Thursday, June 30

Bottled water is not always purer than tap water

The Claim: Bottled Water Is Cleaner Than Tap Water By ANAHAD O'CONNOR
While many large cities are required to regularly disinfect their water supplies and test for parasites, bottled-water manufacturers are not.

Friday, June 24

One Way to Get Famous

On 25 May 2005, Richard Phillips, a senior associate at the London office of international law firm Baker & McKenzie e-mailed Jenny Amner, a secretary at the same firm, informing her that it would cost £4 to remove the ketchup stains from his trousers for which Ms. Amner was presumably somehow responsible, and asked her to provide him with the cash by the end of the day. In June 2005 a brief e-mail exchange between the two was leaked outside the firm, turning Mr. Phillips into a figure of derision around the world. via

Thursday, June 23

My gloxinia

My gloxinia

...a few weeks later.

The pointy-haired boss is French

What has the 35-hour week actually done?
  • the policy has destroyed the work ethic and damaged productivity
  • the 35-hour week has created a two-tier labour market
  • employers are using short-term or temporary contracts to gain flexibility
  • France's jobless rate is still nearly 10%—twice that in Britain—and 22% for under-25s

Wednesday, June 22


Mark Krikorian reviews The Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity and What to Do About It by Phillip Longman and Fewer: How the New Demography of Depopulation Will Shape Our Future by Ben J. Wattenberg, saying,
...the U.S. is exceptional. Our birthrates have fallen, and thus the average age of our people has increased, but it has happened more gradually than elsewhere. What's more, our population is projected to keep growing. This is not only because of immigration, as Wattenberg suggests, but because of higher fertility among native-born women; even college-educated, non-Hispanic white women have a total fertility rate of 1.7 children, higher than the overall rates of Canada, Britain, or Australia, not to mention the even lower rates of Japan, Germany, Italy, and Spain.

Within the context of falling birthrates worldwide caused by urbanization, education, and the rest, Americans, as both a more religious and more optimistic people, simply choose to have more children. In fact, the only Census Bureau scenario that foresees a declining U.S. population in this century is based on the highly unlikely assumptions that, first, the fertility of American women will fall to European levels, and second, immigration will be reduced to levels below even what most restrictionist organizations call for. Barring catastrophe, then, the population of the U.S. will not decline during the lifetime of anyone reading this article.
The reviewer's singling out optimism is interesting. In that Pew Political Typology that I took issue with earlier, Part of the analysis was Personal Optimism a Dividing Line
Pro-Government Conservatives and Disadvantaged Democrats have similar socioeconomic backgrounds and confront many of the same financial struggles. Both groups are predominantly female, both are relatively poor, and large majorities in both groups express dissatisfaction with their financial circumstances.

But these groups have strikingly different outlooks on their lives and possibilities that go a long way toward explaining the differences in their political attitudes. Feelings about the power of the individual are a major factor in this division. Pro-Government Conservatives are defined, at least in part, by their optimism in this area. About three-quarters (76%) believe that most people can get ahead if they are willing to work hard ­ and two-thirds (66%) strongly express that view. An even higher percentage of Pro-Government Conservatives (81%) say that everyone has it in his or her own power to succeed.

Disadvantaged Democrats have a gloomier outlook. Just 14% think that people can get ahead by working hard; 79% say that hard work is no guarantee of success, and 76% express that view strongly. Only 44% of Disadvantaged Democrats say that everyone has the power to succeed, while slightly more (47%) take the fatalistic view that success in life is determined by forces outside one's own control.

More broadly, opinions on personal empowerment deeply divide both the Democratic groups and independents. More than eight-in-ten Conservative Democrats (83%) think that most people who work hard can get ahead, while Liberals are somewhat less likely to subscribe to this view and Disadvantaged Democrats strongly disagree. Among center groups, Upbeats, by definition, are very optimistic on this point, and Disaffecteds much less so.
And then there was Lexington on The Party of hope and growth.

Tuesday, June 21

You're not oppressed! You're not gay!

"What do you have to write about? You're not oppressed! You're not gay!" (John Lithgow, to his son, an aspiring novelist, in Orange County) which was written by Mike White. Not much of a movie, but a great line.

Wait'll This Becomes Popular

While some users are eager to display their prosthetic marvels, many of which are paid for by private and public health insurance, others like to have them modeled to appear more human...

Hope Harrison, a professor of history and international affairs at George Washington University in Washington, had a leg amputated in 1979. Ms. Hope, 43, said she had used a range of prosthetics, but preferred the C-Leg now. She also prefers to wear it with a natural-looking cover.

"It's one thing to see a man with a Terminator leg," Ms. Harrison said, referring to the cybernetic character played by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the blockbuster movie series. "It may inspire people to say, 'Cool.' But body image for women in this country is model thin and long sexy legs."

But young men, especially those who have been using personal electronics since childhood, are comfortable recharging their limbs' batteries in public and plugging their prosthetics into their computers to adjust the software, Mr. Hanson said.
We're only seeing the tip of the iceberg with today's body modifications.

When Did Cappuccino Become a Necessity?

A bunch of people are disturbed by Blaine Harden's Javanomics 101. Almost everyone, including Harden, seems to be missing the point, although Harden comes close:
Financial planners, best-selling investment gurus and a number of advice columnists have been warning consumers for years that seemingly insignificant daily spending on such luxuries as gourmet coffee can, over time, sabotage savings and hobble a person's financial future.
The thing is, it's not just luxuries. Spending too much on anything is a dumb way to manage one's finances. Only Head of Royal Intelligence seems to get the point.

I'm fond of cappuccino myself, but I almost never buy it at home in the US--it's just too expensive. I bring my own coffee, which is far from cappuccino. Given the reaction of these various bloggers to the article, it looks like I'm pretty eccentric, but I think they're pretty foolish to let themselves get hooked this way.

Taiwan Coffee

In contrast to the US, the Taiwanese for the most part don't drink their cappuccino in the morning, at least not while I'm buying mine (around 7-8 am). While it's true that the Taiwanese generally get up and out much later than they used to, and later than most Americans seem to, there's not a lot of coffee available at the the ordinary breakfast places. Fortunately for me, the estimable Crown coffee 金鑛咖啡麵包 is open 24 hrs., and there's a branch near where we live, so I get my iced cappuccino a couple of times a week but not more often even though it's NT$50, about US $1.70.

I note that two of the branches have recently expanded and are now selling various breads in addition to the tiny patisseries (I can't say pastries because they're much too delicate for that). But like virtually all bakeries here, they don't bake their stuff early in the morning but in the middle of the day. Not that it makes much difference. Taiwan breads are getting less and less interesting to me.

Saturday, June 18

Dumb Intellectuals

Wesley Yang's The philosopher and the ayatollah, a review of Foucault and the Iranian Revolution, by Kevin Anderson and Janet Afary:
Foucault's Iranian adventure was a "tragic and farcical error" that fits into a long tradition of ill-informed French intellectuals spouting off about distant revolutions, says James Miller, whose 1993 biography The Passion of Michel Foucault contains one of the few previous English-language accounts of the episode...

[Foucault] was France's dominant public intellectual, famous for a critique of modernity carried out through unsparing dissections of modern institutions that reversed the conventional wisdom about prisons, madness, and sexuality. In his most famous work, "Discipline and Punish," Foucault argued that liberal democracy was in fact a "disciplinary society" that punished with less physical severity in order to punish with greater efficiency. More broadly, his counternarrative of the Enlightenment suggested that the modern institutions we imagined were freeing us were in fact enslaving us in insidious ways...

In an interview with an Iranian journalist conducted on his first visit, in September 1978, Foucault made plain his disillusionment with all the secular ideologies of the West and his yearning to see "another political imagination" emerge from the Iranian Revolution. "Industrial capitalism," he said, had emerged as "the harshest, most savage, most selfish, most dishonest, oppressive society one could possibly imagine."

...Foucault never considers the rights of women in Islam until his very last disillusioned missive, which appeared in Le Monde in May 1979. When an Iranian woman living in exile in Paris named "Atoussa H." wrote a letter to Le Nouvel Observateur in November 1978 castigating Foucault for his uncritical support of a solution that could prove to be worse than the problem, he airily dismissed her claims as anti-Muslim hate-mongering...

There is a long tradition of Western intellectuals going abroad to sing the praises of revolutionaries in distant lands and finding in them the realization of their own intellectual hopes...

Anderson says that the debate over these 25- year-old writings has relevance when some leftists focus more energy on criticizing an administration they scorn than on speaking against a radical Islamist movement that also violates all their cherished ideals.

"It's not that radical Islamism is getting a pass from Western progressives and liberals, but it is the case that many are not being critical enough," says Anderson. When certain polemicists are spreading simplistic ideas about "Islamo-Fascism," he continues, "there's a tendency to say that this isn't so. But the fact is that while radical Islamism has many features and faces, everywhere it is antifeminist, everywhere it is authoritarian, and everywhere it is intolerant of other religions and other interpretations of Islam."
Foucault's dismissal of "Atoussa H." has an echo in more recent attacks on Ayaan Hirsi Ali, not all of them by leftists. But the question remains why so many educated Westerners are so bitter about their own culture. I imagine many of them agree with his judgement about "Industrial capitalism". It's as if they've never lived it.

Thursday, June 16

Acquiescing in Their Own Decline

The End of Europe By Robert J. Samuelson
Europe as we know it is slowly going out of business...

It's hard to be a great power if your population is shriveling...

No one knows how well modern economies will perform with so many elderly people, heavily dependent on government benefits (read: higher taxes). But Europe's economy is already faltering. In the 1970s annual growth for the 12 countries now using the euro averaged almost 3 percent; from 2001 to 2004 the annual average was 1.2 percent. In 1974 those countries had unemployment of 2.4 percent; in 2004 the rate was 8.9 percent.

Wherever they look, Western Europeans feel their way of life threatened. One solution to low birthrates is higher immigration. But many Europeans don't like the immigrants they have -- often Muslim from North Africa -- and don't want more. One way to revive economic growth would be to reduce social benefits, taxes and regulations. But that would imperil Europe's "social model," which supposedly blends capitalism's efficiency and socialism's compassion...

The trouble is that so much benevolence requires a strong economy, while the sources of all this benevolence -- high taxes, stiff regulations -- weaken the economy. With aging populations, the contradictions will only thicken. Indeed, some scholarly research suggests that high old-age benefits partly explain low birthrates. With the state paying for old age, who needs children as caregivers? High taxes may also deter young couples from assuming the added costs of children. general Europe is immobilized by its problems. This is the classic dilemma of democracy: Too many people benefit from the status quo to change it; but the status quo isn't sustainable. Even modest efforts in France and Germany to curb social benefits have triggered backlashes. Many Europeans -- maybe most -- live in a state of delusion. Believing things should continue as before, they see almost any change as menacing. In reality, the new E.U. constitution wasn't radical; neither adoption nor rejection would much alter everyday life. But it symbolized change and thereby became a lightning rod for many sources of discontent (over immigration in Holland, poor economic growth in France).

All this is bad for Europe -- and the United States. A weak European economy is one reason that the world economy is shaky and so dependent on American growth. Preoccupied with divisions at home, Europe is history's has-been. It isn't a strong American ally, not simply because it disagrees with some U.S. policies but also because it doesn't want to make the commitments required of a strong ally. Unwilling to address their genuine problems, Europeans become more reflexively critical of America. This gives the impression that they're active on the world stage, even as they're quietly acquiescing in their own decline.
Wow. Bad news.

Wednesday, June 15


I found Optimize XP when I was looking for a way to disable the windows startup sound. As directed, I went to "Start", "Settings", "Control Panel", "Sounds and Audio Devices", selected the "Sounds" tab, under "Sound Scheme" selected "No Sounds".

I also followed their instructions to improve Windows XP performance, which included going "Start", "Settings", "Control Panel", "System", "Advanced" tab, and in the "Performance" section selecting "Settings". I left only the following checked:
  • Show shadows under menus
  • Show shadows under mouse pointer
  • Show translucent selection rectangle
  • Use drop shadows for icons labels on the desktop
  • Use visual styles on windows and buttons
I've got to say it does change the look of things a little.

I also uninstalled "Indexing Service" and "MSN Explorer" by going to "Start", "Settings", "Control Panel", "Add or Remove Programs", selecting "Add/Remove Windows Components", and unchecking them both. Unintsalling "Indexing Service" took a long time.

I also downloaded, installed, and ran Autoruns, XP-Antispy, Cacheman, TweakUI (which is found on the start menu after installation instead of on the control panel), Shoot The Messenger, and Unplug n' Pray.

Finally, I followed the instructions to "Go to Start, Run, type "services.msc" and press enter" and disabled all of the following:
  • Alerter
  • Disable Distributed Link Tracking Client
  • Disable Help and Support
  • Disable Indexing Service
  • Disable IPSEC Services
  • Disable Portable Media Serial Number
  • Disable Remote Registry Service
  • Disable Secondary Logon
  • Disable Upload Manager
and to set all of the following to automatic:
  • Automatic Updates
  • Automatic Background Intelligent Transfer Service
  • Automatic Com+ Event System
  • Automatic Cryptographic Services
  • Automatic DCOM Server Process Launcher
  • Automatic DHCP Client
  • Automatic DNS Client
  • Automatic Event Log
  • Automatic Logical Disk Manager
  • Automatic Network Connections
  • Automatic Plug and Play
  • Automatic Print Spooler
  • Automatic Protected Storage
  • Automatic Remote Procedure Call (RPC)
  • Automatic Security Accounts Manager
  • Automatic Security Center
  • Automatic Shell Hardware Detection
  • Automatic System Event Notification
  • Automatic System Restore Service
  • Automatic Themes
  • Automatic Windows Audio
  • Automatic Windows Management Instrumentation
Let's see if this messes anything up.


I also defragmented my disk. By disabling "Help and Support" I find that I can no longer access "system information" (or get help, as a matter of fact), and when I tried to check the disk, I get the message "The disk check could not be performed because the disk check utility needs exclusive access to some Windows files on the disk..." Restarting the computer is no help, but this works:


Type in ChkDsk /r /f

Click OK

When it asks you if you want to run ChkDsk the next time you reboot, say YES.


ChkDsk should execute during the reboot.

Note: Be sure to leave a space before /r and /f.

(Thank you siliconman01)

Social Classes

Minding about the gap
...the biggest determinant of how far you go in life is how far you go in education. The gap in income between the college-educated and the non-college-educated rose from 31% in 1979 to 66% in 1997. But access to college is increasingly determined by social class. The proportion of students from upper-income families at the country's elite colleges is growing once again, having declined dramatically after the second world war. Only 3% of students in the most selective universities come from the bottom income quartile, and only 10% come from the bottom half of the income scale.

The obvious way to deal with this is to use the education system to guarantee a level playing field.... Alas, there are at least three big problems with this.
  1. The first is that the schools the poorest Americans attend have been getting worse rather than better. This is partly a problem of resources, to be sure. But it is even more a problem of bad ideas. The American educational establishment's weakness for airy-fairy notions about the evils of standards and competition is particularly damaging to poor children who have few educational resources of their own to fall back on. One poll of 900 professors of education, for example, found that 64% of them thought that schools should avoid competition.
  2. The second is the politics of education reform. The Democrats have much deeper roots in poor America than the Republicans; they also have much greater faith in the power of government. But they are too closely tied to the teachers' unions to push for sensible reforms, such as testing and school choice. Their notions of improvement seem limited to pouring in more money.
  3. The third reason is the most powerful of all: that the educated classes still do such a superb job of consolidating and transmitting their privileges.... America's college-educated class is now a much larger share of the population than it was.
The article closes with what the writer describes as "the basic fact that so many people have become so good at passing their educational privileges on to their children."

So the problem is the Education Faculties and the unions are standing the way of reforms, and "so many people" are doing too well. How about we find some way to stop these "many people" from doing so well, eh?

Tuesday, June 14


I woke up early this morning and couldn't get back to sleep, so of course I got on the computer. I've already got bifocals, but they were not of much help unless I got close to the screen.

USA's favorite flagologist

Lileks has a screed against a campaign opposing American flags in classrooms. I have always had a visceral dislike against the Pledge of Allegiance. I dislike physical symbols as well as oaths and pledges, which I consider their rhetorical counterpart, and so I'd prefer not to see the flag in classrooms. But Rex Curry does nothing for his own case.
  • "The [dogma of Francis Bellamy, the Pledge's creator] was the same dogma that led to the "Wholecaust" (of which the Holocaust was a part)...." That's a bit of a stretch--and he doesn't help himself by making up words.
  • "Government's schools should not teach kids to verbally fellate flags each morning." "Verbally fellate"? Does that mean anything?
  • Curry calls himself "the USA’s favorite flagologist". As the Google search below shows, it's not likely that he's the foremost expert on flags. And by the way, "flagologist" is apparently Curry's own invention. The word he's looking for is vexillologist.

Stickin' It to the Romantics

In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Mess, Laurie Fendrich writes
The heart of the problem lies in the fact that ever since the birth of modern art 150 years ago, all artists -- no matter what their visual style or theoretical intention -- have been riding the great wave of Romanticism, which has been rolling across the arts for almost 300 years. With Romanticism, the autonomous self as the basis for all knowledge trumps everything. And even though the Romantic, "authentic" self of Odilon Redon or Lee Krasner has been adulterated by postmodernism and turned into a constructed, artificial self, today's artists remain exactly like their early modern counterparts. Deep down, they consider themselves to be morally superior to nonartists -- more intensely emotional and sensitive -- and pitted against a cold and corrupt society.
The last sentence may be true, but why fault Romanticism?
Artists justified the esoteric nature of modern art with the idea that if something came from an authentic artist, it didn't need orthodox social justification. Modern artists defined their work as worthy, and themselves as special people, simply because they were artists. The audience for modern art long ago gave up expecting or wanting skills, talent, or beauty from artists and willingly acceded to the idea that an artist is a creative outsider whose usefulness lies mainly in being critical of everything. Think "court jester" without the humor.

Before modern art, though, artists had to take account of the larger society because they were forced to, by either the limits of patronage or official censorship. Since the advent of modern art, however, few if any artists consider the larger society beyond the art-world cognoscenti. To do so would mean either selling out to some version of Thomas Kinkadian aesthetics or, equally frightening, assuming a massively difficult chore.
And earlier Dylan Evans claimed Beethoven was a narcissistic hooligan (Seriously!)
...From the speculations of Pythagoras about the "music of the spheres" in ancient Greece onwards, most western musicians had agreed that musical beauty was based on a mysterious connection between sound and mathematics, and that this provided music with an objective goal, something that transcended the individual composer's idiosyncrasies and aspired to the universal. Beethoven managed to put an end to this noble tradition by inaugurating a barbaric U-turn away from an other-directed music to an inward-directed, narcissistic focus on the composer himself and his own tortured soul.

This was a ghastly inversion that led slowly but inevitably to the awful atonal music of Schoenberg and Webern. In other words, almost everything that went wrong with music in the 19th and 20th centuries is ultimately Beethoven's fault...

It's instructive to compare Beethoven's morbid self-obsession with the unselfconscious vivacity of Mozart. Like Bach's perfectly formed fugues and Vivaldi's sparkling concertos, Mozart's music epitomises the baroque and classical ideals of formal elegance and functional harmony; his compositions "unfold with every harmonic turn placed at the right moment, to leave, at the end, a sense of perfect finish and unity", as the music critic Paul Griffiths puts it. Above all, Mozart's music shares with that of Bach an exuberant commitment to the Enlightenment values of clarity, reason, optimism and wit.

With Beethoven, however, we leave behind the lofty aspirations of the Enlightenment and begin the descent into the narcissistic inwardness of Romanticism. Mozart gives you music that asks to be appreciated for its own sake, and you don't need to know anything about the composer's life to enjoy it. Beethoven's music, on the other hand, is all about himself - it is simply a vehicle for a self-indulgent display of bizarre mood swings and personal difficulties.

[Beethoven's] dark and frenzied setting of Schiller's Ode to Joy [in his Ninth Symphony] the joy of madness, bloodlust and megalomania. It is glorious music, and seductive, but the passions it stirs up are dark and menacing.
How did Evans miss blaming the Holocaust on Beethoven? Is this totally insane, or what? It reminds me of those filthy inkblots my shrink showed me. (Norman Geras had a similar reaction to the Beethoven article.) Still, while I'm not going to fault Beethoven or Jackson Pollock for that matter, if the ultimate result is a push to return to fundamentals and away from self-indulgence, that sounds great to me.

Monday, June 13

The Dissident

Václav Havel
The dissident does not operate in the realm of genuine power at all. He is not seeking power. He has no desire for office and does not gather votes. He does not attempt to charm the public, he offers nothing and promises nothing. He can offer, if anything, only his own skin-and he offers it solely because he has no other way of affirming the truth he stands for. His actions simply articulate his dignity as a citizen, regardless of the cost.
Citation here. I orginally saw it here. I still don't know the original context. Margo Kingston presents it thus:
Czech President and freedom fighter, Vaclav Havel, says this about power in society: "The [net activist] dissident does not operate in the realm of genuine power at all. His actions simply articulate his dignity as a citizen, regardless of the cost."
She must be referring to Tim Blair.

Sunday, June 12

Life is Tough All Over

A lot of Americans are up in arms (get it?) about the British doctors who are calling for a ban on long pointed kitchen knives to reduce deaths from stabbing. Here at my mother-in-law's we've got a handful of pointy paring knives, and no rounded knives for spreading peanut butter or the overly sweet Duo Penotti that I spread on toast. Not exactly Huevos rancheros.

In Which I Praise Howard Dean

The title Dean Urges Appeal to Moral Values scared me a little, but I liked to hear this:
A moral value is personal responsibility and individual freedom. And that is what Democrats are going to start to stand for -- moral values.
The context was his derision at the attempted congressional intervention in the case of Terri Schiavo, but it has wider implications, no?


Liquor Makers Offering Luxury by the Glassful: 'Mentoring' Part of Push to New Generation By Michael S. Rosenwald
Matt Stutts is...sitting with a couple of buddies, about to sample 18-year-old Scotch that costs about $80 a bottle. But this liquor is free, part of Johnnie Walker's efforts to "mentor," as company executives put it, a new generation of Scotch drinkers. Here come more women in black, holding bottles of Scotch against their chests, offering tidbits of history (Johnnie Walker's grandson came up with the recipe for JW Gold) and forecasting the pleasures of the palate (hints of raisin, vanilla).

"Being co-opted is so great," Stutts says. "I love this."
Freedom is a great thing, but this guy's desire to be manipulated sounds pathetic to me.

Scenes like that...are elaborately staged by the world's biggest liquor producers, who have discovered in the past several years a winning recipe for increasing their sales while flattening those of their competitors, the beer companies.

Using carefully scripted on-premise marketing as the linchpin of hundred-million-dollar ad campaigns, the $15 billion-a-year liquor industry is pushing the concept of affordable luxury into the hands of people in their twenties and thirties as they lean over bars to order drinks. The idea is to get them to order not just a martini, but a Grey Goose vodka martini. To not just do shots of tequila, but to sip Jose Cuervo Reserva. To not order Scotch on the rocks, but Johnnie Walker Gold.
And women can be just as foolish as men.
Luisa Calderon, 28, a radio marketing executive, stood at the bar with her friend, Rossanna Hernandez, 30, a consultant with Ernst & Young. "Our lives may not be as glamorous as the girls on 'Sex in the City,' " Calderon said. "But that doesn't mean we can't try."

Hernandez agreed: "We can live vicariously through them by drinking nice liquor."..

"That's the key here. These companies set up a stage that lends itself to sophistication," said Michael C. Bellas, chief executive of Beverage Marketing Corp. a research firm. "These young people carry on dialogues with their friends. These people are attractive. They'll go out and talk to people about what Johnnie Walker is and how it tastes. That's marketing."...

Liquor companies are aiming at consumers one by one, courting people like Stutts. During the first part of the evening at the Topaz, as Stutts and two friends sampled crab cakes and Cajun shrimp wrapped in bacon, they reflected on how their tastes have changed since being drawn into the Johnnie Walker orbit at a previous event.

Stutts, for example, said he drank whiskey before, but it was often whatever he got his hands on, and never something he ordered by name.

Now Johnnie Walker is his drink of choice. "It's all about finding something that you like," Stutts said.

"If we want a Scotch we know it by name," said his friend, Mark Cutler.
Please, please lead me! Tell me what I like!
Their glasses empty, a woman approached their table. She offered the bottle suggestively. In the midst of being branded, they were enjoying every minute of it.

"Would you like to touch it?" she asked.
Extra points to Rosenwald for the sarcasm.

Be Quick About It

Download all nine of Beethoven's symphonies.

It's Only a Book

Who's Really Abusing the Koran? by Max Boot:
On at least six occasions, Korans were ripped up. They were urinated on three times, and attempts were made to flush them down the toilet at least three other times.

Why aren't millions of Muslims rioting in response to these defilements? Because the perpetrators were prisoners, not guards...

Too bad Islamic states such as Saudi Arabia, far from handing out Bibles at government expense, make it a crime to possess that holy book. Too bad Islamic fanatics have no compunction about blowing up churches and synagogues and slaughtering Christians and Jews. Too bad the murderous intolerance of Sunni terrorists extends to Shiite "idolaters" as well.

All the bombings of Shiites in Iraq have resulted not only in the deaths of thousands of Muslims but also, I imagine, the destruction of quite a few Korans.

It would be nice if the global Islamic community, the news media and assorted human rights agitators could display the same level of outrage about the real atrocities perpetrated by our enemies as they do about the imaginary horrors of the American Gulag.
Now if I were imprisoned and forced to read some "holy" book, that would be torture for me.

Friday, June 10

Atheism Lite

Like Matt Kramer,
I'm completely devoid of religious sentiment, and indeed I find it bewildering that anyone past the age of eight could retain a belief in God any more than in Santa Claus or the tooth fairy.
But like Norman Geras
I see religion as meeting certain deep human needs and anxieties irrespective of its truth value....religious belief has no monopoly on harm; conversely, good is not exclusively associated with the irreligious. It is not religious belief as such which leads to persecution, torture, murder, it is dogmatic and intolerant belief of every kind. Think of the millions killed in the last 150 years in the name of political beliefs, including would-be socialist and liberal beliefs as well as racist and fascist ones, deaths that cannot be laid at the door of religious faith. At the same time, it is a straightforward empirical fact that countless numbers of people - and I use 'countless' here advisedly and literally, not just loosely to convey the sense of very many - have been moved by their religion to do good in the world, to behave well. And this is to say nothing of what they have been moved to create.
So I can't go along with Salman Rushdie's Just give me that old-time atheism! Yet at the same time, I can't really blame him.

Nor can I blame Ayaan Hirsi Ali and her campaign against Islam, which according to her could be considered a backward religion. But aren't they all backward?

Evil White Men

Perry de Havilland (via The Belmont Club)

Robert Mugabe continues his insane demolition of houses and businesses as he increasingly starts to look like Pol Pot reborn, seeking to depopulate the cites and drive the now homeless and unemployed population into the countryside to eke out an even more miserable living, thereby dispersing and isolating people from communities which might oppose his tyrannical rule.

And where are the marchers in the west? Where are the protesters calling for justice in Zimbabwe? Where is the outrage from those tireless tribunes of the Third World, the UN? Why can I not hear the snarls of fury from the alphabet soup of NGOs? What of the legions of Guardian readers finding out about all this? What are they going to call for? Amnesty International is getting a lot of (bad) publicity from having called Guantanamo Bay 'a gulag' whilst now admitting they do not actually know what is happening there, yet why are they not straining every fibre of their being in opposition to this African horror? There is tyranny aplenty to be opposed without having to invent any.

Although to be fair, Amnesty International has reported Zimbabwe: Thousands of forced evictions and arrests in violent crackdown:
Over the past two weeks the Government of Zimbabwe has orchestrated the forced eviction of thousands of informal traders and families living in informal settlements across the country as part of a crackdown called "Operation Murambatsvina" – widely translated as "drive out the rubbish" but being referred to by police as "operation restore order".

Evictions are being carried out without notice and without court orders in a flagrant disregard for due process and the rule of law. During the forced evictions police and other members of the security forces are using excessive force -- burning homes, destroying property and beating individuals.
("Widely translated as"? What language is the phrase in?)

Wednesday, June 8

Nutrition etc.

NutritionData is a little more user-friendly than the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. It's also got a firefox plugin. Not that it matters, now that it's OK to be fat. Me, I'm superficial and think that skinny is better-looking than fat. It's funny what you get programmed to think.

Estate Tax Again argues that the estate tax doesn't really affect that many people. It doesn't really address the article I mentioned earlier, though.


First I tripped and fell on the sidewalk--I got a little scab--and now I've got "swimmer's ear". No swimming for the next few days.

Serves 'em right

U.S. Cities Urged to Adopt 'Congestion Tax' By Terence Chea. The mayor of London, Ken Livingstone,
...told dozens of world mayors that they could unclog city streets and fight global warming by charging hefty fees for driving in congested areas of their communities.
It sounds like a great idea to me, but I don't think Americans will accept it. Coincidentally, America's great headache points out
"Long queues at restaurants or theatre box-offices are seen as signs of success," says Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA. He thinks congestion "is an inevitable by-product of vibrant, successful cities". The examples of Paris, London and New York all show he has a point.
Not everyone thinks so.
Hence the search for remedies—each of which comes with its own problems. More public transport?
It's not only expensive.
Public transport works well when there is a central hub—like Manhattan. But the Californian sprawl is "multimodal": it works on the basis that everybody can go everywhere...

Driving alone explains why car-pool lanes have a limited appeal. High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes stretch for a mere 1,112 miles of California's freeway system—and are often virtually empty. One idea is Mr Schwarzenegger's decision, still awaiting federal approval, to let fuel-efficient hybrid cars use the HOV lanes whether they have passengers or not.

In the end, virtually all the solutions involve making drivers pay. More realistic fuel prices would make a difference....

Road-pricing has been a little more successful... High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes...allow single drivers to drive on them for an extra fee—with the toll collected electronically and varying according to the level of congestion.

Early criticism...was that a HOT lane amounted to a "Lexus lane", favouring the wealthy solo mogul over the blue-collar pick-up-truck driver. In practice, it has worked out more democratically. Mr Taylor says 250,000 drivers have bought the transponders needed for the electronic billing system, and they use them—rich and poor alike—when speed is important.

The paradox, say the sceptics, is that HOT-lanes, like HOV-lanes, may actually increase car use: by freeing up extra capacity on the freeways, they allow more cars to use them. Nonetheless, simply to get at least some people from A to B quickly, it would surely be sensible to make more HOT-lanes available.

Another scheme being mooted in San Francisco is to imitate London and impose a congestion charge on drivers who enter the central area of the city. Jake McGoldrick, chairman of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, calls this "a home run": it would relieve congestion, lessen pollution and provide money for public transport. Unfortunately, there are relatively few other American cities with the public transport systems in place to follow the London example—and voter opposition would be a near-certainty.

In some cases, fighting congestion does not mean Californians coming up with ingenious ways to prevent it, so much as stopping doing things that encourage it. Donald Shoup and Michael Manville, colleagues of Mr Taylor at UCLA, point to the way that Los Angeles requires both office and residential buildings to provide parking spaces for their tenants. Whereas New York and San Francisco have strict limits on parking in their central business districts, Los Angeles "pursues a diametrically opposing path"...

California is a car culture—as is most of suburban America. Congestion is the inevitable result. Politicians could reduce that congestion by charging motorists more for the petrol they guzzle and the roads they use. But it will only be a change at the margin. Californians have the traffic they deserve.

White Man's Flies

This pun strikes even me as execrable: To bee or not to bee
The varroa mite, a bee parasite first found in Java a century ago, spread to America in 1987 and has recently taken hold (as it has in many other countries). It sucks the blood of both wild and cultivated bees, and has now become immune to pesticides. This year, the steady loss of bees—their numbers have fallen by about 50% in six months—has especially hurt the Californian almond industry, which accounts for 88% of the world's almond crop. Farmers think yields may fall by as much as 16%.

Honey bees landed in the colonies, from England, at about the same time as the Pilgrim Fathers. Soon "the white man's flies", as the Indians called them, generated a thriving industry.
Anyway, I thought it was interesting that bees were not native to North America.

Monday, June 6

Huevos rancheros con papas

According to What Americans Eat for Breakfast by GARY LANGER, huevos rancheros for breakfast is either inspired or bizarre. I've got to remember to try that for breakfast again; my Anglo father made that on occasion. Yum. These days, my breakfast currently ranges from toast or oatmeal or corn pancakes to 小燒餅, 肉粽子, 蛋餅 or 小籠包. I remember in Singapore I used to have egg paratha with curry sauce for breakfast. Take that, Langer.

A Word to the Wise

Tang Chuchen's 唐楚臣 中华彜族虎傩 might have some connection to the stories discussed in Sacred Metamorphosis: the Weretiger and the Shaman.

Friday, June 3

[shpritz!] Trust me!

Hormone Spray Is Found To Bolster Trust in Others By Shankar Vedantam
Scientists have found the chemical equivalent of the perfect sales pitch: a hormone that makes us more trusting than we normally are...

The experiment has profound implications about the nature of human trust.
I'll say!
Researchers said their finding might lead to cures for people with disorders that prompt them to hold others at arm's length, but they acknowledged that the chemical, which is widely used in medicine, could be misused.
Ya think?
Trust is central to virtually every positive social relationship, from intimate love and friendships to financial transactions and politics, but little had been learned about its biological correlates in the brain, researchers said. Oxytocin is known to be activated in a range of social relationships in many animals, but this is the first time scientists have shown that it can serve as a switch to enhance trust in human relationships...

"Some may worry about the prospect that political operators will generously spray the crowd with oxytocin at rallies of their candidates," said neurologist Antonio R. Damasio of the University of Iowa, who has long studied the neurobiology of human emotions and who wrote a commentary accompanying the study.

At the same time, he added in an interview, politicians and marketers were probably already triggering the natural release of oxytocin in the brains of audiences through their campaigns. "I am more alarmed about the manipulations of marketing than the possibility of oxytocin sprays," he said.
Easy for him to say. Admittedly the results are preliminary, but this guy looks like he absolutely refuses to believe it.
Brent Waters, an associate professor of Christian social ethics at the seminary, which is affiliated with Northwestern University, questioned whether trust could be so easily reduced to chemical constructs. "The experiment presupposes a highly diminished and reductionistic understanding of what trust means," he said.

Using a watch as a compass

The things one learns from movies. I learned this from The Edge (1997):
Point the hour hand at the sun when you are north of the equator. South will be halfway between the hour hand and 12 o'clock.
Of course there are other ways. As for the movie, it was OK. I'm fond of Anthony Hopkins, but Alec Baldwin has always struck me as very much a B actor.

Wait a minute! No wonder this didn't work in Taiwan!
...if you are within or very close to the tropics, the determination of north or south as described above may not be reliable
(from Using the Sun to Orient Yourself)

Reforestation of North America

How Non-Green Cities Are Rebuilding the American Forests by Peter Huber and Mark Mills
When Europeans first arrived--after millenniums of deforestation by fire, promoted by American Indians--the area now represented by the lower 48 United States had about 950 million acres of forest. That area shrank steadily until about 1920, to a low of 600 million acres. It has been rising ever since.


Being a Single Mother -- and Very Young and expressing no regret about a "poor life choice", but instead whine about how she's got to be able to go out and have time for herself.

Personal Finance in the Curriculum

Georgia Schools to Focus on Personal Finance by Emily Kopp
School officials in Georgia have decided they're going to try to cut the state's high rate of personal bankruptcy. And they'll be starting with kindergarten students. Emily Kopp of Georgia Public Broadcasting reports that the state's Board of Education is making personal finance a key part of school curriculum.
The report mentions The National Council on Economic Education as a supporter. This sounds like a great idea to me.


White House Plays Hardball with Critics makes zero mention of "the gulag of our times".

(I listened to it with Real Alternative, which worked nicely)

Meanwhile, IRFAN HUSAIN writes Rights issues: Are Muslim countries any better?
A recent Amnesty International report on human rights abuses in American detention centres is devastating in its forthright criticism. Irene Khan, the director of the organisation, has lambasted the American military for running what she calls the ‘gulag for our times’. Her American colleague points out that the use of torture has lowered Washington’s moral authority in dealing with other violators of human rights around the world.

But there is a note of hypocrisy in some of the criticism emanating from the Muslim world. For instance, the Gulf News in its leader of May 22 thunders: 'All prisoners must have rights, wherever they are held, for whatever reason...'

This forthright demand will come as scant comfort for the thousands of prisoners routinely beaten and tortured from Turkey to Indonesia.

Of course American abuse of prisoners must be condemned by all of us. But at the same time, we need to take a hard look at what’s happening in our prisons. In its annual report for 2004, this is what Amnesty International says about Pakistan’s track record: 'Torture and ill-treatment by the police and prison officers remained routine and the perpetrators were rarely held to account. Several people died in custody.'

The report does not mention the role of our intelligence agencies in torturing suspects. However, from time to time, their hand is exposed. Recently, two Americans of Pakistani origin were released after eight months of illegal detention, and accused the Pakistani authorities of subjecting them to torture with FBI complicity.

Commenting on this case, the Asia director of Human Rights Watch, spoke of 'Pakistan’s dreadful record on illegal detentions and torture...'

Indeed, over the years, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other similar organisations have been compiling a woeful record of abuses in Pakistan as well as in other Muslim countries. It is precisely for this reason that Americans have been flying suspected terrorists to various Muslim nations in a process known as ‘rendering’. In order to avoid breaking their own laws, US agencies ‘outsource’ torture to friendly Muslim states where prisoners, contrary to the Gulf News’ editorial quoted earlier, have no rights.


Also known as the Marton Theme Restaurant. Via yahoo, the outside:

The inside:

As this article says, restaurants here are often gimmicky. Worse, the food usually has little to recommend it. It's been a long time since I've had a decent meal here in Kaohsiung. Meanwhile, everyone seems to want to eat hotpot. Ugh. A few days ago we ate different kinds of noodles/spaghetti at 緣園茶餐廳 Destiny Tea Restaurant, which was overpriced crap. I'd give it as even lower ranking than this.

Taiwan Taxes

Not surprisingly, the pro-DPP Taiwan News supports Chen's mooted tax increase. Similarly, according to a Taiwan government web site,
...the president said that the government needed to press harder to realize fiscal reform in order to promote social fairness and justice, improve government finances and promote economic development.

Chen said that Taiwan's national taxation rate is "too low" when compared to the average of 27 percent in the member countries of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development...

In his successful campaign for the March 2000 presidential election, Chen followed the advice of tax scholars and floated the proposal for the revival of the securities transaction income tax, but backed away from the suggestion after intense media criticism and anger from individual investors.
The pro-DPP Taipei Times's Tax-reform plan sparks heated debate By Jackie Lin
The national taxation rate is a gauge of a nation's tax burden divided by its GDP. Taiwan's tax requirements pale in comparison to those of members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), whose national taxation rate is about 27 percent.

...Chen said the value-added tax should be raised in the near future by 2 to 1 percentage points from the current 5 percent, a minimum tax scheme should be imposed and inheritance and gift taxes should be trimmed from 50 to 40 percent to boost investment.

These measures, however, have been widely criticized as robbing the poor and giving to the rich. Increasing the value-added tax rates would be reflected in commodity prices, so this is seen as a hidden tax on the general public.

Although the prices of some products might be hiked after the new regulation is put in practice next year, manufacturers' tax costs may not be entirely transferred to consumers due to fierce competition, the Ministry of Finance said.

Furthermore, daily necessities such as fresh food, agricultural products and rice are exempt from value-added taxes and won't be affected by the new measure, the ministry said.

However, People First Party Legislator Christina Liu (劉憶如) said levying a value-added tax across all kinds of products does not conform to social justice.

She suggested that luxury goods be charged a higher tax, and that consumer products that are used on a daily basis, such as medicine, should be free from the tax.
Meanwhile the pro-KMT China Post cites Liu at more length:
Christina Y. Liu, a second-term PFP lawmaker, said the president simply cannot increase tax on the one hand and continue to borrow on the other.

She referred to a US$18 billion arms purchase from the United States, which will be financed by the borrowed money.

Moreover, Liu said, the government can easily raise the tax revenue by NT$30 billion or NT$40 billion, if the economy is kept growing by two percent a year.

"There's no need whatsoever for the government to increase tax," said Liu, who used to teach finance at a university.
Of course, if the KMT were making the proposals, the show would be on the other foot. Anyway, Forbes believes that low taxes are good, and there is no reason to raise them; see their Tax Misery & Reform Index

(click for larger pic)

Thursday, June 2

Progress is Taking Someone Else's Money

Tax Breaks for Rich Murderers is David Runciman's review of Death by a Thousand Cuts: The Fight over Taxing Inherited Wealth by Michael Graetz and Ian Shapiro
[T]he politics of another country’s tax system is unlikely to be of much interest to anyone with any sort of normal life... Don’t let that put you off. This is one of the most interesting books about politics, and power, and the way the world is going, that you are ever likely to read.

...The estate tax was the most progressive part of the American tax system, because it rested on the principle that the wealthy few, if they were not willing to bequeath their money to charity, should not be permitted to pass it all directly to their heirs. It had been on the statute book for nearly a hundred years, and throughout that time it had been generally assumed that there was widespread support for the idea that unearned wealth passed between the generations, creating pockets of aristocratic privilege, was not part of the American dream. [I]t was a tax that so obviously took from the relatively few to relieve the burden on the very many....
I'm in no danger of being personally affected by the estate tax, but I just don't get why it's assumed that it's absolutely OK to take money away from the rich. In fact Runciman does seem to get it:
As Graetz and Shapiro point out, the politics of taxation in the United States has traditionally relied on a relatively straightforward choice. Policies that allow individuals to hold onto their money and do with it what they like may be economically efficient, but they are not particularly fair: many people will end up with less than they need and perhaps than they deserve. Progressive taxes, which are more equitable, are nevertheless not so efficient at generating future wealth...
So he's unapologetically opposed to economic efficiency and the generation of future wealth, and there's one minority it's OK to mistreat; he cites Grover Norquist
[i]n an exchange on National Public Radio, the transcript of which is included in this book and is practically worth the price of admission on its own, Norquist went a stage further:

I think it speaks very much to the health of the nation that 70-plus per cent of Americans want to abolish the death tax, because they see it as fundamentally unjust. The argument that some who play the politics of hate and envy and class division will say, ‘Yes, well, that’s only 2 per cent,’ or, as people get richer, 5 per cent in the near future of Americans likely to have to pay that tax. I mean, that’s the morality of the Holocaust. ‘Well, it’s only a small percentage,’ you know. ‘I mean, it’s not you, it’s somebody else.’

After a bit more of this, Norquist’s interviewer, Terry Gross, feels compelled to intervene: ‘Excuse me. Excuse me one second. Did you just . . . compare the estate tax with the Holocaust?’ Norquist starts to backtrack, but he doesn’t get very far:

No, the morality that says it’s OK to do something to a group because they’re a small percentage of the population is the morality that says the Holocaust is OK because they didn’t target everybody, just a small percentage . . . And arguing that it’s OK to loot some group . . . or kill some group because it’s them and because it’s a small number, that has no place in a democratic society that treats people equally . . . When South Africa divided people by race, that was wrong. When East Germany divided them by income and class, that was wrong. East Germany was not an improvement over South Africa.

You might expect this to have been the point at which the repeal movement started to fall apart, given that the pro-repeal lobbyists were trying to recruit support from all areas of American society, not just the lunatic fringe...
Note that it's lunacy to criticize class warfare.
...Once the estate tax had been depicted as a form of 'discrimination', and voters reminded that successful gay and lesbian couples were already discriminated against by not being free to take advantage of marital tax deductions, polls discovered that 82 per cent of gays and lesbians were in favour of estate tax repeal, even though the vast majority were also supporters of Al Gore.

The only way this strategy could work, of course, was for the estate tax to be viewed in complete isolation from any wider questions of social solidarity between the wealthy few and the disadvantaged many, within and across various minorities.
"Social solidarity between the wealthy few and the disadvantaged many" means taking away from the former to give to the latter. That's not so much solidarity as making everyone the same in terms of income.
Part of the problem for the Democratic Party was that their enemies seemed to have all the best stories when it came to the estate tax: all those tales of hard-working families striving to make their way in the world, until the grim reaper conspires with the taxman to scatter their modest fortunes to the winds. But were there really no stories to throw back? Graetz and Shapiro suggest that a similar campaign could have been run by the opponents of repeal, highlighting a few of the many instances of wholly worthless individuals inheriting a large chunk of unearned wealth on no basis other than an accident of birth. It has to be said, however, that the way Graetz and Shapiro lay out this option is indicative more of the problems liberals have with confronting the dark arts of their opponents than it is of any likely solutions. They identify Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie, stars of The Simple possible poster-children for the absurd injustice of inherited wealth...

It would be better, surely, to adopt a strategy that Graetz and Shapiro rule out as much too extreme, which is to find some examples of well-known criminals who came into a stack of money, like Michael Skakel (the Kennedy cousin who was convicted of murdering Martha Moxley), and run with the slogan: 'Bush favours tax breaks for rich murderers.'...
And here I thought the class warfare types had all the best stories.

Anyway, according to Brian Doherty's Death and Taxes, a fairly ancient article,
The tax hits mostly family-owned businesses, 87 percent of which don't survive to a third generation. (Nearly 90 percent of estate taxes are paid on estates worth less than $2.5 million.) The Small Business Survival Committee estimates that 90 percent of family businesses that fail right after the founder dies do so because the business doesn't have enough liquid cash to pay the estate taxes. In a 1993 study, Richard Wagner, chairman of George Mason University's economics department, estimated that estate taxes have cost 262,000 jobs since 1971.

Which means that even the feds aren't getting their money's worth from estate taxes -- which amount to less than 1 percent of the budget, generally less than $15 billion a year. With the income taxes lost due to stifled job creation and money spent on estate planning, plus enforcement and compliance costs that can be higher than 50 cents on the dollar, even that small federal benefit might be an exaggeration.

Wednesday, June 1

IME toolbar

My Chinese IME toolbar looks like this:


On one of my computers but not the other, when I click on the little "Options" triangle on the lower right of the toolbar, I get this pop-up, with one of the options "corrections"--I have no idea what that does.