Battlepanda: October 2006


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

My inner Economics fangirl is happy


I shaked hands with Thomas Schelling today.

I had to beg and beg to go to his lecture because it conflicted with Taipei Zoo's 20th anniversary. In the end I got up at six in the morning to take the train to Chungli to catch his lecture before dashing back to the zoo in the afternoon to cover that. When I got to the university, they told me that because I didn't register, the auditorium was already full. But somehow I brazened my way in there.

Now that I've gotten that sad display of starstruck dizzyness out of the way, onto Schelling's actual speech. He was speaking on the issue of global warming, something which he had been working on for more than 25 years. In Schelling's view, developing countries need to go full steam ahead on development since in his view higher levels of development (better sanitation, GM crops, irrigation technology) cushions one from the impact of global warming. On the other hand, developed nations ought to show their sincerity about dealing with the problem by cutting emissions and putting a lot more money in R+D for technological advancements like carbon sequestering.

He also dismisses the Kyoto quota-based approach in favor for a Marshall plan approach. I really wish I asked him what he meant exactly by that and how it relates to his research on game theory. But I've already asked two questions at the Q and A, one of which he answered to my satisfaction and one he did not.

Maybe I'll put the audio up later, so you can hear my stammering awkwardness in all its glory.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Willkommen im Taiwan!

Dear random BeiBei ("Uncle", used to describe older gentlemen) riding a bike on the pavement near CKS memorial hall:

Was it really appropriate to heartily and jovially shout "Heil Hitler" after a bunch of German tourists?

Thank, at least, for sparing us the accompanying salute.


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Ticking Bomb Scenario

Jim Henley on the ticking bomb scenario beloved by torture apologists:
Let’s say you’ve caught a suspect and you’re sure that he’s a terrorist, and you’re sure there’s a nuclear bomb planted somewhere in Manhattan, and you’re sure that he knows where the nuclear device has been planted in Manhattan, and you’re sure that this particular terrorist has been trained to resist torture just long enough that you could never get the true location of the bomb out of him in time. But you’re also sure that this particular terrorist is a pervert! And he tells you that if you’ll let him watch you rape your own child in front of him, he’ll tell you exactly where the bomb is and how to disarm it. And you’re sure that he will, because your intelligence is that good in exactly that way.

Wow! What a fascinating hypothetical, huh? And really, no less unlikely than the ticking bomb scenario you’re more familiar with, when you consider just how precisely the foundation of that dilemma has to be laid. So how come we hear so much about the other one and nothing about mine?

The answer is simple: State agents don’t have any ambition to rape their own children.

In the preceding sentence is the clue to the real misdirection of the ticking bomb scenario as endorsed most recently by right-wing America’s (and my own) bete noire, Hillary Clinton. The ticking bomb scenario is presented as “What would YOU do?” but it’s not, in truth, got anything to do with you. The proper question is, “What should we prudently allow officials embedded in the security bureaucracy to do with impunity?”

You could construct a hundred hypotheticals involving utilitarian tradeoffs and terrorism before breakfast, none less (im)plausible than the first. You only hear about the one because only one serves the purpose of validating the State’s desire for more power.

And Senator Clinton, once again you disappoint me.

Wingnuts and Tolkien

Senator Rick Santorum (R - Man on Dog) recently tried to make an analogy between Iraq and Middle Earth:

Embattled U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum said America has avoided a second terrorist attack for five years because the “Eye of Mordor” has been drawn to Iraq instead.

Santorum used the analogy from one of his favorite books, J.R.R. Tolkien's 1950s fantasy classic “Lord of the Rings,” to put an increasingly unpopular war in Iraq into terms any school kid could easily understand.

“As the hobbits are going up Mount Doom, the Eye of Mordor is being drawn somewhere else,” Santorum said, describing the tool the evil Lord Sauron used in search of the magical ring that would consolidate his power over Middle-earth.

“It's being drawn to Iraq and it's not being drawn to the U.S.,” Santorum continued. “You know what? I want to keep it on Iraq. I don't want the Eye to come back here to the United States.”

(Via Yglesias.)

What is it with the wingnuts and Tolkien?

John Moe reports in his book Conservatize Me that the Lord of the Rings movies were among the movies recommended by Freepers as "conservative movies."

Has it come to the point when admitting my fondness for Tolkien is going to mark me not only accurately as a nerd, but inaccurately as a conservative? Are good liberals like me going to start rolling their eyes at mention of Frodo and Gandalf, in the same way we roll our eyes at mention of John Galt and Dagny Taggart?

It also saddens me that the Freepers recommended the movie Brazil, which, prior to The Big Lebowski, used to be my favorite movie ever.

Oh, well. At least my booze of choice is liberal.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

China's new court intellectuals?

This NYT magazine profile on Wang Hui, an intellectual described as a member of the 'new left', sheds some light on the Chinese government's new lurch towards labor-friendly policies:
New Left intellectuals advocate a “Chinese alternative” to the neoliberal market economy, one that will guarantee the welfare of the country’s 800 million peasants left behind by recent reforms. And unlike much of China’s dissident class, which grew out of the protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989 and consists largely of human rights and pro-democracy activists, Wang and the New Left view the Communist leadership as a likely force for change.
Reading through this article, it's hard not to wonder if Wang has a touch of the ol' Stockholm syndrome: He was sent to the countryside for the tail end of the cultural revolution, he was there when the CCP plowed tanks into Tiananmen, he was interrogated for months and sent to the countryside for 're-education' for participating in the protests, yet somehow he still sees the CCP as a likely force for change? On the other hand, he managed to gain some acceptance for his ideas by working within the government-approved framework, something he would not have likely achieved if he simply agitated for change.

Commenter Nausicaa at the Peking Duck
classifies Wang as the modern-day equivalent of the court intelligensia in the China of yore. The description is apt.

Cui Zhiyuan is a fellow member of the 'new left':
Cui does not regard the Communist regime as a “totality.” There were, he said, many different aspects of it, at both the local and central levels. “Almost every day,” Cui said, “The New York Times carries reports of peasants agitating against the Communist government, but if you listen to what the peasants are saying, they are telling the central government that the local government has violated their rights. So even the peasants can see the different aspects of the state, who supports them and who doesn’t.”
From the outside looking in, it's all too easy to see the CCP as the very epitome of "totality". Unlike in a democracy where the government evolve quickly as the fittest survive through elections, the pace of change in an authoritarian regime is mostly glacial, with only occasional quakes as factions realign.

Are we seeing an interesting realignment right now?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Labor advances... China?

— China is planning to adopt a new law that seeks to crack down on sweatshops and protect workers’ rights by giving labor unions real power for the first time since it introduced market forces in the 1980’s.

The move, which underscores the government’s growing concern about the widening income gap and threats of social unrest, is setting off a battle with American and other foreign corporations that have lobbied against it by hinting that they may build fewer factories here.

The proposed rules are being considered after the Chinese Communist Party endorsed a new doctrine that will put greater emphasis on tackling the severe side effects of the country’s remarkable growth.
Brad Plumer wonders if China is sincere. I think that is the wrong question to ask. Of course China is sincere. That's one nice thing about authoritarian regimes, they're not sucking up to voters for election day.

Now, lets just make it clear that I'm no fan of the CCP. At all. However, in this case, the important thing to remember is that the interests of the CCP and that of the multinational companies are by no means aligned. It's certainly not the same way in the US where business friendly policies lead pretty much consistently to however many cents on the dollar of campaign contribution.

Whereas the ruling parties of America seek to maintain political survival through the electoral process, there is only one ruling party in China and it rules through maintaining stability. Guess what's really, really really bad for stability? The kind of inequality and horrible work conditions you see now in China. People will put up with really really shitty conditions, but only if they have the sense that their lives are getting incrementally better.

Also, you might consider this as a price adjustment on labor by the Chinese government -- Chinese labor has been such a good deal for foreign companies that maybe it's time to raise the price so that more of the profits stay in China. Multinationals may huff and puff, but they can't threaten China unless they unite as a block and threaten to pull their investments all at once, something I just don't see happening. I predict unions are going to have more power at foreign run companies while native Chinese companies are going to be able to get away with more abuses for longer.

So the burning question is, are the foreign multinational going to pull up stakes from China and seek the next pool of cheap labor? Remember that China is experimenting with labor with a cold, technocratic eye. They won't kill the goose that lays the golden egg. It's like adjusting the price upwards on any good -- you'll lose some sales, but you might make more profit despite of that.

Plumer wonders: "Maybe Zimbabwe can provide the next generation of Nike sweatshops." Indeed.Those who decide that China has become too expensive for their business might want to consider Africa, where sweatshops and exploitation would be a blessing.

Friday, October 13, 2006

"Democrat" as an adjective

Nothing grates on my nerves quite like wingnuts using "Democrat" as an adjective.*

Which, of course, is why they do it.

But now the BBC has begun using this grammatical atrocity.

Does Fox News have mole in the BBC?

UPDATE: In response to my email, the BBC has corrected the page. How many grammar pedant points do I get for that?

*I accept the use of "Democrat" as an adverb, when modifying the verb "to vote," as in "Vote Democrat this November."

Full moon crazy dogs blogging

It was the Autumn Moon festival a while ago. I just got the (inevitably puppy-centric) pictures from my friend today. Here's Dodo and Percy, looking kind of crazed.
Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Sorry for the slowness of posts lately. I'm still reading blogs about American politics, but trying to keep track of two political scenes is being hard on my brain.

Besides, everywhere I look, lefty bloggers have been hitting 'em out of the park lately. Tim Lambert surely deserves an award for wading through the right-wing blogosphere's attacks on the Lancet study and responding to each argument in turn. Meanwhile, Keiran Healey gently reminds the holdouts that there is a reason "the smell test" is not a respected method for determining anything about large populations.

There may indeed be lies, damned lies and statistics. But no. It doesn't mean that your gut feelings get to trump a study published in the Lancet.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Welfare Queen knitting with bamboo needles

I'll be taking a knitting class, sponsored by the Taiwanese government.

Say what? Yep. You heard right. The government here sponsors a multitude of career skills programs. But how is knitting a career skill? Well, you got me there. I think the idea is people might leave to start yarn stores or something.

The government-drafted craft center also teaches patternmaking, machine-knitting and fashion illustration. There are periodic hefty discounts where 80% of the tuition is paid for by Uncle Chiang. In order to comply with their license, a certain percentage of students at the center has to pass government exams and a certain percentage has to go into the trade.

Crazy? Or crazy like a fox? I do know that there is an mini-explosion of fashionable yarn stores in Taipei now, including one where a skinny skein can set you back $15 (just like in the states).

Let's just say that even though I'm taking advantage of this program, I have doubts about its efficacy. I certainly don't see a yarn store in my future. Just some nice winter hats.

What I do approve of is the Taiwanese government's extensive license program for professional skills. They are rigorous, standardized and comes in three levels of proficiency. I don't know how much it takes to administer, but I'm sure its well worth it in terms of employment generated and raising the standards of the workforce. The examinations are offered in everything from aviation mechanics to bartending.

Also, I approve of cute government websites.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Goldfish on parade

I have a hard enough time just convincing my fish to stay alive, let alone do this:

I started keeping fish in a tiny tank in June. It seems apropos at this point to remember who got flushed thus far.

Farewell, Big Red.
So long, Milkdud.
Adios, Zippy and Skippy.
Goodbye, Bumblebee. You always looked kind of dead, and now you're truly dead at last.
Scooter, you just up and disappeared one day. I assume the others ate you.
Milton, I hardly knew ye.
See ya, Zorro.
Peace, JoJo.
Sorry, Ping pong. I should have changed that filter cartridge earlier.

After this grisly parade of dead fish, you'd think I'd learn not to name my piscine friends any longer. But what can I say, they just kind of come to me. Four fish remains: Brian, Shiteater, Liberace and the Grey Ghost.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

New Conservative

David Frum on David Cameron:
In his speech today to the UK Conservative Conference, party leader David Cameron opposed reductions in taxation, endorsed same-sex marriage, praised government-controlled healthcare as "one of the greatest achievements of the 20th century," omitted any words of praise for the British mission in Iraq, attacked Tony Blair for drawing too close to the United States, aligned himself with a more liberal approach to Britain's surging crime rates, urged the Anglican Church to admit non-Anglicans to church schools while endorsing more state funding for Muslim schools.

(1) Wow. So Tony Blair's grab for the middle could turn out to be paradigm shifting far beyond his time in office -- New Labour has captured so much of the middle ground that Blair have effectively forced the next generation Conservative leader to model himself after Blair to remain relevant.
(2) The Democrats have made repeated dives for the center. Why did it not work? Is it because of the perception that they were dragged to the center by the Republicans as opposed to boldly staking out new ground? Is it because the American electorate is just too divided to look for "consensus" rather than a "divide and conquer" approach?
(3) All things being equal, what is preferable? Two relatively center parties working hard to differentiate themselves through voters through fine policy points and efficiency in administration, or two polarized parties giving voters the choice of two different ideological visions?

Friday, October 06, 2006

Olbermann is on fire!

When I first started paying attention to Keith Olbermann, he struck me as kind of the David Letterman of liberal punditry: a button-up sophisticate with a snarky, caustic wit and a soft spot for stupid pet tricks. But as time goes by and the outrages accrue, he seems to have found his voice articulating the frustration of those of us who lean left, something like Howard Beale with better impulse control. On the matter of the right-wing media, he has exposed Bill O'Reilly's outrageous mischaracterization of war crimes committed in World War II, delivered us a withering denunciation of Ann Coulter's invidious screed, and thrown a klieg light on the journalistic degeneracy of Roger Ailes and the enterprise under his control. Likewise, his devastating critiques of the current administration regularly make the rounds on the blogosphere, lending a measured and reasonable voice to those of us who feel shut out of the national discourse.

Now, cutting through the fog of the Foley coverup scandal, Keith set aside a full ten minutes at the end of last night's episode and opened up with both barrels against the Machiavellian machinations of the Bush administration. In the cut-away at the end, Joe Scarborough looked stone-faced; I'd pay real money to know what was running through his mind at that moment. If you're a regular at this blog, you've probably already seen it, but in case you haven't, get the whole commentary here.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Ratherize! Ratherize!

Stick a "gate" after "Foley"...Start peppering screen captures with red bias...It's a conspiracy of teh gays!!!, it's GEORGE SOROS!!!...The Democrats are so going down for thisbecause deep in their hearts and minds and crotches they are the child-diddlers...

Bought to you by the party of personal responsibility.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The blogger's SAT Challenge

I meant to blog about this contest while y'all had a chance to enter, but didn't get to in time. The concept is simple -- bloggers are asked to respond to an SAT essay question in 20 minutes. The answers were then graded by expert graders (such as myself, ha) and posted anonymously.

Here's the question

And here's my response

Frankly, I didn't do so well for somebody who actually, taught the SATs, albeit only for a month. But at least I'm not alone. According to actual experts with actual experience in the SAT teaching process, we bloggers are definitely not the shit when it comes to the SATs.

Here's Natalie's two cents:
Overall the quality of the essays was not far above that of high school students writing their first practice essays. The biggest differences I noticed were in grammar and diction: most of the entrants wrote in complete, generally grammatical sentences, and there were fewer awkward turns of phrase and poorly-chosen "vocab words" than I see in student writing.

The organization and logical flow of the essays, on the other hand, was on the whole surprisingly sloppy. Many people seemed not to understand that the assignment was to write a persuasive essay *with a clear point of view*. Often writers tried to be clever with roundabout ways of coming at the question, but it only made my job as a grader more difficult, and grumpy graders don't give fives and sixes.

If anything, the bloggers were *worse* than high school students in getting to the point and staying on topic. They also tended to equivocate more, to argue the merits of both sides, which, though it might mark you as a reasonable person in normal discussion (in real or online life), actually hurts your SAT score

Another SAT professional was similarly unimpressed:
I was struck by the number of people who wrote essays without apparently thinking the directions applied to them. They made assumptions about the assignment, or decided that they were better judges of what the assignment should be, and then wrote what they wanted to write rather than produced what they were asked to write.

I smiled, but I wondered why do they think a scorer (and after all, pleasing the scorer is what matters much more than self-respect when taking a test) cares about their opinions?

In my other experiences as an essay scorer, my toughest decisions have been among the 3-5 scores. In the Blogger Challenge, the decisions have been more between scores of 1 and 2.
Ouch! Bloggers not following directions and being overly fond of their own opinions? Surely not.

It's not too late to join in the fun. Go to the Blogger SAT Challenge site, where each essay have been set up with a poll, so you can see if your opinion tally with that of the experts.

Oh, the irony...

I initially thought that Foley had been stung by an ABC staffer posing as a teen. But no. He was having suggestive chats with his congressional pages, high-school juniors assigned to help with administrative work in his office. Disgusting hypocrite...
Florida Rep. Mark Foley's resignation came just hours after ABC News questioned the congressman about a series of sexually explicit instant messages involving congressional pages, high school students who are under 18 years of age.

In Congress, Rep. Foley (R-FL) was part of the Republican leadership and the chairman of the House caucus on missing and exploited children.

He crusaded for tough laws against those who used the Internet for sexual exploitation of children.

"They're sick people; they need mental health counseling," Foley said.

But, according to several former congressional pages, the congressman used the Internet to engage in sexually explicit exchanges.

They say he used the screen name Maf54 on these messages provided to ABC News.

Maf54: You in your boxers, too?
Teen: Nope, just got home. I had a college interview that went late.
Maf54: Well, strip down and get relaxed.

Another message:

Maf54: What ya wearing?
Teen: tshirt and shorts
Maf54: Love to slip them off of you.

And this one:

Maf54: Do I make you a little horny?
Teen: A little.
Maf54: Cool.

The language gets much more graphic, too graphic to be broadcast, and at one point the congressman appears to be describing Internet sex.

Federal authorities say such messages could result in Foley's prosecution, under some of the same laws he helped to enact.

[snip] One former page tells ABC News that his class was warned about Foley by people involved in the program.
By "program" I assume he means the Congressional Pages program people, or whatever they called it. Some people at "the program" are going to have tough questions to answer.