Friday, February 28

Phuong Ly writes on "Yao-Mania":
Across the country, Asian Americans are turning out in droves to see Yao in action, proud that someone who looks like them (although 7 foot 5 inches tall) is on the verge of dominating a major league sport.
Exposing my ignorance: I think it's silly to watch because a player "looks like" you. They're plenty of white guys--well, a few, anyway--playing sports, and I still can't identify with them. And by the way, a pet peeve of mine: plenty of "Asian Americans" don't look like Yao Ming.
Visiting a China transformed by capitalist-style economic development, Cuban leader Fidel Castro said Thursday he hardly recognized the country that is one of his ailing nation's few remaining communist allies. Castro, the world's longest-serving communist leader, said China's advances left him amazed.
Maybe you should try economic reforms, Fidel. Although I'm afraid the Americans won't trade with you unless you start democratic reforms.

Bodeen later writes:

As Fidel Castro seized power in Cuba in 1959, China was in the throes of an ultimately catastrophic push toward converting all private farms to communes. Yet while the Cuban leader stuck doggedly to his communist guns, China over the past decades junked such dreams of utopia and transformed a vast, agrarian state into one of the world's chief market economies. For the 76-year-old Castro, who last visited China seven years ago, the difference was bewildering....China and Cuba are two of the last remaining one-party communist states, but the similarity just about ends there. Cuba muddles on with a planned communist economy still reeling from the loss of Soviet subsidies. Meanwhile, China has become aggressively mercantile, growing into the world's manufacturing powerhouse. Its cities are littered with new high-rises, their streets clogged with vehicles.
Guy Gugliotta and Eric Pianin discuss the arguments in favor of manned and unmanned spaceflight. The former is prohibitively unsafe and expensive, and uses superannuated machinery to do second-rate science, but it's prestigious and romantic. Heavily symbolic, in other words. So we'll probably keep doing it.
Herbert Inhaber:In small quantities, many toxics, including dioxin, are actually good for you. I've long since come 'round to the opinion that people are far too afraid of "chemicals". It's modern man's superstition.

Wednesday, February 26

Thomas L. Friedman:
When it comes to the Middle East, the whole issue of democratization and better governance simply is not part of the debate over the future. To the extent that it is, it is used as a tool to beat up on enemies, not a supreme value to be promoted for everyone.
Meanwhile, Anthony Shadid writes how U.S. plans for a post-war Iraq are alienating our supporters, because it's colonialism to them.

Tuesday, February 25

I agree with Thomas L. Friedman. For most of us, the threat is far overblown.
Jonathan Rauch on introverts. (Via Arts & Letters Daily)
Blasts caused by homemade explosives tore through cafeterias at China's top two universities within two hours of each other Tuesday, injuring at least nine people, police and school authorities said.
As the article says, explosives are cheap and easy to buy in China. I imagine it's crazies bent on personal revenge. Now if they made gun ownership legal....

Monday, February 24

Reminder: our library is processing Qiu Xiaolong's Death of a Red Heroine and A Loyal Character Dancer (also mentioned by Micah Sittig).

They're mysteries written in English, not translated from Chinese.
The most annoying thing about Fred Durst's remarks for me was his use of "agreeance". Reuters, David Segal, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly notice it, even if the OED has it.

Sunday, February 23

Lauren Slater discusses research arguing that encouraging people to revisit trauma is counterproductive for many people. Although she's unsympathetic to therapy, citing a study that found that psychotherapy in general helped no more, no less, than the slow passing of time. Even though she's talking about trauma, repressing unpleasant feelings, in the sense of minimizing, distracting, or denying is something that the Chinese often do. And she does show some evidence that repression works for some Americans. She also cites critics who say it doesn't work for everyone. Well, so what? Talk therapy doesn't work for everyone. This assumption that there is one global solution for everyone is something we see a lot of. We assume that since a particular method works in one place, it's going to work everywhere. Not likely. Frinstance, in bilingual education, my colleagues insist that it's not good for kids. Well, anecdotally, I know people including myself who were put into primary schools with zero background in the language and functioned well anyway.

Saturday, February 22

CHARLENE BARSHEFSKY calls for economic liberalization in the Middle East. Absolutely. If more people had jobs, there wouldn't be so much fanaticism.
Jerry Useem on Wal-Mart. He quotes someone who says, "Wal-Mart is the largest single revenue generator for Hollywood in the world." No wonder people focus on
"'What's the right closet product for Wal-Mart, what's the right stroller?' " Little wonder that Stockholm Syndrome--the phenomenon in which hostages come to identify with their captors--has been a problem for some companies. "At first there's resistance, then they break down, then they go to the other side," says Steve Cleere, a consultant at TradeMarketing. "They're thinking like Wal-Mart people instead of brand people, and they need to be rotated out."
But it's not all bad:
By systematically wresting "pricing power" from the manufacturer and handing it to the consumer, Wal-Mart has begun to generate an economy-wide Wal-Mart Effect. Economists now credit the company's Everyday Low Prices with contributing to Everyday Low Inflation, meaning that all Americans--even members of Whirl-Mart, a "ritual resistance" group that silently pushes empty carts through superstores--unknowingly benefit from the retailer's clout. A 2002 McKinsey study, moreover, found that more than one-eighth of U.S. productivity growth between 1995 and 1999 could be explained "by only two syllables: Wal-Mart." "You add it all up," says Warren Buffett, "and they have contributed to the financial well-being of the American public more than any institution I can think of."
Competitors and suppliers fear a "unipolar" world:
Wal-Mart in 2003 is, in short, a lot like America in 2003: a sole superpower with a down-home twang. As with Uncle Sam, everyone's position in the world will largely be defined in relation to Mr. Sam.
But still, Wal-Mart is the manufacturers' favorite retailer and their most profitable account. They work with their suppliers. All in the name of low prices. Now they're threatening to to kill the category killers, because of those fat margins. Is nothing sacred? Apparently not even Microsoft: Wal-Mart is now marketing a $200 bare bones computer on a Linux-based system. Jerry Useem also has an interview available online.

Friday, February 21

The Guardian isn't all bad: David Newnham wrote about superstition and how although modernity brings secularisation, it nevertheless fails to satisfy many psychological and emotional needs, to the despair of rationalists. (via Arts & Letters)
Philip P. Pan reports that Chinese college students caught having sex before marriage are supposed to be expelled. In one case, college officials told the couple
to write confessions detailing where, when and how many times they had had sex. They also advised them to admit they had engaged in "morally degenerate and disgusting conduct and improper sexual activity." If they confessed, the students said, the college would consider allowing them to withdraw from school without the violation being recorded in their permanent records. But expulsion was almost a certainty, they said.
Interestingly, the state-run press has sided with the lovers.

And even more interesting, one can buy do-it-yourself hymen repair kits in China.

Wednesday, February 19

MATTHEW HOY has a table showing just how unfree the states on the U.N. Security Council are. But I'm afraid we're missing the point here. To those who dislike the Americans for being a hyper-power, apparently values such as freedom don't matter as much as "listening" to the concerns of these less free countries. And that's setting aside economic or religious freedom, support for which is far from universal. (via Instapundit.)

Tuesday, February 18

Geez, I try to give the French a break, but then, when a dozen countries either set to join the EU or in membership talks sign letters supporting the United States, Chirac says,
"These countries have been not very well behaved and rather reckless of the danger of aligning themselves too rapidly with the American position....It is not really responsible behavior. It is not well brought-up behavior. They missed a good opportunity to keep quiet....I felt they acted frivolously because entry into the European Union implies a minimum of understanding for the others"...
and he calls the letters "infantile" and "dangerous," adding: "They missed a great opportunity to shut up."
Wait a minute...who missed a chance to shut up? When asked why he wasn't similarly critical of the EU nations that signed the letter, Chirac said: "When you are in the family ... you have more rights than when you are asking to join and knocking on the door." CNN European Political Editor Robin Oakley described Chirac's outburst as "pretty grumpy and imperious." "For him to lecture these applicant countries or these accepted members on their way in was really behavior like the worst of what the French complain about in the United States," Oakley said. "It was bullying really. ... It was very, very tough stuff. I think some of the other EU leaders will feel it was out of order. But perhaps it shows just how much Jacques Chirac was stunned by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's differentiation between what he calls 'old Europe' and 'new Europe.'"
That sounds about right.

Meanwhile, Timothy Garton Ash points out how silly the Euro-American split is. Although I have a quibble with this statement:
Talking to high school and college students in Missouri and Kansas, I encountered a strange folk prejudice: the French, it seems, don't wash.
In my personal experience, you'll run into the occasional stinky Frenchman in museums and at concerts, not just amongst the sweaty workers. (link via konnecticut dot com).

John Vinocur wonders if Chirac's reaction is "venting frustration at the cold prospect of France's diminished influence in Europe." (link via Glenn Reynolds).

And even before Chirac (mis-)spoke, the Economist wrote that Chirac's campaign
has meanwhile inflicted collateral damage, not least on the very institutions in which Mr Chirac says he believes. These institutions had to change anyway to adjust to a changing world. But they did not have to change like this. One victim is the EU itself. Though it was impolite of Donald Rumsfeld, America's defence secretary, to have dwelt with such high glee on the divisions between ��old�� and ��new�� Europe, he got it right. For many decades France and Germany gave the EU its sense of direction. But as only two countries in an EU that will soon number 25, they should not have pretended to speak for the rest. A fortnight ago the leaders of Britain, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Denmark, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic expressed solidarity with the American position. A week ago another ten European countries joined this gang of eight. Mr Chirac wants Europe to be a counterweight to the Americans. History may judge that he did the opposite. America, to adapt an old saying, may have called a new Europe into existence to redress the balance of the old.

A second victim is NATO. With Germany and Belgium, France has tried to stop the 16 other members from responding to a Turkish request for help ahead of any Iraqi war. Snapping this most basic pillar of the alliance's defence arrangements has outraged the new members from eastern Europe. It can only strengthen the voices of those Americans who have long argued that Europeans will no longer fight for anything until they feel the blade at their throat��and that in matters of defence Americans must therefore depend upon themselves.

If Mr Chirac persists in blocking the new Iraq resolution that America and Britain are now seeking, he may be able to add the weakening of the Security Council to this hat-trick of own goals. He will not be able to stop the war: if Iraq does not disarm, the Americans will fight without such a resolution. For going it alone they will pay a price, no doubt, both during the war and in the rebuilding of Iraq that follows. But they will cite as justification both their own security and Iraq's dozen years of non-compliance with all the previous resolutions. The only thing France will have achieved is to ensure that this American president will not trust the Security Council again.
My italics.

Monday, February 17

Long, long, ago, before the original Star Wars came out, it was being hyped somewhere (the NYT?), and at that time, being a big Heinlein fan, I kept wanting it to be his Starship Troopers. Even though it was obvious this was something different, I was a little disappointed when the first Star Wars film finally came out. It didn't have whatever I thought of as what science fiction ought to have. I just found movieblog, and like a lot of people, he complains about the prequels. But actually, they're all kind of silly. Anyway, I've long since stopped reading science fiction regularly, and I never bothered to see the film version of Starship Troopers when it finally came out. By that time, my tastes had changed so much, it sounds like I would have found it pretty stupid. American movies have gotten increasingly loud and annoying, while my wife and I have gotten old (and probably annoying in our own way.) We still haven't seen either of the Lords of the Rings; we'll probably end up seeing them on cable or dvd. We never did see Titanic, and frankly, never wanted to. A few days ago I ran across an article in the Times (the real one, in London) about cop/buddy movies, which mentioned Les Ripoux, which I'd heard of but never seen. Although it's pretty well-known and was quite popular in France, it apparently never made it to video. Not arty enough for the foreign film buffs, and too foreign for the cop movie buffs. That's the kind of foreign stuff we like to see--middle-brow foreign movies.

Sunday, February 16

Andrew Northrup links to Ben MacIntyre and Justin Vaisse who both have good points to make about francophobia. I just caught the tail end of the eternally annoying Andy Rooney saying the French didn't have the right to oppose an American war. Nonsense.

Andrew also calls our attention to the fact
that our most precious national resource, our celebrities, are in crisis....It seems clear to me that liberals bear the primary responsibility for this, as their post-modern "anything goes" sophistry and moral equivalence leaves another once-sturdy American institution shattered and degraded.
Ah, weep for us!
My most successful baguettes yet. (See here and here for previous efforts). I used a chef again, this time unfrozen; the first fermentation took just overnight, so I refrigerated it before the second fermentation, which only took about 6 hours, after which I refrigerated it again. Then today, I took it out of the fridge about 7 and added the final dose of yeast and flour. I left it a little sticky, and after dividing it into 2 let it rise on a flat surface covered with bowls, in the hope that that would make for less popping of the bubbles. I sprayed it with water before putting it in the oven, and three times more while it was baking, and while the texture was still a little too fine, and the crust not quite as crisp as it might have been, it looked good. Maybe next time I'll try baking it a little longer.

Thomas L. Friedman argues that the Chinese should do more against Iraq & Korea because instability will affect their economy.
Leslie Wayne on offsets, which are
any form of aid � direct investments, agreements to help countries export their goods, pacts to use more foreign components in the weapons sold, even transferring subassembly jobs overseas.
Or to put it another way:
"Offsets are the equivalent of what we used to do when we bribed foreign officials," said Robert E. Scott, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal research group in Washington. "It's a tragedy, and it's a race to the bottom. The best way to avoid these kinds of competitive and disruptive games is to outlaw the practice."
Many of the businesses themselves don't like them, either:
"Everything about offsets is totally counter to a free-trade philosophy. If we have the world's best armaments, other countries should buy them free and clear. The mice here are in charge of the cheese."
Of course, this being the NYT, they're also criticized for costing the United States "thousands of precious manufacturing jobs".
Felicia R. Lee discusses American anti-gallic & anti-teutonic feeling; although she credits the Simpsons with the phrase �surrender-monkey�, she coyly refuses to cite the whole thing, omitting "cheese-eating". A few thoughts: It's a little odd that Americans seem to be angrier at the French than at the Germans. Maybe it's that French superciliousness. Anyway, although the French certainly can be irriating, it's childish to fall into this us/them game, where if you're not with us, you're against us. And talk of boycotts against Germany or France is dumb; it won't change the minds of the average anti-war protester and as a commentator pointed out on this broadcast, globalization means that it would backfire. And another thing--just because we helped the French out in WW I & II, and rebuilt Germany, that doesn't mean they have to agree with us all of the time.

Saturday, February 15

Jonathan Ansfield on how image-oriented Beijing officials in the run-up to the 2008 Olympics want to force taxi drivers to dismantle the scrap iron cages built to protect them, because they make the city look unsafe.
"The basic purpose was to improve Beijing's safety image, but what would it prove?" huffed driver Fu Xiaomei...."Are they also going to eliminate security at big banks and government offices? Would they call off the guards at Zhongnanhai?" he asked tongue-in-cheek, referring to the Communist Party leadership compound...."Every big city has some crime and Beijing is no different," he said. "This would only fix things on the surface. It does not resolve the basic underlying problems."
Jim Wolf quotes the Pentagon's top policy-maker for East Asia saying
China was arming itself to keep the U.S. military at bay in a crunch.Taiwan, he added in a speech on Thursday night, must not consider U.S. support "as a substitute for investing the necessary resources in its own defense."
also, at a privately sponsored U.S.-Taiwan defense industry conference, the State Department's top official on China:
"We urge Taiwan to take the steps needed to acquire defensive weapons and systems sufficient to address the ever-increasing threat posed by the PRC"
Look, if Taiwan doesn't want to buy the weapons and wants to fall in to the arms of the Communists, that's up to them, isn't it? I guess not if the organizers of the closed-door conference,
notably top U.S. military contractors, were "frustrated" by Taiwan's delay in wrapping up billions of dollars of weapons purchases authorized in April 2001 by President Bush.
If this is all true, it shows those leftist ideas about the military-industrial complex are on target.

The reason Taiwan isn't buying the weapons on offer is that it's hoping for something more up-to-date. So the message the US government is sending is that it ain't gonna happen.
I don't know why the "What would Jesus drive?" thing won't leave me alone. Anyway, I thought he rode an ass, but as Ed Quillen points out, although he did, it was only once, on Palm Sunday; otherwise, he walked.

Thursday, February 13

Natalie Danford on Gavin Menzies. Why don 't publishers check the facts? Because they want to make money. (via Jonathan Davis)
Some old news: Jasper Becker writes,
The world's biggest bureaucracy says it will end the job-for-life guarantee of its 30 million or more officials. Since 1949 only 3,000 Chinese officials have been sacked, because being an official is synonymous with being a Communist Party member....Since 1949, there have been nine reforms of the bureaucracy but it is has, none the less, grown relentlessly. Chairman Mao Zedong pruned the number of ministries to 25 and packed off tens of millions of people to the countryside for "re-education" but China now has about one official for 25 people compared with one for every 90 when the Communists took power. The latest attempt started in 1992 and is intended to form a Western-style civil service with performance reviews, exams and complaints procedures, which should enforce regulations that are no longer secret internal documents but openly available. The aim is to curb corruption and nepotism and to make decisions more open and transparent, a goal required for membership of the World Trade Organisation.
Philip P. Pan and Jin Ling report how workers in China threaten suicide to get paid.

Meanwhile, John Ruwitch reports on how some newspapers and Web sites are starting to report on protests by unpaid migrant workers--a "meaningful step toward a slightly freer press". The media attention coincides "with a drive by new Communist Party chief Hu Jintao to champion the cause of the impoverished." Many economists say that the rural-urban wealth gap "is wider now than when the communists came to power in 1949." (Even if peasant incomes have grown in absolute terms.) The official Xinhua news agency says per capita net income for rural people averaged 2,366 yuan ($285) that year. The urban disposable income last year was about 7,000 yuan ($845) per head. (Although according to The Economist, "measured by the benchmark of purchasing-power parity, China's income per head is $5,500").

Wednesday, February 12

Elisabeth Rosenthal writes that although people in China can still get in trouble for organizing a political party or a workers' protest.
Many former activists have come in from the cold to promote their ideas as lecturers, editors or authors. With China's private sector booming, they can now do so with a degree of intellectual and financial freedom.
At universities,
talk of multiparty democracy and free trade unions � ideas that would have meant jail time a decade ago � are now common cafeteria discussions.
That's heartening. Still,

Human rights activists complain that dozens if not hundreds of dissidents are still in prison for espousing ideas that are now commonplace.
And the government's newfound tolerance is applied unevenly and unpredictably.
Nicholas Wade presents the case that 16 million men, may be able to claim descent from Genghis Khan.
Since Mongol rulers controlled a large area, it was "perfectly plausible" that they should have fathered many children. "It's pretty clear what they were doing when they were not fighting".

Monday, February 10

Jonathan Mirsky reviews Robin Munro's report on China's Political Psychiatry. It's being used as an instrument of political persecution in China. The pretext is changing from "mentally pathological 'counterrevolutionary behavior' or 'behavior that endangers state security'" to "negative political speech and action". (via Arts & Letters Daily).

Meanwhile, I ran across an article about Eastern State Penitentiary

In 1842, Charles Dickens visited it. I used to pass it when I walked to Temple U, but I never saw the inside. According to Daniel Brook, based on Quaker thinking, it was supposed to be a "house of repentance", where silence, solitude, surveillance, and anonymity ruled. Dickens described its system of "rigid, strict, and hopeless solitary confinement" as "cruel and wrong." "I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body." After interviewing a man who was two years into a five-year sentence for larceny, Dickens, one of the world's greatest chroniclers of human degradation, wrote, "I never saw or heard of any kind of misery that impressed me more than the wretchedness of this man." Brook notes the resemblence to the modern "supermax" prison. One psychiatrist has concluded that the regimen in security housing units drives prisoners insane.
Mark Goldblatt on more pomo foolishness. (link via cinderellabloggerfeller)
Mireya Navarro says,
Hispanic students battle many of the problems that other minority students do � the lack of role models and practical college advice at home, as well as inadequate preparation from schools. But they also face additional barriers of language and culture, particularly an attachment to the extended family, the experts say. Latino teenagers often stay home while attending college, making it all the more likely that they get caught up in their families' financial needs. "With living at home often comes the sense of having to contribute and be one of the wage earners in the extended family," said Roberto Suro, Pew center director.
OK, but the Chinese also have a culturally ingrained tendency to sacrifice themselves for their families. I suspect that the problem is that Latino families may be willing to sacrifice the child's education for the good of the family, whereas for the Chinese, the family in the short term sacrifices for the good of the child's education, while in the long term, they expect reciprocity from the child. Here we go:
Some students complained about parents who came to this country to work and want their children to do the same � as soon as possible.
That's so short-sighted.
Nicholas Kristof reviews Lincoln Kaye's Cousin Felix Meets the Buddha.
So much for the so-called "dear leader's" policy of "self-reliance"

Don Kirk: South Korean rice costs five times as much as rice in China and Southeast Asia. The government tightly restricts imports and pays farmers artificially high prices for rice, encouraging them to grow even more, so there's a glut, while millions in the North starve.
I'm going to be lecturing about the Opium War tomorrow. I've read that a lot of American opposition to recreational drugs, including alcohol, was connected with ethnic prejudice against those who used an unfamiliar substance (opium & the Chinese, booze and the Irish, marijuana and the Mexicans, heroin and the blacks, not to mention crack), and I've come round to the view that the Chinese opposition to opium was mainly because it was an import.

Opium also always puts me in mind of libertarian stands on "substance abuse". Maybe I should raise the question of libertarianism with the students and tell them to take the World's Smallest Political Quiz, or the one at Politopia (both of these via Dr. Weevil), or maybe The Enhanced Political Quiz. I seem to remember another version, but I can't find it. Then there's the news of caffeine as the new gateway drug (via Radley Balko).

As Mark Kleiman says,
Over the past twenty years, the DEA budget has about tripled in inflation-adjusted terms, while the prices of heroin and cocaine, adjusting for purity and inflation, are down about 80%. Once upon a time, DEA would have called that a mark of failure. The agency used to define its mission as making drugs expensive and hard to come by, labelling its annual calculation of the purity-adjusted price of heroin the "Performance Measurement System."
(Link via The Gweilo Diaries).

The other one I was looking for was The Political Compass

Saturday, February 8

Our union ("Faculty Association") membership has approved the administration's "best and final offer" for ratification into a new contract. So the strike has been called off. Speaking of small class size,
The Faculty Association originally asked for a ratio of 28 students to every member of the bargaining unit, which is made up of about 680 tenured and tenure-track professors. The proposal from the administration said that they will make an effort to ensure that the ratio is not more than 26 to 1.
Erik Eckholm on Beijing industrial chic:
Out of historical respect and postmodern irony, gallery owners are ordering amused workers to preserve the peeling Mao slogans as they resurface the concrete walls.
Aww, isn't that cute? Meanwhile, they're tearing down all the old houses in Beijing.
John Noble Wilford slams Gavin Menzies.
I was reading a Qing story where buckwheat came up, so I had to look it up.
Common buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) is thought to have originated in central and western China from a wild Asian species Fagropyrum cymosum. It has been cultivated in China for over 1,000 years, and was brought to Europe during the Middle Ages.

Doug Eborn says,
It is believed that buckwheat was first domesticated in China.... Whole grain buckwheat is an amazingly nutritious food. Even though it's protein is relatively low at approximately 11%, the protein buckwheat does have contains the eight essential amino acids and is one of the few "grains" (remember that buckwheat isn't a grain at all) high in lysine. If you use half buckwheat flour with your wheat flour, the buckwheat's amino acids will round out the limiting amino acids in your wheat nicely, giving you a nearly perfect balance of the 8 essential amino acids. This particular balance between half wheat and half buckwheat flour is much more closely aligned to your dietary needs even than lean beef!!! It's also rich in many of the B vitamins as well as the minerals; phosphorus, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper and manganese. In addition to this, it's a good oil source of Linoleic acid, one of the two essential fatty acids we must have to be healthy. Nutritionally speaking, buckwheat is a truly impressive food.

Not to mention according to other internet sources, it can ward of cancer and help lose weight. Not that I believe all that.
Peter S. Goodman, Akiko Kashiwagi, and Wang Ting report: According to the Japanese president of a division of Sanyo Electric, China is more capitalist than Japan in terms of labor issues. The Japanese president of a bankrupt company that makes sophisticated printing machines hears an official from a Chinese state-owned company speaking of "returning profit to the shareholder", and generally holding a "very capitalist point of view", and cedes control to him. Pardon me while I jam my eye-balls back into their sockets--I'm a little skeptical that the Chinese are that capitalist.
Matt Richtel: The Feds are recruiting Chinese students at American universities to gain insight into what it says is an intensified effort by the Chinese government to obtain militarily useful technologies in the United States, according to law enforcement officials...."We're not interested in kids taking history or English 101," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "We want lists of students in the nuclear physics program."
Aw, geez. Rub it in! It's not like I don't know about how little the humanities matter (altho some seem to think they're revolutionary and all.)

Friday, February 7

Seth Schiesel: on risk assessment to assess the risk of low-probability, high-consequence events. It helps companies and government agencies decide whether they are prepared to take the chances involved. Sounds better than relying on symbols. An expert says, "You're trying to focus on those things that are important. You can't model all of reality. What would be the point?'' Maybe some day some kind of central planning will actually work. There's a thought.

Thursday, February 6

Jonathan Chait on more wretched symbolism: The article seems to be about why racial preferences survive politically despite the fact that most voters oppose them, but he goes on to say, the main reason
is that the substance of racial preferences matters less than the symbolism. In this, the politics of affirmative action resemble the politics of gun control. Most actual gun measures concern egregious cases, such as assault weapons, where support runs so wide that even gun owners support a ban. Yet Democrats have found that even proposing such modest steps hurts them at the polls. Even in cases where voters support the specific regulation, it gets translated--with the help of the National Rifle Association's (NRA) deep pockets--into a generalized support for gun control, which rural and Southern voters in turn interpret as a sign of disrespect for their values.
That was exquisite. I believe similar symbolic thinking impacts many other hot-button issues, e.g. abortion. (via Eugene Volokh)

Wednesday, February 5

Speaking of those who've accessed this site, someone using Google in Italian found it searching for something about Christine Ricci and armpits. And the person who's asking "why some brothers date white only" is someone else who's going to be disappointed. I don't know how far down that list I am, but I did notice Why I am Not a Postmodernist. Nice.
On our visit to LA, the best meal we had was in a Monterey Park Chinese restaurant called simply "Hunan Restaurant" (423 N. Atlantic Blvd. #101). Spicy inexpensive food and fragrant rice. Most Americans wouldn't like the place because there's not much atmosphere, other than the fact that there are Chinese people there. We went to another place Chinese New Year's Eve that might've been OK ordinarily, but the chef was probably a little hectic, and the food wasn't all that good. We also ate at a Japanese restaurant in Monterey Park. Big servings, but not too good. We should have known better. What's really weird is that somebody in the Monterey Park city gov't accessed this blog after I got back. I didn't think I left any traces from when I was there; I guess I should have worn my tin foil hat.
Moe Freedman links to Jeffrey Goldberg on the risk posed by Iraq, and ends by quoting Robert Gates: "A fifty-per-cent chance of such an attack happening is so terrible that it changes the calculation of risk."

Isn't the best way to think of a war in Iraq in terms of the risks we'll undergo if we don't attack? Speaking for myself, an Iraqi attack (or an Iraqi-assisted attack) on a big US city might not be such a big deal. But symbolically, for most Americans, the shock would be terrible. So most Americans should support a war in Iraq.
Nick Gillespie:
there's no question that over the past decade or so, kids have been exposed to far more sexual content than they used to be, on the tube and elsewhere. What's more, everyone will agree that most of this content is presented in glamorous fashion. Yet this has not created a generation of sex-crazed adolescents....Similarly unrelated trends also hold for violent TV and youth crime: as the former has increased, the latter has declined.
It's always made sense to me that that art isn't all that good at "sending messages", no matter what the politicized critics argue.
Dean Murphy: Jurors Who Convicted Marijuana Grower Seek New Trial. That says it all, doesn't it?
I've got to agree with the much-maligned Paul Krugman that manned space flight is just too expensive. But I'm talking here about the financial cost, not that of human life. Erica Goode writes about how for most people, the astronauts' deaths were different
from the faceless deaths of people whose lives end on the highway, in bathtubs, in hospital beds, in the deserts of Afghanistan....The astronauts' deaths were vivid, unexpected, the bearers of symbolic weight. They represented, said Dr. Daniel Gilbert, a psychologist at Harvard, something greater than the simple loss of life. They were personal, involving, in the language of researchers who study death's effects on the public, "identified" rather than "statistical" victims [for most people]....Reason dictates that statistics matter, that the deaths of tens of thousands merit more attention � and more resources � than the deaths of a few.
Finally, a sentence I can relate to. Still, for most people,
Symbols compel a response, while substance is frequently ignored. Sympathy flows to those portrayed as the saddest, the bravest, the most beloved. The masses, though their need may be larger, fend for themselves.
It may be "normal", but it sounds unreasonable to me, particularly as all of us should have been fully aware of the risks; Charles Krauthammer:
The risk of catastrophe for a commercial jet is 1 in 2 million. For a fighter jet, it is 1 in 20,000. NASA's best estimate for the shuttle was 1 in 240. Our experience now tells us that it is about 1 in 50.
I know, I know, I sound overly harsh, but people die tragic deaths--and live tragic lives--every day, and the unfortunate astronauts carry no symbolic weight for me.
Julian Sanchez on divine messages:
Whenever I hear someone announce that God has spared them (or some loved one) from a particular disaster or illness, I always find myself thinkng: "Gee, good thing God likes you specifically so much better than all those other poor saps."
Permalinks not working; it's under "Signs & Portents" on his blog.
Mystery solved. Martin Fackler:
Two men whose bodies fell from an Air France jetliner in Shanghai last week were identified Thursday by police as Turkish nationals with a history of stowing away in airline luggage holds.
(via Rice Cooker).
The milk of human kindness
AFP sez:
Revelations that a restaurant in China is serving dishes cooked with human breast milk farmed from mothers living in rural areas have sparked public fury, newspapers reported yesterday.
If I recall correctly, traditionally the Chinese viewed human milk as especially nutritious. (via Rice Cooker).