This is so fun: my friends Zach Weinersmith of SMBC and Henry Reich from Minute Physics have written an astronomically corrected version of the song “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” for kids!
They also put together a totally adorable short video with Henry singing the song:
When I first saw it I thought I saw a mistake in it, but I was wrong. I point it out so others don’t misunderstand it the way I did. The lyric is about a pulsar: “Out away from Earth your drift, this is known from your redshift.” I mistook this line to say we know its distance from its redshift, but that only works for very distant galaxies, not pulsars, which are inside our own galaxy. But I misunderstood; they’re saying we know it’s moving away from Earth by its redshift, and that’s technically correct. So there.
Anyway, this has come out just in time for the holidays. Go buy it, and turn more kids into little science pedants!
This is a bucket list. Feel free to contribute. To participate, items should be:
* affordable by weight and size and time (PLA or nylon feedstock isn't free—you're looking at up to £100/kg in bulk—and can take an hour per inch of depth to extrude)
* require only a consumer-grade 3D printer such as an UP! Mini-printer (anything costing over £2000 is disqualified—I'm after plausible hobbyist uses here—I assume you already have a computer to run design software on: high end sintered-metal printers are right out)
* shouldn't be a duplicate of a readily-available commercial product
* shouldn't already have a download available on Thingiverse (such as my head)
1. An iPhone 6+ case in the form of an Apple Newton Messagepad 100 (which is about the same screen diagonal and came out almost exactly 20 years earlier). For added lulz, it should have a stylus holder expanded internally to hold a Pencil bluetooth stylus.
2. I have a Z-scale model railway train and some track. Prefabbed scenery sections are rare and expensive (a few specialists in Germany stock them), but it ought to be possible to take an HO or OO gauge layout, scale it down, and 3D print the terrain—thus permitting a model railroad track with mountain tunnels and level crossings that fits inside a desk drawer, thus rendering it semi cat-proof. (And indeed, the model railroad folks are already all over thingiverse.)
3. Keyboard caltrops for kittens. (See reason for #2 above.)
Any other suggestions?
There’s rather less than nothing to this announcement that the U.S. is going to stop imposing a tariff upon imports of Mexican sugar into the U.S. For what they’re replacing the tariffs with are, at root, economically equivalent. And the end result will be that the U.S. consumer will continue to get shafted, as has been true for many decades now, in favour of the small but politically very powerful U.S. sugar producing industry. The end result is that each and every American gets shaken down for around $5 a year to benefit 4,500 farms across the country. It’s not just that this isn’t good public policy it just ain’t right either.
Here’s the actual news of the change:
The U.S. and Mexico have struck a deal to scrap tariffs on imports of Mexican sugar, ending a trade dispute that rattled candy-makers over higher costs for their key ingredient.
The U.S. will suspend duties on Mexican sugar that were implemented earlier this year, and establish minimum prices “to guard against undercutting or suppression of U.S. prices,” the U.S. Commerce Department said in a statement late Friday.
The deal could help narrow the gap between sugar in the U.S. and the global market, where the sweetener is cheaper.
But the agreement also includes measures to limit the amount of sugar Mexico can send to the U.S., through export limits, drawing criticism from one food-industry group.
The three things, import tariffs, minimum prices and quotas are distinguishable in minor economic details. But they all have exactly the same effect. They make the price of sugar higher in the U.S. than it would be without any of the three of them. Moving from one to the other does mean that people can say they’ve done something. But they’ve not changed that underlying situation where everyone has to pay $5 a year more to benefit the politically privileged few.
As to why this happens, let Heritage tell us all:
Sugar beet and sugarcane farms account for about one-fifth of 1 percent of U.S. farms, and sugar producers account for 1.3 percent of the value of total farm and livestock production. There are 2.2 million farms in the United States. Of that total, there are just 3,913 sugar beet farms and 666 sugarcane farms. This relatively small sector of the economy is very politically engaged, accounting for 33 percent of crop industries’ total campaign donations, and 40 percent of crop industries’ total lobbying expenditures. The special treatment that this relatively small interest group receives from the government drives up the price of sugar, jeopardizes export growth, and weakens the U.S. economy.
In fiscal year (FY) 2013, Americans consumed 12 million tons of refined sugar, with the average price for raw sugar 6 cents per pound higher than the average world price. That means, based on 24 billion pounds of refined sugar use at a 6-cents-per-pound U.S. premium, Americans paid an unnecessary $1.4 billion extra for sugar. That is equivalent to more than $310,000 per sugar farm in the United States.
As to how it happens: that 33% and 40% of total crop industry campaign and lobbying expenditures is how. Allied with the point that Mancur Olson made. None of us really notice all that much that we’re paying that extra $5 each a year. But each and every sugar farm will notice not getting that $310,000 a year in support.
Sadly, as Olson went on to say, that’s just what representative democracy ends up as. The special interest groups buy favours through the system at the expense of the general population. We get plucked for their benefit you might say. And there’s really only one solution to it. Which is to move to a minimalist, even minarchist, style of government. If we have a system that doesn’t impose duties, or tariffs, or quotas, then when those are imposed for one or other special interest group then they’ll stand out like a sore thumb. When every single product comes under some regime or another of one or more of the three then those favours will be hidden in the thickets.
The effect of this particular sugar regime is so large that Lifesavers, a quintessentially American candy, are now made in Canada. Because there’s no import duty, minimum price or quota on sugar imported already inside candy, only on sugar itself. So in Canada they can buy their sugar at the lower world price.
It’s not just that this is bad economics and bad public policy, it just isn’t right that the American population is shaken down through the political system in this manner to benefit a special interest group. And that’s without even getting into the fact that High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) would be pretty much non-existent if U.S. sugar were the world price. After all, Mexican Coke tastes different because it’s made with sugar, not HFCS.
Here’s another little example of the way that the U.S. is extending its legal system in various extraterritorial manners. The U.S. has today announced that it is fining Alstom, a French company, for actions and behavior that didn’t take place in the U.S. Sure, the U.S. has laws against bribing foreign government officials to gain business contracts. But it’s a bit odd that a French company, bribing people not in America, gets caught in such a net.
Here’s the basic news:
A French power and transportation company has agreed to pay $772 million in penalties to resolve allegations that it bribed government officials in multiple foreign countries.
Justice Department officials on Monday announced that Alstom SA would plead guilty to violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
Prosecutors say the company and several subsidiaries falsified books and paid tens of millions of dollars in bribes for contracts for power, grid and transportation projects. Authorities say the bribes were paid in countries including Egypt, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia.
A French company pays bribes in Indonesia (where, sad to say, nothing happens without a little doucer here or there) and it’s the U.S. government that picks up the fine? Seems a little odd doesn’t it? As the WSJ goes on:
U.S. authorities have ramped up overseas bribery enforcement in recent years, often investigating foreign companies that have a subsidiary located within the U.S. The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act makes it a crime to bribe a government official in exchange for business.
That’s what they’re doing. Insisting that if you do any business at all in the U.S. then your entire worldwide network is then covered by U.S. law. Seems a bit off, as I say, but that’s what they’re doing.
And of course it’s not just in the matter of bribery that this is happening. BNP Paribas was fined for dealing with Iran and Sudan when the U.S. had sanctions against both those countries. But BNP Paribas is a French bank: so why does the U.S. have jurisdiction? Here, really, the correct answer is simply because it could. The claim was that as BNP does business in the U.S., and clears dollar transactions through the U.S. (almost all dollar transactions are so cleared through the U.S.) then any business that the bank does anywhere comes under the U.S. rules. Perhaps, not because they really do, but it would be easy enough to pull the U.S. operating license and that would be the end of the bank.
There’s also a case with Microsoft going on. Some emails on a server in Ireland which the U.S. courts are insisting should be released to the court in the U.S. Despite the fact that the emails in Ireland are covered by Irish law which insists that there must be an Irish warrant to allow their release. Meaning that Microsoft’s in a bit of a hard place here, one court telling it to do something that another court insists is illegal.
So we’ve very definitely got increasing extra-territoriality from the U.S. organs of justice and courts. And I do wonder whether that’s a good idea or not. For one notable thing is that this isn’t reciprocal. For example, a U.S. court can simply say that it won’t enforce a UK libel court judgement. While a UK court cannot say the same about a U.S. court one.
It’s most certainly not good economics that one court jurisdiction gets to fine companies from all over the world on fairly tenuous grounds. Who would really like it if Russia’s legal system extended all the way around the world? Or North Korea’s? And I’m pretty sure that the non-reciprocity isn’t good public policy either. Eventually it’s going to start getting up peoples’ noses and they’ll be looking for ways to punish American companies in their own jurisdictions under their own laws. And there won’t be all that much that the U.S. can honestly do to complain about it, given their previous actions.
Chipping away at the secrecy surrounding Liberal Democrat internal committees has been a regular theme of mine over the last few years, and more recently it has – due to a range of other factors too – become almost fashionable within the party to decry the secrecy.
At the last Federal Policy Committee meeting we had a discussion of how to report more widely on our work in future, with necessary safeguards but without undue obscurantism. The mood was generally good on this and there’s more work to be done, but in the meantime thanks to the staff at party HQ the first of a new series of reports back from FPC meetings is now available on the party website, behind the login for party members.
The report is up at http://www.libdems.org.uk/fpc_report_1_d
Do let me know what you think of it.
Survation have a new Scottish poll in this morning’s Daily Record. Topline voting intentions for the Westminster general election are CON 16%, LAB 24%, LDEM 5%, SNP 48%, UKIP 4%, GRN 1%. The poll was conducted between Monday and Thursday so wholly after Jim Murphy’s election as Scottish leader – it has clearly had no positive effect for the Labour party. Full tabs are here.
If these figures were repeated at the general election they would result in a crushing victory for the SNP. On a uniform national swing the SNP would win 54 of the 59 seats in Scotland. Of course, were these figures to be maintained and were the next election to be a complete sea-change in how people vote in Scotland, I wouldn’t expect uniform national swing to be a useful predictor anyway. That doesn’t necessarily mean it will over-state SNP performance: Labour are down 18 percent since the last election, the Lib Dems down 14 percent. There were eight seats where Labour got less than 18 percent at the last election, thirty-two seats where the Liberal Democrats got less than 14 percent – it is mathematically impossible for Labour and the Lib Dems to lose enough votes uniformly across the country.
We’ll have a better idea of how the surge in SNP support is distributed across individual seats once Lord Ashcroft carries out his long awaited constituency polling in Scotland early next year. In the meantime, the question for Scottish polling is to what extent, if at all, Labour can recover in Scotland in the five months we have left until the election.
In early December I attended the 3rd annual United Nations Forum on Business and Human Rights in Geneva.
The Forum gave an opportunity for key stakeholders to discuss how we can ensure universal human rights standards are upheld in business practices. As a Liberal Democrat and an internationalist I know, on an issue as important as this, co-operation with our global partners is the best way of ensuring transnational businesses maintain their responsibilities to their employees and their consumers.
So I am delighted that the Coalition Government has announced that we will be supporting a new Corporate Human Rights Benchmark which will assess and rank the human rights performance of international companies. My department – Business, Innovation and Skills – will provide £80,000 of start-up funding.
A consortium led by Aviva, one of the UK’s largest investors, developed this proposal which will start with an annual assessment of 500 companies’ performances, with the full results published openly. The ranking will provide a transparent, publicly available and credible benchmark by which businesses can be held accountable for their human rights practices.
I want other countries to throw their support behind this initiative so we have a strong international alliance behind the business and human rights agenda.
The UK is already a world leader in this field. Last year, we became the first country to publish a national action plan with guidance for companies on how to integrate human rights into their operations, including increased transparency over policies and dealings.
Setting out the Government’s expectations of businesses, Vince Cable said at the time:
A stronger economy depends on investors, employees and the wider public having trust and confidence in the way companies conduct themselves both at home and abroad.
I have been very vocal in calling for greater transparency in business supply chains as a way to end the scourge of modern slavery. British consumers are entitled to know who is producing their goods. Thankfully we have had real success in this area.
As a result of Liberal Democrat pressure, the Modern Slavery Bill was altered to require large companies to disclose what steps they have taken to eradicate modern slavery in their supply chains. Credit must go to Andrew Stunell for his efforts in helping this measure reach the statute book.
In my role as a Business Minister, I have also reformed the Companies Act to strengthen companies’ non-financial reporting to include information on human rights, where necessary for strategic understanding of the business.
Standing up for human rights across the globe unites all Liberal Democrats. We will continue to fight to protect vulnerable workers, hold businesses to account and ensure customers have clearer knowledge about companies they are dealing with.
This Benchmark is a welcome, positive step. Our challenge now is to make sure other nations advocate these principles and follow the UK’s lead.
* Jo Swinson is the Liberal Democrat MP for East Dunbartonshire and is a Minister in hte Department Business, Innovation and Skills and Equalities Minister
It could be that GE2015 is determined by Scottish IndyRef NO voters who are currently undecided abouDec. 22nd, 2014 03:36 pm
Chart showing how many more IndyRef NO voters than YES ones are still undecided about GE15 pic.twitter.com/T7yWQBQKpa
— Mike Smithson (@MSmithsonPB) December 22, 2014
The above stats are tucked on one of the spreadsheets for the latest Scottish poll from Survation for the Daily Record.
What is striking is the very different don’t know levels on Westminster voting intention between those who voted YES in the referendum and those who VOTED NO.
My reading is that a significant proportion of these DKs are possibly considering tactical voting. Do they support the party in their constituency which is most likely to stop the SNP or do they follow their normal party allegiance?
It has been a pointer in the past that high level of tactical voting are seen amongst segments of the electorate who say don’t know to the voting question. It’s likely will be in the heat of the election in the final few days, I guess, when they come to their decisions.
The proportion of 1 in 5 of the NO voters from last September is a very significant part of the Scottish electorate. Do they stick with their normal allegiance or do they try to stop a party they do not want to get elected?
That is the classic tactical dilemma for a lot of voters and my guess is that we will see more such voting at next May than ever before.
In many ways a lot depends on how the SNP and the moves on greater devolution are perceived in the coming months.
2004-2014: The view from OUTSIDE the Westminster bubble
Rappers Azealia Banks and Iggy Azalea have been feuding off and on for a couple of years now, and much digital ink has been spilled on the matter. For those of you who haven’t followed their spat, let me catch you up. Rapper and woman of color Azealia Banks has continuously called out rapper Iggy Azalea (best known for the white girl hip-hop anthem, “Fancy“) for appropriating black culture. Iggy Azalea was just nominated for four Grammy Awards, prompting Banks to make the following remarks:
I feel like in this country, whenever it comes to our things, like black issues or black politics or black music or whatever, there’s always this undercurrent of kinda like a ‘fuck you. That Iggy Azalea shit isn’t better than any fucking black girl that’s rapping today…The Grammys are supposed to be accolades of artistic excellence. Iggy Azalea is not excellent.
This isn’t the first time Banks has accused Azalea of profiting off black culture while simultaneously ignoring black issues. Their dispute was re-ignited earlier this month when Azealia Banks called out Azalea about her continued cultural appropriation:
its funny to see people Like Igloo Australia silent when these things happen… Black Culture is cool, but black issues sure aren't huh?
— CATTY NOIR (@AZEALIABANKS) December 4, 2014
But, what does this have to with the internet hacktivist collective, Anonymous? In their infinite wisdom, Anon decided to get involved in the feud by threatening to leak Iggy Azalea’s sex tape if she doesn’t apologize to Banks. You heard me right – Anonymous’ punishment for Azalea’s appropriation is to appropriate back, slut-shame her, and violate her consent by posting a private sex tape. It’s the cultural appropriation equivalent of “I know you are, but what am I?” with some bonus misogyny to top it off. To be clear, as of this writing, no tape has been leaked. It’s entirely possible this is just another publicity stunt for Anonymous, who seem to have no shame when it comes to hijacking black issues for their own gain. Talk about two wrongs not making a right.
You might remember another time Anonymous attempted to co-opt black issues, when they trampled all over Feminista Jones’ #NationalMomentOfSilence by organizing their “Day of Rage.” Adrian Chen wrote in The Nation:
This past August, as the outcry grew over the killing of Michael Brown, the unarmed black teenager who was shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, the hacktivist collective Anonymous took up the cause. On August 14, an Anonymous member posted a YouTube video calling for a “National Day of Rage” to protest the shooting. A computerized voice warbled over an ominous Carl Orff–ripoff score: “We call upon the citizens of the United States to collectively gather in support for those who are suffering in Ferguson.” News sites heralded the heroic arrival of Anonymous. Initially, few of these reports noted that the exact time, date and locations of Anonymous’s National Day of Rage corresponded with a previously planned protest, the National Moment of Silence, spearheaded by black feminist blogger Feminista Jones. Jones was dismayed by Anonymous’s attempt to co-opt her peaceful demonstration and the media’s eagerness to help. “I was bothered that they chose this moment to be destructive, but it showed people just how little they care about the safety and well-being of Black people,” she later told the blog Visual AIDS. “As a Black woman, I’m also used to the historical erasure of our work and theft of our labor.” It only went south from there, after Anonymous’s dramatic claim to have identified the police officer who shot Brown turned out to be wrong.
Chen’s entire piece is well-worth a read. He’s been covering Anonymous’ shenanigans since the internet tough-guys forced an 11-year-old girl and her family into police protection back in 2010. It highlights many of the problems with Anonymous’ self-appointed role as the Sheriffs of the Internet, and the issues with the media’s framing thereof. As Anonymous continues to cannon-bomb their way into social justice issues, it’s important that we give credit where it’s due – and credit is rarely ever due to Anonymous.
As we learn how to exist in a digital age we need to ensure we aren’t too quick to praise seemingly well-intentioned internet vigilantism. We live in a world where women who talk about video games have to cancel speeches due to gun threats, and online hackers get $44 million movies canceled a week before release (of course, only one of those scenarios is decried by mainstream media as terrorism – a post for another day). As skeptics and feminists, who should deplore Iggy Azalea’s grotesque appropriation profiteering, we shouldn’t hastily praise Anonymous. When their tactics are anti-woman and repeatedly stomp on the work of black activists, they need to be called out as such. Iggy Azalea is an extremely problematic artist, but Anonymous won’t right her wrongs by doing the very thing they accuse her of.
You might have heard about this story, the one where the woman is dragging a mattress around campus until the bloke leaves campus. As part of her thesis, naturellement.
Here’s the gobsmacking thing about it:
If three separate complaints against the same man could not persuade the hearing panels, how could anyone believe that justice was served?
That there’s three complaints does not make any of them actually true. And the female students do actually agree that they only spoke up when they checked stories with each other.
Sexual assault cases can sometimes come down to a matter of perspective, but Mr. Nungesser’s accusers say there can be no ambiguity about what he did. “It’s not safe for him to be on this campus,” Ms. Sulkowicz said this month. The women he assaulted “are forever emotionally scarred and fragile because of what he’s done to them. And me.”
Mr. Nungesser is similarly absolute. “People were like, maybe this is a misunderstanding,” he said of Ms. Sulkowicz’s charges. “But the matter of the fact is it’s not a misunderstanding.” He insists they had completely consensual sex. “What was alleged was the most violent rape, and that did not happen.”
As for groping, he says he attended the party but never went upstairs. And intimate partner violence? “Outside of a forced marriage or kidnapping, it just seems very hard to believe that a person would over and over again put themselves in a situation where they could expect this kind of behavior to occur.”
False reports of rape are rare, many experts say, and the federal Education Department is investigating scores of colleges for possibly violating federal rules in handling the complaints that are filed.
Mr. Nungesser said the charges against him, all filed within days of one another, were the result of collusion. The three women said in interviews with The New York Times that they decided to take action when they heard about one another’s experiences.
The groping case was initially decided against him, with a largely symbolic punishment of “disciplinary probation,” but he appealed. By the time the case was heard again his accuser had graduated and was unable, she said, to participate in the process. The decision was overturned. The university dropped the intimate partner violence charge after that accuser, saying she was exhausted by the barrage of questions, stopped answering emails over summer vacation. And in Ms. Sulkowicz’s case, the hearing panel found that there was not enough evidence. Her request for an appeal was denied.
To Mr. Nungesser’s accusers, the refusal to punish him in any way — as well as the myriad procedural errors, delays, contradictions and humiliations, both small and large, to which the women said they were subjected — is proof that the system was biased against them. If three separate complaints against the same man could not persuade the hearing panels, how could anyone believe that justice was served?
“To me he seems like a predator who attacks women, who does not ask for consent and does not know the line,” said the student who accused Mr. Nungesser of groping her, and who asked not to be publicly identified, as did the third accuser.
Continue reading the main story
To Mr. Nungesser, the facts that campus hearings have a lower burden of proof than criminal trials and that he was not allowed to bring up communications between himself and Ms. Sulkowicz after the night in question were proof that the process was biased against him. If despite those odds, the hearings were resolved in his favor, how could anyone doubt that justice was served?
The campus system operates on the balance of evidence, as the feminists desire. Not all reasonable doubt, as the criminal law requires. And all three cases were found, at the very least, not proven on the basis of that balance of evidence.
It’s hard to see that the bloke should be punished for something that the system quite clearly doesn’t think he did, given the process and the evidence.
We missed this story when it broke earlier in the month, but were alerted to it when it surfaced in the Sunday Times (£ – and to be honest I’m not prepared to pay £6 per week just to be able to read this article in full) yesterday.
It seems Lib Dem run Sutton is the most normal place in the UK. That view was expressed by Neil Couling when he was giving evidence to the Public Accounts Committee on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions. He explained that the new benefits IT system, which had been plagued by problems, was being tried out in the London Borough of Sutton.
Asked why Sutton had been chosen he said:
It’s the most normal place in Britain. It’s population is average for the United Kingdom as a whole. It’s a wonderful place and I adore it.
… Although he did admit that he had never visited it.
As you can imagine, this resulted in much merriment.
Liberal Democrat Cllr Ruth Dombey, Leader of the Council, described Sutton as ‘ our quietly brilliant borough’.
Sutton Council also rose to the challenge:
What’s normal in Sutton? Top performing education – 81% of A Level students with grades A – B #teamsutton
— Sutton Council (@SuttonCouncil) December 11, 2014
What’s normal in Sutton? Affordable offices, zone 5, close to central LDN, opportunities for all businesses #teamsutton
— Sutton Council (@SuttonCouncil) December 11, 2014
The story prompted Sam Jordison of the Guardian to muse on the five strangest places in UK, in comparison to Sutton, which he admits he loves. He showcases Cambridge (‘Hogwarts for wankers?’), Glastonbury (‘Conforming to non-conformism’), East Grinstead (‘Got religion’), Newcastle (‘Not like you and me’) and the City of London (‘Outward signs of abnormality’).
‘Normal’ and ‘average’ are a pair of weasel words that imply more than they really mean. In this context I imagine Neil Couling was not saying that everyone in Sutton conformed to some middle of the road expectation, but that the full range of socio-economic groups are present in the borough. If so, then the serious political insight to be gained from this is that Lib Dems can appeal to people across all demographics.
Sutton Council has been held by the Lib Dems since 1986, and we currently hold 45 of the 54 seats. In 1997 Tom Brake and Paul Burstow were elected as MPs for the two constituencies that lie within the borough.
I took the photo at a by-election in Sutton some years ago.
* Mary Reid is the Tuesday Editor on Lib Dem Voice.
We’ve the news that Morgan Stanley’s sale of its oil trading and storage business to Rosneft has just fallen through. Given that Morgan Stanley has to get out of this business as a result of domestic US regulation of banking, given that Rosenft wanted to build itself into a super-major, it looked like a good deal at first. But today they’re saying that regulatory approval didn’t come through in time. That might even be true: but the deal was always doomed from the moment that sanctions were announced upon various Russian companies, including Rosneft.
Here’s the report of the deal coming apart at the seams:
OAO Rosneft’s planned acquisition of Morgan Stanley ’s oil-trading and storage business has collapsed after the companies failed to win regulatory approval, amid tensions between the governments of the U.S. and Russia.
Sanctions-hit Rosneft, Russia’s largest oil company, and the U.S. bank said the deal won’t go ahead “due to an objective impossibility to complete the deal that has arisen as a result of regulatory clearances being refused.”
Well, yes, OK, that’s what they say. But as Craig Pirrong said back awhile, it never was going to work anyway:
Trading is an extremely working capital intensive business. Depending on its size, a supertanker can carry oil worth $50 million-$300 million, and this has to be financed during the period of the voyage. A decent-sized trading operation can have several tankers on the water, plus additional oil in storage, all of which needs to be financed. A major trading operation needs access to billions in funding on a continuous basis.
Typically, traders finance this with bank credit, with the bigger ones using open lines with banks (which offer considerable flexibility). (I discuss commodity trade financing in my white paper, The Economics of Commodity Trading Firms-bonus video!) You cannot compete efficiently in this business without access to such credit/credit lines. Loss of access to credit is a death sentence to a trading firm, and one that can’t get access in the first place will never be born. That’s where Rosneft finds itself now.
Recall what those sanctions actually are. No bank with a US business (ie, all of them) is allowed to finance Rosneft on any terms of longer than 90 days. So it’s fine to support a letter of credit for a shipment of oil, that’s entirely ticketty boo. But there’s absolutely no way at all that anyone can open up the sorts of lines of credit that a major trading and storage operation would need. To really compete with Vitol, Glencore and the like (or the oil super-majors like Shell and Exxon) they would be needing in the tens of billions of dollars at least. Simply not a sum of money that can be raised without the help of those banks with US businesses. Those banks that wouldn’t be allowed to participate.
The more I see of the way these sanctions are working the more impressed with them I am. At the start I thought they were much too little and much too late. But as their effects work their way through the system they are actually having some quite serious effects. They’re not making the average Russian poorer and after all, it’s not the average Russian that we want to suffer nor is it all the average Russian’s fault. But we are seeing the ambitions of Putin’s inner cadre being damaged by these sanctions. All of which rather surprises me. Seriously? A government program actually doing what it is intended that a government program should do?
I didn't set out to keep a recs list for Yuletide 2013. What I did do was download everything that looked interesting while they were still anonymous and work my way through them later. Anyway, these are the bookmarks I made of 2013 Yuletide stories. I've replaced the supplied summaries with brief notes of my own, hope that helps give a flavour of why I liked them.
( Legally Blonde, Gravity )
( Iron Man: Armored Adventures, Sarah Jane Adventures )
( A-Babies Vs X-Babies )
( Chalion Saga - Lois McMaster Bujold, Cotillion - Georgette Heyer (x2), Doctrine of Labyrinths - Sarah Monette (x2), Dragonriders of Pern - Anne McCaffrey, Laundry - Charles Stross, Left Hand of Darkness - Ursula Le Guin, Persuasion - Jane Austen )
( Calvin & Hobbes with Young Wizards - Diane Duane, Disney Princesses (x3) )
- The Problem With Praising Famous Scientists – “Role models portrayed as superhuman don’t always motivate students—instead, they risk discouraging kids who feel they can’t live up to the lofty standards.”
- Today the Sun Stands Still – The Winter Solstice was yesterday, technically, but you should still read this article all about it by Phil Plait.
- The Whiteness Project: Facing Race In A Changing America – ‘It is not typical for white people to think about their race,’ says Catherine Orr, who teaches critical identity studies at Beloit College in Wisconsin. She says that many white people who don’t feel privileged struggle against the notion that race gives them an inherent advantage. ‘I think white folks are terribly invested in our own innocence,’ she points out. ‘We don’t want to think about how what we have is related to what other people don’t have.’ “
- Love Actually Is the Least Romantic Film of All Time – I have no idea, I just don’t like the guy who holds up the cards. I think he’s creepy.
- Fashion And Feminism: Taja Lindley Of Colored Girls Hustle – “Colored Girls Hustle creates and sells handmade adornment that affirms our bodies and encourages us to be our boldest selves. They invigorate and nurture creative practice and self-expression, and they amplify women of color artists, entrepeneurs, healers, and activists who hustle hard for their communities. Also, they are fly as hell. Check ‘em out!”
- Something to Sneeze At – “Natural remedies that claim to “boost your immune system” don’t work, and it’s a good thing they don’t. […] So, the next time you feel a cold coming on, maybe what you really want is just a little teensy bit of innate immune suppression, not an immunity boost. Over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen and antihistamines should help you feel better.” Forward this to the people who still take Airborne or other supplements to “boost immunity”!
Adam Block is one of my favorite astrophotographers. Now, he has a bit of an unfair advantage: the 0.81-meter Schulman Telescope at the top of a mountain in Arizona at his disposal. He’s also really good at finding interesting but lesser-known objects and has a serious knack for creating incredible images of them.
I’ve featured his images many, many times on this blog, but I think this may be the very best I’ve ever seen: the spiral galaxy NGC 1398.
Holy resonance-amplified stellar awesomeness!
NGC 1398 is a galaxy roughly the same size as our Milky Way, located about 65 million light-years away in the Fornax cluster, a cosmic city of hundreds of galaxies. It’s what’s called a barred spiral, due to the long rectangular feature right in the middle. It also has that peculiar ring around the bar, a second double-armed ring farther out, and then a couple of dozen fluffy-looking spurs.
Bars are pretty common in big disk galaxies; the Milky Way has one. They form due to the way gravity works in the disk. In our solar system, essentially all the mass is in the Sun, and the planets orbit it in nice, regular paths. But in a disk galaxy the mass is spread throughout the disk, and that changes things. If you disturb the disk (say a nearby galaxy passes, and its gravity distorts the disk a bit) that perturbation can grow, propagating through the stars and gas.
The math is a tad complex, but the end result is the bar pattern, like a traffic jam in the central galaxy. That bar itself has a peculiar gravitational field, and can affect stars and gas outside it.
The bar rotates around the center of the galaxy with some period. At a certain distance from it, stars and gas orbits at some small multiple of that period, like twice as long, or four times as long. This simple relationship, called a resonance, pumps up the stars and gas, a bit like the way pumping your legs on a playground swing at the right frequency can make you go higher.
That’s what creates the inner ring. It’s actually a pair of tightly wound spiral arms that overlap (you can see that a lot more clearly in a WISE image of the galaxy in the far infrared). The outer ring is also really just tightly constrained arms, too. Outside of that, the spurs are patchy—what’s called flocculent, which is just a cool word (it means patchy, like clumps of wool or cotton).
In Adam’s picture (a total of an astonishing 20 hours of exposure) you can also see a lot of smaller galaxies, almost certainly in the far distant background. I do mean “distant”: They’re a billion light-years away or more. The bright red star in the lower right, on the other hand, is in our galaxy, probably only a few hundred or thousand light-years away.
Quite the range in this one photo! And a spectacular example of what happens when you take a handful of simple ingredients—stars, gas, gravity, and a few laws of physics—and let them interact for a few billion years.
A rather unusual complaint:
Most local newspapers actively drive for their MPs to spend less time in Westminster and more time engaging with their constituents, but one weekly paper in south London has taken the rare step of asking its Conservative MP to stop launching petitions and bothering voters.
This unusual situation now means that Gavin Barwell, MP for Croydon Central, is facing a “Campaign to end all campaigns” from the Croydon Advertiser. In frustration at his persistent attempts at headline-grabbing, the weekly paper is calling on Mr Barwell to “stop launching campaigns”…
According to Glenn Ebrey, the paper’s editor, the “tongue in cheek” criticism has a serious side. Mr Barwell’s near constant agitating might have become a “bit of a running joke”, he said, but “it raises a serious issue about politicians being, shall we say, more proactive when an election is on the horizon…
“This is possibly the first time a local paper has attacked an MP for working too hard,” Mr Barwell said. “It’s a light-hearted piece, of course, but I’m working very, very hard. And, since the day I got elected, I go out every weekend campaigning.”
You may have noticed (on the Today Prog's "Editors Mastermind" this morning) that my memory of my own scribblings is by no means impeccable. Which rather begs the question why you should bother to read on.
But - and please don't hesitate to correct me if I am wrong about this as well - I don't pretend to be delivering Mosaic tablets. I aspire to the composition of digital chip wrapping (pun intended).
So here we go, with a few hazy and random reflections about oil, based on assorted conversations with oil producers, traders and putative experts.
With the oil price rising very slightly this morning, there is growing confidence that the market may have hit bottom, at around $60 or $55 a barrel, depending on whether Brent or WTI is your preferred benchmark.
So a fall in the price of around half this year may be as bad as it gets.
Well it is because the motivation of the Saudis and their allies in driving the price down seems less opaque - and more commercial, than political (which implies that they want the price low only for as long as it takes to achieve a practical commercial objective - rather than being an instrument of long term warfare against a putative enemy).
They have made it clear that they want to choke off investment in oil production that is only viable at high prices, and which has been undermining their market power.
So by maintaining their production in the face of falling global demand, they have been driving down the price, with the aim of eliminating about a million barrels a day of what they perceive as surplus expensive production.
They would like to see most of that million barrels taken out of US shale production - because apparently there was a sharp intake of breath in the Kingdom when their exports to America fell below the symbolically important level of one million barrels in July (they have gone back over one million since).
There has been collateral damage to the viability of higher cost production all over the world, including the UK's North Sea - whose profitability has been hammered.
As some have pointed out, just possibly Alex Salmond is grateful to have not quite won the Scotland independence referendum - since if negotiations were taking place now on the new fiscal settlement for an autonomous Scotland, he would be struggling to fill a very substantial black hole in tax revenues stemming from sharply diminished expectations of both oil price and output.
Anyway, I am told that a million barrels of capacity should be removed from the market at these oil prices over just a few short months.
Which is why the price may now be back on a gently rising trend, to perhaps $70 to $75 a barrel.
Even so, the oil price shock has been the big economic and perhaps political event of 2014, and will continue to shape prosperity and power in the coming weeks and months.
In no particular order of importance, Russia has been transformed into a shrinking siege economy - seemingly becoming more dependent on financial support from China.
Second, Cuba has been nudged into a thawing of relations with the US, because of the risk that oil-dependent Venezuela will no longer be able to afford to provide subventions to it (which is what made Cuba's lock-out from the global economy just about bearable).
Third the tumbling price is putting cash into the pockets of oil users everywhere. But it is too early to judge whether the more powerful influence on the global economy will be this cash windfall for consumers, or the powerful blow to confidence of the inescapable financial difficulties of countries and businesses that are only viable at a higher oil price.
Where this struggle between the disruptive effects of the price collapse and the benign effects of a long-term lower price matters most is the sick region of the world, Europe.
Cheap oil that makes the earnings of eurozone businesses and households go further could - depending on their mood - persuade them to spend more or spend less.
Will people see the oil-price shock as giving them - in effect - more unencumbered cash, that burns a hole in their pockets? That would be positive for the eurozone and global economies.
Or will they see it as reinforcing a more general trend of falling prices, which deters them from making purchases because of hopes and expectations that waiting always delivers bigger bargains? That would be growth-destroying deflation.
In other words, the big debate for central bankers in the first weeks of the new year will be whether the oil fall is a stimulus or a deflationary depressive - whether it at last ushers out or actually prolongs the era of free money.