Sunday, July 31

No such thing as "alternative" medicine

Should We Turn Up Our (Runny) Noses at Echinacea? By Ruth Kava, Ph.D., R.D.

In the opinion of Dr. Wallace Sampson, an ACSH scientific advisor, we have reached a point of marginal returns with respect to studying the effects of alternative medicine remedies:
Noting that the NIH has spent nearly $1.5 billion since 1999 supporting research into alternative medicine methods, with "no evidence of efficacy and little evidence of inefficacy," he states that NCCAM "must consider halting its search for active remedies through clinical trials of treatments of low plausibility."

Perhaps, as Dr. Sampson has suggested, we might gain more by studying the "psychology of personal beliefs in irrational proposals [and] in the study of erroneous thinking" than by continued testing of products that seem to benefit their producers more than their consumers. Dr. Gilbert Ross, ACSH medical director adds, "There is no such thing as 'alternative' medicine. Medical science deals with effective and safe treatments, based on objective evidence. The 'alternative' is not medicine, but superstition or faith."

Saturday, July 30

Jane Fonda Vs. Minnie Driver

Jane Fonda to Oppose Iraq War on Bus Tour. Even when I was opposed to the war in Vietnam (that was when I didn't get the cruelty of Communism), I thought she had gone too far.

Contrast her silliness with the participation of several celebrities in Oxfam America's ad campaign (A Third-World 'Farm Aid,' So to Speak By MELANIE WARNER) raise awareness of what they say is the unfair nature of agricultural subsidies. The campaign urges wealthy nations like the United States and European countries to stop dumping agricultural products onto the world market, which Oxfam argues makes it impossible for farmers in poor countries to compete.

The celebrities who agreed to be dumped on - the actors Minnie Driver, Colin Firth and Antonio Banderas; U2's lead singer, Bono; Coldplay's lead singer, Chris Martin; R.E.M.'s lead singer, Michael Stipe; Alanis Morrissette; and Radiohead's lead singer, Thom Yorke - say they donated their time for the campaign because they believe it is important to level the playing field for developing nations.

"People think more aid will help, but it won't," said Ms. Driver, an actress who is working on her second music CD. "Trade is the surest way of decreasing the savage amount of poverty in our world. These countries have got to be able to trade fairly."
Minnie Driver for free trade--who 'da thunk?

A Haven for Fanatics

If they pass the 'cricket test', how do we stop the suicide bombers? By Niall Ferguson
...we have blindly allowed our country to be a haven for fanatics.

..."If al-Qaeda indeed carried out this act, it is a great victory for it," declared Dr Hani al-Siba'i in an interview on the al Jazeera satellite television channel the day after the London bombings. "It rubbed the noses of the world's eight most powerful countries in the mud." He went on to say that it was legitimate for al-Qaeda to target civilians because "the term 'civilians' does not exist in Islamic religious law in the modern Western sense. People are either of Dar al-Harb [the domain of war, meaning territory ruled by non-Muslims] or not."

And where are you most likely to bump into Dr al-Siba'i? Why, in London, where he is the Director of the al-Maqreze Centre for Historical Studies.

American Airlines sucks

On July 26, I took flight AA 154 from Tokyo to Chicago. This flight was overbooked, and my wife and I were upgraded to business class. We were disagreeably surprised by the poor service offered by a stewardess whose name read "Judy". Not only were her movements clumsy, but her manner was brusque and impatient to the point of rudeness. We were not the only recipients of such poor treatment; so were a couple of Japanese passengers sitting across the aisle from us. This "Judy" deserves a reprimand at the very least.

In contrast, the service of another stewardess was what I would have expected in business class. I didn't get her name (she served me when the lights were off), but she was the only black attendant I saw in the cabin. This attendant may only have been doing her job, but she did it well.

Let's flood the Chinese Internet with filter-breaking technology

Let a Thousand Filters Bloom By Anne Applebaum
After the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, the United States passed a law prohibiting U.S. firms from selling "crime control and detection" equipment to the Chinese. But in 1989, the definition of police equipment ran to truncheons, handcuffs and riot gear. Has it been updated? We may soon find out: A few days ago, Rep. Dan Burton of the House Foreign Relations Committee wrote a letter to the Commerce Department asking exactly that. In any case, it's time to have this debate again. There could be other solutions -- such as flooding the Chinese Internet with filter-breaking technology.

Beyond legality, of course, there's morality. And here the judgment of history will prove more important than whatever Congress does or does not do today. Sixty years after the end of World War II, IBM is still battling lawsuits from plaintiffs who accuse the company of providing the "enabling technologies" that facilitated the Holocaust. Sixty years from now, will Microsoft, Cisco and Yahoo be doing the same?

Monday, July 25

A solitary prisoner

The more a person limits himself, the more resourceful he becomes. A solitary prisoner for life is extremely resourceful; to him a spider can be a great source of amusement.
--Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or: A Fragment of Life

Nomenclature problems

According to the Hurricane Research Division at the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, a tropical cyclone with maximum sustained surface winds of more than 74 mph is named differently depending on where it is:
  • "hurricane" in the North Atlantic Ocean, the Northeast Pacific Ocean east of the dateline, or the South Pacific Ocean east of 160E
  • "typhoon" in the Northwest Pacific Ocean west of the dateline
  • "severe tropical cyclone" in the Southwest Pacific Ocean west of 160E or Southeast Indian Ocean east of 90E
  • "severe cyclonic storm" in the North Indian Ocean
  • "tropical cyclone" in the Southwest Indian Ocean
And if it crosses one of those lines, the name changes. Maybe they're not highly populated areas, but isn't this awfully messy? I'm awfully fond of "typhoon" (cf. Mandarin taifeng 颱風), because it sounds so exotic. Of course that means it'll never catch on.

Tuesday, July 19

Power to the Consumer

Hybrid Cars Burning Gas in the Drive for Power By MATTHEW L. WALD
Many people concerned with oil consumption, including President Bush and members of Congress, are pointing to hybrids - vehicles with electric motors as well as internal combustion engines - as a way to reduce fuel use and dependence on imported oil...

But the pendulum has swung. The 2005 Honda Accord hybrid gets about the same miles per gallon as the basic four-cylinder model, according to a review by Consumer Reports, a car-buyer's guide, and it saves only about two miles a gallon compared with the V-6 model on which it is based. Thanks to the hybrid technology, though, it accelerates better.

Hybrid technology, it seems, is being used in much the same way as earlier under-the-hood innovations that increased gasoline efficiency: to satisfy the American appetite for acceleration and bulk.

Despite the use of hybrids to achieve better performance with about the same fuel economy, consumers who buy the cars continue to get a tax credit that the Internal Revenue Service allows under a "clean fuels" program that does not take fuel savings into account.

And the image of hybrids as fuel-stingy workhorses persists. In a June 15 speech at an energy forum, Mr. Bush proposed a tax credit of up to $4,000 to "encourage people to make right choices in the marketplace that will make us less dependent on foreign sources of oil and to help improve our environment."

But some hybrids save hardly any fuel, energy efficiency advocates say. "The new ones are all being used for power," said Kateri Callahan, the president of the Alliance to Save Energy, a nonprofit advocacy group based here...

Hybrid technology seems to be heading the way of earlier technologies, which got more work out of a gallon of gasoline, like four valves per cylinder and variable valve timing, that have been used in the end to make cars accelerate faster, rather than to hold them steady in performance and to cut fuel consumption.
"Power to the Consumer" indeed. That's horsepower to the consumer of gasoline.


Writing on Bush's electoral victory in the January 20, 2005 New York Times, Four More Years of Happiness DANIEL GILBERT said
Things do seem to turn out for the best - but studies suggest that this has less to do with the way things turn out than with our natural tendency to seek, notice, remember, generate and uncritically accept information that makes us happy.

Our ability to spin gold from the dross of our experience means that we often find ourselves flourishing in circumstances we once dreaded. We fear divorces, natural disasters and financial hardships until they happen, at which point we recognize them as opportunities to reinvent ourselves, to bond with our neighbors and to transcend the spiritual poverty of material excess. When the going gets tough, the mind gets going on a hunt for silver linings, and most linings are sufficiently variegated to reward the mind's quest.
So happiness isn't all that hard.

Why not, eh?

Lifehacker points out Personal Financial Tools (Excel templates). The question is, why aren't these part of the whole Excel package?

Backward Looking

According to Degrees of separation
American conservatives, says Anatole Lieven, of the Carnegie Endowment, a Washington think-tank, are backward-looking, nostalgic for a supposedly golden age in the 1950s; they are defensive, believing that the government and courts are prejudiced against Christianity; and they are driven by grievances over cultural reverses (abortion), sexual mores (gay marriage) and military defeat (Vietnam).

Obviously not all conservatives feel so gloomy.
No kidding. Remember the Pew Political Typology and its take on Personal Optimism? And what about liberal pessism and looking backward with respect to technological progress? Are liberals driven by their own set of grievances over technological reverses? Then given what they said about computers, I'm starting to wonder if they've got a clue about anything.

Let's talk it over

In And this is why they did it Amir Taheri reminds us that the Dutch film-maker Theo van Gogh (who was shot by an Islamist assassin on his way to work in Amsterdam last November) tried to reason with his assailant. "Surely we can discuss this," he kept saying as the shots kept coming. "Let us talk it over."
...sorry, old chaps, you are dealing with an enemy that does not want anything specific, and cannot be talked back into reason through anger management or round-table discussions. Or, rather, this enemy does want something specific: to take full control of your lives, dictate every single move you make round the clock and, if you dare resist, he will feel it his divine duty to kill you.

Monday, July 18

Only 53% of Chinese Can Communicate in Mandarin

Uniting China to Speak Mandarin, the One Official Language: Easier Said Than Done By HOWARD W. FRENCH
"No one can clearly answer the question how many dialects there are in China," said Zhang Hongming, a professor of Chinese linguistics at the University of Wisconsin who is in China doing fieldwork. "The degree of difference among dialects is much higher than the degree of difference among European languages. In Europe they call them languages, but in China we share a culture, so the central government would like to consider that one language is shared by many different peoples. It is simply a different definition."

...For China, the consequences of this linguistic fragmentation are immense. Although no one in government says that local languages should be eliminated, there is a growing awareness that the country's national construction cannot be considered complete until all Chinese can speak a common language, which remains a distant goal.

Indeed, a government survey published last year said only 53 percent of the population "can communicate in Putonghua." In recognition of this fact, broadcasters commonly include subtitles - the meaning of Chinese characters is stable, even as spoken dialects vary - on television programs here to help people overcome comprehension problems.
Note that generally speaking, written Chinese is based on Mandarin.

Another Taboo Word

In You Can Relax About Food and Eat What You Want, diet skeptic Sandy Szwarc reports on a study "that found the greatest improvements are among women who don't diet." Maybe so. I've repeatedly heard that diets don't work.

The weird thing she mentioned is "nondieters, by learning the joys of movement separate from an 'exercise' or weight loss regimen, had nearly quadrupled their physical activity."

I can't believe that one can't can't utter the word "exercise" without apparently causing some kind of crisis in people who dislike to move, and that one has to teach them "the joys of movement" disconnected from this fearsome "exercise" to get them to get off their butts. So I guess "exercise" is going to become another taboo word.

Sunday, July 17


Corrupted PC's Find New Home in the Dumpster By MATT RICHTEL and JOHN MARKOFF
Many PC owners are simply replacing embattled machines rather than fixing them...

In the face of a constant stream of pop-up ads, malfunctioning programs and performance slowed to a crawl or a crash - the hallmarks of spyware and adware - throwing out a computer "is a rational response," said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project, a Washington-based research group that studies the Internet's social impact.
I'm dubious; I keep my anti-virus software up-to-date and am firewalled and use Firefox and I've never had a serious problem. I can't believe a Ph.D. in computer science, a physician, a stockbroker, and a bank manager can't install the proper software--and backup their files.

Identity Theft

What to Do After Your Data Is Stolen By M.P. DUNLEAVEY:
  • Put an "extended fraud alert" on your credit report which will last for seven years. You've got to call your bank, contact your local police precinct (what can they do?) and file a copy with the F.T.C.(877-438-4338).
  • Get a copy of your credit report and review it for suspicious information; freeze it if your state allows it.
  • Don't cancel your online bill-pay service; "As long as your computer is protected with a firewall and virus software, online banking and bill paying may reduce the risk of data theft by reducing the number of people who handle your transactions."
This reporter doesn't seem all that bright to me; s/he says that when you're a data theft victims, "'d think someone could take the trouble to send you a copy of your credit report". And as far as the last point is concerned, a couple of weeks ago DUNLEAVEY wrote:
Curtail electronic access to your bank accounts. Pay bills through snail mail. Avoid linking your checking to savings.
Anyway, the advice on firewall and virus software makes sense, but how many will fail to heed it?

Terrorist attacks

...are crimes against humanity perpetrated by psychopaths for whom murder is not a means to an end but rather the end itself.

There is nothing redeeming about these crimes. In London, Madrid, Baghdad and elsewhere we have witnessed cowardly, copycat plots aimed at inflicting death and pain on the most vulnerable of targets - ordinary people going about their daily lives.

As a British police officer noted on Friday, the only challenge the attackers ever faced was getting the explosive.

The perpetrators may delude themselves about the higher purpose of their acts, but this is what psychopathic murderers often do. Baghdad and other Iraqi cities, which had more than their fair share of such crimes, bear witness to the hollowness of such pretensions. Muslims and Christians, Kurds and Arabs, Shias and Sunnis, doctors, imams, policemen and children are cut down by a murderous machine that seems to have run out of control. The al-Qaeda terrorists do not even bother to attack foreign military targets any more and now focus almost exclusively on Iraqis.

To try to divine a political goal, let alone a rational agenda, behind such attacks would only dignify these criminals and feed into their illusions. In this context, it was sad to hear US President George Bush recently recite at length the ravings of the cave-bound mentor of one of these gangs as if they were a rival political programme.

The best political reaction to the atrocities is to ignore them. Politicians should take inspiration from the reserve with which Londoners chose to confront this tragedy.
From Asking why will dignify criminals; The bombers are psychopaths without political worth by Yahia Said

It's free

English-Chinese, Chinese-English Dictionary

Scenes they've never seen

Own Original Chinese Copies of Real Western Art! By KEITH BRADSHER

China's low wages and hunger for exports have already changed many industries, from furniture to underwear. The art world, at least art for the masses, seems to be next, and is emerging as a miniature case study of China's successful expansion in a long list of small and obscure industries that when taken together represent a sizable chunk of economic activity.

China is rapidly expanding art colleges, turning out tens of thousands of skilled artists each year willing to work cheaply. The Internet is allowing these assembly-line paintings to be sold all over the world; the same technology allows families across America to arrange for their portraits to be painted in coastal China.

As in the United States and Europe, a handful of contemporary painters in China can command hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars for each of their highly creative works - artists like Chen Yifei, Zhao Wuji and Wu Guanzhong. But the main push by China has been in the broad market for works that retail for $500 or less, with painters who work from postcards or images on the Internet or, in Mr. Zhang's case, a large, dog-eared copy of an art book in English on van Gogh.

China's ability to turn what has long been an individual craft into a mass production industry may affect small-scale artists from Rome's Spanish Steps to the sidewalks along Santa Monica's beach in California, as well as many galleries and art colonies in between.

Artist groups in the United States are starting to express concern, questioning the originality of some Chinese paintings and whether they comply with American copyright laws.

Wal-Mart, according to Bill Wertz, a company spokesman, has opted not to stock any Chinese paintings for this reason. But retailers from Pier 1 to Bed, Bath & Beyond say they are importing Chinese oil paintings, as are Internet sites like

Many of the paintings depict scenes that Chinese artists have never seen.

Thursday, July 7

Self-satisfied Liberals

Terry Teachout's When Theater Becomes Propaganda: The Problem of Political Art
...I’ve seen, read, and heard about enough contemporary American and British plays to know that the political point of view of most of their authors is well to the left of center. Henry Luce, the founder and publisher of Time and Life, was once asked why he hired so many liberals to write for his magazines, given that his own political views were unabashedly conservative. "For some goddamn reason," he replied, "Republicans can’t write." Well, they’ve learned how, but for some other goddamn reason, they don’t write plays. Of the two hundred-odd new plays I’ve seen in my two years as a working critic, not one could be described as embodying a specifically right-wing political perspective, nor do I know any New York-based playwrights or actors who are openly conservative.
He mentions the cliché that great art "takes you out of yourself."
By definition, it then puts you into somebody else, and in so doing enriches your understanding of reality. To do this successfully, it must be in the deepest sense sympathetic. The New Shorter Oxford Dictionary defines sympathy as "the fact or capacity of sharing or being responsive to the feelings or condition of another or others." Such a capacity is a sine qua non of all serious art. It is what makes Shakespeare’s villains believable: we feel we can understand their motives, even if we don’t share them. It is also central to the persuasive power of great art. Without sympathy there can be no persuasion. Even a caricature, however cruel, must acknowledge the humanity of its subject in order to be funny. The artist must create a whole character and not simply show the side of him that will most convince us of his villainy.

What I find striking about much of today’s political art, by contrast, is its unwillingness to make such acknowledgments. Instead of seeking to persuade – to change the minds of its viewers – it takes for granted their concurrence. It assumes that everyone in the audience is already smart enough to hate Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld and, above all, George W. Bush, and thus does not need to be reminded of their underlying humanity, or of the possibility, however remote, that their intentions might be good. By extension it also takes for granted that no truly creative artist could possibly think otherwise, that good art is by definition liberal (or, to use the term commonly preferred by such artists, "progressive") in its view of the world, and that only progressive thinkers are truly creative. Conservatives are generally thought too repressed or narrow-minded for creative activities.
A very large number of other American artists hold this attitude.
One of them, the novelist Jane Smiley, tipped her hand in a postelection essay for Slate:

The election results reflect the decision of the right wing to cultivate and exploit ignorance in the citizenry. I suppose the good news is that 55 million Americans have evaded the ignorance-inducing machine. But 58 million have not.... The error that progressives have consistently committed over the years is to underestimate the vitality of ignorance in America. Listen to what the red-state citizens say about themselves, the songs they write, and the sermons they flock to. They know who they are – they are full of original sin and they have a taste for violence. The blue-state citizens make the Rousseauvian [sic] mistake of thinking humans are essentially good, and so they never realize when they are about to be slugged from behind.

Two things are worth noting about this article. The first is that it was written by a well-known, much-admired novelist. The second is that it appears to be representative of the political views of a considerable number of other artists who think that all conservatives (including conservative artists) are evil or stupid, or both. Smiley goes so far as to use the theological term "invincible ignorance," which implies that there’s no point in arguing with such benighted folk, since their ignorance is invincible.

One finds the same quasi-religious language in virtually all of [Tony] Kushner’s plays, used to much the same purpose: it is meant to indicate that disagreement with the author is not merely wrong but evil, and must necessarily lead to damnation. (Conversely, a play like Trumbo [written about Dalton Trumbo by his son Christopher] exists not to persuade anyone of Dalton Trumbo’s goodness – that is taken for granted – but to serve as a quasi-religious ritual of collective self-congratulation, an opportunity for progressives to join together in celebrating a fearless defender of the true faith. That the defender in question was a hack screenwriter who tacitly connived at mass murder on a near-genocidal scale is irrelevant: all that matters is that he “stood pat” when ordered by the House Un-American Activities Committee to inform on his similarly complicit colleagues.)

You might go so far as to say that the authors of such plays suffer from what conservatives call the "entitlement mentality." It isn’t just that they feel no responsibility to make arguments that might prove persuasive to those who disagree with them, or at least haven’t yet made up their minds: they no longer acknowledge any responsibility to their audiences. They appear to believe instead that so long as an artist thinks all the right things, he need not go to the trouble to be amusing, subtle, or even interesting. All he need do is make his characters say the right things, and he’s entitled to the approval of his enlightened brethren. No one else matters.


What makes political artists think they can get away with such shoddy work? In New York and other American cities of similar political disposition, the answer is plain to see. Look at the 2004 election returns: 82 percent of Manhattan residents voted for John Kerry. No doubt Bush did rather better in the suburbs, but there’s every reason to think that most art-loving New Yorkers are as unswervingly liberal as that statistic suggests. Yet there is no less reason to think that a substantial number of them expect more out of art, and refuse to accept less.

...[F]ilms like those made by the left-wing director-screenwriter John Sayles, remind us that political art need not be simpleminded, much less uncreative, in its view of human behavior. Asked by an interviewer why so few American directors make political movies, Sayles replied, "I think more than being political or not political, it’s often the problem of being complex: The characters aren’t heroic. Sometimes they do things you don’t like, even if you may like them, and it’s hard to know exactly who the good guys and bad guys are, because everybody is a little bit compromised." ...The biggest problem with such political artists as Tony Kushner, Sam Shepard, and Tim Robbins is not that they are leftists, but that they coast on their leftism. Their plays are as self-satisfied as they are simpleminded – and self-satisfaction is the death of serious art and creativity more generally.


The good news is that most of the art I see in New York, be it on stage, in a bookstore, or at a gallery, is not even implicitly political....

The Need to Defeat Isolation

According to Vivian Gornick (via Linda Grant via Norman Geras) on American Communists:
...because they were in the Communist Party they were no longer nameless drones, without rights; they were linked up to something really big which extended to every part of the world, the revolution round the corner. A better world.... Gornick's story is of how idealism shapes us, brings out the best and the worst. That hook on the soul turned ordinary men and women, living in a kind of animal twilight, into people who felt themselves no longer alone but intimately connected with the fate of all humanity...[Gornick sees the soul of radicalism] as born of an innate need to defeat isolation, the struggle of us all to humanize ourselves and what that leads to, engagement.
Not so different from what Demosophia was talking about. A lot of people end up adopting a set of attitudes and behaviors (political, religious, and as consumers, to name a few) so they can fit in with their friends.

Me, I'm pretty isolated.

Wednesday, July 6

Live 8 was a great concert, but...

Easily Distracted doesn't think much of it.
Bob Geldof responds that at least he’s doing something, and that doing something is better than doing nothing.

No. It’s not. Not when the entire event and most of the language surrounding it just encourages the ghostly recurrence of the white man’s burden view of world affairs, that everything bad out there is somehow the fault of privileged white Euro-Americans and is somehow theirs and theirs alone to rectify. Not only were African artists almost entirely missing from the concert–a few pencilled in hastily at the end–but so were Africans as actors in their own ongoing drama. They’re welcome as former victims thanking their saviors, but otherwise, it’s not about them. That entire attitude is as much as–indeed, far bigger–a problem than the underfunding of development. It’s the liberal mirror image of neoconservative interventionism, a refusal to face the world in its moral and political complexity, instead trying to make it something that people with good intentions and an exaggerated sense of their own power can remake.

No. It’s not. Not when your concert is flogging two generic remedies for African poverty, neither of which has any real specific promise of changing the status quo. More money from the G8 or debt relief in and of themselves will do nothing. In fact, there’s good reason to think that both remedies proposed at that level of generality will aggravate the poverty of some African societies. Now if Geldof wanted to get up and flog something like reform of property rights a la Hernando de Soto, or Jeffrey Sachs-style targeted community development, or dropping agricultural subsidies in the US and Europe–anything–he’d at least be worth a listen. But he’s got no right to scream righteously at anybody given the flabby, content-less nature of his demands. I’m no fan of the current G8 leadership but in this case I hope they’re laughing at him in private while they pretend to be concerned and attentive in public.

Africa should stand on its own two feet

I do not need white NGOs to speak for me by James Shikwati First World delegates sat in conference halls and debated, African and Indian farmers hit the streets of Johannesburg to tell the world what they really want and need — not sustainable development but economic growth. The contrast is stark between many developed country NGOs and the people they claim to represent: wealthy countries want the Earth to be green, the underdeveloped want the Earth fed...

Proposals being tossed around in Johannesburg would condemn [poor farmers] to medieval agricultural practices in the name of sustainability, restricting the use of pesticides and genetically modified seeds. The demands of farmers include the freedom to grow any crop of their choice, to access available technology, to trade within and outside their countries, to improve agricultural productivity and to sell their products in markets not distorted by agricultural subsidies, tariffs or quotas...

The First World might also rethink its development aid strategy. During the 1980s and 1990s, well- meaning donor countries funnelled billions of dollars in aid to Africa. Unfortunately, much of it fell directly into the hands of corrupt governments, who used it to support their dictatorships or pass the riches on to a select group of cronies. Rather, developed countries should target such funding for genuine problems, such as the purchase of medicines to fight HIV/Aids.
From For God's Sake, Please Stop the Aid!, the SPIEGEL Interview with him:
If the industrial nations really want to help the Africans, they should finally terminate this awful aid. The countries that have collected the most development aid are also the ones that are in the worst shape. Despite the billions that have poured in to Africa, the continent remains poor.

SPIEGEL: Do you have an explanation for this paradox?

Shikwati: Huge bureaucracies are financed (with the aid money), corruption and complacency are promoted, Africans are taught to be beggars and not to be independent. In addition, development aid weakens the local markets everywhere and dampens the spirit of entrepreneurship that we so desperately need. As absurd as it may sound: Development aid is one of the reasons for Africa's problems. If the West were to cancel these payments, normal Africans wouldn't even notice. Only the functionaries would be hard hit. Which is why they maintain that the world would stop turning without this development aid.

SPIEGEL: Even in a country like Kenya, people are starving to death each year. Someone has got to help them.

Shikwati: But it has to be the Kenyans themselves who help these people. When there's a drought in a region of Kenya, our corrupt politicians reflexively cry out for more help. This call then reaches the United Nations World Food Program -- which is a massive agency of apparatchiks who are in the absurd situation of, on the one hand, being dedicated to the fight against hunger while, on the other hand, being faced with unemployment were hunger actually eliminated. It's only natural that they willingly accept the plea for more help. And it's not uncommon that they demand a little more money than the respective African government originally requested. They then forward that request to their headquarters, and before long, several thousands tons of corn are shipped to Africa ...

SPIEGEL: ... corn that predominantly comes from highly-subsidized European and American farmers ...

Shikwati: ... and at some point, this corn ends up in the harbor of Mombasa. A portion of the corn often goes directly into the hands of unsrupulous politicians who then pass it on to their own tribe to boost their next election campaign. Another portion of the shipment ends up on the black market where the corn is dumped at extremely low prices. Local farmers may as well put down their hoes right away; no one can compete with the UN's World Food Program. And because the farmers go under in the face of this pressure, Kenya would have no reserves to draw on if there actually were a famine next year. It's a simple but fatal cycle.

SPIEGEL: If the World Food Program didn't do anything, the people would starve.

Shikwati: I don't think so. In such a case, the Kenyans, for a change, would be forced to initiate trade relations with Uganda or Tanzania, and buy their food there. This type of trade is vital for Africa. It would force us to improve our own infrastructure, while making national borders -- drawn by the Europeans by the way -- more permeable. It would also force us to establish laws favoring market economy...

SPIEGEL: In the West, there are many compassionate citizens wanting to help Africa. Each year, they donate money and pack their old clothes into collection bags ...

Shikwati: ... and they flood our markets with that stuff. We can buy these donated clothes cheaply at our so-called Mitumba markets. There are Germans who spend a few dollars to get used Bayern Munich or Werder Bremen jerseys, in other words, clothes that that some German kids sent to Africa for a good cause. After buying these jerseys, they auction them off at Ebay and send them back to Germany -- for three times the price. That's insanity ...

SPIEGEL: ... and hopefully an exception.

Shikwati: Why do we get these mountains of clothes? No one is freezing here. Instead, our tailors lose their livlihoods. They're in the same position as our farmers. No one in the low-wage world of Africa can be cost-efficient enough to keep pace with donated products. In 1997, 137,000 workers were employed in Nigeria's textile industry. By 2003, the figure had dropped to 57,000. The results are the same in all other areas where overwhelming helpfulness and fragile African markets collide.

Shikwati: ...Jobs with foreign aid organizations are, of course, quite popular, and they can be very selective in choosing the best people. When an aid organization needs a driver, dozens apply for the job. And because it's unacceptable that the aid worker's chauffeur only speaks his own tribal language, an applicant is needed who also speaks English fluently -- and, ideally, one who is also well mannered. So you end up with some African biochemist driving an aid worker around, distributing European food, and forcing local farmers out of their jobs. That's just crazy!

SPIEGEL: The German government takes pride in precisely monitoring the recipients of its funds.

Shikwati: And what's the result? A disaster. The German government threw money right at Rwanda's president Paul Kagame. This is a man who has the deaths of a million people on his conscience -- people that his army killed in the neighboring country of Congo.

SPIEGEL: What are the Germans supposed to do?

Shikwati: If they really want to fight poverty, they should completely halt development aid and give Africa the opportunity to ensure its own survival. Currently, Africa is like a child that immediately cries for its babysitter when something goes wrong. Africa should stand on its own two feet.
Talk about unintended consequences. But this behavior makes people feel good.

Get a Puppy

I just came across a review of Paul Berman's Terror and Liberalism by Demosophia, who cites Hannah Arendt:
What prepares men for totalitarian domination in the non-totalitarian world is the fact that loneliness, once a borderline experience usually suffered in certain marginal social conditions like old age, has become an everyday experience of the evergrowing masses of our century.
Demosophia adds,
Surely the notion that it's all a matter of loneliness appeals to a sense of profound irony, but couldn't we all just get a puppy?
I think it's funnier in context.

Tuesday, July 5

How Embarrassing

I thought this report on 50 Cent as having pulled out of Live 8, "unhappy with the event's anti-globalization tone", was true. Catallaxy, where I found it, seems to have thought so, too, as did mahalanobis. In my defense, I'd never even heard of 50 cent. Still...

Anyway, The Swift Report is pretty funny.

Sunday, July 3

End Western Countries' Trade Subsidies

Among Ordinary Africans, G-8 Seems Out of Touch By Emily Wax says that
Instead of debt relief and more aid, many Africans said they wanted the G-8 to focus on ending corruption and on improving roads, courts, banking and secondary education.

Another useful step, many Africans said, would be to end Western countries' trade subsidies for their own farmers, which make it impossible for African industries to do much more than survive. Debt relief, some asserted, is actually hush money to get free trade advocates off the backs of European countries, the United States and Japan, which offer huge subsidies to their corn, cattle and cotton farmers and thus undercut African farmers' ability to enter the market.
Can't you see the demonstrators at the Live 8 concerts asking for this?

Someone Who Represents Who I Am

In O'Connor Successor Debated Amy Argetsinger and Elizabeth Williamson refer to Victoria Toensing, a Republican and a deputy assistant attorney general from 1984 to 1988, who says, "It is important for people to look at the Supreme Court and say there's someone on that court who represents who I am." Gee, wherever I look, I am unable to find anyone who "represents who I am". What nonsense.

Saturday, July 2

Why Post the Ten Commandments?

Inspired by Eugene Volokh, I note:

Only three are currently enforced: #6 "Thou shalt not kill", #8 "Thou shalt not steal" and #9 "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour".

We used to take others seriously: #4 "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work..." Yeah, right. I'm old enough to remember most places were closed on Sundays, but even then restaurants were open. Similarly, #7 "Thou shalt not commit adultery" used to be a big deal, but not any more.

Did we ever make laws regarding #5 "Honour thy father and thy mother..."?

The First Amendment would prohibit the government from enforcing #1 "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" as well as #3 "Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain."

I'm not sure which is more contrary to current American life, number ten or number two. #10 "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house [etc.]" Coveting is pretty much the way of life for most Americans. Even if the Taliban would go for #2 "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them..." Pictures and other likenesses of living things have been acceptable for centuries, even among most Christians.

So the question is, why post the ten commandments in court houses if over half of them are irrelevant to modern American life? On the other hand, if they're irrelevant, who gives a good god damn, I wish I had that car.

Friday, July 1

Do As I Say--Not As I Do

Greenhouse Hypocrisy By Robert J. Samuelson
Political leaders everywhere deplore global warming -- and then do little.
It's not just the leaders--it's the public, too. Granted in most big cities and in many small towns getting out of the car and taking public transport, walking, or biking would be a major sacrifice, in the college town where I live, one sees few faculty, staff, or students walking or biking.