Sunday, August 31

ELIZABETH HARRIS writes about how foolish people can be:
New research from the field of behavioral finance, which draws on psychology and economics, provides data on the disconnect between the desire to prepare for retirement and the failure to do so. Researchers have found that for many investors, the task of sifting through pamphlets about their company's 401(k) plans ranges from unpleasant to horrible.
Some people end up doing nothing when confronted with the need to pick savings goals, select appropriate asset allocations, screen investment choices and rebalance their portfolios regularly.
So the oppressive corporations step in to do it for them.
China at Korea Talks: Taking Diplomacy Upstage By JOSEPH KAHN:
China cajoled and badgered the United States, North Korea, South Korea, Japan and Russia to join negotiations on how to resolve the Korea arms crisis. It succeeded in pressing participants to commit to another round, despite obvious tensions between the United States and North Korea.

Such initiatives are oddly foreign to China. Although it has the world's largest population and fastest-growing economy, it has generally abstained or carped from the sidelines on the most pressing issues of the day, most recently the war in Iraq. For more than a decade, it dismissed American-North Korean tensions as a relic of the cold war that the two nations should resolve on their own.

Beijing's decision to broker the nuclear talks reflects alarm in the top ranks of the Communist Party that the North Korean problem could spiral out of control, with both the North and the United States locked in polar positions. Experts said China had decided that it was uniquely positioned to make a difference because of longstanding ties with North Korea, a neighbor and onetime political and military ally, and its improving relationship with the Bush administration.

Yet its assertiveness may also reflect a new sense of engagement with the world that offers some parallels to the emergence of the United States as a dominant power nearly a century ago, experts say.

"China is starting to act like a big power, with interests it has to defend even outside its borders," said Yan Xuetong, a influential foreign policy expert at Qinghua University in Beijing. "I expect these talks to be remembered as an important milestone in history for that reason."
Assuming they keep at it.

Saturday, August 30

Even though I'm not a believer and I'd just as soon not only see the ten commandments removed from public life, but also "In God We Trust" and other what is to me religious nonsense removed from public life, I've got to say--"Who cares?" Having lived decades with all this religious nonsense thrust at me hasn't made that much of a difference, so I don't really see what all the fuss is about. And the god stuff aside, I can say I find the commandments as objectionable as Christopher Hitchens does. And anyway, there's nothing in the constitution about not displaying the commandments.

Thursday, August 28

China Trying a Softer Sell in Hong Kong: After Big Protests, Officials Hope Economic Moves Will Dampen Calls for Democracy, By John Pomfret:
China's policy, which has been sketched out in meetings with pro-China political leaders from Hong Kong, is a response to the recent demonstrations against Hong Kong's chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, for his government's perceived mishandling of the economy and the SARS epidemic, and for his insistence on passing draft legislation known as Article 23 of the Basic Law. The measure would grant Hong Kong's government wide latitude to prosecute crimes against "national security," which is vaguely defined.

On July 1, more than 500,000 people marched against Tung, sparking China's worst crisis in Hong Kong since the territory was returned in 1997 after more than 150 years as a British colony. Following the demonstrations, two of Tung's top lieutenants -- his security and finance chiefs -- resigned and Tung promised to consult more closely with Hong Kong residents. China also quietly removed the Foreign Ministry's representative in the territory, saying that he had reached retirement age.

Fearful of alienating an already angry public, China and pro-Beijing forces in Hong Kong have been careful not to criticize the demonstrations. On Monday, Liu Yandong, the director of the United Front Work Department, which oversees the Communist Party's apparatus in Hong Kong, told Hong Kong political leaders that the demonstrators were "patriotic."

Chinese officials have told Hong Kong leaders that they fear China's chances of uniting with Taiwan have been delayed for years because of the Hong Kong demonstrations and Tung's perceived incompetence as the territory's first leader under Chinese rule, according to several participants in the meetings.

Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule under a formula known as "one country, two systems," in which China agreed to allow Hong Kong to retain its capitalist system, free press and independent judiciary for 50 years. Chinese officials had hoped to use Hong Kong as a model to entice Taiwan to reunite with the mainland....

In the two weeks following the demonstrations, 150,000 new voters registered -- one of the largest jumps since Hong Kong began experimenting with democracy during the last years of British rule. Many analysts say they believe those voters marched in the anti-government demonstrations and will vote against pro-Beijing and pro-government candidates in next year's elections no matter what the economy does.

The other problem is that Beijing's policy assumes China will be able to ride out the political tsunami without replacing Tung, who is widely seen as the focus of the protests.

"They want outspoken people to stop saying bad things about Tung," said Ma Lik, a top official of a pro-Beijing political party in Hong Kong and a member of China's National People's Congress. "But it won't work. Tung, in most people's view, is the problem."
But replacing Tung would be too big an acknowledgement to the demonstrators--and their mainlaind compatriots might get some funny ideas.

Wednesday, August 27

OK, so being a good postcolonialist, you want to find more about "white men saving brown women from brown men", and google asks, Did you mean: "white men shaving brown women from brown men", and you think yeah, that's it! And lucky you, you get me.
I don't mean to quibble, but I don't see the Asiatic epicanthic folds (link via Gene Expression). The strange thing is, it doesn't read like a joke.

Tuesday, August 26

A Chinese Robin Hood Runs Afoul of Beijing, by JOSEPH KAHN
The arrest of a rural businessman who antagonized government officials but earned a loyal following among peasants has created a sensation in Beijing, where influential scholars say he showed how to improve life in the vast, backward Chinese countryside.

The businessman, a bold and politically artless onetime farmer named Sun Dawu, is in jail awaiting trial in Hebei Province in northeastern China on charges that he ran an illegal credit cooperative and lured millions of dollars in deposits away from state banks.

In opinion columns and popular Web sites, though, liberal-leaning intellectuals have portrayed Mr. Sun as a modern Robin Hood. They say he battled state finance and trade cartels that they view as draining the savings of China's 800 million peasants to support urban development.

Lawyers for Mr. Sun and supporters in Beijing's academic circles are pressing the government to scrap or define more clearly the scope of the law Mr. Sun is accused of breaking. The loosely worded article gives the authorities broad discretion to charge businessmen who fall out of favor with a catch-all crime called illegal fund-raising.

"It's well worth considering what this case is really about," said Jiang Ping, the former president of the Chinese University of Politics and Law and one of China's most prominent legal experts. "Perhaps the government is violating the law and has wrongly accused him. If this isn't handled properly, it will greatly affect rural economic development."....

"One of the biggest problems for peasants is that local officials decide who gets money and who doesn't," said Xu Zhiyong, a law professor at Telecommunications University in Beijing and a legal adviser to Mr. Sun. "This is about taking the politics out of finance."
Good luck with that.
China's government-controlled union body is pressuring Wal-Mart to establish trade unions for thousands of its employees, the official Xinhua News Agency said. But no independent unions, mind you.
In Chinese Economy's Underside: Abuse of Migrants JOSEPH KAHN writes of a migrant's despair, cheated by government employees and ignored by the police. After they get wind of this article, he'll probably be in more trouble.
From his precarious perch 60 feet above morning rush hour, Wang Fulin watched the restless crowd below. Arms were drawing arches in air, he recalled. They wanted a swan dive. People were chanting, "Jump, jump!"

Enraged and afraid, Mr. Wang had scaled the metal frame of a billboard to call attention to his grievances. It was his first day in this bustling east coast city, his first trip outside his home province in southwest China. He had been neglected, robbed and abused. Now they wanted blood.
Ah, those sensitive Chinese! There are pics of the poor guy before, while and after he fell.

Sunday, August 24

We watched part of Cassavetes' A Woman Under the Influence (1974). After about an hour, it was clear it was just going to be painful bullshit going nowhere, and I remembered that the last person who'd watched it had apparently left half of the videotape unwatched. I fast-forwarded through the remainder to see if anything was going to happen. SPOILER: nope. Before that, we saw Where the Rivers Flow North (1993). The same old story of the individual standing up against the big, bad, corporations, but it was still better than the Cassavetes thing. Tantoo Cardinal was great. Maybe she was one of the reasons that I liked Black Robe (1991) so much.
In Harvard Radical, JAMES TRAUB writes of Lawrence Summers:
He wants to change the undergraduate curriculum so that students focus less on "ways of knowing" and more on actual knowledge. He wants to raise quantitative kinds of knowledge to something like parity with traditionally humanistic kinds of knowledge....he wants to assert certain traditional verities, or rather open an intellectual space in which such verities can at least be posited. "The idea that we should be open to all very different from the supposition that all ideas are equally valid."
The intellos look at each other in consternation. "On 'actual knowledge' instead of on 'ways of knowing'! Outrageous! And how dare he suggest that all ideas are not equally valid!Especially because this will probably influence other American universities":
by virtue of occupying the most commanding heights of the culture, Harvard has traditionally exercised enormous influence. If undergrad inorganic chemistry is now going to be taken to be as much a staple as political philosophy at Harvard, then your children may be more scientifically literate (and less philosophically literate) than you are.
The intellos look at each other in consternation. "Scientifically literate? That means no bullshit theorizing! Gack!"
Harvard's greatest presidents have been an exceptionally cold and nasty lot. One of them, Charles W. Eliot, once said that the most important attribute of a college president is the capacity to inflict pain.
Whoops, that's not so funny--except it's not exactly news that the faculty might not love the top adminstrator.
"It's fair to say that he's into facts." Almost all of Summers's friends are economists or policy types (though he is currently dating a Harvard English professor, Elisa New); he does not read serious fiction; he shows few signs of aesthetic sensitivity; he is a slovenly dresser and not a terribly tidy eater.
The intellos look at each other in consternation. "What? Not reading our unreadable novels?"
The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks took place soon after Summers took office and inflected his presidency in ways that could scarcely have been anticipated. While much of the university world took the view that the United States must in some important way have been responsible for the attacks, Summers says that he felt called to speak up for patriotic values. At a speech at the Kennedy School in late October, he chided the school's dean for failing to include a uniformed officer among those the school was honoring for public service.
The intellos look at each other in disbelief. "Patriotism?"
the economist Dale Jorgenson, said that Summers "feels that universities in general have forgotten that they're part of the nation" and wants to restore a sense of "moral clarity" to campus discourse.
The intellos look at each other in consternation. "Whatever happened to moral relativism?"
In the spring of 2002, he attended a discussion about globalization with the faculty of the Graduate School of Education. "They were going in the direction that globalization pointed to the need for more education directed at multicultural understanding," he said. "And I said that I thought globalization meant global competition, and that it made the basic capacity to read and do arithmetic more important." I asked Summers what the response had been. "It was," he said dryly, "seen as a distinctive perspective."
The intellos look at each other in consternation. "Aw, gee! No blaming European and Western civilization for all the world's ills?"
in 1978, when Harvard adopted a "core" of courses in fields of inquiry that spanned domains, including historical study, moral reasoning, social analysis, science, music and art, literature and so on. These courses are designed to introduce "approaches to knowledge" rather than specific information and thus legitimized a trend throughout education toward ways of knowing rather than knowledge.
The intellos look at each other smugly. "Absolutely. Since there is no such thing as truth, there's no real knowledge, but simply ways of knowing."
The fundamental reason Summers wants to change the undergraduate curriculum is that, as he explains, the nature of knowledge has changed so radically. Summers often says that one of the two most important phenomena of the last quarter-century is the revolution in the biological sciences. And yet, as he also often says, while it is socially unacceptable at an elite university to admit that you haven't read a Shakespeare play, no stigma at all attaches to not knowing the difference between a gene and a chromosome or the meaning of exponential growth. Summers compares this ignorance to the provinciality of never having traveled abroad.
The intellos look at each other in consternation. "This is outrageous! No one should care about Shakespeare or about scientific literacy! It's all about race, class and gender!"
"More and more areas of thought have become susceptible to progress," he said, "susceptible to the posing of questions, the looking at the world and trying to find answers, the coming to views that represent closer approximations of the truth." Tools of measurement have become ubiquitous, as well as extraordinarily refined.
The intellos look at each other in consternation. "Finding anwsers? Truth? This is an outrage!"
He says he believes in what he calls "the aspiration of systematizing and presenting to students areas of human thought," which is more or less what Harvard's old general education system accomplished until it was replaced by the core. He said, with a nervous laugh -- he knew he was treading on thin ice -- "It is more important for students to have a basic understanding of literature than of the current fashions in literary theory." All things considered, he said, "I'd like to see us emphasize more knowing."
The intellos look at each other in consternation. Their heads explode.

Friday, August 22

I read Bangkok 8 by John Burdett. So many writers describe such outlandish behavior that there must be an audience for it, but although at first it seemed interesting, it got a little too over the top for me. Still, he made me want to go to Thailand for some yummy food.

Wednesday, August 20

A story from
30 percent of all Medicare spending is on patients in their last year of life.
as much as 4 percent of US GDP today may be spent on patients in their last year of life.
Society�s willingness to transfer more and more resource to persons near the end of life is the crucial factor in climbing health expenditures. Yet some families want EVERYTHING done to save an elderly relative, even if it means they die in horrible pain. See On Not Withdrawing (Tales from the CCU) from code blog: tales of a nurse.
An old story from defending intentionally designing markets to elicit information:
It�s not that markets are perfect. There is, however, reason to believe that properly-designed prediction markets can do a somewhat better job pooling information about possible outcomes than can committee meetings of bureaucrats and inter-service rivals whose nature is to seek to one-up one another. Political decision-makers should have access to both kinds of forecasts.

Tuesday, August 19

Last time around, I found Joseph I. Lieberman's sanctimoniousness revolting, but things like Lieberman Rejects Strategy Of Running to the Left by Jim VandeHei make me hope he'll get the nomination. I don't think he will, but i'd vote for him.
Tawain Resort Becomes Birdwatcher Haven. Any connection with the author Mark Tawain?

Monday, August 18

Just ran across these satires on Betel nut beauties and Qi Qi: the world's most endangered and delicious species of dolphin.
Gah. Kenyan Women Reject Sex 'Cleanser': Traditional Requirement for Widows Is Blamed for Aiding the Spread of HIV-AIDS by Emily Wax. I suppose postmodern/postcolonial critics can find a way to excuse this and/or blame it on the West. Too bad Emily's English has a little problem:
The issue has become so tantalizing that village elders are currently debating what to do about the custom.

China Moves Toward Cloaked Capitalism by ELAINE KURTENBACH: "capitalism" is still a dirty word in China.
China Meets AIDS Crisis With Force: Police, Not Physicians, Answer Villagers' Pleas by Philip P. Pan. China loses face for itself again.

Sunday, August 17

Chinese Economic Concerns Trump Safety By AUDRA ANG is about lifting the ban on the sale of civet cats in China. Doesn't sound too clever, but as a World Health Organization official points out, more research is needed to determine the origin and transmission path of the virus to justify a ban.

Saturday, August 16

Steven Den Beste has a superb post about how American power is not intentional, which is why resisting it is so hard, but those who detest America can only see it as harmful. (link via Occam's toothbrush). Of course, he's preaching to the converted with me, even if I don't particularly like the low-class culture he celebrates. Then again, I'm still stinging from one of my snobbish peers who derided my tastes as bourgeois. Speaking of preaching to the converted, Occam's toothbrush also links to the Confessions of an Anti-sanctions Activist by Charles M. Brown, who remarks that the only books about Iraq they read were by Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, and Edward Said. I hope that's just exaggeration. And speaking of only paying attention to those you agree with, David Brooks argues that that's what Americans do. (link via Hit & Run).

Thursday, August 14

Instapundit writes:


You might say that today, President Bush is doing many of the same things President Clinton did, only backwards, and in cowboy boots.

No, not those things. Get your mind out of the gutter.

Ahh, the reverse cowboy!
I read William Gibson's Pattern Recognition. I liked the idea of the heroine's susceptibility to trademarks, but her insistence on wearing certain items herself, like her beloved flight jacket, was a kind of commodity fetishism of its own. Also, his evocation of foreign cities, particularly Tokyo, I found less than convincing, although it was interesting to discover that Tarkovsky used the Japanese highway for his futuristic Solyaris (1972; the original for Solaris 2002. I saw the Tarkovsky version shortly after it came out, and liked it quite a bit; I always liked Stanislaw Lem, but his stories are singularly unsuited to make into popular films). I am also happy to have learned from Gibson the word apophenia, "the spontaneous perception of connections and meaningfulness of unrelated phenomena". What I couldn't get was the heroine's insistence on eating Western food there. I blame Gibson for not liking Japanese food, but maybe he was trying to tell us something about her. Anyway, I ended up liking Brad Smith's All Hat more, and found its evocation of rural Ontario more convincing (not that I've ever been there).

The thing I dislike about people is their fondness for brands that are far more expensive than they have to be, so I liked Gibson's idea about being practically allergic to them. Meanwhile, I've been reading some intellectual bs recently that complains about commodification, by which they apparently mean putting a price on practially everything, as capitalism does. I have little objection to that; it's paying more for a brand that's not measurably better that annoys me. So I was happy to see this subscriber-only article in the Economist about how many items of clothing are becoming commodities; deflation of clothing prices means that clothes are cheaper.
China Seeks to Protect Official Emblem By TED ANTHONY. From the headline, I thought people were fooling with China's seal or flag, but the Chinese go'vt is worried about counterfeiting of its Olympic logo.
We finally finished the 20-part serial Niezi. It started out OK, but there was really not enough material for twenty hours, so it was far too long. The behind-the-scenes disk was interesting, though; it made me realize that technically the series was well done and well acted, even if there was something anachronistic about the way the people dressed and spoke.

Tuesday, August 12

I just got the DVD of Eat Drink Man Woman from (Fast service!) In the extras, they interviewed Ang Lee and James Schamus; the latter claimed that when he tried to write about the characters as if they were Chinese, Lee was greatly dissatisfied, so he treated them as if they were Jewish. So it's really a movie about a Jewish family!

Friday, August 8

DAVID W. CHEN on split crotch pants: A New Policy of Containment, for Baby Bottoms. For children, that is.
In Grim Facts on Global Poverty, JEFF MADRICK mostly gives bad news. But get this:
some take solace in the fact that only 23 percent of the global population lives on less than $1 a day, compared with 30 percent in 1990. But most of this improvement has to do with the stunning economic progress in China, a nation that conspicuously did not follow Western economic policies. In absolute numbers, more people are now extremely poor than in 1990 if China is excluded.

Even in countries that have made significant progress on average, including China, the report notes that there are often large pockets of deprivation, especially in inland or rural areas. For example, only three nations with adequate statistics narrowed the gap in child mortality between the rich and the poor in the 1990's.
Yes, I like to hear that. But then as he says,
In recent years, critics assert that good governance among recipients has been neglected too often. Corruption, lack of follow-through and cookie-cutter policies afflicted development projects. But surely the call for good governance is no panacea, either. For example, did dictatorial China have good governance and dictatorial Russia poor governance? How can one tell before the fact? How do you enforce good governance even if you can define it?
Finally I figure out how to configure blogBuddy, and I've got nothing to say, except my archives are only readable by me.

Thursday, August 7

China Under U.S. Scrutiny as Trade Anger Grows by Glenn Somerville and Doug Palmer
A shrinking U.S. job market has put China under an increasingly harsh spotlight as manufacturers and labor unions complain about the Asian giant's trade practices and currency policy.

With the 2004 presidential election looming, the rumblings are an uncomfortable reminder for President Bush of a staggering loss of jobs in his tenure -- some 2.6 million in manufacturing alone since mid-2000.

The issue is unlikely to go away.

"My sense is that things are going to get worse," said economist Sung Won Sohn of Wells Fargo Bank in Minneapolis.

"We're going to see more jobs continue shifting to China, and its manufacturing sophistication will keep increasing," given China's vast work force and expanding design and engineering skills, he predicted...

China expert Nicholas Lardy of the Institute for International Economics said China's "very weak" banking system meant that pushing the country for currency reform could be unwise, and he praised Snow for recognizing that.

"He's clearly signaling the Bush administration does not believe this is the time to push for opening China's currency system to the full force of competition," Lardy said.

Clyde Prestowitz, president of the Economic Strategy Institute, said China presents a perplexing problem since the United States lacks leverage over the country's currency system and also has a vested interest in China's continuing economic health.

"China is one of the few areas of the world that's growing, and one reason they're growing is because their currency is undervalued," Prestowitz said. But, he asked, "Are we really going to zap them and effectively tell them to stop growing?"
Yeah, we probably will.

Wednesday, August 6

Last week, we also saw Eric Rohmer's L'Amour l'apr�s-midi, (Chloe in the Afternoon; 1972). I didn't think I'd like it, but it was watchable despite the trademark talkniness.

Here's another one for the gays: we're halfway through the serial Niezi, based on the Bai Xian-yong novel (translated as Crystal Boys by Howard Goldblatt). The series often seems interminable. If gay-ness were catching, you think I'd get it from all these gay movies. And as Lileks says,
Does gay marriage threaten heterosexual marriage? Of course! Who knows how many women woke last week to find notes on the kitchen table: "Dearest Wife, now that homosexual sodomy is legal in Texas, I have to go try it. Took the cell phone. Farewell."
(link via Instapundit)
My archives are gone. I guess they'll come back.

Tuesday, August 5

And in Blood on Our Hands? NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF argues
the greatest tragedy of Hiroshima was not that so many people were incinerated in an instant, but that in a complex and brutal world, the alternatives were worse.
I found STEPHEN J. DUBNER's The Probability That a Real-Estate Agent Is Cheating You (and Other Riddles of Modern Life) on Steven Levitt interesting, particularly what DUBNER calls this "famous" statement:
If you own a gun and have a swimming pool in the yard, the swimming pool is almost 100 times more likely to kill a child than the gun is.
Not because I'm particularly in favor of gun ownership, but because I'm interested in risk. So I Google "Steven Levitt" gun pool, and I find this big controversy involving John Lott. I haven't been following him or his research very closely, but together with the Mary Rosh business, he's beginning to look pretty kooky. Of course, it's not as bad as the Bellesiles mess, but it's funny that these two big "guns" are to one degree or another such frauds.

In The Bellesiles of the Right? Another firearms scholar whose dog ate his data, Timothy Noah presents some further evidence against Rosh--I mean Lott. (link via Instapundit, who's highly dismissive, of course)

Sunday, August 3

Oh, and this is huge: my gloxinia have germinated. How gay am I?
We saw Patrice Leconte's L'Homme du train (2002; The Man on the Train); not bad, with its ironic contrasts. I also appreciated the fact that not only did the character of the "planner" regret not having had a wilder life, which is what movies seem to prefer stressing these days, but also that the wild boy regretted not having had a more structured life. I've got a feeling that whoever thought of the story (Claude Klotz?) started by seeing the parallels between two "operations"--a bank robbery and surgery. Some time ago we also saw Leconte's Monsieur Hire (1989), which I liked, and more recently La Veuve de Saint-Pierre, (2000; The Widow of Saint-Pierre), which I absolutely detested. It's a movie about the death penalty that is imposed on a man who murdered someone while drunk, but turns out to nevertheless be a good fellow. The movie comes off as a screed against the death penalty. Although I am myself opposed to the death penalty, I found this idiotic.

At home, we saw A Taste of Honey (1961), another one from our library's huge collection of gay-related movies. Still, it was quite touching.
An old article I meant to save: Tide of China's Migrants: Flowing to Boom, or Bust? By ERIK ECKHOLM.