Wednesday, August 31

Let's get rid of Sally Jenkins

Just Check the ID
First, let's get rid of the idea that ID (intelligent design) is a form of sly creationism. It isn't. ID is unfairly confused with the movement to teach creationism in public schools.
In fact, ID-ers are all atheists.

Why Americans are adopting so many Chinese children

Military examines 'beaming up' data, people by Keay Davidson
Last year, the Air Force spent $25,000 on a report, titled "Teleportation Physics Study," to examine possible ways to teleport humans and objects through space.

The military has a long history of funding research into topics that seem straight out of science fiction, even occultism. These range from "psychic" spying to "antimatter"-propelled aircraft and rockets to strange new types of superbombs.

Military-watchers have long argued over whether such studies are wastes of taxpayers' money or necessary to identify future super-weapons, weapons that a foe might develop if we don't.

[Eric W. Davis, who has a doctorate in astrophysics from the University of Arizona, has expressed great enthusiasm for research allegedly conducted by] Chinese scientists who, he says, have conducted "psychic" experiments in which humans used mental powers to teleport matter through solid walls. He claims their research shows "gifted children were able to cause the apparent teleportation of small objects (radio micro-transmitters, photosensitive paper, mechanical watches, horseflies, other insects, etc.)."
So that's why Americans are adopting all those Chinese children.

Teleportation Physics Study is a pdf of Davis' paper. Note the citation of translations of authors such as "Banghui, W." "Jinggen, H., Xinghai, Y. and Laijing, S.", and "Kongzhi, S., Xianggao, L. and Liangzhong, Z.". Is the Chinese of the translators so bad that they didn't know the difference between given names 名 and surnames 姓 in Chinese? This doesn't give me a lot of confidence about the quality of translation.

Tuesday, August 30

Scientific Literacy

Scientific Savvy? In U.S., Not Much By CORNELIA DEAN includes this gem:

He had firsthand experience with local school issues in the 1980's, when he was a young father living in DeKalb, Ill., and teaching at Northern Illinois University. The local school board was considering closing his children's school, and he attended some board meetings to get an idea of members' reasoning. It turned out they were spending far more time on issues like the cost of football tickets than they were on the budget and other classroom matters. "It was shocking," he said.

So he and some like-minded people ran successfully for the board and, once in office, tried to raise taxes to provide more money for the classroom. They initiated three referendums; all failed. Eventually, he gave up, and his family moved away.

"This country cannot finance good school systems on property taxes," he said. "We don't get the best people for teaching because we pay so little. For people in the sciences particularly, if you have some skill, the job market is so good that teaching is not competitive."

That article led me to Public Knowledge About Science and Technology
Scientific literacy in the United States (and in other countries) is fairly low. (Scientific literacy is defined here as knowing basic facts and concepts about science and having an understanding of how science works.) The majority of the general public knows a little but not a lot about science. For example, most Americans know that the Earth travels around the Sun and that light travels faster than sound. However, few know the definition of a molecule. In addition, most Americans are unfamiliar with the scientific process.[21]

Neither Americans nor Europeans got high marks in a 2001 quiz designed to test their knowledge of science. Both groups were asked 13 questions. On average, Americans answered 8.2 questions correctly, compared with 7.8 for Europeans.[22] Americans scored higher than Europeans on seven of the questions. (click on figure below)

Response to one of the questions, "human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals," may reflect religious beliefs rather than actual knowledge about science. In the United States, 53 percent of respondents answered "true" to that statement in 2001, the highest level ever recorded by the NSF survey. (Before 2001, no more than 45 percent of respondents answered "true.") The 2001 result represented a major change from past surveys and brought the United States more in line with other industrialized countries about the question of evolution.

During most of the 20th century, probably the most contentious issue related to the teaching of science has been whether and how evolution is to be taught in U.S. public school classrooms.[23]

Neither the U.S. survey nor the Eurobarometer has shown much change in the public's level of knowledge about science, with one exception: the number of people who know that antibiotics do not kill viruses has been increasing. In 2001, for the first time, a majority (51 percent) of U.S. respondents answered this question correctly, up from 40 percent in 1995. In Europe, 40 percent of respondents answered the question correctly in 2001, compared with only 27 percent in 1992.[24]

Surveys also indicate that the American public lacks an appreciation of basic statistical concepts and terminology. If statistics were confined to academic journals and textbooks, this finding would be of limited interest. But daily newspapers and even television newscasts rely on tables and charts to illustrate all kinds of trends. (See sidebar, "Understanding Statistics.")

NSF surveys have asked respondents to explain in their own words what it means to study something scientifically. Based on their answers, it is possible to conclude that most Americans (two-thirds in 2001) do not have a firm grasp of what is meant by the scientific process.[27] This lack of understanding may explain why a substantial portion of the population believes in various forms of pseudoscience.

Most Americans are probably not technologically literate. They have little conception of how science, technology, and engineering are related to one another, and they do not clearly understand what engineers do and how engineers and scientists work together to create technology....Although discussions of technological literacy imply agreement about the definition of technology, many people define technology far too narrowly. Their definition is usually restricted to computers and the Internet.[30]

Belief in pseudoscience is relatively widespread.For example, at least a quarter of the U.S. population believes in astrology, i.e., that the position of the stars and planets can affect people's lives. Although the majority (56 percent) of those queried in the 2001 NSF survey said that astrology is "not at all scientific," 9 percent said it is "very scientific" and 31 percent thought it is "sort of scientific"

Belief in astrology is more prevalent in Europe, where 53 percent of those surveyed thought it is "rather scientific" and only a minority (39 percent) said it is not at all scientific (European Commission 2001). Europeans were more likely to say that astrology is scientific than to say the same about economics: only 42 percent of those surveyed thought that economics was scientific.

In the United States, skepticism about astrology is strongly related to level of education: 74 percent of college graduates said that astrology is "not at all scientific," compared with 45 percent of those with less than a high school education and 52 percent of those who had completed high school but not college. In Europe, however, respondents with college degrees were just as likely as others to claim that astrology is scientific.

Europeans were more likely than Americans to agree that "some numbers are particularly lucky for some people." The percentages were 46 percent and 32 percent, respectively.

Surveys even show increasing belief in pseudoscience (Newport and Strausberg 2001). Of the 13 paranormal phenomena included in a periodically administered Gallup survey, belief in 8 increased significantly between 1990 and 2001, and belief in only 1 (devil possession) declined. Belief in four of the phenomena (haunted houses, ghosts, communication with the dead, and witches) had double-digit percentage point increases between 1990 and 2001[33](see figure below)

The report also cites Robert L. Park, like me. Anyway, it's interesting that in many ways Europeans are more ignorant than Americans.

CORNELIA DEAN's article also notes
The National Science Foundation is recasting its survey operations, so Dr. Miller is continuing surveys for other clients.
I wonder if they're going to start treating creationism as science.


In China, it's Mongolian Cow Yogurt Super Girl By Robert Marquand
China's "Super Girl" is an American Idol-style TV show whose grand finale of dancing and singing drew 400 million viewers here last Friday night, roughly equivalent to every person in the US and Britain...

Some 8 million, mostly younger, Chinese paid the equivalent of 2 cents to send a "text message of support" (the word "vote" is avoided) via cellphone for one of the three Super Girl finalists. Li Yuchun, a music student whose tomboy looks and confidence onstage are the talk of Chinese chat rooms, won with 3.5 million votes. The three finalists, all in their early 20s, became instant celebrities in a nation that really hasn't made much room for the pop star concept, except when they come from Hong Kong or Taiwan.

The program did not...emerge from the Beijing studios of official Chinese programming, but from a provincial station in the gritty heartland of Hunan, that has a satellite uplink. The contest is officially called the "Mongolian Cow Sour Yogurt Super Girl Contest." By its rules any female, young or old, talented or not, can participate - not just the familiar beauty-queen types from central casting.

Some 120,000 girls took part in the past year, in a sudden and unexpected burst of enthusiasm that has Beijing authorities slightly worried about the precedent it may set for more unregulated forms of pop culture.

"This is totally new to Chinese people," says Wei Feng, a student from the Beijing Foreign Language Institute. "The whole thing is about singing whatever you want, and millions of young girls in those provinces have never had that chance before."

In fact, the two top scorers on Friday were "girl next door" types, with the more feminine Zhang Liangying, who sang, "Don't Cry for Me Argentina," coming in a distant third. Super Girl Ms. Li has a small army of young supporters who see her as a role model.

"[Super Girl] represents a victory of the grass-roots over the elite culture," argues Beijing sociologist Li Yinhe.

"It is vulgar and manipulative," intoned an official statement from China Central TV (CCTV), the national state-run broadcaster, which added that the program was not high-toned enough, due to the gaudy clothing worn by contestants, and that the show could be canceled next season due to its "worldliness."

Technically, CCTV officials can shut down Super Girl, since they hold a monopoly position on broadcast decisions. Many ordinary Chinese say that it won't be worldliness that prompts any shutdown, but the fact that CCTV's advertising revenue on Friday night was lower than that of its modest Hunan competitor. A pilot of an official version of Super Girl produced by CCTV reportedly failed.

"Most Chinese TV is formulaic," says Luo, a young Beijing University graduate, who would only give his first name. "We can figure out after 15 minutes what will happen, but on Super Girl we can't predict what they will say."

Young Chinese women interviewed say that they want to see examples of confident females interacting spontaneously in Chinese public culture, rather than through an official script.
Actually, it's wrong to call it "sour yoghurt". It's just yoghurt. This is the 蒙牛company's website. And here's a picture of the winner Li Yuchun 李宇春:

Monday, August 29

Another CPSI panic

The Panic Du Jour: Trans Fats in Foods By GINA KOLATA
[O]n Wednesday, Dr. Thomas Frieden, the New York City health commissioner, comparing trans fats to toxic substances like asbestos or lead, asked restaurants to stop serving foods that contained them.

New York City "deserves a medal," said Michael Jacobson, director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group that has warned against trans fats. "The evidence really indicates that there is nothing worse," he added. "Switching to butter, palm oil, anything else would be an improvement."

That, however, is not exactly the view of most scientists who have examined the data.

The National Academy of Sciences, the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute and the Food and Drug Administration have all come to the same conclusion: Trans fats are on a par with saturated fats, like butter or lard. Both increase cholesterol levels and most people would be better off if they ate less of all of them. Period.

Elephants all the way down

Will Wilkinson writes,
[T]ry this. ID, even if true, puts us in an explanatory spiral, an unclosed regressive loop.

Assume ID is the best explanation for ordered complexity. That means, our best theory of ordered complexity posits the existence of an intelligent designer, meaning that we posited intelligence as an explanatory fundamental. However, intelligence as we know it is a property of biological beings, and a form of the kind of ordered complexity we initially sought to explain.

If it is suggested that "higher" intelligence is not a form of ordered complexity analogous to our own intelligence, then there is no ground for calling it intelligence after all. If it is itself a form of ordered complexity, then we have made no explanatory advance, for we will be left positing an even higher order intelligent designer for each higher order intelligent designer.

If it proposed that we stop the explanatory spiral by positing an undesigned designer then a new question arises: What explains the emergence of the undesigned designer? Whatever the explanation for the ordered complexity of the undesigned designer may be, then it seems that that explanation could be applied to first order ordered complexity, and Occam demands we excise the useless proliferation of higher order designers.

If it is replied that there is no mechanism that gave rise to the undesigned designer, then first order ordered complexity is still unexplained, only it is now more elaborately unexplained.

I don't think that's going to convince those who believe in "intelligent design". They've only got one designer in mind, and for them looking into his origins is irrelevant, because it's not in their book. Or would they say it's turtles all the way down? (I'm not the first to think of this.)

Will Wilkinson also links to DANIEL C. DENNETT's Show Me the Science, in which he states intelligent design hypothesis has even been ventured as a rival explanation of any biological phenomenon. This might seem surprising to people who think that intelligent design competes directly with the hypothesis of non-intelligent design by natural selection. But saying, as intelligent design proponents do, "You haven't explained everything yet," is not a competing hypothesis. Evolutionary biology certainly hasn't explained everything that perplexes biologists. But intelligent design hasn't yet tried to explain anything.

To formulate a competing hypothesis, you have to get down in the trenches and offer details that have testable implications. So far, intelligent design proponents have conveniently sidestepped that requirement, claiming that they have no specifics in mind about who or what the intelligent designer might be.
And he comes up with one.
To see this shortcoming in relief, consider an imaginary hypothesis of intelligent design that could explain the emergence of human beings on this planet:

About six million years ago, intelligent genetic engineers from another galaxy visited Earth and decided that it would be a more interesting planet if there was a language-using, religion-forming species on it, so they sequestered some primates and genetically re-engineered them to give them the language instinct, and enlarged frontal lobes for planning and reflection. It worked.

If some version of this hypothesis were true, it could explain how and why human beings differ from their nearest relatives, and it would disconfirm the competing evolutionary hypotheses that are being pursued.

We'd still have the problem of how these intelligent genetic engineers came to exist on their home planet, but we can safely ignore that complication for the time being, since there is not the slightest shred of evidence in favor of this hypothesis.

But here is something the intelligent design community is reluctant to discuss: no other intelligent-design hypothesis has anything more going for it. In fact, my farfetched hypothesis has the advantage of being testable in principle: we could compare the human and chimpanzee genomes, looking for unmistakable signs of tampering by these genetic engineers from another galaxy. Finding some sort of user's manual neatly embedded in the apparently functionless "junk DNA" that makes up most of the human genome would be a Nobel Prize-winning coup for the intelligent design gang, but if they are looking at all, they haven't come up with anything to report.
The key word is "testable".

SIUC in the news again

Last semester it was Jonathan Bean (uh-oh, a link to!). Now it's the Daily Egyptian's Kenningsology series. The thing is, it's only a student paper, and they get things wrong all the time.

Now bloggers are dumping on Kim Treger because she criticizes the thirst for sentimental stories as giving rise to this sort of thing. Yes, she is quoted as referring to "that yellow-ribbon mentality", but that doesn't mean everything she says is wrong. Even the bigtime journalists writing on all kinds of topics often feel obligated to dredge up a few personal stories, because the readership loves the touchy-feely stuff, and even prefer that to important policy issues.

Saturday, August 27

She's Not Cindy Sheehan

A mother's journey: Educator helps build Afghan school in son's memory By Nicole Sequino
[Sally Goodrich, a] North Adams educator whose son died in the World Trade Center attacks will leave for Afghanistan this weekend to see the completion of her yearlong project to build a 16-classroom school for more than 500 children ages 6 to 13.


Goodrich, a Title 1 coordinator, and her husband, Donald W. Goodrich, a North Adams attorney, have raised more than $180,000 for the school project, which was inspired by their son, Peter M. Goodrich, and his love for learning about other cultures.
I heard about her on ABC News, while NBC is all Sheehan, all the time, but they don't tell us what Dave Kopel does about Cindy Sheehan in Kopel: Sheehan's radical views little noted:
In an interview with Mark Knoller of CBS News, she explained that the foreigners who have to come to Iraq to battle the U.S. military are "freedom fighters." (Video at the anti-war Web site ["freedom fighters" is at the six minutes point]). Conversely, she described last January's vote in Iraq as a "sham election," in her Tuesday entry on her weblog on Michael Moore's Web site...

In an Aug. 16 interview with Chris Matthews on Hardball, Sheehan explained that the invasion of Afghanistan was just as wrong as the invasion of Iraq, and she would be equally angry if her son had died in Afghanistan: "Why do we send in invading armies to march into Afghanistan when we're looking for a select group of people in that country?" Yet the news stories in the Denver papers never mention her belief about the immorality of the Afghanistan war.

Sheehan has explained that the real global terrorist problem is the United States. Speaking at San Francisco State University on April 27, she announced, "The biggest terrorist in the world is George W. Bush." Rebuking people (such as [The Denver Post] editors who created the "Portraits of Valor" series) who claim that serving in the military is patriotic, she stated: "I'm going all over this country telling moms: 'This country is not worth dying for.' " She denounced the idea that soldiers should "defend this morally repugnant system we have." (Transcript)

Friday, August 26

I don't have to carry the CD around anymore

汉语大词典 1.0 isn't that great a dictionary, but I finally figured out how to keep it on my computer, using ISO Recorder Power Toy and DAEMON Tools. I couldn't use the same system for 現代漢語詞典, though. The .iso file wouldn't record properly. I get the message "recording has failed. Code: 00000000"

The Vision Thing

Britain: homegrown terror By Olivier Roy
These radicals are not fighting for a specific national cause. They are part of the contemporary global jihad: Bosnia, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Kashmir and now Iraq. Their enemy is the US and the West in general. They are not fighting to establish an Islamic state in Iraq or Palestine. They are not concerned with solidarity networks or fundraising; nor are they involved in the conflicts and practical problems of Muslim populations in Europe. None of them is known to have been active in Muslim trade union, political or communal organisations. Those who have attended mosques have often done so under the patronage of fundamentalist organisations, such as Jama’at ut-Tabligh, which do not advocate political action. So the London terrorists of Pakistani origin did not go to Kashmir or Waziristan to fight the (nationalist) enemy.


More than ever, al-Qaida militants have a global, non-territorial vision of jihad. Their goal is not to liberate the Middle East but to combat the world order as they see it. The young second-generation Muslims radicalised in the run-down suburbs and inner-city slums of Europe are motivated by their own situation, not Iraq. They have not been sent to fight somewhere: they fight where they live and where most of them were born. Nor are they particularly guided by political strategy: there were other attempted bomb attacks in Madrid after the withdrawal of Spanish troops.

Ordinary Muslims undoubtedly see the Middle East conflicts as western aggression and proof of the West’s double standards. But the Muslim population in the West has been concerned to express its opposition in political terms, and has joined together with a European public strongly opposed to the war in Iraq. The joint anti-war demonstrations are tangible proof of the integration of Muslims in the political life of Europe. The protests of Europe’s Muslim communities are not couched in terms of religion. They are founded on respect for international law and the rejection of imperialism.

By invoking these conflicts, al-Qaida seeks to acquire legitimacy among Muslims and pose as its avant-garde, whereas it actually recruits on the margins of Muslim society (and on its most westernised fringes at that). Most of all, al-Qaida is concerned to smash the political common front and confine Muslims to a purely religious or ethnic identity that most of them want nothing to do with. It is deliberately out to provoke a clash of cultures, perhaps because, at bottom, the real problem of the radicalised youth is their relation to culture of any kind.


There may have been good reasons for getting rid of Saddam Hussein, and the issue of democracy in the Middle East cannot be ignored by the nationalist left, moderate Islamists or European opponents of the war. But to justify the war in Iraq as part of the fight against terrorism is just as nonsensical as to justify terrorism by the war in Iraq. The issues in the Iraq war are the structure of the Iraqi state, the respect of Iraqi nationalism, the constitutional and legal status of Islam, and the meaning of democracy.

The terrorists have no interest in any of these issues, all of which are becoming increasingly confused in the context of a US policy devoid of overall vision.
via Norm

Equal Time

Equal Time
No tax-exempt status for churches that refuse to distribute pro-evolution propaganda! By Christopher Hitchens
Why not make schoolchildren study the history of the argument? It would show them how to weigh and balance evidence, and it would remind them of the scarcely believable idiocy of the ancestors of "intelligent design." The tale is both amusing and instructive, and it is a vital part of the history of the 19th and 20th centuries. How could intelligent scientific secularism lose if this were part of the curriculum?

If we take the president up on his deceptively fair-minded idea of "teaching the argument," I think we could advance the ball a little further in other directions also. Houses of worship that do not provide space for leaflets and pamphlets favoring evolution (not necessarily Darwinism, which is only one of the theories of evolution and thus another proof of its scientific status) should be denied tax-exempt status and any access to public funding originating in the White House's "faith-based" initiative. Congress should restore its past practice of giving a copy of Thomas Jefferson's expurgated Bible—free of all incredible or supernatural claims—to each newly elected member. The same version of the Bible should be obligatory for study in all classes that affect to teach "divinity." No more Saudi Arabian money should be allowed to be spent in the United States on the opening of jihadist madrasas or the promulgation of a Wahhabi Quran that preaches hatred and contempt of other faiths and of atheism until the Saudi government permits the unmolested opening of Shiite and Sufi places of worship; Christian churches and Hindu temples of all denominations for its Philippine, Indian, and other helot classes; synagogues; and Thomas Paine Society libraries. No American taxpayers' money should be given to Israel unless it can be shown that it is not being used for the establishment of religion by Orthodox messianic settlements in the occupied territories and/or until the Israeli rabbinate recognizes Reform and Conservative Judaism as authentic.

Equal time. It has a nicer ring the more you say it. Bring it on.
cribbed from hakmao

Wednesday, August 24

Another Gloxinia

This was the only one with a perceptible bloom left when I got back.

Smelly feet

This is the 鞋柜 we got in Taiwan at 大樂 (Dollar) for about US$20. I don't know what to call it in English. A shoe rack? We remove our shoes at home (Taiwan style), so the bench on the top is a place to sit when one puts on or takes off one's shoes.

Sunday, August 21

Chinese health system the most unfair in the world

Healthcare falls short, Chinese tell leaders By David Lague
China's authoritarian government is coming under an unusually strong and public attack for the collapse of the country's universal health care system and the rise of profit-oriented state-owned hospitals.

Top government advisers, scholars and the state-controlled media are openly criticizing the ruling Communist Party for failing to avert a growing crisis in public health care. These critics allege that paying patients are treated as cash cows while the poor are denied access to proper medical care.

The public's access to health care in China has been steadily declining for more than two decades. But the system's chronic problems are now emerging as a political issue. As a consequence, Beijing is under mounting pressure, and at senior levels, to re-examine its role in the system.

Critics blame the government for abandoning the public health system to market forces since economic reforms were begun in 1978, leading to what they say are exorbitant charges for medical services, wasteful overservicing and widespread overprescription of drugs.

A hard-hitting report issued earlier this month by the Development Research Center, one of the government's top advisory bodies, concluded that the switch to a user-pays health system has been a failure.

It noted "to our shame" that the World Health Organization ranked the Chinese health system as one of the most unfair in the world. "Most of the medical needs of society cannot be met because of economic reasons," the report said. "Poor people cannot even enjoy the most basic health care."

The government ordinarily discourages open criticism of its policies. In this respect, political analysts and health care experts regard publication of the report from the body that advises China's cabinet, the State Council, as an unusual and surprising step.

It was not immediately clear why Beijing chose to publish the report. But experts in the field suggested that it may indicate a recognition among government officials that the crisis has become so acute as to require an urgent change in policy.

At the same time, there has been some speculation here that the crisis has also become a divisive issue at senior levels of the government. While no officials defend the system as it now functions, the political issue is who should take responsibility for it.

Experts said the report, co-sponsored by the World Health Organization, came at a time when widespread public frustration over the cost of medical care had opened a spirited debate about health policy among senior Chinese leaders...

Li said one measure of medical overservicing revealed in her research was that an average of 50 percent of babies born in Chinese hospitals were delivered by Caesarean section. In some hospitals, that figure was as high as 70 percent.

The main reason for this was that hospitals could only charge a relatively low fee set by the government for live births, but Caesarean sections could be billed at a much higher rate, as surgical procedures. And these procedures allowed hospitals and doctors to manage their time more efficiently than natural births.

"This is a case of the supplier inducing the demand," Li said. "If a doctor says, 'I think it is better to have it,' nobody has the courage to say no."

Before 1978, only 10 percent of births were by Caesarean section...

Health experts agree that one of the major achievements of China's health system before 1978 was the provision of basic medical care for all urban and rural Chinese.

These services, along with an emphasis on preventive medicine and national campaigns to eradicate endemic disease, contributed to an increase in average Chinese life expectancy from 35 years in 1949 to 68 years by 1978.

Despite a dramatic increase in prosperity and living standards in China since 1978, average life expectancy had increased by only 3.5 years, about half the gains in longevity in Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong and Korea over the same period.

"The rate is very low compared with economic growth," Li said. "There are many reasons for this, but failure of the health care system is one of them."

One other serious consequence of stress on the health system has been the return of deadly diseases including tuberculosis and schistosomiasis that had largely been eradicated before 1978.

Many Chinese can still recite by heart a poem the late Communist Party leader Mao Zedong wrote in the 1950s to mark the successful elimination of schistosomiasis, a parasitic disease carried by water snails.

The Development Research Center's report states, and most experts agree, that the quality and sophistication of medical treatment available in Chinese hospitals has increased dramatically in recent decades. However, deep cuts in government health outlays have forced hospitals and clinics to raise the bulk of their income from medical services and the sale of drugs.

Drug sales accounted for up to half the operating revenue of some hospitals.

"The final result is that hospitals and doctors choose and use medicines in terms of maximizing their own profit," the report said.

However, in the absence of widespread medical insurance, many Chinese, particularly the 800 million living in rural areas, cannot afford treatment when they are ill...

Saturday, August 20

Barack Obama Supports the War in Iraq

Sort of. From Obama calls for reducing gas usage by LINDA N. WELLER:
Concerning the Iraq war, he said he believed "it was a bad idea" nearly three years ago.

"I knew full well what a bad man Saddam Hussein was, but there has not been a case of weapons of mass destruction," Obama said. "We still were in Afghanistan, and we still hadn’t caught bin Laden."

However, with troops now in Iraq, Obama said he does not think the United States should suddenly withdraw its armed forces.

"Once we were there, we couldn’t simply up and take off. We have some responsibility to the Iraqi people and the young men and women who sacrificed their lives, even if it wasn’t a good decision to begin with. We owe it to them to make the best of it."

Obama said the United States needs to pressure the three major Iraqi ethnic groups to come to a "political settlement" so they can form "one cohesive government."

"We also need to train Iraqi troops more quickly than we’ve been doing to replace our troops," he said. "I do think that we can start winding down our troops early next year and stop putting this tremendous strain on our troops and the National Guard and making them serve extended tours.

"I’m not wildly optimistic about the outcome in Iraq, but we can stabilize the situation," Obama said.
I agree in part. We have a responsibility to the Iraqi people and we owe it to them to make the best of it.

Obama supports personal responsibility

From Obama tells crowd in Godfrey he opposes tapping oil reserve BY PAUL HAMPEL:
"We eat as much as we want. We smoke as much as we want. And we're not getting enough exercise," he said. "We are not spending enough on prevention but instead on hugely high-tech mechanisms to preserve quality of life instead of having people get on a treadmill three times a week."

Obama & Bush agree!

Blagojevich urges president to release oil from strategic reserve By Ryan Keith
As consumer outrage shoots up along with prices at the gas pump, Gov. Rod Blagojevich called Wednesday for President Bush to release oil from the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve to help fight the skyrocketing costs.

He stopped just short of ruling out any attempt to suspend the state's 5 percent sales tax on gasoline, an option that Illinois used during a past price-spike.

Blagojevich said in a letter to the president that oil from the reserve helped lower gasoline prices by 14 cents a gallon in 2000, and its 700 million barrels of oil could be tapped again.

"It provides some relief and some hope as we work through these difficult times. And when the summer goes into fall, hopefully, things will change," Blagojevich said Wednesday after a Democratic rally at a Springfield hotel. "It seems to me you ought to use some of that reserve and give consumers a break."

But Illinois Democratic Sen. Barack Obama said that would be a mistake, as does the White House.

Obama said the country should focus on using more alternative fuels, while the oil reserve should only be used in national crises.

"We've got to make long-term efforts to reduce our dependence on foreign oil," he said. "There aren't any short-term solutions to the problem of gas prices."
Obama calls for reducing gas usage LINDA N. WELLER quotes Obama:
"Everybody is getting killed by gas prices," he said. "If there is a general emergency -- like if the Saudi Arabian monarchy is overthrown and they cut off our oil supply -- you wouldn’t be looking at $3 gas, but $8 gas, and our economy would be threatened."

Obama said there is no short-term solution for the high prices.

"There is a long-term solution, but people may not want to hear it: People need to cut back," he said. "Three percent of the world’s population is consuming 25 percent of the energy," particularly by driving large trucks and sport utility vehicles.

"There is a finite supply, and the demand is going up through the roof," Obama said. "In China and India, there are three billion people who don’t have a car yet, and they want to buy one."

He launched into a favorite subject: energy-efficient cars. He said people could get 200 to 250 miles per gallon by driving a plug-in hybrid car, but "Detroit has not been producing those cars.

"We’re going to have to do something about technology to improve fuel efficiency," he said. Obama serves on three Senate committees, including the Environment and Public Works Committee.

Obama touted the recently signed comprehensive energy bill, designed to increase use of ethanol and availability of stations that sell E85 fuel, which is 85 percent corn ethanol and 15 percent gasoline.

"E85 is cheaper, when you can find it, by about 50 cents a gallon," he said. "The problem is no filling stations to fill up."
It's nice to hear some sense about the strategic oil reserve, but:
  • Why is there "consumer outrage" over the rising price of gas but nearly none over rising prices due to protectionism?
  • Would energy-efficient cars necessarily be cheaper? Just because they use less gasoline doesn't make it so.
  • What's the talk about "dependence on foreign oil"? It's a fungible commodity, so even if it's American oil, unless there's a lot of it, American oil isn't going to solve the problem.
  • Obama & Bush agree! And Blagojevich is an idiot.
  • I though the price of ethanol was controversial, with some saying it's "unsustainable subsidized food burning", but now things are different; for midwestern Americans,
    locally produced ethanol is close to being competitive even without subsidy; imported Brazilian ethanol could have been so long ago, had not a federal tax credit for ethanol, originally 54 cents per American gallon, been carefully balanced by a 54 cent tariff.
Note that it's Brazilian ethanol that would be competitive, not the local stuff...yet.

Friday, August 19

Legalize It All

Europe: Leader of Liberal Democrats in European Parliament Says Legalize It All
The leader of the Liberal Democrats in the European Parliament, British Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Chris Davies, has called for the legalization and regulation of all currently illicit drugs...

"Taking a small percentage of the drugs off the market simply forces up the price, adding to the already vast profits made by the traffickers and providing a stronger financial incentive for others to get involved. It's a vicious circle," he wrote. "Far from preventing the use of illegal drugs the policy of prohibition creates the profits which drive the growth of the trade. It leads to the corruption of our institutions and provides funds for terrorism. These views used to be controversial but now that the prime minister's personal adviser says that existing policies are doomed to failure it is surely time for all responsible politicians to consider whether alternative strategies could do more to curb crime, reduce harm and save lives."

China's own Yasukuni

Ill Will Rising Between China and Japan By NORIMITSU ONISHI and HOWARD W. FRENCH.
Both governments are encouraging nationalism for their own political purposes: China to shore up loyalty as Marxist ideology fades, Japan to overcome long-held taboos against expanding its military. With the impending 60th anniversary, both are trying to forge a future on their version of the past....

Today's Chinese have been shaped by an anti-Japanese patriotic education, overseen by a government that is aware that its own domestic credentials depend, in part, on a hard line toward Japan. Having a hated neighbor shores up national solidarity and helps distract people from the failings of the Chinese Communist Party. Besides the party's monopoly on power, few orthodoxies are as untouchable today as hostility toward Japan.
Yu Jie is a Chinese author who spent time in Japan researching "Iron and Plough," a book on the relations between China and Japan and another about his experiences in Japan
The books are nuanced works, built around lengthy conversations with pacifists, right-wing activists, scholars of every stripe and ordinary Japanese. One chapter, "Looking for Japan's Conscience," warned against speaking of Japanese in blanket terms....

The books appeared briefly in stores and then disappeared. In a country where censorship is routine, that is a sure sign, the author said, that officials had put pressure on the publisher or the stores to withdraw them.

Mr. Yu said China's policy toward Japan was unlikely to become more balanced as long as an authoritarian government remained in place, because Japan offered an unrivaled distraction from China's own problems.

"We criticize Yasukuni Shrine, but we have Mao Zedong's shrine in the middle of Beijing, which is our own Yasukuni," he said. "This is a shame to me, because Mao Zedong killed more Chinese than the Japanese did. Until we are able to recognize our own problems, the Japanese won't take us seriously."

Monday, August 15

This week's home experiment

Here's this week's home experiment: Bury your car at the beach. Leave it there a month, then dig it up and try to start it. Didn't work, did it? Neither would the ancients' machines.


The Myth Behind China's Miracle By George J. Gilboy
Irrational exuberance about the country's economic future has prompted investors to gobble up shares of Chinese firms with little understanding of how these companies actually operate. Meanwhile, overestimates of China's achievements and potential are fueling fears that the country will inevitably tilt global trade and technology balances in its favor, ultimately becoming an economic, technological, and military threat to the United States. These reactions, however, are equally mistaken: they overlook both important weaknesses in China's economic "miracle" and the strategic benefits the United States is reaping from the particular way in which China has joined the global economy. Such misjudgments could drive Washington to adopt protectionist policies that would reverse recent improvements in U.S.-China relations, further alienate Washington from its allies, and diminish U.S. influence in Asia.

In fact, the United States and China are developing precisely the type of economic relationship that U.S. strategy has long sought to create. China now has a stake in the liberal, rules-based global economic system that the United States worked to establish over the past half-century....

China's own choices along the road to global economic integration have reinforced trends that favor the continued industrial and technological preeminence of the United States and other advanced industrialized democracies. In its forced march to the market, Beijing has let political and social reforms lag behind, with at least two critical -- and unexpected -- consequences. First, to forestall the rise of a politically independent private sector, the Chinese government has implemented economic reforms that strongly favor state-owned enterprises (SOEs), granting them preferential access to capital, technology, and markets. But reforms have also favored foreign investment, which has allowed foreign firms to claim the lion's share of China's industrial exports and secure strong positions in its domestic markets. As a result, Chinese industry is left with inefficient but still-powerful SOEs, increasingly dominant foreign firms, and a private sector as yet unable to compete with either on equal terms.

Second, the business risks inherent in China's unreformed political system have bred a response among many Chinese managers -- an "industrial strategic culture" -- that encourages them to seek short-term profits, local autonomy, and excessive diversification. With a few exceptions, Chinese firms focus on developing privileged relations with officials in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) hierarchy, spurn horizontal association and broad networking with each other, and forgo investment in long-term technology development and diffusion. Chinese firms continue to rely heavily on imported foreign technology and components -- severely limiting the country's ability to wield technological or trading power for unilateral gains.

...rather than lapse into shortsighted trade protectionism that could undermine current favorable trends, Washington should pursue a policy of "strategic engagement." Not simply engagement for its own sake, strategic engagement would explicitly acknowledge the advantages of U.S. technological, economic, and military leadership and seek to reinforce them, in exchange for increased prosperity and more security for China -- the more so now that China has a compelling economic interest in domestic political reform.


According to Morgan Stanley, low-cost Chinese imports (mainly textiles, shoes, toys, and household goods) have saved U.S. consumers (mostly middle- and low-income families) about $100 billion dollars since China's reforms began in 1978. (Cheaper baby clothes from China helped U.S. families with children save about $400 million between 1998 and 2003.) U.S. industrial firms such as Boeing, Ford, General Motors, IBM, Intel, and Motorola also save hundreds of millions of dollars each year by buying parts from lower-cost countries such as China, increasing their global competitiveness and allowing them to undertake new high-value activities in the United States. In an effort to save 30 percent on its total global sourcing costs, Ford imported about $500 million in parts from China last year. General Motors has cut the cost of car radios by 40 percent by building them from Chinese parts. And although global sourcing can cause painful employment adjustments, the process can also benefit U.S. workers and companies. A recent independent study sponsored by the Information Technology Association of America found that outsourcing to countries such as China and India created a net 90,000 new U.S. jobs in information technology in 2003 and estimated that outsourcing will create a net 317,000 new U.S. jobs by 2008.


Unlike other U.S. trading partners in Asia, such as Japan and South Korea, which spurned U.S. imports and investment for decades, China is also a large, open market for U.S. products. Although total U.S. exports have stagnated in recent years, U.S. exports to China have tripled in the last decade. They increased by 28 percent last year alone (whereas overall U.S. exports went up by only 5 percent). In particular, China has become a staple market for advanced U.S. technology products....

Furthermore, China allows foreign firms to invest in its domestic market on a scale unprecedented in Asia. Since it launched reforms in 1978, China has taken in $500 billion in FDI, ten times the total stock of FDI Japan accumulated between 1945 and 2000. According to China's Ministry of Commerce, U.S. firms have invested more than $40 billion in more than 40,000 projects in China. Given its openness to FDI, China cannot maintain its domestic market as a protected bastion for domestic firms, something both Japan and South Korea did during their periods of rapid growth. Instead, it has allowed U.S. and other foreign firms to develop new markets for their goods and services, especially high-value-added products such as aircraft, software, industrial design, advanced machinery, and components such as semiconductors and integrated circuits.

Thanks to this appetite for imports, powerful domestic coalitions, particularly China's growing ranks of urban consumers and its most competitive firms, will continue to favor trade openness. Chinese consumers pride themselves on driving foreign-brand cars and using mobile phones and computers with circuits that were designed and manufactured abroad. Many Chinese firms resist protectionism, because they need to import critical components for their domestic operations and fear retaliation against their exports. For example, in the 1990s, China's machine tool and aircraft industries failed to secure effective state protection in the face of opposition from domestic firms that preferred imports, and they suffered significant decline as a result.

As an open economy and a large importing country, China could be an ally of the United States in many areas of global trade and finance. Already, Beijing has displayed a willingness to play by WTO rules. It has charged Japan and South Korea with unfair trade practices -- markets the United States has also long sought to crack open. China initiated 10 antidumping investigations in 2002 on products with import value of more than $7 billion, and another 20 investigations in 2003. China is now a leading promoter of regional trade and investment regimes, including a free trade zone with ASEAN and a bilateral free trade agreement with Australia, one of the United States' closest allies in the Pacific region. Already, Beijing's proposals on regional economic cooperation seem far more relevant to most Asian nations than do Washington's.

The final benefit the United States enjoys from China's global economic integration is in the long-term, patient battle to promote liberalism in Asia. Foreign trade and development have spurred advancements in Chinese commercial law, greater regulatory consultation with Chinese consumers, slimmed-down bureaucracies, and adherence to international safety and environmental standards. Although it is still limited, the people's freedom to debate economic and social issues has increased, especially in the robust financial media. This process of liberalization is incomplete and uneven, but it is in the interest of both China and the United States to see it continue.

Despite these benefits, business and political leaders in the United States now fear that China's growing share of world exports, especially of high technology and industrial goods, signals the rise of yet another mercantilist economic superpower in northeastern Asia. But these concerns are unwarranted, for three reasons. First, China's high-tech and industrial exports are dominated by foreign, not Chinese, firms. Second, Chinese industrial firms are deeply dependent on designs, critical components, and manufacturing equipment they import from the United States and other advanced industrialized democracies. Third, Chinese firms are taking few effective steps to absorb the technology they import and diffuse it throughout the local economy, making it unlikely that they will rapidly emerge as global industrial competitors.


...another trend that reinforces China's dependence on foreign investment and the growing gap between FFEs and domestic Chinese companies. In the 1990s, Beijing permitted a new FDI trend to develop: a shift away from joint ventures and toward wholly owned foreign enterprises (WOFEs). Today, WOFEs account for 65 percent of new FDI in China, and they dominate high-tech exports. But they are much less inclined to transfer technology to Chinese firms than are joint ventures. Unlike joint ventures, they are not contractually required to share knowledge with local partners. And they have strong incentives to protect their technology from both domestic and other foreign firms, in order to capture a greater share of China's domestic markets. As a result, according to the most recent Chinese government statistics for high-tech industries (pharmaceuticals, aircraft and aerospace, electronics, telecommunications, computers, and medical equipment), FFEs increased their total share of high-tech exports from 74 percent to 85 percent between 1998 and 2002. But perhaps more significant, in the same period, they increased their share of total domestic high-tech sales from 32 percent to 45 percent, while the share of that market held by China's most competitive industrial firms, SOEs, fell from 47 percent to 42 percent.

Finally, the data in the figure reveal that China's private firms are not yet significant global players. Despite more than two decades of economic reform, China's leading domestic industrial and technology companies are still primarily SOEs. Although they remain inefficient and dependent on government-subsidized loans, they account for the bulk of advanced industrial production in China, boast the country's best research and development (R&D) capability, and spend the most resources to develop and import technology. Their preferential access to markets and resources has blocked the rise of private industrial firms. Likewise, collective firms owned by provincial and local governments have failed to emerge as major players in China's advanced industrial and technology sectors.


Developing technology is a difficult and uncertain process. Neither large capital investments nor a significant stock of existing science and engineering capability can guarantee success. To create commercially viable products and services, firms must monitor and access new forms of knowledge, understand evolving market trends, and respond rapidly to changing customer demand. Firms that can develop strong links to research institutions, financiers, partners, suppliers, and customers have an advantage in acquiring, modifying, and then commercializing new technology. Such horizontal networks are essential conduits for knowledge, capital, products, and talent.

Yet China's unreformed political system suppresses such independent social organization and horizontal networking and instead reinforces vertical relationships. China remains a fragmented federal system, its fractious regions unified by a single political party. The CCP controls all aspects of organized life, including industry associations, leaving few avenues for firms to work together for legitimate common interests. This structure drives business leaders to focus on building relationships through CCP officials and the bureaucracy. Although market reforms have brought more rules to the Chinese economy, without institutional checks and balances or direct supervision, CCP officials still exercise wide discretion in defining and implementing those rules, especially at the local level. They can, and often do, manipulate economic policies to pursue particular local goals. Some engage in this "particularism" because they are corrupt, others because they directly own or operate firms. Most, however, do it because the political elite encourages them to: understanding that local economic growth promotes social and political order, the CCP tolerates, and even rewards, officials who use any means to produce local investment and employment. But this often results in fragmented national industries and wasteful overlapping investment.

Chinese business leaders at both public and private firms recognize that an economy dominated by particularism is a risky business environment. Markets are fragmented; rules constantly shift under manipulation by government officials; and political obstacles prevent firms from associating, sharing risk, and taking collective action. To cope with these uncertainties, Chinese business has developed a distinctive industrial strategic culture over the past two decades -- a set of values or guidelines about what strategies "work" in this environment. First, in response to the "particular" application of policy, Chinese firms routinely focus on obtaining "exceptional" treatment from key officials: special access to markets or resources, exemptions from rules and regulations, or protection against predation by other officials. Second, to maximize these exceptional benefits, as well as to avoid entanglements with other firms and their patrons, many Chinese companies shun collaboration within their industry, especially if such collaboration crosses regional or bureaucratic boundaries. Third, they generally favor short-term gains over long-term investments. Finally, Chinese firms tend to engage in excessive diversification in order to mitigate the potential damage of fratricidal price competition created by excess production capacity and overlapping investments.

This industrial strategic culture is rational and effective given the current structure of politics and business environment in China.... But China's industrial strategic culture weakens the competitiveness of Chinese firms and it may have damaging economic repercussions down the road. Most Chinese industrial firms focus on short-term gains and, despite increasing operational efficiency, sales revenues, and profits, have not increased their commitment to developing new technologies. Their total spending on R&D as a percentage of sales revenue has remained below one percent for more than a decade. R&D intensity (R&D expenditure as a percentage of value added) at China's industrial firms is only about one percent, seven times less than the average in countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Focusing on short-term returns has also guided China's imports of industrial technology. Chinese firms tend to import technology by purchasing foreign manufacturing equipment, often in complete sets such as assembly lines. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, hardware accounted for more than 80 percent of China's technology imports, whereas licensing, "know-how" services, and consulting accounted for about 9 percent, 5 percent, and 3 percent, respectively.


Rather than thinking of China as yet another Asian technological and economic "giant," it may be more useful to regard it, like Brazil or India, as a "normal" emerging industrial power. Thanks to the interaction of political structure and industrial culture, China's twenty-first-century technological and economic landscape looks like a pattern of "nodes without roads" -- a few poorly connected centers of technological success. Burdened by these peculiarities, China has yet to lay the domestic institutional foundations for becoming a technological and economic superpower. Without structural political reforms, its ability to indigenize, develop, and diffuse technology will remain limited. And most of its industrial firms will struggle to realize exiguous margins at the lower reaches of global industrial production chains.


Given these limits on China's potential to threaten the global balance of economic power, the United States should resist the false promise of protectionism, whether in the form adopted by the Bush administration (rhetorical jabs at the Chinese currency peg) or that recommended by the AFL-CIO labor federation (calls for tariff protection in the guise of better rights for Chinese workers).


The paradox of China's technological and economic power is that China must implement structural political reforms, not simply freer markets or greater investment, before it can unlock its potential as a global competitor. But if it were to undertake such reforms, it would likely discover even greater common interests with the United States and other industrialized democracies. Pursuing strategic engagement is thus a way for the United States to hedge its bets: to preserve its competitive edge while encouraging China to continue developing its economy and liberalizing its politics. Chinese political reform is in the long-term interest of both Beijing and Washington. Unfortunately, the burden of a long history of fragmentation and authoritarian rule weighs heavily against China's successfully completing this final modernization.

Thursday, August 11

Another Kind of "intelligent design"

I was thinking of converting to Flying Spaghetti Monsterism, and insisting it be taught in schools along with "intelligent design", when I was struck by the resemblance between the Flying Spaghetti Monster and Cthulhu, so I was ready to join the Cult of Cthulhu, and howl "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!" And what does Cthulhu look like?
The Thing cannot be described -- there is no language for such abysms of shrieking and immemorial lunacy, such eldritch contradictions of all matter, force, and cosmic order. A mountain walked or stumbled. God!...The Thing of the idols, the green, sticky spawn of the stars....
or more specifically,
a monster, of a form which only a diseased fancy could conceive. ...[A]n octopus, a dragon, and a human caricature.... A pulpy, tentacled head surmounted a grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings...the general outline of the whole...shockingly frightful.

But anyway Cthulhu wasn't a creator god! That is Azathoth, of whom it has been said,
...that last amorphous blight of nethermost confusion which blasphemes and bubbles at the centre of all infinity--the boundless daemon-sultan Azathoth, whose name no lips dare speak aloud, and who gnaws hungrily in inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond time amidst the muffled, maddening beating of vile drums and the thin, monotonous whine of accursed flutes; to which detestable pounding and piping dance slowly, awkwardly, and absurdly the gigantic ultimate gods, the blind, voiceless, tenebrous, mindless Other Gods whose soul and messenger is the crawling chaos Nyarlathotep.
--The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath

I dunno. Once the classroom door is open to religion, don't we have to let these guys in?

Tuesday, August 9

Wasteful China

Electrical Inefficiency A Dark Spot for China By Peter S. Goodman
...austerity side by side with state-mandated extravagance -- reveals another reason this country now scours the globe for energy: China has become among the world's most wasteful users of power, its growth in demand exacerbated by its striking inefficiency, say energy analysts and economists.

"A lot of China's energy security problem could be solved if you improved our domestic efficiency," said Yan Maosong, an industrial engineering expert at Shanghai University who advises the central government. "From generation to transmission to power usage, in every link of the chain, our energy industry is not very efficient. Top government leaders have not paid enough attention."

By the government's own reckoning, China's economic growth is absorbing energy at a higher rate than many large economies. To produce $1 million in gross domestic product, China needs 2 1/2 times as much energy as the United States, five times that of the European Union, and nearly nine times that of Japan, according to the state Energy Research Institute.

Making steel in China in 2003 consumed 10 percent more energy per unit than in the United States, according to state statistics. China's electrical generators consume one-fifth more energy per unit of output than American plants, said Long Weiding, an expert at Tongji University in Shanghai. Chinese air conditioners -- now the fastest-growing draw on power -- are roughly one-fifth less efficient than the world average, Long said.

High and inefficient energy use may seem normal for poor nations going through industrialization and rapid economic growth. According to state statistics, China is more energy-efficient than fast-growing India. But much of China's wastefulness stems from the hybrid nature of its economy, which is caught between its communist roots and a free-market future, experts say. More and more of the demand for energy comes from companies that operate on market principles, but the majority of the supply is generated by state-owned monopolies forged in the time of central planning and with little incentive to increase efficiency.

...progress lands on top of a wasteful legacy -- an industrial base that includes power plants and factories built in the 1950s, when the Communist Party government pursued national development at any cost. The smog blanketing most Chinese cities and the black smoke spewing from factory stacks testifies to the continued role of low-grade coal and antiquated technology in powering China's industry.

The addition of power-conserving lights at office buildings could cut consumption needed for lighting by as much as 80 percent, said Shi Mingrong, a former official at the Shanghai Power Bureau who now serves as a consultant to the local government. Modern machinery at factories could cut energy demand by one-fifth, he said. But Chinese companies -- grappling with fierce competition and tiny profit margins -- tend to view new technology more as a cost today than savings tomorrow.

"Most companies are shortsighted," said Hu Zhaoguang, chief economist at the State Power Economic Research Center in Beijing, a government think tank. "They are reluctant to upgrade their equipment to improve energy efficiency."

Waste also continues to plague the generation and transmission of power, experts say. Power plants operated by municipal and provincial governments face pressures to buy coal from local mines -- even when costs are higher than other sources -- to support jobs and local taxes. Provinces and cities have sunk billions of dollars into new power plants to help alleviate shortages, leaving governments or even individual officials on the hook to pay off loans to state banks.

Guangdong province, a booming industrial territory near Hong Kong, now absorbs roughly one-sixth of China's overall electricity supply. State-owned factories and electricity distributors have been buying from local plants, paying triple the price of electricity that could be brought in from Guizhou and Yunnan provinces, where hydropower is plentiful.

The involvement of provincial governments has also deterred the creation of rational generation and transmission grids, experts say. State officials have erected one white elephant after another -- huge power plants that absorb great quantities of coal -- while neglecting to develop smaller, gas-fired plants that could adjust loads to meet demand more precisely. That has forced the big plants to stay on line even when their full capacity is not needed.

"Everybody goes for the big plants," said Yan, the Shanghai University expert, who reckons that this problem accounts for one-tenth of the energy wasted in eastern China.

The transmission grid is poorly coordinated and saddled with old technology, with as much as one-tenth of the load disappearing along the way, experts say. While the state has allowed private and foreign investors into the power generation business, the grid remains controlled by two giant state firms.

The worst waste is found in the state-owned distribution companies that carry power to homes and businesses. They have traditionally kept a percentage of their revenues and handed the rest to the local government, limiting their incentive to upgrade.

For the past three summers, this outdated system has lagged behind China's growing needs, forcing local governments to ration power in 24 of 32 provinces. This summer, in Shanghai's industrial suburbs, officials have ordered factories to cease operations for a full week at a time.

"Of course it hurts our business," said Dai Hongdi, the general manager at the Honghua garment factory. "It's impossible for our factory to just stop a whole week, so what we do is work at night and hope the officials don't notice."

Across the river in the Lujiazui district, landlords seethed over the opposite problem: Since 2001, the city government has decreed that 40 skyscrapers in four districts must keep their lights on until 11 o'clock during the summer.

"It's about building Shanghai's image as an international city," said Guo Hua, director of the city's Appearance and Environmental Sanitation Administrative Bureau.

Lighting the skyscrapers along the Bund from 7 to 11 p.m. during the summer months consumes enough energy to power 30,000 home air conditioners during the same period, according to experts. The city pays about one-third the cost of this extra lighting, but landlords complain that is inadequate.

"We have no choice," said an official at Jin Mao Group Co., which owns and manages Shanghai's tallest building, the 88-story Jin Mao Tower, estimating that the cost of the extra lighting runs more than $3,000 a month. "It is a government regulation."

Woo Hoo!

A nugget from Household Spending Facts and Figures: with a Ph.D. (in Liberal Arts), I make the same as the average college graduate.

Agatha Christie?

Detainees under Harry Potter's spell By Rowan Scarborough
Harry Potter's worldwide popularity is so broad-based that it has become favorite reading for Islamic terror suspects at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay.

Lori, who for two years has overseen the detention center's library, said J.K. Rowling's tales about the boy wizard are on top of the request list for the camp's 520 al Qaeda and Taliban suspects, followed by Agatha Christie whodunits.
Which is not to say they don't read another book.
The Guantanamo library also has drawn interest because of a separate investigation into how guards handle the Koran, which is given to any prisoner who requests it under Pentagon policy. The investigation found five cases of mishandling the sacred book, but no evidence that personnel flushed a copy down a toilet, as one press report -- since disavowed -- said.

The prison initially ordered 1,600 Korans in various languages for $23,000 and since has put in orders for more than 200 more.

"After a period of time, they start to fall apart because they read them constantly," Lori said.
I'm not surprised they're interested in a best-seller. But Agatha Christie? She's been dead a few years, and not the sort of thing I'd expect a bunch of young rowdies to read. I guess it's a post-colonialist thing.

Friday, August 5

Sweatshops are good

Don't get into a lather over sweatshops By Benjamin Powell and David Skarbek.

People often oppose purchasing uniforms and other clothing made in "sweatshops" in the belief that they're helping oppressed workers. In fact, the reverse is true.
North American unions, such as Unite Here, the apparel and housekeeping workers' union, often lobby to impose working standards for developing countries similar to San Francisco's proposed ordinance. Though these efforts are intended to help poor workers in the third world, they actually hurt them.

We use "sweatshop" to mean those foreign factories with low pay and poor health and safety standards where employees choose to work, not those where employees are coerced into working by the threat of violence. And we admit that by Western standards, sweatshops have abhorrently low wages and poor working conditions. However, economists point out that alternatives to working in a sweatshop are often much worse: scavenging through trash, prostitution, crime, or even starvation.


People choose what they perceive to be in their best interest. If workers voluntarily choose to work in sweatshops, without physical coercion, it must be because sweatshops are their best option. Our recent research - the first economic study to compare systematically sweatshop wages with average local wages - demonstrated this to be true.

We examined the apparel industry in 10 Asian and Latin American countries often accused of having sweatshops and then we looked at 43 specific accusations of unfair wages in 11 countries in the same regions. Our findings may seem surprising. Not only were sweatshops superior to the dire alternatives economists usually mentioned, but they often provided a better-than-average standard of living for their workers.

The apparel industry, which is often accused of unsafe working conditions and poor wages, actually pays its foreign workers well enough for them to rise above the poverty in their countries. While more than half of the population in most of the countries we studied lived on less than $2 per day, in 90 percent of the countries, working a 10-hour day in the apparel industry would lift a worker above - often far above - that standard...

In 9 of the 11 countries we surveyed, the average reported sweatshop wages equaled or exceeded average incomes and in some cases by a large margin. In Cambodia, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Honduras, the average wage paid by a firm accused of being a sweatshop is more than double the average income in that country's economy.


Antisweatshop activists - who argue that consumers should abstain from buying products made in sweatshops - harm workers by trying to stop the trade that funds some of the better jobs in their economies.


By purchasing more products made in sweatshops, we create more demand for them and increase the number of factories in these poor economies. That gives the workers more employers to choose from, raises productivity and wages, and eventually improves working conditions. This is the same process of economic development the US went through, and it is ultimately the way third-world workers will raise their standard of living and quality of life.

For what it's worth

China didn't make it onto the Failed States Index.

The marginal product of war

Tyler Cowen writes,
The correct marginal question...compares the current badness to the badness which would have resulted after the reign of Saddam (or his sons? grandsons?) ended, however that might have happened. Today we see many signals that things are going badly. But most of those signals also imply that things would have gone very badly under the alternative scenario for Saddam's fall. A civil war, for instance, may well have happened anyway, albeit later.
(emphasis his)

Old news

Let a Thousand Licensed Poppies Bloom By Maia Szalavitz
EVEN as Afghanistan's immense opium harvest feeds lawlessness and instability, finances terrorism and fuels heroin addiction, the developing world is experiencing a severe shortage of opium-derived pain medications, according to the World Health Organization...

The United States wants Afghanistan to destroy its potentially merciful crop, which has increased sevenfold since 2002 and now constitutes 60 percent of the country's gross domestic product. But why not bolster the country's stability and end both the pain and the trafficking problems by licensing Afghanistan with the International Narcotics Control Board to sell its opium legally?

The Senlis Council, a European drug-policy research institution, has proposed this truly winning solution. Adopting it would improve the Afghan economy, deprive terrorists of income and keep heroin away from dealers and addicts, all while offering pain relief to the third world.

The United Nations estimated that Afghanistan produced more than 4,200 tons of opium last year; cultivation jumped to 323,701 acres from 197,680 acres in 2003. Ten percent of the Afghan population is believed to be involved in the trade, which supplies nearly 90 percent of the world's illegal heroin. Clearly, this drug war is not being won...

Senlis estimates that meeting the global need for pain medications would require 10,000 tons of opium a year - more than twice Afghanistan's current production...

Because farmers aren't the ones who make the big bucks in the illegal drug trade, purchasing their poppies at competitive rates should be possible. But even if we paid exactly what the drug lords do, the entire crop would cost only about $600 million - less than the $780 million the United States planned to spend on eradication in Afghanistan this year.

Besides, eradication efforts have never eliminated a drug crop. Cocaine continues to be widely available, despite the roughly $3 billion that the United States has spent on coca eradication in Colombia over the last five years.

The Bush administration has criticized Mr. Karzai's "leadership" on opium (despite his call for "jihad on drugs") but refuses to support measures beyond eradication. Responding to the Senlis proposal, one former State Department official who had been working on narcotics and law enforcement told The Christian Science Monitor: "Anything that went about legalizing an opiate in that market would send exactly the wrong message. It would suggest that there is something legitimate to growing."

But there is: countries like India are licensed by the International Narcotics Control Board to grow opium because modern medicine cannot find anything better than opioids to relieve pain. And think of the goodwill such a gesture could produce, a message that we literally want to assuage the world's suffering - not to mention that of the 30 million to 50 million Americans who endure chronic pain.

A Sign of Robert F. Gossett, Jr.'s Incompetence?

Yesterday I received an envelope marked "time sensitive". It was the 2003 (sic) Annual Report of Corporate Realty Income Fund I, L.P., signed by Gossett. The last sentence of his "message to the unitholders" (dated July 12, 2005) reads:

"As the year progresses, we will keep you fully informed of all important developments."

Yeah, right.

The terror of clothing on a fence

Graham Farmelo's Was Dr Dolittle autistic? mentions things that scare farm animals, including sparkling reflections in puddles, hissing and high pitched-noises, moving pieces of plastic and even a piece of clothing hanging on a fence. I can see that; the terror of ordinary things.

Thursday, August 4

Putting Science Into Scripts

Pentagon's New Goal: Put Science Into Scripts By DAVID M. HALBFINGER
Exactly how the national defense could be bolstered by setting a few more people loose in Los Angeles with screenplays to peddle may be a bit of a brainteaser. But officials at the Air Force Office of Scientific Research spell out a straightforward syllogism:

Fewer and fewer students are pursuing science and engineering. While immigrants are taking up the slack in many areas, defense laboratories and industries generally require American citizenship or permanent residency. So a crisis is looming, unless careers in science and engineering suddenly become hugely popular, said Robert J. Barker, an Air Force program manager who approved the grant. And what better way to get a lot of young people interested in science than by producing movies and television shows that depict scientists in flattering ways?
Don't forget to write one about intelligent design, and another about alternative medicine. That's what passes for science these days.

Wednesday, August 3

Not that kind of "cake"

A propos of nothing: I've just discovered the phrase "the cake of custom". One of the OED's (subscription only) definitions of "cake" is "A mass or concretion of any solidified or compressed substance in a flattened form, as a cake of soap, wax, paint, dry clay, coagulated blood, tobacco, etc." It goes on to give the figurative usage, "1872 BAGEHOT Physics & Pol. (1876) 27 To create what may be called a cake of custom. 1879 H. GEORGE Progr. & Pov. X. i. (1881) 433 A body or 'cake' of laws and customs grows up."


In Physics and Politics, Bagehot also wrote of "breaking the cake of custom"
What is most evident is not the difficulty of getting a fixed law, but getting out of a fixed law; not of cementing (as upon a former occasion I phrased it) a cake of custom, but of breaking the cake of custom; not of making the first preservative habit, but of breaking through it, and reaching some-thing better.


"Look at these people! They suck each other! They eat each other's saliva and dirt!"

--Tsonga people of southern Africa on the European practice of kissing, 1927 (cited in Keith Thomas' Put your sweet lips . . .)

Tuesday, August 2

Lunacy of the first order

John Cole rightly describes the teaching of intelligent design as sheer stupidity.
To have the leader of the country, the leader of the party, and the person who proclaims that he wants to be known as the 'education president' to state, even casually, that he thinks intelligent design should be taught alongside evolution is lunacy of the first order.

It's about fanaticism

How to Stop the Contagion By Fareed Zakaria
Like all ideologies, radical Islam is a phenomenon of the educated class. From Muhammad Atta to Mohammed Sidique Khan, almost all suicide bombers have been men who read and write. In V. S. Naipaul's book "A Million Mutinies Now," the author interviews a young Hindu fanatic. The man explains his fascistic views, and then Naipaul asks the man's father, who happens to be sitting there, what he thinks. The old man explains that he works at a factory from morning till night and doesn't really have time for these kinds of ideas. Extremist ideology is a leisure-time pursuit.

Nor can foreign policy really explain such rage. The invasion of Iraq clearly has greatly enraged many Muslims, radicalizing some deeply. But can a disagreement over foreign policy really make a Briton like Germaine Lindsay, who had never even visited Iraq, kiss his pregnant wife and child goodbye and go out and blow himself and others up? There is something deeper at work here. Last week Egypt, which sent no troops to Iraq and condemned the invasion, was targeted. Turkey and Indonesia—which are both opponents of the war—have also been attacked. (Besides, the demands keep changing. Osama bin Laden's primary one was that American troops leave Saudi Arabia, which they have done. Bin Laden seems not to have noticed.)

What this is about, as Tony Blair has argued, is fanaticism. Radical ideologies of hate and violence have often seduced disaffected young men searching for some great cause. Forty years ago they would have embraced Leninist revolutionary dogma, with Che Guevara as the bin Laden of his day. Today, for Muslims, it is a violent interpretation of Islamic fundamentalism. Born in the Middle East, it has spread like a virus across the Muslim world and into the Islamic diaspora in the West.

Monday, August 1

Old news

One Young Man's Concern on Extremism By SCHEHEREZADE FARAMARZI
"The evil programs on TV, the music, the literature, the magazines ... are all responsible for the terrorist attacks. People are becoming rebellious because they are against fornication, gambling, alcohol," Fazel said.

"Until they get rid of Eminem and Marilyn Manson, they can't get rid of our preachers," he added.

Fazel called himself a former "kafar," Arabic for an infidel who did not fear God, and said he once enjoyed drinking with his friends and the company of young women.

Then, in the aftermath of Sept. 11, he read about al-Qaida and its leader, Osama bin Laden.

Images of the twin towers of the World Trade Center collapsing, he said, fueled his curiosity about the faith of his ancestors.

"Allah pointed me to him (bin Laden)," said Fazel, dressed in a white shalwar kameez, the traditional loose tunic-and-trouser common to men in South Asia.

Three years later, he said, an angel spoke to him.

"I needed change. Drugs and alcohol did me no good," he said.

The young man denied that he was confused about his faith and asserted just as vehemently that he did not "give a damn about the world."

Fazel said he has not told his parents about turning to his deepest Islamic roots. Like many of his peers who also were born of immigrant Muslim parents, Fazel has found difficulty integrating into British society and expresses a sense of displacement and alienation.
And then, via Donald SensingThe Truth About Jihad By Max Rodenbeck:
In Globalized Islam: The Search for a New Ummah, Olivier Roy, one of France's leading scholars of modern Islamism, notes striking parallels between today's jihadists and Europe's radical left of the 1960s and 1970s. The two movements have drawn from similar social pools of alienated, dislocated youth. They have chosen similar symbols (beards and guns and sanctified texts: the Koran substituting for Marx, Sayed Qutb, the Egyptian whose theories inspired the Muslim Brotherhood, for Gramsci) and targets ("imperialism," "globalization," "Americanization"). The jihadists' notion of a pan-Islamic Ummah, or nation, says Roy, recalls the Trotskyists' idea of the proletariat: "an imaginary and therefore silent community that gives legitimacy to the small groups pretending to speak in its name." The triumph of Islam is held to be, as the triumph of socialism once was, "inevitable."

It Still Makes Sense

"Clearly, a civilisation that feels guilty for everything it is and does will lack the energy and conviction to defend itself."
-- Jean-François Revel, during the struggle against Soviet totalitarianism

Let them drive

Imams, Academics Against Allowing Women to Drive by Raid Qusti. The reasons they offer?
  • Women driving cars is not permissible because the ruling of 'closing doors that leads to corruption' applies to it directly.
  • If the act facilitates misbehavior, then it is not permissible.
  • The ownership of several cars in one family instead of just one being used by the driver.
  • The frequent purchase of new cars "since women are known to like everything new".
  • The burden on the government of having to open special female sections in all Traffic Departments.
  • No Islamic scholar "or good figure in society" has called for women to drive.
  • All those who have been calling for women to drive are people who want to damage the image of Islamic women.
Blogesque compares this to prohibitions against female Saudi college students' owning cellphones, and notes,
"Closing all doors leads to corruption" can be translated into Western parlance as "Forbidden fruit is always the sweetest." Instead, they're twisting it to justify their stance by claiming that driving leads to "corruption," so it should be forbidden to women.
And as for the other points:
  • As for facilitating misbehavior, what about male misbehavior? And anyway, one could argue an awful lot of things makes bad behavior easy.
  • If you think the ownership of cars is a bad thing, how about a blanket prohibition against car ownership; make people take public transport.
  • Why not let male traffic officials deal with women?
  • Just because Islamic scholars haven't called for something doesn't mean it's bad. And what's their definition of "good figure[s] in society"?
  • People who call for women to drive are people who want them to have more opportunities. How does that damage their image?