Friday, October 31

Meera Nanda on Religious Fundamentalisms, Modernist and Postmodernist, says of the postmodernist discipline of "science studies" that
it aims to "deconstruct" natural science, the very core of a secular and modern worldview. Since its inception in the 1970s, the discipline has produced a sizeable body of work that purports to show that not just the agenda, but even the content of theories of natural sciences is "socially constructed." All knowledge, in different cultures, or different historical times - regardless of whether it is true or false, rational or irrational, successful or not in producing reliable knowledge - is to be explained by the same causes. This demand for "symmetry" between modern science and other local knowledges constitutes the central demand of the "strong programme," the central dogma of science studies. One cannot assume that only false beliefs or failed sciences (e.g., astrology) are caused by a lack of systematic empirical testing, or by faulty reasoning, or by class interests, religious indoctrination or other forms of social conditioning. A truly "scientific" approach to science requires that we suspend our preconceived faith that what is scientific by the standards of modern science of our times brings us any closer to truth. In the spirit of true scientific impartiality and objectivity, science studies demand that modern science be treated "symmetrically," as being "at par" with any other local knowledge. studies scholars invariably end up taking a relativist position. They argue, in essence, that what constitutes relevant evidence for a community of scientists will vary with their material/social and professional interests, their social values including gender ideologies, religious faith, and with their culturally grounded standards of rationality and success. Thus, scientists with different social backgrounds, from different cultures and from different historical periods, literally live in different worlds: the sciences of modern western societies are not any more "true" or "rational" than the sciences of other cultures. If modern science claims to be universal, that is because Western culture has tried to impose itself on the rest of the world through imperialism.

I wanted to show how the promotion of an anti-secularist, anti-Enlightenment view of the world by well-meaning and largely left-wing scholars in world-renowned centers of learning has ended up affirming a view of the world which constitutes the common sense of the rather malign, authoritarian and largely right-wing fundamentalist movements. I wanted to show that that having invested so deeply in anti-modernist and anti-rationalist philosophies, the academic left has no intellectual resources left with which to engage the religious right.
All of these militant demands for "equal rights" to pursue their own version of theistic or sacred science take it for granted that it is no longer necessary to grant science the status of objective and universal knowledge. Science, it is assumed in true postmodernist fashion, no longer poses a challenge to the metaphysical assumptions of their own faiths, because scientific knowledge is itself is a construct of a wide variety of contested terms, held together, ultimately, by cultural power and social interests which define a given paradigm or an episteme. Take away the godless, materialist assumptions of modern scientists (who happen to be overwhelmingly male, white, imperialists Westerns anyway), and the given scientific evidence can actually serve as evidence for other kinds of theories about nature which do not exclude God as acting in nature or do not deny the existence of consciousness in matter. Different social values and cultural meanings can produce equally convincing maps of the world of nature. This has been the central dogma of science studies and has found numerous formulations in all kinds of "radical" defenses of alternative sciences. Religious fundamentalists are simply taking a page out of the social constructivist book.
Geremie Barme has noted in the "Packaged Dissent" chapter of In the Red how supporters of the status quo in China similarly use postmodernist arguments to defend the Communist Party against criticisms from the West.

Tuesday, October 28

A farmer at our local farmer's market doesn't label his produce "organic" anymore, but rather..."environmentally friendly" or something like that. I asked him why, & he said that to conform to the "organic" label, he'd have to pay $1000 for a license, and then paperwork for each crop would end up costing him a further $4000, so he won't do it.
Two different takes on the lawsuit by Ecuadoran environmentalists against ChevronTexaco. NPR's Weekend Edition reported Ecuadorian Environmentalists Sue ChevronTexaco includes accusations by the environmentalists' attorney that Texaco engaged in practices in Ecuador that it wouldn't have in the US. Now,
the Ecuadoran national oil company continues to operate many of the wells originally drilled by Texaco. While the locals blame Texaco for the region's environmental degradation, they often cite recent spills and leaks as evidence.
Meanwhile, a biologist who gathered evidence for the lawsuit says,
In this country, they made PetroEcuador more a political entity more than a productive entity. The government is drawing all the money out of PetroEcuador for other purposes and they have no money.

As this marketplace report makes clear, this is of interest for a number of reasons. It's a test of international law, because the case is being tried in a foreign country, but the judgement will be enforced in the US. What's of interest to me, and what the Weekend Edition report failed to mention is that not only is the company being held to account for what were then standard, acceptable practices, but the company was a minority partner with the foreign state-owned oil company, without that much control over production, and in fact the foreign state-owned companies often refuse to pay for more environmentally friendly practices. But they won't sue their own government, even though it was a partner with Texaco, because it's spent all the money.
Shanghai Lawyer Who Sued Developer Jailed By ELAINE KURTENBACH
A lawyer who helped a group of Shanghai residents sue a prominent real estate developer has been sentenced to three years in prison on charges that he disclosed state secrets, his defense lawyer said Tuesday.

A Shanghai court concluded that Zheng Enchong "illegally provided state secrets to people abroad," said his lawyer, Guo Guoting.

Sunday, October 26

Awhile ago we saw The Wild One (1953) with Marlon Brando. Funny to see bikers listening to jazz instead of rock & roll. Otherwise OK if pretty dated. They seem to want to insist, he's not really a bad boy.

Terrence Malick's Badlands (1973), inspired by the 1958 mass murder spree of nineteen -year-old James Dean-fixated Charles Starkweather and his fourteen year-old girlfriend Caril Ann Fugate. I remember how much of a fuss critics made about this, but it seems fairly ordinary now. Despite being such an old movie, it hardly seemed dated at all to me--of course, it was set in the late 50's. Sissy Spacek and Martin Sheen seem ridiculously young. I don't mean to get in a big moral dudgeon, but Sheen's sociopath is pretty chilling. Maybe 30 years from now I'll see the new movie about the Columbine high school massacres.

So it seems strange that a lot reviewers took exception to how nasty the characters were in Danny Boyle's Shallow Grave (1994). I didn't get around to seeing it when it came out because I was afraid it might be too violent for me; that's also why I chickened out of seeing 28 Days Later (2002). I loved his Trainspotting (1996), though. Shallow Grave was alright.

I liked James Ivory's Mr. & Mrs. Bridge (1990), with Paul Newman & Joanne Woodward, even if it didn't seem to know if wanted to criticize Paul Newman's character or not, or rather it wanted to criticize him for being overly dry and practical, but didn't do a very good job of it. I probably should read the novels, but I doubt I'll get around to it.

We saw that the same weekend we saw Whit Stillman's Barcelona (1994), which offers an unusually sympathetic portrait of two of the characters--one working for a "corporation" and the other a US Navy, man, both of them in Spain. Still, the anti-Americanism is pretty much by the way--that's not really what the movie is about, so much as wry observations about life.

Not to harp on the subject, but Chaplin's Modern Times (1936) was quite anti-business, but it was nevertheless pretty enjoyable; the other week we tried to watch Great Dictator, The (1940), but found it pretty unwatchable.

Saturday, October 25

Prairie Towns Die Slowly in Canada ; Cash Crunch, Weariness Converge To Drive Away Farmers and Youth By DeNeen L. Brown. So what? Yes, change is rough, but this talk of "the loss of rural life" is a little silly. I don't see what makes rural life inherently valuable. What about the loss of hunter-gatherer life caused by the establishment of farming thousands of years ago?
Different angles

An anonymous Associated Press report says, Hu Asks Australia to Help on Taiwan
CANBERRA, Australia, Oct. 24 -- Chinese President Hu Jintao became the first Asian leader to address Australia's Parliament on Friday, urging the country to play a "constructive role" in unifying Taiwan with the Chinese mainland.
Whereas in A Visitor From China Eclipses Bush's Stop in Australia, JANE PERLEZ contrasts Hu Jintao with George Bush:
The biggest difference was in style, with an almost complete role reversal of what might be expected. The Chinese leader was gregarious; the American president, aloof.
However, she does conclude:
Australia's trading relationship with Japan presented few problems for Australia in its dealings with Washington. In the future, that is unlikely to be the case with China.

In his speech, Mr. Hu made certain that Australia did not miss that point. He called on Australia to play a "constructive role in China's peaceful reunification" with Taiwan.
In The Ten Commandments vs. America, Harry Binswanger
The basic philosophy of the Ten Commandments is the polar opposite of the philosophy underlying the American ideal of a free society. Freedom requires:

-- a metaphysics of the natural, not the supernatural; of free will, not determinism; of the primary reality of the individual, not the tribe or the family;

-- an epistemology of individual thought, applying strict logic, based on individual perception of reality, not obedience and dogma;

-- an ethics of rational self-interest, to achieve chosen values, for the purpose of individual happiness on this earth, not fearful, dutiful appeasement of "a jealous God" who issues "commandments."
Link via Goobage, who's got plenty of stuff on taxes, too.
Laid-Off Workers Imprisoned in China Ill By TED ANTHONY
BEIJING - Two laid-off factory workers convicted of subversion after leading labor protests in China's industrial northeast last year are being systematically mistreated in prison and are in increasingly grave condition, a monitoring group alleged Friday.

The health of Xiao Yunliang and Yao Fuxin has "deteriorated rapidly" since they were sent to Lingyuan Prison in the northeastern province of Liaoning earlier this month....

Friday, October 24

Lots of people have linked to Ian Buruma's article Wielding the moral club, or is it Hands-off Left is the Right of old available here and here. He says that the leftist critics have
set themselves morally above the Right. So why do they appear to be so much keener to denounce the US than to find ways to liberate Iraqis and others from their murderous fuhrers? And how can anybody, knowing the brutal costs of political violence, especially in poor countries split by religious and ethnic divisions, be so insouciant as to call for more aggression?

Alas, the main issue, for them, is the power of the US.

Anti-Americanism may have grown fiercer than it was during the Cold War. It is a common phenomenon that when the angels fail to deliver, the demons become more fearsome. The socialist debacle, then, contributed to the resentment of US triumphs.

But something else happened at the same time. In a curious way, Left and Right began to change places. The expansion of global capitalism, which is not without negative consequences, to be sure, turned leftists into champions of cultural and political nationalism. When Marxism was still a potent ideology, the Left sought universal solutions for the ills of the world. Now globalisation has become another word for an assault on native culture and identity. So the old Left has turned conservative.

This defence of cultural authenticity comes in the guise of anti-imperialism, which is of course the same, these days, as anti-Americanism. Israel plays a significant part in this, as the perceived cat's-paw of US imperialism in the Middle East and the colonial enemy of Palestinian nationalism. Israel and the US have a way of triggering the reflexes of European colonial guilt that overrides almost anything else. Israeli policies, just as US policies, are often wrong and sometimes even wicked, but even if they were always right, Israel would still be hated as the Western invader on Arab territory.

The moral paralysis of the Left, when it comes to non-Western tyrants, may also have a more sinister explanation. Israeli philosopher Avishai Margalit calls it moral racism. When Indians kill Muslims, or Africans kill Africans, or Arabs kill Arabs, Western pundits pretend not to notice, or find historical explanations or blame the scars of colonialism. But if white men – whether they are American, European, South African or Israeli – harm people of colour hell is raised.

If one compares Western reporting of events in Palestine or Iraq with far more disturbing news in Liberia or Central Africa, there is a disproportion which suggests that non-Western people cannot be held to the same moral standards as us. One could claim this is only right, since we can only take responsibility for our own kind. But this would be a rather racist view of world affairs....
The same double standard applies all over. From the modern PRC point of view, it's fine to murder a tens of millions of your own people, but let's not talk about that--let's focus all our hatred on the Japanese.
I've got 10+ years to go till retirement, but since my wife's Chinese & I like Chinese food, we're considering moving to a place with lots of Chinese restaurants, which means lots of Chinese people. has the stats on race, as does AreaConnect. But since we're not familiar with the areas, first I've got to go to the U.S. Census Bureau; as of now, they've got a good explanation of how to find things here. I found P6. RACE (in the US, Asian generally means Chinese) and PCT10. AGE BY LANGUAGE SPOKEN (whatever the hell that means) most helpful.
  • San Francisco County

  • Alameda County (SF)

  • Los Angeles County

  • Orange County (LA)

  • Sacramento County

  • San Diego County

  • San Mateo County (SF)

  • Santa Clara (SF)

  • Ventura County (LA)

Looks like the Chinese live in the priciest neighborhoods. Gah. Maybe other states are cheaper.
Carnival of the Capitalists also links to Vinod's Blog, which has a post on the American faith in democracy and capitalism as being the right thing for everyone. A few years ago at a meeting on doing business in China, I found it amusing that several of the businessmen felt a missionary zeal in bringing our business practices to the Chinese. I agree that democracy and free markets are generally a good thing, or at least the least of the various evils.

The business people are hardly unique in feeling that their own job is making an important contribution; despite all the cynicism, a lot of people still seem to feel the same way. (I don't feel that way now, in my marginalized field of study, and I suspect I'm too much of a realist/cynic/pessimist to feel that way no matter what my job was.) But everyone's in their own little world. All too often the businessmen look down on the liberal arts intellectuals as engaged in parasitic activities, while the intellectuals look down on what they see as money-grubbers engaged in parasitic activities, and the media mostly only reports the bad news about everything, while the reporters seem to think they're better than everybody else, even as they continually display their ignorance.

Hey, now I feel better!
Fascinating stuff on income inequality at Truck and Barter. What I got out of it is that Americans don't spend as much time in poverty as certain fear-mongers would have us believe. Discovered via Carnival of the Capitalists, which Jane Galt (still blocking me, grrr) linked to.

Thursday, October 23

I heard about this on NPR's Marketplace and A New Can Of Worms mentions it appears in the WSJ: Manufacturing Payrolls Declining Globally: The Untold Story By Joseph Carson:
Factory Jobs Slashed. The popular explanation for the decline in US manufacturing payrolls is that American workers are being categorically replaced by workers in China and other parts of Asia. In truth, factory jobs have been slashed not only in America and Europe, but in Asia as well.

Contrary to popular belief, the global push to relocate facilities to countries with lower production costs has not caused an increase in manufacturing employment in those areas. In fact, since 1995, the reduction of manufacturing jobs in China has been as large as that of any other country.

Merely lowering operating costs is not enough for businesses to survive today. Enormous gains in technology have raised the bar on global competitiveness, punishing firms with outmoded facilities regardless of their location.

These new developments are certainly bullish for both the US and global economies, as manufacturers will need to continue to invest in innovative technologies in order to remain competitive.


China's Job Losses. One of our more interesting findings is that, taken on its own, China's job losses are double the average of the remaining 17 countries* for the same seven-year period. Manufacturing employment in the 17 largest economies other than China fell a little more than 7%, from 96 million in 1995 to 89 million in 2002. In contrast, China's fell a whopping 15% in the period, from 98 million in 1995 to 83 million in 2002.

Notwithstanding the continuous influx of foreign investment and new employment, China has been unable to escape the drive toward productivity enhancement and the resultant downsizing of the manufacturing workforce. In 2002 alone, although nearly 2 million factory jobs were created, China's manufacturing employment level for the year was below 1998 and far below 1995.
I bet the anti-trade populists won't change their tune, though.

Wednesday, October 22

Stinky Tofu.

In What the Stink Is All About, Walter Nicholls explains that chou dofu is made by marinating tofu squares in a basic brine that is made with a combination of long-fermented vegetables; the bean curd develops a unique, spongy consistency, and a characteristic smell. It's usually then deep-fat fried, although 獨臭之家 in Taipei serves cold, raw stinky tofu, and once in Taiwan my wife stir--fried it. Not a huge success.

As H. M. CHEUNG and some other Hong Kong scientists have written,
"This stinky flavor and other thermally generated aromatic compounds vaporize during deep-fat frying to produce the typical odor of chaw tofu....[These odors] generally possess unpleasant, medicinal, putrid, fecal and rancid odor." Fecal? That's a little strong. Anyway, a lot of us like it.
Sheesh. At The Volokh Conspiracy they've been talking about the Darwin fish. For the record, I think it's a little crass to display your anti-religiosity (or your religiosity, in the case of the original fish) with an adhesive emblem, just as it is to wave the flag. They link to this page of satirical fish (what about one that says "ghoti" inside?), which led me to the Christians aren't perfect, they just want you to be Magnet, and the Cthulhu Page, which led me to look for The Works of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, some of which I've downloaded.

Now the question is, will I print them out?
This is no surprise: Rights Group Exposes Conditions in North Korean Prison Camps By JAMES BROOKE
China's Boom Adds to Global Warming Problem By KEITH BRADSHER:
China's rapid economic growth is producing a surge in emissions of greenhouse gases that threatens international efforts to curb global warming, as Chinese power plants burn ever more coal while car sales soar.

Until the last few months, many energy experts and environmentalists said, they had hoped that China's contribution to global warming would be limited. Its state-owned enterprises have become more efficient in their energy use as they compete in an increasingly capitalist economy, and until recently official Chinese statistics had been showing a steep drop in coal production and consumption.
Even assuming one accepts the unprovable assumption that global warming is driven by pollution caused by humans (as the NY Times does), The Economist argued on Jul 4th 2002:
At the moment, the harm done to human health and the environment from burning fossil fuels is not reflected in the price of those fuels, especially coal, in most countries.

and on Aug 2nd 2001, Bjorn Lomborg pointed out with reference to the Kyoto Protocol,
fear of largely imaginary environmental problems can divert political energy from dealing with real ones....Some environmental policies, such as reducing lead in petrol and sulphur-dioxide emissions from fuel oil, are very cost-effective. But many of these are already in place. Most environmental measures are less cost-effective than interventions aimed at improving safety (such as installing air-bags in cars) and those involving medical screening and vaccination. Some are absurdly expensive.

Yet a false perception of risk may be about to lead to errors more expensive even than controlling the emission of benzene at tyre plants. Carbon-dioxide emissions are causing the planet to warm. The best estimates are that the temperature will rise by some 2°-3°C in this century, causing considerable problems, almost exclusively in the developing world, at a total cost of $5,000 billion. Getting rid of global warming would thus seem to be a good idea. The question is whether the cure will actually be more costly than the ailment.

Despite the intuition that something drastic needs to be done about such a costly problem, economic analyses clearly show that it will be far more expensive to cut carbon-dioxide emissions radically than to pay the costs of adaptation to the increased temperatures. The effect of the Kyoto Protocol on the climate would be minuscule, even if it were implemented in full. A model by Tom Wigley, one of the main authors of the reports of the UN Climate Change Panel, shows how an expected temperature increase of 2.1°C in 2100 would be diminished by the treaty to an increase of 1.9°C instead. Or, to put it another way, the temperature increase that the planet would have experienced in 2094 would be postponed to 2100.

So the Kyoto agreement does not prevent global warming, but merely buys the world six years. Yet, the cost of Kyoto, for the United States alone, will be higher than the cost of solving the world's single most pressing health problem: providing universal access to clean drinking water and sanitation. Such measures would avoid 2m deaths every year, and prevent half a billion people from becoming seriously ill.

And that is the best case. If the treaty were implemented inefficiently, the cost of Kyoto could approach $1 trillion, or more than five times the cost of worldwide water and sanitation coverage. For comparison, the total global-aid budget today is about $50 billion a year.

Monday, October 20

Despite Widespread Poverty, a Consumer Class Emerges in India By AMY WALDMAN
A year ago, India was in a national funk over China having surged ahead economically. Now, there is a cautious sense that over time, India could prove the turtle to China's hare, thanks to its entrepreneurial spirit, its strong higher education system and its democracy.

Friday, October 17

I found via Dean's World. Yeah, it's addicting, but I don't think this one's genuine. Still, I actually laughed out loud.
I found an old report by Rob Gifford about Phrase Book Helps China's Cops Prep for Olympics where he talks with Scott Simon about a couple of threads that run through the book:
One is that foreigners drink a lot. The other is that, if you believe this book, I think the perception is that every Western man, and especially Western reporters, is a sort of sexual predator who's after any Chinese woman he can get his hands on. 'Please, take your hands off that woman,' or 'Could you just leave that lady alone, please, and come along with me,' it gives us sort of an insight into maybe how the Chinese, or certainly the Chinese police, see Western men as behaving around women.

Simon says, "I wonder where they would have gotten that impression?" and Gifford responds, "I can't think." It's supposed to be funny, but it's a little annoying; it's not like Chinese men don't fool around with prostitutes.
Gov eyes student volunteerism plan, more P.E. BY DAVE MCKINNEY:
Illinois high school students could be required to perform volunteer work in their communities in order to graduate and devote more class time to physical education under ideas floated Thursday by Gov. Blagojevich.
Community service seems a little like affirmative action in college to me--too much social tinkering rather than education. And there are a lot of things that people ought to know, like how to handle their finances, that they aren't generally taught in school.
Xinhua reports,
China's first astronaut Yang Liwei said in an interview on the China Central Television Thursday evening that "I did not see the Great Wall from space."
That's what I thought, but actually many human constructs can be seen from Earth orbit.

Wednesday, October 15

In China: Sky's no longer the limit, By Antoaneta Bezlova:
A surge in nationalistic pride seems to have drowned out questions being raised by some critics who say the space program is a costly and misplaced effort that merely repeats what other world powers achieved 40 years ago.

Asked about the price of such an ambitious trip by a country that still has millions earning less than US$1 a day, building contractor Ma Bin shrugged: "This is not America, where money comes from the taxpayers. This is money of the Communist Party - they will do with it what they decide. It is great they are investing in something that makes us proud."
Yes, the launch probably appeals to the masses. But Poor Ma Bin doesn't get it--where does he think the Communist Party's money comes from if not its citizens? Perhaps he's not paying any taxes.
John Pomfret claims that Beijing Supports Right to Own Property, Amass Farm Holdings:
China's top Communist Party leaders ended a four-day meeting Tuesday with promises to protect private property and allow farmers to amass large land holdings, key steps toward creating a more capitalist economy, state-run media said.
We'll see. And as the article suggests, corruption and and the abuse of poor farmers by local governments are a problem.
Organ music 'instils religious feelings' By Jonathan Amos: People who experience a sense of spirituality in church may be reacting to the extreme bass sound produced by some organ pipes.

Then there's this:
Researchers have found that frequences as low as one hertz (one cycle per second) have a definite effect on the inner ear, somehow short-circuiting its equilibrium and causing dizziness.

Infrasonically-induced dizziness may not be the stuff of paranoid fantasies, but it may yet turn out to be a serious problem.
Dangerous places, churches.
Civic-minded Taiwanese?

NPR's Richard Harris reports on How to Stop SARS? He discusses quarantine experiences in Taiwan, where over 150,000 people were asked to stay home for 10 days. Susan Maloney, a representative from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was positively impressed, crediting Taiwan's good preparation (providing food, mental health counseling, and financial support) because of previous natural disasters. She believes that people seemed to feel that they were helping solve a social problem, and indeed less than one percent violated quarantine. Furthermore, in his report, Harris cites Lawrence Gostin, saying "The people of Taiwan share a community spirit that Gostin doesn't see in the United States." Gostin says Americans used to pride ourselves on civic duty and community relationships, but don't anymore.

I find the report is overly positive about Taiwanese public-spiritedness. Those subject to quarantine were paid a stipend equivalent to the average Taiwan salary; fines ranged from US$1000-$8000, which is a lot of money for most Taiwanese. So much for civic duty. It's almost as good as having a corrupt politico buy your vote.

Tuesday, October 14

uber-blog mentions news about Nigerians being the happiest people in the world. (Some Nigerian intellectuals would beg to differ.) Writing in the October 4, 2003 New Scientist (not available online?) about research concerning The pursuit of happiness, Michael Bond writes:
While it is tempting to hold up those nations and populations that report the highest levels of happiness or life satisfaction as a model for others to follow, even those optimistic about the science think this unwise. "Interpreting the data can be a great problem," admits Veenhoven. The word "happiness" has no precise equivalent in some languages. Even in English it means different things to different people -- Veenhoven has recorded 15 separate academic definitions.
Is it 快乐 or 高兴?
Another complication is that satisfaction is not quite the same thing as happiness....
Another result from the surveys that conceals layers of intriguing complexity concerns wealth. Asian countries such as Japan and South Korea report lower levels of subjective well-being than their incomes would predict, and the US and certain other western nations higher. So westerners are happier than Asians? Not necessarily.

Different cultures value happiness in very different ways. In individualistic western countries, it is often seen as a reflection of personal achievement. Being unhappy implies that you have not made the most of your life. Latin American countries, which also report high happiness levels, have a similarly high regard for those with an upbeat attitude. Eunkook Mark Suh at Yonsei University in Seoul thinks this pressure to be happy could lead people to over-report how happy they feel.

Meanwhile in the more collectivist nations such as Japan, China and South Korea, people have a more fatalistic attitude towards happiness. "They believe it is very much a blessing from heavenly sources," says Suh. "One of the consequences of such an attitude is that you don't have to feel inferior or guilty about not being very happy, since happiness does not reflect your ability." Indeed, in Asian cultures the pursuit of happiness is often frowned on -- which in turn could lead people to under-report how happy they feel.
What's more, the things that give people happiness, satisfaction and meaning in their lives vary considerably between cultures. Shinobu Kitayama at Kyoto University in Japan and Hazel Rose Markus at Stanford University, California, believe that how satisfied a person is with their life depends largely on how successfully they adhere to their particular cultural "standard".

In the US, satisfaction comes from personal success, self-expression, pride, a high sense of self-esteem and a distinct sense of self. In Japan, on the other hand, it comes from fulfilling the expectations of your family, meeting your social responsibilities, self-discipline, cooperation and friendliness. So while in the US it is perfectly appropriate to pursue your own happiness, in Japan you are more likely to find happiness by not directly pursuing it.

And there's another twist. The happiest nations -- mostly western and individualistic ones -- also tend to have the highest levels of suicide. "There are some real downsides to individualistic cultures," says Ed Diener at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "People with mental illness are in real trouble with no extended family to watch over them."


Survey after survey has shown that the desire for material goods, which has increased hand in hand with average income, is a "happiness suppressant".

One study, by Tim Kasser at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, found that young adults who focus on money, image and fame tend to be more depressed, have less enthusiasm for life and suffer more physical symptoms such as headaches and sore throats than others (The High Price of Materialism, MIT Press, 2002). Kasser believes that people tend to embrace material values when they are feeling insecure (retail therapy, anyone?). "Advertisements have become more sophisticated," says Kasser. "They try to tie their message to people's psychological needs. But it is a false link. It is toxic."

Kasser, who has not owned a television since 1992, wants governments to categorise advertising as a form of pollution and either tax it or force advertisers to print warning messages about how materialism can damage your health. His point is that since nothing about materialism can help you find happiness, governments should discourage it and instead promote things that can. For instance, they could support businesses that allow their employees plenty of time off to be with their families, and that practise equality through profit-sharing.

Idealistic? Of course. Yet these days even hard-headed economists tend to agree that the key to making people happier is to shift from pure economic growth -- which fuels a consumerist culture that is antithetical to happiness -- to personal growth. By this reckoning, a government's priorities should be to reduce unemployment and job insecurity, improve mental healthcare, encourage direct democracy (studies in Switzerland, where referendums are common, suggest people are happier the more they feel in control of their lives), and -- perhaps most controversially -- discourage the pursuit of status.

This last is crucial, believes Richard Layard, co-director of the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics, since the pursuit of social status is "truly fruitless" at the level of society. So, out go devices such as performance-related pay and league tables when they are deliberately made public in order to motivate people through the quest for rank. "This condemns as many to fail as to succeed -- not a good formula for raising human happiness," says Layard.


Carol Graham at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC warns that countries trying to deepen democratic reforms need to concentrate on keeping their "middle-earners" happy and secure. In a study in Peru, Graham found that this group, whose support no government in a developing country can do without, are far less satisfied than the poor, for they take as their reference point the very wealthy, whose income and status they will be hard-pushed to match. The poor, meanwhile, take as their reference point the middle-earners, who are more within their reach. Once again, what counts is not what you have so much as what others have.
So, for true happiness, poverty is still the answer.

Monday, October 13

I might have realized the post-colonial theory and identity politics that Edward Said's writings inspired helped provide a philosophical basis for the Taiwan independence movement. That explains some of its more ridiculous excesses. (link via A better tomorrow)
Some recent articles about Taiwan politics: Taiwan's President Pushes Idea of New Constitution By Tiffany Wu:
Facing a difficult election in less than six months, Chen has irked Beijing with speeches analysts see as part of a re-election ploy.

From calling Taiwan and China "one country on each side" of the Taiwan Strait to pushing for a referendum bill and a rewriting of the constitution, Chen is aiming to make the March 2004 polls a vote on the independence touted by his party versus reunification supported by the opposition, analysts say.

But the strategy has risks.

Washington, Taiwan's biggest ally, has warned Chen not to alter the island's ambiguous political status and China has criticized him for creating tensions across the Strait.


While the Nationalists are generally regarded as being better placed to negotiate stronger business ties with China, pro-independence supporters accuse them of selling out Taiwan by being too friendly toward Beijing.

The island is bitterly split between those who favor independence and those who favor reunification, though the overwhelming majority prefers to keep the ambiguous status quo.

John Pomfret similarly writes, Taiwanese Leader Condemns Beijing, 'One China' Policy; Chen Dismisses Fears In U.S. of Rising Tension:
Weakened by a sluggish economy and record unemployment, Chen currently lags about 10 percentage points behind his challengers for the presidential election set for March 20. His calculation is that a strong reaction by Beijing would help his chances for reelection, according to a broad variety of Taiwanese analysts and senior government officials.

"The only way he can win is if he stimulates China to react," said Tim Ting, a leading pollster in Taiwan. "There will be a line somewhere and Chen will cross it." Ting and others say that China's threats -- including then-Premier Zhu Rongji's nationally televised finger-wagging, seen as a warning to Taiwanese not to vote -- on the eve of the last presidential election helped Chen win.


"We have a bunch of political campaigners charting the course for Taiwan," said a senior Taiwanese government official who spoke on condition of anonymity, saying he was alarmed at Chen's shift. "The only way they think Chen will be reelected is if they succeed in polarizing Taiwan."


Chen's Democratic Progressive Party "is increasingly being viewed as a bunch of amateurs set on destroying U.S.-China relations," said the senior government official who travels regularly to Washington. "But neither Lien Chan nor James Soong has convinced anyone that they will be any better."

John Pomfret also has an interview with Taiwan's former president Lee Teng-hui: Taiwan's Top Agitator as Bold as Ever; Popular Ex-President's Campaign for Independence Fraught With Risks:
In the interview, held mostly in Chinese, he lambasted Chinese culture. "Chinese have a strange sense of history, with their obsession with 5,000 years of their culture," he said. "When you meet an Italian, you don't see him dreaming about the greatness of Rome, do you? How can modern people have such ideas? They think that everything belongs to them, even Japan, not to mention Taiwan."

"Don't just look at the Taiwanese face and think it looks like a mainland face," he said at another point, contending that Taiwan's culture is really a unique mix of Dutch, Polynesian, Japanese and Chinese strains.
There's a grain of truth there, but not much. The Chinese strain dominates the Japanese and Polynesian, and as for the Dutch strain, he must be joking.


According to Report spurs denial from Chen's aide in the pro-independence Taipei Times by Chang Yun-Ping:
"President Chen never said that he 'would not bow to US pressure' as the two countries have mutual concerns on certain issues; Taiwan would also be concerned about the US tilting its stance toward China," Presidential Office spokesman James Huang (黃志芳) said.

"Concern is not the same as pressure. Being concerned doesn't mean that you're going to get involved in another nation's domestic affairs.
So they're trying to say that Chen meant that he would not bow to US concern, and that the US shouldn't "get involved".
Huang yesterday said that when Pomfret asked Chen whether the holding of referendums, rewriting the Constitution and adding Taiwan to the cover of passports were part of a strategy to anger Beijing and boost his chances of getting re-elected, the president replied that "such thinking was incorrect and meaningless."

"The president said these moves were based on improving the development of the nation's constitutional system and public convenience. The president emphasized that pushing these democratic reforms has nothing to do with the issues of independence or unification. So the things the US is concerned about won't happen," Huang said.
Chen looks like he wants it both ways. He curries favor with the pro-independence people by pushing reforms that suggest independence both to them and the PRC, but then claims it won't upset the PRC.
I hope he can guarantee that. (link via A better tomorrow)

Tuesday, October 7

A better tomorrow shows a pic of 黑人牙膏 (Black Man Toothpaste), and in the comments Marc helpfully links to the controversy about the old packaging. I don't see anything by any of the China hands mentioning the various 黑妹牙膏 (Black Sister Toothpaste) product line. As one can see from the ads, there's nothing overtly racist about it, but the thing with black people and toothpaste is suggested by this story, in which 他所恋爱的女人,来自刚果,一个全黑的老外。朋友们背后叫她"黑妹牙膏"。真是这样的,只有她笑起来的时候,牙齿白得耀人。(The girl he loved was from the Congo--a totally black foreigner. Their friends called her Black Sister Toothpaste. It was just like that: just when she smiled, her teeth were so white they dazzled.) All of which sounds very racist.

But then Taiwan has the 白人牙膏 (White Men Toothpaste) product line. So is that racist?

(Unicode needed to view the characters.)

Monday, October 6

Is China Really Moving Toward Democracy? By JOE McDONALD points out it's not that democratic, but then cites Kenneth Lieberthal, "a scholar of Chinese politics at the University of Michigan Business School."

Lieberthal said that as changes accelerate, China could see direct elections within a year at the county level and to city-level offices by 2010. That could put popularly elected figures into positions with responsibility over millions of people.

Ultimately, he said, the ruling party could be aiming at a system like that of the Institutional Revolutionary Party of Mexico or the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan. Both stayed in power for decades by uniting a wide array of competing factions - then keeping them together by not demanding ideological unity.

In China's leadership, Lieberthal said, "the array of open disagreement over foreign policy and domestic policy issues already is much broader than it was just a few years ago."
Well, neither party is ideal, but they sound a great deal better than what the Chinese have now.
From Truck Took Probe Down Wrong Road by Sari Horwitz and Michael E. Ruane (the first of five excerpts from Sniper: Inside the Hunt for the Killers Who Terrorized the Nation). A couple of witnesses "noticed an old, dark-colored Chevy Caprice with tinted windows...."
This was no white van. It was probably not even a white man's car. This sounded like a "hoopty," a fellow detective said when he heard of the Caprice. "Man, that's a brother's car."
I'm mostly interested in the word "hoopty", but I'm sure there's something about race that someone could say.
Last weekend we saw Sergeant York (1941) with a dignified Gary Cooper and Walter Brennan. Brennan was enough like his The Real McCoys (1957) character that it didn't take long to recognize him, although he didn't lay on the old coot quite so thick.


I had assumed it was a war movie, while it's really a picture about Alvin York; the first half of the movie is devoted to his life in the hills. I was surprised by how poor and backward it was. The second half of the movie concerns his training and fighting, which is portrayed with only minimal conflict with the other characters, unlike what seems standard today. Dave Kehr dislikes the portrayal of the war, which he says "degenerates quickly and grotesquely (cf the 'turkey shoot' finale)." Admittedly the movie is pro-war, but hardly in a bloodthirsty way; York is only able to shoot at the enemy when he realizes not shooting will cost more lives. The "turkey shoot" simply harks back to his skill as a marksman back in the Tennessee hills; York is hardly triumphal about it as shown by his unwillingness to give a number to how many of the enemy he killed. It also is much less ironic with less conflict between characters than we see these days.

The next day, Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939) with Robert Donat in the title role for which he won an Oscar, beating out Clark Gable for GWTW. This made an interesting contrast. Even though this was from only two years earlier than Sergeant York, it seems like ages; I'm tempted to say it actually captured some of the "Great War" ethos, while Sergeant York was really just a WWII film in disguise. When the war reaches the school, Mr. Chips puts far more emphasis on how many of his boys are lost than on how important it is to fight the Germans. Or was it because this was filmed in the days of appeasement? Finally, when Chips goes hiking in the Austrian mountains, and the following dialog takes place:
Chipping: What extraordinary ideas come into one's head up here!
Katherine: It's the altitude.
Chipping: Do you experience a sort of exhilaration?
Katherine: Definitely.
Chipping: As though we owned the mountain.
Katherine: To put it mildly.
Chipping: We're pretty superior persons.
Katherine: We're gods.
Chipping: Up here, there's no time. No growing old. Nothing lost.
Katherine: We're young.
Chipping: We believe in ourselves.
Katherine: We have faith in the future.
Chipping: It must be the altitude.

The novel that was the basis for Goodbye, Mr. Chips was written by James Hilton, who also wrote Lost Horizon.

Friday, October 3

Dirty cops: Police Under fire BY MATTHEW FORNEY. As the article points out, the police are woefully underpaid and overworked. Also, note that Public Security Minister Zhou Yongkang is a
protégé of former President Jiang Zemin, who remains head of China's army and controls the country's security apparatus, Zhou took office in December and set out to clean up China's dirty cops.
So not surprisingly
Chinese reformers argue that real improvement will come only if police subject themselves to oversight by prosecutors' offices. But Zhou has resisted this—and has even moved in the opposite direction. Unlike his predecessors, he has been named vice chairman of the party's powerful Political and Legislative Affairs Committee, which oversees judicial matters. That means everyone from the Minister of Justice to the country's top judges must gain Zhou's approval when prosecuting sensitive cases. And he has replicated the system at lower levels by encouraging local chiefs to lead their towns' political committees, giving them the power to influence the outcome of trials. "We've got judges bowing down to police chiefs," says a party official involved in judicial reform. "How can there be hope for change?"
(link via Rice Cooker).
Wild Weekend's Hangover: Outrage Follows Japanese Tourists' Orgy With Chinese Prostitutes. John Pomfret gives some context:
Prostitution and sex tourism are huge businesses in China, played out almost in public. Practically every hotel, from no-star dives to five-star international chains, boasts a bevy of women offering oily massages and more to travelers.
Incidents involving Japanese in China invariably take on an incendiary quality, with the Chinese quick to take offense and the Japanese just as quickly arguing that they are being singled out unfairly.
Many Chinese believe that Japan's efforts to apologize for its wartime behavior are insincere. And to this day, Chinese continue to cope with the remnants of the war. Last month, one construction worker died and several others were badly burned when they unearthed a batch of mustard gas that the Japanese occupation had left behind.

In recent years, China's Communist rulers have nurtured anti-Japanese feelings among their people, according to Gilbert Rozman, a professor of sociology at Princeton University. He said that since the mid-1990s, Communist Party officials around then-President Jiang Zemin decided to use resentful nationalism as a unifying ideology to replace the communism that few believed in anymore. The government also has routinely played down any mention of the multibillion-dollar flood of Japanese aid and low-interest loans into China.

This treatment led to a backlash in Japan, where polling data, starting in the mid-1990s, began to show a dramatic rise in opposition to China. Chinese polling data reflect the same trend, with respondents routinely listing Japan as by far the No. 1 potential enemy of China.
First of all, prostitution is rampant in China; as the article points out, often with help from the Chinese security services or police. See also Peter S. Goodman's Sex Trade Thrives In China, not to mention how A village was transformed by organized prostitution.

And as I've said before, the Communist Party is probably responsible for far more deaths than the Japanese were. But that's OK. It was Mao's responsibility, and he's a "great man".
I've just rediscovered Language Hat, who argues that the use of "they/their" as a (gender-neutral) singular pronoun is "common and much needed". In the comments there's a very reasonable comment by one Henry Churchyard, who's also got a page about The singular "they"/"their"/"them"/"themselves" construction. Geez, I'm getting old and cranky, insisting on the old usage--or rather, the new usage I grew up with. Well, what about "it's" instead of "its"? As in Bush Pressing China on It's Currency By MARTIN CRUTSINGER.
Breast Implants Linked to Suicide By Marc Kaufman.
A series of studies has found a surprisingly high suicide rate among women who have had cosmetic breast implants, renewing the controversy about the procedure just as the Food and Drug Administration weighs whether to allow silicone gel implants back on the market.
Of course we don't know why yet, and it may be possible it's because the implants cause severe health problems, but I suspect it's because those who get them are more vulnerable. I wonder what the suicide stats are for cosmetic surgery in general.
It's not just the Chinese. Oh, No: It's a Girl! By Steven E. Landsburg. He suggests
parents, on average, prefer boys to girls. The preference is stronger elsewhere in the world, but it's plenty strong in the United States too.
(via Jane Galt).

Thursday, October 2

My search for chewy cookies continues. Earlier I tried to:
  • Remove the cookies while their centers are not quite cooked through.

  • Substitute 1 to 3 tablespoons of liquid sweetener for an equal measure of sugar.

  • Use egg yolks instead of whole eggs.

  • Reduce the baking soda or baking powder slightly.

  • Use tapioca flour

That didn't work all that well, though.

Now I'm glad to see the Washington Post tackle the tough issues: Tough Cookies
Science Tackles Baking Process To End Grumbles Over Crumbles
, By Guy Gugliotta:
Also, noted Shirley Corriher, the Atlanta-based author of "Cookwise" and a former research biochemist at Vanderbilt University, "If you sprinkle some water on the flour first, you can make gluten before you add the shortening. With more gluten you can make a cookie so strong you can stand on it."

According to Mad Science Nation, I should also:
  • Use all-purpose or even bread flour.

  • Use brown sugar or honey.
Rich man, poor man: the Economist on income inequality in China.
Chinese Girls' Toil Brings Pain, Not Riches By JOSEPH KAHN
While multinational corporations like Motorola and Intel pay employees middle-class wages to work in world-class factories in this country, the sizzling export sector still relies heavily on smaller operations, both locally and foreign-owned, that assemble toys, clothes, shoes, tools, electronics, decorative items and cosmetic goods. Many measure profits in pennies on the dollar and squeeze workers to make their margins.


Court cases involving unpaid wages, illegal contracts and life-threatening working conditions are common even as China becomes richer, suggesting that cut-throat capitalism and sweatshop factories are as much a part of China's economic revolution today as they were the early days of industrialization in the West.
Note that multinationals are generally treating the workers better. It's also interesting that people trust the system enough to bring cases to court--or is that a measure of their desperation?

Wednesday, October 1

Addiction: A Brain Ailment, Not a Moral Lapse, by JANE E. BRODY. I've heard it before. And there's no easy solution:
[T]here is clearly not one route to recovery. Some addicts manage to kick their habits without any outside help; others require monthlong inpatient programs and continued reinforcement, either professional or lay. Still others may need a year of outpatient treatment plus aftercare. Many former addicts find that support groups of fellow former addicts like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous help them maintain their drug-free status.

We usually have a donut on Sundays (for breakfast; for lunch we have my famous baguettes), but last Sunday we didn't, and last night I had a dream about a donut shop here that doesn't exist. This craving shows I'm a donut-aholic in desperate need of treatment. Is there a D. A. (Donut-aholics Anonymous)?
Chinese Leader Makes Vague but Firm Call for More Democracy By JOSEPH KAHN. Hmm, we'll see.
Surprise, surprise. Not Quite Piling On the Homework: Most Students, Studies Find, Should Probably Be Hitting the Books Harder by Jay Mathews
The popular notion that America's students are overburdened with homework is largely a myth -- and, if anything, too many don't do enough homework, according to national research being released today.
The article mentions parents who think their kids have too much homework. I'm guessing they're not Chinese.
Catching up on my reading at The Volokh Conspiracy, where there's lots of good stuff, I see Tyler Cowen and David Adesnik don't think much of Robert Pape's suggestion.
Jonathan Rauch cites Isabel V. Sawhill, a liberal, and a former Clinton administration official, who says we've
got to stop thinking of people as passive victims of the economy and whatever the social safety net provides. Liberals have too often emphasized the income-to-behavior link without also recognizing that there's a behavior-to-income link as well.
"" Her research show that if the poor worked full-time, got married, stayed in school, and stopped at two kids, the poverty rate would drop to less than 4 percent. But at the same time,
More kids are born into high-risk homes, with a single mother who dropped out of high school, an often absent father, fitful employment. More kids are also born into low-risk homes, where married parents with college degrees earn high incomes. Fewer kids are born in the middle, to married parents with high school degrees and at least one full-time job -- the sort of home that formed the backbone of the postwar middle class. "In other words," Sawhill writes, "as a result of changes in work and family patterns, today's children are getting a much less equal start in life than the children who were born a few decades ago."
(link via Eugene Volokh)