Sunday, April 28

All about how cheesy Erin Brockovich is. Citing her archenemy Michael Fumento but never trying to establish whether she actually has any science to back herself up.
Expensive transport. In Houston, whose residents spend 3 percent more than the national average on housing, the average resident devotes 21 percent of his household expenditures -- $9,722 annually -- to transportation. Although most of it comes from the car itself: repairs, insurance, financing and so on, gasoline accounting for a mere 17 percent, Americans are content to gripe about the only part of commuting that's still cheap: the gas.

Saturday, April 27

Singapore Airlines crash: Taiwan blames the flight's crew, while Singapore blames the airport where it happened, accusing it of having done too little to warn pilots that the runway was being turned into a taxiway.
Ahh, democracy!

Subsidies Boosted In Farm Bill Deal: Biggest Producers Would Get Bulk of $50 Billion Increase
Waiters Sue Over Practice Of 'Pooling' Tips, arguing that pooling takes advantage of the customer and the employee, doesn't ensure better service, and doesn't reward employees through their work performance. This suggests tipping is good for the customer, ensures better service, and rewards employees for their work performance. But The Economist wrote:
The hard truth seems to be that tipping does not work. It does not benefit the customer. Nor, in the case of restaurants, does it actually incentivise the waiter, or help the restaurant manager to monitor and assess his staff. The cry of stingy tippers that service people should �just be paid a decent wage� may actually make economic sense.

Tuesday, April 23

The New York Times tells us
students who chose a school with lower admissions standards over a more competitive school earned incomes just as high as those who attended the elite college.

and that

even students rejected by a highly selective college did as well as those who attended it.


students who apply to schools for the ambitious are ambitious enough to do well just about anywhere.

Monday, April 22

Why the steel tariffs are a failure. But Americans just refuse to understand.
Guangdong provincial laws stipulate that road tolls can be collected only to pay off construction loans, but a provincial government audit showed that the Luoxi Bridge (spanning a tributary of the Pearl River near Guangzhou) cost $18 million but also that since 1988, it has raked in $111 million in tolls. So a Chinese commuter is suing. But as The Economist points out, through the use of road tolls and fuel taxes,
China plans to foster the use of roads for freight and commercial travel, he says, while discouraging car use for leisure travel and commuting.

Sunday, April 21

Al Qaeda Interrogations Fall Short of the Mark

The effort to obtain information from al Qaeda and Taliban fighters detained at the U.S. Navy base in Cuba has been hampered by inexperienced interrogators and linguists, military bureaucracy and squabbles among private language contractors, according to sources familiar with the government's mission there.

It is difficult to determine the extent to which these linguistic and bureaucratic problems have hindered the intelligence-gathering effort, but they suggest that the United States is woefully short of some of the skills needed in the war on terror.

Shouldn't we find a way to encourage people to study foreign languages?
A step backwards: following suggestions from South Korean officials that human error was to blame, the Chinese media defends the pilot of the Chinese airliner that crashed in South Korea. The defense is partly motivated by Chinese chauvinism, no doubt, and partly by the unwillingness of the Chinese government to recognize that their citizens are subject to the rules of other countries. Not that they're alone in this, but it's a step back from the government's initial openness.

Friday, April 19

Subjects whose brains are exposed to "transcranial magnetic stimulation" often describe feeling an invisible presence or a feeling of being connected to the whole world. Naturally occurring magnetic interference may be at the heart of mystical and other paranormal phenomena. So God is just magnetism. Sounds convincing to me.
As far as China and India are concerned, the East Asian "brain drain" is more of a "brain circulation."
This is progress: the Chinese government's reaction to the recent Air China crash: they used to try to cover up such disasters, but since they've cleaned up their safety record, now they're worried about it.
It was a top story on state television, which showed pictures of smoking wreckage. A senior Chinese airline regulator was shown leaving for South Korea to join an investigation. Air China set up a hotline for families of passengers.
Continuing to chip away at Hong Kong's independence,

Tung Chee-hwa's system will create a new layer of 14 top posts for political appointees, who can be fired more easily than the civil servants who now hold key Hong Kong government positions.

Thursday, April 18

After US Pilot Erred in Bombing Canadians,
President Bush telephoned Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien to convey condolences. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said,
"On behalf of the Department of Defense, I want to express my deep regret and sadness over the tragic accident in Afghanistan that killed and wounded a number of Canadian troops. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to them, their comrades and their families."

The fact that the US didn't apologize for what the government acknowledges actually happened is interesting in light of the US's unwillingness to apologize to the Chinese for something that was the fault of the Chinese. In other words, there was absolutely no reason for the US to aplogize to the Chinese.

Monday, April 15

From another Henry Miller (no, not the sex one):
People tend to overestimate risks that are unfamiliar, hard to understand, invisible, involuntary, and/or potentially catastrophic�and vice versa.
The suspicion of modernity that animates much of today's prattling seems to owe something to bourgeoisophobia. Even though by most objective measures, as this piece from the British Medical Journal states, technophobia makes a lot of us to feel worse than our ancestors. I'm all for the
Consider the true state of nature. In pre-modern, pre-urban society, men and women lived in filth and were hostages to disease. According to science commentator Ronald Bailey, life expectancy at birth for a primitive hunter-gatherer was 26. For early agricultural communities, it was even lower: 19 years of age. It could even be argued that rape and unwanted pregnancy are both features of nature. The proscription of non-consensual sex is something guaranteed by civilisation.
This article is mostly about Britain, but it also describes a more widespread anti-technology mindset.
Windmills are pretty if you are on holiday in Norfolk or Amsterdam. But how did we end up wanting them as a symbol of advanced modern society? How did we get from the Nuclear Age, where the successful application of a scientific breakthrough meant that people believed we never needed to worry about sources of energy running out, to the Wind Age, where we give ourselves over to the unpredictability of nature and look to little Denmark as a model?

Well, it wasn't because of Three Mile Island, or Chernobyl, or the other nuclear scares and accidents that still play heavily on our minds. What is surprising is how few such disasters there have been. There are legitimate concerns about the disposal of nuclear waste, but these are blown way out of proportion - this is a practical problem needing a solution, yet it tends to be discussed as an apocalypse in the making. What really killed the Nuclear Age was an explosion of self-doubt across the Western world, where we stopped trusting in science and politics and started believing in our own nightmares.

Nuclear power was intimately linked in the popular imagination with the terrifying threat of nuclear war laid it open, from the start, to a host of doubts and preoccupations that had very little to do with energy supply.

The nuclear weapon came to symbolise everything that radicals were supposed to hate in modern society: from war and patriarchy to money and non-vegetarianism.

The anti-nuclear demand was, simply, 'Stop'. Stop moving forward, and start asking why we need these power plants anyway. Stop, and ask what's more important - keeping safe, or better cheaper energy production.

Saturday, April 13

Among the Bourgeoisophobes, about why the Europeans and Arabs, each in their own way, hate America and Israel. The Chinese Communists hated the bourgeoisie, too, and look where it got them. Now the bourgeoisie is being admitted to the party. Funny how China stands on the US side for this one.
An old article from Slate discusses "social hypochondria": we always seem to be obsessing about some social "problem." Even though America is not a society lurching from one acute social crisis to the next, it is often hard to see things that way. Factors include the major political parties, which are to a great extent coalitions of convenience among people who each feel strongly about one or two hot button issues and the media, which have an obvious vested
interest in sowing serial social panic, and finally lawyers: suing is our national sport.

Friday, April 12

"In China there is a very strong tradition that to be a man you must get married and have a child, so I did," explains an anonymous gay man. "We also respect and obey our parents' wishes, so I did it for them, too." Many gays even want to be "cured."
How To Rank Risks. Not the way most of us do. In fact, I think another thing we're overly worried about is terrorist attacks, letting them terrorize us, which is just what they want.
Oxfam backs globalization and free trade, slamming the US & still more the EU for their protectionism. Via the Kolkata Libertarian.
In China, agricultural overproduction has caused surpluses, depressing farm prices, compounded by abuses by the rural bureaucracy, by high taxes and utility bills. At the same time, small rural enterprises that might have provided alternative jobs have collapsed, but the government is still dithering over allowing migration of farm workers to cities.

Thursday, April 11

With regard to Bush's effort to ban therapeutic cloning, Virginia Postrel argues
there is also good reason to preserve the freedom to do research even when it's speculative. The proponents of the ban keep saying that the research isn't necessary, so outlawing it is justified. They are in effect demanding that science, an open-ended process of exploring the unknown, have answers in advance�and practical ones at that.

And she points to a couple of petitions: her own and another.
Just had an egg salad sandwich on the sourdough rye bread I made last Sunday. The bread keeps well. The sandwich was delicious.
Excellent. A call for rigorous scientific testing of alternative medicine.

Wednesday, April 10

Spiked argues:
Today's opposition to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has little to do with objective scientific evaluations of the risks posed by GM. It more stems from a prejudice that says man should avoid interfering with nature. There was something similar in last week's Far Eastern Economic Review.
Now this is frightening! In a haunting Senate hearing today on risk assessment and emergency readiness, officials from dozens of government agencies conceded the United States is "grossly unprepared" to deal with thousands of threats.
In China, the sparrow's deadliest enemy is farmers' haphazard and extravagant use of pesticides. They're disappearing from the countryside. Sometimes they "reappear on sticks, skewered and roasted or fried."

Tuesday, April 9

Two different arguments as to why increasing corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards isn't a good idea.
Here's some stuff on footbinding from the LA Times. It cites women who tell "of the pain involved in foot-binding, but also of pride in the beauty they felt they achieved." But it was beauty as defined by men. "Of course it was painful," said Wang Yixian, 78, casting back to her girlhood in Shandong province. "If you didn't bind your feet, you couldn't find a husband." And sadly,
Women who had their feet bound for most of their lives were told to stop as well, though their feet remained deformed. What they once were told was beautiful had become ridiculed as repulsive. Women who had endured pain to match male ideals of beauty were suddenly objects of derision--again by men. In either case, the women were powerless."I was a child and had no control when my feet were bound, and I had no control when I was told to unbind them," Cooper's interview subjects told her angrily.
The article in the Washington Post starts off
When North Dallas High School switched in the 1980s to what some considered old-fashioned mathematics books full of drills and review, achievement levels for many of the low-income and low-performing students at the Texas school soared.

I was happy to hear that, but even if:
Drills or projects, teacher-led or student-led lessons, traditional or progressive education -- the terms denote two learning styles that have divided American educators for almost a century.

In the final analysis, as the article says, the type of learning should depend on the type of learner. Now that's hard.
But my sourdough rye came out great, even though the potato-water sourdough wasn't very lively.
That paper's been keeping me busy. Then over the weekend we were busy going for a "hike" in Ferne Clyffe, watching a VCD version of Feng Xiaogang's "Be There or Be Square" and then invited friends over for supper Sun nite.

Friday, April 5

Oops. I wrote a paper (intended for publication) a couple of years ago, then put it aside, awaiting publication of an earlier paper of mine that I also wanted to cite. The years passed like arrows as the Chinese expression goes, and I forgot about it. Just found it. What else have I forgotten?
Now scientists tell us there is no biological reason to discourage cousins from marrying. This was no. 1 on the list of the most e-mailed articles in the NYT. It makes you wonder about it readers. (Hey, now I can marry my gay cousin. Wait a minute...)
Particularly since I seem to have a taste for queer food. That's food with "suspicious shifts of register" or something once banal that's now camp: like Joy of Cooking.
Unintended consequences of trying to protect children from earthquakes. It's hard to put risk in perspective. I wonder if they'll reverse their policy now.
The news about Taiwan's slush fund made it to the front page of the Washington Post--and includes information about payments to people like Paul Wolfowitz, currently deputy defense secretary, and others in the Bush administration. It was an understandable set-up from the Taiwanese point of view, but ultimately not a good idea, like a lot of Li Teng-hui's.

Update: here's lots of information. However hysterical the tone, it seems pretty much the same as the Washington Post article.

Thursday, April 4

The science journal Nature has concluded that a controversial article it published last year on the discovery of genetically engineered corn growing in Mexico was not well researched enough and should not have been published.

Take your pick: the article was written by people with a religious commitment to an anti-biotechnology dogma, or the editorial statement was the result of an effort to undermine the Mexican corn study was the work of biotechnology advocates.
Eight years before Robert P. Hanssen was arrested for espionage, Russia lodged a formal complaint with U.S. officials that an FBI agent tried to sell secrets to a Russian intelligence officer. I'm starting to wonder if a lot of government organizations aren't flawed by their very nature: closed to competition, they get ever more sclerotic.

Tuesday, April 2

A scandal about Former Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui's largely unsupervised $100 million slush fund, used to help with Taiwan's largely unofficial diplomacy. I hope the whole business leads to more accountability for government spending.
Society's difficulty with managing risk has caused safety to become one of Western society's fundamental values; people find it difficult to accept that some injuries cannot be prevented. As a result, scientific findings may come to be evaluated differently, particularly when a wide range of groups have great political and financial interest in a particular risk being considered hazardous. Regardless of whether something is a health risk, cultural mistrust of it can turn it into a liability risk.
A recent report about genetically modified crops by the UK's Royal Society's pointed out the total lack of evidence that they caused harm to humans but also gave great prominence to 'new' hypothetical concerns, simply to show that it is on the side of the public.
With regards to pro forma accounting: on a pro forma basis, most of us are doing pretty well.
Virginia Postrel suggests it's cheaper to buy a house in places where there are less zoning regulations. It's primarily current home-owners who support such regulations, which raise prices at the expense of those who want to buy houses. Well, we all like to protect ourselves, even if it's at the expense of others.

Monday, April 1

In China at least, it seems to be wealth rather than poverty that drives crime: Corrupt officials are taking more and more, so villages are more poor, and more people are turning to crime .
The other night we watched "Three Coins in a Fountain" (1954). Pretty shallow, and depressing to see that all the women cared about was getting married. Then I caught part of "The Ten Commandments" (1956), and even in the short 2 segments I saw there were a couple of segments showing women twittering about getting a man.
The baguettes made with Berta's moule were a success. The crusts weren't quite as crisp as usual, but I think that's because I didn't manange the water vapor properly. Also I kept moving the dough around after I'd shaped the loaves; next time I'll try putting them directly onto the moule. On the other hand, the starter I used had been frozen, but that didn't seem to affect anything adversely.

I've also made some sourdough with potato water; with the potatoes I made mashed potatoes that we ate with Chinese food leftovers. The sourdough didn't need any yeast at all, and developed in about 36 hours, rising up out of the black liquid like the surface of Solaris in the movie of the same name.
I've often argued that the question of Tibet gets more attention than, say, the Uighurs do.

Transnational charisma also hinges on a host of pedestrian factors that are nonetheless unusual among oppressed groups. Fluency in a key foreign language, especially English; an understanding of Western protest traditions; familiarity with the international political vogue; and expertise in media and NGO relations�all these factors are essential to giving leaders the chance to display their more ineffable qualities. Would the Dalai Lama appear as charismatic through a translator?