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31 December 2006

Fireworks Backups

Everything is covered but computers don't like electrical storms but we've sort of got backups for these things.

International Fireworks director Fortunato Foti

Lousy Farmers

I've just read The Ethics of What We Eat. It was a very good book and it's definitely worth reading if you're unsure about all that stuff. Assuming you want to be surer - a lot of people seem quite happy with their current level of sureness even if it's low.

My dear friend Tully has been sweet-talking into becoming vegan again, offering me all sorts of vegan social events and treats. I went to some of those energetic sorts of websites where people try to convince you to change your life in three paragraphs. I needed a little more convincing though, because I'd felt like I had found a reasonably merry and practical vegan-vegetarian blend. Sadly, I hadn't.

I've decided to become Mostly Vegan. Between one and four are absolutely out. Five or higher will only be OK if I haven't made a choice to buy or include them in something.

## Ethical Hierarchy

  1. Eggs or chicken meat (battery chickens)
  2. Pig meat
  3. Fish
  4. Cow and sheep meat
  5. Dairy (battery cows)
  6. Eggs (free-range chickens)
  7. Dairy (free-range cows)
  8. Honey (organic happy bees)
  9. Scallops, mussels, oysters and clams

The main difference is that marginal eating and cooking decisions are going to be totally vegan. This means 100% vegan restaurant eating. And I won't cook with dairy or eggs at all or eat it if there is a reasonable option. I'm conscious of not making life difficult for my community. When I have been vegan before I found that I inevitably had a large impact on the behaviour of people I lived and ate with. I don't think the strength of my feelings warrant changing people's life that much.

Fortunately most of the things I cook are vegan anyway. Dairy is mostly for garnishing, snacks and treats. I will definitely miss the snacks and treats. Luckily all the best garnishes can be replaced by a virtually perfect vegan substitute - salt.

## Things I will miss most

  1. Camembert with mum
  2. Camembert generally
  3. Cakes and croissants
  4. Butter
  5. Eggs on toast and vegie stacks
  6. Danish fetta
  7. Butter

I'm just thankful that I don't like chocolate very much. Oddly enough, after reading the book I'd be happy to eat mussels and oysters. I don't imagine I'll ever want to, but if I did want to eat them I would.

One of the good things about this is that I'm no longer a vegan fraud.

30 December 2006

Once Upon a Time in China

I've wanted to see this for years so I bought it for Tom for christmas. Martin fell asleep - as usual - but Tom and I liked it a bunch. So much fighting. And such good fighting. I love Asian fighting. The wool bale scene with the ladders was the coolest fight ever.

The Prestige

Tom and I went to see The Prestige on Thursday. It was fully a winner. It started out pretty bleak and not entirely satisfying, but by the end is had developed into a far more satisfying sort of bleakness. Christian Bale is a champ, and Christopher Nolan just doesn't stop rocking. Even Scarlett Johansson was pretty good - and in more than a fabulously sexy placeholder sort of a way.

Witch Hunts

The harassment of the Exclusive Brethren continues in the Sydney Morning Herald. Normally I'm not a big fan of media crusades but this seems pretty reasonable. Although it's possible that is merely a sign of my growing conservativism.

Babel

A few of went to see Babel the other night. It was nicely shot but I didn't much enjoy it overall. I found the characters so frustrating that I stopped caring what happened to them. I suppose the move was attempting to explore what happens when people can't communicate. Probably if I saw it again I might think more about why the characters were behaving in the ways they behaved. But the entire film felt kind of inexorable. Although I really loved the Japanese story. It felt completely different to the rest of it.

Even though I didn't like it that much I'd recommend to other people.

27 December 2006

Human Problems

[W]hen nonvegetarians say that “human problems come first” I cannot help wondering what exactly it is that they are doing for human beings that compels them to continue to support the wasteful, ruthless exploitation of farm animals.

Peter Singer, Animal Liberation, 1990

26 December 2006

Buy Nothing Day

It's kind of ironic that for most people Christmas Day is also their Buy Nothing Day. Although I think it's only because everything you could conceivably buy has already been bought

23 December 2006

Cronulla-by-the-billabong

I was reading an article about poor old Tamworth which is labelled "Cronulla-by-the-billabong". This is in the context of an extremely critical (but apparently not editorial) article of Tamworth's response to the placement of new Sudanese refugees. It made me wonder if Cronulla is going to be remembered as a time when Australians turned ugly and showed their racist side. As I remember it that isn't exactly what happened. I had the impression that white Australians fought with some non-white Australians over a couple of weeks and in many cases there were so many more white Australians that it looked more like a lynching. It wasn't a spontaneous outpouring of white racism - there was violence from all sides. And I don't really expect a racial group to respond peacefully when they're attacked (although it would be good if they did), but I don't think it's entirely fair to look at that period as a totally white disfunction.

I also feel a bit sorry for Tamworth. They are claiming there are higher crime rates amongst immigrant communities. While I don't necessarily believe that, isn't it possible? In Sydney there is strong evidence that crime rates are higher for Middle-Eastern young people. Whether that's justification to not let in other people from that demographic is debatable but it's a conversation that needs to be had. The media have swept away their complaints and labelled them all "small-mindedness". If Australia has the right to decide who will come here then so does Tamworth. I can't really imagine Tamworth voted for the liberal end of the Liberal party.

I would love it if Tamworth would open its doors and try to engage with the Sudanese. I would like to think that the solutions to some of the problems with racial integration could be in stronger communities. Maybe that's too optimistic. Tamworth seems to think so.

Whether you choose to engage or not engage it's an enormous amount of work to absorb visitors from such a different background. I don't know if we should criticise Tamworth because the nation has unsuccessfully attempted to make them do that work.

22 December 2006

Kenny

I went to see Kenny by myself the other day. It was only $5 at Hornsby Odeon and I just waltzed in off the street randomly to find it starting in 2 minutes. The cinema was filled with old people and I was anxious that they would get embarrassed by all poo references. I don't think they did though. They all chuckled a lot at the poo jokes.

It was a real winner of a movie. Kenny must be the most likeable movie character ever.

Frozen Toddler

In 2001 a Canadian toddler, Erika Nordby, wandered outside at night in subzero conditions and was later found by her mother, almost frozen solid.

Despite the fact that she was pronounced clinically dead - her heart had stopped beating for two hours and her temperature had dropped to 16 degrees from the normal 37 degrees - Erika made a full recovery.

Sydney Morning Herald

That mother must have felt like the luckiest person in the world. It's hard to imagine.

Returns to Education

I just found a good paper on the returns to education from 1990. In the US, students who are born earlier in the year are older on average than their peers when they start school. Students have to start primary school at the beginning of the year but a reasonably large proportion stop going to secondary school on their 16th birthday because that's the legal age in most states. So people born in the first quarter of the year have less education on average than people born in other quarters. People born the first quarter also have lower incomes. The authors used that information to calculate the value of the extra education obtained by people born later in the year. They found that an extra year of high school education resulted in a 7% increase in income all else being equal. Normally you might attribute the higher income to other factors but they make a pretty good case that here it's purely due to education.

It's a pretty cool paper. It's called Does Compulsory School Attendance Affect Schooling and Earnings? and written by Joshua Angrist and Alan Krueger who seem good.

17 December 2006

All Quiet on the Western Front

I just finished reading All Quiet on the Western Front this morning. It was a great book. It has forced me to think all over again about pacificism, which I've never been persuaded by. For anyone who's marginally pacifist, it's definitely worth reading.

Dogs and Art

I reckon there's a parallel between men with dogs and countries that make good films. For men, owning a dog says something about their character. Perhaps depending on what sort of dog, I'm more likely to trust a man who owns a dog. I suspect that owning a dog is only satisfying if you're willing to put in a certain level and type of energy. And not everyone is willing to do that. I don't think you even have to like dogs for it to affect your judgement of them. I find myself having the same response to countries that make good films. If I read somewhere that a country has a reputation for making good ones, or I see a few good ones myself, I'm much more likely to think that the country must be a reasonably good place. It tells you something about the culture that has been able to develop, and what the government has permitted to happen. And for me, the culture and the government of a country are probably the two most important things. They are the things that would most influence my decision to live somewhere, although you could argue the government is a product of the culture.

Sometimes I wonder if art is a good waying of spending our money. I've even wondered if having all these pets is a good thing given how many people there are that need food. But even if I can't put a precise finger on exactly what it is that is valuable about art and dogs, I think they both tell us about ourselves. Maybe they don't actually change us, or change our society for the better. But despite their absence might be a troubling thing.

16 December 2006

Or East Timor

You quickly get used to Australian soldiers lined up at the supermarket checkout with their rifles and it begins to seem normal. You just get accustomed to the APC's rumbling up and down the streets day and night with helicopters zig zagging above.

Dutch Pickle

East Timor seems like it would be a really fun place to go. But maybe I'll go there another time by myself rather than trying to persuade Libby.

OPEC cuts production

Good old OPEC - taking from the first-world poor to give to the third-world rich. They've cut production by 2% and the oil economists think that will hold oil prices above $60/barrel. Angola, apparently a big exporter, is also going to join OPEC next year.

In decades to come we're going to look back at OPEC's selfishness and praise the lord that they forced us to cut consumption. I love systems like this, where you get two positive outcomes from one selfish behaviour. A lot of the cost of their actions are actually borne by the rich and a lot of the benefits go to the poor. Although it is almostly certainly bad for non-oil-exporting poor countries, but then so is global warming.

Apparently, 10% of Australia's energy consumption is used by air-conditioners even though they are only on 1% of the time. Stupid frickin fossil fuel, inefficient, combustion-driven, planet-destroying air-conditioners. I hate them.

Spun

Spun I also just saw. It was well cool. One of the strangest films I've ever seen. Rather bizarre seeing all these harmless actors suddenly pop up in a film like this. A little too lifted out of Requiem for a Dream but I think a lot better all the same. I don't really know if this film had a purpose. It wasn't anti-drug in the same way that other anti-drug films are. I didn't feel like I was being informed or appealed to. But I enjoyed it a lot and can't say I feel the same sense of dirtiness that other reviews I've read talk about. I didn't think the sex or the drugs were what was confronting about it. It was mostly just the characters and the weirdness of everything.

15 December 2006

Solaris

I just watched Solaris by myself. It was an awesome film I thought. I still feel a bit funny.

Poor Youths

I'd been planning to write about something I read in my macroeconomics textbook, and the Milton Friedman interview I mentioned earlier reminded me of it. One of the neoliberals' favourite hobbies is blaming the level of youth unemployment on the minimum wage. They say that it prices the least productive workers out of the market.

I've written about minimum wages plenty of times before and there are lots of reasons why I think the neoliberals (and the classical economists) are wrong. Or wrong enough, at least, that it would be a bad idea to implement what they're saying. But these guys like the high unemployment figures for youth because those figures are consistent with their theory. Youth are the most likely group to be presented as the victims of minimum wage policy as well. I suspect that is because "youth" is an easily conceptualised, homogeneous sort of group and it's hard to blame youth generally for being "lazy" - unlike the poor or chronically unemployed.

That's all fine. I've mostly accepted what they've said and have considered youth to be one of the victims of minimum wage. I believe the benefits of minimum wage are sufficient that it's worth temporary unemployment of a group that could (and perhaps should) easily find some form of tertiary training anyway. For a while youth are the victims of the policy but after a shortish stint they become the beneficiaries.

But last semester's macroeconomics textbook contradicts all this, oddly enough in an attempt to rubbish minimum wage laws. It quotes research claiming that for a 10% increase in minimum wage the youth employment drops by 1-3%. This a reasonably big shift since it's not a 1-3% increase in unemployment, which would be trivial. However, if you assume that a reasonably big chunk of young people are working for minimum wage this trade-off actually looks pretty damn good. The price goes up by 10% but the quantity sold only drops by 1-3%. If there was a totally dominant young people's union, that only cared about the welfare of its members it would jump at the deal. A deal that supposedly victimises this demographic more than any other.

As I've said before, I think the elasticities are such that minimum wage mostly transfers surplus from employers to workers. Or, if you assume that higher costs are passed on as higher final prices, you could look at it as a transfer from consumers in general to poor workers. Which is hardly a victimisation of the poor. Certainly total output will drop, and overall welfare will be lower, but you can't say the poor are worse off as a result. And this number is for young people, who are the most vulnerable (i.e., least profitable) of all minimum wage workers. You'd expect even better numbers for other minimum wage workers.

If the assumption that a large proportion of young people work for minimum wage is unreasonable then this would no longer be true. It's difficult to work out the exact numbers, but according to the ABS the median wage for full-time workers aged 15-24 was $496 in 2001. The current minimum wage for workers aged 21 and over is $504. So 50% or fewer of full-time workers work for minimum wage. But a very large proportion of young people work part-time (75% for 15-17 year and 50% for 18-19). Even if you assume only 50% of young people work for minimum wage (which I think is very conservative), then the 1-3% of all young people translates to 2-6% of all young minimum wage workers. But a 2-6% drop in employment in return for a 10% increase in wage is still a good deal.

Obviously not for the people who lose their jobs but perhaps that's one reason why those with jobs shouldn't complain about paying for unemployment benefits. Unemployment sucks, but so does a shitty wage. If I didn't know if I'd find a job or not I'd take the 86% chance of a job with good pay (youth unemployment is/was ~14%) over the 100% chance of a job with crap pay. I'm probably oversimplifying that more than I should.

After Ben so kindly suggested that my posts are usually short and sharp I ramble on like this. I think it just feels like such a significant point that I must be missing something and really need to persuade myself I've got it right. If the data is correct and representative and my fairly reasonable sorts of assumptions are correct then I'm not sure that anyone should be claiming the welfare of young people is what is at stake. Other important things are still at stake like efficiency, but what has made the minimum wage argument so unusual is that the economists claim to be the more compassionate and fair. They don't even have to mention efficiency to feel like they've made a convincing argument. But unless they're targeting sympathy at a very small group of the most vulnerable young people, I don't think there is a case that we need to abandon minimum wage for the sake of our children.

World’s Tallest Man Saves Dolphins

The long arms of the world's tallest man saved two dolphins in northeast China by reaching inside of them to remove plastic they had swallowed, state media reported today.

World's Tallest Man Saves Dolphins

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