Wednesday, November 30


In Our Troops Must Stay, after talking about progress in Iraq, Joseph Lieberman says,
Here is an ironic finding I brought back from Iraq. While U.S. public opinion polls show serious declines in support for the war and increasing pessimism about how it will end, polls conducted by Iraqis for Iraqi universities show increasing optimism. Two-thirds say they are better off than they were under Saddam, and a resounding 82% are confident their lives in Iraq will be better a year from now than they are today. What a colossal mistake it would be for America's bipartisan political leadership to choose this moment in history to lose its will and, in the famous phrase, to seize defeat from the jaws of the coming victory.
If Lieberman had been running against Bush, my choice would've been pretty hard, even though he
called...for a greater role for religion in public discourse, as a source of shared moral principles and an antidote to "the vacuum of values" in American culture.

Lamenting that it has become unacceptable in many circles to discuss religion, Mr. Lieberman, the Democratic nominee for vice president, said in a speech at the University of Notre Dame that "we have gone a long way toward dislodging our values from their natural source in moral truth."

"Without the connection to a higher law," he said, "it becomes more and more difficult for people to answer the important day-to-day questions that test us: Why is it wrong to lie or cheat or steal? Why is it wrong to settle conflicts with violence? Why is it wrong to be unfaithful to one's spouse, or to exploit children, or to despoil the environment, or defraud a customer, or demean an employee?"
Gack. But I'm sure Bush wholeheartedly agrees.

As far as US opinion goes, the Economist reported
Asked whether America will succeed in establishing a stable democracy in Iraq, only 33% of journalists, 27% of academics and 13% of scientists and engineers thought it would. The general public were more optimistic—56% thought their country would eventually prevail. Among the elite, only military officers were cheerier, with 64%.
Ah, the elite.

You Want an Apology?

A Letter of Apology from Lieutenant General Chuck Pitman, US Marine Corps, Retired

"For good and ill, the Iraqi prisoner abuse mess will remain an issue. On the one hand, right thinking Americans will harbor the stupidity of the actions while on the other hand, political glee will take control and fashion this minor event into some modern day massacre.

I humbly offer my opinion here:

I am sorry that the last seven times we Americans took up arms and sacrificed the blood of our youth, it was in the defense of Muslims (Bosnia, Kosovo, Gulf War 1, Kuwait, etc.).

I am sorry that no such call for an apology upon the extremists came after 9/11.

I am sorry that all of the murderers on 9/11 were Islamic Arabs.

I am sorry that most Arabs and Muslims have to live in squalor under savage dictatorships.

I am sorry that their leaders squander their wealth,

I am sorry that their governments breed hate for the US in their religious schools, mosques, and government-controlled media.

I am sorry that Yasir Arafat was kicked out of every Arab country and high-jacked the Palestinian "cause.

I am sorry that no other Arab country will take in or offer more than a token amount of financial help to those same Palestinians.

I am sorry that the USA has to step in and be the biggest financial supporter of poverty stricken Arabs while the insanely wealthy Arabs blame the USA for all their problems.

I am sorry that our own left wing, our media, and our own brainwashed masses do not understand any of this (from the misleading vocal elements of our society, like radical professors, CNN and the NY TIMES).

I am sorry the United Nations scammed the poor people of Iraq out of the "food for oil" money so they could get rich while the common folk suffered.

I am sorry that some Arab governments pay the families of homicide bombers upon their death.

I am sorry that those same bombers are brainwashed thinking they will receive 72 virgins in "paradise."

I am sorry that the homicide bombers think pregnant women, babies, children, the elderly and other non-combatant civilians are legitimate targets.

I am sorry that our troops die to free more Arabs from the gang rape rooms and the filling of mass graves of dissidents of their own making.

I am sorry that Muslim extremists have killed more Arabs than any other group.

I am sorry that foreign trained terrorists are trying to seize control of Iraq and return it to a terrorist state.

I am sorry we don't drop a few dozen Daisy cutters on Fallujah.

I am sorry every time terrorists hide they find a convenient "Holy Site."

I am sorry they didn't apologize for driving a jet into the World Trade Center that collapsed and severely damaged Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church — one of our Holy Sites.

I am sorry they didn't apologize for flight 93 and175, the USS Cole, the embassy bombings, the murders and beheadings of Nick Bergand, Daniel Pearl, etc...etc,

America will get past this latest absurdity. We will punish those responsible because that is what we do.

We hang out our dirty laundry for the entire world to see. We move on. That's one of the reasons we are hated so much. We don't hide this stuff like all those Arab countries that are now demanding an apology.

Deep down inside, when most Americans saw this reported in the news, we were like—so what? We lost hundreds and made fun of a few prisoners. Sure, it was wrong! Sure, it dramatically hurts our cause, but until captured, we were trying to kill those same prisoners. Now we're supposed to wring our hands because a few were humiliated?

Our compassion is tempered with the vivid memories of our own people killed, mutilated and burned among a joyous crowd of celebrating Fallujahans.

If you want an apology from this American, you're going to have a long wait!

You have a better chance of finding those seventy-two virgins!

Chuck Pitman, Lt. Gen., US Marine Corps (Ret.)

Semper Fi
From Snopes, which classifies its status as Incomplete.

Monday, November 28

Easy to get jobs

James Surowiecki:
In the American work more hours and use the money you make to pay for the things you can’t do because you’re working, and this creates a demand for service jobs that wouldn’t otherwise exist. In Europe, those jobs don’t exist in anything like the same numbers; employment in services in Europe is fifteen per cent below what it is in the U.S. Service jobs are precisely the jobs that young people and women (two categories of Europeans who are severely underemployed) find it easiest to get, the jobs that immigrants here thrive on but that are often not available to immigrants in France. There are many explanations for the estimated forty-per-cent unemployment rate in the banlieues that have been the site of recent riots, but part of the problem is that voluntary leisure for some Europeans has helped lead to involuntary leisure for others. The less work that gets done, the less work there is to do. Helping some people get off the labor treadmill can keep many people from ever getting on the treadmill at all.

Sunday, November 27

Criticism of the war hurts troop morale

Sympathetic Vibrations By Chris Cillizza and Peter Slevin
Seventy percent of people surveyed said that criticism of the war by Democratic senators hurts troop morale -- with 44 percent saying morale is hurt "a lot," according to a poll taken by RT Strategies. Even self-identified Democrats agree: 55 percent believe criticism hurts morale, while 21 percent say it helps morale.

The results surely will rankle many Democrats, who argue that it is patriotic and supportive of the troops to call attention to what they believe are deep flaws in President Bush's Iraq strategy. But the survey itself cannot be dismissed as a partisan attack. The RTs in RT Strategies are Thomas Riehle, a Democrat, and Lance Tarrance, a veteran GOP pollster.

Their poll also indicates many Americans are skeptical of Democratic complaints about the war. Just three of 10 adults accept that Democrats are leveling criticism because they believe this will help U.S. efforts in Iraq. A majority believes the motive is really to "gain a partisan political advantage."
Criticism of the war hurts troop morale? Who 'da thunk?

It's not obvious

The Gathering Winds: A Rise in Deadly Storms Since '95 Has Researchers Worried About the Future By Peter Whoriskey
Many storm researchers now agree that a decade or more of similarly rough seasons -- similar to the heightened storm activity that began in 1995 -- lies ahead.

But at the same time that the trio of Katrina, Rita and Wilma were battering Southeastern coasts, a controversy was brewing over the reasons for the rise in hurricane havoc. At issue: Is it merely a natural fluctuation or, more ominously, a product of global warming?

...a pair of scientific papers published this year detected an unexpected spike in storm intensity over the past several decades, suggesting that global warming might already be having an effect. The research set off a passionate and sometimes personal debate in the small community of storm scientists.


Besides adding weight to the argument that global warming could be having catastrophic effects, the findings spell more trouble for U.S. coastal areas vulnerable to fierce storms, where the population is rising fast. The risks are being borne by all U.S. taxpayers. Already, the federal government has been asked repeatedly for hurricane relief money.

"We have to decide as a society whether that's a problem," [Roger Pielke Jr., an environmental studies professor at the University of Colorado] said. "Obviously, the benefits of living near the coast outweigh the costs because people are doing it. The question is: In the face of inevitable property damage and loss of life, how well do we prepare?"
OK, so it may global warming. But there is nothing obvious about the benefits outweighing the costs. In many cases people insist on living in places that have repeatedly suffered from hurricanes because the government keeps bailing them out.

Saturday, November 26

Zhao Xin

In Chinese Uprisings, Peasants Find New Allies: Protesters Gain Help of Veteran Activists By Edward Cody
"The Chinese Communist Party, at the beginning, organized workers and farmers and used them to rise to power, but now we represent the workers and farmers, and the party is very afraid of us," said Zhao Xin, a student leader in 1989 and now executive director of the Empowerment and Rights Institute, which advised Taishi farmers.
Is that 赵昕 Zhào Xīnof 仁之泉工作室?

Chinese or Japanese

I hadn't realized that Pat Morita had a role in Mulan. I thought it was silly enough that Ming-Na Wen 溫明娜 Wēn Míngnà did the heroine's voice. (She says Wen was her father's surname, but her mother remarried and she belatedly felt it was strange that the other family members had taken her stepfather's name, so she finally dropped her surname and now goes by Ming-Na.) People will say that they're Asian (or East Asian) so that's all right. And perhaps in many animated movies, the voice-overs have increasingly been done by actors who are associated with their animated roles. From Fred Topel's interview with Pat Morita:

What did it mean to you as an Asian actor to be in Mulan? Well, I was very pleased to see that so many involved were peers, colleagues....

Is it a problem in Hollywood that they don’t see the differences between Asian cultures? It was at one time, maybe a decade or two ago. There was a whole big thing in Hollywood in terms of casting people of Japanese descent for Chinese roles and vice versa, and you couldn’t play Koreans or whatever. But I’ve learned that if you’re a worthy enough actor, they overlook that.

But plenty of the roles in Mulan are played by non-Asians. And what is one to make of Eddie Murphy as a dragon? Or in another movie, as an ass?

War on Tobacco

James Surowiecki wrote
In 1638, Ch'ung-chen, the last Ming emperor, declared war on tobacco: anyone caught importing or using it would have his head chopped off.
He means the Chóngzhēn 崇禎 Emperor (r. 1627-1644) whose edicts date to 1639 and 1643. But this claims that Tàizōng 太宗 (r. 1626-1643) beat him to it, in 1635. The question is, why? It's not as if they could have known that tobacco was bad for one's health.

I agree with Andrew Sullivan

Who says
In theory, it should be possible for a Republican to be both socially moderate, fiscally conservative, and dedicated to the fight against Islamo-fascism. That's, broadly speaking, my position.
And so does Daniel Drezner

Tuesday, November 22

Gee, I thought religion was supposed to make everyone happy

An old article from V. Postrel caught my eye: In Times of Stress, Can Religion Serve as Insurance? By Virginia Postrel discusses religious affiliation as a kind of insurance, referring to Insuring Consumption and Happiness Through Religious Organizations, by Rajeev Dehejia, Thomas DeLeire, and Erzo F.P. Luttmer
...the economists found that religious households have less volatile consumption. Their spending fluctuates about 30 percent less than spending by similar, nonreligious households...

The second part of their study looks not at spending but at a more direct measure of well-being: how respondents assess their personal happiness.

After all, Professor Dehejia said, "If you take the doctrine of religion seriously, then what religion actually does is it doesn't insure your income but it changes how you react to the negative shocks you face."...

Using religious attendance as their measure of affiliation, the economists get a strikingly different result by race. While whites get no significant "happiness insurance" from religious affiliation, blacks get a lot.

"The median level of religious attendance reduces the happiness impact of income shocks by blacks by about 75 percent," they write. The effect is greatest among those with a high school education or less.

The puzzle, said Professor Dehejia in the interview, is not why blacks benefit but why whites do not. "Why is it that among whites you see a significant insurance effect on consumption but not on happiness?" he asked. Perhaps, he speculated, whites feel guilty about the help they get.

The results are about the same for religious belief as for attendance, since the two are so closely connected. The economists note, however, that attendance matters most. "Just believing is not sufficient; one needs to participate in a religious organization to get happiness insurance," they find.

Madmen in authority distill their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back

The great depression By Will Wilkinson
[Allan Horwitz, a renowned sociologist of mental health, and Jerome Wakefield, a top theorist of psychiatric classification] relate how the contemporary clinical conception of depression became almost uselessly lax, lumping the healthy sadness of a tough break-up together with the inexplicably chronic gloom of genuine dysfunction.

The "epidemic" of depression, they argue, "is partly an artifact of a logical error," which both trivializes the very real suffering of the truly ill and leads to a "one-dimensional public discourse that can undermine our capacity for making moral and political distinctions."

So why don't we just back up and fix the error? This is science, right? Yes. But it's also big money.

Thousands of mental health studies, hundreds of careers and tens of millions of dollars in research funding are wrapped up in this broken diagnostic category. Medical and mental health professionals who get paid by the likes of Aetna have an interest in keeping the category as permissive as possible.

And don't forget pharmaceutical companies that want to sell huge quantities of mood-enhancers in a society where people are taught to believe they shouldn't take drugs unless they're officially "sick."

Finally, will employers tolerate dolorous employees if they can be medicated into a higher gear of productivity?

Incentives matter. And the incentives in favor of continued diagnostic inaccuracy ensure that the real incidence of depression will continue to be overestimated; our real success as a society in pursuit of happiness will continue to get short shrift.

Monday, November 21

Obsessed with cannibalism and prostitution

Ugly Images of Asian Rivals Become Best Sellers in Japan By NORIMITSU ONISHI
[The comic book] "An Introduction to China"...depicts the Chinese as obsessed with cannibalism and prostitution, and has sold 180,000 copies.

The book describes China as the "world's prostitution superpower" and says, without offering evidence, that prostitution accounts for 10 percent of the country's gross domestic product. It describes China as a source of disease and depicts Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi saying, "I hear that most of the epidemics that broke out in Japan on a large scale are from China."

The book waves away Japan's worst wartime atrocities in China. It dismisses the Rape of Nanjing, in which historians say 100,000 to 300,000 Chinese were killed by Japanese soldiers in 1937-38, as a fabrication of the Chinese government devised to spread anti-Japanese sentiment.

The book also says the Japanese Imperial Army's Unit 731 - which researched biological warfare and conducted vivisections, amputations and other experiments on thousands of Chinese and other prisoners - was actually formed to defend Japanese soldiers against the Chinese.

"The only attractive thing that China has to offer is Chinese food," said Ko Bunyu, a Taiwan-born writer who provided the script for the comic book. Mr. Ko, 66, has written more than 50 books on China, some on cannibalism and others arguing that Japanese were the real victims of their wartime atrocities in China. The book's main author and cartoonist, a Japanese named George Akiyama, declined to be interviewed.

Like many in Taiwan who are virulently anti-China, Mr. Ko is fiercely pro-Japanese and has lived here for four decades. A longtime favorite of the Japanese right, Mr. Ko said anti-Japan demonstrations in China early this year had earned him a wider audience. Sales of his books surged this year, to one million.

Ko Bunyu 黃文雄 is mentioned in this old article from the Taipei Times, but altho they've often reprinted articles from the NYT, I don't see this one there. Big surprise.

When the Family Went Nuclear

Smarts and the City By Richard Morin
Many key characteristics of the "modern" family make their appearance as early as the 1300s -- during the Middle Ages, a time more closely associated with intrigues in Europe's royal courts than with the emergence of the nuclear family. He says this era saw the appearance in northwest Europe of small parent-child families, weakened family ties, independent teenagers and marriages between men and women who had chosen each other.

Oh, those gougers

Tough Bunnies By Richard Morin Sunday, October 23, 2005
Notice how gas prices shot up virtually overnight after Hurricane Katrina -- but are falling much more slowly now?

We have only ourselves to blame, says an Ohio State University economist who studied how people shop for gasoline. Matthew Lewis found that the typical person hunts for the lowest possible prices when costs are rising -- but gets lazy and doesn't shop around when prices start to come down. As a consequence, gas station owners and other businesses have less incentive to lower prices when their wholesale costs drops.

For the study, Lewis used data on prices charged at about 420 service stations in the San Diego area from January 2000 to December 2001. The data were collected by the San Diego-based Utility Consumers' Action Network, which describes itself as a consumer watchdog group. Data on wholesale gas prices paid by the stations were obtained from the Energy Department, he writes in a working paper available on his Web site.

Ironically, consumer buying patterns put more money in the pockets of gas station owners when prices are falling than when they are rising. Lewis found that profit margins were highest when the wholesale price of gas was dropping and consumers stopped bargain-hunting. That eases the pressure on station owners, which in turn allows them to keep prices high, thereby increasing their profit margins.

What do the Democrats fear?


The irresponsibility of the Democrats on Capitol Hill is breathtaking. (How can an honorable man such as Joe Lieberman stay in that party?) Not one of the critics of our efforts in Iraq — not one — has described his or her vision for Iraq and the Middle East in the wake of a troop withdrawal. Not one has offered any analysis of what the terrorists would gain and what they might do. Not one has shown respect for our war dead by arguing that we must put aside our partisan differences and win.

There's plenty I don't like about the Bush administration. Its domestic policies disgust me, and the Bushies got plenty wrong in Iraq. But at least they'll fight. The Dems are ready to betray our troops, our allies and our country's future security for a few House seats.

Surrender is never a winning strategy.

Yes, we've been told lies about Iraq — by Dems and their media groupies. About conditions on the ground. About our troops. About what's at stake. About the consequences of running away from the great struggle of our time. About the continuing threat from terrorism. And about the consequences for you and your family.

What do the Democrats fear? An American success in Iraq. They need us to fail, and they're going to make us fail, no matter the cost. They need to declare defeat before the 2006 mid-term elections and ensure a real debacle before 2008 — a bloody mess they'll blame on Bush, even though they made it themselves.

We won't even talk about the effect quitting while we're winning in Iraq might have on the go-to-war calculations of other powers that might want to challenge us in the future. Let's just be good Democrats and prove that Osama bin Laden was right all along: Americans have no stomach for a fight.

As for the 2,000-plus dead American troops about whom the lefties are so awfully concerned? As soon as we abandon Iraq, they'll forget about our casualties quicker than an amnesiac forgets how much small-change he had in his pocket.

Yeah, the Democrats do seem to fear an American success in Iraq, but in fact the majority of the American people seem to be ready to throw in the towel. I feel like those left-wingers who get so angry when the right wins and get spitting mad about how wrong the majority is.


Scott Adams says,
It turns out that most people are considerably more attractive when you can’t see them clearly.
I'm very nearsighted, and I agree. I often see what I think are attractive women at the pool, until I get a little closer.

No expertise in Cuba policy? No matter!

A Grateful Student By Al Kamen

A panel of the Agency for International Development for Latin America has decided to give the Creighton University School of Law in Nebraska, which has no expertise in Cuba policy, a $750,000 grant over two years to study what is to be done about the properties Cuban dictator Fidel Castro seized from Americans some 45 years ago.

Adolfo Franco, assistant administrator of the Agency for International Development for Latin America, is an alumnus of Creighton University School of Law in Nebraska, and even went out to Omaha last week to hand over the award, reestablishing the long-standing Havana-Omaha linkage.


Back to utopia "Can the antidote to today's neoliberal triumphalism be found in the pages of far-out science fiction?" By Joshua Glenn
In recent years...certain eminent contrarians - most notably Fredric Jameson, author of the seminal "Postmodernism, Or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism" (1991)...-have lamented the wholesale abandonment of such utopian ideas of the left as the abolition of property, the triumph of solidarity, and the end of racism and sexism....

At this moment of neoliberal triumphalism, [Jameson, a professor of comparative literature at Duke] suggests, we should take [writers like Philip K. Dick, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Samuel R. Delany] seriously - even if their ideas are packaged inside lurid paperbacks.
So a left-wing literature professor is whining that "solidarity" did not triumph, while "neoliberalism" has. The left-wing ideal has collapsed, so we should retreat into reading science fiction.

Sunday, November 20

China's Savers

Anxiety Drives Chinese Fixation on Frugality: Financial insecurity and long-term goals compel many in the growing middle class to save. That enables Americans to overspend. By Don Lee
Chinese families are saving about half of their income. Analysts believe that has contributed to a "global savings glut" that has helped push down interest rates and, in the U.S., fuel excessive spending. U.S. households have been spending more than they have been earning in recent months. That contrasts with an average savings rate — or savings as a percentage of income — of 8% from 1950 to 2000.

For China, high savings have pumped up investment at home and supported export industries. But the country's widening trade surplus has triggered complaints from the United States. In a visit to Beijing last month, Treasury Secretary John W. Snow suggested that the Chinese save less and spend more — on U.S.-made goods to help ease America's big account deficit.

But most experts expect China's savings rate to stay high for years to come because of the need to prepare for a large dependent elderly population. The median age of China's population has jumped to 32.6 from 22.1 in 1980, says Andy Xie, an economist at Morgan Stanley in Hong Kong, mainly because of the nation's one-child policy.


China, like other nations in East Asia, has a long tradition of thrift. Analysts say it may be linked to Confucian values that encourage thrift and production rather than consumption. China's propensity to save also reflects its agrarian society, where people face more risks of fluctuating incomes and their long work hours leave them with little leisure time to consume.
See also Traditions of Saving and Consuming in China by Anthony Kuhn, where he quotes someone saying that Chinese banks allocate funds poorly. See also this on Personal Savings.

Musical Torture?

CIA's Harsh Interrogation Techniques Described By BRIAN ROSS and RICHARD ESPOSITO. Methods included making them listen to rap music.
The detainees were...forced to listen to rap artist Eminem's "Slim Shady" album. The music was so foreign to them it made them frantic, sources said.
The key factor seems to be the music's unfamiliarity. Does that mean playing Haydn and Mozart to deter vandals and loiterers is torture?

Saturday, November 19

Cowards cut and run, Marines never do

From House Rejects Iraq Pullout After GOP Forces a Vote: Democrats Enraged By Personal Attack By Charles Babington
Differences over policy on the Iraq war ignited an explosion of angry words and personal insults on the House floor yesterday when the chamber's newest member suggested that a decorated war veteran was a coward for calling for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops.

...Democrats...accused Republicans of playing political games with the war.
That's the pot calling the kettle black, isn't it?
Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio)...told colleagues that "a few minutes ago I received a call from Colonel Danny Bubp," an Ohio legislator and Marine Corps Reserve officer. "He asked me to send Congress a message: Stay the course. He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message: that cowards cut and run, Marines never do."....Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Tex.)...said U.S. forces in Iraq "need our full support." He added: "They need to have full faith that a few naysayers in Washington won't cut and run and leave them high and dry."
Good luck on that. My misgivings about the war at the beginning were that just such a thing would happen. An endless drumbeat of negative reporting about the war has turned Americans against it, so the Democrats are piling on against Bush--not that they don't enjoy it, and I'm sure the Republicans would do the same if the positions were reversed.

Tsk, tsk

It's "complement", not "compliment". It was spelled correctly in the article, though.

Anyway, from the article itself:
With its high level of savings, South Korea has a trade surplus. The two go together, just as low savings go with trade deficits. By running those surpluses, South Korea is in effect squirreling away resources for the future -- probably more than it needs to, many economists contend -- at the expense of current consumption.

By posting big deficits, the United States is going to the opposite extreme, behaving like an individual who borrows year after year to cover the gap between spending and income. America's creditors have recently shown a remarkable willingness to cover that gap; in September, foreigners bought a record $101.9 billion in U.S. securities, mostly bonds, according to government data released Wednesday.

But foreigners might get nervous about the rising U.S. debt load and insist on earning much higher interest rates on their U.S. bonds. That could squeeze U.S. living standards, as industries such as housing and autos falter for lack of low-cost credit. Worse, an avalanche of selling by foreign holders of U.S. bonds and stocks -- triggered, perhaps, by a terrorist attack or a surge in inflation -- could spell economic calamity worldwide.

The risks increase the longer the imbalance persists, said Cline of the Institute for International Economics, adding, "Do we want to get ourselves, and for that matter our children, in a situation where we want to have to take an enormous hit because we have been increasingly enjoying excess consumption?"

...the lack of thrift characteristic of Americans is evident among [the employees of Bob Miller, who imports motorcycle helmets]. In interviews, several reported saving well under 10 percent of their incomes, and even putting aside that much is difficult, they said. Few put the maximum allowable amount in the company's 401(k) savings plan, according to Chief Financial Officer Randy Hutchings, and a substantial number do not contribute at all.

"I would venture to say that of my 125 employees, 80 percent live paycheck to paycheck, and maybe even before paycheck to paycheck," Miller said. "There are employees I've had, when they earned $50,000, they owed money; when they earned $100,000, they owed money. It's not what they earn; it's just the way they do things."

Small wonder, given such saving and spending patterns, that the global trade imbalance continues to burgeon.

Friday, November 18

Paging Dr. Frist!

I Vant to Drink Your Vatts By MATTHEW L. WALD, about "vampires"--electronic devices in standby mode, silently sipping energy to the tune of 1,000 kilowatt hours a year per household:
Among the worst vampires are big-screen televisions, mainly because of satellite and cable boxes, which can draw up to 30 watts when turned off, experts say.

Indeed, the words "off" and "on" no longer seem to apply; a better word might be "idling."

"They won't even say 'off' now; they'll say 'power,' " noted Alan K. Meier, a senior energy analyst at the International Energy Agency, a consortium based in Paris. "My washing machine draws five watts even when there's no sign of intelligent life."
Two points:
  1. Intelligent life? Is that what one expects from a washing machine, or indeed anywhere else on this planet? Beam me up!
  2. If the machine is indeed intelligent, isn't cutting off the power equivalent to murder? Isn't the machine just like Terry Schiavo?

Thursday, November 17

Isn't this chilling?

Rebecca MacKinnon and Ethan Zuckerman wanted to host "Expression Under Repression," a workshop at the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis, but were discouraged by the Tunisian authorities who deemed their seminar's title to be incompatible with the conference's theme of ICT for Development and that it might be cancelled. Although they were initially allowed to proceed, later
a phalanx of secret police (ie scary guys in dark suits) showed up. they filled the hall outside the room, forcing cancellation of the break for fear that we'd not be allowed to re-start. as rsf started to hand out books at the non-break, the authorities stated that documents could only be distributed outside the event, not in the room. this is in direct contrast to the WSIS rules, which state that materials can be passed out inside an approved event (unless they receive special approval for wider distribution).
From Expression Under Repression at WSIS (the UN's World Summit on the Information Society)

What the hell was the UN thinking?

Who to believe?

I tend to agree with John Luik's A Grain of Salt
Salt does raise blood pressure and blood pressure is one risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
...there is no study showing population-wide net health benefits from low-sodium diets....even though some sub-groups can benefit from reduced salt intake....the US Preventive Services Task Force Recommendations on healthy diets notes that "There is insufficient evidence, that, for the general population, reducing dietary sodium intake… results in improved health outcomes."
I've got high blood pressure and reducing my salt intake hasn't done me any good. Instead, I find that hot weather reduces it.

As for Luik, the Ontario Campaign for Action on Tobacco labels him a tobacco industry consultant. They do the same for Kip Viscusi, and go on to say,
His most well-known book, "Smoke-filled rooms: a postmortem on the tobacco deal" (2002) describes his views in detail. An excellent critique of this book by Dr. Michael Cummings of the Roswell Park Cancer Institute, was published in Tobacco Control.
Of course the review is critical. But the editors of Tobacco Control have appended this DISCLOSURE:
K Michael Cummings is not an unbiased observer of Dr Viscusi’s research and writings. He has served as a paid expert witness on behalf of plaintiffs counsel in several of the same cases in which Dr Viscusi also served as an expert for the cigarette industry. Dr Cummings is currently employed as a senior research scientist and is chairman of the Department of Health Behavior in the Division of Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York, USA. His salary support comes primarily from Roswell Park Cancer Institute and from research funding provided by the National Cancer Institute, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the American Legacy Foundation, and New York State Department of Health. Dr Cummings serves on the medical advisory board for the Flight Attendant Medical Research Institute (FAMRI) and has served on various scientific advisory boards and grant review committees for National Institutes of Health, Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, American Cancer Society, Canadian National Cancer Institute, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and state and local health agencies for which he has received honoraria. Dr Cummings has also received honoraria and has accepted hospitality and on a few occasions, travel costs, from pharmaceutical companies making tobacco dependence treatment products.
And a look at Viscusi's Working papers shows his interest in risk stats. And at one point he worked for Ralph Nader.

Wednesday, November 16

He does not have a moral code

Jon Carroll's
communique from a group calling itself Unitarian Jihad....Brother Neutron Bomb of Serenity notes for the record that he does not have a moral code but is nevertheless a good person...

Tuesday, November 15

Good Luck Thierry Breton

Chirac addresses 'malaise' in France
President Jacques Chirac acknowledged Monday that almost three weeks of rioting in France had revealed a "profound malaise" in the country, and he pledged to combat discrimination and work for greater ethnic diversity in all spheres of society.

In his first formal address to the nation since the violence erupted Oct. 27, Chirac stressed that fully restoring security remained his first priority and said he would ask the National Assembly to extend the current state of emergency for three months.


Concerned about scathing - and sometimes sensationalist - news reports about the unrest, the government has also started a campaign to tone down coverage of the riots abroad. Several ministers, including Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, Finance Minister Thierry Breton and the government's spokesman, Jean-François Copé, invited foreign journalists to a briefing on how the situation was improving.

During his press luncheon on Monday, Breton said the riots were an opportunity to push ahead with changes to France's rigid labor market.

"We are trying to use them to change the country," Breton said.

He said Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin would soon announce a package of measures targeting the suburban areas that have been the scene of recent rioting.

Rather than focusing on legislation to curb the discrimination experienced by many people with Arabic or Arabic-sounding names, Breton said France needed to create jobs and economic growth.

"I know only one formula: Create more growth," Breton said. "It's true that we have a problem in the suburbs and that there isn't enough economic activity."

He said the incentive for France to integrate its ethnic minorities into the labor market had never been more urgent because of the aging work force.

"Next year will be the first year when the number of workers in France will decline," Breton said. "We really need them."

Four More Years!

A Daily Workout Could Add 4 Years to Life, Study Says By Rob Stein
The researchers looked at records of more than 5,000 middle-aged and elderly Americans and found that those who had moderate to high levels of activity lived 1.3 to 3.7 years longer than those who got little exercise, largely because they put off developing heart disease -- the nation's leading killer. Men and women benefited about equally.

"This shows that physical activity really does make a difference -- not only for how long you live but for how long you live a healthy life," said Oscar H. Franco of the Erasmus M.C. University Medical Center in Rotterdam, who led the study, published yesterday in the Archives of Internal Medicine. "Being more physically active can give you more time."


Franco and his colleagues analyzed data from the Framingham Heart Study, a well-known research project that has followed 5,209 residents of a Massachusetts town for more than 40 years, collecting detailed information about their lifestyles and health.

The researchers calculated the effects of low, moderate or high levels of physical activity on life span, accounting for the possible effects of factors such as age, sex, education, and whether they smoked or had serious health problems.

People who engaged in moderate activity -- the equivalent of walking for 30 minutes a day for five days a week -- lived about 1.3 to 1.5 years longer than those who were less active. Those who took on more intense exercise -- the equivalent of running half an hour a day five days every week -- extended their lives by about 3.5 to 3.7 years, the researchers found.

The findings show that even for people who are already middle-aged, exercising more can add years to their lives, Franco said.

"This shows it's never too late to start following a healthy lifestyle. It's never too late to start exercising," Franco said. "For example, instead of taking your car to your office, why don't you take your bike or walk? Physical activity is very important for a healthy lifestyle."

"At the end of the day, this is more evidence that the sedentary lifestyle is the most devastating to health, longevity and chronic disease development," said James O. Hill of the University of Colorado at Denver, adding that he hoped it might motivate more people to exercise. "Putting it in terms of life expectancy is something that's relevant to people."

While adding one to four years may not sound like a lot to some people, Franco, Hill and others said exercising regularly also enables people to live healthier lives, free from a host of chronic illnesses that can make it hard for people to enjoy their later years.

In addition, recent studies have also found that exercise has payoffs for the mind, too. It has been shown to improve overall well-being, reduce stress and depression, and cut the risk of Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia, several experts said.


Most Americans still fail to exercise regularly, and the number who exercise in their leisure time has been dropping, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Franco and others noted that this and other studies show that people do not have to be exercise fanatics to reap the benefits. Adding just a little activity to the daily routine can have major benefits.

"What we're talking about is small changes," Hill said. "We're telling people to get out and walk more. Fifteen, 20 or 30 minutes of walking each day is probably enough."
I walk to school 5 days a week, then swim a mile. At the end of the day, I walk home--about 25 minutes. Three days a week, I lift free weights. Then I walk about an hour and a half each day on the weekends.

Compare Obesity: Epidemic or Myth? by PATRICK JOHNSON
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have been fervently warning that we are in imminent danger from our expanding waistlines since the beginning of this decade. However, evidence has recently emerged indicating that the CDC’s warnings were based on questionable data that resulted in exaggerated risks.


Whatever side of the argument you are on, it is apparent that many in the CDC acted irresponsibly. However, despite the fact that the initial, exaggerated estimate came from people at the CDC, we should keep in mind that so did the corrected number. While this can be frustrating to the casual observer, it is also a testament to the corrective power of the scientific method.

Science is about provisional truths that can be changed when evidence indicates that they should be. The fact that scientific information is available to the public is its greatest strength. Most of us, for whatever reason—whether it’s self-interest or self-delusion—don’t view our own ideas as critically as we should. The fact that scientific ideas are available for all to see allows those who disagree to disprove them. This is what has happened at the CDC; the most current study has addressed the flaws of the earlier studies. It is true that many of those in power at the CDC uncritically embraced the earlier estimates and overreacted, or worse simply accepted research that was flawed because it bolstered their agendas. But that failure lies with the people involved, not with the CDC as an institution or with the science itself.

The evidence still shows that morbid obesity is associated with an increased likelihood of developing disease and suffering from early mortality, but it also shows that those who are a few pounds overweight don’t need to panic. What’s more, it is clear that everyone, fat or thin, will benefit from regular exercise regardless of whether they lose weight.

Monday, November 14

Grain-fed and RAW?

An Organic Cash Cow By KIM SEVERSON is mostly about organic milk, but it also has these tidbits:
Many connoisseurs say the best milk comes from cows who eat mostly grass. The flavor is more complex, and varies with the seasons. In addition, a grass diet leads to milk with as much as five times the amount of conjugated linoleic acid, which some studies using animal models show can help fight cancer. And grazing is better for the cows' health than a diet of grain.
And it's not just what the cows eat:
...for purists, unpasteurized, or raw milk, is the only way to go. It can be delicious and more nutritious, but finding raw milk takes a lot of work. In most states it can be sold legally only on the farm or through clubs in which people buy shares of a cow and divide the milk. And raw milk can pose a health hazard, especially for people with weakened immune systems.
Contaminated raw milk can be a source of harmful bacteria, such as those that cause undulant fever, dysentery, salmonellosis, and tuberculosis.
Geez, you think the author might've been clearer about that.

It's mostly technology and market forces

Real Energy Savers Don't Wear Cardigans. Or Do They? By ANNA BERNASEK forces can help provide solutions: higher prices, on their own, can make people cut back. Just how responsive consumers are to price changes - what economists call the elasticity of demand - has been the focus of much research. Today, economists believe that they have developed a pretty good rule of thumb for energy use. In the case of electricity, which is relatively easy to measure, they have found that when the price rises 10 percent, electricity use falls roughly 3 percent. At the gas pump, a 10 percent increase in price leads to a decline of around 2 percent in demand.

Consumer behavior can change quickly in a crisis. A study by Peter C. Reiss, a professor of economics at Stanford, and Matthew W. White, a professor of business and public policy at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, provides some recent evidence. In examining San Diego households during the California electricity crisis of 2000 and 2001, they found that use of electricity dropped surprisingly fast. In the summer of 2000, within 60 days of seeing monthly electric bills rise by about $60 - an increase of 130 percent - the average household cut its use of electricity by 12 percent.

That kind of drop requires a big change in behavior. The authors found that households had turned off air-conditioners in the middle of summer and had invested in new energy-efficient appliances, among other things.

High costs aren't the only force that will influence consumers to cut back.
Buried in the middle of the article is the argument that public appeals to save energy can have a substantial impact. Then:

Perhaps the most important reason for optimism is technology's role in promoting energy savings. From 1979 to 1985, in the aftermath of energy shortages, Americans reduced their oil consumption by 15 percent. The single biggest factor was a shift in car-buying habits.


How much more energy-efficient can we become? Amory B. Lovins, chief executive of the Rocky Mountain Institute, a nonprofit energy research group in Snowmass, Colo., says that a barrel of oil today already does twice as much work as it did in 1975. Mr. Lovins calculates that by moving to vehicles that consume less fuel, the nation could double that efficiency again.

Because vehicles account for 40 percent of total domestic oil consumption, there is a big opportunity for savings.

Rate structures in most states...still reward utilities for selling more electricity. One solution is to decouple the profits of utilities from their sales volumes, and to let utilities keep as profit some of the savings they achieve for their customers.


Consider [the Internet's] potential for real-time billing of electricity consumption at home. If households can see at any moment how much they are spending on energy, they can better decide whether changing their habits makes economic sense.

In the end, the most effective energy policy won't be one that fights against market forces. It will be one that helps them work better.

Friday, November 11

Pattie Robertson doesn't really believe in God

Robertson Says Town Rejects God By Alan Elsner
Pat Robertson told citizens of a Pennsylvania town that they had rejected God by voting their school board out of office for supporting "intelligent design" and warned them yesterday not to be surprised if disaster struck...

"I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover: if there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God -- you just rejected Him from your city," Robertson said on his daily television show, "The 700 Club."

"And don't wonder why He hasn't helped you when problems begin, if they begin. I'm not saying they will, but if they do, just remember, you just voted God out of your city. And if that's the case, don't ask for His help because he might not be there," he said.
(emphasis mine) So he can't guarantee the wrath of God? What kind of a piddling deity is he promoting? Robertson can't count on him to smite even these supposedly evil people.

In Ordinary Life

The Folly of Prayer for Prayer's Sake By ADAM KIRSCH is a review of a couple of books, including Philip and Carol Zaleski's "Prayer: A History", which he slams for its "syrupy, boosterish prose".
In ordinary life, if we encountered a man who repeats the same phrase 100,000 times a day, or a man who regularly falls into catatonic insensibility, or a teenage girl whose sexual desires fuel sickly fantasies of martyrdom, we would have no qualms about pronouncing them mentally ill and in need of treatment.

But if the obsessive-compulsive is reciting the Jesus Prayer, and the catatonic is a swami, and the girl is a nun, then the Zaleskis expect us to admire and revere them.

Thursday, November 10

Too much corn

Mountains of Corn and a Sea of Farm Subsidies By ALEXEI BARRIONUEVO
...this season's bumper crop is too much of a good thing, underscoring what critics call a paradox at the heart of the government farm subsidy program: America's efficient farmers may be encouraged to produce far more than the country can use, depressing prices and raising subsidy payments. In other words, because the government wants to help America's farmers, it essentially ends up paying them both when they produce too much and when their crop prices are too low.


Even as the Bush administration tries to persuade member nations of the World Trade Organization that it is serious about trimming agricultural subsidies, federal spending on farm payments is closing in on the record of $22.9 billion set in 2000, when the Asian financial crisis caused American exports to fall and crop prices to sink, pushing the Midwest farm belt into recession.

If export sales stay weak, this year's subsidies could hit a new record. Just last week the United States Agriculture Department raised its projection of payments to farmers by $1.3 billion, to $22.7 billion. In 2004, the subsidies were only $13.3 billion.

In response to pressure, the Bush administration said last month that the United States was prepared to cut its most trade-distorting farm subsidies by 60 percent over five years. The world's poor nations, which tend to be heavily dependent on agriculture, complain that American and European Union farm subsidies spur growers to produce gluts that depress crop prices throughout the world.


For critics of the American subsidy system, the record corn production highlights the tenuous assumptions underlying the program. Farmers are encouraged to produce as much as they can with the idea that greater exports will soak up the excess production. More recently, there are high hopes for using corn to produce ethanol for gasoline, but the infrastructure to produce large amounts of ethanol will take time.

But the huge volumes in recent years have not been matched by greater demand for American corn, and the woes created by two big harvests, along with the stifling effect of Hurricane Katrina on the transport of grains, have kept exports in check, analysts and grain traders said.


This year grain piles are everywhere across Iowa and parts of Illinois, the two biggest corn-producing states. In Iowa, the amount of grain being stored on the ground for lack of storage is averaging more than 19 percent, its highest level in at least 25 years, Mr. Fray said, citing private industry data.

Lately the giant piles have become the butt of jokes in farm country. They were spoofed in a fake picture, widely e-mailed, that showed a skier airborne atop West Central's biggest pile, with the caption that said "one thing you can do with a 3-million-bushel pile of harvested corn: Ski Iowa."
Economist's View adds
There seems to be general agreement that farm subsidies distort markets and should be eliminated. There also seems to be general agreement that to do so is political suicide.
They also suggest private insurance.

Someone smarter than the kids

'Innovative' Math, but Can You Count? By SAMUEL G. FREEDMAN
Kids do not do better learning...themselves. There's a reason we go to school, which is that there's someone smarter than us with something to teach us.
"Someone smarter"? Who's that? The "intelligent designer?"

Wednesday, November 9

Where the Jobs Are

Joel Kotkin's Our Immigrants, Their Immigrants
In a country where short workweeks and early retirement are sacred, there is little emphasis on creating new jobs and even less on grass-roots entrepreneurial activity.

Since the '70s, America has created 57 million new jobs, compared with just four million in Europe (with most of those jobs in government). In France and much of Western Europe, the economic system is weighted toward the already employed (the overwhelming majority native-born whites) and the growing mass of retirees. Those ensconced in state and corporate employment enjoy short weeks, early and well-funded retirement and first dibs on the public purse. So although the retirement of large numbers of workers should be opening up new job opportunities, unemployment among the young has been rising: In France, joblessness among workers in their 20s exceeds 20%, twice the overall national rate. In immigrant banlieues, where the population is much younger, average unemployment reaches 40%, and higher among the young.

To make matters worse, the elaborate French welfare state -- government spending accounts for roughly half of GDP compared with 36% in the U.S. -- also forces high tax burdens on younger workers lucky enough to have a job, largely to pay for an escalating number of pensioners and benefit recipients. In this system, the incentives are to take it easy, live well and then retire. The bloat of privileged aging blocks out opportunity for the young.

Luckily, better-educated young Frenchmen and other Continental Europeans can opt out of the system by emigrating to more open economies in Ireland, the U.K. and, particularly, the U.S. This is clearly true in technological fields, where Europe's best brains leave in droves. Some 400,000 European Union science graduates currently reside in the U.S. Barely one in seven, according to a recent poll, intends to return. Driven by the ambitious young, European immigration to the U.S. jumped by 16% during the '90s. Visa applications dropped after 9/11, but then increased last year by 10%. The total number of Europe-born immigrants increased by roughly 700,000 during the last three years, with a heavy inflow from the former Soviet Union, the former Yugoslavia, and Romania -- as well as France. These new immigrants have been particularly drawn to the metropolitan centers of California, Florida and New York.

The consequences of high youth unemployment

The economics fueling the French riots: System fostering sky-high youth unemployment proving unsustainable By Michael Mandel
...the outbursts were supercharged by an economic system that not only tolerates but actually fosters sky-high youth unemployment. In September, an incredible 21.7 percent of 15- to 24-year-olds in France were unemployed, compared to only 11 percent in the U.S. and 12.6 percent in Britain. France isn't alone — other European countries, such as Belgium, Spain, Greece, Italy, and Finland — also have persistent youth unemployment rates above 20 percent.

Such sky-high levels of idle youth are a by-product of the welfare-state mentality that's still pervasive across much of Europe. The idea is that government's main role is to provide a safety net for the population, in terms of jobless and health benefits. Generating growth and creating jobs takes a distinctly lower priority, resulting in high unemployment, especially among the young.
But what can the French government do? If they propose loosening restrictions on hiring and firing and letting the market set wages, and reducing social security costs, the leftists will come out in force. What's the alternative? Special (low-wage) jobs for unemployed minorities? They're not going to like that.

Then again, there are plenty of jobs available off the books. That's how many members of the extensive 温州 community in Paris work. We met some in a Paris restaurant a few years ago--they even had money to eat out!

"Windfall" taxes

A Supremely Horrible Idea

The results of this kind of measure are easy to predict (and are observable in the aftermath of similar taxes being levied during the Carter administration):

  • Decreased domestic oil production
  • Increased reliance on foreign oil
  • Higher oil prices

High energy prices are in large part due to limited refinery capacity, but how can we expect rational companies to build additional refineries if we raid their profits? Anyone who's kept up at night by oil companies making "windfall" profits is welcome to open an online brokerage account and buy a few shares. Their perspective should change markedly.

If you listen to your friendly television newsperson you'll see almost universal approval of the proposal to seize oil company profits. If you asked one of these people what "inventory profits" were, and why inventory profits rise and fall quickly, they wouldn't have a clue. I doubt that 10% of them could correctly state the difference between profits and profit margins, nor could they come within a few points of telling you what Exxon-Mobile's profit margin was for the last quarter. These news readers shouldn't feel bad though, they're right in step with the vast majority of the American public. Ignorance of basic economic matters is rampant (thanks to government schools) and politicians will always exploit ignorance to expand their power.
Political Dogs are more technical, but still convincing. They run the numbers and conclude such taxes would be counter-productive:
Oil lives in an environment in which prices can fall as quickly as they rise. Yet oil companies need to hold inventory on hand - they don't buy product today and deliver it into your gas tank tomorrow. That means there is significant inventory risk associated with the business. Inventory risk is the risk of loss when the price for a commodity such as oil drops. We have seen a drop of more than 20% in retail oil prices over the past two months. If you buy something for a buck, planning to sell it for two bucks and the retail price falls to $1.60 after you bought inventory, you lose a full 20% of your bottom line. Generally this inventory risk on the downside is compensated for via the upside potential when prices are increasing. But we've eliminated that by taxing the upside potential. That means oil companies still would not have incentive to buy product at this 25% windfall profits rate. The net effect of this approach is oil companies would be compelled to keep prices high and not permit them to drop, if they had that sort of control.

Whiny crap from Frank Deford

Every year, countless racehorses are sent to slaughterhouses and to foreign markets where horsemeat is cuisine. Commentator Frank Deford finds the practice inhumane.
There's nothing wrong with humans or tigers eating meat, and raising animals for food. What is sacred about horses?

Is Paris Burning?

Not really, according to Patrick Belton
I'd arrived at Aulnay-sous-Bois yesterday expecting a seething cauldron on just the point of boiling over. What I found was quite different, and surprised me. Aulnay has seen the worst violence of any of the banlieues to date, but its housing projects had their windows open, laundry hung out to dry, music and laughter spilling out from within; the streets were filled with children playing...
Although he wrote earlier,
There is, in speaking with its people at its cafes and on its streetcorners, a sense of malaise these days in Paris, which I think you could probe further by juxtaposing the despair of the banlieu rioters with the stories of the increasing numbers of graduates of Paris's leading business schools who go to Britain upon graduation, or those of postgraduate degree holders working as postmen. All have in their way given up on the French dream, a comfortable lifestyle sheltered by an extensive and humane welfare state.
And anyway, as d-squareddigest says,
These young men have got a political grievance, and they're expressing it by setting fire to things and smashing them up. What could be more stereotypically, characteristically French than that? Presumably they're setting fire to cars because they don't have any sheep and the nearest McDonalds is miles away. "French society is threatened by anarchy and lawlessness". I mean really. Everyone would do well to remember that this is France we're talking about, not Sweden or perhaps Canada.

So much for "social protection"

'But, What Country Is This?' By Anne Applebaum

"Katrina's devastation points the finger at Bush's system . . . Issues forgotten for years are back to the fore: poverty, the state's absence, latent racism."

-- Le Monde, Sept. 8, 2005

The quotation above appeared in a front-page article in France's newspaper of record. Just below was a cartoon showing the American president watching TV footage of black corpses floating in the water. "But, what country is this?" the caption had him saying to his generals: "Is it far away? We absolutely have to do something!"...["Mais, c'est quel pays? C'est loin? Il faut absolument intervenir!"]

Famously, the late French president Francois Mitterrand once said that the Los Angeles riots could never happen in Paris, because "France is the country where the level of social protection is the highest in the world."

...the refusal of French politicians to lift restrictions on employers, to promote entrepreneurship or to deregulate make it impossible for young people to integrate through the economy, as immigrants do in this country, despite discrimination. The only real long-term solution -- that France should join the dreaded "Anglo-Saxon" world market and open up its economy -- is precisely the one that no French politician dare speak aloud.

But the insoluble violence in urban France should inspire more than just schadenfreude in this country. Although there isn't yet evidence that this bout of rioting is Islamist in origin, it's pretty clear that large, unintegrated, ungovernable and unemployed Islamic communities in Western Europe will continue to incubate radical Islam...

It is in our own interest, then, to be magnanimous and to come up with ways to assist the French. We could, for example, help them to shatter the myth that they live in an enlightened society, insulated from racial tension, by mass-mailing them copies of Le Monde with the word "America" crossed out in all editorials and the word "France" substituted instead.

Tuesday, November 8

Accession has brought change to China and WTO

Accession has brought change to China and WTO By Howard Winn
...when China joined the WTO, it agreed to one of the fastest programs of import duty cuts and market opening ever accepted by a new member.

Skeptics doubted that it would stick to those commitments, but the general level of its import tariffs has fallen to 9.9 percent this year from almost 40 percent in the early 1990s, according to the WTO. Although its exports have soared, its imports have often grown faster.

Chinese imports rose 39.9 percent in 2003 compared with export growth of 34.6 percent, and 36 percent in 2004 compared with a 35.4 percent rise in exports, figures from China's national statistics office show.

WTO figures show that China was the third-largest exporter and importer in the world in 2004, overtaking Japan and lagging behind only the United States and Germany.
despite some discomfort,
"China has adopted policies resulting in a far more open and profitable business environment for many U.S. companies," the council, a Washington-based umbrella organization for U.S. companies doing business with China, said.

"In general, you'd have to say China is complying with its WTO obligations," Owen Nee, a counsel with the U.S.-based international law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, said in an interview. "There are places where there are problems, but by and large they have met the deadlines and passed the laws."

Andrew Freris, chief economist and head of Asian-Pacific fixed income research at BNP Paribas, noted that China was already a major trading force before it joined the WTO. Membership had been particularly important in opening up its service sector, he said.

"Prior to joining WTO, nothing was happening on that front," Freris said. "We had neither a timetable nor a specific set of time limits for certain things to happen. Now we do."

In the textiles sector, Nee said, WTO membership has played to China's advantage. When a 10-year-old international textile quota system ended at the start of this year, much of the textile industry in Asia shifted to China.

Chinese textile exports soared, triggering a backlash in the European Union and the United States that pushed the EU and U.S. authorities to impose temporary, bilateral curbs on further growth. But "if China hadn't been a member of the WTO, I believe that the quota system would have been extended," Nee said.

Yet perhaps more important, in the long term, for China, WTO membership has helped the leadership in Beijing to deal with obstructive local officials. "If Beijing tells provincial authorities to do something, they don't listen. But if they are told these are WTO rules then there is more chance of compliance," Nee said.
The leadership has used the threat of WTO-inspired foreign competition, and the inflow of foreign investment and expertise, to force banks, insurers, and telecommunications companies to become more market-oriented and efficient.
If WTO membership is helping China to transform its economy, it is also producing a transformation within the WTO. China has begun to take on a role that was not anticipated when it was negotiating entry, positioning itself between the traditional powers, like the United States and the EU, and the developing countries.

It's not just an AIDS problem

Hospitals In China Find Profit In AIDS Patients Pressured To Pay for Extra Tests, Treatments By Peter S. Goodman
From 1980 to 2004, the central government's share of total funding for health care dropped from 36 percent to 17 percent, according to a recent state study. Doctors and hospitals became responsible for living off their profit. The state continued regulating fees for basic services, but hospitals were freed to collect profit on sales of new drugs and high-technology tests.

That decision is now widely viewed as a disaster. Pharmacies have become profit centers for Chinese hospitals, the source of up to 90 percent of revenue, encouraging doctors to overprescribe drugs, Chinese experts said. More than half of all Chinese health care spending is devoted to pharmaceuticals, as compared with about 15 percent in most of the developed world, according to a recent World Bank study.


Fewer than one-third of the Chinese have health insurance. From 1980 to 2004, out-of-pocket expenses tripled as a proportion of total health care spending, climbing from 20 percent to 60 percent, according to a recent Ministry of Finance study.

As costs skyrocket, many poor Chinese peasants are relying on folk remedies. Infant mortality is on the rise in some rural areas. And infectious diseases such as schistosomiasis, a chronically debilitating ailment caused by parasitic worms, are regaining traction.

In July, a report released by the Beijing-based Development and Research Center, an institute that is part of China's governing State Council, concluded that the reform of the country's health care system has been "unsuccessful."
It's not just an AIDS problem, but a number of doctors would rather prescribe expensive medicines than supply patients with free anti-retrovirals, which is what they're supposed to be doing.

Monday, November 7

Goin' After the Creationists

Find the entire funny here.

What Matters Is One's Relative Wealth

After a long drought

We've started watching movies again. I taped Chicago from the broadcast version, and thought it was crap. This weekend, we saw Boiler Room (2000). I still haven't seen Wall Street (1987) or Glengarry Glen Ross (1992). The only Mamet I remember is American Buffalo (1996), and I found it so excruciatingly boring I didn't finish it. (I note that Mamet is announced as a writer for the forthcoming Halloween: Retribution [2006]; is this some kind of joke?) We also saw Criminal (2004); we liked them both a lot. I didn't realize the latter was a remake of Nueve reinas (2000), until it was over. Hd we known, we should've watched that instead.


Daniel Drezner, who has accepted a new job and been conditionally awarded tenure, on just what tenure is.

Yes, tenure equals lifetime employment. However, consider the following:

1) Compared to other professions that require equivalent education, academics earn lower wages. This is clearly a choice for many of economic security and a more flexible work schedule over increased income. But it is a choice with real economic costs.

2) It's not like getting a tenured position at a top-drawer school is the easiest thing to do in the world. You have to get accepted into a good Ph.D. program, write an excellent dissertation, demonstrate an ability to generate research of high quality and quantity, and trust your luck that these skills will be recognized by your senior colleagues inside and outside your university.

3) I can't stress this enough -- a professor's wage is almost entirely determined by the market. Yearly raises in our profession range from infinitessimal to nonexistent. The only way to earn big raises is to demonstrate our value to the outside market by getting a competing job offer. That's about as real as you can get in terms of the wage structure.

Sunday, November 6

The shroud of Turin and other nonsense

Inspired by Exploring the Science of Miracles: Channeling Galileo, an Italian Chemist Conjures Reason to Debunk Myth By Daniel Williams
Luigi Garlaschelli is a chemist who from his perch at Pavia University skeptically eyes Italy's parade of miracles. He belongs to a group called the Italian Committee to Investigate Claims of the Paranormal, made up of Italian scientists, including two Nobel Prize winners, who use science to try to explain the inexplicable.

"Miracles are just paranormal events in religious clothing," he says. "I'm a chemist. I look for the substance behind things." He's not trying to undermine people's religious beliefs, he says, explaining: "We're just trying to study phenomena. If there's a non-miraculous answer, we say so."

These days, he contends, it is more and more important to champion scientific methods in the face of assaults from religious authorities and fundamentalist believers. The attack on Charles Darwin's theory of evolution in the United States by promoters of a rival explanation known as intelligent design is a symptom of the danger, he said. "Science should not be lethargic."


Garlaschelli recently completed a periodic imitation of the miracle of San Gennaro, an event that has been celebrated in Naples since the 14th century. The city's archbishop pulls out a vial containing a maroon-colored solid substance from a case, then rotates and shakes the container until the contents liquefy.

The liquid is said to be the blood of San Gennaro, a pious bishop who was beheaded in A.D. 305 by Diocletian, a Roman emperor. Liquefaction promises a peaceful future for Naples -- a pledge popular with residents of a city that sits in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. The shaking of San Gennaro's vial draws crowds of frenzied spectators.

Scientific studies of the composition of the substance have not conclusively identified it as blood, though one purported to find traces of hemoglobin. Keepers of the relic have not provided a sample of the material for thorough testing.

Garlaschelli put together a cocktail of material available near Naples -- which would have been obtainable in the Middle Ages -- to try to replicate the miracle. His mixture of limestone powder, iron and pigments was solid when left still, but turned fluid when stirred or shaken. The process is called thixotropy. Ketchup is a thixotropic substance, Garlaschelli explained.


[The shroud of Turin] bears an image of Jesus that believers say was miraculously acquired when the cloth covered his body after the crucifixion. Carbon dating found that the fabric dates from around the 14th century, but defenders say the tests were inaccurate because the cloth could have picked up pollutants in its travels through various European cathedrals.

Garlaschelli runs experiments with a cloth of his own that he thinks provide plenty of reasons for skepticism. For one thing, if the shroud were wrapped around a face, the features should have been distorted, much like the map projection of continents from a globe onto a flat surface -- Greenland appears larger than South America, though in fact it's much smaller. On the shroud, the face is in perfect proportion.

To prove his point, Garlaschelli put a student in a bathing suit, had him lie on a slab, cover himself with paint and then pull a shroud over himself. The image left on the cloth looks similar to the Turin shroud's, except that it has a distorted face.
In the original, "shroud" is capitalized. Not here!

What I learned from the internet:
Substances which are thick like a solid, but which flow like a liquid when a sideways force is applied, are called thixotropic....The opposite of thixotropic is dilantant. These substances get more viscous (even hard) when you apply a force.

It's about time

China to Drop Urbanite-Peasant Legal DifferencesBy JOSEPH KAHN
China plans to abolish legal distinctions between urban residents and peasants in 11 provinces as the government tries to slow the country's surging wealth gap and reduce social unrest, state media said Wednesday.

Under an experimental program, local governments in those provinces will allow peasants to register as urban residents and to have the same rights to housing, education, medical care and social security that city dwellers have.

If carried out as advertised, the program would eliminate a cornerstone of the population control policies begun by Mao in the 1950's. The system of residence permits, known as hukou, ties every person to a locale and once made travel difficult without permission.

In practice, the system has been fading away for more than a decade. An estimated 200 million peasants have left the countryside to live in urban areas, some of them full time. Their access to urban services varies widely depending on local rules and the kind of employment they find.

In today's market-oriented economy, the once-comprehensive socialist benefits bestowed on urban residents carry far less weight. Most people rely on their own resources, or those of their employers, to pay for health care, housing and schooling.

Even so, the system of residence permits has been a fixture of social and political culture in Communist China and a prominent symbol of the government's control of daily life. Its elimination could be regarded as an advance in human rights, some specialists said.

"This is an old-style way of managing a huge country and no longer makes sense with a market economy," said Qin Hui, a historian at Qinghua University in Beijing. "If it's really going away, it is a significant turning point."

Mr. Qin said he expected that even if the system disappeared, local governments would retain administrative control over their populations. They would still set conditions on registration for urban residents and prevent the growth of slums.

"The cities will become places where the relatively well off live," he said. "Beijing is not going to look like New Delhi, or even like Bangkok."

Economic forces have eroded population controls in recent years. Shenzhen emerged from rice fields in the early 1980's to become one of China's most prosperous metropolitan areas, and nearly all of its 10 million residents were born elsewhere. Shanghai began the concept of a "blue card" for qualified migrant workers in the mid-1990's, giving them full access to housing and city services if they met criteria.

The central government declared that it intended to drop the residency permit system at the 16th Communist Party Congress in 2002, and has made incremental changes since.

An episode in 2003, when Sun Zhigang, a college-educated migrant in Guangdong Province, was beaten to death in police custody after being detained on suspicion of vagrancy, gave impetus to changing the system. His death caused nationwide outrage and led to the abolition of vagrancy laws.

"We knew it was a dead duck after they abolished the custody and repatriation system" or vagrancy law, said Nicolas Becquelin, a researcher for Human Rights in China based in Hong Kong. "The police had no power to enforce the hukou laws."

Doing away with the residency system also fits the political agenda of President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, who have tried to demonstrate that they are more attentive to people left behind in China's economic boom. The market-oriented economy has produced enormous wealth but also generated major social cleavages. In the past several years, peasants and migrant workers have led an upsurge in protests over corruption, land grabs and environmental degradation.

Long term, Mr. Becquelin said, urbanization remains an enormous administrative challenge for China and one that the government is unlikely to entrust to the market.

"I think you'll see a situation where the largest cities retain very tight controls, while medium cities are a little looser and newer small cities have more freedom," he said.

The 11 major provinces involved in the latest move include Guangdong, Fujian and Liaoning. China has 23 provinces.

Articles about the change in several state-run publications suggested, though, that the Public Security Bureau, the nation's police bureaucracy, remained deeply wary of the change and may slow its progression.

Outsourcing medical treatment

Passport to Health Care At Lower Cost to Patient: California HMOs Send Some Enrollees to Mexico
by Sonya Geis
....a Blue Shield of California HMO...provides all of [some families'] nonemergency care in Mexico. They are among 20,000 California workers and their dependents in health plans that cost 40 to 50 percent less than comparable care in the United States because the doctor's visits are outsourced south of the border.

With health care costs in the United States continuing to rise, many employers in Southern California are turning to insurance plans that send their workers to Mexico for routine care, plans that are growing by nearly 3,000 people a year.

...the new trend has some medical professionals in the United States worried that care is being sacrificed to low prices.

"There are quality standards that we are developing and implementing in America that are not going to be implemented there for a long time," said Jack Lewin, chief executive of the California Medical Association. "In terms of specialized care, it's critically important that we look beyond just cost savings."
The California Medical Association prides itself on "physician advocacy". I'm guessing what he really means is less money for American physicians. Still, high costs are not entirely their fault.
Lower-priced labor, malpractice insurance and overhead in Mexico mean both basic and sophisticated medical procedures can be performed at a small fraction of the cost. A hysterectomy that averages $2,025 in the United States costs $810 in Mexico, said Mary Eadson, director of legal compliance for the Western Growers Association, an agricultural organization that provides health insurance for California workers in Mexico.
It's not just money, though
Company officials emphasize the warmth of the Mexican medical culture.

"Mainly, the patients that come here are searching for more attention," said Juan Carlos Helu Vazquez, a gastroenterologist in Tijuana who sees Mexican and American patients. "They want the doctor to talk to them, be warm to them. There are a lot of patients who like the old-time medicine. They like the doctor asking about your family, your work."
Me, I'd just as soon save money. As for getting attention, during my recent colonoscopy at the Carbondale hospital, the nurses were "warm" enough, even if the physician was a little brusque.

Vanguard lawsuit

Being a Vanguard investor and a believer in the company, I was interested in hearing about Samuel A. Alito's alleged conflict of interest in dismissing a lawsuit against Vanguard. From Judge denies having a conflict by L. Stuart Ditzen
A $478,000 judgment, stemming from a business dispute in Massachusetts, was entered against her husband, D. Dev Monga, a petroleum engineer, in favor of a former associate in 1991.

A court-appointed receiver, assigned to collect the judgment, accused Monga of fraudulently transferring money to a retirement account in Vanguard to avoid payment.

Vanguard froze the account. Monga, claiming the retirement funds were legitimate, sued Vanguard. Vanguard found itself in a crossfire of litigation in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.

When Monga died of cancer in 1996, Maharaj took up the fight.

In 1998, Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Judith Fabricant ruled that the couple, by various efforts to thwart collection of the judgment, had forfeited the right to litigate a claim against Vanguard.

The judge ordered the retirement funds released and barred Maharaj from filing suit against Vanguard anywhere in the nation.

The federal appeals court relied on that ruling in dismissing Maharaj's suit in Philadelphia.
It doesn't look to me as if Vanguard acted improperly.

Pushing the Chinese government to obey its own laws

China Shutters Prominent Lawyer's Firm
Rights Activist Had Refused to Disavow Letter Defending Religion, Falun Gong
By Philip P. Pan
Judicial authorities in Beijing have shut down the law firm of a prominent civil rights lawyer after he refused to withdraw an open letter urging President Hu Jintao to respect freedom of religion and stop persecuting members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement.

Gao Zhisheng, among the most daring of a generation of self-trained lawyers who have been pushing the Chinese government to obey its own laws, said that the Beijing Bureau of Justice ordered his firm suspended for one year on Friday. The move came just hours after he filed an appeal on behalf of an underground Protestant pastor accused of illegally printing Bibles and other Christian literature.

According to Gao, the government said the firm was being suspended because it had failed to register with the authorities after moving into a new office this year. But he said the action followed his refusal to renounce the open letter to Hu and withdraw from politically sensitive cases as demanded by officials during a series of recent meetings.

Gao said that his firm notified the government when it moved but that officials refused to let the firm register at the new address.

"We're very angry," Gao said by phone Saturday. "By doing this, the Chinese Communist Party is demonstrating it defies all laws, human and divine. They are saying that anyone who believes in law, who criticizes the political system, who exposes crimes against the people, will be targeted."

The closure comes as officials crack down on religion, press freedoms and other civil liberties in China, and confirms that Hu's government is also willing to take action to restrict the growing influence of members of China's budding legal profession. Lawyers such as Gao have been at the forefront of a campaign to inform citizens of their rights under laws that are often ignored by the government and to help them assert those rights in court.

Gao said he planned to fight his firm's suspension at a formal hearing next week.

In an Oct. 18 letter addressed to Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao that he posted on the Internet and distributed widely by e-mail, Gao described several cases he had investigated involving Falun Gong practitioners who have been detained, sent to labor camps and tortured. In one case, he said, a man was hanged from overhead pipes until his legs rotted.

In another case, he said, police tracked down and arrested a practitioner, a college sophomore, after he posted a note on the Internet announcing his resignation from the Communist Youth League.

Under the direction of Hu's predecessor, Jiang Zemin, the Chinese government in July 1999 banned Falun Gong as an "evil cult" and has all but crushed it in an often violent campaign involving the arrests of thousands of people. As practitioners have been released from labor camps in recent years, Gao said, the government has renewed its brutal campaign.

"The persecution of Falun Gong compatriots by some local officials has already reached the point where they are doing whatever they please," Gao wrote in the open letter. "We cannot accept these brazenly inhumane, savage atrocities to occur in the society of mankind in the 21st century."

"This evil catastrophe did not begin with you, but the catastrophe has continued while you two have led the government," he told Hu and Wen.

Gao also urged the government to accept that a revival of religious faith in China was inevitable. In addition to working on behalf of Falun Gong members, Gao is one of several lawyers who have volunteered to defend Cai Zhuohua, the pastor of a house church in Beijing who has been jailed on charges of "illegal business practices" for printing and distributing hundreds of thousands of Bibles. The Bush administration has expressed concern about Cai, who was arrested with several other Christian figures in September 2004.

Gao has been under pressure from the authorities for months. Government officials recently demanded that he withdraw from two politically sensitive cases: a citizen effort to impeach the chief of Taishi village in southern China's Guangdong province and a landmark lawsuit brought by thousands of private investors accusing officials in northern Shaanxi province of seizing oil wells from them worth as much as $1 billion.
Pushing the Chinese government to obey its own laws? Isn't that "hurting the feelings of the Chinese people"?

It seemed like a good idea

Some in GOP Regretting Pork-Stuffed Highway Bill By Shailagh Murray
The highway bill seemed like such a good idea when it sailed through Congress this summer. But now Republicans who assembled the record spending package are suffering buyer's remorse.

The $286 billion legislation was stuffed with 6,000 pet projects for lawmakers' districts, including what critics denounce as a $223 million "Bridge to Nowhere" that would replace a 7-minute ferry ride in a sparsely populated area of Alaska. Usually members of Congress cannot wait to rush home and brag about such bounty -- a staggering number of parking lots, bus depots, bike paths and new interchanges for just about every congressional district in the country that added $24 billion to the overall cost of maintaining the nation's highways and bridges in the coming years.
I'm not optimistic about any turn-around, but
The Senate has already considered one proposal to scale back the legislation -- an amendment offered by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) to cut funding for some of the projects special-ordered by Alaskan lawmakers and use the money saved to rebuild the Interstate 10 bridge over Lake Pontchartrain outside New Orleans. The I-10 bridge, a major transportation corridor, was shattered during the Katrina storm surge.

Coburn's bid failed, but it gained widespread attention and attracted 15 Senate "yes" votes, a landslide, considering the political clout of Stevens, a former chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and a formidable force in Congress. In a display of outrage, Stevens threatened to resign from the Senate if Coburn's measure succeeded.

The Club for Growth, a conservative group that funds like-minded candidates for Congress, has turned the highway legislation into a bumper sticker for the GOP's fiscal failings. "Too many Congressional Republicans have veered away from the limited government agenda that got them elected to the majority in Congress. They have approved pork-barrel highway bills worse than the Democrats used to give us," says one appeal to supporters.