Saturday, December 31

Just because they're activist groups doesn't mean you can trust them

"Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." But how about "Fool me always?" That's the mainstream media's relationship with self-styled "environmental" and "consumer" activist groups. And you wonder to what extent the media are being fooled _ as opposed to simply repeating what they want to believe.
As Brian Ross says, "I'm not a science reporter." (But he plays one on TV.)

Why your clothes cost so much

Quotas add a little over 70 cents to the cost of each pair of underwear from China and nearly $54 to the cost of a woman’s wool coat.

Tuesday, December 27

Affirmative action is OK, though

...studies that show the number of Democratic professors is generally much larger than the number of Republicans. A survey in 2003 by researchers at Santa Clara University found the ratio of Democrats to Republicans on college faculties ranged from 3 to 1 in economics to 30 to 1 in anthropology.

...the professors association...argues that conservatives are overstating the problem and, by seeking government action, are forcing their ideology into the classroom.

"Mechanisms exist to address these glitches and to fix them," said Joan Wallach Scott, a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., and former chairwoman of the professors association committee on academic freedom, in testimony at the Pennsylvania Legislature's first hearing. "There is no need for interference from outside legislative or judicial agencies."
Some surveys here. Me, I'm opposed to quotas of any kind, even if there are certain imbalances.

Monday, December 26

Working for the Terrorists

The American media seems to be either unaware or unconcerned that when it carries video of an improvised bomb attack, it is running terrorist video and thus doing their work for them.
That's the whole idea. The terrorists prey on our free press to terrorize us, even though the numbers of us they kill are pin-pricks, compared to, say, those who die in traffic accidents.

Wednesday, December 21

At ease when talking to an android

Few Japanese have the fear of robots that seems to haunt westerners in seminars and Hollywood films. In western popular culture, robots are often a threat, either because they are manipulated by sinister forces or because something goes horribly wrong with them. By contrast, most Japanese view robots as friendly and benign. Robots like people, and can do good.

The Japanese are well aware of this cultural divide, and commentators devote lots of attention to explaining it. The two most favoured theories, which are assumed to reinforce each other, involve religion and popular culture.

Most Japanese take an eclectic approach to religious beliefs, and the native religion, Shintoism, is infused with animism: it does not make clear distinctions between inanimate things and organic beings. A popular Japanese theory about robots, therefore, is that there is no need to explain why Japanese are fond of them: what needs explaining, rather, is why westerners allow their Christian hang-ups to get in the way of a good technology...

Although they are at ease with robots, many Japanese are not as comfortable around other people...

Karl MacDorman, another researcher at Osaka, sees similar social forces at work. Interacting with other people can be difficult for the Japanese, he says, "because they always have to think about what the other person is feeling, and how what they say will affect the other person." But it is impossible to embarrass a robot, or be embarrassed, by saying the wrong thing...

When answering [questions put by the android ReplieeQ1], Mr MacDorman's Japanese subjects were much more likely to look it in the eye than they were a real person. Mr MacDorman wants to do more tests, but he surmises that the discomfort many Japanese feel when dealing with other people has something to do with his results, and that they are much more at ease when talking to an android.

This is where political correctness has brought us

Because some courses (including biology, history, literature and government) offered by Calvary Chapel Christian Schools do not reflect "knowledge generally accepted in the scientific and educational communities and with which a student at the university level should be conversant," they do not meet the admission standards of the University of California, and so various Christian schools are suing the university, whose campuses include that traditional bastion of liberal thought, Berkeley, as well as the huge UCLA campus, for what they call "viewpoint discrimination".
Fifty years ago there were only a handful of "megachurches", drawing more than 2,000 each Sunday; today, there are more than 1,200 such churches, three of them with congregations of over 20,000. Not only is the nation's president a born-again Christian, but so (according to the Pew Research Centre) are 54% of America's Protestants, who are 30% of the population.

Will America's public universities take on a similar tinge? To the extent that educational establishments reflect cultural reality, it may be inevitable. After all, before the liberal era of the 1960s, there were no such things as courses in "Women's Studies" or "African-American Studies". Now, no prudent American university would be without them. It would be odd if conservative Christians did not leave similar footprints on the syllabus.

Now we'll just have to take science off the curriculum

Judge John E. Jones III in the Dover evolution trial makes these points:
  • intelligent design invokes "a supernatural designer"
  • science, by definition, deals only with natural phenomena
  • "science has been a discipline in which testability, rather than any ecclesiastical authority or philosophical coherence, has been the measure of a scientific idea's worth"
  • intelligent design's views on how the world got to be the way it is offer no testable facts, choosing instead to rely on authoritative statements
  • people would be well advised to remember that an argument against one thing cannot necessarily be interpreted as an argument for something else
  • just because a complex organ cannot work today with one component removed does not mean the component did not evolve independently to serve a different purpose and later took on a new role when combined with other parts
So what next? Neo-creationists will have to ban science entirely?

Thursday, December 15

Attracting the world's wrath

The anti-Wal-Mart movement is, in the end, both more and less than the sum of its parts. It is less, in that it seems likely that most critics of the company are—at least initially—motivated not by the full bill of indictment, but by one or two pet issues: An affection for small shops, or a distaste for outsourcing. It is more, in that Wal-Mart has by now, perhaps as a function of its sheer size, taken on a symbolic role as an emblem of necrotizing corporate power that is, in the end, unmoored from the particulars of the charges against it. The same people who complain bitterly about the legal fiction that a corporation is a person have succeeded in thoroughly anthropomorphizing Wal-Mart, until it is no longer a collection of persons and policies, but a kind of malevolent intelligent force—perhaps with its own twisted corporate soul.

Wal-Mart has become, to put it less poetically, a Schelling point. It attracts the wrath of so many environmentalists, living wage advocates, and sprawl opponents not because it is necessarily the most egregious offender against any of their ideals but because its size and visibility provide them all a common banner under which to rally.
Just like the hated United States

Niger is a victim of its own government

...Niger is a victim of its own government. Early this year, the government refused to heed warnings that a food crisis was imminent. When the crisis arrived, it denied there was mass starvation and claimed the harvest had in fact produced a surplus. The government later proceeded to accuse the World Food Programme of exaggerating fears that Niger could face another famine within months. Now, a few months later, at least 2,5-million people are short of food.

In many respects Niger is still a command economy: it is up to the rulers in Niamey to decide prices. But economic sense, let alone common sense, dictates that when producers, particularly farmers, can sell to willing buyers at a mutually agreed price, then it gives them an incentive to produce more. This in turn enables producers to afford basic necessities instead of waiting for the government to provide them.

In a command economy, growth remains elusive. Take for instance the great famines of the 20th century -- in China (25- to 40-million deaths), Soviet Ukraine (7- to 10-million), North Korea (2- to 3-million) and Ethiopia (nearly a million) -- it was food requisitioning and economic control by communist governments that destroyed incentives to produce. When countries free their markets, they cut undernourishment down and abolish famine, as in east and south Asia in the past three decades.

But Niger's agricultural sector is still government-run and still involves mainly subsistence farming. This does not encourage quick responses to changing conditions or bad harvests. The locusts in power are well fed so there is a tendency to pretend that all is well without bothering about the starvation their policies cause.

The crisis is further compounded by regional trade barriers. World Bank figures show that African nations slam tariffs as high as 33,6% on agricultural commodities from their neighbours.

Some groups have blamed Niger's famine on its alleged "free market" policies. In fact, Niger has one of the least free economies in the world, ranking 107th out of 123 countries in the Fraser Institute's report on economic freedom in the world last year. A few government-owned companies have been privatised and some financial services liberalised, but these have had little impact on the majority of Nigeriens. Crucially, farmers lack secure rights to the land they till, which means they have little incentive or ability to improve productivity.

Meanwhile, entrepreneurs face government regulations and restrictions at every turn: for example, the cost of setting up a company is equivalent to about four years' average income. These problems are compounded by inflexible labour laws, which discourage people taking on employees and so prevent the development of larger-scale businesses.

No wonder there is so much poverty.

People are starving in Niger -- and in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia and elsewhere in Africa -- but not because of free markets. Rather, they are starving because of the lack of markets and their underlying institutions: property rights, the rule of law and limited government.

More aid won't solve these problems -- so far it has perpetuated poverty, corrupt politicians and malign policies. But next week ministers from around the world will meet in Hong Kong to discuss trade reform. There, rich countries should lead by example, committing themselves to liberalising trade and reducing subsidies -- then maybe political leaders in Africa will follow suit.

Tarzan and Jane

...the impression that Africa is fatally troubled and can be saved only by outside help - not to mention celebrities and charity concerts - is a destructive and misleading conceit. Those of us who committed ourselves to being Peace Corps teachers in rural Malawi more than 40 years ago are dismayed by what we see on our return visits and by all the news that has been reported recently from that unlucky, drought-stricken country. But we are more appalled by most of the proposed solutions....I am speaking of the "more money" platform: the notion that what Africa needs is more prestige projects, volunteer labor and debt relief. We should know better by now. I would not send private money to a charity, or foreign aid to a government, unless every dollar was accounted for - and this never happens. Dumping more money in the same old way is not only wasteful, but stupid and harmful; it is also ignoring some obvious points.

If Malawi is worse educated, more plagued by illness and bad services, poorer than it was when I lived and worked there in the early 60's, it is not for lack of outside help or donor money. Malawi has been the beneficiary of many thousands of foreign teachers, doctors and nurses, and large amounts of financial aid, and yet it has declined from a country with promise to a failed state...

When Malawi's minister of education was accused of stealing millions of dollars from the education budget in 2000, and the Zambian president was charged with stealing from the treasury, and Nigeria squandered its oil wealth, what happened? The simplifiers of Africa's problems kept calling for debt relief and more aid. I got a dusty reception lecturing at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation when I pointed out the successes of responsible policies in Botswana, compared with the kleptomania of its neighbors. Donors enable embezzlement by turning a blind eye to bad governance, rigged elections and the deeper reasons these countries are failing.

...Malawi had two presidents in its first 40 years, the first a megalomaniac who called himself the messiah, the second a swindler whose first official act was to put his face on the money. Last year the new man, Bingu wa Mutharika, inaugurated his regime by announcing that he was going to buy a fleet of Maybachs, one of the most expensive cars in the world.

...because Africa seems unfinished and so different from the rest of the world, a landscape on which a person can sketch a new personality, it attracts mythomaniacs, people who wish to convince the world of their worth. Such people come in all forms and they loom large. White celebrities busy-bodying in Africa loom especially large. Watching Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie recently in Ethiopia, cuddling African children and lecturing the world on charity, the image that immediately sprang to my mind was Tarzan and Jane.

Cancer dropping for 50 years

...pinning cancer on trace levels of poisons in the environment or even in the workplace is turning out to be a vexing task. There has been recent progress in addressing the issue, but the answers that many people believe must be out there remain elusive.

"It's an area where there's certainly been a lot of heat and not a lot of light for some time," said Robert Hoover, director of the epidemiology and biostatistics program at the National Cancer Institute. For the most part, Dr. Hoover said, "we are down to speculations based on some data but without having the information we need."

Members of advocacy groups agree that there is much to learn, but they say the questions are too important to brush off by saying the research is difficult or the questions complex.

...While most scientists think that only a tiny fraction of cancers might be caused by low levels of environmental poisons, these are cancers that could, in theory, be avoided.

"All it takes is the political will to ban them or impose regulations to minimize exposure, and the cancers are gone," Dr. Hoover said.

The problem is to decide which chemicals might be causing cancer, and in whom.

Some scientists, like Aaron Blair, an epidemiologist at the National Cancer Institute, see hints that environmental pollutants like pesticides, diesel exhaust in cities and workplaces and small particles in the air may instigate cancer.

But, Dr. Blair says, there is a huge problem in following up on these hints because scientists need to figure out who was exposed to what and when the exposure occurred. Asking people is not much help. Most people do not know what they were exposed to, and even if they think they know, they often are wrong, he said.

So Dr. Blair and his colleagues decided to try for the greatest possible rigor by focusing on one group, farmers, that is not only routinely exposed to pesticides that may increase cancer risk, but also keeps excellent records of exposure.

The effort, a collaboration involving the cancer institute, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the Environmental Protection Agency, began in 1993 and includes nearly every farmer and farmer's spouse in Iowa and North Carolina - 55,000 farmers and 35,000 spouses.

Investigators have been asking the farmers what pesticides and herbicides they used, when they used them and how much they used, and have been obtaining information on other risk factors like smoking. Then they use the medical records from tumor registries to determine who developed cancer and what type was developed.

"We're now just in the period of time where we can look at outcomes," Dr. Blair said. So far, the researchers have found a few associations, but nothing that is definitive.

"I would call it, at this stage, interesting leads," Dr. Blair said. "None are large enough for any regulatory agency to take action or to say they are a human carcinogen. They are leads." They include, for example, a slightly higher rate of lung cancer and leukemia in farmers who used the insecticide diazinon and a possible increase in prostate cancer among farmers who used methylbromide to fumigate the soil.

The investigators looked for an association between pesticides and herbicides and breast cancer, but they did not find one, Dr. Blair said, adding that one pesticide, atrazine, was under particular suspicion because it causes breast cancer in rats and has estrogenlike properties.

Even if the study finds that some chemicals have increased farmers' cancer rates, it remains unclear what that means for the general population, where exposures are usually much lower. Also unclear is whether those chemicals should be banned.

Dr. Blair noted that such decisions were difficult because they were, in part, political, balancing the costs of getting rid of the chemical against the benefits...
..."People differ very greatly in their response to chemical carcinogens," [Gerald N. Wogan, a chemist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology] said. "Almost all chemicals, with relatively few exceptions, have to be converted from what they are into something more chemically active to be carcinogenic.

"If you encounter one of these compounds, most of it is converted to less toxic material that is excreted," he continued. "Only a tiny amount is converted to a form that could cause cancer. A small fraction of 1 percent gets converted. And people can differ enormously in their genetic ability to do these metabolic conversions."

Further complicating the issue is that a person's diet, or components of the diet, can increase the activity of enzymes that convert chemicals into carcinogens. And other dietary components can inactivate enzymes that detoxify chemicals.

The calculus grows so complex that it can be virtually impossible to predict what will happen in an individual person exposed to low levels of a possibly toxic chemical. For example, Dr. Wogan said, "The same food, broccoli, can affect both types of enzymes."

Added to this are the effects of chronic infections, like hepatitis B, in which the immune system releases chemicals that can magnify the effects of carcinogens.

In theory, Dr. Wogan said, there is hope for untangling the mess....

In the meantime, he and others say they take comfort in cancer statistics that do not indicate a cancer epidemic. Rates of cancer have been steadily dropping for 50 years, if tobacco-related cancers are taken out of the equation, said Prof. Richard Peto, an epidemiologist and a biostatistician at Oxford University.

What appear as increases in cancers of the breast and prostate, Dr. Peto added, are in fact artifacts of increased screening. When healthy people are screened, the tests find not only cancers that would be deadly if untreated, but also a certain percentage of tumors that would never cause problems if let alone.

His analysis of cancer statistics leads Dr. Peto to this firm conclusion: "Pollution is not a major determinant of U.S. cancer rates."
Of course "advocates" will have none of it, and want to make everything illegal. Besides, Whatever doesn't kill you might make you stronger.

Wednesday, December 14

Blame the media?

How is it, then, that 64 percent of U.S. military officers think we will succeed if we are allowed to continue our work? Why is there such a dramatic divergence between American public opinion and the upbeat assessment of the men and women doing the fighting?

Open optimism, whether or not it is warranted, is a necessary trait in senior officers and officials. Skeptics can be excused for discounting glowing reports on Iraq from the upper echelons of power. But it is not a simple thing to ignore genuine optimism from mid-grade, junior and noncommissioned officers who have spent much of the past three years in Iraq.

We know the streets, the people and the insurgents far better than any armchair academic or talking head. As military professionals, we are trained to gauge the chances of success and failure, to calculate risk and reward. We have little to gain from our optimism and quite a bit to lose as we leave our families over and over again to face danger and deprivation for an increasingly unpopular cause. We know that there are no guarantees in war, and that we may well fail in the long run. We also know that if we follow our current plan we can, over time, leave behind a stable and unified country that might help to anchor a better future for the Middle East.

It is difficult for most Americans to rationalize this optimism in the face of the horrific images and depressing stories that have come to symbolize the war in Iraq. Most of the violent news is true; the death and destruction are very real. But experienced military officers know that the horror stories, however dramatic, do not represent the broader conditions there or the chances for future success. For every vividly portrayed suicide bombing, there are hundreds of thousands of people living quiet, if often uncertain, lives. For every depressing story of unrest and instability there is an untold story of potential and hope. The impression of Iraq as an unfathomable quagmire is false and dangerously misleading.

It is this false impression that has led us to a moment of national truth. The proponents of the quagmire vision argue that the very presence of U.S. troops in Iraq is the cause of the insurgency and that our withdrawal would give the Iraqis their only true chance for stability. Most military officers and NCOs with ground experience in Iraq know that this vision is patently false. Although the presence of U.S. forces certainly inflames sentiment and provides the insurgents with targets, the anti-coalition insurgency is mostly a symptom of the underlying conditions in Iraq. It may seem paradoxical, but only our presence can buffer the violence enough to allow for eventual stability.

The precipitous withdrawal of U.S. troops would almost certainly lead to a violent and destabilizing civil war. The Iraqi military is not ready to assume control and would not miraculously achieve competence in our absence. As we left, the insurgency would turn into internecine violence, and Iraq would collapse into a true failed state. The fires of the Iraqi civil war would spread, and terrorists would find a new safe haven from which to launch attacks against our homeland.

Anyone who has spent even a day in the Middle East should know that the Arab street would not thank us for abandoning Iraq. The blame for civil war would fall squarely on our shoulders. It is unlikely that the tentative experiments in democracy we have seen in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and elsewhere would survive the fallout. There would be no dividend of goodwill from heartbroken intellectuals or emboldened Islamic extremists. American troops might be home in the short run, but the experienced professionals know that in the long run, quitting Iraq would mean more deployments, more desperate battles and more death.

Sixty-four percent of us know that we have a good shot at preventing this outcome if we are allowed to continue our mission. We quietly hope that common sense will return to the dialogue on Iraq. Although we hate leaving our families behind, many of us would rather go back to Iraq a hundred times than abandon the Iraqi people.
Emphasis mine.

Hard-wired to learn by imitation

The box was painted black and had a door on one side and a bolt running across the top. The food was hidden in a tube behind the door. When they showed the chimpanzees how to retrieve the food, the researchers added some unnecessary steps. Before they opened the door, they pulled back the bolt and tapped the top of the box with a stick. Only after they had pushed the bolt back in place did they finally open the door and fish out the food.

Because the chimps could not see inside, they could not tell that the extra steps were unnecessary. As a result, when the chimps were given the box, two-thirds faithfully imitated the scientists to retrieve the food.

The team then used a box with transparent walls and found a strikingly different result. Those chimps could see that the scientists were wasting their time sliding the bolt and tapping the top. None followed suit. They all went straight for the door.

The researchers turned to humans. They showed the transparent box to 16 children from a Scottish nursery school. After putting a sticker in the box, they showed the children how to retrieve it. They included the unnecessary bolt pulling and box tapping.

The scientists placed the sticker back in the box and left the room, telling the children that they could do whatever they thought necessary to retrieve it.

The children could see just as easily as the chimps that it was pointless to slide open the bolt or tap on top of the box. Yet 80 percent did so anyway. "It seemed so spectacular to me," Mr. Lyons said. "It suggested something remarkable was going on."

...Mr. Lyons loaded a movie on his computer in which Charlotte eagerly listened to him talk about the transparent plastic box.

He set it in front of her and asked her to retrieve the plastic turtle that he had just put inside. Rather than politely opening the front door, Charlotte grabbed the entire front side, ripped it open at its Velcro tabs and snatched the turtle. "I've got it!" she shouted.

A chimp couldn't have done better, I thought.

But at their second meeting, things changed. This time, Mr. Lyons had an undergraduate, Jennifer Barnes, show Charlotte how to open the box. Before she opened the front door, Ms. Barnes slid the bolt back across the top of the box and tapped on it needlessly. Charlotte imitated every irrelevant step. The box ripping had disappeared. I could almost hear the chimps hooting.

Ms. Barnes showed Charlotte four other puzzles, and time after time she overimitated. When the movies were over, I wasn't sure what to say. "So how did she do?" I asked awkwardly.

"She's pretty age-typical," Mr. Lyons said. Having watched 100 children, he agrees with Dr. Horner and Dr. Whiten that children really do overimitate. He has found that it is very hard to get children not to.

If they rush through opening a puzzle, they don't skip the extra steps. They just do them all faster. What makes the results even more intriguing is that the children understand the laws of physics well enough to solve the puzzles on their own. Charlotte's box ripping is proof of that.

Mr. Lyons sees his results as evidence that humans are hard-wired to learn by imitation, even when that is clearly not the best way to learn.

Markets in Everything

...from Seoul to San Francisco, affluent online gamers who lack the time and patience to work their way up to the higher levels of gamedom are willing to pay the young Chinese here to play the early rounds for them.

"For 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, my colleagues and I are killing monsters," said a 23-year-old gamer who works here in this makeshift factory and goes by the online code name Wandering. "I make about $250 a month, which is pretty good compared with the other jobs I've had. And I can play games all day."

He and his comrades have created yet another new business out of cheap Chinese labor. They are tapping into the fast-growing world of "massively multiplayer online games," which involve role playing and often revolve around fantasy or warfare in medieval kingdoms or distant galaxies.

With more than 100 million people worldwide logging on every month to play interactive computer games, game companies are already generating revenues of $3.6 billion a year from subscriptions, according to DFC Intelligence, which tracks the computer gaming market.

For the Chinese in game-playing factories like these, though, it is not all fun and games. These workers have strict quotas and are supervised by bosses who equip them with computers, software and Internet connections to thrash online trolls, gnomes and ogres.

As they grind through the games, they accumulate virtual currency that is valuable to game players around the world. The games allow players to trade currency to other players, who can then use it to buy better armor, amulets, magic spells and other accoutrements to climb to higher levels or create more powerful characters.

The Joke Was on Him

Never a good driver in his youth, [Walter Smith of Scandia, Minn.] in his mid-80's was declining physically and a serious threat to himself and anyone he might encounter on the road in rural Minnesota.

But try as they might, Mr. Smith's children, who lived a mile away and would take him anywhere anytime, were unable to persuade him to stop driving. So they took his keys away. When Mr. Smith had another set made, they took his pickup away.

But after two months without wheels, Mr. Smith lapsed into a serious depression and the family relented. Just as his family feared, not long after his truck was returned, he backed out of his driveway into the path of a car and died in the crash.

Monday, December 12

I'd just as soon they didn't protect me.

Surprising as it may be to Americans who think of their country as a bastion of free trade, shoes are just one of many products subject to high tariffs. Although the average tariff on non-agricultural goods imported into the United States is less than 3 percent, tariffs on a number of everyday consumer products -- including clothing, luggage, dinnerware and handbags -- range well into double digits. The same goes for some food, such as butter and cheese. (These tariffs are separate from special duties imposed on certain foreign products that the government has found to be "dumped," or sold at unfairly low prices.)

...the system has evolved in a way that produces a bizarre result: Some of the stiffest tariffs apply to the types of goods that people of modest means tend to buy, and lower duties are imposed on similar products that are more often purchased by upper-income individuals.

Sweaters offer a vivid example: If they're acrylic, the tariff is 32 percent. But if they're wool, the tariff is 17 percent. On cashmere sweaters, the tariff is lower still -- 4 percent -- and on silk ones, 0.9 percent. (Tariffs are levied on the "ad valorem" value of a product when it enters the United States -- the amount the importer pays, excluding insurance and freight. So for an acrylic sweater with an ad valorem value at the border of, say, $10, the 32 percent tariff would be $3.20.)

In the case of low-end sneakers, tariffs range between 48 and 67 percent, but tariffs on higher-end sneakers are only 20 percent, and for leather dress shoes, the tariff is 8.5 percent. Plastic handbags are hit with 16 percent tariffs but reptile-skin ones with only 5.3 percent tariffs. For drinking glasses, the tariff is 28.5 percent if the value at the border is 30 cents or less, but 5 percent if the value is $5 or more.
The answer in some cases -- though by no means all -- is that Congress has never gotten around to lowering certain tariffs that were once designed to protect major U.S. industries even though the industry in question has undergone major changes or almost disappeared.
You might think that getting rid of the tariffs would be a good idea, but industries like the protection, which they claim is all about their workers' jobs, neglecting to mention that the inefficient industries being protected are wasting resources. And then,
industries that rely on tariffs also argue that they need to be sheltered against imports as a matter of fairness because some foreign countries subsidize their exporters. The dairy industry, for example, asserts that subsidized butter and cheese from Europe and elsewhere would wipe out U.S. dairy farmers without lofty tariffs on those products.
Geez, if the Europeans want to subsidize the consumer, I'm all for it.

French reactionaries

Rich nations have been selective free traders — insisting on free trade for industrial goods and services but balking at free trade when it comes to agriculture, where they might find themselves at a disadvantage. The Doha round also entails liberalizing trade in services, but agriculture has been the sticking point from the start.

The United States has plenty of trade-distorting farm subsidies and import quotas, but the European Union is the real villain here, thwarting any progress. While the Bush administration has made proposals that would dramatically overhaul Washington's support to American farmers, the European Union's trade negotiators made it clear before the Hong Kong meeting that they would not go beyond current proposals, which the rest of the world find laughably insufficient.

France's government considers even the current weak-kneed EU position too aggressive and is defiantly threatening to renege on any deal. Britain, the Netherlands and many other EU members have been struggling to roll back the unsustainable Common Agricultural Policy, which eats up nearly half the EU's budget, hurts the developing world and disproportionately benefits French farmers. But French President Jacques Chirac, a former agriculture minister, obstinately insists that he and then-German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder cut a deal in 2002 to freeze farm support in real terms until 2013. Never mind all those people around the world struggling to get by on $1 a day.

France plays a pivotal role in EU trade policy. It likes to think of itself as a champion of the developing world, but its posture in these trade talks belies that claim and is a moral stain on the nation.

France's business leaders understand that a broader trade deal is in the nation's interest. That concept eludes most of the nation's people, though. Surveys show a deep distrust of free trade, and that's reflected in Chirac's position. Agriculture accounts for only 3% of the French economy, but it looms far larger in the Gallic psyche. French national pride is by nature defensive and nostalgic, and regional foods and gastronomic self-sufficiency are central to French cultural identity.

The Gains Outweigh the Losses

With reference to the poll mentioned below, the LA time editorializes,
...some people invariably lose when free-trade pacts are signed. And the farmer forced out of business by competitors from South America is more visible than the 10 other businesses created by a rising economy. Few economists or international development experts, however, doubt that the gains outweigh the losses. Reliable estimates show that the removal of tariffs, subsidies and other domestic supports would raise global economic output and income by hundreds of billions of dollars a year over the next decade or so. Most of that increase would occur in developed nations such as the United States.
Korean farmers...say the liberalisation of the rice market has driven several farmers to suicide, including Lee Kyung-hae, who killed himself at the height of the demonstration in Cancún.

"We want to protest peacefully," said Seo Pil-Sang of the Korean Agricultural Federation Trade Union. "But we are desperate. Lee died in Cancún. And unless the WTO listens to the voice of Korean farmers, I'm worried that someone else may kill themselves."
So to help Korean farmers keep making money, the world has to keep tariffs high and third-world farmers poor.

Sunday, December 11

Hating the out-group

...psychologist Margo Monteith at the University of Kentucky in Lexington found that people can have prejudices against groups they know nothing about. She administered a test in which volunteers, under time pressure, had to associate a series of words with either "America" or a fictitious country she called "Marisat."

Volunteers more easily associated Marisat with such words as "poison," "death" and "evil," while associating America with "sunrise," "paradise" and "loyal."

"A large part of our self-esteem derives from our group membership," Monteith said. "To the extent we can feel better about our group relative to other groups, we can feel good about ourselves. It's likely a built-in mechanism."

Saturday, December 10

"His own self-interest"

"Senator Lieberman is past the point of being taken seriously in the caucus because everything he does is seen as advancing his own self-interest, instead of the Democratic interest," said a senior Senate Democratic aide, who described discontent in that chamber as "widespread."
"His own self-interest"--so that means it's a winning formula?

This seems to be getting nearly as much play as Murtha's dovishness. Still, even setting his religion aside, I'm not sure there's much to like about his fondness for raising taxes and spending.

Does not believing in God entail believing in the state?

Michelle Bachelet, 54, a socialist who has a strong chance of becoming Chile's first female head of state, says
"I'm agnostic. . . . I believe in the state," Bachelet told several groups of evangelical ministers last week. "I believe the state has an important role in guaranteeing the diversity of men and women in Chile -- their different spiritualities, philosophies and ways of life."
I guess it does in this case. I'd prefer a highly religious anti-statistm male or female.

Friday, December 9

Butterfield's boo-hooing boo-boo

When Fox Butterfield's China: Alive in the Bitter Sea came out in 1982, it was a blast of fresh air. It's hard to conceive of how breathlessly pro-Chinese intellectuals and the media were after Nixon's normalization of diplomatic relations.

Twenty years later, he wrote As Drug Use Drops in Big Cities, Small Towns Confront Upsurge, which ends with this:
It may be impossible to compare the ravages of the new wave of rural drugs with the crack epidemic in big cities in the late 1980's and early 1990's. But experts say the small populations of rural counties often magnify the impact, making it more personal.

On Dec. 26, in Prentiss, Officer Ron Jones, 29, called his father, Ronald N. Jones, the police chief, for permission to get a search warrant for an apartment where an informer had told him there was crack. An hour later, as Officer Jones led a team into the apartment, he was shot in the abdomen. The suspect in the shooting, Cory Maye, has been charged with capital murder.

"The hardest thing for me is that I'm the one who gave him the approval," Chief Jones said.

His son had been taking classes in drug enforcement and was the town's K-9 officer.

"He thought he could clean Prentiss up," Chief Jones said. "He honestly gave his life trying to make a difference."
Some difference. However, as Radley Balko summarizes,
Cops mistakenly break down the door of a sleeping man, late at night, as part of drug raid. Turns out, the man wasn't named in the warrant, and wasn't a suspect. The man, frightened for himself and his 18-month old daughter, fires at an intruder who jumps into his bedroom after the door's been kicked in. Turns out that the man, who is black, has killed the white son of the town's police chief. He's later convicted and sentenced to death by a white jury. The man has no criminal record, and police rather tellingly changed their story about drugs (rather, traces of drugs) in his possession at the time of the raid.
His whole description of the story is worth reading.

As Steve Alexander says,
why doesn't the Hollywood crowd take up the cause of a truly wronged black man on death row, instead of real criminals like Tookie and Mumia?

Thursday, December 8

Not that I Want to Teach High School, but...

Should high school teachers make more than college professors?
...after months of working without a contract, teachers at Carbondale Community High School are sounding off.

Teachers at the school say proposed salary increases barely cover cost of living increases and that the school's Board of Education refuses to help teachers cover the cost of escalating health insurance.

The union's lead negotiator, long-time mathematics instructor Cynthia Donoghue, said teachers are fed up with stalled contract talks and hope the community will pressure administrators to be more flexible. Donoghue said union members have launched informational e-mail campaigns and plan to picket at the school this morning and Friday afternoon.

"Really we just want to let people know what is going on," Donoghue said. "If people know, I think they would really rally behind us."

The teachers' latest proposal calls for a total dollar increase of 22.5 percent spread over three years. In the first year, a teacher's annual salary would increase by 7.12 percent, followed by 7.68 percent and 7.71 percent increases in years two and three.

The seven-member board countered with a proposal outlining a 13.5 percent salary increase over three years, which board president Barbara Levine calls a "last, best and final offer." In that proposal, salaries would increase by 4 percent in year one, followed by 4.5 percent and 5 percent in years two and three.

Last year, Carbondale high school teachers made an average $57,108 a year and worked under one of the highest salary schedules in southern Illinois. A teacher's pay increases automatically each year based on experience and education.

This year, Donoghue said the average teacher salary is down to $53,319 because a dozen higher-paid employees retired last year.
Down to $53,319!

Figure Who Assured Public Said to Have Committed Suicide

Public pressure is what the Chinese government is afraid of. It's not likely they will permit it.
The recent accidents have highlighted the government's inability -- some say unwillingness -- to enforce safety and environmental protection regulations. Factory managers often have forged alliances with local officials who are more interested in attracting investment and collecting bribes than taking steps that could slow the booming economy.

Ma Jun, author of a book about the pollution and mismanagement of China's water supplies, said it would be difficult for the leadership to break these alliances without systemic reforms allowing the public to play a greater role in governance.

"They can't count on self-discipline and they can't do it on their own," Ma said. "They need external forces. They need to use public pressure." For example, he said, citizens should be given the right to know what substances firms are releasing into the environment so they can challenge them to change.
(By Philip P. Pan)

Wednesday, December 7

Very Bad Taste

It cracks me up, though.

China's growth canceled out

In a rare disclosure of the enormous hidden cost of China's rapid economic development, the Chinese government acknowledged last week that "sudden public incidents" such as industrial accidents, social safety accidents, and natural disasters are responsible for over one million casualties and the loss of six percent of GDP every year. Shocked by the recent explosion of a major petrochemical plant in Northeast China that caused large-scale pollution to the Songhua River and cut off water to over 10 million people for a week, and a series of large coalmine accidents, China is now debating not only how the system can better respond to disasters but also if the current development paradigm can be sustained.

According to a recently People's Daily online special, over 5 million "public accidents" occurred in 2004 alone, causing the death of 210,000 people, injuring another 1.75 million, and resulting in the immediate economic loss of over USD $57 billion (455 billion Chinese yuan). It is estimated that the direct annual cost of such disasters for China is more than USD $81 billion (650 billion yuan) on average, equal to six percent of the country's annual GDP. To state the obvious: most of China's economic growth each year is simply cancelled out by the immediate sacrifice of human lives and long-term damage to the environment.
(emphasis mine)
...tracking down who is responsible for taking precautions to prevent accidents—and for taking measures to deal with disasters once they occur—is a frustrating process...

To blame the system is not enough. Evidence has shown that many of the "public accidents" were in fact human errors that could have been avoided.

...China's infrastructure for disaster response is very weak. First, a lack of legislation that deals with different kinds of accidents and disasters has led to an unclear division of labor among different levels of government and different regions. Second, the flow of crisis information management has fatal flaws. The current system of reporting through vertical ministry/agency chains is too small to handle large volumes of information, slow to transmit information and decisions, and ineffective in meeting rapid response requirements.

Third, in recent years, China's social welfare system is collapsing while a primitive form of capitalism is taking over in the market place. According to China's labor and welfare protection authorities, among the more than 700 million employees nationwide, only 124 million people have medical insurance; 45 percent of the urban population and 80 percent of the rural population do not have any form of medical coverage and must pay from their own pockets for any medical treatment. The government has not invested in the education system for disaster prevention and related education. China is far behind other advanced industrialized countries in societal readiness to deal with large-scale disasters.
The author also notes that
the failure of the first-stage warning system has serious consequences: rural residents who were not informed on time may have drunk from the river, and the long-term ecological impact is yet to be fully estimated.
Too bad for them.

US has 74% "trade optimists"

But they believe free trade has reduced employment in their home country.

US, Europeans believe free trade cuts jobs: poll
By William Schomberg
A majority of people in the United States and most of Europe's big countries believe free trade cuts local jobs and mainly benefits multinationals and economies such as China and India, a survey showed on Tuesday.

Days before key talks on a new world trade deal originally billed as a way to help poor countries, the survey showed two-thirds of respondents on both sides of the Atlantic had a positive view of international trade in general.

However, in the United States, Germany, Poland and especially in France and Italy -- although not in Britain -- most respondents said free trade reduced employment in their home countries.

Fifty-eight percent of Europeans and Americans would support raising tariffs -- the opposite of what the World Trade Organization (WTO) is trying to do -- to protect jobs.

The poll was conducted between September 16 and October 3 among a random sample of about 1,000 adults in each of the countries.

It was commissioned by the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF), a transatlantic think tank...

The survey showed 82 percent of respondents believed multinationals and fast-growing developing economies such as China and India benefited most from freer trade.

Seventy-three percent believed people in rich countries would also gain, followed by 62 percent who said people in poor countries stood to benefit and 52 percent agreeing that Africans would be better off with freer trade...

Among the five European countries covered by the survey, France slipped from having a majority who agreed with optimistic statements about trade in 2004 to being 57 percent pessimistic about the issue, the poll showed.

France has been the most vocal defender of protection for its farmers in the WTO round.

Italy, where the emergence of China and other low-cost manufacturers threatens the country's many small companies, was even more downbeat, with 61 percent of respondents falling into the pessimist camp.

Britain was the most positive with 90 percent of respondents classed as trade optimists, followed by Germany with 79 percent, Poland on 77 percent and the United States with 74 percent.

It Never Ends

More Kaohsiung subway problems.Cave-in at KRTC site snarls up Kaohsiung traffic
Tuesday, Dec 06, 2005,

Massive subsidence resulting from water seepage at a Kaohsiung rapid transit construction site snarled up traffic yesterday.

The sinkage occured at the intersection of Chungcheng Road and Tashun Road in Kaohsiung City. The subsidence resulted from the construction of a reservoir well in the area, which suddenly experienced massive water seepage on Sunday night...

According to KRTC general manager Fan Chen-po (范陳柏), this has been the most serious engineering setback in the system's construction.

He said that it did not seem to be the result of human error, and that reconstruction efforts could cost up to NT$500 million (US$15 million).
Okaaaaay, that's what the pro-DPP English paper says. In the pro-KMT paper, Leaders urged to deal with Kaohsiung MRT calamity
The latest massive cave-in caused by an underground water incident at a construction site of the mass rapid transit (MRT) system in Kaohsiung City provided opposition lawmakers new ammunition to attack the Democratic Progressive Party's administrative performance...

A legislator of the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) urged the government to take over the Kaohsiung MRT construction project for public safety in view of the repeated major accidents. Others wanted the national leaders to take responsibility.

The accident was the 10th major construction mishap of the MRT project and the eighth accidents involving public safety concerning the two MRT lines under construction.

KMT Legislator Pan Wei-kang said the Kaohsiung rapid transit railway project needs to be entirely reviewed and examined, suggesting that the DPP government take over the project to help ease public safety concerns.

Meanwhile, several other lawmakers of opposition parties criticized both President Chen Shui-bian and Premier Frank Hsieh, who farmed out the construction of the Kaohsiung MRT lines during his tenure as mayor of the southern city, for continuing to evade the problem for two consecutive days.

They said the two national leaders should step out to face the strings of construction accidents and come up with effective solutions.

President Chen already made it clear in his exclusive TV interview before the local elections last weekend that all the problems related to the Kaohsiung MRT project belong entirely to Hsieh and the Kaohsiung city government...

Opposition members of the Kaohsiung City Council blasted acting Kaohsiung Mayor Yeh Chu-lan and asked her to guarantee that no more accident would take place ever again.

In response, Yeh stressed that the city government and the municipal Department of Rapid Transit System (DORTS) have been doing the best to prevent engineering mishaps...

Councilor Wang Ling-chiao of the opposition People First Party said the problem could have arisen from the fact that the construction cost tendered by the winning contractor for the accident-prone MRT section was just 0.2 percent below the floor price set by the city government.

She also criticized C3 Engineering Consulting Group for failing to do what it was paid for.

Tuesday, December 6

Longtime Iraq War Critic Praises Bush Plans

Mickey Kaus quotes Rep. Murtha
"I like this guy....Well, he's coming around, because he's talking about redeployment. He's talking about pulling our troops out. And I can see by what he's saying that we're going to be out of there by the end of the year or very close to it.

Monday, December 5

A growing trend of assaults

Chinese Peasants Turn Their Rage On Authorities: Villagers in a Southern Province Ransack A Government Building, Batter an Official In Anger Over Deaths in Police Operation By Edward Cody. The article describes one in
a growing trend of assaults against police, officials and government property in China. The Public Security Ministry estimates that more than 1,800 policemen were attacked in the line of duty in the first six months of this year, sharply up from previous years. A ministry spokesman, Wu Heping, was quoted by the official party organ, the People's Daily, as saying that 23 policemen were killed in a broad range of clashes with "criminal suspects or people intending to interfere with law enforcement through violence."

Much of the damage to cars or buildings, and injuries to police and other officials, occurred during riots and other violent disturbances that have broken out in towns and villages across China with increasing frequency. The ministry estimates that 74,000 such incidents erupted in 2004, involving 3.76 million people.

The unrest has become a major concern for the government of President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao. Most of the uprisings have exploded in reaction to economic complaints, such as land confiscations or pollution, as China evolves swiftly but unevenly under the impetus of market reforms. But the disturbances -- and the willingness to clash with police or civilian officials -- also have revealed a growing sense of disillusionment with local Communist Party administrations, suggesting a politically significant break in trust between those who govern China's towns and villages and those they govern.
In this case, the government first tries to intimidate the protesters, then buy them off.
The afternoon after their rampage at Yantang city hall, Shangdeng's peasants were confronted with a sight they said they had never seen. Several trucks bounced in along the dirt road, they said, carrying two dozen policemen and local officials wearing camouflage uniforms and carrying shields and riot batons.

The officials said their mission was to guarantee stability and investigate who had ransacked the town hall, the farmers recalled. But more than 200 peasants came from their houses and surrounded the authorities, the farmers said. The police just stood in a line for a few hours before remounting the trucks and bouncing back down the road.

"We've never seen anything like that before, only on TV," an elderly woman said as Deng Suilong recounted the story.

Following that attempt, Yantang sent civilian officials to the village to persuade the peasants to give up their allegations of wrongdoing in the interests of stability. At the same time, the two dead men's families were paid compensation, $21,250 for Deng Silong's family and $22,500 for Deng Jianlan's.

I Forgot to Mention

KMT wins in a landslide
The opposition Kuomintang crushed the ruling Democratic Progressive Party in...local elections, taking 14 of the 23 county and city government seats up for grabs.

The KMT's sweeping victory was doubly sweet as it managed to wrest back rule in Taipei and Ilan counties, both of which have been governed by the DPP for 16 and 24 years respectively. The KMT and DPP currently rule nine cities and counties each. The ruling party was able to retain only six.
Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian's popularity has fallen to its lowest level since he took office five years ago, a newspaper poll showed, two days after his party suffered a crushing defeat in local elections.

The United Daily News reported on Monday that the survey of 1,044 people showed Chen's approval rating falling to 21 percent, down from 25 percent in the paper's last poll in October.
Kathrin Hille claims
Disgruntled voters punished the ruling party for a series of corruption scandals and a lack of achievements by Mr Chen’s government.

...the [DPP] government has not implemented structural reforms, for instance, to develop new service-oriented industries to replace manufacturing, which has moved to lower-cost China.

The administration has also failed to introduce a significant relaxation of restrictions on economic ties with the mainland, Taiwan’s largest export market and most important outward direct investment destination.

This has hampered economic growth.
Corruption included this (dated Nov 21, 2005):
Taiwan prosecutors Monday charged 11 people, including a former confidant of Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian, with corruption over the import of Thai workers to build a subway system in the southern city of Kaohsiung.

"Chen Che-nan accepted entertainments and other illicit profits from Hua Yung Yi Company to travel to Thailand and South Korea when he served as the deputy secretary-general of the Pesidential Office" two years ago, said Chung Chung-hsiao, prosecutor of Kaohsiung District Prosecutors' Office.

He said the former confidant allegedly violated Paragraph 5 of the anti-corruption law by favoring and profiting from the local hiring agency Hua Pan and its subsidiary Hua Yung Yi.

Chen, who had been a deputy secretary-general to President Chen (no relation), stepped down last month as a presidential adviser after he was investigated over whether he had used his influence to help Hua Pan and Hua Yung Yi to win the contract for importing the Thai workers from the Kaohsiung Rapid Transit Company.

The scandal was sparked by a riot in August by several hundred Thai workers protesting against inhumane treatment and exploitation.

Chung said ten other people, including a former vice chairman of the Kaohsiung Rapid Transit System Company, a former head of the Kaohsiung Labour Affairs Bureau, were also charged with either corruption or breach of trust.
So it's Chen Che-nan (陳哲男) and former Kaohsiung Rapid Transit Corp (KRTC) vice chairman Chen Min-hsien (陳敏賢). And also
former Kaoshiung city mayor and incumbent Premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) has been another target for both opposition and ruling party members. Hsieh, a possible strong contender in the 2008 presidential election, is the planner and builder of the Kaoshiung MRT....

Kaoshiung prosecutors said they have divided the complicated KRTC scandal into 11 cases because of its gravity. A situation of this magnitude has never occur-red in Taiwanese judicial history, they said.
There were also dirty tricks before the election.
DPP Legislator Lin Chin-hsin (林進興) took part in a press conference in Taichung on Tuesday with 12 other doctors to disclose what they said were Taichung Mayor Jason Hu's (胡志強) medical records.

Based on his professional knowledge, Lin told reporters that Hu's medical record indicated that the mayor's chances of having a stroke were 30 times that of a healthy person.

With the endorsement of the other doctors, Lin then suggested that Hu should withdraw from Saturday's elections.

Lin told reporters that he was revealing Hu's medical history in an effort to persuade voters not to "be fooled" into re-electing the mayor.

The DPP legislator did not say how he obtained Hu's medical record, nor was he able to certify that the record was actually Hu's file.


DPP caucus whip William Lai (賴清德), who is also a doctor, said yesterday that Lin's actions were apparently "inappropriate and unnecessary," although Hu's health condition has been clearly evident since his stroke...

Lin defended his actions yesterday, saying that he didn't think he had violated the law or done anything that would warrant him losing his license since Hu is not his patient.

He urged the public to focus more on who had leaked the report in the first place than on the doctors' actions...

Eleven of the doctors who joined Lin at Tuesday's press conference filed lawsuits against the Apple Daily yesterday for defamation and public insult, requesting NT$100 million (US$2.98 million) in compensation. They were angered by the daily calling their act "audacious."
And more about Lin Chin-hsin:
Two hospitals owned by two Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmakers were suspected of colluding with a family to evade health insurance payments from the National Health Insurance Bureau, prompting the DPP to say that they would mete out the most severe punishment if the allegation proved to be true...

Tainan Prosecutor's Office speculated that Wen and his family might have bought insurance policies from insurance companies and then colluded with five hospitals in Tainan and Kaohsiung to issue fake hospitalization documents in order to fraudulently claim health insurance payments.

Among the hospitals are the Lin Jin-hsing Hospital in Kaohsiung City, owned by DPP Legislator Peter Lin (林進興), and Yeong-Jen Hospital in Kaohsiung City, where DPP Legislator Chiu Yeong-Jen (邱永仁) serves as the director...

Lin yesterday denied that he is involved in the fraud, claiming that he himself is also a victim.

"The management of the hospital is tough and patients are admitted to the hospital only when it is necessary," he said. "I must be terribly unlucky to have those people coming to my hospital."

I noticed a number of reports speak of the KMT as favoring reunification, like Reunification party gains in elections
Taiwan's opposition Nationalist Party won an overwhelming victory in islandwide municipal elections Saturday, putting it in position to push its agenda of reunification with China....
Surely that's an oversimplification.

Weapons in the battle for influence

China Confronts Contradictions Between Marxism and Markets Campaign Seeks to Modernize Ideology, Given Capitalist Trends By Edward Cody
The Communist Party has launched a campaign among political leaders and senior academics to modernize Chinese Marxism, seeking to reconcile increasingly obvious contradictions between the government's founding ideology and its broad free-market reforms.

The Communist Party has launched a campaign among political leaders and senior academics to modernize Chinese Marxism, seeking to reconcile increasingly obvious contradictions between the government's founding ideology and its broad free-market reforms....

Scholars from the Central Party School and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences have said they would look for inspiration in past Chinese interpretations of Marxism. These include Mao Zedong's founding thoughts, Deng Xiaoping's liberalization theory and former president Jiang Zemin's Three Represents doctrine, which urges embracing capitalist and other leaders in addition to workers and peasants.

Some analysts have suggested that the research project could be designed to produce an elaboration of Hu's own, still vague theory calling for a "harmonious society," which he would then seek to enshrine as a national legacy the way his predecessors did.
What a load of bollocks. I've been wondering a long time about how Chinese college students felt about studying this propaganda in a society that is no longer socialist. Guess what; ideology has nothing to do with it.
In any case, a senior diplomat suggested, most of the argument within the party arises in the context of factions competing for power and patronage, rather than genuine doctrinal differences.

Rocket science?

Cold Weather Hikes Blood Pressure, UF Scientist Warns
When winter arrives and temperatures drop, there’s one place the mercury actually rises — in blood pressure gauges.

A survival mechanism in people and other mammals constricts blood vessels in cold weather, to conserve heat and maintain body temperature. But with less room for blood to move, pressure rises — along with the risk of fatal heart attack and stroke, which peaks during winter.

Many of these deaths could be prevented with simple precautions, says University of Florida blood pressure expert Zhongjie Sun [says] "Everyone should bear in mind that cold temperature is a risk factor (for heart attack and stroke)"...

"Patients with hypertension should be very careful when they go out (in the cold)," Sun said. "But normal people should take precautions as well."...

People can take other simple precautions to help lower risk, Sun added. Cold-weather care includes dressing in layers to conserve body heat, easing into outdoor physical activity to minimize sudden changes in the heart’s workload and avoiding extreme exertion or heavy lifting. Wearing a hat, scarf and gloves will minimize the amount of skin exposed, important because blood pressure increases don’t require full-body exposure, he said.
I like to walk, and will even walk when it's quite cold. I'd better be careful I don't kill myself.

So we're thinking of moving to someplace warmer once I retire. I occasionally look at sites like the City Comparison Tool or The LifeStyle Optimizer for info on where to live in retirement and then go to for more details. But for us, having a good place to buy Chinese related foodstuffs like our Fresh Foods or International Grocery is extremely important, and that's a significant detail that I can't find on such sites. Lifehacker suggested community Fact Sheets. I bet this link will die soon with no redirect.

Ramsey Clark as Lord Jim?

Daniel Zwerdling's report Ramsey Clark for the Defense says,
Clark was already stirring up controversy back in the 1960s when he was attorney general for President Lyndon Johnson. Go back now to the evening of August 8th, 1968, the Republican National Convention in Miami Beach. Everybody at the convention center knows what Clark stands for; he's for schools in the South to desegregate; he's tried to block the FBI from using more wiretaps. When Richard Nixon walks to the podium to pick accept his party's presidential nomination, he blames Ramsey Clark for causing a crime wave in America.
But he omits something interesting mentioned in "Sticking Up for Saddam: Ramsey Clark admits that his client is guilty" where Christopher Hitchens rips Clark and mentions his prosecution of the "Boston Five".

More details in Ramsey Clark's Prosecution Complex By Josh Saunders:
IN 1968, CLARK OVERSAW THE PROSECUTION of the pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock, Yale chaplain William Sloane Coffin Jr., and three other men accused of conspiring to undermine the Selective Service laws. The charge was "conspiracy to aid and abet draft resistance," though the five, called the Boston Five because they were tried in federal court there, had never been in the same room together before the trial. Coffin was the only defendant who even knew all of the others. Michael Foley, an assistant professor of history at CUNY-Staten Island who has written extensively on the case, said that many activists saw it as the first attempt to decimate the antiwar intelligentsia.

Clark says now that he opposed the Vietnam War and claims that Johnson was aware of his views. But if Johnson knew, no one else seemed to, and Clark appears to have been far from vocal about his antiwar stance. In Dean Rusk's memoirs, the former secretary of state mentions that he sat next to Clark in cabinet meetings for years and never heard him express opposition to the war. Nor did the activist community think of Clark as an antiwar figure. Coffin, who is now 79 years old, said that he "had not heard that Clark was opposed to the war." Foley agreed that Clark "wasn't known at all among peace activists as being opposed to the war."

...If he was privately opposed to the war, though, why did he prosecute protesters? Sipping hot water from a mug in his sparsely furnished Greenwich Village law office, which was decorated with a portrait of his father and political posters demanding justice for the people of El Salvador,Clark said that he felt obligated to file charges against the activists. "I feel strongly that the law has to have integrity," he said, sounding more like an attorney general than an antigovernment radical. "The law either has to do what it says or change what it says, and there was no chance of changing the draft laws."Clark said he believed in the power of the law in part because he had seen the positive effects of civil rights legislation. Roger Wilkins, a professor at George Mason University who was the director of the U.S. community relations service in the Johnson Department of Justice, said thatClark told him at the time that "we can't pretend there's no law, or that because good people are against it we won't enforce it. You have to enforce the laws so that they are meaningful."

Yet his fealty to the rule of law doesn't fully explain why Clark pursued the case. Low-level prosecutions of draft resisters had been occurring throughout Clark's term, but this was the first prosecution directed at the leaders of the antiwar movement. Why did he pursue this case? Clark contends that he had discovered that men in minority and working-class districts were getting the longest sentences for draft evasion. So, he says, he decided to focus attention on people who he believed could defend themselves more adequately.

Coffin and Dr. Spock were respected, if controversial, public figures who could afford legal counsel to fight back for them. Clark said he believed their cases would take a long time and would "focus attention on the problems of the draft." Clark says that he hoped to show Johnson that opposition to the war wasn't limited to draft-dodging longhairs but included the most admired pediatrician in America, a prominent and revered patrician minister, and a respected former Kennedy Administration official (Marcus Raskin, who had been a special staff member on the National Security Council).

Coffin asked Clark about the prosecution years later and was told that he "had a choice to arrest a hundred students or select five people who could take financial care of themselves." The explanation convinced Coffin, who now counts Clark as a close friend. (He officiated at the wedding of Clark's son in 1980.) Foley, however, has done extensive research in an effort to verify Clark 's claim, and he's not sure that it can be corroborated. "I could not confirm that this was his main motivation," he said, "either because he kept it to himself the whole time or because he's making it up now." Robert Dallek's Flawed Giant, the second volume in his biography of Johnson, states that Clark told Johnson that the peace movement had been infiltrated by Communists. Whatever Clark's motivation, four of the five defendants were convicted and sentenced to time in prison.

In his office recently, Clark said that he didn't regret the case against the Boston Five. In 1998, though, he told Foley that he wished the case against Spock, Coffin, and the others had turned out differently. He had hoped that the case would "ventilate the issues," providing a public forum for a debate over the merits of the draft. But the presiding judge declared most arguments about the legitimacy of the war or the draft inadmissible before the trial even started. The first major trial of antiwar intellectuals ended up being more about legal nuance than political morality.

Two of the four convictions were eventually overturned on appeal because of a lack of evidence and improper jury instruction. The remaining two defendants, Coffin and the novelist Mitchell Goodman, were ordered to be retried, but the government dropped the case. Still, observers ofClark's career have tended to see the Boston Five case as Clark's "Lord Jim" moment, in which Clark , faced with a choice to act morally or amorally, does the latter, only to spend the rest of his life repenting for his mistake. David McReynolds, a longtime member of the War Resisters League who has worked withClark on antiwar campaigns, thinks that Clark is "haunted" by his indictment of the Boston Five. Both McReynolds and Mel Wulf think Clark may have felt guilty enough about the prosecution that he decided to spend his career doing penance.

Clark says that he wasn't disappointed with the verdict and that the case didn't change his politics, and contrition over one prosecution, no matter how symbolic, might seem an unlikely explanation for over 30 years of battling the U.S. government. Yet the case clearly troubled him. Though the conspiracy charge was weak—Foley reports that John Wall, the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case, later acknowledged that it looked like "a jerry-built thing . . . put together at the last minute"—it worked, convicting men with whomClark now insists he agreed.

The outcome of the trial had to have been demoralizing for a man whose civil rights work had led him to believe that the law could be a force for social good. Over time, it may have come to seem to him more like persecution than prosecution and may have left him with a newfound suspicion of the power of the state. After the Boston Five trial,Clark's fears of government power became more acute and his hopes for a peaceful, lawful society seem to have dimmed.
Zwerdling also cites Todd Gitlin, one of the most famous anti-war activists during the Vietnam War, now a professor of sociology and journalism at Columbia as saying that
it's lunacy for Ramsey Clark to denounce America's policies while he stands arm in arm with tyrants. And Gitlin says just imagine what people around the world think.

Prof. GITLIN: They think, 'Oh, those who oppose American intervention are the friends of Saddam Hussein and of Slobodan Milosevic and of the genocides in Rwanda.' In a way, this is the mirror image of George Bush, 'You're either with us, or you're with the terrorists.' And this kind of primitive, either/or thinking is actually a disgrace and a discredit to the very deep and, I think, often extremely thoughtful objection to American foreign policy in the United States as often elsewhere in the world.
But then Zwerdling concludes his report
Clark's supporters say his seemingly outrageous battles will actually help America's image in the long run. They say Clark is proving that some Americans will fight for justice even when it's wildly unpopular.
So it's all right, even if, as Josh Saunders notes,
Few Americans and perhaps no other former high-ranking U.S. government officials have Clark's standing with America's enemies.

Friday, December 2

Is This Affirmative Action?

Muriel (not Mireille) Degauque, known in the francophone press as La kamikaze Belge
was born in Belgium to a white, middle-class Christian family, blew herself to pieces last month in a suicide attack against American troops near Baghdad.

In one of the most extraordinary tales of Islamic radicalisation, she is thought to be the first white Western woman to carry out a suicide bombing.
Yeah, ya gotta watch them white, middle-class Christians.


That's my word for NPR's worshipful take on the Christian Peacemakers Teams
The four members abducted on Saturday were meeting with an Iraqi group to witness the lives of Iraqis so that they could tell others back home what they had learned....Kris Chopp(ph) is a training coordinator for the group's US headquarters in Chicago. She says the Christian Peacemakers Teams are not looking to be martyrs, but she says everyone who goes knows the risks are part of the work.

LEWIS: Team members sign statements of personal responsibility, acknowledging they could be harmed or killed. The group has operated in Iraq since 2002, outside the Green Zone without armed protection. There've been death threats and some injuries, but this is the first time team members have been abducted. Bruce Hoffman is a terrorism expert at the Rand Corporation. He said the Christian Peacemaker Teams' movement, unarmed, make them attractive targets for kidnappers.
So they were courting disaster.

And why doesn't the report mention this?
In a statement, Christian Peacemaker Teams said it strongly opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq and blamed the kidnapping on coalition forces.

"We are angry because what has happened to our teammates is the result of the actions of the U.S. and U.K. government due to the illegal attack on Iraq and the continuing occupation and oppression of its people," the group said.
Why didn't NPR mention that? Trying to make them look better, of course. Now those nasty coalition forces have to worry about rescuing them.

And while NPR directs its listeners one of their blogs, I can't say I remember them ever doing the same for a pro-war soldier's blog or one like Michael Yon's.

Thursday, December 1


I'm with Val MacQueen
I propose that it would be far better to have a trade in kidneys regulated so the more powerful buyer cannot take advantage of the poor, who often sell an organ to pay off debts. And there is no conceivable reason such trade should be limited to developing countries. Once there was an open market in the West, kidneys for transplant would become freely available.

Such legalization and regulation would benefit the entire kidney transplant industry, in that the person who receives the purchased kidney frees up a space in the dialysis queue for the next in line. And the individual who sold the kidney has the money he needs or wants.

Considering the number of patients who could have their lives prolonged by receiving a transplant, and that there are not enough freely donated organs, and given that the pressure put on newly bereaved families will only increase, is there a rational or humanitarian reason not to allow trade in organs on the open market? America already sanctions the selling of blood. Why not other bodily constituents?

Ethics Position Questionnaire

The EPQ measures two dimensions of moral thought: idealism and relativism...

Individuals who have high scores on the idealism scale express a fundamental concern for the welfare of others, and those who have high scores on the relativism scale reject the importance of such universal ethical rules as "Thou shalt not lie." When these two dimensions are dichotomized and crossed, they yield a 2 X 2 classification system.

Situationists emphasized risks relative to benefits and the potential for subject harm. Absolutists based their judgments on the costs created for participating subjects and the riskiness of the procedures. Subjectivists' judgments were associated with the harmfulness, legitimacy, and invasiveness of the procedures. Exceptionists emphasized the consequentiality of the research, as well as scientific legitimacy, magnitude of costs, and deception.
Via Reason's Ronald Bailey. I scored 43 on the Idealism scale and 68 on the Relativism scale; even as I answered the questions I felt pretty wishy-washy. That makes me an Exceptionist, who retains moral rules to guide judgments, but remains open to exceptions to these rules.

Dumb whites

The New White Flight
Over the past 10 years, the proportion of white students at [Lynbrook High in San Jose] has fallen by nearly half, to 25% of the student body. At [Monta Vista High in Cupertino], white students make up less than one-third of the population, down from 45% -- this in a town that's half white. Some white Cupertino parents are instead sending their children to private schools or moving them to other, whiter public schools. More commonly, young white families in Silicon Valley say they are avoiding Cupertino altogether.

...Whites aren't quitting the schools because the schools are failing academically. Quite the contrary: Many white parents say they're leaving because the schools are too academically driven and too narrowly invested in subjects such as math and science at the expense of liberal arts and extracurriculars like sports and other personal interests.

The two schools, put another way that parents rarely articulate so bluntly, are too Asian.

...Some Asians believe that the resulting lack of diversity creates an atmosphere that is too sheltering for their children, leaving then unprepared for life in a country that is only 4% Asian overall. Moreover, many Asians share some of their white counterpart's concerns. Both groups finger newer Asian immigrants for the schools' intense competitiveness.

Some whites fear that by avoiding schools with large Asian populations parents are short-changing their own children, giving them the idea that they can't compete with Asian kids. "My parents never let me think that because I'm Caucasian, I'm not going to succeed," says Jessie Hogin, a white Monta Vista graduate.

The white exodus clearly involves race-based presumptions, not all of which are positive. One example: Asian parents are too competitive. That sounds like racism to many of Cupertino's Asian residents, who resent the fact that their growing numbers and success are causing many white families to boycott the town altogether.

...While California has seen the most pronounced cases of suburban segregation, some of the developments in Cupertino are also starting to surface in other parts of the U.S. At Thomas S. Wootton High School in Rockville, Md., known flippantly to some locals as "Won Ton," roughly 35% of students are of Asian descent...

In Tenafly, N.J., a well-to-do bedroom community near New York, the local high school says it expects Asian students to make up about 36% of its total in the next five years, compared with 27% today. ...

At Cupertino's top schools, administrators, parents and students say white students end up in the stereotyped role often applied to other minority groups: the underachievers. In one 9th-grade algebra class, Lynbrook's lowest-level math class, the students are an eclectic mix of whites, Asians and other racial and ethnic groups.

...Some white parents, and even some students, say they suspect teachers don't take white kids as seriously as Asians.

...To many of Cupertino's Asians, some of the assumptions made by white parents -- that Asians are excessively competitive and single-minded -- play into stereotypes. Top schools in nearby, whiter Palo Alto, which also have very high test scores, also feature heavy course loads, long hours of homework and overly stressed students, says Denise Pope, director of Stressed Out Students, a Stanford University program that has worked with schools in both Palo Alto and Cupertino. But whites don't seem to be avoiding those institutions, or making the same negative generalizations, Asian families note, suggesting that it's not academic competition that makes white parents uncomfortable but academic competition with Asian-Americans.