Friday, October 31, 2003

Wicked Scandinavians

An interesting tidbit, via Marginal Revolution:

It is commonly known that Sweden and Norway stand among the top five nations for foreign aid per capita.

It is less commonly known that, in per capita terms, they are among the top five arms exporters in the world.

I've long known that Sweden was a major arms manufacturer, what with Saab and Bofors of gunmaking fame (now owned by Saab, by the way), but Norway as a big-time arms exporter? What could the Norwegians be selling on such a large scale? What makes the prominence of Sweden and Norway in the arms business particularly interesting is the highly sanctimonious tone both countries like to take about the foreign dealings of other nations; one rarely hears the trite phrase "merchants of death" applied to the Scandinavians.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Boom Times in Turkey

Edward Hugh has an intriguing post up about an acceleration in productivity growth in Turkey; the figures quotes seem nothing short of phenomenal, and, I have to say, entirely unexpected, with the total factor productivity numbers being particularly encouraging. What has changed in the Turkish economy that has enabled such sterling performance, I wonder?

There is a discernible improvement in Turkey’s rate of productivity growth the single most important indicator of any nation’s economic performance. Output per worker has increased by 25.8% after the 2001 crisis, and total factor productivity, which reflects increases in productivity due to technological improvements, accelerated from an average of 0.5% in the 1990s to 4.7% in the last two years. In our view, the growth of labour productivity, which surged from less than 4% a year over the previous decade to an annual rate of 8.5%, is a case in point that the Turkish economy is gradually entering a new era with a higher potential growth rate.
Source: Serhan Cevik, MS Global Economic Forum

Lunacy in Kenya

Sometimes I can't help despairing for a continent that has been cursed with so many awful leaders.

Thousands of Britons expelled by Kenya

By Adrian Blomfield in Nairobi
(Filed: 29/10/2003)

Thousands of Britons are facing banishment from Kenya following the announcement by President Mwai Kibaki's government yesterday that it would expel two-thirds of the country's expatriate workforce.

British businessmen and economists denounced the decision, which will force out more than 16,000 of Kenya's 25,352 working expatriates, along with their families.

Between 30,000 and 50,000 Britons live in Kenya, more than half of whom are thought to be British Asians, prompting comparisons with Idi Amin's expulsion of Asians from Uganda in 1972.

"This is a racist and economically suicidal move by the government," one British businessman said. "What is the difference between this and what Idi Amin did or what Robert Mugabe is doing?"

Aware of the damaging publicity a mass exodus would cause, the government said the expulsion would be implemented over the next two years.

"It will not be a blanket removal," said Ali Mwakwere, the labour minister. "The process has already begun, but we are honouring existing work permits until they expire."

Mr Mwakwere said he would target skilled and semi-skilled foreigners in the manufacturing industry, many of whom are Asians from Britain and the Indian sub-continent.

Asian-dominated commerce is also in the sights of the minister, whose ruling will be welcomed by poor, nationalist Kenyans. "Quite possibly British Asians and Asians in general are the target," a British High Commission official said. "We are watching the situation closely."

Non-Asian Britons are likely to be forced out too, as Mr Mwakwere said the clearout would sweep through the hospitality and tourism sectors.

"We are looking at anywhere where a foreigner is doing a job a Kenyan could be doing," he said. "We have well-qualified tour guides and so on who are out of a job."

This kind of populist nativism would be economically ill-advised even if it were to occur in a wealthy country, but for a country as lacking in human resources as Kenya, it is nothing short of madness. Why do development economists bother to root around for subtle explanations for economic failure when blatant misrule of this sort is so frequently on display? I mean, it isn't as if people are exactly clamoring to abandon the developed world to live in Kenya, is it?

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Polio and Religious Paranoia

This is in today's edition of the British Times:

Nigerian Muslims block polio injections

By Michael Dynes, Africa Correspondent

MUSLIM fundamentalists in Nigeria are blocking emergency efforts to contain an outbreak of polio, claiming that vaccines are part of an American conspiracy to spread HIV-Aids and make Muslims infertile.

Resistance to the £6 million anti-polio drive that began on Wednesday is putting the health and lives of millions of children at risk and undermining international efforts to eradicate the disease across the world, according to health experts.

Kano, Kaduna and Zamfara, three predominantly Muslim states in northern Nigeria, have delayed or refused permission for the World Health Organisation (WHO) vaccination drive, demanding proof that the vaccination is “safe”.

While Christian and Muslim families in the south of Africa’s most populous country are co-operating with international efforts to stamp out the polio outbreak, Muslims in the conservative north insist that they will not allow their children to be vaccinated against the disease.

“The Western world has never wished Muslims well,” Yakubu Husseini, a 20-year-old teacher, said. “Why should they expect us to believe that vaccinations they make these days are not another frontier to wage war against the Muslims?”

Health officials estimate that the recent outbreak spreading from Nigeria to neighbouring countries could put as many as 15 million children at risk. “Polio continues to spread within Nigeria to areas which were polio-free, and to neighbouring countries,” David Heyman, the head of the WHO’s campaign to stamp out the disease, said.

To be fair, though, there is a bit more to the story, as the following excerpt from the same article makes clear.

Nigerian Muslims have been suspicious of Western vaccinations since 1996, when families in Kano accused the New York-based Pfizer pharmaceutical firm of using an experimental meningitis drug on patients without informing them of the risks. Pfizer denied wrongdoing in the American courts, but the case is continuing.

Still, reading on also makes clear that this does go beyond the limits of rational scepticism:

Datti Ahmed, a respected Nigerian doctor who leads an Islamic fundamentalist pressure group, added to Muslim fears earlier this year when he accused the WHO of covertly spreading anti- fertility drugs, a claim that the Nigerian Government and the United Nations dismissed as unfounded.

What is striking about this story is the resemblance Ahmed's theory displays to rumors that have long made the rounds of the Middle East about "Zionist" chewing gum designed to either sexually corrupt Arab youth, or render Arab manhood impotent, depending on which rumor one chooses to listen to. There really is a cancer working its' way through the Islamic world, and as both Africapundit and Mahathir's recent outburst make clear, the problems extend far beyond the Middle-Eastern arena with which most of the West seems to be currently preoccupied.

Troubling Developments in Russia

This is bad news, very bad news.

MOSCOW, Oct. 27 — Russia lurched toward a political and economic crisis on Monday as the country's stocks, bonds and currency plummeted after the weekend arrest of Russia's richest man, Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky.

President Vladimir V. Putin, speaking publicly about the arrest for the first time, called for an end to "hysteria and speculations," which reached a new fervor in the two days since masked agents seized Mr. Khodorkovsky, the chairman of Yukos Oil, aboard his corporate jet during a refueling stop in Siberia.

The remarks by Mr. Putin did little to calm fears about his policy or financial jitters during one of the most frenzied days on Russia's stock markets since the financial collapse in 1998. Leading market indexes plunged sharply, dragged down by Yukos, which quickly lost a fifth of its value before recovering slightly.

Mr. Putin has sought to portray the investigation as an isolated criminal matter in the hands of independent prosecutors.

But he faces parliamentary elections in December and a presidential election in March, and Russian newspapers as well as analysts and some prominent politicians depicted the arrest as a politically motivated assault on an outspoken opponent. There were unusually dark warnings of a return of Soviet-like power clutched in Mr. Putin's steely fist.

The pretence on Putin's part that this is some sort of independent judicial investigation is preposterous. Khodorkovsky is almost certainly a crook, but then again, so is pretty much every other public figure in Russian life. To single him out like this sends a clear message to investors: that Russia is a country where the rule of law simply doesn't hold, and in which one's life and property are safe only for as long as the powers that be feel like it. Far from being a mark of "hysteria", the turmoil in Russia's financial markets is perfectly rational, and I'd say that one would have to be a fool not to pull one's assets out of that country with the greatest possible haste. No, what would be irrational would to heed Putin's calls for calm.

UPDATE: The British Times also has something to say about Khodorkovsky's arrest.

FOR President Putin, this is a rare mistake, destructive of Russia’s potential prosperity and, possibly, of his own political future.

It was no surprise that the Russian stock market plunged more than 14 per cent on opening yesterday, after the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the head of the oil giant Yukos and Russia’s richest man. That brought a juddering halt to the year’s threefold rise, which has made Russia the darling of the fashionable “emerging markets” branch of finance.

That fall is a sensible — and overdue — response to the questions that hang over Russia, symbolised by the arrest but not caused by it. Has Putin been hijacked by hardliners, his old KGB colleagues, whom he brought into government? Is the climate for investment chillier than it has seemed?

At this point, the answer to both looks like “yes”.

It is not that Khodorkovsky has a lot of fans, in high or low places. In fact, that was part of his problem. Within the Kremlin, he had aligned himself with neither the hawkish “St Petersburg” faction, which includes many former KGB men, nor the more liberal camp created under President Yeltsin.

For ordinary Russians, particularly older and poorer ones, he was dubbed a thief, another oligarch who made his wealth from fast, shady privatisations.

Yet in liberal, commercial, Western-orientated circles, he had come to stand for something different: the hope that the Russian Government was making good on its promises of economic reform and that Russia was now a place where you could invest safely.

Yesterday, liberals, businessmen and investors were appalled. They fear that the arrest shows that the Kremlin is prepared to bend the law to its own advantage.


Under Russian law, now that charges have been brought, nothing has to happen for 60 days — until a fortnight after the elections. But if this was Putin’s motive, it may prove counter-productive. Before the arrest, the opposition parties were not expected to have much impact; now they might, fuelled by anti-Kremlin outrage.

More seriously, the arrest — and the fall in the market itself — may check the appetite for investment. The rise of the market has been driven both by foreigners and by Russians’ repatriation of capital. The attractions were already looking overblown; the World Bank, in a shrewd analysis last month, said that the economy was vulnerable to a fall in the oil price.

Incited by Kremlin hawks, with their exaggerated fears of the threat posed by Khodorkovsky, Putin may have underestimated the impact on Russia’s image in the West and among investors. It may prove a move that truly shakes the pillars of his presidency.

Life is Not a Movie

I'm a bit late to this story, but I can't help laughing at the sheer presumption of this couple:

Bill Clinton failed, Tony Blair drew a blank and Kofi Annan made little progress. But now a team of Hollywood film stars is about to visit the Middle East on a private peace mission, in the belief that their charms will work magic on the Israeli-Arab conflict.

Brad Pitt, his wife, Jennifer Aniston, and Danny DeVito are among the stars who aim to succeed where world statesmen have stumbled.

"The past few years of conflict mean that yet another generation of Israelis and Palestinians will grow up in hatred," reads a statement from Pitt and Aniston. "We cannot allow that to happen."

Quite how they intend to stop it is not entirely clear. The logic behind their mission, planned to take place before the end of the year, is not especially sophisticated.

Pitt and Aniston believe that most people in the region want a negotiated settlement with an end to violence, and imagine that by appealing directly to "ordinary folk", they can bring the warring parties together.

In a region suffering from peace initiative fatigue, however, Israelis and Palestinians have greeted news of the Hollywood initiative with bemusement and incredulity.

I suppose one of the dangers of living in the Hollywood milieu, with all its' groupies, sycophants and glad-handers, is that one might start buying into the belief that one really is as special, as talented and as significant as one is continously being told one is. Do these clowns really imagine that the likes of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and his acolytes stay up at night to watch the latest episode of Friends?

Schwarzenegger might have been elected governor of California, but he at least has a long-standing interest in politics, as well as a coherent philosophy to go with it. Nothing I've seen or heard leads me to believe that Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt have ever given much deep thought to the major issues of the day, much less sought out the likes of Milton Friedman as Schwarzenegger actually did. This is the sort of ignorant do-goodism that gives well-meaning activists a bad name.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

The Easterbrook Flap, and Imaginary Antisemitism

I don't really have much to say about this whole sordid business that hasn't been said elsewhere. I didn't believe for an instant that Easterbrook was an anti-semite, or even that what he had to say was particularly anti-semitic; would there have been comparable outrage if he had been writing about greedy black record executives irresponsibly promoting racial polarization and violence? One thing I do think needs saying is that the blogosphere reaction to Easterbrook's column, and his subsequent firing from ESPN as a result, illustrate that the American Jewish community is not without it's own share of overly sensitive types who are ever on the lookout for acts or statements that can be construed as antisemitic, however imaginary.

In particular, I think no truer statement has ever been made about one high-profile female blogger (who I refuse to link to here, as a matter of principle) than that she is a "Jewish Al Sharpton." Her perpetual overreaction to events, her shrillness of tone, which makes Paul Krugman seem like a Golden Retriever on marijuana, and her inability to even contemplate the notion of a dialogue with the other side make her, as far as I am concerned, a malign influence in the blogging world. Said blogger, as well as a certain high-profile site which I also won't link to (hint: its' name starts with "L", and has a "G" followed by an "F") are to my mind nothing other than the blogosphere equivalents of the Ann Coulters of this world, so shrill and so eager to see the worst in those who disagree with them that one feels a sense of shame at being allied with them over any issue whatsoever.

Anti-semitism does still exist in the world, and, as the Mahathir speech has shown us, it is still pervasive amongst large numbers of people, but there is a danger in the use of the charge of "anti-semitism" as a cudgel against all critics of either Jews or Israel, and it is the same risk that those who reflexively reach for the "racism" charge run: that after crying wolf too many times, these terms will have lost all their power, so that when a truly troubling incident does come along, few people will be willing to take them seriously. Part of being a member of an often persecuted minority is frequently having to wonder whether an unpleasant interaction or an inexplicably unsuccessful initiative is due to prejudice, and this is understandable in as far as such suspicions often end up being correct, but one must nevertheless guard against reducing every setback or unpleasantness to this single factor, not just to preserve one's credibility, but also to maintain one's sanity. Neither America nor today's Western Europe are Nazi Germany or the Jim-Crow South, and sometimes people either misspeak (as with Easterbrook), or are merely political opportunists (as with Chirac on Mahathir); it is also true that sometimes an asshole is just an asshole, not a racist or an anti-semite.

Friday, October 24, 2003

A Telling Statistic

Tax Revenue as Percentage of GDP

The legacy of Labour Party rule: Britain's tax take as percentage of GDP is now virtually indistiguishable from Germany's, and higher than Spain's. What a shame it is that the Conservative Party is in such a sorry state.

Realism About Iran in the Strangest of Places

I never thought I'd see the day when an article as hard-headed as this one would appear on the opinion pages of the New York Times. What is going on in that august journalistic establishment? At this rate, we might even get an admission that Walter Duranty was an apologist for mass murder some day ...

The Mullahs and the Bomb

Published: October 23, 2003

WASHINGTON — With much fanfare, and the reluctant endorsement of the Bush administration, Iran has vowed to suspend its controversial effort to produce enriched uranium — which can be used as fuel in nuclear weapons — and to clear up a host of suspicions about its nuclear program. In exchange, the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany promised new "cooperation" — meaning trade — in high technology with Tehran. While perhaps getting any concessions out of the mullahs should be seen as a step forward, this particular deal won't prevent Iran from making the bomb. It also risks having the same outcome as the deal North Korea made in 1994 and later violated, and threatens to drive a wedge between the United States and its European allies on Iran policy.

The suspicions about Iran's nuclear aims are well founded. Leaving aside the question whether such an oil-rich country even needs nuclear power plants, America has long questioned why Iran is building a factory to enrich uranium, material for which there is no reasonable need in Iran's civilian power program.

Iran also plans to produce plutonium, another fuel for nuclear weapons, by building a 40-megawatt heavy water reactor at Arak. This type of reactor, too small for electricity and larger than needed for research, is now providing the fuel for atomic weapons programs in India, Israel and Pakistan. And Iran is developing a fleet of long-range missiles, which don't make sense as a way to deliver conventional warheads. The only logical purpose of such missiles is to carry nuclear ones.


North Korea faced worldwide condemnation and a possible war with the United States after violating its inspection agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency. By agreeing to suspend its effort to produce plutonium, North Korea avoided censure and got economic benefits from the West, and yet it preserved its nuclear potential intact. North Korea's 8,000 fuel rods — containing five bombs' worth of plutonium — never left the country. Like a sword poised over the world's head, they remained only months away from being converted into bomb fuel — something that the North Koreans say was finally done this summer. The North Korean bomb program only shifted into neutral; now it is back in gear.

Under Tuesday's deal Iran, too, will shift into neutral, while keeping its nuclear potential intact. It won't — for the time being — operate its newly constructed centrifuges, which are needed to enrich uranium to weapon grade. But the deal won't stop Iran from building more centrifuges to augment the limited number it now has, thus adding to its future ability to enrich uranium. Nor does the agreement bar Iran from completing the factory that produces the uranium gas that goes into the centrifuges. Nor does it prevent the building of the heavy water reactor or, indeed, the resumption of enrichment in the future. Thus the agreement could insulate Iran from international censure without hampering its nuclear progress in any way.

These defects won't be cured by Iran's acceptance of more rigorous inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The inspectors' new rights are still weaker than those that were enjoyed by their counterparts in Iraq — and we all know that the Iraqis repeatedly foiled those efforts with delays and obfuscation.

Milhollin appears to believe that economic sanctions can be successfully utilized to pressure Iran into giving up its' nuclear ambitions, but I am not so sanguine. I am completely convinced that the only long term solution is a military one; it isn't something I'm looking forward to by any means, but it will have to be done.

UPDATE: Sebastian Holsclaw has a summary of bien-pensant reaction in European newspapers to the agreement concluded with Iran. Let there be no doubt on the reality behind all of this: were it not for the threat of American military action, Iran wouldn't have agreed to even the sort of toothless agreement that it did. European "soft power" did absolutely nothing to bring this (frankly, worse than useless) promise of "cooperation" about.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

The European Union at its' Worst

This is insane! In which pencil-pushing Enarque or Beamter's head did this ridiculous proposal originate?
Employers fear proposed EU merger rules

British companies taking part in cross-border mergers could be forced to adopt German-style union consultation and boardroom representation under European rules due to be proposed next month.

Business leaders are to mount a lobbying campaign against what they say is a creeping extension of the principle of co-determination, which grants employees a powerful voice in the running of companies in countries such as Germany.

But European Commission officials are determined to press ahead. After considering less divisive options they concluded that wider reforms of company law, designed to encourage cross-border consolidation, would otherwise be impossible.


n a letter seen by the FT, Frits Bolkestein, the EU commissioner for the internal market, told a European business leader that "the only solution" in a cross-border merger which would balance employee rights and be politically acceptable is for the more extensive form of worker representation to take precedence.

Under the proposed 10th and 14th company law directives, a minority of employees could insist that two European companies joining forces must adopt this principle.

The CBI fears this will deter consolidation among companies, with directors reluctant to adopt what they consider to be the more interventionist governance standards.

This is just the sort of nonsensical idea that makes the idea of Europe as more than a free-market so unattractive. If the choice is to be between a politically fragmented Europe and a Europe in which the lowest common denominator is forced on all member states, then far better that the former should come to pass than the latter. Why should German voters have the power to force their own economic rigidities on British citizens?

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

John Kay on The Lure of Amateur Economics

A very nice article. As I like to say, there are only two fields in which people have no compunctions about expounding their views vigorously, in spite of having virtually no knowledge of the contents of the subjects: evolutionary biology and economics.

Samuel Brittan calls it businessmen's economics. David Henderson, long an international civil servant, prefers DIY economics. Both refer to propositions that people who have practical knowledge but no qualifications in economics hold to be self-evident, but which are false. Countries would do better to export more and import less. New technology destroys jobs, and public spending on my projects not only helps me but also creates jobs. Manufacturing is more important than other forms of economic activity. Business would benefit from lower interest rates.

People who would pause before expressing opinions on quantum mechanics or undertaking brain surgery have no hesitation in pronouncing on the economic consequences of the euro.

I highly suggest reading the rest of the article; it isn't very long.

Who Remembers the Ukrainians?

This has long been overdue, but will there be any movement now that the NYT's own historian is urging for it to happen?

NEW YORK (AP) -- A 1932 Pulitzer Prize awarded to The New York Times should be revoked, according to a historian hired by the newspaper to review the winning work, which has been questioned for years.

A subcommittee of the Pulitzer Board has been reviewing the prize won by writer Walter Duranty for his series on Russia. The review was sparked by complaints that Duranty deliberately ignored in later coverage the forced famine in the Ukraine that killed millions of people.

Mark von Hagen, a Columbia University history professor, said in his report to the Times that Duranty ``frequently writes in the enthusiastically propagandistic language of his sources,'' and that ``there is a serious lack of balance in his writing.''

``For the sake of The New York Times' honor, they should take the prize away,'' von Hagen said in an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press. The New York Sun first reported the professor's recommendation.

The Times has reviewed von Hagen's report and forwarded it to the Pulitzer Board with a recommendation from Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., who declined comment on Wednesday.

It hardly needs pointing out that if Duranty's award were for propagandizing on behalf of Nazi Germany, it would certainly have been rescinded long ago; but there is something about communism that makes supposedly decent people go all mushy, as if the loss of life under it was of lesser consequence. More Ukrainians lost their lives under a famine that was intentionally engineered by Stalin than did Jews under Hitler, but certain acts of genocide are evidently less equal than others in the eyes of the world.

Absurdity in Iran

I think this piece speaks for itself:

TEHRAN - A group of clerics and theology students from Iran's clerical centre of Qom have hit out at the Nobel Peace Prize win of women's rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi saying it was part of a Western conspiracy against Islam.

In a statement carried by the hardline Jomhuri Eslami newspaper, the group from Qom's main seminary said: "The decision by the Western oppressive societies to award the prize to Ebadi was done in order to ridicule Islam."

The paper did not say how many people signed the statement, which also lamented that a "serious revolutionary confrontation with the tribe of infidels" had not yet taken place.

As for the "infidels", it voiced hope for their "tongues to be cut from their mouths and the poisonous pens broken in their hearts".

Keeping up its stiff criticism of Ebadi, the paper also quoted Mousa Qorbani - a prominent conservative MP - as comparing the Nobel laureate to British author Salman Rushdie, who was sentenced to death by Iran's revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini for writing "The Satanic Verses".

"Awarding the Nobel Prize to Ebadi is like rewarding Salmam Rushdie, the Zionist regime and US leaders," he was quoted as saying. (emphasis added)

It seems my prediction about the Iranian response to this award has been fully borne out. "Western oppressive societies" my a**! It takes a warped mind to see something "oppressive" in the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to a peaceful advocate of the rights of women and children. Anyone who thinks it is possible, let alone desirable, to have some sort of "dialogue" with this awful regime, is living in a dream world.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Megan McArdle on Social Security Reform

A very nice piece, which makes the same points I've been making for quite some time now: that no amount of tinkering can abolish the difficulty with any scheme that is predicated on an ever increasing support base of workers. Increasing the retirement age, decreasing payouts, means testing, even increasing the birth rate as well as immigration quotas - none of these things will suffice to eradicate the threat posed to the solvency of Social Security by ever increasing longevity.

Any lasting solution to the problem will have to combine all of the above measures with one tactic that is abhorrent to many on the left today, but is nonetheless crucial, namely the privatization of social security. The importance of this measure lies in the potential it has to divert large amounts of savings from the sorts of largely wasteful government expenditure to which they are currently directed, to investments that will boost worker productivity in the long run, some of the gains from which can then be used to pay the benefits of retirees. What I like about McArdle's post is that she recognizes, as I too have pointed out elsewhere, that increased productivity is the real key to solving the pensions problem.

Celera, Hype and the Human Genome Project

A few weeks ago, in the context of discussing the dog genome announcement, I mentioned that Celera's contribution to the Human Genome Project was less awe-inspiring than it appeared at first glance, leaning heavily as it did on the freely available work of the Human Genome Consortium for the assembly of the fragments Celera had collected using shotgun sequencing. In light of the aforementioned post, I think this PNAS analysis by Robert Watson, Eric Lander and John Sulston well worth reading, as well as this response by Craig Venter, Eugene Myers and others on the Celera sequencing team. The following paragraph from the Waterston/Lander/Sulston critique sums up the reality of the situation, in my view:

The international Human Genome Project (HGP) and Celera Genomics published articles last year on the sequence of the human genome (1, 2). In a recent article (3), we analyzed aspects of the Celera article.

We noted that the article did not report an assembly of Celera's own data but rather reported only joint assemblies based on a data set that included the assembled genome sequence of the HGP. Approximately 60% of the underlying sequence data and 100% of the mapping data used in Celera's analysis came from the HGP, and the HGP genome assembly itself contained 90% of the euchromatic sequence of the human genome. We also noted that Celera used various approaches for using the HGP data (referred to as perfect tiling, gap filling,¶ and compartmentalized assembly; see Fig. 1) that implicitly preserved much of the HGP assembly information. We concluded that Celera's assemblies made extensive and inextricable use of the HGP genome information and thus were not an independent assembly of the human genome.


Our report elicited two commentaries. One, by Green (4), concurred with our analysis. The other, by Myers et al. (five of the Celera authors), raised certain issues about our analysis (5). Specifically, they acknowledge that their approaches preserved the HGP assembly to some extent, but they contend that the role of the HGP data in the Celera joint assemblies was minor.

Here we address the technical issues raised by Myers et al. We show that the analysis of Myers et al. underestimates the role of the HGP genome assembly in their work because they focus on only one of the ways in which the HGP data were used. Moreover, we note that the major role of the HGP sequence can be directly seen from the properties of the Celera assembly.

If there's one conclusion that can be drawn from all of this, it is that private does not automatically mean better, which is not to say that this ought to be taken as a defense of all government endeavors. The key thing to take into account, whether or not one is dealing with public or private entities, is whether or not they face competition: without the impetus provided by the threat of Celera patenting the completed genome, the Human Genome Consortium would still be making slow progress at its' task today, and even perhaps two years from now.

There is one other, extremely important, lesson that I feel is worth drawing from the Human Genome Project, and it is one that will probably go down badly with most hard-core libertarians, and that is the importance of publicly funded research. There are very strong positive externalities in scientific research that make measures like patent protection and trade secrecy inadequate for promoting the public good, and a tremendous amount of important work currently being carried out would simply not be possible under a system in which private companies had 20-year monopolies on research into various portions of humanity's genetic inheritance. One can argue that government-run institutes might not be the best way to encourage scientific investigation, but that such investigation ought to be officially encouraged, rather than left entirely to the market, is something I believe to be indisputable.

Revisiting Electricity Deregulation

Was the electricity fiasco in California inevitable? Does electricity deregulation require so much legislative finesse as to be infeasible in practice? Here's an interesting experimental economics paper that seems to suggest otherwise.

In this article we report an experiment that examines how demand-side bidding can discipline generators in a market for electric power. First we develop a treatment without demand-side bidding; two large firms are allocated baseload and intermediate cost generators such that either firm might unilaterally withhold the capacity of its intermediate cost generators from the market to benefit from the supracompetitive prices that would result from only selling its baseload units. In a converse treatment, ownership of some of the intermediate cost generators is transferred from each of these firms to two other firms such that no one firm could unilaterally restrict output to spawn supracompetitive prices. Having established a well controlled data set with price spikes paralleling those observed in the naturally occurring economy, we also extend the design to include demand-side bidding. We find that demand-side bidding completely neutralizes the exercise of market power and eliminates price spikes even in the presence of structural market power. (emphasis added)

Sunday, October 19, 2003

By Their Fruits Shall Ye Know Them

If it may have seemed at times that my criticisms of French foreign policy were somewhat one-sided, I offer the following article as evidence on my behalf:
Mahathir Thanks Chirac for Support

MALAYSIAN Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has thanked French President Jacques Chirac for blocking a European Union declaration condemning his comments last week that Jews "rule the world by proxy," news reports said today.

Chirac, backed by Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis, stopped the EU from ending a summit on Friday with a harshly worded statement deploring Mahathir's speech, which also included suggestions that Jews get "others to fight and die for them."

A French diplomat, who asked not to be named, said while Chirac disagreed with Mahathir's strident views, he argued that an EU summit declaration "would not have been appropriate."

Malaysian newspapers said Mahathir had expressed his gratitude to Chirac for his "understanding" of the speech he made at the 57-nation Organisation of the Islamic Conference, the world's largest Muslim grouping, in Malaysia last Thursday.


"I never thought the Europeans would be against me," [Hmm, I wonder why he'd have thought that ...] the New Sunday Times quoted him as saying. "I can't understand them. I'm glad that Chirac at least understands. I would like to thank him publicly." (emphasis added)

What an understanding fellow this Chirac is, isn't he? For Chirac is an honourable man, as are Mahathir and all the rest of the OIC leaders; so are they all, all honourable men ...

Saturday, October 18, 2003

Bayesian Spam Filtering for Movable Type

James Song has provided an elegant solution to the spam commenting problem, by adapting the SpamBayes engine to detect bogus comments. Song's solution seems rather more robust and scalable to me than the MT-Blacklist option, as blocking entire IP ranges and word-based filtering are rather blunt instruments for detecting undesirable comments; what if one were to bring up Nabokov's Lolita in the context of a discussion on literature?

An additional, unforeseen benefit of Song's filter would be to eliminate the sort of insult-riddled nonsense that passes for argument in the eyes of many of the less intelligent commentators on popular weblogs (for copious examples of which, see this Calpundit post, and look out for posts by an individual called "Adam in MA"). Some people need to learn that calling others "fucks", "idiots", and copiously using terms like "fucking", "shit", "ass" and the like are not acceptable in civilized company. The anonymity provided by the Internet tends to bring out the worst tendencies in a lot of people, and this plugin just might be the ticket for reining in some of these unhelpful tendencies - assuming, of course, that bloggers like Kevin Drum do actually wish to see the worst of their cheerleaders restrained.

Friday, October 17, 2003

Bob Herbert Says Something Sensible

I don't know what's happening to Bob Herbert. Usually he's very careful to stay firmly within the boundaries of orthodox liberal opinion on the issues, but this is the second time in the space of 6 months that he's had something to say that isn't the same old trite nonsense one expects coming from him:

Ghettopoly is a board game, based on Monopoly, and it has a lot of people fired up.

Marches and protests by people denouncing the game as racist have distributors running for cover. Yahoo and eBay have blocked the sale of the game on their sites, and the Urban Outfitters chain has stopped selling it in stores.

People are outraged — outraged! — that a game would portray inner-city blacks as pimps and hustlers and ho's.

Kweisi Mfume, president of the N.A.A.C.P., has threatened to boycott sellers of Ghettopoly, which he described as "demeaning, repugnant and reprehensible, to say the least."

For the record: Ghettopoly is without question an ugly game that promotes disgusting racial stereotypes. It presents blacks as murderous, thieving, dope-dealing, carjacking degenerates. Instead of the familiar Monopoly pieces, like top hats and thimbles, Ghettopoly players get to move around the board as pimps, machine guns and rocks of crack cocaine.

So I'm not feeling sorry for David Chang, the game's beleaguered 28-year-old creator. What I'd like to know is why all this outrage is springing up over a board game when so little is heard in the way of protest about the outlandishly self-destructive behavior that gives rise to a game like Ghettopoly, and which is burying any chance of a viable future for extraordinary numbers of young black men and women, and their children.

How can you march against a game and not march against the real-life slaughter on the streets and in the homes of inner cities across America? Violent crime, ignorance and disease are carving the very heart out of America's black population.

The president of the Los Angeles Council of Churches, the Rev. Leonard Jackson, told me last spring about the long line of funerals he's had to conduct for young black men and women, and boys and girls. He seemed on the verge of tears. "The young people have more of a chance of dying here in South Central than in a military combat zone," he said.

Instead of using their influence to help stop the slaughter, certain truly twisted elements of the hip-hop culture encourage it, celebrating it in songs that not only glorify murderous violence, but also degrade black people to a degree that should leave any sensible person stupefied.

"We dangerous," says one song. "Bitches pay a fee just to hang with us."

Trust me, we've got some problems that are bigger than Ghettopoly. We've got insane young men who take their heavy armament into the street and shoot up the neighborhood, and then go back inside to listen to music that celebrates the act of shooting up the neighborhood. That is not a sign of a healthy culture.


Ghettopoly is a stupid and offensive game. But its reach is nowhere near as vast or as dangerous as the "Lord of the Flies" street culture that is seducing one generation after another of black children, and producing freakish entertainers like Nelly and 50 Cent.

We learned last month that Nelly, a male rapper from St. Louis, was marketing a new drink called Pimp Juice — aimed, I suppose, at niggaz and ho's. The drink was a follow-up to Nelly's hit song of the same name, a song with such immortal lines as "You ain't from Russia, so bitch why you Russian?"

50 Cent has the top album of the year, and one of the hit songs is "P.I.M.P." He brags in the song that he'll have his ho "stripping in the street." Of one of his women, he says, "The last nigga she was with put stitches in her head."

That's not entertainment. That's a symptom.

I suppose it takes a black ultra-liberal to say something like this and get away with it, but this does need saying. Not all of the problems that befall blacks can be laid at the door of white racism, and there's something seriously messed up about the glorification of violence, thuggery and misogyny that is so prevalent in hip-hop culture. What is the world coming to when "black culture" is identified with gangsterism and poverty, and "keepin' it real" is interpreted as rejecting higher aspirations or "white" cultural values? It seems to me that those who buy into this rubbish are suffering from internalized racism - they are convinced that to be black is to be second-rate, and that to have ambitions beyond the ordinary is to entertain ideas above one's station.

For more on the problematic identification of "black culture" with "gangsta" rap, see this post by Cobb.

CNN - Malaysian "Regret" Over Jew Remarks

You can't make this stuff up:

PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia -- Malaysia's foreign minister has apologized for what he described as any misunderstandings over Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's assertion that Jews "rule the world", saying no offence from the remarks was intended.

Fighting to reign in a surge of international outrage that followed the Malaysian leader's comments Thursday, Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said Friday that Mahathir had been misunderstood.


In his wide-ranging speech to the Organization of Islamic Conference, the often-controversial Mahathir launched a blistering attack on Jews and Israel saying, "Jews rule the world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them."


"I'm sorry that they have misunderstood the whole thing," Syed Hamid told The Associated Press. "The intention is not to create controversy. His intention is to show that if you ponder and sit down to think, you can be very powerful."

"Please forget about anti-Semitism," Syed Hamid told reporters. "Islam has never advocated being anti anybody including theJews."

"The only problem with the Jews is when the State of Israel was created," he said, adding that Jews worked and were welcomed in Malaysia.

"The PM's message is to stop violence, which is not the answer for us to succeed in our struggle. People may not be very happy but this is the reality: the Jews are very powerful."


[Mahathir] told leaders from 57 Islamic nations at the conference -- the biggest gathering of Muslim leaders since the September 11, 2001 -- that the Muslim world had achieved "nothing" in its 50 years struggle against Israel.

He called on Muslims to emulate the Jewish response to oppression, arguing the Jewish people had "survived 2,000 years of pogroms not by hitting back, but by thinking."

Mahathir said, "They invented socialism, communism, human rights and democracy, so that persecuting them would appear to be wrong, so that they can enjoy equal rights with others.

"With these they have gained control of the most powerful countries and they, this tiny community, have become a world power.

"We cannot fight them through brawn alone, we must use our brains, also."

Mahathir said the world's "1.3 billion Muslims cannot be defeated by a few million Jews," but suggested the use of political and economic tactics, not violence, to achieve what he called a "final victory." (emphasis added)

So, Dr. Mahathir, how do you really feel about the Jews? And as for talk of a "final victory" - well, that smacks too much of Nazism, with it's prophecies of an "endsieg" over "international Jewry", to be merely coincidental, coming as it does from a man as well-read as Mahathir.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Detroit Schools Push Away $200 Million

Via a discussion about school vouchers on Brad DeLong's blog, I discovered yet another development on the American educational front that illustrates the way in which teachers' unions go about sabotaging the opportunities of their supposed wards:

Thanks to the poisonous atmosphere created by a hostile Detroit public school establishment, philanthropist Robert Thompson has decided, with deep regret, that it is impossible for him to donate a $200 million gift to the city's schoolchildren.

The gift would have come in the form of 15 new charter high schools that would have guaranteed a graduation rate of 90 percent. The city's current graduation rate is 67.2 percent, according to the School Evaluation Services Web site created by the financial ratings firm Standard & Poor's.

After seeking legislative authorization for his schools for almost a year, Thompson threw in the towel after the Detroit teachers union threw what can only be described as a tantrum at the prospect of having to compete with charter schools.

On hearing that Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm had made a deal with the Republican Legislature on a comprehensive charter school expansion package that would have included the Thompson academies, Detroit teachers shut down the schools with a one-day walkout Sept. 25. Instead of teaching on that school day, 3,000 of these primary beneficiaries of the government school status quo held a mass demonstration at the state Capitol.

In response to this pressure from the public school establishment, both the governor and Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick walked away from the Thompson gift and from the broader charter deal, which also withdrew governance of the city's school district from the state-imposed reform board and returned it to a locally elected school board with strong mayoral input.

If this doesn't convince doubters that the real issue is the teachers' unions' interest in self-preservation, I don't know that anything will.

From Gangster's Mole to Prince's Bride? (German Language Article)

I've just learnt from the above article that Mabel Wisse Smit, who is engaged to the Prince Friso of the Netherlands, seems to have a real affinity for seeking out criminals as lovers. As if it weren't bad enough that she was a lot more deeply involved with a one-time drug-lord than she has been willing to let on, it now emerges that she also had a "friendship" with a certain (married, with children) Mohammed Sacirbey, who is currently sitting in prison for embezzling UN funds. A drug baron, an embezzler, and now a crown prince? That's some career progress, I must say. As I've said elsewhere, Miss Wisse-Smit does seem to be one for the highlife, and I have to wonder just how much "love" has to do with her engagement to the apparently lovestruck (or should that be p***ywhipped?) prince.

Still, if these developments prove one thing, it is that the house of Windsor isn't peculiarly prone to scandal as European royal families go.

Iraqi Official Urges Caution on Imposing Free Market

Why is this economic illiterate serving as Iraq's "interim trade minister"?

SINGAPORE, Oct. 13 - Iraq's interim trade minister warned on Monday against forcing his nation's economy to mold itself rapidly into a free-market system, saying that a swift change would fuel unemployment and heighten political instability.

"We suffered through the economic theories of socialism, Marxism and then cronyism," the official, Ali Abdul-Amir Allawi, said in an interview on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum's East Asia Economic Summit meeting here. "Now we face the prospect of free-market fundamentalism."

A lively debate is taking place within the Bush administration and the Iraqi government on how quickly Iraq should move toward a free-market economy. In some quarters, sweeping economic change along the lines of Eastern Europe's rapid reorganization is advocated.

According to Mr. Allawi, imposing a similar reorganization on Iraq would represent a "flawed logic that ignores history."

"The economies of Eastern Europe collapsed due to internal problems," Mr. Allawi said. "Our situation is very different since the changes came in the form of very welcome help from outside."

"These things are not yet being thrust down our throat," he added, "but I strongly disagree with the call for fast and radical change."


Many in the governments of Iraq and the United States have advocated a wholesale sell-off of state owned enterprises. Mr. Allawi said the international pressure to privatize immediately, and to eliminate subsidies, was too great.

"By no means should we preserve all state-owned enterprises," Mr. Allawi said. "But there are some sectors that are more natural for government involvement or rehabilitation." He urged the quick closing of companies holding monopolies on car sales and construction contracts.

Mir Abdul-Amir Allawi is talking nonsense. The problem in Eastern Europe wasn't "free-market fundamentalism", but the weakness of the rule of law, and flawed privatization processes that ignored the fact that competition is even more important than private-sector involvement - a point, I might add, that was emphasized long ago by Joseph Stiglitz, in his book Whither Socialism? And just what sectors of the economy are "more natural for government involvement or rehabilitation" anyway?

This man strikes me as being your typical middle-eastern Nasserist, an individual so immersed in a culture of dirigiste state planning that he simply is unable to contemplate the prospect of a government that doesn't try to micromanage the economy in all sorts of petty ways. In reality, all that such government interference enables is more opportunities for graft and political favoritism on the part of the powerful and the well-placed.

Do free markets by themselves guarantee success? Not at all - they can achieve little without transparent institutions, due process, and a general sense of stability and order in a society; but then again, it isn't as if any other sort of economic system thrives without these requirements either. America needs to get the security situation under control as soon as possible, and this Mr. Abdul-Amir Allawi fellow ought to be fired.

South Korea - Roh Should Go

An excellent piece in the Financial Times, courtesy of the NYT:

If Roh is to go, now is the time

By Aidan Foster-Carter

Last December, a narrow majority of (mainly younger) voters chose Roh Moo-hyun as South Korea's president. A political outsider and untried provincial populist, Mr Roh was a striking change from the suave elite figures who had hitherto dominated politics in Seoul.

Supporters saw him as a new broom, someone who would clean up a political culture mired in corruption and regional animosities, and stand up to an overweening US. Critics feared that he would sharpen divisions, including those with Washington, at a time when the North Korean nuclear crisis demanded careful handling of South Korea's uneasy core alliance.

Eight months into his five-year term, one must sadly say that the detractors seem vindicated. One of the world's most important economies and security flashpoints, at a critical point in its history, is led by a man who confesses he does not feel up to the job. It is hard to disagree with him.

On every front, Mr Roh is floundering. Cave-ins to militant trade unions encouraged others to follow suit, in a summer of strikes that has alarmed foreign investors and will hurt competitiveness. On corporate reform, there is no discernable policy. Last week the founding family at SK, the third-largest chaebol, brazenly won back control of the group, despite being convicted of a $1.1bn fraud earlier this year. The cleaner corporate governance pushed by Kim Dae-jung, Mr Roh's bold predecessor, is now in jeopardy.

Being rudderless at home is bad enough, but with a nuclear North Korea next door, it is positively alarming. To be fair, Mr Roh's Pollyanna pacifism echoes a large swath of South Korean opinion, which obstinately refuses to see evil or risk in its northern backyard. The idea that just being nicer to Kim Jong-il will mellow him is absurdly wishful thinking.

To this dismal record, Mr Roh has now added gratuitous political turbulence. Despite lacking a parliamentary majority - the national assembly is controlled by the rightwing opposition Grand National Party - he has let his supporters acrimoniously split the ruling Millennium Democratic Party, to create a new reformist group that hopes to win parliamentary elections due next April. Yet rather than join the new party, Mr Roh confusingly professes to remain above these squabbles.

Last Friday he added to the confusion by announcing that he wanted to seek a fresh popular mandate via a referendum; yesterday he set December 15 as the date. If he loses, he says he will step down in February, and presidential elections will accompany those for parliament.

The new waves of worry stirred by this quixotic gesture are the last thing South Korea needs right now. As Mr Roh admits, it is not clear if this is even constitutional; it is certainly quite unprecedented. Far from restoring calm, political in-fighting will get worse, distracting from sound policy.

Abroad, meanwhile, Mr Roh has made himself an even lamer duck than he already was. In North Korea and the US alike, a leader who might be out of office four months hence will be seen as having scant clout or mandate. This can only weaken South Korea in the six-party nuclear talks, if they ever reconvene, and in the delicate task of trying to trade sending South Korean troops to Iraq, as Washington wants, for greater US willingness to engage with North Korea.

Mr Roh's announcement looks like a last-ditch gamble to revive the "Roh wave" that saw him come from behind twice before: winning first primary elections, and then the presidency, despite lagging in the polls. But that will be a hard trick to pull off a third time. Though initial surveys suggest a majority might back him, this support could quickly erode. Before his announcement, his ratings had fallen below 30 per cent, unprecedentedly low at such an early stage of a Korean presidency.

South Korea cannot afford four more years like this. At least Mr Roh grasps that. Yet his latest gesture ensures continued short-term turbulence - with no guarantee, in a society whose divisions are hard-fought and run deep, that such an improvised test of opinion will deliver a clear-cut, acceptable verdict.

There is a better way. Candid to a fault, a risky virtue in high office, Mr Roh has more than once said he cannot do the job. Full candour requires one further step: to admit that the main problem is not ill-luck or prejudice, but rather that his own temperament and talents are simply not up to the demands of a position that he probably never expected to win.

He does not like the job; he is no good at the job. Then he should stand down, now; and let South Korean voters choose a new president who, whatever his or her ideology, at least shows signs of being able to stand the heat. That way, Roh Moo-hyun may yet earn his people's gratitude.

The writer is honorary senior research fellow in sociology and modern Korea at Leeds University, UK

Friday, October 10, 2003

BBC News | Iranian Activist Wins Nobel Peace Prize

(Spotted via The Head Heeb) An unexpected choice, I must say. Still, I think it's a good thing, and will no doubt irritate the Iranian authorities to no end.

The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian campaigner for human rights, noted for her work in promoting the rights of women and children.

Ole Danbolt Mjoes, chairman of the five-member selection committee, paid tribute to Ms Ebadi's work both at home and abroad saying that she understood that "No society can be seen as democratic without women being represented".

On hearing of her victory 56-year-old Ms Ebadi, who is in Paris at the moment, said: "I'm a Muslim, so you can be a Muslim and support democracy. It's very good for human rights in Iran, especially for children's rights in Iran. I hope I can be useful."

Ms Ebadi, a lawyer well known throughout Iran, was the country's first female judge, but was forced to resign following the Islamic Revolution in 1979.


The BBC's Tehran correspondent Jim Muir says that for the Iranian to win is an enormous boost for human rights campaign there and will be a source great delight for her supporters.

However, he also said that the award will be something of an embarrassment for Iran.

"Hardliners who run the judiciary will see it as outsiders now trying to intervene in Iranian politics. It is an embarrassment to them to see someone they have vilified held up as a shining example."


Even as news of the award was hitting front pages worldwide, Iranian state TV made no mention of it, our correspondent said. (emphasis added)

There will be widespread disappointment amongst many backers of Pope John Paul II as a recipient of the award, but I think the awards committee made the right decision. The reason behind the Pope's strong support from the most unusual sources, most of which oppose nearly everything he has to say on other issues, was his opposition to the war in Iraq, and it is a good thing that this year's prize was not hijacked for use as some sort of hammer with which to bash America over the head. There are far greater evils in the world than the war that occurred in Iraq (if one can even call that an "evil"), and the Islamic dictatorship in Iran is a much more deserving object of liberal outrage than anything George W. Bush has ever done. How strange it is then that groups like "International Answer" and would-be news organizations like "Indymedia" cannot find it within themselves to devote the most perfunctory attention to the plight of the Iranian population. Why, one might think that their rage was motivated not by humanitarian considerations, but by a hatred of capitalism, democracy, and everything else America stands for, if one were cynical - and this writer is so very far from being the cynical sort ...

The African Strongman Lives On

According to the news item linked to in the above post by Africapundit, Sam Nujoma seems to have rather grand plans in store for himself as president in perpetuity of Namibia; how depressingly familiar. Am I surprised? Not really, given the sort of nonsensical rhetoric Nujoma's been spouting for quite a while now. He's an even more ardent and outspoken defender of Mugabe's activities than the shameless Thabo Mbeki has ever been, and his retort to criticism from any quarter has always been to scream "racist!" or "collaborator!"

Namibia appears to be treading an all too familiar trajectory down to chaos and impoverishment. How long will it be, I wonder, before Namibians will start to look back on the era of white rule as having been the "good old days"? But that is what one gets for allowing incompetent, power-hungry crooks who subscribe to shallow notions of "imperialism" and "capitalist exploitation" to get their hands on the reins of power.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

More Organic Food Nonsense

After writing the preceding entry, I recalled a recent opinion piece on organic food in the British Times that makes many of the same points that I've made in the past, both here and elsewhere:

Thunderer: You have to be green to swallow the organic food myth

Dick Taverne

The Soil Association called yesterday for schools to provide organic meals. If you think this sounds wholesome, you are conning yourself. Every TV chef and lifestyle magazine tells us that organic food tastes better and is safer than other food. Supermarkets promote it and the Government subsidises farmers to grow it. Britain would, we are told, be healthier and our countryside would once again prosper if only we all went organic.

In fact the craze for organic food is built on myth. It starts with a scientific howler, has rules with neither rhyme nor reason, none of the claims made for it have ever been substantiated and if it grows, it will damage the nation’s health.

To start with, the high priests of the organic movement tell us that natural chemicals are good and synthetic chemicals bad. This is utter nonsense. A molecule is a molecule, whether it is made by a synthetic process or a natural one. Many synthetic drugs that kill bacteria are highly beneficial; many natural chemicals are highly poisonous. Arsenic, ricin, aflotoxin are all highly poisonous chemicals found in nature. Yet the supposed superiority of “natural” over synthetic is the rock on which the organic movement is built.

Next, the rules that organic farmers have to follow are a marvel of inconsistency. They allow the use of some pesticides, for example spraying with the toxic Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), but the Soil Association, which makes the rules, bitterly opposes using part of the Bt gene in GM crops, although this avoids the need to spray. In fact, Bt spraying kills useful insects that are not pests and so is worse for the environment, whereas a GM crop uses Bt to target specific insects. Again, the use of an inorganic fungicide, copper sulphate, is allowed; more effective, safer fungicides are banned.

But is not organic food safer because it contains fewer pesticide residues? Scares about residues are another myth. As Sir John Krebs, the head of the Food Standards Agency, wrote: “A single cup of coffee contains natural carcinogens equal to at least a year’s worth of carcinogenic synthetic pesticides in the diet.”

Does it taste better? Many people swear it does; but blind tests show no one can tell the difference: the belief is sheer hype. As to biodiversity, a study at Boarded Farms in Essex, comparing like with like, namely the same farmer’s organic and non-organic fields, showed that what matters is management. Well-managed conventional farming was no worse for wildlife; indeed a system of integrated farm management was better than organic farming for biodiversity and used less energy and labour.

Every time organic farming claims are objectively examined, they are rejected. When a complaint was made to the Advertising Standards Authority about Soil Association leaflets claiming that organic food is tastier, healthier and better for the environment, it was upheld and the leaflets had to be withdrawn.

Some argue that it does not matter if such claims are false and organic food costs more, since consumers are willing to pay and organic farmers profit. But it does matter. Since organic fruit and vegetables are more expensive, if organic products take a bigger market share, low-income families — and children at less well-funded schools — will eat less fruit and fewer vegetables. They will lose the protection against cancer that a healthy diet provides and more of them will die younger. Cheap food may be a luxury to the prosperous (and vocal) middle classes, but not to the lower paid.

But perhaps the most extraordinary thing about organic farming is that the Government wants it to expand. We the taxpayers have to pay.

Lord Taverne is chairman of Sense About Science

Romanticizing Nature

I came across this story via Reason's Hit & Run blog, and I thought it simply too ironic to avoid passing comment on.

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - A massive bear killed and ate a grizzly bear advocate and his girlfriend, Alaska police said on Thursday, citing a tape capturing the dying man's screams and human remains in the bear's stomach.

A three-minute audio-only recording from a video camera depicted the brown bear attack on Timothy Treadwell last Sunday as his girlfriend advised him first to play dead, then fight back, the Alaska State Troopers said.


The evidence proved Treadwell, 46, and girlfriend, Amie Huguenard, 37, "were killed by bears and not by poachers or by anti-bear-huggers or anything," trooper spokesman Greg Wilkinson said on Thursday.

The tape belongs to Treadwell's organization, Grizzly People of Malibu, California, and will be given to the group, Wilkinson said. The troopers have no plans to release the tape to the public or to news outlets, he said.

"We don't think it does anything but give cheap thrills," he said.

According to news reports, Treadwell can be heard yelling at Huguenard: "Get out here. I'm getting killed," while urging Huguenard to hit the bear with a frying pan.

A National Park Service investigation revealed that one of the two bears killed at the site by park rangers and troopers had been feeding on the Treadwell's and Huguenard's bodies.

That bear "has a conclusive amount of human remains in its stomach," Park Service spokesman John Quinley said.

The body of the second bear had been partially eaten by other bears and its stomach did not contain human remains, Quinley said.

The mauling deaths were the first recorded fatal bear attacks in the 85-year history of Katmai National Park and Preserve, Park Service records show.


Treadwell, a charismatic figure who filmed himself cavorting with the huge bears far closer than most experts recommend, argued that they were not dangerous.

This sounds harsh and insensitive, but I'm going to say it anyway - what a moron! This is what happens when people buy into the dangerous myths peddled by so many "environmental" organizations like "Friends[sic] of the Earth" and "Greenpeace." Man and civilization are part of nature, rather than being a "cancer" on the planet as these organizations like to make out, and there is nothing particularly benign about the natural world, as illustrated by the bear cannibalism pointed to by the first sentence I highlighted.1 Bears, wolves, tigers and other carnivores are not the cuddly creatures soft-headed animal-lovers like to make them out to be, and for most of mankind's existence on this planet, we have been the victims of these beasts, rather than than the other way around.

Solid arguments can and ought to be made for the conservation of dangerous predators, but we ought always to guard against the conceit harbored by ridiculous advocacy groups like "Grizzly People of Malibu," and by dullards like Timothy Treadwell who are all-too-quick to say stupid things like "Supposedly-dangerous-carnivore X has an undeserved reputation, but will not attack humans unless provoked." To a hungry carnivore, the mere presence of a giant lump of defenceless meat called a human being is often all the provocation that is required.2

1 - Indeed, there are plenty of utterly natural phenomena that are extremely unpleasant, including numerous viruses, many strains of bacteria, a wide array of protozoa like Plasmodium (the cause of malaria), and various worms like Wuchereria bancrofti (which causes elephantiasis). Drawing from daily life, even faeces is natural, but few sensible people would claim that it must therefore be good. Many of the most dangerous toxins and carcinogens we know of are entirely "natural" in origin, and it is a gross logical error to either assume that what is "natural" is "good", or that what is "unnatural", because man-made, must therefore be "bad"; yet this is an error that environmental activists and advocates of "organic" farming make all of the time, and illustrates why 90 percent of the statements they make are worth regarding as the utter nonsense that they are.

2 - When people point to examples like the lions of East Africa as evidence of large predators' aversion to human prey, they fail to understand the reality of what is going on. East African lions fear humans for the very good reason that they have learned the hard way that hunting a Masai quickly turns the hunter into the hunted. There is nothing "instinctive" about such behavior, and when pampered Westerners deluded by watching the Discovery Channel come to lecture the benighted natives on the cruelty of hunting lions, they set up the very conditions that lead to the sorts of vengeful slaughters of large predators they ought most to deplore.

What is Arafat Really Suffering From?

If Time is to be believed, it's stomach cancer, while the Guardian was recently being quoted as saying he had a heart attack. Whatever it is Arafat is really ailing from, I can only say that his departure from this world, even if not to be actively hoped for, will not be regretted by any who wish for real peace in the Middle East. Arafat has been nothing but an obstacle to the attainment of a settlement, a man who has worked hard to sabotage many an opportunity for compromise, and a thoroughly crooked and incompetent administrator to boot. The Palestinians have got to do better than the likes of Yasser Arafat and Sheikh Ahmed Yassin if they ever want to have a state of their own - assuming that this is what they really want, as opposed to the destruction of Israel, even at the cost of their own continued existence.

American Dominance of Nobels Continues

I think the following a compelling testimony to the quality of America's university system:

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) -- If the Nobel Prizes are a good indicator, Americans are the world's best doctors, physicists, economists and chemists.

They're not as good at writing or making peace though.

Six U.S. citizens were bestowed the top honor in medicine, physics, chemistry and economics this week as the Nobel Prize committees announced the 2003 winners, continuing a trend of American dominance in the science awards.


Since the first Nobel Prizes were awarded in 1901, 277 of the 661 winners -- or 42 percent -- have been Americans. Many of the other winners have been researchers at U.S. universities.

``There's a brutal predominance for the U.S.,'' said Jonas Foerare, a spokesman for the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which picks the winners in physics, chemistry and economics. ``This shows that the American investments in their university system are very successful.''

Foerare was speaking from experience. He did post-doctoral work in biology at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

The academy on Wednesday awarded the chemistry prize to Americans Peter Agre and Roderick MacKinnon for studies of tiny transportation tunnels in cell walls, work that illuminates diseases of the heart, kidneys and nervous system.

American Robert F. Engle shared the 2003 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences with Briton Clive W.J. Granger, the first non-American to win that award since Amartya Sen of India in 1998.

``We don't take into consideration where people are from. It's just that the best American universities are very good and they attract gifted researchers from the whole world,'' said Lars Calmfors, Professor of International Economics at Stockholm University and member of the committee that selects prize winners in economics.

Calmfors said the Nobel award committees are sometimes criticized by people who believe they should try harder to find laureates outside of the United States.

``But there isn't a widespread dissatisfaction. Everyone is aware of the situation,'' he said. ``They (Americans) have resources and there are opportunities to pay competent researchers high salaries.''

Thirty-five of the 56 economics winners have been Americans.

In the highlighted statement we again see the ugly phenomenon of quotaism rearing its' head, but let us not be distracted from the important issue here, which is that there is an important lesson to be drawn from America's outsized success in the Nobel prize sweepstakes over the years. America's dominance of scientific research is out of all proportion to almost any metric one might choose to use for measurement, whether it be population size, percentage of world GDP, or government spending on higher education, and I believe that the vitality of American higher education owes largely to a feature whose benefits many on the left are quick to downplay in other contexts - freedom. By freedom, I mean three things; the relative freedom that exists in the United States to start new educational institutions, the freedom that students have to use government aid to attend institutions of their own choosing, and the comparative freedom that colleges have to charge what they think the market will bear, as well as who they wish to admit, by contrast with their European counterparts. Competition is a wonderful thing, and the unchallenged preeminence of American higher education is a testament to the importance of having the freedom to choose.

In making my case for the merits of the American university system, I highlighted above the role of government aid in the enabling of choice, for a very simple reason: this laudable policy, is little more than a scheme that is widely hated under the guise by which it most widely mentioned, which is that of the school voucher. College grants and government-subsidized loans are routinely used to attend religious institutions such as the Notre Dame and Georgetown1 without anyone blinking an eyelid, and nobody would think of imposing any but the most limited restrictions on the schools that could benefit from such publicly-funded largesse, and yet, whenever talk turns to providing much the same sort of thing in the setting of elementary and high school education, liberals, many of them tenured academics, outdo themselves in thinking up bogus reasons to oppose the very same sort of choice that has made American universities the envy of the world. The end result of this nonsense is that millions of poor Americans are condemned to patronize "schools" that are actually obstacles to learning, and America gets to keep on spending more per student than any other country, only to obtain results that are worse than the OECD average.

1 - Attended by a certain cigar-chomping, woman groping ex-POTUS much loved by Democrats.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Arnold Kling Lectures Krugman

Via Instapundit, I discovered this gem of an article. Kling makes exactly the same critique of Krugman that I've been making for quite some time now: that Krugman prefers to insult his political opponents and impugn their motives, rather than going to the effort of evaluating their claims on the merits. This incessant resort to ad hominem argumentation renders Krugman unreadable, and it is unseemly to see such nonsensical argumentation issuing from the pen of a man who once was considered a serious thinker.

Dear Paul,

You might remember me from graduate school at MIT. I would like to ask you a question about what constitutes a reasonable argument.

For example, suppose I were to say, "We should abolish the minimum wage. That would increase employment and enable more people to climb out of poverty."

There are two types of arguments you might make in response. I call these Type C and Type M.

A hypothetical example of a Type C argument would be, "Well, Arnold, studies actually show that the minimum wage does not cost jobs. If you read the work of Krueger and Card, you would see that the minimum wage probably reduces poverty."

A hypothetical example of a Type M argument would be, "People who want to get rid of the minimum wage are just trying to help the corporate plutocrats."

Paul, my question for you is this:

Do you see any differences between those two types of arguments?

I see differences, and to me they are important. Type C arguments are about the consequences of policies. Type M arguments are about the alleged motives of individuals who advocate policies.

In this example, the type C argument says that the consequences of eliminating the minimum wage would not be those that I expect and desire. We can have a constructive discussion of the Type C argument -- I can cite theory and evidence that contradicts Krueger and Card -- and eventually one of us could change his mind, based on the facts.

Type M arguments deny the legitimacy of one's opponents to even state their case. Type M arguments do not give rise to constructive discussion. They are almost impossible to test empirically.

There's a whole lot more to this article than the snippet that I've included here, and I heartily encourage you to read it in its' entirety. If some people still wonder why Krugman is so often denounced these days as "shrill", Kling's letter ought to give them a better understanding of why this is so.

Sunday, October 05, 2003

Ach, Mein Gott! Israel Attacks Syria

What possible rationale could there for this course of action? (via Matthew Yglesias)

JERUSALEM -- Israeli warplanes bombed Syria on Sunday, striking what the military called an Islamic Jihad training base in retaliation for a suicide bombing at a Haifa restaurant. It was the first Israeli attack deep inside Syrian territory in three decades.

The attack -- one day after an Islamic Jihad bomber killed 19 people -- threatened to widen three years of Israeli-Palestinian violence into neighboring countries and marked a dramatic new strategy in Israel's efforts to stop terror attacks.

Israel, which accuses Syria of harboring and funding Islamic Jihad, said it would strike at terrorists anywhere in the region. A statement from the military also accused Iran of funding and directing Islamic Jihad, saying Israel "will act with determination against all who harm its citizens."

"Any country who harbors terrorism, who trains (terrorists), supports and encourages them will be responsible to answer for their actions," government spokesman Avi Pazner said.

Syria's Foreign Ministry issued a terse statement saying it plans to lodge an "urgent complaint" against Israel with the United Nations. The U.N. spokesman's office confirmed that the Security Council called an emergency meeting Sunday in response to Syria's request.

But a direct military response by Syria appeared unlikely. One parliament member, George Jabbour, said military action has not benefitted Syria in the past.

I don't understand this at all, and I don't see what is to be gained by it. The Syrian regime is one of the nastier ones in the middle east, but it is hardly a threat to Israel from the military standpoint. What is going on in Ariel Sharon's head?

Trial By Media

I have to hand it to Gray Davis and the Democratic Party; this time they've really outdone themselves in the dirty tricks department. But weren't they the ones screaming "it's only sex!" when a certain president was facing trial (as opposed to being merely accused of the odd grope) for sexual harrassment? Talk about double standards.

SAN DIEGO/PLEASANTON, Calif. (Reuters) - California Gov. Gray Davis charged into the final stage of the state's wild recall battle on Sunday energized by charges of sexism and Nazi sympathies against Arnold Schwarzenegger, his chief rival for the state's top job.

What began as a grass roots protest over Davis' handling of the state's ailing economy has become a referendum on the bodybuilder turned Hollywood star, dogged by allegations that he repeatedly groped women and admired Adolf Hitler.

Davis stopped short on Saturday of calling for a criminal investigation of the former Mr. Universe, but warned a women's forum in Oakland, California the state may be on the verge of saddling itself with a governor with a criminal past. Groping is viewed as criminal sexual assault in California.

Schwarzenegger, a Republican, has accused Davis and others of waging ``puke politics'' and, in an interview released on Sunday by ABC, told interviewer Peter Jennings the late revelation ``is campaign trickery and it is dirty campaigning.

``Many of those things are not true. Like, for instance, I despise anything and everything that Hitler stands for.''

Davis appeared emboldened by an internal poll suggesting support for the recall -- though still just above 50 percent -- is slipping as the heat remains on Schwarzenegger, with 48 percent opposed in the poll of 500 registered voters.

While the momentum was moving in Davis' favor, the question remained whether he had enough time before Tuesday's poll to pull from behind for a victory.

``I feel good about this campaign,'' Davis told Reuters in an interview in San Diego on Saturday evening. ``Elections are always a leap of faith. ... This has been a crazy election. There have been some wild swings.''

``Mr. Schwarzenegger ... got in trouble because of his own behavior and he shouldn't look to anyone else to blame.''

This is pretty rich, coming from this most feckless and incompetent of governors! And why isn't the LA Times investigating the allegations of bad behavior by Davis that make Schwarzenegger seem like a boy scout in comparison? Could it be because they have a political agenda to serve by springing this sort of last minute surprise? The great thing about waiting till so late in the campaign to air these accusations is that the accused won't have the time required to mount a proper defense. As an act of political slander, this "exposé" has really been timed to perfection.

Saturday, October 04, 2003

BBC News - Nigeria Tops Happiness Survey

Now here's a surprise if ever there was one:

A new study of more than 65 countries published in the UK's New Scientist magazine suggests that the happiest people in the world live in Nigeria - and the least happy, in Romania.

People in Latin America, Western Europe and North America are happier than their counterparts in Eastern Europe and Russia.

Nigeria has the highest percentage of happy people followed by Mexico, Venezuela, El Salvador and Puerto Rico, while Russia, Armenia and Romania have the fewest.

But factors that make people happy may vary from one country to the next with personal success and self-expression being seen as the most important in the US, while in Japan, fulfilling the expectations of family and society is valued more highly.

The survey appears to confirm the old adage that money cannot buy happiness.

I find the results of this survey really quite difficult to believe. There are serious methodological difficulties in carrying out surveys of this sort that make them of dubious value at best. How does one even measure one person's happiness against another? When Carl Menger introduced the notion of subjective value and utility into economics, he had very good reasons for doing so, not the least of which was that his notions helped overcome the troublesome issues that arose from trying to carry out the interpersonal comparisons demanded by utilitarianism. If philosophers haven't been able to get past this difficulty within the last 130 years or so, why should we take at face value a study that seems to assume the problem is solved?

I'm willing to accept that money and happiness aren't necessarily linked, but I don't think studies of this type do much to prove that this is true. One person's definition of happiness will differ from another's, even within the same family, much less across cultures.

James Taranto Nails It

The hypocrisy of this last-minute flurry of unsubstantiated accusations against Schwarzenegger is something awesome to behold:

You just have to laugh at the Angry Left. How can these people expect anyone to take them seriously when they publish books with titles like "The Big Lies of George W. Bush and the Big Lying Liars of George W. Bush Who Tell Them?"--and their hero is Bill Clinton? Reasonable people can disagree with Bush policies, of course, but constantly calling him a "liar" serves only to remind people of how honest he is compared with his predecessor.

That's not all, folks. Clinton's lies, the nascent Angry Left told us at the time, were excusable because they were "about sex." A state employee accuses him of dropping his trousers, a campaign volunteer charges him with groping her in the Oval Office, a nursing-home operator says he raped her in the 1970s--those are all just "personal peccadilloes." It's time to move on!

In fact, there was a Web site called set up in 1998 to oppose impeachment, which has remained in operation and turned into a center of Angry Left activity. So what are the folks at MoveOn up to these days? For one thing, they're beating the BUSH LIED!!!! drum, using a witless adjunct site called Then there's this: "We're asking you to help fund a television ad devoted to putting [Arnold] Schwarzenegger's problem with women into the public eye. We need to raise at least $500,000 to make this happen."

The Drudge Report reproduces a news release announcing a press conference this morning in Los Angeles, featuring MoveOn co-founder Joan Blades, former candidate and "Green Acres" star Arianna Huffington and an unnamed "woman cited in the Los Angeles Times article" on Schwarzenegger's past boorishness.

So let's see if we have this straight. Bush is bad because he "lies." Schwarzenegger is bad because he (admittedly) treated women in an offensive way. But Clinton's behavior was no big deal because he lied about offensive treatment of women. Does MoveOn really mean to assert as its guiding principle that it's acceptable to molest and even assault women if and only if you lie about it?

The October Surprise

This article by Susan Estrich (national campaign manager for Michael Dukakis in 1988, and hardly a Republican water-carrier) really says all there needs to be said about the disgusting ambush of Schwarzenegger laid out by the LA Times:

So this is the October surprise? The Los Angeles Times headline that Arnold Schwarzenegger groped and humiliated women?

None of the six women interviewed by The Times filed legal charges. Four of the six were quoted anonymously. Of the two who were named, one, a British television hostess, had told her story to Premiere magazine years ago, and it has been widely known and largely ignored. The other recounts an alleged incident of fondling at Gold's Gym nearly 30 years ago.

The anonymous incidents occurred on movie sets and consist of touching a woman's breast in the elevator, whispering vulgarities and pulling a woman onto his lap. Though emphasizing that not everything in the stories was accurate, the candidate responded Thursday with an apology: "Yes, it is true that I was on rowdy movie sets and I have done things that were not right which I thought then was playful, but now I recognize that I offended people." And he pledged to treat women with respect if elected.

As a professor of sex discrimination law for two decades and an expert on sexual harassment, I certainly don't condone the unwanted touching of women that was apparently involved here. But these acts do not appear to constitute any crime, such as rape or sodomy or even assault or battery. As for civil law, sexual harassment requires more than a single case of unwelcome touching; there must be either a threat or promise of sex in exchange for a job benefit or demotion, or the hostile environment must be severe and pervasive.

But none of these women, as The Times emphasizes, ever came forward to complain. The newspaper went looking for them, and then waited until five days before the election to tell the fragments of the story.

What this story accomplishes is less an attack on Schwarzenegger than a smear on the press. It reaffirms everything that's wrong with the political process. Anonymous charges from years ago made in the closing days of a campaign undermine fair politics.

Facing these charges, a candidate has two choices. If he denies them, the story keeps building and overshadows everything else he does. Schwarzenegger's bold apology is a gamble to make the story go away. It may or may not work.

But here's my prediction, as a Californian: It's too late for the Los Angeles Times' charges to have much impact. People have made up their minds. This attack, coming as late as it does, from a newspaper that has been acting more like a cheerleader for Gray Davis than an objective source of information, will be dismissed by most people as more Davis-like dirty politics. Is this the worst they could come up with? Ho-hum. After what we've been through?

To his credit, Schwarzenegger apologized for "behaving badly." So should the Los Angeles Times.

Friday, October 03, 2003

31 Reasons to Avoid Internet Explorer

So you've run Windows Update, downloaded all the latest patches, set up a firewall, and are therefore safe from attack, right? Before patting yourself on the back, you might want to take a look at the link above; yes, that's right, there are 31 separate unfixed security holes in Internet Explorer as of the present time, and there's absolutely nothing you can do to fix them!

Actually, I exaggerate slightly, as there is an alternative to getting off the web altogether: junk IE, and go get yourself a real browser, like Mozilla 1.4, or Mozilla Firebird. Not only are these browsers devoid of the gargantuan security hassles that stem from Microsoft's "ActiveX" technology, but they also happen to be the most standards-compliant web browsers out there, bar none. "Standards compliance?" you ask, "what is it that I should give a damn about it?" Well, for one thing, it enables exciting new possibilities like MathML, or text-based mathematical markup, which you can see being put to effective use on sites like string theorist Jacques Distler's blog.1

MathML may not be a pressing need for everyone else out there, but the componentized approach to markup that XHTML 1.1 offers, and which Mozilla-based browsers support, means that private groups or individuals can come up with their own markup schemes and expect other people's browsers to support them flawlessly. Imagine, for instance, being able to look at and manipulate complicated molecules without having to download a plugin!2 Imagine being able to enjoy vector-based animation without having to deal with the annoyance of Macromedia Flash!3 Unfortunately, the road to this promised land will not be open until people begin to junk Microsoft's browser in large numbers. Internet Explorer is not only a bundle of security holes pretending to be a web browser, but also a tremendous obstacle in the way of technological progress. Spread the word - "Friends Don't Let Friends Use IE!"

1 - Provided you have a MathML-capable browser, of course.
2 - There is in fact already a Chemical Markup Language.
3 - The W3C's Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) standard permits precisely this.

The Problem with Japan

I don't tend to give Japan the coverage on here that its' economic importance and proximity to North Korea would seem to warrant, and it isn't because I am ignorant of the country; on the contrary, I am (or at least was) reasonably fluent in Japanese, have been to Japan, know the history of the country pretty well, and admire its' artistic and literary traditions. If I tend to ignore events in Japan, it is for one reason alone, namely a cynicism bred of disillusionment about the prospects for real change in that country.

In all the years I've been observing Japan, any number of would-be "reformers" have come and gone, and yet the same old problems always remain - a banking system in crisis due to an excess of bad loans, a political class that is beholden to construction companies, farmers and other special interests, a dubious Keynesian reliance on expensive but useless public-works projects, an unwavering faith in the possibility of export-led growth (in spite of the rise of South Korea and China) - whether it is 1996 or 2003, the catalogue of ills never seems to alter in the slightest, nor does the existence of some man on a white horse promising to elect "drastic changes" to get things moving again.

It is with these thoughts in mind that I link to this TIME Asia article on Japan's problems. It may not be an in-depth economic dissertation on the Japanese domestic economy, but I think it does a good job of showing just how inefficient and hidebound Japan's domestic sector really is, in sharp contrast to the image of super-efficiency one is likely to get if one has only exporters like Sony, Honda and Matshushita to look at. Pundits like Paul Krugman would like to believe that Japan's problems are merely monetary in nature, but from where I stand, that sort of thinking is all too reminiscent of the proverb about people with hammers seeing all objects as nails. At the end of the day, the key to increased prosperity is productivity1, and no amount of monetary magic is going to increase productivity of its' own accord, if highly inefficient sectors of an economy continue to go untouched by competition.

1 - Unless one lucks into windfall gains, of course; I am doubtful that any of the Middle Eastern beneficiaries of oil wealth have much more productive non-oil sectors than they did before the coming of the "black gold."