Month: December 2009

Upward mobility

Many purchasers of knock-off bags move on to buy real ones within a few years, Gosline found in a separate study of 100 consumers.

“The counterfeit actually served as a placebo for brand attachment,” she said. “People were becoming increasingly attached to the real brand even though they never possessed it at all.” 

…Forty-six percent of the counterfeit-bag owners bought the authentic products within two and a half years, she said.

Here is the story, interesting throughout, and I thank John de Palma for the pointer.

Time Travel with Doctor Who

When I was a young boy of ten or eleven I lived in a small town in England.  I remember eating the black berries on the country lane on my way home from school and I remember my father and I watching Doctor Who.  Each week the Doctor would venture into mystery and danger and as the tension rose I would boil with greater and greater excitement until suddenly the Doctor would confront the Cybermen or even worse the Daleks!  Just then, of course, the episode would end.  Total agony!  I could not wait for the week to pass and I was a devil to tuck into bed those nights as I trembled with speculation and trepidation about whether the Doctor would survive.

“My Doctor,” was primarily the fourth, played by Tom Baker.  His unique signature was a very long scarf–so enthralled was I that I asked my grandmother to knit me a similar scarf which I then wore everywhere I went… even when I returned to Canada and nobody understood the reference.tom-baker-postcard-v1-large

Recently I have been watching Doctor Who again, now with David Tennant playing the tenth doctor–the best since Baker in my view.

david-tennant-in-his-doctor-who-roleOnly now, more than a quarter century past my childhood, I have been watching Doctor Who with my son.  My eldest is a young boy of ten or eleven and he boils with greater and greater excitement as the Doctor ventures deeper into mystery and danger.  He too jumps out of his chair in total agony when an episode ends with a cliffhanger and calming him after such an episode isn’t easy!

In the last episodes of the latest season the Doctor teams up with his old companion, Sarah Jane.  The very same Sarah Jane played by the very same actress as accompanied “my Doctor” some thirty years ago–now aged and older just like me.  As I watch Doctor Who with my son, just as I watched with my father, I reflect on time and age and how a dream of my childhood has been fulfilled–my living room darkened and flickering with light has transformed and become my own TARDIS…my own time machine.

Wikipedia knowledge deserts Africa fact of the day

Almost the entire continent of Africa is geographically poorly represented in Wikipedia. Remarkably, there are more Wikipedia articles written about Antarctica than all but one of the 53 countries in Africa (or perhaps more amazingly, there are more Wikipedia articles written about the fictional places of Middle Earth and Discworld than about many countries in Africa, Asia, and the Americas).

There are some countries that are crammed with a dense amount of floating virtual information, such as Germany (with an average of one article tagged for every 65 square km), while others remain as virtual deserts, such as Chad (with an average of one tagged article every 17,000 square km).

Sharp divides between the Global North and the Global South can likewise be seen when looking at the number of geotagged articles per person. Austria, Iceland and Switzerland all have around one geotagged article for every 1,000 people, while in China or Guinea there is just over one article for every 500,000 people.

Here is the full article, interesting throughout and with a good map.  For the pointer I thank Michelle Dawson.

Mandates don’t stay modest, a continuing series

Breaking a three-day stalemate, the Senate approved an amendment to
its health care legislation that would require insurance companies to
offer free mammograms and other preventive services to women.

The vote was 61 to 39, with three Republicans joining 56 Democrats and the two independents in favor.

This happened directly after the release of evidence showing that many mammograms do not pass a comparative effectiveness test.  Once the test became a public issue at all…well, now you see what happens.  CBO, take note.

State licensed hypnotists

Kevin Carey has a sadly amusing post on occupational licensing:

Back when I was working for the Indiana General Assembly, one member…became convinced that it was crucially important for the state to address, via statute, the problem of rogue hypnotists traveling the land, preying upon unsuspecting Hoosiers. He wasn’t anti-hypnotist, mind you–he thought the government needed to protect people from unqualified hypnotists…

So the state passed a hypnotist licensing law, complete with the requisite boards, professional standards, forms to fill out, fees to pay, and so on….Then, after the law was enacted, a funny thing started happening: The state began receiving license applications from people who didn’t live in Indiana….It turns out they were doing it so they could advertise in the yellow pages and on bus-stop billboards as “state-licensed.”

Hat tip to Matt Yglesias.

Sentences to ponder

Felix Salmon writes:

Remember too that when you have a progressive tax system, especially when there are surcharges on people making seven-figure incomes, you also have a system where for any given level of national income, the greater the inequality, the greater the government’s tax revenues. And indeed federal revenues have been rising faster than median wages for decades now, thanks to the rich getting ever richer.

Given the government’s insatiable appetite for cash, it’s only natural that it would prefer to tax plutocrats, spending some of that money on poorer Americans, rather than move to a world where poorer Americans earn more (but still don’t pay that much in taxes), and the plutocrats earn less, depriving the national fisc of untold billions in revenue.

The government’s interests, then, are naturally aligned with those of the plutocrats – and when that happens, the chances of change naturally drop to zero.

Whenever there's an MR post categorized under both "economics" and "political science," it's usually pretty brutal.

Meta-list for best non-fiction books of 2009

I've been reading lots of year-end "best of" lists, from serious outlets that is, and these are the books which I see recurring with special frequency:

1. Richard Holmes, The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science.

2. Cheever: A Life, by Blake Bailey.

3. David Grann, The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon.

4. Gordon Wood, Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic.

5. Columbine, by David Cullen.

8. By Greg Grandin, Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City.

9. Liaquat Ahamed, Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World.

10. Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong, by Terry Teachout.

I thought all of those were well done but Lords of Finance was the only one I loved.  My favorites are here and Lords arguably would be third on that non-fiction list of two.  In fairness to the authors I've only browsed Gordon Wood (report coming soon) and I haven't yet read Pops but suspect I might like it very much (report coming soon).

If you wish, you can dig into some of the book source lists I used for this meta-list here.  Have someone ready to throw you a rope.

Here are some "best albums" lists, if you wish to wade through those.  They are harder to aggregate and I haven't found a useful way of doing it.

The decentralization of science, including climate science

If you would like takes on Climategate different from my own, here are Megan McArdle, Seth Roberts, and Clive Crook, plus I have mislaid a Bob Murphy post, maybe he can leave the link in the comments (it's here). 

I am by no means an expert in climate science but I will explain in more detail why I would stress different issues.  (Please do set me straight where I am wrong.)  I see science, including climate science, as very much a decentralized process, based on the collective efforts of thousands of researchers.  The evidence for our current understanding of climate change also comes from a wide variety of disciplines, including chemistry, meteorology, oceanography, geography, tree ring studies, ice sheet studies, and a good body of theory, which has held up well.  These results all point in broadly similar directions.  Call me naive but, with apologies to Robert Sugden, I don't think many scientific results depend on what comes out of East Anglia, even if you include its emailing affiliates from Penn State and the like.  Even very, very simple climate models generate many of the basic results.

It's correct to claim that East Anglia is a "central player" in climate change studies and that the IPCC looks to its estimates, as most sources report.  It's no less important that other, competing models — in a competitive scientific framework — support similar perspectives.  Here's a sentence from the unit's own account of its origins:

It is likely that CRU ranks only behind NCEP/NCAR, ECMWF (ERA-40) and NCDC as the acknowledged primary data source by climate scientists around the world.

In other words, it's not the only source.  I simply don't think that all those other scientific units are controlled by people who hate capitalism, or SUVs, and wish to conspire to destroy them and succeed in faking and twisting the data.  Or if you want to look outside the "conspiracy," consider this short bit:

“We knew about global warming long before you read about it in your newspapers,” says Niels Gundel, as he cocks his rifle and peers out across the water. He is speaking Greenlandic, with a tour guide acting as interpreter.


I find myself grasping at reasons to be hopeful. The Arctic has been subject to some natural warming in the past: there was a brief heating in the Middle Ages. Couldn’t it be happening again? I couldn’t find a single scientist who said this was the primary cause. The warming in the past was localised, affecting only parts of the Arctic; this is affecting everywhere, all at once. 

In the last two years I recall seeing numerous (distinct) new findings, all along the lines of "climate change may be accelerating,"  As far as I can tell, most of these new results do not rely on East Anglia per se.

I'm open to persuasion — I would love to think climate change is not a problem and sadly I don't think it's a problem we will succeed in solving – but so far I haven't seen the discussions of ClimateGate address these points in a manner which would change my mind.