Monday, April 21, 2008

Global Research Network. Hmmm...

I sometimes read the postings of Stephen Lendman and find them to be interesting and sane. I poked around his blog where he mentions the Global Research Network (feed).

So far I have only listened to 1 show (hour 1, hour 2) of GRN and I have mixed feelings.

If you were to judge it only by the commercials you would run a mile. They're all for about fear, impending doom and financial freedom. They reminds me of the contents of my spam folder except they're audio and actually paid for. I guess they pay the bills.

The radio show itself is not terribly slick either, Michel Chussodovsky, the host of the shows I've listened to, seems to be taken by surprise by the commercials and has to cut the guest off in mid flow, he is also a little abrupt with his guests, cutting across them to get his own feelings in. It's not in such a bad way, I suppose, he's usually in agreement with the guest but it's in contrast with other shows like Democracy Now or Electric Politics where the hosts tend to be a bit more focused on letting the guest say what he wants to say and muting their own views (which tend to be mostly expressed through their questions I guess). It's not a major thing but I notice it for some reason.

Finally, the content is interesting, if a little further towards the Gnomes of Zurish style conspiracy stuff than I'd like. The first hour is about F. William Engdahl's new book Seeds of Destruction. It was interesting stuff about genetic manipulation, terminator seeds (seeds which grow into plants whose seeds are sterile, so the farmer must buy new seeds every season instead of just using a small amount of the harvested seeds from last year - also here), patents on genes, the switch to only offering terminator seeds for food-aid. It also strayed towards tinfoil-hat territory a little. Nothing outright insane but much as I dislike Bill Gates, I don't think his foundation is aimed at repression of the poor - but what do I know?

I think I have to listen to a few more before coming to a conclusion. Also it's somehow Canadian, although they have yet to mention Mr Chip Hatflaps :)

k-12 mathematics is horrible

So says Paul Lockhart in Lockhart's Lament, a paper on how the US maths curriculum for kids kills creativity and enjoyment of maths. A lot of good points in there. I have no experience the US system so I don't really know if it's the same as the Irish or quite different. It's a good read anyway.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Listing the rational numbers

Here's a nice series of posts about how to list every rational number in its lowest terms, with no repeats (ie. only include 2/5 not 4/10). The key is to make a tree with 1/1 as the root and for each node i/j, put i+j/j as the left child and i/i+j as the right child. It's all laid out very clearly in the series of post which is based on a terse maths paper.

In the comments I found a link to another paper which comes at this using matrices and relates this tree with another previously known tree that also lists the rationals. It's a fairly readable paper too but a bit more technical.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

My Lai massacre

Interesting article on the My Lai massacre. The court martial found that the task force commander had wrongly made no clear distinction between combatants and non-combatants and this kept the blame from rising too far up the chain of command. The article's author obtained a copy of the top-level directive which governed this type of action. It basically said that if an area was temporarily controlled by the Viet Cong then you should be careful not to kill civilians so as to avoid embittering the population. In areas sympathetic to the Viet Cong - "accepted VC bases" - there are no civilians so they could "kill anything that moved".

Friday, April 11, 2008

Spitzer, The Fed, Banks and Bush

Greg Palast is always good fun. In this article he talks about the sub-prime crisis and the massive bailout given to the banks (but not the home-buyers) hit by it. Makes me really glad I don't live over there but it's not like anyone's immune to the goings on.

I wonder did all of the ratings agencies rate the sub-prime junk as AAA or just a select few. Are they now out of business? Do their customers have a right to sue for negligence. It's not that AAA rated stocks must never go boom but an unafforable loan to someone who can't pay it back is exactly the opposite of AAA.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Letter to the editor: Lisbon treaty and energy security

The interesting thing here is that what Sharon Keating said appears to completely untrue. I assume that anyone writing a pro-Lisbon letter actually has a reasonable grasp of what the treaty contains. There are reasons to vote No that are independent of the content of the treaty - it's unreadability, the process by which it came about, the undemocratic nature of its ratification in many countries - but the same is not true for voting Yes. So if Sharon has read and understood the treaty, getting its content on energy completely wrong is presumably deliberate.

There is another possible explanation for getting the energy details wrong. If you only read the Lisbon treaty, it appears to be inserting several new paragraphs on energy. If you look at the Nice treaty then you can see that they were mostly there already. The actual change is much smaller than you'd think from the "delete this, insert this" in Lisbon. So maybe Ms. Keating just made an honest mistake but then you have to wonder if she actually knows what she is saying "Yes" to!

She also massively distorts what I said in my letter so I'm not inclined towards the innocent explanation.

Sharon Keating claims that the Lisbon treaty gives the EU new legal powers to address energy security. Wading through the treaties myself I find that this is just not true.

The EU has had competence in the area of energy since at least 1992 and Lisbon doesn't change that at all. The Maastricht treaty promoted the building of trans-European energy networks, including reference to the special needs of islands on the periphery of Europe.

Lisbon clarifies the EU's energy policy goals but all these and more are already included in the European Energy Policy, agreed at the European Council meeting in March 2007 (available at

The only new item is that the European Council "'may decide, in a spirit of solidarity between Member States, upon the measures appropriate to the economic situation, in particular if severe difficulties arise in the supply of certain products, notably in the
area of energy".

This is so vague that it's impossible to know how and when this would translate into concrete action and seems completely irrelevant to the original question of how Lisbon will attract inward investment.

This treaty does nothing for energy security that the EU is not already doing. It provides no "new legal powers".

Finally, I never said that we should vote "No" and "casually sit back". All along, I have simply been asking the advocates of Lisbon to provide any evidence at all for their claim that Ireland will lose foreign investment if we vote "No". I'm still waiting,

The following sources were used to construct this letter, the Maastricht treaty, the Nice treaty (I also found a copy of this that had been nicely marked up to show what the Nice treaty actually changed but I closed the page so I don't have the link to hand, I think it was from EU Observer), the Europa energy policy page which has a link to the agreement containing the European Energy Policy which I found about from this report on European energy policy

It really is a lot of work to correctly argue against the twaddle that the Yes people come out with. It's far too easy to get wild claims published and careful refutations are difficult to make short and interesting.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Renaissance Hedge Fund and Black Swan talk

Interesting article about the Renaissance hedge fund and it's founder, Jim Simons. There was a reference to him in a Long Now talk (MP3, summary. by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, who wrote The Black Swan. I haven't read the book but the talk is well worth a listen, the guy is quite funny and he takes quite a few shots at economists. He says his next book take shots at many more classes of academic!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

(Slightly wacky) Film about Lisbon Treaty

I watched End of Nations- EU Takeover & the Lisbon Treaty. This 82 minute report on the Lisbon treaty is quite interesting and has valuable information in it. It's illustration of the new voting rules leave France and Germany with enormous power in comparison to other nations is quite good. Also the comments by Anthony Coughlan are very interesting. Kathy Sinnott also some good stuff including a few anecdotes on what democracy means to some some eurocrats.

Unfortunately the whole thing is not helped by the fact that the makers have quite a bit of time for the more extreme conspiracy side of things - including an advert at the end for Alex Jones' latest "documentary" - the same Alex Jones who believes that 9/11 was a conspiracy involving tens of thousands of people who for some reason are all keeping quiet about it.

It's a pity they wouldn't release a "respectable" version of it, just containing the good stuff.

Letter to the editor: Confused about Lisbon Treaty

Looks like I forgot to post this letter on the blog. It was published a few days after I sent it. There was a reply and I followed up. Feels like I end up writing a letter every night when I get home from work!

I need some help on the Lisbon Treaty. Apparently we have to vote Yes or foreign businesses will stop investing in our country. They wouldn't do that if there weren't good business reasons.

So could someone please tell me what exactly in the Lisbon Treaty will make Ireland more attractive to foreign investment but will not make other EU countries equally more attractive?

If your answer involves phrases like "Ireland at the heart of Europe" please keep it to yourself, I've read enough of that already, 

Letter to the editor: Lisbon treaty and competitiveness


Paul Nolan thinks I missed the point with my question on the Lisbon treaty  (letters April 2nd). I did not. I asked a very focused question in an attempt to get a waffle-free answer and it worked. Thank you.

Mr Nolan tells us that Ireland's competitiveness versus other European countries will not be changed by the Lisbon treaty. We will still be the highly-educated, English-speaking, low-tax, gateway to Europe even if we vote "No".

With that question resolved, I would like to ask the other half of the question. What exactly in the Lisbon treaty will make Ireland and Europe more attractive for foreign investment versus the rest of the world.

Mr Nolan raises this issue himself and says, "the Lisbon Treaty includes a number of specific provisions" to make Europe "a better place to invest and do business". However he does not say what they are.

It is exactly this kind of answer, a serious sounding statement but no details, from the "Yes" campaign that has driven me to ask such narrowly focused questions.

As before, waffle-free answers please. Being "at the heart of Europe" might give politicians a warm fuzzy feeling but I suspect it doesn't do much for the shareholders of large companies,

Update: there was a pretty poor reply to this to which I have responded.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Dodgy bits of the Lisbon treaty: more intellectual property

All posts on Lisbon

It has been pointed out to me that Europe already has a say on IP issues and that this is not new. This is true, I followed and contributed a little effort to the software patent battle (that page contains the marvellous example of what European democracy can involve - 'When Brinkhorst spoke at the Council's "public session", the microphones were switched off. Thus we do not know what he said.'). I also recently asked some questions recently about Charlie McCreevy's new scheme to extend the duration of copyright for session musicians. Apparently this scheme will give them more money while not costing anybody anything - a modern day economic miracle of the loaves and fishes. One of my questions, yet to receive a reply, is about the "empirical studies" which back up this economic miracle.

So yes, Europe already has a hand in IP but that does not mean I have to be happy for that to be formalised and set in stone, particularly in the current form where there is no rationale, principles, social bargain or even a mention of the limited duration of an IP monopoly and certainly nothing about fair use.

Interestingly this seems to apply to the entire commercial section. I'll write about that too if I get a chance.

Funnily enough, I don't know whether your IP rights beat my rights to freedom of expression under the new human rights stuff. I presume this has been worked out before in a court somewhere but it doesn't seem to be included in the documents.

Letter to the editor: Facts on global warming

A long letter, maybe too long to print. I tried to write it for easy chopping


I'd like to thank Dick Keane for rising to the challenge and
presenting tangible claims in contrast to the rhetoric of other
climate change sceptics.

He is correct that CO2 is a very small part of the Earth's atmosphere.
He is also correct that there is far more water vapour in the
atmosphere (although NASA's Earth fact sheet puts it at 25 times
greater than CO2 in contrast to Mr Keane's 100). Neither of these two
facts justify his claim that CO2 is therefore "almost completely
irrelevant as a greenhouse gas".

Different gases have different properties, including different greenhouse
properties. Despite its relative rarity, CO2 is still a major greenhouse gas.
Water vapour is indeed the greatest greenhouse contributor and probably
contributes 2 to 4 times more than CO2 but CO2 is far from "irrelevant".

The other important point is that the amount of water vapour in the
atmosphere is relatively unaffected by human activity. If we add extra
water to the atmosphere it soon condenses and falls as rain. CO2 in
contrast stays in the atmosphere until it is extracted by photosynthesis
or absorbed into the ocean.

Finally, Mr Keane says that it is "warmer oceans", not human activities
over the last 150 years that have caused the observed increase in CO2.
There are two problems with this.

It is indeed harder for CO2 to dissolve in warmer sea-water, however
over the industrial period, the oceans have been a net
absorber of CO2. This could only happen if the level of CO2 in the
atmosphere from other sources was enough to overcome the effect of the
warmth and force the oceans to absorb even more.

Secondly, all the oil, coal and gas we've burnt neatly accounts for the
increase in CO2 that we've seen. To suggest that something else caused
the increase begs the question, "what happened to all that we released?".

Nature spent hundreds of millions of years extracting a vast amount of
carbon from the atmosphere and burying it as fossil fuel. The idea
that we can release it all back into the atmosphere over a couple of
centuries with no side-effects is extraordinary. As such it requires
extraordinary evidence to back it up. This evidence has not been

The sources of my data are The Royal Society's report on ocean
acidification, NASA and,

I got the information on total human CO2 emissions from and I also used thier comparison of the relative strengths of greenhouse gases