Wednesday, March 26

ELISABETH ROSENTHAL, Factories Wrest Land From China's Farmers on how officials sell off farmland for commercial use,
often with little or no compensation for the farmers, who lease land collectively held by their villages and have only vague property rights....their small plots are unable to compete in a market economy. In practice, farmers say, the transition is being accomplished by selling the farmers' fields against their will, with the benefits of development and urbanization going only to a few.
Her reporting is starting to get good; that means she's probably about to be reassigned.
China Bars W.H.O. Experts From Origin Site of Illness, By LAWRENCE K. ALTMAN and KEITH BRADSHER. The headline says it all. Compare this.
Iain Murray, $6.1 Million Men, on cost/benefit analysis, points out that the Environmental Protection Agency values each human life at $6.1 million, but
one consideration is saving lives, the public sector therefore has to come up with a figure that it can use to assess the economic value of a life. This is a difficult thing to do, but one way to do it is to assess how much economic activity an individual will undertake in his or her life - how much income will they earn, how much will they spend or invest and so on? This is generally the approach used in transportation economics and the standard value used by the U.S. Department of Transportation is $2.7 million.
Funny comments, too. Some people just don't get it.
Indira A.R. Lakshmanan has an article entitled Freed detainees cite rewards, beatings, and the story does indeed speak of some unnamed persecution and beatings, but
nearly all of the former detainees enthusiastically praised the conditions at Guantanamo and expressed little bitterness about losing a year of their lives in captivity, saying they were treated better there than in three days in squalid cells in Kabul. None complained of torture during questioning or coerced confessions....''The conditions were even better than our homes. We were given three meals a day -- eggs in the morning and meat twice a day; facilities to wash, and if we didn't wash, they'd wash us; and there was even entertainment with video games,'' said Sirajuddin, 24, a taxi driver from Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban.
(link via Jeff Jarvis via Iain Murray). Marc Kaufman and April Witt, Returning Afghans Talk of Guantanamo, are more negative.
I'm leaving for NYC tomorrow to present a paper at the Association for Asian Studies.
A couple of links via Francis Crick says, "The god hypothesis is rather discredited." He also
argues that since many of the actual claims made by specific religions over 2,000 years have proved false, the burden of proof should be on the claims they make today, rather than on atheists to disprove the existence of God.
His colleague James Watson agrees, "Every time you understand something, religion becomes less likely."
In 1961 Crick resigned as a fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge, when it proposed to build a chapel. When Sir Winston Churchill wrote to him pointing out that "none need enter [the chapel] unless they wish", Crick replied that on those grounds, the college should build a brothel.
Meanwhile, Christopher Hitchens' Holy Writ:
Religion of every kind involves the promise that the misery and futility of existence can be overcome or even transfigured. One might suppose that the possession of such a magnificent formula, combined with the tremendous assurance of a benevolent God, would make a person happy. But such appears not to be the case: unease and insecurity and rage seem to keep up with blissful certainty, and even to outpace it.
That just about says it all.

Tuesday, March 25

A good report about encouraging free trade in Arab countries at Marketplace.
Over the years, any number of coincidental findings have suggested that exposure to a particular substance may cause a certain illness. But under the critical eye of careful research, most of these apparent associations turn out to have no cause-and-effect relationship.
Vaccines and Autism, Beyond the Fear Factors, By JANE E. BRODY.
I can't say I much like this, either:
Pick-a-Prof, a three-year-old Web business, is taking consumerism in higher education to a new level, allowing students on some campuses to see the grade distributions for every course and every professor, along with the percentage of students who dropped the course and student reviews of the professor....[Some professors] worried that increased emphasis on ratings would lead professors to focus more on popularity than on substance and to forgo complex and subtle instruction for what was easily accessible.
TAMAR LEWIN, New Online Guides Rate Professors.
Robert Lane Greene: Know Contest (what an execrable pun--I'm just sore because I didn't get it at first): on Saddam's probable lack of info:
the climate of terror which pervaded Hitler's regime compromised the performance of Hitler's highest-level advisers....Instigating perpetual terror may be a good way to amass power, but it turns out to be a bad way to run a government.
Of course I thought of the Chinese. But to give them their due, they're getting better.
Maybe some day I'll figure out these different aircraft. By the way, I understand the Chinese are fascinated by descriptions of weapons. I wonder why there's so little of that in the American media.
Michael Dobbs: Hussein Scores in Propaganda War cites Kenneth M. Pollack, who
argues that the American media have been playing into Hussein's hands by paying too much attention to the issue of U.S. casualties, which are still relatively minor, compared with other major conflicts.
No kidding. Last night on ABC news they showed the picture of the downed helicopter three times. They'll turn me into a hawk yet.

The dark calculus of the moment is the likelihood that Iraqi commanders still hope they can actually win--becoming the first Arab force to defeat a Western force in centuries--if they can just inflict enough causalities....Does this mean American commentators must take a hard view of American losses? Within reason, yes....Also, commentators must accept that U.S. helicopters are going to get shot down. Helicopters fell in Vietnam whenever within range of small-arms fire. Our technological mastery has not altered the fact that helicopters remain fragile.
Gregg Easterbrook, Great Expectations

Monday, March 24

I thought my Gloxinia (I think it's Sinningia speciosa) had died, but it was just going through a natural wintering cycle, and it's come back to life.

Yes, that's what it is.

And here's a forum.
Awhile ago I went online all the time to check how my index mutual funds were doing. Now I'm going online every few minutes to see how the war's doing, mostly at The Command Post. There's got to be a better way to spend my time.

Sunday, March 23

A spoiler about Tess.

Last night we saw Bride of Frankenstein. I'd seen a clip of the bride herself somewhere along the line, but I don't think I'd ever seen the whole thing, although having seen Young Frankenstein, I was somewhat confused as to what I'd seen in the original and what I saw in the parody. It was watchable, but dullard that I am, I'm afraid I missed all the "subversive subtext" that keener minds than mine find.

We also saw Life of Brian, which has aged well, although it's still not that funny, any more than it was when I first saw it, not long after it came out.

Then over a couple of days we saw Polanski's 3-hour Tess (1979), somewhat intruiging in light of what The Smoking Gun calls the "1977 crime that prompted his French exile." Which I found via Colby Cosh:
Q: How do you know the girl's too young? A: When she tells the jury you "performed cuddliness" on her.
The spoiler: at the end of Tess, the heroine murders the man who seduced her and is instrumental in causing her life of misery--although she's responsible, too. Anyway, the movie wasn't bad.

Nolo Consentire argues that a girl this young wouldn't know the word cunnilingus, and that the episode smacks of witness coaching. More here.

Another update

Steve Gorman reports that Roman Polanski Wins Best Director Oscar
Many in the audience at the Kodak Theater rose to their feet in a standing ovation as his name was read by presenter Harrison Ford, while others remained seated, including Polanski's "Chinatown" star, Jack Nicholson. It was at Nicholson's home that Polanski later admitted to having sex with the underage girl after plying her with champagne and pills. An unsmiling Anjelica Huston, who was in another area of the house at the time, applauded.
I guess Gorman thought stone-faced was too strong.
Paul Berman calls Sayyid Qutb " (pronounced KUH-tahb) "The Philosopher of Islamic Terror
As Qutb saw it, Europeans, under Christianity's influence, began to picture God on one side and science on the other. Religion over here; intellectual inquiry over there. On one side, the natural human yearning for God and for a divinely ordered life; on the other side, the natural human desire for knowledge of the physical universe. The church against science; the scientists against the church. Everything that Islam knew to be one, the Christian Church divided into two. And, under these terrible pressures, the European mind split finally asunder. The break became total. Christianity, over here; atheism, over there. It was the fateful divorce between the sacred and the secular.

Europe's scientific and technical achievements allowed the Europeans to dominate the world. And the Europeans inflicted their ''hideous schizophrenia'' on peoples and cultures in every corner of the globe. That was the origin of modern misery -- the anxiety in contemporary society, the sense of drift, the purposelessness, the craving for false pleasures. The crisis of modern life was felt by every thinking person in the Christian West. But then again, Europe's leadership of mankind inflicted that crisis on every thinking person in the Muslim world as well....

In writing about modern life, he put his finger on something that every thinking person can recognize, if only vaguely -- the feeling that human nature and modern life are somehow at odds.
Speak for yourself, Paulie. I'd agree that many people, particularly many Americans, feel a split, hence their excessive religiosity. Ironically, the religious nature of many Americans is reflected in that of the terrorists. Well, I guess we all have our fundamentalists. As far as I'm concerned, they can live their lives as they like, but that's not good enough for Qutb, who believed
people with liberal ideas were mounting a gigantic campaign against Islam -- ''an effort to confine Islam to the emotional and ritual circles, and to bar it from participating in the activity of life, and to check its complete predominance over every human secular activity, a pre-eminence it earns by virtue of its nature and function.''
So for Paulie, this is an ideological battle: would be nice to think that someone is arguing with the terrorists and with the readers of Sayyid Qutb. But here I have my worries....There is something to worry about here, an aspect of the war that liberal society seems to have trouble understanding -- one more worry, on top of all the others, and possibly the greatest worry of all.
Maybe so. But as ambivalent as I feel about Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Disneyland and other cultural crap, my fellow humans seem to gravitate towards those, so aren't they a good ideological argument, since they've thrived under liberalism?

What I mean to say is that Paulie seems to find Qutb's rantings oddly attractive, and unable to come up with a good liberal argument against them, wants someone else to do it. But for me, the American lifestyle is its own best argument, even though it is often tasteless.

Saturday, March 22

I've heard about Asian women oppressed by their American husbands, but see what Tran Dinh Thanh Lam says about Taiwan's Vietnamese brides, citing Bruno Ciceri, a Catholic priest in charge of the Stella Maris International Service Center for migrants in the southern Taiwanese city of Kaohsiung.
"Many times women are used as a tool for reproduction and they must give birth to a boy, otherwise they are considered useless," he told a recent seminar on migration in Thailand....The lack of love, cultural differences and the language barrier make these marriages doomed to fail from the beginning," he said. He added that some foreign wives are barred from making friends and phone calls and do not know of local laws they can use to assert their rights. Those who cannot speak Mandarin find it almost impossible to get help if they are abused.
John Pomfret and Peter S. Goodman: Mysterious Illness Kills 2 In Beijing in Sign of Spread:
China often plays down or bans the reporting of news that could be construed as shedding a bad light on the government. Local governments often take the lead in suppressing bad news because officials worry it will cost them their jobs. For years, Henan province has denied the seriousness of its AIDS problem because of concerns that it would reflect poorly on the government and affect the "investment environment," a Chinese researcher said.

"SARS is no exception," he said. "We are seeing the government go into crisis mode. When it does that, all information is shut down. In the absence of information, the common people are left to rumors and panic."
Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan write Trade Brings Riches, but Not to Mexico's Poor. They blame NAFTA, but admit
Mexico's weak public education system condemns workers to low salaries in a global economy where skills count. Decades of systemic government corruption have robbed the poorest of everything from high school scholarships to subsidized milk. The broken banking system hands out little credit -- people without the cash to buy a house or start a small business must often do without.

Mexico's inability to enforce the rule of law also discourages the investment needed to create jobs.
Scott Wilson writes Coca Trade Booming Again in Peru: "The United States favors forced eradication, conducted by trained Peruvian police units, while the government wants to employ a mix of interdiction and financial incentives to collapse the coca market."
Baby Girls Found in Suitcases in China. "No relatives have claimed them, the report said."

Thursday, March 20

bitter sanity links to a NYT piece about "a Jordanian who wants to kill Americans - and also wants to become a famous and rich programmer for Microsoft". It's a little like the anti-capitalists who enjoy the fruits of capitalism.
There was an anti-war demonstration outside my classroom today. Fortunately, they were pretty quiet. They didn't get much of a crowd. I was also a little embarrassed for them: they called the demonstration for the south end of the student center, but they meant the north end. And the big basketball game was scheduled to start at around the same time.
In China's Leader Outlines a Social Agenda, John Pomfret writes of the new Chinese premier Wen Jiabao, saying that although China's problems are daunting, "one prospers in worries and hardships and perishes in ease and comfort."

The phrase �����ǻ������ڰ��� is from the philosopher Mencius, who D. C. Lau translates,
Heaven, when it is about to place a great burden on a man, always first tests his resolution, exhausts his frame and makes him suffer starvation and hardship, frustrates his efforts so as to shake him from his mental lassitude, toughen his nature and make good his deficiencies. As a rule, a man can mend his ways only after he has made mistakes. It is only when a man is frustrated in mind and in his deliberations that he is able to innovate. It is only when his intentions become visible on his countenance and audible in his tone of voice that others can understand him. As a rule, a state without law-abiding families and reliable Gentlemen on the one hand, and, on the other, without the threat of foreign invasion, will perish. Only then do we learn the lesson that we survive in adversity and perish in ease and comfort.
Wen Jiabao followed the reference to Mencius by one to the Zuo Zhuan, another Confucian classic, saying �Ӱ�˼Σ���б��޻�: one should "be vigilant in peace time...if one is prepared, there will be no calamity."

In 562 B.C., the ruler of the state of Jin defeated another state after having arranged a clever series of alliances on the advice of his counselor, and the defeated state offered him tribute, including a few music teachers and some musical bells and musical stones as well as sixteen singing girls. When the ruler offered to share some of this with his advisor, the latter refused, saying "I hope that you will enjoy your present pleasure and think about the future. (poetic reference)�Now using music to repose in virtue, using righteousness in order to deal with things, using propriety in order to act upon matters, using good faith in order to protect oneself, and using benevolence in order to influence others, you can then keep the state in order, collect your recompense, attract strangers from afar: this is what is called music. The history classic says, "dwell in comfort and think of danger": when you think you will be prepared, and when you are prepared there will be no calamity.

For this translation I used the Zuozhuan Digital Indices and consulted James Legge's translation.

The gibberish is Chinese characters (GB, for those in the know).

Tuesday, March 18

Mark Edmundson on his students' evaluations of him:
I don't teach to amuse, to divert, or even, for that matter, to be merely interesting. When someone says that she "enjoyed" the course -- and that word crops up again and again in my evaluations -- somewhere at the edge of my immediate complacency I feel encroaching self-dislike. That is not at all what I had in mind. The off-the-wall questions and sidebar jokes are meant at lead-ins to stronger stuff -- in the case of the Freud course, to a complexly tragic view of life. But the affability and the one-liners often seem to be all that land with the students; their journals and evaluations leave me little doubt.
When someone says that she "enjoyed" my course -- and that word crops up occasionally in my evaluations -- I feel something quite different from self-dislike. I'm such a ____. I mean I don't know what that makes me. Sure, it'd be nice if there was what Edmundson calls "intellectual confrontation" "where the stakes matter". But for me it's a victory if the students can remember the material by the time the tests roll around. And no wonder: as John Sutherland says,
The UCLA system demonstrably encourages crowd-pleasing. I have trawled through a few hundred of the review pages and the one criticism which is never made is: "This professor is just an entertainer - there is no substance in his/her class". Students will happily put up with bad teaching if it is "fun" bad teaching. "Amuse me!", orders Demos (Class of 2003). The professor duly puts on his cap and bells.
(links via

One of my favorite movie scenes is from the Blue Angel when Lola Lola degrades the Prof. onstage. Some people pay for that kind of humiliation, but I get paid to humiliate myself! Woo-hoo!

But let's face it: at our university, only the numbers matter. So the more we cater to students, the better. So much for standards.
David Aaronovitch: We're not all peaceniks - but you wouldn't know it at The Guardian (gasp!) (via

Mandarin profanity

Dirty Chinese words at Mandarin profanity.
Nazi memorabilia is verboten, but Mao memorabilia is kosher.

Monday, March 17

John Pomfret on how local governments in China interfere in the market, either to enrich corrupt government officials or for protectionism. And it's not always protectionism against foreign imports--sometimes it's against imports from other parts of China.
John Pomfret and Peter S. Goodman are much better than LAWRENCE K. ALTMAN at pointing out "how China's state-run media have veered from silence to in-depth reports to silence" on the pneumonia-like illness, "providing a case study in how the government tries to manage information on sensitive topics."
Top officials at the World Trade Organization say they are worried that the Bush administration's go-it-alone policy is threatening international trade...."Before, the European Union was the biggest sinner, but the United States is making Europe look good."

Saturday, March 15

We saw Navigator: A Mediaeval Odyssey, about a 14th century English boy whose vision leads him to the 20th century, supposedly to escape the Black Death. I guess I didn't like the story, but it wasn't very well done, either. We also saw The Last Picture Show, which I'd never seen, but remember from when it came out. A little disappointing--that's what happens when one waits too long. I suspect it was much better when it came out in 1971. And finally, Kind Hearts and Coronets, which was the best of the lot, although obviously very dated.
OK, MAGGIE JONES, What's all this whining about equal rights for women, then?
Cynthia L. Webb has some "pro-war" links. Who says the media are liberal. Some of these look a little extreme, though. Of some interest: The U.S. Department of Defense-sponsored,'s message boards, and
Lisa Sanders writes that doctors "know" a lot of stuff that isn't right. It wasn't until the 70's that randomized controlled trials came into widespread use. And it wasn't until the 90's that
technology -- the computer, the Internet -- that finally made it possible for the doctors in the trenches, doctors taking care of patients, to systematically practice what could be considered ''evidence-based medicine.''

Doug Struck:
Opposition to U.S. troops in South Korea that seemed to be boiling over has quieted dramatically in recent weeks, because of new threats from North Korea and a suggestion from Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld that U.S. troops may be cut and repositioned.
an activist explains, "We don't think of Americans as protectors. We think of them as occupiers."
But one of the reasons the Koreans are worried is
it could mean South Korea would have to spend more on its own defense.
Not to say the Americans are completely opposed to troop reductions.
Jimmy Carter sought to remove all but 14,000 troops, but was effectively blocked by his own aides, who opposed the idea.
Just when I think my opinion of Carter can't drop any lower, it does. But Korean feelings look pretty contradictory.
"I think it was right, and justified, that we stood up with candlelight protests against American offenses," said Lee Young Joo, 29, a high school teacher. "And in the long term, I think the troops should leave. But right now is a very sensitive period, and I think they should stay."
Rob Stein:
The U.S. government yesterday dispatched experts to help investigate outbreaks of a mysterious pneumonia-like illness in Hong Kong and Hanoi that have killed an American businessman and sickened dozens of hospital workers....

Stephen Morse, an infectious-disease expert at Columbia University, said that the biggest concern is that the outbreaks are the beginning of a global flu epidemic.

"In the back of everyone's mind, of course, is the 1918-1919 Spanish flu. That's the fear," said Morse, referring to the most deadly global flu pandemic in history. Flu viruses historically have originated in Asia and spread, he said.
I keep forgetting why flu viruses originate in Asia; most researchers believe that teeming, tropical southern China, where man and domestic animals, particularly pigs and poultry, live in close contact, is a primary source of new influenza strains.

Friday, March 14

John Pomfret: Mao Zedong's former personal secretary Li Rui was interviewed in a Chinese newspaper; he criticized Mao for creating a cult of personality and Deng Xiaoping for failing to carry out political reforms. He praised Hu Yaobang, a hero of pro-democracy activists. The paper was shut down.
Todd Seavey:
No one has ever observed or measured any Qi....Barring a huge upsurge in popular respect for science, technology, and mainstream medicine, the best hope for putting an end to bogus alternative medicine practices may be to unleash the trial lawyers who so plague mainstream doctors. If enough mainstream patients are lured into alternative medicine, sooner or later they're going to start noticing that the alternative healers aren't doing a thing for their Qi flow, not to mention their sprained ankles or bronchitis, and they aren't going to be happy about it.
Iain Murray also has something on the ignorance surrounding herbal medicines like ephedra (in the comments that's me failing to convince "Rick" that there's such a thing as science). And Pete Geddes makes some good points about risk:
I have many friends who, in an effort to avoid trace amounts of synthetic chemicals found on "regular" produce, eat only organic. Yet they rock climb, kayak, and ski the backcountry. These activities are far riskier than consuming chemical residues on food.

There is a persistent misconception that human exposure to synthetic chemicals is responsible for soaring cancer rates. This is simply not true....

Another misconception is that synthetic chemicals are more toxic than natural ones.
Yeah, we had friends over last night who were all gaga over organic. Yet I'm so bad at presenting the rational case that I just keep my mouth shut.
A wave of obesity is sweeping through Asia as its population shifts into vast new cities where the food is faster and fattier and the lifestyle more sedentary....

In cities, it is processed foods and fast foods rich with sugar and saturated fats that are the most available and often the cheapest. At the same time, there is much less demand or opportunity for physical exercise. Over and over, studies show much more obesity in cities than in the countryside. In China, 5 percent of the population as a whole is classified as obese; in its fast-developing cities, the number can be as high as 20 percent.
This is weird: yesterday I found a reference to Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash on Banana Oil; looking around I found his Cryptonomicon, which I checked out from the library, only to find Eugene Volokh mentions the book I checked out. Is he spying on me?

Actually I've read a couple of books thanks to the internet. One was Nigel Barley's The Innocent Anthropologist, which I found discussed here. He's amazingly funny and honest. I should really try some of his other books. One thing that sticks in my mind was how bureaucratic the Cameroon gov't. was.

The other was Tom Carnwath and Ian Smith's Heroin Century, mentioned here. One wonders how much to believe of their argument, but I was struck by their contention that a part of addiction is often the ceremony and social context associated with the habit. If I recall correctly, they claim that when American soldiers addicted in Vietnam during the war found that they would not be allowed to return to the US unless they were drug-free, the vast majority of them went cold turkey and never took up their addiction again. Apparently not only is giving up heroin far less painful than generally imagined, it's easier to stay off a drug when it's not so much a part of the social setting. As far as the ceremony goes, I seem to remember a cigarette smoker saying a large part of what s/he missed was the whole business of lighting up (and looking cool?).

Thursday, March 13

Hamish McDonald:
China is equipping its courts with mobile execution vans as it shifts away from the communist system's traditional bullet in the head, towards a more "civilised" use of lethal injection.

Intermediate Courts of the southern province of Yunnan were issued with 18 new execution vans on February 28 and a court official said some have already been used.

"We cannot tell you how many executions so far, otherwise you could work out from the daily rate how many we carry out," the official said.
But what's the problem with us working out how many they carry out? Isn't the death penalty meant as a deterrent? (link via instapundit and weeklyjames)

Wednesday, March 12

Marian L. Tupy on anti-Americanism:
Pronouncements of many ill-informed activists and leaders in the under-developed world seem to suggest that economic inequality in the world is one of the central reasons why it is acceptable to hate the West in general and the USA in particular. As with domestic economics, in international economics it is often wrongly assumed that the prosperity of the developed world is directly dependent on the poverty of the under-developed world. Thus, it is not unusual to hear some activists claim that "excessive" consumption in the developed world makes the under-developed world starve. But these two are totally unconnected. In the developed world, the level of consumption, for example, of foodstuffs and electricity, is proportionate to the level of its production of these items. On the other hand, the level of starvation in the underdeveloped world is proportionate to the level of its inability - mainly due to mismanagement - to produce much.
Absolutely. People from the Cato Institute make a lot of compelling arguments.
Top advisers to President Bush want to weigh the benefits of tighter domestic security against the "costs" of lost privacy and freedom.
It sounds like a good idea. But he insists on explaining the use of cost-benefit analysis in terms of an economic tool that conservatives have often used to attack environmental regulation.
The domestic security push has in many ways turned the battles of cost-benefit analysis on their head. In the 1980's, consumer advocates like Mr. Nader often denounced cost-benefit analysis as a tool conservatives used to swat down environmental and safety regulations.
The reporter seems to want to suggest that conservatives are a monolithic group that unanimously opposes environmental regulation but unanimously supports expansion of the powers of the law enforcement. But it was Bush's own White House Office of Management and Budget that wants to way these costs. Anyway, not that I'd label myself a conservative, but for the record, I'm in favor of cost-benefit analysis all the time.
CHRISTOPHER BUCKLEY: Capitalists at the current meeting of the Chinese Communist Party's National People's Congress are calling for a constitutional amendment to protect private property from arbitrary confiscation and marauding officials. Good luck!

Tuesday, March 11

Over the weekend we borrowed a few videos from the library, including Peter Greenaway's Pillow Book, of which we watched only about the first half hour; I fast forwarded through the rest to see if it made any sense, and being a Greenaway film, of course it didn't. It might actually have been somewhat meaningful for me as I actually read the English translation of The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon and the film's protagonist was half Chinese and in fact spoke some Chinese in the movie. But it was still too arty for our "bourgeois" tastes.

We also saw Visconti's L'Innocente, which I've got to say was a little too slow for me. I guess we've been watching too much schlock. It was OK, though.

And finally, we saw Alan Parker's Birdy, which won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes, apparently for being anti-war. Maybe the book made the war more of a problem for the characters, but I couldn't see it, especially for Matthew Modine's character, and I found the movie irritating. Anyway, it's interesting to see a young Nicolas Cage. Hey, look, all three movies were based (more or less) on books. How clever.

Then we saw the Merchant-Ivory rendition of Maurice. It was alright, if a little long. Roger Ebert argues that the British class system would have caused problems for the lovers. I agree. I realize that it was based on E.M. Forster's autobiographical novel, but the other thing that I found annoying is that it would have been wiser to leave for a more tolerant climate given that at the time in question, the British viewed homosexuality as an abomination. That apparently wasn't an option for these gay men, because although they were wealthy, they wanted to enjoy their upper-class British existence. That doesn't get a lot of sympathy from me.

A word about our selection of films: they're mostly older, because I'm going through the library's film catalog by call number, and so I just get what they have. We have found some gems that way, though.

And another thing--in the movie Maurice the character's name is pronounced as if it were spelled Morris.
I just discovered via Arts & Letters Daily, which linked to an item by Daniel Dennett. The whole enterprise looks interesting. But, is nothing sacred? Are they allowed to criticize the criticism of Bj�rn Lomborg?

Monday, March 10

Lileks reminds me of something that is probably a truism for you deep thinkers, but I've also been thinking recently that it's pretty hard to be serious these days without somebody sniggering at you. I notice a lot of people like to laugh at the other guy. But when someone jokes about something important to them, their reaction is laugh at that? Is nothing sacred? Speaking of which, I liked this National Lampoon cover, too. Didn't buy the magazine, though. And the next month, reading it on the newstand, I read that they had to kill the dog. There was another cover with a 50's housewife, a baby, and a (live) dog on a platter with an apple in its mouth that the mother was preparing to put in the oven; the accompanying quote, attributed to William Randolph Hearst, said something like "Show me a magazine with a woman, a dog, or a baby on the cover, and I'll show you a magazine that sells."
Jasper Becker sees a conspiracy in how
many of those who witnessed, and possibly even participated in Cultural Revolution atrocities, are stepping into the highest offices of the Chinese state. Well, a lot of us did stupid things while we were in college. I know, I know--generally that didn't include murder. But my point is that in terms of policy, these guys probably won't be that leftist, even if they'll probably never suffer punishment for the suffering they once inflicted on others. (via the gweilo diaries)
Anthony Kuhn on how China's universities are turning away fromt the old model where
the government paid all students' tuition and assigned them majors and jobs. It decided how many majors in each field would be needed based on official projections of personnel needs. The state enforced a strict monopoly over education. Its task was to produce graduates who were "both red and expert" -- both steadfast Marxists to carry on the Communist cause and engineers to staff the state's military and industrial sectors.
The system
largely ignored China's millenniums-old humanist traditions, which...focused on teaching morality. It produced intellectuals who were highly trained but poorly versed in culture and spiritually adrift. It bred technocrats who considered the mechanics and feasibility of massive state engineering projects but not their ethics or environmental costs.
Now it's supposed to be a more American-style system where students take core curriculum courses in the sciences and arts, but are allowed to choose their major. Some departments are resisting. Anyway, this is all very nice, but China still woefully underfunds primary and secondary education. Is that also the "American-style system"?
Ching-Ching Ni on China's water problems. The government wants to pump water from the south to the north.
critics both inside and outside China see a potential white elephant that could create more problems than it solves. "The whole idea is based on the false assumption that water from the Yangtze is a limitless resource," said Yang Dongping, a member of Friends of Nature, a Beijing-based environmental group. "Why not push for water conservation instead? It's much more cost-effective." Modest ambitions are not what Beijing's leaders have in mind. Already, officials have funneled billions of dollars into gigantic public works projects that they hope will fuel the Chinese economy and fend off a rising tide of unemployment. More than the plans to build the world's fastest train, longest bridge, tallest building and highest rail track, the canal project reflects Beijing's unflinching faith in costly engineering solutions to the nation's basic problems.
Sounds typical.
Brian Fagan's review of Michael Williams' Deforesting the Earth reminds us that the Earth's forests were not unaltered by humanity before the Industrial Age. In China,
persistent population pressure and the demands of agriculture destroyed forests everywhere. Europe broke out of the cycle with the Black Death and the Age of Discovery, which took some pressure off tree clearance. China never had such epidemiological or environmental safety valves.
It sounds like Fagan thinks that's a bad thing. Anyway, what's the big deal about saving farms, those despoilers of what is "natural"?
King Oliver's I'm Watching The Clock is one of my favorite tunes, and now I find it's available free, with a lot of other early jazz.

Sunday, March 9

Ben J. Wattenberg on the population bomb's being a dud.
DAVE KEHR on the failure of the Oscars to deal with digital technology.
Reporting on Bush's overturning Clinton-era forest protections, William Booth notes
that there is widespread disagreement among even the most knowledgeable forest experts over how to make the public lands more fire-retardant. Trim a little? Or chainsaw a lot?...A century of clear-cut logging, tree farming and fire suppression have left the forests susceptible because they have allowed massive amounts of "fuel" to build up. A fire that burns along the ground, clearing underbrush, is seen as good. A fire that reaches the crowns of trees, assisted by so-called "ladder fuels" or midsize and densely packed trees, can be catastrophic.
Earlier discussed here and here.
Michael Dobbs on Saudi-style democracy:
In the Saudi context, a Saudi human rights activist argued, calling for the independence of the judiciary is tantamount to giving more power to the religious police and clerics who are responsible for enforcing Islamic law.
What? Democracy not a panacea?!
Ray Kurzweil on Human Body Version 2.0 (link via GeekPress): the use of nanobots to augment and ultimately replace our organs, ultimately merging nonbiological intelligence with our biological brains. And people are worried about cloning. They ain't seen nuthin yet! Although I think this stuff is further off than he suggests.
Peter Whoriskey on how

The war on sprawl around Washington has made a profound impact on the metropolitan landscape.
...many of these anti-sprawl measures have accelerated the consumption of woods and fields and pushed developers outward in their search for home sites. The side effects -- rarely noted in crusades for more "open space" but widely recognized by regional planners -- are twofold. First, limiting construction to one house per three acres, or five or even 25, doesn't necessarily stop development. It just spreads it out, creating enclaves of estates in "rural" preserves...
Second, even when restrictions are severe enough to halt residential development in one place, Washington's burgeoning population continues to demand new houses, so builders simply go elsewhere, usually farther out...
Despite the emergence of growth restrictions, however, key indicators of sprawl -- auto travel per capita and land consumption rates -- show few signs of abating, according to transportation and land planning experts....
It's supposed to work like
Portland, Ore., which maintains an urban growth boundary, outside of which building is sharply limited. Unlike Portland, however, the Washington area has little regional land planning. More than a dozen counties independently draw growth boundaries, and the result is a regulatory patchwork.
So some will argue the answer is more regulation. But one planner argues
What those restrictions really do is encourage development in a land-hungry manner.
And another points out that while people seem to like the idea of farmland, there aren't enough farmers.
"These are pastoral landscapes that have more of an emotional than a practical meaning," said Marya Morris, a senior researcher at the American Planning Association. "But if you can't make money farming them, people have a right to ask 'What's the point?' "
As a matter of fact, the love of farmland is a kind of conservatism--"keep things the way they are". But farmland itself is after all unnatural. Another problem: despite all this planning, there's still a housing shortage. (surprise, surprise)
The home-building limits have contributed to the shortage and are driving up housing costs, economists say. "If you restrict supply in the face of growing demand, and if the supply is less than demand, you are going to have higher housing prices," said Chris Nelson, a planning professor at Virginia Tech and co-author of a study on the subject.
Alan Sipress: At a party hosted by another gang leader at a concrete discotheque shaped like a flying saucer in Ho Chi Minh City, mafia queen Dung Ha arranged to suspend a large container from the ceiling, promising it would release balloons and other party favors. But when the container was flung open, it showered the guests with rats covered in excrement. Her rival, had her shot.

Saturday, March 8

Scott Hillis on China's wealth disparity; "it is now among those countries with the most unequal distribution in the world." I know a big gap makes for social instability, but in absolute terms, the poorest are doing better. In a recent report, the Bank of America said "per capita income in China's 600 poorest counties rose nearly 13 percent a year over the past seven years," and "The living standards of most people, including the poorest section of the population, have improved. A wide variety of poverty indexes have declined across the board and almost all income groups have enjoyed rising living standards."
Charles Siebert writes on full-face transplants. Some advocates for the disfigured balk at the idea, saying that the prospect of face transplants could hinder people's ability ''to face their disfigurement with confidence.'' Psss. On the other hand, a survey of docs who say they would accept someone else's face if they required one, but none said they would donate their own. That's silly. Assuming I'm dead and not murdered to get it, you can have any body part of mine you like. Although I'd prefer my heirs get paid. You may not like that, but then as far as I'm concerned with it, you can do anything with my body you like--pickle it, put it on display, play weird games with it...
John Pomfret on
high-ranking Chinese leaders whose positions are linked to potential conflicts of interest because of the business dealings of their families and friends. The whether the government will continue to protect vested business interests as a new generation of leaders comes to power. Government officials say the health and resilience of the Chinese political and economic system are at stake.
One of the examples he gives is a highway bypass in Fushun built by China Huaneng Group, linked to Li Peng's son. Pomfret identifies the elder Li "as one of the prime architects of the crackdown on student-led protests around Tiananmen Square in 1989", and further notes that the demonstrations "revolved around the finances of the family members of high-ranking party officials." But as a matter of fact, even though China is awfully corrupt, some people are in favor of tolls as a way to build roads. I hope this experience doesn't sour everyone on the experience.
An item on marketplace about offsets cites someone from the Economic Policy Institute; according to its google description, "EPI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank that seeks to broaden the public debate about strategies to achieve a prosperous and fair economy." "Fair", eh? We know what that means. Anti-trade. That's the trouble with a lot of marketplace stuff, even if they occasionally have some things I like, like the Wal-Mart report. This item from the NYT on the offsets was more balanced.

Friday, March 7

Spotting voodoo science is a skill that every citizen should develop

Robert L. Park reminds us that although there is
no scientific claim so preposterous that a scientist cannot be found to vouch for it...Before 1993, court cases that hinged on the validity of scientific claims were usually decided simply by which expert witness the jury found more credible.
But then the Supreme Court instructed federal judges to serve as "gatekeepers," screening juries from testimony based on scientific nonsense. So there is such a thing as progress! Park then offers seven indicators that a scientific claim lies well outside the bounds of rational scientific discourse, things that everyone should keep in mind:

1. The discoverer pitches the claim directly to the media.

2. The discoverer says that a powerful establishment is trying to suppress his or her work.

3. The scientific effect involved is always at the very limit of detection.

4. Evidence for a discovery is anecdotal.

5. The discoverer says a belief is credible because it has endured for centuries.

6. The discoverer has worked in isolation.

7. The discoverer must propose new laws of nature to explain an observation.

(via Arts & Letters Daily)
I got nuthin'! Hang on--look at this: Leon R. Kass writes:
To aim to be the mother of oneself is the height of hubris and despotism. It is the crime of incest - the begetting of one�s own upon one�s own - scientifically perfected. The cloning of human beings would be the triumph of the Machiavellian project to conquer fortune and bring everything within the power of human choice and calculation.
(via Arts & Letters Daily) This hysteria doesn't do it for me. As far as I'm concerned, humans should try to conquer fortune and bring everything within the power of human choice and calculation. When you think about it, even old-fashioned sex is outrageous from the point of view of asexual reproduction. As far as Kass' callling it incest, it reminded me of the Heinleinian self-seduction in All You Zombies. Now that's "the begetting of one�s own upon one�s own"!

Wednesday, March 5

Leaky Old Bra links to the Anagram Site.
Will Wilkinson has an article on What the War Means...for Libertarians. Good stuff.
Will Wilkinson links to Malcolm Gladwell's The problem with intelligence reform, which cites a researcher who describes the phenomenon of
�creeping determinism��the sense that grows on us, in retrospect, that what has happened was actually inevitable�and the chief effect of creeping determinism, he points out, is that it turns unexpected events into expected events.
Gladwell's got his own site, which posts many earlier writings. He's fascinated by unintended consequences.

Monday, March 3

Heh. Someone googled for therapy doesn't work introverts and found me. Sounds right to me--although I've never undergone psychotherapy.

And someone else agrees with me that Mr. Rogers was a little weird. Over the weekend, I heard Susan Stamberg report on how he used Daniel Striped Tiger to talk to her over the phone. Seems really weird to me, but she went for it. Once again, I'm the weirdo.
The NYT buried DANIEL AKST's article that work makes people fat in the business section. He cites research by Shin-Yi Chou, Henry Saffer, and Michael Grossman to the effect that more working women = less home-cooked meals = more fast food. They conclude by urging that further study be done to determine the feasibility of promoting public policies that might offset these undesirable consequences.Akst points out that more fast food = more obesity = reduced quality of life + increased health care expenditures. Obesity might well be a hidden tax on work falling disproportionately on lower-income workers, but that ultimately means the government has to pay. He also cites Darius Lakdawalla and Tomas Philipson to the effect
that by reducing traditional workplace hazards and making all work less strenuous, Americans have increased the risk from obesity, which is related to a sedentary life.
Judith Shulbevitz has some silly things to say about the American lack of Sabbath observations. Because she feels better after observing a religious day of rest, and because Americans used to do so, therefore we should all do so.

She's opposed to what she labels the "erosion of social time", and declares "Customs exist because they answer a need". Oh, yeah? I declare that some customs are observed simply because that's the way we've always done it.

Then she claims that "Most people mistakenly believe that all you have to do to stop working is not work." Why is that a mistake? Because it used to be "much more complicated". Her other authority, tradition aside? The Cat in the Hat!

Also, according to her, the Sabbath is worthy because it's the ultimate source of labor legislation. I see. Because she associates it with something good, in itself it's good.

Then on religion:
Religious rituals do not exist simply to promote togetherness. They're theater. They are designed to convey to us a certain story about who we are without our even quite noticing that they are doing so.
Maybe for you. But some of us know who we are, and we don't need religious mumbo-jumbo to tell us. So in secular terms, she recommends the Sabbath to "anyone who wishes to lift himself out of the banality of mercantile culture". (Well thanks for that "himself", anyway.) I don't see why people can't do that every day of their lives: I do. And she's not a total fool about religion:
I confess, though, that I have a hard time imagining a Sabbath divorced from religion: who would make the effort to honor the godly part of himself if he didn't believe in a deity, no matter how ecumenical?
Still, even though she concedes it's difficult to see the Sabbath prospering with society's speeding-up, and she realizes we can't call for legally mandated Sabbaths, she still has the gall to declare:
Do I think everyone else should observe a Sabbath? I believe it would be good for them, and even better for me, since the more widespread the ritual, the more likely I am to observe it.
Even before post-modernism, this is the typical kind of half-baked thinking that passed for rational thinking in the colleges of liberal arts.
Beijing Picks Its Delegates for Taiwan
Show many Taiwanese the official list, and they'll squint their eyes and look perplexed. Some shrug their shoulders or scratch their heads as they search in vain for a single familiar name. The citizens of self-ruled, democratic Taiwan didn't help pick 13 delegates who will purportedly represent them when China's national legislature meets next week. Beijing did it for them, and none of the delegates lives on Taiwan. Most have never even visited.
Well, if it's any consolation, mainland citizens didn't help pick the delegates who will purportedly represent them: JOSEPH KAHN reports:
China's election law reads like an invitation. Any citizen desiring to run for a local legislature need only find 10 supporters to sign a petition. The right "to elect and be elected," the law stipulates, "is guaranteed to everyone over 18 years of age, regardless of ethnicity, race, sex, profession, family background, religious belief, education level or financial status."
Just try it. The members of China's legislature are "handpicked", and in any case,
will, as usual, approve laws that senior leaders have already decided to pass. They will vote for a slate of candidates for top government positions that senior leaders have already decided to elect.

John Pomfret on "the threat of creeping democracy"--delegates are refusing to rubber-stamp the Communist Party's chosen candidates. Meanwhile, ELAINE KURTENBACH says Communist leaders "ignore public opinion at their own risk" and cites those who say it looks as if the new leaders are going to speed up the restructuring process.

Saturday, March 1

Jacob Sullum has good stuff on government regulation of kosher food, and organic food:
The preference for organic food, like the preference for kosher food, is essentially religious, based on faith rather than science. There is no good evidence, for example, that the pesticide residues organic produce buyers are so keen to avoid pose a significant health risk....The national standards require access to outdoor recreation, although the connection to organicalness is hazy. Likewise, it's not obvious why genetically modified ingredients or irradiation to kill parasites should render food nonorganic.
More of my craziness

I always found Mr. Fred Rogers to be really creepy--what I'd imagine a child molester to be like. When I was a kid, I didn't have a TV, but I suspect even then I would've preferred cartoons.
Daniel W. Drezner links to Simon Sebag Montefiore's op-ed, which points to Stalin as the role model for Saddam and Il-jong.
[W]hat most unites this trinity of rulers is their will to lead a nuclear Great Power. Saddam and Kim see Stalin as the personification of success against overwhelming odds - and much more sophisticated countries - through the ruthless use of state power and by his own will.
Julian Sanchez has an interesting discussion about conspiracy theories; the comments are pretty good, too.