Saturday, April 29

Who's Pandering?

The NYT editorializes,
The last thing the country needs now is another irresponsible quick fix.

Senate Republicans have proposed to assuage the pain of high gas prices by sending many taxpayers $100 apiece — enough for about two tanks of gas. Meanwhile, a cadre of Senate Democrats is carrying on about a temporary suspension of the federal gas tax, which is 18.4 cents per gallon, the same level it was in 1993. At best, the suspension would temporarily reduce prices a fraction, causing car owners to drive a little more. That rise in demand would send prices back up again.
Emphasis mine. They go on to say,
Lawmakers from both houses and parties are calling for investigations into any price gouging or other rip-offs by oil companies and filling stations. It's perfectly all right to look into these things, but no one imagines that the result will be much more than a series of photo-ops.

Suspending environmental safeguards — as President Bush proposed in his energy speech earlier this week — might send prices down a bit, at the price of dirtier air. It's appalling that a generation after the first oil shock, in 1973, politicians are still reacting with such hysteria.

The main problem is not environmental regulations or even rapacious oil companies. It certainly isn't the fact that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has been kept off limits for drilling. Americans' outsized demand for oil and gasoline pushes up prices, and now that the economies of huge countries like China and India have taken off, there will continue to be more competition for the world's available oil. There are policy solutions for the problem of excess demand, chief among them higher fuel economy standards. But more than five years into the Bush administration, there has been only a minuscule increase in mileage standards for S.U.V.'s and no increase for cars.
But why wouldn't higher fuel economy standards be any different from a temporary suspension of the federal gas tax? Why wouldn't higher fuel economy standards simply enable car owners to drive a little more, leading to a rise in that demand would send prices back up again?

The oil companies' mind-boggling profits have produced calls for a windfall profits tax. It would not be too difficult to set up a system that would capture a percentage of the companies' extraordinary profits, and the money could be used for long-term solutions, like research into alternate fuels and mass transit. That would be fair.
Yeah, assuming the all-knowing government can pick the winners. And of course the omniscient government knows what an "extraordinary profit" is. (Hey, maybe the Times is making too much money!) Then they backtrack:
But critics who say such a tax discourages investment in exploration and drilling have a point. Though they invariably overstate their case, their opposition would make a windfall tax a heavy lift politically, thereby draining effort from other, more direct, solutions, like better mileage standards and ultimately — the hardest sell of all — a bolstered federal gas tax to encourage conservation.
Sure, raising the tax will cut consumption; it's a price rise. But what pork project is going to get the money? And it's not just the rich who will pay that tax. Even the Times sees this:
It's important during this debate not to discount the genuine pain being felt by the poor and middle-class families who must drive long distances just to get to work and school. But their problem is more than gasoline prices.
Let's see, who shall we blame. Here it comes:
It's their vulnerability to the price increases, which results from stagnating wages and a lack of savings. If the Bush administration had devoted as much political capital in the past five years to wage and job growth initiatives as it has to cutting taxes for the wealthy, these struggling families would be better able to weather higher prices at the pump.

Wednesday, April 26

Get Rich! Start Your Own Religion!

Sara Lawrence asks her guide to the Church of Scientology's headquarters if the cult
is a drug rehabilitation programme or a religion and he can't give me a straight answer: "It's different things for different people, you know," he says. I don't. "Well, people have all different kinds of problems and Scientology can help anyone through anything. It makes you a better person."

Quite what Scientology does for the individual has been a matter of debate since Hubbard set it up in 1954. Tellingly, four years earlier, he had announced at an authors' convention: "Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous. If a man really wants to make a million dollars he should start his own religion."
It's not just religions. So many people seem to want to get rid of their money in so many foolish ways.

The logic of ignorance, idleness and incuriosity

Steve Jones writes,
[Advocates of Intelligent Design], to use Darwin's own phrase, "look at an organic being as a savage looks at a ship, as at something wholly beyond [their] comprehension". The first Hawaiians to cast eyes on Europeans were so astonished by their great vessels that they thought their builders to be gods. The ID argument is just the same. It is the logic of ignorance, idleness and incuriosity: I am very smart, even I do not understand this, so why bother to explain it except by bringing in God (if necessary under an alias)?

We Don't Need it So Much

Nick Schulz on Why The Pump Isn't More Painful:

According to the Bureau of Economic Affairs ( see chart here), American consumer spending on energy as a fraction of total personal consumption has declined considerably since 1980. Whereas 25 years ago, one in every ten consumer dollars was spent on energy, today it's one in every 16. In other words, what it takes to heat and cool our homes and drive to and from our jobs and vacation destinations is relatively less costly than it was then.

This goes a long way toward explaining why even when gas prices rise this summer--higher than they were throughout the 1990s--people will still be driving more; it's much more of a value than it was a generation ago.

What's more, so-called energy intensity is declining rapidly. That means we produce more with less energy. According to Economy.com, "The U.S. economy has undergone major structural changes over the last two decades, becoming more energy efficient, thus reducing its overall dependence on energy. … The energy intensity of the U.S. economy has declined by roughly 40% since the first oil crisis (as of 2001)."

Tuesday, April 25

What if the Chinese become majority stockholders of US companies?

American business exercises great influence on the everyday social and political life of the United States. Today's large American corporation is more than just an organization to produce and market different products. It has political influence through its national business organization and its lobbyists. It supports its state and local representatives. It supports important nonprofit organizations such as the Red Cross, the Boy and Girl Scouts, as well as religious and educational institutions.

That is why any potential takeover of a U.S. company by foreign government-owned entities triggers anxiety and requires careful attention. It is more than economic clout that is acquired; it is social change, political influence and decision-making authority.

Corporate control is always a delicate issue; foreign control is even more delicate, and foreign government control is most delicate of all. Even the United States, the most open haven for foreign capital, has on occasion put limitations on foreign ownership in sectors such as defense, airlines and the news media.

While the trend has been to lift those restrictions, since the 19th century America has not faced the potential of extensive direct investment under the control of a single foreign government. That could be forthcoming from China over the next few years.

China's purchases of U.S. Treasury bonds has enabled the United States to finance large-scale import of Chinese goods. Sooner or later, however, China might consider a more aggressive reinvestment of its funds. This could take the form of significant investment in U.S. equities, either in the form of diversified portfolios of securities or as direct investment in and eventually majority ownership and control of sizable U.S. companies.

Monday, April 24

The Coming Fiscal Crisis

...the current budget deficit...isn't a big problem.
But
By the time the next president is nearing the end of a hypothetical eight-year term, the cost of Social Security and Medicare will have forced a fiscal crisis.

Minimum Wage again

Stephen Bainbridge says
...it is critical to recognize that the minimum wage debate is mainly a debate about how much working teenagersand twenty-somethings in their first job ought to make. The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that (in 2002):

"Minimum wage workers tend to be young. About half of workers earning $5.15 or less were under age 25, and slightly more than one-fourth were age 16-19."
This is in the course of arguing that "Increasing the minimum wage is...problematic because it makes the choice of work over school marginally more attractive."

Justice Talking Loves Unions

I found the State of the Unions program to be unbalanced and pro-union, in spite of weak efforts at objectivity. The main question seemed to be how to increase union participation, instead of the downside of unions.

The program failed to even consider the possibility that labor unions benefit those workers who already have jobs at the expense of those who do not. When companies are forced to raise wages and benefits, they have less money to hire more workers. The end result is higher unemployment than would otherwise exist.

Not unlike arguments against the minimum wage.

Two Cheers for Sweatshops

Yeah, it's old news. But true.

Self-censorship is Best

American Internet firms typically arrive in China expecting the government to hand them an official blacklist of sites and words they must censor. They quickly discover that no master list exists. Instead, the government simply insists the firms interpret the vague regulations themselves. The companies must do a sort of political mind reading and intuit in advance what the government won't like. Last year, a list circulated online purporting to be a blacklist of words the government gives to Chinese blogging firms, including "democracy" and "human rights." In reality, the list had been cobbled together by a young executive at a Chinese blog company. Every time he received a request to take down a posting, he noted which phrase the government had objected to, and after a while he developed his own list simply to help his company avoid future hassles.

The penalty for noncompliance with censorship regulations can be serious. An American public-relations consultant who recently worked for a major domestic Chinese portal recalled an afternoon when Chinese police officers burst into the company's offices, dragged the C.E.O. into a conference room and berated him for failing to block illicit content. "He was pale with fear afterward," she said. "You have to understand, these people are terrified, just terrified. They're seriously worried about slipping up and going to jail. They think about it every day they go into the office."

As a result, Internet executives in China most likely censor far more material than they need to. The Chinese system relies on a classic psychological truth: self-censorship is always far more comprehensive than formal censorship. By having each private company assume responsibility for its corner of the Internet, the government effectively outsources the otherwise unmanageable task of monitoring the billions of e-mail messages, news stories and chat postings that circulate every day in China. The government's preferred method seems to be to leave the companies guessing, then to call up occasionally with angry demands that a Web page be taken down in 24 hours.

Friday, April 21

Angioedema?

A few weeks ago the left part of my lower lip started swelling sometime in the night. Then last night, it started on the left side and spread to the whole lower lip. I guess it's the Guaifenesin I've been taking, but I don't think I was taking it last time. And now I see Angioedema is a rare adverse effect of ACE inhibitors and can be life-threatening if it involves the oropharyngeal area.

Wednesday, April 19

I want a Freeware Utility to ...

450+ common problems solved.
Extremely useful free utilities that do specific jobs really well and save time and money.

My Hamster Ate Me

If you've ever wanted to match wits with your pet hamster, Mice Arena could be the game for you.

As in a traditional video game, players navigate a virtual world in a bid to stay alive. The twist? Computerized movements in Mice Arena are mapped to and from the real world, where an actual predator (your hamster) gives chase to a digital avatar (you) by pursuing a real piece of bait. The avatar's movements in the virtual environment direct the bait around a small tank fitted with actuators that mold and twist an elastic latex floor into the changing terrain of the game map. The hamster's pursuit in the tank is monitored by infra-red sensors that relay its position to the computer screen.

Friday, April 14

Poetry is Harmful to Children

I guess we're not going to see that headline anytime soon, but:
A research team headed by demographer Jonathan Kelley, of Brown University and the University of Melbourne, analyzed data from a study of scholastic ability in 43 countries, including the United States....

The researchers found that a child from a family having 500 books at home scored, on average, 112 points higher on the achievement test than one from an otherwise identical family having only one book -- and that's after they factored in parents' education, occupation, income and other things typically associated with a child's academic performance....They also found that not all books are created equal. "Having Shakespeare or similar highbrow books about bodes well for children's achievement," they wrote. "Having poetry books around is actively harmful by about the same amount," perhaps because it signals a "Bohemian" lifestyle that may encourage kids to become guitar-strumming, poetry-reading dreamers.

Tuesday, April 11

Liberals Oppose Change

...the chief executive of one of the largest international companies based in France described what he viewed as the best chance for needed economic reform that would open up European economies by making it much easier to hire and fire workers.

It was, he said, something that politicians from all parties knew was necessary, but that was unlikely to be popular with voters. The answer, he said, was for parties in the major Continental economies to accept the unpopularity that would come from economic change, so that each government would expect to be replaced at the next election by a government that would then offend voters by adopting more such legislation, and in turn be replaced.

The best chance for that, he said privately, was in Germany. He saw France as far less likely to have it work, in part because even the supposedly conservative parties were becoming more and more opposed to change.
(Emphasis mine.) Got that? "even the supposedly conservative parties were becoming more and more opposed to change". So typically, "conservative" parties support change, while "liberal" parties oppose it. It's got to be true, the New York Times says so. Anyway, it goes on to say,
There is, however, little sign outside Germany...that the push for change still engages politicians....In these [other] countries, a class accustomed to security — those with traditional jobs ending in generous retirement plans — opposes any effort to change the system. Economists may warn that the very system is one reason that unemployment, particularly youth unemployment, has soared, and that pressures of globalization mean that Europe must eventually change to prevent its growth from faltering even further. But many voters seem to prefer delaying that as long as possible.

Not that many Americans understand basic Economics, either

Danielle Scache tries to avoid using the term "capitalism" in her economics class because it has negative connotations in France.

Instead, she teaches her high school students about the market economy, a slightly less controversial term she started using last year after a two-month internship at the dairy giant Danone. That was an experience that did away with more than one of her own prejudices, she said.

"I was surprised to see that people actually enjoyed working in a company," said Scache, who is 59. "Some of them were more enthusiastic than many teachers I know."

"You know," she confided with a laugh, "in France we often think of companies, especially multinationals, as a place of constant conflict between employees and management."

This view of bosses and workers as engaged in an endless, antagonistic tug-of-war goes some way toward explaining the two-month rebellion against a new labor law.

In this world, beyond the political fault lines of left and right, companies and the market cannot be trusted. Any measure that benefits them necessarily hurts employees. The invisible hand in this world is the state, or the "public powers" to use the French term, whose role is to tame companies, protect workers and hold sway over economic growth with public spending.

It is a world that many people here still prefer to live in. In a 22-country survey published in January, France was the only nation disagreeing with the premise that the best system is "the free-market economy." In the poll, conducted by the University of Maryland, only 36 percent of French respondents agreed, compared with 65 percent in Germany, 66 percent in Britain, 71 percent in the United States and 74 percent in China.

The findings suggest that French reluctance to introduce flexibility into the labor market - the embattled new law makes it easier to fire young workers - goes beyond the reform fatigue and nostalgia for the post-World War II welfare state evident in some other European countries. As Finance Minister Thierry Breton put it last week: "There is a significant lack of economic culture in our country."

A survey commissioned by Breton's ministry last month showed that a large majority of respondents failed to identify key economic concepts, from gross domestic product to public debt.

Jean-Pierre Boisivon, director of the Enterprise Institute, a company-financed institute that sponsors the internship program for economics teachers that Scache took part in, [says,] "In France we are still stuck in 1970s Keynesian-style economics - we live in the world of 30 years ago," he said. "In our schools we fabricate a vision of society that is very different from the one that exists in other countries."

...in high schools, the "economic and social sciences" branch - one of three options that is chosen by about a third of all students - appears to dwell more on the limitations of the market and the state's task of addressing those limitations than on the market itself....

[According to] a senior adviser to Breton, "The very concept of economic policy does not exist in our country. We have a social and political vision of history in which the state is the protagonist."

Like teachers, politicians here have perpetuated economic concepts no longer viewed as valid in most Western countries. From President Fran├žois Mitterrand, who lowered the retirement age in 1982, to Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, who introduced the 35-hour week, Socialist leaders have done much to ingrain the idea that the pool of labor is fixed and needs to be shared out.

More Chinese believe in the free enterprise system than Americans

The article is titled "Companies Seen as Having Too Much Influence on Government", even though it starts out,
A new poll of 20 countries from around the world finds a striking global consensus that the free market economic system is best, but that governments should also do more to regulate large companies.
Most interestingly,
Ironically, the country that showed the highest level of support for the free enterprise system was China, with 74 percent agreeing that it is the best system. Others that were nearly as enthusiastic were the Philippines (73%), the US (71%), and India (70%).

France was the one country where most did not agree with this proposition. Only 36 percent of the French agreed that the free market economy is the best system, while 50 percent disagreed. Others that only showed plurality support for the proposition were Argentina (42% agree), Russia (43%), and Turkey (47%). In all other cases, agreement was 57 percent or higher.
Yeah.
The view that "The free enterprise system and free market economy work best in society's interests when accompanied by strong government regulations." was endorsed by a clear majority in Indonesia (86%), the Philippines (77%), and China (76%).
Again, the Chinese are more confident than others about the market. Or is it they have a low opinion about their government?
While there is consensus in support of the vitality of free markets, there are also somewhat ominous signs of concern that the system may not be working as it should. In nearly every country, large majorities agreed that "Large companies have too much influence over our national government." On average, 73 percent agreed with this statement. In several countries people were especially emphatic, with large percentages saying that they strongly agreed with this statement--Mexico (88% agree, 74% strongly), the United States (85% agree, 59% strongly), and Spain (84% agree, 58% strongly).

Only three countries did not overwhelmingly endorse this statement. Nigeria was the one country where a slight majority (51% to 41%) disagreed. China was divided (47% agreed, 44% disagreed)...
Finally, the Chinese are relatively trusting of global companies:
Global companies operating in their country received the lowest ratings. On average, 41 percent expressed trust, with only 7 percent saying they had a lot of trust and another 34 percent saying they had some trust. Just over half said they had not much trust (33%) or no trust at all (19%). But there was substantial variation between countries. Mid-level countries expressed the highest levels of mistrust--Russia (70%), Argentina (68%), Brazil (64%), Turkey (61%). Developed countries were also quite mistrustful, especially in Europe--Italy (66%), Germany (62%), France (61%), and Spain (60%). People in other developed countries are also mistrustful but in smaller numbers--South Korea (55%), US (52%), Canada (50%). People in many developing countries did express trust, especially Nigeria (67%), Kenya (65%), and China (60%).

Sunday, April 9

Kyoto is silly

The Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, that is.
To brutally oversimplify, greenhouse-gas emissions = energy use = economic activity.... To produce fewer emissions now your one choice is to shrink your economy, i.e., become poorer.... No nation is going to voluntarily impoverish itself, however noble the cause. What's more, Kyoto exempts developing nations, which are expected to vastly increase their energy consumption and thus their emissions. In short, Kyoto if implemented would mean economic chaos for no net improvement. Ain't gonna happen, as even Kyoto's fans are beginning to concede.

A more realistic approach [than frivolous use of the supplies we now have] is to say, OK, we're going to burn this fuel and cope with whatever dire result, but let's put the stuff to good use while we've got it. That means distributing improved technology to use energy more efficiently and pollute less. Amazingly, just such an approach was agreed to last year when the U.S., Australia, China, India, Japan, and South Korea formed the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, which may go down as Dubya's saving grace after having screwed the pooch in Iraq.

Thursday, April 6

Another cult?

"The sleeping Latino giant is finally awake," Contreras said. "This will be the largest demonstration by immigrants ever held in this country."

The movement has emerged as a loose coalition of immigrants rights groups, unions and religious and student organizations.

Organizers are eager to draw other immigrant groups, including Asians and Africans, into Monday's protest. But it is the involvement of so many previously apolitical elements of the Latino community that might prove a watershed in the political and cultural evolution of Hispanics, whose influence has lagged behind their growth into the nation's largest minority.
I sympathize with their annoyance over the proposed immigration law, but I'm afraid that they might just engage in another cult of victimhood. Not to mention the fact that demonstrations are fundamentally undemocratic. (Of course that's OK as long as you agree with them.)

One of These Is Probably the Answer

William Saletan's list of possible reasons that Prayer Doesn't Aid Recovery:
  1. God doesn't exist.
  2. God doesn't intervene. God may be there, but He's not doing anything here.
  3. God is highly selective. Maybe God heeds prayers, but not enough of them to reach statistical significance.
  4. God ignores form letters. Form letters don't impress Congress; why should they impress God?
  5. God requires a personal reference. A congressman may care whether your lobbyist knows the congressman, but what God cares about is whether your intercessor knows you.
  6. God is unmoved by the size of your lobbying team. Evidently, the 1,000 prayers delivered on your behalf by strangers in this study added no discernible effect to the prayers God heard from people who knew you.
  7. God ignores third parties. Why should God do what a fax from one stranger tells another stranger to ask for on your behalf?
  8. God takes His time. Maybe the study didn't follow patients long enough.
  9. God has a backlog. Patients' names were faxed to intercessors "starting the night before each patient's scheduled surgery," according to the protocol. Was that too late?
  10. God ignores you if you don't pray hard enough.
  11. God ignores you if you're wicked. James 5:16: "The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective."
  12. God helps those who help themselves. Deeds, not pleas, save lives.
  13. God does not hear the prayer of a Christian.
  14. God chooses His own outcome measures. The study measured the effect of prayers on "postoperative complications defined by the Society of Thoracic Surgeons." But as the accompanying editorial notes, "many prayers for the sick contain the implicit objective of easing the passage of the spirit out of the body, an outcome which, by Society of Thoracic Surgeons definition, would be coded as death."
  15. God doesn't participate in studies. The authors say 1,493 people refused to participate in the study because they had other priorities or were "not interested in clinical research." Why should God, who has a lot more to do and nothing to learn from a study, react differently?
  16. God hates being told what to do. Several clerics argue that the kind of intercessory prayer used in the study is "manipulative … of divine action" and sinfully treats God "as our instrument." The editorial accompanying the study, noting that patients who were prayed for "had worse absolute rates of complications" than those who weren't, asks "whether it was the intercessory prayer per se that may be unsafe."
  17. God is malevolent.

More victims

Once, conservatives used to deplore the left's cult of victimhood and ridicule the obsession with real or imagined slights toward women, minorities, and other historically oppressed groups. Now, the right is embracing a victimhood cult obsessed with slights toward a group that makes up 85 percent of the American population....

There is a nugget of truth in some complaints of anti-Christian bias....

Such bizarre secularist excesses should be condemned. But the complainers go much further. They cry persecution when religious conservatives are denied the ability to impose their beliefs on everyone—for instance, to ban abortion or gay unions. In fact, much of the hostility they encounter is directed at this political agenda, not at religion as such: People who bash the religious right seldom object when faith is invoked to protest war, poverty, or racism. This is a double standard, to be sure, but it's just as hypocritical for religious conservatives to suggest that Christians who don't subscribe to their brand of values aren't "real" Christians.

Attempts to portray Christians as a beleaguered minority are particularly ludicrous since, outside a few elite enclaves, prejudice against the nonreligious remains widely accepted in America. Half of Americans agree that belief in God is necessary to having good moral values, and more than two-thirds say they would not even consider voting for a nonbeliever for political office.
And no, as a nonbeliever, I'm not asking for protection. Send me any money you have that says "In God We Trust" on it.

By the way, felixsalmon.com suggests that the earlier survey about anti-atheist prejudice is overblown. (Via a Reason reader).

Wednesday, April 5

Herbs & Supplements and Alternative Therapies

Herbs & Supplements A-Z claims
This unbiased, interactive authority on herbs, vitamins, minerals, and other food supplements tells you what's proven to work - and what's not. Assembled by physicians and pharmacists, it contains extensive information on natural remedies. Please refer to Complementary and Alternative Medicine Editorial Board for information on our review personnel.
They seem quite scientific. They've also got something on Alternative Therapies. Here's part of what they say about Acupuncture:
Although there have been numerous controlled studies of acupuncture, there is no condition for which acupuncture's supporting evidence is strong. There are several reasons for this, but one is fundamental: even with the best of intentions, it is difficult to properly ascertain the effectiveness of a hands-on therapy such as acupuncture.

Only one form of study can truly prove that a treatment is effective: the double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. However, it isn’t easy to fit acupuncture into a study design of this type. One problem is designing a form of placebo acupuncture, and an even more challenging problem is to keep participants and practitioners in the dark regarding who is receiving real acupuncture and who is receiving fake. But without such blinding, the results of the study can be skewed by numerous factors....

There is another problem to consider as well: acupuncture causes a very strong placebo effect, whether it’s real or fake....
And finally the fact that the Chinese have regularly lied in their research does not help:
There is one additional problem in evaluating the evidence for acupuncture: many of the studies were performed in China, and there is evidence of systematic bias in the Chinese medical literature.5 Researchers evaluating the acupuncture studies from China discovered that every one found acupuncture effective! This led them to look further into other Chinese medical research. Upon review of controlled trials involving other therapies such as standard drugs, it was noted that Chinese trials reported positive results 99% of the time. By comparison, trials published in England were positive only 85% of the time. Although some bias exists in all medical publications, this finding suggests a particularly high rate of bias in the Chinese research record.

Tuesday, April 4

The need for the comfort and higher values

Writing about cost-effective approaches to global warming, Nigel Lawson says,
It is, I suspect, no accident that it is in Europe that climate change absolutism has found the most fertile soil. For it is Europe that has become the most secular society in the world, where the traditional religions have the weakest popular hold. Yet people still feel the need for the comfort and higher values that religion can provide; and it is the quasi-religion of green alarmism and what has been termed global salvationism - of which the climate change issue is the most striking example, but by no means the only one - which has filled the vacuum, with reasoned questioning of its mantras regarded as a form of blasphemy.
Does that mean that globally there is a relatively high proportion of secularists amongst environmentalists?

Monday, April 3

"Approximately 500"

The official webpage of Forest Park claims
At 1,293 acres, it is approximately 500 acres larger than Central Park in New York.
Central Park's site claims that it has 843 acres. That makes Forest Park 450 acres bigger.

Let them pick trash

[Bernie Kearsley-pratt, an Australian executive] who works for a French company that is helping manage [Shanghai]'s garbage, says his difficult job is made all the harder — indeed on some days he himself would say impossible — by the cruel fact that even in the heartland of a booming China, peasants can make far more money collecting plastic trash bags, tin cans and the rubber soles of shoes than they can as farmers or ordinary day laborers....

Were it not for dangers of the job, like being crushed by a bulldozer, inhaling noxious gases while wading knee-deep in fetid refuse or being beaten by warring gangs of scrap pickers for the mere prize of an unbroken bottle, it might even be considered a good job.

"We worked really hard as laborers before, doing 12- to-15-hour days for a mere few hundred yuan," about $35, [Song Tiping, a peasant from rural Jiangsu] said. "You have to work even if you are sick or tired. Here we are working for ourselves, and there is a lot more freedom — four to five hours a day, plus we can earn a lot more."

... "As soon as you tip the truck there will be 40 or 50 people running all about the machines — quite big machines," [Kearsley-pratt] said. "I don't have the statistics, but quite a few people have been crushed like this."...

All about, as Mr. Kearsley-pratt looked on helplessly, scavengers were loading their day's haul onto pushcarts, onto rickety wagons hitched to the back of motorcycles to be sorted out offsite and sold to buyers who specialize in different kinds of refuse, whether rubber, plastic, aluminum or tin.

..."Last year my daughter was admitted to high school and we have to pay 10,000 yuan for her registration," Mr. Song said. In addition to that, the equivalent of $1,250, he said, he also has to pay $125 for his second daughter's school. "We don't know where else to get jobs to support our daughters' education," he said, "and if not for this, there is no hope for us."

...Zhu Feixiang, 46, a scavenger who lives on the edge of the dump on a trash-strewn plot with sheep and dogs and more old plastic bags than you've ever seen, doubts the city will stop him or any others. "They can call the police, but it's not against law or regulation to pick garbage," he said. "We don't steal. We don't rob. We only make a living. Besides, recycling garbage benefits the nation."
The Shanghai government is paying for "a state-of-the-art dump", even though there are people ready and willing to recycle the trash.

Sunday, April 2

About the Oscars

Ben Stein is mostly exercised about how Hollywood fails to pay tribute to the sacrifices Americans are making "to our fighting men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan." I don't see why they should have to, but on the other hand, the way that these entertainers want other to take them as seriously as they do themselves is pretty silly:
The idea that it is brave to stand up for gays in Hollywood, to stand up against Joe McCarthy in Hollywood (fifty years after his death), to say that rich white people are bad, that oil companies are evil -- this is nonsense. All of these are mainstream ideas in Hollywood, always have been, always will be. For the people who made movies denouncing Big Oil, worshiping gays, mocking the rich to think of themselves as brave -- this is pathetic, childish narcissism.

The brave guy in Hollywood will be the one who says that this is a fabulously great country where we treat gays, blacks, and everyone else as equal. The courageous writer in Hollywood will be the one who says the oil companies do their best in a very hostile world to bring us energy cheaply and efficiently and with a minimum of corruption. The producer who really has guts will be the one who says that Wall Street, despite its flaws, has done the best job of democratizing wealth ever in the history of mankind.