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Stimulants

Friday 10 June 2011, 09:53

I wonder: what percentage of current agricultural capacity is devoted to stimulant drug crops? I mean tea, coffee, tobacco, khat, areca, coca, cacao, yerba mate, and so on. It seems like it must be a pretty large percentage. I wonder how much food could be grown using those resources, and how that amount of food compares to the size of the food shortage.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that it would be possible or desirable to make such a substitution. It seems like there must be a reason that nearly every human culture has a tradition of using stimulant drugs. Also, I'm well aware that different plants grow under different conditions, so the land and resources currently used for non-food crops can't necessarily be used for food crops. But it would still be interesting to know the answers to the questions.

Gas prices and the Conservative tax on everything

Friday 13 May 2011, 07:04

I've been hearing a lot of grumbling about gasoline prices recently. People who ought to know better on my social-networking friends lists circulated that asinine one-day "boycott" message a little while back. My alarm clock wakes me with CBC Radio every morning, and today they were talking to someone from Consumer's Union who was hoping to pressure the Federal government to Do Something. I'm of the opinion that the Federal government has already Done way too Much in this matter, and they ought to butt out already.

One of Harper's talking points in the recent election was to accuse the Liberals of pressing for a "tax on everything" (a scary renaming of the carbon tax that anybody who cares about survival of the planet, including a clear majority of Canadians, actually supports). But when you fill up your car's gas tank and pay today's prices for it, you are paying the Conservative tax on everything, which they implemented without a vote and which never received proper discussion or coverage. Let's put the blame where it belongs.

Disclosure: I don't own a car, and I do own units of a real-return bond index fund, which makes more profit in nominal terms when the price of everything (including gasoline) goes up. I don't think that really means I benefit from higher prices, only that I lose less than some other people. I've written about inflation-indexed bonds before. I'd rather have prices stay low and my bonds not make so many dollars.

How to lie with charts

Sunday 20 March 2011, 12:04

I'm generally a fan of the IAEA, but this image I just grabbed from their Web site is a textbook example of slanting (literally!) a graphic image so that it misleads the reader.

Fuel temperature chart

The chart shows the temperature of two spent fuel pools at Fukushima Daiichi. Until the morning of March 19, UTC, the temperatures were slowly but steadily increasing. After that, they decreased significantly. These data could well be presented with a two-dimensional line chart.

But the makers of the chart above chose to project it into three dimensions in such a way that the lines slant downward even where the temperature is increasing - obscuring one of the most important pieces of information the numbers represent, which is the direction of change. A human being looking at the chart and not reading the numbers would get the incorrect impression that the temperature was consistently decreasing over the entire time period. Thus the chart has failed in its purpose of making the numbers understandable. The chart actually conveys a negative amount of information, because it conveys incorrect information. If you erased all the graphics and left only the numbers, readers would be better informed.

If they were going to make a chart, there is no reason it needed to be a three-dimensional chart; and if they were going to make a three-dimensional chart, there is no reason they had to use that particular choice of projection angle. I hate to ascribe to malice that which could be explained by stupidity, but this really does look the way deliberate deception would look; and it has the same effect as deliberate deception even if it isn't actually deliberate deception.