Clearing the podcast backlog

Sep. 1st, 2015 09:27 pm
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Posted by Andrew Hickey

Just to say that I’ve started getting the podcast versions done of the August posts. They’ll all be downloadable from the podcast site by the end of tonight. I will only be doing substantive posts, not the “I’m too sick to post” ones.

yhlee: soulless (orb) (AtS soulless (credit: mango_icons on LJ))

more Sirens flanick

Sep. 1st, 2015 04:25 pm
[personal profile] yhlee
Okay, I tracked down the email that says the speech can be on any (reasonable) topic. It doesn't have to relate directly to the con's theme. Which is great!

Except I still have no idea how I can fill up even a half-hour of time.

I despise sitting through speeches and avoid them like the plague. I never sit in on speeches when I go to cons. All of which means that I have no idea what people talk about when they do make speeches. Ha, ha, joke's on me. Reconnaissance fail!

I mean, it would be easy to talk about writing and depression, but wouldn't that be too, well, depressing? I dunno. I might go to that for a backup if everything else fails. :/
kafj: headshot of KAFJ looking over right shoulder (Default)

August Moon day 11: brightest star

Sep. 1st, 2015 09:17 pm
[personal profile] kafj
You have always been the brightest star in my sky, your calm
unfading glow steady against my erratic dance,
and only lost at last
in the quiet flood, the brighter tide of dawn.
yhlee: a plush raven on a plush fox (hxx Cheris Jedao)

more Sirens flanick

Sep. 1st, 2015 02:49 pm
[personal profile] yhlee
How the hell am I going to get to a tailor before Sirens? I have clothes but the pants are all too long (my sister and I went on an emergency shopping trip months ago) and the tailor I'd hoped to use has no hours on the weekend, which makes it difficult to get to them.


I mean, they go to the trouble of inviting me, the least I can do is make myself presentable. :]

I also understand there's some kind of dance thing, where I expect to hide myself as much as they allow me and stand around looking awkward and underdressed. I would kill to have a really nice suit but I can't afford a really nice suit, and I don't do dresses anymore. It's tempting to bring the fox-ears headband and wear that...

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Posted by Caron Lindsay

It’s that time of year again – Federal Liberal Youth and the Welsh organisation IR Cymru are electing the teams which will lead them through the next year. The new executives will take office on 1st November.

I am Returning Officer for the third year. Any member of the party who is under 26 or is in full-time education is eligible to vote. Everyone the party thinks fits those categories should have had an email on Sunday evening. If you haven’t, please check your Spam folder. If it’s not there, get in touch with membership department here and ask them to mark you as a Youth member.

Details of all the positions and how to apply can be found here. If you want to apply, you should provide me with the required information and an A5 sized manifesto in PDF or Word format by 8pm on Sunday 6th September. One of the first things I changed about these elections was to ensure that nominations closed at a sociable hour. The first year, they closed at midnight on a Friday night, and, given the number of places available, there were a fair few last minute nominations and queries that I had to deal with.  I am pretty pathetic at the staying up late thing, so I decided on the earlier time for future elections. 

Electronic ballots will be despatched a week later and voting will close at 8pm on 27th September.

If you want to find out more, all the job descriptions can be found in the constitution and outgoing chair Alex Harding is happy to answer any questions you might have on what it’s like being an office bearer or committee member. You can email him on if you want to know more.

I know I’m asking for trouble here, but I wondered if any of our readers wanted to share their experience of running Liberal Youth or any of its predecessor organisations. Just try not to exceed the smut quotient set by Mark Smulian here. And don’t libel  or incriminate anyone either.


* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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Posted by Paul Walter

George-orwell-BBCOver on the (unaffiliated) Journeyman blog there is a review of George Orwell’s collection of essays called Why I write, which was originally published in 1946.

The review quotes a couple of passages where Orwell makes observations about England. (I apologise that these opinions are very specifically given about England only, rather than the country as a whole).

The first passage is about the artistic and intellectual characteristics of the English:

Here are a couple of generalizations about England that would be accepted by almost all observers. One is that the English are not gifted artistically…the English are not intellectual… another English characteristic which is so much a part of us that we barely notice it, and that is the addiction to hobbies and spare-time occupations, the privateness of English life… The most hateful of all names in an English ear is Nosey Parker.
(The Lion & The Unicorn pp14-16)

The second passage reflects on the culture of England:

…in all societies the common people must live to some extent against the existing order. The genuinely popular culture of England is something that goes on beneath the surface, unofficially and more or less frowned on by the authorities. One thing one notices if one looks directly at the common people, especially in the big towns, is that they are not puritanical. They are inveterate gamblers, drink as much beer as their wages will permit, are devoted to bawdy jokes, and use probably the foulest language in the world. They have to satisfy these tastes in the face of astonishing, hypocritical laws (licensing laws, lottery acts, etc., etc.) which are designed to interfere with everybody but in practice allow everything to happen. Also, the common people are without definite religious belief, and have been so for centuries. The Anglican Church never had a real hold on them, it was simply a preserve of the landed gentry, and the Nonconformist sects only influenced minorities. And yet they have retained a deep tinge of Christian feeling, while almost forgetting the name of Christ.
(The Lion & The Unicorn pp16-17)

Is anything of what George Orwell says about England still true today? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

I tried to think of a good example of a mainstream artistic venture today and came up with The Lowry in Salford. It’s a fine example of an accessible and popular cultural venue. The Lowry was funded, in large part, by the National Lottery. That raises an interesting point related to Orwell. Has what he called the ‘inveterate gambling’ of the English, through the Lottery and the many creative ventures it has funded, stimulated an artistic interest in us which was not apparent to George Orwell?

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist in Newbury and West Berkshire. He is part of the Liberal Democrat Voice team and blogs at Liberal Burblings.

there’s a poet in every one of us

Sep. 1st, 2015 06:52 pm
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Posted by loveandgarbage

There’s a poet in every one of us, says


And when they eulogise Corbyn

Beware of the influence they’re absorbin’.

Old Tom knew the score

With his poetic lore:

The younger ones will imitate

Defacing, making Tom irate

But watch for mature versifiers of the left

For whom all poetry is theft.

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Posted by Stuart Bonar

“Do you agree that the UK should leave the EU and trade with the world?” That’s the question on the front page of the UKIP website, and presumably how they want to start framing the referendum debate once they launch their own No campaign later this week. “Out, and into the world,” as it was put in the 1970s.

But that’s a false choice. We don’t have to choose between Europe and the world. We can have both.

Let’s start by emphasising just how important the European marketplace is to British business. Last year, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics, the UK’s exports to the rest of the EU were worth £226bn – 12 times the value of the stuff we sold to China and 33 times what we sold to India. Between 2000 and 2014 the value of our exports to the rest of the EU rose by £80bn; the value of our exports to China rose by £16bn, and to India by just £4bn. China and India are important, growing markets with lots of potential, but let’s not forget just how important Europe is and will remain.

We are in a much better, stronger position in trade negotiations inside the EU than we would be outside. The EU makes up a quarter of the entire planet’s economy. It is bigger than that of China, bigger even than that of the United States. When we negotiate as a European bloc we do so from a position of strength. Of course Britain could hammer out a trade deal with America or China, but we’d not be negotiating with them as equals in a way that we do when we sit down as part of Team Europe. China’s economy is three times the size of ours, America’s is six times larger.

The CBI gets it. That’s why they’ve said that, “We would look to negotiate trade deals with the rest of the world if we left the EU, but we’d be doing so with a weaker hand”.

Roberto Azevedo, Director-General of the World Trade Organization, said last year, “the more that a country or a member is in a position to join with others in defending a particular idea or defending a particular agenda, the easier it is to push through its interests.” His is one of a number of voices in the world, including fellow Commonwealth countries like Australia as well as Japan and the United States, urging Britain to stick with the EU.

And what about the first trade deal we’d have to negotiate if we left, the one with the EU itself? We sell around half our exports to the bloc, but the UK is the marketplace for only around a tenth of their exports. They are a far more important export market to us than we are to them. This is why Poland’s former foreign minister, Radosław Sikorski, said there would be “no prizes for guessing who would have the upper hand in such a negotiation. Any free trade agreement would have a price.”

Anti-Europeans will often argue that free of Europe we can trade with the new, emerging markets. But what’s holding us back from doing that right now? Britain’s exports to Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (the BRICS) amounted to $41bn in 2012, according to figures compiled from the Observatory of Economic Complexity. But Germany managed to sell those same countries goods and services worth $167bn – four times as much. If Germany can do it, it’s not the EU that’s holding us back. As so often happens, we blame the EU rather than holding up a mirror to ourselves.

But this isn’t just about lowering tariffs on selling widgets. By sticking together, European countries avoid a race to the bottom on the social protections that we enjoy.

Take the entitlement to paid leave as an example. In Britain, someone working full time is entitled to 28 days’ paid leave per year. It’s one of the highest in the world. In a recent study by the US-based Center for Economic and Policy Research, 11 of the 12 countries with the most generous entitlement to paid leave are inside the EU. If you look at the G7 member states outside Europe, the entitlements are derisory: Canada and Japan, 10 days per year; and in the United States there is no legal entitlement to any paid leave at all.

Alone, outside the EU, how long before people started to argue that we need to cut the cost of doing business so we can compete in the global marketplace? Without being able to offer investors access to the Single Market, we would need to offer them something else to tempt them back over the Channel, most likely by making it cheaper to hire people and easier to fire them. I have written before about how the No campaign has made clear that this is the kind of Britain they want to see: a Britain of cheaper workers and lower standards.

UKIP’s binary choice – Europe or the world – is a false one. Staying in Europe means we can continue to enjoy unfettered access to the biggest economy on the planet. We can negotiate better trade deals as a part of a powerful bloc. And, as Germany’s experience shows, the EU does not stop us from growing our export markets.

The problem that leaves me with is how to answer UKIP’s question: Do you agree that the UK should leave the EU and trade with the world? Look at it again and you’ll see my problem. They only offer two possible answers: “Yes” and “Undecided”. Democracy, UKIP-style.

* Stuart Bonar was the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate in Plymouth Moor View.

photo by: rockcohen
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Posted by Tim Worstall

Sadly we have no strict official definition of hyperinflation but the usual rule of thumb is that an inflation rate of over 50% a month qualifies for the hyper- not just the inflation. And with estimates of Venezuela’s annual inflation rate running in the 700 to 800% sort of range the country’s not that far off the joy of joining Zimbabwe, post-WWII Hungary and Weimar Germany in the hall of shame. Megan McArdle has a nice piece about why this has happened and I agree with most of it. I just want to add one more thing really. Hyperinflation isn’t so much when there’s too much money chasing the goods: it’s when the system flips over to the velocity of money circulation increasing that’s the identifying point. At which point a shout out to Frances Coppola here at Forbes who helped clarify my thinking on this.

McArdle’s quite right:

It’s a bit of a mystery why this is happening. No, right, don’t tell me: The government is printing too much money! Indeed. As Milton Friedman famously said, “Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon.” When too much money is chasing too few goods, prices rise. And the most common source of “too much money” is government printing presses.

But I’m not asking for the mechanism; I’m asking for the reason. Why is the Venezuelan government resorting to the printing press?

I know you’ve got an answer to that, too. Seigniorage!

And yes, Venezuela didn’t invest enough of the oil money in keeping that industry up to scratch, printing money with gay abandon as they did so. But let’s look at that basic quantity theory of money equation for a moment, the heart of Friedman’s point. It is:

MV = PQ.

The quantity of money times the velocity of its circulation equals the price level times the quantity of goods and services. And we normally think of inflation as being caused by M changing, government printing too much money and that’s entirely true. But Venezuela went one step further. A supply shock in fact: for they reduced Q as well. Firstly they did it by price controls: so producers were less willing to produce things for sale. When those price controls failed to produce the cornucopia expected then the idiot socialists* decided to start nationalising producers. And given the bureaucrats they put into run things this worked about as well as might be expected and quantity produced fell again. So, even if Venezuela wasn’t printing more money they’d still be having inflation: because the quantity available for purchase was falling.

This is not, by the way, regarded as good public policy.

But that’s still not enough for hyperinflation. What we need there is that V change and change considerably. People see the inflation: people are not, contrary to rumour, in aggregate dumb. So, they see that money is going to be worth less in a month, or a week. So, they spend it now. On anything. Absolutely anything at all. We saw this a little in Greece just recently as the banks started to limit withdrawals. You could still spend bank money through the banking system through, just not get it in cash nor out of the country. So, Greeks entirely rationally went on a buying sprees for cars, refrigerators and other consumer durables. Sure, the banks might fall over but you’ve not lost your money as a result because you’ve already spent it. And in a true hyperinflation this is what happens. Anyone who gets any money from any source immediately spends it upon some real commodity. Lumps of coal, eggs, the wheelbarrows people move their money around in, anything at all. And that’s V soaring: and that’s the behavioural change that really identifies hyperinflation.

And once it happens it’s not possible to stop it in that same currency. Inflation can be tamed with interest rates and so on: but hyperinflation? It can go on to the bitter end as it did in Zimbabwe: the last run of bank notes were not worth enough to buy the ink to print the next run, bringing the system to an end. The Weimar inflation ended with the introduction of a new currency, the Rentenmark. The central bank was able to believably commit to only issuing the right amount of currency, they linked it to the property taxes that they knew would be coming in.

So, if hyperinflation does appear then that’s the end for that particular currency, one way or the other. and Venezuela does appear to be on the verge of it: we’re just going to have to wait and see whether we get that change in V as people desperately buy anything at all with the paper currency they have at hand.

By the way, I would hesitate to defend all of the above as an academic paper. But as a real world guide to what happens it’s instructive. Hyperinflation isn’t when the government has printed too much money. It’s when people realise that it has and that inflation is going to destroy the value of what money they have. Thus they spend it now, in a frenzy, upon anything at all: it’s the increase in V that is hyperinflation, it’s really the hypervelocity of money, not inflation as we normally regard it.

*Apologies, this is not too strong a description of the economics brains behind Maduro. If anything, it’s too weak.

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Posted by Tim Worstall

There’s much muttering around and about as it appears that Walmart has been cutting the working hours for some associates after the recently raised wages for them. Quite why there should be such muttering is unknown: for Walmart actually told us that this is what they were hoping would happen. Not quite flat out “we’re raising wages so we can cut hours” but that was the obvious intention of the plan in the first place. For they did tell us that they wanted to raise wages so as to get less jobs churn and thus a more productive workforce. And a more productive workforce is the same as getting the same amount of work done while also using fewer labor hours. That’s the definition of increased productivity in fact.

So this sort of muttering is difficult to understand:

Bowing To Demands Of Wall Street, Walmart Cuts Hours To Trim Costs

It’s not the demands of Wall Street: it’s what Walmart told us it was trying to do all along. From the same piece:

In February, Walmart announced that it would raise its base pay to at least $9 an hour by April and $10 an hour by early next year, increasing wages for about 500,000 employees and spending more than $1 billion on the effort. At the time, the CEO said the company expected those changes to lower employee turnover and attract better talent, as well as to lead to better customer service that would boost sales.

And as Bloomberg has reported:

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., in the midst of spending $1 billion to raise employees’ wages and give them extra training, has been cutting the number of hours some of them work in a bid to keep costs in check.

So, what was it that Walmart was actually trying to achieve with the pay raise? Well, part of this is the same reason that Henry Ford did his $5 a day thing. It was nothing at all to do with either it being just and righteous that people made more, nor was it the hope that the employees would spend more on the companies’ products. Rather, turnover of employees costs money. You’ve got to find the new person to replace the one who has left, got to train them to get them up to speed. And thus reducing that jobs churn can save money overall: and one obvious way to reduce churn is to pay people better in the first place so they’re less likely to leave. Now, this is all something of a delicate balance, the costs of the higher wages against the savings from the lower churn, but Walmart effectively said they were shifting their model a little. Paying slightly higher amounts in order to get less churn. Great.

The other part of this is that, obviously, longer serving employees who have had more training are going to be more productive. That’s the other half of the plan. And again it’s a delicate balance: how much more productive are they going to be? And will that greater productivity cover the costs of the higher wages? Walmart was similarly signalling, actually telling us, that they were gently moving along the spectrum of possible models that balance those two costs and benefits.

But think through what higher productivity of labour means. It means that we need fewer labor hours to achieve the same task: because each hour of labor is now more productive. We have a task, x, which currently takes us y hours of low productivity labor to achieve. If we have longer employed and better trained employees then we can achieve task x in z hours now, where z is lower than y. The benefit to us of the pay raise is that number of labor hours which is y-z. The cost to us is the increase in wages we’ve just given to all workers. And it could be, can be, that the benefits, the savings, from the lower number of hours are greater than the costs of the higher wages.

This isn’t rocket science, isn’t an unknown in the US retail scene. Costco pays very much higher wages than Walmart. It also employs about half the amount of labor per volume of sales. Costco is therefore simply in a different model along that same spectrum of trading off hourly productivity against hourly wages. And note the obvious point here: Costco pays much better but also uses many fewer labor hours. And as Walmart moves along that same spectrum of possible labor models it is facing exactly the same calculation. Raise the wages in order to get more productive staff and the very point and purpose of what you’re doing is to reduce the number of labor hours you must purchase.

That Walmart is offering fewer hours as a result of the raise in wages isn’t some oddity, some unexpected glitch. It’s the very point of the wage rise in the first place.

And this is something that’s worth remembering over the discussions of a higher minimum wage. That public policy is being argued for on the grounds that companies will respond by working to increase the productivity of labor. Yep, they will: which means, as above, that they will employ less labor as a result.

Also on Forbes:



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Posted by Mark Wright

Tim Farron was widely quoted on Monday, for perhaps the first time since his election as leader. The good news is that he was correct in his point. He was responding to a resurfaced quote from Labour leadership favourite, Jeremy Corbyn, who has said to Iranian TV that Bin Laden’s death was “a tragedy”, as it was unlawful and he should have been put on trial instead.

That the killing of Bin Laden was illegal has been a favourite proposition of the Galloway-ite hard left, so it isn’t a surprise to see them jump up and defend Corbyn. But I was surprised to see a few serious liberals, including Paddy Ashdown in the past, also voice this and criticise Tim for his intervention.

Their premise is that Bin Laden was a common criminal, and thus “due process” should have been followed, with him legally arrested and brought to trial. But this view is based on a foundation that is both legally dubious, and naive in practicability.

Acres of legal opinion have been written about the legal status of the conflict with Al Qaeda and ISIS in the last decade, and suffice to say there is no settled legal answer, but a liberal would do well to use to use common sense and liberalism to pick a legally well-supported and consistent position here. The fact that the American military has been picking and choosing whether it treats the situation as a war or a criminal matter (or neither, sometimes) is both unhelpful and wrong, but shouldn’t affect hour we assess the situation.

At the base of this is the question of whether the USA and Al Qaeda are “at war”. Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda publicly declared war on the USA in August 1996, reiterated in February 1998, in two Fatwas, sometimes called the Ladenese epistle. President George W Bush declared de-facto war on Al Qaeda on September 20th, 2001, nine days after 9/11. Since then, both entities have been locked in a clear military confrontation. This is a reasonably sound basis for a legal “war”, and we should behave accordingly. In addition, anyone saying inmates of Guantanamo should be under the legal protections of POW status (a strong legal opinion that I agree with) is implicitly agreeing that a de-facto war is in effect.

What this means is that the military personnel and leaders of both entities are legal targets for the other, and because of that the only “due process” is a positive identification – after that, targets may be killed on sight. The refusal of groups like Al Qaeda to wear uniforms makes identification more difficult, but in the case of Bin Laden himself a facial identification was sufficient.

As it happens, the CIA would probably have loved to get hold of Bin Laden alive, as he knew a lot about Al Qaeda. But would doing this have been plausible?

Sending your own soldiers into a nest of suicide bombers, which is likely booby-trapped, in order to apprehend individuals who may be wired to explode, is an astonishingly risky thing to do. Irresponsibly risky in fact – because deliberately gambling dozens of good people to try to save one mass murderer is morally wrong, and I certainty don’t blame the Americans for refusing to do that. We also know from the genuinely “tragic” case of Jean Charles De Menezes that the security forces have determined the only way to deal with someone believed being wired for suicide is multiple head-shots. There is no plausible way to arrest such a person.

So the killing of Bin Laden was not only legal, is was the only plausible and most moral way of putting an end to his murderous activities. Corbyn is misguided, even more so because – as usual – he plays into the hands of terrorist sympathisers, and Tim was right to criticise him.

* Dr Mark Wright is a councillor in Bristol and was the 2015 general election Parliamentary candidate for Bristol South.

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Posted by Tim Worstall

Yes, OK, this isn’t exactly unusual in politics, that someone dresses up the numbers a little bit to make the point they want to make, but we should still call them out when we find them doing it. And here we’ve got the Bernie Sanders campaign dollying up the numbers for child poverty. The US has the highest level of child poverty among the advanced nations apparently. Something that isn’t actually true, as the report they send us to as their source tells us.

So, on the main campaign page we find this graphic:


There’s nothing wrong with that chart. Yes, the numbers are a little different from the ones we usually see for the US but that’s because this is using a different measurement. In the US there’s the Federal poverty line and if you’re below that then the children in the family are classified as poor. But internationally the more common measure is one of inequality, not poverty. So, if the children are in a family that has less than 60% of median income for that family size, after accounting for taxes and benefits, then the children are classified as poor. If you want to do cross country comparisons then you’ve got to be using one single measure to compare and so it’s fine that they are doing so here.

There is something a little hinky with these figures and it’s something that many noted when the report first came out from the UN. They’re using 2012 income figures as compared to the median incomes of 2008. For, as they say:

A commonly used indicator of child poverty is the proportion of those living below an established poverty line. League Table 1 ranks the change in child poverty in 41 EU and/or OECD countries between 2008 and 2012. This change is calculated by computing child poverty in 2008 using a poverty line fixed at 60 per cent of median income. Using the same poverty line in 2012, adjusted for inflation, the rate is computed and the difference in the two rates is shown. A positive number indicates an increase in child poverty. Additional explanations of these trends are provided in Section 3.

The reason for this is that this poverty measurement is a measure of inequality. Inequality falls in recessions. So, if they had compared child poverty rates in 2008, using 2008 median incomes, against child poverty rates in 2012, using 2012 medians, they would have found that child poverty had fallen in the recession. Because inequality does fall in recessions. And of course that would never do, a report that showed that child poverty was falling. So, they used the number of people in 2012 below 60% of median income in 2008 in order to show that child poverty had risen. But that’s an issue with the UN people writing the report, not with the Bernie Sanders campaign.

However, the problem comes with what Bernie’s campaign then says:

There is something profoundly wrong when we have a proliferation of millionaires and billionaires at the same time as millions of Americans work longer hours for lower wages and we have the highest childhood poverty rate of any developed country on earth.

But America doesn’t have the highest child poverty rate of any developed nation on earth. and whether you want to award it two or three Pinocchios is really up to you.

That original UN report covers all the members of the OECD. And that is usually taken to mean all of the advanced, or developed, or rich, nations, all those descriptions being used generally as synonyms. It is true though that there’s no strict definition of “developed”. So we have to take our guide as to what is “developed” from who they have included in that chart. For the Sanders campaign has obviously only included some of the OECD members in that chart. I can understand the idea of not including Mexico in a list of developed countries in the context of an American election, sure I can. It is actually developed by the general standards of the world but that’s not how it’s seen in the US and fine, if that’s what you want to do then fine.

However, Poland is included in that list of developed nations, so is the Czech Republic (where I am sitting right now). The GDP per capita of those two countries is $14,000 and $19,000 respectively (and roughly, at nominal exchange rates). So our definition of developed country is obviously member of the OECD that is richer than either of those two. Which is good: because the UN report covers all OECD countries and we can scan our list of countries ranked by GDP and match one with the other.

And Latvia is richer than Poland and Latvia has a child poverty rate of 38.2%, much higher than that of the US. Spain’s child poverty rate is 36.3% and it’s much, much, richer, at $30,000 per capita GDP it’s twice as rich as Poland. That’s definitely a developed country. At $37,000 GDP per capita Israel is very definitely a developed country. But its child poverty rate is 35.6%, higher than that of the US again.

So, by the very definitions that the Bernie Sanders campaign is using it is not true that the US has the highest child poverty rate among the developed nations. Yet they state that the US has “the highest childhood poverty rate of any developed country on earth.”

It ain’t true. Deserving of some Pinocchios therefore.

Satellite Re-Entry Surprises Hawaii

Sep. 1st, 2015 01:45 pm
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Posted by Phil Plait

Folks in Hawaii got a shock — or a thrill, depending on how much they knew about what they were seeing — when a very bright and dramatic “shooting star” blew across their skies on Aug. 31, 2015.

Here’s video:

That’s one example of many (one I saw had a lot of swearing in it, which doesn’t surprise me at all).

Was it an asteroid? A sign of the Apocalypse? Superman?

Nope. It was the re-entry of Cosmos 1315, a Soviet-era satellite launched in 1981. The giveaway for me that this was a satellite and not a natural meteor was how slowly it was moving. Typical meteor speeds are many dozens of kilometers per second, and they zip across the sky in a second or two. Satellites orbit at about 8 km/sec, and can take a minute or more to clear the horizon. Also, satellites tend to break apart as the pressure and heat of re-entry take their toll, and you can see that’s what’s going on in the video.

Also, the Aerospace Corporation put the re-entry track right over Hawaii at just the right time. Seems pretty cut and dried.

I’ve seen hundreds of meteors (probably thousands), and only one satellite re-entry, a Russian booster that burned up over the US East coast back when I was in grad school. It was pretty awe-inspiring, moving slowly and gracefully across the sky, with bits falling off. A meteor usually stays in one piece unless it’s a really big one.

There are a lot of birds up there, and this stuff comes down all the time. Usually they fall over the ocean where no one sees them (the planet is mostly water, after all), but when they come down over populated areas we usually get lots of dramatic video and photographs.

Sometimes these can be a danger — ask this guy who lives downrange of a Chinese rocket launch site — but that’s extremely rare. Still, it’s something aerospace companies and national governments need to be concerned about, especially during test launches; debris from SpaceShipTwo came down in the Mojave after the test vehicle crashed in 2014, narrowly missing bystanders.

But what this tells me is — and stop me if you’ve heard this before — you need to look up! You never know what’s up there… and what’s coming down.

Tip o’ the heat shield to David Dickenson

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Posted by Mary

  • Ashley Madison Code Shows More Women, and More Bots – “After searching through the Ashley Madison database and private email last week, I reported that there might be roughly 12,000 real women active on Ashley Madison. Now, after looking at the company’s source code, it’s clear that I arrived at that low number based in part on a misunderstanding of the evidence. Equally clear is new evidence that Ashley Madison created more than 70,000 female bots to send male users millions of fake messages, hoping to create the illusion of a vast playland of available women.”
  • Kentucky Clerk’s Request For A Stay Is Denied By U.S. Supreme Court – *fail trombone noise*
  • These young Mexican women artists are speaking up – “Meet Mexican artists Aline Herrera and Natasha Kroupensky. They’re young, opinionated, and most importantly, full of ideas. They’re using their voices, and creativity, to bring attention to indigenous communities in Mexico.”
  • feminist_tinder – If you haven’t already checked out this Instagram account, written by one of the bloggers at Everyday Feminism, you need this in your life.
  • If Fish Is Brain Food, Can Fish Oil Pills Boost Brains, Too? – “In lieu of eating fish, many adults take fish oil, or omega-3 supplements. But a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that these supplements are no magic elixir when it comes to staving off cognitive decline in older adults.”
  • How it feels when white people shame your culture’s food — then make it trendy – “My family’s food went from ‘Chinese grossness’ to America’s ‘hottest food trend.’ “
  • Google Life Sciences Makes Diabetes Its First Big Target – “Signals suggesting Google wanted to do more than dabble in biomedical research were growing even before Google co-founder Sergey Brin said its life sciences operation would be spun out as an independent company under Google’s reorganization into Alphabet. Google has in recent months hired prominent scientists, including immunologists, neurologist and even nanoparticle engineers to feed its life sciences ambitions.”
  • How dollhouse crime scenes schooled 1940s cops – “Frances Glessner Lee’s dioramas helped bring a scientific approach to forensic science.”

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Posted by Joe Otten

referendum2From the BBC

The elections watchdog has recommended a change to the question to be put to voters in a future EU referendum.

The Electoral Commission said the wording proposed by ministers – “should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?” – could be perceived as biased to the status quo.

It has proposed adding the words “or leave the European Union?”

It has been reported that Downing St has accepted this advice. On the face of it, this seems quite reasonable. There does appear to be an advantage in being “Yes”, and therefore a question with the answers of leave or remain should be more neutral.

There is, however, some analysis of polling at the Guardian live blog which suggests that the leave/remain option is the worst of the three with only a 10 point lead for remain. No(remain) has a 14 point leave over Yes(leave), and Yes(remain) has an 18 point lead over No(leave).

Some are arguing that the word leave has negative connotations, but surely remain does too – at least to optimists. You remain when you fail to do something better – or avoid something worse. Optimists and neophiles will surely instinctively think of the former.

To my mind the fairest and clearest answers to the referendum question would be in and out.

Should the United Kingdom remain in the European Union or be left out of it?

* Joe Otten is a councillor in Sheffield and Tuesday editor of Liberal Democrat Voice

matgb: Artwork of 19th century upper class anarchist, text: MatGB (Default)

British Liberal, house husband, school play leader and stepdad. Campaigner, atheistic feminist, amateur baker. Male.

Known to post items of interest on occasions. More likely to link to interesting stuff. Sometimes talks about stuff he's done. Occasionally posts recipes for good food. Planning to get married, at some point. Enjoying life in Yorkshire.

Likes comments. Especially likes links. Loves to know where people came from and what they were looking for. Mostly posts everything publicly. Sometimes doesn't. Hi.

Mat Bowles

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August 2015

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Stuff and nonsense

I'm the Chair of the Brighouse branch of the Liberal Democrats & the membership secretary for Calderdale Lib Dems and run the web campaign for the local candidates. I have a job, a stepdaughter and a life.

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