Saturday, March 30

Chihuahuas are the most vicious dogs.
There was a whole series of dire possibilities that didn't even occur to people when the US government abandoned mandatory smallpox vaccination. In another excellent article, Gina Kolata discusses how now someone's got to make the choice about how to protect against a terrorist attack. The choice is
whether it is worth accepting a few deaths and serious injuries to protect the nation against a threat that may not materialize.

When we make choices, we're often biased, and tend not to make very good choices. When we hear stories of vaccine victims, all too often we respond with visceral fear rather than logic. Added to this is
the emotional power of the anecdote to erode a consensus � how the story of a single vaccine victim, or even one who mistakenly believed he was injured by a vaccine, can overwhelm logical arguments about risks and benefits.

Rational debate will be difficult. As usual.

Friday, March 29

The sourdough rye that I made last weekend has held up pretty well. I had a slice last night untoasted & with nothing on it, and it was pretty good. A couple slices toasted & buttered this morning were even better.
I mentioned earlier irony is a form of detachment. According to definitions about irony that I looked up earlier, "ironic" points to situations poignantly contrary to what was expected or intended: "madness, an ironic fate for such a clear thinker." Or it describes situations where an inconsistency suggests a lesson about human vanity, foolishness, or ignorance, or exemplifying the folly of supposing that we can know what fate has in store for us. I certainly feel fate leering sardonically behind my back. It's not detachment on my part. It's horror. The Death Clock, the Internet's friendly reminder that life is slipping away, will cheer me up.
I'm not sure what my identity is. Yesterday in class a Japanese student told me that on the basis of my ancestry, I should be styled English-American (I'd like Anglo-American, but that's too redolent of the "global leader in the mining and natural resources sectors.")

In The Blood Lust of Identity, Ian Buruma makes some observations about why people fear for their sense of belonging. According to Amin Maalouf, it's because they feel that their community is under threat. I didn't believe that about myself, but after 9/11 it was interesting to see my own identity as an American surface. Buruma also observes that those who blame globalization for threatening local cultural identities turn out to be mostly disaffected intellectuals.

Buruma goes on to discuss Tom Hayden as one of the worst instances of romantic nativism and identity chatter, occurring in the heart of the post-industrialized West itself.

Some blogger that I've lost recommended this article, which shows mindless packets of data following a few simple rules to produce artificial genocide. Yet the agents are separately and individually reacting according to rules rather than some kind of mob psychology. So apparently societies possess their own logic, and cannot easily be directed or anticipated.

Not even the Olympian modeler, who writes the code and looks down from on high, can do more than guess at the effect of any particular rule as it ricochets through a world of diverse actors.

No wonder God has made such a poor fist of things.
Ralph Peters' Seven Signs of Non-Competitive States:

Restrictions on the free flow of information.
The subjugation of women.
Inability to accept responsibility for individual or collective failure.
The extended family or clan as the basic unit of social organization.
Domination by a restrictive religion.
A low valuation of education.
Low prestige assigned to work.

He also says,

China, along with the world's other defiant dictatorships, suffers under an oppressive class structure, built on and secured by an informational hierarchy.


Wednesday, March 27

According to an article in the Far Eastern Economic Review by an American diplomat, after the U.S. EP-3 and a Chinese F-8 fighter collided last April,
For the U.S. side, among the biggest surprises were the Chinese government's apparent indifference to the facts surrounding the collision, and its apparent lack of concern about international procedures that, in an emergency situation, allow one nation's aircraft to land on the territory of another without permission. Even today, it is puzzling that the Chinese government did not seem concerned about how its handling of the incident might shape regional perceptions.

Guess what? Many in the Chinese government don't give a damn what anyone thinks. On reflection, I guess that's part of the reason for the article, to embarrass the Chinese government. Like they care.

George Bush adds $1,500 to cost of purchasing average new house in USA. Thanks, George. Not to mention the effects of ongoing protectionism on consumers of sugar, textiles, and steel.
From the European vantage point, steel companies here have put themselves through a grueling transformation while, for the most part, the big integrated American steel mills have not....European steel executives also note that American minimill producers are extremely competitive. The problems, they contend, are with the big integrated producers that begin with iron ore, smelt it to make steel and then produce finished products. European executives also tend to agree with American steel executives on an important point: the biggest hindrance to consolidation in the United States is the huge burden of paying pension and health benefits for retirees.

Tuesday, March 26

Yesterday (Monday) around 4:40 pm as I was walking home in a thunderstorm, holding an umbrella over myself, there was a startling flash and I felt a spark--like static electricity--jump from the middle finger of my gloved hand to the metal shaft of the umbrella. I thought I was dead. Nope. And not even a lichtenberg figure to show for it.
Horizontal newspaper text is replacing the vertical original in Chinese-American newspapers. One editor claims it's because of software & to integrate English words. But as the NYT points out, some speculate that a political conspiracy may be afoot to court Beijing at the expense of Taipei. And indeed, While most papers still use Chinese characters, in November the pro-Beijing China Press switched from traditional to simplified characters (after having switched from vertical to horizontal publishing three years ago). Despite a rocky start, the paper's circulation has jumped by 20 percent. And after all, there are increasing numbers of immigrants from mainland China. I wonder if ultimately they won't change US policy towards China.

Monday, March 25

What happens when an advance that prolongs life also prolongs a patient's misery?
There's no longer any privacy. You're not safe from being spied on by your employers, "friends," or even total strangers. Infrared hidden cameras will ensure you're not even safe in the dark.
Good news for Japanese consumers: food will get cheaper! In the past, they've paid premiums for Japanese brands, assuming that Japanese food is better, but Japanese mislabeling cases reveal that they could not actually tell the difference in quality between Japanese products and imports.
France betrayed Taiwan's confidence by passing top-secret information to China about the controversial sale of $2.5 billion worth of French frigates to Taiwan in the early 1990s. Taiwan was originally going to buy Korean ships, then suddenly switched to French ones & this abrupt procurement switch was matched in Paris by a major policy reversal. Shenanigans partially covered in Christine Deviers-Joncour's "Whore of the Republic".
Bush's proposed Taiwan envoy doesn't look very good. Not because he's identified with the first Bush administration's pro-China-engagement stance, or even because he publicly lambasted Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian for a litany of failures. Rather it's his dubious record of lobbying.
The conservative Club for Growth has bestowed several Republican in Name Only (RINO) awards, mocking "Republican office holders around the nation who have advanced egregious anti-growth, anti-freedom or anti-free-market policies." Anti-free-market, huh? I don't see George W. Bush's name. Bush's aides themselves say his steel and wood tariffs are consistent with his pledge to enforce the nation's trade laws.

Sunday, March 24

Via The bureaucrats and censors in China who block and monitor Web sites will find it difficult to control the future flow of blogs in and out of China due to the number and diversity of this new information platform. Internet content censors from China come from a different time and place in terms of technology. Blogs remain a concept difficult for them to understand for now.... Ironically, the concept of blogs in the next few years may see its full expression not in the West, but in China, where community, relationships and reputation can sway a highly literate population.
For lunch we had the sourdough rye/whole wheat bread I made yesterday. Sliced & toasted. With a salad on the side, pretty damn tasty. Now I'm off to make my own invention: apricot bread (spiced with cardamom). Which is pretty damn good, too.
Last night we saw "The Gay Divorcee" (1934), or rather I did. Linda didn't feel like watching it to the end. Even though I saw Betty Grable's name in the credits, I didn't recognize her until I found Alan Vanneman's website, which explained that the 17-year-old Betty Grable was the partner of 47-year-old Edward Everett Horton in "Let's Knock Knees." Hey, she must have done something right if Wittgenstein liked her. So says Alan Vanneman, who also characterizes "The Gay Divorcee" as a chaste, frothy, big-screen musical symbolic of the thirties, set in "a never-never land where no one was unemployed (where, in fact, few people even had to work), where everyone worried obsessively about scandal, but no one ever did anything that was wrong."

Then today, we watched "Journal d'un cur� de campagne" (1950), of which someone at imdb claims Andrey Tarkovsky recommended as an example of how the film director should work. A little too spiritual for me. (Coincidentally, last week we saw Tarkovsky's "Solaris", which was also a little too spiritual by my lights. I'd seen it in the 70's and liked it much better then.) Yes, I appreciate Bresson's style, but the priest's character struck both of us as a little weak.

Speaking of weak men, yesterday we also saw "Monsieur Hire" (1989), which both of us liked better. About a Peeping Tom who gets caught up in his obsession with one woman. A little much of the Brahms Piano Quartet, Opus 25, perhaps.
For breakfast, we had the cornmeal pancakes from the old Joy of Cooking. Delicious! By the way, I'm so forgetful I'd forgotten that cornmeal was so high-fiber.
Due to their strong sense of purpose, U.S. Troops in Afghanistan are afflicted with few discipline problems, only a few minor medical complaints, and only one minor case of battle fatigue (far fewer than is statistically likely), and unusually, none of the 4,000 U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan has been sent home for psychiatric reasons. The experts credit good leadership as well as a sense of purpose for significantly reducing stress, which leads to such problems.

Ah, for a sense of purpose.
The claim is that students are increasingly reluctant to debate. The consequences?
Though it represents a welcome departure from the polarized mudslinging of the 90's culture wars, it also represents a failure to fully engage with the world, a failure to test one's convictions against the logic and passions of others. It suggests a closing off of the possibilities of growth and transformation and a repudiation of the process of consensus building. "It doesn't bode well for democratic practice in this country," Professor Anderson said. "To keep democracy vital, it's important that students learn to integrate debate into their lives and see it modeled for them, in a productive way, when they're in school."

The writer also claims that similar to "the knee-jerk acceptance of the positions of others," irony is a form of detachment, "a defensive mode that enables one to avoid commitment and stand above the fray".

I have my doubts. Some people dislike debate because they're just not very good at it. All too many debaters "win" by mere rhetoric or appeal to emotions. What's the point of winning that way?

Saturday, March 23

Chinese Mutiny on the Full Means No. 2. So is the Chinese government going to complain about the death penalty?
This is great: using American tax dollars for childrens' textbooks that promote not just religion, but also xenophobia and war--specifically Islamic holy war.
The kind of stuff I'm not supposed to talk about: the other day after swimming, I noticed a small black dot on my glasses. I though it was a drop of water, but it didn't move the right way. It turned out to be a tiny cockroach. Ah, the miracle of life.
Hot doggety! My sister sent me a baguette moule. Thanks, Berta! Unfortunately, I had just started making some sourdough rye, so I'll have to wait until next weekend to try it out. I'm making the rye by letting it rise several times; I think I put in too much flour for the the first rising. After the first rising, I put it in the refrigerator overnite, and this morning I realized it hadn't risen enough. (After last week's batch hadn't risen enough.)
Yesterday there was an interesting report on NPR about how
some popular news outlets call something "a trend" if they find at least three instances of it. This arbitrary number serves as pseudo-substantiation for exploration of what might otherwise be dismissed.

But while they specifically singled out journalists for this, literary critics do it, too.

Friday, March 22

1. Your mother has a short-haired, curly perm.
2. Your dad is some sort of engineer.
3. Your parents still tried to get you into places half-price saying you were 12 when you were really 16.
4. You ask your parents help on one math problem and 2 hours later they're still lecturing.
5. You have a 40 lb. bag of rice in your pantry.
6. You shop 99 Ranch.
7. Everyone thinks you're "Chinese" no matter what part of Asia your ancestors were from.
8. You've had a bowl haircut at one point in your life.
9. Your parents enjoy comparing you to their friends' kids.
10. You've had to sit through karaoke videos with scantily clad, ugly Asian women attempting to dance and walk around a temple, forest or library.
11. Your parents say, "Don't forget your heritage."
12. You drive mostly Japanese cars.
13. You've learned to keep bargaining even if the prices are rock bottom.
14. You've had to eat parts of animals they don't even put in hot dogs.
15. At least once, you've started a joke with "Confucius say..."
16. You know what bok choy is.
17. You've ever gotten little red envelopes around February.
18. Piles of shoes tend to make it hard to open the front, back and closet doors.
19. You hear (your name + eee (optional) + yah!) every time someone calls you. (e.g., Jean- ee - yah! or Mary - yah!).
20. You have NO eyelashes.
21. Idiot people try to impress you with pathetic imitation Asian languages, like the ever-so-popular: ching chong woo bok chi, etc...
22. Your parents say leaving rice in your bowl is a sin.
23. The Bio lectures on marine life (seaweed, sea cucumbers, octopii) was last night's dinner.
24. Your ancestors 1000 generations back invented the back scratcher.
25. At least one family member wears black wire/plastic frame glasses.
26. Your parents hover over your tired, caffeine-drugged body at 12 midnight to say, "In Korea (or other native country), we studied even more."
27. Your parents expect you'll be best friends with any one off the street in any given area as long as they are Asian.
28. An Asian woman comes on campus and people ask: "Is that your mother? Well then, is it your sister?"
29. Your relatives' houses smell like incense mothballs or both.
30. Your parents say, "Calculus? I took calculus in 8th grade!!"
31. Everyone thinks you're good at math.
32. Your parents' vocabulary is filled with "Ai-yahs and Wah's."
33. You like $1.75 movies.
34. You like $1.50 movies even more.
35. Your aunts and uncles bring you back adorable clothing from Asia with fuzzy bunnies, vinyl ducks and English words that make no sense, in great colors like yellow, pink, magenta, orange and the ever popular lime green.
36. Your parents insist you marry within your race.
37. You never order chop suey, sweet and sour pork, or any other imitation oriental food.
38. Your parents have never kissed you.
39. Your parents have never kissed each other.
40. You learned about the birds and the bees from someone other than your parents.
41. "You want a stereo! When I was your age, I didn't even have shoes!!"
42. People see a bunch of scribbles on a chopstick and ask you to translate.
43. You have to call just about all your parent's friends "Auntie and Uncle."
44. You have 12+ aunts and uncles.
45. At expensive restaurants, you order a delicious glass of water for your beverage and NEVER order dessert.
46. Your parents simply cut the green/black part off the bread and say "Eat it anyway. It's still good."
47. The vast majority of the people related to you wear glasses, thick glasses.
48. You will most likely be taller than your parents.
49. Your parents have either made you play the piano, the violin or both.
50. You get nothing if you do well in school, but get in big trouble if you don't.
51. When going to other peoples' houses, you always have to bring a gift.
52. Your dad still pulls his socks up to his knees, you know, the ones with the blue and pink stripes at the top.
53. Your family owns a tennis racquet, golf clubs, or both.
54. Your family always cheers for the Asian athlete on TV (i.e. Michael Chang).
55. The furniture in your house never matches the wallpaper, the carpet, the decorations or any of the rest of the furniture.
56. You have rocks, sticks, leaves and strange-smelling, unknown substances in your pantry for use as medicine.
57. You own a rice cooker or two.
58. You buy soy sauce by the gallon.
59. Your family owns butcher knives bigger than your head.
60. Your parents tell you about how long it took for them to get to school, how horrible the weather was in their native country, and how much they still appreciated going.
61. Your parents buy you clothes and shoes many sizes too big so you can "grow into it" and wear it for years to come.

Thursday, March 21

The article is titled Globalization Proves Disappointing but then it points out that rich countries keep many trade barriers. So isn't it a failure to globalize that causes the problem?
Plastic surgery has become one of those things--like reading the tabloids and watching The Home Shopping Network--that Americans like doing and love ridiculing others for doing. Truly stupid. What's next? Footbinding?
It's official! According to one Democratic consultant, we're all working-class people here in southern Illinois.
Here's an idea: "living profits" laws to guarantee businesses minimum profits by forcing the rich successful small businesses to help out their competitors. Um, it's a joke.
The Chinese government as a hooligan government. But it looks like the Red Brigades would argue Italy's nearly as bad.

Wednesday, March 20

Poor atheists! Over 10 percent of Americans profess no faith, but we're still not popular with the politicians. I guess maybe we are the most reviled minority in America.
Frankly, my brain circuits don't work this way: "When a baseball player with two outs at the bottom of the ninth inning hits a home run to win the game, thousands of spectators simultaneously experience a huge surge of dopamine. People keep coming back, as if addicted to the euphoria of experiencing unexpected rewards." Not me. How can people be so irrational?

Monday, March 18

University Seeking Ex-Rulers for Professors. Former heads of state could leave their jobs gracefully. There goes the academy. Although maybe we could manage an exchange? Ex-professors as rulers, maybe?
These days, PhDs are like opinions and pie holes -- pretty much everybody's got one. Of course, mine is better than anyone else's.
Radioactive Devices Left by Soviets reminds me of Roadside Picnic. Dealing with stuff left by aliens.