Thursday, March 27, 2008

Taiwan Photoblogging Update: More Soon; I'm Drowning in Schoolwork

I know, I know -- I promised some Taiwan blogging. I have many photos and many comments (both on the photos and on the current political situation), but I am drowning miserably in schoolwork!

For now, just remember the first image collection. I give you a little photo token now as a promise of another collection soon to come! And yes -- they are school photos! You noticed!

Here is a kindergarten class full of xiao haizi (little ones). They're having lunch. Aren't they adorable? Once upon a time, I was like one of the little girls -- back when dinosaurs roamed the earth. This class is at Tamkang school in Tamsui. Grade levels range from kindergarten through high school (K-12), with college preparatory classes. My mom and uncles all went to school there and my grandfather was a history teacher there for many years too. See, my whole family is full of nerds. By the way, notice the wall on the right: the kids are learning the names of the months in English. English language instruction now begins very early in Taiwan.

I gave you a kindergarten photo, so I should give you a high school photo. Apparently schoolboys there are like schoolboys everywhere -- always having a little fun. Yes, everyone wears school uniforms. Hey...Is that a schoolgirl smiling at my Sibling as he takes the photo????

Beijing Olympic Watch: Political Games and Demonstrations

The WaPo lately has been running some robust op-ed critiques of the upcoming Beijing Games (here is one), and I see another now. This one rips into the idea being spread by various Olympic cheerleaders that the Games are an inappropriate venue for expressing dissent, opposition, protest, etc.

You can get to it by clicking on this blurb from it:

"The Olympic Games are not the place for demonstrations." Aren't they? Actually, the Olympics seem an ideal place for demonstrations.

Well, the 2008 Games are already shaping up to be very interesting indeed -- and you do recall that old curse, don't you? MAY YOU LIVE IN INTERESTING TIMES. (Of course, I don't mean to direct the curse at *you,* gentle reader!)

Nerd News: Harvard's Brush with Religious Accommodation? -- Plus, Grad Students Speak Up!

Here's an interesting little something.

Harvard recently had an "Islamic Awareness Week," during which the Muslim call to prayer was broadcast over the campus from loudspeakers on the library steps.

3 graduate students wrote to the campus newspaper to express their objection. Well, good on them for having the nerve and stomach to speak out -- because, and you know this as well as I do, on any campus these days you risk being labeled all kinds of unpleasant things if you say something unpopular.

So, I give you what the Harvard dissenters have to say. Two of them, by the way, are graduate students in Middle Eastern studies, and 1 is from the Kennedy School of Government.

Two weeks ago, the Islamic call to prayer, or adhan in Arabic, was broadcast from the steps of Widener Library across Harvard Yard as part of Harvard Islamic Society’s “Islam Awareness Week.” No doubt, the week’s events have broadened some horizons, and exposed some in our community to facets of a religion with which they were not previously familiar. This is certainly a good thing. However, it should be asked if other, more important concerns have been overlooked. We feel compelled to write this editorial to initiate a discussion on the intersection of pluralism and Islam, and the content of the adhan itself, which translated into English reads:

God is the Greatest

I bear witness that there is no lord except God

I bear witness that Mohammad is the Messenger of God

Hurry to prayer

Hurry to success

God is the Greatest

There is no lord except God

It is wonderful that we embrace the free practice of many religions at Harvard. We are thankful that most members of the Harvard community understand the importance of respecting people’s rights to have their own beliefs. We are deeply committed to respecting and protecting the rights of others to believe at they choose, and we believe that one of the first principles of respectful conduct and religious practice is to avoid unnecessarily criticizing or confronting others’ personal beliefs. We cherish the fact that it is possible to discuss our differences with our classmates and neighbors without that discussion erupting into conflict and sowing the seeds of division and disrespect.

We believe that the adhan, issued publicly in a pluralistic setting, does indeed sow those seeds of division and disrespect. It does so by declaring that “there is no lord except God,” and that “Muhammad is the Messenger of God.” To the extent that this statement is a profession of faith, it is benign; however, by virtue of its content, it is also a declaration of religious superiority and a declaration against all beliefs that conflict with those two statements. This puts the adhan in a different class of religious expression than, say, the sounding of church bells or the displaying of a menorah because it publicly advances a theological position. By doing so, it comes precariously close to crossing the line between the legitimate creation of awareness and proselytization. Imagine, if you would, a Southern Baptist evangelist standing atop the steps of Widener Library, exhorting passersby to pray, denying the validity to other faiths, and declaring the divinity of Jesus. Would such an activity be congruent with Harvard’s tradition of liberalism and tolerance?

We do not believe so. Indeed, other religions make truth claims similar to those contained in the adhan, but those claims, as a matter of practice at Harvard, are voiced privately or not at all. The adhan, it seems, is the exception to Harvard’s unspoken rule of religious respect and tolerance.

The authors of this piece do not believe that there is no lord but God. Nor do we believe that Muhammad was God’s prophet. In fact, we do not believe in prophets. We expect that our statements might be offensive to some, and for that reason, we believe that it wouldn’t be appropriate, in the name of spreading awareness about our beliefs, use a public address system to declare to everyone in Harvard Yard that God is imaginary, that prayer is a waste of time, or that Muhammad was not a prophet. Similarly, it is best that those who hold similar beliefs about Hinduism or Buddhism or any other religion avoid loudly declaring the falsehood of other faiths.

The Harvard community should be very aware of Islam, as it is one of the world’s most influential religions. We believe that Islam Awareness Week ought to continue, but in a way that does not foist Islamic doctrines upon everyone. We believe that students who resent the forceful infusion of theology with their Harvard experience should be spared the indignity, and we believe strongly that our community should not grant license to any religious group, minority or otherwise, to use a loudspeaker to declare false the profoundly important and personal beliefs of others.

Nerd Notes: Elite Colleges vs. Diversity vs. High SAT Test Scores

Hmmmmm. Here is a question for elite campuses...

High SAT test scores or diversity? Apparently you can't have your cake and eat it too. (Or can you?)

Elite colleges have been undermining their own efforts to diversify by giving much more weight to high SAT scores than they did before, according to an analysis of College Board data presented this morning at the annual conference of the American Educational Research Association.

Over the past two or three decades, the share of freshman-class seats that elite colleges award to students with high SAT scores has risen significantly—and risen more quickly than the number of high scores, according to an analysis by Catherine L. Horn, an assistant professor of educational leadership and cultural studies at the University of Houston, and John T. Yun, an assistant professor of education at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

. . . The researchers say that, by focusing so heavily on high scorers, the elite colleges they examined are ignoring promising minority students with lesser scores, increasing the competition for high-scoring minority students, and potentially “simply ‘pricing’ themselves out of the ‘market’ for a more diverse learning environment.” Especially among the most prestigious of the 30 institutions, it is hard to believe that putting less emphasis on high SAT scores would cause the institutions’ quality to suffer.

The can of worms is OPEN! The fallout will not be pleasant. Slugfests over identity politics, educational standards, and affirmative action are never pleasant -- especially when combined.

My two cents' worth:

  1. SAT scores are arbitrary numbers, and I don't believe they or any other standardized exam can accurately gauge actual academic ability.
  2. On the other hand, I did fine on my SATs (among the "elite," according to the researchers of the study linked above).
  3. This report doesn't seem to say much about minority students who perform as well as (or better than) non-minority kids on the SAT. Apparently we don't matter because we PERFORM? What about the diversity that I (and people like me) add to a campus? Is it not "diverse" enough? Oh, let me not remind us all of the California messes about Asians and Asian-Americans are "not really minorities."
  4. If SATs are going to be used as a qualification for school admissions, then frankly I think schools should measure every potential student by the same yardstick, not have different yardsticks for different groups.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Nerd News: UK Schools and a Quota of Bad Students?

This sounds . . . interesting in a really depressing kind of way.
Schools will be forced to take their fair share of disruptive pupils to prevent them from monopolising the best behaved children, the Government announced today.

Ed Balls, the Children’s Secretary, said schools that excluded pupils would have to accept, in return, the same number that had been expelled from another school.

This “one out, one in” policy would prevent oversubscribed schools from dumping badly-behaved children onto their failing neighbours.
Yes, let's all flail together in the morass of mandatory mediocrity -- how dare any school attempt to be an island of civility in the rising sea of yob culture? Let's make sure troublesome kids turn into everybody's problem. Also, I didn't see much about ideas for turning the expellable little hellions into decent young people.

Meanwhile, the people who suffer? The good kids, of course. AS USUAL.

Quirky Euro Files: German Police, Traffic Cones, and a Mouse

Here's an amusing tale . . . about a mouse in a house, the young man who panicked and ran into the snowy winter night while wearing only slippers and boxer shorts, and the German police who arrived to attempt capturing the mouse with traffic cones.

Oh, my!

(Also...Traffic cones? Are mousetraps too cruel? They're possibly more -- er -- effective. The police didn't catch the mouse!)

Amusing Zoology News: Female Peacocks Aren't Impressed by Colorful Male Feathers

Well, it now looks as though everything I was taught about peacock plumage is wrong!

New research from the University of Tokyo suggests that female peacocks (peahens) don't care much about the males' magnificent feathers.

Take a look at the photo accompanying the news story. It has a peacock fully displaying his tail plumage for a a peahen who doesn't seem to notice. The caption? "Whatever."


Perhaps peahens, like many a girl I know, aren't impressed by show-offs!


This reminds me of a funny story from my childhood, though. When the family would go to the zoo, I would ask my mom in Taiwanese to (I quote) "make the peacock bloom." She would whistle, and the peacock would always display his feathers. My mom still tells the story since I used the word for "bloom" -- the same word you use to talk about flowers opening. She thinks it was a cute thing for a kid to say!

Beijing Olympic Watch: The Games as "Showcase of Repression"

This editorial piece in the Washington Post tears into China's record of repression. Take a look:
AS CHINA'S COMMUNIST leadership conceived it, this year's Olympic Games were to mark the country's debut as a global power, with a booming economy and rapidly modernizing society. Instead, it's beginning to look as though the Games could become a showcase for violent repression, censorship and political persecution by a regime that has failed to rise above the level of police state. Though they present themselves as worldly and reformist, President Hu Jintao and his leadership group seem unable to grasp how the policies they have pursued in recent months have undermined the honor of staging the Olympics and risk destroying China's international prestige.

Even before the upheaval in Tibet this month, Mr. Hu's government was tightening its grip: shutting down publications, imprisoning dissidents and harassing lawyers in the name of pre-Olympic harmony. Officials have reneged on pledges to loosen media controls, not only in Tibet -- where the foreign press has been denied access to the carnage -- but in Beijing itself; as of this week, authorities won't allow live broadcasts from Tiananmen Square, site of the deadly crackdown on pro-democracy students two decades ago.

. . . it looks increasingly likely that the Olympics will serve to remind the world not of China's emerging greatness but of its continuing denial of freedom to its citizens, its repression of minorities and its amoral alliances with rogue states.
Well, if China wanted to get the Games so it could get the international spotlight, it's certainly got that attention -- though right now in very negative ways. Be careful what you wish for; you might actually get it.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Beijing Olympic Watch: France's Sarkozy and the Opening Ceremonies

Here is a little news, but my post is really about commentary.

France's leader Sarkozy has said that he has not ruled out the option of boycotting the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics. (I had blogged briefly about this symbolic type of boycott, not a full, actual, and useless boycott, before.)

Sarko cites the situation in Tibet as his reason. He has also called on China to talk with the Dalai Lama.

Now observe more carefully the words in the BBC headline: "Sarkozy threat to Olympic opening."

Hmmmm. SARKO is the threat? Apparently the democratically elected leader of a free European nation is the "threat" when he wants to voice his opinion about a situation that has attracted the condemnation of numerous world leaders. Oh, the threat can't possibly be an autocratic dictatorship using bloody force in a location it has seized and deliberately subjected to cultural mutilation.

Look, I know that media standards these days are deplorable, but this sort of moral inversion is simply offensive and stupid. Of course, this is the BBC news service we're talking about. You'll remember that on my old blog I once ranted about how BBC described Taiwan as a "threat" to China.

Taiwan Photoblogging: Part 1 = Planes and Night Markets

The Sibling is now recovered enough from his jet lag to start sending Taiwan photos!

I will post a few at a time -- in chronological order -- so we can all take a little virtual trip to Taiwan together and enjoy the photo fun. (And perhaps cure our travel envy?)

Previously I posted the first photo from the trip: the church in Tamsui.

Here is the first collection:

Here is the plane! It's EVA Air, the family's favorite airline for Taiwan trips. (Good food, great service, comfortable seats.) Notice the other passengers starting to read their Mandarin-language newspapers.

The Sibling and I love checking the flight map. Here he is, somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, near the coast of Alaska, on his direct flight to Taipei from Los Angeles. Hey, it's much better than having to change planes in Narita, Tokyo, Japan.

Ah, yes. How to amuse yourself on long trans-Pacific flights? The Sibling decided on some Sudoku. Hmmm, notice the difficulty setting in the top right corner! *giggle*

Finally in Taiwan! The plane lands about 10 PM. Tired and jet-lagged, what's the first thing you should do? Go out to the busy night markets and eat like a pig, of course! Here is a photo of some glorious steamed dumplings, which were made and cooked on the spot. Eat with dipping sauce and shredded ginger root, with maybe a dash of vinegar.

Here is another example of the great (and not expensive) food you can get at the busy night market food stalls. This is called a "chicken roll," and it's delicious. The baby cucumbers are a nice and cool addition to the hot savory dish. The Sibling and family ate themselves into a happy food-induced coma and then went to bed.

Good morning, Taiwan! This is the view from the windows of the family's hotel in Tamsui, a suburb of Taipei now, though it once was an independent seaside village. Tamsui is out of the busy urban center (but well-linked by the excellent MRT system), and it has beautiful views of the ocean and also of some lovely mountains. This is Guanyin Mountain, as seen from the Sibling's bedroom window early in the morning.

Don't forget: breakfast is the most important meal of the day! Here is a typical Taiwanese breakfast: hot tea (the good stuff too -- look at the lovely color of the tea), hot rice porridge, a selection of meats and vegetables, and some fresh fruit. Oh, there are fried eggs today, with a little drizzle of soy sauce on top. Delicious. The uncles went out to the morning street markets and bought hot fresh soy milk -- just as here in the US and Europe you may go out in the morning for some hot fresh coffee.

And now, well rested and well fed, we begin our first real day in lovely Taiwan! That will be in Photo collection #2, which will be posted soon.

(Yes, yes, I know my Taiwan blogging is going to sound like a LOT of crazy propaganda. Sorry in advance. I'm *not* on the payroll of Taipei, but I can't help gushing about Taiwan -- it's such a fantastic place!)

Monday, March 24, 2008

Amusing Cookbook Title: "Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook."

No, really!

The cookbook is actually titled "Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook." Seriously. Here it is on Amazon, and it's even been nominated for a cookbook prize.

Perhaps I am just an evil history student, but the name of this cookbook made me laugh. I'm sure the cookbook has nothing to do with revolutionary Maoist China, but the entire idea about using the words "revolutionary" and "cookbook" TOGETHER when revolutionary big shot Mao caused mass hunger and famine...!

What would a recipe look like?

Take 1 pound of grass and twigs, stir fry with fresh leaves, eat immediately and die slowly of starvation.

Oops, did I say that aloud?

The Cinema-Mad Sibling Recommends: 3--No, 4!-- Asian Films!

The Cinema-Mad Sibling has returned from Taiwan with a fresh crop of Asian film trailers to recommend.

So, lucky reader, feast your eyes on the following:

"Appleseed Ex Machina"


"Resurrection of the Dragon"

Korean trailer videos are here.


UPDATE: The Sibling has just emailed with another film--John Woo's "Red Cliff." Take a look. It's another period epic, of course, filled with Chinese warlords and sweeping huge landscapes; these action "historical" epics are all the rage! Yes, we've all got "Three Kingdoms" fever, and the only cure is the cinema.

John Woo's "Red Cliff"

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Nerd Journal: Happy Easter + Spring's First Robin!

It's a cold but sunny Resurrection Sunday, so let me wish you all a lovely Easter! Here is a Fra Angelico for your artistic enjoyment.

The weekend's been busy, but I'll be back with more tomorrow. For now, here's a summary:
  • Yesterday I saw both the spring's first robin AND the first crocus flower of the season! These are two sure signs of spring and warm weather to come, so it's always delightful to see that first robin and first crocus (this year's first crocus was orange -- a surprise, since usually I see purple ones).
  • The Sibling and mother and I have been on the phone all weekend talking about the Taiwan election and Ma's (very big) victory. It's too early, I think, to be able to analyze the results fully, but I can tell you that everyone is buzzing and that my group is not at all pleased (neither is Taiwan watcher Michael). Even the western media has finally started covering the results, although as usual the "analysis" is silly, stupid, uninformed, biased, ridiculous, or all of those things. I'll be back later with an attempt at news/analysis/commentary. One little nerd note, though, since I can't help myself: Ma is a Harvard man. Whether you think this is a good thing or a bad thing depends on what you think of Hahvahd!
  • Tomorrow I'm back to class (*sigh*). Still, with robins and flowers beginning to appear, there is hope that the school term will be over eventually!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Nerd Journal: Politics + Sports + School = MARCH MADNESS!!!

Horribly busy! Everything is happening at the same time!

All I can say is that I have a new math equation for the lunacy:

US politics (Obama race-baiting with stupid media interviews)
+ Taiwan politics (presidential election is this weekend!! DPP! KMT! Aaaaaagh!)
+ school (I'm going to a Nerdmoot to share shoddy research with -- gasp! -- Nerd Lords)
+ sport (NCAA college basketball championship! Hoopla for hoops!)

Absolutely. Oh, and Easter holidays too! Too bad I wasn't able to give up homework and research for Lent...

I will try to have more analysis and sibling Taiwan photos soon, but I make no promises. I could simply collapse from eating too many chocolate bunnies and candy eggs.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Quirky Asia Files: Japanese "Politeness Police" Watch Your Manners on the Train

In Yokohama, "politeness police" on the trains will make you give up your seat for elderly, injured, or pregnant passengers if you don't get up of your own accord.

Note to gentle readers: I'm sure you don't need these "courtesy cops" since I'm quite certain that you are all impeccably well-mannered!

Beijing Olympic Watch: Thoughts on Boycotting the Opening Ceremonies

In light of the brutal and bloody measures now underway in Tibet, some people are calling for a mini-boycott of the Beijing Olympics. This doesn't mean a boycott of the entire Games (that wouldn't do anything much anyway), but the refusal of international VIPs to attend the opening ceremonies might be a big slap to Beijing.

Well, it would certainly be a loss of face. Plus it would tell everyone -- IOC included -- that not everybody is comfortable with silently colluding with autocratic dictatorships that trample on human rights.

Anyway, 2008 was supposed to be Beijing's big year of self-promoting propaganda -- but so far, it's turned out to be a disaster. I'm thinking, you know, that's just FINE with me. Go ahead, let the world see the huge gap between the shiny happy images that Beijing wants people to see and the very different images that it's been producing lately -- even though it's been trying to block YouTube and other sources of video from Tibet.

Nerd News: Tenure -- the Movie!

This could be hilarious! Inside Higher Ed is reporting that a movie will be filmed -- and its plot is about tenure:
Blowtorch Entertainment will next month begin filming on “Tenure,” which is about a college professor coming up for tenure (Luke Wilson) and facing off against a female rival who recently arrived at (fictional) Grey College. (The part of the institution will be played by Bryn Mawr College, where the movie will be shot.) David Koechner will play the professorial sidekick to the Wilson character, and the production company is planning kickoff events next year to promote the film in college towns.

Brendan McDonald, the producer, said that he viewed academe as “one of the interesting worlds to explore” and said that he viewed the project as “lampooning the tenure process.”

Hm. do you suppose the film will include all the usual egotistical maneuvering, backstabbing, gossiping, petty quarreling, campus politics, self-aggrandizement, nervous breakdowns, and nerd-versus-nerd social and political gaffes? Oh, and the often-inevitable lawsuits and complaints?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Taiwan Photoblogging: the DPP Rally on March 16

Michael Turton has been photoblogging! Do go see his many great photos from the March 16 DPP rally. (Yes, yes, I betray my political sympathies, no?)

Oh, I notice Michael has described some young ladies at the rally as "totally hot DPP babes." Hahaha, maybe next time I will be one! *giggle*

Sibling Travel Report and Taiwan Photoblogging: Tamsui Church

(click to enlarge)

Gentle reader, the Sibling now has photos to share from his trip to Taiwan! I'll post some in the coming days.

For now, I'll start with this charming group photo taken last Saturday. This is my family's church in Tamsui (once a small waterside town, it's now become a suburb of Taipei). This old church has a long history, is on the historical record, and has been part of my mother's side family since she was a little girl. It's located on the main street in Tamsui (Chungsung Street) and is still a vibrant community of Taiwanese Christians. In fact, some of my relatives are in the crowd!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Quirky Euro Files: French Guillotine Chic!

Apparently in la belle France, Frenchmen are now rushing to a new website where they can see if they have an ancestor who was kissed by Madame Guillotine during the French Revolution.

It's now tres chic to be related to the doomed aristocrats of old.

“Avez-vous eu un ancêtre decapité pendant la révolution?”

Hm, why do I suddenly want to go read The Scarlet Pimpernel?

Taiwan: Required Reading for March 22 Election

The Jamestown Foundation has a useful new briefing of who and what in the upcoming Taiwanese vote.

Xie-xie to Michael Turton of the very good View from Taiwan blog.

Et tu, Brute?: Beware the Ides of March!

Enjoy the day, fans of Roman history!

And do read some Shakespeare!

March 22: Upcoming Taiwanese Elections--plus the Sibling Reports on DPP Campaign Headquarters

Just a thought as I brace myself for the inevitable mess that will come with the Taiwanese elections. For one thing, I expect a great deal of ludicrously bad "coverage" from the international news media. Expect "analysts" to be spouting nonsense, particularly nonsense that reveals they haven't a real clue about Taiwan at all -- or that they've somehow become sympathetic with the pan-blues and the photogenic Ma.

BUT! On a more personal note, I received an email a couple days ago from the Sibling in Taipei. He reported on an incident at the DPP campaign headquarters, and then told me to keep an eye on the news to see if the incident appears.

Here is the incident as the Sibling reported it ("Big news here," he says from Taipei). Some KMT supporters (blues) decided to cause trouble for the DPP (greens), and did this by sending some men to the DPP headquarters (they were "suits," according to the Sibling). They then apparently kicked in the door, accusing the DPP of not paying correct rent on the location. Soon dozens of DPP/green supporters appeared on the scene to protest the action of the blues and to deny their accusation. Riot police were called to the scene to restore order.

(Since I have a language policy on the blog, I won't repeat verbatim the Sibling's opinion of the pan-blues, but I can say he called their tactics a very nasty word indeed...and he's usually very polite! Also, the type of rowdy behavior he reports is unusual -- Taiwanese politics can be energetic, but not usually in the forms of fisticuffs like this.)

Here is the first appearance of the incident that I found -- in the BBC. A finance minister and a KMT legislator have now resigned over the fracas at DPP headquarters. Big news indeed.

[Finance minister] Ho Chih-chin said he was resigning to take responsibility for what he called his improper behaviour.

He had accompanied several legislators from the KMT - members of the parliamentary finance committee - to the DPP's campaign headquarters.

They had alleged that the building - owned by a bank which was supervised by the finance ministry - was being unlawfully occupied, claiming that no rent had been paid.

After gaining access, they were blocked from leaving by DPP supporters.

Scuffles broke out, and about 200 riot police were called in to try to maintain order.

The lawmakers were eventually allowed to leave the scene, and were taken to a police station for questioning.

The DPP's presidential candidate, Frank Hsieh, and his aides have strongly condemned the incident.

KMT candidate Ma Ying-jeou later apologised and condemned the violence - although his aides insisted his campaign team had no prior knowledge of the event.

One of the KMT legislators involved in the incident, Alex Fai, also apologised and resigned as party whip.

Sorry for the delay in posting this -- I've been rather ill with a cold!

I'll have more news from the Sibling in Taiwan soon. He's heading to Taichung and Sun Moon Lake soon...

Taiwan Criticizes China Over Tibet

See the latest on Taiwanese leaders' response to China's recent crackdown in Tibet.

Here's a quote from DPP leader Frank Hsieh: " "As we look at Tibet, we must think about our own fate."

Oh, my.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Nerd News: Yale "Free Speech" -- or Lack of It

Princeton man TigerHawk is not too happy about Yale's approach to free speech -- if New Haven free speech really only means "you can say whatever you want on campus -- unless somebody else doesn't like it, in which case you will either shut up or we will force you to shut up."

Oh, the Ivy League! Is TigerHawk right that feelings are more important than the bedrock principles of free speech?

Nerd Analysis: Thoughts on Science Vs. Journalism

Very interesting blog post here about the dangers of emotion-driven "reporting" in science. Here is a blurb:
A major new idea, one which overturns an existing, well-supported theory, does not get established in one paper. There has to be follow up and debate, and if the idea holds up to scrutiny it will be accepted.

Beware the underdog narrative in science journalism. This narrative severely misrepresents how science really works. It's designed to elicit our sympathy for a not-yet-established theory, maybe one that is socially attractive, and to arouse our indignation against the staid community of eggheaded scientists. This underdog narrative plays on our emotions, it makes for a good read, and helps us feel good about ourselves when we stand up for our convictions.

What gets lost is the scientific method, the idea that novel proposals need to be thoroughly vetted and tested, no matter how intuitively attractive they are. That vetting process is done by a dynamic community of smart, educated, competitive people, who care passionately about science. It's a community where everyone wants to come up with the next big theory that overturns long-held beliefs. But that's hard to do, especially in fields where all the low-hanging fruit has been picked over by really talented people for decades or centuries. If a new theory is being presented in the media as the centerpiece of an underdog narrative, you can bet the farm that this theory is not yet sufficiently substantiated by the evidence. That doesn't mean it's wrong necessarily, but it does mean that the hypothesis has not yet met the rigorous standards of evidence that have served science well for centuries.

British soldier fends off 150 Taliban, receives the Military Cross

This is an amazing tale:
A BRITISH soldier who almost single-handedly took on 150 Taliban after he and his 50-man convoy were ambushed in Afghanistan has been awarded the Military Cross.

Fusilier Damien Hields used his grenade machinegun to destroy seven Taliban positions before his ambushers realised he was their main threat. After peppering his vehicle with bullets, they hit the 24-year-old soldier. He had to be dragged off for treatment by his driver after he tried to continue fighting.

“Fusilier Hields showed extraordinary courage under intense fire,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Huw James, his commanding officer. “I was astonished at the state of his vehicle. There were so many holes in it, it was like a teabag. The Taliban did everything in their power to neutralise [him] and Fusilier Hields was having none of it. His actions allowed his patrol to come out of the ambush in which they were outnumbered by three or four to one and probably saved a lot of lives.”

Hields was awarded not only the Military Cross, the third highest award for gallantry, but also the Nato Meritorious Service Medal for his actions, which were part of a Nato operation.

What also caught my eye, though, was this Monty Pythonesque comment:
Hields said: “It turned out the bullet had smashed a rib and gone out of me again without touching any internal organs which was very lucky. It was just a flesh wound really.”
Talk about nerves of steel.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Weekend Nerd Journal: Hooray for Friday!

I can't even begin to tell you how glad I am that today is Friday!

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

Oh, I think I would actually dance if I were not sooooooooo tiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiired...


Thursday, March 06, 2008

Asian Arms: New Report on Chinese Military Power

Blog friend Dignfied Rant has the post to the latest edition of the annual report on Chinese military capabilities, along with brief commentary on what it might mean in terms of Taiwan.

Nerd Journal: Total Taiwan Travel Envy

The Sibling is now in beautiful Taiwan! He is now tormenting me with emails about his adventures. Meanwhile, I'm stuck here on campus, in the cold and wet, turning absolutely green with envy.

(The first email? An announcement that he had landed in Taipei and immediately went to the busy night markets, where he and our relatives had a million delicious snacks at the numerous food stalls. Lucky dog!)

The Sibling has promised many, many photos, so I will post them when I receive them.

For you, gentle reader, I give you a glimpse of where the Sibling is and will be going:
The Sibling is currently in Tamsui and will will heading to Taichung at some point. We've got relatives all over the island, too, so he will be soon be mobbed by what I call "the auntie brigade" that will (a) feed him endlessly and also (b) treat him like a child even though he's a grown man, and of course (c) demand to know why he's not married yet.

Oh, Taiwan! I haven't been back there in almost 3 years. OK, you know it's coming... *WHINNNNNNNNE!!!*

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Obama-Billary Smackdown Continues

I would simply like to say: yesterday's Super Tuesday II was basically a repeat of Super Tuesday I. The first one resulted in gridlock, and so did the second one.

The Obama-Billary death-match continues unabated. I'm actually a little surprised that Hillary managed to win both Ohio and Texas; then again, she did say she had to win both.

We're going into the Democratic Convention without a nominee, kids! Pull up a comfortable chair, sit back, relax, and watch the fireworks fly amid the increasingly dirty and desperate politicking. Showtime! I'll make the popcorn (with extra butter). Meanwhile, let the superdelegates start to squirm.

On the GOP side, it's the McCain Channel -- all McCain, all the time. I'm afraid it's a bit boring by comparison.

Both parties are actually rather unhappy, though unhappy in different ways (hey! that sounded just like the beginning of Anna Karenina. Oh, please, let us not throw ourselves under a train by the end of the election cycle...). I'm expecting interesting conventions.

Oh, and I have to say: I saw Hillary on a morning news program, all smiling and actually saying, "I am a human being." I will refrain from mentioning that any student of history knows that merely being a human being is not any proof of good intentions, good policy, or even good character. Oops, did I say that out loud?

Monday, March 03, 2008

Nerd Journal: China, Taiwan, and a Conversation on Campus

Gentle reader, I simply have to report this. You'll have to let me know what you think.

Anyway, I've pointed out before that people from mainland China often have a certain...predictable or common reaction to finding out that I (or my Sibling or my relatives, etc.) have a heritage from Taiwan.

Well, a few days ago, I had to go to a campus reception, and it happened again. Let me explain.

There were lots of people in the room, and everyone was mingling and talking and being sociable (largely because, I suspect, we had been ordered to go to this function and had no choice). After a little while, a cheerful middle-aged Asian man introduced himself to me. He was a professor teaching Chinese matters.

His English was very good, though I could detect a slight accent.

"Where are you from?" I asked.

"I am from Beijing," he said, saying then that he had lived in the States for a large number of years. Then, inevitably, he asked me, "Where are you from?"

Here it comes. Here it always comes. In as neutral a tone as I could, I said, "My family is from Taiwan."


He was still polite, but a certain light was now in his eyes. I had seen it before, trust me.

"Ah, well," I said lightly. "So much politics."

I was trying to steer the conversation to a less volatile topic. But he pressed. He was still polite, but he pressed: "So what do you consider yourself to be? Chinese or Taiwanese?"

This question was not innocent. It was a loaded question, and it had the potential to open an argument. Are you Chinese or Taiwanese?

I looked back at him and smiled. "I'm an American."

He stopped, looked, and slowly smiled back. "Ah..." It was a defeated look, but there was a silent understanding: I was NOT going to take his bait, and I was NOT going to get into some pointless debate (besides, a Taiwan-cheerleading nobody like me versus a real Nerd Lord?).

As for my answer...Well, maybe it was a little evasive? But it also had the benefit of being true.

Video of the Day: "Yes, We Can" by...Ronald Reagan

Here is a lovely video sent to me by blog friend Pursuit of Serenity. Do enjoy...but be prepared to miss Reagan even more.

(And no, this is not a post about McCain or Obama or Billary or any of that. This is a post about the best of what Reagan did and inspired.)