Thursday, 29 January 2015

In which our friend Leg Iron explains stuff to the Daily Mail's health experts...

As it’s payday on Friday and I have a little to spare, what took my fancy tonight was a lump of rump steak with a bottle of cut-price Aberlour for dessert.

And so on - quite wonderful. Do read and act on the advice therein.


Why the world isn't going to run out of food.

Various publications have leapt on some research looking at 'peak-rate years of global resource use' to scare us with a new thing called 'peak food':

Researchers from Yale University, Michigan State University and the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Germany claim what makes their study alarming is how many staple foods have peaked in a short space of time, and as global population levels are expected to reach nine billion by 2050.

So reports the Independent - indeed they have a suitably alarmist quotation from one of the researchers. The problem is that what the researchers are measuring for renewable resources like food isn't total resource use but the rate of increase. So the rate in the expansion of agricultural land started to decline around 1950 ('peak land' if you want to use alarmist speak) and, the authors point out, "recently stabilized at the highest recorded levels, about 1.8 x 106 ha (Ramankutty and Foley 1999)."

The result of this is:

Since the Green Revolution in the early 1960s, the world's cereal (grain) production has increased by 136 percent - from 877 million metric tons per year to 2068 million in 20031 (Figure 1). Grain yields increased by 129 percent over the same period, from 1.4 to 3.1 metric tons per hectare. Total grain production in the United States (U.S.) also doubled - from 164 million metric tons in 1961 up to 349 million in 2003, accounting for 17 percent of the total global grain production. At the same time, overall U.S. grain crop yields doubled from 2.5 to 5.9 metric tons per hectare, an increase of 136 percent and almost double the global average. Europe experienced similar gains.

So the calories available per capita for the world's population now stand at around 2800 calories per day (and yes, I know that this is pretty unevenly distributed). Given that the NHS recommends an intake of 2500 per day for men and 2000 per day for women all this suggests that there is plenty of scope for us to feed a larger population (about 300 million or so larger).

There's no doubt that we face a challenge to meet the calorie requirements for a growing world population. But this rather questions the typical green left response to this problem (their preference for eugenics aside) - talking about local sustainability, resiliance and self-sufficiency. The authors of this study also report on 'peak energy':

The available data suggest that peak-rate years for several nonrenewable resources, i.e., coal, gas, oil, and phosphorus, have not yet occurred.

This suggests that there is plenty of scope to meet energy needs without taking up valuable agricultural land to do so. About 10% of agricultural land is given over to 'biofuels' and other forms of non-food crop - that land would provide enough food (depending on whose calculation you use) for around 250 million people.

The other consideration is crop yields. The 2013 yield per acre for the USA is 7340 kg/ha which compares to a world average of around 3500 kg/ha (it was 3563.54 kg/ha in 2010). If all yields rose to the level in the USA world food production would more than double. If yields reached the levels of Belgium (9213 kg/ha) then world production would be 2.6 times higher - enough to feed a world population of 23 billion much more than even the most dire predictions of the population doomsters.

Finally there are prices. If we were seeing real pressure on supply we would expect to see food prices rising. Here's the FAO Food Price Index since 1960 - it doesn't suggest that there's much of a problem:

This 'peak food' thing makes for a nice story (and I guess we need to be challenged) but the data really doesn't suggest that the world is running out of food or indeed anywhere close to running out of food. And I know one thing for sure - autarky, self-sufficiency, community resilience, agricultural protectionism and anthropomorphic attitudes to animal welfare will make things worse. The very greeny-greeny left that gets all agitated by things like 'peak food' are the very people who always propose solutions that would merely make matters worse.


Wednesday, 28 January 2015

No book programmes on TV? Rather than moan about it, Mr Harris, go and make one


I make no secret of my dislike for the manner in which books (and arts in general) are discussed by the folk in the media. So I was struck by the report that Robert Harris, who I gather is a successful author, had a go at the BBC - and broadcasting in general - for its coverage of 'books':

‘Today we have 300 television channels and no dedicated book programme and it does seem to me that that is an absolute disgrace,’ he told the audience, who cheered in response. ‘The BBC, a monetary funded organisation, should do a bit more to help business. Whether we write fiction or non fiction, we provide the basis for movies, for documentaries and I do think Tony Hall if you’re watching this on the BBC news do a little bit more for the book trade please."

OK, let's take Mr Harris at his word and agree that (as he told the reporter) there is a demand for a TV programme about books. If this is the case then there is a market opportunity and Mr Harris, rather than expecting the BBC to spend taxpayers money on making such a programme, should invest his own cash - or cash from other investors - in what is clearly a great business idea.

Unless, of course, the demand is only from the tiny audience of self-important glitterati in which case, Mr Harris, this is just special pleading.


Quote of the day - Nick Cohen on the politically correct


Pursed lipped prudes, who damn others for their sexist, racist, homophobic and transphobic language, while doing nothing to confront real injustice, are characteristic figures of our time.

That's about the sum of it. The rest of the article is pretty good too - go read it.


Tuesday, 27 January 2015

In which a former Bradford Lord Mayor Mohammed Ajeeb fails to understand free speech.


I like Mohammed Ajeeb, he's like the progenitor of Bradford's Pakistani Labour politics and most of the time speaks with wisdom. I did once point out that he knew absolutely nothing about marketing (which was true) and now I will point out that we don't, as he suggests, need a new definition for free speech:

At a human level priding ourselves with ignominy is a camouflage for moral sanctimony. In these extraordinary times when different definitions of freedom of speech are banded about, there is pressing need for a more agreeable new definition. Perhaps this difficult task could best be undertaken by the world organisation like United Nations.

All this is suggested because Ajeeb wants people to stop being rude about the founder of Islam, Mohammed. Now, leaving aside the self-evident fact that Mohammed is pretty dead and clearly not upset by cartoons, there isn't any way in which you can 'redefine' free speech without making it 'not free speech'. This is because the definition is really straightforward - you're allowed to say stuff. The 1st Amendment to the US Constitution is a good guide:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

There you have it, Ajeeb - you can gather, worship, speak and go about your life freely. That is called civilisation and should be our aim - that we place restrictions on speech is because some choose to kick out at peace and freedom, to cry out the you shouldn't be allowed to say that. If we must change it is to banish such people so we can live in a world where speech, worship, assembly and trade are free.


Sacked for thought crime...


The public sector is using its broadly written contracts of employment to sack people who say things that are deemed unacceptable.

NHS administrator Abdurrahman Siddique said HIV is a form of divine punishment for adultery and suggested British aid worker Alan Henning deserved to die at the hands of Isis terrorists because he was a “kafir” or non-believer.

In one post he is said to have claimed Isis were doing a “fine job” as the full extent of the Islamists’ brutality was emerging in July last year.

He was sacked from Hammersmith Hospital last week after his extremist rants were brought to the attention of NHS bosses.

Now Abdurrahman seems to hold some quite disturbing views. But they are just that - views. No suggestion is being made that these statements or opinions affected his work or the reputation of the hospital.

And this case isn't a one-off either:

A town hall worker has been suspended after posting an Islamophobic comment on Facebook.

Dave Balderstone, 46, replied to a British National Party post with the message: ‘Kick Islam out of Britain - we need our country back.’

Manchester council bosses took action last week after a member of the public contacted the M.E.N. in disgust.

Mr Balderstone, of Manley Road, Chorlton, has now been suspended from his position as an IT support technician while the post is investigated.

Different set of unsavoury views, same response from the public agency. Same approach - complaint from a 'member of the public' or because is was 'brought to the attention of' bosses. What we're seeing here (apart from a glimpse of the wide range of opinions out there) is that complaints about material posted outside work in a non-work related environment are used to conduct vendetta. Maybe it was a random member of the public who happened to see Dave Balderstone's Facebook page and happened to know he worked for the Council - I suspect not. And - however barking Abdurrahman Siddique's opinions might be - I'm pretty sure he's spot on when he says:

“It's very clear to me that this was a personal vendetta against me by someone who knew me and was determined to get me the sack.”

We really need to stop sacking people for saying stuff when it really has no impact on the business - the hospital admin worker can go on moving paper across his desk and the IT technician can carry on trying to fix Manchester City Council's rickety computers regardless of their dubious opinions.


Monday, 26 January 2015

“A book is a loaded gun.” So ban them or burn them.


One of the first targets of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi organization were books. This began in 1933, shortly after Hitler seized power in Germany. He ordered leaders of the regime to confiscate and destroy any literature deemed subversive to the National Socialist agenda. The elimination of these documents was carried out in a ceremonial fashion. Public book burnings were held for all the citizens to view. These demonstrations were held in both Germany and Austria. All works authored by Jewish, communist, pacifist, socialist, anarchist and classic liberals were fair game.

It does seem that we have learnt nothing. Here - in the latest example of Labour's selective memory about free speech - is a proposal to ban Hitler's turgid racist tome, Mein Kampf:

“Of course Amazon – and indeed any other bookseller – is doing nothing wrong in selling the book. However, I think that there is a compelling case for a national debate on whether there should be limits on the freedom of expression,” writes Docherty to Javid.

Of course Docherty is very careful to tiptoe around making a specific proposal to ban Mein Kampf but the very fact that he can countenance such a ban (or a limited ban where only a few specially licensed academics can view Adolf's incoherent racist ramblings) reveals just how much of a problem the left has with the idea of free speech.

The question for Docherty is where the line is drawn. Do we draw it, as he suggests around the idea of 'hatred' and if so what do we mean by hatred? Do we consider the consequences of a given writing - in which case Das Kapital is just as much a candidate for Docherty's Ban with its fomenting hatred of enterprise, initiative and free choice. And what are we do do about religious books like the Koran or Bible with their incitement to kill infidels, execute gays, stone adulterers and slice chunks off burglars? Do we ban them too?

What should worry us most isn't merely the fact of a Labour MP calling for books to be banned but the concluding rational that Docherty puts up:

Docherty said that the reality today is that if “someone puts the contents of Mein Kampf on to a blog, the police would knock on their door …

This is maybe true. And if it is, it is a damning observation of our supposedly free society. It scares me just how close we are to banning books simply because they promote ideas we find discomforting, disturbing or contrary to the current 'truth' and 'wisdom'. We need books - all of them, good and bad:

“There was always a minority afraid of something, and a great majority afraid of the dark, afraid of the future, afraid of the past, afraid of the present, afraid of themselves and shadows of themselves” 

So wrote Ray Bradbury in his passionate defence of the book, Fahrenheit 451. Docherty and the other banners or burners are scared, fearful the good men will be corrupted by words on the page. That we won't see through to the evil or some ideas - whether from Trotsky or Hitler, Guevara or Goebbels. Docherty and all the anti-free speech left are wrong. We are stronger, better and more decent than that - and we deserve the right to know evil for what it is.