Friday, July 28

High-fructose corn syrup no worse than refined white sugar

Many scientific articles and news reports have noted that since 1980, obesity rates have climbed at a rate remarkably similar to that of high-fructose corn syrup consumption. A distant derivative of corn, the highly processed syrup was created in the late 1960's and has become a hard-to-avoid staple of the American diet over the last 25 years. It spooks foodies, parents and nutritionists alike. But is it really that bad?

Many scientists say that there is little data to back up the demonization of high-fructose corn syrup, and that links between the crystalline goop and obesity are based upon misperceptions and unproved theories, or are simply coincidental.
This is the first of several items via

Meth Is Not America's No 1 Drug Problem

...treatment centers and surveys of drug use in the population do not find meth to be the biggest drug problem. Only seven percent of treatment admissions are related to methamphetamine, for example, while cocaine admissions account for double that and heroin and related drugs make up nearly 18 percent. Alcohol accounts for 40 percent.

Moreover, the Sentencing Project only just released a study claiming that "methamphetamine is among the least commonly used drugs" (only 0.2 percent of Americans are regular users) and that the rates of methamphetamine use have remained stable since 1999.

...many of the country's population centers (New York, for example), report than none of the people they arrest test positive for the drug.

National Research Council Rejects EPA Risk Assessment Methodology

...the EPA assumed that because extremely high doses of dioxin in animals caused cancer, there was a linear risk for humans: very low exposure levels would still present a risk. The NRC concluded that the "EPA's decision to rely solely on a default linear model lacked adequate scientific support."...

Given that many environmental health scares (such as PCBs in salmon) are driven by linear risk assessments, it is important for reporters to determine whether the bulk of the evidence points to the chemical being genotoxic (thus warranting the linear risk assessment) or non-genotoxic.

Because its default position has been that all carcinogenic risks are linear, the EPA is often at odds with other international regulatory bodies (and indeed, the Food and Drug Administration here in the U.S.) in its risk assessments. The media should be wary of falling for advocacy campaigns that make the same assumptions.
Also, a link to Michael Fumento's Call off the Dioxin Dogs

David Huang thinks he knows where the Taiwanese should best invest

Conference on Sustaining Taiwan's Economic Development: Cross-strait issues hotly debated if finance meeting
The discussion on investments in China sparked heavy debate in the the conference in the face of strong opposition from Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) lawmakers.

TSU caucus whip David Huang (黃適卓) and Legislator Lo Chih-ming (羅志明) voiced strong opposition to any relaxation measures, saying overheated investment in the "enemy country" had triggered capital outflow, deprived people of jobs and jeopardized national security and sovereignty.
Conference on Sustaining Taiwan's Economic Development: Social group proposes national pension law
The growing gap between the rich and the poor was another topic of intense discussion, with the session concluding that the government would provide more opportunities for minority families.

Taiwan Solidarity Union Legislator David Huang (黃適卓) told the participants that the root of the widening gap was that more people were investing in China, causing stagnation among middle to lower income levels.
I don't believe any politician in any country should be telling people where to invest. You might think this is just populist or leftist economic bossiness, but David Huang is son of the party chairman Huang Chu-wen (黃主文). Tsai Hung-chang (蔡鴻章) has accused the Taiwan Solidarity Union (which means Huang Chu-wen, right?) of making unfair nominations, and has accused Huang Jr. of crowding him out.
TSU Secretary-General Lin Chih-chia (林志嘉) said that, since the TSU was a small party, it was not necessarily more fair to conduct opinion polls to select candidates. He said the review of candidates had been objective and open.
It sounds like typical Chinese corrupt practice.

Then Pan-blues, business rebuke MAC for axing China issues
The pan-blue camp, joined by business groups and some academics, yesterday harshly criticized the Mainland Affairs Council's decision to leave a relaxation of the China-bound investment cap and direct cross-strait flights off the agenda for the economic conference that opens today, saying that the move would hamper the nation's economic development...

Kenneth Lin (林向愷), an economics professor at National Taiwan University, said the government was doing a poor job of improving the investment environment as the investment volumes by home-grown industries indicated that the nation was lagging behind the other three Asian tigers -- Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea.

Kung Ming-hsin (龔明鑫), vice president of the Taiwan Institute of Economic Research (台經院), said the 40 percent cap, which had been ineffective in slowing the flow of capital to China, had actually become a burden to the Taiwanese economy.

"The government has the ability to review the effectiveness of this policy and come up with a more effective mechanism. [Low-end] industries which want to move to China should be allowed to go. But [high-end technology industries] should not be allowed to invest even one percent of their capital in China," Kung said.

China eyes stronger military for defense

China needs stronger military forces as it faces growing instability and threats to national security, the ruling Communist Party's ideological mouthpiece said according to reports in the state media Wednesday.
Guess whose fault this is.
An essay in the latest issue of Qiushi, or Seek Truth...did not specify the threats calling for stronger defense, but it said that Western foes did not want to see a strong China.

"Hostile Western forces do not want to see a strong socialist China emerge in the east, and they are constantly cooking up vain attempts to hold in check and contain China's development."

Supporters of independence for Taiwan -- the self-governed island that China has claimed as its own since their split in 1949 amid civil war -- are also a "major peril", it added....

Beijing's relations with Washington are strained by mutual mistrust, even as the two countries seek to cooperate over curtailing North Korea's nuclear weapons program and defusing other regional disputes.

Wednesday, July 26

Poison in your food

The breathless Should we worry about soya in our food? warns us away from soybeans. One of the people it cites is the owner of a brand of organic soy sauces.
He lived in Japan for 18 years and his Japanese wife, Setsuko, is a cookery teacher. "I never saw soy beans on the table in Japan - they're indigestible."
In Japan they eat soybeans they call edamame and in Taiwan and China, they call them máodòu 毛豆.

I'm skeptical about the dangers of the soybean. Lots of vegetables are dangerous. Consider the following, based on information from the New Zealand Food Safety Authority and the Food Toxicology chapter of Prevention and Therapy of Cancer and Other Common Diseases: Alternative and Traditional Approaches:
  • Almonds, fruit pits (apple, apricot, cherry, peach, pear, plum), lima beans, flax seed and cassava or manioc are among the highest sources of amygdalin, which can turn into hydrogen cyanide in the stomach causing discomfort, illness and sometimes death.
  • Edible foods containing furocoumarins include celery, parsley, parsnips, citrus fruits, figs and some spices. Normal levels of furocoumarin are low in celery, while markedly increased concentrations are found following fungal invasion or following exposure to cold, chemicals or UV radiations. The highest concentrations are found in edible parts of roots of celery, parsnips and parsley. One of the toxins can cause stomach ache and may also cause a painful skin reaction when contact with the plant is combined with UV rays from sunlight.
  • All potatoes contain natural toxins called glycoalkaloids. The levels are usually low but higher levels are found in sprouts, and the peel of potatoes that taste bitter. Severe stomach ache and even death from glycoalkaloid poisoning has been reported overseas, but is very unusual.
  • Lectins have been found at comparatively high levels in legume seeds, beans, potatoes and wheat germ. As few as four or five raw kidney beans can cause severe stomach ache, vomiting and diarrhoea.
  • Plants like spinach, rhubarb, beet leaves, tea and cocoa contain oxalic acid. The bioavailability of oxalate was greatest for peanuts and beet roots and somewhat less for rhubarb and spinach. Oxalic acid poisoning can cause muscle twitching, cramps, decreased breathing and heart action, vomiting, pain, headache, convulsions and coma.
  • Zucchini may occasionally contain a family of natural toxins called cucurbitacins. Bitter zucchinis have caused people to experience vomiting, stomach cramps, diarrhoea and collapse.
  • Raw or unprocessed cassava, bamboo shoots, flax and lima beans contain a toxin called cyanogenic glycosides. This can lead to exposure to hydrogen cyanide and its related toxicity.
  • Consumption of divicine found in fava beans (Vicia faba) or inhalation of its pollen can produce a disease syndrome termed favism. Favism is characterized by hemolytic anemia, hemoglobinuria and shock.
  • Marine fish, especially squid, is the major dietary source of dimethylamine. Dimethylamine is a precursor of N-nitrosodimethylamine, a potent carcinogen in a wide variety of animals. Consumers of large amounts of marine fish have an increased risk of stomach cancer.
The "Alternative" in Prevention and Therapy of Cancer and Other Common Diseases: Alternative and Traditional Approaches sounds a little unscientific to me, but it's packed with references, and the author also sounds a couple of caveats:
[A]ll plant materials contain natural pesticides, alkaloids and other chemicals that are as mutagenic as industrial chemicals. Furthermore, food processing and preparation added considerably amounts of mutagens to the diet. Ames estimated that each day the average American consumed 1,500 mg of natural pesticides compared to less than 0.1 mg of synthetic pesticides. Many of the vitamins are beneficial at low doses but toxic at high doses. Ultraviolet radiation in sunshine activates vitamin D and prevents rickets but in high doses causes skin cancer.

Concern has been expressed about synthetic or naturally-occurring chemicals in foods as causative agents in human cancer.... However, the toxicity of these chemicals may often be minimized by natural defense systems in food, such as metabolism and DNA repair. A holistic view of toxic factors provides a more meaningful risk assessment of dietary toxins and carcinogens. Food additives prevent food spoilage and poisoning from pathogens and protect nutritional quality of foods. No evidence has been found that these compounds in current use in industrialized countries significantly contributes to the overall cancer risk. They do, however, substantially reduce the risk of pathogen related food poisoning, which far outweighs any unproven risk of increased cancer.

It's not wrong, but...

The Taipei Times printed an editorial titled Taiwan still a good place to learn Mandarin complaining that an article in Time magazine ignored Taiwan as a place to study Mandarin. It's not that Taiwan is a bad place to study Mandarin, although since most students are interested in the mainland, which is pretty much restricted to simplified characters, which you'll only see in classrooms here. The editorial is a little disingenuous given the paper's strident support for DPP, whose policies include the promotion of non-Mandarin dialects. Even more problematic is Tongyong Pinyin, another extra hurdle. In the past the paper has printed articles critical of Tongyong Pinyin, but you don't see that here.

Just banning something does not prevent it from happening

Tim Harford writes,
Nowadays we realize it is insanity to suppress markets for coal and steel, but we are still tempted to try the trick on the markets for sex, drugs, rhino horn, soccer tickets and, apparently, Mars bars.

These efforts usually fail. Tickets for big sporting events such as the World Cup or the Super Bowl are a bit like Soviet coal. They are supplied in a non-market system or sold at below-market value for political or ideological reasons. Although scalpers perform a social service by getting tickets to those who value them most, nobody likes them because they are bearers of bad news: These events are popular, supply is limited, and consequently the price is high. Markets are good at telling us this sort of truth, and the ticket agency Ticketmaster is starting to use online auctions to beat the scalpers at their own game.

Markets for prostitutes and for rhino horn are suppressed for a different reason: They are thought to be bad for prostitutes and rhinos, respectively. That is obviously true for individual rhinos and is true for unwilling prostitutes too, but just banning something does not prevent it from happening. Julian Morris, now director of International Policy Network, a free-market think tank, studied the rhino-horn ban and concluded that it had reduced rhino numbers by discouraging sustainable management of rhino herds in southern Africa, while doing nothing to prevent poaching in east Africa.

Tuesday, July 25

Awww, cute foxes

And not-so-cute rats:
On an animal-breeding farm in Siberia are cages housing two colonies of rats. In one colony, the rats have been bred for tameness in the hope of mimicking the mysterious process by which Neolithic farmers first domesticated an animal still kept today. When a visitor enters the room where the tame rats are kept, they poke their snouts through the bars to be petted.

The other colony of rats has been bred from exactly the same stock, but for aggressiveness instead. These animals are ferocious. When a visitor appears, the rats hurl themselves screaming toward their bars.

"Imagine the most evil supervillain and the nicest, sweetest cartoon animal, and that’s what these two strains of rat are like...."

"The ferocious rats cannot be handled....They will not tolerate it. They go totally crazy if you try to pick them up."

Belyaev’s hypothesis was that all domesticated species had been selected for a single criterion: tameness. This quality, in his view, had dragged along with it most of the other features that distinguish domestic animals from their wild forebears, like droopy ears, patches of white in the fur and changes in skull shape.

[Dmitri K. Belyaev, who believed in Mendelian theory despite the domination of Soviet science by Trofim Lysenko] chose to test his theory on the silver fox, a variant of the common red fox, because it is a social animal and is related to the dog. Though fur farmers had kept silver foxes for about 50 years, the foxes remained quite wild. Belyaev began his experiment in 1959 with 130 farm-bred silver foxes, using their tolerance of human contact as the sole criterion for choosing the parents of the next generation...

In fact, after only eight generations, foxes that would tolerate human presence became common in Belyaev’s stock.... [A]fter 40 years of the experiment, and the breeding of 45,000 foxes, a group of animals had emerged that were as tame and as eager to please as a dog.

As Belyaev had predicted, other changes appeared along with the tameness, even though they had not been selected for. The tame silver foxes had begun to show white patches on their fur, floppy ears, rolled tails and smaller skulls.

The tame foxes, Dr. Fitch reported, were also "incredibly endearing." They were clean and quiet and made excellent house pets, though — being highly active — they preferred a house with a yard to an apartment. They did not like leashes, though they tolerated them...

[Dr. Brian Hare of the Planck Institute] found that the fox kits from Belyaev’s domesticated stock did just as well as puppies in picking up cues from people about hidden food, even though they had almost no previous experience with humans. The tame kits performed much better at this task than the wild kits did. When dogs were developed from wolves, selection against fear and aggression "may have been sufficient to produce the unusual ability of dogs to use human communicative gestures," Dr. Hare wrote last year in the journal Current Biology.
My Kaohsiung rats, incidentally, while not particularly endearing to me, at least, weren't hostile. Rather a little curious, but also a little shy.

Willpower is a depletable resource

I already knew this, but
Common intuition and experimental psychology suggest that the ability to self-regulate, willpower, is a depletable resource.
via Tyler Cowen, who suggests leaving oneself wanting to do a little more of the virtuous task.

Friday, July 21

Yes, there is that

Nevada has plenty of spare land, most of it owned by the federal government and long idle bar the occasional nuclear explosion.

What works and what doesn't

For forest fires:
...good forest management—thinning overgrown tree stands, or making use of selective fire as a housecleaning tool in the forests—may help tamp down a probable upward trend in the severity of fires.

Easier said than done. Greens often oppose forest thinning as logging in disguise, while state air-quality officials, particularly in California, regularly fight forest managers over permission to start deliberate fires.
For gambling:
If prohibitionism really is driven by morality, then it is self-defeating. If you want to put the industry in the hands of dodgy dealers registered in Tuvalu or Vanuatu, if you want to guarantee websites without protection for children or restraints on compulsive gamblers, if you want to help money laundering and fraud, then prohibition is the policy for you.

There is an another approach, which has been tested with online sales of alcohol and pornography, and been found broadly to work. Internet gambling operations know more about their punters than casinos do. Owning a credit card is a good proxy for proof of age; each transaction is logged, so companies can tell who is betting excessively or at odd times of the day; they can tell where a computer is, and so abide by state laws. Registered, branded, taxed gambling companies are not perfect protection against the excesses of betting, but they are the best there is.
And what doesn't:
The absurdity of America's cotton subsidies is well known. Uncle Sam spends over $4 billion a year propping up cotton farmers, with the bulk of the money going to those whose operations are much larger than Mr Evans's. Cotton receives far more government cash per acre than other crops—in 2001, four or five times that of maize or wheat, according to a recent paper by the National Centre for Policy Analysis, a conservative think-tank. The losers are not just American taxpayers but some of the world's poorest farmers, as America's subsidised production pushes down world prices. Cotton prices have halved since the mid-1990s as America's subsidies have doubled.

Thursday, July 20

Rude, vile pigs

I'm no supporter of Chao Chien-ming 趙建銘, but Taiwanese reporters really are rude, vile pigs (as Elton John said):
First lady Wu Shu-jen's elderly mother, in a fit of rage, yesterday poured water onto journalists covering her visit to her grandson-in-law Chao Chien-ming's residence in Taipei.

Wang Hsia, in her 80s, paid Chao a 15-minute visit at his residence. Chao has been hounded by reporters and cameramen around-the-clock since he was implicated in an insider-trading scandal.

When she re-emerged from the residence, she poured a bucket of water onto the journalists, and tried to grab their cameras.

She then started lecturing the stunned journalists, saying they had to have her permission before filming her...

Taiwanese sweatshop?

Just kidding. I believe this is actually a good idea:
Taiwan plans to increase recruitment of foreign workers so that they can work night shifts, which are often shunned by Taiwanese workers, a Council of Labor Affairs official said yesterday.

"We plan to lift the ban on foreign workers working [night] shifts because many Taiwanese workers do not like to work them. The lifting of the ban will benefit many industries, especially electronics companies and slaughterhouses which operate around the clock," director of the council Lee Ying-yuan (李應元) said at a meeting.

"We will decide on the quota for these foreign workers and submit a report to the government. If everything goes well, we can lift the ban by the end of the year at the earliest," he said.

The nation has recruited some 300,000 workers from six countries: Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Mongolia. If Taiwan increases the number of foreign workers, the new workers will also come from these countries.

At the meeting, Lee also said that the council was considering scrapping the fixed minimum monthly salary for a foreign worker -- NT$15,840 (US$465) -- and allow companies that hire foreign workers to decide salary levels...
But somebody will probably oppose in the name of "saving jobs" that no Taiwanese actually wants.

UpdateAn editorial complains
... it is instructive that the council is washing its hands of the 700 mostly Thai laborers who were here at the time of the riot and who have been or will be sent home, contracts not renewed. This is an act of retaliation by the Kaohsiung City Council, which has made sure that the workers got their comeuppance. Result? The MRT project is now short of labor to the tune of 400 workers.

We also note with disgust the council's intention to abolish the minimum monthly wage of NT$15,840 (US$483) for foreigners. This will increase mistreatment of workers -- many of whom are already forced to go into years of debt by thug labor brokers to have the privilege of working here.
Still, higher wages mean less jobs for the foreign laborers, which may well be what the editors actually want.

Religion causes pollution

Several cities and counties are coming up with "creative" solutions to deal with air pollution with the approach of Ghost Month, the seventh month of the lunar calendar when local people burn a great deal of paper "ghost money," a tradition that creates even more smog and pollution than usual.

Kaohsiung City's "burn paper money collectively" drive is now entering its fourth year. It will again cooperate with Kaohsiung County and Pingtung County to promote collective burning...

The officials also said that a "doing good deeds to replace burning paper ghost money" program received an enthusiastic response in the first year following its launch last year and that they plan to expand the program this year.

The seventh month of the Chinese lunar calendar is called Ghost Month as the superstitious believe ghosts and spirits come out from the "lower world" to visit earth. This year's Ghost Month falls between July 25 and Aug. 23.
Of course, then there the the pollution from motorcycles.

Worse than Americans?

The selling of tampons on online auction Web sites will be banned starting this Tuesday, according to a Department of Health order issued last week.

The department demanded that tampons, along with several other types of medical equipment, be forbidden from being sold online. The order was delivered to a popular Internet auction site last weekend.

The department said that tampons were considered medical appliances, and thus could not be sold online. Only pharmacists with a license can sell medical products, it added.

The department's Pharmaceutical Affairs Division director Lin Hsiu-chuan (林秀娟) said the nation models its categorization of medical appliances on the US Food and Drug Administration's classifications.
Even though online tampon sales are legal in the US! Part of the result for Taiwan:
[Cheng Ling-fang (成令方), chairwoman of the Graduate Institute of Gender Study at Kaohsiung Medical University, and Hsu Pei-hsin (許培欣), a teacher at Tung Fang Institute of Technology] said the low usage rate for tampons in Taiwan should be attributed to "the department's old-fashioned regulations."

Hu's Mishandling Of The North Korean Crisis

By Willy Lam
Beijing, in particular President Hu Jintao, has emerged as a loser in the latest episode of missile and nuclear brinkmanship orchestrated by Dear Leader Kim Jong Il. In spite of the billions of dollars in aid that Beijing has poured into the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), China has again demonstrated that it is incapable of controlling its errant client state. Furthermore, the heavy-handed manner with which Chinese diplomats prevented the UN Security Council from imposing economic and military sanctions on the Hermit Kingdom has almost guaranteed that Pyongyang will only continue to create trouble for the global community...

Chinese diplomats have always defended their actions, or lack thereof, by arguing that Beijing's influence over Pyongyang is limited. This, however, could not be futher from the truth. Observers of North Korea will remember that when Beijing turned off oil supplies to the DPRK for three days in early 2003, Pyongyang took notice and made concessions, if only token ones, that included an agreement to join the Six Party Talks. Beijing's most recent refusal to even reprimand the DPRK in public has weakened its claim of being a "responsible stakeholder" in the international community. Indeed, more officials and analysts in the West have gravitated to the view that instead of being a crucial broker in solving the DPRK conundrum, Beijing's duplicitous stance is part of the problem.

Hu's to Blame

...Long-time Hu watchers in Beijing have attributed Hu's pro-Pyongyang posture to two related reasons. One is the institutional bias of president and Central Military Commission (CMC) chairman's tendency to side with military hawks particularly regarding foreign policy toward the U.S., Japan and Korea. This may be due to the CMC chief's need to secure the backing of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) top brass in the run-up to the crucial CCP 17th Party Congress next year. The other reason is that by temperament, Hu, an unabashed disciple of Chairman Mao Zedong's, shares the "pro-Russian" and "pro-DPRK" proclivities of the CCP conservatives....

Apart from undermining China's status as a diplomatic broker and peacemaker, Kim's antics have also presented a god-sent excuse for Japan to beef up its defense forces...

Tuesday, July 18

I don't hate the rich, I just want to take their money

So says François Hollande. More on this "incredibly stupid and narrow-minded vision of economic life":
[There is a] sizable community of rich expatriate French driven out by the world's highest tax bills on wealthy citizens. The exodus continues: On average, at least one millionaire leaves France every day to take up residence in more wealth-friendly nations, according to a government study.

At a time when France is struggling to stay competitive in an increasingly integrated world, business leaders say the country can't afford to make refugees of some of its most established business families. They include members of the Taittinger champagne empire, the Peugeot auto magnates and leading shareholders of dominant retailers Carrefour and Darty. Also going are members of a new generation of high-tech entrepreneurs.

Socialist leaders and some government officials argue that the rich are merely trying to shirk their social responsibilities by fleeing the country with their millions.

France's opposition Socialist Party leader Francois Hollande said recently that his party's -- and his country's -- opposition to proposals to lower high-income taxes has nothing to do with disdain for the wealthy. "I don't have anything against rich people, as such," Hollande said in a recent political debate. "They have the right to be rich. But I can't accept that the richest can have their taxes lowered."

"This tendency to take from the rich and give to the poor which is supposed to solve all the problems in France is ruining the country," said Alain Marchand, who left France six years ago and now has a London-based consulting business that helps relocate French business leaders and entrepreneurs in England and other countries. "That's an incredibly stupid and narrow-minded vision of economic life."

Eric Pinchet, author of a French tax guide, estimates the wealth tax earns the government about $2.6 billion a year but has cost the country more than $125 billion in capital flight since 1998.

Business organizations and financial consultants say members of the new generation of business school graduates and high-tech entrepreneurs -- who see the tax structure as penalizing not only individuals but also companies' ability to compete -- are especially likely to flee the taxation.
...and France goes farther down the toilet.

Atheists worse than homosexuals

Joseph Gerteis, Penny Edgell, and Doug Hartmann
...found that one group stood out from all others in terms of the level of rejection they received from the general public. That was atheists...

Like it or not, many (possibly most) Americans see religion as a marker of morality. To many Americans, "Atheists" are people who lack any basis for moral commitment.

...maybe "atheists" serves as kind of a catch-all code for "bad folks." But again, isn't that the point? And isn't it interesting that in recent years "atheist" has even outstripped "homosexual" in its negative connotations?
Atheist strippers vs. homosexual strippers!

Saturday, July 15

Anthony Bourdain

On vegans:
They're rude! People's choice to become vegan, from people I've spoken to, seems motivated by fear. Like, "it's possibly toxic, or ungroovy, or poisonous, or loaded with chemicals or some kind of harmful things that'll make me less healthy." I certainly don't see that as a good reason to do anything, certainly not a good reason to be rude to your host.

How can you travel? Before you've even left home, you've already decided, "I reject most of the world's bounty and the expression of their hopes and dreams and culture." Some nice, possibly impoverished Vietnamese rice farmer is nice enough to offer you the one chicken he can kill a month, or a week, and you say, "Sorry, I can't"? It just seems antihuman. It's antisocial.

And for anyone who says that everyone should eat like that -- it completely ignores the fact that, well, we can't afford to. We've got hungry people in this world. Go stay with the Bushmen for a week. Ninety-eight percent of their diet is meat. [Chuckles darkly.] That would be a funny reality show.
on obese people:
I just don't see [obesity] as a lifestyle decision. If you need a support system, if you're blocking egress from a burning building or taking up half my seat on a plane, that is not a lifestyle choice. That is a menace to society.

What's sad is that so few obese people are even getting big on good food. They're chawing themselves listlessly to death on crap. I don't think people should be encouraged to look like Kate Moss; I think that's unreasonable. I think the normal human body should be glorified.
on banning practices some regard as cruel:
It would be nice to think that people know the difference between a crap chicken and a good chicken. If you can afford a good-quality free-range chicken, it's nice that you have options. A lot of people in the world can't afford that.

I like the idea that we could live in an agrarian wonderland, where there are heritage animals wandering freely and making delicious farm-fresh eggs, but that ain't gonna happen; there are too many hungry people in the world.

I love Whole Foods talking about lobster and clam cruelty, when people are being fucked to death, kidnapped, starved, bombed. [The grocery chain recently stopped selling some live shellfish on the grounds that the practice is inhumane.] There is so much cruelty to humans -- so much cruelty to animals -- in this world. And people are worried about a fucking mollusk. Unbelievable.
on "workers from countries to the south of us" working in our restaurant kitchens:
Listen, in 25 years, I don't remember ever seeing an American-born kid of any income level walk into my restaurant, or any restaurant owned by any of my friends, and ask, Do you have a dishwasher job, or a prep job, or a job for a kitchen porter? We're not willing to do it. If somebody else wants to come over here and do it, that's fine with me.

And yeah, I think we should open our borders, for a variety of reasons. First of all, we've got plenty of work for people, apparently. People say "they're taking our jobs" -- well, no one's asking for those jobs.

I also like the idea of people from other places coming to our country and multiplying. It makes for better food, higher expectations, more diversity and cuter people.
via Rogier van Bakel

I've got shingles

And not just on my roof.
Is is a coincidence that I did have the roof on my house re-shingled a couple of years ago? And how come I didn't blog about that?
As I recall, I chose "dimensional" shingles and went with a contractor who installed the heavier felt; I found the contractor (who did zero advertising, not even a yellow or white page telephone entry) through a neighbor.

As for my case of shingles, in Chinese the official name is 帶狀皰疹 or 帶狀疱疹 dàizhuàngpàozhěn. The traditional Chinese medical names (in no particular order):

帶狀皰疹 dàizhuàngpàozhěn
帶狀疱疹 dàizhuàngpàozhěn
纏腰龍 chányāolóng
串腰龍 chuànyāolóng
纏腰蛇 chányāoshé
蛇盤瘡 shépánchuāng
蛇串瘡 shéchuànchuāng
蛇丹 shédān
飛蛇丹 fēishédān
蜘蛛瘡 zhīzhūchuāng
皮蛇 píshé
生蛇 shēngshé
熱瘡 rèchuāng
纏腰火龍 chányāohuǒlóng
纏腰火丹 chányāohuǒdān
火帶丹 huǒdàidān
甑帶瘡 zèngdàichuāng

Note how they also use words like belt 帶, dragon 龍, snake 蛇 (and variations like flying snake 飛蛇, skin snake 皮蛇, and living snake 生蛇), bind 纏 string 串 to describe the shape of the patch of blisters. Cinnabar 丹 is for the color, while fire 火 and hot 熱 describe the sensation (ouch!). Apparently 甑帶 also refers to the feeling and the shape; a 甑 is a cooking vessel and the 帶 is wrapped around it. What about spider 蜘蛛; is it because the blisters look like little spiders? Or spider bites?

Friday, July 14

Shut it down!

Even at rest, the brain is costly to run, consuming 20% of the body's energy production.

It's a myth that sugar consumption leads to hyperactivity

Emily Bazelon claims her kids get a "sugar high":
When Eli and Simon are high on sugar, they bump into walls and fall off jungle gyms and hit each other. When they crash, they whine and fuss and I can't stand them.
For me that kind of talk helps to undermine her argument favoring government regulation of food. It's a myth that sugar consumption leads to hyperactivity.
Parents swear that they witness a "sugar rush" after their children eat candy, and they routinely avoid sugar challenges. But there is simply no proof that a "sugar rush" exists.15,16 Most pediatricians would, however, recommend a well-rounded diet that includes proteins, fats, and appropriate amounts of carbohydrates.
15 & 16 are footnotes:

15. Wolraich ML: Diet and behavior: What the research shows. Contemporary Pediatrics 1996;13(12):29

16. Wolraich ML, Wilson DB, White JW: The effect of sugar on behavior or cognition in children: A meta-analysis. JAMA 1995;274:1617

Tuesday, July 11

Japan Talks Tough About North Korea's missile tests,

In their toughest comments to date on North Korea's missile tests, Japanese officials on Monday called for a debate on whether Japan should pursue military capabilities that would enable preemptive strikes at North Korean missile bases. Japan currently does not possess such technology.
Not what the Chinese want, presumably. So,
On Monday afternoon, China, backed by Russia, presented a nonbinding draft statement to the U.N. Security Council that "deplores" North Korea's missile tests and expresses "grave concern" about its threat to conduct more. The statement, which did not threaten sanctions, was a surprisingly strong rebuke of North Korea by its most sympathetic supporters in the 15-nation council.
Nor is it what South Korea wants:
Japan's swift and tough response to the missile tests is in contrast to the caution expressed by South Korea. In addition, the South's relations with Japan have become tense: On the day of the missile tests, the government in Seoul had dispatched a survey ship into disputed waters claimed by both nations despite protests from Tokyo.

South Korea's presidential office on Monday accused Tokyo of "making a fuss" out of the missile tests and said it would go ahead with scheduled ministerial-level talks with North Korean officials Tuesday in the southern city of Pusan.

South Korea also blasted Japan's call to discuss preemptive strike capabilities against North Korea, which, along with the South, endured Japanese colonial rule from 1910 to 1945. As South Korea has moved to the political left and enjoyed warm ties with North Korea in recent years, it has joined Pyongyang in decrying what both have called Japan's renewed shift toward militarism.
If South Korea, China, and Russia keep coddling the north, they're going to push Japan even farther in that direction. I suppose it's all the fault of the US. Sigh.

What about the death penalty?

When Lay was found guilty of conspiracy and fraud, [Jan Molinell, a former Enron Corp. employee] cheered. Then, last Wednesday, before Lay could be sentenced to prison, he died.

"I feel cheated that he didn't have to do some sort of suffering," said Molinell, 63, of Longwood, Fla....

Controlled studies show that when victims make an active attempt to forgive -- by recognizing that anger is eating away at them, by trying to see the inherent worth of the people who hurt them and by extracting positive lessons from the experience -- they fare better on various measures of psychological well-being.

One [single! and uncontrolled?--ed.] 2003 study by Dutch researchers, however, found that the positive benefits of forgiveness disappeared when people did not have a close relationship with the wrongdoer, suggesting that forgiveness may not be a one-size-fits-all response to unresolved conflict.

Lois Black, 66, of Houston, a legal secretary at Enron who lost $150,000 when the company's stock collapsed, is among those still angry at Lay. Every time she lifts heavy furniture for the parties she now organizes to make ends meet, she is reminded of her pain. She is constantly worried that her body will give out.

"He got off easy by dying," she said. "You are gone, boom! You die and you are out of here.

"Of course," she reminded herself thoughtfully, "who knows what is on the other side?"
I'm wondering what people like these employees would think about the death penalty. Is it "getting off too easy?"

For my part, I try to keep this quotation from Epictetus in mind when angry:
If a person had delivered up your body to some passer-by, you would certainly be angry. And do you feel no shame in delivering up your own mind to any reviler, to be disconcerted and confounded?

Monday, July 10

He's blinded by his own theory

In Whose Freedom?, George Lakoff agonizes once again that conservative rhetoric is all about ideology, not facts, and liberals should use the same technique. He writes:
...we are seeing the promotion of a new form of free-market colonialism in the guise of free-trade agreements and globalization, and even the use of military force to support these policies.
I'd suggest he read the Economist for some facts, but I'm guessing he'd say it's all rhetoric.

Allegations against America's secret detention program.

In May 2003, [Laid Saidi] was expelled from Tanzania, where he ran a branch of Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, an international charity based in Saudi Arabia that promoted the fundamentalist Wahhabi strain of Islam and has since been shut down after being accused of financing terrorist groups....

Three days later, he said, he was bundled into a white Land Rover and driven to the Malawi border, where he was turned over to Malawians in plain clothes who were accompanied by two middle-aged Caucasian men wearing jeans and T-shirts....

The Malawians blindfolded him, and his clothes were cut away, he said. He heard someone taking photographs. Then, he said, the blindfold was removed and the agents covered his eyes with cotton and tape, inserted a plug in his anus and put a disposable diaper on him before dressing him. He said they covered his ears, shackled his hands and feet and drove him to an airplane where they put him on the floor.
Kinky! Yeah his imprisonment was rough:
physical evidence he offered of his imprisonment were fading scars on his wrists that he said were from having been chained to the ceiling of a cell for five days.
Better than getting your head hacked off, though, eh?

So basically, immigration is good

The NYTimes magazine pretends economists disagree about immigration: the teaser says,"Politicians aren't the only ones fighting over the answers." But the article concludes by putting the argument in this light:
Economists more in the mainstream generally agree that the U.S. should take in more skilled immigrants; it's the issue of the unskilled that is tricky. Many say that unskilled labor is needed and that the U.S. could better help its native unskilled by other means (like raising the minimum wage or expanding job training) than by building a wall. None believe, however, that the U.S. can get by with no limits. Richard B. Freeman of Harvard floated the idea that the U.S. simply sell visas at a reasonable price. The fee could be adjusted according to indicators like the unemployment rate. It is unlikely that Congress will go for anything so cute, and the economists' specific prescriptions may be beside the point. As they acknowledge, immigration policy responds to a host of factors — cultural, political and social as well as economic. Migrant workers, sometimes just by crowding an uncustomary allotment of people into a single dwelling, bring a bit of disorder to our civic life; such concerns, though beyond the economists' range, are properly part of the debate.

What the economists can do is frame a subset of the important issues. They remind us, first, that the legislated goal of U.S. policy is curiously disconnected from economics. Indeed, the flow of illegals is the market's signal that the current legal limits are too low. Immigrants do help the economy; they are fuel for growth cities like Las Vegas and a salve to older cities that have suffered native flight. [George] Borjas's research strongly suggests that native unskilled workers pay a price: in wages, in their ability to find inviting areas to migrate to and perhaps in employment. But the price is probably a small one.

The disconnect between Borjas's results and [David] Card's hints that there is an alchemy that occurs when immigrants land ashore; the economy's potential for absorbing and also adapting is mysterious but powerful. Like any form of economic change, immigration causes distress and disruption to some. But America has always thrived on dynamic transformations that produce winners as well as losers. Such transformations stimulate growth. Other societies (like those in Europe) have opted for more controls, on immigration and on labor markets generally. They have more stability and more equality, but less growth and fewer jobs.

Saturday, July 8

goody two-shoes

goody two-shoes (GOOD-ee TOO-shooz) noun

A smugly virtuous person.

[After the title character in The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes, a children's book believed to have been written by Oliver Goldsmith.]

In this moralistic nursery tale, Margery is an orphan who has only one shoe. One day, when she gets the full pair, she runs about shouting, "Two shoes!" Eventually she becomes rich and educated through her virtue and hard work.

The word goody was a polite term of address for a woman of humble social status. It's a contraction of the word goodwife and was formerly used as a title in a manner similar to the current Mrs.
-Anu Garg (

Push-to-walk buttons don't work most of the time

Cecil Adams claims
push-to-walk buttons only work when there's nobody around to push them. To put it more charitably, the buttons generally are wired to insert a "walk" phase into an otherwise walkless signal cycle, not speed an existing "walk" phase up.

Friday, July 7

But Taiwan is not China, right?

Mirriam Chinema, an exchange military cadet from the southeastern African country, has become the first foreign female military officer to graduate from the ROC Military Academy since it was founded in 1924 in China.

Chinema said that she has enjoyed history and the military since childhood and that this was the reason why she entered a school for noncommissioned officers in Malawi.

She said that there was no academy in her country to train military officers and that because of her fascination with Chinese history and culture, she decided to come to Taiwan under a military exchange program between Taiwan and Malawi.

Chinema is scheduled to leave Taiwan for home on Tuesday after completing her four-years of training and study at the ROC Military Academy.

She noted that Taiwan has more rigorous and systematic training than Malawi, noting that Malawi's military training is patterned on the British system, while Taiwan's is based on the US system.

Chinema, who couldn't read or speak Chinese when she first came to Taiwan, can now speak fluent Chinese and Taiwanese. She said that she has had a good time at the academy, enjoying such extracurricular activities as taekwondo.
(emphasis mine)

I'm a fan of

Thursday, July 6

Cancer Taiwan's No.1 killer?

Cancer remained [Taiwan's] No. 1 killer last year for the 24th year in a row, accounting for more than 26 percent of fatalities, according to the Department of Health... The ranking of the top 10 causes of death last year remained almost the same as in 2004, led by cancer and followed by strokes, heart disease, diabetes, accidents, pneumonia, chronic liver disease, kidney disease, suicide and hypertension-related diseases.
I'm skeptical, because of the horrendous way people drive, but the government's Department of Health website says the same thing, with accidents (and apparently that's not just traffic accidents) causing only 6% of deaths. Maybe treatment for the others is so poor it means that deaths from accidents make up a smallar proportion?

Wednesday, July 5

Scary Food

Americans take food safety very seriously. Still, many consumers tend to ignore Mother Nature's contaminants while they worry unduly about high technology, such as the advanced technologies that farmers, plant breeders, and food processors use to make our food supply the most affordable, nutritious, varied, and safe in history.

For example, recombinant dna technology — also known as food biotechnology, gene-splicing, or genetic modification (gm) — is often singled out by critics as posing a risk that new allergens, toxins, or other nasty substances will be introduced into the food supply.... Scientists agree, however, that gene-spliced crops and foods are not only better for the natural environment than conventionally produced food crops, but also safer for consumers. Several varieties now on the market have been modified to resist insect predation and plant diseases, which makes the harvested crop much cleaner and safer....

Every year, scores of packaged food products are recalled from the American market due to the presence of all-natural contaminants like insect parts, toxic molds, bacteria, and viruses. Because farming takes place out-of-doors and in dirt, such contamination is a fact of life. Fortunately, modern technology has enabled farmers and food processors to minimize the threat from these contaminants.


I'm very fond of self-winding (or "automatic") watches. My mother-in-law bought me a Swatch Automatic "Body & Soul" three years ago for over a hundred US$, but a couple of days ago, the plastic back fell off, and it's out of warranty, so I'll probably have to pay for any repairs. And unlike what this copy says, if I don't wear it once every 24 hours, it stops. So today I got a NT$99 digital watch (about $US3), with a stick-on label that says "HI-POWER". Let's see how long it lasts.

Tuesday, July 4


At the Veterans Memorial Cemetery in the small town of Fernley, Nev., there is a wall of brass plaques for local heroes. But one space is blank. There is no memorial for Sgt. Patrick D. Stewart.

That's because Stewart was a Wiccan, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has refused to allow a symbol of the Wicca religion -- a five-pointed star within a circle, called a pentacle -- to be inscribed on U.S. military memorials or grave markers.

The department has approved the symbols of 38 other faiths; about half of are versions of the Christian cross. It also allows the Jewish Star of David, the Muslim crescent, the Buddhist wheel, the Mormon angel, the nine-pointed star of Bahai and something that looks like an atomic symbol for atheists.

Stewart, 34, is believed to be the first Wiccan killed in combat. He was serving in the Nevada National Guard when the helicopter in which he was riding was shot down in Afghanistan last September. He previously had served in the Army in Korea and Operation Desert Storm. He was posthumously awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star.
Of course it's silly not to permit him to display his star. But anyway, a few observations. The VA National Cemetery Administration web site shows thirty six of the permissible symbols, omitting only the Christian Scientist Cross & Crown and the Muslim Islamic 5 Pointed Star, both "Not shown because of copyrights". The Christian Scientist Cross & Crown has the phrase "raise the dead". Kind of voodoo-ish, no?

Meanwhile, I can't even find "the Muslim Islamic 5 Pointed Star" on the internet. Is it maybe the Five Percent Nation? Or is it the five-pointed star found with the crescent on many islamic flags? So they have one already. Not to mention Sgt. Patrick D. Stewart received the bronze star, which is also five-pointed.

By the way, the Buddhist symbol should really be a swastika, not the cheesy wheel the VA National Cemetery Administration has.

Finally, what's the symbol for agnostics? According to the Church of the Apathetic Agnostic is considered that "?" would be an appropriate symbol for agnostics, however, I am not aware of a supplier.

Another option - applicable to atheists / agnostics / freethinkers - is the Darwin Fish...

Welfare for the rich

Nationwide, the federal government has paid at least $1.3 billion in subsidies for rice and other crops since 2000 to individuals who do no farming at all....

The checks to...landowners were intended 10 years ago as a first step toward eventually eliminating costly, decades-old farm subsidies. Instead, the payments have grown into an even larger subsidy that benefits millionaire landowners, foreign speculators and absentee landlords, as well as farmers.

Most of the money goes to real farmers who grow crops on their land, but they are under no obligation to grow the crop being subsidized. They can switch to a different crop or raise cattle or even grow a stand of timber -- and still get the government payments. The cash comes with so few restrictions that subdivision developers who buy farmland advertise that homeowners can collect farm subsidies on their new back yards.

The payments now account for nearly half of the nation's expanding agricultural subsidy system, a complex web that has little basis in fairness or efficiency. What began in the 1930s as a limited safety net for working farmers has swollen into a far-flung infrastructure of entitlements that has cost $172 billion over the past decade. In 2005 alone, when pretax farm profits were at a near-record $72 billion, the federal government handed out more than $25 billion in aid, almost 50 percent more than the amount it pays to families receiving welfare.

The Post's nine-month investigation found farm subsidy programs that have become so all-encompassing and generous that they have taken much of the risk out of farming for the increasingly wealthy individuals who dominate it.

The farm payments have also altered the landscape and culture of the Farm Belt, pushing up land prices and favoring large, wealthy operators.

The system pays farmers a subsidy to protect against low prices even when they sell their crops at higher prices. It makes "emergency disaster payments" for crops that fail even as it provides subsidized insurance to protect against those failures....

When the Republicans took control of Congress in 1995, they brought a new free-market philosophy toward farm policy. In a break with 60 years of farm protections, they promoted the idea that farmers should be allowed to grow crops without restrictions, standing or falling on their own. The result was the 1996 bill, which the Republicans called Freedom to Farm.

The idea was to finally remove government limits on planting and phase out subsidies. But GOP leaders had to make a trade-off to get the votes: They offered farmers annual fixed cash payments as a way of weaning them off subsidies....

Supporters said these annual payments gave farmers the flexibility to switch from one crop to another as market conditions changed, or even to sit it out in a year of low prices. In addition, the payments fit with international trade rules that frown on traditional price supports.

The annual payments were dubbed "transitional" and were supposed to decline over seven years. Many lawmakers assumed they would eventually end. But two years later, farm prices fell sharply, and the Republican-led Congress gave in to the farm lobby.

Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) used his power as chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on agriculture to push through $3 billion in "emergency" assistance to grain, cotton and dairy farmers. That was only the beginning of a retreat by Republicans fearing retribution at the polls in key "red" states with broad farm constituencies.

"The original intent was to make a step in the direction of eliminating farm programs," said then-House Majority Leader Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.), who led an unsuccessful fight in the 1990s to trim the subsidies. "By 1998, there was no zeal left."

Instead of cutting, Congress ended up expanding the program, now known as direct and countercyclical payments. A program intended to cost $36 billion over seven years instead topped $54 billion....

Efforts to overhaul the farm subsidy network have been repeatedly thwarted by powerful farm-state lawmakers in Congress allied with agricultural interests.

Why taxes on companies are bad for workers

Most [researchers] agree that workers do, in effect, pay some of the tax formally levied on companies. One route is through lower saving. Corporate-income taxes, like all taxes on capital, make saving and investment less attractive. Lower investment means a smaller capital stock, less capital per worker and hence lower wages. Several studies have found a negative link between corporate-tax rates and investment.
Not to mention the government generally doesn't allocate the money very well.

Shocker: I agree with Alexander Cockburn

His advice to the Gates Foundation:
At the moment it seems that the Gates couple's core focus is the war on AIDS and malaria, both ravaging Africa. How to improve the Dark Continent's overall well-being? America's senators and representatives can be bought for bargain-basement sums. A modest disbursement by the Gates Foundation-let us say $50,000 for each senator and $20,000 for each rep-would most certainly buy enough votes to end the current government subsidy, $4.5 billion for 2004, to cotton growers. The entire crop that year, the last for which figures are available, was worth $5.9 billion and the subsidy en-ables US growers to export three-quarters of their harvest and control about 40 percent of world trade, thus destroying the farm economies of countries like Mozambique, Benin and Mali. The WTO found the United States in violation this spring, but the ten largest cotton growers here-virtuous Jeffersonian toilers such as Kelley Enterprises (Tennessee) and JG Boswell (California)-have the necessary political clout to keep the subsidies coming. From 1995 to 2004, JG Boswell Co of California received $16,808,427 in cotton subsidies from the US government, while Kelley Enterprises received $8,694,643.

With overthrow of the cotton subsidy as a pilot program, Gates could launch a wider onslaught on the subsidies doled out to large wheat, rice and corn growers.

I said it, too

A review of Josef Joffe's Überpower:
The United States is not simply a great power, it is something new under the sun, what the terrified French call a hyperpuissance, or hyperpower, and what Mr. Joffe dubs an überpower.
OOOhh! German! Even better than French!
Power makes the less powerful nervous, whether they are friends or enemies...

It does not matter what the United States does, Mr. Joffe argues. The mere fact that it can act with impunity causes alarm. To Europeans, the new United States looks like Gulliver did to the Lilliputians: a giant whose intentions are uncertain and whom they would prefer to see bound by a thousand little ropes. "Their motto is: let him be strong as long as he is in harness, be it self-chosen or imposed," he writes.

European opposition to the current Iraq war, in this analysis, becomes clearer. France and Germany, joined by Russia and China, joined forces to frustrate American designs, not simply on the merits of the case, but also as a matter of principle or instinct. Success in Iraq would only make the United States more powerful and therefore more unpredictable and threatening: "America's triumph would grant yet more power to the one and only superpower — and this on a stage where it had already reduced France and Russia, the E.U. and the U.N., to bit players," Mr. Joffe writes.
So it's not really about Iraq itself.
Mr. Joffe offers some sound advice here, recalling the skillful American diplomacy of the early postwar years. In the 1940's and 50's, the United States willingly bound itself, and limited its scope for action, by creating international institutions like NATO and the United Nations and by entering into agreements with its allies, some of them friends and some of them former enemies, that made them stakeholders in the new world order.

At the same time, Mr. Joffe, who was educated at Swarthmore College and Harvard, delivers a scathing critique of European anti-Americanism. Disagreement with American policy is one thing, but a significant percentage of Europeans denounce the policy simply because it comes from the United States, source of all the world's miseries. This sentiment, which goes back centuries, was neatly summed up in a single sentence from Le Monde, written shortly after the 9/11 attacks, in which the United States was defined by "cretinism, Puritanism, barbarian arrogance, unbridled capitalism."

Anti-Americanism, Mr. Joffe argues, can sometimes be as complex, paranoid and all-encompassing as anti-Semitism.
Why is anti-Semitism the embodiment of something that is "complex, paranoid and all-encompassing"? It suggests that Anti-Americanism is anti-Semitism.
"...America gets it coming and going," he writes. It is puritanical and self-indulgent, philistine and elitist, ultrareligious and materialist. When it does not intervene, say, in Rwanda, it is wrong. When it does intervene, it is accused of naked imperialism.

And a good thing, too

US nuclear deterrent was used to defend Hong Kong

Be Very Afraid

Frank Furedi complains "From climate change doom-mongers to population alarmists, every kind of fear entrepreneur is piggy-backing on the 'war on terrorism'."
Competing claims about what constitutes the greatest threat to global security are an exercise in what sociologists call domain expansion. 'Once a problem gains widespread recognition and acceptance, there is a tendency to piggyback new claims on to the old name, to expand the problem's domain', writes the sociologist Joel Best....

A central element of all this 'domain expansion' is the argument that certain calamities will cause more casualties than terrorism does.
His targets include:
  • environmental degradation and diminishing natural resources
  • global warming
  • infectious diseases such as avian flu or genetically engineered viruses
  • natural disasters
  • nuclear war
  • overpopulation
  • poverty
  • terrorism
He singles out "Malthusian organisations, including the Worldwatch Institute and the Population Institute"
In one very important sense, however, the Malthusian security agenda is even more retrograde than the traditionalist security agenda. The traditional variety was usually focused on a specific enemy; in many instances the enemy was clearly identified – the Russians, the Cubans, or some specific group of subversives. Today's security agenda, by contrast, is uncertain about how to distinguish friend from foe and what the problem really is. According to this view, there are no friends or foes. The new security agenda adopts a fiercely misanthropic outlook and blames human behaviour in general for threatening security. They believe that our behaviour – leading to population growth, consumption of oil, environmental degradation – is the real threat. For them, threats are transnational, global, interconnected; in other words, everything is a potential threat. Infectious diseases, environmental problems, economic discontent and terrorist violence are seen as being parts of a broader, generic security problem.

In years to come, this approach, which is now institutionalised through the US Department of Homeland Security, is likely to expand into more and more spheres of human experience. It is surely only a matter of time before the assumption implicit in the Malthusian security agenda – that we do not simply need a 'war on terror' but a 'war on everything' – will be made more explicit.
So to the list above, add:
  • the war on terrorism

Good news

Reductions in employment at General Motors and Delphi an industry at the heart of American manufacturing have fed a popular belief that anyone who makes things in the United States is struggling against an onslaught of foreign competition. Whether American firms are building plants overseas as a way to exploit cheap labour, or closing down factories because they cannot compete any more, the widespread assumption is that the country's entire industrial base is being "hollowed out". "Our media act as if American manufacturing is going to grind to a halt at around two o'clock this afternoon," says Cliff Ransom, an independent analyst who scours America for the most assiduous metal-bashers.

But someone forgot to tell American manufacturers the bad news. Most of them have enjoyed roaring success of late. Net profits have risen by nearly 9% a year since the recession in 2001 and productivity has been growing even more rapidly than is usual during economic expansions [see article for chart]. The country's various widget-makers, moreover, show no sign of losing their innovative edge.
And then there's the American consumer: It's a golden age for new-car buyers
When things gradually improve, we may not notice how good things are. Proof of that is the quality of modern cars, which would astonish a time traveler arriving from 1966 or even 1986. Today, we take it for granted that cars are not supposed to break down. Once upon a time, we took it for granted they were destined to spend much of their lives in the shop.

The change is a tribute to the transformative power of capitalism and global commerce. A few decades ago, American automakers were the titans of American industry, bestriding the economy like a colossus. But in recent years, they have been relentlessly outcompeted by foreign automakers that have forced them to strive for ever-rising standards. This translates into misery for Detroit, but bliss for consumers.

The latest Initial Quality Survey from J.D. Power and Associates, released last week, illustrates this unnoticed phenomenon. It says that in the first 90 days of ownership, 2006 model vehicles experienced the fewest problems of any year on record--a 59 percent reduction since 1992.

Consumer Reports, which does more extensive, long-run surveys, found comparable results. Since 1980, the trouble rate for new cars has been cut by some 80 percent. Just about every automaker has gotten better and better--to the point that the worst makes are now more reliable than the best ones were back then.

What brought about this drastic makeover? More than anything else, it was competition from Japanese automakers. They started making serious inroads into the American market in the late 1970s, thanks in large part to soaring oil prices that made their small, gas-stingy cars far more attractive.

...consumers enjoy the best of both worlds: rising quality and bargain prices. The government says that since 1981, the average cost of a new car (adjusted to account for improvements in standard equipment and other features) has risen by 49 percent--while the Consumer Price Index has risen 126 percent.

American manufacturers have found the challenge doesn't get easier with time. Last year, General Motors lost $5.6 billion in North America, and Ford spilled $1.6 billion worth of red ink. Both companies have also been losing market share.

Part of the reason is that quality sells, and Ford and GM, despite vast improvements, can't match the reliability of the major Japanese companies, or even Korea's Hyundai. Lately, the Asian makes haven't had to rely on quality alone to attract customers--as in the 1970s, they also offer better fuel economy at a time when that really, really matters.

Capitalism and globalization create fierce, relentless pressure for companies to give consumers what they want, which in this market has been more reliable vehicles for less money. Modern automakers have to operate by two simple rules: Be good, and get better. What is it like to live in a Golden Age? Anyone in the market for a car doesn't have to ask.

Things are not always what they seem

  • From the beginning, AIDS has been exaggerated as a significant threat to heterosexuals in the U.S.
  • It is far from clear that Abraham Lincoln cared deeply about social equality between whites and blacks.
  • Martin Luther King Jr. cheated on his doctoral dissertation and on his wife.
  • We fall out of love with our children less often than with our lovers/spouses because our children carry our genes.
  • Despite what is widely assumed by professionals in the counseling and education industries, self-esteem has not been shown to be causally related to academic and behavioral outcomes.
  • Whatever intelligence tests measure is related to many academic, occupational, economic, and behavioral outcomes-and it is substantially heritable.
  • It is far from clear that many returning Vietnam vets were spat upon.
  • It is far from clear that child sexual abuse produces devastating and long-lasting effects in nearly all of its victims.
  • Studies have found that many gender stereotypes contain an element of truth.
  • There may be credible UFO sightings that science is currently unable to explain.
Or so says Howard Gabennesch.

I misread the one about falling out of love with one's children. I thought it said "because our children carry our guns". (Fall out of love with THIS. [Blam blam!])

He also says critical thinking requires such traits as these:
  • Being unwilling to subordinate one's thinking to orthodoxies that demand to be swallowed whole-at the risk of being charged with heresy
  • Refusing to dismiss possible merits in ideas that otherwise may be deeply repugnant-at the risk of appearing immoral
  • Being capable of saying, "I don't know"-at the risk of appearing unintelligent
  • Being willing to judge the truth value of ideas sponsored by demographic and cultural groups to which one does not belong-at the risk of being accused of prejudice
  • Being willing to change one's mind-at the risk of appearing capricious
  • Being open to the arguments of adversaries-at the risk of appearing disloyal
  • Having an acute awareness of the limits and fallibility of one's knowledge-at the risk of seeming to suffer from that dreaded malady, low self-esteem
The word "swallow" popped out at me, and having just finished Terry Pratchett's The Truth, I couldn't help but think of "Spit or swallow, the eternal conundrum."
William took a deep draught of the tea. It was thick and stewed, but it was also sweet and hot. And slightly lemony. All in all, he considered, it could have been much worse.

"Yes, we're very fortunate when it comes to slices of lemon," said the Duck Man, busily fussing over the tea things. "Why, it is indeed a bad day when we can't find two or three slices floating down the river."

William stared fixedly at the river wall.

Spit or swallow, he thought, the eternal conundrum.

Sunday, July 2

Would Gore/Edwards have been any better?

Under Bush, free trade is probably in its weakest position since the 1920s. The ultimate consequence of Bush’s abandonment of principle may not come on his watch. But thanks to him the dangers associated with protectionism are growing, and they will likely lead to future trade skirmishes and wars that will lower the standard of living of all Americans. Unfortunately, Bush seems comfortable with that legacy.

Just How Rotten Was the British Empire?

They won't accept comments anymore, but I was going to say:
What about soccer and cricket?

(Me, I've got no use for any sport. But it seems to be a big thing for everyone else.)

Saturday, July 1

Why is this on a Falun gong site?

Tang Shao Remembers His Previous Life. Do they believe this Tang story is factual?

How much money do beggars make?

Anecdotal accounts suggest a few panhandlers do quite well. [One] couple estimates they can make $30-40,000 per year from panhandling. "...some people are making $150 to $300 or $400 a day..." One hesitates to generalize from such stories, though.

In short, it's pretty hard to get good data on the issue. Michael Scott summarized matters as well as anyone: "Most evidence confirms that panhandling is not lucrative, although some panhandlers clearly are able to subsist on a combination of panhandling money, government benefits, private charity, and money from odd jobs such as selling scavenged materials or plasma." If I were you, I'd keep my day job.

Another monumental demographic mistake?

The world's most populous nation, which has built its economic strength on seemingly endless supplies of cheap labor, China may soon face manpower shortages. An aging population also poses difficult political issues for the Communist government, which first encouraged a population explosion in the 1950's and then reversed course and introduced the so-called one-child policy a few years after the death of Mao in 1976.

That measure has spared the country an estimated 390 million births but may ultimately prove to be another monumental demographic mistake. With China's breathtaking rise toward affluence, most people live longer and have fewer children, mirroring trends seen around the world.

Those trends and the extraordinarily low birth rate have combined to create a stark imbalance between young and old. That threatens the nation's rickety pension system, which already runs large deficits even with the 4-to-1 ratio of workers to retirees that it was designed for.

Demographers also expect strains on the household registration system, which restricts internal migration. The system prevents young workers from migrating to urban areas to relieve labor shortages, but officials fear that abolishing it could release a flood of humanity that would swamp the cities.

As workers become scarcer and more expensive in the increasingly affluent cities along China's eastern seaboard, the country will face growing economic pressures to move out of assembly work and other labor-intensive manufacturing, which will be taken up by poorer economies in Asia and beyond, and into service and information-based industries...

The sheer magnitude of the aging phenomenon has Chinese officials and academics grasping for answers, but almost everyone agrees that there are no easy fixes. Population experts here speak of "patching one hole and exploding another."

China has a wide range of retirement ages, generally from 50 to 60. Raising the retirement age would relieve pressures on the pension system but make it harder for young people to find jobs. And it would be resented by many elderly people, most of whom have missed out on China's economic boom.

Lifting restrictions on internal migration raises the unwelcome prospect of a mass migration, while abandoning the one-child policy would be politically unpalatable.

The government has already tinkered with the policy. It now allows husbands and wives who were their parents' only children to have a second child, for example, and has eliminated a four-year waiting period between births for those eligible to have a second child.

But Chinese demographic experts say the leadership is unlikely to abolish the one-child rule, because it is reluctant to admit that one of its signature policies was in any way a failure — particularly in view of the disastrous population boom encouraged by Mao in the 1950's.

Moreover, lifting child-bearing restrictions might not help. Poorer people in the interior might have more children, but the rising middle class probably will not, experts say.

Why should others pay for them?

Florida is losing its luster for many residents..., who are scouring for homeowners' insurance after two ferocious hurricane seasons and struggling to pay for what they find.... In some ways, the higher rates are forcing Florida residents to confront the real costs of living in a hurricane-prone region, and many say life in the tropics may not be worth the price.
As well they should. But instead they want someone else to bail them out.
Abandoned by insurers with cold feet and empty pockets, homeowners are increasingly turning to the Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, the state-created insurer of last resort....Homeowners in some hard-hit areas have united and taken their outrage to Tallahassee, the state capital. Fair Insurance Rates in Monroe, a group formed at a backyard party in Key West, now has more than 4,000 members and successfully lobbied to have Citizens' homeowner rates in the Keys frozen at October 2005 levels until the state can review again.
Visiting Kaohsiung almost every year, which is truly tropical in that it's south of the tropic of Cancer, I can't see the attraction of the heat and humidity.

Throw him a mackerel!

I listened, rapt, as professional trainers explained how they taught dolphins to flip and elephants to paint. Eventually it hit me that the same techniques might work on that stubborn but lovable species, the American husband.

The central lesson I learned from exotic animal trainers is that I should reward behavior I like and ignore behavior I don't. After all, you don't get a sea lion to balance a ball on the end of its nose by nagging. The same goes for the American husband.

Back in Maine, I began...using what trainers call "approximations," rewarding the small steps toward learning a whole new behavior. You can't expect a baboon to learn to flip on command in one session, just as you can't expect an American husband to begin regularly picking up his dirty socks by praising him once for picking up a single sock. With the baboon you first reward a hop, then a bigger hop, then an even bigger hop. With Scott the husband, I began to praise every small act every time: if he drove just a mile an hour slower, tossed one pair of shorts into the hamper, or was on time for anything.

I also began to analyze my husband the way a trainer considers an exotic animal. Enlightened trainers learn all they can about a species, from anatomy to social structure, to understand how it thinks, what it likes and dislikes, what comes easily to it and what doesn't....

Once I started thinking this way, I couldn't stop. At the school in California, I'd be scribbling notes on how to walk an emu or have a wolf accept you as a pack member, but I'd be thinking, "I can't wait to try this on Scott."

On a field trip with the students, I listened to a professional trainer describe how he had taught African crested cranes to stop landing on his head and shoulders. He did this by training the leggy birds to land on mats on the ground. This, he explained, is what is called an "incompatible behavior," a simple but brilliant concept.

Rather than teach the cranes to stop landing on him, the trainer taught the birds something else, a behavior that would make the undesirable behavior impossible. The birds couldn't alight on the mats and his head simultaneously....

I followed the students to SeaWorld San Diego, where a dolphin trainer introduced me to least reinforcing syndrome (L. R. S.). When a dolphin does something wrong, the trainer doesn't respond in any way. He stands still for a few beats, careful not to look at the dolphin, and then returns to work. The idea is that any response, positive or negative, fuels a behavior. If a behavior provokes no response, it typically dies away.

In the margins of my notes I wrote, "Try on Scott!"..

After two years of exotic animal training, my marriage is far smoother, my husband much easier to love. I used to take his faults personally; his dirty clothes on the floor were an affront, a symbol of how he didn't care enough about me. But thinking of my husband as an exotic species gave me the distance I needed to consider our differences more objectively.

I adopted the trainers' motto: "It's never the animal's fault." When my training attempts failed, I didn't blame Scott. Rather, I brainstormed new strategies, thought up more incompatible behaviors and used smaller approximations. I dissected my own behavior, considered how my actions might inadvertently fuel his. I also accepted that some behaviors were too entrenched, too instinctive to train away.