The Benefits Of Working Women

The Dish

The latest study (pdf) from the International Monetary Fund indicates that persistent gender inequality in employment “is bad news for everyone, because it translates into lower economic growth – amounting to as much as 27% of per capita GDP in some countries”:

The potential gains from a larger female workforce are striking.

In Egypt, for example, if the number of female workers were raised to the same level as that of men, the country’s GDP could grow by 34%. In the United Arab Emirates, GDP would expand by 12%, in Japan by 9%, and in the United States by 5%. According to a recent study based on data from the International Labor Organization, of the 865 million women worldwide who could contribute more fully to their economies, 812 million live in emerging and developing countries.

Raising women’s labor-market participation rate boosts economic performance in a number of ways. For…

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Iowa grants gun licenses to blind people (America week)

I initially thought this was another example of crazy US gun laws  but actually I’m not so sure about.

This Guardian article on the subject quotes this rather reasonable perspective from a blind activist:

The fact is, US law says anyone has the right to bear arms, and if that’s the case, then, in the interests of full equality, that should include blind people.”

But isn’t this dangerous? Potentially, says Macrae, pointing out that it’s dangerous for anyone to carry a gun. “I wouldn’t say it was more dangerous. I’d say we would have to be more responsible in the way in which we behaved with those weapons, discharged them and so on – the person would need to behave responsibly, rather than it being on society to say: ‘Oh, sorry guys, this is too dangerous, so we’re going to exclude you.’

The article cites cases where a blind person might be able to use a gun responsibly for example on a firing range or when hunting with a companion.

I don’t know what I think about this: should I be worried if disabled people are denied a right that able bodied people shouldn’t have either.

Hat-Tip: HB

Berlin still split into East and West


This map is from a BBC news article on the German elections which notes that:

the former route of the Berlin Wall divides the city into voting choices. In the constituencies of the East, voters chose Die Linke (The Left party), descended from the old communist party.

In the West, they voted for the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats (CDU), both formerly West German parties.

In a few locales in the centre of Berlin, on either side of what was the Wall, the Greens came out on top – and closer examination reveals these to be areas which have been gentrified heavily, with large numbers of young, professional incomers.

The author suggests this is because:

There was no great cross-border migration in the city after 1989. People had security of tenure in their flats, and they stayed put. Berlin had a large concentration of members of the Socialist Unity Party (as the communist party in East Germany was called), as well as the civil servants and Stasi operatives who kept the communist state running, and they have remained in their areas and transferred their loyalty to Die Linke.

Though he also notes that in general the CDU performed reasonably well in the old GDR perhaps because many voters their have a personal loyalty to Ms Merkel, who also grew up in East Germany.

Coming up on Matters of Facts – America Week

ImageI first conceived of this blog while traveling in the States this summer and I’d planned to start it off with a series of posts about the States. For various reasons that didn’t happen but its remained an appealing idea. So this week is America week which will hopefully include:

  • I’ve already done a couple of posts refuting the idea that America has no history
  • The problem with American food
  • Why the constitution is not all it’s cracked up to be
  • The unlikely Confederates
  • How cars and air conditioning changed America
  • Why Asian-Americans get ignored
  • The state that gives gun licences to blind people

Also look out for a post on why a quarter of a century after the fall of the Berlin Wall the city is still divided, more on the differences between UKIP and the Greens, and a review of Blackfish.

Reforming the Greenbelt

Paul Cheshire, emeritus professor of economic geography, writes convincingly about the need for the Greenbelt to evolve to make more housing available:

As proposed by the original visionaries of town planning – most notably Ebenezer Howard – greenbelts would be an extensive ring of parkland surrounding towns in which citizens could walk their dogs, stroll with their children and exchange civilised gossip in the shade of handsome trees. What they have turned into is a combination of sacred cow and juggernaut: unstoppable in the damage they do to the housing market and beyond criticism in the popular media. They cover half again as much land as all towns and cities put together – about 15% of the surface of England – and have become a peculiarly English form of exclusionary zoning to keep unwashed urbanites corralled in their cities.

Of course parts of the greenbelts are real environmental and amenity treasures, such as the beautiful bits of rolling Hertfordshire, the Chilterns or the North Downs. Most…Greenbelt land, however, is intensively farmed with limited rights of access and has no amenity value at all. Recent studies have shown that its value is captured only by those who own houses within it, and that intensively farmed land has a negative environmental value. Apart from its value for producing food (and much greater value for dodging inheritance tax) the UK National Ecosystem Assessment in 2011 found that intensively farmed land generates more environmental costs than benefits. Yet whenever there is some public debate about reforming the planning system or building a few desperately needed houses on Greenbelt land, the bits we see on TV belong in some romanticised English Tourist Board poster. They are not representative of the reality of most greenbelt land.

So rather than building on school playing fields (can’t be done in my borough – they’ve all been built on already) or brownfield land such as on the Hoo Peninsula, where the largest concentration of Nightingales in the British Isles survive, there should be selective building on the least attractiveand lowest amenity parts of greenbelts.

Hat Tip: Duncan Stott

Tim Harford fisks Ed Miliband’s energy policy

TBH, I don’t think the downsides would necessarily be that great but as Harford observes the benefits certainly wouldn’t be very substantial either

What exactly do you think is wrong with a freeze?

Let’s start by acknowledging that this is economically a sideshow. If he is lucky, Mr Miliband’s 20-month cap (why 20 months?) will delay a price rise of 10 per cent or so. Energy spending comprises 5 per cent of the basket of goods used to calculate the consumer price index. So Mr Miliband will, on an optimistic view, postpone (not prevent) a 0.5 per cent rise in CPI. That will help some people but is trivial compared with what he might do with the tax or benefit system.

But it’s still something – so what’s the downside?

The first downside is that it makes UK energy policy look capricious, confrontational and juvenile. That matters because this country urgently needs new electricity generating capacity. If suppliers don’t expect to get the revenue they need to cover their costs, they won’t invest. It’s alarmist to suggest that Mr Miliband will simply scare them away and the lights will go out, but it’s reasonable to expect that they will need more convincing in the wake of his little pep talk at the Labour party conference, which can be summarised simply as: “Your customers vote and you don’t, and I’ll never forget that.” He has achieved the remarkable feat of damaging the country before becoming prime minister; most party leaders wait until they win an election before they start screwing it up.

Mr Miliband isn’t really very scary. Is that the only problem?

He is also ignoring climate change. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions means conserving energy, and generating it using nuclear power and renewables, both of which are probably more uncertain and more expensive propositions than oil, gas and coal. Because of this, prices are rising as a matter of policy – policy that began under the last Labour government, in which Mr Miliband was, I seem to recall, the energy secretary.

Agents of SHIELD hits the ground strolling


There is a dissonance between the hype around this season and its pedestrian opening episode. There were some good points – mostly odd pieces of dialogue or jokes – but the overall mix was pretty unengaging.

I’m a recent convert to the Whedonverse, so it’s not very long since I watched the opening episode of Buffy. And I couldn’t help comparing Whedon’s latest outing with the one that made his name. While on paper a lot less happens on the first trip to Sunnydale; it established a sense of forward narrative momentum, gave a strong sense of the key characters and ended on a cliffhanger. By contrast, Agents of SHIELD’s opening seemed rather limp: despite various mysteries being set up it didn’t feel like it was going anywhere, only Agent Coulson felt like a real character and that’s because he’d already been established in the films, and rather than a cliffhanger we got a corny conclusion with a flying car.

A difference between the two shows I’d particularly highlight was that while the action sequences in Buffy were surprisingly impressive for something on the small screen, the various fights and chases in Agents felt disposable. This matters because if action actually deflates tension stories are going to fizzle when they are supposed to be climaxing.

Still I’ll keep watching. Many good series had poor openings, and there is definitely the components of a decent program here if they are used right.


The Oldest Building in the US is more than a millenia old


A Pueblo Indian dwelling

Earlier this week I quoted from John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge’s book the Right Nation. I was rather sidetracked by the truth or otherwise about whether Galileo was offered a chair at Harvard. However, their larger point that America is actually a rather old country is clearly true. They make the observation that:

The historical hearts of Boston and Washington feel as old many European capitals (older in some ways because they weren’t bombed in World War II).

I’d add to Philadelphia and Charleston to the list of American cities that often feel like old European cities. However, if you want to see really old buildings in America, you don’t look to the European settlements on the East Coast. Rather you look inland to the impressive Native American buildings that still stand. These are the oldest buildings in America are more than a millennium old. The Cahokia Mounds were first occupied in 600 CE and there are Peublo dwellings in New Mexico dating back to 750 CE.

These grand aged buildings are remnants of equally venerable civilizations. I use that word in a deliberately old-fashioned sense as the opposite of ‘primitive’ because the people who inhabited America before Colmbus were a lot more advanced than they are normally given credit for.

Many of us have grown up with images of the hooting, hollering “red man” dancing around the camp fire by his tee-pee and sharpening his tomahawk for scalping the “white man”. These images have been spoon-fed to us by TV shows (e.g. Looney Tunes), sports teams (e.g. Redskins), and wild tales from USA folklore.

In reality, Native Americans were quite advanced. They had built towns. They played organized team sports. They excelled in hunting and fishing. They had somewhat democratic government structures. In farming they were experts. Women often held prominent roles in their society. They had medicine which they shared with the Europeans. They had sophisticated religion and theology which were a key part of their society. Cleanliness was important to them: in fact, they were more clean than the Europeans for whom bathing and clean clothes were not all that important. Their culture was centered on toleration and freedom. They avoided conflict when possible and abhorred devastating war. They had a sophisticated language. Monetary currency and economic systems were also present in their society.

America is a land with a long history. A great deal of time has passed since Europeans began settling and much longer still since humans first came their. And of course, young countries’ don’t have buildings that were standing in the time of Muhammed and Charlemagne.

Follow Friday – Reel History

Anything combining history and films is going to be a hit with me. Even given that I think that the Guardian’s reel history column is wonderful.

The historian Alex von Tunzelmann reviews films both for quality and historical accuracy, covering everything from biblical history to the origins of facebook. So if you want to know how realistic the chariot races in Ben Hur, what that elephant in Les Mis was about or quite how much tosh JFK is then this for you.

Tunzelmann even undertakes the unlikely task of assessing the accuracy of Iron Sky and X-Men: First Class

Joss Whedon co-wrote Toy Story

As Joss Whedon‘s latest TV series – Agents of Shield – is premiering in the UK this evening, it felt like time for fact about the God of the Nerds’ early career.

Long before the Avengers and shortly after writing the film version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Whedon was a writer with Disney. He was seconded to a small studio named Pixar that was producing its first feature film. If they could pull it off it would be a ground breaking project: the first computer-animated feature film. However, Pixar was struggling to turn the concept into a script and had gone through numerous writers already. Whedon recalls his role thus:

they sent me the script and it was a shambles, but the story that Lasseter had come up with was, you know, the toys are alive and they conflict. The concept was gold. It was just right there. And that’s the dream job for a script doctor: a great structure with a script that doesn’t work. A script that’s pretty good? Where you can’t really figure out what’s wrong, because there’s something structural that’s hard to put your finger on? Death. But a good structure that just needs a new body on it is the best. So I was thrilled.

I went up to Pixar…and stayed there for weeks and wrote for, I think, four months before it got greenlit, and completely overhauled the script. There was some very basic things in there that stayed in there. The characters were pretty much in place except for the dinosaur, which was mine. I took out a lot of extraneous stuff, including the neighbor giving the kid a bad haircut before he leaves. There was a whole lot of extraneous stuff.

While by dint of his role as script doctor Whedon seems mostly to have been refining what was already there, he did bring in some innovations of his own. Notably, he devised my favourite character: Rex the ‘diffident dinosaur.’


Some of his ideas might have lead to an even bigger changes had they been implemented. According David A. Price’s history of Pixar, Whedon:

…sought a pivotal role for Barbie. As Whedon pictured it, Woody and Buzz, seemingly doomed at Sid’s house, would be rescued by Barbie in a commando style raid. Her character was to be patterned after Linda Hamilton’s portrayal of Sarah Connor in Terminator 2. (The concept of a two-fisted, derriere-kicking heroine, still a novelty at the time, had also featured in Whedon’s script for the 1992 film version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.) Whedon’s vision came to naught, however, when Mattel refused to license Barbie.

It is nonetheless striking how little interviews with and profiles of Whedon mention his work on Toy Story. This is in part because much of the rest of his work is so impressive. But Toy Story is a seminal film that had a huge cultural and commercial impact, and it is doubtful that without Whedon it would have worked. It would certainly have lacked much of its sparkling dialogue and of course Rex. It should still merit a mention when his career is discussed. That it doesn’t is I would suggest a product of our attraction to the idea of creative works as the product of a single great mind. Whedon said of his role “I definitely feel I played a part in “Toy Story,” a substantial one, but it is John Lasseter’s movie.” Because we struggle with the idea that films are team efforts, we tend to lionise a single creator for each work. So Lasseter is given sole credit for Toy Story, and indeed all the people other than Whedon who made the Avengers or Buffy a success are overlooked. I can’t be alone in finding that a shame.

Note on sources: The Quotes from Whedon are taken from this interview. Otherwise where I’ve not provided a link the source is David Price’s book.