Links 03/11/2012

It’s been a while. Here are some of the things I have been reading.

Birds hold ‘funerals’ for dead, BBC Nature
The Western Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma californica) have been observed gathering around the dead bodies of fellow jays. They ornithologists tested the hypothesis by using dummy birds.

Photo by Dawn Ellner.

150 years of bird translocations in New Zealand – Zealandia in a wider context, Zealandia
Te Papa’s bird man Dr Colin Miskelly — who I interviewed last year about Tieke — is giving a public lecture on translocations and how they’ve helped save species. It’s being run by Zealandia. I’ll be there handing out Saddleback propaganda.

When: 7.30pm – 8.30pm Tuesday 4 September 2012
Where: Victoria University’s Karori Campus, Lecture Theatre 4, Theatre Block (THK)

Beyond Belief, Foreign Policy
In the light of Neil Armstrong passing away David Rothkopf takes a stirring look at how the USA has fallen off the education and exploration rails. Rothkopf makes the argument that the US has been drawn into a religious-based political discourse that revolves around “values” rather than a rational political discourse that revolves around what is actually valuable. He says that “the lesson of Armstrong and his peers is that there is no such thing as faith-based progress.” I agree.

Solutions to Child Poverty, Children’s Commissioner
This amazing paper written by an expert panel put together by the Child’s Commissioner offers evidence based, rational, affordable solutions to child poverty in New Zealand. Here are some quotes,

Nearly thirty years ago, child poverty rates in New Zealand were about half current levels. Today, 25 percent of our children live in households where incomes fall below recognised poverty thresholds. This is about 270,000 children. Many of these children experience significant material deprivation, and many remain poor for long periods of time.

Does this matter? Undoubtedly. Poverty imposes costs. It harms those directly affected and the wider society. It undermines children’s rights to develop their gifts and talents. It reduces opportunities, stifles educational achievement, reduces labour productivity and increases health care costs. Currently we spend a lot of money dealing with these negative consequences of child poverty. It would make more sense to invest upfront and avoid some of these costs. In short, prevention is better than cure.


Social commentators often talk about child poverty resulting primarily from parents making poor decisions about how they spend their money, bad morals, a poor work ethic, bad luck, unwise lifestyle choices and so on. While some parents undoubtedly make poor choices, there is little evidence that poor people mismanage their income to a greater extent than those who are better off. This is not to suggest that we should ignore the contribution of parental lifestyle choices and various social ills (including drug and alcohol addiction) to poor outcomes for children, but the main causes of child poverty lie elsewhere.

Read it.

Chore list of champions, Kurt Vonnegut
A book of Kurt Vonnegut’s letters is about to be published. I love Vonnegut. He is one of my all time favourite writers. Top three material.

Why publish your negative results?, Biomed Central
Because it makes science betterer. Durh. This is something Ben Goldacre has been vocal about.

The Master Character Narratives in Campaign 2012, Pew Research Centre
For all the American politics geeks: a media analysis of coverage of Obama and Romney finds that “press coverage of the character of the candidates is highly negative, and neither Obama nor Romney has an edge.” The report os a long, but interesting, read that ties together many old media/new media analysis techniques to see how the potential presidents are being portrayed.

Chief Coroner releases annual suicide statistics, Coronial Services
Finally, statistics were released today by the Coroner’s Court about suicide rates in New Zealand. Stark reading on New Zealand Herald site.

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