Friday, December 31

In favor of protecting their own intellectual property

Chinese Court Rules Against Nike in Suit:
Internet cartoonist Zhu Zhiqiang had sought $240,000 in compensation from Nike as well as a public apology for allegedly copying his "Little Match Man" illustration in one of its worldwide ad campaigns.

A Beijing court ruled Wednesday in Zhu's favor, ordering Nike to pay $36,000 in compensation and issue a public apology to Zhu, the China Daily newspaper said.

"I got what I wanted - confirmation on my copyright over my stickman," Zhu was quoted as saying.

Zhang Zaiping, a lawyer for the Beaverton, Ore.-based Nike, had argued that the image used by Nike was a common symbol not entitled to protection under copyright law.

"From mural and stone paintings in ancient times to Sherlock Holmes stories, the logo has been used repeatedly," Zhang was quoted as saying in an earlier China Daily report.

The stick figure logo for Nike's "Creativity in Sports" campaign was designed by an American advertising company in 2002 for $3 million.

Nike plans to appeal the ruling, the paper said.

The case is an unusual reversal of roles for China, which has frequently been criticized by the United States for being lax about protecting patents and other intellectual property.

The country's thriving industry in product piracy routinely violates copyrights, trademarks and patents on movies, designer clothes and other goods, despite promises by Beijing to crack down.
The report links to Zhu Zhiqiang's

Thursday, December 23

It's not just exercise

Fitness Doesn't Negate Risk of Fatness by Rob Stein:
Physical activity can offset some of the harmful health consequences of being overweight but cannot fully erase them, according to the biggest study to examine the relative benefits of being fit vs. fat.

The study of more than 115,000 female nurses found that weight and activity levels are both powerful predictors of longevity, and that being either overweight or sedentary independently increases the risk of death.

But the study concluded that the healthiest people are those who are both thin and physically active, a blow to those who have argued that fitness is more important than fatness and can offset the risks of being overweight.

What does he expect him to do?

Chinese Leader Chides Hong Kong Officials:
"You should summarize your experience, look for shortcomings and constantly raise your governance ability," Hu told Tung and his delegation. "You should boost your unity and spirit of working together in the same boat."
Hu Jintao is either a bastard or an ignoramus. Not that I'm a particular fan of Tung Chee-hwa's, but governing a semi-open society like Hong Kong's isn't easy, even if you manage to partially suppress the democratic vote.

Tuesday, December 21


Michael Fumento insists that dioxin is not a human carcinogen and not much of a poison, either. Although I've got to say that citing a lawyer's expert witness doesn't give me a lot of confidence.

Identity crisis?

In Fundamentalism begins at home, Josie Appleton discusses Olivier Roy's Globalised Islam: The Search for a New Ummah (ummah = community):
Most of the 9/11 ringleaders were 'born again' Muslims, who went to secular schools, had spent time in the West, and had cut themselves off from their families and communities. Judging by the documents they left behind, they had invented a bizarre set of religious prescriptions for themselves - instructions for the attacks included to 'wear tight socks' and 'blow your breath on yourself and on your belongings' (1). Such nihilistic violence cannot be understood in conventional religious or political terms - instead, it seems to be an individual's demonstration of the strength of their faith...

At the other pole we've seen the rise of Islam as a consumerist lifestyle choice...

While the French press sees headscarves as the symbol of a foreign and patriarchal culture, the girls themselves put it in terms of personal choice: 'this is my right', or 'nobody can tell me what to wear'. If young Western Muslims use traditional greetings, wear traditional clothes or eat Halal food this is more the result of identity politics than a pristine cultural survival.

...'To say assalamu alaikum in Afghan Persian is vernacular', [Roy] writes, 'but to use it when speaking French [or English] is to display an ostentatious, quite exotic and even provocative religious belonging'. This is about the projection of a confrontational identity against mainstream society, little different from gay/black/anti-globalisationist identities chosen by other young people.

Changes in Islam parallel changes in other religions. 'We are in an age of fundamentalism', Roy tells me. 'In Christian religious revival we find the same basic tenants as in Islam - individualisation, the generational gap, "born again", bypassing religious authority.' Evangelicals also emphasise personal religious experience rather than community ties, and promise to mitigate people's dissatisfaction with modern life. seems that rather than representing a social group or interest, religion expresses the breakdown of social ties. It is prompted by individuals' experience of dislocation - their search for a community and rules by which to live their life - which is something that seems to exist across society.
But I'm not so sure about this:
So why is modern Islam viewed as an exotic, historical throwback? 'It is a way to defend an imaginary Western identity', Roy tells me. 'We are using Islam as the Other to avoid discussing the present crisis of identity in the West. Specifically in Europe, there is a crisis of the nation state, because of globalisation and European integration. What does it mean now to be Dutch, French or British? We are confronted with the crisis of national identity, and we tend to blame Islam.'

The Idiot Said

Noel Malcolm's review of The Absent-Minded Imperialists by Bernard Porter includes these gems:
So confident are modern writers in the omnipresence of imperialism that specific references to the Empire are not in fact required: thus one modern art critic has identified an imperialist theme in Constable's painting Hadleigh Castle on the grounds that the Thames Estuary (shown in the background) "represents" British expansion into the rest of the world. (Being a tidal estuary, it might just as well represent the expansion of the rest of the world into Britain – but never mind.)

When the late Edward Said put forward his theory that the English novel was essentially the expression of an imperialist culture, his supporters were quite untroubled by the fact that there was scarcely a single major novel between Defoe and Kipling that had a contemporary colonial setting. The failure to mention the Empire was itself, according to Said, an act of imperialist "marginalising". Heads he wins, tails his opponents lose.
Yeah, I notice a lot of American's don't speak Chinese. Marginalizers!

Monday, December 20


One Good Thing mentions her Mao calendar. I can't say I'm totally opposed to Mao kitsch, but it's an inconsistency for people to forgive Commie kitsch but not Nazi kitsch. Anyway via that I discovered column fodder with a post on early Min guo advertising posters, which follows this one about adoption classes:
I couldn't bring myself to write about them. Remember how the social workers were supposed to never stop slapping us? Well, I think it's going to be mutual.

As the details recede (as much as they can, considering all the notes we took), what remains, in brief, is guilt-mongering and more guilt-mongering, multi-cultural-sensitivity variety. What do we, the prospective adoptive parents, have to feel guilty about? What have you got? Being white. Being "rich." Being American. Being infertile. (No way, right? What kind of an asswipe would try to make people feel guilty for being infertile? We'll get back to that). White and Western is Bad. We are Bad.
I've heard about adoptive parents of Chinese children trying to give them some Chinese culture, and it's so pathetic, as any waiguoren who has learned Chinese knows. I didn't realize it was social worker theory. The logic is so strange. So if you adopt a Jewish kid or a Catholic kid, you have to get all Jewey or Catholicky? What if the kid's parents were gay, do you have to act all gayish? And for the normal child of blind parents, put on a blindfold? (Bang! Ouch!) Or for the normal child of retarded parents, you have to act retarded? Well, on consideration, that wouldn't be such a stretch for me.

Thursday, December 16

Kitty Skeleton

One of Michael Paulus' Skeletal Systems (via Areté--even if she links to Foucault)

What? No minorities or females?

Wrenching Tale by an Afghan Immigrant Strikes a Chord
Even after Sept. 11, Afghanistan remains an obscure if not inscrutable place to many Americans, and the book's unsympathetic protagonist and lack of any significant female characters only make it feel more foreign.

People who have read the book, however, speak almost exclusively of how they were touched by its universal themes. "There are so many basic human emotions at work here," said John Tegano, a member of the Palm Beach group.
Universal themes? Naah.

Poetry & Irony

In The America Complex, a review of Amerika: Russian Writers View the United States, Rebecca Reich writes,
In America, poet Grigory Kruzhkov says, mutual respect has destroyed artistic rigor, with people making such an effort to understand each other that they forget how to speak their own language. Try to get an American to parse a poem, Kruzhkov says, with English that has been run through the PC mill. Physicist and critic Anatoly Barzakh blames "the idiocy of 'political correctness,' the marginalization of culture, the flourishing of subcultures" on democracy in general, which undermines rigor and hierarchy by giving equal precedence to all walks of life.
I can't help but agree with that, at least partially.

But most of the contributors
are convinced that they know all there is to know about it: Americans smile too much. They're diligent and efficient, but lack a sense of irony...

With some exceptions, the Russians in this collection conform to a ready-made opinion that is only confirmed by first-hand experience. "On the whole, in principle, there's no real need to travel to America in order to know everything you need to know about it, all that's useful to know for one's possibilities," poet Dmitry Prigov writes.
There's irony for you.

Wednesday, December 15

Something new

Scribbling Woman & One Good Thing


From Down on the Farm by Waldemar Ingdahl:
For some the good life is the so-called "natural" one. This can become difficult to obtain since many domestic animals don't exist in a wild state any longer and are specifically bred for their productive attributes, which makes them very hard to transfer to any type of agriculture other than an industrialized one.

Another interpretation of the good animal life is about physiological balance. The easiest way to measure the welfare of the animals is the mortality degree of the livestock, because other measures are more difficult to implement rationally.

For example, organic egg production systems, for example, have a significantly higher mortality rate for chickens than the cage system. In the organic systems diseases are more easily spread through feathers and excrement (i.e. salmonella, which is endemic to poultry) and chicken cannibalism is more difficult to prevent. The risk of injuries increases when beak trimming is banned, and the hens can hurt each other more easily in their pecking-order fights. The use of extensive preventive medication is extremely important for poultry (including antibiotics), but it isn't allowed in organic farming, which leads to coccidiose, a parasitic intestinal infection. The hens may live a more natural life, but succumb in greater numbers to a painful disease.

Still others suggest that a good life for the animals is to avoid pain and other suffering. The important point is if the animals themselves, subjectively, can be said to have a good situation. This isn't always that clear-cut, and requires extensive human interpretation.

Consider that animal rights activists have maintained that cattle should have straw on their floors. Sounds sensible enough. The TV images of cattle stumbling about on naked concrete floors in their own feces moved the hearts of millions. But from an environmental point of view these conditions have advantages, since they are easier to rinse, and enable the collection of the enormous quantities of feces in centralized septic tanks.

Free ranging sows rummage the earth, and that quickly peels away the grass layer from the soil. Without the grass layer the pig feces goes directly down in the ground, over-fertilizing it. Many sows get their snouts pierced with a ring, which is painful in itself, but also brings the pig pain when it tries to rummage. The pig's natural behavior is thus stopped through pain, with an unnatural intervention, in order to protect the environment. Free ranging pigs are mainly present in organic agriculture -- go figure.

Sorry, China

The Escalating High-Heel Shoe
Wei-Chieh Tu, a graduate student in industrial design at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, has created an escalating high-heel shoe, the height of which can be set at six different levels, ranging from zero to 38 degrees, with the mere push of a button...

Tu...says he drew inspiration from the elegant, foldable Chinese hand fans he saw his mother and grandmother use when he was a child growing up in Taiwan.
Actually, that design is of Japanese origin.

Long Overdue

China Quietly Rehabilitates Once Reviled Enemy by Benjamin Kang Lim
The issue of Taiwan and a campaign by its president, Chen Shui-bian, to assert sovereignty have prompted Beijing to turn to the Communists' late mortal enemy, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek...

For decades, the Chinese dismissed Chiang, who once ruled all of China, as a "bandit" after his Nationalist troops lost the civil war to Mao's Red Army and fled to Taiwan in 1949...

China has been quietly rehabilitating Chiang as part of a campaign to boost its claim of sovereignty over the self-governed island and stymie attempts by Taiwan's increasingly assertive leaders to push for formal nationhood.

While Chiang's political rehabilitation is far from complete, China now sees the leader who died in Taiwan in 1975 and always clung to the ideal of recovering the mainland as a secondary enemy, if not an ally.

"It's a classic example of 'drawing over one's secondary enemy to strike at one's primary enemy'," historian Bao Zunxin said of the Communists rewriting Chiang's legacy...

China's slow and unusual steps to revise their view of the once-hated generalissimo illustrate their deep distrust of Chen, and are all the more remarkable given the enmity between the Nationalists and Communists dating back to the 1920s.

Chiang campaigned twice to exterminate the Communists, most famously in the 1930s when he drove Mao's forces on a winding retreat that became known as the Long March.

In the years after the revolution, the rivalry between Chiang and Mao was so bitter that neither would recognize the other's government, each claiming to be the sole, legitimate representative of all China...

Mao, who died in 1976, once called his arch-rival "China's No. 1 war criminal." China's history textbooks described Chiang as the "common enemy of the people."

But the Communists now acknowledge Chiang's role as leader of the resistance against Japanese invaders from 1938 to 1945. Previously, most Chinese schoolchildren were told that ill-equipped Red Army guerrillas did all the fighting...

Chiang's China was mired in corruption as the gap between rich and poor widened. In Taiwan, he ruled with an iron fist, jailing critics.

Mao's China saw 30 million people starve to death in a man-made famine, a million intellectuals banished to toil in the countryside and millions more either purged or hounded to death during the chaotic 1966-76 Cultural Revolution...

"In the past, even historical research on Chiang Kai-shek was banned. He was branded a traitor for refusing to fight the Japanese," said Bao, the historian.
This has been a longtime trend, but the fact that the Commies are finally recognizing his role against the Japanese is long overdue.

Be smart! Be original!

While I believe in capitalism, I'm not sure that it belongs in the academy. Erich E. Kunhardt seems to agree
..."academic entrepreneurship" - the patenting and licensing by universities and their faculty - has not become part of the academic mainstream, and is generally viewed within the Ivory Tower as conflicting with the mission of the university. That mission is now often captured by the phrase: "to teach, and to research." I think a third element should be added: "to invent." There are two compelling reasons for broadening the academic mission. First, the university shapes the thinking and outlook of our future workers, and also offers one of the most stable environments for bright Americans to work on new things and sustain our creative leadership. Second, putting an emphasis on invention would enrich the academic community by adding a new dimension of creative expression. Independent of whether inventing can be taught or not, affirming the creative process as a long-term value in the university will serve to stimulate faculty and students alike.
But I'm not sure he understands the humanities:
research - be it empirical exploration in the sciences or writing books in the liberal arts - is now a pillar of the tenure process nearly everywhere...
He has a vague idea they do something, but isn't sure what.
A professor's success at invention must be recognized in his pay and promotion. Unfortunately, for some time now universities have placed more value on patents that bring in revenue than those that might show more originality...
He hopes for an "established peer-review process for evaluating inventions," for a "way to evaluate the academic significance of a new idea beyond its potential economic value."

How is that going to apply to the humanities? More idiotic theoretical shlock.

I'm inclined to agree with Jeffrey J. Williams Here's the Problem With Being So 'Smart':
Another factor in the rise of "smart" has to do with the evolution of higher education since the 1980s, when universities were forced to operate more as self-sustaining entities than as subsidized public ones. As is probably familiar to any reader of The Chronicle, this change has taken a number of paths, including greater pressure for business partnerships, patents, and other sources of direct financing; steep increases in tuition; and the widespread use of adjuncts and temporary faculty members. Without the fiscal cushion of the state, the university has more fully modeled itself on the free market, selling goods, serving consumers, and downsizing labor. It has also internalized the chief protocol of the market: competition. Grafting a sense of fashionable innovation onto intellectual work, smart is perhaps a fitting term for the ethos of the new academic market. It emphasizes the sharpness of the individual practitioner as an autonomous entrepreneur in the market, rather than the consistency of the practice as a brick in the edifice of disciplinary knowledge.

One reason for the multiplicity of our pursuits is not simply our fecundity or our fickleness but the scarcity of jobs, starting in the 1970s and reaching crisis proportions in the 1990s. The competition for jobs has prompted an explosion of publications; it is no longer uncommon for entry-level job candidates to have a book published. (It is an axiom that they have published more than their senior, tenured colleagues.) At the same time, academic publishing has changed. In the past, publishing was heavily subsidized, but in the post-welfare-state university the mandate is to be self-sufficient, and most university presses now depend entirely on sales. Consequently the criterion for publication is not solely sound disciplinary knowledge but market viability. To be competitive, one needs to produce a smart book, rather like an item of fashion.

Smart still retains its association with novelty, in keeping with its sense of immediacy, such that a smart scholarly project does something new and different to attract our interest among a glut of publications. In fact, "interesting" is a complementary value to smart. One might praise a reading of the cultural history of gardens in the 18th-century novel not as "sound" or "rigorous" but as "interesting" and "smart," because it makes a new and sharp connection. Rigor takes the frame of scientific proof; smart the frame of the market, which mandates interest amid a crowd of competitors. Deeming something smart, to use Kant's framework, is a judgment of taste rather than a judgment of reason. Like most judgments of taste, it is finally a measure of the people who hold it or lack it.

Pro and Con


Tuesday, December 14

Consuming fools

Philosophy profs Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter write The Rebel Sell, with some pointed criticisms of those who try to make a show of opting out.
...Welcome to the club, where admission is restricted to clients with the most discriminating taste. How is this any different from Frasier and Niles at their wine club?

What we need to see is that consumption is not about conformity, it’s about distinction. People consume in order to set themselves apart from others. To show that they are cooler (Nike shoes), better connected (the latest nightclub), better informed (single-malt Scotch), morally superior (Guatemalan handcrafts), or just plain richer (bmws)...

Once we acknowledge the role that distinction plays in structuring consumption, it’s easy to see why people care about brands so much. Brands don’t bring us together, they set us apart. Of course, most sophisticated people claim that they don’t care about brands—a transparent falsehood. Most people who consider themselves “anti-consumerist” are extremely brand-conscious. They are able to fool themselves into believing that they don’t care because their preferences are primarily negative. They would never be caught dead driving a Chrysler or listening to Celine Dion. It is precisely by not buying these uncool items that they establish their social superiority. (It is also why, when they do consume “mass society” products, they must do so “ironically”—so as to preserve their distinction.)

As Pierre Bourdieu reminds us, taste is first and foremost distaste—disgust and “visceral intolerance” of the taste of others. This makes it easy to see how the critique of mass society could help drive consumerism. Take, for example, Volkswagen and Volvo advertising from the early 1960s. Both automakers used the critique of “planned obsolescence” quite prominently in their advertising campaigns. The message was clear: buy from the big Detroit automakers and show everyone that you’re a dupe, a victim of consumerism; buy our car and show people that you’re too smart to be duped by advertising, that you’re wise to the game.
However, I'm not much impressed with their solution
society-wide solution to the problem of consumerism is not going to occur through personal or cultural politics. At this stage of late consumerism, our best bet is legislative action. If we were really worried about advertising, for example, it would be easy to strike a devastating blow against the “brand bullies” with a simple change in the tax code. The government could stop treating advertising expenditures as a fully tax-deductible business expense....
People would still want to assert that they were better than others.

Am I insane?

In Santa Pause (via Tyler Cowen), Kathy Lally writes of research by Ravi Dhar, co-director of the Center for Customer Insights at the Yale School of Management, and Joel Huber, a professor at Duke's business school:
Dhar says a shopper looking for something utilitarian, such as an umbrella, sets off quite rationally, considering price and value. But as soon as he decides to buy it, something happens. He shifts gears, lurching into buying mode.

"It's a change in mindset," Dhar says. "You go from carefully weighing pros and cons to buying. You don't stop to think. You get into a frenzied mindset. You start looking for things to buy."

That utilitarian purchase, he says, apparently gives you the justification to do something fun. "Essentials drive momentum," he says.

To quote the study: "Shopping momentum arises from this reasonable idea that shopping has an inertial quality, that there is a hurdle to shift from browsing to shopping, which, once crossed, makes further purchases more likely."

Huber describes the first stage as a period of evaluation.

"Suppose I'm in the mall and I'm looking around. I'm in Bed, Bath & Beyond, and I see a pillow that's perfect for my Aunt Polly.

"Until that moment, you're in 'browsing mode.' Someone comes up to you and asks, 'Can I help you?' You say, 'I'm just looking.' But as soon as you decide to make that purchase, things change.

"As long as you are in browsing mode, you have the brakes on. But once you make that first decision, the brakes come off and you are in 'buy mode.' That's when you purchase too much. Next thing you know, you have a whole basket of pillows, and you're wondering why you bought them."

Fortunately, Dhar and Huber have found a most pleasant way to head off the momentum. Make your first purchase a guilty pleasure, and something akin to remorse takes hold. Your subsequent purchases are restrained, and you emerge from your shopping trip within budget and bounds.

"This is one of the more surprising things," Huber says. "If your first purchase is a guilty pleasure, you don't go into that next mode. Maybe it's an ice cream cone. . . . It's something you want but you don't want to want."

Somehow, initial indulgence leads to prudence...

"If you start by buying something you really need, something for the house, perhaps, that makes the momentum larger," Dhar says. "There's a feeling you can reward yourself in some sense. If you start with something that is guilt-inducing, you are more likely to stop. It acts as a deterrent."

Another trick, he says, is to shop in stores with multiple checkout counters. If you take all your purchases to one counter, you tend to buy more.

"We speculate that multiple checkout counters disrupt the momentum," Dhar says. "If you have to open your wallet and pay again, that can make you stop."

Huber says the study shows that people tend to be in either purchase mode or evaluation mode. "The trick is, once you decide to purchase something, go back into evaluation mode," he says. "Don't let yourself say, 'I solved it,' and then fill up the shopping cart."

Once you leave evaluation mode, Huber says, you not only tend to buy more than you might want, but you stop caring as much about the price. "You're simply saying, 'It's time to buy.'"
I only buy what I need; I don't think I ever go into what they call "buying mode". At most I've bought a couple of books that I don't need at the time, but I do ultimately read them. The only time I'm tempted to let myself go is when the things for sale seem ridiculousy cheap. So if most everyone else can't control themselves, I guess I'm the crazy one.

The Emperor used hemp

According to Dominic Kennedy,
The first toilet paper was produced by the Bureau of Imperial Supplies in China, which made 720,000 sheets measuring 2ft by 3ft, for the emperor, in AD 1391.
Or is it according to Toiletpaperworld, which also notes,
Fiber paper was the first kind of paper, and the first batch was made out of hemp in ancient China. Fiber paper is thin, tough, brittle, and a bit rough.
Ouch. Anyway, that would be 朱元璋 Zhū Yuánzhāng, the 洪武 Hóngwǔ Emperor (r. 1368-1398).

It's not just wages

Bangladesh Is Surviving to Export Another Day by Keith Bradsher, without quotas to ensure access, quality and modernity will count as much as, if not more than, low wages. Poor countries will have to compete on the scale and skill of their factories and on the efficiency of their roads, ports and electrical grids. Most of the cost of clothing lies not in the labor but in the logistics of moving it to stores for sale, so low manufacturing wages by themselves are not enough. the longer run, the survival of the garment industry in Bangladesh and other developing countries depends upon how well governments respond to the demands of the global market. That will be affected, in part, by how much they invest in roads, ports and electricity grids; in the past, such infrastructure has been starved of investment here and elsewhere.

Another take on outsourcing

According to a report on CBS news last night,
The Chinese are learning to love WalMart....and there are benefits for Americans who have more because Chinese goods cost less. [Kenneth Lieberthal says that] people with more modest incomes buy what they want at WalMart and buy more of it.
The report continues,
China makes goods for less because Chinese labor costs less.
After noting that Chinese workers make 64¢ cents an hour while Americans make over $21, he points out,
...Many Americans are afraid that China's growth will cost more American jobs, but the experts say those low-paying jobs are gone forever. If China doesn't do them, the work will not shift back to the United States; it will go to other low-wage countries across Asia.
The report goes on to state that China is increasingly importing plenty of American goods. I didn't watch much of CBS news during the election, but I wonder if they broadcast such a report then. Anyway, even if they didn't want to shine a light on Kerry's nonsense over outsourcing, it's better late than never.

Monday, December 13

Bush is stupid! Nya, nya!

Thomas L. Friedman writes Iraq, Ballots and Pistachios
If only we could call the Iraqi election, "A Seminar on the European Defense Initiative: Why NATO Is passé and E.D.I. Is the Future"; then we could get thousands of Europeans to take part. If only we could call the Iraqi elections, "A Seminar on George Bush and Genghis Khan: Why Bush Is Worse"; then the Arab League would send so many people, we'd be turning them away. We'd be talking pay-per-view on Al Jazeera.

Hey, look, I have no idea what sort of government the Iraqis might elect. I believe it's their first step in a thousand-mile journey to make that country something halfway decent and normal. But I do know this: There are a lot of Iraqis who would really like the chance to vote on their future, just once, and there is a virulent minority that is butchering people there just so they can never have that chance. Yes, the Bush team's incompetence in securing Iraq is a travesty. But even with all that said, is it such a hard call for Arabs and Europeans to figure out on whose side they should be? Do these people really feel good about not lifting a finger?
Of course many of them feel good about not helping Bush. For them it's all about teaching him a lesson. For others, at the very least it's about not wanting to be seen helping him.

Sunday, December 12

Harry M. Reid's ignorance

Incoming Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.)
rejected a push to privatize a portion of Social Security, saying it was but the latest in a long string of Republican efforts to dismantle the program. "They are trying to destroy Social Security by giving this money to the fat cats on Wall Street, and I think it's wrong," he said.
Aside from the fact that this shows an appalling ignorance of investing (probably feigned to whip up populist fervor), shouldn't those who own "this money" be able to decide what is done with it?

Another disappointment

I have now watched Blithe Spirit (1945) twice, and I didn't like it either time. The Emperor's New Clothes (2002) was a nice change, but it felt like something was missing. I really wanted to like it because I'm a great fan of Simon Leys, who wrote Chinese shadows, as well as The Death of Napoleon, the book the movie was based on. I can't say exactly why I liked Enigma (2002). Maybe because it was done with subtlety, emphasizing mood or because I liked the look and feel of a classic British spy thriller and it made me feel as if somebody out there still has some vague notion of how to make a commercial movie.

Saturday, December 11

KMT "upset"

That's what they called on NPR this morning. In Taiwan Vote May Boost Independence, Edward Cody called them
legislative elections likely to reinforce President Chen Shui-bian's drive to bestow more trappings of independence on this self-governing island....

The opposition Nationalist Party and its allies in the People First Party, which have acted as a parliamentary brake on Chen's presidency for the past four years, are likely to lose their majority in the 225-member Legislative Yuan, according to analysts and polling data.

In campaign speeches across Taiwan's 29 electoral districts, Chen's independence policies have been the main issue, eclipsing such local concerns as schools and roads.
I note the "Democracy School" candidate lost in Kaohsiung. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, given the quasi-feudal support for relatives of corrupt city government candidates last summer. Meanwhile, I'm guessing that Chen will refuse to concede defeat. Shades of "Feel-Good Politics".

In Pro-Independence Parties Defeated in Taiwan, Keith Bradsher writes,
The loss by candidates of President Chen's Democratic Progressive Party, usually known as the D.P.P., is especially significant because it comes after nearly two decades of steadily rising support for pro-independence candidates...

D.P.P. officials said that campaign decisions had hurt them. Chang Chun-hsing, the D.P.P.'s secretary general, said that the party had nominated too many candidates in many multi-seat districts, so that the candidates took votes from each other and few received enough to win seats. Lee Ying-yuan, one of the two deputy secretaries general, said that D.P.P. supporters in these districts had voted in such large numbers for their party's weaker candidates that the strong candidates failed to receive enough votes.
Feel good?

Feel-Good Politics

Chris Suellentrop discusses The therapeutic activism of
...MoveOn, despite all appearances, has never been about practical politics. Rather, it's an exercise in group therapy.

There are worse things to do in life than make people feel good, but most political organizations—especially ones that spend more than $30 million during an election and get called a left-wing Christian Coalition—have more concrete goals. MoveOn, however, isn't an organization so much as an outlet. It's a network of aggrieved liberals, connected by the central nervous system of the Internet, and it enables its members to convince themselves they're "doing something" when they're really not.

...MoveOn doesn't merit any blame for Kerry's defeat. It just deserves to be added to the long list of Internet bubbles that were inflated by unrealistic media expectations and self-created hype.

...Beyond the presidential campaign, only four of the 26 candidates endorsed by MoveOn won their elections this year. Since its creation in 1998, it's hard to come up with a single significant political achievement that can be credited to MoveOn. It did nothing to stop the impeachment of President Clinton, the event that galvanized the group into existence. Nor could it stop the recall of California Gov. Gray Davis, the war in Iraq, congressional redistricting in Texas, or the election of President Bush. During the presidential campaign, MoveOn received its heaviest dose of publicity for a failure of sorts, when CBS rejected its proposed Super Bowl ad. Dean was mocked for placing a distant third in Iowa. MoveOn just keeps moving on.

...The group declares its actions to be a success when it organizes its members to call a congressional office every five minutes, or to circulate an e-mail, instead of when one of its political aims is achieved. MoveOn has turned itself into a perpetual motion machine, one that's great at inspiring its members to engage in the political version of treadmill running but never goes anywhere.

"They say they want to mobilize Democrats, but it doesn't seem like they have any infrastructure to do so," an aide to one of the Democratic presidential candidates told me. "It seems that they run ads to build name recognition, so they can raise money, so they can run more ads." If the goal is to energize the Democratic base, MoveOn isn't even succeeding at that, the aide complained. They're "just exciting a finite universe of hysterical liberals."

In the days after Sept. 11, Americans wanted to do something, anything to help those who had been struck by tragedy. So they did something: They gave blood, and they went home feeling better about themselves, knowing they had done their part. Later, they found out that the country had given so much that, more than likely, their contribution was thrown away. During the therapeutic politics of the 2004 presidential campaign, MoveOn was the Red Cross: It made liberals feel better, but all those $50 contributions were wasted.
I thought of that when I read Dan Balz's DNC Chief Advises Learning From GOP:
The new chairman [of the Democratic National Committee] faces frustration among state leaders, who complain that the national party has neglected them, and a possible revolt from grass-roots activist groups such as, which say they are determined to wrest control from corporate and Washington-based interests.

Blue collar jobs

With reference to choosing a college major, had a report on the paucity of skilled blue-collar workers. Some of the salaries they mentioned were higher than mine: a mid-career humanities PhD.

Friday, December 10

Do not spoil what you have

Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; but remember that what you now have was once among the things only hoped for.

--Epicurus (341 BC - 270 BC)

Scaring Ourselves

Homeland: Already Secure?--Wondering why we've been largely terror-free since 9/11 by Brian Doherty:
...the entire Homeland Security apparatus may be more about scaring ourselves and wasting our collective energy than providing a vital national service. Mueller points out that, given its rarity and comparative lack of real impact in America (yes, even after factoring in 9/11), perhaps Americans are overly fearful and aiming too many resources at trying to stave off a terror menace that might not even be out there.

As Bart Kosko noted in a Los Angeles Times op-ed back in September, in contradiction to the argument that diligent federal efforts have kept us safe since 9/11, "the comparative absence of terrorism could just as easily (and I believe more reasonably) support the very different conclusion that we have overestimated—grossly overestimated—the terrorist threat. We may be winning a war against terrorism simply because there are few terrorists out there posing a serious threat to the U.S." (See the New York article for more insights on the obvious difficulties of finding willing suicide terrorists.)

Mueller lays out the comparative risks of air terror in the 9/11 manner and driving, noting that we'd need a set of 9/11-level tragedies each month for the risks of flying to become the same as those of driving. He points out that even the superterror weapons we were frightened about with regard to Iraq—chemical and biological ones—have never proven to be very effective killers...

The opportunity costs of this fight, in resources, energy, and know-how—and in our civil rights—are enormous.
Something similar here.

Death is nothing to us

In Letter to Menoeceus, Epicurus wrote:
Accustom yourself to believing that death is nothing to us, for good and evil imply the capacity for sensation, and death is the privation of all sentience; therefore a correct understanding that death is nothing to us makes the mortality of life enjoyable, not by adding to life a limitless time, but by taking away the yearning after immortality. For life has no terrors for him who has thoroughly understood that there are no terrors for him in ceasing to live. Foolish, therefore, is the man who says that he fears death, not because it will pain when it comes, but because it pains in the prospect. Whatever causes no annoyance when it is present, causes only a groundless pain in the expectation. Death, therefore, the most awful of evils, is nothing to us, seeing that, when we are, death is not come, and, when death is come, we are not. It is nothing, then, either to the living or to the dead, for with the living it is not and the dead exist no longer.
So what about the death penalty? And on the other hand, what about terrorism?

Freedom and Responsibility

In The Last Gaffe?, ironically subtitled "The president's chief economic adviser has a problem with the truth", Jacob Sullum writes,
Restoring to Americans the freedom and responsibility to save and invest for their own retirements is a fine idea, and over the long term it will permit better returns than are promised under current law. Total "benefits" will be higher, even if the portion paid by the government is reduced based on the amount diverted to personal accounts.

The Left and the Islamists

By Joshua Kurlantzick:
Over the past century, [David Horowitz] argues, the radical Left in Europe and the U.S. has come to define itself as a “movement against, rather than a movement for.” Primarily, of course, its target has been the United States, no matter what the United States has stood for...

The real and imagined evils of globalization have breathed new life into the international Left, especially among the young. The social dislocation brought about by trade, outsourcing, and economic integration has proved to be a potent issue. But radicals have not rested content with protesting the policies they dislike. They have also sought villains, and they have found familiar ones: America and the Jews.

How useless is Google?

I'm #1 for Maoist radical. (But it's nice to be #1 for something, like Ah Q, the foremost self-belittler.)

Wednesday, December 8

401k's & Social Security Reform

Joe Nocera is editorial director of Fortune magazine and author of A Piece of the Action, which he describes in this NPR interview as
a very optimistic book about what I called the democratization of money because I really thought this was a great thing, that people were going to have this freedom to make the kind of investments that the big boys had always been able to make.
But in the same interview, he says,
I'm a little chagrinned about my optimism because I think what the last 10 years have shown is that investing requires a cast of mind and, I might add, Scott, a stomach that most people don't have...
He seems skeptical of the relevance of the Chilean model: hear the Chilean executives speak of it, it's done quite well. They claim that investors in that country have made on average a 10 percent return and it has really become part of the fabric of Chile. Now maybe they invest better than we do, but also there seem to be considerable limits on the source of investments people can make and they seem to go out of their way to keep people from making really, really stupid mistakes. Which just seems slightly unlikely to happen here.
Apparently he thinks that's unlikely because of a study done by the consulting firm of Watson Wyatt, which he says shows
that over the last three years pension funds--that is what are called defined benefit plans, which are managed professionally--have outperformed 401(k)s by a considerable margin, 3 and 4 percent at a time, which is a lot.
The performance of 401(k)s seems to have been what changed his mind:
I think what the last 10 years have shown is that investing requires a cast of mind and, I might add, Scott, a stomach that most people don't be able to accept loss, to understand risk. We're emotional about our investments. It's our money. We care about it a lot. And it's not that hard to become informed about investments on the Internet but it really does take a lot of time and you constantly have to pay attention to it. And most people don't have that time.
I strongly disagree. Starting with the final point, I believe the individual investor should avoid spending lots of time checking their investment
should simply decide on how they want to allocate their assets between various mutual funds, and then check their investments once or twice a year, rebalancing them to regain the original allocation. That doesn't take much time. Part of the reason that 401k's performed so poorly is that many employees hold large amounts of their employer's stock, which most advisors agree is a bad idea. As Watson Wyatt says,
Investment efficiency, which is driven by participant behavior, is the hardest component for a plan sponsor to improve. By definition, investment efficiency would improve if employees diversified their holdings of employer stock. To this end, effective communication and education are essential. Participants need to learn the importance of maintaining a diversified portfolio that meets their risk tolerance and investment horizon.
Nocera apparently assumes that investors in private social security accounts could invest in individual stocks, including their own employers'. This is unlikely.

What's in your pocket?

Choosing a College Major: For Love or for the Money? by David Koeppel:
In their recently published "College Majors Handbook With Real Career Paths and Payoffs" (Jist Publishing), three economists from Northeastern University in Boston try to quantify just how much students with a variety of majors can expect to earn in their careers. The authors concluded that choosing a major was more crucial to future financial success than the college attended.

One of the authors, Paul E. Harrington, an economist and associate director at the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern, said that, on average, humanities and education majors fared far worse financially than students in business or engineering.

In 2002, workers with degrees in chemical engineering and accounting were on the high end, earning an average of $75,579 and $63,486, respectively. On the low end, philosophy majors made an average of $42,865 and elementary education graduates $38,746...

A danger in the Northeastern economists' research, [Peter Vogt, a career counselor in Minneapolis] said, is that it adds to the "mythology" that only dollar figures are important in choosing a field of study, and it does not account for differences in personality, aptitude, interest and values.
What's in my pocket? Not a whole lot of cash.

Why go to college at all?

Evil Landlords

A Chinese History of Dispossession and Exploitation by Jim Yardley:
Even today, farmers in China have few property rights.

Twenty-five years ago, Deng Xiaoping unleashed the second big Chinese revolution by dissolving the communes and allowing farming households to keep the profits from anything they produced beyond state-set quotas. Farmers were granted leases, not ownership, to the land they worked. But the shift to household-based farming brought an immediate rise in rural incomes. At the time, it meant farmers were the first beneficiaries of economic reform in China.

By the 1990's, land reform focused on urban areas and granted city dwellers greater rights than farmers. Technically, the government maintained ownership of urban land as well. But a private real estate market was created for nearly everything built on that land. This set off a development boom that has raised fears of a bubble but made home ownership an essential investment for many urban residents. Farmers have been excluded, unable to own their own land or to buy in cities.

Urban expansion has made outlying farmland an inviting target for city governments. Cities like Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou have grown by annexing huge swaths of land. Smaller cities in every corner of the country have done the same.

In some cases, particularly in wealthier coastal provinces, farming villages have managed to negotiate fair compensation for confiscated land. Some have even transformed themselves into "urban villages" that rent land for profit. But more often, farmers have been exploited and even terrorized.

In October, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao announced administrative reforms to insure fairer compensation for farmers who lose land and to also make local governments more accountable to Beijing on land transactions. This year, the central government is already paying farmers direct subsidies to expand grain production. And Mr. Wen has ordered a gradual elimination of farm taxes.

But the long-term effectiveness of these changes is unclear.

The new land policy replaces earlier reforms that were also supposed to reduce illegal land seizures. A temporary freeze on economic development zones was lifted in November and already it appears that local governments are pushing forward with land grabs. More significantly, the new reforms do not address the fundamental issue of rural land ownership.

The elimination of farm taxes is putting pressure on local governments to find other sources of revenue. One response has been to seize rural land for development projects that generate fees and taxes. One study found that governments now take in more than 10 times as much from land transaction fees as from taxes on farmers.

Farmers, then, are starting to pay fewer taxes. But millions of them are losing their land in the process.

They did it on purpose

Nike's Ad Flap in Asia Reveals Strategy by Rukmini Callimachi
While Nike quickly backtracked and apologized for the ads, the manufacturer has a history of edgy sales messages - a strategy that has helped endear Nike to youth by positioning the company as a corporate rebel.

"Nike has a well-deserved reputation for sailing close to the edge in its advertising - so it's no surprise that a Nike ad courts controversy," said marketing professor John Quelch, a senior associate dean at the Harvard Business School.

Controversy has been one of many ways in which Nike has made its brand stand out, a strategy company officials have been blunt about in the past...

In China, the TV commercial offended government regulators because it showed an American sports icon defeating the dragon, a symbol of Chinese culture, and the martial arts master, a symbol of national pride...

...Nike spokeswoman Shelley Peng said the ads, while upsetting to older consumers, were also popular with teens.
In China, an About-Face on AIDS Prevention: Once-Reluctant Government Increasingly Promoting Efforts to Battle Spread of Disease by Edward Cody:
As late as the 1990s, statistics showed the disease was largely confined to intravenous drug users and a group of peasants who became infected when they sold their blood. But the number of those known to be infected by HIV has climbed by 75 percent annually over the last four years, reaching an officially estimated 840,000 and, specialists say, probably many more.

More alarming, they say, the proportion infected through sexual contact has also risen sharply, presenting a danger that AIDS will break into the general population -- the world's largest -- and spread in a pattern seen with devastating consequences in Africa. If that happens, the Joint United Nations Program on AIDS has warned, China could have 10 million to 20 million people infected with HIV by 2010.

Openly combating AIDS has not come easily to the governing Communist Party. Since taking over in 1949, it had largely eradicated prostitution, imposing a civic code in which drug use or sexual promiscuity were taboo. Even to deal with AIDS, officials at all levels have found it hard to acknowledge that prostitution is now booming, as are intravenous drug use and promiscuity.

In addition, discussing prostitution and condom use is out of place in much of the country's traditional rural society. The 60 percent of the population that lives in villages and small towns includes millions who travel to big cities temporarily to look for work, often as single men.

A Health Ministry survey issued last month showed that only a fraction of the population understands how AIDS is transmitted and that fewer than half are aware of the role of condoms in reducing the risk of infection. About 59 percent of those queried said they would not work with an HIV-infected colleague for fear of contracting the disease, the ministry reported.

Peasants are not alone in their attitudes. An announcement by Beijing municipal authorities that they would hand out free condoms on college campuses generated immediate counter-announcements by Beijing University and Tsinghua University. Officials at the country's two most prestigious universities said they would not allow condoms to be distributed on campus because it would be tantamount to authorizing premarital sex.

Tuesday, December 7

A Trickle of Outrage

From Reuters: China Kicks Up a Fuss Over Nike Footwear Ad
China has kicked up a stink over a Nike footwear advertisement in which U.S. basketball star LeBron James takes on and subdues a series of traditional Chinese characters ranging from a cartoon kung fu master to a couple of dragons.

Nike Inc. and James have been named the first targets in China's new censorship drive aimed at keeping advertising deemed offensive off the air.

China's State Administration of Radio, Film and Television on Monday ordered stations nationwide to stop broadcasts of Nike's "LeBron James in Chamber of Fear" advertisements that it said had sparked anger and claims of offending "national feelings."

In the advertisement, James, 19, a forward for the Cleveland Cavaliers, makes easy work of animated enemies including a white-haired kung fu master, two women in traditional Chinese garb and the pair of dragons as he ascends the video game-like levels of the "Chamber."

"The ad has aroused strong public indignation," said a statement on the state administration's Web site.

It violated rules that stipulated "all ads broadcast on television should protect national dignity and interests and respect the motherland's traditional culture."...

This is not the first time advertisements for foreign products have struck a nationalistic nerve in China.

Last year, many Chinese took offence at a print advertisement campaign that portrayed stone lions -- traditional Chinese symbols of authority -- saluting a Toyota Prado sport utility vehicle.
"Claims of offending 'national feelings'" indeed. Just another bureaucrat meddling in advertising. "Strong public indignation"? How can they be sure, since they don't allow freedom of speech? It's also a little reminiscent of the "flood of outrage" claimed by the FCC.

Monday, December 6


Judith Banister estimates
The cost of Chinese factory labor is a paltry 64 cents an hour. Although that figure is rough, since it's pieced together from sketchy statistics, it's still the most thorough estimate ever compiled. It includes both wages and employer contributions for benefits and social insurance. And it covers not just city factory workers, who get the most attention, but the more numerous rural and suburban factory workers as well. For comparison, hourly factory compensation in the U.S. in 2002 was $21.11.
(This and a couple of other items below via China Digital News.)

Glamourous Chinese

Manohla Dargis says,
These days no one does glamour better than Chinese filmmakers.

Bringing back Confucius

The China Study Group quotes Leaders ponder a return to society's roots to stop the rot, a South China Morning Post article:
Academics have urged the leadership to launch a drive to promote higher moral standards by lending more official support for traditional culture and the teachings of Confucius and Mencius...

One mainland academic said: "Promoting traditional values and Confucius' teachings does not contradict the rule of the party. Actually, this could help enhance the rule and relevancy of the party."...

"The central government should take the lead by introducing Confucianism into the national education curriculum," one academic said.

He and others said the leadership should also accord Confucius and Mencius the same national respect as Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.

They also argue that Beijing should give more official recognition to Buddhism, which is representative of traditional Chinese values and culture.

They suggest Beijing should also show respect by making traditional festival days such as the birth of Buddha, the Qing Ming Festival, the Dragon Boat Festival and the Mid-Autumn Festival public holidays...

They say more respect for traditions would also have immediate political implications for Beijing's efforts to contain Taiwan's independence movement and its goal of eventual unification. Mr Chen recently labelled Sun Yat-sen, founder of the Republic of China, "a foreigner" and instructed the Ministry of Education to rewrite textbooks to highlight Taiwan's history instead of Chinese history. Beijing could use this opportunity to win over millions of overseas Chinese who are immersed in traditional Chinese values and have high respect for Sun.

"Shouldn't Beijing consider giving the same respects to Sun as Mao and Deng and hang his portrait along with others on Tiananmen Square on important occasions?" one academic asked.

Beijing should also consider reintroducing the use of complex Chinese characters along with the use of the simplified characters adopted on the mainland.

He doesn't mention comparative advantage, though

Keith Bradsher writes,
From steel to oil to cars to credit cards, China is poised to become the world's biggest producer and market for many goods and services.

A contrast

Take a look at David Barboza's account of a Chinese worker:
Yun Liu, a 23-year-old woman from the countryside...shares a cramped house with her sister and eight other women who work in a factory. All the women are from her hometown, Siyang, about four hours north of here...

Four years ago, Ms. Yun came here to work in this bustling factory town about two hours north of Shanghai at one of China's largest textile mills, the Huafang Cotton Weaving Company. Huafang's 30,000 employees are mostly young women who were lured here from small villages in the Chinese countryside.

Like most of the women at Huafang, Ms. Yun came here right after high school, intending to work a few years and save money, before returning home to get married...

Millions of poor men and women like Ms. Yun and her friends have been willing to migrate to factory cities like this one, where starting salaries are little more than $4 a day.
Compare this with Ariel Hart's account of an American textile worker:
She needed to leave high school to support her two toddlers...

She has been thinking of taking computer classes nearby, but it would be hard to leave town for a computer job elsewhere, even to move an hour south to Atlanta.
Emphasis mine. The Chinese woman goes to a city far from home before she gets pregnant, while the American gets pregnant before graduating high school and refuses to relocate.

Standing up to the censors

In FCC -- and media -- duped by Brent Bozell's complaint factory, Jeff Jarvis writes,
First I revealed that the FCC's largest fine in history was based on only three original letters and now Mediaweek has a great story revealing that up to 99.9 percent of complaints to the FCC come straight from King Prig Brent Bozell's self-annointed Parents Television Council.

It's shocking enough that the FCC has not revealed this on its own and it took a bloggers' FOIA request to start to reveal the lie. To me, that indicates that the FCC was a knowing accomplice in this; they went along with Bozell's shock troops because they wanted to.

But here's the real shocker:

Now go back to every single news story that "reported" floods of outrage and complaint about everything from Janet Jackson's breast to Howard Stern's farts to Fox's whipped cream and discount that by 99+ percent. And now tell me whether that's a flood of outrage. And, more important, all you news commentators who pontificated about an upsurge of moral values and a shift to cultural conservatism in America, tell me whether you're going to reexamine the conclusions you jumped to and correct yourselves.
Here, here.

Saturday, December 4

Wherein I say "speaks to"

Twin NYT op-eds on Social Security reform by John Kasich (former Republican representative from Ohio), and José Piñera (president of the International Center for Pension Reform and co-chairman of the Cato Institute Project on Social Security Choice, and a former Chilean secretary of labor and social security). I know Repubs and Catoes (catonics?) aren't favorites of the paper, and it's certainly better late than never, but (as Stephen Green says) the fact that they didn't print them earlier "speaks to" their pro-Democratic slant.

Arrrgh! I said "speaks to".

Hey, look! An accent and a tilda in the NYT. Are tones next?

"Sort of"

The Left Coaster cites a report that
That certainly goes too far, but some of the women they cite sound like they're exaggerating: "Woman #1: 'Sometimes they overdo it. I've been almost stripped, practically.'" "Woman #2: 'You're sort of treated like a criminal.'" "Almost?" "Practically?" "Sort of" In other words, you weren't. "The look on their face would almost give you the sense that they felt like they were in a sense being raped. In a sense, being victimized and to a certain extent, they were." "Almost"? "To a certain extent"?!!

Now I suppose on my upcoming flight I'll be almost practically sort of raped, to a certain extent.

Friday, December 3

What about Mao?

Chinese Officials Seek to Pump Up the Party by Edward Cody:
As China moves ever more deeply into a free-market economy, the ruling Communist Party has decided to launch an 18-month campaign to reinvigorate socialist ideology and strengthen the party's leading role in society...

"Their ideas about socialism and communism have become shaky, especially after the fall of the Soviet Union," said Huang Weiding, deputy editor at the party's Red Flag Publishing House. "Some of them no longer believe it is appropriate for China."

On the one hand, the playing field for free enterprise has greatly expanded in the past two decades, to the point that private business generates more than half of the $1.4 trillion gross domestic product...

The campaign will take the form of study and self-criticism sessions in ministries, bureaucracies, schools and factories across the country. Zhen said central to these reflections would be the theories of Deng Xiaoping, China's former leader who opened the country to the world and declared free-market economics a legitimate part of socialism. Also in the curriculum, she said, will be the thoughts of Jiang Zemin, the former president and party leader whose "three represents" idea suggested the party should embrace leading-edge knowledge, culture and entrepreneurship as well as workers and peasants.

The theories put forward by Deng and Jiang will be used to explain why Communism remains a valid philosophy as the government permits increased free-market enterprise and promises its citizens some form of democracy.
Good luck with that.

"Imperialism" Only Applies to the US

In The Freedom Haters, Anne Applebaum refers to Ian Traynor's contention in US campaign behind the turmoil in Kiev that "the campaign is an American creation, a sophisticated and brilliantly conceived exercise in western branding and mass marketing". She also refers to Jonathan Steele's Ukraine's postmodern coup d'etat, subtitled "Yushchenko got the US nod, and money flooded in to his supporters". She only quotes this part:
Intervening in foreign elections, under the guise of an impartial interest in helping civil society, has become the run-up to the postmodern coup d'etat, the CIA-sponsored third world uprising of cold war days adapted to post-Soviet conditions.
The author goes on to say,
Instruments of democracy are used selectively to topple unpopular dictators, once a successor candidate or regime has been groomed.

In Ukraine's case this is playing with fire. Not only is the country geographically and culturally divided - a recipe for partition or even civil war - it is also an important neighbour to Russia. Putin has been clumsy, but to accuse Russia of imperialism because it shows close interest in adjoining states and the Russian-speaking minorities who live there is a wild exaggeration.

Ukraine has been turned into a geostrategic matter not by Moscow but by the US, which refuses to abandon its cold war policy of encircling Russia and seeking to pull every former Soviet republic to its side. The EU should have none of this. Many Ukrainians certainly want a more democratic system. Putin is not inherently against this, however authoritarian he is in his own country. What concerns him is instability, the threat of anti-Russian regimes on his borders, and American mischief.
Seesh. OK, I've got it. The US is bad; Russia is good. Applebaum herself writes,
the "it's-all-an-American-plot" arguments circulating in cyberspace again demonstrate something that the writer Christopher Hitchens, himself a former Trotskyite, has been talking about for a long time: At least a part of the Western left -- or rather the Western far left -- is now so anti-American, or so anti-Bush, that it actually prefers authoritarian or totalitarian leaders to any government that would be friendly to the United States. Many of the same people who found it hard to say anything bad about Saddam Hussein find it equally difficult to say anything nice about pro-democracy demonstrators in Ukraine. Many of the same people who would refuse to condemn a dictator who is anti-American cannot bring themselves to admire democrats who admire, or at least don't hate, the United States. I certainly don't believe, as President Bush sometimes simplistically says, that everyone who disagrees with American policies in Iraq or elsewhere "hates freedom." That's why it's so shocking to discover that some of them do.

Thursday, December 2

Chinese Road Apples

Nicholas Kristof writes:
China now dazzles visitors with luxury skyscrapers, five-star hotels and modern freeways. This boom is real and spectacular, but for China to be an advanced nation it needs not only spaceships, but also freedom.

Otherwise, all that dazzle is just a mirage. The Chinese leaders might recall an old peasant expression, "Lu fen dan'r, biaomian'r guang." It means, "On the outside, even donkey droppings gleam."
I can't disagree with the sentiment, but I believe this talk is going to make the blood of more sensitive Chinese boil. As far as the quotation, of course it should be , not Lu. Can't the NYT handle umlauts? (I wonder when we'll transcribe Chinese with tones in writings for general readers [Lǘ fèn dàn'r wàimian guāng]. Probably never. Look at how accents are left off French.) The quote is also far more likely not to have the final r (驴粪蛋儿外面光). Apparently it's quite an old expression. The 國語辭典 credits Zhèng Tíngyù (鄭廷玉, 1279-1368) with 驢糞毬兒外面光 (Lǘ fèn qiú'r wàimian guāng), a similar expression.

Useful Mnemonics?

I've always been particulary annoyed by the 笔 as the simplification of 筆. Apparently the thinking was because the simplified character is like 毛 in the compound 毛笔. What kind of idiotic simplification of the original is that? I had forgotten 凭 as the simplification of 憑, apparently because of the compound 任凭. It's not as if 笔 or 凭 never appear outside of those two compounds. I guess the author of these simplifications thought that this would help to remember them. And on reflection, maybe they are useful mnemonics.

Ukrainian vs. Russian

Language Log has a discussion of the Ukrainian vs. Russian language problem that's much better than mine. Actually I discovered his blog through his post asking whether Derrida could even be wrong:
My colleague would open one of Derrida's works to a random page, pick a random sentence, write it down, and then (above or below it) write a variant in which positive and negative were interchanged, or a word or phrase was replaced with one of opposite meaning. He would then challenge the assembled Derrida partisans to guess which was the original and which was the variant. The point was that Derrida's admirers are generally unable to distinguish his pronouncements from their opposites at better than chance level, suggesting that the content is a sophisticated form of white noise. On this view, as Wolfgang Pauli once said of someone else, Derrida is "not even wrong."

No Evidence that Depleted Uranium is Harmful

Michael McNeil has a post on depleted uranium. Despite the hysteria to the contrary, it presents a pretty convincing case that there's no evidence that depleted uranium causes any harm.


Originally my title read "Depleted Uranium is apparently harmless"

As Piero Scaruffi points out, even sugar can be harmful. He points out there is no
scientific or statistical evidence that DU is more dangerous than sugar, even if people routinely quote the "thousands" of civilians (usually, children) killed by DU-weapons.

Then there's Dan Fahey's SCIENCE OR SCIENCE FICTION? Facts, Myths and Propaganda In the Debate Over Depleted Uranium Weapons:
Few humans exposed to DU have been studied, therefore little is known about the effects DU has had or may have in the future on exposed populations...

The Iraqi government, often using its scientists and doctors as spokespeople, has attributed widespread and severe health effects to DU. Claims about 12-fold increases in childhood leukemia and cancer and 10-fold increase in birth defects are very alarming, but the Iraqi studies simply lay the blame on DU without providing evidence that study subjects were ever near DU, let alone exposed to it. Moreover, they do not analyze possible alternative causes, such as industrial pollution, malnutrition, or the Iraqi use of chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq war...

In the face of so much contradictory information about DU, it can be difficult to know where to turn for fact-based assessments and sensible recommendations. US government reports contain a wealth of valuable information about DU, but they are also laced with propaganda and lies that cast doubt upon their comprehensiveness and make their conclusions suspect. Reports and claims from anti-DU activists are similarly plagued by speculation, propaganda and lies that detract from the activists. often legitimate concerns about DU.s health and environmental effects.

There are many uncertainties about the use and effects of DU munitions, but the growing body of scientific research points to the conclusion that the use of DU munitions creates environmental contamination that can affect the health of people, particularly combat soldiers and children. It is likely the US and British militaries will rely less and less upon DU ammunition, however, as they develop newer technologies that destroy tanks and other enemy targets with greater ease and from greater distances than currently afforded by DU munitions.

Most of what is known about the use of DU munitions comes from the governments of the United States and United Kingdom, but the manufacture, testing, sale and use of DU munitions by Russia and Pakistan remain shrouded in doubt. Has Russia used DU munitions in Chechnya? Has Pakistan sold DU rounds to militant groups or North Korea? Exactly who has DU munitions, and where have they been used? These and other questions deserve to be answered, but anti-DU activists are not even asking them.
Similarly, Howard Fienberg of the nonpartisan Statistical Assessment Service wrote of depleted uranium munitions:
...reliable clinical and epidemiological data are hard to come by, and U.S. officials contend that the Iraqi government remains more interested in propaganda than the health of its people.

The process of refining raw uranium for use in nuclear power plants results in uranium "depleted" of most of its powerfully radioactive component. Depleted uranium, though radioactive, is not a nuclear weapon. But its extreme density makes it militarily beneficial as both armor and an armor-piercing munition.

Many military personnel were exposed to depleted uranium during the gulf war - and some during the conflict in Kosovo. Fortunately, the radioactivity is so faint that mere exposure to it poses little discernible health risk.

Unfortunately, war is not clean. Opponents of depleted uranium point out that when the shells explode into armor, a quantity of the depleted uranium burns and oxidizes into minute particles.

These particles create an airborne dust that can be inhaled or ingested. In addition to the danger posed by particles lodging in the lungs (which might eventually lead to cancer), uranium is toxic and can lead to kidney failure and other health problems.

But lead, tungsten and other metals used in armor and armaments are also unhealthy to ingest and are more common sources of adverse wartime health effects.

A U.S. presidential oversight board reported that "the available evidence does not support claims that depleted uranium is causing the undiagnosed illnesses some gulf war veterans are experiencing."

Similarly, a report from Rand, the independent think tank, for the Department of Defense, showed an extremely low likelihood of long-term ill health effects from depleted uranium...

Opponents of depleted uranium so far lack the ammunition needed to score a direct hit. The majority of evidence shows depleted uranium a weapon more effective, but no more dangerous, than most other instruments of destruction.