April 26, 2012

Organic farming: larger “footprint” to produce compared to non-organic

Filed under: Economics, Environment, Science — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 10:57

Summary of a recent study published in Nature, which found that organic farming has a lower production per acre than non-organic methods:

Organic farming may yield up to a third less of some crop types, according to a study proposing a hybrid with conventional agriculture as the best way to feed the world without destroying it.

Organic farming seeks to limit the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, but critics suggest lower crop yields require bigger swaths of land for the same output as conventional farms.

This would conceivably require parts of forests and other natural areas being turned into farmland, undoing some of the environmental gains of organic tilling methods, they say.

The new study by Canadian and American researchers, published in Nature Wednesday, reviewed 66 studies comparing the yields of 34 different crop species in organic and conventional farming systems. The review limited itself to studies assessing the total land area used, allowing researchers to compare crop yields per unit area. Many previous studies have shown large yields for organic farming but ignored the size of the area planted — which is often bigger than in conventional farming.

This means, as most people probably suspected, that true “organic” farming methods are likely to be a boutique for well-off western consumers rather than a solution to malnutrition and poverty in developing nations.

Romney’s biggest challenge in selecting a running mate

Filed under: Government, Humour, Media, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:52

Steve Chapman outlines the big issue that Mitt Romney needs to consider while ruminating over who’ll be his running mate this year:

As he begins his search for a running mate, Mitt Romney needs to keep one question foremost in his mind, because the decision could affect us all for years to come. He needs to ask: Will this person be good for American comedy?

The prospective Republican nominee will have a tough time living up to recent standards. It’s hard to imagine a Romney vice president who would inspire a story like the one in The Onion: “Shirtless Biden Washes Trans Am In White House Driveway.”

Nobody is ever going to have a run like Tina Fey had with Sarah Palin. The chances are slim that the next veep will accidentally shoot someone in the face.

[. . .]

Dan Quayle instantly became a national joke while riding to victory with George H.W. Bush in 1988. Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman on a major party ticket in 1984, couldn’t keep Ronald Reagan from capturing 55 percent of the female vote.

In 2000, when Al Gore picked Joe Lieberman to be the first Jewish running mate, the Democratic share of the Jewish vote soared to 79 percent — from 78 percent four years earlier. Dick Cheney brought the GOP the shimmering promise of Wyoming’s three electoral votes, which hadn’t gone to a Democrat since 1964.

It’s a rare vice presidential nominee who affects the outcome. Even if Palin hadn’t cost John McCain 2 percent of the overall vote, as one study calculated, Barack Obama would still be president.

Canada’s strange and imperfect approach to the abortion debate

Filed under: Cancon, Health, Law, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:40

It’s a highly contentious topic that nobody really wants to tackle (well, no politician anyway). Canada has had no abortion laws on the books, and just the hint that someone wants to bring some in is cause for panic in certain quarters:

Canada’s “consensus” on our unlimited abortion licence — any time, for any reason, fully funded by tax dollars — is a strange one. First of all, it’s not really a consensus, as only a minority of Canadians, when polled, support the extreme position we currently have.

Yet the faux-consensus is apparently so essential that any attempt to moderate Canada’s abortion enthusiasm is thought to be unpatriotic, as if adopting, say, French or German abortion policies would be to accede to the most retrograde social policies imaginable. At the same time, the faux-consensus is so fragile that every attempt must be made to prevent any discussion about it.

This odd consensus produces odd behaviour. This week, Conservative backbench MP Stephen Woodworth has a private member’s motion coming up for debate in the House of Commons. Given that Stephen Harper is committed to maintaining the status quo, pro-life MPs must resort to nibbling around the edges of issues that perhaps, one day, under certain circumstances, might lead to questions being asked about why Canada has the most extreme abortion licence in the world, save for China, where abortions are sometimes compulsory.

The public choice analysis of the “Jeremy Hunt affair”

Filed under: Britain, Government, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:18

On the Adam Smith Institute blog, “Whig” explains why the Jeremy Hunt affair should be no surprise to anyone, regardless of their party affiliation:

First of all, it is salutary to remember that this is not a party political issue. As evidence to the Leveson Enquiry itself shows, politicians are drawn to newspaper proprietors and editors like flies to the proverbial. The two have a symbiotic relationship with each other, and always have done. Clearly this relationship is the result of a classic public choice style problem — politicians have power but need votes and newspaper editors can deliver votes in exchange for a chance to influence how that power is directed. Of course, this is a very reductive description of the relationship but that is what it boils down to.

Such a relationship is evidently corrupting and open to the exploitation of special interests at the expense of general ones. How should we prevent this? Whilst party politics calls for the minister to fall on his sword, such an action will hardly prevent future occurrences. The general tone of public discourse suggests the introduction of rules, guidelines and procedures on ministers with greater bureaucratic control and less personal control by the minister. In many ways this represents the general trend of constitutional developments over the past 100 years or so. Powers should be vested in ‘disinterested’ civil servants or, better yet, in ‘independent’ Quangos like OFCOM or the Competition Commission, rather than politicians.

The bureaucratic solution, however, is no more acceptable — as any fan of Yes Minister will confirm. Aside from the issues of democratic accountability such developments raise, we should remember that civil servants and bureaucrats are human beings and have a series of vested personal and ideological interests of their own. Bureaucratic rule-making is just as susceptible to corruption as ministerial rule-making. This is especially true in the case of newspapers, which are extremely well-placed to use their influence in order to promote their own interests. Again, the Leveson Enquiry shows us exactly this situation: journalists allegedly entering into corrupt relationships with police officers.

Rupert Murdoch: the secret ruler of Britain

Filed under: Britain, Law, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:09

At least, it’s quite clear that most of the chattering classes consider Murdoch to be the arch-manipulator/secret ruler of British life. Brendan O’Neill disagrees:

So there he was, the secret ruler of modern Britain, the dark, rotting heart of the British state, the man who has wielded his ‘extraordinary power’ in order to ‘manipulate officialdom’ and extend his influence over ‘politics, the media and the police’. I hope you weren’t fooled by Rupert Murdoch’s diminutive stature or his octogenarian demeanour as he appeared before the Leveson Inquiry yesterday, or his denials about using his ‘political power to get favourable treatment’. Because this small, old newspaper owner is, in fact, the mastermind of a ‘shadowy influence-mart’ who has exercised a ‘malign influence on our politics for the past 30 years’. And now, thanks to Lord Leveson, we finally have an opportunity to ‘banish’ this ‘tyrant’ from our shores and a ‘glorious opportunity for meaningful reform’.

At least, that’s what the Leveson cheerleading squad, the media and celebrity groupies of this inquiry into press ethics, would have us believe. These people are rapidly taking leave of their senses. Their depiction of Rupert Murdoch as the dastardly puppeteer of the British political sphere has crossed the line from rational commentary into David Icke territory, sounding increasingly like a conspiracy theory about secret rulers of the world. And their claim that Murdoch singlehandedly ruined British politics — that he is, in the words of one commentator, the architect of modern Britain’s ‘heartlessness, coarseness and spite’ — speaks to their inability to get to grips with the true causes of political crisis today. Yesterday’s shenanigans made it pretty clear that Murdoch-bashing has become a cheap substitute for grown-up debate.

It is of course true that Murdoch is very influential, as you would expect of a man who, in Britain alone, owns both the newspaper of record (The Times) and the bestselling tabloid (the Sun). But not only do the Murdoch-maulers overestimate how influential he is; more importantly they misunderstand the origins and nature of his influence in modern Britain. It is not that Murdoch set out to create a ‘shadow state’ that could ‘intimidate parliament’, as madly claimed by Labour MP Tom Watson. Rather, it was the increasing alienation of parliament and politicians from the public which boosted Murdoch’s political fortunes, making him the go-to man for ministers and MPs desperate to make a connection with us. In other words, Murdoch didn’t destroy British politics in his scrabble for greater influence — it was the already existing death of British politics, its loss of meaning and purchase, which, by default, made Murdoch influential.

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