29 July 2012

Your clothes are toxic

A report by Choice magazine says that toxicity in clothing is woefully under-regulated in Australia.

The money quote:

Andreas Schimkus, the Council of Textile and Fashion Industries of Australia's (TFIA) senior industry adviser, spent four years in Hong Kong supplying footwear to the EU market and says he was shocked by the lack of active regulation in the Australian market when he first arrived here.  
“Products that are made in China for the Australian market could not even be sent back to China, as many of them would not meet the Chinese product safety standards but are acceptable here.”

23 July 2012

Global super-rich hide $21 trillion in tax havens

$21 trillion - $32 trillion hidden in tax havens by y/e 2010.

1. China
2. Russia
3. South Korea

Architecture delicacies of the week

For some you-cannot-be-serious architecture, a big hat-tip to the Blattman.

Also, good find of an awesome site: Twisted Sifter.

Which companies own the world economy?

Go here to see the structure of the world economy.

H/t: The Interpreter.

21 July 2012

Man Rescues Drowning Family Who Then Leave While He Drowns

You would think someone had made this up as a caricature.

Some Chinese guy leaps into the water to save a family of 3. Somehow they get rescued but he drowns. As he is drowning, the rescued family gets in their car and drives off. When the crowd try to prevent them from leaving, the wife says "It's none of our damn business".

Classic Communist attitude. (Note they are a family of 3 and have a car.)

Modern war at the coalface

Doco on the Norwegian contingent in Afghanistan.

The Coconut War

Film by Stampede on how the Bouganville rebels conducted their logistics - they used coconut oil to run their vehicles. Here's how.

19 July 2012

500 Lumen Compact Flashlight

Review at Feral Jundi. Gets good reviews at Amazon too.


16 July 2012

Good decision making

Full Interpreter article here, with various links.

“Good decision making is not a trait of the person, in the sense that it’s always there,” Baumeister says. “It’s a state that fluctuates.” His studies show that people with the best self-control are the ones who structure their lives so as to conserve willpower. They don’t schedule endless back-to-back meetings. They avoid temptations like all-you-can-eat buffets, and they establish habits that eliminate the mental effort of making choices. Instead of deciding every morning whether or not to force themselves to exercise, they set up regular appointments to work out with a friend. Instead of counting on willpower to remain robust all day, they conserve it so that it’s available for emergencies and important decisions. 
“Even the wisest people won’t make good choices when they’re not rested and their glucose is low,” Baumeister points out. That’s why the truly wise don’t restructure the company at 4 p.m. They don’t make major commitments during the cocktail hour. And if a decision must be made late in the day, they know not to do it on an empty stomach. “The best decision makers,” Baumeister says, “are the ones who know when not to trust themselves.”

15 July 2012

Window coating improves mood by letting in right light

Thanks to the never-failing Gizmag:
With many of us spending more and more time indoors, it can be a struggle to get the amount of sunlight our bodies crave. Modern heat-insulating, sun-protection glazing doesn’t help, as it reflects a noticeable percentage of the incident sunlight in the part of the spectrum that governs our hormonal balance. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research (ISC) have developed a coating for windows that lets in more light, in particular those wavelengths of light that have a beneficial effect on our sense of well-being.

14 July 2012

Elevated Epo levels motivates exercise

Elevated levels of erythropoietin motivates mice to exercise, according to this article.

... raising the levels of the hormone erythropoietin (Epo) in the brains of mice resulted in the rodents being more motivated to exercise. The discovery provides the possibility of developing a pill that can motivate people to want to exercise. 
The study, carried out by Max Gassmann, D.V.M. and colleagues from the Institute of Veterinary Physiology, Vetsuisse-Faculty and Zurich Center for Integrative Human Physiology at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, involved three groups of mice. One group received no treatment, the second was injected with human Epo, and the third was genetically modified to produce human Epo in the brain. 
The study showed that the second and third groups showed significantly higher running performance compared to the first group that had received no treatment...

12 July 2012

A Distant Plain

Now it can be told: Volko Ruhnke, designer of Andean Abyss, Labyrinth - The War on Terror, and Wilderness War, has teamed up with Brian Train, perpetrator of numerous designs on irregular warfare, to produce what could be the Grail of modern COIN games: a workable design on the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. 

Full story here.


From a Grist interview with the author of Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History. The topic was toxins in breast milk. It's a very simple observation but so true.

Q. Are there any products that you won’t use now? 
A. I really try to avoid very smelly personal care products. For example, things like room fresheners and toilet deodorizers — these things just make me nuts. Consumer culture tries so hard to convince us that we need to cleanse our homes with these really toxic products. So ironically, the cleaner we are, by consumer standards, the more polluted we become.

08 July 2012

Inside North Korea's secret economy

Fascinating, very eloquent, very readable article by a former insider (relatively) in the North Korean regime.

They basically screw foreign reinsurers for a living. Also, Kim Jong Il did not cultivate a bizarre image - he genuinely was bizarre, having among his many quirks a superstitious belief in the significance of triplets.

07 July 2012

When do politicians listen to lobbyists?

Interesting-looking paper in the European Journal of Political Research entitled 'When do politicians listen to lobbyists (and who benefits when they do)?' Link here. Abstract:
This article provides an empirical test of an informational model of lobbying. The model predicts when lobbyists provide useful information to policy makers and when policy makers follow lobbyists' advice. The predictions are assessed against data on the policy positions and lobbying activities of firms and other organised groups in the context of 28 policy proposals advanced by United Kingdom governments between 2001 and 2007. The results suggest that the interactions between policy makers and lobbyists are driven mainly by the expected policy costs for policy makers, providing lobbyists with strong incentives to provide correct advice to policy makers. There is little support for the expectation that lobbyists can successfully persuade policy makers to take a course of action that is beneficial to the lobbyist at the expense of wider constituencies.

05 July 2012

Carbon tax necessary, but Australia's ill-conceived

The legislative sausage-making, according to Professor McKibbin, has left us with a dog's breakfast.

04 July 2012

Tyler Cowen on black swans

Discussion by Tyler Cowen in theory on black swans but actually on all sorts of fun things, e.g. microinsurance.

03 July 2012

Who owns asteroids or the moon?

Mr Bentwick, according to this article in the New Scientist you shouldn't get too excited just yet.
In just under two years, Planetary Resources says it will launch the first of a series of space telescopes into low-Earth orbit in a bid to spot nearby asteroids of a size and mineral composition potentially worth mining. When a strong candidate is found, it plans to dispatch a robotic probe to assess the asteroid's precious metal content, with platinum a priority. If that is found, yet-to-be developed robots will be dispatched to mine it. If it is small enough, the asteroid could be brought into an Earth orbit first, to make the process easier. 
...Moon Express, a start-up based in Las Vegas, is planning to prospect the moon for platinum and other metals deposited on its surface by meteorites. 
[The UN's Outer Space Treaty of 1967] specifically prohibits states from making territorial claims in space. "States cannot claim rights over an asteroid," says Joanne Wheeler, a lawyer at London legal practice CMS Cameron McKenna and a UK government adviser on the UN's Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.
Note however that this view - or the view that this also applies to private actors - is not uncontested.

Humans strongest species ... in one event

Humans are the weakest animals - except when it comes to long-distance running.
Dogs can gallop for only about 10 to 15 minutes before reverting to a trot, and so their distance-running speed tops out at about 3.8 meters per second. Horses' average distance-running speed is 5.8 meters per second—a canter. Wildebeests’ is 5.1 meters per second. Elite human runners, however, can sustain speeds up to 6.5 meters per second. Even run-of-the-mill joggers typically do between 3.2 and 4.2 meters per second, which means they can outrun dogs at distances greater than two kilometers.

Tunisian Christian convert slaughtered

Warning: The video is apparently very graphic (I haven't watched it).

Here is the description: 
A young man appears held down by masked men. His head is pulled back, with a knife to his throat. He does not struggle and appears resigned to his fate. Speaking in Arabic, the background speaker, or "narrator," chants a number of Muslim prayers and supplications, mostly condemning Christianity, which, because of the Trinity, is referred to as a polytheistic faith: "Let Allah be avenged on the polytheist apostate"; "Allah empower your religion, make it victorious against the polytheists"; "Allah, defeat the infidels at the hands of the Muslims"; "There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger." 
Then, to cries of "Allahu Akbar!"—or, "God is great!"—the man holding the knife to the apostate's throat begins to slice away, even as the victim appears calmly mouthing a prayer. It takes nearly two minutes of graphic knife-carving to sever the Christian's head, which is then held aloft to more Islamic cries and slogans of victory. 
And here is some interesting comment:
In fact, only the other day a top Egyptian Salafi leader openly stated that no Muslim has the right to apostatize, or leave Islam, based on the canonical hadiths, including Muhammad's command, "Whoever leaves his religion, kill him." Islam's most authoritative legal manuals make crystal clear that apostasy is a capital crime, punishable by death. 
The first "righteous caliph," a paragon of Muslim piety and virtue, had tens of thousands of people slaughtered—including by burning, beheading, and crucifixion—simply because they tried to break away from Islam. According to the Encyclopaedia of Islam, the most authoritative reference work on Islam in the English language, "there is unanimity that the male apostate must be put to death."

Muslim prayers

Memri is blatantly biased (although not as hysterical as another source I simply had to unsubscribe from).

Still... I take its point. Here's just one example:
Also shown was a snippet of formal prayers at Mecca, Islam's holiest city. As Muslims circumambulated around the Ka'ba, the following supplications were blasted on a megaphone, chanted to by Islam's devotees: 
O Allah vanquish the unjust Christians and the criminal Jews, the unjust traitors; strike them with your wrath; make their lives hostage to misery; drape them with endless despair, unrelenting pain and unremitting ailment; fill their lives with sorrow and pain and end their lives in humiliation and oppression; inflict your tortures and punishments upon the unjust Christians and criminal Jews. This is our supplication, Allah; grant us our request!
Thanks for the telegraph. 

02 July 2012

Supermarkets linked to obesity

From Vic Cherikoff in response to an article on supermarket chain power in The Age.

Remember to eat your fruit!

...There is another consequence to our fruits and vegetables being bred for the distribution chains. Our food is drifting away from providing our ideal nutrition and just becoming a commodity. This introduces a cost to the public purse as Government health budgets blow out with the rise in diseases of nutrition (DON). 
Consider the mangoes that we all love to eat. Remember when they were full of fibre and you had to chew the not so sweet juice and flesh off a hairy seed? The fibre is gone. But the mangoes are bigger now than they used to be. The water content is up and so is the sweetness. There is up to 3% more sugar in a mango than in the equal weight of Coke (or that other brand). And that sugar is primarily sucrose which is half fructose, a sugar which is responsible for the insulin resistance of our cells, for maintaining a high blood glucose level AND leading to metabolic syndrome.

Rich countries beneficiaries of drug trade

The vast profits made from drug production and trafficking are overwhelmingly reaped in rich "consuming" countries – principally across Europe and in the US – rather than war-torn "producing" nations such as Colombia and Mexico, new research has revealed. And its authors claim that financial regulators in the west are reluctant to go after western banks in pursuit of the massive amount of drug money being laundered through their systems.

Entire Chinese economy rife with fraud

Fascinating article from the always-interesting Steve Keen's Debtwatch.
...The Sino Forest debacle was kicked off with a 19 page report issued by Carson Block of Muddy Water Sino Forest Report. This report didn’t mince words and came out form the start comparing the company to Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. 
The problem with Sino Forest was that most of the forests the company claimed as assets simply didn’t exist. Rather than being a few isolated cases, these examples signal an epidemic of systemic fraud and corruption that pervades entire Chinese economy... 
What is China’s response to this plague of fraud in Chinese US listed stocks? They intend to make it very difficult for the Big 4 to continue to work in China ‘Big Four’ auditors brace for big changes in China. In the case of Longtop Financial, Deloites, the firms’ auditors have been unable to provide the SEC with any documentation about the collapse for fear of breaking China’s state secrecy laws.
Jim Chanos the famous hedge fund investor who foresaw the subprime crisis described the entire Chinese economy as “1000 times worse than Dubai”.

What does the 'great big new tax on everything' mean?

Thanks to the Australia Institute.

Top 5 regrets of the dying

The full article, short and worth reading, is here.
1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard.
3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.