Wednesday, January 30, 2008

China: Snow Creates Travel Chaos

Hundreds of thousands of Chinese travelers are stranded as severe winter weather swoops down on China. Everyone's trying to get home to see their families for the upcoming Chinese New Year.

Apparently the chaos is so bad that the government had called out nearly half a million troops for assistance. Well, that puts things into perspective a bit, I suppose: I mean, things have been dreadful at Heathrow or Chicago-O'Hare, but nobody's ever had to call out the troops to keep order or shovel snow!

Anyway, here is a sobering photo gallery of the poor travelers.

Still, the absolute best photo yet from this tale of travel woe is here. I mean, really -- go look!

Nerd Analysis: Michael Oren on the Israel-Hezbollah War in Lebanon

Michael Oren has a new commentary on the 2006 Israel-vs.-Hezbollah war in Lebanon. It's worth reading, and it is not a rosy assessment at all. Oren calls the entire episode a disaster. At the time, I remember saying unhappily that Olmert's leadership was a catastrophe. This seems now to be the common view.

Oren's academic work on the Middle East, by the way, is always worth reading. I'm pretty sure I've recommended his excellent history of the Six Day War.

Japan: 10 People Poisoned by Chinese Dumplings

The dumplings contained insecticide.

This is only the most recent report in a long, depressing, and frankly terrifying list of dangerous Chinese-made food products.

Moral of the story: Please don't eat food imported from China!

Oh, this is a terrible tale, isn't it? I'm very fond of dumplings. The best ones, though, are really the ones you make yourself (start with ground pork, minced water chestnuts, lots of green scallions, LOTS of fresh ground ginger... and NO INSECTICIDE PLEASE.)

Life Imitates Satire: Criminal Dwarves in Sweden

No, really! I'm not making this up! Criminal dwarves have been on a spree of theft in Sweden.

Hmmm. A while ago, I wrote a satire based on a bizarre news report of one judge refusing to send a convicted criminal to jail because he was "too short."

I proceeded to laugh and write: "Oompa Loompas and Christmas Elves Go on Crime Spree."

Well, apparently now life is imitating satire with the short Swedish thieves!

Grad School in Photos!

Do you want a visual demonstration of what graduate school is like?

Click here, my friend, and get an eyeful of a mighty Nerd Lord and a penniless grad student peon!

The UK's Top 10 Fish-and-Chips Restaurants

Hmmm, I hope I'm not adding to the stereotype that British food consists mainly of fish and chips, but I did want to give you this link to the top 10 list of the UK's best fish-and-chips restaurants!

Apparently some of the judges included the British Potato Council and the National Federation of Fish Friers. (Wow, what a name!)

And for those gentle readers who are asking: Yes, I do like fish and chips! I'm only sorry that nowadays you can't wrap them in old newspapers because of those pesky health regulations. I'm not such a big fan of the strange squishy peas, though. Sorry.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Geek News: Starship Enterprise -- Private Investments in Space Travel

I cannot take credit for the gorgeous wordplay of "starship enterprise" that mingles Star Trek lore with economic principle! I wish I had thought of it, but the wits at the Economist did. Kudos.

Take a look at the new world of privately funded space travel projects and commercial space flight. Cool!

Taiwan: "Two Chinas, One System" by Dignified Rant

Dignified Rant has his latest post online about China, Taiwan, the US, and military considerations.

Do go and read.

Here's a quote from him about the US approach. He says: "Call our policy 'Two Chinas. One System.' The one system being Taiwan's system of democracy and free markets."


China: Prospects for Democracy

Foreign Affairs has a long piece about democracy in China -- or the lack of it.

All the mumbling about "development" and doing things "over time" does not impress me. Democracy delayed is democracy denied. You just think about the lack of freedoms in China, press censorship, the autocratic one-party rule, human-rights abuses, and all the rest.

While you're thinking about that and wondering if democracy can "work" there, take a look at South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan.

Quirky Euro Files: the Trabi is Back!

Apparently East German nostalgia is hitting the car market.

The iconic little Trabant car is coming back.

Ah, automotive Communist kitsch?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Euro Notes: Italy's Prodi Out; Time for a Berlusconi Restoration?

Well, Italy's Prodi is out and maybe for good this time.

Some commentators are already talking about the possibility of a Berlusconi restoration. The return of the flamboyant Silvio?

Who knows. Italian politics are and always have been insane. In fact, if you think about Italy's leadership as an opera instead of a government, you might understand it better!

(As for Silvio, though he is rich, corrupt, and egotistical beyond belief, he certainly is colorful -- and I have to say that things are always he is around. He is endlessly frustrating and completely uncontrollable, but part of me finds him utterly fascinating to watch. As I said earlier -- think about it as opera!)

UPDATE: I found a good post on this at the lovely Ninme. She quotes a UK journalist who refers to Italian politics as "slapstick theatre." Yep, that's just as good as opera for our purposes!

Nerd Analysis: the Fallacy of Grievance-Based Terrorism in the Middle East

Here is an interesting bit of analysis from the Middle East Quarterly. Right from the beginning, it attacks the prevalent idea that Middle East terrorism is mainly a product of political grievance. Here is a blurb:
The fundamental premise of much scholarly examination and public discourse is that grievances with U.S. policies in the Middle East motivate Islamist terrorism. Such assumptions, though, misunderstand the enemy and its nature. In reality, the conflict is sparked not by grievance but rather by incompatibility between Islamist ideology and the natural rights articulated during the European Enlightenment and incorporated into U.S. political culture. Acquiescing to political grievances will not alter the fundamental incompatibility between Lockean precepts of tolerance and current interpretations of Islam: Only Islam's fundamental reform will resolve the conflict.

This is certainly worth considering, analyzing, and discussing.

I'm not saying that grievance is not involved. Still, I think it's extremely dangerous to make the facile (and dreadfully common) argument that grievance is the main cause of terrorism and that if we can only fix the grievances, the terrorism will go away. I don't need to remind you of Bernard Lewis's assessment of the roots of rage.

Taiwan: a Chinese First Strike and the Will to Fight

Blog friend Dignified Rant has two new posts about China, Taiwan, and military concerns.

Do take a look at his thoughts on the chances of a Chinese first strike and on Taiwan's and America's will to fight (or, terrifyingly, the lack of it). I personally am mostly convinced that China will make a grab for Taiwan if Beijing thinks they can (a) be lightning-fast about it, and (b) get away with it in a practical sense.

By "lightning-fast," I mean overwhelm Taiwan's defensive capabilities in the Strait and then seize the island and have it as a fait accompli before any meaningful military assistance can arrive (mainly US, I dare say). By practical, I mean mostly bloodless. Beijing doesn't care about UN resolutions and international scolding.

PS -- Thanks, Brian, for saving me the work of writing up my own posts! School business is CRAZY right now.

UPDATE: More here.

The Great Fiscal Stimulus Package . . . of 1929

Well, here's an interesting little news story about fiscal issues.

Here's a gloomy quote:
Certainly, our economy now has far more differences than similarities with the economy of 1929, and few expect a new depression for the decade ahead. But it's also worth remembering that the best laid plans of presidents, chief executives and senators can sometimes come to nothing.
Good grief, such pessimism (though the reference to Robert Burns is quite nice!). Perhaps a little musical video will bring a smile or two, hm?

Oops: Happy Belated Australia Day, Mate!

Oops! Mea culpa!

I was so busy yesterday that I forgot to post my usual Australia Day hello.

Ah, the Land Down Under. I've always wanted to visit.

Dangerous Sushi? Reports of Mercury in Tuna

OK, now I'm depressed: recent health reports say that tuna for sashimi can contain high levels of mercury and be dangerous to eat.

Then again, I don't think I'm going to stop eating sushi/sashimi. The Japanese haven't stopped either.

By the way, tuna sashimi is delicious (La Parisienne and I occasionally indulge in spicy tuna rolls), but my favorite raw fish is actually salmon. A really, really good salmon is meltingly soft, gorgeous in color, and, oh, so yummy!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Balloons for Rockets: Israeli protest at the UN

Here is a rather creative protest today at the United Nations: 1 balloon for every Kassam rocket fired into Israel since the Israelis' 2005 pullout from Gaza. The total is 4200 balloons. That's a lot of balloons.

Somehow, though, I can't help thinking about this old song -- and now it is playing over and over in my head. (Yes, I have it on iTunes too.)

Geek News: Germany's "Kite Ship" Uses Wind Power

Hey, take a look at this!

The news link has a diagram of how the wind-powered cargo ship actually works, and there is a video clip too.

Isn't technology grand?

UN: Biofuels May Be Environmentally Harmful

The United Nations has issued a warning that biofuels may be harmful to the environment.

Yes, biofuels, those alternative fuels so beloved by the Greenies.

Oh, the irony, the irony!

Satire Alert: Bill Clinton Runs for the Presidency!

Here's a great bit of satire from the humorists at The Onion.

The fake headline: "Bill Clinton: 'Screw It, I'm Running for President.'"

You know, there is a certain grain of truth in all this, as Bill's been out heavily campaigning for Hillary -- and usually doing it by savagely attacking Barack Obama. I'm remembering Obama's comment at a recent debate that he doesn't know whom he's running against -- Bill or Hillary.

In any case, the Clinton political machine is in full roar. Personally, I find the entire spectacle of Bill to be increasingly annoying. He's an ex-President, but I don't think he's willing to step aside gracefully. He is utterly addicted to attention and seems to think he's still in the spotlight. And I don't like how he's throwing his "influence" around, and I am not at all liking the "2-headed monster" of Bill + Hillary together.

Love him or hate him, the elder President Bush stayed out of the spotlight for the most part during W.'s campaigns.

Besides, I find Hillary's talk of "change" to be really funny. Change? While Bill is out on the campaign trail re-living his glory days? The Clintons are the ultimate Washington insiders and power-players. Change, indeed!

Nerd News: Dumbing Down Higher Education at the University of California

I was going to post about a situation in the University of California, but blog friend Bruce Chang is already there with both news link and his commentary.

Do have a look -- and thanks for saving me some work, Bruce!

Cool Link: the Ramen Blog!

I'd always thought it'd be fun to do a ramen blog -- a blog entirely about different kinds of instant noodles.

Someone got there first! Take a look at the ramen blog named "Journey into the World of Ramen."

Just look at the amusing URL:

What kind of ramen am I eating right now? I'm enjoying a stash of Korean noodles given to me by a favorite uncle of mine. It's called Jin Ramyon, and it's pretty good, actually!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Nerd Journal: Absolutely Freezing

I am absolutely freezing!!!

Snow, ice, wind, gray skies, the whole wrath of winter. Brrrrrrrrr! FYI, my socks of choice: thick red ones that have penguins on them. Even the penguins are cold; they are wearing earmuffs and scarves.

OK, let's comment on winter weather all together now . . .


I feel much better. I'm off for some hot chocolate! Studying can wait? Anyone knows that you can't study if you're freezing. More later!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Nutter is Mayor of Philadelphia

And we will all be making jokes at this guy for the entire length of his term of office.

Of course, the jokes only work if you know British English, but most people do.

Oh, I laughed and laughed when a Philadelphia friend told me that the mayoral elections were over and that the new mayor's name was really "Nutter."

Poor guy's name is Michael Nutter.

Take a look at his campaign website. The slogan is "NUTTER FOR MAYOR."


France: Huge Cosmetics Bills for Sarko and Sego

During the presidential election, Sarkozy spent 35,000 euros on makeup, while Sego spent 52,000 euros.

Well, all I have to say is . . . that's a LOT of makeup and hairdressing!

Now according to MM's Ramen Scale of Economics, that amount of money is the equivalent of (*hmmmm, where is my calculator?*) over 700,000 packets of Ramen noodles, with today's average of 6 packets of Ramen per $1 US and foreign exchange rate of 1 euro = $1.46 US. Wow, that's enough Ramen for an entire campus full of starving graduate students and their friends!

I don't know -- I just find the whole makeup-expenses report amusing and excessive. Then again, the French government is supposed to reimburse candidates for some campaign expenses, a fact I also find amusing and excessive.

Geek News: New 40-Hour Laptop Computer Batteries!

HOORAY! Laptop computer batteries that last longer!!!!!

The computer-loving Sibling and I rejoice!!!

Cute Critter Alert: Meet Germany's New Baby Polar Bear, Flocke, "Snowflake"

Germany's apparently become the world's new leading exporter of cute baby polar bear news, pictures, hype, and controversy. Last year it was Berlin's Cute Knut, a sweet little boy. This year, it's Nuremberg's Flocke, a darling little girl.

Here is the news and here is the Nuremberg Zoo's Flocke website. Look at the URL:

She's so sweet and little. The photographs are too cute for words. Plus I just love how the German word means "ice bear." It's so much nicer than "polar bear."

The link, by the way, comes from my Cinema-Mad Sibling.

(And yes, Knut, we haven't forgotten you, poor thing. But he's gotten so big and strong that he's really quite dangerous.)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Taiwan: "Warming Up" to China or Keeping the Status Quo?

This is something of a misleading headline, isn't it?

"Is Taiwan Warming Up to Mainland China?"

It's an interesting opinion piece, but I don't really think Taiwan is "warming up" to China. Or, at least, no Taiwanese I know is feeling any better about Beijing's bullying tactics or about ever ceding the island's de facto sovereignty.

There is instead a sort of resignation that we're all stuck in a holding pattern for now, all in the status quo -- and if the status quo is de facto independence, then fine -- and OK, for the present, let's all go make lots of money in business and manufacturing and living our lives.

Look, Taiwan's not going to declare formal independence soon, and perhaps Chen's overplayed his hand a bit. Still, I don't see there ever coming a day when Taiwan will rush off to kowtow to one-party autocratic CCP rule (well, I make an exception for some KMT members).

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Quirky Asia Files: Meet the Japanese Rice Babies

Seriously. I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried!

Read on:

New-born babies in Japan who can't make it around to visit all their relatives can now send them proxies instead - cuddly bags of rice.

A small rice shop in Fukuoka, southern Japan, has been swamped with orders for "Dakigokochi" rice-filled bags shaped like a bundled baby and printed with the new-born's face and name.

Each rice bag is tailor-made to weigh as much as the new-born and shaped so the rice fills the bag up. Holding the round-edged bag would feel like holding a real baby.

You know, I'm not so sure I would want to hug a bag of rice.

East and West: French Company Apologizes for Mao Advertisement

The Citroen company used a Photoshopped picture of Mao in one of its advertisements. The French company has now apologized for insulting Mao and therefore insulting the entire Chinese nation. What?

Oh, please! *snort of derision*

Mao was a bloody-minded tyrant who caused the deaths of millions of Chinese and ruined the lives and livelihoods of many millions more. China would do better to find a better "symbol" than this blood-stained dictator. Go look up "Cultural Revolution" or "Great Leap Forward" and see how this stupid monstrosity wrecked a nation.

Furthermore, I am sick and tired of people tiptoeing around in mortal terror that they might offend some thin-skinned group or another.

Samizdata says what I want to say.

Michigan and Mitt: No GOP Front-runner

Things are getting interesting!

We've had several state primaries/caucuses, and they've produced a variety of winners: Huckabee, McCain, Romney.

The GOP race is wide open!

The pundits today are going on and on about Mitt Romney's Michigan victory (here's one version). Well, a victory is always nice. Still, I'm simply not that convinced the Michigan win actually says that much. Voter turnout wasn't very high, after all, and besides, the vote is about Michigan and only Michigan -- even if Mitt did get 39% to McCain's 30% and Huckabee's 16%.

Still, I'm finding the GOP race much more interesting than the Dem race, which seems to be turning into a Hillary-versus-Obama slugfest over identity politics.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Hillary and Obama: What Happens When Both Play Identity Politics

Surprise, surprise.

Well, OK, not really. You could see this one coming form a mile away (or kilometer, for my European readers!)

Here's a blurb:

Both Clinton and Obama have eagerly donned the mantle of identity politics. A Clinton victory wouldn’t just be a victory for one woman, it would be a victory for little girls everywhere. An Obama victory would be about completing the dream, keeping the dream alive, and so on.

Fair enough. The problem is that both the feminist movement Clinton rides and the civil rights rhetoric Obama uses were constructed at a time when the enemy was the reactionary white male establishment. Today, they are not facing the white male establishment. They are facing each other.

All the rhetorical devices that have been a staple of identity politics are now being exploited by the Clinton and Obama campaigns against each other. They are competing to play the victim. They are both accusing each other of insensitivity. They are both deliberately misinterpreting each other’s comments in order to somehow imply that the other is morally retrograde.

All the habits of verbal thuggery that have long been used against critics of affirmative action, like Ward Connerly and Thomas Sowell, and critics of the radical feminism, like Christina Hoff Summers, are now being turned inward by the Democratic front-runners.

Clinton is suffering most. She is now accused, absurdly, of being insensitive to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Bill Clinton’s talk of a “fairy tale,” which was used in the context of the Iraq debate, is now being distorted into a condemnation of the civil rights movement. Hillary Clinton finds that in attacking Obama, she is accused of being hostile to the entire African-American experience.

Clinton’s fallback position is that neither she nor Obama should be judged as representatives of their out-groups. They should be judged as individuals.

But the entire theory of identity politics was that we are not mere individuals. We carry the perspectives of our group consciousness. Our social roles and loyalties are defined by race and gender.

Oh, this is rich, isn't it? Identity politics have come home to roost. (Uh-oh....Is MM starting to feel just a little bit of wicked Schadenfreude? Would you hate me if I did? OK, what if I just said, well, that's what you get, people, for exploiting identity politics against your opponents -- now you can see how well you like it when you're the target.)

I've long opposed the usage of identity politics, and now you can see a lovely reason why. It only creates more problems -- even as it denigrates the individual.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Photo Fun: Penguins!

Here is a smile-inducing photo gallery of some darling penguins -- just the right cure for a cold winter day!

Not enough? Check out Colonel Nils Olav of Norway.

Snow in Baghdad

You all know how much I hate snow. But this one time, it just might be a good thing.

On Friday, snow fell on Baghdad for the first time in living memory -- and the residents are considering it a good sign. I hope so!

Hillary Versus Thatcher

You're no Iron Lady, Hillary.

The Rise of Fake Knowledge: Living in A World of Conspiracy Theories

Absolutely depressing.
In recent years, thousands of bizarre conjectures have been endorsed by leading publishers, taught in universities, plugged in newspapers, quoted by politicians and circulated in cyberspace.

This is counterknowledge: misinformation packaged to look like fact. We are facing a pandemic of credulous thinking. Ideas that once flourished only on the fringes are now taken seriously by educated people in the West, and are wreaking havoc in the developing world.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Taiwan: Legislative Election Fallout + Media Mess

The Taiwanese legislative elections are in the news, and KMT did well. I'm not very happy about this!

Ramifications for the March presidential elections are not good for the DPP.

To make things worse, the media coverage is even worse than usual. I'm used to Western/international media making a "dog's breakfast" out of Taiwanese affairs, but as one Taiwan-based blogger says it this time, "the flow of cr*p from international media starts." (He links to a NY Times story that is so biased against Chen that I'm surprised it doesn't fall over from its own imbalance.)

The BBC story isn't much better. Why is evrybody cheerleading for the so-called "Nationalists" (KMT)? They may call themselves Taiwanese nationalists, but their goal is to cozy up to China.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Feminists and Hillary: 2 Different Views

Take a look at this difference of opinion between 2 young female college students:
"If you're a woman, you vote for Hillary because of what it means to women everywhere," said Chanpong, a sophomore.

Carreon Aguilar, a senior, said: "If I'm supposed to vote for Hillary just because I'm a woman, that's kind of sexist."

Which of these two views do you think I prefer? Here's a hint.

More from the news piece.
Even here at Wellesley College, Hillary Rodham Clinton's alma mater and a historic bedrock of progressive feminist thought, support for the senator from New York hardly registers as unanimous. Instead, the election has inspired a debate at this women-only liberal arts college about what it means to be a feminist. Do you vote for a woman to shatter the glass ceiling and further the cause? Or do you make an empowered, individual decision that is not confined by gender?

All I have to say is (bad language alert), IT'S ABOUT BLOODY TIME FOR THIS DEBATE.

I thought the whole point to the feminist crusade was to say that women are human beings, people, individuals -- that women are not defined only by their biology, stereotype-expectation! Plus, surprise, kids, there's more to life than just gender.

Taiwan: The "Chicago Tribune" Interview with Chen Shui-Bian

Interesting interview of Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian ("A-bian" to his supporters -- and in my parents' house) by the Chicago newspaper.

Here is a piece of it:

Q: Taiwan's opposition Chinese Nationalist Party, known as the KMT, is reaching out to the Chinese Communist Party, and leaders of the two parties have met. Any comment?

A: This is just part of China's "united front" tactics and divide-and-conquer strategy. The KMT has not learned any lessons from the past. When they are of no use or value anymore, the CCP will throw them away like rubbish.

Q: Were you surprised by President Hu's call for peace?

A: No, it's just a strategy to deceive our people and foreign countries. Taiwan and China are two independent countries. Neither exercises jurisdiction over the other. Taiwan is Taiwan. China is China. There are two countries, one on each side of the Taiwan Strait. No matter how fierce China's united-front tactics may become, we will not accept the one-China principle or that unification is the only option for Taiwan. If Hu Jintao abandons the one-China principle, I will be surprised. If China gives up its one-party dictatorship, renounces the use of force against Taiwan and removes the 988 missiles deployed opposite Taiwan, then I will be truly surprised.

Go read the whole thing. Link via View from Taiwan.

Also, recall the September 2007 interview of Chen by a German source.

Taiwan: Voting for MPs this Weekend

It's time to talk about those other elections, gentle readers -- yes, the Taiwanese ones! First the legislative elections and then the presidential one in March.

The Taiwanese electorate is choosing MPs this weekend. I've been seeing a lot of pundit-cheerleading for the KMT. Well, maybe the KMT will do well, and maybe it won't. Don't put too much trust in pundit predictions. Chen's been campaigning hard for the DPP. Still, DPP does look vulnerable.

Anyway, the political circus is in full swing; campaign posters, banners, and signs are everywhere!

By the way, you may or may not recall the new election reforms that are now in place.

Keep your eye on the Taiwanese ballot-box. The result, whatever it is, is sure to add to the political hoopla for the presidential race.

It's a big year for election-watching -- big, big races going on both in the US and in Taiwan. Pass the popcorn!

UPDATE: Check out Michael Turton's colorful collection of election photos.

Fun Video of the Day: Sparta, the Mean Kitty

FRIDAY AT LAST! enjoy a fun little music video created by a guy with a sense of humor, musical talent, a video camera, and a cute but naughty kitty named Sparta.

Lyrics here under "About This Video."

Nerd Notes: Revisiting Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations" Thesis

Harvard nerds are taking another look at Huntington's thesis about clashing civilizations.

The nerd analysis this time touches on the role of Islamic violence in the Middle East.

Here's a piece of the nerdage:
The third key idea is that “Islam has bloody borders.” It was true then, and it is true now. Most violent clashes have an Islamic component: Sudan, Chechnya, Israel/Palestine, Iran. But look again: aren’t most of the clashes internal to Islam?

The worst post-World War Two war was fought between Iraq and Iran—for eight bloody years. One of the worst and longest civil wars erupted in Lebanon, where the Muslim-Maronite conflict was but one dimension, and where a whole slew of Islamic denominations battled against each other. Palestinians may want to eradicate Israel from the map, but their worst threat was directed against two fellow Muslim states: Jordan in 1970, and Lebanon until the early 1980s (when Israel decimated the PLO). More recently, it has been Syria which is killing Lebanese politicians in order to uphold dominance over its neighbor. Egypt has intervened in Yemen and skirmished repeatedly with Libya. Algeria is the arena of an endless civil war between a Muslim government and more rigorously faithful rebels. Wahhabis repress fellow Muslims in Saudi Arabia. Syria’s Alawites lord it over the rest of the country—and, when need be, raze much of a city, Hamah, that used to be the stronghold of the Muslim Brotherhood. In Saddam’s days, a Sunni minority oppressed the Shia minority; now both are fighting for turf and control. Pakistan is an explosion waiting to happen, and Afghanistan is a hellhole of intra-civilizational strife, a battle that is barely contained by NATO forces.

Niall Ferguson has
made the point very succinctly by reversing Huntington: Islam is a civilization of clashes. The victims of Islamists have numbered in the hundreds in Europe (Madrid, London) and in the thousands in New York. But as horrifying as that slaughter was, it does not measure up to the murder and mayhem Muslims have inflicted on one another since decolonization. They hate the West, but they mainly kill each other.

Cool Geek News: A Car That Runs on Air

Seriously! A pollution-free car that runs on . . . compressed air.

The link takes you to a news video link from the BBC.


Thursday, January 10, 2008

Nerd News: The United Nations University

The United Nations University. Really.

A hopeful Swiss mathematician wants to turn this non-entity into a serious, respected academic institu--

*Unable to type on, MM falls out of her chair.*


Is this a joke? If it isn't, it should be. The UN is a hypocritical mess of politics and ideologues. Academia is a hypocritical mess of politics and ideologues. Can you imagine combining the two?

Anyway, the UNU seems to be an overlooked think tank that has dreams of being an international Harvard or Princeton. Plus, golly, mixing career academics with policy!

UPDATE: Hmmm. Here's the UNU website. It says that the mission of UNU is to "contribute . . . to efforts to resolve the pressing global problems that are of concern to the United Nations," blah blah blah. Good luck with that, pal.

Nerd Notes and FYI: the World's Top 10 Think Tanks

Interesting list of the world's top 10 think tanks, as noted by Foreign Policy. The list is specifically about non-American think tanks.

It's nice to peek in every once in a while to see what the eggheads and analysts are doing.

Here is the list:
  1. Centre for European Policy Studies, Belgium
  2. French Institute of International Relations, France
  3. German Institute for International Politics and Security, Germany
  4. Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Russia
  5. International Crisis Group, Belgium
  6. International Institute for Strategic Studies, United Kingdom
  7. Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, Israel
  8. Japan Institute of International Affairs, Japan
  9. Royal Institute of International Affairs, United Kingdom
  10. Shanghai Institute for International Studies, China

Nerd News: Harvard's New Undergraduate Curriculum

Last year I noted that Harvard was in the process of changing its undergraduate curriculum.

Well, the thing has been done, and I haven't had the chance to read the whole thing yet. One professor has, and he's published his response. A blurb:

The recently published Final Report of the Task Force on General Education presents a strikingly cogent account for general education. The report encourages firmer, more substantive, more coherent expectations for the general education of undergraduates. As a result, we now have a useful, readable constitution for postmodern undergraduate education in America. The only problem is that it is a constitution for an intellectual and moral banana republic.


Well, if you recall, in my earlier post on this, I'd cynically said this was the case.

Japanese Toy Recall over Labeling Taiwan on Globe

Well, I suppose I should be happy that for once in the news, a toy is being recalled for some reason other than Chinese-made lead paint.

Of course, the reason for this new toy recall is just as poisonous -- just not in a physical sense.

The short version: a Japanese toy company that makes toy globes for Japanese kids wanted to manufacture in China. The company wanted to label Taiwan on the globes simply as "Taiwan," but the Chinese refused to make the toys unless Taiwan was labeled "Taiwan Island" and as specifically part of "People's Republic of China."

Some globes were then made under these conditions, but now they are being recalled after the Japanese company received complaints. The company has issed an apology that says, and I quote, "Unfortunately we let cost considerations override sound judgment." How many other companies do this all the time?

Note: the globes were going to be sold only in Japan. Interestingly also, the complaints were not made by Taipei, so I think they were from unhappy Japanese customers.

You'll remember, of course, a similar flap over Google Maps and the name of Taiwan.

Crybaby Studies: Germaine Greer Versus the New Cult of Crying

Greer is in fine form as she rips ruthlessly into the pewling "culture of the crybaby" -- a culture that's only grown stronger since the the "Hillary cry" that made me want to vomit. I should add that this new culture is particularly about PUBLIC crybabies.

Actually, in a way, I'm just not that surprised by the new crying-chic. The deplorable reduction of adult, sensible, rational thought has been a consistent theme of my blogging jeremiads. Plus, you'll remember the insane nexus of nanny government and crying!

Oh, and Greer has also won a delighted smile from me with this gorgeous additional comment:

Can the moral of the story be: when you're up against it, don't fight back, just cry? As if too many women don't already use tears as a power-tool. Over the years I've had to deal with more than one manipulative student who produced tears instead of work; my standard response was to say, "Don't you dare cry. I'm the one who should be crying. It's my time and effort that's being wasted."

Astute Political Commentary of the Day: the Goal is Victory

This is a breath of fresh air!

I quote:
[Change / Hope / Experience] seem to be the dueling political memes of the moment. Somebody's winning, somebody's losing, somebody's going, somebody's coming . . . I don't know about you but to me this whole pile of yabble is just that, yabble. Yabble to fuel the pundits and political junkies. Yabble that keeps underemployed newscasters running around the screen sticking microphones in people's faces.

. . . Because none of this, absolutely none of it, is about "change," or "hope," or "experience." This is politics and politics is about one thing and one thing only -- winning. It's about the biggest win you can get. And the prize is using Air Force One as your private plane for four or eight years. Better than hitting the Lotto, that one.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

2008 Candidates as Star Wars Characters

This is darn funny: the "Star Wars" guide to the 2008 presidential candidates! Jar-Jar Kucinich!

It's even better than the "GOP Meets Buffy" fun.

Nerd Analysis: Fouad Ajami on the Bush Legacy in the Middle East

Fouad Ajami, professor of Middle East Studies at Johns Hopkins University, has an interesting piece about Bush and the Middle East.

Do take a look. Here's one piece of it:
It is to Mr. Bush's singular credit that he was the first American president to recognize that Palestine was not the central concern of the Arabs, or the principal source of the political maladies.
Yowzers! That's unconventional, isn't it?

Link via Tigerhawk, who notes that Ajami's opinion piece won't win him many friends on the academic Left. Clearly not. It's a firecracker, all right.

Geek News: The 150-inch Plasma TV

Yes, gentle reader, feast your eyes on THIS: it's a 150-inch TV, the world's largest advanced high-definition 150-inch plasma display TV. Oh, yeah! The company behind it? Panasonic. The tech blogs are going wild. Here's one of many. Video here!

I am totally in love. Remember, I prefer plasma TVs to diamonds! (Of course, I never turn away diamonds either, hahaha!)

I wonder what other tech toys will come out of the 2008 tech-paradise?

Germany: Knut Part 2?

Is this little fellow going to be 2008's edition of 2007's wildly popular Knut the polar bear?

Boy Scout Saves a Presidential Life

Boy Scout 1, Maldives assassin 0.

Amazing. The president of the Maldives owes his life to a brave, quick-thinking young man. Wow.

When the Boy Scouts say that their motto is "Be Prepared," I guess they really mean it!

Taiwan: Defense Budget Approved for Purchase of Patriot Missiles, Apache Helicopters

Finally, something!

Taiwan's defense budget finally emerged from legislative gridlock, so Taipei will purchase 4 sets of Patriot anti-missile missiles and 30 Apache helicopters to add to its defensive capabilities. You know I've been shouting about bolstering Taiwan's defenses for ... well, for seemingly forever. (Keep counting those 1000+ missiles on the Chinese coast.)

The current development is still not enough, but it's better than nothing, and it's a start.

Idiotic Political "Analysis": High School Analogies for Grown-Up Problems, Plus a Rant

I'm beginning to think that Diana West has a real argument in her recent book Death of the Grown-Up.

The current political circus is full of people with adult bodies but teenaged brains, apparently. I'm posting in anger (never a good time to post), but I'm in a hurry, I'm angry, and I think I might have a point.

A few weeks ago, I slammed Huckabee for using high school analogies to describe his foreign policy "positions." What an idiot he was, I raged, for reducing complex, critically important situations to the brainless, illogical behavior of a bunch of hormonal, emo adolescents.

Then this morning, I see this "analysis" (I hesitate to dignify the tripe with this word, actually). One theory of Hillary's victory reduces the New Hampshire vote to a high school scenario and a silly movie about a high school scenario. I kid you not. I quote:

Once Obama won Iowa he was the certified cool and enormously popular kid in school. But as in any high-school election, the studious girls who show up to vote might harbor a few resentments about the boys. It's like the movie "Election," in which Reese Witherspoon's character, Tracy Flick, is an ambitious and too-perfect high-school senior who has the election stolen from her after she was expected to win against a cool but inexperienced jock. By the end of the movie she ends up on top.
Apparently we're now a nation of adolescents, with no grown-up anywhere.

What a mess this theory is! Not only high school (bad enough), but a silly movie about high school (even worse). And not just all the stereotypes of "the cool guy," "the jock," etc., but also plainly sexist ones too. Oh, and while we're at it, let's use a sexist high school stereotype to explain the behavior of voters!

One more thing: for the record, I am "a studious girl" who does not, repeat not, "harbor a few resentments about the boys." In fact, I very frequently beat them at their own game, so there. If anything, I harbor resentments against people who think they can predict my voting behavior by using high school stereotypes!

Why not finish the stereotype and explain that the Reese Witherspoon character is the perfect, popular, pretty, socially desirable girl and that the studious girls are the ugly, unpopular, invisible ones? And, by the way, in high school world, these two types of girls almost NEVER meet.

PS -- Hillary is more Lady Macbeth than a Reese Witherspoon character! Then again, how could you know? Grownups read Shakespeare while teenage-brained analysts are watching stupid movies about high school. Pfffft.

Funny Music Video -- a Parallel to Politics?

Too much politics-talk on this blog in the last few days.

We need a little humor and fun, I think. Take a look at this light-hearted music video by one of my favorite singers, Sara Evans. The song title? "As If," and it talks a bit about appearances versus reality.

Take a look . . . and then compare it to trying to pick one candidate out of all the folks on offer!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

New Hampshire's Primary -- and Don't Forget Wyoming

It's late, and I'm tired.

Quickly: the New Hampshire primary has finally ended, results are in, and I have a few concluding comments. (My pre-vote thoughts are here.)

1. I am sick of the media coverage already, and the primary season's barely begun. I'm sick of the the endless talking by an endless parade of pundits, experts, analysts, etc. etc., blah blah blah. A great percentage of them are completely out of touch with the ordinary voters of "Middle America" anyway. I don't care about pundits.

2. Why do reporters insist on "projecting" winners when only 25% of the total vote has been tallied? Sometimes I think that the media's premature "projecting" is just not very...OK...not very democratic. What about the other 75% of the vote?

3. The winners in terms of numbers: on the Dem side, Hillary (39% of the total Dem votes). On the GOP side, McCain (37% of the total GOP votes). In primaries, almost nobody ever gets a real majority (51% or more) of the votes; 39% and 37% are pretty big pluralities.

4. The other Dem winner: Obama. He received a good solid percentage of the Dem vote -- 37%. As far as I'm concerned, that's a tie with Hillary. Obama's strong showing in New Hampshire serves only to increase his momentum from his clear Iowa win.

5. The losers. On the GOP side: Romney comes in second with 32%. This is not terrible, but I'm sure he hoped for more -- a clear, decisive numerical win of the kind that McCain got. New Hampshire was a McCain-Romney race. Huckabee comes in third with 11%. On the Dem side: the first loser is Hillary. Wait, wait, you say: silly MM, you just said she was the winner by the count! Yes, she was. But Obama's clearly a contender, he is more popular now than ever, and he almost caught her in this primary. This makes his Iowa win look like not a fluke, but the beginning of a trend among Dem voters. In future primaries, if Hillary is ahead of Obama in the polls, she'll be constantly looking over her shoulder, worrying about him catching up. And if she falls behind him, there will be the rising desperation. She's already changing her campaign staff. She's worried, and you can see it. This win tonight keeps her competitive -- even as it builds up Obama as her huge (and increasingly big) main competitor. She's the winner-loser. Her tiny 2% win gives her no room for relaxation at all, and in fact it makes her situation even more stressful. She's vulnerable, and she can't hide it.

6. MM says "It's time to think about going home" to: Ron Paul, Dennis Kucinich, Duncan Hunter, and -- to a lesser degree -- Bill Richardson. I'll say it too to John Edwards (even though he got 17%) mainly because I find him as pleasant as a hat made of angry wasps.

7. Tomorrow we can expect the media's "talking heads" to be "interpreting" tonight's vote results in all kinds of interesting and contradictory ways. Some will probably try to re-crown Hillary. Some will try to crown Obama. Meanwhile, the GOP race for the nominee is still wide open, though right now McCain is cheerfully giving victory speeches.

8. Wyoming. Spare a thought for the little western state of Wyoming, as on January 5 it had a GOP caucus that nobody really covered! (Some newspapers did, but the TV news didn't very much.) Wyoming "fell between the cracks" while everybody was yelling about Iowa and New Hampshire.

Italy: Trash Riots in Naples

It's la dolce vita no more -- and certainly Naples isn't smelling very dolce as 5000 tons of trash build up on its streets. 5000??

Angry Neapolitans have begun to riot and set fire to the growing heaps of garbage, and of course there's some suspicion that organized crime (the Camorra) is involved. The Italian government leaps into action by sending in the army. Not an army of garbage-collectors. The real, actual army.

I can't resist posting this story because (a) I've been to Naples and didn't like it very well (sorry, Naples), and (b) I get the chance to give you this loopy quote: "The Italian army moved into Naples as tensions over the city's mounting rubbish crisis erupted in violence."

Rubbish riots. Stink, rot, and the threat of disease as the city drowns in its own foul effluence and decay. That's a great way to boost tourism, Italy. Clean up your act! Errr...Literally!

UPDATE: the BBC version of the report (link via Ninme) says that Naples is buried in 100,000 tonnes of trash -- and that 3 people have been hospitalized in the "trash uprising."

Now adding to the generally poisonous atmosphere is this little detail: "The EU says it is watching closely and is considering legal action for Italy's breach of European waste disposal directives." Well, of course it is -- what does the EU love more than directives?

Election Excitement: US versus Germany

One of the great advantages of blogging is that you learn things all the time!

I've been having an intriguing conversation with a German blog friend about the atmosphere of elections in the US versus in other places, namely Europe.

As an American, I'm naturally used to the way American presidential elections run -- all the colorful chaos, unpredictability, energetic campaigning, media madness, crazy primaries with many candidates, pundits and ordinary people alike talking endlessly about candidates and issues, debates, etc. etc. (plus, later, huge party conventions, then the race to the finish with the 2 final contestants) I think this is simply "normal," and I guess it is normal -- for America.

But Pursuit of Serenity says he's "absolutely thrilled" with the American process, and he explains in detail why. Please take a look at the American process compared with the German one. Fascinating!

PS: Here's a brief British view.

Utterly Idiotic Political "Commentary" of the Day: Hillary and Misogyny in Iowa

I'm accustomed to strange/silly/wrongheaded/ignorant/ludicrous political commentary. In fact, I'm expecting to see and hear and read more of it, since 2008 is a big political year! Apparently everybody everywhere has something to say about the American presidential race.

OK, fine. That's great. But I have to point to this ridiculous British piece as the most idiotic "commentary" of the day. The writer argues that Hillary lost to Obama in Iowa because in America misogyny is stronger than racism. What?

I don't even know where to start tearing this apart. I add too the fact that half the voters in Iowa are women; are they also misogynists and sexist woman-haters because they didn't choose Hillary? Pfffffft. You know, maybe some things are actually more important to the voter than gender and skin color.

Also, the writer then actually says the following insane sentence: "Imperfect as she is, Hillary Clinton is also on the side of the global angels, and is super-competent and super-serious about the presidency."

"GLOBAL ANGELS"???? Excuse me while I fall out of my chair and laugh hysterically.

UPDATE: Take a look at this too, as women voters are deserting Hillary and flocking to...Obama.

Monday, January 07, 2008

The New Hampshire Primary! Preliminary thoughts and babble

The New Hampshire primary is fast approaching. This, I'm thinking, should be fun to watch. So far the latest polling by CNN has Obama as the favorite for the Dems and McCain as the leader for the GOP.

I admit to being -- if not excited -- curious and increasingly intrigued. I still think this is far too early in the election cycle to become too invested. Right now the 2008 race is wide open, and I mean wiiiiiide open. In fact, the race seems more wide open than ever, since Queen Hillary has been apparently dethroned -- and by the ordinary people of little Iowa. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

New Hampshire comes now right after Iowa, and the recent Iowa caucuses had been interesting. As usual, I had my misgivings about the incredible amount of media hype given to the event. Yes, yes, I understand that there's quite a lot of excitement because it's the first real chance for any voters to speak, and as the kick-off for the season of primaries, it's fun. Still, a win or loss in Iowa -- while an early indicator of a candidate's "health" -- is not the ultimate political prize. Plenty of people have won or done well in Iowa and then proceeded to fall on their faces later on in the race and never become their party's nominee, never mind President. (I still think Iowa has been over-hyped. In fact, I really think that having Iowa as the first primary state for every election cycle might not be the best idea. Perhaps we should change the state every time.)

I have to say, though, Iowa this year was both surprising and exciting in the end -- for three major reasons, really: the poor showing of supposedly "inevitable, unbeatable" Hillary Clinton (and her bitter "sore loser" disaster of a post-defeat speech), the clear victory of newcomer Barack Obama (who looks more confident than ever as he gains momentum, while he can smile and be gracious and magnanimous in victory), and the surprise win of Mike Huckabee (yes, he's all charming and unpretentious, but I'm still convinced this man is wrong for the GOP nomination). I could go on at length about Hillary, but I won't bore you about that (you can go here for more of my babbling). I'll just say that as Round One of a very long contest, Iowa gave us two extremely interesting winners. But they were winners in Iowa. Whether they can keep on winning in other state primaries is another matter. Every state is different. I think Obama can and Huckabee can't. Or maybe I can say: Obama should and Huckabee shouldn't?

What will New Hampshire bring? I'm always cautious during the primaries (they are a free-for-all time of crazy things happening -- but these mass political melees are chaotic and exciting and unpredictable), so I don't really make predictions. I will say, though, that I'm looking for Barack to do well and make pundits start talking about him as the new "inevitable" candidate for the Dems. Obama-mania? Well, he's in a great place to be cool and classy, and I'm not talking about social strata. I still don't understand the appeal of obnoxious pretty boy Edwards. Baffling. I'm looking for Hillary to mount a counter-attack -- or try to (I found the new "Hillary crying" incident silly, suspiciously staged, and over-acted. Besides... "There's no crying in baseball!" -- er, I mean, politics! Besides, that move plays too much into the "woman" question/stereotype, but I digress). Overall I think she's too ambitious and calculating, and she's simply too unappealing to too many people of all political groups. If she implodes after New Hampshire like she did in Iowa, then her campaign -- though not mortally wounded -- will be in serious need of reconstructive surgery.

On the GOP side? George Bailey -- I mean, Huckabee -- may do well, but I'm waiting for McCain and Romney to show up and declare "hello, good voters, I'm worth a look too!" They didn't do too well in Iowa, but here is their first real opportunity to shine if they can. Both have the support of some decent people, and though endorsements don't sway me much, I'm willing to look at these guys with an open mind. Romney, who was set upon by all the other GOP candidates recently in a debate, should do something to distinguish himself (other than look good). Giuliani is still the Man Who Isn't There. I'd been excited when Rudy joined the race, but so far, haven't been too impressed. I mean, really, you can't win if you don't show up.

All in all? The New Hampshire primary should be more interesting than ever because of Iowa's surprises. We will have to wait and see when the dust settles! Here is a slice of good old-fashioned American democracy at work -- and I have to admit, even as I can be cynical about politics sometimes, deep down I'm always delighted to see an election at work in the oldest modern democracy in the world. No matter how famous or wealthy or whatever each candidate may be, every one of them (even Queen Hillary) is out there campaigning hard, trying to convince the voter -- the ordinary American citizen -- to vote for that candidate. It's the practical working-out of an old and precious ideal: that the voter's choice matters. Is the process perfect? No. No process is or can be. But the ideal... Now that's enough to make your heart beat just a little bit faster, isn't it?

Geek News: 2008 Consumer Electronics Show Opens; Technophiles Rejoice

This is especially for the Cinema-Mad Sibling, who's also a tech geek.

The 2008 Consumer Electronics Show opens in Las Vegas. There are tech toys for all! Enjoy, technophiles!

UPDATE: Did you notice what I noticed on the official website? Language options include Korean, Japanese, and Chinese on the Asian side as well as French and Spanish on the European side, but there's no Italian or German!

UPDATE 2: Inevitable and obvious satire, for the Sibling.

Euro Notes: Thoughts on Parliament, Dignity, Protest, and Referendum

No room for dissent in the European Parliament?

One Brit has a pessimistic view. Are things really that bad?

I am rather bemused, though, at the reaction of the MEPs who opposed the actions of their protesting colleagues, especially the one fellow who said that such acts display "contempt for the dignity of Parliament". Really?

Such acts of dissent, vocal opposition, vigorous expression, and demand for debate should be the heart and soul of any parliament that is worth the name! A parliament that is more concerned with dignity than debate is no democratic body at all, only a gilded room full of pliant courtiers nodding to a monarch, all undisturbed by differing viewpoints because there ARE none any longer. Compared to that kind of glittering yet death-inducing dignity, I think there is healthier democracy in the often wild and crazy parliament meetings of the Asian democracies!

Book Review: Ayaan Hirsi Ali Reviews Lee Harris's "Suicide of Reason"

Ayaan Hirsi Ali reviews "The Suicide of Reason: Radical Islam's Threat to the Enlgihtenment," the new book by Lee Harris.

Both the review and the book are worth a look.

*MM adds yet another book to her never-ending list of things to read.*

Hello Kitty Monstrosity of the Day: the Hello Kitty Crop Circle

This isn't new, but it's terrifying enough to post anyway. This is a crop circle created in England to celebrate Hello Kitty's 30th birthday. Oh, my!

One British View of the 2008 Election

Here is one commentator's thoughts on the difference between US and UK elections. Very interesting!

Here is a taste:
What was most striking was the contrast between the unembarrassed respect in the US for the democratic process and thus for those who were participating in it, to the vague contempt in Britain for the whole demeaning circus.

. . . What lies behind the supercilious scepticism of the BBC to genuine popular democracy may be inherent in the British attitude to politics. Perhaps it goes back to the English Civil War and the notion that parliamentary activism- the whole tawdry business of putting oneself up for office - is a common, rather downmarket thing to do. The lofty disdain the media show for politicians is simply a form of aristocratic contempt for an activity that has always been,in some vague way, below the salt. Where in the US the democratic process is heroic, in Britain it is squalid.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Taiwan: President Chen Criticizes US, EU for Opposing Taiwanese Referendum

I've blogged previously about the upcoming Taiwanese referendum and Condi Rice's opposition, so here's the background. In that post, I opined that opposition to the Taiwanese poll is basically criticizing a democratic country for wanting to do a democratic thing...and that the issue is not issue-specific Taiwanese "provocation," but long-term Chinese hostility.

President Chen, in his New Year's address, took aim at the US and EU. In fact, Chen basically accused the US and EU of bowing to China. Here's a blurb:

"We find it extremely regrettable that, under tremendous pressure from China, the United States and the European Union have expressed varying degrees of opposition to Taiwan's referendum on joining the United Nations," Chen said in his annual New Year's Day address at the presidential palace in downtown Taipei.

Chen said the U.S. and Europe "are weighing national interests against democratic values."


Well, some (or most) of this is true, but I'm not that sure that Chen saying so is really going to help matters, either.

Movie Preview: "Kung Fu Dunk"

The Cinema-Mad Sibling recommends the following trailer of upcoming film "Kung Fu Dunk."

It's a bit like "Shaolin Soccer," only it's about basketball. Oh, and it stars the king of Asian pop music, Jay Chou. And no confirmed Yao Ming cameo to my knowledge, though there had been talk previously of getting an appearance by him.

Kung fu + basketball = well, click below to find out! (and yes, I seem to be having formatting problems.)

Brussels or Beijing? Government Issues Regulations for Making Bread Rolls

Now does this idea sound more like Brussels or Beijing?

Here is a blurb from the news story about new government rules for making bread rolls:
The criteria described the proportion of water and wheat flour for a standard [roll] and roughly its size and weight. It also set a limit for water content because those containing too much water go off more easily.

"We found some of the stories online misinterpreted the criteria by saying that all the [rolls] should be in a round or oval shape. They were taking the criteria as if they will rule out the production of [rolls] by peddlers and small companies," said an official . . . who declined to give his name. The administration helped draft the criteria.

"Individuals and small companies can still make and sell [their rolls] as long as their products accord with relevant hygienic standards issued by the State Administration For Industry and Commerce," the official said.

Sounds like Brussels, no? Ah, but what if I substitute the term "bread rolls" with the word "mantou"?

Yes, this time it's Beijing, setting standards for "mantou" -- steamed buns. I'm not too fond of these things; I much prefer some good puffy bao with roast pork fillings. Mmmmm.

The news source? Xinhua, predictable propaganda mill.

Nerd News: Asian Education -- Japan Worries About Its Schools and About India's Progress

The Japanese, long famous for having one of the most strenuous systems of education anywhere, are now worried about Japanese schools.

Nerd competition is appearing also -- in the form of other nations and especially India. The immediate catalyst for some of the Japanese worrying is, as the New York Times article points out, a recent survey of the bedrock disciplines of math and science:
Last month, a national cry of alarm greeted the announcement by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that in a survey of math skills, Japan had fallen from first place in 2000 to 10th place, behind Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea. From second in science in 2000, Japan dropped to sixth place.
*MM can't resist smiling at the mention of Taiwanese achievement.*

Also, I would like to point out the sheer difficulty of both Japanese and Indian forms of education compared to many programs elsewhere. Do you think your schooling was hard? How about this instead:
India’s more demanding education standards are apparent at the Little Angels Kindergarten, and are its main selling point. Its 2-year-old pupils are taught to count to 20, 3-year-olds are introduced to computers, and 5-year-olds learn to multiply, solve math word problems and write one-page essays in English, tasks most Japanese schools do not teach until at least second grade.
What were you doing in school when you were 2, 3, or 5?

UK: NHS and "Lifestyle Regulation"

Hello, more nanny government! The food police are already out and about; I suppose we can look forward to more nonsense done to us "for our own good."

Here's a lovely quote:
Where the “old-fashioned” health service merely treated the sick, today's NHS seeks to beat well people into shape as clean-living citizens through advice and guidance. As Michael Fitzpatrick, an East London GP, observed when such contracts were first proposed, they involve “a major shift of general practice away from the treatment of patients who are ill towards the regulation of the lifestyles of the population”.

Despite this being the age of “evidence-based” medicine, nobody can provide proof that such government drives to alter behaviour improve public health. Yet the authorities press on regardless . . .

These unwieldy plans can only further undermine the efficiency of the health system, the role of doctors as clinical professionals and most importantly, the autonomy of individuals. They turn the purpose of healthcare on its head. As RenĂ© Dubos wrote in 1960, “it is part of the doctor's function to make it possible for his patients to go on doing the pleasant things that are bad for them, smoking too much, eating and drinking too much without killing themselves any sooner than is necessary”. There must be more to life than healthy living. Amid the talk of rights and responsibilities, one that gets ignored is the individual's right to make the “wrong” choices.

The other fact often missed out is that we already live longer, healthier lives than ever before. So why not leave us alone to enjoy it?

Quirky Asia Files: Paper Robots

This fellow is apparently an enormous (and enormously dedicated) fan of Transformers.

He's made an entire miniature Bumblebee out of paper. Scroll down to see how he did it, step by step.


Thursday, January 03, 2008

Quirky Asia Files: the Japanese Snow-Eating Robot

Only the Japanese!

Here is a cute little yellow robot that cleans up snow. How? It scoops up the snow, "eats" it, and turns it into neat, stackable bricks of ice that the robot then "poops" out. Seriously. I can't make this stuff up.

And since the robot is Japanese, it's ridiculously cute. Doesn't it look a lot like a tiny MINI Cooper car or maybe Pikachu from "Pokemon"?

Nerd Analysis: Prerequisites for Democracy -- Middle East Edition

Some Harvard eggheads have an interesting post about the foundations and prerequisites of democracy as they apply to the Middle East.

The post begins with an astute observation by a nerd in 1956.

Iowa Caucus Today

The Iowa caucuses are today, and the media and the political blogosphere are in a predictable frenzy.

Me, personally? I'm finding it difficult to care very much. I will say this, though: it seems vaguely unjust that a tiny state like Iowa has such a huge impact on the entire presidential election process of 2008. Less than 1 million Iowans will actually "vote" in the caucuses. I also doubt that Iowa is an accurate representation of any piece of America as a whole other than Iowa.

Yes, yes, "all politics are local," after all. But, seriously, the media has hyped Iowa into a huge event, with all the pundits basically saying to the candidates, "If you won't do well in Iowa, your entire campaign is over." Sure, Iowa's the first real electoral test for the field of primary candidates, but I think it's a little overhyped.

Is this sort of thing actually good for the democratic process? I don't know. Then again, I'm not sure Super Tuesday is that great, either (much less Super Duper Tuesday this year, aka "the Tuesday That Ate America").

Anyway, time to talk a bit about the field. On the Democrat side, I see the contest as mainly between Hillary and Obama here (and everywhere). Obama seems cool, composed, elegant. He the young handsome new fellow looks very good indeed next to Hillary the raddled old harridan and Washington insider who's coasting on her husband's name, in my opinion. Besides, I wonder what perfume she could possibly be wearing that could cover up the stench of naked ambition and cold-eyed calculation. I don't like her. At all. The fact that she's a woman makes no difference to me. Edwards? He gives off the unmistakable smell of slick insincerity -- and designer hair-care products. Dennis Kucinich is a space alien from Alpha Centauri. Everybody else? Nowhere.

On the GOP side, I've had all I can take of Huckabee. He's not the right candidate, and the more I see, the less I like; this Gomer Pyle doppelganger does not have the right stuff to lead America. He's like the Mayor from the third season of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Romney is like the GOP version of Edwards -- slick, so slick, but what lies beneath the pretty face and perfect composure? Is this guy better suited for the presidency or the job of a Madison Avenue ad exec? Too pretty -- the Stepford candidate! Giuliani -- what happened? He seems to have lost his footing a bit, and he's also the Man Who Isn't There. Ron Paul is a space alien from the Andromeda Galaxy. McCain's off in New Hampshire, but he's not the McCain of 2000, and he seems tired and pale. Thompson may be the only actual conservative in the entire field, but he seems to be invisible to the punditocracy.

OK, I'll update tonight with Iowa results.

UPDATE: CNN is projecting Huckabee as the GOP winner in Iowa. HUCKABEE? The Gomer Pyle, George Bailey mayor-of-Sunnydale Arkansas clown? This guy is not presidential material. Pffffft. Is it possible for me to have not only zero but negative respect for the Iowa caucuses? See Powerline too -- and here.

Money Matters: the Media Top 10 Economic Myths of 2007

Very interesting indeed.

Take a look at the media's top 10 economic myths of 2007.

Some of the myths are so silly that I can't believe people would believe them, but...of course, some people will and do.

Part of the problem is that (a) too many people lack even a basic understanding of economics, and (b) the media's economic coverage is often wrong, misleading, or just plain stupid. As for some reporters, see (a). Also, what's the actual, economist's definition of a "recession"? Find out! People use this scary word "recession" all the time, mostly without understanding it.

Another common myth that deserves mention: the idea that you can tax your way to prosperity, or that you can "Robin Hood" your way to it too (i.e, how is this different from punishing wealth and rewarding poverty? Or, worse, how is this not in fact punish creators of wealth for creating wealth?).

My all-time favorite myth is actually not on the list because it's not really confined to 2007. It's the ongoing apocalyptic myth of the imminent and total, catastrophic collapse of the American economy. Doomsday for Dollars!

I've been hearing predictions of this for years and years, and I expect to keep on hearing them -- even as I still manage to pay my bills and maybe even afford to buy a few nice things from time to time. (Look, it's Mad Minerva's Standard of Economic Prosperity -- if even a grad nerd like me can afford to buy a pricey latte once a week, then we're not in Doomsday for Dollars. After all, who's more famously penniless than grad students?)

Nerd Notes: the 5 Main Kinds of "Helicopter Parents"

"Helicopter parents," the bane of academia, have now invaded the post-graduate world.

Do we really need further infantilization of...well, everybody? Helicopter parents, nanny statism...Pretty soon there won't be any real, responsible adults in my generation, much less the generation currently in college and university.

The trouble with "helicopter parents" is their constant interference and obsessive "supervision." The worst ones are those who ruthlessly promote their own children and insist that rules be bent or broken for those precious little snowflakes. The ones who phone repeatedly are simply anathema to any sane person who works on campus ("Why did my child get this grade? Why wasn't my child allowed to _____? I demand that my child be accepted into this closed class, etc. etc." Uh, hello, your so-called child is 20 years old, and he/she will never learn to be a functioning responsible adult if you keep on doing this kindergarten-coddling behavior.)

Anyway, one British campus dweller has identified 5 main kinds of "helicopter parents." I'm sure there are more than 5 types, but I do like his definitions. Take a look!

Helicopter parents - the five most common kinds

The Agent

Operates like a footballer's agent: fixing deals, arranging contracts, smoothing out local difficulties. It's the Agent's job to represent his or her client at events which, for whatever reason, the client feels are simply too tedious to attend. Having an Agent helicopter parent is like having Max Clifford working for you round the clock. For free.

The Banker

Accessible online, face to face or via personal hotline, the Banker is unique in the world of financial services for charging no APR, asking few if any questions, expecting no collateral, and being psychologically inclined to say 'yes' no matter how illogical or poorly articulated the request. The Banker is also resigned to never seeing loans repaid.

The White Knight

Imbued with an almost semi-mythical status, the White Knight parent appears at little to no notice to resolve awkward situations. Once resolved, the White Knight will fade anonymously into the background. Intervention is accomplished silently and with minimum fuss.

The Bodyguard

The primary function of the Bodyguard is to protect the client from a range of embarrassing social situations - such as cancelling appointments and soaking up complaints on behalf of their client. Particularly skilled in constructing elaborate excuses. When not protecting life, limb and reputation, doubles up as a chauffeur and personal assistant.

The Black Hawk

Named after the military helicopter, and dreaded by teachers and educational administrators, the Black Hawk is unique among helicopter parents due to their willingness to go to any lengths - legal or illegal - to give their offspring a positional advantage over any competition. Particularly lethal when elected to parent-teacher associations.
I also love how the writer calls the cellphone "the longest umbilical cord in history." Too true, that.

China: Spoiled Rich Kids

Surprise, surprise -- the kids of wealthy Chinese are turning out pretty much like the kids of wealthy Everybody Else. The kids are turning into spoiled brats.

The kids even have a nickname: "Little Emperors."

So as one observer asks, how to teach these kids morals and manners?

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

2008's GOP Candidates and their Buffy Equivalents

The candidates for the Republican primaries meet "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"! The results are hilarious.

Admittedly, you'd have to be a Buffy fan to get the full effect. My favorite? Mike Huckabee's Buffy equivalent is Caleb the evil preacher with the Southern accent.

Someday soon, I'll have to write a serious post about the GOP field...but that day is not today!

Weather Predictions for 2008: "100% Chance of Alarm (and Availability Entrepreneurs)"

A New York Times writer (surprise!) has a few pithy comments about eco-hysteria, the pernicious role of mass media, and selectively chosen pieces of information. He even takes a potshot at the "Goracle" himself. The entire treatment of climate change (anthropogenic or otherwise) has been horribly distorted, and I'm glad to see at least some awareness that this is so -- and that it is making a complicated matter even more so, turning it into a juggernaut of ever more shrill eco-piety.

Do read the whole thing. Here's a fun blurb, and I boldfaced a central idea below:
You’re in for very bad weather. In 2008, your television will bring you image after frightening image of natural havoc linked to global warming. You will be told that such bizarre weather must be a sign of dangerous climate change — and that these images are a mere preview of what’s in store unless we act quickly to cool the planet.

Unfortunately, I can’t be more specific. I don’t know if disaster will come by flood or drought, hurricane or blizzard, fire or ice. Nor do I have any idea how much the planet will warm this year or what that means for your local forecast. Long-term climate models cannot explain short-term weather.

But there’s bound to be some weird weather somewhere, and we will react like the sailors in the Book of Jonah. When a storm hit their ship, they didn’t ascribe it to a seasonal weather pattern. They quickly identified the cause (Jonah’s sinfulness) and agreed to an appropriate policy response (throw Jonah overboard).

Today’s interpreters of the weather are what social scientists call availability entrepreneurs: the activists, journalists and publicity-savvy scientists who selectively monitor the globe looking for newsworthy evidence of a new form of sinfulness, burning fossil fuels.

. . . The availability cascade is a self-perpetuating process: the more attention a danger gets, the more worried people become, leading to more news coverage and more fear. . . Once a cascade is under way, it becomes tough to sort out risks because experts become reluctant to dispute the popular wisdom, and are ignored if they do. Now that the melting Arctic has become the symbol of global warming, there’s not much interest in hearing other explanations of why the ice is melting — or why the globe’s other pole isn’t melting, too.

Global warming has an impact on both polar regions, but they’re also strongly influenced by regional weather patterns and ocean currents. Two studies by NASA and university scientists last year concluded that much of the recent melting of Arctic sea ice was related to a cyclical change in ocean currents and winds, but those studies got relatively little attention — and were certainly no match for the images of struggling polar bears so popular with availability entrepreneurs.

. . . “In the last few months,” Mr. Gore said, “it has been harder and harder to misinterpret the signs that our world is spinning out of kilter.” But he was being too modest. Thanks to availability entrepreneurs like him, misinterpreting the weather is getting easier and easier.

Euro Notes: EU Lisbon Treaty -- No "Superpower" Created

Here is an analysis/editorial about the EU's Lisbon Treaty. The title is somewhat pugnacious and a little too sensationalist: "Lisbon Treaty Will Not Create a European Superpower."

A "superpower"? An actual "superpower"? Well, of course not. Nobody I know has ever said this. I for one have never even thought this. There's no real muscular, robust hegemony of any type that I can see that treaty creating -- not economic, definitely not military, not even really political. If the treaty creates anything vaguely superpower-like, it's more EUrophilic bureaucracy-in-23-official-languages, complete with the inevitable silliness. The only "superpower" is the awesomely effective power of eye-rolling nonsense -- like that cartoon hero, Captain Euro, whom I once called "hysterical cartoon propaganda." (I stand by my critique; go on, click here and see for yourself.)

But in a real way, the idea of creating some European "superpower" is not the point, and to highlight this as the point misses the actual point.

The adoption of the revamped treaty won't instantaneously create anything, other than a tidal wave of nerdy analysis and over-analysis. What's the real point? As I see it, the entire process (and I've seen it largely from the British side) is more important as an illustration of the mindset of EUrocrat trans-national political elites.

The author of the linked analysis inadvertently (?) nods at the real issue when he says this:
Having learned from previous disasters -- notably the rejection of the proposed EU constitution in 2005 by Dutch and French voters -- EU leaders have made clear they will not submit the text to national referendum, except in Ireland where the country's constitution requires it. They argue that the Lisbon treaty would simply amend existing EU treaties rather than, as with the failed EU constitution, replace them by transferring some national sovereignty to the EU.
This is precisely my point.

The leaders have decided that they want this particular thing (my dislike of the thing's predecessor is on record), and by golly, they will have it -- no matter what the "unwashed masses" of the actual voting public might want/say/vote. It's top-down government. Besides, this is also the purest distillation of self-involved, paternalistic, elitist oligarchy, and it is deeply, profoundly, and quite possibly irremediably undemocratic in its very soul. Does it regard the voting public as citizens or subjects?

My point isn't about the efficacy or effect of the treaty. It's about the principle of the thing.

As for the Lisbon Treaty, here is its official website. By the way, one sentence in the blurb caught my eye in particular: "The Treaty of Lisbon will reinforce democracy in the EU and its capacity to promote the interests of its citizens on a day-to-day basis." On a day-to-day basis? How many more ludicrous acts of bureaucratic micro-management and regulation can we look forward to seeing? Nanny tyranny?

Nerd Notes and FYI: The Middle East Strategy at Harvard Blog

Here's an interesting blog that's worth looking at for various topics now and again:

the Middle East Strategy at Harvard blog.

Nice, often thoughtful or thought-provoking thoughts for nerds and for folks who like to read what nerds have been studying.

New Year's Resolutions for World Leaders

Foreign Policy has a fun little piece for starting 2008.

What kind of New Year's resolutions should some world leaders make?

Hello Kitty Monstrosity of the Day: the Pink Hello Kitty Assault Rifle

You know you want to read more about it.

You know you want to!

It's the cutest firearm ever...though you don't want to be at the wrong end of it, I'm sure. Of course, in an actual Hello Kitty universe, such a thing would shoot sugary gumdrops instead of bullets probably.

I have a great idea, though! Give pink Hello Kitty rifles to these female commandos!

(And no, pink Hello Kitty firearms aren't for sale to the public. This rifle was made by an enterprising fellow for his wife. Hmmm...what a romantic present? Errr...yeah.)

China: Xie Lihua and China's Poor Rural Women

Meet Xie Lihua, working to improve the often-harsh lives of China's rural women.

I've often noted how difficult are the lives of China's rural population of peasant farmers. The lives of many poor rural women are especially dreadful. And by "poor," I mean a statement not of emotional sympathy, but a statement of economic hardship: "poverty-stricken."

We need more people like Xie Lihua. See what she has been doing:
Xie is the founder of the groundbreaking Rural Women magazine, a crucial emotional outlet for generations of peasant women. Each issue includes a lengthy series of readers' letters, a sort of chat room for far-flung villagers too poor to own computers.

Although urban women have made strides toward equality, thanks to better education and opportunities within a growing white-collar workforce, rural women are often stuck in a harsh lifestyle unchanged from an earlier era.

"I tell them their life is the equal of any man. They were not born unequal -- society made them this way," Xie said. "They just need opportunities to obtain their rights."

Three of four Chinese women -- more than 450 million -- still live in the countryside, where rigid social customs breed loneliness and abuse.

Domestic violence rates are high. Each year 150,000 women commit suicide in rural China -- the only place on Earth where more women kill themselves than men, according to the World Health Organization.

Xie's readers are country women taught to refer to male spouses not as husbands but masters. They inhabit a world where the emphasis on bearing sons is so strong that women bear names such as Zhaodi ("looking for a little brother") and Aidi ("loving a little brother").

Along with her 14-year-old magazine, Xie founded the Cultural Development Center for Rural Women, China's first nongovernmental organization focused on women living outside the city.

She has sponsored programs in literacy training and suicide prevention, as well as some aimed at increasing women's political participation. She dispenses micro-loans for enterprising rural women.

These days, she focuses on the plight of China's largest underclass -- the millions of women who leave the countryside as migrant workers -- and especially on abduction and trafficking schemes that enslave women as prostitutes.