios as she prepares to do so.

As Lomborg said, at some point solar will be cheaper than fossil, then we\’ll all switch, won\’t we?

What a Merry Christmas!

Planners and Targets!

Glorious Tractor Production is up again Comrades!

Targets intended to cut long waits in hospital Accident and Emergency units have cost the NHS in England £2 billion over the past five years, an assessment of healthcare information has concluded.

The extra costs come from patients who are in danger of having to wait more than four hours in A&E – the target limit – and are admitted to hospital “just in case”. Many are later discharged the same day, suggesting they had no real need to be admitted, with today – Christmas Eve – having the highest proportion of patients sent out on the day of admission.

Primary care trusts have to pay as much as £1,000 per admission, compared with about £100 for a patient treated in A&E. So the costs of admitting a patient – even for less than a day – are large.

Data collected by the CHKS Group, an independent provider of healthcare information, suggest that over the past five years, about two million extra patients were admitted to hospital through A&E units in England.

The way they\’ve collected the statistics across the different nations of the UK seems to show that they\’re correct. My, how lucky we are to have such sensible people attempting to direct, in detail, 1.3 million people from the centre!

Small Point

Yes, yes, the Fair Tax proposal is silly in the extreme (just, for example, think of the posibilities of fraud, carousel type stuff perhaps, with a sales tax of 30-40% to be paid in one hit at the point of retail….) but this is a little illogical:

Without doubt it would increase inequality in a country that is already as dangerously skewed as it was in the Gilded Age of the 1920s. Averaged across the 1920s, the richest 10% of Americans grabbed 43.6% of total income (excluding capital gains), and the richest 1% a whopping 17.3%. In 2005 the comparable figures were 44.3% and 17.4%. The richest Americans already have a much greater slice of the pie than they have had for several generations and are doing very nicely indeed under a graduated tax rate (complete with Bush\’s tax cuts). A flat tax would destroy the system that seeks to redistribute some of the country\’s finite wealth amongst its people in the form of schools, roads and other public goods. And before the whining begins, this isn\’t a cry of class warfare, it\’s economic common sense. Even if you reject arguments around fairness and moral obligations to those less fortunate, by and large economies with more equality are more prosperous and the countries more stable.

Hmm, prosperity and stability coming from equality. The author has just proved that the US is unequal (actually, the inequality by market incomes, which is what he\’s using, is about the same as that of Sweden. A Gini of .48 to one of .46. Sweden\’s taxation system does a great deal more to alter that distribution than the US system does. Oh, and the UK market income distribution is even more skewed at .51. These figures are from a recent Smeeding paper drawing on the Luxembourg Income Study.) : the US is also the most prosperous nation on earth (leaving aside micro-states) and at 220 years or so and rising with the same constitution (the longest in the world for a written one I think?) also the most stable.

So I think that contention about the link between equality, prosperity and stability can be put to one side, don\’t you think?

Maybe It\’s True But…

So what?

The former chief executive of Northern Rock conducted an affair with a junior employee while the bank was heading towards collapse, it has been claimed.

Northern Rock was fucked, yes, but not by that sort of behaviour.

Client States

There are legitimate arguments for this:

Billions of pounds are being spent on schools in deprived districts in Labour strongholds at the expense of pupils in more affluent areas, new figures show.

Precisely because Labour does best in deprived areas, and deprived areas need more to spend on education.

Having been even handed about it, let me say that I don\’t actually believe it. It\’s part and parcel with the distribution of health spending (remember when it was Labour held marginals that weren\’t getting local services cut?). It\’s actually exactly what we would expect politicians to do: spend money on their supporters at the expense of those who do not support them in order to tie in their votes. Almost a version of gerrymandering, the creation of client states.

Labour has more than doubled education spending since 1997 from £29 billion to £63.7 billion this year.

But there are already fears that the money has not been well spent.

Gosh, there\’s a surprise. The important lesson still hasn\’t sunk in: it\’s not how much you spend, it\’s how you spend it. According to one or other of the various such rankings, Finland and Sweden have the best education systems in the OECD. They both have variations on a voucher system for education funding.

This might not be a coincidence, you know?

Ooooh, No Dean, No…..

There is no dispute that there has been a massive upward redistribution of income over the last quarter century.

Now I normally quite like Dean Baker: he knows his onions and while our world views are radically different his campaign to try and get journalists to understand numbers rather parallels my own mocking of those who don\’t. But that\’s an outrageous statement, worthy only of the most mouthbreathing type of class warrior.

I would be astonished if anyone either literate or numerate would actually agree with it, far from admit that there is no dispute, that there has been an upward redistribution of income. For if here had been, we should see that those at the bottom were getting lower incomes now than they were.

And as people like Paul Krugman (with whom Dean has co-authored at least one paper, so a reasonable authority to use here) keep telling us, this isn\’t true. Incomes may have been flatlining for 30 years (well, wages actually, not total compensation, so even that\’s pretty dodgy as evidence) but they haven\’t been going down.

Now what is true is that the rich have been getting richer faster than the poor have been getting richer. That is, we\’ve not actually had  "redistribution" of income, we\’ve had the new income being created distributed in an uneven manner. Inequality is increasing, yes, but that isn\’t the same as stating that the poor are getting poorer.

The NYT is anxious to tell us that a big part of the upward redistribution was just “basic economics.” It tells readers that:

“One reason for the change is basic economics. In a global, high-technology economy the most successful workers can be more productive and can play on a bigger field.”

Is that so? How about the fact that in a global, high-technology economy the “most successful” workers face a much bigger group of competitors who can depress their wages. Isn’t that also “basic economics”?

As I\’ve been a big supporter of that argument that the NYT puts forward I have to say that I agree with it. One thing that strikes me though is that this is the first time I\’ve seen anyone other than myself actually advance it (shows I\’m not reading enough, obviously).

In more detail it goes roughly like this. The increases in income inequality seem (if we believe the Piketty and Saetz numbers) to be largely driven by strongly rising incomes in the top 1%….indeed, in the top 0.1%, even 0.01%. Now it\’s not all that difficult to hold the thought that there are some people who can not only compete on the national stage, they can also do so on the global. Stephen Spielberg\’s $220 million a year is clearly not funded by the fact that he is one of the best filmakers in the US: rather, by the fact that he is one of the best in the world. I think I\’m right in saying that Hollywood\’s overseas takings have in recent years passed domestic for the first time. Tiger Woods\’ $100 million a year  would  not be funded purely by the US market for golfers and endorsements: it requires avid golfers in Taiwan, Dubai, the UK, to also be passing over the occasional dime or two. So those global superstars are indeed powering away from the rest as a result of globlisation: not because of any import effects but rather because they can export their goods and services to 6 billion, not 300 million.

The answer to the second part is that yes indeed, this is basic economics: we have been seeing it in programming for example. That there are millions of such (OK, tens of thousands perhaps) in India, Russia etc, willing to program for some fraction of extant American programming wages has indeed depressed US such wages. So? That doesn\’t change the fact that those capable of bestriding the globe, collect global instead of national rents for their scarce talents, have, as a result of globalisation, been able to do so.

The fact is that CEOs and other highly paid workers have seen their pay explode in ways that is not matched by the most highly paid workers in Europe, Japan, and other wealthy countries.

This isn\’t quite true. Income inequality has been rising within every country (as opposed to global, which has been falling, with all the usual caveats about Concept 1, 2 and 3) which rather supports the globalisation argument. It is, as the word suggests, a global phenomenon, as is the rise in national income inequality (the simplest way to see this is to look at the Gini for OECD countries over time…I would direct you but I\’m on dial up at present).

Perhaps one trivial example. If I were confined to writing for only UK outlets (as would pretty much have been true before the internet) my income from said writing for this year just ending would be around UK median income, perhaps a little lower. As I\’ve been able to write for US outlets as well (in the same way that Dean now writes for The Guardian….damn Yankees, coming over here and stealing our jobs!) and more directly for US readers and advertisers my income has been about twice US median household income.

There are indeed effects from globalisation which are making average incomes lower than they otherwise would be, the result of being able to import labour contained in goods from other, lower waged, countries, but I don\’t think enough is made of the point that if, as we are consistently told, the rise in inequality is concentrated in the effects the very top of the income distribution has on such distribution and averages, then exports are more likely to be the explanation than imports. Hmm, no, maybe that\’s too strong a statement. That not enough attention is being paid to the possible effects of those exports as opposed to the income effects might be better.

It is very much a debatable question as to whether there is anything intrinsic to the economy that lead to the explosion of inequality in the last quarter century.

Well, as above, I think Dean\’s got it the wrong way around. There\’s not much debate that globalisation is increasing within country inequality, and it really is debatable as to whether there\’s been an upward redistribution of incomes.