Thursday, November 27

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 26

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

Monday, November 24

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

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

Sunday, November 23

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 18

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

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

...

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 17

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 16

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

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

Saturday, November 15

Two items on sex in China

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 12

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

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

Since Americans are three times as likely to believe in the virgin birth of Jesus as in evolution, liberal derision for President Bush's religious beliefs risks marginalizing the left.
Jonathan Barnes reviews The Way and the Word: Science and Medicine in Early China and Greece by Geoffrey Lloyd and Nathan Sivin:
This is the difference to which the title of the book alludes: the Chinese were collaborative, the Greeks competitive; in China agreement was sought out or else assumed to exist, in Greece rivalry flourished and was promoted; the Chinese contemplated, the Greeks reasoned.

Greek thought is marked by "strident adversariality" and "rationalistic aggressiveness". The turbulent Greeks had to make their way in the "competitive hurly-burly of the Hellenic world", whereas in gentle China an intellectual's concern "was first and foremost persuading a ruler or his surrogates to want their advice". When Chinese meets Chinese, then comes no tug-of-war.

...the facts of Greek intellectual life "favoured systematically exploring the arguments on both sides of fundamental questions" (in order to prove your adversaries wrong), something which "may well have contributed to a readiness not merely to air but to maintain the contradictory of what might pass as a commonsensical view".

And on the other hand, a Greek was driven to secure his own claims from refutation: he must prove them to be true; he must ride hell-bent for incontrovertibility - hence the axiomatic deductive method of doing things and the scientific strategy of, say, Euclid.

In China there was no raucous marketplace. The Chinese were generally writing for the emperor. Hence they "did not feel a need for incontrovertibility, the driving force in... Greek investigations". Rather, "what corresponds in China to the Greek authority of demonstration was the authority of sagely origin", so that "scientific pursuits in China... did not aim at stepwise approximations to an objective reality but at recovery of what the archaic sages already knew".

Moreover, writing for the emperor's eyes "encouraged precision in moral, social and political categories, but it did not motivate an equal fastidiousness with regard to the foundations of knowledge"; and at the same time, in China, "overt, reciprocal polemic of a kind that might have pushed epistemological problems to the fore was rare".
China Accelerates Privatization, Continuing Shift From Doctrine By Philip P. Pan sounds like more opportunities for corruption.
China Trade Policy's Ripple Effect: Limit on Soybean Imports Is Felt Widely Around the Country By Peter S. Goodman:
Protectionism benefiting one group often harms another by limiting the availability of goods...
--President Bush, are you listening?--
...at a time when China's relentless growth is spawning increased dependence on imports. In this case, higher incomes for 35 million soybean farmers are being paid for via higher food prices for the rest of China's 1.3 billion people.

In the central province of Anhui, one of China's poorest, people are now paying one-fourth more for pork and 10 to 15 percent more for oil than they were three months ago. Farther south, prices have climbed steeper still.
OK, it's China, but the principle behind the steel tariffs is the same.
Via Chinablawg, who does a bit of hand-wringing: In China, cosmetic surgery on the rise By Steve Friess:
Analysts see the rise in cosmetic surgery as yet another example of how the once cloistered nation has opened up to Western businesses -- and influences. Starbucks franchises dot most major Chinese cities and new housing subdivisions bear American names like "Orange County" and "Palm Springs," so specialists figured it was only a matter of time before obsession with appearance became another import.

...

"This is related to the influx of corporations like Avon in Asia and other makeup companies, all the same kinds of corporations that make a lot of money off women in the US changing their bodies," said Allaine Cerwonka, an assistant professor of women's studies and political science at Georgia State University in Atlanta, who teaches a course called "Globalization and Gender."

"We have a culture that makes women feel bad about themselves in order to make money. . . . Now they have a global market for it," Cerwonka said.

She noted that the most popular surgeries in China -- and part of Hao's first round -- are to create "double eyelids" and to narrow the nose, a reflection of a Western notion of beauty. For Asian women in the United States, double-eyelid surgery, in which a crease is added to the upper lid, is also a top cosmetic operation because many say they believe "single eyelids" make them look sleepy, Cerwonka said.

Hao insists her reasons are all her own. With two operations down, she now has had her eyelids and nose done, calves and buttocks reshaped, and breasts enlarged. Still to come are liposuction, hairline correction, and wrinkle and eyebag removal.

She says that she is so excited about the changes that from now on she will celebrate two birthdays: her real one and the date of her first surgery.

"Before, a lot of men liked my personality and character, but I lost a lot of guys who were overly concerned about a woman's appearance," said Hao, who is unemployed and says she's been dating a Chinese-American man. "Now, all kinds of guys will like me no matter if they're interested in appearance or character."

Although such comments might shock Western feminists, there appears to be little public hand-wringing over them here.

Nowhere in the Chinese media has there been a debate about the surgeries. The state-run, English-language China Daily cited critics of the publicity stunt but also wrote warmly of the "crack team" of doctors working on Hao.
I hope it doesn't turn out like any of the victims at Awful Plastic Surgery.

Tuesday, November 11

It's funny what bothers people. All bent out of shape because of the way ads portray men, but this is a little rich coming from people who complain about identity politics. They're just dumb jokes.
In Media Bias Comes From Viewers Like You, Tyler Cowen argues convincingly that reason for media bias is, it's what the viewer wants. Earlier, in Lessons From the Recall, Alex Avery wrote about how organic food could be dangerous. So the fact that this wasn't a bigger story is a sign of bias in the viewers, not the media?
AIDS and Authoritarianism By Roger Bate:
...the most populous country in the world is developing a significant problem with HIV/AIDS, one that's exacerbated by a host of other factors.

Last week at a meeting at the American Enterprise Institute, Harvard Researcher and AEI fellow, Nicholas Eberstadt, explained what's happening. What makes the Chinese AIDS problem so potentially dangerous is the attitude of the Chinese authorities themselves. The official number of Chinese cases was one million in 2002, but according to Dr. Eberstadt's estimations, based on internationally respected sources, it's closer to two million, and maybe higher.

Were China an open society, with a good track record in transparent sharing of health information, perhaps one would be more skeptical of Dr. Eberstadt's figures. But the reality is that China recently hid much important information about its SARS epidemic. The Chinese Government restricted foreign access to data about the extent of the epidemic, it fired officials that wanted to come clean, and it didn't institute sufficient monitoring of hospital cases and travellers with infections until it was too late. Thousands of cases and hundreds of deaths resulted.

Despite this, Dr. Yu Yunyao, Vice-President of the Party University of the Central Committee, told the AEI audience that the recent SARS episode showed the "success of [Chinese] leadership." And Professor Jiang Xiaochuan, also of the Party University backed the official Government figures on HIV/AIDS. He defended the Government's record and said that the Chinese officials have been concentrating on controlling "drug traffickers since much transmission [of HIV] occurs through them" in China.
So they'll just keep denying the problem until it goes away.

Sunday, November 9

Jacob Sullum on the indefensible: The Fabric of Their Lives: U.S. cotton subsidies make the poor poorer.
I refuse to get cable, so I've never seen it, but this cracked me up:
SpongeBob ranks among the most popular shows on cable, sometimes scoring upwards of 40 of the top 100 spots in the Nielsens. Despite the fact that its target viewers are toddlers two to 11, 22 percent of the show's regular audience is in the 18 to 49 range....
from A "Sponge"-Worthy Gay Icon? by Josh Grossberg.
In Good Judge: The case for Janice Brown, Clint Bolick explains why she probably won't get the job.
The Economist presents A lack-of-progress report on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the IPCC), which
relied, first, on measuring gaps between incomes in poor countries and incomes in rich countries, and, second, on supposing that those gaps would be substantially narrowed, or entirely closed, by the end of this century. Contrary to standard practice, the IPCC measured the initial gaps using market-based exchange rates rather than rates adjusted for differences in purchasing power. This error makes the initial income gaps seem far larger than they really are, so the subsequent catching-up is correspondingly faster. The developing-country growth rates yielded by this method are historically implausible, to put it mildly. The emissions forecasts based on those implausibly high growth rates are accordingly unsound.

...even the scenarios that give the lowest cumulative emissions assume that incomes in the developing countries will increase at a much faster rate over the course of the century than they have ever done before.
Even though they're professionals, they don't know everything:
The problem is that this horde of authorities is drawn from a narrow professional milieu. Economic and statistical expertise is not among their strengths. Making matters worse, the panel's approach lays great emphasis on peer review of submissions. When the peers in question are drawn from a restricted professional domain--whereas the issues under consideration make demands upon a wide range of professional skills--peer review is not a way to assure the highest standards of work by exposing research to scepticism. It is just the opposite: a kind of intellectual restrictive practice, which allows flawed or downright shoddy work to acquire a standing it does not deserve.
In its survey of American exceptionalism, the Economist reports on some polls:
asked which is more important--that the government should guarantee no one is in need, or that it should not constrain the pursuit of personal goals--Europeans in both east and west come down roughly two-thirds/one-third in favour of a safety net, whereas Americans split two-thirds/one-third the other way.
asked which is more important--that the government should guarantee no one is in need, or that it should not constrain the pursuit of personal goals--Europeans in both east and west come down roughly two-thirds/one-third in favour of a safety net, whereas Americans split two-thirds/one-third the other way.
Asked,
"Do you agree or disagree that success is determined by forces outside your control?" In most countries, fewer than half thought that success was within their control. In only two did more than 60% consider success a matter of individual effort: Canada and, by the widest margin, the United States.
Individualistic Americans!

Scott Atran talks about "'fundamental attribution error,' a tendency for people to explain behavior in terms of individual personality traits, even when significant situational factors in the larger society are at work", so this is further grist for his mill, but after all, sometimes people are in charge of their destiny.
The survey also has something interesting about American religiosity.
Since 1960, the number of self-described secularists (atheists, agnostics and those not affiliated to any organised religion) has roughly doubled. According to a survey by the City University of New York (CUNY), 14% of Americans between 18 and 34 describe themselves as "secular" and a further 9% as "somewhat secular".

...the really distinctive feature of American religion is the area in the middle. Most Americans do not become members of a church to sign up for a crusade or to sit in judgment on miserable sinners. For them, churchgoing is a matter of personal belief, not conservative activism. Their religion is mild.

In 1965, according to Gallup, half of respondents said the most important purpose of their church was to teach people to live better lives. Since then, the share has grown to almost three-quarters. This is the biggest change in America's religious life in the past 40 years.

Alan Wolfe, of the Boisi Institute for the Study of Religion at Boston College, points out that American religion is exceptional in two senses: not only are Americans more religious than Europeans, but they have no national church. Thanks to the separation of church and state, the country has nothing comparable to, say, the Catholic churches of Italy and Spain, or the Church of England. Americans are members of sects.

The two kinds of religious exceptionalism are connected. Rather as in the economic sphere competing private companies tend to produce wealth and activity, whereas monopoly firms have the opposite effect, so in the religious sphere competing sects generate a ferment of activity and increased levels of belief, whereas state churches produce indifference.

This has implications for the quality of American belief. Churches come and go with astonishing speed. The statisticians of American religious bodies tracked 187 denominations (and there were many more) between 1990 and 2000; in that time 37 disappeared and 54 new ones appeared on the scene. Adherents and pastors, too, are constantly on the move.

...

Such churning limits doctrinal purism, which might otherwise be expected in a new church. Instead, churches try to attract floating believers--what Wade Clark Roof, a sociologist, calls "a generation of seekers". According to Mr Wolfe, American churches are therapeutic, not judgmental. They stress "soft" qualities such as guidance and mutual help, not "hard" ones like sin and damnation.
...

At Saddleback church, Rick Warren preaches that abortion is wrong. On a recent Sunday, anti-abortion groups lobbied for their cause as parishioners left church. Mr Warren told them not to return. He agreed with their views, but members of his church, and newcomers, might not. He did not want abortion to get between members and the more important matter of their relationship with God.
So pastors have to react to the market.
Capitalizing On Christmas: America's Celebration Is China's Windfall By Peter S. Goodman. The article ends:
Many of these products were being sold in different versions for different markets. Liu Li, marketing manager for Shenzhen Seapower Electrical Products Co., pointed to a shelf of miniature topiary-style Christmas trees made of synthetic fabric, some neon orange, some baby blue and others hot pink. She held out one with tiny lights imbedded in its fake pine needles. It glowed silver and pink.

"That's very popular in Japan," she said. "Especially among girls. They like cute things. Americans don't like this kind of thing."

Within minutes, Junichi Ikawa, a wholesaler from Tokyo, arrived and picked up the glowing tree, then inquired about the price in halting English -- $1.20 per unit. "The price is good and the design is fantastic," he pronounced.

At a nearby booth, Zhang Jianguo, a partner at Hutian International Corp., explained the quality differences in the products churned out by his two factories. He pointed to a wreath made for the American market. The plastic pine needles were thicker than some of the others, and they were dyed a surprisingly natural-looking shade of green. "In the United States, people prefer more traditional kinds of things," he said.

Then, he touched the needles of a wreath his factory makes for sale in Argentina and Brazil. They were thinner, and the dye was lighter. Plastic balls coated with silver paint hung from the front. "In poorer countries, they tend to prefer bright and flashy things," he said.

There was another difference, unrecognizable to the untrained eye. "This one isn't coated with fire retardant," he said, touching the wreath bound for South America. "It's not environmentally protected. The lead content in the plastic is very high."

The wreath for the American market -- made to meet U.S. health and safety codes -- costs about $2.50 to make, Zhang said. The one for South America costs him only $1.80.

A similarly single-minded devotion to the bottom line explains why workers toil inside the factories -- almost none of them air-conditioned -- in the semi-tropical heat. Most are from hinterland provinces where farming incomes have been slipping for years while the transition to the market system has eliminated subsidies and formerly socialized health care and education.

The workers eat meals collectively in the courtyard, on wooden benches parked alongside a linoleum-topped table -- rice and steamed vegetable from inside a bare concrete kitchen, a lone burner in the corner. They live upstairs in dormitories, four bunk beds side by side in a 10-by-12-foot room. Laundry hangs outside, strung from discarded fake Christmas-tree-branch material used as a line.

"It's easy to find work here," said Xia Dechuan, 35, as he packed Christmas trees into boxes bound for Korea at Zhang's factory. "This job is not hard." He is making about $90 a month now, helping support a wife and two children at home in Sichuan province, where his household generally used to have to make do with about $500 per year.

He plans to go home for Chinese New Year in January, but he will work through the holiday that is now providing his income. "Christmas means something to Americans," he said. "To us, it means nothing."

Perhaps. But at Liao's factory these days, Christmas has become a real holiday, one celebrated annually, though not with eggnog and yuletide carols. Liao takes his workers out to a restaurant where they eat Chinese food, drink Chinese whiskey and dance to Chinese pop music, toasting the influx of other people's money from around the world.
Note the Japanese fondness for cuteness, the American fondness for the traditional, the fondness of people in poorer countries for "bright and flashy things", not to mention their acceptance of lack of fire retardant or high lead content, not to mention the workers from the countryside making twice what they did at jobs that are "not hard". But the subsidies and formerly socialized health care and education that the transition to the market system has eliminated largely benefitted the urbanites, not the farmers. And what does the reporter mean by "Few of these goods will land in homes within predominantly Buddhist China"? Predominantly atheist, maybe, or maybe even predominantly Confucian.

Saturday, November 8

Tiniest of Loans Bring Big Payoff, Aid Group Says By KIRK SEMPLE writes that the Results Educational Fund, an organization that promotes small loans for self-employment projects among the world's poorest people, believes that it is on track to meet its nine-year goal of helping 100 million of the world's poorest families by 2005.

This looks to be their site. Anyway, the link is courtesy HUMAN LIBERTY (who's got a great post about NPR), and pointed me to Notes from a Broad, who's got some more info about microcredit, and also links to James Shikwati's I Do Not Need White NGOs To Speak for Me, and I also found George Ayittey's Africa's Shady Politicians Are at Root of Continent's Destitution:
Africa's potential is enormous, yet it is inexorably mired in steaming squalor, misery, deprivation, and chaos. Four out of 10 Africans live in absolute poverty and recent evidence suggests that poverty is on the increase. Most Africans today are worse off than they were at independence.

Why is Africa in this state? "Externalists" ascribe Africa's woes to factors beyond its control: Western colonialism and imperialism, the slave trade, racist plots, avaricious multinationals, an unjust international economic system, inadequate flows of foreign aid and deteriorating terms of trade.

"Internalists" blame local systems of governance: excessive state intervention and corruption at all levels, from the police and judiciary to the highest branches of government.
Which reminded me of Scott Atran's blaming social forces for terrorism. Of course outside forces matter, but surely the individual has some choice.
I re-took the political compass again, as suggested by Jacob Levy. I'm still in the lower right quadrant, but the figures have changed a little: Economic Left/Right: 5.50; Libertarian/Authoritarian: -2.72.

Friday, November 7

US split on China, but realists hold the reins By Jim Lobe:
In a curious role reversal from the 1990s, when the administration of US president Bill Clinton defended its engagement with China by citing the importance of integrating the nation into an international system that would constrain any destabilizing behavior, Beijing now appears determined to use multilateral forums to restrain the unilateralist impulses of the Bush administration.
Scott Atran's Genesis and Future of Suicide Terrorism is probably ancient news, but anyway, he argues that current policies are pretty futile. He advocates
finding the right mix of pressure and inducements to get the communities themselves to abandon support for institutions that recruit suicide attackers.
Good luck with that. He explains encouraging moderates is a good idea, because
research suggests that most people have more moderate views than what they consider their group norm to be. Inciting and empowering moderates from within to confront inadequacies and inconsistencies in their own knowledge (of others as evil), values (respect for life), and behaviour (support for killing), and other members of their group, can produce emotional dissatisfaction leading to lasting change and influence on the part of these individuals. Funding for civic education and debate may help, also interfaith confidence-building through intercommunity interaction initiatives....
He also advocates giving in:
Another strategy is for the United States and its allies to change behavior by directly addressing and lessening sentiments of grievance and humiliation, especially in Palestine (where images of daily violence have made it the global focus of Moslem attention). For no evidence (historical or otherwise) indicates that support for suicide terrorism will evaporate without complicity in achieving at least some fundamental goals that suicide bombers and supporting communities share.
At the same time, he insists that these societies are only hostile to American policy, but not to American values:
...populations supporting terrorist actions are actually disposed favorably to American forms of government, education, economy and personal liberty, despite these people's trust in Osama Bin Laden and support for suicide actions.
And he notes that improving social conditions in these nations may not necessarily help:
...studies also confirm earlier reports showing that suicide terrorists and their supporters are not impoverished, uneducated, spiteful, or socially disfavored.
Then there's this rather odd metaphor:
Like good advertisers, the charismatic leaders of martyr-sponsoring organizations turn ordinary desires for family and religion into cravings for what they're pitching, to the benefit of the manipulating organization rather than the individual being manipulated (much as the pornography industry turns universal and innate desires for sexual mates into lust for paper or electronic images to ends that reduce personal fitness but benefit the manipulators).
Religion as pornography? Very funny, but a little unjust. Pornographers are just entrepreneurs who want your money. Religious leaders in general want your soul, and terrorist leaders want your life.

Update. And what's this about "no evidence (historical or otherwise) indicates that support for suicide terrorism will evaporate without complicity in achieving at least some fundamental goals that suicide bombers and supporting communities share."? He's got plenty of footnotes, but nothing for that one.
New Biography Indicates Lynch Was Raped by Captors By William Branigin. Even though she has no recollection of the attack, what does this say about her presence in the army? What does her whole case say about the presence of women in the army? I thought women were supposed to be the equals of men--why all the fuss, then? (When men get captured, it's not nearly as big news.) I guess we need a new kind of war that takes women's needs into special consideration.

Thursday, November 6

Americans Describe Their Views About Life After Death: Education and income are negatively correlated with belief in Heaven and Hell.
Rebuilding the Food Pyramid. Especially interesting is their new food pyramid available on this page. Where can I find whole grains in typical restaurants?

And Science on Trial by Elizabeth M Whelan.
2002 Household Savings Rates as a percentage of disposable income:

  • China (w/o Hong Kong) = 39%

  • South Korea = 20.1%

  • Finland = 12.4%

  • Canada = 10.3%

  • Japan (2001) = 8.5%

  • France = 7.9%

  • Italy = 7.5 %

  • Germany = 7.1%

  • United Kingdom = 4.6%

  • United States = 2.0%

The source listed is the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, but I can't seem to find this there.
China's Factories Aim to Fill the World's Garages By KEITH BRADSHER:
China's auto industry, mainly local companies in joint ventures with multinationals, is not internationally competitive because of quality problems and startlingly inefficient parts factories. Workers at Dickensian foundries filled with acrid green fumes still ladle chemical additives into buckets of molten steel, then tip the buckets by hand to pour the steel into molds for auto parts.

China's auto exports to the United States mostly consist now of replacement parts shipped to repair garages, because automakers have been reluctant to make their assembly plants reliant on Chinese suppliers. But with broad support from Beijing and foreign investors, manufacturers in China are quickly improving operations -- and staffing them with workers earning as little as 50 cents an hour. In a few years, they are likely to be building high-quality cars and parts for as little as, or less than, anyone else in the world. Analysts say that China could surpass Germany as the world's No. 3 carmaking country in four years.

... putting China on wheels has also created terrible traffic jams, a rising death rate in a country with an atrocious traffic safety record, and severe air pollution in a country that already has 7 of the world's 10 most polluted cities.

...

For all its strengths, the Chinese auto industry, like the Chinese economy as a whole and perhaps like China's political system and even society, is a mountain created on a very narrow and possibly wobbly base. Aggressive lending by government-owned banks has been stimulating the economy for years -- even though many debts are never repaid, to the point that Chinese banks now have portfolios of bad loans rivaling those of Japanese banks, but in an economy that is one-seventh the size.

If economic growth ever falters significantly and banks stop collecting their current flood of deposits from China's ever more prosperous people, a financial crisis could ensue that would cripple China's auto industry and many other industries. If such a crisis were to happen soon, before China's auto industry brings its costs down to international levels, then automakers could be discouraged from making further investments. But if China can keep growing for a few more years and become competitive, a downturn in domestic sales could unleash a flood of Chinese cars onto world markets.

Another potential difficulty lies in China's rigid political system. It is hard for any outsider to judge how stable China really is, as ill-organized protests and riots appear to occur frequently in smaller cities, even as the Communist Party prevents these disturbances from becoming coordinated to an extent that might threaten its legal monopoly on political power. Large-scale social unrest could seriously disrupt China's auto industry and economy as a whole.
To Sell Lingerie, Inhibitions, and Much More, Are Falling By ELAINE SCIOLINO:
Last year, French females from the age of 15 and older spent 18 percent of their clothing budget, or $2.9 billion, on lingerie, more than in any other European country, according to the French Federation of Lingerie and Beachwear.

...

Lingerie is so important to a French woman's sexual self-esteem, it seems, that only 3 percent of French women believe they are seductive in the nude.

French public schools, already fighting a battle against Muslim girls who want to wear head scarves in violation of France's strict secular tradition, have opened a second front against girls who want to show their bellies and their strings.
The Council for Citizens Against Government Waste reports,
A recently released report by the International Trade Commission (ITC) revealed that the cost of the tariffs to the private sector has been almost $2 billion. The only benefit to the U.S. economy cited by the ITC was the approximately $650 million collected in tariff 'revenues' (i.e., taxes) from U.S. consumers.
U.S. Assures China on Taiwan Handshake
WASHINGTON - The Bush administration offered assurances Tuesday that Secretary of State Colin Powell's handshake with Taiwan's president did not change U.S. policy on China.

Powell shook hands and exchanged pleasantries Monday with Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian in Panama City during a celebration of the 100th anniversary of Panamian independence.

Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing then requested Powell telephone him, which Powell did, a State Department spokesman said Tuesday.
Later:
China, highly sensitive to any sign of U.S. favor toward what it regards as the renegade province of Taiwan, responded by reiterating its opposition to any form of official contact between the United States and Taiwan.
A little insecure, aren't they?
Robert Reich cites the report I cited earlier about higher productivity being to blame for the disappearance of factory jobs all over the world. It's of interest because he's a Democrat. I wonder if any of the Democrat presidential candidates will admit this.

Update:
Mickey Kaus says this is interesting, and provides a link to the text.

Wednesday, November 5

Gallup Poll Assesses Views of Young Americans: one of the questions was "Thinking about economic issues, would you say your views on economic issues are -- [very conservative, conservative, moderate, liberal (or) very liberal]?", and the discussion of the poll says,
young Americans are considerably more likely to say they are economically liberal than Americans aged 30 and older are.
But what do people understand by "economically liberal"?

Jonathan Dolhenty writes that in the early nineteenth century,
an economic liberal supported the free market and opposed government regulation of trade.
So I guess "economically liberal" now no longer means that, but the opposite?
British Say 'Long March' Not That Long By CHRISTOPHER BODEEN

Two British men who spent more than a year retracing the rugged route of the 1930s "Long March" by Mao Zedong's communist guerrillas said it turned out to be about one-third shorter than reported by Communist Party propaganda--3,700 miles, instead of 6,200 or even 8,000 miles. Not that it matters that much; it's one of those symbolic things.

Update
In a later version, the reporter says,
Not a chance, say communist traditionalists.

"How could they possibly know the exact route and distance well enough to revise the figure?" said retired party historian Liu Binyan. "What kind of exact map could they have had?"
But Liu Binyan is hardly a traditionalist. After writing a couple of exposes in the late 50's, he was
denounced and expelled from the party during the anti-rightist movement:
after living for a few months in banishment in a barren, mountain village, Liu reluctantly concluded there were "two kinds of truth" in China: the theoretical "truths" that filter down from Party central; and the actual truths of daily life for impoverished citizens. He never regained his faith in organized Chinese communism.
According to the People's Daily,
In January 1987, because he preached bourgeois liberalization and opposed the Four Cardinal Principles, he was expelled from the Party.
And last I knew, he was exiled to the US. But he still wants to believe the myth. Anyway, it's like whether Jesus was married or not. I don't see how that affects anything. Of course, I don't believe in either of these religions.

Tuesday, November 4

This is troubling: according to More Believe In God Than Heaven by Dana Blanton, a survey of Americans shows that
  • 92% believe in God

  • 85% in heaven

  • 82% in miracles

  • 71% in the devil

  • 34% in ghosts

  • 34% in UFOs

  • 29% in astrology

  • 25% in reincarnation

  • 24% in witches

Women are generally more credulous than men; 69% of Americans say they think religion plays too small a role in people's lives today, but only 37% say they attend their place of worship at least once a week.
As far as I'm concerned, the problem with bright is that it's a neologism, and by itself, doesn't necessarily mean anything. I don't see what's wrong with rationalist as a term for someone who sees no evidence to believe in God or other supernatural phenomena, and believes that making an effort to understand things rationally is a virtue.
China Wants to Have Own Space Station By MIN LEE: Hu Shixiang, deputy commander in chief of the Chinese manned space engineering headquarters,
was asked whether China was spending too many billions of dollars on space when many of its people live in poverty, and he replied by saying the budget was small compared to the U.S. space budget, at only about one-tenth as much.

The space program is important for increasing social unity in a fast-developing China, he said.

"This social effect cannot be measured by other things," Hu said.

Monday, November 3

Someone on a discussion list I subscribe to is upset at the International Studies in Higher Education Act (H.R. 3077), briefly discussed here, because of the idea of
an "advisory board" that may severely impact universities by dictating the curricula taught, course materials assigned in class, and the faculty who are hired in institutions that accept Title VI funding....it seems that the House of Representatives is about to regulate the courses and content that we, as future professors, will teach in colleges and universities. The possibility that someone in homeland security will instruct college professors (with Ph.D.s) on the proper, patriotic, "American-friendly" textbooks that may be used in class scares and outrages me.
Maybe I'm naive, but I don't think it's going to go this far. Or I'm just unsympathetic. Let's face it, the post-colonialists have brought this on themselves, as Stanley Kurtz's testimony suggests.
I see The Political Compass has been updated. I took it some time ago, but don't seem to have kept the results. Along with Daniel Drezner and some of his commentators, like Cum Grano Salis [which brings to mind a the song about the salty dog that the Kingston Trio sang; I'm guessing it's something lewd]). I'm still in the lower right quadrant (Economic Left/Right: 7.12; Libertarian/Authoritarian: -3.33), which looks pretty close to Milton Friedman. Yes, I know it's pretty silly. For some of the questions, I was completely indifferent, but had to choose to agree or disagree.
China Bans Pop Song With 'Opium' Lyrics:
China has banned a song by Hong Kong pop diva Faye Wong after government censors ruled that its lyrics about opium would harm young people....Communist leaders are acutely sensitive to pop culture references to opium -- a reminder of the country's colonial era.
Maybe that's the reason, but the chinadaily.com site doesn't admit it.
Li Yang, director of Blind Shaft:
Li Yang is an underground film-maker, literally and figuratively. His debut feature, Blind Shaft, plays out in the subterranean world of China's privately owned coal mines: Li hoisted a handheld camera through tunnels that honeycomb the remote Shanxi province. He used "back-door connections" with local bureaucrats to gain access to the mines, bribing owners and dodging outraged foremen. But because Blind Shaft bypassed the wider authorities and was shot without government permission, it officially does not exist within China. The film is banned and its director is regarded as an outcast.
He says of the miners,
They had a good sense of humour, and a sort of magnanimous view of the world in general. There is a word we have in China called 'renming'認命. It means being sanguine. Accepting one's fate.

Sunday, November 2

We saw Goldfinger (1964) last night. I first saw it with my mother when it was released. I remember being annoyed that the movie didn't show the gold-painted girl's behind. Some kid. This time I noticed that in a scene on the golf green, the outline of 007's penis is clearly visible in his trousers. Also he fooled around with Goldfinger's balls. (That's OK, they were golf balls).
U.S. Hits Obstacles In Helping Taiwan Guard Against China By John Pomfret and Philip P. Pan:
The Bush administration has quietly embarked on an ambitious effort to restructure Taiwan's military and improve the island's ability to defend itself against China. But the U.S. plan is foundering because Taiwan's leaders are reluctant to foot the enormous bill and force change upon the island's highly politicized and conservative military, U.S. and Taiwanese officials said.
...
U.S. officials said many Taiwanese officials, including President Chen Shui-bian, are reluctant to lock horns with the powerful military to push the reforms; others have not acknowledged that Taiwan needs to improve its war-fighting capabilities. Taiwanese government officials and legislators acknowledged the pace of change was glacial.

"It's like the end of the Qing dynasty when the emperors bought fancy weapons but there was no change in thinking," said Shuai Hua-min, a former army two-star general and one of the main advocates of military reforms here. "They don't care whether the weapons systems are useful or not. It's become purely political to show China how close Taiwan is to the United States."
...
The slow pace of arms sales has led some U.S. officials to question Taiwan's commitment to its self-defense. U.S. officials have told the Taiwanese that President Bush's statement in April 2001 that the United States would do "whatever it took to help Taiwan defend herself" did not mean Taiwan could stop upgrading its military and depend entirely on U.S. forces. In a speech before Taiwanese officials in February, Richard Lawless, a deputy assistant defense secretary, said Taiwan "should not view America's resolute commitment to peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait as a substitute for investing the necessary resources in its own defense."

Some Taiwanese officials warn that too much American pressure risks a backlash from Taiwan -- with potentially serious ramifications for relations with China. Some Taiwanese military officers and officials now say that Taiwan cannot keep up with China's military buildup by purchasing defensive systems so it should develop an attack capability to deter China. Taiwan had a medium-range missile program that was scuttled, along with an earlier secret nuclear weapons program, after pressure from Washington.
Defector: N. Korea's Kim Is World Problem

By PAULINE JELINEK

Hwang Jang Yop, former chief of North Korea's parliament who once mentored Kim Jong Il and then became the country's highest-ranking defector in 1997.

said he believes North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is fully prepared to start a war and that there's no telling whether Kim will ever give up his nuclear program.
...
Unfortunately, Pyongyang still has international support, he said. Even nations the United States has assembled for the talks are not united enough against the communist regime, he believes.

"For example, China continues to be a major ally ... and there are people in Russia, South Korea, Japan and even the United States who are supporting the position of the dictatorship," he said. By that, he said he meant they support the status quo or the idea of slowly reforming the regime rather than eliminating it.

Hwang has been living in South Korea under tight security and has written books and given lectures condemning Kim's regime as totalitarian. But until now, South Korea has kept him from visiting the United States out of concern for his security, according to officials in Seoul.

Another possible reason, cited by U.S. officials, is that former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung feared that a visit to the United States would set back Kim's efforts to reach out to North Korea. After Kim finished his term in February, South Korea became more amenable to a Washington visit by Hwang.
'Taikonaut' Gets Cool Hong Kong Welcome By MIN LEE
Friday, October 31, 2003; 10:26 PM
A preselected crowd of flag-waving youngsters greeted China's first astronaut Friday in Hong Kong, but many in this territory have been less than awed by Lt. Col. Yang Liwei's trip through space.
But nine hours later:

Hong Kong Treats Chinese Astronaut As Hero By MIN LEE
Saturday, November 1, 2003; 8:41 AM
HONG KONG - Yang Liwei sang a duet with action star Jackie Chan as Hong Kong lavished a superstar's welcome on China's first astronaut Saturday - a visit derided by critics as a veiled attempt by Beijing to boost the troubled government in this former British colony.
So what's the story?
James M. Buchanan on Public Choice: Politics Without Romance explains the trouble with democracy:
If the government is empowered to grant monopoly rights or tariff protection to one group, at the expense of the general public or of designated losers, it follows that potential beneficiaries will compete for the prize. And since only one group can be rewarded, the resources invested by other groups-which could have been used to produce valued goods and services-are wasted. Given this basic insight, much of modern politics can be understood as rent-seeking activity. Pork-barrel politics is only the most obvious example. Much of the growth of the bureaucratic or regulatory sector of government can best be explained in terms of the competition between political agents for constituency support through the use of promises of discriminatory transfers of wealth.

On the other hand, what he calls
the 'constitutional way of thinking' shifts attention to the framework rules of political order-the rules that secure consensus among members of the body politic. It is at this level that individuals calculate their terms of exchange with the state or with political authority. They may well calculate that they are better off for their membership in the constitutional order, even while assessing the impact of ordinary political actions to be contrary to their interests....I have long argued that on precisely this point, American public attitudes are quite different from those in Europe.

And he claims that
Public choice theory has developed and matured over the course of a full half-century. It is useful to assess the impact and effects of this programme, both on thinking in the scientific community and in the formation of public attitudes. By simple comparison with the climate of opinion in 1950, both the punditry and the public are more critical of politics and politicians, more cynical about the motivations of political action, and less naive in thinking that political nostrums offer easy solutions to social problems. And this shift in attitudes extends well beyond the loss of belief in the efficacy of socialism, a loss of belief grounded both in historical regime failures and in the collapse of intellectually idealised structures.
(via arts & letters daily, like the next two posts)

Saturday, November 1

In Left behind, Abigail Thernstrom and Stephan Thernstrom write:
Good schools scattered across the country show that the racial gap in academic skills and knowledge can be closed. The best inner-city public schools that we know are charter schools, which are free from many of the rules and regulations that so often frustrate fine principals and teachers. These schools greatly increase the amount of instructional time. Their principals have the authority and autonomy to manage their budgets, set salaries, staff the school with fabulous teachers and show the door to those who don't work out.

These schools focus relentlessly on the core academic subjects, insisting that their students learn the times tables, basic historical facts, spelling, punctuation, and rules of grammar. They provide safe, orderly environments in which to teach and learn. And they work hard to instill the "desire, discipline, and dedication" (watchwords of the much-celebrated KIPP Academies) that will enable disadvantaged youth to climb the American ladder of opportunity.
Whew! Somebody doesn't like unions. Of course, one of 'em's from the Manhattan Institute, but still, it sounds convincing. And a much more pressing problem than affirmative action on campus. I mean, the main reason there is such a small number of black professors in our department is that there are so few black candidates applying for jobs. Not surprising given the educational situation at the pre-graduate levels.

They also say,
The scholarly literature shows that neither graduate degrees in education nor years of experience in the classroom have a significant impact on student achievement. The best teachers are those with strong academic skills, as demonstrated by their performance on standardized tests.


I think the problem is that theory is very important to professors in every field because of the emphasis on publication. So in teaching classes, it's often easier for the professors to focus on how they do their research than on teaching the actual content. And the colleges of education don't have that much content.

Of course, all this is just another theory....

(also via arts & letters daily)
Mark Strauss on Antiglobalism's Jewish Problem:
Anti-Semitism is again on the rise. Why now? Blame the backlash against globalization. As public anxiety grows over lost jobs, shaky economies, and political and social upheaval, the Brownshirt and Birkenstock crowds are seeking solace in conspiracy theories. And in their search for the hidden hand that guides the new world order, modern anxieties are merging with old hatreds and the myths on which they rest.

It's a little like the post-modernists below, who provide excuses for people they don't really sympathize with (or so I hope). (also via arts & letters daily)