Thursday, May 31

Perceptions of Risk

  • People exaggerate spectacular but rare risks and downplay common risks.
  • People have trouble estimating risks for anything not exactly like their normal situation.
  • Personified risks are perceived to be greater than anonymous risks.
  • People underestimate risks they willingly take and overestimate risks in situations they can’t control.
  • People overestimate risks that are being talked about and remain an object of public scrutiny.

Not Michael Moore’s Cuba

...some of Cuba’s shortcomings may actually improve its health profile. “Because they don’t have up-to-date cars, they tend to have to exercise more by walking,” he said. “And they may not have a surfeit of food, which keeps them from problems like obesity, but they’re not starving, either.”
Cuban Dr. Leonel Cordova notes that by 1992, equipment and drugs were already becoming scarce, and that
Cuba has two [systems]: one is for party officials and foreigners like those Mr. Moore brought to Havana. “It is as good as this one here, with all the resources, the best doctors, the best medicines, and nobody pays a cent,” he said.

But for the 11 million ordinary Cubans, hospitals are often ill equipped and patients “have to bring their own food, soap, sheets — they have to bring everything.” And up to 20,000 Cuban doctors may be working in Venezuela, creating a shortage in Cuba.

Al Qaeda Torture Manual

To their credit, CNN and Fox News Channel ran stories on the declassified material. Yet nine days since the material was released, neither ABC, CBS, NBC, The New York Times nor The Washington Post has run a story with the photos of this shocking evidence of al-Qaeda’s barbarism.

Guess who?

This is a country that has failed to implement any of the recommendations of a six-year-old report to a U.N. committee dealing with key human rights issues; a country that stands almost alone in refusing to ratify international agreements on the same topic. Are we talking about the United States? Or Israel? Or perhaps Iran, or Syria, or Zimbabwe?


"unawareness of or failure to acknowledge one's actual practice"

Half the languages in the world are tonal

Tone languages are languages (like Chinese, Thai, Yoruba, and Zulu) in which the pitch or “tone” of words and syllables makes a difference to word meaning. For example, in Chinese huār (with a high level pitch) means ‘flower’ and huàr (with a falling pitch) means ‘picture’. (Go here for another Chinese example, with sound files.) In Yoruba, igba spoken with different tones means different things (recordings courtesy of Dr. Lawrence Olufemi Adewole of Ile-Ife University, Nigeria): LowHigh = a kind of tree, MidMid = '200', MidHigh = 'gourd' and LowLow = 'time'. In non-tonal languages (like English or Spanish), pitch is only used at the sentence level, for emphasis and overall meanings like questioning. Roughly half the languages in the world are tonal and half are non-tonal, but they’re fairly unevenly distributed: tone languages are the norm in sub-Saharan Africa and are common in Southeast Asia and among Native American languages especially in parts of Central and South America. Non-tone languages are the norm in Europe and Central, South and West Asia, and among the aboriginal languages of Australia.

Lei Gong neglects his duty

Based on the theory that everyone is equal, the Chinese food producers have poisoned everyone, whether Chinese or American. So Americans have been forced to pay attention the Chinese food safety issue. This makes many people have hope, thinking that the food safety problem will at last be solved. This is not good. Food products and coal mines are not going to be safe, this is the reality that Chinese people have learnt through bitter suffering. After accepting this reality, everyone is reconciled to it: they eat what they need to eat, the unlucky ones go down coal mines, there's no need to be tempted by the vain hope that this problem will be solved. In this place of ours, even Lei Gong (the Thunder God who punishes people who do bad things by striking them with lightning) neglects his duty and only goes after primary school students. So how can we expect officials to take any more responsibility aside from shedding a few crocodile tears and issuing token condemnations.

The Americans cannot guarantee safety in Baghdad, nor can they ensure Chinese food is safe. Chinese food producers will just make two different products: the export products will be 100% safe, but they will cut corners on food for the domestic market and keep on poisoning at home — otherwise, where will their profits come from? We cannot expect others to fix our own unsolved problems. The "Don't do evil" Google changed quickly after entering Chinese market. What a fertile land! Whatever seeds you sow, they grow into something despicable.

Mine workers' deaths are their own business, government officials never care about them, even the law is tolerant of the mine owners. When street vendors are beaten up, it is also vendors' business. College students standing by watching chengguan (the minor officials who manage order on city streets) beat up vendors want to become glorious members of the chengguan squad, and this problem is just a small one that does not involve many people.

Imports don't exist

Many populists criticize the trade deficit with other countries. Part of this is certainly xenophobia. Because if we merged the other country into ours, the so-called deficit would disappear.
Who cares if New York runs a trade deficit with Pennsylvania? As Adam Smith wrote, "Nothing . . . can be more absurd than this whole doctrine of the balance of trade."

Sheldon Richman expands on these ideas in The Freeman magazine, writing, "In reality, then, there are no imports and exports. There is only what I make and what everyone else makes. ... Few people would want to live just on what they themselves could make."

Once we choose trade over self-sufficiency, we're just arguing about how big the free-trade zone should be. Since trade is always mutually beneficial, the answer is: The bigger the free-trade zone the better.

Chinese stock market slang

"black horses" 黑马 shares that have beaten expectations
"deer market" 鹿市 markets moving erratically because of large groups of amateur, short-term speculators
"fighting for the hat" 抢帽子 buying cheap to sell high later
"ghost shares" highly risky shares
"lifting the sedan chair" 抬轿子 circulating news that will boost prices
"meat slicing" 割肉 selling at a loss to avoid further losses
"rat investors" 老鼠仓投资者 insider traders

According to this, a "deer market" is a flat market, but a "monkey market" 猴市 is one jumping all over the place.

Wednesday, May 30

Corporate Realty Income Fund I, L.P.

Finally paid out. Their docs said something like it amounted 8% per year, not compounded.

Poorer than your parents?

Brink Lindsey writes,

The huge wave of Hispanic immigration over the past generation has been good for the immigrants and their families, and good for the country as a whole. But this big influx of relatively low-skilled immigrants has to have depressed median income compared to what it otherwise would have been. Unfortunately, I’m not aware of good studies that quantify the effect.

But there is a much deeper problem, I think, than the comparison of demographic apples and oranges. And that is the comparison of purchasing power apples and oranges.

The issue here is the one of calculating “real income” in constant dollars. The problems associated with such calculations are usually framed in terms of correcting for inflation — i.e., for changes in the overall price level. But a far bigger problem, especially when you are comparing incomes over relatively long time periods, is that an increasingly major component of purchasing power in the later time consists of the power to purchase goods that weren’t available at any price in the earlier time.

...Do what you want as far as adjusting for inflation, but there’s still the problem of all the goods that simply weren’t available back then: personal computers, the World Wide Web, cell phones, cable and satellite TV, DVDs and iPods, airbags, anti-lock brakes, automatic teller machines, aspertame, LASIK surgery, CAT-scans, home pregnancy test, and ibuprofen, just to name a few.

Political rights you can't exercise anyway

One sometimes reads about people convicted of crimes in China who have been deprived of their political rights. In Chinese criminal law, deprivation of political rights (剥夺政治权利终身 bōduó zhèngzhì quánlì zhōngshēn) refers to deprivation of the following rights:

(1) the right to vote and to stand for election;

(2) the rights of freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration;

(3) the right to hold a position in a State organ; and

(4) the right to hold a leading position in any State-owned company, enterprise, institution or people's organization.

Yep, "the right to vote and to stand for election" and "the rights of freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration", all guaranteed under Chinese law, except even ordinary citizens not convicted of any crime can't exercise them most of the time.

Sunday, May 27

Why object?

With China eager to lend, America enjoys lower interest rates. Since the Chinese government has decided its citizens should pay higher taxes to finance American borrowing and spending, why should Americans object?
The more difficult question is whether the Chinese are acting against their own self-interest by saving so much and investing in foreign assets. Perhaps they are worried about potential future crises and want a large reserve fund for such a contingency.

The latest absurdities to emerge from Jimmy Carter's big, smug mouth. - By Christopher Hitchens - Slate Magazine

"Worst in history," as the great statesman from Georgia has to know, has been the title for which he has himself been actively contending since 1976. I once had quite an argument with the late Sen. Eugene McCarthy, who maintained adamantly that it had been right for him to vote for Ronald Reagan in 1980 for no other reason. "Mr. Carter," he said, "quite simply abdicated the whole responsibility of the presidency while in office. He left the nation at the mercy of its enemies at home and abroad. He was the worst president we ever had."

...concentrate for a moment on what he says about George Bush Sr. What did he say at the time? Many people in retrospect think Bush did a good job in assembling a large multinational coalition, under U.N. auspices, for the emancipation of Kuwait from Iraqi occupation. But Jimmy Carter used his prestige, at that uneasy moment, to make an open appeal to all governments not to join that coalition. He went public to oppose the settled policy of Congress and the declared resolutions of the United Nations and to denounce his own country as the warmonger. And, after all, why not? It was he who had created the conditions for the Gulf crisis in the first place—initially by fawning on the shah of Iran and then, when that option collapsed, by encouraging Saddam Hussein to invade Iran and by "tilting" American policy to his side...

Here is a man who, in his latest book on the Israel-Palestine crisis, has found the elusive key to the problem. The mistake of Israel, he tells us (and tells us that he told the Israeli leadership) is to have moved away from God and the prophets and toward secularism. If you ever feel like a good laugh, just tell yourself that things would improve if only the Israeli government would be more Orthodox. Jimmy Carter will then turn his vacantly pious glare on you, as if to say that you just don't understand what it is to have a personal savior.

In the Carter years, the United States was an international laughingstock... It was because, whether in Afghanistan, Iran, or Iraq—still the source of so many of our woes—the Carter administration could not tell a friend from an enemy. His combination of naivete and cynicism—from open-mouthed shock at Leonid Brezhnev's occupation of Afghanistan to underhanded support for Saddam in his unsleeping campaign of megalomania—had terrible consequences that are with us still. It's hardly an exaggeration to say that every administration since has had to deal with the chaotic legacy of Carter's mind-boggling cowardice and incompetence.

Making yourself look good

Greg Gutfeld
dismisses liberalism as “romantic notions that are false, based on the idea of making yourself look good to other people. That’s why most men—Bill Clinton is a good example—are liberal, because they need to get laid. If you look at most left-wing guys, they’ve made a deal with the devil. They don’t really believe that shit—they’re going against their own innate nature, because liberalism is anti-man. If you believe that peace and love work, you’re not a man, because this world works on war. The only people who respect you are people who are scared of you—and that’s why Reagan was a great President. And the idea that you can negotiate with people who want you dead is a complete lie. That’s why the left is the most self-absorbed, vanity-driven enterprise. These are people who would rather feel good about themselves at a cocktail party that actually protect people’s lives. If you’re at a party and you say, ‘The war on terror is the most important thing in the world’—you won’t get a nod. But if you say, ‘Global warming is the biggest threat,’ you will get laid.”

Friday, May 25

Crispy sock holes

I'm less than enchanted with Qiu Xiaolong's When Red Is Black. I think part of the reason for the popularity of his books is the fact that he provides literal translations of Chinese idioms, which non-Chinese might like, but that make the book a little too quaint for me. Far worse, towards the end of chapter 7, he speaks of noodles with a "crisp" texture, at one point speaking of them as boiled. How could boiled noodles be crisp? Surely he means the kind of chewy I mention below. The last straw for me was that he describes the detective's wife as having holes in her socks, apparently to show how poor she and her husband are. Plenty of people who are not poor, including Paul Wolfowitz, have holes in their socks.


香 Q (xiāng Q) is an expression from Southern Min Chinese that is also used in Taiwanese Mandarin and sometimes on the Mainland, too. The Mandarin equivalents are 筋道 (jīndào), 有劲 (yǒujìng), and in southern China, 筋拽拽 (jīnzhuāizhuāi). It describes a somewhat chewy texture of food in the mouth, but may be not as soft as what Americans think of as chewy. For instance, the texture is not that of chewing gum. It's hard to think of a common equivalent in American food. Maybe something like the crust of thick pizza, although it's not crispy. In her article "Q" in Gastronomica, Zoe Tribur writes,
When you put something in your mouth—cold or warm, salty or sweet, dry or wet, it doesn’t matter—if the substance first pushes back as you seize it with your teeth, then firms up for just a moment before yielding magnanimously to part, with surprising ease and goodwill, from the cleaving corners of your mandibles—that is Q. It is light but not insubstantial, flexible, supple, resistant, yet ultimately compliant.
Not to be confused with Q and lying.

Thursday, May 24

tomatoes beside cucumbers's severe brand of Islam, which is so extreme that in Baqouba, al-Qaida has warned street vendors not to place tomatoes beside cucumbers because the vegetables are different genders....
More here.

Legalization would reduce illegal traffic

The problem of illegal immigration exists because our immigration system is out of step with the realities of the American labor market. As Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff testified before Congress in February, a legalization program would significantly reduce illegal traffic across the border, enhancing the ability of U.S. agents to capture people who would still be sneaking in to commit criminal or terrorist acts.

Wednesday, May 23

Fernando M. Treviño

His bio is still available at the School of Public Health at the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth. Or here.

Missing from the bio is the fact that he is a member of PepsiCo's Health and Wellness Advisory Board. According to this looney sounding person, that board consists of "corrupt health fascist scum". I don't buy it, but I wonder why he left it out.

And I've got to say, some of the bibliography is not completed, which looks sloppy. It's got several articles dated 1905. Worse, it lists him as the author of The Health of Aging Hispanics, even though he's not even the editor, but just the co-author of "Disparities and Access Barriers to Health Care among Mexican American Elders", which is an article in the book. It looks like the mistake was copied from the bibliography of Alberto Coustasse, his co-author, who also seems to think an article published in a book is the equivalent of a book.

On behalf of the American Public Health Association he wrote in opposition to the repeal of the national speed limits of 55 and 65 M.P.H., on the basis that it would "increase the number of traffic fatalities by 4,750 deaths per year at a cost of $15 billion", and also in opposition to the Regulatory Transition Act of 1995, which he claimed would create "a moratorium on the development or implementation of any new federal regulation until the end of 1995", because "this legislation and other cost benefit and risk assessment proposals (as currently drafted) present a threat to human health and safety". Clearly he belongs to the party of regulation.

And now he's in Illinois, because he has “a nice balance of values” and he appears to be “someone who could bring the campus together [and who has] rapport with the faculty and staff on campus.” Not to mention a “realist” leadership approach. There's an interview with him here. I'm guessing the “balance of values” refers to his ethnic background (his research is also by and large limited to the health concerns of Hispanics). According to the Southern Illinoisan, he grew up in Mexico. I'm tempted to label this "immigration". Hey, I think immigration is good.

Of course he's only going to make a $290,000 annual salary so he's going to need $27,500 housing allowance. That'll buy him a nice trailer, or whatever they live in over to Carbondale.

But the burning question is, does he favor his tilde or not?


Cafe Hayek: Malum in se; malum prohibitum

Don Boudreaux's distinction
between actions that are malum in se and actions that are malum prohibitum. Some actions are malum in se -- wrong in themselves. Examples are murder, rape, theft, and fraud. These actions are now formally prohibited by legislation, but their wrongness -- indeed, their very illegality -- exists independently of legislative prohibition....

Other actions are malum prohibitum -- "wrong" merely because the government proclaims these actions to be wrong. One example is avoiding taxes. If Uncle Sam tomorrow abolishes the federal income tax, failure of Americans to send money to Washington would be neither wrong nor criminal, and persons who send no money to Washington would not be regarded by their neighbors and co-workers as despicable louts whose company should be avoided.

Jason B.'s comment:
Illegal immigrants coming here to live and work are engaging in voluntary transactions with other willing individuals. They are not violating anyone else's natural rights.

Tuesday, May 22

Illegal immigration responds best to market forces

The Council on Foreign Relations has a paper on American immigration policy that finds,
This analysis concludes that there is little evidence that legal immigration is economically preferable to illegal immigration. In fact, illegal immigration responds to market forces in ways that legal immigration does not. Illegal migrants tend to arrive in larger numbers when the U.S. economy is booming (relative to Mexico and the Central American countries that are the source of most illegal immigration to the United States) and move to regions where job growth is strong. Legal immigration, in contrast, is subject to arbitrary selection criteria and bureaucratic delays, which tend to disassociate legal inflows from U.S. labor-market conditions. Over the last half-century, there appears to be little or no response of legal immigration to the U.S. unemployment rate. Two-thirds of legal permanent immigrants are admitted on the basis of having relatives in the United States. Only by chance will the skills of these individuals match those most in demand by U.S. industries. While the majority of temporary legal immigrants come to the country at the invitation of a U.S. employer, the process of obtaining a visa is often arduous and slow. Once here, temporary legal workers cannot easily move between jobs, limiting their benefit to the U.S. economy.
Steve Henn reported on on the immigration bill:
If the bill passes, America will start choosing its new immigrants differently, giving more weight to education.... Under the proposed system, a well-educated philosopher could beat out a high-tech engineer.

[Robert Hoffman, a vice president at Oracle and co-chair of Compete America, a coalition of high-tech firms] says not all Phds. are created equal. He'd like to keep the current system, which lets employers choose the exact worker they need.
As if employers knew better what they needed than the government.

Londonistan Calling

Christopher Hitchens writes,
Abu Hamza al-Masri was the imam of the Finsbury Park Mosque. He was a conspicuous figure because, having lost the use of an eye and both hands in an exchange of views in Afghanistan, he sported an opaque eye plus a hook to theatrical effect. Not as nice as he looked, Abu Hamza was nonetheless unfailingly generous with his hospitality. Overnight guests at his mosque's sleeping quarters have included Richard Reid, the man in whose honor we now all have to take off our shoes at the airport, and Zacarias Moussaoui, the missing team member of September 11, 2001. Other visitors included Ahmed Ressam, arrested for trying to blow up LAX for the millennium, and Nizar Trabelsi, a Tunisian who planned to don an explosive vest and penetrate the American Embassy in Paris. On July 7, 2005 ("7/7," as the British call it), a clutch of bombs exploded in London's transport system. It emerged that one of the suicide murderers had been influenced by the preachings of Abu Hamza, as had two of those attempting to replicate the mission two weeks later. can't be multicultural and preach murderous loathing of Jews, Britain's oldest and most successful (and most consistently anti-racist) minority. And you can't be multicultural and preach equally homicidal hatred of India, Britain's most important ally and friend after the United States.
...having lost the use of an eye and both hands in an exchange of views in Afghanistan, he sported an opaque eye plus a hook to theatrical effect. Not as nice as he looked... Funny.

Sunday, May 20

The sub-prime meltdown

The sub-prime meltdown comes in a context of debt panic—specifically, of other-people’s-debt panic. Liberal economists, values conservatives, and hug-the-middle moderates are in full agreement on this one: Poor people’s access to debt is driving them to fiscal ruination or worse. James D. Scurlock’s celebrated documentary Maxed Out collects horror stories—including youngsters driven to suicide by credit card debt—to prove the thesis that “banks and credit card companies are setting their customers up to fail.” Anya Kamenetz, author of Generation Debt, envisions debt-ridden young professionals as the new serfs. (The hard-luck bio on Kamenetz’ website includes the Dickensian detail that she “graduated from Yale seven months after the 9/11 attacks.”) Ambitious politicians and math-unencumbered reporters are in hot pursuit of the culprits: predatory lenders, indifferent regulators, Madison Avenue captains of consciousness—everybody except people who borrow large sums of money with no intention of paying it back.

The conventional wisdom used to say the poor didn’t have enough access to debt.

Saturday, May 19

Hitchens on Jerry Falwell

The evil that he did will live after him. This is not just because of the wickedness that he actually preached, but because of the hole that he made in the "wall of separation" that ought to divide religion from politics. In his dingy racist past, Falwell attacked those churchmen who mixed the two worlds of faith and politics and called for civil rights. Then he realized that two could play at this game and learned to play it himself. Then he won the Republican Party over to the idea of religious voters and faith-based fund raising. And now, by example at least, he has inspired emulation in many Democrats and liberals who would like to borrow the formula. His place on the cable shows will be amply filled by Al Sharpton: another person who can get away with anything under the rubric of Reverend. It's a shame that there is no hell for Falwell to go to, and it's extraordinary that not even such a scandalous career is enough to shake our dumb addiction to the "faith-based."

To the nines

"In China, interest rates are always set to be multiples of nine," said Fan Wenzhong, deputy director at the Research Department of the China Banking Regulatory Commission in Beijing.

Because the financial year in China has 360 days, it's easier to compute monthly and daily rates if yearly rates are evenly divisible by nine, as are the current lending and deposit rates. The divisible-by-nine rule was enshrined in accounting standards issued jointly by the central bank and the Ministry of Finance in 1993.

The rule also simplifies interest computation on an abacus, the calculating tool that came into use more than 2,000 years ago during the Han Dynasty and is still used today.

"Rates divisible by nine avoid rounding of interest and allow easier calculation by abacus," said Wang Qing, chief China economist at Morgan Stanley in Hong Kong.

In addition, the number nine in Chinese shares a pronunciation with the word "longevity" and has long been considered a lucky number. Chinese wedding feasts have nine dishes; Beijing's Forbidden City has 9,999 rooms.

"The number nine is very important in the Chinese society and business world," said Chan Mansing, associate professor at the School of Chinese at the University of Hong Kong. "Nine stands for longevity, abundance and masculinity. It also represents the highest attainable level in all human endeavors in the Book of Change, a Chinese philosophy book that has been read for thousands of years."
I'm skeptical about some of that, particularly the number of rooms in the Forbidden City.

Friday, May 18

Government mandates

John Tierney writes,
Thanks to new federal standards, washing machines are using less energy — but as a result they cost more and clean less, as Consumer Reports concludes in its new issue...

When the federal government imposed automobile fuel-efficiency standards three decades ago, the unintended consequence was an additional 2,000 deaths annually as a result of downsized cars, according to the National Research Council. As Congress debates new fuel-efficiency standards for cars, some engineers say that safety problems can be overcome with new technology. But I’m skeptical. Sure, there’s better safety technology today, but rigid standards can force engineers to make compromises, and every dollar invested in fuel economy is one less dollar to invest in safety. I think a gas tax is a far better way to save energy — quicker and more efficient — than rules mandating what kind of automobiles can be built.

If you disagree, here’s a question from Mr. Kazman for you to answer: “If the feds can mess up something as simple as washing machines, why trust them with cars?”

Her supporters should be embarrassed

George F. Will writes
...Speaker Nancy Pelosi was characteristically overwrought when she said that Democrats intend to do this and that because the price of gasoline recently " set a record" at $3.07 a gallon. In real (inflation-adjusted) rather than nominal dollars, $3.07 is less than gasoline cost in 1981.


Pelosi announced herself "particularly concerned" that the highest price of gasoline recently was in her San Francisco district -- $3.49. So she endorses HR 1252 to protect consumers from "price gouging," defined, not altogether helpfully, by a blizzard of adjectives and adverbs. Gouging occurs when gasoline prices are "unconscionably" excessive, or sellers raise prices "unreasonably" by taking "unfair" advantage of "unusual" market conditions, or when the price charged represents a "gross" disparity from the price of crude oil, or when the amount charged "grossly" exceeds the price at which gasoline is obtainable in the same area. The bill does not explain how a gouger can gouge when his product is obtainable more cheaply nearby. Actually, Pelosi's constituents are being gouged by people like Pelosi -- by government. While oil companies make about 13 cents on a gallon of gasoline, the federal government makes 18.4 cents (the federal tax) and California's various governments make 40.2 cents (the nation's third-highest gasoline tax). Pelosi's San Francisco collects a local sales tax of 8.5 percent -- higher than the state's average for local sales taxes.

Ethanol’s Bitter Taste

Kimberley A. Strassel writes,
The shine is off corn ethanol, and oh, what a comedown it has been. It was only in January that President Bush was calling for a yet a bijillion more gallons of the wonder-stuff in his State of the Union address, and Iowa’s Chuck Grassley was practically doing the Macarena in his seat. And why shouldn’t Mr. Grassley and fellow ethanol handmaidens have boogied? They’d forced their first mandate through Congress, corn farmers were rolling in dough, billions in taxpayer dollars were spurring dozens of new ethanol plants — and here was the commander-in-chief calling for yet more yellow dollars. All in the name of national security, too!

Corn ethanol seemed unstoppable, but a remarkable thing happened on the road from Des Moines. Just as the smart people warned, the government’s decision to play energy market God and forcibly divert huge amounts of corn stocks into ethanol has played havoc with key sectors of the economy. Corn prices have nearly doubled, which means livestock owners can’t afford to feed their animals, and food and drink manufacturers are struggling to buy corn and corn syrup. Environmentalists are sour over new stresses on farmland; international aid groups are moaning that the U.S. is cutting back its charitable food giving, and many of these folks are taking out their anger on Congress.

Call it a case study in how a powerful lobby can overplay its hand. While many members are still publicly touting corn ethanol, privately they are quietly backing away from another round of corn-mania. The most extraordinary sign was the Senate Energy Committee’s recent ethanol bill, hailed by Sens. Jeff Bingaman and Pete Domenici as “bipartisan” legislation for more “homegrown fuels.” What the committee didn’t mention in its press release was that it had built the legislation around Mr. Chambliss’s cap on corn ethanol (at 15 billion gallons), and that the rest of the 32 billion-gallon-a-year mandate would have to come from other (still imaginary) sources, say switchgrass. The bill passed 20-3.

It’s taken politicians a while to catch on to these anti-ethanol vibes, but they’ve now got the picture. At an agriculture conference in Indianapolis last fall, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns and EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson spoke, delivering their usual fare about how ethanol was the greatest thing since sliced corn bread. They expected warm applause; in the past the entire ag community united around helping their brother corn farmers make a buck. But now that ethanol is literally taking food from their beasts’ mouths, much of that community has grown less friendly. According to one attendee, Messrs. Daniels, Johanns and Johnson were later slammed with snippy ethanol questions from angry livestock owners, much to their dazed surprise. Word is that even the presidential candidates — who usually can say no wrong about ethanol while touring the Midwest — are having to be more selective about where they make their remarks.

Things are even hotter in Washington, where lobbying groups are firming up their positions against corn ethanol. The hugely influential National Cattlemen’s Beef Association has gone so far as to outline a series of public demands, including an end to any government tax credits (subsidies) for ethanol and an axe to the import tariff on foreign ethanol. Put another way, the cattlemen are so angry that they are demanding free markets and free trade — a first. Maybe ethanol really is a miracle fuel. In any event, expect the ethanol call to get harder for Plains state senators such as Max Baucus, Ben Nelson and Byron Dorgan.

The National Turkey Federation estimates its feed costs have gone up nearly $600 million annually and is surely letting loose on members from turkey states such as Minnesota and Missouri. The National Chicken Council, which represents companies that produce, process and market chickens, has been hitting the southern political caucus, putting pressure on senators from big poultry states such as Georgia, Arkansas and Alabama. Chicken giant Tyson’s, the second largest employer in Arkansas (after Wal-Mart), even felt the need to warn about the effect of rising corn prices on its business in its first quarter earnings statement. Food and drink manufacturers, which rely heavily on corn and corn syrup for their products, are also making the Washington rounds. The Grocery Manufacturers Association this week called for Congress to undertake a study before it imposed a bigger ethanol mandate. Soft-drink companies such as Coca-Cola (of Mr. Chambliss’s Georgia) are also up in arms.

From the other side, green groups are grousing about the environmental consequences of intensive corn farming. International aid organizations are complaining that ethanol is raising the overall cost of food and diverting grain from poor countries. Ducks Unlimited, part of Washington’s “hooks and bullets” conservation lobby, sported a recent article in its magazine complaining that farmers are taking idle land out of conservation programs — land currently home to ducks — and using it for corn farming again.

Thursday, May 3

The orchid as Confucius' "king of the flowers"

A news article is claiming that "Confucius often referred to the orchid as the king of all flowers." Did Confucius ever say such a thing? As far as I can tell, the closest utterance of his to this is found in "The School Sayings of Confucius" 孔子家語, where he is quoted saying, "芝蘭生於深谷,不以無人而不芳;君子修道立德,不為困窮而改節。" ("The orchid grows deep in the valley; even if no one is about it emits its fragrance. The junzi cultivates the Way and establishes his virtue; even if he is in difficulty or poverty, he does not waver in his integrity.")

The poet Cai Yong 蔡邕 claimed that when Confucius came across a solitary orchid, he said that it emitted its fragrance for kings (爲王者香), but now it bloomed alone among ordinary plants, just as the wise like himself were not employed by rulers but were left to mingle with ordinary people. "夫蘭當爲王者香,今乃獨茂,與衆草爲伍,譬猶賢者不逢時,與鄙夫爲倫也。"

Nowadays, "王者香" is used to mean orchid, but Confucius apparently never called orchids the "king of flowers".

On the other hand, that same article goes on to say that Confucius wrote "The association with a superior person is like entering a hall of fragrant orchids." (與善人居,如入芝蘭之室). Incidentally, the original continues, "After a long while, one no longer smells their fragrance, and comes to resemble them. The association with an inferior person is like entering a salted fish shop; after a long while one no longer smells the stench, and comes to resemble them" (久而不聞其香,即與之化矣!與不善人居,如入鮑魚之肆,久而不聞其臭,亦與之化矣。) This is also from "The School Sayings of Confucius". (Which has only tenuous connections to Confucius anyway).

Apparently it was Zhang Xueliang 張學良 who said that the orchid was the "king of flowers": "The orchid is the king of flowers; it's odor is mild and its appearance is elegant." "蘭是花中的君子,其香也淡,其姿也雅".