Saturday, April 30

I view religion as a personal matter

I didn't feel like watching Bush's news conference the other day, but I was impressed by what he said about religion, which a lot of the print media didn't have much to say about.
Q: Mr. President, recently the head of the Family Research Council said that judicial filibusters are an attack against people of faith. And I wonder whether you believe that, in fact, that is what is nominating Democrats who oppose your judicial choices. And I wonder what you think, generally, about the role that faith is playing, how it's being used in our political debates right now.

BUSH: I think people are opposing my nominees because they don't like the judicial philosophy of the people I've nominated. And some would like to see judges legislate from the bench. That's not my view of the proper role of a judge.

Speaking about judges, I certainly hope my nominees get an up-or- down vote on the floor of the Senate.

They deserve an up-or-down vote.

I think, for the sake of fairness, these good people I've nominated should get a vote. And I'm hoping that will be the case as time goes on.

Role of religion in our society? I view religion as a personal matter. I think a person ought to be judged on how he or she lives his life or lives her life.

And that's how I've tried to live my life: through example.

Faith plays an important part in my life individually. But I don't ascribe a person's opposing my nominations to an issue of faith.

Q: Do you think that's an inappropriate statement? And what I ask is ...

BUSH: No, I just don't agree with it.

Q: You don't agree with it?

BUSH: No. I think people oppose my nominees because of judicial philosophy.

Q: Sir, I asked you about what you think of ...

BUSH: No, I know what you asked me.

Q: ... the way faith is being used in our political debates, not just in society generally.

BUSH: Well, I can only speak to myself. And I am mindful that people in political office should say to somebody, You're not equally American if you don't happen to agree with my view of religion.

As I said, I think faith is a personal issue. And I take great strength from my faith. But I don't condemn somebody in the political process because they may not agree with me on religion.

The great thing about America is that you should be allowed to worship any way you want. And if you chose not to worship, you're equally as patriotic as somebody who does worship. And if you choose to worship, you're equally American if you're a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim.
Absolutely. I suspect we won't hear much about this from the Bush haters. It's true he may say something else to the religious rightists, but the fact that he said this at all is quite something.

Bush Plan Aims to Get Americans Off the Government Dole

Meanwhile, I found a link to the LA Times titled "Bush Plan Aims to Get Americans Off the Government Dole", but the online article has been retitled Bush Plan Aids Poor, Squeezes the Rest. Indeed, as Peter G. Gosselin writes,
"What you're going to see is an effort to scale back middle-class entitlements that many people do not need and to become more focused on the antipoverty aspects of these programs," said Michael Tanner, an expert on Social Security at the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank that advocates small government.
Meanwhile, at the New York Times (which in one place at least did not show all his remarks on religion), they really believe that everyone deserves social security. President's Big Social Security Gamble By RICHARD W. STEVENSON cites a couple:
"It's like throwing a drowning man a lead weight instead of a life preserver," Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster, said of Mr. Bush's decision to introduce benefit cuts into the equation. "He's got a plan that neither the public nor his own party can support. Only good can come from Democrats' defending the right of the middle class to continue getting their benefits in full."...

"This would represent a major change in the philosophy of Social Security," said Jason Furman, an economist at New York University and a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal research group. "If you combine progressive indexing with private accounts, you could threaten to unravel the entire Social Security system."
See also Speech Gives Republicans Lift in Social Security Fight By ROBIN TONER and ELISABETH BUMILLER:
Democrats asserted it would amount to deep cuts in benefits for most retirees and transform Social Security from a broad middle-class entitlement to a program aimed at the poor. AARP, the powerful lobby for older Americans, also dismissed the latest Bush proposal, with John C. Rother, policy director for the group, describing it as "an unnecessary and unfair benefit cut for the middle class."

Friday, April 29

Epiphyllum (曇花)



Glenn's Epi page has more info & pics. I mention this because the expression 曇花一現 (signifying "a rare and brief appearance", after the brevity of the blooms) came up.

Fake Bibles

Ripping Off Good Reads in China: In the land of bootleg merchandise, fake management books by fake authors flourish.
The five-volume "Executive Ability" book series is a classic in Chinese business and management circles. Collectively, it has sold more than 2 million copies in the last two years. Top universities and public libraries in China keep multiple copies on hand.

It's also a big fake.

The series purports to be a translation of English-language works, but no such titles exist. The principal author — a Paul Thomas, said to be an eminent Harvard University business professor — is not real. Also made up is the rave review on the back cover, attributed to the Wall Street Journal: "The most practical and advanced management thought of our time."

There are many more where these came from. China's booming economy has spawned a new class of private entrepreneurs, managers and students craving how-to books on management, particularly Western ones. But in a land where bootleg goods are widespread, fake books are no exception.

Although bogus books in China are not confined to business topics, they are particularly prevalent in that field, largely because most management volumes are translated and are in high demand. Management books are so popular that they take up huge sections in bookstores, often in the very front.

Previously, fake books simply were pirated copies of real versions, sold on the streets for a small fraction of bookstore prices. But these days, experts say, scores of business texts in Chinese bookstores make phony claims of origin or authorship. The contents of some are lifted right out of journals and magazines. Others overstate the number of volumes sold or gin up glowing reviews.

"There are [bogus] recommendations from Bill Gates, New York Times or even Einstein, which is really ridiculous," said Jiang Ruxiang, general manager of Beijing Zion Consulting Co., which has been trying to expose the problem ever since Jiang found out that his own articles were copied into someone else's book.

He and his staff of six recently inspected about 1,000 different management books. A third were deceiving readers, Jiang said.

"The most harmful influence of these books is that a large number of China's best entrepreneurs are learning wrong and misleading management principles," he said...
I'm not so sure; a lot of management books I've seen in the US are pretty ridiculous.
"Most people still believe books tell the truth," said Oliver Liu, legal counsel for Chinadotcom Corp., a software and mobile communications company based in Hong Kong...

Wang Zhe, who works for an investment banking firm in Shanghai, said he received a copy of "Executive Ability" for his birthday in November.

"It's a nice book," said Wang, who finished Volume 2 of the series in two weeks. He was hard-pressed to explain details of the 256-page book but said the overall point was that successful managers pay attention to details.

"Such a person doesn't exist?" he asked when told of the fabricated author. "I had no idea." A little incredulous, Wang added: "This was the No. 1 book one month…. A lot of people want to borrow it from me."

It's understandable why budding executives and entrepreneurs in China would be hungry for Western self-help books. China's market economy is relatively new, so there's a widespread perception that foreign books are superior.

"The Western books are more updated and will provide innovative ideas," said Shi Qi, 22, a business administration major at prestigious Fudan University in Shanghai. Told about fake books, Shi also was stunned.

"I would never believe it," he said, as he paused from browsing racks of management books at Shanghai Book City, one of the city's largest. "No one has told me that in bookstores we have fakes."

...Yu Shiwei, a renowned scholar and management consultant in Shanghai who has done postdoctoral work at Harvard and Oxford universities....is real, as are his credentials. But he is battling the ghost of Paul Thomas, the bogus author of "Executive Ability." The fictitious Thomas, after his name became famous, recommended another management book called "Ying Zai Zhi Xing," or "Execution Wins." The author of this book is said to be Yu Shiwei.

But, in fact, Yu never wrote that book, which became so popular that at the end of one of Yu's lectures, a student produced 10 copies of the fake book and asked for his signature.

"For sure, we were really furious about that," said Li Xiufang, an assistant to Yu. "But we also felt helpless and powerless about the situation…. Dr. Yu said these readers were innocent. So he went ahead and signed the books, without pointing out that they were fakes."
This is redolent of those so-called "holy" books supposed to be the word of God. But it works for some people.

Yao Ming--a "Migrant Worker"

Working-Class Hero? NBA Star Nets China's Proletarian Award By Ching-Ching Ni. Yao Ming himself says,
"Before, I thought model workers only recognized ordinary people who worked tirelessly and without asking for anything in return," the 24-year-old Yao said through his agent. "Now the award also includes someone like me, a special kind of migrant worker. That's a sign of progress."

Some Chinese say the party should extol the success of socialist heroes, as it did before...

But for Communists hoping to generate interest in a contest that many call a relic of a bygone era, no one is a better pitchman than Yao.

In nominating him for the proletariat hall of fame, the Shanghai municipal government argued that its native son was the slam-dunk symbol of a new China.

To many of his fans, the "Little Giant," as Yao is affectionately known here, is a patriotic poster child. As a condition for joining the NBA, he was required to give half his NBA salary to Chinese sports authorities. It is unclear how much they will take from the $70 million in endorsement fees he is expected to receive over the next 10 years from such corporations as McDonald's, Apple Computer, Visa International, watchmaker Tag Heuer and Garmin, a maker of global-positioning products.

During the off-season, Yao splits his time between Houston and Shanghai. Despite being an international megastar, Yao never relinquished his duty as China's most valuable player. Whenever his country team is in need, he flies right back and does as he is told.

Yao's NBA salary alone makes him one of China's most profitable exports to the United States. But officials deny that his cash-cow status was a factor in his selection as a model worker.

"Yao Ming is nominated because he meets all the qualifications of a model worker," said Yin Weimin, deputy minister in the Chinese Ministry of Personnel, which selects the model workers. "He is a great athlete. He has contributed greatly to the development of the basketball industry in China and gained much glory for the country. His personal wealth is another issue."...

The early role models included Shi Chuanxiang, who devoted more than 40 years of his life to shoveling and carrying manure from hole-in-the-ground public bathrooms in Beijing. State media say Shi was so dedicated that he didn't take time off, even for his own wedding. His bride carried a rooster as a stand-in during the marriage ceremony.

Mao's archetypal model worker was Iron Man Wang Jinxi. He was the leader of a drilling brigade when oil was discovered in 1960 in Daqing, near China's frozen northeastern border with Russia. Government propaganda often repeated his battle cry, an impassioned promise to do whatever it took to pump oil for China, even if it meant "giving up 20 years of my life."

Wang died at the age of 47. Grainy black-and-whites at the Memorial Hall of the Iron Man in Daqing show him indeed mixing cement with his body.

Since market-oriented reforms were launched more than 20 years ago, the party began to expand the definition of the "people's vanguard." Intellectuals joined the ranks of model workers. But the lack of accountability in the selection gave rise to a patronage system that rewarded political elites.

To the government's embarrassment, in recent years several model workers have been convicted of stealing public assets. They include a party secretary at a Beijing electronics factory, the deputy manager of a construction company in Hunan province and a transportation department head in Henan province.

In the past, model workers received social benefits such as better housing and a coveted university admission. Now they receive the equivalent of $1,800.

"It comes with perks like high social status and TV appearances," said Zhou, the sociologist. "It's a kind of personal branding."

To give the awards more legitimacy this year, authorities made changes. Capitalists, once seen as oppressors of the people, can now receive the nation's top honor.

So can migrant workers — the estimated 210 million people who left their rural homes for jobs in China's booming cities.

Migrant workers and entrepreneurs made up a minority of the estimated 2,900 nominees this year...

Some observers said Beijing included migrant workers and capitalists to create the impression that it was promoting a more pluralistic society.

"The party is trying to present itself as a party that represents everybody, all social classes without exception," said Robin Munro, research director of China Labor Bulletin, a Hong Kong-based group that monitors the treatment of workers in China.

"The government feels it needs celebrity endorsement of someone like Yao Ming to make itself more popular. It's a pointless distraction from the real issues facing China as a whole."

Many migrant workers who toil long hours, receive meager pay and have no elected representatives to negotiate on their behalf say they do not know the criteria for being a model worker.

"What's the point of understanding it? They will never pick one of us," said Wei Yanzhou, 42, a welder from Hubei province who is helping to build what is expected to be the tallest building in Beijing.

Wei works about 12 hours a day, seven days a week for about $100 a month. If he takes a sick day, the boss deducts the day's wage from his pay.

Wei considers himself lucky. Many migrant workers receive no wages at all from employers who claim to be bankrupt or disappear with laborers' hard-earned money.

At the end of the day, workers like Wei are shuttled back to factory dorms where they sleep more than a dozen to a small room. There is no hot running water, no heat or ventilation and little food.

"We eat cabbage three times a day. Sometimes the rice has sand in it," said bricklayer Zhu Zhou, who looks a decade older than his 40 years. "We see meat maybe twice a week. We don't even get enough drinking water, never mind a shower."

The workers say they get no days off, not even during the weeklong May Day celebration.

"They should pick us as model workers," said Fu Xiewen, 31, a carpenter from Anhui province. "Everybody already knows who Yao Ming is. He's a star. We are nobodies.

"We can sure use some improvements in our living conditions."
And Yao sees himself as "a special kind of migrant worker". What an idiot.

Not Your Average Chinese Worker
NBA Star Yao Ming Wins Labor Award, Rankling Compatriots
By Edward Cody:
For many Chinese, Yao did not seem to fit the tradition, even though he and his mother recently opened a Chinese restaurant in Houston. Somehow, slam dunks and rebounds, the main elements of Yao's fabulously paid job, seemed incongruous with the duties of the model communist worker the award was meant to honor. Yao is nothing like "Iron Man" Wang Jinxi, for example, who, legend has it, earned the title in 1960 by jumping into a vat of cement and furiously agitating his limbs because his work unit had no mixers...

In a statement released by his agent and relayed by the official New China News Agency, Yao, 24, expressed satisfaction at winning the honor. But he also seemed to recognize that some people might find it off-key in a country whose per-capita annual income just reached $1,000.

"I used to think that 'model worker' is the title for those ordinary laborers working hard and not paying attention to their pay," he was quoted as saying. "But now, apart from them, special 'migrant workers' like me can also win the award, which proves the development of the society."

Well, maybe. An outpouring of comment in the streets and on Web sites suggested many Chinese do not really regard Yao, who has a four-year, $18 million contract with the Rockets and makes about $10 million a year in endorsements, as a migrant worker. That label usually has been reserved for peasants who come by the millions to China's large cities to work long hours on construction sites for less than $5 a day.

Wednesday, April 27

What's your reason?

The Economist cites Martin Lindstrom, author of Brand Sense: Build Powerful Brands through Touch, Taste, Smell, Sight, and Sound, who says
...brandbuilders can learn from organised religion, where sensory experiences (the smell of incense, the cry of the muezzin or the taste of a sacramental wafer) have been blended for centuries to bind consumers closer to the faith.
It just goes to show how people get different things out of their participation in religion. While one reason I might cite for not believing is all the horrors of life, one of my students recently wrote that that was the reason she believed.

Tuesday, April 26

Genuinely Nourishing TV

Watching TV Makes You Smarter By STEVEN JOHNSON:
What I am arguing for is a change in the criteria we use to determine what really is cognitive junk food and what is . Instead of a show's violent or tawdry content, instead of wardrobe malfunctions or the F-word, the true test should be whether a given show engages or sedates the mind. Is it a single thread strung together with predictable punch lines every 30 seconds? Or does it map a complex social network? Is your on-screen character running around shooting everything in sight, or is she trying to solve problems and manage resources?
That's an interesting idea, but probably a little too nuanced for most people. And by the way, I'm skeptical that TV makes you smarter. As Alex Tabarrok wrote, "it's difficult to say what is cause and what is effect - probably both are involved".

Friday, April 22

"Auto-erotic" Spirituality

Benedict XVI: Ratzinger's positions on issues facing the Catholic Church
On secularism

"We have moved from a Christian culture to aggressive and sometimes intolerant secularism," Ratzinger said in November 2004 in an interview with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica.

"A society from which God is completely absent self-destructs. We saw that in the major totalitarian regimes of the last century."

On other religions

The cardinal has repeatedly condemned "religious pluralism" and relativism, the idea that other religions can lead the way to salvation, and he has been instrumental in blocking the advance of priests who support such views.

In an interview in March 1997, he caused a stir by calling Buddhism an "auto-erotic" spirituality that threatened the Catholic Church.
"'Auto-erotic' spirituality"? Look who's talking!

Che & the Human Development Index

Fredrik Segerfeldt: Che vs Pinochet?
Every time I see a picture of Che [Guevara] I ask myself: how would I look in a t-shirt picturing Augusto Pinochet?

Both Che and Pinochet are obviously murderers and in favour of dictatorship. But one helped installed a dictatorship that has led to poverty whereas the other one ran a dictatorship that brought wealth and stability to the country. In 1975, the Chilean GDP per capita, adjusted for purchasing power, was $1,321 (current international dollars). In 2003 it was $10,206. The average income of Chileans has thus been multiplied by almost eight in 28 years. Chile is now a stable democracy and the most prosperous country of South America. Cuba [run by Che's buddy Castro] has gone in the opposite direction.

So, leftists would say, economic growth is not everything. Cuba still works when it comes to health and education, for example. But Chile's economic growth has brought the country well ahead of Cuba in the UNDP's Human Development Index, the ranking most Cuba lovers tend to use to play down the worldwide success of capitalism.

Chinese Hypocrisy Noted Again

Ross Terrill: China's hardly in a position to lecture Japan
No book of any kind attacking the Communist Party's monopoly of power in China has been published in China in the 56 years of the PRC. Some of the most trenchant books anywhere in the world on Japanese war atrocities have been written, published, and widely read in Japan. Beijing seems to think that because its textbooks jump to government policy, Japan's do too. But they do not. In Japan, unlike in China, there are government-sponsored textbooks as well as independent ones.

The blunt truth is that reasonable Chinese, Japanese, and other scholarly estimates vary widely for Chinese killed by Japan in the Nanjing Massacre of 1937 and in World War II. They also do for Chinese killed by their own Communist government in the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution (no apologies, yet, for these mishaps; what's a million here, 10million there, among comrades?). No one textbook can embody final truth.

The main text for middle-school history in China devotes nine chapters to Japan's aggression against China in the 19th and 20th centuries, but does not mention China's invasion of Japan under the Yuan Dynasty. (Vietnam comes off even worse than Japan. Nothing is said of the Han Dynasty's conquest of Vietnam or of China's 1000-year colonisation of thecountry.)
China's invasion of Japan? First of all, it was an attempted invasion, and second, it was a few years earlier (in 1274 and 1281).

Sunday, April 17

China Distorts Its Own History

The above title is what the AP should have given this article rather than the one they gave it: China Accuses Japan of Distorting History By CHRISTOPHER BODEEN

Some things you won't find in Chinese history textbooks:
  • China's military attacks on India and Vietnam.
  • The 1989 crackdown on democracy demonstrations, when Chinese troops killed hundreds and possibly thousands of unarmed protesters.
  • The estimated 30 million Chinese who starved to death during the 1958-61 "Great Leap Forward," revolutionary leader Mao Zedong's attempt to speed up China's farm and factory output through mass collectivization.
  • North Korea's invasion of South Korea at the start of the 1950-53 Korean War, a conflict that drew in troops from the United States and other countries on the side of the South and China's army in support of the North.
Experts say China's textbooks are written to heighten a sense of national victimhood and glorify the Communist Party that seized power in a 1949 revolution and lashes out at any threat to its rule.

Chinese Hypocrisy

In Anti-Japan Protests Rooted in Chinese History by Rob Gifford
Anti-Japanese sentiment surged again in China Saturday, as thousands of angry citizens demonstrated against a new Japanese textbook they say glosses over Japan's wartime atrocities. There are Chinese historical precedents for the current wave of protests.
The experts note that the demonstrations could get out of control. EastWestNorthSouth offers a compelling argument about the source of the demonstrations:
  • The Chinese Communist Party's expertise is in organizing mass movements.
  • The Chinese Communist Party is not a monolithic block of steel. Rather, there are various factions which are always struggling against each other.
  • Every single mass movement in the history of the Chinese Communist Party was the result of factional fighting. The Anti-Rightist Movement, the One Hundred Flowers Blooming campaign, the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, the anti-Lin/anti-Confucius campaign, the 1989 student democracy movement and everything else can be interpreted in that light. A mass movement may have started spontaneously, but it will be instantaneously co-opted for factional fighting or crushed if it suited nobody's purpose. Whenever there is a mass movement, you should look at who is the black hand behind the curtain and what are the motives.
He continues:
Using these axioms, how might we interpret the events in Beijing and Shanghai over the past two weeks?

If the whole history of the Chinese Communist Party is about factional fighting, then we should identify the factions of this moment. The two major factions within the Chinese Communist Party right how are the Hu Jintao-Wen Jiabao central government and the Shanghai gang which is centered around former President Jiang Zemin.
Cicero
can't help but wonder about China's claim of 'moral' supremacy over Japan. While they riot for accuracy in Japanese history books, their own textbooks most likely lack historical exactitude. The 40 million or so Chinese who were killed by Mao probably don't figure in most Chinese history books. And I wonder how they handle China's claim over Tibet? And Tiananmen, 1989? Or Falun Gong? How do they record Mao's disastrous Cultural Revolution now that they're unabashed capitalists?

Obsessing over Japanese history is a good way to keep Chinese citizens from engrossing in their own unfortunate history. Mao's giant portrait still dominates Tienamen Square, the last time I checked. And his successors still speak his name reverently, at least in public. Since the regime appears to be detaching from Mao's murderous legacy while simultaneously claiming legitimacy from his communist system, there's some unfinished historical business, I should think. Perhaps there's a few inaccuracies in Chinese textbooks. Just a few.

More Disappointments from the Heritage Foundation

It's not just that they're pushing intelligent design; it looks like they're just in it for the money.

Think Tank's Ideas Shifted As Malaysia Ties Grew; Business Interests Overlapped Policy By Thomas B. Edsall:
For years, the Heritage Foundation sharply criticized the autocratic rule of former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, denouncing his anti-Semitism, his jailing of political opponents and his "anti-free market currency controls."

Then, late in the summer of 2001, the conservative nonprofit Washington think tank began to change its assessment: Heritage financed an Aug. 30-Sept. 4, 2001, trip to Malaysia for three House members and their spouses. Heritage put on briefings for the congressional delegation titled "Malaysia: Standing Up for Democracy" and "U.S. and Malaysia: Ways to Cooperate in Order to Influence Peace and Stability in Southeast Asia."

Heritage's new, pro-Malaysian outlook emerged at the same time a Hong Kong consulting firm co-founded by Edwin J. Feulner, Heritage's president, began representing Malaysian business interests. The for-profit firm, called Belle Haven Consultants, retains Feulner's wife, Linda Feulner, as a "senior adviser." And Belle Haven's chief operating officer, Ken Sheffer, is the former head of Heritage's Asia office and is still on Heritage's payroll as a $75,000-a-year consultant.
There's more from last year's HK conduit for cash, clout by Matt Miller, who does not include this article on his website.

Saturday, April 16

Right and Wrong

Daniel Starr's Will You Wait Twenty Years for Your Next Raise?, where he worries about the economy, although he notes
Back in England in the mid-1800s, an amateur economist looked at the historical data and observed, correctly, that the course of English economic growth had somehow made ordinary workers worse off: to take the crudest measure, an English peasant of 1700 could count on getting significantly more to eat than his descendant in 1840. As it happened, just at the time this fellow was writing a book on this apparently inevitable "immiserization" of the working class, things were changing around.
I hope Starr's as wrong as that amateur economist, but I hope he's right about this: Taiwan's Secret Weapon Against China: Cameras. Lots of Cameras.

Debate

According to Father Charles Curran,
In the middle of the 19th century, the popes condemned democracy. They claimed that freedom of conscience was a sewer into which all garbage flows. That was in a papal encyclical, those words.

It took the Catholic Church 1900 years to condemn slavery. It was only in the end of the 19th Century that the institution of slavery was condemned.

For 16 centuries, we accepted the fact that you could not take interest on a loan. And this had a strong scriptural basis. It was heavily in the Hebrew Bible. It was in the -- at least the Christian understanding of the New Testament that it said, "Lend, expecting nothing in return."
His point is not that the Church is evil, but that it can change.

Catholic Dissidents Call for Openness; John Paul Silenced Many, Critics Say By Alan Cooperman and Daniel Williams:
...dissidents are calling for a new openness and willingness to debate such topics as the ordination of women, condom use to fight HIV/AIDS and the morality of homosexuality.
Words and expressions like "openness", "debate", and being "shut out of normal discourse" are a little disengenuous, since they're really talking about changing policies. Not that I'm against it, but after all some people like it the way it is. I still don't see why they don't just start their own church.

Freedom

According to the U.S. Department of State, freedom of conscience
means that no person should be required to profess any religion or other belief against his or her desires. Additionally, no one should be punished or penalized in any way because he or she chooses one religion over another or, indeed, opts for no religion at all.
I've got the feeling if certain evangelicals had their way, there would not be so many choices.
It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them.

Thursday, April 14

Odds

Oddschecker on the odds for the next Pope via Jesse Walker. And here's TradeSports.

Really?

"Life is not the ultimate public value for most Americans. Law is."
--Jonathan Rauch, on the Schiavo mess.

Guns & Swimming Pools

The Levitt and Dubner article below made me look for the answer to the question "Which is more dangerous: a gun or a swimming pool?" they pose. It's answered in The Probability That a Real-Estate Agent Is Cheating You (and Other Riddles of Modern Life) By STEPHEN J. DUBNER. As one might have guessed, Levitt's research showed
If you own a gun and have a swimming pool in the yard, the swimming pool is almost 100 times more likely to kill a child than the gun is.

A Strange Kind of Magick Bias

A Roshanda by Any Other Name: How do babies with super-black names fare? By Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
...[I]n 1958, a New York City father named Robert Lane decided to call his baby son Winner. The Lanes, who lived in a housing project in Harlem, already had several children, each with a fairly typical name. But this boy—well, Robert Lane apparently had a special feeling about him. Winner Lane: How could he fail with a name like that?

Three years later, the Lanes had another baby boy, their seventh and last child. For reasons that no one can quite pin down today, Robert decided to name this boy Loser. Robert wasn't unhappy about the new baby; he just seemed to get a kick out of the name's bookend effect. First a Winner, now a Loser. But if Winner Lane could hardly be expected to fail, could Loser Lane possibly succeed?

Loser Lane did in fact succeed. He went to prep school on a scholarship, graduated from Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, and joined the New York Police Department, where he made detective and, eventually, sergeant. Although he never hid his name, many people were uncomfortable using it. To his police colleagues today, he is known as Lou.

And what of his brother? The most noteworthy achievement of Winner Lane, now in his late 40s, is the sheer length of his criminal record: more than 30 arrests for burglary, domestic violence, trespassing, resisting arrest, and other mayhem.
Shades of Tristram Shandy's father:
His opinion, in this matter, was, That there was a strange kind of magick bias, which good or bad names, as he called them, irresistibly impress'd upon our characters and conduct.

Tuesday, April 12

Neopaganism

The Columbia Encyclopedia defines Neopaganism as
polytheistic religious movement, practiced in small groups by partisans of pre-Christian religious traditions such as Egyptian, Greek, Norse, and Celtic. Neopagans fall into two broad categories, nature-oriented and magical groups, and often incorporate arcane and elaborate rituals. Two of the movement’s most influential thinkers were Alphonse L. Constant (1810–75) and Gerard Encausse (1865–1916).
The Pope really got it wrong.

An Inquisition?

NPR's Cardinal Law Leads Vatican Mass by Sylvia Poggioli cited Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, a Honduran cardinal, as saying the fury with which the American media reported the scandal reminded him of the times of Stalin and Hitler. Funny, I would've said "witch hunt". In fact, according to Cardinal blasts US media for sex coverage By Eric J. Lyman,
The respected church leader also defended Cardinal Bernard Law, who Rodriguez Maradiaga said had been the victim of a "witch hunt" by the Boston Globe and other publications.
Witch hunts are apparently not part of what he thinks of as his church. Now why not compare the reporting of the scandal to the Inquisition?

Monday, April 11

Ferne Clyffe Hiking

We went to Ferne Clyffe (what's a "clyffe", anyway?) over the weekend, and did some hiking from the Turkey Ridge parking lot. I had the map, but I couldn't figure out which trail we were on; I think it was the "Happy Hollow Horse Trail".

Classroom Instruction

One Man's Way to Better Schools By George F. Will. The proposal is to "Require every School District to spend at least 65% of their education operational budgets in the classroom for Teachers & Kids". According to the map, Illinois currently spends 59.5% of the budget on classroom instruction, ranking 37th in the nation; following this advice would result in an increase funding of $906 million a year. Of course, as will points out:
The 65 Percent Solution solves the misallocation of resources, but there is scant evidence that increasing financial inputs will by itself increase a school's cognitive outputs. Or that a small reduction in class size accomplishes much. Or that adding thousands of new teachers would do as much good as firing thousands of tenured incompetents.

So It Was Gorbachev and the "virus" of Western consumerism

The Pope Didn't End Communism By Marc Fisher
No one I spoke to in Leipzig that night [in November, 1989] mentioned the pope. Nor did any other demonstrators, protest leaders, renegade clergy, or rebellious academics there or anywhere else I visited on my rounds during that dramatic autumn. In East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet Union, the talk was all about Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of openness, about how it was suddenly possible to get copies of some of the more daring Russian journals, and about how a few adventurous souls in the pulpits and on official state television and radio were making ever-more-pointed comments about a system that treated its people like incompetent children...

Especially in East Germany, where almost everyone could watch West German TV (though they had to keep the volume way down because it was strictly verboten to watch, and if the neighbor heard, there could be trouble), people talked about their jealousy for the material goods that Westerners enjoyed—the clothes, the shoes, the cars, the food. They talked about their dreams of traveling outside the Soviet Bloc and about the hopes—mainly for a particular career or area of study—they'd had when they were young. And they talked about the freedom to say what they wanted or to teach their children about realities other than what the socialist state had ordained.
Nor was it Reagan.

The "Virus"

Bishop of Roam: For John Paul II, the World Was His Parish By Robin Wright
...John Paul obviously felt his work didn't end after the demise of communism in Eastern Europe, the end of apartheid and minority rule in Africa, or the collapse of military dictatorships in Latin America. During the last years I covered him, including on a trip to Latvia, he began warning about the dangers of capitalism, specifically the "virus" of Western consumerism as a form of "neo-paganism."
There was another mention of the Pope's remarks about neo-paganism on NPR, but if a neo-pagan is "a person who practices a contemporary form of paganism (as Wicca)", I don't think that's really suitable.

Saturday, April 9

A Mixed Legacy

A couple of days ago, I heard on NBC that Clinton was being criticized for saying the Pope had "a mixed legacy." Then their interview of Clinton (not available in print on their site) showed him as if he was backtracking, saying that the Pope did some things that were conservative and other things not, but he was mostly spiritual. But a lot of the quotes attributed to Clinton about the Popes's "mixed legacy" said that was true of "all of us". From drudgereport:
En route to Rome, Clinton told reporters the pope "centralized authority in the papacy again and enforced a very conservative theological doctrine. There will be debates about that. The number of Catholics increased by 250 million on his watch. But the numbers of priests didn't. He's like all of us - he may have a mixed legacy."
Ironically, MSNBC earlier spoke of Clinton saying of him As a statesman, a mixed legacy.

Thursday, April 7

I Am Deeply Disappointed

The Heritage Foundation is sponsoring a talk on so-called "Intelligent Design"
A growing number of scientists around the world no longer believe that natural selection or chemistry, alone, can explain the origins of life. Instead, they think that the microscopic world of the cell provides evidence of purpose and design in nature – a theory based upon compelling biochemical evidence.
I suppose one should not reject the so-called "Intelligent Design" argument out of hand--I mean it's possible, and even worth looking into. But what's the Heritage Foundation doing getting involved in this? And as for the whole idea of some designer behind everything, even if there once was one, there doesn't seem to be anyone minding the store now.

Sex, Not Gender

THE ASSORTATIVE MATING THEORY; A Talk with Simon Baron-Cohen
...It was interesting for me to discover that there's been a sleight of hand, mostly in the States, such that the word 'sex' has been replaced by the word 'gender'.

This has happened in a very subtle way over the last century, so that in the States, nobody talks about sex differences; they talk about gender differences. Whenever you want to refer to somebody's sex you refer to their gender. I call it a sleight of hand, because actually 'sex' is the older word. Your sex is either male or female, and in biology your sex is defined by whether you have 2 X chromosomes or an X and Y chromosome. There's been a subtle shift into talking about gender, to whitewash the word sex.

Why has this happened? Presumably, because your sex is determined by your chromosomes. And in the States the ideology is that we shouldn't be determined by anything; we should be able to be anything we choose. The blank slate. Gender refers to how you think of yourself: as masculine, or feminine, It's much more subjective, and is commonly believed to be culturally constructed. Italian male gender behavior is expressed differently from English male gender behavior. This gives the impression that people's gender behaviour can change as they change culture, even if their biological sex is fixed.

Talking about gender is therefore much more optimistic than talking about sex. It's the rags to riches idea — you can become anything...

...the higher the baby's level of fetal testosterone, the less eye contact the child makes at 12 months old. And also the slower they are to develop language at 18 months old. To me these are really fascinating results, because we're looking at something biological, in this case a hormone which presumably is influencing brain development to produce these quite marked differences in behavior. We always knew that girls talked earlier than boys — that there is sex difference in language development — and we also knew that there's huge variability at 18 months: some kids have no words at all, and other kids have huge vocabularies, about 600 words. No one's really been able to explain this variability. Why should one kid be almost mute and another kid be very verbal?...

I don't argue it's all biology. But for a long time social behavior and language development were seen as purely environmental or learned experience. These hormone studies suggest hormones are also part of the explanation.

...we presented each baby with a human face to look at, and then a mechanical mobile suspended above the crib. Each baby got to see both objects...

The results of the experiment were that we found more boys than girls looked longer at the mechanical mobile. And more girls than boys looked longer at the human face. Given that it was a sex difference that emerged at birth, it means that you can't attribute the difference to experience or culture. Twenty-four hours old. Now you might say, well, they're not exactly new-born, it would have been better to get them at 24 minutes old — or even younger. But obviously we had to respect the wishes of the parents and the doctors to let the baby relax after the trauma of being born. And let the parents get to know their baby. So strictly speaking, it might have been one day of social experience. But nonetheless, this difference is emerging so early that suggests it's at least partly biological.
Funny guy.

Wednesday, April 6

The People's Aspirations

Report Urges Arab Governments to Share Power By Colum Lynch
The third [United Nations-sponsored] Arab Human Development Report embraced many themes espoused by President Bush in promoting democracy in the Middle East. The report, which was written by 39 Arab scholars and intellectuals, provided scarce credit to the United States for furthering democratic change through the overthrow of Iraq's Saddam Hussein.

The report sharply criticized the U.S. invasion of Iraq and charged that the prosecution of the "war on terrorism" has curtailed freedoms in the Arab world. It said the Iraqi people have "emerged from the grip of a despotic regime" only to "fall under a foreign occupation that increased human suffering."
We've done a bad job, to be sure, but saying they've "emerged from the grip of a despotic regime" as if they've done that on their own is ridiculous. And if we withdrew from the occupation, Iraq would be a hell-hole. On the other hand,
The report presented a harsh assessment of Arab governments' efforts to stifle political freedom, saying political participation in the region has "often been little more than a ritual" and elections typically preserve the status of "ruling elites."

"By 21st century standards, Arab countries have not met the people's aspirations for development, security and liberation," the report stated. "Indeed, there is a near-complete consensus that there is a serious failing in the Arab world, and that this is located specifically in the political sphere."
Good for them. But then of course,
Mark Malloch Brown, the administrator of the U.N. Development Program, which commissioned the report, wrote in the foreword that the views expressed in the report "are not shared" by the United Nations.
I'd like to see a similar report on the Chinese Communist party's failure to serve its people's aspirations, but let's face it, they'd never allow it.

Contradictory Americans

American Pope Highly Unlikely Given Views of Church Leaders By Alan Cooperman and Daniel Williams:
The bias stems from conflicting views of the United States in Europe in general and in the Vatican in particular. The United States is regarded with derision for its coarse consumerism, with admiration for its spirituality, with fear for its power and with envy for its clout in world affairs.

Moreover, the American church often baffles the Vatican, which regards it as something of a maverick, U.S. church leaders say. American Catholicism has been in the vanguard of interfaith dialogue and feminism within the church, and it has a highly educated and sometimes disobedient laity...

"I think that many people in Europe -- and that would mean, therefore, many people in the church -- see the United States as the center of materialism in the world and consumerism generally," [Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington] said....

Cardinal Edmund Szoka, a former archbishop of Detroit who is now in charge of Vatican City finances, said U.S. Catholics send more money than any other nationality -- close to $100 million -- to defray the Holy See's expenses, support its charities and sponsor its missions.

The United States also boasts more Catholic colleges and universities than any other country. Catholic Charities USA is the largest Catholic-run charity in the world. And some U.S. church leaders maintain that on any given Sunday, there are more Catholics in the pews in the United States than in all of Western Europe...

Yet Vatican officials are also painfully aware that the United States accounts for nearly 70 percent of all the requests for marriage annulments in the Catholic Church each year. Of the 67 million Roman Catholics in the United States, more than 6 million have obtained civil divorces and remarried without an annulment, making them ineligible to take Holy Communion.

Polls have shown that a majority of U.S. Catholics disagree with the church's teachings on sexuality, particularly its ban on birth control. And the United States is failing to produce enough priests to serve its flock.

Few issues in recent years have generated as many misunderstandings and recriminations as the scandal over child sex abuse by U.S. priests. Vatican officials at first suggested that the scandal was exaggerated, and some still think that the U.S. bishops overreacted to public pressure in 2002 by instituting a "one strike, you're out" policy toward child sex abusers in the priesthood...

Underlying some of the arm's-length attitudes toward the American church is a longtime European opinion that the United States has no culture and is given over to fads. "America has not given a major intellectual contribution to the universal church," argued Vittorio Messori, an Italian journalist who interviewed the pontiff for a book on his teachings.

Moreover, the aggressiveness of U.S. liberal movements scares Vatican officials -- whether they are campaigns inside the church for the promotion of priestly marriage and equal rights for gay men and lesbians, or campaigns outside the church in favor of abortion.

"There are so many groups with perverse ideas," said Karl Romer, secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Family, the Vatican department in charge of promoting traditional families.

On the flip side, the Vatican admires the vibrancy of parish life and the practice of faith at large in the United States. Because the United States lacks a history of anti-clericalism, it is more fertile ground for Catholic teaching than is Europe.

"I am always impressed by the spirituality of the people," Romer said.
I think it's unfair that they won't choose an American, but at the same time I'm relieved. We've already got too much spirituality.

Tuesday, April 5

Good for Them

"Killer" freed after wife turns up alive
A Chinese man jailed and badly beaten for his wife's murder has been freed after she turned up not only alive but with another husband, domestic media have said, revealing a brutal arbitrariness to China's legal system.

She Xianglin's wife, Zhang Zaiyu, disappeared after a domestic dispute in 1994 and when a woman's body was found in a local reservoir, She was detained on suspicion of killing his wife, the China Daily said...

He said he did not remember making a confession, though the local court that ruled on his case was told he had.
And from the China Daily
"At first, I insisted I was not the murderer. But later I could not bear the endless interrogation and I said I did it," said She, who is now in hospital.
The China Daily has many interesting comments (56 at last count) bemoaning the injustice; I'm guessing they won't be around for long.

So far they have posted my trolling comment under the name Lui Fong ("This slanderous article hurts the feelings of the Chinese people and should be immediately deleted"), but almost everyone else is criticizing the error. Good for them. (See the screenshot below.)

Voting with their feet

Help Wanted: China Finds Itself With a Labor Shortage By JIM YARDLEY and DAVID BARBOZA
...young migrant workers coveted by factories are gaining bargaining power and many are choosing to leave the low pay and often miserable conditions in Guangdong. In a nondemocratic China, it is the equivalent of "voting with their feet."

March is one of the most important hiring months for China's factories, yet some analysts believe that the current shortfalls are the beginning of a long-term trend that is already bringing wage pressures and could eventually erode China's position as the world's dominant low-cost producer...

The shift, which experts say will happen gradually, began last year and is a result of two decades of strict family planning, which has made China one of the most rapidly aging countries in the world...

China remains a country where migrant workers are routinely exploited. But after a decade of stagnant wages, these workers are showing more willingness to demand their rights. Last year, factory workers rioted and held strikes in Guangdong. Other workers just left.

They can do that because economic growth in other regions has created increasing competition for workers. Many are leaving Guangdong for the rival Yangtze River Delta region near Shanghai, where many factories offer higher salaries. Others are starting to find work in larger cities in interior provinces. Some are simply returning to the farm...

Factories covet young, female workers like Ms. Sheng because they are considered better at assembly line work and more docile than young men. In the past, these workers were largely cut off from the outside world, but now they use text messages or e-mail to check with friends at other factories about wages and treatment.

"I checked the Internet and learned that the pay level in Shanghai is better than here," Ms. Sheng said. Of the 30 workers who arrived with her three years ago, only 7 or 8 remain at the factory.

Gamesmanship

The OED defines this as "Skill in winning games, esp. by means that barely qualify as legitimate", and cites Stephen Potter's book of the same name saying, "The theory & practice of gamesmanship or the art of winning games without actually cheating." (inspired by How to Humiliate Friends, One-Up Rivals and Pick Just the Wrong Gift By ADAM COHEN

Consumers will miss out

U.S. Opens Challenge to Chinese Textiles: Shipments Soar After Lapse of Quota System By Paul Blustein
The Bush administration took a giant step yesterday toward imposing new caps on imports of Chinese clothing, responding to complaints that China's export juggernaut is starting to dominate the worldwide apparel market since the system governing the global industry was changed on Jan. 1.

...the decision angered importers and retailers, who said consumers will miss out on the chance to get lower prices.
Bush: the anti-free trade president.

The Proposal Is Dead

China Fights Enlarging Security Council By Colum Lynch
China's U.N. ambassador on Monday challenged Secretary General Kofi Annan's proposal to enlarge the Security Council to 24 members by year's end, dealing a setback to the second major effort in a decade to expand the powerful 15-nation body.

China's top U.N. envoy, Wang Guangya, said more time is needed to reach agreement on the politically sensitive issue. Wang also insisted it is "essential" that an agreement on enlarging the council be reached by a unanimous vote in the 191-member General Assembly, a standard that would permit a single U.N. member to undercut any rival's candidacy...

"I think you can conclude that [the proposal] is dead," a Security Council ambassador said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he did not want to offend China. "This is clearly an execution."

Wang stopped short of publicly opposing Japan's candidacy for the council. But his remark came as opposition to Tokyo's prospects was mounting in South Korea and China, where demonstrators vandalized Japanese businesses in the southern and southwestern cities of Shenzhen and Chengdu over the weekend to protest its bid for a permanent seat.

Ouch!

The following quotation is from Tim Cavanaugh's Irrational Enquiry: Did Pope John Paul II get what he wanted?
Having put his faith into the struggle against the greater evil of communism, [Pope John Paul II] emerged into a world governed by the culture of death and the logic of the market, where people are aborted, euthanized, cloned, and starved to death for the convenience of the living, where Catholics largely ignore their church's teachings in the bedroom and the voting booth, the priesthood is a disgraced profession, and men, in St. Paul's memorable phrase, have left the natural uses of women and burn in their lust one toward another. From the pope's standpoint, the years since 1978 have not been an uncomplicated triumph but a draining, ambiguous effort that served the interests mainly of secular sybarites. Worst of all, these same worldly secularists now claim the pope as one of their own, invoking his victories as something we can all share.
That's not Cavanaugh's ultimate message, but I can't help but feel he's right.

And then as Christopher Hitchens says in Papal Power: John Paul II's other legacy, complaining about the Pope's inaction over the child sexual abuse scandal,
No obituary about John Paul II...will omit to mention that he exerted enormous force to change the politics of Poland. Well, good for him, I would say. (He behaved much better on that occasion than he did when welcoming Tariq Aziz, one of Saddam Hussein's most blood-spattered henchmen, to an audience at the Vatican and then for a private visit to Assisi.)

So, Let in More Illegals

Illegal Immigrants Are Bolstering Social Security With Billions By EDUARDO PORTER
As the debate over Social Security heats up, the estimated seven million or so illegal immigrant workers in the United States are now providing the system with a subsidy of as much as $7 billion a year.

While it has been evident for years that illegal immigrants pay a variety of taxes, the extent of their contributions to Social Security is striking: the money added up to about 10 percent of last year's surplus - the difference between what the system currently receives in payroll taxes and what it doles out in pension benefits. Moreover, the money paid by illegal workers and their employers is factored into all the Social Security Administration's projections.

Illegal immigration, Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, co-director of immigration studies at New York University, noted sardonically, could provide "the fastest way to shore up the long-term finances of Social Security."..

Illegal immigrants help even more because they will never collect benefits. According to Mr. Goss, without the flow of payroll taxes from wages in the suspense file, the system's long-term funding hole over 75 years would be 10 percent deeper.
Of course, this is probably the Times' way of defending illegal immigrants against the Lawn Chair Minutemen.

So Judges Should Only Make Decisions That Make People Happy?

Senator Links Violence To 'Political' Decisions By Charles Babington
In a Senate floor speech in which he sharply criticized a recent Supreme Court ruling on the death penalty, Cornyn (R-Tex.) -- a former Texas Supreme Court justice and member of the Judiciary Committee -- said Americans are growing increasingly frustrated by what he describes as activist jurists.

Monday, April 4

Scary

China Plans Surprise Attack on Taiwan by James Dunnigan
China is apparently planning an “out-of-the-blue” (OOTB) attack on Taiwan, that will initially consist mainly of missiles, warplanes, paratroopers and troops out on "training exercises". What this means is that, during what appears to be peacetime maneuvers, the troops involved will suddenly move against a nearby nation and invade.

Hirsi Ali & Bolkestein

Daughter of the Enlightenment By CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL. On Nov. 2, 2004, Theo van Gogh, the director of the controversial "Submission Part 1", was murdered.
As the Netherlands suffered an explosion of mosque-burnings and attacks on churches, Hirsi Ali was moved under heavy guard from secret location to secret location, sometimes more than once a day. After six days of that, she had had enough. She was told that the only safe alternative was for her to leave the country for a spell. Hirsi Ali insisted on going to either Israel or the United States. "Those are the only places," she recalls thinking, "where people will understand what happened Nov. 2."..

In the early 1990's, Frits Bolkestein, then the leader of the country's pro-free-market party, the VVD, warned in articles and speeches that they could not. He argued that certain identities, unlike the old Catholic and Protestant ones, would, if maintained, undermine the individual rights that are at the heart of the Dutch constitution. He cited the practice of bigamy, for instance. Where clashes occurred, Bolkestein insisted, Dutch norms must prevail. For this observation, he was condemned as a rightist and a racist. Today, most Dutch accept the validity of Bolkestein's critique, even if they can't agree on what to do about it.

In 2002, Bolkestein's VVD persuaded Hirsi Ali to leave her Labor policy group to take a place on the VVD's parliamentary list for the next election. Some on the left greeted her departure with relief -- Labor usually competes with two other left parties for Muslim votes, and activists had threatened to withdraw support for Labor when Hirsi Ali began speaking out. Still, it is a natural question whether the VVD -- traditionally a businessmen's party -- is the right place for a Third World feminist.
Because, you see, Third World feminists must be anti-business.
It is not a question that troubles Hirsi Ali much. She says, "It gives me, intellectually and ideologically, an easier position to say, 'Listen, we are the party for the individuals, and Muslim women who are individuals.'"..

Hirsi Ali has taken positions on nonfeminist issues from the Iraq war (which she favors) to Turkey's candidacy to join the European Union (she calls it a "big gamble" for Europeans)...

"I confront the European elite's self-image as tolerant," she says, "while under their noses women are living like slaves." In this task, she sees a role for both activism and politicking, and she is particularly proud that almost all of her parliamentary motions have passed. "I may polarize on television and on the op-ed pages, but in Parliament, I always get my majority," she says.

Hirsi Ali claims a direct line of intellectual inheritance from the Dutch Enlightenment, and says she is merely laying claim as a Dutch person to freedoms won for her fellow citizens starting in the 17th century...
And as for her mentor, in Politicus: Getting Wolfowitzed: Bolkestein as villain, John Vinocur describes him as
Frits Bolkestein, the Dutchman whose name has been transmogrified in some places in Europe (but particularly France) into an ominous, foreign-sounding label, the Bolkestein directive, responsible for an attempt to open up the European Union's protected internal economy to real competition...

Bolkestein has gotten Wolfowitzed. Over the past months, just as Wolfowitz before him had been marked as the plotter behind a world clash of civilizations, Bolkestein became the sinister personification of a perceived cabal to tear apart Europe's social protections.

In fact, it was the collective and unanimous decision of the European Commission last June, including its two French members, to put in place a measure opening the 70 percent of the EU economy that is the service sector to cross-border competition. For the politicians and activists who wanted it blocked, Bolkestein became their bloody shirt...

"In the broader sense, it's a lack of self-confidence all through Western Europe. They're afraid, they're scared and that's a big story."

As for France, a country that he truly likes but that helped turn his name into "scapegoat," Bolkestein said: "The French feel they are losing control in Europe. They don't like competition, the market, or enlargement. It's the fear of the unknown, and it's exaggerated because it's French."..

Like so many others, Bolkestein didn't like the war in Iraq either.
But Hirsi Ali did.

Gooey

Let's be friends.

Hollywood's love affair with communism

Red Dusk: It's time Hollywood gave up its love affair with communism. BY BRIDGET JOHNSON

Why Mean People Are So Successful

They've got there own doctrine, called, not surprisingling I guess, The Doctrine of the Mean.

Ha-ha. Actually here "mean" means "a middle point between extremes".

Sunday, April 3

This Guy Doesn't Walk Much

Our college paper cited Donald Barrett as having made the argument that it should be legal to ride a bicycle on sidewalks. Obviously, he's never had to dodge them.

A Bad Investment

In 1986, one Richard F. Schaufert, then employed at Smith Barney in the St. Louis area, steered me towards putting my little nest egg in Corporate Realty Income Fund I, L.P., a "Delaware limited partnership". Some info here. I later heard that brokers who sold limited partnerships got a nice little commission; in any case, it has not been a very good investment:
...it's hard to forget disasters such as brokerage firms' aggressive sales, in the 1980s, of limited partnership investments in everything from oil exploration to real estate.
In fact, it was not suitable for me since with my low income I didn't need a tax shelter:
...ponder the smoking crater left by real estate limited partnerships. Those deals let you buy an interest in a building often designed to lose money so you could report a tax loss. A lot of empty buildings sprang up as a result. After Congress removed the tax break in 1986, and the bloated property market went bust in 1989, legions of investors wound up with partnership units so troubled they could scarcely be given away.
From If It Smells Like... (only in Google's cache) by Jeffrey R. Kosnett:
The main attraction of LPs in the '80s was the huge up-front write-offs they afforded investors. But changes in the tax code enacted in 1986 ended that game. Given the absence of tax benefits, it's hard to discern the appeal of partnerships. The major benefit of an LP is that, unlike a corporation, it pays no income tax, so it can pass all the income it generates to investors. In theory, you also get a cut of the proceeds when any of the venture's properties is sold or the deal is liquidated...

The fat fees are punishing...

The other major shortcoming of LPs is that they're hard to unload. If you want to escape one before it terminates, you have to try to sell through the informal secondary market -- where the few buyers usually insist on steep discounts from the price you paid.

Spencer Jefferies, publisher of the newsletter Direct Investments Spectrum, says LP resale values have been in a "precipitous decline" since the mid 1990s. Jefferies finds that some real estate partnerships have taken on so much debt that even if they sell off their assets, there may be little or nothing left to pay the limited partners. LPs with low debt, says Jefferies, have been receiving offers of up to 36% less than appraised asset values. Deals with high debt have been selling for 17% to 54% less (one exception sold at a 7% discount). The average discount is 23%.

Such big drops reflect economic realities. Because of steep fees, as well as a tendency to overpay for properties during the 1980s and 1990s, "most real estate limited partnerships have been disasters," says Lawrence Kolker, a New York City lawyer who represents investors in disputes with sponsors...

So, the next time your adviser suggests that you invest in a limited partnership or a private REIT, leave quickly. There may be a skunk in the room.
In my case, for a while there were increasingly smaller distributions, and for the past couple of years, nothing. If I sold my shares now, I'd get less than half what I paid for them. Every year when tax time rolls around, I'm reminded of this, because I've got to wait for the fund to mail Schedule K-1 before I can finish doing my taxes, and because it was a tax shelter, it's quite a headache filling out the forms. Anyway, I called the number (800) 633-3392, and got a recorded message saying that they'd sent out the Schedule K-1's last week.

Richard F. Schaufert is now President of The Kirkwood Group, Inc. (now here) Obviously I would not recommend him. This experience has soured me on brokers, and now I make my own decisions, investing in no-load index mutual funds.

And here's some info about Corporate Realty Income Fund I, L.P., as of 2003
  • The Individual General Partner was Robert F. Gossett, Jr., who has also been President, Treasurer and Director of the Corporate General Partner since 1994
  • His wife, Pauline G. Gossett has been the Secretary since the same year.
  • James N. Walsh, Wallis J. Hoskins, and Veronica Rios were the property managers of various properties (the earliest started working for Corporate Realty Income Fund in 1993)
  • Madeline Matlak had been Fund Administrator since 1994. A recording of her voice answered the 800 phone number when I called.


Update
On Nov 27 2006, one of our co-investors told me that Madeline Matlak told her:
'...they had accepted a bid of $160 million for their New York building and would be asking all the shareholders for their proxy to approve the sale. She also said that they were planning to liquidate the Fund in 2007 and had a signed purchase agreement for their California building and that the partners were about to choose a buyer for their San Antonio building from among several bidders. Once those three sales were completed, which she anticipated would be in 2007, the Fund would be liquidated. She said that all 2,9900,000 shareholders would be paid out of the proceeds and expected individual share prices to be around $40.00 a share."'

Me, I plan to hang on in the hope that they continue to rise in price, as they have been doing recently.

Just how bad a deal was this, anyway?

Set Your Kitty Free...to Kill

Wisconsin Firefighter Takes Aim at Feral Cats: Proposal to Make Wild Felines an Unprotected Species Draws Pet Lovers' Ire By Robert Imrie.

Mark Smith
wants Wisconsin to declare free-roaming wild cats an unprotected species, just like skunks or gophers. Anyone with a small-game license could shoot the cats at will, legally...

Every year in Wisconsin alone, an estimated 2 million wild cats kill 47 million to 139 million songbirds, state officials state. Despite the astounding numbers, Smith's plan has been met with fierce opposition from cat lovers...

While Smith expected criticism, he did not expect such a bitter reception for what he considers a reasonable solution to an environmental problem created by irresponsible pet owners. People who get tired of their cats should not set them loose in the country, he said...

Smith, who grew up with Fluffy the cat and now has three dogs, counters with his original points: He does not want an open season on all cats, and legitimate pets will not be in jeopardy if their owners are responsible.

"What is so terrible about putting a collar on a cat to identify it as yours?" he asked. "Are you ashamed of the fact that you are a cat owner? How hard is that?"

A Bird of Bad Moral Character

Where Eagles Dare By Blaine Harden
Bald eagles are to Homer what pigeons are to Central Park, only more so.

For years, bald eagles have been dining here on small white cats and small white dogs, according to Ralph Broshes, a local veterinarian who for 30 years has been on call when the raptors run amok. (He believes bald eagles see white, small and furry -- and think rabbit.) He said the birds periodically fly into cars, electrocute themselves on power lines, get tangled up in fences, gouge each other's eyes out and make themselves sick from gorging on toxic garbage at the Homer dump.

Bald eagles are fearsomely big -- as large as 12 pounds, with wingspans of up to seven feet and talons that can rip through a human wrist -- and their copious droppings are fearsomely stinky.
It's all due to one person.
...Jean Keene, the "Eagle Lady," the 2004 winner of the Lifetime Meritorious Service Award from the American Bald Eagle Foundation. She's the subject of an admiring picture book. She has been on television all over the world and celebrated in feature stories from Tokyo to Prague. She also happens to be 81 years old and is an exceedingly nice person to talk to.

Keene, a one-time rodeo cowgirl from Minnesota, has been feeding fish to bald eagles on the Homer Spit for 27 consecutive winters. Nearly every morning at 8:30, despite painful arthritis and bitterly cold weather, she emerges from her mobile home (which is parked on the spit near the water and is a gift from one of her many admirers) and tosses out several hundred pounds of fish. Most of it is spoiled or freezer-burned stuff given to her by a friend at a nearby packing plant...

State game officials have described Keene's daily handouts as "not a desirable situation." Most wildlife biologists who study bald eagles agree that feeding the birds is harmful to them and dangerous to people, said Mike Jacobson, a raptor specialist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska. He said that he and many other eagle scientists would support a change in federal law that would make it unlawful to feed the birds in cities and small towns such as Homer.

There is no evidence, however, that Keene's wintertime feeding program has hurt the bald eagle population. Unlike in the Lower 48, where bald eagles have recently recovered from the brink of extinction, in Alaska the birds have never been endangered or threatened. The population is huge -- about 50,000 -- and thriving.

There are anecdotal reports that huge wintertime crowds of eagles in and around Homer have been rather less salubrious for local waterfowl and sea otter pups. Still, what Keene is doing is not against state or federal law, at least not yet...

By enabling bald eagles to behave badly, her critics say, Keene lends credence to what Ben Franklin said about bald eagles in the late 18th century. "I wish that the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country," wrote Franklin, who believed the turkey was a much more "respectable bird." The bald eagle, Franklin added, is "a bird of bad moral character; he does not get his living honestly."

A Couple of Great Posts

by Jane Galt.
The first has some ridiculous suggestions, but I like it anyway.
To unfairly summarize the second, she argues that advocates of liberal social policy fall into the basic fallacy that economists are so well acquainted with: they think about themselves instead of the marginal case. This interests me more in a different context, like today's Motley Fool broadcast, where they suggested buying stocks in companies whose products one likes. But what if I like what no one else likes?

Love It or Leave It

I can't understand why those who are dissatisfied with the Pope's pronouncements don't just leave and start their own religion. I thought the Pope was supposed to be infallible. For instance, A Papacy and Church Transformed By Hanna Rosin
For those who expected more from [Pope John Paul II's] modernization -- American priests ordained in the 1960s, say, Catholic women who wanted to be priests or Latin American leaders who wanted a partner in revolution -- the pope not only betrayed his promise but locked the church in place for years to come.

"I'm of the generation of priests who were euphoric about the idea that the church could change," said the Rev. Andrew Greeley, an author and columnist. "And while I recognize all his great talents, I think he pulled the plug on it, and that greatly dismays me."
"Pulled the plug"--that's an odd choice of words in the current context. Anyway, it seems to me if you're going to be a good Catholic, you've got to go along with the rules they make. I must be missing something.

Denial?

Schiavo's Case May Reshape American Law By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG summarizes the two sides here:
Dr. Diane E. Meier, an expert in end-of-life care at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. "We've always said that autonomy and self-determination does trump the infinite value of an individual life, that people have the right to control what is done to their own body. I think that is at risk."

...[S]ocial conservatives...argue that sanctity of life trumps quality of life....
This helps me explain my feelings about a lot of religion, that it's denial of reality in favor of some nebulous quality. But what exactly is "sanctity"? Merriam-Webster, pointed me to holy, which led me to divine which in this context I assume means "of, relating to, or proceeding directly from God or a god (divine love). But what is God? "the supreme or ultimate reality: as a) the Being perfect in power, wisdom, and goodness who is worshiped as creator and ruler of the universe".

To me, all that means is that those who believe in this kind of stuff refuse to accept the evidence of their senses. For them, there's more to life than meets the eye, a belief based on a tradition mostly resting on the Bible.

While I admit that my physical senses can certainly mislead me, I trust the word of scientists who base their explanations on the scientific method:
principles and procedures for the systematic pursuit of knowledge involving the recognition and formulation of a problem, the collection of data through observation and experiment, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses
As far as I'm concerned, the Bible is delusional hearsay with little substantiation.

So yes, I desire individual autonomy, self-determination and control over my own body. For that, some of the more extreme religious believers would accuse me of promoting the culture of death, which is a little strange, since for me, only our current physical life exists, and they believe in another life.

To be sure, the religious are not the only ones to deny the evidence of their senses. Right now, I believe my non-believing father is denying the seriousness of my mother's condition. And the situation is far more nuanced than the NYT reporter would have us believe. For on the other hand (the clapping one), the remarks of Donald Sensing, a church pastor and an ordained elder in full membership of Tennessee Conference of the UMC on this were so sensible, that I put him on my blogroll.

Pope Joke

A Little Joke

The pope dies and goes to heaven. At the pearly gates, St. Peter welcomes him and asks if he's ready to enter heaven for all eternity. The pope replies, "Yes, but before I go in, I would really like to see what hell is like."

St. Peter thinks a moment and then responds, "I suppose it would be okay if you went down there for a half hour or so."

With that, the pope finds himself in hell, where, to his amazement, the inhabitants are having a huge party. They have the best of the best spread out: French champagne, Italian food, and music of all sorts, from Lawrence Welk to Jimi Hendrix. As the pope watches everyone eating, drinking and being merry, he starts to become very hungry and cannot wait to go back to heaven.

When the pope returns, St. Peter asks him, "How was hell?"

The pope replies, "Well, they were having such a big feast, I became famished watching them."

St. Peter then asks if the pope is ready to enter heaven, to which the pope replies, "Oh yes, I'm very excited. If the people in hell are having such a good time, I cannot imagine how great heaven will be!"

With that, St. Peter leads the pope into a small white room with a small white table and white chairs, and instructs the pope to have a seat. The pope looks a little puzzled but abides his host.

After a few minutes, Jesus enters the room carrying a peanut butter sandwich and a glass of milk, and takes a seat.

A moment later, St. Peter enters bearing two peanut butter sandwiches and glasses of milk. He hands a peanut butter sandwich and glass of milk to the pope, and sits down and starts to eat.

As they silently sit eating, the pope becomes more and more agitated, until St. Peter finally asks him why he is not eating.

"Well," the pope responds, "down in hell they are having a big bash, with all the finest food, drink, music and dancing. I imagined heaven would top even that!"

"Why," St. Peter queries, raising his eyebrows, "you don't expect us to do all that for just the three of us, do you?"

From here.