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OpenMarket: January 2007

  • Could Al Gore be Biased?

    January 23, 2007
    The Progressive Majority today reports that Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth has been banned by the The Federal Way School District in Washington State. What's interesting about this ban is the reason behind it and the Progressive Majority's reaction to it:
    The board agreed, labeling the film as containing "bias." They maintain that they're not really banning the movie. They are simply not allowing the movie to be shown until the district confirms their policies on materials that contain "bias" are being followed. How can a movie based only on scientific evidence be labeled "bias?"
    This is an interesting question. How could scientific evidence possibly be used to support a biased point of view? What the author means to say is, "How could...
  • Consumer distorts

    January 23, 2007
    Consumer Reports' retraction last week of its flawed testing of infant car seats puts in question the magazine's credibility as an unbiased product evaluator. As well it should. Unfortunately for consumers, this is just the latest of a string of misleading product recommendations by Consumer Reports. Increasingly, Consumer Reports is bowing to the anti-market and anti-sound science agenda of its parent organization, Consumers' Union. With this story and many others, the magazine is harming consumers, creating fear unneccesarily with bogus scares while ignoring real health and safety problems of products and policies. Consumer Reports has also needlessly scared consumers about pesticides on food, bioengineered crops, and currently, chemicals in makeup that the FDA has found to be safe....
  • Climate Change: The Mandate that Wasn’t

    January 22, 2007
    It is quite typical for pressure lobbies to claim that their issue has been provided a mandate by any given election outcome even where, as in this case, the particular issue was kept up in the attic with Ross Perot's "crazy aunt" until the election was over. However, some scribblers, like Sebastian Mallaby in today's Washington Post, seem desperate to believe — or at least have others believe — the hype that the people spoke and demanded action on climate change — thus the rush to add subcommittees, and even a full, special (if legislatively impotent) committee in the House to push that which has failed to get a majority every time it has been raised: Kyoto-style carbon-based energy rationing. But in truth the victorious Democrats didn't run on the issue. As the Greenwire news service reported on the day of the election, climate change was hardly a factor in swaying voters'...
  • Oil over bar the shouting

    January 22, 2007
    With oil prices currently at a 19-month low and heading back to $50 a barrel, this is an excellent discussion of the causes of the recent price drop. At least some of the inflated price appears to have been due to speculators who have now exited the market. In the end, as James Hamilton says,
    [W]e're back to the standard equation of how much oil is actually used to make engines go and keep houses warm relative to how much is coming out of the ground...My advice to would-be speculators remains that fundamentals are ultimately what must drive the market. Anyone who believes otherwise should not expect to hang onto their wealth for long.
    I always find it astonishing just how many people think they can beat (...
  • Monsanto Biotech Monopoly, Courtesy of the EU

    January 22, 2007
    Today's Wall Street Journal has a feature (link here for subscribers) article discussing DuPont's renewed efforts on crop biotechnology. DuPont "announced it will shift about $100 million to [the biotech division of its subsidiary, Pioneer Hi-Bred], laying off employees in other areas in the process." Why such a seemingly radical shift? To take advantage of new opportunities created by a growing demand for corn and other crops to produce ethanol. Now, it's true that biotech can help make ethanol production from crop plants much more efficient, but the demand for ethanol only exists due to government fiat. It's ironic that DuPont/Pioneer finds itself the odd man out in biotech seeds for essentially the same reason. Pioneer is a venerable old name in the crop seed biz -- arguably...
  • Useful Jargon

    January 19, 2007
    Al Gore's movie increases Informational and Reputational Cascades based on Availability bias... Hey, don't complain to me, but to Oxford University's Future of Humanity Institute. Calls for silencing skeptics, abandoning journalistic norms and decertifying weather girls in the name of "scientific truth" are all simply calls to increase Availability Bias. Doesn't sound as high-minded now, does it? In the Eighteenth Century they might have called it Humbug.
  • Bad law breeds bad law

    January 19, 2007
    The scandal of the US ethanol program - a mandate, a subsidy and a trade barrier all rolled into one - is now having dire repercussions in Mexico, as Russell Roberts relates:
    President Felipe Calderon signed an accord with businesses on Thursday to curb soaring tortilla prices and protect Mexico's poor from speculative sellers and a surge in the cost of corn driven by the U.S. ethanol industry. The corn tortilla is the basic staple of the Mexican diet and is especially crucial for the poor...
    "The unjustifiable price rise of this product threatens the economy of millions of families," Calderon said. "We won't tolerate speculators or monopolists. We will apply the law with firmness and punish those who take advantage of people's need...
    The rise is...
  • Let 1,000 Starbucks Bloom

    January 19, 2007
    It had to happen. Jokes about Starbucks' ubiquity have become, well, ubiquitous, much like the coffee chain itself -- so it was only a matter of time before a Starbucks outlet opened in Beijing's Forbidden City. However, as the Financial Times reports, the Forbidden City Starbucks is facing a backlash, "following online protests sparked by a patriotic polemic published by a TV anchorman on his personal blog." Irrational? Yes. For a country reputedly confident thanks to its robust economic growth and growing international stature, it seems petty to get worked up about this as an "affront to Chinese culture." Indeed, as FT reporter Mure Dickie notes:
    It is unclear why Starbucks is drawing so much online ire now, given that...
  • Good News, Bad News on Food Biotech

    January 19, 2007

    Last year, global biotech crop acreage increased more than 13 percent from 2005. By year-end 2006, 10.3 million farmers in 22 countries were growing biotech crops on 252 million acres, according to a new study by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA). That's good news. But the better news is that farmers in less developed countries are among the biggest beneficiaries. More than 9.3 million resource-poor farmers in 11 countries grew biotech crops last year, often on plots of just three to four acres. Closer to home, the USDA reports that 2006 biotech crop acreage in the United States increased by 9.6...

  • Imagine no FCC?

    January 19, 2007
    Jack Shafer ponders the case for abolishing FCC in Slate's blog.  He wonders what things would be like if the philosophy of FCC's control over telecommunications and spectrum applied to publishing and timber:
    Suppose Congress had established in the early 19th century a Federal Publications Commission to regulate the newspaper, magazine, and newsletter businesses. The supporters of the FPC would have argued that such regulation was necessary because paper-pulp-grade timber is a scarce resource, and this scarcity made it incumbent upon the government to determine not only who could enter the publications business but where. Hence, the FPC would issue publication licenses to the "best" applicants and deny the rest. Whenever an aspiring publisher pointed out that timber wasn't scarce, that huge groves of trees...

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