Battlepanda: June 2005


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

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Markets in Everything (apologies to Tyler Cowen)

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Can you guess what this is? It's a teeny tiny fridge just for cosmetics! In other marvels of uselessness news, I encountered in my shopping adventures in Taipei...

-- A mousepad printed with the picture of a pretty girl, with her boobs forming the 3-d gel wrist rest.

-- Bamboo charcoal, with supposedly marvelous theraputic values if eaten.

-- A golden retriever themed cafe with two very rumbunctious retrievers racing around an otherwise unremarkable eatery. One of them decided to curl up under our table. You can also bring your own pooch to the party.

-- A Chinese astrologer who will tell you the luckiest date and time to have your baby, so that you can have a c-section accordingly.

It all makes the electrified mosquito racket seem quite essential and quotidian by comparison. I can't vouch for their usefulness, but I did see quite a few of them lying around the house at my Grandma's.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Lambs to the Slaughter

From the New York Times:

"There are people who are buying homes that they shouldn't buy," said Eric Appelbaum, president of the Apple Mortgage Corporation in Manhattan. "People are saying, I can afford it on interest-only but I can't afford it" with a traditional mortgage, Mr. Appelbaum said. "It doesn't make any sense."

Since borrowers with interest-only mortgages are not yet paying down their debt, they are hoping to build up equity through an increase in home values. If house prices fall, as they did during the early 90's in some cities, borrowers will be forced to bring money to the table when they sell.

Even if home prices rise a little, borrowers who have taken out option ARM's and made only minimum payments for five years could find themselves in a hole. Such loans, which are typically based on rates that adjust monthly, give homeowners four payment options each month. In the first quarter of 2005, 70 percent of option ARM borrowers made the minimum payment, according to UBS.

In doing so, those borrowers effectively added more debt to the back of their loans.


The biggest concern, many economists say, is that the new mortgages have come onto the market at a time when low interest rates and rapidly rising home prices are the only reality many people can imagine. Families might be making decisions assuming that combination will last forever.

Explaining the China Juggernaut

The United States is getting its hackles up trying to figure out how to contain a China that is increasingly becoming a force to be reckoned with. Meanwhile, Brad Setser asks, exactly how has the Chinese been able to be so successful thusfar? At first it seems like the answer is obvious -- a vast country with such an enormous population finally allowed to express itself economically is simply bound to leap, says the conventional wisdom. But Setser points out quite rightly that if things turned out differently and China failed leap, conventional wisdom would have been equally quick in siezing upon China's still-strong state control, say, and be equally satisfied by that explanation. He dug a little bit deeper, and came up with 4 potential explanations for China's phenomenonal growth:
1) State intervention in the economy (or certain forms of state intervention at certain stages in the development process) is less of an impediment that is often argued.
2) China's markets are far more flexible than they seem.
3) High savings rates and high investment rates can overcome a multitude of other sins. (note: This is the explanation Brad is leaning towards.)
4) High savings, high investment rates and undervalued exchange rate can overcome other sins.
Commentators added additional factors to the mix, such as a literate, relatively educated population, a strong cultural affinity for business, capital controls, and a stable government. Both the post and the comment thread is RTWT (Read The Whole Thing) material. It's fascinating stuff for many reasons, but I read it mostly as a slap in the face for the "Washington consensus", or the "IMF prescription", or whatever you want to call it. The countries that have submitted to this model frequently ended up as debt-ridden shells, while China, and to a lesser extent, Malaysia, defied the world's bankers during the Asian financial crisis and emerged far less ravaged than their neighbors.

A more disquieting thought occured to me as I read Brad's post. Could the astonishing rapid and sustained (thusfar) economic growth of China be a silver lining of it's repressive regime? We don't tend to think of strong states as an enabler for economic growth, but seldom do we see a totalitarian state like China, where the leadership is obsessed economic progress. The idealistic side of me would prefer to think that a democratic society would always have the economic advantage in the long run because of the greater suppleness, openess and innovation in such societies. But the cynical side of me can see how doing business might be easier in a developing country if you know the guys in power are going to stay there for the foreseeable future, and the government will bend over backwards to make your venture a success.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Ignorant or Mendacious?

As it's Dr. Henry Kissinger, I'd say the smart money is on 'mendacious'.
It is also unwise to apply to China the policy of military containment of the cold war. The Soviet Union was the heir of an imperialist tradition. The Chinese state in its present dimensions has existed substantially for 2,000 years.
America needs to understand that a hectoring tone evokes in China memories of imperialist condescension and is not appropriate in dealing with a country that has managed 4,000 years of uninterrupted self-government.
This is so breathtakingly wrong I don't even know where to began. A hint: all those dynasties did not politely pass batons when they're tired with governing China. For a more thorough takedown, go to the Mutant Frog.

Although I don't entirely disagree with Kissinger's main point, which is that the U.S. should not get its panties in a twist too much about the Chinese military buildup, the way he tried to sell it displayed breathtaking contempt for the intellect of his intended readership.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Taking the Lumps of Labor, part II: Work is for producing, leisure is for consuming.

(In the first part of this loose 'series', I railed in general about the work-and-spend cycle. Now, I'm going to rail some more.)

If you've been reading this blog with any sort of regularity, you'd know I've recently become an avid knitter. I find it a satisfying habit. One falls into a relaxing rhythm while knitting. And it's seemed quite miraculous to me that two sticks is all the tools you need to make all sorts of garments. I also naively thought that I'd be saving money on pretty sweaters by making them myself. Well, no. Actually, I paid $80+ dollars for the yarn in my last sweater, plus extra for the pattern and the needles, of course. In the beginning, before I knew how gauche I was being, I would wonder out loud why yarn is so expensive. The answer was always something along the lines of "Well, I'm putting time into it, so I wouldn't want it to be cheap."

My boyfriend and I have also been getting into brewing our own beer. Again, the main satisfaction lies in the process, the sense of accomplishment, and the creativity (the optional extras you can add to beer range from spices to cereal flakes.) But penny-pincher that I am, I logged into a home-brewing forum and asked how I could keep the cost down (homebrew probably ends up costing as much as many microbrews by the time all is said and done). I did get some sensible advice on how to save yeast, etc. But many replies echoed that of the yarn store customers: You shouldn't be doing this to try and save money.

Now, I understand that many DIYers are simply trying to insulate the craft they love from the harsh realities that you can simply buy everything cheaper than you can make it yourself nowdays. But I sense a second dynamic here. There is a sharp line being drawn in the sand. Work is for producing, therefore leisure is for consuming. If one saves a few dollars by knitting a sweater, its tantamont to working for an extraordinarily low hourly wage. But if one knits a sweater that costs more to knit than to buy, then that's O.K., because it's leisure.

Trivial? Perhaps. But it's kind of sad to me that even our desire to make stuff, to be useful, now have to be sated by consumption.

Let them know we're watching

(Thanks to the Werewolf and Ezra for blogging this)

Let our ally, Pakistan, know that they cannot 'protect' their image by throwing a Mukhtaran Bibi in jail to stop her from telling her story in America.

She was gang raped and expected to commit suicide as punishment meted out by a tribal council for her brother's crimes. Instead, she successfully sued her attackers and used the settlement money to start schools. She a hero.

And the reason she's in jail right now is Pervez Musharraf is afraid too many American would hear her story. Let them know that we do know her story, and what is tarnishing Pakistan's image is not Mukhtaran Bibi, but Pakistan's cowardly and frankly despicable attempts to silence her by imprisoning her and freeing her attackers.

Most importantly, let them know that we're watching. And to paraphrase Ezra, if anything should happen to her, that would be a blacker mark against Pakistan than the telling of her courageous story would every be.

Here's Nicholas Kristof's New York Times Op-Ed that first told the story of Ms. Mukhtaran.

Thanks to Ezra for gathering up all the relevant emails. Now go and write. Bloggers, blog about this and make sure they know you're spreading the word.

His Excellency Mr. Jehangir Karamat

Mr Mohammad Sadiq is Deputy Chief of Mission and assists the Ambassador in the overall functioning of the Embassy. He deals with both political and administrative issues.

Mr Aslam Khan is Minister (Political) and deals with political issues

Mr Shahid Ahmed is Counsellor Community Affairs and deals with the Pakistani community in the United States.

Brig Shafqaat Ahmed is the Defence & Military Attache of the Pakistan Embassy.

Mr Ashraf Hayat is the Minister (Trade) and deals with Pakistan-US trade issues. &

Mrs Talat Waseem is the Press Minister and Media Spokesperson of the Embassy

Update: Good news. But don't let that keep you from writing until she is completely free.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

There's no third-party solution to the two-party problem.

I think most of us reading this blog are not happy with the two-party system. It seems crazy to think that you can have a robustly functional democracy with just two parties representing the political aspirations of all of us from the extreme left to right, with that single axis political spectrum being an absurd simplification in and of itself. This state of affairs can seem even more fucked-up to those of us on the progressive left, as we watch the Democratic party get dragged ever rightwards by the Republicans. Sometimes, it is tempting to consider abandoning the Democrats altogether and joining a third party who answer to our beliefs. Via Dadahead, I read this post by Burningbird. It's a sentiment I've heard over and over again.
...The game is rigged, so I’m picking up my marbles, and I’m going to find a different playing field, and different players. My most sincere thanks to the prominent Democratic, Republican, and Libertarian gentlemen bloggers for showing me the light.

As of last week, I am now an official member of the Green Party.
Unfortunately, the game is rigged in more ways than one. It might not be what the Founding Fathers wanted, but what they set up is a system that is hard-wired to shape whatever diverse political forces contained within into a two-party co-hegemony. In fact, it would be a challenge indeed to set up a system in which many parties can thrive because the 'side' which is the most consolidated would always have such an advantage in elections. Those who are disgusted with this system have the right to take their votes to a party that more correctly mirrors their personal ideology. But they need to understand that by doing so they are effectively forfeiting their political clout to the other side.

People have to understand that the labels "Democrat" and "Republican" are essentially meaningless. They are political, not ideological, entities. Imagine two rival department stores with the same customer base. There might be a lot of difference in what they're selling, but what motivates the differences is a desire to capture a greater market share rather than stemming from any essential difference between them.

Taking the store metaphor one step further, I can see that many progressives no longer want to buy what the Democrats are selling. The Dems are losing their brand identity as they scramble to widen their appeal. They have dropped the ball on a coherent marketing strategy, and they have done the unthinkable in retail by frequently insulting potential customers. That's all their bad. But the thing is, abandoning the Democrats for being not progressive enough is like cutting your nose to spite your face, because the reality is that politics under our current system is a zero-sum game between two parties. As 2000 demonstrated, if you are a progressive, you cannot not vote for the Democrats without helping the Republicans in the process.

I'm not saying that those who are more progressive than the Dems need to roll over and lump it. They need to do all the things they would otherwise do under the auspices of a new party -- trying to widen the appeal of their ideas through educating the public, fleshing out policy platforms they would support, formulating better conceptual frames etc. etc. But they need to do it in such a way as to not fragment the political power of the left. The only reason I would ever leave the Dems for a new party is if things go so wrong that I think we can have a mass exodus. But that new party is still not going to be a real third party because its' purpose would be to put the Dems out of business within as short a period of time as possible. During that period of time, I would assume, nay, predict with certainty, that the Republicans will dominate in every election as the progressive vote would be split.

Babyface Liabilities

(Via the Frogblog, a cool new-to-me blog I found from New Zealand)

So, researchers found that having a baby face is a big impediment to winning elections. This is depressing on multiple levels.

1) Yep. Get John Edwards to a cosmetic surgury clinic, stat. We need to get his face to look like an old baseball glove by 2008. Of course, a fat lot of good it did John Kerry.

2) People think they're picking the most competent candidate. But often they're just picking the guy with the less round face, smaller eyes, lower forehead and bigger nose and chin. Democracy sucks.

A jerk too many times

When I first started reading blogs, the Daily Kos was a frequent stop. After the election, however, I hardly checked in as the intense horse-trading stuff that Kos does best just didn't interest me anymore. He still hung around on my blogroll though. That is, until now.

Goodbye, Kos. I kind of knew you were a jerk when you said "Fuck them" in response to the American contractors' killed, mutilated and hung from a bridge in Fallujah. I gave you the benefit of the doubt because they were, in effect, mercenaries, and they knew what they were getting into in return for their fat paychecks. But is it ever acceptable to speak so ill of the dead when they died so recently and horribly? Then came, much more recently, the pie incident. I actually think that the ad on your site is your own business, but your discurteous reply, so dismissive of women's issues, pissed me off. Then you gave abortion the same treatment as you did to a couple of women smearing pies on each other's chests.

And now this comes to my attention.

Goodbye, Kos. Go build your empire of pixels. Go lord over your digital domain. Get drunker, if you like, from the petty power it gives you. I'm officially getting off right here.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Taking the Lumps of Labor: Why Adam Smith was right and the Adam Smithians are wrong

Mark Kleiman calls it the 'TGIF problem' People are living longer, but extending the retirement age to help Social Security is a non-starter because people really, really don't want to be working any longer than they have to. Majikthise declares the problem to be intractable, and advocates raising the salary cap to solve the so-called crisis. I agree with her, but Mark has raised an unsettling puzzle that extend beyond our current policy woes:
What does make me unhappy is that, in what is by some measures the richest nation in the history of the planet, most people don't really enjoy the activity that occupies about a third of their waking hours.
By now, we have surely reached the stage of development where Keynes predicted that we can work two, three hours a day "to satisfy old Adam", then take the rest of the time "to live wisely, and agreeably, and well." But it seems old Adam has the last laugh. Our current work-and-spend paradigm accords more closely with his observations of human nature than it does with Keyne's macroeconomic predictions.
Some workmen, indeed, when they can earn in four days what will maintain them through the week, will be idle the other three. This, however, is by no means the case with the greater part. Workmen, on the contrary, when they are paid by the piece [or by the hour...ed], are very apt to over-work themselves, and to ruin their health and constitution in a few years.
Excessive application during four days of the week, is frequently the real cause of the idleness of the other three, so much and so loudly complained of. Great labour, either of mind or body, continued for several days together, is in most men naturally followed by a great desire of relaxation, which, if not restrained by force or by some strong necessity, is almost irresistible. It is the call of nature, which requires to be relieved by some indulgence, sometimes of ease only, but sometimes too of dissipation and diversion.
He was talking about British soldiers set to piece-work, but he might as well be describing the American work-and-spend economy. Elsewhere in The Wealth of Nations, he opines that farmers are a superior class of men when compared with 'artificers', because the wide variety of tasks that a farmer must necessarily undertake in the course of a year and the knowledge he must accumulate to deal with all the eventualities running a farm will throw at him, as opposed to the mechanical tasks of a workman.

Not to denigrate how far economical progress have taken us, but somewhere along the lines, we, as a society, seemed to have ended up on a treadmill, where more productivity leads to greater desires, and thus never fulfillment. Now, some would argue that this is what's great about capitalism, that greed is what drives continual progress. And, psychic fulfilment aside, perhaps they would be right. If it weren't for the fact that we are also destroying our environment at an alarming rate in our neverending quest to produce more stuff, that is. But dammit. Why should we set psychic fulfilment aside? Why are we asked to set aside sane questions about where our society is going lest it gets in the way of the magic of the free market?

I feel a series coming on...Stay tuned for part two: Why is knitting yarn so expensive in America?

1.18 child(ren)

Apparently, Taiwan is thinking about boosting its flagging birthrate by giving couples a $3000NT (approx. $100U.S.) per month bonus for third and subsequent children under the age of twenty. Don't bother clicking though that link if you don't read Chinese. Heh. Most of you will have to take my word it.

I'm all about giving parents more of a square deal in a time of increasing parental obligations coinciding with lowered expectations for recipriocation from kids, and the amount is a drop in the bucket anyhow. Initially I questioned the wisdom of encouraging procreation in an island nation which is straining hard against natural space and resource limits already, but reading the article revealed that birth rates in Taiwan has plunged precipitously to 1.18 per woman, when 2.1 is reckoned to be the replacement rate. Population contraction is set to start at 2022. I can see why the government is worried.

Where does little boy's names come from?

Matt discovers that girls have stolen the previously popular boys' name 'Sidney', turned it into 'Sydney', and essentially poisoned the well with their girly cooties so that male Sidneys are now as rare as...well, boys named Carol or Shirley or Meredith. Yep. Both once popular boys' names.

So here's the's both cool and acceptable for the parents of girls to appropriate boys' names for their girls, as well as encourage their daughters in many 'boyish' pursuits such as soccer or science. Yet the opposite is considered pretty darn radical. If this trend continues, in a few generations all the boys are going to be called either "John" or "Matthew".

Sigh, masculinity. Being tough is a fragile business.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Drunk blogging

Well, not really. I just had a few gin and tonics and played the most pathetic game of pool in my life. I'm afraid blogging beyond throwing a few links together is out of the question, but luckily there are quite a few interesting things that caught my attention...

First of all, we have the ultimate in catblogging. Everything from cute pictures of what the proto-cats might have looked like to how the modern cat evolved. Plus, it drew my attention to this poem, from everybody's favorite Star Trek: TNG character, lieutenant Data
Felus Catus is your taxonomic nomenclature.
An endothermic quadruped, carnivorous by nature.
Your visual, olfactory, and auditory senses
Contribute to your hunting skills and natural defenses.

I find myself intrigued by your sub vocal oscillations.
A singular development of cat communications.
That obviates your basic hedonistic predilection
For a rhythmic stroking of your fur to demonstrate affection.

A tail is quite essential for your acrobatic talents.
You would not be so agile if you lacked its counterbalance.
And when not being utilized to aid in locomotion,
It often serves to illustrate the state of your emotions.

Oh Spot, the complex levels of behavior you display
Connote a fairly well developed cognitive array.
And though you are not sentient, Spot, and do not comprehend,
I none the less consider you a true and valued friend.

Ode to Spot by Lt. Commander Data

By the way, schnauzerblogging is only on haitus. I'll start it up again when I'm back in the States. Yes, I'm a big fan of Star Trek: TNG. But it's a fact I seldom admit to when fully sober.

In other news, I'd like to thank In Search of Telford for keep banging the biofuel drum. Perhaps the blogger best known for picking fights with bigger blogs than his, I have to say the reason I keep going back is his dedication to looking into petroleum alternatives and other peak oil issues.

And even though I don't really understand exactly how the Ethical Werewolf's proposal would be any different than things the way they are now, yay for giving people the metaphysical comforts they want while not changing anything.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Good dental news

Japanese scientists worked out how to bond new enamel onto teeth to fill cavities and, as a bonus, brighten your smile. For the record, I came up with this when I had my first run-in with the dreaded drill years ago.

More Mexed Missages

I'm not paying to read the Wall Street Journal, but Brad DeLong has a nice exerpt from David Wessel's wry take on our rather, ahem, uncoordinated response to China's overvalued currency.

Taxing our way to prosperity?

Nice article by Matt Yglesias attacking the conventional wisdom that a larger public sector necessarily leads to lower economic prosperity.
All sorts of things influence economic growth, and the developed world provides plenty of examples of countries combining economic dynamism with a robust safety net. Indeed, in a business climate increasingly characterized by uncertainty, such safety nets are arguably conducive to the kind of risk-taking necessary to participate in contemporary capitalism. Just as all those helmets, complicated ropes, and other safety gear let people climb dangerous rocks, the guarantee that you'll be protected from economic turbulence that is beyond your power to control can increase flexibility in the labor market, encourage entrepreneurship, and otherwise facilitate growth.

This reminds me the first item from my elevator pitch -- we need to re-conceptualize social programs as giving Americans the tools to succeed, as opposed to charity.
We cannot be the Mommy party, holding back the American people from their true potential because we are overprotective and afraid they would skin their knees. Americans want to play hard, not play nice. Instead, we have to cast ourselves as America’s coach. Like any good coach, we’re cheering for our players to give it 100%. But we also make sure that they’re not going on the field without their protective gear, and that any injured players are taken care of so that they can play another day. This is how we should sell our social programs -- nationalized healthcare, unemployment benefits, keeping social security the way it is, and increased spending on education.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

What the hell is wrong with Texas?

Four good ol' boys who beat up a mentally disabled black man so badly he could no longer walk without assistance or talk clearly are let off, hardly rapped on the knuckle with suspended or light sentences.

Lets see...taunting a retarded black man for sport, beating him so severely that he could have died and is left crippled, and then dumping him in a field when the fun is over. That'll get you probabtion in Texas, assuming that you're white and from a good family. Meanwhile, Gerarldo Flores got 40 years for being desperate and stupid enough to induce a miscarriage in your girlfriend rather than getting her an abortion somehow.

I guess this is what they mean by Texas Justice.

Mark Kleiman has more details.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Holy Kim Jong Il

Norbizness captions this " Glorious Leader Eats Johnny Cash's Soul and Grows To 1500 Feet Tall and Then Kills a Yet".


I call it: Matrix 4 -- Showdown with Dear Leader.

Too many Cassandras

You know it's going to know the housing situation cannot continue forever. Yet calling the actual bursting of a bubble is a mug's game. Billmon explains:

[That kind of thing] always makes me nervous about forecasting a top -- as a wiser analyst than me once said, bear markets always begin with full elevators, and right now there may be too many people (including me) standing around talking about a housing bubble for the bubble to pop.

That's what happened during the tech stock bubble, anyway: There were analysts and brokers and traders who spent years arguing prices had gone too far, too fast -- and who were dead wrong for years, until they (and/or their clients) couldn't stand the pain any more and piled into the Nasdaq. Then the bubble burst.

Monkey Business

(Via Elaine Supkis)

Holy Shit! They taught capuchin monkeys to understand the value of tokens that can be exchanged for various foods. That is, monkey money. The monkeys seem to understand not simply that the metal disks used as token can be exchanged for food, but how to do this in utility maximizing ways. That is, if the price of jello cubes fell, the monkeys would buy more of it. The diabolical behavioral economist even introduced two gambling games, one in which a monkey is given a grape, and then given a bonus grape (or not) depending on a coin flip, and another in which a monkey is given two grapes and then has one taken away (or not) depending on a coin flip. Like humans, monkeys prefer to play the first game. And like most Americans, the monkeys seem incapable of saving their tokens for delayed gratification. But they have been known to steal money, and the researcher thinks he might have saw an instance of the oldest profession taking place out of the corner of his eyes. Let's is introduced and hot on it's heels comes crime and prostitution. Sounds about right.

I hope we hear more from Keith Chen and his experiments. Why should the psychologists get a monopoly on messing with monkey minds? Here's a description of another of his experiments, this time on tamarin monkeys and altruism:
Two monkeys faced each other in adjoining cages, each equipped with a lever that would release a marshmallow into the other monkey's cage. The only way for one monkey to get a marshmallow was for the other monkey to pull its lever. So pulling the lever was to some degree an act of altruism, or at least of strategic cooperation.

The tamarins were fairly cooperative but still showed a healthy amount of self-interest: over repeated encounters with fellow monkeys, the typical tamarin pulled the lever about 40 percent of the time. Then Hauser and Chen heightened the drama. They conditioned one tamarin to always pull the lever (thus creating an altruistic stooge) and another to never pull the lever (thus creating a selfish jerk). The stooge and the jerk were then sent to play the game with the other tamarins. The stooge blithely pulled her lever over and over, never failing to dump a marshmallow into the other monkey's cage. Initially, the other monkeys responded in kind, pulling their own levers 50 percent of the time. But once they figured out that their partner was a pushover (like a parent who buys her kid a toy on every outing whether the kid is a saint or a devil), their rate of reciprocation dropped to 30 percent -- lower than the original average rate. The selfish jerk, meanwhile, was punished even worse. Once her reputation was established, whenever she was led into the experimenting chamber, the other tamarins ''would just go nuts,'' Chen recalls. ''They'd throw their feces at the wall, walk into the corner and sit on their hands, kind of sulk.''

Now, I'm sure Chen probably thought of this already. But can we pleeeease have the prisoner's dilemma enacted with different species of monkies? That would just make me, personally, so happy.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

A Young Life Ruined

(Via Bitch)

At his girlfriend's urgings, Gerardo Flores, aged 19, stepped on her stomach to cause the miscarrage of the twins she was 16 weeks pregnant with. For inducing this miscarrage, he got life in prison, with parole only possible after forty years. He would be fifty-nine at the earliest before he could leave prison barring a successful appeal.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

How the hell did we end up here? We are effectively taking away the prime of Mr. Flores' life for doing what would be perfectly legal in a hospital. Does anybody doubt that this is setting the stage for de-legalizing all of abortion? Meanwhile, Gerardo Flores is their sacrificial lamb. He got a harder sentence than many if not most real murderers, a typical sentence being 20 years, of which they often serve just 8.5.

UPDATE: The persecutor freaks the hell out of me.

His girlfriend coerced him into it, Flores said in a taped police interview played at trial in which he demonstrated stepping on her. Bauereiss repeated the clip for jurors during his emotional closing statement.

No one would ever know the potential those unborn lives could have held, he said. Family would never get to see the boys' first steps, teach them to tie their shoes or take prom pictures.

Worst of all, he said, Flores' own children could not save themselves.

"Those babies could not raise their hands in self-defense to say, ‘No, Daddy, no, Daddy!'” Bauereiss said, emotion nearly choking his words. Basoria's family members sat a few rows behind him, tears rolling down their cheeks.

"Hold him fully accountable for this most unholiest of crimes," he finished.

Why do we still pay them so much?

Reading The Wealth of Nations, I came across this passage where Adam Smith attempts to explain the extraordinarily high wages of entertainers in his day in terms of compensation for public disgrace (Book I, X. Of Wages and Profit in the Different Employments of Labour and Stock):
There are some very agreeable and beautiful talents of which the possession commands a certain sort of admiration; but of which the exercise for the sake of gain is considered, whether from reason or prejudice, as a sort of prostitution. The pecuniary recompence, therefore, of those who exercise them in this manner, must be sufficient, not only to pay for the time, labour and expence of acquiring the talents, but for the discredit which attends the employment of them as a means of subsistence. The exorbitant rewards of players, opera-singers, opera-dancers, &c. are founded upon those two principles; the rarity and beauty of the talents, and the discredit of employing them in this manner.
I can see how this line of reasoning applied in the 18th century. But what would Adam Smith say of the equally (if not more) exorbitant riches we now shower upon Jennifer Lopez or Brad Pitt? They can hardly be said to be society's pariahs anymore. Yes, yes. I'm sure the paparazzi is rather tiresome. But don't try and tell me that the hardship thus endured is proportional to the compensation. And yes, both individuals are very easy on the eyes, but then again, there are thousands and thousands just like them waiting tables in L.A., willing to do what it is that they do for a fraction of the price. It's not like in athletics where the superstars have some real, measurable advantage, however slim, over the competition. Those who are hard-core free-market believers will no doubt say that since the market gave us the multimillion dollar movie stars, that must be, on some level what we collectively want. But why, dammit, why?

Nascent economic growth in North Korea?

(Via the Marmot's Hole)

In a rare piece of reporting from within the hermit kingdom, a reporter (who remained anonymous) for the Christian Science Monitor saw more private cars and economic activities as North Korea tentatively opens up to some trade under the influence of China.

Certainly not enough cause to go dancing in the street, but still, at this point a slightly more stable and prosperous North Korea is good news.

Monday, June 06, 2005

The Dark Side of China

I have been unable to find an English language source for this, but I found this disturbing story in the China Times (a Taiwanese newspaper) yesterday about a white-collar worker who was jailed for five years for sending information over his cellphone to organize crowds for the anti-Japanese demonstrations earlier this year. Here's a rough and partial translation:
Cellphone messages has become a "fifth media" that is separate from the internet in china, poking a hole through the Chinese government's information shield. There was even a widely disseminated text that ridiculed Chinese leaders from Mao to Hu Jin Tao. The most recent example came in April 9, where demonstrators in Peking organized through cell-phone messages that spread from one to tens and from tens to hundreds. In the end, a crowd of several tens of thousands were gathered. In this instance the authoristy took no action, but in the long run, this state of affairs is unacceptable. Because they loath any non-forseeable occurances, that is, the people coming together under their very eyes while they are completely ignorant of the situation. Maybe this mentality stems from the Falun Gong demonstrations in Zongnanhai, which lead to the blanket oppression of the Falun Gong in China.

Sure enough. A week later, April 16, when Shanghai tried to copy Beijing's example, the authority cracked down. A 25 year old white collar worker, Tang Ye (汤晔), made a summary of information already available on the internet about the anti-Japanese demonstrations, including route, time, other relevant facts, and broadcasted this summary through his cellphone, resulting in his arrest under "disruption of social order" charges.

According to information from Chinese media sources in early May, this text message "resulted in serious consequences". Tong ye was sentenced to jail for five years. For a young white collar worker, five years time does not mean five years. It could thow Tong off course for the rest of his life. And all because of a cellphone text message. China's "Big Brothers" came down hard on Tong as a show of authority, to bring text messages under their sphere of influence. To tell the people of China, neither the net nor the cell-phone can be considered as no-man's-lands -- they are still under the watchful eye of Big Brother.
The current leaders of China learned well from from Mao. The way to keep a population under control is to dole out punishments that are brutal and random. You can't punish all "inflammatory" cell-phone messages. You don't need to, as long as you make an example of a few with a punishment that is horrid enough. China is a living panopticon.

Another Book Meme

This time from my previous tagee -- John from Dymaxion World.

Number of Books I own: Probaby just enough to fill one modest bookshelf with three or four shelves. I recently trimmed the fat rather drastically as I'm about to move.

Most recent book bought: Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations. I'm only about a third of the way through, and it's awfully good. Much more accessable than I had imagined. Smith displays much more sense and humanity than many of his modern day acolytes.

Most recent book read: American Exceptionalism, by Seymour Martin Lipset

Five books that mean a lot to me: Um. I don't think I'm capable of forming a list like this. Sorry. I've got an attention span rivaled by many guppies. How about a list of five books I really enjoyed in the last year or so?

1) Naked Economics by Charles Wheelan
A wonderful introduction to the subject. I read it on one sitting and got up feeling like I got a good overview of most economic theories and concepts. I wish I read this six years ago, before I took my intro to econ class.

2) Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner
You've probably heard all about this already...

3) Secrets of the Temple by William Greider
Who'd have thought a book about the Fed could be gripping over 500+ pages? Greider's book goes all the way back to the founding of the Fed among panicked bank runs and examines Paul Volcker's tenure as Fed Chairman in great detail. Along the way I learnt how the the mechanics of how the Fed controls the interest rates, and not to take monetarism seriously.

3) Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Just because it's an excellent read. Much much better than the 'Harry Potter for Adults' hype would suggest. Superbly imagined, with fascinating historical details. But it's the characters that really drew me in, especially the (in my opinion) adorably curmudgeonly Mr. Norrell.

5) The Eyre Affair (and sequels) by Jasper Fforde
This series cannot be recommended highly enough if you are interested in witty and inventive books that are like no other detective series. Tuesday Next, the heroine, is a literary detective who plies her trade in a parallel world England where the Crimean war never ended and the hoi polloi is still nutty for Shakespeare.

This meme, however, shall die with me. Unless anybody has a burning desire for an invite.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Close encounters of the bird kind

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The bird sitting on my is a comorant, a bird used for fishing. The fisherman would tie a straw around the bird's neck to prevent the creature from swallowing its catch. I was in Guilin, a part of China that looks exactly like a Chinese landscape painting.

Comorants are cool. Apparently they only cost a few hundred Chinese Yuans fully trained. I'm going to lobby my boyfriend to let me buy one before the RMB starts to appreciate against the dollar.

Battlepanda: Banned in China

So I was wondering why I couldn't access my site at all in China. Oh.

All other blogger sites are banned too. The wierdest part is, I was also unable to see my blog in Hong Kong, at least at my hotel, which is seriously creepy, considering how Hong Kong is supposed to be somewhat autonomous (the annual demonstration remembering Tiananmen just occured.) I did get through at the airport terminal though.