Thursday, May 30

Experts say China, with its almost endless supply of cheap labor, could dominate in products that require intensive manual labor to grow or prepare green vegetables, nuts, fruit or dressed meats like shrimp or chicken.
The exports could help offset an expected influx of wheat, corn and soybeans from countries with large, mechanized farms, such as the United States.
"China has great potential. Anything that is labor-intensive, you can do cheaper here. Not just computers and clothes, but broccoli and oranges, too," said Li Xiaoming, deputy director of Anhui Agricultural University, in the central city of Hefei.
But experts say China has many problems to overcome before it can become a real global player.
One is primitive roads and infrastructure, especially in its vast interior. Another is inferior quality: Many fruit and nut growers will have to rip out entire orchards and start from scratch because of poorly shaped and tasteless produce.
Then there's the growing concern overseas about pesticide overuse. Japan �V China's largest overseas market for farm goods �V ordered expensive inspections of Chinese broccoli and other produce in January after finding pesticides that exceeded safe levels. Experts estimate broccoli sales to Japan could fall to less than half of last year's $15 million.

"Chinese farmers thought these chemicals were miracle drugs," said Richard Herzfelder, vice president of China Food & Agricultural Services, a Shanghai-based research and consulting company.
Most of China's exports come from coastal areas, which enjoy better roads and proximity to ports. These areas are already switching to vegetable and fruit production to meet rising demand from prosperous coastal cities such as Shanghai.

Lagging behind are the poorer "breadbasket" provinces of central and northeast China, where most of the country's wheat and corn is grown.
Notebook manufacturing is rapidly migrating to mainland China, a move that will inevitably lead to lower laptop prices.
Migration will lead to lower manufacturing costs and, inevitably, to lower notebook prices.
Now let's see if American consumer groups protest that the notebooks are too cheap.
"Land is cheaper, the cost of doing business is cheaper," said Gartner analyst Todd Kort. Other factors, of course, will contribute to lower notebook prices, including increased capacity worldwide in monitor manufacturing.
Labor is also cheaper in China. Monthly wages for a factory employee are roughly $650 less in China than in Taiwan, said Victor Tsan, director of the Institute for Information Industry, a Taiwanese analysis firm associated with the government.

The push toward China comes from both necessity and opportunity. China is rapidly taking over PC and electronics manufacturing, which has been a mainstay of the Taiwanese economy.
But this doesn't mean that Taiwan will come out the loser.
Rather than fight the trend, Taiwanese companies are increasingly emphasizing product design, inventory management, software-hardware integration and other professional services.
In this scenario, U.S. PC companies will largely become marketing and sales organizations, while Taiwanese companies will handle logistics, operations and engineering. They will also manage manufacturing in China.
The sticking point, however, is China itself. Although war is unlikely, many fear that the government will impose onerous or arbitrary regulations.
Although I saw an article in last week's Far Eastern Economic Review that pointed out that with the reforms that China's going to have to undertake for its pension system, it's going to have to
develop its capital markets, making its stock market less of a casino but one that can support long-term institutional investors.

Tuesday, May 28

Here's something about Americans and foreign languages from the Washington Post. Mostly about Arabic, but also applies to Chinese. Boo-hoo.
"The best way to learn a language is without distraction, which makes most university language programs problematic, because students are probably taking biology, psychology and basket-weaving along with it," said Roger M. Allen, a leading Arabic scholar who is a professor of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

"It becomes just another subject, which is exactly what it is not," he said. "It is a skill, and it takes a lot of practice."
Learning other languages has never been a high priority among Americans. The United States was built by immigrants who, until recently, tried to shed their old languages and accents to melt into their new world, said Kirk Belnap, an Arabic professor at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.
World War I left Americans suspicious of anything foreign, and the Supreme Court in the early 1920s overturned laws in 22 states that restricted the teaching of foreign languages. In 1979, a report commissioned by President Jimmy Carter declared that Americans' "incompetence in foreign languages is nothing short of scandalous," and many linguists say that not much has improved since.
Fewer than one in 10 students at American colleges major in foreign languages, according to the National Council of Organizations of Less Commonly Taught Languages. And most of those language majors choose French, German, Italian or Spanish. Only 9 percent learn such languages as Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Russian and Indonesian, ones that are spoken by the majority of the planet's people.
Foreign languages are not considered a core subject in the United States, unlike in Europe, where people cross borders more frequently. Europeans also start students on languages at an early age and get more practice than Americans.
Arabic belongs to the Semitic group of languages, which includes Hebrew and Amharic, the main language of Ethiopia. It is grouped with Chinese, Japanese and Korean by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages as the hardest for an English-speaking person to learn.
Also, a few years of college instruction often isn't enough. The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages estimates it takes between 2,400 and 2,760 hours of instruction for someone with a superior aptitude for languages to attain the highest level of achievement in Arabic -- one that would be good enough to be a translator or lawyer.

A typical university course that meets daily offers about 280 hours over two years.

In the 1980s, the U.S. government began providing money for programs that stressed proficiency. Guidelines for teaching Arabic emphasized speaking, listening, reading and writing. Those remain the foundation, though government funding dipped in the 1990s. After Sept. 11, millions were added to boost language instruction.

The next era, some linguists and U.S. officials say, is for Americans to look at other languages not merely as a way to learn about another culture or read literature, but also as a tool to conduct financial, diplomatic and intelligence activities. And they must drop the assumption that because English is becoming a world language, they don't have to learn any other.

Monday, May 27

I should say something about this, since China Airlines is the one we've come here on & are going back. Sure,
China Airlines has one of the worst safety records in commercial aviation, with nine fatal crashes since 1970, including Saturday's.
But frankly I think it's even more dangerous on the roads anywhere, especially here in Kaohsiung.
Ha-ha. Geezer TV: satisfying old favorites like "E.R.," "N.Y.P.D. Blue," and "West Wing", where
the formula guarantees speedy resolution of all life's problems. At the end of the hour, the Constitution, common sense or good science has restored order. Life goes on, with a reassuring feeling that things always turn out fine in a nation governed by laws, rules and human kindness.
Here's an idea: the NY Times promotes investment & trade in poor countries in this & a story below--instead of just throwing money at them.

Although there are problems with this sort of thing. According to a recent article in the Economist, there are so many lenders offering microloans that some of them make larger and riskier loans to keep clients from moving to a competitor. As a result, more borrowers are defaulting.
From the NYT:
In the view of Dr. Richard W. Wrangham, a professor of anthropology at Harvard, the preparing, cooking and sociable eating of food are so central to the human experience that the culinary arts may well be what made us human in the first place.

many experts have failed to appreciate that the most salient dietary difference between humans and other species: they go for raw; we like it hot.
According to the NY Times,

growing enthusiasm for trade among the more stable African economies is mirrored by a more general acceptance of trade among groups that had long been skeptical that international commerce benefited anyone but big corporations in the rich nations.

(via Instapundit).

Thursday, May 23

China says it is planning to establish a base on the Moon to exploit its mineral resources. I find it annoyingly hypocritical of the Commies colonizing the moon, and also feel they can't really afford it at this point.

A slightly different take from Rand Simberg.
According to this chain letter, 99% of women will be "exposed to", or is it "victims of," violent crimes. But according to the U.S. Department of Justice, the rate for the entire population isn't nearly that high.
So I'm getting personal again. As of the past few days, the weather here is really hot & humid; note the lows. Whereas it seems unseasonably cool in Carbondale, not to mention Tallahassee.

Wednesday, May 22

On new religions:
The big 'problem cult' of the twenty-first century will be Christianity.
The natural sex ratio of newborn infants should be 105-107 males per 100 females, but according to the results of a the most recent Chinese national census, more than 116 male births were recorded for every 100 female births.
More than 300 out of 820 women surveyed in a central Chinese village had abortions and more than a third of them admitted they were trying to select their offspring's sex.

Sunday, May 12

For political reasons, the hundreds of thousands of North Koreans illegally in China have never been accorded protected political refugee status under United Nations covenants (which would make it illegal to return them to their homeland), even though the United Nations high commissioner for refugees has said that a large number of them probably qualify under treaties that China and the United States have both signed.

Friday, May 10

When government regulators try to save money & lives by balancing risks & rewards, they get accused of corporate coddling. I bet this policy won't last long. Too bad.
Here we are:
Last week, his office signed off on a rule proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency that will let companies dump waste from mountaintop coal mining operations into rivers and streams.

From the same day's paper:
Ruling on Dumping of Mine Waste Stuns Coal Industry that
also rebuked the Bush administration, which last week issued rules removing a legal impediment to mining companies dumping dirt and rock waste into waterways.

Wednesday, May 8

Smallpox Vaccine Tradeoff
A mass campaign to vaccinate Americans against smallpox might result in 200 to 300 deaths and make several thousand people severely ill -- yet could save thousands of lives in the event of a bioterrorist attack with the virus, according to research presented yesterday at the Pediatric Academic Societies' annual meeting in Baltimore.

As a doc says,
For a mass vaccination campaign to succeed, Americans would have to accept "some numbers of deaths and several thousand illnesses. Today's U.S. population is not accustomed to that level of side effects and deaths from a vaccine."

You can't reduce risk to nothing, but I don't think the American people will ever be able to believe that.
More oppression of the Chinese peasantry: by closing privately run schools for children of migrant workers, Chinese government officials claim they are trying to protect children from dirty, unsafe school environments; yet they refuse to permit the children to enroll in public schools. The result: generations of already disadvantaged migrant children condemned to low-paying, low-skill jobs. At a meeting of school owners and Shanghai district officials, the officials told the school owners:
"Your fifth-graders couldn't pass a third-grade exam at public schools. We can't believe you are taking good care of those children as you say," Dachang district Communist Party Secretary Zhu Jinzhong told the meeting.

The owners were given no chance to respond. But at one point, Zhu conceded that the city has no alternative plans for educating migrant children, who he said outnumber children of legal residents in Dachang district.

Tuesday, May 7

This is sick: the Chinese practice the Ilizarov procedure, which adds length to the leg by allowing new bone to grow in the gap left by the gradually separating ends of broken bone. Although the risks are high, the surgery is often performed for purely "cosmetic" use. If that's the word: in China, there are tallness requirements for jobs, colleges and even spouses. Even otherwise rational Chinese seem to prefer taller people. Go figure.
Evidence of links between religion and health is pure crapola.
"Nobody would dispute that for a great many people, religion provides comfort in times of distress, medical or otherwise," Dr. Sloan said. "But there is no really good compelling evidence that there is a relationship between religious involvement and health."

In most trials, sugar pills have done as well as antidepressants. Mostly because of the care and concern patients in the trials receive.
Moderate to heavy tea drinking may reduce the risk of dying after a heart attack, a study suggests. Depending on how much they drink, they're 28 to 44 percent less likely than nondrinkers to die after heart attack.

Sunday, May 5

The Washington Post slams Bush's hypocrisy on trade:
Thanks to the farm bill that President Bush has promised to sign once it passes the Senate this week, U.S. agriculture policy may rival Europe's as the most reviled among experts on Third World economies.

Thursday, May 2

Did you ever feel as if someone was controlling your behavior? "In theory, you could guide the animal anywhere," the mad scientist said, cackling insanely.
Yao Ming's Chinese representatives want him to play for a team in a city with a large Chinese community, so they're trying to manipulate the process. But why does he need a Chinese audience?

Either he's a country boy who's afraid of foreign devils, or maybe he just wants decent Chinese food.