Wednesday, March 30

We Need This Like We Need a Hole in the Head

The U.N. thinks about tomorrow's cyberspace by Declan McCullagh
In a series of speeches over the last year, Zhao has suggested that the ITU could become involved in everything from security and spam to managing how Internet Protocol addresses are assigned. The ITU also is looking into some aspects of voice over Internet Protocol--VoIP--communications, another potential area for expansion.

"Countering spam is just one of many elements of protecting the Internet that include availability during emergencies and supporting public safety and law enforcement officials," Zhao wrote in December. Also, he wrote, the ITU "would take care of other work, such as work on Internet exchange points, Internet interconnection charging regimes, and methods to provide authenticated directories that meet national privacy regimes."
Via Instapundit, who titles it, U.N.'S AMBITION TO REGULATE THE INTERNET. Surely it's also of interest that Houlin Zhao 赵厚麟, the official who wants to get his grubby hands on the internet is from China, a country that loves to interfere in its people's internal affairs, all the while complaining when other countries are interfere in its internal affairs when they complain about the lack of human rights in China.

Made Out Of Meat

B.F. Skinner, Revisited by DAVID P. BARASH
"We recognize a person's dignity or worth," writes Skinner, "when we give him credit for what he has done. The amount we give is inversely proportional to the conspicuousness of the causes of his behavior. If we do not know why a person acts as he does, we attribute his behavior to him. We try to gain additional credit for ourselves by concealing the reasons why we behave in given ways or by claiming to have acted for less powerful reasons." Ironically, there is something flattering and legitimizing in actions or thoughts that spring unbidden from our "self" -- whatever that may be -- and that aren't otherwise explicable. By the same token, the more our actions are caused, the less are we credited for them.

Skinner, again: "Any evidence that a person's behavior may be attributed to external circumstances seems to threaten his dignity or worth. We are not inclined to give a person credit for achievements which are in fact due to forces over which he has no control. We tolerate a certain amount of such evidence, as we accept without alarm some evidence that a man is not free. No one is greatly disturbed when important details of works of art and literature, political careers, and scientific discoveries are attributed to 'influences' in the lives of artists, writers, statesmen, and scientists respectively. But as an analysis of behavior adds further evidence, the achievements for which a person himself is to be given credit seem to approach zero, and both the evidence and the science which produces it are then challenged." And not only achievements: The quotidian events of normal living also qualify....

Francis Crick's important book, The Astonishing Hypothesis: "You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. As Lewis Carroll's Alice might have phrased it, 'You're nothing but a pack of neurons.'"
(She said, "You're nothing but a pack of cards!") The article goes on to refer to Terry Bisson's They're Made Out Of Meat, but not by title.

AARP's Conflict of Interest

AARP Leads With Wallet In Fight Over Social Security by Jeffrey H. Birnbaum:
AARP can afford it. The association took in $350 million last year from a variety of royalty-producing enterprises, including insurance, prescription drugs and mutual funds.

AARP is facing criticism of its mutual fund business because that kind of investment would probably be a feature of the accounts the president is pushing. Scudder Investments Inc., a unit of Deutsche Bank AG, handles 600,000 mutual fund accounts of AARP members, with $10.5 billion in assets. AARP helped develop those accounts and earns a small percentage of the management fee that Scudder charges. Last year, the association earned about $7 million from those fees and is working with Scudder to develop more funds, AARP officials said.

"It is ironic that they would make such a fuss about risky investments in Social Security when they actually promote investments in mutual funds," McCrery said. Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), an AARP sympathizer, agreed: "AARP needs to take care that when it's in the policy realm, it declares any conflicts of interest."...

AARP was started in 1958 as a nonprofit organization that also had a business purpose. Its founder, retired educator Ethel Percy Andrus, wanted not only to advance the interests of older Americans but also to create a market large enough to sustain the sale of health insurance to them. That dual role led to accusations of self-serving motives during the Medicare drug debate. Critics asked how AARP could be impartial on prescription subsidies when it made money from a mail-order pharmacy.

Tsk, tsk

Will Wilkinson mispells ceteris paribus. That's what happuns when you show off.


The evolutionary revolutionary by Drake Bennett includes a passage from Robert Trivers' introduction to Richard Dawkins's "The Selfish Gene."
If deceit, he wrote, "is fundamental to animal communication, then there must be strong selection to spot deception and this ought, in turn, to select for a degree of self-deception, rendering some facts and motives unconscious so as not to betray-by the subtle signs of self-knowledge-the deception being practiced." Thus, the idea that the brain evolved to produce "ever more accurate images of the world must be a very naive view of mental evolution." We've evolved, in other words, to delude ourselves so as better to fool others-all in the service of the great game of propagating our genes.
Via aldaily. Will Wilkinson mentions him, too.

Drawing attention to something while claiming to be passing over it

Eugene Volokh mentions paralipsis and apophasis; the latter gets more google hits and merits a definition in The American Heritage® Dictionary:
Allusion to something by denying that it will be mentioned, as in I will not bring up my opponent's questionable financial dealings.
In addition, paralipsis is defined as:
  • A pretended or apparent omission; a figure by which a speaker artfully pretends to pass by what he really mentions; as, for example, if an orator should say, "I do not speak of my adversary's scandalous venality and rapacity, his brutal conduct, his treachery and malice."
  • suggesting by deliberately concise treatment that much of significance is omitted

A Short-sighted Strategy?

Drew Thompson writes on China's Global Strategy for Energy, Security and Diplomacy
Chinese oil, construction and telecom companies are increasingly demonstrating that they seek economic as well as political returns on investments that further Chinese foreign policy goals. Unlike Western public companies, Chinese corporations seek more than just profit for their shareholders. These Chinese companies, backed by senior political leaders, government financing and foreign aid, are willing to invest in countries with high political risk. Many of the agreements announced by Chinese firms are judged economically questionable by many international analysts. Politically, the Chinese government considers these investments a vital diversification of supply to ensure that their energy needs for the next several decades will be met as demand increases and domestic production declines....

The United States, preoccupied with the global war on terrorism, is also becoming concerned that Chinese diplomatic advances, particularly in Asia and the Americas, could marginalize the U.S. presence in these regions where it has traditionally taken the lead.

China's typical approach to diplomatic relations refuses to address governance, human rights and other political issues in relationships with other nations. This has led some to argue that China is an obstacle to promoting more responsible behavior from countries such as Iran, Sudan, Libya and Angola. China's myopic approach to locking up barrels through commercial and diplomatic relations (while ignoring corruption and human rights abuses) frustrates efforts of donor nations and organizations that are working to instill good governance, accountability and transparency. But China's no-strings-attached assistance and opaque commercial transactions which do little to encourage these countries to improve their governance systems might be a short-sighted strategy. Encouraging good governance and stability with trading partners will benefit China in the long-term by building more durable societies and economies that will someday become better markets for Chinese consumer products, and by fostering governments that contribute to global and regional security. The latter being ultimately linked to China's most fundamental core interest: economic growth and domestic stability at home.
Emphasis mine. Of course, I used to hear the same about US foreign policy, and for a long time, it didn't make a lot of difference.

Monday, March 28

Lost Frog

Lost Frog

So We Should Care What You Think About the US?

This was before the anti-succession law, but still...

China's influence seen positive
In total, 48% of people polled in 22 countries said China's role was mainly positive. Only 30% saw it as mainly negative....

In 17 of the 22 nations polled, more people thought China had a positive influence than a negative influence.

China came out favourably when the results were compared with similar questions looking at the global influence of Russia and the US.

An average of 38% of respondents saw the US as having a positive influence, with just 36% saying the same for Russia.

Too Early to Celebrate

In Taiwanese Protest Chinese Anti-Secession Law, NPR's Rob Gifford ("in Beijing") interviews Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴; DPP Legislator, and yes, she's in Taiwan) about China's stupid law:
Hsiao Bi-khim: This march is a response to China's passage of the so-called anti-secession law. The vast majority of the people here in Taiwan are against this law. They feel insulted by the law and threatened by the law. And this march is a demonstration of the Taiwanese people's will and opinion and our persistence in maintaining the peace and democracy in Taiwan.

Gifford: For the mainland Chinese, this whole debate is all about territory and ethnicity. Taiwanese people are Chinese, they say, and Taiwan itself used to belong to China before the two were separated at the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949. All of this is about restoring what is rightfully Chinese. For many Taiwanese, on the other hand, political system trumps ethnicity every time. Even those Taiwanese who are conciliatory to the mainland say they've fought for 50 years to overthrow the dictatorship in Taiwan and there's no way they're going to accept being ruled again by a one-party state. As a condition of even holding talks between the two sides. Beijing says Taiwan must recognize it is part of One China. Hsiao Bi-khim says it's not just her traditionally pro-independence party that opposes that.

Hsiao Bi-khim: The political conditions of One China, of China governing Taiwan, this is something that we who have worked for many years to achieve democracy cannot accept at this point. This position is promoted not only by the DPP; the other political parties in Taiwan also agree that Taiwan, the Republic of China, is already an independent country.

Gifford: Those are words that Beijing does not want to hear, though there's little the Chinese Communist Party can do unless Taiwan actually stands up and declares that it's not just de facto but officially independent. Meanwhile, as China continues to breathe fire, Philip Yong of National Taiwan University says Beijing is succeeding in changing the mood in Taiwan and alienating even those who previously thought of reunification as a possibility.
WHAT? "there's little the Chinese Communist Party can do unless Taiwan actually stands up and declares that it's not just de facto but officially independent"?? Since when can the Chinese Communist Party be expected to respect its own laws? Since never! As far as the demonstration goes, remember they were opposed to a referendum that was merely going to demand that China renounce the use of force against Taiwan and immediately withdraw all ballistic missiles aimed at the island. The Communists dislike democracy and shoot their own people when they demonstrate. While they obviously did something self-defeating by passing the new law, despite the celebratory crowing of Instapundit et al., et al., a demonstration is hardly going to sway them.

Saturday, March 26


From the moonie paper, but nevertheless...
China, U.S. interests conflict by Barton W. Marcois and Leland R. Miller:
In fact, China's agenda is so different that it threatens to seriously undermine American initiatives in the Middle East....

In the new millennium, China's Middle Eastern strategy has shifted again, from part-time arms salesman to outright energy diplomacy. Under China's current Five-Year Plan, which publicly introduced the concept of energy security, China unveiled its "Twenty-first Century Oil Strategy" in February 2003. While this $100 billion program has a variety of domestic components, priority one is the securing of new energy sources abroad....

As China's support for the rogue regimes in Iran and Sudan has made clear, moral constraints and human-rights considerations are not pillars of Beijing's foreign-policy calculus. While Tehran threatens to go nuclear and Khartoum continues its genocide in Darfur, Beijing has used its clout (and U.N. veto) to shield these regimes from international sanctions. In return, it receives entree into two important energy markets.

Furthermore, unlike private Western oil companies who are beholden to shareholders and profit margins, Chinese state-owned oil-traders have been given the mandate to secure long-term energy relationships by offering hugely discounted rates, production-sharing arrangements and technical know-how. The fact that China has overpaid for recent ventures in Oman, Sudan and elsewhere is telling. Rather than investing in money-makers, China is buying footholds throughout the Middle East.

...two observations can be made: First, China is now a major regional player — and one that clearly does not share the American vision of a free and democratic Middle East. Second, China's Middle East agenda is quickly shaping up to be a direct challenge to that of the United States'. In addition to remaining a strategic competitor for resources, China's leverage may become increasingly dependent on its ability to undercut U.S. initiatives.

If China has indeed adopted the role of spoiler, as its recent actions in Iran and Sudan seem to indicate, then Chinese intransigence — not Islamic extremism — may prove to be the X factor in the 21st century Middle East.

"Natural" Pollutants

Nature Mimics Industry by Jack W. Dini
Who's to blame for carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere, persistent dioxins, PCBs, vinyl chloride, perchlorates, elevated concentrations of nitrates in stream water throughout the world, and unusual fish kills? The initial knee-jerk reaction is to lay the blame on present-day humans (read: ourselves), endlessly accused of fouling our own nest, and there's some truth to this. No doubt we humans are responsible for many egregious environmental actions, but here's something new. Recent research has shown that some of the pollutants heretofore blamed on industrial activities can now also be laid at the doorstep of Mother Nature.
For example
  • Dioxins from Burning Wood and Biomass
  • Ozone from Boreal Coniferous Forests
  • Vinyl Chloride from the Earth, Nitrates from the Sea
  • Perchlorate from "Natural" Processes
  • Flame-retardants from "Natural" Sources

Exit Strategy in Iraq

But wait; it's not the US' exit strategy but that of the Sunni Arab "insurgents". See Iraq's insurgents 'seek exit strategy' by Steve Negus.

Thursday, March 24

Kyrgyzstan in the People's Daily

Main page of the People's Daily shows demonstration in Kyrgyzstan. See the pics and captions below.

Akayev has left the building


On March 24th, on the streets of Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, several thousand opposition supporters demonstrated. The Kyrgyzstan opposition protestors rushed into the government building located in center of the capital Bishkek; President Akayev had already left the building.

Should we shoot to kill, like the Chinese?


On March 24th, On March 24th, on the streets of Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, anti-riot police stand arrayed facing opposition supporters participating in the demonstration. The Kyrgyzstan opposition protestors rushed into the government building located in center of the capital Bishkek; President Akayev had already left the building.

Wednesday, March 23

College Profs Denounce Western Culture, Move to Caves

I, too, am a victim of white male Eurocentric western culture.

Creepy Syncronicity

In "Eating Dung by Mistake" 誤嚐糞 from 子不語, a story that I just came across, the characters are eating blowfish, and one of them falls to the ground, foaming at the mouth, and thinking he's been poisoned by they feed him liquid manure to cure him. As he lies there the rest of them drink it, too, afraid of being poisoned. The guy finally comes to, explaining he's got epilepsy. They all wash out their mouths, vomiting and laughing at the same time.

Ruth Levy Guyer is laughing at me. It's as if I've drunk her liquid manure.

Cerebral Vascular Accident? It's a Stroke!

My father lives in Paris with my mother, who is in the early stages of dementia, but he insists that her impaired mental condition is from panic attacks or that her wandering is "sleep-walking". He won't listen to me or my sister about putting her in a nursing home, which is the equivalent of an insane asylum to him. I understand from other parties that he's recently lost her when he went out with her; he's never told me about that.

Then she had problems with language, that is, unable to read words or even think of many nouns, and she collapsed in the apartment where they live. That sounds like a stroke to me. Yesterday I received an email from him saying that the doctors had diagnosed her as having had what he called a "vascular cerebral attack" (VCA), which is his translation from the French. He claims that a VCA is one level below a transient ischemic attack (TIA), which my mother had had before. And he says the doctors told him that her VCA had "screwed up the cortex of the brain in such a way that it provoked an epileptic response".

The closest thing I can find to a "vascular cerebral attack" is a cerebral vascular accident (CVA), commonly referred to as a stroke. Moreover, stokes can cause seizures and epileptic seizures are a sign of strokes.

Not to Get All Politically Correct, but...

Colin Harrison's novel Havana room claims that the blowfish known in Japan as fugu and eaten as a delicacy there is known as "Shao-tzou" in China. This is obviously not pinyin, but I'm not sure what it's meant to convey; possibly 小豬 xiǎo zhū. Although it is eaten in China, it's more commonly known there as 河豚 hé tún or 豚魚 tún yú. He must have been misled by an informant.

Also the Chinese cook Ha is a little too inscrutable for my taste.

My Head Explodes

because I find myself agreeing with Noam Chomsky, even if it's atypical insight. Plus I'm agreeing with all the liberals about pulling the plug on you-know-who (the one in a persistent vegetative state).

The Politics of Coercion

Who's Your Daddy? Authority, Asceticism, and the Spread of Liberty by Michael Acree
What liberals and conservatives have in common, I suggest, is having publicly subscribed to an ascetic code in which they are not wholeheartedly committed. They have simply focused on different aspects of Christian asceticism (an asceticism shared by most other religions) — money or sex. Morality, in the cynical view, was probably invented as a system of social control: the intellectually powerful use guilt to control the physically powerful. Happy people are hard to control noncoercively. There is a limit to what we can offer them as inducements to behave differently. Guilty people, on the other hand, offer a conspicuous lever. Do as the moralists say, and your sins will be forgiven and you will experience eternal bliss. (Some gullibility is required, but not an extraordinary amount.) The ideal moral code, from this point of view, is one that is set against human nature, that people can hardly help violating. Thus the historically successful codes, including those prevailing in Western culture, are ascetic, particularly with respect to sex and money. Tellingly, perhaps, it is rare to find prohibitions on power over other people.

...What is intolerable is to feel as if you are paying a price for adherence to an ascetic code, and seeing other people — whether capitalist pigs or queers — flouting the rules and getting away with it.

...both left-liberals and conservatives focus not so much on becoming virtuous as on forcing other people to adhere to the standard they believe they are supposed to uphold. They are quite willing to submit to coercion on issues they feel they need help with, so long as everyone else is similarly coerced.

...These ascetic codes, and the efforts at social control to which they lead, are addictive: they generate their own justification. Because of them, we acquire a view of ourselves as needing external constraints on our behavior ("I don't know if I would contribute that much to charity"), which will lead us to resist any suggestion that the constraints are not necessary. There are few psychological challenges greater than changing one's conception of the good, given a lifetime of investment in constraints that may have been unnecessary. Perhaps the most insidious and destructive legacy of our traditional reliance on external controls, whether moral or legal, is the undermining of personal responsibility. We come to believe that, if social controls were relaxed, everyone, including ourselves, would run wild, indulging every whim. That expectation feeds the demand for ever stricter controls. And we end up confusing opposition to enforcement of moral codes with immorality.

...Conservatives hold a disciplinary parent model of the state, seeing its role as policing "undesirable" behavior; liberals hold a model of the state as nurturing parent, whose role is to ensure that everyone is taken care of, and that the bigger siblings don't take advantage of the weaker ones.

[For George Lakoff, author of "Moral Politics"], the choice is a slam-dunk: empirical research in developmental psychology shows that the nurturant approach works better, hence the liberal society is the better one. To libertarians, however, the question is beside the point: we reject any model of the state that sees citizens as children, and bureaucrats and politicians as the only adults. It is remarkable that Lakoff misses entirely the possibility of noninfantilizing social arrangements.

...Enforcing public morality — nurturance by compulsion — doesn't work any better than enforcing private morality. It furthermore ceases to be experienced as nurturant either by recipients, who come to take it for granted as an impersonal entitlement, or by donors, who come to resent it as a demand.

...the wish for someone to be in charge remains nearly universal. Most often it is expressed as a need to control unruly others, but I've also heard many people say, in different contexts, that they didn't trust themselves to do what they were supposed to without the threat of external sanctions. On some level, they really didn't think of themselves as responsible adults. Naturally I think the source of most of that distrust is the unrealistic, ascetic codes by which they are judging what they are supposed to do.
"The wish for someone to be in charge remains nearly universal". So libertarianism is doomed, right?

Sleaze and Insanity

France Eases Law Restricting Workweek to 35 Hours by Erika Lorentzsen cites Stephane Rozes of the CSA polling firm:
Some analysts said the measure would have little immediate impact on France's economic problems. "This law isn't out of economic or social necessity, but more of an ideology of the center-right in favor of businesses"
It may have little immediate impact, but it's generally expected to have positive long term impact on reducing unemployment. And if he's a pollster, why is he expressing what looks like a personal opinion? Maybe he's stating the opinion of the French public. While looking for more background on him, I found an old article written before he was re-elected.

How to succeed in politics without really lying: The charmed career of Jacques Chirac by Jon Henley another former president, Valery Giscard d'Estaing, likes to observe: "Chirac can have his mouth full of jam, his lips can be dripping with the stuff, his fingers covered with it, the pot can be standing open in front of him. And when you ask him if he's a jam eater, he'll say: 'Me, eat jam? Never, Monsieur le president'!"

...he is looking more likely every day to be returned to the Elysée palace for a five-year term.

There is little doubt that the steadily rising tide of sleaze lapping round Mr Chirac's ankles would, in many western democracies, effectively disqualify him from standing.

"Three different magistrates have uncovered what they call strong and concordant evidence implicating Mr Chirac in criminal acts," says Arnaud Montebourg, a socialist MP who - until a court ruling last year that the president was immune from prosecution (or even questioning) as long as he remained in office - led a campaign to have Mr Chirac impeached...

Since no one in France can realistically plead ignorance of the allegations levelled at their head of state, the only conclusion possible is that sleaze does not matter.

"I think the allegations have already been discounted," says Stephane Rozes of the CSA polling agency. "It may seem hard to understand, but when it comes to choosing their president the French are not necessarily swayed by criteria like transparency, integrity and reliability. For a prime minister, maybe yes. But not, somehow, for a president."
Then there's Chirac Outburst Blasts Hopes of EU Summit United Front by Jon Smith and Geoff Meade:
President Jacques Chirac and German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder soured the mood with a bitter attack on proposed new Euro-laws they claim will expose their service sector workers to cheap labour from the new member states.
And when a majority of other leaders including Tony Blair refused the demand to withdraw the "Services Directive" entirely, President Chirac launched a tirade against the new economic liberalism he thinks is pervading the expanded EU.

"Ultra-liberalism is the communism of our current days," he thundered...
Actually, according to Le Figaro, a même lâché, tout en assurant ne pas être antilibéral : «Le libéralisme, ce serait aussi désastreux que le communisme.»
("...while assuring his listeners that he was not anti-liberal, he blurted out 'liberalism would be just as disastrous as communism.'")

Tuesday, March 22

Republican Overreach

GOP May Be Out of Step With Public by Charles Babington and Michael A. Fletcher
Congressional Republicans and President Bush have seized upon the Terri Schiavo case with such fervor that they may find themselves out in front of an American public that is divided over right-to-die issues and deeply leery of government intrusion into family affairs, according to analysts and polls.
I'm skeptical that so many others are "deeply leery of government intrusion into family affairs", but that is true of me.
In another sign of the priority that the GOP has placed on the Schiavo matter, they have let it trump their traditional calls for a limited federal judiciary and respecting the "sanctity of marriage."
Yeah. Hypocrites. Of course any Democrat who suddenly stands up for a "a limited federal judiciary" is also a hypocrite, even if they're right.
An ABC News poll released yesterday concluded that "Americans broadly and strongly disapprove of federal intervention in the Terri Schiavo case, with sizable majorities saying Congress is overstepping its bounds for political gain."
But they seem wary of making political hay out of this, even as this article encourages them to:
"Our folks are nervous about this," said a high-ranking House Democratic aide, one of several who would speak only on background because of the topic's sensitivity. Democrats are aware of the polls, he said, but also wary of the intensity and determination of the conservative groups -- many of them steeped in the politics of abortion -- that are demanding that Schiavo be kept alive.

Democrats may be misreading the public's mood, however. "The intensity of public sentiment is . . . on the side of Schiavo's husband," the ABC poll concluded, with more Americans strongly supporting the feeding tube's removal than strongly opposing it.
And as Ryan Sager says in What Steroids and Schiavo Have in Common,
In coming years, political historians might look back and try to pinpoint the day or week or month that the Republican Party shed the last vestiges of its small-government philosophy. If and when they do, the week just past should make the short list. For it was in this last week that the Republican-controlled Congress made it clear that it sees no area of American life -- none too trivial and none too intimate -- that the federal government should not permeate with its power.

Zero Sum

Learning to Stand Out Among the Standouts: Some Asian Americans Say Colleges Expect More From Them by Jay Mathews cites Robert Shaw, an educational consultant
"As admissions strategists, our experience is that Asian Americans must meet higher objective standards, such as SAT scores and GPAs, and higher subjective standards than the rest of the applicant pool," he said. "Our students need to do a lot more in order to stand out."

Asian American students have higher average SAT scores than any other government-monitored ethnic group, and selective colleges routinely reject them in favor of African American, Hispanic and even white applicants with lower scores in order to have more diverse campuses and make up for past discrimination.

Many Asian Americans and some educators wonder: Is that fair? Why shouldn't young people of Asian descent have more of an advantage in the selective college admissions system for being violin-playing, science-fair winning, high-scoring achievers?

"Chinese and all Asian Americans are penalized for their values on academic excellence by being required to have a higher level of achievement, academic and non-academic, than any other demographic group," said Ed Chin, a New Jersey physician who has campaigned for years for a change in college admissions procedures.

Yet, Chin notes, Harvard humanities professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. recently estimated that two-thirds of blacks at Harvard are not descendants of American slaves but the middle-class children of relatively recent immigrants from the Caribbean and Africa.
If diversity is the goal, then there is going to be a limited number of places. Meanwhile, I thought it was all about academics, not social engineering.

Monday, March 21

For Shame

Ruth Levy Guyer, who styles herself a scientist, had an item on NPR on Sunday expressing a belief in synchronicity:
Synchronicities are more than coincidences. You think of a Brazilian friend you haven't talked to in years. You troll online through rosters of Brazilian law schools and law firms. When you give up, discouraged, the phone rings. There he is calling you. A woman felt a searing pain in her chest. Later she discovered that was the exact moment when her identical twin died of a heart attack. Why are people, even those separated by great distances, so in sync?

I suspect scientists will one day identify receptors in our brains for synchronicities. Prescients will be named 'sense number six,' not denounced as a spooky sixth sense.
Eww. She even thinks she's a "prescient". Gag me with a bent spoon.

Robert Todd Carroll has this to say about synchronicity in his Skeptic's Dictionary:
What reasons are there for accepting synchronicity as an explanation for anything in the real world? What it explains is more simply and elegantly explained by the ability of the human mind to find meaning and significance where there is none (apophenia).... [I]f you think of all the pairs of things that can happen in a person's lifetime, and add to that our very versatile ability of finding meaningful connections between things, it then seems likely that most of us will experience many meaningful coincidences. The coincidences are predictable but we are the ones who give them meaning.
Ruth Levy Guyer's support for synchronicity strikes me as painfully unscientific. (I wish Caroll would take this up. I believe he doesn't like unauthorized quotes, but he doesn't post a way to contact him that I can find.)

Friday, March 18


Last Supper advert is the final straw from Adam Sage in Paris
A judge ordered the advertising posters to be removed yesterday from billboards across France within three days or risk a daily fine of €100,000 (£70,000).

The ruling by the Paris court stunned the Parisian media and fashion establishment, which denounced it as an act of censorship contrary to France’s liberal traditions...

The advertising campaign for the Girbaud fashion house shows designer-clad women in the pose of the apostles and a half-naked man as Jesus Christ. Girbaud said that it would appeal against the ruling.
I'm not sure the picture below is the right one (no man as Jesus), but it's from Marithe + François Girbaud (click to enlarge)

By the way, what do super models eat?

They already are

The item above also says,
Thierry Massis, the bishops' lawyer, said: "When you attack sacred things, you create a moral violence that is dangerous for our children. Tomorrow we'll have Christ selling socks."
They already are


And they're also using Jesus to sell candles. And not just votive candles:
A South Dakota couple makes and markets candles they say smell like Jesus.

The Citroën Traction Avant

Speaking of cars from the 30's, here's the Citroën Traction Avant.

Only Some Party Members Are Good

Flip Side to Fame in China by Mark Magnier
...the leaders hope to defuse the growing instability and discontent fueled by China's yawning wealth gap, potentially a huge challenge to their rule. There were 58,000 protests and riots across the country in 2003, or 160 a day, many over perceived abuses by local authorities, according to government statistics, which could be underreporting the problem.
"Could be"? I'd say they are almost certainly underreporting it.
Hoping to reduce the pressure, China's leadership has eliminated taxes for farmers, increased subsidies and vowed to act against unjust land seizures.
"Has eliminated"? I'd say the leadership has decreed that they should be eliminated. Whether they will or not is another question. One reason that it will be so hard is because of corrupt local politicians, but the party doesn't dare permit widespread elections, because it's afraid of how poorly it would do. And it's not just elections that are forbidden:
China's Communist Party maintains its monopoly on political power by delivering benefits to its 1.3 billion people, in line with governments worldwide. It also guards its turf jealously by ensuring that watchful party officials sit in every corner of society deemed a potential threat to that monopoly. This entails everything from "officially sanctioned" religious organizations and political parties to sports groups, chambers of commerce, university departments and farm collectives.

Groups viewed as a threat are quickly batted down, as seen with official crackdowns on Tibetan monks, Falun Gong practitioners, separatist Muslims in the country's west and Internet essayists. A recently published list of banned gatherings, which included an amateur singing club, a pigeon lovers group and a dozen people holding a ceremony to bless a new building, shows how jittery the party can be.
Then they cite a woman who has joined the Party:
"Many friends think it's like joining a corrupt group," she said. "I still think some party members are good, but I wouldn't say most."

Only "some" party members are good; not "most". Wow.

Another Directive That Won't Be Carried Out

China Plans to Cut School Fees for Its Poorest Rural Students by Jim Yardley
China will begin eliminating rural school fees this year in response to growing criticism that the education system is increasingly corrupt and discriminates against poor rural students...

Recent studies show that an overwhelming percentage of government education spending is dedicated to cities, despite the fact that two-thirds of the 1.3 billion Chinese live in the countryside...

In February, a group of retired educational officials in Hunan Province published a broader, more blistering critique that detailed how the cost of supporting and building rural schools in Hunan fell largely on farmers who were already among the poorest members of society.

This critique, in China Youth Daily, said rural students were further disadvantaged because a growing number of high schools and universities were lowering standards for wealthier students whose parents could make cash payments for admission, leaving less room for poor students to be admitted on merit. In addition, many universities are required to admit quotas of local city students. At a time when China is annually increasing military spending and pouring money into infrastructure projects, spending on education has fallen below projections established by the government in 1993 and is below the international average of developing countries.

Mr. Wen's promise to eliminate school fees may ultimately be difficult to carry out in a country where changes announced by the central government are often circumvented locally. China already promises nine years of free compulsory education to all students. But faced with reduced government support, schools have attached a variety of special fees to make up for the lost revenues...

Hu Xingdou, a professor of governmental economics at Beijing Institute of Technology, said that Mr. Wen's new policy moved China in the right direction but added that the government needed to assume all costs of compulsory education and eliminate corrupt practices that gave preference to wealthy or politically connected families.

"The rural education system is on the verge of collapse," Mr. Hu said.
When the local officials don't follow this procedure, there is no way for the farmers to make them follow the rules. They can't vote them out of office, and the government interferes in court decisions, typically in favor of the local government.

Thursday, March 17


According to this, 69 percent of Taiwanese are still up after midnight, and more than a quarter of them don't roll out of bed until after 9 a.m. Only a third of Americans go to sleep after midnight, while 60 percent of us are up by 7 a.m.

Me, I go to sleep around 9 p.m. and get up at 5 a.m. or even earlier. I leave home to walk to the pool a little after 6 on weekdays.

But I Didn't

China Propaganda Office May Be Censoring the Premier By JOSEPH KAHN:
When discussing China's antisecession law aimed at Taiwan, which was enacted by the National People's Congress on Monday, Mr. Wen mentioned an American precedent for outlawing secession. The transcript included his reference to the passage of such a law in 1861, but excised Mr. Wen's follow-up:

"And after that happened, the war between the North and the South broke out. We do not wish to see that kind of outcome. We do not wish to see that kind of outcome."

It is possible that it was decided that the American law's failure to stop the Civil War undermined the rationale for passing their own law. Beijing officials have repeatedly emphasized that their law creates conditions for peace across the Taiwan Strait, even though it authorizes "nonpeaceful" means against Taiwan under certain conditions.

Political analysts in Beijing said authorities might also have felt that it was inappropriate for the prime minister to be on record plaintively bemoaning the possibility of conflict with Taiwan when the official line is that China "will pay any price" to ensure the unity of the nation.
I might have noted that, but I didn't.

1935 Ford Three-Window Coupe

Driving Points Home On Social Security by Dana Milbank
Republican lawmakers, trying to convince a skeptical public about the wisdom of their Social Security proposals, decided yesterday that it was time to roll out a new metaphor.

Their choice: a brown 1935 Ford three-window Coupe, which House GOP leaders ordered driven onto a sidewalk outside the Capitol. House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) and a few colleagues stood in front of the antique, built the same year Franklin D. Roosevelt built Social Security, and likened the two.

"I wouldn't be caught dead in a 1935 automobile," said Rep. Patrick T. McHenry (N.C.), vice chairman of the House Republican Conference's PR effort on Social Security. "And I want to make sure we have an updated system of Social Security, because that's America's investment vehicle."
Yeah, but it's a nice car. It's got a lot more character than what's on the road these days.

Wednesday, March 16

Was I Right?

As I suspected, Washington Post Managing Editor Philip Bennett was misquoted. Yong Tang repeatedly presses him on the question of whether America should be the leader of the world, and Bennett insists that he doesn't think in those terms, but when Yong Tang says, "First of all I think that America should be the leader," he says,
I don't think you could imagine a world where one country, where one group of people, lead everybody else. I just can't imagine that happening. And I think it would be unhealthy if one country - whether or not it was this country or China or France or Great Britain - would describe itself as the leader of the world. People in other countries do not want to be led by a foreign country....If we are headed into another period of imperialism where either the United States or China, for example, thinks of itself as the leader of its area and where it's interests should prevail over all others interests of its neighbor or others then I think we are headed for an unhappy period. So I guess that's how I would answer that question. Maybe the answer is then no I don't think the United States should be the world leader. But what I really mean to say that I don't think we are headed into a period of history where one country or one set of ideas is going to dominate all others.
Italics mine. So while the context was different, he did say it. But then so did Yong Tang.

Finally, is it disheartening that he wrote "it's interests"?

Tuesday, March 15

Forbidden Fruit

Maia Szalavitz writes,
A recent study conducted by Wake Forest University researchers as part of the National Evaluation of the Enforcing Underage Drinking Laws Program, found in fact, that kids who drink with their parents at home are less likely to binge drink with peers. That same study also showed that parents who throw parties for teens which involve drinking have teens who drink more—but this is in the context of such parties being illegal, suggesting that those who do so under these circumstances may not be representative of those who would where a risk reduction approach was encouraged.
More details: shows that teens are more likely to binge drink if their parents or friends' parents provide alcohol at their home for a party...

...respondents who drank with their parents were about half as likely to indicate that they had drunk alcohol in the last 30 days and about one-third as likely to binge drink. "It appears that parents who model responsible drinking behaviors have the potential to teach their children the same," [Kristie Foley, Ph.D., a researcher at Wake Forest Baptist and the principal investigator of the study] said. "We did not investigate the context in which the alcohol was provided, for example, as part of a religious service or at a one-time celebration, but it appears that once something is not taboo in a household it reduces the likelihood that it will be abused. We need to do follow up studies to explore this issue further."

No One Can Speak English Anymore

At least the reporter below, and me; I just realized we should have said "apocalyptic" instead of "end-time".

Taiwan Unites in Censure of China's Anti-Secession Law (

Taiwan Unites in Censure of China's Anti-Secession Law by Tim Culpan and Philip P. Pan:
The law does not set a deadline for unification and describes only vaguely what would trigger an attack.

It also refrains from repeating Beijing's long-standing demand that Taiwan must first acknowledge that the island and the mainland are part of "one China" before formal cross-strait talks can resume -- a demand that has stalled negotiations for years. In addition, the law does not define Beijing as the sole legitimate government of "one China," leaving open the possibility of talks on some type of federation in which Beijing and Taipei would be equal partners.

But it was Article 8 of the law, which states that China "shall employ non-peaceful means" if Taiwan moves toward formal independence, that captured the attention of residents here and appeared to bridge deep political divisions in Taiwan. An opinion poll conducted last week found that 93 percent of the public opposed China's threat, 84 percent rejected the law's claim that Taiwan is part of China and 56 percent believed Taiwan should respond by increasing defense spending.
Pretty clever to unite the Taiwanese against you. However, even though 84% "rejected the law's claim that Taiwan is part of China", Annie Huang writes, Taiwan Love Story Trumps Chinese Threats:
Images of Chinese lawmakers passing a law that authorizes an attack on Taiwan dominated the island's TV news Monday morning. But by evening, the scare from Beijing got bumped by a story about Taiwan's richest man losing his wife to breast cancer.

On an island that has lived with its communist neighbor's threats for five decades, the latest one didn't cause much panic, and many - including investors on the jittery stock market - didn't seem too worried. At the end of the day, the computer parts tycoon's devotion to his dead wife trumped Beijing's latest bluster...

The Chinese law sparked only a small protest of about 30 people - mostly pro-independence lawmakers - who burned the Chinese flag and chanted anti-Beijing slogans.

Taiwanese officials usually try to seize on China's bursts of bellicosity to gain sympathy from the world. The island likes to portray itself as the model global citizen - an underdog capitalist, free-trading democracy threatened by an authoritarian behemoth.

But that same communist monster happens to be Taiwan's biggest market for investment. That's one of the ironies of the Taiwan-China feud: While political tensions simmer, business ties boom...

This mutual reliance that leads many to believe a war will never happen.
Well, I hope so.

Monday, March 14

Last Resort

I should make note of the fact that China Puts Threat to Taiwan Into Law: Move Could Reverse Recent Warming in Cross-Strait Relations by Philip P. Pan.
[Premier Wen Jiabao] compared the law to anti-secession resolutions passed by the U.S. Congress before the Civil War and said military action would be a last resort.
Oh, that's OK, then.

No Other Life

Then again (with reference to the previous post), when Brian Nichols held Ashley Smith hostage, her faith helped her convince him that she was an angel sent from God, and that he was her brother in Christ. What'll I tell the person who takes me hostage? That, as Brian Moore wrote, there is No Other Life?

Bang! That's all, folks.

The title of Brian Moore's novel refers to the priest whose mother, on her deathbed, tells him something like, "there is no other life" and tells him to leave the priesthood. Now I'm wondering if that's a reference to Thoreau's
Take time by the forelock. Now or never. You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, and find eternity in every moment. Fools stand on their island opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this, or the like of this.
I didn't much like the rest of the novel, but I found this scene quite powerful.

Osama is going to get jealous

Churchgoer Who Killed 7 Was About to Lose Job by Peter Slevin. At this rate, Osama is going to get jealous that we're getting all the publicity for killing each other. I wonder if this guy gets the 72 black-eyed virgins or black-eyed peas or whatever it is you're supposed to get.

Snarky comments aside, and despite my personal hostility to religion, I wonder if it's really fair to characterize this guy primarily as a "Churchgoer":
Witnesses told detectives that Ratzmann, 44, a computer technician, was losing his job and that a recent prophesy of doom by a church elder may have upset him.

Church members said Ratzmann had walked out on a taped sermon by the national leader of the church. In a message two weeks ago, Roderick C. Meredith wrote his worshipers to prepare for calamity....
So it's not so much that he was a church-goer but the "end-time" church that he went to. Roderick C. Meredith wrote:
Events prophesied in your Bible are now beginning to occur with increasing frequency. In this Work of the living God, we are able to warn you about what is going to happen soon. We are not talking about decades in the future. We are talking about Bible prophecies that will intensify within the next five to 15 years of your life!
Please understand. We are not "scaremongers." We love our fellow man. So it is our responsibility to warn our peoples—ahead of time—to prepare for the future. Most of our advice is spiritual in nature. However, in this editorial I want to give you some common sense advice involving your physical survival and your financial well-being.
Even so, the sermon says nothing about shooting your fellow parishoners. In fact, it just gives advice on how to prepare onself:
Do we have at least a week’s supply of emergency food and water, flashlight batteries, a first-aid kit, a battery-powered radio, prescription medications and other essential items? Have we read the instructions from our nation or region about how to prepare for such emergencies as hurricanes, earthquakes or terrorists attacks?
I also want to strongly encourage our subscribers—especially the Americans—to prepare for a financial emergency that may strike our nation within a very few years.
And plenty of that advice is unexceptionable:
A first priority would be to pay off all credit card debts—and all other debts we possibly can. We should also have at least the equivalent of 60 days’ living expenses in case of a sudden breakdown in the banking system or a similar emergency. Also, we should gradually work out a family budget that allows us, over time, to set aside financial resources to carry us through a year or more in case of job loss, catastrophic health situation, etc.
As he says, it's mostly "common sense advice". Even if one doesn't believe in God, much less the end time, it's pretty good advice. Which is not to say that he doesn't offer religious advice as well:
Finally, we should not leave God out of the picture...
Still, while I don't see how one can hold the preacher to blame for this guy's actions, this is further evidence that religion isn't necessarily an innoculation against evil.

A "Dictator Communist" Regime Without Democracy And Freedom

From an article headlined "I don't think US should be the leader of the world"
Yong Tang: The Washington Post often describes China as a dictator communist regime without democracy and freedom. Why is the newspaper so fond of playing with such negative words?

Bennett: I disagree with that. First of all, Neither The Washington Post, nor the New York Times, nor any other big newspapers, refer to China today as a dictatorship regime. We don't use these words on the paper any more. Now we say China is a communist country only because it is a fact. China is ruled by the Communist party.
This is crazy. I suspect Mr. Bennett has been misquoted, or maybe he doesn't read his own newspaper. See Backward in China, an editorial that appeared December 20, 2004
FOR TWO YEARS the outside world has speculated about where Chinese President Hu Jintao would lead his country once he and his team consolidated their hold on power. The answer got clearer last week when his police knocked on the doors of three leading intellectuals who have criticized the government or advocated democratic change. The detentions of Yu Jie, Zhang Zuhua and Liu Xiaobo confirmed the launch of a crackdown on dissent that includes greater censorship of the press and a new campaign by the Communist Party to tighten discipline in its ranks. Rather than dismantle the creaky political dictatorship that governs China's increasingly modern economy, Mr. Hu is headed in the opposite direction.
In China's Donkey Droppings, which appeared December 1, 2004, Nicholas D. Kristof wrote, "I love China, and I share its officials' distaste for those who harm it. That's why I'm angry that hard-liners in Beijing are presenting China to the world as repressive, fragile, tyrannical and backward."

Of course these are opinion pieces, which Bennett could argue are different. However, I suspect the Chinese don't see any difference. Anyway, why does Yong Tang call these "negative words"? Doesn't he like Mao Zedong?
"You are dictatorial." My dear sirs, you are right, that is just what we are. All the experience the Chinese people have accumulated through several decades teaches us to enforce the people's democratic dictatorship, that is, to deprive the reactionaries of the right to speak and let the people alone have that right.

Who are the people? At the present stage in China, they are the working class, the peasantry, the urban petty bourgeoisie and the national bourgeoisie. These classes, led by the working class and the Communist Party, unite to form their own state and elect their own government; they enforce their dictatorship over the running dogs of imperialism -- the landlord class and bureaucrat-bourgeoisie, as well as the representatives of those classes, the Kuomintang reactionaries and their accomplices -- suppress them, allow them only to behave themselves and not to be unruly in word or deed. If they speak or act in an unruly way, they will be promptly stopped and punished. Democracy is practiced within the ranks of the people, who enjoy the rights of freedom of speech, assembly, association and so on. The right to vote belongs only to the people, not to the reactionaries. The combination of these two aspects, democracy for the people and dictatorship over the reactionaries, is the people's democratic dictatorship.
And as for whether Bennett actually said the words attributed to him, "I don't think US should be the leader of the world," who knows?

The Crack Cocaine of Personal Finance

(Thanks to Radley Balko for the metaphor). I'm sympathetic to the libertarian position that generally speaking, the less the government interferes in our lives and in the economy the better. If prohibition against alcohol didn't work, why should prohibition against illegal substances be expected to work? Why is it OK to take risks physically on skateboards, or spend one's entire life reading some book (either the Bible or the one I'm reading) , which may seem a waste to those who don't share one's interest? And why not make inhalants illegal? Oh, yeah, we want them for something else. But then even if drugs were only decriminalized and not actually legalized, a lot more people would be able to hurt themselves with them. So maybe it's not such a good idea. But then what is the libertarian insistence on keeping it easy to buy guns? Since they're dangerous weapons, shouldn't access be restricted?

Now instapundit is inveighing against the bankruptcy bill, which seems to me be inconsistent with his stand against gun control. He thinks people are smart enough to use guns safely, but not smart enough to handle their money.

(BTW, Jane Galt has some interesting things to say about this.) Yes, the credit card companies are out to make money. Big surprise! Maybe people should read the contracts before they sign them. In fact, generally speaking one should only use a credit card as a convenience, to avoid having to carry around a wad of cash, or in cases like renting a car, where they need some kind of security. Then when the credit card bill comes in, pay it off in full. I can't believe how many people are unable to defer spending and so enrich the credit card companies. If you don't truly need something now, don't buy it. Then the anti-bankruptcy people say that bankruptcy befalls those who fall into some financial catastrophe. I suspect many of them haven't saved any money, because they're spending too much.

So much of what people consider necessities aren't really necessary. Like this so-called extreme saver (via The Budgeting Babe) who can do without cable but not without DISH.

At least he can afford it. In the October 25, 2004 New Yorker (the same one I mentioned earlier), I also read "Not Poor Enough; Cassie Stromer's old age", an article by Susan Sheehan about a seventy-six-year-old woman who was having trouble making ends meet, and yet spends $45 a month for her cable TV. The writer feels a need to explain this:
Television is Cassie's primary form of recreation: she watches several daytime soaps, listens to the news, sometimes looks at the country-music channel, and in the evening watches one or two favorite shows, like "NYPD Blue" or "Law & Order."
Most of those are available without cable. She could save quite a bit by just choosing from whatever's on broadcast TV, and maybe reading the occasional book.

By the way, I don't even subscribe to the New Yorker; I've got too much to do, and anyway, it's available in the library.

How Long?

I brought home for repotting a number of African violets that had gotten very long necks, and were starting to bend over. In a fit of absent-mindedness I left three of them in the basement (without light or water) for several (three?) weeks. When I finally discovered them last week while I was making preparations to propogate some Gloxinia, the soil was dry, but they looked OK. Probably at least partly because my wife keeps the heat fairly low during the day to keep herself from drying out.
These are doubles. Mine are supposed to be, but I haven't seen them bloom yet. (Click for big pic)
These are singles. Not bad looking either.

Classical Muzak

Update about music (via Tim Cavanaugh): In subscriber-only Missing Pieces, Stephen Budiansky cites Dan DeVany, the general manager of WETA
While insisting that there is no "rigid code" at WETA on what not to play, DeVany acknowledged that he was influenced by the general results of industry surveys in which listeners were played various snippets of music and asked to rate how "positive" or "negative" an "experience" each was. Vocal music was consistently a big negative. So was most chamber music. DeVany believes that's because chamber music "is an extremely intense musical experience." He explained, "In some cases, when you're doing other things, it demands attention, and that may become an irritant--just by the nature of the instrumentation."
And Jim Allison, the WGMS program director says, "Organ is a radio turnoff, big time."

I've got to admit that aside from choral music, I don't like most classical vocals. I just can't stand the vibrato. On the other hand, I'm quite fond of chamber music, which makes me pretty eccentric. As for organ music, I love it, but I demand a decent system to deliver the bass. (And not just classical; the Hammond B-3 is nice, too.)

Saturday, March 12

Whole Wheat Pita

You may notice that these recipes are not 100% whole wheat; that's because whole wheat has less gluten and the texture isn't as pleasant for most people. (Some recommend adding gluten, but it doesn't seem to make much of a difference to me.) The only whole wheat yeast breads I make regularly are this one and the following one.

This is from Julia Child's Baking with Julia via emeril:
Whole Wheat Pita Bread
  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 2 1/2 cups tepid water
  • 2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • Stir yeast and water together in large bowl. Using a wooden spoon and stirring in one direction, stir in the whole wheat flour about a cup at a time; then stir 100 times, or until mixture looks smooth. Cover the sponge with plastic wrap for at least 30 minutes or up to 8 hours (longer resting is better) in a cool place. A rest will give it a fuller flavor.
  • Sprinkle the salt over the sponge and then stir in the olive oil, mixing well, again stirring in the same direction. Add the all-purpose flour (or the rest of the whole wheat flour) a cup at a time, mixing until the dough is too stiff to stir with the spoon. Turn dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead it mixing until smooth and elastic, 8 to 10 minutes. The dough will be moderately firm and have a slight sheen.
  • Clean the mixing bowl, dry it, and coat it lightly with oil. Transfer the dough to the bowl and turn the dough around to oil its surface and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours, or until double in bulk.
  • (You can make the dough ahead to this point (or proceed with half a recipe) and keep it refrigerated for up to a week. Pack dough in a plastic bag at least three times as big as the dough, seal. Bring to room temperature when ready to bake.)
  • Deflate the dough by kneading it briefly. Cut dough into desired-size pieces and shape each into a ball. On a lightly floured work surface, press down with fingers, then with rolling pin, roll dough from center out to about 1/4-inch thick. Bake in preheated oven 450 degrees for 3 to 5 minutes. Makes about 1 dozen or more -- depending on size of each pita.
    Per serving: 209 calories; 2 g fat (0.3 g saturated fat; 9 percent calories from fat); 42 g carbohydrates; 0 mg cholesterol; 196 mg sodium; 7 g protein; 4 g fiber.

    I cook these on my unglazed tiles (see the baguette entry below).

    Once in a great while I have tried cooking a single one of these in the morning, then for lunch I have them with:
    Black Bean Hummus & Carrot Slaw
    • 2 cans (about 15 oz./425 g each) black beans, drained and rinsed well (or boil the beans yourself)
    • chopped salted roasted almonds to taste
    • vinegar to taste
    • garlic, minced or pressed
    • ground cumin to taste
    • Combine these ingredients and mash with a potato masher or fork until hummus has a spreadable consistency.
    • Combine:
    • shredded carrots
    • crushed red pepper flakes
    • vinegar and oil
    Serve together on pita.

    Whole Wheat Breads

    The trouble with baguettes (see here and follow the links) is they take such a long time (I start mine Saturday mornings and don't get to eat until Sunday noon at the earliest) and the need for special equipment. A baking stone is expensive, but you can get unglazed quarry tiles at a home improvement/building supply store. A (perforated) baguette pan or mold is another question. Mine was a gift. All I can say is you don't need a very big one unless you're running a restaurant.

    Thursday, March 10

    Whole Wheat Banana Bread

    Here's another whole wheat breakfast bread recipe. This is adapted from the Banana-Raisin Whole Wheat Bread recipe on the Gold Medal whole wheat flour bread (which is apparently not available on their website):
    • 2 cups whole wheat flour
    • 1/2 cup wheat germ
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 2 eggs
    • 1 1/4 cups packed brown sugar or 1/3 cup molasses (or just leave out the added sugar)
    • 2/3 cup plain nonfat yogurt
    • 1/3 cup oil
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla
    • 1 1/2 cups mashed bananas
    • 1 cup chopped prunes (or raisins)
    • 1 cup walnuts
    • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
    • Mix the dry ingredients
    • Beat the eggs, then whisk in the sugar, yogurt, oil, vanilla, the bananas and the prunes
    • Mix the dry and wet ingredients
    • Add the chopped nuts
    • Bake 1 1/4 hour to 1 1/2 hours
    This is the one that stuck to the Crofton unglazed stoneware. I bought the pan because it seemed better, but I think it's mostly better for things one eats fresh, and I bake these "quick breads" Sunday and don't start eating them until the next day.

    Wednesday, March 9

    Less Noise, Please

    In subscription-only Twilight of the yobs How classical music helps keep order:
    The question of how to control yobbish behaviour troubles many. One increasingly popular solution is classical music, which is apparently painful to teenage ears.

    The most extensive use of aural policing so far...has been in underground stations. Six stops on the Tyneside Metro currently pump out Haydn and Mozart to deter vandals and loiterers, and the scheme has been so successful that it has spawned imitators. After a pilot at Elm Park station on the London Underground, classical music now fills 30 other stations on the network. The most effective deterrents, according to a spokesman for Transport for London, are anything sung by Pavarotti or written by Mozart.

    When selecting a record to drive people away, the key factor, according to Adrian North, a psychologist at Leicester University who researches links between music and behaviour, is its unfamiliarity. When the targets are unused to strings and woodwind, Mozart will be sufficient. But for the more musically literate vandal, an atonal barrage probably works better. Mr North tried tormenting Leicester's students with what he describes as "computer-game music" in the union bar. It cleared the place.

    If, however, the aim is not to disperse people but to calm them down, anything unfamiliar or challenging is probably best avoided. At the Royal Bolton Hospital, staff have begun playing classical music in the accident and emergency (A&E) ward, as well as in the eye ward and the main reception area. Janet Hackin, a matron in the A&E ward, says that patients do appear calmer, "rather than running around anxious and bleeding all over the place".
    Early this year I spent some time in airport waiting areas and a hotel lobby. Most of the music was to my ears overly loud execreable pop. Maybe it was too unfamiliar to me, but I would have preferred hearing nothing at all. I was going to say classical music, but the kind of classical muzak people play is tinkly Hadyn, which isn't any better than pop crap as far as I'm concerned.

    Nuts and Twigs

    Bonnie asks for more of my whole wheat breakfast bread recipes. This is from the old edition of the Joy of Cooking. Warning: it's pretty fibrous (to my Chinese relations I call it 樹皮蛋糕, or tree bark cake).

    Quick Bran Date Bread
    • 2 cups chopped dates
    • 2 cups boiling water
    • 2 eggs
    • 3/4 cup brown sugar or 1/2 cup molasses (I omit this; see below)
    • 1 cup whole-grain flour
    • 2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1 cup whole-grain flour
    • 2 cups bran
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla
    • 1 cup or less chopped nutmeats
    • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
    • Prepare dates.
    • Pour boiling water over them.
    • In a separate bowl, beat eggs until light.
    • Add brown sugar or molasses slowly, beating constantly.
    • When these ingredients are creamy, add half the cooled date mixture
    • Add 1 cup flour, baking powder and baking soda.
    • Add the remaining date mixture
    • Add 1 cup flour, bran and vanilla.
    • Add the nutmeats.
    • Place the dough in lightly greased loaf pans.
    • Bake 1 hour to 1/2 hours.
    Two cups of dates seems almost as sweet as two cups of sugar, and I don't feel it needs to be any sweeter.

    Who Speaks for the Consumer?

    In ADAM DAVIDSON's Manufacturing Lobbyists Make Their Cases on the Hill, he reports that larger companies typically want Congress to promote free trade as aggressively as possible, but smaller companies are much less enthusiastic. Penn United, one of the smaller companies, recently learned that one of his longest customers to the Chinese. DAVIDSON reports:
    Penn United makes precision dies. In the US, a die costs between $40 and $100,000. Chinese companies make them for a fifth that much. So Purcell's customers keep telling him they're buying dies overseas....

    Penn United has become a leading advocate within [the National Association of Manufacturers] for tougher enforcement of trade law and for a moratorium on all new free trade agreements. But it would be a mistake to assume that this is the position of all NAM members. Take Steve Lammers(ph), who runs Panasonic's picture tube factory in Ohio. The last thing he wants is stricter trade enforcement. Lammers' factory imports a great amount of specialty glass from Japan, the only country that makes the kind of glass he needs. Every year Panasonic pays $5 million in tariffs to the US government for that glass. Lammers says these tariffs restrict free trade and make it difficult to keep a factory and hundreds of jobs in the US, when he's competing with companies who have moved abroad, where labor is so much cheaper....

    This split between large and small manufacturers, between free trade absolutists and those who worry that trade will do them in, has been brewing for years.
    "Free trade absolutists"? That's a little harsh. Admittedly the report is about manfucturers, but all too often, no one speaks for the consumers. Why should consumers be forced to pay higher prices to prop up companies like Penn United?

    Tuesday, March 8

    Like a Dime Novel--or Pulp Fiction?

    KEITH BRADSHER writes, Taiwan Police Say Who Shot President, but Suspect Is Dead
    Spinning the sort of story once found in dime store novels, the police said in Taipei that a middle-aged man had carried out the shooting on March 19 because he was depressed about difficulties in selling a house and blamed the president's management of Taiwan's struggling economy.
    By "dime store novels" he must mean dime novel, which refers to a "melodramatic novel of romance or adventure", a genre the Cambridge history of English and American literature describes as written by "fertile hacks":
    Cheap, conventional, hasty...they were exciting, innocent enough, and scrupulously devoted to the doctrines of poetic justice, but they lacked all distinction....
    And "spinning"? Together with "dime store novels", this suggests he shares the opposition's skepticism. As Channel NewsAsia's Taiwan Bureau Chief Young Ming writes, "the latest finding remains highly controversial."

    The Taiwan government doesn't like the tone. Taiwan government angry over Times report language:
    Taiwan may seek an apology from the New York Times over an article about the investigation into the shooting of president Chen last March. Reports say the government is furious over the language used by a Times reporter in describing the police findings in the case. Times reporter called the findings "the sort of story once spun in dime store novels." Premier Frank Hsieh frowned at the report, accusing the Times of not knowing the full picture.
    Meanwhile, the International Herald Tribune version rephrases Bradsher's article, reading,
    Presenting a sequence of events worthy of a pulp crime novel, the police in Taipei said that a balding man, Chen Yi-hsiung, had carried out the shooting because he had been depressed about difficulties in selling a house and blamed the president's management of Taiwan's struggling economy. While the police did not give his age, Taiwanese media reported that he was 63.
    陳義雄's being bald is significant:
    The police said that the alleged assailant, who was not related to the president, was the mysterious balding man in a yellow jacket who could be seen in a video taped at the time of the attack. While the video did not show anyone firing shots, the police released the video several days after the attack and asked the public's help in identifying the man.
    The omission of "spinning" doesn't seem quite so critical of the police, but pulp still seems a little strong, unless one presents the other dubious circumstances surrounding the shooting. As for "dime novel", it sounds awfully old-fashioned (and "dime store novel" is just plain wrong), so if you're going to go that direction, I agree with the "pulp" designation, although it has a lot of unfortunate cinematic associations.

    Sunday, March 6

    Grease It

    Ramit Sethi writes
    Cost of eating out:

    Lunch: ($8.00/day) = $56.00/week
    Dinner: ($12.00/day) = $84.00/week

    Lunch: $2,680/year (365 minus 30 days of not eating out)
    Dinner: $4,020/year
    Total: $6,700.00/year GOOD GOD
    Yeah, I know. I bring my breakfast and lunch to school. My lunch is usually a sandwich, and for breakfast I typically bring something I've baked over the weekend. Today I baked whole wheat banana bread in a Crofton unglazed stoneware loaf pan that I got at Aldi. I didn't grease it and the bread stuck to the pan and broke into pieces when I tried to take it out. O the shame.

    I bake breakfast myself mostly because there's nothing similar available locally that's whole wheat, but it does save money.

    Right and Left together

    Joe Kaplinsky's Creationism, pluralism and the compromising of science:
    It is important to understand what is behind the recent attacks on evolution, and to keep the supposed rise of the Christian right in perspective. The recent attacks on evolution have been coordinated by a small group of well-organised and moderately well-funded Christians, whose 'wedge' strategy sees questioning of evolution as the first step on the road to a theocratic society.

    But in historical terms creationism is weaker than ever before. Christianity has long been a powerful force in US culture. It is hard to make the case that it exists today in a more fundamentalist, or a more right-wing, politically influential, form. The intelligent design activists play off widespread Christian faith, but they also play off a wider culture that is sceptical of the claims of science.

    It is here that the broader political discussion among liberals is profoundly misguided. Unlike many scientists who have engaged in a defence of evolution, many liberals have adopted a contemptuous caricature of the Christian 'Bush voter'. The Village Voice demonstrated its superior understanding of human evolution in a cartoon captioned Gap-toothed, missing link Troglodytes delighted by presidential election outcome. Less crudely, the idea of a division between religious 'Red' and rational 'Blue' states has become fixed as an excuse for failing to develop convincing political arguments.

    But even on a seemingly clear-cut issue such as creationism, the division is not so sharp. Liberals have often been at the forefront of questioning the authority of science. It is liberals who have argued that science education should respect cultural differences and that the curriculum should be immediately relevant to everyday life of students. Creationists have leapt at the opportunity presented by educational theories to put the knowledge of pupils on the same level as that as scientists, by putting forward the demand to 'teach the controversy'.

    Christian fundamentalism is a small part of the problem. It is far weaker than many fear...

    It is true that Christian fundamentalism has had a big impact on the use of language and, for example, acceptable depictions of family life. But more important is the framework that has been developed to justify the censorship system. This system is a product, if not exactly of the left, of the multicultural-feminist mainstream that is not often associated with the Christian right.

    References to dinosaurs are eliminated from school texts not because they offend against the truth of the Bible, but rather in the same way that owls are eliminated on the basis that they may upset Navajo children in whose culture owls are taboo. According to bias guidelines collected by [Diane Ravitch], all religions are to be treated equally: 'no religious practice or belief is characterised as strange or peculiar, or sophisticated or primitive.' Other guidelines ban the use of words 'heathen' and 'pagan', while reserving the use of the term 'myth' to refer to ancient Greek or Roman stories. The Educational Testing Service, meanwhile, treats as 'ethnocentric' any test that focuses exclusively on 'Judeo-Christian' contributions to literature of art.

    This relativistic approach to knowledge and truth is the outcome the culture wars that began in the 1960s and 1970s. It is sensitive to the risks associated with experimentation. It is fragmented, allowing everyone their own interpretation of truth. It labels people as members of groups, but on the basis of shared history rather than collective endeavour. The individual for whom it demands respect is intensely vulnerable, so that respect becomes interpreted as protection from offence or harassment.

    So while Christian fundamentalism can have a censorious impact on education, this does not reflect the strength of fundamentalism as such. It reflects the weakness of the secular, scientific belief system in our present culture...

    Liberals who bemoan influence of Christian fundamentalism often point to the popularity of the Left Behind novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. But at least as indicative of today's climate is the runaway success of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, whose plot is premised on a 2000-year cover up by the Catholic Church of Christ's true message, designed to repress women and the free expression of sexuality. The force of the sentiments expressed in Brown's novel is confirmed by the recent collapse of respect for the Church amidst an all-too-real child abuse scandal.

    It is suspicion of all groups who claim authority rather than excessive respect for religion that drives hostility to science. As Thomas Frank perceptively points out in his book What's the Matter with [Kansas]?, 'The real subject of the conservative anti-evolution literature is the "experts" on the other side of the battlefield and, more important, their expertise. "Should we 'leave it to the experts?'' asks the Kansas Tornado. Obviously we should not.'...

    The connection here to the culture surrounding alternative medicine, or those parts of the environmental movement whose distrust of big business and government becomes focused around the idea of a scientific establishment that is covering up the evidence, is clearer than a connection to old-fashioned Christianity.

    Frank draws attention to the way that the Republicans have associated themselves with the politics of anti-elitism. But he misses the way that the theme of anti-intellectualism on the American right has drawn vigour from the critique of expertise developed since the 1960s by their opponents in the culture wars. It was radicals who pioneered the idea that children should educate the teachers, that doctors were no more expert than their patients, and that claims to expertise generally were little more than an excuse to assert power by marginalising the voice of the victim. In this picture scientists are not disinterested investigators of the truth so much as spin doctors for their paymasters in business or government. It is the coming together of these two strands from left and right that represents the real danger for science....
    (via Butterflies and wheels; emphasis mine.) For Diane Ravitch, see also this. I can't say I'm happy to see the left and the right coming together this way. My expectations of the religious right are so low the best I expect from them is to leave me alone. But I'm particularly annoyed by the holier-than-thou attitude adopted by the left, who I would have thought would have known better. But everyone thinks there's a mote in the other guy's eye.

    Friday, March 4

    Trophies Just for Existing

    In When Every Child Is Good Enough, JOHN TIERNEY quoted Brad Bird, the writer and director of "The Incredibles" saying
    "Wrong-headed liberalism seeks to give trophies to everyone just for existing," he said. "It seems to render achievement meaningless. That's a weird goal."

    He sounded very much like Professor Colangelo, who says that children want to compete and can cope with defeat a lot better than adults imagine. "Life hurts your feelings," Mr. Bird said. "I think people whine about stuff too much. C'mon, man, just get up and do it."
    That said, where do I pick up my trophy for just existing?

    NYPL Digital Gallery

    The NYPL Digital Gallery looks good.

    You Wish!

    Chinese Censors and Web Users Match WitsBy Howard W. French:
    "All of the big mistakes made in China since 1949 have had to do with a lack of information," said Guo Liang, an Internet expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing. "Lower levels of government have come to understand this, and I believe that since the SARS epidemic, upper levels may be beginning to understand this, too."
    "May be"? Likely story.

    Thursday, March 3


    In The New Yorker of October 25, 2004, Larissa Macfarquhar (Yes, that Larissa Macfarquhar) wrote "A DRY SOUL IS BEST; Friendship, espionage, and the plays of Michael Frayn":
    Some years ago, when "Noises Off" was running on Broadway, The Atlantic Monthly published a piece that concluded that Frayn's was the only play in town that was not, as the writer put it, trying to give the audience a "hotfoot." All the others were trying to make audience members feel that they weren't sufficiently guilty, or weren't sufficiently aware of some social problem.
    I can't find the original citation, but I like how that summarizes a lot of art that intellectuals claim to like.

    She also quoted him on how he felt after having fallen in love with a woman not his wife:
    "There's a bit in 'Three Sisters' when Masha says, 'You read about love in books and you think you know what it's all about, and then it happens to you and you realize you hadn't understood anything about it at all up to that point,'" he says, when asked about this moment in his life. "Yes. It's very shattering. Anyway."
    So, you see, imagining what it's like isn't always so easy.

    Wednesday, March 2

    Imagine What It Is Like

    Emma Dunham Kelley-Hawkins, a late nineteenth century writer, got a lot of attention because she was identified as African-American, but now turns out to have been white. Timothy Burke noted is far more possible for people to empathetically and intellectually understand the experiences of others than our received wisdom about race, gender and other identities assumes, that a white American through intellect, will and emotional insight can credibly imagine what it is like to be a black American, that a woman can credibly imagine what it is like to be male, and so on. The govering metaphor I like to apply to this capacity is one of translation: that we can translate the experiences of others, sometimes through impersonation, sometimes just through intellectual inquiry.
    Sometimes, anyway. Me, I can't even imagine what it's like to be another human.

    Earlier, Crooked Timber invoked Borges’ Tlön, where critics
    often invent authors: they select two dissimilar works - the Tao Te Ching and the 1001 Nights, say - attribute them to the same writer and then determine most scrupulously the psychology of this interesting homme de lettres...
    It sounds all too much like a lot of literary criticism, which tells you more about the person writing it than what they're discussing.

    Workers Riot to Work More

    Some rather old news:
    Taiwanese factories in Dongguan [a city between Hong Kong and Guangzhou and a major centre of manufacturing] are facing a problem. According to a news report in the United Daily in Taiwan, over a thousand workers at a factory, which produces goods for big brand names such as Nike, demonstrated for two days and damaged equipment and factory cars. 500 armed police arrived and quashed the riot. Several leaders were arrested.

    The main cause for the riot was the limitation on working hours at the factory. The shorter hours have been requested by US companies so as to avoid criticism from various groups on long working hours. However, the mainly migrant workforce want to work longer hours so they can earn more. Consensus had been reached by the US companies, the Taiwanese-invested factory and local government that the maximum working hours per week should be set at 60 hours [which is still a breach of Chinese Labour Law, but less than other manufacturing plants]. However, this reduction in hours was unsatisfactory for the workers and the resulting riot was serious.

    Bangladesh's Cheap Labor

    According to Andrew Tsuei, Wal-Mart's vice president for global purchasing, "Bangladesh is very competitive because the labor cost in Bangladesh is only half of what China is, and maybe less than that." (cited in Bangladesh’s Ambivalent Relations with the PRC; originally from Competition Means Learning to Offer More Than Just Low Wages)