Harry Potter fan suicide? No, it’s still a hoax

August 9, 2007

It was a hoax then, two weeks later, it’s still a hoax.

Why doesn’t anybody call this guy on this grotesque disinformation? Hoaxes about suicide are not funny. The post continues to rank in the top 100 posts for WordPress’s 1 million+ blogs, as of August 9.

Do people really prefer a grisly hoax to the truth?


August 9, 1945: Nagasaki, Japan

August 9, 2007

Continuing the week of contemplation of atomic bombs: Remember today is the anniversary of the destruction of Nagasaki, with a U.S. atomic bomb.

Nagasaki after the atomic bomb - Infoplease.com

Japan surrendered unconditionally a short while later. See the earlier posts for more links.

Nagasaki National Peace Memorial Hall - Architectural Record

Top photo: Nagasaki after the bomb. Bottom photo, Nagasaki National Peace Memorial Hall, photo by Toshio Kaneko, Architectural Record.


Can China sink the U.S. economy quickly?

August 9, 2007

Don’t panic. But pay attention.

Here’s something students in economics courses should be discussing, from London’s Telegraph.com:

The Chinese government has begun a concerted campaign of economic threats against the United States, hinting that it may liquidate its vast holding of US treasuries if Washington imposes trade sanctions to force a yuan revaluation.

On so many levels, that discussion offers opportunities for students of economics to understand how markets, finance, and borrowing work. This news report alone could be the foundation for a couple of weeks of lesson plans on international finance, the Federal Reserve system, government spending, and general operation of markets.

Two officials at leading Communist Party bodies have given interviews in recent days warning – for the first time – that Beijing may use its $1.33 trillion (£658bn) of foreign reserves as a political weapon to counter pressure from the US Congress.

Shifts in Chinese policy are often announced through key think tanks and academies.

Described as China’s “nuclear option” in the state media, such action could trigger a dollar crash at a time when the US currency is already breaking down through historic support levels.

It would also cause a spike in US bond yields, hammering the US housing market and perhaps tipping the economy into recession. It is estimated that China holds over $900bn in a mix of US bonds.

Xia Bin, finance chief at the Development Research Centre (which has cabinet rank), kicked off what now appears to be government policy with a comment last week that Beijing’s foreign reserves should be used as a “bargaining chip” in talks with the US.

Could China afford to try such a move? Would it sink their economy, too? How could the U.S. try to mitigate such a move? Does this mean the U.S. needs to seriously control trade with China, or would that kind of interference in free markets do more damage by itself?

The Dow dropped 387 points in trading on the New York Stock Exchange today. News analysts ascribe it to concerns over sub-prime mortgage lender troubles, which caused a panic in French markets today. The credit-crunch “ripples around the world,” according to a PBS reporter.

One blogger at Telegraph.com says not to worry; Ambrose Evans-Pritchard says the dollar will not collapse:

Disregard all hysteria. The ailing Greenback will not collapse this year, not in ten years, not in twenty years, not in half a century. There is no credible currency against which it can collapse. (Unless you count gold). None of the world’s rival power blocs have the economic and demographic depth to challenge American dominance.

That view is shared by a lot of the more pragmatic and successful investment advisors.

What do your local newspapers say? How can you use this to weave together a coherent narrative for your economics curriculum, starting in a week or two?

Sources to beef up your classroom presentations:


Fisking “Junk Science’s” campaign for DDT: Point #6

August 9, 2007

Another in a continuing series, showing the errors in JunkScience.com’s list of “100 things you should know about DDT.” (No, these are not in order.)

Steven Milloy and the ghost of entomologist J. Gordon Edwards listed this as point six in their list of “100 things you should know about DDT “[did Edwards really have anything to do with the list before he died?]:

6. “To only a few chemicals does man owe as great a debt as to DDT… In little more than two decades, DDT has prevented 500 million human deaths, due to malaria, that otherwise would have been inevitable.”

[National Academy of Sciences, Committee on Research in the Life Sciences of the Committee on Science and Public Policy. 1970. The Life Sciences; Recent Progress and Application to Human Affairs; The World of Biological Research; Requirements for the Future.]

In contrast to their citation for the Sweeney hearing record, which leads one away from the actual hearing record, for this citation, the publication actually exists, though it is no longer available in print. It’s available on-line, in an easily searchable format. [I urge you to check these sources out for yourself; I won’t jive you, but you should see for yourself how the critics of Rachel Carson and WHO distort the data — I think you’ll be concerned, if not outraged.] The quote, though troubled by the tell-tale ellipses of the science liar, is accurately stated so far as it goes.

The problems? It’s only part of the story as told in that publication.  The National Academy of Science calls for DDT to be replaced in that book; NAS is NOT calling for a rollback of any ban, nor is NAS defending DDT against the claims of harm.  The book documents and agrees with the harms Rachel Carson wrote about eight years earlier.

Cover of the electronic version of Life Sciences, the 1970 book looking to future needs in biology and agriculture.

Cover of the electronic version of Life Sciences, the 1970 book looking to future needs in biology and agriculture.

Milloy (and Edwards, he claims), are trying to make a case that the National Academy of Sciences, one of the more reputable and authoritative groups of distinguished scientists in the world, thinks that DDT is just dandy, in contrast to the views of Rachel Carson and environmentalists (who are always cast as stupid and venal in Milloy’s accounts) who asked that DDT use be reduced to save eagles, robins and other songbirds, fish, and other wildlife, and to keep DDT useful against malaria.

First, there is no way that a ban on DDT could have been responsible for 500 million deaths due to malaria.  Calculate it yourself, the mathematics are simply impossible: At about 1 million deaths per year, if we assume DDT could have prevented all of the deaths (which is not so), and had we assumed usage started in 1939 instead of 1946 (a spot of 7 years and 7 million deaths), we would have 69 million deaths prevented by 2008. As best I can determine, the 500 million death figure is a misreading from an early WHO report that noted about 500 million people are annually exposed to malaria, I’m guessing a bit at that conclusion — that’s the nicest way to attribute it to simple error and not malicious lie. It was 500 million exposures to malaria, not 500 million deaths. It’s unfortunate that this erroneous figure found its way into a publication of the NAS — I suppose it’s the proof that anyone can err.

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