Thursday, August 21, 2008

Now That Didn't Take Long

Looks like folks were a little quick to press the panic button on food prices. This story from India reports that excellent crops, and higher plantings are already easing the food crisis in that part of the world. The story reports:

Aug. 20 (Bloomberg) -- A worldwide food crisis that sent prices of wheat, rice and corn to records and sparked riots from Haiti to Ivory Coast may be over after farmers boosted plantings, a top official in India's food ministry said.

``I don't think there's a crisis now,'' said T. Nanda Kumar, the country's food secretary, who is responsible for formulating food security policy in the world's second-most populous nation. ``Food will be available.''


Record soybean crops in China and India, an almost doubling of wheat production in Australia, and bigger rice harvests in Thailand and Vietnam have eased shortfalls this year.

The global production outlook for wheat and soybeans is ``very good,'' while rice is still expensive, Kumar said in a New Delhi interview Aug. 18. ``Rice is softening, but I don't think it has softened adequately.''

To be sure there's a lot that goes into the reason for the recent drop in food commodity prices from their record high levels, including a stronger US dollar, lower energy prices, and good growing weather. But, the article is clear that there's also been a real supply response in areas of the world with less developed agriculture.

I thought we'd have to wait at least until the next growing season to see a supply response to the record high prices, however apparently even the more modest price increases we saw in the early spring were enough to generate this response. The bloomberg article credits an 83 year old scientist, Monkombu Sambasivan Swaminathan, with saying, "the solution to higher farm output lies in providing better remuneration to growers." It seems he's been proven right, and even more quickly than I expected.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Tony Clement is Right

As the largest contributor to the World Health Organization, Canada's opinion matters. Last week Tony Clement, Canada's Health Minister, made the government's position clear with respect to government sponsored injection sites for illegal drugs. Minister Clement said, "Allowing and/or encouraging people to inject heroin into their veins is not harm reduction, it is the opposite. … We believe it is a form of harm addition.” He is absolutely right, providing not just clean needles, but a government sanctioned safe zone where addicts can take illegal drugs without fear of prosecution sends a mixed message about what our society thinks and makes it easier for addicts to continue with their life risking behaviour.

The Economist has a good report on the effectiveness of Canada's only 'safe injection site' in Vancouver:

BACK in 2003 many residents of Vancouver reckoned that an answer had finally been found to the worsening hard-drug problem in the liberal-minded city’s downtown Eastside district. A reformist city council, borrowing a European idea, opened the first supervised heroin-injection clinic in North America. It was set up as a research experiment, with a three-year remit (since twice extended). The idea was that giving addicts a safe place to inject themselves would remove them from crime, disease and other risks, and make them more amenable to treatment. The Liberals who were then running the federal government agreed, and blessed Insite, as the project is called, with C$1.5m (then worth $1.1m) and a vital exemption from drug laws.

Five years on, Insite has proved a disappointment to many in Vancouver. It has also become the object of partisan conflict. The Conservative federal government of Stephen Harper dislikes the project. A committee set up to advise it on the issue found that only about 500 of Vancouver’s 8,000 addicts use Insite each day, and fewer than 10% of those use it for all their injections. It found no clear evidence of any increase in treatment, nor of any fall in HIV cases. It did estimate that the project might have saved one life per year but found that overdose deaths were still about 50 a year among addicts. Crime continues unabated as addicts steal to feed their habits, something which frustrates the local police.

So there is close to no benefit to the drug users, or societ at large by providing the injection site. At the same time, the injection site makes it easier for addicts to continue feeding their addiction. Tony Clement should be applauded for taking a stand saying, “We're not prepared to allow people to die” by condoning their continued drug use.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Paris Hilton is Funny and Intelligent . . .

. . . in her new video spoof of a John McCain Ad at

It's timely, funny and relevant. She even sounds coherent when she describes her 'energy policy.' I'm not sure how she pulled that off. From my perspective the most controversial thing she said is: "I'm hot." I'm not sure I can think of a number of women I know that are significantly hotter than Paris Hilton. I can even think of a few celebrities, like Jessica Simpson.

Anyway for reference you can find the original ad here, it's called "celeb." It's actually a very fair add that highlights just how hollow Obama is. You can also check out a two other videos on John McCain's website are "the one" and "the Obama Iraq Document."

Friday, August 01, 2008

Is That Really the Way to Measure Happiness?

I read an article today that claimed women are less happy at mid life than men. The Ottawa Citizen Reports:

The researchers looked at several decades of surveys that asked what people wanted out of life and which of those things they had. Happiness, Ms. Plagnol said, is determined by measuring the difference between the two -- in other words, whether or not people have what they say they want.

After controlling for year of birth and demographics such as race and education, the authors specifically looked at two areas: family life and finances.

"Virtually all studies agree that family life and finances are among the most important in determining happiness," the study reads.

Financial happiness was determined by how many of 10 big-ticket consumer goods -- including a car, a TV, a vacation home and a pool -- people had that they also considered part of a good life.

So if I understand this properly, if I say I want a big house, a beautiful wife, a fancy car, and lots of kids and I have all those things, then the study authors pronounce me "happy." If I have 3/4 I must be 75% happy. Presumably if I have none of those things, the authors would categorize me as miserable. This is the logic that allows Anke Plagnol one of the study authors to conclude: "Aspirations of men and women are similar later in life, but women attain less."

I can certainly see how the study results are interesting, but is that really the way to measure happiness? It sounds a lot like a materialist trap that says I will be happy if only I have more stuff. Unfortunately, that's just not true! More stuff doesn't make you more happy even if you think that it will.

I recommend all happiness experts go out and buy a copy of the Veggie Tales classic Madame Blueberry. They'll learn that "being greedy makes you grumpy -- but a thankful heart is a happy heart!"