Sunday, October 31


According to Peter Feuilherade's 2003 Profile of Al-Arabiya TV,
Al-Arabiya, the Dubai-based satellite TV channel banned from reporting from Iraq by the country's interim government, is consistently rated among the top pan-Arab stations by Middle East audiences, although it was only launched in February this year.
So why did the terrorists target it?
Al Arabiya, which is majority Saudi-owned, has often been attacked on Web sites used by Islamist militant groups for its perceived pro-Western reporting.

The satellite channel, which has good access to Iraq's U.S.-backed government, said it was being punished for its objectivity.

Not nearly 100,000 dead Iraqis

In 100,000 Dead—or 8,000: How many Iraqi civilians have died as a result of the war? Fred Kaplan rebuts the figure of 100,000 dead Iraqi civilians. Surprisingly, even the McLaughlin report used this figure.

Not just a problem for the leftists

In The Sleep of Reason, H. E. Baber blames leftists for failing to embrace rationality, although he admits that's there's plenty of supersitition to go around:
[The] disdain for rationality, skepticism about the possibility of objective truth and the unshakable conviction that Life is bigger than Logic is not peculiar to the French "intellectuals" Sokal and Bricmont exposed or to academic literati-it is a feature of popular culture and has persisted even after the collapse of the Left as we knew it because it is preeminently a feature of adolescent romanticism. I get it from students all the time. Every year the freshmen in my intro logic classes, where I devote the first 3 weeks to "critical thinking" and debunking, rehearse the theme. Many are superstitious and almost all buy some version of mellow relativism. Most don't think logic broadly construed is important--in the words of one haunting course evaluation comment: "What's the good of being logical if no one else is?"

Talking to upperclassmen, who were more articulate and reflective, I got a better idea of their views. Even though the politics of the Left had largely disappeared from the undergraduate subculture, like most Americans, students were convinced that rationality, insofar as it was important at all, was exclusively the business of business and the political right. They had learnt in their required intro econ course that rational behavior was, by definition, self-interested. Rationality was appropriate in the workplace and public life; it was irrelevant, and inappropriate, in the private sphere where relationships, "values" and beliefs were based on feelings, culture, faith and brute personal preference.
But it's not just the far left; the far right is just as bad.

Donaald is vulgar

In Defacing the Skyline, a Heartless Act in the Heart of Chicago Lawrence Downes whines about tearing down the Chicago Sun-Times building; he's mostly opposed to what Trump plans to put up in its stead:
I hate his building. It may be sleek and shiny, but it's also a soaring monstrosity, a vertical S.U.V., a McMansion in the sky.

Unlike the building it replaces, it has nothing to offer the city but its looks. If you judge a building's worth by what goes on inside, by what valuable things it produces, then even the most fabulous Trump property has nothing on the old Sun-Times barge.
He admits the Chicago Sun-Times building is ugly, but that was good because of what went on inside it. (Huh? So he knows what's going to go on in Trump's building?) Rachelle Bowden agrees about the ugliness of the Chicago Sun-Times building, of which she has pictures. I can't say I find it particularly attractive, but at the same time it has that 60's vibe going for it. She also links to a pic of Trump's planned tower. So who cares? It's just a different shaped glass box. In any case, I find Trump's persona awfully vulgar.

Hail, Kaiser

Is Kaiser the Future of American Health Care? By Steve Lohr:
...according to economists and medical experts, Kaiser is a leader in the drive both to increase the quality of care and to spend health dollars more wisely, using technology and incentives tailored to those goals.

...It emphasizes preventive care and managing chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes to keep people healthier. And that saves money because healthier people require less costly care like hospitalization.

...Kaiser is both insurer and provider; employers typically pay fixed yearly fees for each member, no matter how much care is provided. has a lingering reputation for practicing an impersonal, regimented style of medicine that limits patient choice, despite recent efforts like the creation of physicians' personal Web pages and e-mail communication with patients.

...Kaiser's approach is best illustrated in two ways: its management of chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes, and its $3 billion initiative to use information technology to improve clinical care and streamline operations.

Across the country, health costs are skewed. In any given year, 90 percent of spending provides care for 30 percent of the population, and more than half of total spending goes to 5 percent of the population. Much of it is spent on people with chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes. So helping people with those ailments stay as healthy as possible offers much opportunity for cutting costs - and for improving lives.

In Northern California, Kaiser has sharply reduced the death rate for its three million members there in recent years by monitoring and controlling blood pressure and cholesterol levels and by promoting the use of aspirin and beta blockers (to reduce the risk of heart attacks) and statins (to lower cholesterol). The death rate from heart disease among the Kaiser members is 30 percent lower than it is in the rest of the Northern California population, adjusted for age and gender.

"...what's really expensive is if we don't take care of [people who need chronic care] and manage their chronic conditions," said Dr. Robert Mithun, chief of internal medicine at Kaiser's medical center in San Francisco.

Dr. Mithun's comment may seem like no more than common sense, but it does not reflect the typical logic of the dominant fee-for-service model of health care. Most doctors and hospitals get a fee from insurers for each patient visit, clinical test, surgical procedure or day a patient spends in a hospital. In practice, the fee-for-service system is often an invitation to do more of everything - more visits, more tests, more surgery. What gets done is what gets paid for, and insurers usually do not pay for preventive care or chronic care management provided by nurses or in group classes, like the ones at Kaiser.

In the fee-for-service medical economy, doctors and hospitals routinely strike different deals at different fees with many different insurers. The results are complexity, inefficiency and a constant bureaucratic tug-of-war between health care providers and insurers over claims.

The Kaiser economy seems a world apart. "What works at Kaiser is the integration of the financing and delivery of care, and the aligned incentives that allow you to make more rational decisions about health care for members," said Ms. Sekhri, the policy expert at the World Health Organization, who has studied Kaiser.

Ms. Sekhri was a co-author of a 2002 report that compared Kaiser in California with the National Health Service of Britain. The report found that for comparable spending, the Kaiser system in California did a better job of keeping people with chronic conditions out of hospitals. And when Kaiser patients were admitted to hospitals, their stays were generally shorter. Recently, Britain sent groups of primary care physicians and hospital administrators to California to learn from Kaiser.

The Labor government in Britain may look to Kaiser as an efficient model for its health service, which is run by the government. But the Bush administration is more interested in Kaiser as a model for the efficiencies and integration that can be achieved through information technology.

In May, the Bush administration appointed Dr. David J. Brailer to the new post of national coordinator of health information technology. His mandate is to prod the nation's health care system into the computer age. Bringing patient records and prescriptions out of the pen-and-ink era promises to save both dollars and lives. The automation of an electronic system could sharply reduce medical errors, which are estimated to be responsible for 45,000 to 98,000 deaths a year, according to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.

Kaiser has been investing heavily in information technology for years. Its clinical information system includes electronic records with a patient's history, prescriptions and preventive health recommendations. A doctor can call up a patient's X-ray or magnetic resonance image on a desktop personal computer. Electronic prescribing - a goal in the government plan - is routine at Kaiser.

The conversion of inefficient paperwork to a digital network also opens the door to fostering more efficient markets in health care. Markets rely on information, yet the health care economy is one in which information on patients, treatments and outcomes is trapped on paper and isolated in clinics, hospitals and insurance offices - instead of being shared, analyzed and compared, while still insuring privacy.

...In recent years, there have been efforts to focus on the quality of health care. The National Committee for Quality Assurance conducts annual reports based on a health plan's use of practices shown to improve patients' health, from timely prenatal care to cholesterol management. Kaiser plans consistently earn excellent ratings in the group's reports, and, this year, it had four of the five top-rated plans in the Pacific region, its stronghold.

...And the Kaiser system delivers quality while controlling total costs. A recent survey of health care costs in 15 metropolitan areas by Hewitt Associates, the human resources consulting firm, found that the cost for care per employee last year was lowest in the San Francisco area, where Kaiser members were about 35 percent of the insured population, at $5,515, and was highest in regions where Kaiser did not operate - led by New York, at $6,818 a worker.
Maybe it's a little more efficient, but is it a really good idea? If the largest excess cost is due to the current overuse of medical resources by patients, this doesn't look that it's going to solve the whole problem.

Marketplace presented another option, based primarily on nurse practitioners.

Saturday, October 30

Making money?

Vaccines Are Good Business for Drug Makers By Andrew Pollack
For older vaccines used to prevent childhood diseases like mumps, measles and diphtheria, for example, more than half the doses are purchased by the federal Vaccines for Children program. Prices are capped so they rise no faster than inflation. At $10 to $30 a dose, such vaccines are not a growth market, which helps explain why there is only a single supplier for five of the eight recommended childhood vaccines and why periodic shortages still occur...

In the late 1990's four companies supplied flu vaccines but two...dropped out, citing low profits and heavy expenditures to meet increasingly stringent regulatory requirements to prevent contamination...

...because vaccines are given to healthy people, safety and liability concerns can be greater than with drugs, which are given to sick people, who are willing to bear some risk of side effects to get better.

...industry officials...say the most important factor for a healthy vaccine business is higher prices. "You can't have high investment, high regulatory requirements and low prices,"
The most important factor for a healthy business is making money. Who 'da thunk?

The "objective" truth about hell

Faith Through Fright: Depictions of Death and Hell Aim to Save By Karin Brulliard. The display includes sights like this:
...bodies spill out of the wreckage of a grisly car crash, a young woman is laid to rest and a lashed and bloody Jesus Christ hangs on a cross.

...the show known as Scaremare is part haunted house and part sermon. In its 33rd year, it is also the more tempered ancestor of a growing Halloween-time tradition for evangelical Christian churches: elaborate performances -- some graphically depicting the consequences of abortion and homosexuality, others death by terrorist attack or cancer -- that aim to literally scare the hell out of nonbelievers...

"It makes them think, if they die tonight, where will they go?"
There's an idea--give people a lie to believe in.
"There's no question that people need to fear what is their eternal destiny," said Steve Vandegriff, a professor of youth ministry at Liberty who directs the project. "So here's the objective truth about hell, and there is a very simple . . . answer to not going there, and that would be faith in Christ."
The "objective" truth, eh? The one for which the only evidence is hearsay?
Cashman [a student] asked those who were accepting Christ for the first time to make eye contact with him. In the first two weekends of Scaremare 2004, about 10 percent of visitors made that commitment, Vandegriff said.
Eye contact? Whoops, I looked at him by mistake! It sounds like a cheesy amusement park to me.

I suppose paranoids could claim that this is a veiled attack against Bush's religiosity, and his use of terrorism to frighten us. Or is it a veiled attack against the terrorists' use of terrorism to frighten us? Not that it doesn't exist, but being frightened by it is yielding to it.

Who's the free trade candidate?

U.S. to Consider Limiting Pants Imports From China By Paul Blustein
The Bush administration, sending another signal that it intends to limit imports of clothing from China next year, announced yesterday that it will consider a request by the U.S. textile industry to maintain caps on shipments of Chinese-made cotton trousers to the United States.

Friday, October 29


How do we know that Adam and Eve were not Chinese? Because they ate the apple, not the snake. (via Tyler Cowen, who says it's Indian.)

Commie overlords

In History's Implications For Taiwan's Constitution, John Tkacik argues,
Any argument that the 1947 Constitution vests Taiwan's sovereignty in the people of China must logically require first that the 1947 Constitution continues to have any applicability in China at all. But in 1947, the Chinese Communists declared they "will determinedly not recognize…as legal and valid" either the "Chiang Kai-shek Constitution" or the "Chiang Kai-shek National Assembly." Since then, the People's Republic has had five separate constitutions of its own, all of which in turn superceded the 1947 Constitution. The argument also presumes – mistakenly – that Taiwan's people, as a part of the broader family of citizens of China, had some participation in the framing of the document or enjoyed its benefits. The reality is that Taiwan's Chinese overlords prevented Taiwanese from voting for the very National Assembly representatives who would have provided Taiwan's citizens with a voice in the framing of the Constitution. As such, the history of the 1947 ROC Constitution suggests instead that Taiwan's people are not bound by a constitution that emerged in China without their participation or approval, and the theoretical beneficence of which they did not enjoy.
The argument seems sound as far as it goes. But it's irrelevant. The only legitimacy the Communist Party sees is becoming what Tkacik would probably call the "overlord" of Taiwan. And what would anyone be willing to do about it?

Sex is your duty!

That's according to a Sex, Religion, And Infidelity Survey
Among the surprising findings of the survey is the proportion of respondents in China who assert that religion plays a role in their sex lives. The Chinese authorities have a long track record of discouraging religion (and indeed sex), to say the least, so it's striking that 15 percent of Chinese agree that religion factors into their sexual behavior. The Chinese result probably reflects the fact that religion in Asia tends not to carry with it the "whiff of piety" it has in the West...

The Chinese are by far the most likely to think that monogamy is the natural state for human beings: 70 percent of them agree, compared with 57 percent of Americans and even fewer respondents in France, the U.K., and Germany (44, 42, and 40 percent, respectively).

The Chinese are also by far the least likely to consider it normal for a 30-something today to have had 10 or more different lovers over the course of his or her single years. Just 17 percent of Chinese agree, compared with 30 percent of French, 49 percent of Americans, 52 percent of Germans, and a substantial 59 percent of British.

An area in which the Chinese are more sexually liberal concerns extramarital affairs—specifically, affairs in which "nobody gets hurt." Nearly a quarter of Chinese (23 percent) think such affairs are OK, whereas in the Anglo-Saxon cultures, only 11 percent of British and 9 percent of Americans say the same. (The French and German samples were more in alignment with China than with the U.S. or U.K.)

In all the countries except the U.K., higher proportions of men than women are tolerant of extramarital affairs that cause pain to neither party. In the U.S., it´s 13 percent of men versus 4 percent of women; in China, it´s 27 percent versus 14 percent; and in Germany, it´s 28 percent versus 16 percent. Among British respondents, the statement received agreement from 11 percent of both sexes. Only the French came close to this level of equality, with 20 percent of men and 17 percent of women agreeing.

There´s also significant gender disparity regarding the notion that men and women are both entitled to expect regular sex of their partners, with consistently higher proportions of men than women agreeing. In the U.S., 76 percent of men agree compared with just 62 percent of women, and there´s a similarly wide gap in the U.K. (63 vs. 47 percent) and France (85 vs. 76 percent). The gap is much narrower in China (82 vs. 81 percent) and in Germany (79 vs. 77 percent).

The gender gap is even wider on the thorny question of whether same-sex partnerships/"marriages" should be accorded the same status as man-woman marriages. In all five countries, significantly higher proportions of women than men agree support the notion. The biggest gender gap is 22 points in Germany, where 45 percent of men agree compared with 67 percent of women. Elsewhere the gap is narrower but still clear, with a difference of 15 percentage points in the U.K. (37 vs. 52 percent), 13 points in France (35 vs. 48 percent), and 11 points in China (39 vs. 50 percent). Men and women are most in accord on this issue in the United States, where the gap is just 7 percent (31 vs. 38 percent).
Ya wonder what religion is factoring into Chinese sex. On the other hand, for the Chinese to consider monogamy as the natural state coincides with my impression of the Chinese; ditto the notion that it's not normal to have too many partners. I guess since it's so common for Chinese men to have mistresses, that pushes up the proportion who think extra-marital affairs are OK.

A Stupid Move

China Touches the Brakes With Higher Interest Rates:
Larry Lang, chairman of the finance department at Chinese University of Hong Kong, said the increase was misguided. The largest borrowers in China have traditionally been local governments spending money on major public-works projects, and state-owned firms kept alive to preserve jobs, he said. If interest rates are higher, those sorts of borrowers will continue to draw credit, regardless of their ability to repay their loans, Lang said. Meanwhile, China's emerging private sector, increasingly the source of new jobs and profitable businesses, will have a more difficult time getting its hands on credit.

"This is a very stupid move," Lang said. "It won't affect over-investment, but it will hurt the private sector and it will hit the stock market."

I wasted my time

Unlike what I wrote below, it turns out there's something behind (ha-ha) the "Log Cabin Republicans" name. Lincoln may have been gay. So the choosing of the name actually meant something.

Thursday, October 28

Economic joke

From the Mises Economics Blog:
3 guys are taken to jail on the same day. Ironically, they all ran gas stations, so they passed the time by discussing their reasons for being in jail.
Prisoner 1: "My prices were higher than all of my competitors, so they locked me up for price gouging."
Prisoner 2: "My prices were lower than all my competitors, so they locked me up for predatory pricing."
Prisoner 3: "That's nothing! My prices were the same as all my competitors, so they locked me up for collusion!"

Wednesday, October 27

They call this subtlety?

After an article where the writer confesses he doesn't entirely understand the message behind the way Americans incorporate the American flag into their clothes, although he insists it's got to be patriotic, the next section reads:
How the Americans teach children: Subtle patriotic education

The United States is a "young" country with only 300 years of history. One almost never sees Americans implementing or undergoing specifically patriotic education in situations specifically set aside for that, much less special classes teaching patriotism. Instead Americans inculcate patrotism more subtly. Each morning, when the bell for the first class rings, the first thing they do is to have the students reverently put their hands over their hearts, and in a dignified manner loudly recite, "I Pledge Allegiance to...the flag of the United States and to the Republic, under God, indivisible, with welfare and justice for all."
Despite a certain amount of hostility to the "under God" phrase even in America, the translators didn't take it out of their version of the pledge. However, they did replace "liberty" with "welfare". ("I Pledge Allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.") Well, what would you expect? Communists don't really go for liberty. In fact, these days, they don't go for welfare, either.

Ironically, as this Marxist and many others have noted, the Pledge of Allegiance has a socialist connection. For my part, I have never been fond of the pledge; I detest ceremonies, and I remember being annoyed since I was little about the "under God" business.

Moreover, I read that although one hundred years ago the American flag was rarely seen in the classroom, among the nations in the world, only the USA and the Philippines, imitating the USA, have a pledge to their flag, and the original Pledge was recited while giving a stiff, uplifted right hand salute. That plus the approving tone of this article puts us in odd company. What's next, making the burning of the American flag illegal? The article goes on,
Americans love to participate in or watch all kind of sports, and before every competition, large and small, the first thing they do is all stand up and loudly sing the national anthem. In that grand, enthusiastic situation, tens of thousands of Americans of all colors gaze at the stars and stripes which is slowly raised as they loudly sing the national anthem. While standing amongst them, who cannot be moved by enthusiastic American patriotism? In public occasions in the US, no one is allowed to disrespect the nation or engage in any improper behavior. From when they are young, American children intensely believe "I am an American, and am proud of being an American".
Geez, has this person ever been here? Sure, during the actual flag-waving business, if you said something against it, I'm sure a fist-fight would break out. But disrespecting the nation happens all the time. It's the American way of life!

They call this subtle? I guess it is, compared to being hit over the head with the Mao's Little Red Book, or being thrown into jail for besmirching the dead dictator's portrait. But then the rest of the article goes on to praise the American educational system for the way it gives its students self-confidence.

The original extract:

美 国是个只有三百年历史的"年轻"国家。日常生活中,我们几乎看不到美国人在特定的场合进行和接受爱国主义教育,学校更没有专设的爱国课,美国对学生进行 的 爱国教育,是在潜移默化中进行的。每天清晨,第一堂上课铃一响,进行的第一项内容,即是学生们虔诚地把手放在胸前,庄严地大声宣誓:“我向美国的国旗和共 和国,在上帝之下,确保领土完整,为万民谋福利的自由正义之国,誓以忠诚……"



No such thing as a mistake?

Powell Comments Upset Taiwan By Edward Cody
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell was in China less than 24 hours this week, but that was enough to stir up a diplomatic tempest with some unorthodox and apparently unintended remarks about U.S. policy on Taiwan.

Powell, in a pair of television interviews Monday in Beijing, said the United States holds there is only one China and that Taiwan is not an independent nation. He went on to suggest that Taiwanese and Americans as well as Chinese are seeking to bring about the island's reunification with the mainland.
Phew! So much for diplomacy!
Some analysts suggested Powell's comments may have been intended as an expression of dissatisfaction with Chen's government, whose officials last month issued a series of bellicose statements unwelcome in Washington. The Bush administration, absorbed by the war in Iraq and the election campaign, has worked hard to keep tensions down across the Taiwan Strait.
It really doesn't sound like a mistake. But if Bush is enraged at Chen's earlier behavior, it's partly his own fault for saying (in 2001) that the U.S. would "do whatever it takes" to defend Taiwan; one could hardly blame Chen Shui-bian as a megalomaniac for taking such a remark as support for independence.

Social spending

Arnold Kling's Four Myths About Social Security
My view has always been that the crux of the issue in Social Security and Medicare is the ratio of beneficiaries to taxpayers. The implications of this are:
  1. Privatization is not a panacea. I think that privatization is a good idea, but the benefits from privatization will not be sufficient to rescue Social Security.
  2. The retirement age is the most logical and effective policy lever. See Phase Out Medicare and the other essays in the last part of my book.
For the public, I recommend keeping in mind the main lessons of this essay. Social Security is a transfer scheme, not a pension plan. The economic effects of a transition to privatization would be subtle and small, probably beneficial, and certainly not catastrophic. The demographic problems with Social Security go well beyond the Baby Boom retirement bulge. Finally, the fact that Medicare's obligations are rising faster relative to Medicare's smaller tax rate does not imply that Social Security's imbalances are minor.
And in Phase Out Medicare, he writes,
With Republicans in control of Congress and the Presidency, this may be the last chance to change course in this country. If we continue on the path of socialized medicine, there is every reason to fear that the United States will fall into the debilitating, low-growth, over-taxed trap that has Europe and Japan in its grip.

If the Bush Administration is looking for a bold economic agenda, then the best choice would be to take steps to return health care to the private sector. The most effective way to do this would be to raise the Medicare eligibility age for everyone under the age of 50.

The Nuisance of Terrorism and a Life Worth Living

Via Will Wilkinson, John C. Mueller's "A False Sense of Insecurity" (pdf):
Until 2001, far fewer Americans were killed in any grouping of years by all forms of international terrorism than were killed by lightning, and almost none of those terrorist deaths occurred within the United States itself. Even with the September 11 attacks included in the count, the number of Americans killed by international terrorism since the late 1960s (which is when the State Department began counting) is about the same as the number of Americans killed over the same period by lightning, accident-causing deer, or severe allergic reaction to peanuts.
He calls for
an effort by politicians, officials, and the media to inform the public reasonably and realistically about the terrorist context instead of playing into the hands of terrorists by frightening the public...

Accordingly, it would seem to be reasonable for those in charge of our safety to inform the public about how many airliners would have to crash before flying becomes as dangerous as driving the same distance in an automobile. It turns out that someone has made that calculation: University of Michigan transportation researchers Michael Sivak and Michael Flannagan, in an article last year in American Scientist, wrote that they determined there would have to be one set of September 11 crashes a month for the risks to balance out. More generally, they calculate that an American’s chance of being killed in one nonstop airline flight is about one in 13 million (even taking the September 11 crashes into account). To reach that same level of risk when driving on America’s safest roads — rural interstate highways — one would have to travel a mere 11.2 miles...

Moreover, any problems caused by radiological, chemical, or perhaps biological weapons are likely to stem far more from the fear and panic they may cause than from the weapons themselves. While a "dirty bomb" might raise radiation 25 percent over background levels in an area and therefore into a range the Environmental Protection Agency considers undesirable, there ought to be some discussion about whether that really constitutes "contamination" or much of a danger at all, given the somewhat arbitrary and exceedingly cautious levels declared to be acceptable by the epa. The potential use of such bombs apparently formed the main concern during the Orange Alert at the end of 2003. Because the bombs simply raise radiation levels somewhat above normal background levels in a small area, a common recommendation from nuclear scientists and engineers is that those exposed should calmly walk away...

...biological and chemical weapons…are notoriously difficult to create, control, and focus (and even more so for nuclear weapons)...

...three key issues, set out by risk analyst Howard Kunreuther, require careful discussion but do not seem ever to get it:
  • How much should we be willing to pay for a small reduction in probabilities that are already extremely low?
  • How much should we be willing to pay for actions that are primarily reassuring but do little to change the actual risk?
  • How can measures such as strengthening the public health system, which provide much broader benefits than those against terrorism, get the attention they deserve?

...What we need is more pronouncements like the one in a recent book by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.): "Get on the damn elevator! Fly on the damn plane! Calculate the odds of being harmed by a terrorist! It’s still about as likely as being swept out to sea by a tidal wave. Suck it up, for crying out loud. You’re almost certainly going to be okay. And in the unlikely event you’re not, do you really want to spend your last days cowering behind plastic sheets and duct tape? That’s not a life worth living, is it?"
So Kerry was right, for all the good it did him. Suck it up, people!

Tuesday, October 26

Rama dama ding dong

Yesterday NPR had a segment about Radio Islam, and I found myself irritated with its political correctness, presenting the image of Moslems as all decent types. Why not even mention fundamentalist Wahabis as a pernicious influence?

Now today I see Jeff Jarvis writes:
...seeing this [Blessed Ramadan] billboard on I-78 on the way into work gave me a start. On the one hand, yeah, sure, it's a sign of our multifaceted culture, our chunky stew, our steaming melting pot that we have a Ramadan billboard on the way to Newark airport. But then again, as unPC as this is to say, it is also a reminder that many who plotted the attacks on America live right here in New Jersey; the terrorists are our neighbors. Of course, I'm not saying that Muslims are terrorists. But terrorists are Muslims these days and they launched their attack on 9/11 only a stone's throw from this billboard.
Geez, take a pill. Sure, they're all over the place, as bad as Christians, Jews, leftist intellectuals, and cockroaches, but it's a bit of a stretch to be afraid of them.

Dumb joke # 1: The Wahabis are presumably no relation to 娃哈哈 (which brings to mind which character to use to transliterate the bi.)

Dumb joke # 2: Don't sing "Rama lama ding dong"--it's anti-Buddhist.

More laws!

In a comment to Conrad's criticism of Meagan McArdle's hand-wringing about letting people borrow against their 401k's, mdmhvonpa writes,
I worked at a major credit card company for a few years and as a bank officer, I was required to do 8 hours of customer service a month. What I learned about people and fiscal reponsibility turned my stomach. If you are not socking away 15-30% of your income a year (50% liquid assets) you are bound to use a revolving credit line as a crutch at some time.
As a state-employed educator, instead of a 401k the IRS permits me to invest either in a 403b (Tax-Sheltered Annuity) or a 457 (deferred compensation). I have no idea if this new product would allow me to borrow against it, and I can't imagine the circumstances where I would. But it's true, many people are irresponsible, so just maybe the libertarian ideal would not work for them. Do responsible people really have be sacrificed for the sake of the irresponsible.

Monday, October 25

Irony alert

Via Jim Treacher: The last post:
I realised just how much momentum our project to match concerned non-Americans with voters in a marginal US county had acquired when I arrived in Shanghai on Sunday to be handed a message from a local reporter. I rang back expecting a few desultory questions about why a group of Guardian journalists were visiting China but the reporter had a bigger story in her sights: 'Is it possible to make interview about Operation Clark County?' (There was no sign in her voice of the mild irony with which we had chosen the project's quasi-military name.)
I hope the Chinese reporters do report on it. Of course the Chinese would never try to meddle indirectly in someone else's election.

Sunday, October 24

Good enough for Jesus?

Speaking of making it illegal to teach foreign languages,
...a Texas governor, Miriam "Ma" Ferguson, barred the teaching of foreign languages about 80 years ago, saying, "If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it's good enough for us."

What reality is like for me

Imagine a movie without any physical reality, without any human presence or warmth. Imagine, in effect, even less personal versions of the coldly corporate digital-effects blockbusters that now do minate the summer.
A Face That Launched a Thousand Chips By DAVE KEHR

Log Cabin Republicans

I've often wondered about this name. It makes me wonder if Lincoln was gay. In fact, the reference is supposedly to him. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
The Log Cabin Republicans is a political organization in the United States, consisting of gay, lesbian and bisexual supporters of the Republican Party.


The name of the organization is a reference to the first Republican President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, who was born in a log cabin. The organization features a portrait of Lincoln on its website and other publicity material. The name has been criticized by other gay and lesbian rights groups because it does not specifically identify the organization as being for gay men and lesbians.
So the most important thing about the name is that it has nothing to do with what it actually refers to. I guess that's some sort of ironic trope, that is, "expressing a meaning directly contrary to that suggested by the words". (I almost typed "tripe" instead of trope--ha-ha!). Still, my mind searches for some connection. A "log" is:
  • a bulky piece or length of unshaped timber

  • an apparatus for measuring the rate of a ship's motion through the water

  • the record of the rate of a ship's speed or of her daily progress

  • a record of performance

  • to cut (trees) for lumber

  • to make a note or record of

  • to move (an indicated distance) or attain (an indicated speed)

  • to have (an indicated record) to one's credit

  • logarithm (by shortening)
So I'm thinking, a length of timber? Rather phallic, no? Something to do with motion through the water? Still sexual, in an amorphous way. A connection with performance? Doesn't it seem there are a lot of gays the theatre? Moving a certain distance or speed? That's about as neutral as you can get. A record to one's credit? Well, good for you!
"Cabin" is:
  • a private room on a ship or boat

  • a small one-story dwelling usually of simple construction
That suggests something confining to me. Ah yes, something about the roles society forces upon us, perhaps?


Free Audacity sound editor

The Audacity sound editor is pretty cool. Now I can record things I hear online, like NPR programs. (via Mark Liberman).

Why buy it?

After reading DEIRDRE MCCLOSKEY's What Would Jesus Spend?, I waited until the library's copy of Nick Hornby's How to Be Good was available and finally borrowed it. Given the topic of her piece, there's some irony there. As for the book, it was OK, but not quite what I expected: the point is, it's not so easy. And the final line shows just how hard it is.


Last week we saw Mike Nichols' Wit (2001) with Emma Thompson, who also wrote the teleplay. I'm a fan of her as an actress. It was Ok, if a little long.

Oliver Stone's Platoon (1986) hasn't aged very well. It's not as ridiculous as some of his later movies, but it just didn't grab us very much. Although I'm fond of Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings", there was far too much of that. And the scene where Willem Dafoe was being tracked down ended up just being silly, like the death of the heroine in House of Flying Daggers 十面埋伏--not what I'd choose to put on the box. I keep finding a lot of new movies dreadful, so I thought I was getting old and would like the older stuff, but I'm surprised to find I liked Blackhawk Down more. One other thing--Johnny Depp had a fairly prominent screen credit, but he was only on screen for a few minutes.

On the other hand, Anatole Litvak's Sorry, Wrong Number (1948) is still pretty good. (I confess I thought it was Hitchcock's.)

Several weeks in a row I borrowed Adrian Lyne's Unfaithful (2002), but partly because I dislike Richard Gere, and also because the preview didn't make it look very good, I kept putting it off. I've got to admit it was pretty good. I especially liked the ending. Maybe sometime we can see Claude Chabrol's La Femme infidèle, upon which it was based. I wasn't very familiar with Diane Lane, but it just so happens this week one of the DVDs we borrowed was Francis Ford Coppola's The Outsiders (1983). I only watched about half of it, and got disgusted. Apparently Coppola wanted to make it look like a fifties movie. The effects were awful and the original music by Carmine Coppola was a poor fit. The book seemed good back when I read it, but the story may not have much to it. Anyway Lane looked almost unrecognizably young (I had wanted to see a pre-star Tommy Cruise, but I just couldn't take it).

I was also interested to see that Lane starred in Rakuyô (1992). One site claims she plays Cho Renko, a Chinese cabaret singer. So in 1992 were we still having Westerners playing East Asians? Or was she maybe a Eurasian? Anyway, the movie was apparently a real bomb.

It's no big deal, but...

On "Genius: A Night for Ray Charles", which aired a couple of nights ago, the camera picked Ellen DeGeneres out of the audience a couple of times, in addition to the fact that she was one of the presenters. Even if she has some connection with Ray Charles that I don't know about, she didn't mention it, and what was the point of showing her in the audience? Is this part of a conspiracy to get us to vote for a Butch-Cheney ticket?

Anyway, most of the song renditions weren't up to the original, with the exception of Norah Jones, who I have heretofore thought of as over-rated.

Saturday, October 23


Ads paid for by Maag supporters inaccurately portray Karmeier's sentencing of a man who received probation for raping one young girl and sodomizing two boys. The Southern Illinoisan's KRISTEN CATES says,
Karmeier sentenced the man to probation only after he had originally sentenced him to seven years and the appellate court overturned his decision.

Also, according to the Morning Sentinel's David Porter:
The defendant was mentally retarded and was found guilty but mentally ill. A doctor testified that he had the capacity of a 9-year-old boy.

[David Luechtefeld, Karmeier’s campaign chairman] noted that the sodomy charges were dropped as part of a plea negotiation. Therefore, it would have been improper for Karmeier to rule on that issue.

The Southern Illinoisan backs Karmeier for the Illinois Supreme Court:
Maag has worked as a trial attorney in Madison County, notorious for outlandish jury verdicts, which have enriched many, many lawyers. Maag also served as an associate judge in Madison County.

But ask Maag about his Madison County ties and he grows visibly angry and tries to disassociate himself from Madison County.

In Illinois State Bar Association polls, fellow lawyers have given Maag a big thumbs down.

On the other hand, Karmeier, who has served as a judge since 1986, has scored at the top in the same bar polls and was rated "highly qualified" by the Illinois State Bar Association Judicial Evaluation Committee. Karmeier has been endorsed by the Illinois Hospital Association, the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and Illinois Federation of Right to Life.

This campaign has turned nasty with Maag and the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association attempting to distort Karmeier's judicial record. The trial lawyers are pouring wads of cash into Maag's campaign because they know how precious this Illinois Supreme Court seat is to their future and their livelihood....

Maag has talked a good game, claiming he wants to stand up for doctors and patients. But is he sincere? Do his loyalties really lie with his fellow trial lawyers who have helped fund his campaign? We suspect they do.

Pretty flowers?

One of my many Gloxinia (Sinningia speciosa; 大岩桐) grown from seed sown a year ago last July wilted. I ought to have known that it wasn't dead, and apparently it was only a dormancy of a few weeks; It has already re-emerged. None of them has bloomed since they sprouted, but we'll see. Is this effeminate enough for you?

Friday, October 22

...not that there's anything wrong with it.

Well, I'll have you know I baked baguettes last week, and they were just about the best I'd ever baked (even better than this?), probably because I used almost all unbleached white flour instead of mixed with whole wheat.
I started Sat. morning with a chef, a piece of fully risen dough retained from a previous bread;
I mixed it with 1/4 cup of room temp. water and 2/3 cup of ordinary unbleached white flour.
I left this "sponge" for 3-4 hours in the oven, which is at the lowest heat (100 degrees?).
After it had risen, I mixed in 2 tablespoons of room temp. water, and 1/3 cup of unbleached white flour, with 1 tablespoon of gluten in the measuring cup, then I put it back in the oven. (At this point my practice has been to let it rise for about 7-8 hours, but I forgot about it and it collapsed.)
I put it in the refrigerator (the cold reduces yeast activity, while the bacteria thrive, producing many more flavorful acids.)
The next day, I took it out around 6 am, poured in 2/3 cup room temp water (maybe that's just 2/3 of a cup), sprinkled 1/4 teaspoon of non-rapid-rise yeast on it, mixed it in the sponge, and about 1 1/2 cups of unbleached flour. (Usually I put in whole wheat, but I'd run out, so I added 1/4 cup bran flakes.)
I sprinkled about 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, let it rest for 10 minutes, then kneaded it, adding flour when it got too sticky.
Then I covered it and left it to rise for 1 1/2 hours. Next I folded it down on itself a few times, then let it rise for another 45 minutes.
I then shaped it by dividing it in 2, pressing each piece down till they were flat, folding down about 1/3 of the dough, pressing it into the middle of the dough with my fingertips, then folding everything down to the bottom and pressing everything together, then let them rest about 10 min.
Then I picked up the sausage shape by one end and gently squeezed it along its length (wow, getting pretty steamy, eh?) until it was about 12" long, and put it in the baguette mold, and covered it with a cloth, and let it rise for 1 1/2 hours.
I preheated the oven to 450 degrees, which had unglazed quarry tiles on the rack. When the oven was ready, I slashed the baguettes, but the surface was too dry. (I don't bother to spray water on them anymore.)
A few minutes before I put them in, I pour boiling water into a pan that had been heating in the oven.
I baked them for 20 minutes, checking to see that the internal temp was 200 deg. (with my trusty instant-read thermometer).
Then I shut off the oven and leave them inside with the door open for about 1/2 hour.
The crust is crisp for another half hour, but then not so much. The texture seemed better after letting the dough collapse.

Is that effeminate enough for you?

Bush vs. Kerry

for "布什" "凯瑞", I get
简体中文网页中,约有 11,800 项符合"布什" " 凯瑞"的查询结果

for "布希" "柯瑞", I get
關於"布希" "柯瑞"大約有1,410 頁繁體中文搜尋結果

I suppose the mainland preference for "布什" is because the final "sh" sounds less like the equivalent of pinyin "x" and more like "sh" to mainland ears (unless they're being guided by spelling). Whereas in Taiwanese Mandarin, they don't retroflex as much, so the final sounds more like what is rendered as "x", hence "布希".

While I had trouble with 凯 at first, I've got to admit it does sound like the English. Why do the Taiwanese use 柯? Maybe it's a Taiwanese Mandarin thing (they couldn't be influenced by spelling, could they?) As for 瑞, which both use, that makes no sense to me at all. I would have chosen some variety of "li". Maybe there are too many Kellies, so they wanted to distinguish him from them.

The ownership society

The brothers judd have the ownership society archives (via Thought Mesh). Arnold Kling quotes Brad DeLong:
Ten years down the road or so, there will be pressure on Congress to allow people to borrow against their private accounts, or to withdraw them to buy a house, or to use them to meet unexpected medical expenses. Congress will bow to that pressure--it's their money, after all. And in the end a lot of people will hit 70 having drained their Social Security private account dry. The rest of us will then have to decide whether to let them starve on the street, or tax ourselves a second time to give them Social Security benefits. As Dick Schmalensee says, "You have to ask yourself not just, 'Is this good policy?' but 'Will this still be good policy after Congress does its worst to it?'" The Medicare drug benefit and the corporate tax boondoggle are powerful evidence that the Bush administration holds no leashes to use to control what this Congress does to policy proposals, while lobbyists can make this Congress roll over and beg.
Kling responds,
I guess I would rather give people their money, let them make mistakes, and take a chance on how Congress decides to deal with those mistakes. If we are lucky, the set of people who makes big mistakes and comes whining to Congress about it will not be large. Instead, to not allow private accounts amounts to pre-emptively giving everyone's money to Congress, which raises the potential for mischief by at least an order of magnitude.
Sounds good to me.

Thursday, October 21

Median net worth

In the item about median net worth, the figures given were for 2002, for which year they said that white households had a median net worth of greater than $88,000. For 2003, another article about median net worth states
The median net worth of all U.S. households, meanwhile, is $100,894, meaning half of all homes have less.
So somebody's gotten richer. Going back to 2000,
  • Median household net worth increased from $49,932 in 1998 to $55,000 in 2000.

  • Median home equity for households was $59,000 in 2000, significantly higher than the 1998 median household home equity of $55,263.

  • In 2000, median household net worth generally increased with the age of the householder, rising from $7,240 for householders under the age of 35, to $108,885 for householders 65 and older.

  • In 2000, the household median net worth was $79,400 for households with a non-Hispanic White householder, $7,500 for households with a Black householder, and $9,750 for households with a Hispanic householder. Hispanic households and Black households had significantly lower net worth than non-Hispanic White households, but the difference between Hispanic and Black households was not statistically significant.

  • Married-couple households, the majority of households, had the highest median net worth in 2000: $91,218. Significantly lower net worth characterized male householders ($24,659) and female householders ($23,028).
So things have been bad for awhile, but as Ernie Chambers says, it looks as if it's partly due to single parenthood. Note also that net worth increases with age. Of interest to me is the evidence that home equity provides the lion's share for most people. Since we've got to live in our houses, our net worth is less than it might appear. If this proportion holds for more recent years, it may have something to say about the $100,000 for last year, given the bubble in housing prices in many markets that I keep hearing about.

I was wrong; the median value of home equity was $59,000, but the percent distribution for net worth was only 32.3. See the table below.

Asset Ownership Rates for Households, Median Value of Holdings, and the Distribution of Net Worth by Asset Type

So home equity only constitutes a third for the median; still, it's the largest part. (Also, note that these stats do not cover equities in pension plans, the cash value of life insurance policies, and the value of home furnishings and jewelry, because estimates are too difficult).

Wednesday, October 20

Worse than being an atheist?

In No French please, people are watching Language Log says,
The last thing you want in American politics, apparently, is to be captured on camera understanding French, let alone speaking it. Rush Limbaugh would start portraying you as hardly American at all (he already does this with Kerry, in fact, having heard about these suspicious francophone abilities on the grapevine).

Geoff Nunberg pointed out to me that in Nebraska they once passed a law making it illegal to teach foreign languages in the schools, period. Foreign language learning is now, like sodomy, legal in all states; but these are not freedoms that a politician should brag about taking advantage of. Such is the determined linguistic isolationism of the USA. I would have thought that to have a US president (for once) who could argue fluently and convincingly in the native language of some other head of state would be a fantastic asset. But instead it is perceived as a kind of disloyalty, evidence of being an untrustworthy egghead, and you would lose millions of votes over it. It's both depressing and amazing.
Indeed, as Dennis Baron writes in Language Laws and Related Court Decisions,
The Nebraska Supreme Court accepted the state’s argument describing "the baneful effects of permitting foreigners who had taken residence in this country, to rear and educate their children in the language of their native land." The Court ruled that such a situation, because it proved "inimical" to the public safety, inculcating in the children of immigrants "ideas and sentiments foreign to the best interests of this country," fell within the police powers of the state.

It agreed as well that the teaching of a foreign language was harmful to the health of the young child: "The hours which a child is able to devote to study in the confinement of school are limited. It must have ample time for exercise or play. Its daily capacity for learning is comparatively small." Such an argument was consistent with the educational theory of the day, which held as late as the 1950s that bilingualism led to confusion and academic failure, and was harmful to the psychological well-being of the child. Indeed, (According to Hakuta [1985, 27], the psychologist Florence Goodenough argued in 1926 that the use of a foreign language in the home was a leading cause of mental retardation.
The US Supreme Court reversed the decision.

Anyway, I still think that being an atheist is even more dangerous to one's political career.


Sniff, sniff

Obsidian Wings:
Moscow's champion of democracy and paragon of integrity, Czar Vladimir Putin has pushed Tony Blair off GWB's lap so that he can curl up there and sniff the crotch of the leader of the free world.
No, I don't know how it smells.

Peking Dork is No. 1

...for quote vietnam mongols invaders must leave words supernatural. As of today, anyway.

Tuesday, October 19

How to Save

How to Save $150,000 (And Still Have a Life) By Matthew Heimer and Beverly Goodman (via
It's certainly possible to save money using all of those dreary commonsense tactics that fill the Sunday-paper advice columns — choosing a brown-bag lunch over Au Bon Pain, buying clothes only on sale, clipping coupons and rolling loose change. But for most people in a consumer-centric culture, pinching pennies doesn't come naturally. Faced with schoolmarmish lectures about giving up our creature comforts, our ids rebel: We don't have the time to be frugal; we deserve a reward for our hard work; we want our HBO.
I love to complain about how people in our culture are addicted to spending money. And yet, consuming seems to keep the economy bubbling along, and I believe devotion to the consumerist cause actually keeps people from actively making others miserable. Of course, that's partly because I wouldn't know a Jimmy Choos if he stepped on me; I suppose many people get incredibly miserable when they see someone else with a... (Words fail me, because I'm not big on branding.)
Fortunately, there's a saner way to save, and it boils down to one tip: Hunt for bigger game. In any given year, you'll spend tens or hundreds of times more on the big-ticket items in your budget — your house, your car, your medical bills — than on cappuccino and compact discs. It stands to reason that you'll find the biggest savings in those same places. "The small stuff matters, but I'm telling people more and more often, see if you can do one huge thing to cut your costs," says Mary Hunt, founder of the Cheapskate Monthly newsletter, which covers the small tips as well as the big ones.
I agree with her absolutely; the small stuff matters, too. In fact, I'm still not going to pay for her newsletter.

They also advocate buying used cars. I can't argue with that, altho I bought our 1985 econobox Mazda GLC new. They quote someone who claims that
"These days, you've got to figure any decent car will give you 200,000 miles."
Man, we're not even halfway there, yet.

Wear the mink proudly!

On NPR I heard about The Lure of an Inherited Mink, where a woman asked their idiotic ethicist about a mink coat.
I'm a baby boomer who has been pretty instinctively politically correct for most of my life, but I've also come to really enjoy the finer things as I'm pushing 60 here. So I'm kind of torn between the idea of having this beautiful coat and my guilt stemming from my support of PETA, you know, through my whole life. So how do I direct my thinking, Randy?
How about stopping to support PETA? Failing that, get rid of the mink, hypocrite!

Then the annoyingly pc ethicist Randy Cohen responds,
...we both agree that you shouldn't wear a new fur coat, that you could really make a moral case that one ought not do that?....And I think we could make a case that for some exploitation of animals, that there are many people who would argue that animal food is important or that we might exploit animals for medical research where there's not a meaningful alternative and where their suffering is minimized....I think we can agree there's no justification for harming animals to produce something as frivolous as a fur coat, and you needn't be a vegetarian to think that. Even if you're not willing to make the leap to vegetarianism, even if you can't do everything, you can do something. So I would advocate--I don't think it's hypocritical. I think it's a position of moderation to say you shouldn't wear a new coat....So then is an old fur coat different? Should it be, you know, grandfathered in, or cousined in in your case, because it does--as Jennifer said, we harm no new animal. And I would say, no, that you should not wear even an old fur coat because appearing in that fur announces that doing so is acceptable, you know, unless you shave a slogan in its back, 'Old fur,' 'Gift from rich cousin,' that kind of thing.
But if wearing fur is bad, it's bad.
I would argue that while wearing an old fur certainly doesn't injure any animals, but it injures us; that it coarsens our sensibilities when it declares our values that says this is OK. And I think you seem to think that, or you wouldn't have that lingering feeling of guilt....[H]ere's my guideline for old fur--is that utility without propaganda; that is, if you can find ways to use it that don't advertise its use to other people, that's fine, that you might make it a fur throw in your bedroom...
The woman, who's been agreeing with Randy all along, loves his solution:
Of course I know it's not right to wear it. Of course I would never buy it. But the circumstances here, you know, made it really sort of appealing. But I think I will respect Randy's response. It's a good one.
The anchor Jennifer Ludden steps in here to ask a key question:
Well--so, Randy, are you going to be donating your leather shoes?
His answer:
No. Again, I'm not preaching absolutism here; I'm preaching moderation and that because we aren't willing to give up all animal products doesn't mean we ought not give up the particularly frivolous ones.
Sheesh. Leather is made from animals just as mink coats are! If one believes wearing fur is wrong, so is wearing leather, and there are "meaningful alternatives" to leather. And how does wearing mink coarsen our sensiblities any more than leather? I believe this is prejudice against the wealthy. In any event, Cohen's "final solution" as PETA might say is to donate the fur to an animal rights group that uses old furs that they shred and use as bedding in programs that rescue orphaned animals in the wild. The woman says she'll go along with that, although I believe there's a good chance she'll keep it for herself.


Speaking of spending money, I should draw a literary critic's forced comparison between spending money and the other thing (because of intransitive sense #3). You think that's ridiculous? According to NPR, Poet Jena Osman has used real sayings from leaflets dropped over Afghanistan and Iraq; composer Keeril Makan says she told him "she was trying to show sort of the ties between the language of invasion and the language of advertising. These texts are really sinister, I think, the way she's transformed them." What complete codswallop.

By the way, to put it delicately, I'm not going to pay to be, um, "stepped on". I'd just as soon "step on" myself.

Illegitimacy and single-parenthood

Of the enormous wealth gap I mentioned below, Ernie Chambers writes,
Nowhere in any of the articles on this topic will you find a glaring fact that accounts for most of the wealth disparity between whites, blacks, and Hispanics: illegitimacy and single-parenthood.

Win or Lose

In his Campaign column: Make or break, Tom Carver writes:
If Bush loses, 'there will be civil war in the Party on November the 3rd,' Pat Buchanan, the former Republican presidential candidate, told me this summer.

Conservatives will say that Bush's unusual mix of tax cuts and military interventionism failed because it departed from the straight and narrow of Conservatism which is small government, fiscal discipline and no foreign adventures.
OK, but in Without a Doubt, Ron Suskind writes:
Bruce Bartlett, a domestic policy adviser to Ronald Reagan and a treasury official for the first President Bush, told me recently that "if Bush wins, there will be a civil war in the Republican Party starting on Nov. 3."
It sounds like both Buchanan and Bartlett want the Republicans to split up. Suskind goes on to identify Bartlett as very different faction from Buchanan, as he is
a 53-year-old columnist and self-described libertarian Republican who has lately been a champion for traditional Republicans concerned about Bush's governance, [and who] went on to say: "This is why George W. Bush is so clear-eyed about Al Qaeda and the Islamic fundamentalist enemy. He believes you have to kill them all. They can't be persuaded, that they're extremists, driven by a dark vision. He understands them, because he's just like them. . . ."

"This is why he dispenses with people who confront him with inconvenient facts," Bartlett went on to say. "He truly believes he's on a mission from God. Absolute faith like that overwhelms a need for analysis...."

...Jim Wallis [of the Sojourners] recalls telling Bush he was doing fine, "'but in the State of the Union address a few days before, you said that unless we devote all our energies, our focus, our resources on this war on terrorism, we're going to lose.' I said, 'Mr. President, if we don't devote our energy, our focus and our time on also overcoming global poverty and desperation, we will lose not only the war on poverty, but we'll lose the war on terrorism.'"

Bush replied that that was why America needed the leadership of Wallis and other members of the clergy.

"No, Mr. President," Wallis says he told Bush, "We need your leadership on this question, and all of us will then commit to support you. Unless we drain the swamp of injustice in which the mosquitoes of terrorism breed, we'll never defeat the threat of terrorism."

Bush looked quizzically at the minister, Wallis recalls. They never spoke again after that.

..."When I was first with Bush in Austin, what I saw was a self-help Methodist, very open, seeking," Wallis says now. "What I started to see at this point was the man that would emerge over the next year -- a messianic American Calvinist. He doesn't want to hear from anyone who doubts him...
While I'd just as soon religion played no part in public life, the trouble with Suskind's analysis is that there are plenty of people on all sides who "[dispense] with people who confront [them] with inconvenient facts" or who truly believe they're on a quasi-divine mission, and have absolute faith in their own breed of dogma. Consider Wallis, who takes it as common sense that poverty breeds terrorism. I find this contention dubious.

Monday, October 18

Who's poorer?

Study Says White Families' Wealth Advantage Has Grown
The enormous wealth gap between white families and black and Hispanic families grew larger after the most recent recession, a private analysis of government data has found.

White households had a median net worth of greater than $88,000 in 2002, 11 times that of Hispanic households and more than 14 times that of black households, the Pew Hispanic Center said in the study, being released Monday.
This is even though Latino teenagers are twice as likely as blacks and three times more likely than whites to drop out of school, which is supposed to have something to do with it. Anyway, the difference is because this study is talking about assets and the other concerned income.

Naughty doctors

In an item on American healthcare, the Economist claimed,
the question is not so much whether to reform, but how. The Clinton plan a decade ago for universal coverage was defeated by doctors and insurance companies, as well as by Republicans.
Were the doctors against it perhaps because they'd get paid less? The article concludes,
The Bush team also attacks Mr Kerry for adding to the burden of regulation. Small businesses would have to offer costly benefits in order to join the federal employees' health-benefits programme. Overall, say the Republicans, the Kerry plan simply shifts the burden to the taxpayer. But given the unpopularity of the present system, this is a burden that taxpayers sometimes seem ready to bear.

In any case, universal health "insurance" would/will prove to be an unpleasant surprise for the people who discover(ed) that it means you can't cover everything.

Reimporting drugs from Canada wouldn't help

Importing Less Expensive Drugs Not Seen as Cure for U.S. Woes
Because most other industrial countries maintain some kind of price controls on prescription drugs, the United States has a...drug price gap with the rest of the world. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that average prices for patented drugs in 25 other top industrialized nations were 35 percent to 55 percent lower than in the United States.

But the United States market is hard to compare with any other. It represented more than half of the global drug industry's sales of $410 billion last year and was the country in which drug companies make the bulk of their profits. Whatever one thinks of the pricing disparity, efforts to force down American prices to Canadian or European levels could radically change the economics of the pharmaceutical industry - which effectively depends on United States profits for all of its activities, including a substantial portion of its spending on research and development.

American consumers are "subsidizing everyone's R&D," said Mr. Love, the consumer advocate. "We're paying way more than everyone else. Others should pay more."

In testimony before Congress last May, John Vernon, an economist at the University of Connecticut, estimated that dropping drug prices in the United States to the levels in the rest of the world would cut drug companies' investment in research and development by 25 to 30 percent.

Critics of pharmaceutical companies dispute many of their cost estimates, noting that much research spending is squandered on the development of "me too" drugs that are not truly innovative. They argue that drug companies are spending large sums in marketing to persuade patients to demand expensive new medications even when older, cheaper drugs have the same effect.

That is why the critics say the entire drug industry needs to be shaken up. Maybe the United States should pressure other rich countries to raise the prices of their drugs, so they shoulder a higher share of the global research burden. Or maybe, the critics say, the United States needs to join the rest of the world in setting price controls.

The debate over reimporting drugs from Canada does not address any of those issues.
Meanwhile, in
A.M.A. Says Government Should Negotiate on Drugs By ROBERT PEAR,
The American Medical Association says the government should negotiate directly with drug manufacturers to secure lower prices on prescription medicines for the nation's elderly...

The association, often viewed as a conservative voice for organized medicine, is influential on Capitol Hill. It strongly supports Republican efforts to limit damages that can be awarded in medical malpractice lawsuits.
I guess the physicians don't care about research.

Supply and Demand

How U.S. Got Down to Two Makers Of Flu Vaccine By David Brown:
Flu shots are essentially commodities -- identical products made by numerous companies and differing only in price. Because much of the vaccine is bought in huge orders by government agencies, the price is low.

Over three seasons, Wyeth lost $50 million from unsold flu vaccine. It was also facing millions of dollars in required improvements to keep its plant up to standards required by the Food and Drug Administration.

...nobody wants to invest hundreds of millions of dollars and five-to-seven years in building an egg-based vaccine plant when the whole industry is on the verge of switching to a radically new way of making the product...

But technology and science aren't the only things waiting to mature in the world of flu vaccine, experts said. So is social policy.

Gregory Poland, of the Mayo Clinic, favors a system of incentives: Vaccine makers would make a given number of doses of flu vaccine for the private market at their own risk; a given number for government purchase; and an additional amount that the government would agree to buy back at a specified price if there were unsold stocks at the end of the season.
In Federal vaccine policy needs a booster (via Alex Tabarrok), Henry I. Miller blames the bureaucrats:
The fundamental problem is that government regulatory policies and what amounts to price controls discourage companies from investing aggressively to develop new vaccines...

Federal bureaucrats, who seem not to understand the concept of carrots and sticks, can do much to encourage greater production of more vaccines long-term. For example, the CDC, the largest domestic purchaser of vaccines, uses its buying clout to compel deep discounts for purchases.

Arbitrary and excessive regulation also blocks progress....The safety and efficacy of [other] vaccines have been amply demonstrated by regulatory agencies in these countries, with more than 20 million doses administered. Yet the FDA refuses to recognize the foreign approvals.

Moreover, the FDA has a history of removing safe and effective vaccines from the market based merely on perceptions of excessive side effects -- a prospect that terrifies manufacturers.

With Few Suppliers of Flu Shots, Shortage Was Long in Making By DENISE GRADY
This article was reported by Denise Grady, Lizette Alvarez, Gardiner Harris and Andrew Pollack and was written by Ms. Grady...

One reason companies have given up making vaccine, industry officials and other experts say, is the difficulty in meeting regulations for quality control and safety. A change in the approach to regulating vaccine production might also have contributed to problems in meeting the standards...

But Dr. Goodman of the F.D.A. defended its policies, saying that they were the "gold standard" for safety worldwide and that if companies could not measure up or chose not to, it might be better for them to pull out...

Many experts say one way to avert vaccine shortages is to charge more for vaccines, so that more companies will want to produce them. To some extent, that was already starting to happen...

Dr. Robert B. Belshe, director of the center for vaccine development at Saint Louis University, said many experts in infectious diseases and vaccination believe that ultimately, the only way to control influenza will be to vaccinate nearly all school-age children every year...
There seems to be general agreement that the shortage is a problem caused by keeping the price down. As for vaccinating all kids, that's probably a non-starter because of paranoia & Christian Scientists etc., not to mention the cost. What about Reuven Cohen's suggestion of targeting superspreaders (via Tyler Cowen)

Friday, October 15

Stop the Presses!

Days Could Be Numbered for Ex-Guantanamo Kidnapper
Pakistan will hunt down a former Guantanamo Bay inmate who masterminded the abduction of two Chinese engineers, one of whom died after a rescue operation in which five kidnappers were killed, officials said Friday.

Al Qaeda-linked tribesman Abdullah Mehsud directed the six-day hostage drama -- which caused consternation in key ally China -- from a hideout in the hills of the South Waziristan tribal region along the border with Afghanistan, they said...

Abdullah, freed from Guantanamo in March after the Pentagon said he was no longer a threat to the United States, has made little effort to keep a low profile, giving interviews to local journalists throughout the kidnap drama.
You mean some of the Guantanamo Bay inmates actually belonged there? Will the Chinese now ask us to throw away the key?

A Postmodern Eulogy

The contemporary elitist capitalistic racist sexist Francophobic narrative is that Jacques Derrida has undergone the ultimate deconstruction.

But if, as he once suggested, we use postcultural structuralist theory to deconstruct hierarchy, then it could be said that the characteristic theme of this pseudo event is in reality the rubicon of neodialectic bioidentity. In fact, consider this in the context of the fact that he actively promoted the use of predialectic narrative to challenge society, thus contextualising the subject into a neodialectic deconstruction that includes reality as a totality. By this reasoning (bearing in mind that reason is not a road to truth), it could be said that death itself is dead.

Just as Foucault's model of postmaterial patriarchialist theory states that language serves to exploit minorities (and thus serve majorities, such as the dead), so will the inevitability of the ultimate choice, between neodialectic deconstruction and posttextual nihilism.

If one examines predialectic narrative, one is faced with another choice: either accept cultural demodernism or conclude that the significance of the participant, dead or alive, is social comment, given that reality is equal to consciousness, and death is equal to the ultimate unconsciousness. The premise of the capitalist paradigm of discourse suggests that culture is used to entrench outdated, lifeist perceptions of class, including the ultimate oppressed, those no longer even with us, as the current narrative suggests that Derrida is.

Ultimately, that will be his legacy--the destruction of communication, and the decimation of clear thinking in many university English departments.
From Rand Simberg

Unjust French airport complaints

French get a rude French awakening (via Rand Simberg)
Paris' main airport, Charles de Gaulle/Roissy, which handles almost 50 million passengers a year, was singled out for criticism.

Surly staff, slow baggage handlers, a lack of 'Welcome to France' signs, confusing directions, poor transportation connections, slow and dirty trains, and taxi drivers who do not speak English were among the complaints.

The report also attacks immigration officers for giving a bad impression of the country.

'Instead of behaving like ambassadors for France, they don't even respond to 'hello' or a smile,' it says.
OK, surly staff is fair, but who honestly cares about a "Welcome" sign? The directions could be improved a little, but transportation connections are excellent, at least compared to most airports I'm familiar with, and the trains are fairly fast, as long as you get on an express. As for the rudeness of immigration officers, I think that's a problem world wide. Now the collapsing airport is a problem...

Thursday, October 14

This just in

China Digital News listed The words you never see in Chinese cyberspace long before I mentioned them. I couldn't even find them.

Some scientist

Kenyan Nobel peace laureate claims AIDS virus deliberately created
"Some say that AIDS came from the monkeys, and I doubt that because we have been living with monkeys (since) time immemorial, others say it was a curse from God, but I say it cannot be that.

"Us black people are dying more than any other people in this planet," Maathai told a press conference in Nairobi a day after winning the prize for her work in human rights and reversing deforestation across Africa.

"It's true that there are some people who create agents to wipe out other people. If there were no such people, we could have not have invaded Iraq," she said.

"We invaded Iraq because we believed that Saddam Hussein had made, or was in the process of creating agents of biological warfare....In fact it (the HIV virus) is created by a scientist for biological warfare," she added.

"Why has there been so much secrecy about AIDS? When you ask where did the virus come from, it raises a lot of flags. That makes me suspicious," Maathai added...

"We know that the developed nations are using biological warfare, leaving guns to the primitive people," [Kenya's daily] Standard quoted Maathai as telling a public workshop in the central Kenyan town of Nyeri on August 30.

"They have the resources to do this."

"AIDS (is) not a curse from God to Africans or the black people," she said, according to the paper's account of the meeting published a day later.

"It is a tool to control them designed by some evil-minded scientists, but we may not know who particularly did."

Funny the NYT, the WaPo, and NPR all failed to mention this. And even if they believe that deforestation, erosion and climate change
have changed the conditions of life for millions of people, led to hunger and need, created tensions between populations and countries
How could the Nobel Committee have granted her this award? Isn't this extremely irresponsible?

Total Effective Federal Tax Rate

Via, the Total Effective Federal Tax Rate:

In other words, the 20% richest Americans pay nearly a quarter of their income in taxes.

Two thirds

And the 20% richest Americans pay nearly two thirds of all taxes.

Victor Serge

In Run over by history, Nicholas Lezard hails Victor Serge (1890-1947)
The Case of Comrade Tulayev is one of the great 20th-century Russian novels, important not only in its subject matter but in its style.
Though it's being reprinted in English translation, L'affaire Toulaév is still out of print in France.

Everyone is happy

According to Sex is their business, a subscriber-only article about prostitution,
the free movement of labour is as controversial in the sex trade as in any other business....The fact that a very small proportion of women are trafficked—forced into prostitution against their will—has been used to discredit all foreigners in the trade, and by extension (since many sellers of sex are indeed foreign) all prostitutes...

From the left comes the argument that all prostitutes are victims. Its proponents cite studies that show high rates of sexual abuse and drug taking among employees. To which there are two answers. First, those studies are biased: they tend to be carried out by staff at drop-in centres and by the police, who tend to see the most troubled streetwalkers. Taking their clients as representative of all prostitutes is like assessing the state of marriage by sampling shelters for battered women. Second, the association between prostitution and drug addiction does not mean that one causes the other: drug addicts, like others, may go into prostitution just because it's a good way of making a decent living if you can't think too clearly.

A third, more plausible, argument focuses on the association between prostitution and all sorts of other nastinesses, such as drug addiction, organised crime, trafficking and underage sex. To encourage prostitution, goes the line, is to encourage those other undesirables; to crack down on prostitution is to discourage them.

Brothels with brands

Plausible, but wrong. Criminalisation forces prostitution into the underworld. Legalisation would bring it into the open, where abuses such as trafficking and under-age prostitution can be more easily tackled. Brothels would develop reputations worth protecting. Access to health care would improve—an urgent need, given that so many prostitutes come from diseased parts of the world. Abuses such as child or forced prostitution should be treated as the crimes they are, and not discussed as though they were simply extreme forms of the sex trade, which is how opponents of prostitution and, recently, the governments of Britain and America have described them.
In a letter to the editor, one Dave West responds in part, must reconsider whether your argument misses a bigger picture. Perhaps no one in the room is harmed. What is likely to be harmed is family.
I thought of that when I saw Call Girls, Updated By ANDREW JACOBS. The Madam, Mae Lee
claims it is not just about the money. In a society with so many fraying marriages, Mae Lee says her services help keep families intact.

"Men have their needs," she said, adding that it is better for a husband to seek satisfaction through a no-strings-attached prostitute than through a marriage-wrecking mistress. That philosophy, she says, partly explains why she closes shop in the evening and on weekends.

"I want these guys to go home after work and spend time with their families," she said. "That way everyone is happy."

The poor

In A Poverty Issue Left Untouched Robert J. Samuelson, one of Tyler Cowen's favorite economics columnists writes,
Hispanics account for most of the increase in poverty...

To state the obvious: Not all Hispanics are immigrants, and not all immigrants are Hispanic. Still, there's no mystery here. If more poor and unskilled people enter the country -- and have children -- there will be more poverty...

Now, this poverty may or may not be temporary. Some immigrants succeed quickly; others do not. But if the poverty persists -- and is compounded by more immigration -- then it will create mounting political and social problems. One possibility: a growing competition for government benefits between the poor and baby boomer retirees.
I dunno. Their poverty is a problem because we insist on seeing as a problem. Assuming he's right and we're talking about immigrants, they've come to the US because conditions here are better than where they were. So as long as they remember to compare with life back home, they won't be so resentful. Plus if they're illegal, they can't vote anyway. Hey, it's a win-win situation...until their kiddies are born here as American citizens and become as lazy and resentful as the rest of us.

The Economist says, speaking of education ,
Latino teenagers are twice as likely as blacks and three times more likely than whites to drop out of school.
(Latinos, not Hispanics--the Economist is pc!). It also says of education that it
is a major determinant of both poverty rates and the growth of inequality. The median earnings of those with a high-school diploma or less have declined over the past 25 years, while those with college and graduate degrees have seen a sharp increase.
So the poverty of latinhispanicos is also a cultural problem.

Economic Illiteracy

In Economic Illiteracy Quadrifecta,
Arnold Kling writes:
Kerry implies that outsourcing is inherently bad and ought to be curtailed as much as possible. Criticism of outsourcing appeals to two economically illiterate prejudices: anti-foreign bias and make-work bias. Anti-foreign bias is the belief that we benefit from economic activity more when it involves people who look and speak the way we do than when it involves people from different tribes or cultures. Make-work bias is the belief that if the economy becomes too productive, there will not be enough jobs.
To be fair, Kling also says,
It would be a mistake to blame Senator Kerry personally. Clearly, he represents the political market at work. Economically illiterate rhetoric on the part of politicians is not stupid. It is what the public deserves.
He also directs the reader to Bryan Caplan's Straight Talk About Economic Literacy, which criticizes the economic illiteracy among Americans. (That's not surprising, since in the academy so many professors are still enamored of Marx.)

Freud? You've got to be kidding!

In his Op-Ed What Derrida Really Meant, Mark C. Taylor writes, "In a manner reminiscent of Freud, Mr. Derrida insists that what is repressed does not disappear but always returns to unsettle every construction, no matter how secure it seems." Invoking Freud is hardly a recommendation to me. It's nearly as bad as invoking one of the Marxists or Jesus. As far as I'm concerned, their thinking has either been discredited, or only shows what most people believe at a certain time.

Wednesday, October 13

China fattens

China's obesity rate doubles in 10 years to 60 million people
China's first comprehensive national survey on diet, nutrition and diseases found that 7.1 percent of Chinese adults were obese and 22.8 percent were overweight, Wang Longde, China's vice minister of health told a news conference.

An estimated 200 million of China's population of around 1.3 billion were overweight, Wang said...

Having themselves suffered from inadequate food in their youth, grandparents and parents often stuff young children with excessive amounts of food.

Less physical activity -- with fewer Chinese having to do physical labor for a living and many now driving cars instead of cycling or walking -- has also contributed to problems of overweight, obesity, diabetes and abnormal blood lipid levels, the study found.

Tuesday, October 12

More movies

We started to watch Seul contre tous (I Stand Alone; 1998), but I found its banging scene changes and moody narrator so annoying we stopped watching before he did any of those terrible things. It looks like the director Gaspar Noé is just trying to epater le bourgeois, so not watching was very bourgeois of me. Instead we watched Sexy Beast (2000), which we enjoyed. Ben Kingsley was great. Our favorite quote:
Gal : I am going to have to turn this opportunity down.
Don : No, you are going to have to turn this opportunity yes!
It was funnier than Muriel's Wedding (1994), which really wasn't funny at all. I don't understand what the critics liked about it. Toni Collette was very familiar, but I had to look her up to know where I'd seen her.