Wednesday, December 31

Aw, this is depressing. Over a week ago David J. Lynch wrote about Sun Dawu and his reduced sentence in In China: Profit at your own peril. That's not so depressing; it's a pretty decent article. The thing is, it's in USA Today of all places. The subscriber-only article in the Economist is pretty lousy by comparison. And where were the WaPo and the NYT?
In the subscriber-only THE FORGOTTEN MILLIONS at the Atlantic Monthly, Jonathan Rauch argues that "Communism is the deadliest fantasy in human history (but does anyone care?)." He links to The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, which points out
It is a great moral failing for a free society to misunderstand the extent of Communism’s atrocities. While the horrors of Nazism are well known, who knows that the Soviet Union murdered 20 million people? Who knows that China’s dictators have slaughtered an estimated 60 million? Who knows that the Communist holocaust has exacted a death toll surpassing that of all of the wars of the 20th century combined?
Hear, hear.
I soured on Lileks awhile ago, but I like his take on earthquakes:
Earthquakes are tough on the devout, whatever they believe. The earth shrugs; 30 thousand die. It's bad enough that this might be evidence of malevolence. What's worse is the fear that it's evidence of indifference. There is a God, but He's busy. Otherwise engaged. Leave a message at the sound of the tone.
So why do people insist on believing in God anyway?
Denis Dutton, the editor of Arts & Letters Daily, has some interesting stuff (link via Virginia Postrel); for instance, his review of Charles Rosen's Art of the Piano:
Rosen refers to Anton Webern's wistful dream that the postman would someday do his rounds whistling a twelve-tone row. The trouble is, of course, that the postman wants to whistle a tune, not a composer's intentional foiling of the very idea of a tune, and it seems to me that this fact must, sooner or later, to be faced if we want to analyze the failure of modernism in music.
Elsewhere he argues that capitalism's a staggering success, despite what left-wing intellos say.

Monday, December 29

China Marks Anniversary of Mao's Birth By CHRISTOPHER BODEEN
In a move that would have horrified Mao, the party earlier this week proposed amending the constitution to guarantee the right to private property.

Still, Mao's political theories remain a required course in universities, and a stream of books, films and Web sites cater to an abiding interest in his life.
BODEEN also wrote about China's Mao Held Up As Management Guru. Yeah, I can see that: purge your opponents.

Sunday, December 28

In an article on NYC's smoking ban, WINNIE HU says,
Polls back the city's contention that New Yorkers have welcomed the ban. A New York Times poll in June showed that 56 percent of the 962 respondents said they approved of the smoking ban. A Quinnipiac University poll in October found that 62 percent supported the ban.
Look, I don't particularly like people to smoke near me while I'm eating. But a bare majority doesn't really mean that "New Yorkers have welcomed the ban."

On the other hand, recently here in Paris, I made sure to sit in the no-smoking section, but the restaurant was so small, I still suffered from somebody's smoke. They left, and someone with a large group in the no-smoking section lit up. We moved to the smoking section, where no one was smoking (amazingly, given the proclivities of the French, almost all of whom seem to smoke).

Saturday, December 27

Two jokes, from
A woman walks into the drugstore and tells the pharmacist she wants to buy some arsenic.
"What do you want with arsenic?" asks the pharmacist.
"I want to kill my husband because he's cheating on me with another woman," the lady replies.
"I can't sell you arsenic so you can kill your husband, lady, even if he is cheating on you with another woman," the pharmacist says.
The woman then reaches into her pocket and pulls out a picture of her husband with the pharmacist's wife and hands it to him.
"Oh, I didn't realize you had a prescription," the pharmacist replies.

Three tortoises, Troy, Andy and Wayne, decide to go on a picnic.
Troy packs the picnic basket with beer and sandwiches. The trouble is that the picnic site is ten miles away so it takes them ten days to get there.
When they get there, Troy unpacks the food and beer.
"Ok. Wayne, give me the bottle opener"
"I didn't bring it" says Wayne
"I thought you packed it"
Troy gets worried, He turns to Andy, "Did you bring the bottle opener?"
Naturally Andy didn't bring it. So they're stuck ten miles from home without a bottle opener. Troy and Andy beg Wayne to go back for it. But he refuses as he says they will eat all the sandwiches.
After two hours, and after they have sworn on their tortoise lives that they will not eat the sandwiches, he finally agrees.
So Wayne sets off down the road at a steady pace.
20 days pass and he still isn't back and Troy and Andy are starving, but a promise is a promise.
Another 5 days and he still isn't back, but a promise is a promise.
Finally they can't take it any longer so they take out a sandwich each, and just as they are about to eat them, Wayne pops up from behind a rock and shouts, "I knew it! ... I'm not fucking going!"

Tuesday, December 23

China's Leaders Back Private Property Proposed Amendments Would Mark Radical Break With Party's Roots By Peter S. Goodman:
The formal establishment of property rights serves to legitimize a reality that has existed for decades: Chinese people own all sorts of things, from their bicycles and farm implements to the cars, apartments and shares of stock being purchased at a frenzied pace by a growing urban nouveau riche.

The problem is that property can be taken by state or local authorities with little or no compensation. The exploding real estate business has been particularly rife with corruption, as government officials routinely avail themselves of the opportunity to get hold of choice land and use it for private business. When disputes arise, personal connections in government remain more important than the evolving body of law, often muddled by internal contradictions. The amendment is at once a bid to spur more commerce while limiting the opportunities for abuse.

...some intellectuals have criticized the move to protect private property as precipitous: Without first forging a modern legal system that affords aggrieved laborers and farmers the right to protect their own interests, they argue, the creation of property rights simply legitimates the looting of public assets.
Absolutely. Without laws and an independent judiciary, it's all a joke. F'rinstance, Execution Shows Party's Grip in China: Case Highlights Flaws in Legal System By John Pomfret
China's highest court upheld a death sentence and then allowed the execution on Monday of an alleged gangster despite testimony from eight prison guards that the man had admitted to ordering a mob killing only after lengthy torture....

Government sources said the Supreme People's Court reversed a lower court verdict under orders from the Communist Party's top law enforcement committee even though several of the judges opposed the decision, illustrating the control the party exerts over court decisions.

Defense attorneys and academics said the reversal despite the torture charges, which were backed up by affidavits from eight security service witnesses, marked a step backward for a country that has been struggling with police brutality for decades. "This case is going to set back China's development of a legal system by 10 years," said one of Beijing's leading lawyers and a senior member of All China Lawyers' Association. This lawyer, like other lawyers and legal experts, spoke about this case on condition of anonymity because he fears he could lose his job or face more serious punishment from the police.

Under Chinese law, confessions obtained through torture are not admissible in court. Even so, torture is common and, many legal academics argue, it remains the main method used by police to solve cases...

In August, the Liaoning Higher People's Court lowered his earlier death sentence to a sentence of death with two years' reprieve because, the court wrote, it could not "exclude the possibility that public security organs during their investigation extorted a confession by torture." That sentence meant that Liu would most likely get life in prison.

On Oct. 8, the Supreme People's Court took over the case, marking the first time since the 1949 Communist revolution that China's highest court would hear a common criminal case. Sources said the Communist Party's Committee of Politics and Law, which runs the country's security services, ordered the top court to issue a new verdict and sentence Liu to death. The sources said that Public Security Minister Zhou Yongkang, the second-ranking member of the committee, insisted on a death sentence, because he did not want a precedent set allowing confessions obtained by torture to be thrown out of court. Senior members of the Politburo, China's top political body, also agreed that Liu should be executed because public opinion seemed to be in favor of it.
What was that about hurting the feelings of the Chinese people?

Monday, December 22

This is a bit much. Arts & Letters Daily writes,
"Americans have been made into permanent adolescents, scared of death, sex, old age." Dwight Macdonald wrote it in 1950, but it still rings oddly true...
then links to this review about Macdonald with this context:
Here is a prophecy he dashed off when corresponding with his Italian friend Nicola Chiaromonte: "If the United States doesn't or cannot change its mass will lose the war against the USSR. Americans have been made into permanent adolescents...scared of death, sex, old age." He feared a crushing American defeat in countries where "the mere struggle for existence is important and where some of the people are grown-ups." Simply change "the USSR" to "Islam," and that passage becomes as hideously pertinent now as ever. It dates from 1950, when the very dream of Hugh Hefner's and Rupert Murdoch's global pornocracies was still just a cloud no bigger than an onanist's hand.
Sorry, Dwight, the USSR didn't make it, and I don't believe US mass culture has substantially changed in the direction you'd have hoped. So what do the reviewer and the Arts & Letters Daily staff do? "Simply change 'the USSR to 'Islam.'" What? Since the argument didn't apply in the case of one enemy, we'll just apply it to another. Somebody's dislike of popular American culture is leading them astray.
Stress Found to Weaken Resistance to Illness By Shankar Vedantam. And it turns out
that shy men have much less resistance to the AIDS virus than extroverted men and benefit far less from treatment with antiretroviral drugs...

"People who have the shy, sensitive temperament seem to be more prone to having sympathetic nervous system responses," Cole said in an interview, referring to the part of the nervous system that causes accelerated heart rate and other unconscious changes. "They are more stressed by lots of things, including contact with unfamiliar people."

In shy people, the nervous systems may be more likely to produce a stress reaction during social interactions -- so they maintain their internal stress balance by limiting contact with other people.

Saturday, December 20

Michael Crichton claims that the tenets of environmentalism are all about quasi-religious belief:
Eden, the fall of man, the loss of grace, the coming doomsday---these are deeply held mythic structures.
I'm not sure how much I agree with that, but he's right when he says:
I know you haven't read any of what I am about to tell you in the newspaper, because newspapers literally don't report them. I can tell you that DDT is not a carcinogen and did not cause birds to die and should never have been banned. I can tell you that the people who banned it knew that it wasn't carcinogenic and banned it anyway. I can tell you that the DDT ban has caused the deaths of tens of millions of poor people, mostly children, whose deaths are directly attributable to a callous, technologically advanced western society that promoted the new cause of environmentalism by pushing a fantasy about a pesticide, and thus irrevocably harmed the third world. Banning DDT is one of the most disgraceful episodes in the twentieth century history of America. We knew better, and we did it anyway, and we let people around the world die and didn't give a damn.

I can tell you that second hand smoke is not a health hazard to anyone and never was, and the EPA has always known it. I can tell you that the evidence for global warming is far weaker than its proponents would ever admit. I can tell you the percentage the US land area that is taken by urbanization, including cities and roads, is 5%. I can tell you that the Sahara desert is shrinking, and the total ice of Antarctica is increasing. I can tell you that a blue-ribbon panel in Science magazine concluded that there is no known technology that will enable us to halt the rise of carbon dioxide in the 21st century. Not wind, not solar, not even nuclear. The panel concluded a totally new technology-like nuclear fusion-was necessary, otherwise nothing could be done and in the meantime all efforts would be a waste of time. They said that when the UN IPCC reports stated alternative technologies existed that could control greenhouse gases, the UN was wrong.
But it's not just the environmentalists. Compare the materialistic American consumer: Sandra Tsing Loh writes,
In twenty-first-century America our stories have become one and the same: we work to consume, we live to consume, we are what we consume.
She quotes one writer:
"Materialism is not the opposite of spiritualism. Materialism is what you spiritualize when you have plenty of stuff."
I would argue that the far left also serves to fill a similar vaccuum. Nick Cohen slams Noam Chomsky's hypocrisy, summing up his argument as:
Capitalism, particularly American capitalism, is responsible for the world's problems, it runs. Resistance, however perverted, is inevitable. If the resistance is barbaric the barbarism is the fault of capitalism.
And the far right fills a similar vaccuum for others, no doubt. (All 3 links via Arts & Letters Daily).

Friday, December 19

Dirty Pretty Things (spoilers!)

According to James Berardinelli:

Okwe (Chiwetel Ejofor) is a Nigerian doctor who is living illegally in London and surviving by working two jobs. By day, he is a cab driver. By night, he is behind the counter at a hotel. On those rare occasions when he finds time to sleep, he crashes at the apartment of his friend, Senay (Audrey Tautou). Senay is a Turkish immigrant who is being watched by the authorities. Under the terms of her admission to the United Kingdom, she is not allowed to rent space in her room to anyone else or to engage in paid employment for at least six months. She is doing both, and that places her in jeopardy. Meanwhile, at the hotel, Okwe discovers that the manager, Sneaky (Sergi Lopez), is running a black market organ business. He will obtain forged passports for anyone willing to give up a kidney. He then sells that kidney to an organ "supplier" for $10,000. Okwe is shocked by this, but his friends are not, and they wonder at his naïveté. He is forced to make a moral choice when Sneaky makes him a job offer. If Okwe will put his surgical skills to use removing kidneys, Sneaky will provide forged papers for him and Senay so he can return to Nigeria and she can go to New York.

First of all, I've got a question about what kind of herb Okwe is chewing to stay awake. On the internet, I see guesses from coca leaves to betel to khat. But I guess it doesn't really matter; it's artistic license. Still, I've got plenty of quibbles: Chiwetel Ejofor is great, but why get a French woman to play a Turk? And how is it that she decides to let Okwe stay in her apartment but doesn't give him a key at first? And then Okwe discovers the whole black market organ business when he finds a human heart blocking up a toilet. Later the manager suggests that when an operation goes wrong, they cut up the dead patient and flush them down the toilet. So they tried to flush a heart down a toilet? And this is the manager of a hotel? He's never had experience with blocked toilets? And when Okwe, Senay, and the prostitute exchange the kidney for the cash, the buyer says asks who they are, Okwe says something like "we're the people you never see: the people who drive you, clean your toilets, and give you blowjobs," so of course the assumption is that the hegemony of managers doesn't understand the world of the subaltern. The subaltern does all the real work while the managers are parasites. Or the director fell in love with the idea of the heart in the toilet. How symbolic.

As David Edelstein writes,
The screenwriter, Steven Knight, is an English TV veteran who helped to create the original Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?, and the grasping/yearning quality of that infamous title is in every scene: The film is, Who Wants To Be a Citizen-and What Part of Your Anatomy Will You Give Up?
That's cute.

The fact that the only solution for Senay is to get a passport means that someone has to lose a kidney, but instead of her it's Sneaky. Now they can't just cut it out of him, because they believe that it's wrong (my problem is I think anyone who wants to sell their organs should be allowed to). So, we must perceive the oppressor-manager Sneaky as thoroughly evil, and he forces the virgin Senay to have sex with him. But if he hadn't had sex with her, how would she have solved her problem? In the old days the heroine had to be rescued before she had sex with the bad guy. Now apparently a woman's having unwanted sex forced upon her doesn't matter as much as losing an organ. Go figure.

Tuesday, December 16

Hey, lookie! Burton Watson's Complete Works Of Chuang Tzu online! (via Hermetica.Info, who's got some others here: scroll down to ZZ Translations)
China Sentences Two to Life for Sex Party
BEIJING - A Chinese court on Wednesday sentenced two people to life in prison for organizing a sex party for hundreds of Japanese tourists that caused an uproar in China.
Over-reacting, aren't they?
Chinese Officials Held in Regional Corruption Probe By John Pomfret:
Chinese authorities have detained more than 17 senior provincial and city officials in this southern city over the last two weeks following the arrest of the alleged leader of an organized criminal operation that specialized in gambling, prostitution, illegal bank loans and the laundering of drug money, official sources said.

Judges, senior police officials, prosecutors, tax collectors and agents from the Ministry of State Security were among those detained.

Underscoring the increasingly close connections between organized crime and politicians in China, the alleged gangster, Chen Kai, was a member of a local government agency called the Chinese People's Consultative Congress and jointly ran a hotel and gambling operation with that agency.
That's what you get without democracy.
So women really can cloud men's minds? That's what Pretty women scramble men's ability to assess the future suggests (via Tyler Cowen). My paper "Vulpine Alchemy" in T'oung Pao 82 (1996), pp. 364-80 discussed Chinese stories that show fox spirits engaged in Daoist Inner Alchemy practices who appear as beautiful women in order to bewitch men and suck away their energy, but also curing them. So wearing high heels, getting breast enhancements or binding their feet is just a way to enslave us? And how does this fit in with the finding that attractive professors consistently outscore their less comely colleagues by a significant margin on student evaluations of teaching?
We also saw Marty (1955), which was just much too long with tiresome dialog that apparently sounded fresh and realistic when it came out. That was before we got here. Yesterday we saw Blind Shaft, which was unexpectedly good. I figured as an art movie it would be unwatchable, but it actually had a plot, and even a little bit of morality. It was also grimly amusing to see the thug so invested in the idea of educating his son.
Awhile ago we saw Rob Roy (1995), and looking for something to read, I brought Scott's novel on the plane over to Paris. The thing about historical movies is that I always wonder if they're getting it wrong. In the case of this one, I was betting there was neither a sexual molestation of a servant girl or a rape in Scott's novel. In fact, the novel isn't really about Rob Roy at all. There is some basis for the movie, though much of it is invention. In his Introduction, Scott says that after Rob Roy, aka Rob MacGregor, lost the money the Duke of Montrose lent him:
He appears at this period first to have removed from his ordinary dwelling at Inversnaid, ten or twelve Scots miles (which is double the number of English) farther into the Highlands, and commenced the lawless sort of life which he afterwards followed. The Duke of Montrose, who conceived himself deceived and cheated by MacGregor's conduct, employed legal means to recover the money lent to him. Rob Roy's landed property was attached by the regular form of legal procedure, and his stock and furniture made the subject of arrest and sale.

It is said that this diligence of the law, as it is called in Scotland, which the English more bluntly term distress, was used in this case with uncommon severity, and that the legal satellites, not usually the gentlest persons in the world, had insulted MacGregor's wife, in a manner which would have aroused a milder man than he to thoughts of unbounded vengeance. She was a woman of fierce and haughty temper, and is not unlikely to have disturbed the officers in the execution of their duty, and thus to have incurred ill treatment, though, for the sake of humanity, it is to be hoped that the story sometimes told is a popular exaggeration. It is certain that she felt extreme anguish at being expelled from the banks of Loch Lomond, and gave vent to her feelings in a fine piece of pipe-music, still well known to amateurs by the name of "Rob Roy's Lament."
In Chapter Twenty-six, the magistrate or "Bailie" hints at something, saying of Rob's wife,
they say his wife was turned out o' the house to the hill-side, and sair misguided to the boot. Shamefu'! shamefu'!---I am a peacefu' man and a magistrate, but if ony ane had guided sae muckle as my servant quean, Mattie, as it's like they guided Rob's wife, I think it suld hae set the shabble that my father the deacon had at Bothwell brig a-walking again.
Yeah, the dialect is a little much. By the way, Mattie is one of 3 fairly strong-willed women, and though merely a servant, marries up. So much for the oppressed servant class that the movie wants to show us.

In Chapter Thirty, the narrator finally sees Roy's wife for the first time:
I have seldom seen a finer or more commanding form than this woman. She might be between the term of forty and fifty years, and had a countenance which must once have been of a masculine cast of beauty; though now, imprinted with deep lines by exposure to rough weather, and perhaps by the wasting influence of grief and passion, its features were only strong, harsh, and expressive. She wore her plaid, not drawn around her head and shoulders, as is the fashion of the women in Scotland, but disposed around her body as the Highland soldiers wear theirs. She had a man's bonnet, with a feather in it, an unsheathed sword in her hand, and a pair of pistols at her girdle.

"It's Helen Campbell, Rob's wife," said the Bailie, in a whisper of considerable alarm; "and there will be broken heads amang us or it's lang."

"What seek ye here?" she asked again of Captain Thornton, who had himself advanced to reconnoitre.

"We seek the outlaw, Rob Roy MacGregor Campbell," answered the officer, "and make no war on women; therefore offer no vain opposition to the king's troops, and assure yourself of civil treatment."

"Ay," retorted the Amazon, "I am no stranger to your tender mercies. Ye have left me neither name nor fame---my mother's bones will shrink aside in their grave when mine are laid beside them---Ye have left me neither house nor hold, blanket nor bedding, cattle to feed us, or flocks to clothe us--- Ye have taken from us all---all!---The very name of our ancestors have ye taken away, and now ye come for our lives."
Then in Chapter Thirty-two, the narrator quotes MacGregor on his wife:
' Helen's an incarnate devil when her bluid's up---puir thing, she has ower muckle reason," and "naebody will deny that Helen MacGregor has deep wrongs to avenge."
In Chapter Thirty-five, the narrator meets Helen MacGregor again, and she presents him with a token from Diana Vernon, the woman with whom he is in love:
"...It is not such hands as these," and she stretched forth her long, sinewy, and bare arm, "that are fitting to convey love-tokens, were the gift connected with aught but misery. Young man," she said, presenting me with a ring, which I well remembered as one of the few ornaments that Miss Vernon sometimes wore, "this comes from one whom you will never see more. If it is a joyless token, it is well fitted to pass through the hands of one to whom joy can never be known. Her last words were---Let him forget me for ever."

"And can she," I said, almost without being conscious that I spoke, "suppose that is possible?"

"All may be forgotten," said the extraordinary female who addressed me,---"all---but the sense of dishonour, and the desire of vengeance."
Wow. What a tragic heroine; there's only a little of that in the movie, which tones it down to have a happier tone. By the way, the fact that Diana is yet another strong-willed woman shows that they existed even in the early 1800's, or at least that Scotty had a thing for them; I don't remember his other novels well enough to say if that's a fetish for him.

But after all that, I find, according to Alexander May,
It is said that Rob's wife Mary was raped and branded when the soldiers carried out the eviction.
And finally, on another note, I came across this curious argument from the World of books:
Having just finished a large book about the Victorians, I was struck by how extraordinarily Rob Roy predicts and foresees the whole tragedy of 19th-century capitalism...

Rob Roy and the Bailie are two completely real figures, but they are the embodiments, also, of two different ways of life. It is in Glasgow, so thoroughly the commercial capital of Scotland and so close to the wild lands of Argyll and the Western Isles, that the polarity is first felt. Scott with his sharp political antennae could see that commerce, trade, and the ideals of Adam Smith were going to change the world for ever.

He saw that this process had begun even before the industrial revolution, and that it would lead to an eternal conflict between the old "heroic" way of life, and the modern world in which the Market had no respect for kings, or for tradition...

When Frank encounters the behaviour of the rebels, however, and in particular when he witnesses the execution of Morris the spy, at the merciless behest of Helen Macgregor (Rob Roy's wife) his sympathies shift, and so do ours. Scott foresaw - to this extent you could say that Rob Roy was the first great 9/11 novel - that the "heroic" way of life, when threatened, very quickly turns to ugly violence.

It is because they are doomed that they turn to murder.
As this writer says, though the magistrate is something of a caricature, it's nice to see capitalists portrayed as decent people (what a concept!)

Miscellaneous notes: I suppose one could find a cad and a dad type in this novel; and Rob Roy may have been a traitor. I should point out that while never calling him a traitor Scott himself is ambivalent about Rob Roy's virtue.

Monday, December 15

More old news: PowerPoint Makes You Dumb By CLIVE THOMPSON
Perhaps PowerPoint is uniquely suited to our modern age of obfuscation -- where manipulating facts is as important as presenting them clearly. If you have nothing to say, maybe you need just the right tool to help you not say it.
Yeah, I detest it.
In Rise of Cars in China Brings Havoc in Streets By PETER WONACOTT and BEN DOLVEN Staff Reporters of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL:
The fatality figure is more than double the number of people killed on U.S. highways annually, even though China has far fewer cars. In 2002, traffic accounted for 79% of China's accidental deaths. In the first 10 months of this year, traffic accidents killed 86,000 people and seriously injured an additional 418,000, according to the transport division of China's Public Security Ministry. In the U.S., 43,788 people died in motor-vehicle accidents in 2001, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
43,788! Let's see.... How much does that come to in 9/11's?

update (if that's the word): Shanghai ends reign of the bicycle By Tim Luard
Succumbing at last to the worldwide love affair with the car, China - of all places - is officially turning up its nose at the humble bicycle.

Its biggest city, Shanghai, plans to ban bikes from all major roads next year to ease congestion, state-run newspapers said on Tuesday.
In discussing Wesley Clark, Clay Risen says,
Tuition at most colleges accounts for only a fraction of total funding, which means more money won't necessarily slow the increases; in fact, if simple economics prevail, tuitions might simply inflate to match.

Wesley Clark's "Universal College Grant Plan," a part of his new push to beef up his policy credentials, isn't perfect, but it stands apart from many of the other candidates' in at least recognizing, and in part responding to, the flip side of the tuition coin. It recognizes that, at least at public colleges, the recent skyrocketing in tuition costs (50 percent over the last decade) is due in no small part to the drop in state higher-education budgets. So, to complement a $12,000 grant to students for the first two years of college, the plan would also put $10 billion a year toward helping relieve pressure on states; the plan would also create a commission to "to study the causes of tuition increases and suggest solutions."

True, "creating a commission" is a bureaucratic poison pill for real reform. And Clark's plan fails to address the fact that colleges--public and private alike--spend far too much of their budget on sports teams and non-curricular amenities that, while good for attracting students, do little to improve the quality of education.
Sounds good.
The Economist has a subscriber-only editorial and article about offshoring. From the former:
Like trade in goods, trade in services forces painful redistributions of employment. A study for the Institute for International Economics found that, in 1979-99, 69% of people who lost jobs as a result of cheap imports in sectors other than manufacturing found new work. But those figures are only for America, with its flexible job market, and leave a large minority who did not find new employment. Moreover, 55% of those who found new jobs did so at lower pay, and 25% took pay cuts of 30% or more. Some of the gains from free trade need to be used to ease the transition of workers into new jobs.

But those gains are substantial. Some arise simply from organising work in more effective ways. A fair part of the work that moves abroad represents an attempt by companies to provide a round-the-clock service, by making use of time zones. To that extent, offshoring directly improves efficiency.

In addition, a recent report on offshoring from McKinsey estimates that every dollar of costs the United States moves offshore brings America a net benefit of $1.12 to $1.14 (the additional benefit to the country receiving the investment comes on top). Part of this arises because, as low value-added jobs go abroad, labour and investment can switch to jobs that generate more economic value. This is what has happened with manufacturing: employment has dwindled, but workers have moved into educational and health services where pay is higher (and conditions often more agreeable)...

The British once feared the rise of America's industrial might: today, both nations are vastly wealthier than they were. In services, as in goods, trade brings benefits too great to refuse.
I referred to that "benefit of $1.12 to $1.14" before, but I forgot.

Meanwhile, LOUIS UCHITELLE worries about what will happen When the Chinese Consumer Is King
For decades, the United States was the world's only significant mass market, offering businesses more than enough consumers to buy up ever greater volumes of their merchandise and services. To gain access to all these consumers, companies had to operate inside the country. And they could do so very profitably, because they benefited from economies of scale, meaning that each item coming off an assembly line was less expensive to produce than the one before.

The wealth generated, in profits and wages, has made the United States far and away the world's most powerful nation for nearly a century. No one else had ever been able to match the American achievement. But now the world is witnessing the birth of a mass market in China, whose 1.2 billion people hold the promise of consumption on a much greater scale than in the United States.
But for him, power seems to reside primarily in resisting free trade:
China's power seems certain to increase as it develops its mass market, chipping away at the American role as the world's buyer of last resort, the only nation capable of bolstering other countries' economies with its vast purchases of their goods and services. For 60 years, that purchasing power has made America the unchallenged leader in trade negotiations and political influence, a leadership now gradually eroding.

A big stick in this leadership, apart from military might, has been the threat of tariffs and import quotas - of cutting off the golden American consumer from outsiders. But with the rise of China as an alternative mass market, American restrictions on European steel imports or Brazilian citrus, for example, lose potency. Why worry that much about being kept out of the United States when China provides more than enough buyers?
The man apparently knows nothing of comparative advantage. Still, assuming China does grow, he's right about the waning of American pre-eminence. It won't just be schlocky American culture that dominates the market, but some equally hideous Chinese crap. And then there's India...
China, Lacking a Key Port, Looks Longingly to Russia By JAMES BROOKE:
With a 10-mile-wide sliver of Russian territory blocking Manchuria from the Sea of Japan, China is drawing on its own history for a solution, pushing Russia to sign a 49-year lease to convert the midsize cargo port on Trinity Bay here to a Chinese economic enclave, a Hong Kong of Russia's Far East.

So far, the Russians have not agreed. But the Chinese are making their intentions plain: they have built a six-lane highway to the door of the border crossing closest to here and, according to Russian officials, ordered Chinese companies to boycott Russia's ports in the Sea of Japan until Moscow agrees to the scheme.

In the 19th century, European powers strong-armed long-term leases on ports from a weak Chinese government. After the 16th-century Portuguese occupation of Macao, the British took Hong Kong, the French took Zhanjiang and the Germans took Qingdao. The Americans, Austrians, Belgians, French, Italians and Russians negotiated concessions in Tientsin and Shanghai...

Russians gained their foothold in the Far East through a treaty signed in 1858, but they remain insecure about their presence here. About 100,000 tourists from China are now visiting every summer, making use of new, direct flights from Harbin and two other Chinese cities. The presence clearly unsettles some local Russians. "I went to get an ice cream cone last summer at a cafe and I thought, 'Whose town is this anyhow?' " recalled Olga Luzganova, a tour operator.
Don't the Russkies realize that like Taiwan, this territory was "always part of China?" Or at least that's what they'll claim once they get their hands on Taiwan.

Sunday, December 14

Tyler Cowen links to Timing Of IQ Test Can Be A Life Or Death Matter:
IQ scores tend to rise 5 to 25 points in a single generation.
So if I live much longer, I'll be a moron. Or do I mean a retard? Uh-oh, it's already starting.
David Adesnik wrote about the moral confusion of those who applaud Hu Jintao while lashing out George Bush:
While criticism of George Bush is certainly deserved, the intensity of the anger directed at the American President demonstrates that his critics abroad have internalized a dangerous double standard that judges aggression against dictators to be a far greater crime than the vicious abuse of millions of one's fellow citizens.
I also like what he said about Chen's referendum. Why not just copy oxblog wholesale?
OK, this is old news, but I want to remember it because according to Norman Stockman's Understanding Chinese society, the Chinese police only hassle religionists (of course that was before the falungong troubles). Anyway, my point is that the Chinese police are by and large useless for protecting the Chinese from criminals.
Complaints and Concern Rise Over Poor Policing in China By JIM YARDLEY
PINGYU, China — The first boy disappeared in March 2001, then others went missing, all teenage boys, all regulars at the Internet cafes near the schools. Suspicious parents went to the police, who were not impressed. Maybe, the police said, the boys ran away.

Two years later, boys were still disappearing in this depressing city in Henan Province in central China. Xu Yinping's son vanished in March, and the police gave her excuses, too. At one point, Mrs. Xu and other parents said, a pair of severed hands was discovered at an Internet cafe. The killer appeared to be taunting the police.

Then in November, a terrified teenager, saying he had been tortured, led officers to the home of a 29-year-old man. There, they found the buried remains of at least 14 other boys. In all, state news media reported, the suspect is believed to have killed 17 boys.

"They are irresponsible," Mrs. Xu said of the local police. "They were playing games with the kids' lives. We want an explanation."

In China, where officials boast about the country's low crime rate, November saw an unusual glut of bizarre and gruesome crimes, with newspapers filled with sordid details about the arrests of three suspected serial killers. But the Henan case also touches on what experts say is an ingrained problem, particularly in rural China: bad and corrupted policing.

Part of the problem is the very nature of policing in a nondemocratic country. Historically, experts say, officers have emphasized maintaining government control and serving as the eyes and ears of the state over solving crimes. But as top leaders speak of China becoming a real nation of laws, experts say such an approach must change.

"If China is going to develop the rule of law, the police are going to have to become better at doing basic, nonpolitical, everyday, investigative police work," said Murray Scot Tanner, a senior political scientist with the RAND Corporation with an expertise in criminal justice in China. "It has only been in the past decade that China has really made a genuine effort to impose modern, investigative skills of policing."

Public anger seems to be growing, particularly as increasingly aggressive Chinese news organizations have chronicled police beatings and killings. In Guangdong Province, in south China, public outrage was swift after officers beat a college graduate to death because he was traveling without proper identification. The Henan serial killings sparked anger on the nation's popular Internet sites, and Xinhua News Online.

"These crimes would not have occurred if the local officials paid more attention to improving social security and management," wrote one online critic. "They should all resign."

Another added: "Police are a waste of our taxes."

Officials in Beijing at the Ministry of Public Security apparently recognize the depth of public concern. The ministry recently issued new rules establishing for the first time that evidence obtained by torture, threats or other illegal means cannot be used in court cases. The ministry also has begun a program to crack down on illegal detentions of suspects. One man was held without charges for 10 years because the police could not gather enough evidence to take him to court.

Saturday, December 13

George Will sneers at Howard Dean -- the thinker, and includes this item:
Asked to name his favorite philosopher, Dean named Lao-Tse because "my favorite saying is, 'The longest journey begins with a single step.'" That might make a better bumper sticker than anything David Hume said, but if that measures the depths of Dean, he and his supporters should take a sabbatical from deriding Bush's supposed shallowness.
I don't particularly like Dean, but I wouldn't necessarily blame him for using this expression. But is Lao Zi (or Lao Tzu) really the philosopher for a Democrat? Even this phrase in its original context shouldn't appeal to the interventionist party (all quotations from Charles Muller's translation of the Tao Te Ching):
A thick tree grows from a tiny seed.

A tall building arises from a mound of earth.

A journey of a thousand miles starts with one step.

Contriving, you are defeated;

Grasping, you lose.
And then consider these:
...when the sage governs,

He clears peoples minds,

Fills their bellies,

Weakens their ambition and

Strengthens their bones.
Get rid of "holiness" and abandon "wisdom" and the people will benefit a hundredfold.

Get rid of "altruism" and abandon "Justice" and the people will return to filial piety and compassion.

Get rid of cleverness and abandon profit, and thieves and gangsters will not exist.
Not to mention:
The more regulations there are,

The poorer people become.
Best of all:
Ruling a large country is like cooking a small fish.
And finally,
The reason people starve

Is because their rulers tax them excessively.

They are difficult to govern

Because their rulers have their own ends in mind.
The Chinese original of "A journey of a thousand miles starts with one step" is (unicode) 千里之行始于足下. While checking that, I ran across a play on this one by Han Fei Zi: 千里之堤,潰於蟻穴, that is, "A thousand mile dike crumbles from an ant's burrow," meaning that neglecting small things can cause major disasters. But it's probably just as well Dean didn't say he liked Han Fei Zi.

Friday, December 12

Taiwan's President Unfazed by U.S. Warning By Philip P. Pan
One day after President Bush stood next to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and bluntly warned Chen against moving Taiwan toward independence, the island of 23 million appeared to be less in shock than in denial. There was little sense of crisis and no sign the warning had hurt Chen's popularity or altered his plans to hold a referendum in March demanding that China remove hundreds of missiles aimed at Taiwan.

Democrats Criticize Bush for Blunt Taiwan Rebuke:
"It's easy to see how Chen could choose to believe that he'd have unequivocal support in Washington no matter what he did," said China expert Michael McDevitt, a retired navy admiral now with the Center for Naval Analysis, a thinktank.

"Chen misread the United States. He miscalculated how far he could go and how it would be perceived here," he said.

Taiwan said Bush's comments did not signal a change in U.S. policy and Chen vowed to hold a referendum anyway.

In the U.S. view, Chen, desperate to win a tight re-election campaign, wants Beijing to overreact.

"Then, in his thinking, he gets the United States to come down on China (and Chen) gets to portray himself as the guy who has the dependable backing of the United States and who is standing up to the thugs on the mainland," one expert said.

Similarly, in Taiwan's Strategic Miscalculation By JOSEPH KAHN:
China views the Taiwan problem as fueled, at least partly, by the volatility of the American political system. Presidents frequently come into office vowing to lend a hand to beleaguered democrats in Taiwan, then gradually back away when they encounter geopolitical realities in Asia, where China is emerging as the dominant power.

Beijing is concerned that the cycle repeats itself so often that it allows Taiwan to keep testing how far it can move toward a more legal form of independence rather than the de facto independence it enjoys today.

Attack of the Killer Bras

...our trade denunciations are petty and intellectually dishonest.

Unlike Japan a decade ago, China does not have a huge global trade surplus. Its imports are growing faster than its exports, up 40 percent this year. And exports to America grew after factories moved from Taiwan and Hong Kong to the mainland. Moreover, some 52 percent of China's exports come from foreign-owned factories.
Greenspan Casts Doubt on Impact Of China Actions By John M. Berry
Challenging what he labeled "a strain of so-called conventional wisdom," Greenspan said in a speech in Dallas: "The story on trade and jobs, in my judgment, is a bit more complex, especially with respect to China. . . . If the renminbi were to rise, presumably U.S. imports from China would fall as China loses competitive position to other low-wage economies.

"But would, for example, reduced imports of textiles from China induce increased output in American factories?" the Fed chairman asked. "Far more likely is that our imports from other low-wage countries would replace Chinese textiles."...

Another issue complicating the analysis is the existence of controls on some movements of money in and out of the country, he added.

Keeping the currency peg in place by buying all those dollars is creating problems in managing the Chinese economy. As a consequence of those purchases, the Chinese money supply has expanded much more than 20 percent this year. "Should this pattern continue, the central bank will be confronted with the choice of an overheated economy," which might be followed by a recession, or with cutting back its dollar purchases, which might force a revaluation of the currency, Greenspan said.

Tuesday, December 9

Hmm, I'm agreeing with the NYT again. HARVESTING POVERTY: The Case Against King Cotton
American cotton costs a great deal to produce by international standards. Yet even though global cotton prices were crashing from 1999 to 2002, our share of global exports grew to 40 percent, from 25 percent. That was because Washington propped up King Cotton with $12.9 billion in subsidies. We were, in effect, paying the rest of the world to buy American product rather than the cheaper cotton grown in Africa and South America...

Antiglobalization protesters who claim to act on behalf of the world's poor are fond of taking aim at the World Trade Organization, but the cotton case shows that what the developing world needs is not a weaker trade referee, but a stronger one capable of standing up to rich nations.

Poor African farmers and American taxpayers stand to gain if the W.T.O. does what Congress should have done long ago, and kills our cotton subsidies. Brazil should prevail, and with the peace clause's retirement, more such cases should be brought against indefensible agricultural protectionism.

Monday, December 8

The Calico Cat presents some curious arguments against index funds.
  • Index funds still have risk

  • OK, this is true, but they're still less risky than owning individual stocks.
  • Why settle for merely matching the index?

  • Like a lot of individual investors, he assumes that he's smarter than the average person. Even if I wanted to spend my time and energy on this, the last time I tried I made poor returns on my investments because of brokerage fees and capital gains taxes.
  • Index funds exhibit a bias towards overpriced stocks

  • Even if you accept the argument that the S&P 500 stocks are overpriced, this is not the only index that funds track.
  • Index funds endanger the stability of the markets

  • This is just silly. He says that if everyone invested in an index fund, the markets would become unstable. But because there are too many people who (mistakenly) think they can beat the market, most people don't invest in them.

Sunday, December 7

It's silly for the Chinese to spend money on Americans, even if it's only $685,000, and even if it's to help us learn Chinese. Still, as we see from College Placement Program Expands Language Offerings By TAMAR LEWIN
Spanish is the most commonly taught language in American high schools, with about four million students. It is followed by French, German, Italian, Russian and Japanese, according to the American Council of Teachers of Foreign Languages.

While most Chinese high school students study English, fewer than 50,000 American high school students study Chinese, a language spoken by 1.5 billion people worldwide.
In While America Sells Security, China Is Buying Its Dollars, DAVID E. SANGER criticizes the Bush administration's rudderless international economic policy. But it's partly due to the post 9/11 anti-terrorism, anti-Iraq business, and partly due to the current unemployment situation. Is there a better way to handle the situation?
Ruse in Toyland: Chinese Workers' Hidden Woe
By JOSEPH KAHN shows Chinese workers making toys for an American company being exploited. But it fails to point out that
1) They're working there because it's a better opportunity than they can get elsewhere.
2) The American company is trying to maintain high standards; it's the Chinese management that's trying to cheat.
Wal-Mart Invades, and Mexico Gladly Surrenders but TIM WEINER doesn't approve.

Is Wal-Mart Good for America?By STEVE LOHR
To the company's critics, Wal-Mart points the way to a grim Darwinian world of bankrupt competitors, low wages, meager health benefits, jobs lost to imports, and devastated downtowns and rural areas across America.

Yet there is a wider, less partisan view of the company, which perhaps more visibly than any other corporation marches to the mandate of the global capitalist economy.

"Wal-Mart is the logical end point and the future of the economy in a society whose pre-eminent value is getting the best deal," said Robert B. Reich, the former labor secretary and a professor of social and economic policy at Brandeis University.

To the company's supporters, Wal-Mart is an agent of economic virtue, using its market power to force suppliers to become more efficient and passing the gains on to consumers as lower prices. The enthusiasts say Wal-Mart is a big reason for the country's almost nonexistent inflation and impressive productivity gains.
So the answer is "Yes, Wal-Mart is good for America".
Iraqis march against 'terror':
Baghdad - About 1 000 Iraqis, mostly Shi'ites, rallied in central Baghdad to condemn "terrorism" against Iraqis and United States "liberation" forces on Friday as four Iraqis and a US soldier died in a bomb attack elsewhere in the capital.

Dozens of children aged between five and 10 marched at the front of the protest, with flowers in their hands, under white banners proclaiming in red letters: "Children - innocent victims of terrorism" and: "Terrorism blocks any future for children".

Organiser Sabih Hassan, head of a child protection association set up since the US-led invasion, said they had all "become orphans because of terrorism".

Hassan said the march, the second here in a week, was against "all operations, including those targeting Americans".

"Our children have a vital need for peace and security".

While the protest was under way, four Iraqis and a US soldier died and at least 15 people were wounded when a homemade bomb exploded as an American convoy drove down a crowded shopping street in Baghdad.

Forced out of business

The "Iraqi democratic trend", set up after the war by tribes in the Shi'ite areas of Karbala and Babel in central Iraq, organised the demonstration, said general secretary Aziz al-Yassiri.

Sheikh Abdul Jalil Cherhani, 55, a leading member of the group said: "We are against those who kill Iraqis, those who fight the Americans who liberated the country."

Abed Salman Ali, 43, a former second-hand clothes dealer said he had joined the demonstration to protest against the insecurity that has forced many street vendors like him out of business.

"It doesn't matter who the target is. This violence is blocking the reconstruction of our country," he complained.

Police escorted the demonstrators as they marched down Saadoun Street, the capital's main commercial thoroughfare, on the Muslim day of rest.

But no US military presence was visible, unlike the last such demonstration a week ago.

The protestors marched in groups of around 100, each carrying the banners of their tribes.

A series of similar demonstrations have been organised around Iraq in recent days with the coalition's blessing.
In Who Wins and Who Loses as Jobs Move Overseas? By ERIKA KINETZ, she presents a roundtable convened to discuss how job migration is changing the landscape. Among the participants: Diana Farrell, the director of the McKinsey Global Institute, which is McKinsey & Company's internal economics research group, who said:
This is a big deal in the sense that we see something structural happening. But I would react to the notion that it is a big deal we should try to stop or recognize as anything other than the economic process of change. I think the bigger deal is the fact that we are going to have very serious curtailment of the working age population.
There is an assumption by protectionists that these jobs are going somewhere else, and all this money has been pocketed by C.E.O.'s who take it home. A little more sophisticated version is: It's being pocketed by companies in the form of profits. One step further and you say those profits are either going to go as returns to the investors in those companies, or they're going to go into new investment by those companies. Those savings enable me, if I am an investor, to consume more and therefore contribute to job recreation, and if I am a company, to re-invest and create jobs. That's important because I agree that we are migrating jobs away, some of which will never return, nor should they.

Josh Bivens, an economist with the Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit research group in Washington that receives a third of its financing from labor unions, who said,
The best research on what happens to people displaced from manufacturing is that they eventually find a new job, but they take an average wage cut of 13 to 14 percent. The people who are hit hardest are older workers....

Stephen S. Roach, managing director and chief economist of Morgan Stanley, who said,
In the future there are two roads. One is to look backward and hang on to what we think we're entitled to. The other is to recognize what has made America. Our virtues lie in a flexible and open, technology friendly, risk-taking, entrepreneurial, market-driven system. This is exactly the same type of challenge farmers went through in the late 1800's, sweatshop workers went through in the early 1900's, and manufacturing workers did in the first half of the 80's. We've got to focus on setting in motion a debate that pushes us into new sources of job creation rather than bemoaning the loss. There are Republicans and Democrats alike who are involved in this protectionist backlash. They're very vocal right now, and they need to be challenged.
Philip P. Pan's sympathetic portrait of Wen Jiabao: Chinese Premier the Ultimate Survivor: Wen's Decision to Take Risks at Right Time Catapulted Him Into Leadership
In episode #311 of The Simpsons, Homer gets his license suspended, and finally manages to make it to his neighborhood bar, which turns out to be just a few yards down the street from his house, but before he goes in, he stops and says, "From now on walking is my beer, and feeling good is my hang-over." (After he falls in love with walking and does a song-and-dance routine about it, his wife Marge runs him over.)

Figure 3 here shows how the precipitous decline in walking by Americans since the 1940's. No wonder we're fat.

Friday, December 5

Casting a Fresh Eye on China With Computer, Not Ink Brush By JANE PERLEZ, on the Chinese video artist Yang Fudong:
For all the attention that he and other young Chinese artists have received abroad, few of them any longer want to leave their homeland, Mr. Yang said.

"My friends and I don't have a strong desire to live abroad," Mr. Yang said as he served tea in the living room of his sixth floor walk-up that has so far survived this city's hyperactive bulldozers. "I'm not interested in politics. Our thinking is very simple: It's good to go abroad for several weeks for an exhibition, then after a while you have to come back. You get homesick."

"What's great is to make a movie with your friends, chat, eat Chinese food," he said. "It's a great life, and that's life now."

Unlike those who left in the 90's after the Tiananmen Square crackdown, current Chinese painters and installation and video artists said they could work pretty much unfettered. Certainly, direct hits at the political system are forbidden, and homosexuality as a subject is off-limits. But after officialdom allowed a sharp-edged show, designed to counter the 2000 Shanghai Biennale, to proceed unscathed, the closing of art shows has been virtually unheard of, they said.

Another inducement to stay is the availability of the latest computer and video equipment, especially in prestigious Chinese art schools. China's strength in commercial electronic technology is an important aspect of the art world here.
So things are looking up as far as personal freedom goes. I haven't seen the art, though.

Thursday, December 4

In If Geology Is Destiny, Then Russia Is in Trouble, MOISÉS NAÍM uses the word "petrostate."
Petrostates are oil-rich countries plagued by weak institutions, a poorly functioning public sector, and a high concentration of power and wealth. The gulf between a petrostate's rich natural resources and the chronic poverty of its citizens often leads to political unrest and frustration. Nigeria and Venezuela are good examples.

...When oil revenues flood a nation that has a weak system of democratic checks and balances, dysfunctional politics and economics ensue. A strong democracy and an effective public sector help explain why oil has not distorted Norway the way it has Nigeria or Venezuela. A lot of oil, combined with weak public institutions, fuels poverty, inequality and corruption. It also undermines democracy.

The economic effects are more noticeable. A country whose economy relies mostly on oil exports inevitably has an exchange rate that encourages imports and hinders exports. Such an imbalance favors oil at the expense of other sectors, like agriculture and manufacturing, as their products become more expensive abroad.

And while oil generates export revenues and taxes for the government, it creates few jobs.
Oil is a curse.
Speaking of taboos: Cannibal Case Grips Germany: Suspect Says Internet Correspondent Volunteered to Die By Peter Finn.

Wednesday, December 3

I just played Taboo:
Your Moralising Quotient of 0.00 compares to an average Moralising Quotient of 0.22. This means that as far as the events depicted in the scenarios featured in this activity are concerned you are more permissive than average.

Your Interference Factor of 0.00 compares to an average Interference Factor of 0.12. This means that as far as the events depicted in the scenarios featured in this activity are concerned you are less likely to recommend societal interference in matters of moral wrongdoing, in the form of prevention or punishment, than average.

Your Universalising Factor of -1 compares to an average Universalising Factor of 0.40. Your score of -1 indicates that you saw no moral wrong in any of the activities depicted in these scenarios, which means that it is not possible for this activity to determine the extent to which you see moral wrongdoing in universal terms (i.e., without regard to prevailing cultural norms and social conventions).
None of which is a great surprise. I wonder what's for supper....
According to China Tells Its Public of Enormity of AIDS Toll By JIM YARDLEY, the Chinese believe their media:
"I've never heard of it," he said. "I'm from Henan Province. We don't have it in Henan." Told that Henan is an epicenter of AIDS, with huge numbers of cases and deaths, Mr. Zhao shook his head. "There is nothing like that," he said. "It would have been on television if people had died of AIDS."
Hints of Wine? Chocolate Enters the Tasting Room By JULIA MOSKIN:
Americans traditionally prefer milk chocolate, which is used in virtually all candy bars. But according to annual studies conducted by the Chocolate Manufacturers Association, the percentage of Americans who prefer dark chocolate to milk has risen steadily, from 15 percent in 1991 to 27 percent in 2002. And among Americans 35 and over, the preference for dark chocolate has now risen to 37 percent.
Me, too. I wonder how long it will take the American mass marketers to catch on. Still, it doesn't have to be the hoity-toity stuff the article presents. I like tablets that I get at ED's or Monoprix in Paris: dark chocolate with hazelnuts or orange peel.
For a Good Time, Well, Don't Call Dad By MARY DUENWALD, about men's two basic mating strategies, refers to
the fledgling field of Darwinian literary studies, in which scholars try to draw connections between literature and evolutionary science.
The literary professors are still desperate to establish their relevance, but as Dr. Marlene Zuk, a biology professor at the University of California at Riverside
questioned whether it was scientifically useful to identify the cad and dad types in literature.

"Looking at literature isn't going to let us advance evolutionary theory," Dr. Zuk said. "You're just describing what you're seeing. You're not testing a hypothesis."
Still, it's better than post-modernism.
Mexico Now Feels Pinch of Cheap Labor: An Economy Built on Low Wages Finds Itself Undercut by Influx of Chinese Imports By Mary Jordan:
"Many people see China as a big threat, and obviously it is," said Alejandro Dieck Assad, an economist and top official in Mexico's Finance Ministry. "But China is also simultaneously a big opportunity." He said competition from China could be just the push Mexico needs to accelerate its transition from low-skilled assembly work to more lucrative manufacturing jobs -- less sewing of garments and more fabrication of electric circuits. Dieck said Mexico could also benefit by seeking opportunities in the growing Chinese consumer market and by attracting Chinese tourists to Mexican beaches.
Still, finding on'es comparative advantage ain't easy.
How 'Don't Tell' Translates: The Military Needs Linguists, But It Doesn't Want This One By Anne Hull.
In the past two years, the Department of Defense has discharged 37 linguists from the Defense Language Institute for being gay. Like Glover, many studied Arabic. At a time of heightened need for intelligence specialists, 37 linguists were rendered useless because of their homosexuality.
That's out of "roughly 3,800", but still, it's pretty dumb policy.
In What's the McFuss about?, Colby Cosh quotes author Douglas Coupland, purported inventor of the word "McJob" as criticizing McDonald's "for taking our surname prefix 'Mc' and turning it into a cheesy signifier for tasteless globalized pap."

Colby Cosh goes on to point out that McDonald's serves important functions:
I find it decidedly odd that McD's should have become such a notorious symbol of globalization, considering that it's a franchise operation. When irony-deficient anti-globalization protesters trash a McDonald's shop front, they are usually venting their australopithecine rage on a locally owned business. The evil Golden Arches have provided financial independence and hands-on business training to tens of thousands of homegrown entrepreneurs in every corner of the globe. This is not to be dismissed just because one doesn't like the sauce on a Big Mac. Owning your own restaurant is really the ultimate "McJob."
In Defining Suitable Employment, Joshua Livestro chimes in,
There is something in our culture that devalues making a living through honest hard work...For most people the choice isn't between McJobs and HappyJobs. It's between the dignity of an independent existence which only a job -- any job -- can provide, or the humiliation and isolation of welfare dependency.
New Study Links Chopsticks to Arthritis By TED ANTHONY links to the abstract of the study involving 2,607 60-year-old Beijing residents. Still, the lead investigator said that the increase in risk in the development of hand osteoarthritis is small.

Thursday, November 27

Movies I've seen recently but haven't gotten around to writing about: Antonioni's Il Deserto rosso (1964; Red Desert), which I couldn't be bothered to finish; same goes for Richard Lester's Petulia (1968).

Go Fish (1994), a weak movie about lesbians; there wasn't quite enough to flesh out the time, but at least I could finish it. It was better than the Magical Mystery Tour, which I really wished I could see when it came out in 1967. I can't say I missed much. Otto Preminger's Saint Joan (1957), which was a little tiresome, showing its roots as a play; I can't remember which movie I've seen Richard Widmark in, but it was odd seeing him as the silly dauphin instead of the criminal. I wonder if Jean Seberg got her short hair from this, her first role.

Then again, Les Enfants terribles (1950), directed by Jean-Pierre Melville from Jean Cocteau's adaptation of his own novel was also so talky it seemed like a play. I found it a little over-wrought. The same goes for Chabrol's Le Boucher (1970; The Butcher). The Coen brothers' Blood Simple (1984) was OK, but again, a little over-wrought.

Frances McDormand sure was striking 20 years ago. Every time I see her I think of the exchange from The Man Who Wasn't There, when they talk about getting married:
The man says, "Maybe we should wait until we know each other better."
McDormand's character says drily, "Does it get any better than this?"

Chaplin's Modern Times (1936); it seemed pretty slight, since I'd seen the poster of his factory worker caught in the machine just about forever. The part of the movie not devoted to the factory just wasn't that good. Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent (1940) was OK, but it dragged a little for me. Someone sneered at it for being propaganda. I suppose if it's anti-government, then it's OK. Papillon (1973), with Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman was pretty good. To say that it hasn't aged badly is probably to show my age.

Nagisa Oshima's Seishun zankoku monogatari (1960, Cruel story of youth; I saw his Ai no corrida when it came out in 1976; hey, it really does mean "Bullfight of Love", even if we called it Empire of the Senses). As far as I'm concerned, a couple of rebellious teenagers get what they deserve. Even as a teen I never did get all this yearning for freedom/true love stuff. So it's no surprise I didn't think much of Leonardo DiCaprio's Rimbaud or David Thewlis' Verlaine in Agnieszka Holland's Total Eclipse (1995). Even though they were a couple of real turds, it looked like Holland thought they were really something. Still, the film was well-done, if you could get by the horrible way they behaved.
Chronic Hunger Is Increasing: Report Cites More Undernourished People in Last Half of '90s By Colum Lynch but
...throughout the 1990s, the overall number of hungry people fell by 19 million, thanks to an initial drop of 37 million in the first half of the decade.

Nineteen countries, including China and Brazil, achieved a decline of 80 million chronically undernourished people over the decade. China, which has experienced unprecedented economic growth in the 1990s, was responsible for reducing the number of hungry people by 58 million.
So the Chinese are doing something right.
Jim VandeHei on A Spiritual Struggle for Democrats: Silence on Religion Could Hurt Candidates
In interviews, most of the candidates said they are uncomfortable discussing their faith as publicly as Bush does or Clinton did. Yet most agreed the party must do a better job of connecting with religious voters, or risk not winning the White House in 2004.
Tiny Republic Embraces Taiwan, and China Feels Betrayed By Philip P. Pan.
China's state-run media have accused Taiwan of paying more than $1 million in bribes to Tong and his political party, and belittled Kiribati as "one of the most undeveloped nations" in the world and a place where "politicians are used to extracting graft payments." China also threatened serious consequences if Kiribati did not reverse its decision.
What hypocrisy--it's not as if the Chinese government wasn't engaging in what amounts to bribery. Here it's not just the "one-China policy", but the Chinese satellite tracking base for its lucrative satellite-launch industry & its space program.
But analysts have long argued that the base has a military role as well, helping the People's Liberation Army launch and control reconnaissance satellites, and monitor activities at the main U.S. missile defense test site, located on the atoll of Kwajalein, about 620 miles to the north in the Marshall Islands. China has strongly opposed the development of a missile defense system by the United States.

Wednesday, November 26

Fsss. I just heard about Gao Zhan's pleading guilty Wednesday to illegally sending $1.5 million worth of high-tech items to China. Earlier I defended her against the Chinese government's espionage charges. Even though they may have been "trumped-up" charges, she's obviously a real piece of work.

Monday, November 24

Mexico's Dropout Economy: Many Students Quit After Sixth Grade to Help Their Families By Kevin Sullivan and Mary Jordan suggests one reason for Mexican poverty:
A generation ago, Mexico and South Korea ranked near the bottom in academic achievement among the 30 nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, said OECD official Andreas Schleicher. Today, among people age 25 to 34, Mexico ranks last in the same OECD studies, while South Korea has risen to No. 1. South Korea's highly skilled workers produce some of the world's most popular cars and electronics, but Mexico's workforce still relies largely on sweat.

"It's not that Mexico has declined, it's just that everyone else has progressed," Schleicher said. He said one explanation for the stagnation is clear: Public education is nearly a religion in South Korea, while Mexico ranks last among OECD countries in investment in primary education. "Mexico and other countries that have not kept pace with everyone else in education have paid a heavy price, economically and socially."

Sunday, November 23

Chinese Premier Presses U.S. on Taiwan, Trade: Wen Addresses Wide Range of Issues By John Pomfret and Philip P. Pan. Not much news; he raises the Taiwanese independence issue and US sanctions on Chinese imports.
I'd be more worried about Food-Borne Illness From Produce on the Rise (By MARIAN BURROS) if it weren't for the fact that the primary source for the data is the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
China Seeks to Defuse U.S. Trade Battle: Premier Says His Nation's Economic Growth Helps, Not Harms Americans By Peter S. Goodman. I agree with the Chinese government, for once. The Communist government that's lecturing the US, the world leader of capitalism, about that capitalism.
The NYT on the failure of the Free Trade Area of the Americas talks:
The Bush administration succumbed to Brazil's ambivalence because of its unwillingness to end America's trade-distorting farm subsidies. At the W.T.O.'s gathering in Cancún, the United States sided with the European Union on this point and against Brazil. Agriculture is of immense importance to Latin America because its farmers can compete against American agribusiness in some markets if given a level playing field.

The Bush administration's disturbing pattern of defensively siding with the most obstructionist party at these international negotiations mirrors its domestic strategy of trying to placate narrow protectionist special interests, be they steel makers, cotton farmers or the textile lobby. Both at home and abroad, this approach is a recipe for disaster.
I agree. Does that mean I'm a liberal?
China Market Fuels African Ivory Activity By TOM MALITI. Not a word about the trouble the ivory ban causes for Africans. As this old BBC article says:
Safe in their four-wheel drive safari vehicles, tourists naturally want to see elephants in the wild. But to a subsistence farmer, an elephant is the destroyer of his crops and possibly of his life.

In some parts of Africa, wildlife experts say there is another reason for killing elephants - that there are just too many of them. They eat prodigious amounts of vegetation, and can play havoc with trees and shrubs.
Internet Loosening Media Control in China By PATRICK CASEY. Let's hope so.

Tuesday, November 18

China Set to Act on Fuel Economy; Tougher Standards Than in U.S. By KEITH BRADSHER:
The new standards are intended both to save energy and to force automakers to introduce the latest hybrid engines and other technology in China, in hopes of easing the nation's swiftly rising dependence on oil imports from volatile countries in the Middle East.

They are the latest and most ambitious in a series of steps to regulate China's rapidly growing auto industry, after moves earlier this year to require that air bags be provided for both front-seat occupants in most new vehicles and that new family vehicles sold in major cities meet air pollution standards nearly as strict as those in Western Europe and the United States.
And here's a little gem:
The Chinese rules do not cover pickups or commercial trucks. According to General Motors market research, there is little demand for pickup trucks in China except from businesses, because the affluent urban consumer who can afford a new vehicle regards pickup trucks as unsophisticated and too reminiscent of the horse-drawn carts still used in some rural areas.
The new standards would require all small cars sold in China to achieve slightly better gas mileage than the average new small car sold in the United States now gets, according to calculations by An Feng, a transportation consultant who advised the government on the rules. But officials in Beijing would require much better minimum gas mileage for minivans and, especially, S.U.V.'s than the average vehicle of either type now gets in the United States.


The Chinese standards would require the greatest increases for full-size S.U.V.'s like the Ford Expedition, which would have to go as much as 29 percent farther on a gallon of fuel in 2008 than they do now in the United States, Mr. An calculated. Sport utility sales in China have more than doubled so far this year, but are still a much smaller part of the overall market than they are in the United States.
And anyway, there's some doubt about the efficacy of imposing minimum fuel economy standards instead of raising taxes:
In the United States, G.M. has argued that tighter fuel economy rules are unnecessary because technological improvements will someday improve efficiency anyway. G.M. and other automakers have also contended in the United States that higher gasoline taxes would represent a better policy than higher gas mileage standards, because it would give drivers an economic incentive to choose more efficient vehicles and to drive fewer miles.

China is still considering its policy on fuel taxes, but has not acted so far, because higher fuel taxes would impose higher costs on many sections of society, Mr. Zhang said.
It's not just GM. As Megan McArdle pointed out with regard to the US Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, increasing fuel efficiency lowers the costs to users, so they use more. If the goal is lower fuel consumption, raising taxes is the answer, but the Americans don't want to do that any more than the Chinese.
(I can only access her through proxies like this). See also this .pdf article.
Zorba Paster is a little annoying, but I agree with his advice on eating less calories and exercising more. Similarly, What Should We Eat? from the NYT By DENISE GRADY
In a word -- less.
Counting calories may seem like an old-fashioned approach, given the trendy diets that abound these days, but food is fuel, the body burns it and the laws of physics still apply. For adults, one way to estimate how many calories you need in a day just to maintain your current weight is to divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 (to convert it to kilograms) and then multiply the results by 30. Using that formula, a 150-pound person needs about 2,045 calories a day. Men usually need a bit more than women, and active people more than sedentary ones.

People who start paying attention are often surprised at how fast calories add up, and, unless they eat a lot of vegetables, how little food provides 2,000 calories. A corn muffin or a large serving of French fries can have more than 400 calories, for instance, a cheesesteak sandwich more than 800, two tablespoons of salad dressing close to 200, a chocolate sundae more than 1,000.

To lose one pound, it is necessary to cheat the body of 3,500 calories -- say, 500 a day for a week, or 350 a day for 10 days. That means either eating less or burning off calories by exercising.
I can't believe people are still messing around with fad diets and apparently refusing to exercise. On the other hand, the article also talks about living longer by eating a lot less. That's not worth it for me.

Monday, November 17

20 things that only happen in movies (via Marginal Revolution). I saw another (better?) one of these lists awhile ago, maybe on the Straight Dope Message Board. The one not listed here that gets me is cats always meow in the movies, unlike in real life.
China is #1... for media corruption. (link via Xiao Qiang).
The hukou and dang an are alive and well. (Is Ashcroft jealous?)

China forces internal migration -- again: College grads told, 'Get a job' or end up in Inner Mongolia by Jehangir Pocha. They told students about to graduate that if they did not get jobs by June 30, they would have their papers sent to Inner Mongolia. The papers referred to are
his hukou, or residence permit, and dang an, or personal file. Together they are "China's most insidious tools of social control," says Duan Chen Rong, a professor of demographics at the People's University in Beijing.

A hukou is a residence permit issued to every citizen. It determines where a person can live. "It is like a passport for travel within China," says Duan. The difference is that it is a restricted passport that prevents holders from moving freely within the country.

Issued at birth by local governments, a hukou used to require a person to reside only within the town or district of his or her birth.
"China has pursued an economic strategy that has favored the urban industrial sector while exploiting the farm sector," says Kam Wing Chan, a professor of geography at the University of Washington who has studied China's hukou policy for several years. "In small towns and even some medium-sized cities, there are few, if any, benefits attached to the local hukou.

"Having a city hukou is like having EU (European Union) citizenship. Having a rural one is like being a citizen of a Third World country," says Julio Arias, an investment consultant. Such perceptions are creating a "problem of demand and supply," says Duan of the People's University. "The government needs skilled workers to develop backward provinces, but skilled people don't want to go there....
(link via Jeannie Yang)

Sunday, November 16

Stuart Hughes' blog includes stuff about what it's like to be a journalist with a leg blown off. It's not just the soldiers who are brave. Hughes also criticizes egocentric and ratings-obsessed journalists with the desire to put themselves at the centre of the story.
At Marketplace, Jocelyn Ford reports China resurrects lavish funerals

Economic reforms in China are overhauling the country's funeral industry, representing changes in Chinese customs relating to death and dying. While, in the 1960s, the Communist Party tried to wipe out ancestor worship as a feudal superstition, in the 1990s, cemeteries were resurrected as a legitimate business -- and some traditional practices are creeping back. These days, spending large amounts on a respectable grave and funeral is back in style.

Saturday, November 15

Two items on sex in China

1) The steamy tale of three cities that sums up China’s sexual confusion From Hector Mackenzie:
Increasingly influenced by Western influences, China is a country where you can buy a Viagra hotpot (for up to £150) at a spicy Sichuan restaurant (men and women are not allowed to dine together, presumably for fear of the potential consequences) or sex at a brothel masquerading as a beauty parlour, bar or sauna.

Yet eyebrows are still raised when condom machines are installed on university campuses in the capital. And a survey in August this year by the respected People’s University in Beijing found that one in four long-term couples have sex less than once a month. Might they be among the 70% of men and 30% of women who admitted in another poll that they had viewed pornography over the course of the past year?
2) China's sexual revolution mentions Pan Suiming, a sexologist at People's University conducted a nationwide survey on Chinese sexual behavior.
During the Cultural Revolution forty years ago, love and sex were denounced as bourgeois decadence.

Pan explains "After the Cultural Revolution,as soon as politics changes, sex rebounded. That's why we say the Cultural Revolution is the father of the current sexual revolution."

If politics is the father -- what's the mother of sexual revolution?

"That's the one-child policy adopted in 1980, which shattered the Confucian belief that reproduction is the only purpose of sex, " says Pan.

But he warns that as Chinese men and women seek sexual fulfillment comes some unintended consequences: Teen pregnancy, extra-marital relations and divorce; already on the rise as China breaks the boundaries of sexual satisfaction.
It's not all good.
Some Chinese Mete Out Rat Poison Revenge By STEPHANIE HOO:
Across China, aggrieved parties are increasingly turning to an outlawed but easily available weapon: a particularly lethal form of rat poison called "Dushuqiang."

With case after lurid case being described in the state-controlled media, the Chinese government has had enough.
It sounds like another moral panic to me.

Last month, Deputy Agriculture Minister Fan Xiaojian told an anti-Dushuqiang task force that while most illegal poison producers had been forced underground, the fight was not over.
There's a surprise: declaring something illegal doesn't solve the problem.
China's Improving Image Challenges U.S. in Asia By Philip P. Pan:
When a research group in Bangkok asked residents last month what country they consider Thailand's closest friend, about 76 percent named China. By comparison, fewer than 8 percent of residents questioned by the Kasikorn Research Center picked Japan, Thailand's top trading partner and its number one source of foreign investment. Barely 9 percent chose the United States, a longtime military ally and the world's leading importer of Thai goods.
Which sounds as if it's at least partly trendiness.
The success of Chinese diplomacy in the region can be attributed in part to the rise of a generation of better-educated, better-traveled diplomats. But Chinese analysts said it also reflects a fundamental foreign policy shift in which China has decided to act like a "great power" with responsibilities across the region instead of just playing the role of a victim exploited by Japanese and Western nations for a century.
It's hard to argue with that.

Wednesday, November 12

Why waste your time looking at the Dysfunctional Family Circus?
Another Political Survey. This one claims it's better than the political compass I took twice. Here are my results, specificially, left/right: -1.3777 (-0.0829); pragmatism: +6.5325 (+0.3932), which if I understand it correctly, says I'm a left-wing pragmatist. I can't believe I'm to the left of Tony Blair, even if I'm far more of a pragmatist.
Hold the Vitriol By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF:
A new report from the Pew Research Center says that America is more polarized now than at any time since its polling series began in 1987. Partly that's because it used to be just the Republicans who were intense in their beliefs, while now both sides are frothing.
The most striking cleavage is the God Gulf, and it should terrify the Democrats. Put simply, liberals are becoming more secular at a time when America is becoming increasingly religious, the consequence of a new Great Awakening. Americans, for example, are significantly more likely now than in 1987 to say they "completely agree" that "prayer is an important part of my daily life" and that "we all will be called before God on Judgment Day to answer for our sins."

The Pew survey found that white evangelicals are leaving the Democratic Party in droves. Fifteen years ago, white evangelicals were split equally between the two parties; now they're twice as likely to be Republicans. Likewise, white Catholics who attend Mass regularly used to be strongly Democratic; now they are more likely to be Republican.

Since Americans are three times as likely to believe in the virgin birth of Jesus as in evolution, liberal derision for President Bush's religious beliefs risks marginalizing the left.