Livrem & julemiddag

Nu skal vi snart til det igen: Flæskesteg, and, rødkål, brunede og hvide kartofler, sovs (ikke sauce – den tynder variant), franske kartofler og måske syltede æbler med gele, og prikken over i’et, ris á la mande. Men selvom jeg år efter år lover mig sig selv mådeholdenhed, så lykkes det ikke alligevel når jeg sidder ved julebordet. Well, sidste år, hvor jeg fik kogt lammekød, var problemet ikke så stort.

 Nå, men nu har jeg altså fundet ud af hvordan det skal gribes an i år, så det handler bare om at overbevise familien. Strategien er at ligge hindring i vejen – og helst så mange som muligt:

 

  • Spise julemiddagen af mindre tallerkener, så man må fylde op lidt oftere
  • Hente maden på en buffet eller i køkkenet, så herlighederne kommer på lidt længere afstand
  • Indtage julemiddagen ved hjælp af kinesiske spisepinde (det kommer til at tage lidt tid at flå flæskestegen i små bidder, men bliver sikkert underholdende)
  • Spise suppe til forrest. Det er mest vand, fylder godt, og relativt kaloriefattigt Æhh, holder den? Sådan en hønsekødssuppe med fedtperler ovenpå lyder ikke specielt fattig på kalorier. Men selvfølgelig er suppen nok mindre kalorieholdig end and og brunede kartofler.
  • Sørg for at al maden en hjemmelavet. Det sætter en grænse for hvor mange retter der kommer på bordet. Ideen er at man hurtigere “kommer til at kede sig” med at spise f.eks. flæskesteg og – voila – så spiser man mindre:

Indeed, it’s not a bad idea to limit the total number of courses. Variety stimulates appetite. As evidence, Ariely brings up a study conducted on mice. A male mouse and a female mouse will soon tire of mating with each other. But put new partners into the cage, and it turns out they weren’t tired at all. They were just bored. So, too, with food. “Imagine you only had one dish,” he says. “How much could you eat?”

Men måske er det alligevel lidt for upfront – det med spisepindene, altså. 

Population control or not?

The world population is somewhere around 6,700,000,000 individuals. Is there an upper limit to how many people the planet/environment can accommodate when everyone needs ~2000-2500 calories/day, a car, heeting, and airplane travel?

Polar Bear from Plane Stupid on Vimeo.

Do we need to talk about population control? As in China? Or as birth control in Africa? And what difference does that make, when the greenhouse gases are being omitted from the chimneys of the developed world.Malthus was wrong, but is he still wrong?

 …And speaking of him:

The first mistake Malthusians always make is to underestimate how society can change to embrace more and more people. They make the schoolboy scientific error of imagining that population is the only variable, the only thing that grows and grows, while everything else – including society, progress and discovery – stays roughly the same. That is why Malthus was wrong: he thought an overpopulated planet would run out of food because he could not foresee how the industrial revolution would massively transform society and have an historic impact on how we produce and transport food and many other things. Population is not the only variable – mankind’s vision, growth, his ability to rethink and tackle problems: they are variables, too.

 

The second mistake Malthusians always make is to imagine that resources are fixed, finite things that will inevitably run out. They don’t recognise that what we consider to be a resource changes over time, depending on how advanced society is. That is why the Christian Tertullian was wrong in 200 AD when he said ‘the resources are scarcely adequate for us’. Because back then pretty much the only resources were animals, plants and various metals. Tertullian could not imagine that, in the future, the oceans, oil and uranium would become resources, too. The nature of resources changes as society changes – what we consider to be a resource today might not be one in the future, because other, better, more easily-exploited resources will hopefully be discovered or created. Today’s cult of the finite, the discussion of the planet as a larder of scarce resources that human beings are using up, really speaks to finite thinking, to a lack of future-oriented imagination.

And the third and main mistake Malthusians always make is to underestimate the genius of mankind. Population scaremongering springs from a fundamentally warped view of human beings as simply consumers, simply the users of resources, simply the destroyers of things, as a kind of ‘plague’ on poor Mother Nature, when in fact human beings are first and foremost producers, the discoverers and creators of resources, the makers of things and the makers of history. Malthusians insultingly refer to newborn babies as ‘another mouth to feed’, when in the real world another human being is another mind that can think, another pair of hands that can work, and another person who has needs and desires that ought to be met.

Levitt & Dubner’s new book: Horseshit?

I’ve read that there is a new pop-econ book out from economist Levitt and journalist Dubner called “SuperFreakonomics”. Levitt and Dubner are the pair who wrote the “Freakonomics”-book that explains why drug-dealers live at home with their mum and why U.S. the crime-rate fell sharply during the 1990′s. The new book proposes quick and easy solutions to the climate problems, and their point of departure is the late 19th century pollution problem in New York, where horses were used for transport of people and goods, but the animals production of manure was extreme and impossible to handle:

By 1880, there were at least a hundred and fifty thousand horses living in New York, and probably a great many more. Each one relieved itself of, on average, twenty-two pounds of manure a day, meaning that the city’s production of horse droppings ran to at least forty-five thousand tons a month. George Waring, Jr., who served as the city’s Street Cleaning Commissioner, described Manhattan as stinking “with the emanations of putrefying organic matter.” Another observer wrote that the streets were “literally carpeted with a warm, brown matting . . . smelling to heaven.”” 

The ‘Freaks’ note that the manure-problem in New York solved itself after some years with the invention of the combustion engine. They suggest that some sort of laissez-faire politics combined with a few innovations, will solve the current climate problem; no need for a meeting here in Copenhagen next month… Their suggestion solutions include

  • fibreglass boats equipped with machines that will increase the cloud cover over the oceans
  • a network of tubes that will suck cold water from the depths of the sea to the surface
  • a 35 km long hose that will mimic a volcanic eruption and shoot sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere (where it will act like tiny mirrors, reflecting sunlight back into space)

The reviewer at the New Yorker has the following closing comment (which seems appropriate):

“To be skeptical of climate models and credulous about things like carbon-eating trees and cloudmaking machinery and hoses that shoot sulfur into the sky is to replace a faith in science with a belief in science fiction. This is the turn that “SuperFreakonomics” takes, even as its authors repeatedly extoll their hard-headedness. All of which goes to show that, while some forms of horseshit are no longer a problem, others will always be with us.”

Om landbruget…

Det er jo ikke nogen overraskelse, men alligevel:

“In the U.S., Foer reports, people are prescribed about three million pounds of antibiotics a year. Livestock are fed nearly twenty-eight million pounds, according to the drug industry. By pumping cows and chickens full of antibiotics, farmers have been instrumental in producing new, resistant strains of germs—so-called superbugs. As soon as the Food and Drug Administration approved the use of a class of drugs known as fluoroquinolones in chickens, for instance, the percentage of bacteria resistant to fluoroquinolones shot up.”

Landmændene overfodrer med antibiotika og skaber problemer bakteriel resistens; de stuver køer, svin og fjerkræ sammen på uendeligt små arealer, og har produktionsenheder på mod een million dyr (som f.eks. den by i Mexico, hvor svineinfluenzaen opstod). Men det er jo ikke landmændene, der er usympatiske, og det er heller ikke husholdningerne, selvom det er vores daglige jagt på et bedre tilbud i køledisken, der tvinger landmændene til effektiv produktion.

Det er nok bare en af markedsliberalismens uheldige sideeffekter, og jeg tror spørgsmålet er, hvordan man bedst muligt internaliserer de eksterne omkostninger (dyreetiske, sundheds- og miljømæssige)  i prisen på et kilo flæsk…

Direct elections for a EU president?

A quote from Financial Times which has an article on the big question of the Union - not the Lisbon treaty – but the name of the president of the European Council.

The EU knows that it is far too soon to attempt direct elections for a president of the Union. The 27 members lack the common language and political identity that would make such an election work. When I once discussed the idea of a directly elected European president with a senior official in Brussels, who hails from Finland, he shook his head sorrowfully and said: “I just can’t imagine Sarkozy campaigning in Lapland.” But that is just one of many amusing possibilities: how about Berlusconi in Berkshire; or Merkel in Warsaw?”

I agree with the ‘senior official’, Sarko in Lapland seeems wrong.

So what’s the president going to do?

“There is a minimalist interpretation, which would see the president of the European Council playing a relatively modest role: co-ordinating between national governments, chairing European summits and generally providing more policy continuity than the current presidency, which rotates every six months. And then there is the maximalist interpretation, which wants the new EU president to be a high-profile figure, strutting the world stage. 

 So while Sarkozy in Lapland or Berlusconi {anywhere outside Italy} rules out direct election, I reckon the they both would love to be “strutting the world stage”. But then who?

“[...] any high-profile European president would be a divisive figure. For [...] the president of the EU would not speak for a unified polity. In fact, European unity tends to crumble at moments of international crisis. The EU split badly when Yugoslavia broke up in the 1990s; and the major EU powers were at each other’s throats over Iraq in 2003.

It’s hard to disagree. But still, a direct election and now???

But it is too soon to appoint a high-profile “president of Europe”. If the new president claimed to speak for the nearly 500m citizens of the Union – without a direct mandate – he would invite a backlash in Europe and humiliation in the rest of the world. The EU deserves better than that.” 

Frygtens anatomi

“Frygtens anatomi” er den danske titel på endnu en af de bøger jeg gerne ville læse, men hvor tiden (den altid knappe faktor) allerhøjest tillader at man læser anmeldelsen. Så er det jo heldigt at der findes grundige anmeldelser.

Det er den næsten klassiske diskussion. Er vi overvejende en flok rationelt tænkende individder eller lader vi for ofte frygten og irrationaliteten løbe af med os. Af anmeldelsen at dømme, lyder det som om bogen handler om den vægtmæssige forskydning vi mennesker foretager når sandsynlighede for en hændelse er meget lille, f.eks. Lotto-spillere der uge efter uge indløser deres kupon selvom det forventede afkast er negativt eller de skræmte mennesker der stemmer på politiske partier, der slår sig op frygten for Østeuropæere (ja, faktisk europæere i det hel taget), vold, skydevåben, salmonella, influenza, alderdommen, skattetryk, terror, forvoksede køtere og alverdens øvrige uretfærdigheder.

Nå,  men for at gøre en lang & udmattende historie kort, så vil jeg viderebringe en god pointe, der er fremført af Michael Hviid Jacobsen fra AAU:

»De to største frygtmagere i samfundet er politikerne og medierne. De er styret af at tjene penge og enten holde på eller opnå magt. Frygt er det bedste værktøj til at opnå det mål. Så det er måske lidt utopisk at tro på, at vi kan få et mere rationelt samfund, når dem, der primært præger det, ikke har nogen særlig interesse i det.«

Kjærsgaard kontra kunstfonden

Dansk Folkeparti og Pia K. er sur på subsidierne til kunstnere. Tror hun mener at hun ikke får noget for sit skattebidrag – musikken lyder skrækkeligt, digtene er uforståelige, og malerierne uden hovede eller hale. Hun vil hellere have at kunsten skal klare sig på markedsvilkår.

Generelt er jeg også enig i at markedsmekanismerne har fantastisk gode forudsætninger for at styre produktionen af varer og tjenesteydelser hen i den retningen hvor forbrugernes smag ligger. Men det er måske ikke ligefrem det mest ønskværdige når vi snakker kunst?

Læs selv (og specielt de 2 første kommentarer er det også værd at få med): Kjærsgaard kontra kunstfonden | information.dk

Drug market & gang war

Maybe you’ve read about it. The war that is taking place in the streets of Copenhagen these days over the market for illegal drugs with Hells Angels supporters AK81 on the one side, and immigrant street-gangs on the other. The war does not yet involve mortar attacks and air-strikes, but ‘just’ drive by shootings en masse and plain liquidations. And it is all taking place in the middel of the city. Charming.

Anyway, the solution suggestions from the liberal/concervative minority government (supported by the national socialists) are as dim as you would expect. I’ve heard two suggestions: 1. Safe conduct for handing over firearms to the police. 2. A ban of motorcycle gangs. [To be fair, it should be noted that 1. originally was a left wing suggestion.] But I think it is obvious to everyone that these are only temporary and doubtful solutions.

Instead I would like to see a debate about two alternative solutions.

A. Liberalising the market for drugs. As a layman, I immediately see three sub-markets for illegal drugs with (presumably) a high degree of substitution between the substances. There is the market for mild substances such as Cannabis, a market for weekend-drugs such as ecstasy, and a market for the highly addictive as heroin. The market for the mild substances could be liberalised with the Netherlands as an example (state controlled outlets with prices below the black market) and the market for the highly addictive substances could be highly reduced by introducing doctor prescribed heroin for addicts (which is probably a good idea under all circumstances because it would prevent a lot of the crimes related to raising money to buy these drugs for addicts). I see no overt solution for the weekend drugs-market, but it is my conjecture that easy access to mild substances would reduce this market.

B.  See that war as a social phenomenon with roots in social marginalisation, alienation, unemployment, low education, ghettoisation. That requires a lon-run intensive effort, which is likely to be very, very expensive, but the Government seems to place a higher value on spending ~20 billion DKR [*] of taxpayer money on digging down high voltage air-power cables to beautify the scenary. But perhaps the Government coalition has envisioned the digging as a labour market programme for gang-members?

[*] = I have that  number from a recent article in Weekendavisen, but I could not find a link to that.

Economics of handwashing

Some days after lunch, I stop by the university bookstore. On the first floor there is, what seems to be a neverending sale of (mostly) peculiar Dutch books, but in the basement they have a nice selection of economics books. There are some textbooks, but also many popular economics books. After Freakonomics by Levitt and Dubner, a small flood of books on everyday economics has started to pop up on the shelfs of even high street bookstores.

The most recent popecon book in the bookstore is Parentonomics – on the economics of raising children. I turned a few pages in the book, and came across a section on teaching children to wash their hands. Apparently, it has to be done twice in connection with every intake of food: once before eating (for the germs) and once after dinner (for the furniture). References to the military are given, where studies have shown a negative effect on sickness absence (I think it was) of handwashing. It is stated that even surgeons have a hard time remembering to wash their hands and rewards are given to the ones that do remember it.

Off course there is a lot of economics in the handwashing. If everyone else on the planet washes their hands to prevent the spread of germs, then you don’t have to do so, to enjoy the benefit of no germs. It’s a free-rider problem, and it becomes aggravated because monitoring is difficult.

Have not bought the book yet, though…