Wednesday, October 30

A series of articles about China's industrial development, couching it in terms of a "threat" to the US economy, soft-pedaling the notions that competition can make winners all around.

Tuesday, October 29

According to a subscriber-only article in Far Eastern Economic Review about US-China relations, "some experts argue the two countries are simply storing up differences on a core Chinese interest: Taiwan. And one day that will have to be reckoned with....'The next generation of leaders may not be able to resist' pushing back" against the US. Not quite as optimistic as some others.

Monday, October 28

When did it happen? (link via Blogcritics)
I had the leftover end of yesterday's "baguette". I've got to put it in quotes, because there was oil in it, and hence probably not a true baguette. But I suspect it was the oil that made for pretty tasty day-old bread.
I can't say I totally agree with Iain Murray. In his discussion of this article about irrational fears over terrorism, he says,
No value is given in this analysis to the deterrent effect of a strong reaction, to the lives that may be saved in other countries, or to the extremely high value we, as a culture, place on our symbols.
Unlike Iain, I happen to agree with the most of the article, particularly this passage:
Terrorism, by design, evokes disproportionate responses to antisocial acts by a malicious few. By minimizing our negative reactions, we might contribute to undermining terrorists' goals as effectively as by waging war on them or by mounting homeland defenses.
The trouble is, "we, as a culture," are all too often full of crap and unable to approach things rationally, and even if any of our leaders are rational (a big if), they'd worry about getting blamed for not having taken appropriate precautions.
(As for me, although I agree with the thrust of the argument, I find my own inability to wrap my mind around the danger of asteroid impacts ironic.)

Similarly, here's something on the failure of terrorism (link via Instapundit):
Terrorists can steal lives but terrorism operates within strict limits. The IRA, for example, an organisation founded to drive the British from the island of Ireland by force, has been obliged to hold fire in return for the opportunity to adminster schools and hospitals � an experience which has since been suspended. This is not what Bobby Sands starved himself to death for. It is fashionable to argue that the terrorists �always win� but, in truth, most of the time they lose. That is because no number of recruits, size of arsenal, or source of funds can make up for the advantages held by those in command of a nation state.
Which happens to be an argument that rogue governments are far more dangerous than terrorists.
I finished reading Michael Connelly's A Darkness More than Night, which I picked up because his name sounded familiar. Thanks to my blog, I know why. But it was a real disappointment. The protagonist comes off as really dumb cop. And I wasn't too impressed by a scene where someone was playing Pacman in a restaurant. Can that really exist anywhere?

Sunday, October 27

I baked baguettes based on the semolina/sesame twist bread today. We ate it after it had cooled; it was the best I've ever baked.
Something on risk from the Economist that I missed. It's about the sniper, but it has relevance for understanding attitudes towards risk generally:
Experts seem to agree that Americans find it harder than most people to evaluate risks accurately....People generally exaggerate spectacular but low-probability risks, such as murder or natural disaster, just as they underestimate more common risks, such as accidents in the home....[P]eople do not know how to evaluate something they have never seen before....[P]eople tend to overestimate unknown risks....parents dramatically overestimate any uncommon threat to their children's lives (such as the risk of kidnapping by a stranger)....People worry less about voluntary risks [than �involuntary� risks, that is one you run willingly for a benefit (such as driving too fast to get somewhere)]....Worst of all, the risk is hard to mitigate. You cannot easily lessen it by changing behaviour�like wearing a seat belt. The only way to remove yourself from the sniper's mercy is not to go out at all. But that brings out another unusual side to this case. On the roads, the more people drive carefully, the lower your own risk. Here, if more people stay home, your risk actually rises marginally.

Saturday, October 26

Shamlessly imitating Iain Murray, I've put the Pico search engine on my blog. So those of you who come here looking for things I don't have will be sure of it.

Update

Shamlessly?
I made the oatmeal-chocolate cookie bars from the old Joy of Cooking, with half the sugar called for but all of the butter. They're good, but I wonder if they aren't really gilding the lily with a combo fudge and oatmeal cookie. I also wanted to start some sourdough for next week, but I found out my rye flour, bought a mere couple of months ago, was infested with bugs. Grain moths, I guess.

Friday, October 25

An optimistic article about China's moderating foreign policy from the WaPo and a similar slightly less optimistic Op-Ed from Kenneth Lieberthal, who served under Clinton. I hope these guys are right. On the other hand, if they became part of the axis of evil, maybe I'd get more students.
People originally thought that the sniper used a White Van, but he didn't. Reminds me of another bit of hysteria involving the "White Van Man":
Ever since the term "White Van Man" was coined in 1997, by Sarah Kennedy on Radio 2, van drivers have taken on the mantle of what sociologists refer to as 'folk devils'. Overtaking even the football hooligan in the league table of social undesirability, WVM is now most often viewed as a mobile thug - a dangerous threat to the decent, right-thinking, motoring majority.

In the media, WVM is variously described as "aggressive", "tattooed", and a "tailgater". He is the "white male" and a "mad bastard" who "never signals", "cuts up" other drivers and uses the kind of vocabulary that has to be represented by asterisks in newspapers. So friendless has he become that those specialists in populist opportunism, the New Labour Government, have felt obliged to contribute to his public censure. The Minister of Transport, John Prescott, has made it clear that WVM's days are numbered.

Wednesday, October 23

People's emotions affect their health. Specifically, people in good, stable partnerships on average have less disease and later death; however, mounting evidence suggests that those in strained and unhappy relationships, women in particular, tend to fare worse medically.
Chen Shui-bian loves Jiang Zemin?!
Despite its dangers, I love walking. From the WaPo:
If a pill could significantly lower the risk of heart attack, diabetes, stroke, osteoporosis and breast and colon cancer while reducing weight, cholesterol levels, constipation, depression and impotence and also increase muscle mass, flatten the belly and reshape the thighs even as it reduced the risk of age-related dementia and made you better-looking -- and had no negative side effects -- there would be panic in the streets. The American economy would tip into chaos. The military would have to be called in to secure supplies of the medication.
Luckily, there is no such pill.

But a large and growing body of credible research demonstrates that taking a good walk most days of the week can deliver all of the health benefits cited above and more (although we admit the "better-looking" part is harder to prove).
Of course, the sniper attacks put a crimp in walking. Still, I bet more Washington area residents are in danger from being overweight and under-exercised than from a sniper's bullet.

You can tell these guys don't really like walking.
All this activity causes the brain to release endorphins into the bloodstream. Endorphins, which have chemical properties similar to opium, are responsible for blocking pain and ushering in that cozy sense of well-being you feel as soon as your walk ends.
My endorphins start to kick in almost as soon as I start. Help! I'm in danger of addiction to something like opium!

Update

A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests men who engage in high intensity exercise (running or jogging at 6 mph) combined with weight training for 30 minutes or more weekly reduce their chances for heart disease. Low-intensity activities (walking at a pace of about 2 mph) is less effective.

Tuesday, October 22

David Brooks argues, "Surely it would be a good thing if people were encouraged to climb outside their milieu." Maybe. The trouble is, I can't stand most people.
On NPR this morning, David Ropeik was supposed to talk about how
Americans worry excessively about terrorism and disease yet remain oblivious to more prevalent threats from environmental hazards and avoidable health risks, such as being overweight and physically inactive.
Instead, it sounded to me as if he thought we should be really alarmed about other stuff, like indoor pollution, medical errors, and food poisoning. The question is, what level should risk reach before one becomes alarmed?
Andrew Sullivan writes about leftists and anti-semitism:
The answer, I think, lies in the nature of part of today's left. It is fueled above all by resentment - resentment of the West's success, resentment of the freedom to trade, resentment of any person or country, like Israel or Britain or the U.S., that has enriched itself by means of freedom and hard work....In the West, parts of the left, having capitulated to moral relativism and bouts of Western self-hatred, have seized on Israel as another emblem of what they hate.
Eugene Volokh argues that a lot of criticism of America and its allies stems from the belief that it's clever:
We are all taught, or at least should be taught, to resist uncritical acceptance of what one's country, culture, or religion does. That's a virtue. But many people take this to the point that all criticism of America and its allies is seen as noble and thoughtful, and all defense of America and its allies is seen as jingoistic or naive. This is tempting, but it's just as much a vice as excessive patriotism; in fact, it is blind patriotism's precise equivalent.
(Links via Instapundit, who agrees.)

First of all, I think there is a tendency for some to label any criticism of Israel as anti-semitic (a kind of over-reaction that one sees on the left as well). But as far as leftists are concerned, while their outlook is partly due to moral relativism, another element is not so much Western self-hatred as guilt about having it so good, based on the faulty assumption that our economic success is a zero-sum game. Many leftists mistakenly believe that Britain and the U.S. have enriched themselves by exploitation rather than by means of freedom and hard work.
Last Sunday I baked bread based on the Sesame Twist in the Bread Bible, but the author's instructions were so vague I couldn't figure out how to twist it, so it ended up in a big mass. Still, it was pretty good, especially after it had cooled down (although we had already eaten most of it). I had left the dough in the refrigerator overnite, and it was either that or the fact that I put in the semolina flour that the recipe called for that made it taste as nearly as good as the baguettes I've made with artisanal flour, fermented, with just a teeny bit of yeast.

I can't get my archives to work, so I'll just admit that I bought the semolina to make pasta, and even mixed with unbleached flour, it was really hard to knead.

Update
Here it is.

Monday, October 21

The bloggers have been pretty much silent on North Korea's confession. Now the WaPo explains it from N. K.'s point of view:
North Korea believes the United States has repeatedly broken agreements, harbors ideas of attacking it and inexplicably refuses to even talk to a government that desperately wants better ties.
Meanwhile, at the NYTimes, Howard French says,
The late 1980's opened an era of disasters, from the disappearance of the Soviet bloc, whose countries were North Korea's main economic partners, to a series of catastrophic famines brought on by crop failures, droughts and flooding.
*cough Central Planning cough*
Against this backdrop, the United States, the North's great historical enemy, has emerged as the world's sole superpower, and one increasingly willing to move against nations it sees as threats. In another nightmare come true, South Korea, meanwhile, has become vastly richer.

Faced with the urgent need to fend off economic collapse, Mr. Kim's confession of a uranium-based nuclear weapons program appears to many experts to have been a pragmatic, if ultimately misguided response to an insurmountable obstacle: a Bush Administration that had little interest in engagement.
In other words, your guess is as good as mine.

Thursday, October 17

From The Volokh Conspiracy (via Instapundit)
Why do we fetishize life and death to the point of virtually excluding -- or grossly minimizing -- all other values? Given that everybody dies eventually, what is really at stake is longevity, and we routinely sacrifice potential longevity for other interests. (Easy examples include driving small cars or motorcycles, drinking, smoking, skydiving, mountain climbing, and volunteering for the armed services.) But in many public policy debates I am noticing a tendency to treat the loss or shortening of life as an overarching value that trumps virtually all others, especially liberty. Once upon a time "Live Free or Die" might have seemed a perfectly natural motto for a state. Today it is hard to imagine any government seriously espousing that view. Rather, any slight threat to health or safety is routinely touted as a reason for government compel, command, restrict, or tax in order to combat the threat.


Why the United States has waited nearly two weeks before making public the news that North Korea has had an active nuclear-weapons program in material breach of a 1994 agreement.

Tuesday, October 15

Psychologists Show Why People Don�t Grasp Statistics. If things go seriously wrong, we�re predisposed to go looking for someone responsible. Probability and risk assessment don�t register easily with people, whereas misbehavior does.

Monday, October 14

"Alternative medicine" slammed. I can't believe how many people believe this stuff.

Update
Iain Murray points out:
While individuals are free to waste their money on whatever traditional, alternative or faith-based cures they wish, it has been the taxpayer who has been forced to pay for much of the research that proves what scientists have known all along.
Contrary to US government reports released earlier this year, China's military capabilities and its security and foreign policies may be less aggressive and threatening than previously thought, according to a recent study. Great! so maybe the US and China can team up to deal with the Indonesians.

Sunday, October 13

With respect to 9-11 and the sniper, a psychologist argues there is a point at which the need to provide psychological comfort by "doing something" becomes counterproductive. (link via Instapundit).

Update
And anyway, like I suggested earlier, it's actually not that dangerous.

Wednesday, October 9

Is this the future?

More than half of all Korean households have high-speed Internet connections � compared with fewer than 10 percent in the United States � and the exploding Web culture has driven economic growth and spawned civic movements that have powerfully affected everything from politics to consumer culture.

But more and more these days, people are emphasizing a darker side to this technological success story.

Broadband's killer application � the one activity that dwarfs all others � is online gaming, which 80 percent of South Koreans under 25 play, according to one recent study. Critics say the burgeoning industry is creating millions of zombified addicts who are turning on and tuning into computer games, and dropping out of school and traditional group activities, becoming uncommunicative and even violent because of the electronic games they play.


Or is this?
Toilet jet sprays, which sometimes confuse foreign visitors with disastrous results, are now in nearly half of Japanese homes, a rate higher than that of personal computers.
An article on Naxos (my favorite label), from Colby Cosh:

As the pioneering budget-priced CD label, Naxos secured a market foothold it has never lost. With the release of 500 CDs annually and sales of 10 million, it is now the largest classical label in the world.

"Making a CD today costs not even one dollar," its founder admits. "So we can even sell in China, where CDs sell for $2 or $3, and make a small profit.
According to Thomas R. DeGregori, many environmental and anti-globalization groups, most of which are run by wealthy, white, male Northern Europeans and North Americans who claim they are defending the poor and Mother Earth against the evils of globalization, multi-national corporations and modern technology. But are they really doing that much good?...Organizations with "food" or "rural advancement" in their name have raised and spent hundreds of millions for dollars in advocacy. Yet they have spent virtually nothing to directly help those in need. (via Aaron Oakley)

Tuesday, October 8

When people smile at me in what appears to be a friendly way, is it perhaps not that at all, but that they're being tickled by my extraordinarily long nose hairs? (I just plucked another one out.)
I'm so tired today. Last night I made the chocolate walnut cookies from The Tassajara Bread Book (a gift from my sister Roberta). OK, but a little disappointing. Like the whole wheat sesame I made based on The Bread Bible (a gift from our friend Selena). OK, so I used all whole wheat, but I put in a little gluten for my sins. The loaves were pretty enough, but not that tasty. I like the reviews of The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread, but I dunno...I already have too many bread books.

Sunday, October 6

A reminder from the Economist about the survival of the fittest. Some speak of the persistence of the supposedly inferior QWERTY keyboard and the triumph of the VHS video standard over the supposedly superior Betamax. According to Stan Liebowitz, author of Re-Thinking the Network Economy: the QWERTY keyboard is about as fast to use as the most plausible alternatives, and VHS had important non-network advantages over Betamax�notably, longer tapes.
Instapundit mentions this piece by STEVEN DEN BESTE about cell phones:
Though the adoption of a continent-wide standard for Europe in the 1990's did have certain benefits, it also had some hidden prices. It gave them compatibility, but it was also protectionism, and as is always the case with industries shielded by protectionism, the European cell phone companies became arrogant and complacent, and as a result they fell badly behind.
I've got to admit, all the crowing about the superiority of the government's guiding hand had me doubting my religion, but as he shows, it was ultimately counter-productive. Even though he mentions the Economist, they don't emphasize this aspect much.

Update
It seems the complexities of the technologies make Steven Den Beste's argument quite controversial.
It's settled! Cecil Adams at the Straight Dope has pronounced that Asians (does he mean East Asians?) stink less because they have markedly fewer apocrine glands than black or white people. But on the other hand, many suffer from osmidrosis, technically the production of objectionably aromatic sweat, but Cecil suggests that because they're not used to any smell at all, they find a smell objectionable. There are, however, legends of pleasantly fragrant people. Women, I bet. (insert fish joke here)
Patrice Lumumba Ford, named for the Congolese African resistance leader, is one of those accused of being members of a terrorist cell trying to join al Qaeda. The WaPo describes him as a 31-year-old with handsome features (here's pic) who
impressed many in Portland with his intelligence and command of Mandarin Chinese. According to family members, he graduated from a local high school in 1989 and enrolled in Portland State University, excelling in international relations with a focus on East Asia, an interest stemming from his pursuit of martial arts as a child.

He spent a year at a prestigious language program in China, the Johns Hopkins Nanjing Center for Chinese and American Studies.

In the summer of 1998 and again in September 1999, he was an international relations intern for Portland Mayor Vera Katz. He had also interned for the previous mayor, Bud Clark, in 1996.

He had yet another internship in the mayor's office of Portland's sister city in Taiwan, Kaohsiung, (pronounced Gao-chung), said Linda Walton, of the Institute for Asian Studies at the university.
Geez, I wonder if I ever saw him there. And by the way, it's pronounced more like Gow sheeung. Sounds like some Chinese food, hunh?

Saturday, October 5

Why was Yang Bin, named by North Korea to head up an experimental foreign-investment zone accused of tax evasion? Either he offended the Chinese government, or he is actually a crook.

The Far Eastern Economic Review argues (soon to be subscriber only) that Yang Bin may have injured his natal government's pride by drawing up the deal behind their back, and that the Chinese gov't "also appears to be concerned about Yang's business reputation and uneasy at the prominent role that he has been given in Sinuiju, where he will have full legal, financial and administrative control."

An earlier article about him from the FEER (subscriber only) described him as a wheeler-dealer who in 1989 portrayed himself as a key pro-democracy activist in the Netherlands to get asylum, subsequently using his time there to build up contacts to launch his investment projects in China. Now he presents himself to his investors as a
cosmopolitan Dutch citizen whose business interests are registered in Bermuda and whose wife and children live in the Netherlands.
In Shenyang, by contrast, Yang is an exemplary insider. A former naval officer, he brandishes photos of himself with top state leaders. He has such close ties with local authorities that prison workers are digging the sewer system in Holland Village, his $360 million property and theme park project that is as mysterious as it is bizarre. Given the jitters that the private project causes among investors in his public company, it's little wonder Yang likes to keep the two separate.
"I don't want investors to know much about Holland Village," he says as he bounces a muddied jeep across the work site on the outskirts of Shenyang, capital of China's northern rustbelt. "They would think it's too risky."
In many ways, the two sides of Yang are the two sides of business in China, one transparent and trusty, the other secretive and risky. It's the "other side" that often comes as a nasty surprise to foreign companies and investors keen to hitch their wagons to the likes of Yang.
Sounds like a crook, huh?
I earlier noted a couple of articles about smallpox vaccination. This strikes me as good logic:
"We live in a society that values individual choice," said Julie L. Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "If we have vaccine and we have data to accurately assess the safety, one school of thought is that informed people may want to have the choice of getting vaccine or not."
Let's hear it for free choice!

Update
Or did she mean, and say something slightly different?

Dr. Gerberding said, absent a smallpox attack, or the imminent threat of one, she still felt the vaccine's benefits do not outweigh its risks for the general public. But, she said: "We recognize that individual citizens feel that if they understand the risks and benefits of the vaccine, they may choose to have it."


Anyway, both articles point out the risk of dying is (literally) one in a million, while the NYT also points out that the non-life-threatening complications (a 15 in a million chance) include blindness.

Friday, October 4

Note to me: go here for the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index. (via Greg McIlvaine)
Christopher Hitchens agrees with the statement, "God Almighty does not hear the prayers of a Jew," on the basis that "After all, there is no such person as God Almighty and thus all prayer by all denominations has the same moral effect as aerobic dancing, if not less." He has also said that if the Qur'an was the word of God, it had been dictated on a very bad day. Funny guy. (via Matt Welch).
According to a 2001 survey of 4,500 high school students from 25 high schools by Donald McCabe, the founding president of the Center for Academic Integrity
74 percent said they had cheated at least once on a big test. Seventy-two percent reported serious cheating on a written work. And 97 percent reported at least one questionable activity, like copying someone else's homework or peeking at someone else's test. More than one-third admitted to repetitive, serious cheating.

And few appeared to feel shame.


Meanwhile, the Educational Testing Service is having trouble with Asian students who post answers to previous tests on the Internet as a study guide. Test-takers reconstruct the exam on the Internet for the benefit of students yet to sit for the tests.
"From what I can understand they are not doing this for profit. They feel culturally that this is a way of assisting their fellow students," Yopp said. "Many students, particularly in Asian countries, feel working together is a very commendable and acceptable practice."