Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Why New Year's resolutions can work

In Why New Year's resolutions work Peter Martin describes why such resolutions have a higher success rate than we might expect:
His finding has been replicated repeatedly: resolutions work. And it suggests that rather than being single-minded, as economists have traditionally believed, many of us are better thought of as having at least two minds, each fighting for control. One might be the saver, the other the spender; one the lifter, the other the leaner; one the dieter, the other the eater.
Economics has traditionally explained away what appear to be two separate selves by saying each of us is one self with stable preferences moderated by a discount rate. Because we care most about the present we "discount" whatever good or bad things are likely to happen in the future when comparing them to the good or bad things we are facing now. We are said to have a constant discount rate of about 8 per cent per year.

But the explanation doesn't stand up. Rather than being constant, our discount rate seems to climb the closer we get to the choice we have to make.

Ask someone today to choose between working seven hours on April 1 or eight hours on April 15 and that person will almost certainly choose the easier day on April 1. But ask again when April 1 arrives and the same person will almost certainly choose the harder day in a fortnight's time.
It seems that our short term self is always in a battle with out long term self.
The two fight it out. There's no single "self" always in command.

If they are right it explains the success of resolutions - they are a tool the long-term self can use to trap the short-term self into acting.

And it explains why certain types of resolutions are more likely to succeed than others - those that are specific and are made in public with no room for backing out.
His advice for tonight is to eschew vague resolutions and go for absolutes: "Just as it may be easier to ban nuclear weapons from the battlefield in toto than through carefully graduated specifications on their use, zero is a more enforceable limit on cigarettes or chewing gum than some flexible quantitative ration."

And say it out loud. Lock yourself in. Surprise yourself.

Friday, 26 December 2014

7 food hygiene tips from ABC Health & Wellbeing

ABC Health & Wellbeing has some useful food hygiene tips in 7 ways to share food, not food poisoning this Christmas.

Christmas cake truffles recipe

From Ten ways to use up Christmas leftovers comes Christmas cake truffles:
Make a chocolate ganache with equal parts cream and good quality dark chocolate. As the mixture cools and thickens, stir in crumbled Christmas cake and some finely chopped almonds. Pour into a shallow tray and set in the fridge. Use a melon baller or teaspoon to scoop dainty little truffles. Roll in dutch cocoa or dip in melted chocolate. Serve as petit fours with coffee.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Radicalisation and education

Ben Doherty in Pakistan attack reveals the truth about terrorism: it kills more poor Muslims than rich westerners writes how educating children, especially girls, is one of the best ways of defeating terrorism.
I asked the head of the school, a gruff, uniformed major, what the root cause of radicalisation was.

What was the fundamental, underlying reason why these boys could be convinced to kill in the name of a distorted religious interpretation, to don a vest they knew would kill them and walk towards a target?

“Poverty,” he said.

“It’s poverty, and that comes from a lack of education.”

Boys in school, he explained, didn’t grow up to become suicide bombers. Young men with good jobs didn’t run away to the hills to join the Taliban.

Literate girls go on to lift entire families from poverty. Women with an education don’t allow their sons to be radicalised.

The cost now might seem too high, but Pakistan must keep its children in school.

That’s how the war will be won. And the whole world will benefit.
There's some truth to this. Australia provides aid to Indonesia so children are educated in sectarian schools rather than being potentially radicalised in a madrassa. Indeed many of the Taliban were educated and radicalised in madrassas in Pakistan teaching Wahhabism.

However, it's not the whole story. It doesn't explain many of the people fighting for ISIS and similar groups in Syria and Iraq. Many of them received a reasonable level of education. And yet they have also been radicalised.

We also should also not forget that many terrorists in western countries in the seventies and eighties (e.g the Red Army Faction) were highly educated.

Jim Jefferies on gun control

Amusing: Jim Jefferies - gun control.

Psychlopedia on the need for closure

An interesting page on the Need for closure by Psychlopedia.

Psychlopedia on right wing authoritarianism

Right wing authoritarianism looks at some of the characteristics of people who share that attribute. The page also discusses left wing authoritarianism and conservatism.

Right wing authoritarianism represents the extent to which individuasl feel that authorities should be followed. Specifically, right wing authoritarianism comprises three key related attitudes: Individuals submit to authorities, they endorse aggression towards anyone who violates regulations, and they follow the established traditions of society (e.g., Altemeyer, 1998). These three attitudes are called authoritarian submission, authoritarian aggression, and conventionalism respectively. These attitudes represent key determinants of prejudice (Altemeyer, 1998).

Another example of overpricing in the US health system

In The Odd Math of Medical Tests: One Scan, Two Prices, Both High Elisabeth Rosenthal looks at excessive charging the US health system for tests like echocardiograms.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Sweden isn't Sweden anymore

In Forget everything you know about nice, liberal Sweden — that country no longer exists Emanuel Sidea explains how Sweden is moving from more towards European style politics.
The crisis has revealed the existence of a new political generation in Sweden (three of the nine party leaders were born during 1980s). It is one that is much more prepared for a European-style fight to the death. The idea that Swedes always try to reach a consensus is now long gone.
Löfven, a former union leader, shouldn't be surprised that Sweden isn't the same as it was just ten or twenty years ago. He knows the statistics. We have a large youth generation without proper jobs or housing. An infrastructure in dire need of investment. A private sector eager for political innovation and vision. And a system of young outsiders that put them against a generation born in the 1940s and 50s that harvest all the benefits. Because of the previous centre-right government, led by the "Swedish David Cameron" Fredrik Reinfeldt, there is no inheritance, wealth, or property tax, and large decreases in income tax and capital tax. At the same time, inequality and income distribution is increasing at an alarming rate.

How the Pakistani Taliban became what it is

In How the Pakistani Taliban grew into a deadly force Carlotta Gall gives us a history of the Pakistani Taliban.

Flourless Chocolate Cake Recipe

A Flourless Chocolate Cake recipe from the Kawaii Kitchen blog.

Minty Chocolate Cake

The Kawaii Kitchen blog has an interesting Minty and Super Moist Chocolate Cake recipe.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Good cartoon on vaccines

Maki Naro posted a great cartoon on vaccines: Vaccines Work: Here Are the Facts

Tingle on the less than rosy outlook for out economy

In Voters vulnerable as luck deserts Coalition Laura Tingle has some bad news for us.
It has been a truism of Australian politics for decades that the Coalition has traditionally been blessed with good economic luck, while Labor has tended to be voted into office just as things have turned sour: the OPEC oil crisis in the early 1970s in the case of Whitlam; the “banana republic’” fall in the terms of trade, and subsequent sharp reversal, for Hawke and Keating; the global financial crisis for Rudd.

But the mid-year review of the budget confirms that the decades-long run of economic good luck for the Coalition has finally come to an end.

It is not just that economic conditions are difficult and will stay that way, but that the government has to prepare a couple of generations of voters who have never experienced grim economic times for what is to come.

Bad news for the people

While the bad news for the government in the mid-year review is that the decade of deficits is upon us, it is in the bad news for the people that the real dilemmas lie.

The budget forecasts now officially embrace virtually no growth in wages and rising unemployment. That is not just for this year, but for the foreseeable future. It is predicting even weaker household consumption and a weak housing market.

Just where the growth that is forecast to continue comes from when Chinese growth has been downgraded is not clearly spelt out. This is not a recipe to inspire confidence or make voters feel pleased with the world.
She also has some interesting graphs showing the budget bottom line:

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Vaccinations reduce the incidence of allergic disease

In Vaccination Protects Children Against Allergic Disease Pam Harrison reports on a cohort study showing that vaccinated children were less likely to suffer from allergies than unvaccinated children.

How did Australia spend its boom

In AFTER THE PARTY: How Australia spent its mining boom windfall David Hetherington and Dominic Prior document what Australia did with its windfall during the mining boom.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Detox a crock?

In You can’t detox your body. It’s a myth. So how do you get healthy? Dara Mohammadi addresses the scam that is "detox".

In Detoxing is a scam, isn't it? Sarah Berry gets some alternate views.

Matthew Beard on the evil of torture

In Inside the mind of a torturer Matthew Beard explains that torture doesn't just damage the victim.

Warming has not paused

The post Recent global warming trends: significant or paused or what? has the following graph:

So warming has not paused. The variability we see is still inline with long term trends.

To quote the post:

In summary: that the warming since 1998 “is not significant” is completely irrelevant. This warming is real (in all global surface temperature data sets), and it is factually wrong to claim there has been no warming since 1998. There has been further warming despite the extreme cherry pick of 1998.

What is relevant, in contrast, is that the warming since 1998 is not significantly less than the long-term warming. So while there has been a slowdown, this slowdown is not significant in the sense that it is not outside of what you expect from time to time due to year-to-year natural variability, which is always present in this time series.

How Disney avoids paying tax in Australia

In How Disney has McDucked its tax, left Australia holding pumpkin Neil Chenoweth explains how Disney, through complex offshore transactions, has avoided paying their fair share of tax in Australia.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Reviewing the interview

Peter Clarke is a "Melbourne-based broadcaster, writer and educator who teaches at RMIT and Swinburne universities". In Brandis free speech fudge he reviews Emma Alberici's interview with George Brandis on the topic of the Gillard Government's proposed media reforms.

Journalists are often criticised in social media when they interview prominent politicians. Usually the criticisms reflect the bias of the critic more than any alleged bias of the interviewer. It's good to see an independent and informed critique of an interview by an expert. We need more of it.

Some more Clarke reviews:

Anatomy of Sales -v- Gillard interview - Leigh Sales interviews then Prime Minister Julia Gillard

Morrison’s brick wall on how he’ll stop the boats - Sabra Lane interviews then shadow Immigration Minister Scott Morrison
How Sales dropped the ball on Abbott - Leigh Sales interviews then Opposition Leader Tony Abbott

Mosler rejects the theory that government debt is bad

In Mosler lays down tablets on the economy, stupid Peter McAllister talks to economist Warren Mosler about his theories that government debt isn't bad but government surpluses can be. That's provided the debt is in the country's own currency (unlike Euro-zone countries).