Tuesday, January 31

Isn't this old news?

Like I said before, How can a religion be so frail that it can't take a little joking?
Cartoons in Danish and Norwegian newspapers depicting the prophet Muhammad in unflattering poses, including one in which he is portrayed as an apparent terrorist with a bomb in his turban, have triggered outrage among Muslims across the Middle East, sparking protests, economic boycotts and warnings of possible retaliation against the people, companies and countries involved.

...The cartoons included one of the prophet as a crazed, knife-wielding Bedouin and another of him at the gates of heaven telling suicide bombers: "Stop. Stop. We have run out of virgins!" -- a reference to the belief of some Muslim extremists that male suicide bombers are rewarded in heaven with 72 virgins.

Islamic critics charged that the cartoons were a deliberate provocation and insult to their religion designed to incite hatred and polarize people of different faiths....

In a statement, the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference has condemned "the printing of blasphemous and insulting caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed," saying it "falls into the trap set up by fundamentalists and fosters acts of revenge." Protesters across the Muslim world have burned Norwegian and Danish flags and issued sharp denunciations...

"The question here is how far do you show sensitivity and self-control over issues without falling into self-censorship," said Medhi Mozaffari, a professor at Aarhus University in Denmark, who defended his government's stance not to apologize.

"It's unthinkable that the prime minister would make an apology," he said. "This is Islamists putting democracies on trial to see how far they can be pressured."
I don't think the Muslims are entitled to get so upset, given the kind of stuff they say about "infidels" and Jews.

Sunday, January 29

I used to believe a lot of this stuff, too

Theory Today

If language creates reality, then we need only change our language to bring about political change. But, obviously, the proponents of postcolonialist, feminist, and queer theorizing do not endorse such a view in practice. The contradiction should be plain to all.

...What theorists of all these persuasions have in common, whatever their individual differences, is a decisive turning away from literature as literature and an eagerness to transmogrify it into a cultural artifact (or "signifying practice") to be used in waging an always anti-establishment political struggle.

...At the same time an unmistakable grandiosity entered the discourse of literary theory. Professors trained primarily in literature began to claim for themselves a commanding position from which to comment importantly on any and all aspects of cultural and political life (and even on scientific research, which stood as the last bastion untouched by Theory), and thereby rise to stardom in the academic firmament. The eminence of these celebrities helps explain why little scrutiny is given to propositions articulated by fashionable theorists whose terminology has been embraced and reiterated by their many followers. Claims to postmodernist relativism notwithstanding, the Theory world is intolerant of challenges and disagreement, which is perhaps why its rhetoric has been so widely parroted in the academy.

...intellectual claims that at one time seemed new and exciting became ossified – reduced to the now-predictable categories of race, class, gender and, later, sexuality – [and] criticism and theory turned endlessly repetitive and hence otiose. A style of reading emerged that, when not denying meaning altogether or seeing literary texts as inevitably about themselves, condensed complex works to an ideological bottom line drawn on their authors' perceived "subject position" and on the political leanings that could be teased out of, or imported into, their texts. By now this has become a pervasive mindset, producing interpretations that invariably end at the same point: a denunciation of authors for their limitations vis-à-vis the orthodoxies of our historical moment and its preferred "voices," or, alternatively, a celebration of authors or texts for expressing the favored politics or for merely embodying the requisite identity.

Saturday, January 28

One Man's Blasphemy

The Jyllands Posten Cartoons are insulting to Moslems, and certain parties have been dismissive. I'm guessing they'd feel differently about so-called "Catholic Bashing" (e.g. "a crucifix dipped in urine" or "a Madonna splattered with elephant dung""). But what about freedom of speech? Then there's the Daoist interpretation:
Master Tung‑kuo asked Chuang Tzu, "This thing called the Way ‑ where does it exist?"

Chuang Tzu said, "There's no place it doesn't exist."

"Come," said Master Tung‑kuo, "you must be more specific!"

"It is in the ant."

"As low a thing as that?"

"It is in the panic grass."

"But that's lower still!"

"It is in the tiles and shards."

"How can it be so low?"

"It is in the piss and shit!"

Master Tung‑kuo made no reply.

Chuang Tzu said, "Sir, your questions simply don't get at the substance of the matter. When Inspector Huo asked the superintendent of the market how to test the fatness of a pig by pressing it with the foot, he was told that the lower down on the pig you press, the nearer you come to the truth. But you must not expect to find the Way in any particular place ‑ there is no thing that escapes its presence! Such is the Perfect Way, and so too are the truly great words. 'Complete,' 'universal,' 'all‑inclusive' ‑ these three are different words with the same meaning. All point to a single reality.
From Burton Watson's translation of The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu.

And the similar Buddhist take:
Once, when a Chan Master was reciting sutras publicly in the Buddha Hall, he suddenly coughed very roughly and spat phlegm onto a Buddha statue. The disciplinary monastic, seeing this behavior, scolded that Chan Master, saying, "How absurd! How could you spit on the Buddha's body?"

Once again, the Chan Master coughed up phlegm and said, "Now I need to spit again. Please tell me where I can find a place that has no Buddha."

How can a religion be so frail that it can't take a little joking?

Wen did not refer to the role of corruption

So it probaby won't work very well:
Faced with steadily increasing peasant unrest, the Communist Party has decreed extensive changes to improve the lot of farmers and stop rapid economic development from encroaching on their land.

The party declared rural reform a major goal of its new five-year economic program, which began this month. The government has also announced the abolition of an agricultural tax that is thousands of years old, free public school education for peasant children and new rural insurance to subsidize medical care for those among the country's 800 million farmers who cannot afford to see doctors.

...The Public Security Ministry estimated the number of riots and demonstrations at 87,000 during 2005, up more than 6 percent from 2004 and quadruple what it was a decade ago.

...the senior leadership, while not repudiating use of force, has emphasized solving farmers' underlying problems as the long-term solution.

...In the new era, the Communist Party's main ideology has become growth, creating a natural and often corrupt alliance between officials and businessmen that leaves farmers with no advocate.

As a result, some Chinese analysts have pointed out, a genuine determination to protect farmers and their fields would require unflinching prosecution of city, county and village officials involved in illegal land confiscations and sales. There has been no sign that Wen and Hu have that in mind. In his speech, which was hailed as an unusually frank discussion of China's rural problems, Wen did not refer to the role of corruption in land confiscations, although farmers routinely cite it as a reason for their violent protests.

Wang Yukai, deputy director of the prestigious National School of Administration and an expert on rural problems, said Hu's decision to focus now on improving farmers' lives represents a shift in the party's thinking. Previously, he recalled, the policy was to forge ahead with economic development with the hope that, as growth spread, farmers eventually would share more in the benefits along with their urban cousins.

"This is a big goal," he said. "It is not just a slogan for one day. It's a long process."

...But Wang cautioned that such decisions announced in Beijing frequently do not fully apply in the towns, counties and villages where more than two-thirds of China's 1.3 billion people live.

For instance, a quarter of last year's government revenues in China went for the upkeep of the country's 6 million officials at all levels, he noted, including banquets, chauffeured cars and trips abroad as well as salaries.

I think this stuff should be for sale

Now if I can find someone to make an advance payment.

Thursday, January 26

What the Chinese government uses as an excuse

...to shut down a newspaper:
The authorities cited the publication of a lengthy study of Chinese middle-school textbooks as a reason for the order, Mr. Li said. The Jan. 11 article discussed what the author, Yuan Weishi, a Zhongshan University professor, referred to as official distortions of history to emphasize the humiliations China suffered at the hands of imperial powers.

He criticized the textbooks' treatment of events like the Boxer Rebellion and the burning of the Summer Palace by British and French troops in 1860, which he said were partly the result of mistakes by then-flailing Qing Dynasty leaders.

"We are at a critical moment in our modernization and the key to the success of our development is understanding our system and mental model," he wrote. "I was shocked to see that few things had changed since the Cultural Revolution."
Yeah, the Communists love being the victim.

Too bad!

Even though the WaPo claims "Eight U.S. companies, including giant DuPont Co., agreed yesterday to virtually eliminate a harmful chemical used to make Teflon from all consumer products coated with the ubiquitous nonstick material." Even though Trevor Butterworth at Stats was hoping "that evidence is starting to count in the ongoing campaign against PFOA and Teflon" and as he points out
...virtually all of the PFOA/C8 in human blood is bound to albumin in blood plasma, which means it is not biologically available to do any damage. In fact, PFOA, being so stable, is less reactive than many naturally-occurring fatty acids. This is why studies of human exposure to PFOA – even those workers at DuPont who work with the chemical and have higher than average levels in their blood – have not, as yet, found any evidence linking the chemical to ill-health.

The claim that PFOA is "cancer-causing" is based on lab experiments where 10 percent of rats fed PFOA at levels 25,000 times the average human exposure (which is five parts per billion) developed liver tumors. The preliminary risk assessment by the Environmental Protection Agency concluded that the mode of action by which PFOA caused these tumors was unlikely to apply to humans.

Wednesday, January 25

The 46 Best-ever Freeware Utilities

I particularly like Nvu
Its easy-to-use WYSIWYG editor will delight HTML newbies while HTML honchos can simply click a tab to switch to code view.

Sunday, January 15

Missing something?

In a lawsuit alleging that a Paris office of Adecco (one of the world's largest hiring agencies for temporaries) violated the rights of at least 1,500 applicants by denying them jobs based on the color of their skin, Gerald Roffat, an intern in Adecco,

testified that in 2000 they were using race-based classification systems for applicants. After candidates completed applications, the forms were marked with the notation "BBR" or "NBBR," according to Roffat, SOS Racism, documents and witnesses interviewed by police and labor investigators during the five-year probe.

BBR, shorthand for " bleu , blanc , rouge ," or "blue, white, red" -- the colors of the French flag -- identified white candidates, said Samuel Thomas, vice president of SOS Racism. NBBR meant "no blue, white, red," and denoted black and other nonwhite candidates, Thomas said.

The article makes only this one mention of "nonwhite", but in my experience, a lot of French racism is also directed at what the French often call "Arabs", but are in fact people whose ancestry is Northwest African and who sometimes collectively call themselves Maghrebians.

Torture in the Philadelphia Airport

In my experience, it's unusual for an airport to play classical music, but that's what I heard earlier this week in the Philadelphia airport. And it was music from the Classical (as opposed to Romantic) period, and may well have been Haydn or Mozart, which the British use to deter vandals and loiterers. Although I certainly appreciated it, for the majority of my fellow passengers, most of whom don't listen to classical music as far as I can tell, was it not akin to torture?

Economic Illiteracy

Last December, the office of state Attorney General Lisa Madigan notifyied several gas stations that they could donate $1,000 to the American Red Cross or risk being sued for price gouging in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Now they've agreed to donate $1,000 apiece to the American Red Cross. The problem of price gouging indeed. It is indeed extortion.

A fatalist optimist tinged with cynicism

Marin Alsop, the music director of the Baltimore Symphony, characterizes herself as "forever a New Yorker, a fatalist optimist tinged with cynicism."

Earth is just where I eat and sleep

On "massively multiplayer online role-playing games" (MMORPGs):
...real-world trade of in-game items—swords, gold, potions, or even whole characters—is flourishing in online marketplaces such as eBay. This means in-game items and currency have real value. In 2002, [Edward Castronova] famously calculated the GNP per capita of the fictional game-world of "EverQuest" as $2,000, comparable to that of Bulgaria, and far higher than that of India or China. Furthermore, by "working" in the game to generate virtual wealth and then selling the results for real money, it is possible to generate about $3.50 per hour. Companies in China pay thousands of people, known as "farmers", to play MMORPGs all day, and then profit from selling the in-game goods they generate to other players for real money....It is already possible to make a living by working in a virtual world, as the "farmers" demonstrate. In one survey, 20% of MMORPG players said they regarded the game world as their "real" place of residence; Earth is just where they eat and sleep.

American firms seem to have ridden a rise in hostility to the United States

EVER since the outbreak of the Iraq war, American companies have been braced for a consumer backlash in the rest of the world. Opinion surveys showed a surge in anti-American feelings in Europe and the Middle East after the outbreak of war in 2003. Anecdotal evidence also suggested that American companies were feeling the consequences of increased hostility to the United States. But one of the first detailed empirical studies, by Peter Katzenstein of Cornell University and Robert Keohane of Princeton University, debunks the idea of a backlash against American companies. Brand America may be suffering in the eyes of the world, but American brands are still prospering.
So much for all the hand-wringing.

What happens when parents choose

...research on the impact of choice in education carried out at the Centre for Market and Public Organisation, a think-tank, offers some cautious support for the policies [of school choice] in the white paper. It concludes that the greatest social sorting occurs when parents are free to choose but supply is rigid; next comes strict neighbourhood schooling; and the least takes place when parents choose and schools respond quickly to market signals—that is, when it is easy to set up new schools and expand popular ones, and unpopular schools quickly close.

Health-care litigation costs America far too much

...in the Washington, DC, area...it costs $118,000 a year to insure just one [obstetrician/gynaecologist] against malpractice lawsuits. That is more than the total cost of employing a doctor in most countries.

Trial lawyers argue that malpractice lawsuits deter negligence. Craig Dickman, an obstetrician affiliated to CWC, says they mostly deter the kind of behaviour that might get you sued, which is not the same thing. To cover himself, he says, he orders excessive tests, monitoring and consultations with specialists. He guesses that 12%-15% of the procedures he bills for are unnecessary. If he fails to order every imaginable test, even if there is "no clinical evidence of efficacy", he is exposed if something were to go wrong. A trial lawyer can scour the country for the one expert who thinks that his omission might have caused the patient's injury....

The cost of medical-malpractice lawsuits has risen more than 2,000% since 1975, to $26.5 billion in 2003, according to Tillinghast, an actuarial consultancy. And to what end? A study of malpractice suits in New York by the Harvard Medical Practice Group found that plaintiffs had actually been injured by doctors' negligence in only 17% of cases. Those patients with small claims often cannot find a lawyer to represent them, while those who win find their lawyers have swallowed half the payout from the doctors.

American health care is bedevilled by two problems that lawsuits do nothing to heal. First, health care costs too much. Americans pay twice as much per head for health care as people in other rich countries. Rising health-care costs threaten the solvency not just of private firms such as General Motors but ultimately also of the government itself. Second, some 46m Americans languish uninsured....

Can legal costs be curbed? You might imagine that the Democrats would be keen to change a system that leaves so many poor people uninsured, overcharged and uncompensated. But the party gets a lot of money from trial lawyers and even chose one, John Edwards, as its vice-presidential candidate last year. So it is left to the Republicans (who get even more money from insurers and hospitals) to be the keenest promoters of tort reform.

...many of the costs of the current system are hidden. Studies have found that "defensive medicine", of the sort Dr Dickman describes, more than doubles the costs that malpractice suits impose on health care, and sometimes prompts doctors to hack patients around more than is healthy....

...total costs, direct and indirect, of health-care litigation (including suits against doctors, drug firms, HMOs, nursing homes and so on) could be as much as $200 billion--a Hurricane Katrina every year. This figure involves some heroic extrapolation, but even half that sum would seem a lot to pay for a system that is not even good at compensating patients who are injured....

[A] sensible idea would be specialist medical courts.... Cases could be decided by judges who heard only medical cases, rather than by juries. The court could call its own neutral expert witnesses, rather than relying solely on the partisans hired by the litigants. Non-economic compensation for pain and suffering would be according to a fixed schedule--so much for an arm, etc--rather than by having jurors pluck a number out of the air.

Saturday, January 14

CCH Financial Planning Toolkit

Looks interesting for stuff like determining the required minimum distributions from 401(k)'s--(in my case, a 457). Hey, those required withdrawals are less than twenty years away! Too bad the State of Illinois doesn't match my contributions.

Friday, January 13

Chinese Dictionaries for Firefox Context Search

For awhile I've been using the Context Search extension for firefox to highlight words to search with various search engines. Originally the choice of Chinese dictionaries was not too good, but now there are more.

After having installed the Context Search extension, go to this page for the following plugins, among others:

Saturday, January 7

Take your kid to see it!

I mean, that's what the accompanying parent or adult guardian is supposed to do, right?
"Hostel" is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). It pushes the category to the limit with nonstop profanity, bigotry, drug use, nudity and a great deal of extremely graphic torture, dismemberment and murder.
On the plus side, no pics of explicit sex, so I guess it is indeed OK to expose your kid to extremely graphic torture, dismemberment and murder, among other things.

Tuesday, January 3

Bill Gates loves Communist dictators

(Microsoft takes down Chinese blogger)

MATT POTTINGER may be a better man than I am

(He left The Wall Street Journal to join the Marines.) But I hope my Chinese is better.

Perhaps they're not really qualified?

John Crum, director of policy and evaluation for the Merit Systems Protection Board, indicates it's not only prejudice.
"The government can only hire citizens, and many Hispanics in this country are not citizens."

On top of that, recruiting Hispanics is not easy, especially when many federal jobs are clustered in big cities on the East Coast and in the Midwest. "A lower percentage of our jobs happen to be in the Southwest," Crum said.

Federal recruiters restrained by budgets are less likely to build an applicant pool in the Southwest. "It's difficult to say if someone in Detroit should be recruiting someone in Arizona," Crum said, but "the issue is of concern to us." Hispanic hires have grown by a single percentage point since his agency's report 10 years ago.

Another obstacle, he said, is that "the government primarily employs professional- or administrative-type people, while a large percentage of Hispanic people work in other types of jobs."

Like Cathy Young says,

A recent ABC News poll found that 57 percent of Iraqis favor political democracy, and only 14 percent support an Islamic state. Despite ongoing chaos, half of Iraqis do not believe it was wrong for the United States to invade—which is remarkable, given that no one likes being occupied, particularly by people of a different culture and religion. (This is why, despite all misgivings about the wisdom of this war, I strongly reject the view that it was a crime against the Iraqi people.)

The ABC poll also found that two-thirds of Iraqis expect things to improve in the year ahead. Let's hope they are right, both for their country and for the world.