May 02, 2008
Those untrustworthy Chinese economic numbers
Regular readers will know that I've been a long-term skeptic about the economic figures reported by the Chinese government (for example, here and here back in 2004). As a result, this post at the Economist is not very surprising:
As China's importance in the global economy increases, investors are paying more attention to its economic numbers. Yet the country's official statistics are notoriously ropy. Some commentators accuse China's government of overstating GDP growth for political reasons, others complain that the official inflation rate is fraudulently low. So which data can you trust?
One reason to be suspicious of GDP figures is that China is always one of the first countries to report them, usually only two weeks after the end of each quarter. Most developed economies take between four and six weeks to produce them.
However, the Economist still feels that the Chinese economy is larger than reported. My sense of distrust in the figures argues for it being neither as big nor as robust as the reported figures indicate. They're professional economic reporters . . . I'm a guy typing a blog entry. I wonder what the long-term odds are for either of us to be closer to the truth?
It's tough to disagree with this, though:
The prize for the dodgiest figures goes to the labour market. The quarterly urban unemployment rate is meaningless because it excludes workers laid off by state-owned firms as well as large numbers of migrant workers, who normally live in urban areas but are not registered. Wage figures are also lousy. There has recently been much concern about the faster pace of increase in average urban earnings. But this series does not cover private firms, which are where most jobs have been created in recent years.
Now that China is such an engine of global growth, it urgently needs to improve its economic data. Only a madman would drive a juggernaut at full speed with a faulty speedometer, a cracked rear-view mirror and a misty windscreen.
Like shooting conservative fish in a barrel
As you may occasionally find, we're having some CSS issues on the site at the moment (for instance, when I rebuilt the site a minute ago, I lost the sidebar at the left). They're not consistent, which makes it much tougher to track down. Jon and I are looking at our options: fixing the current site, upgrading to the latest version of MovableType, or switching to another blogging software package.
Sticking with the current software isn't likely: it's old and no longer supported by Six Apart. Upgrading is more likely, except that it will require a double-upgrade, once to version 3.5 and then again to version 4.2. The alternative is to switch to something like WordPress (which has the advantage of being already installed at the new ISP).
Short version: no matter what, expect a bit of odd-looking pages for the next little while as we work through the options.
Update: Argghhh! Still having time-outs on just about everything. Even saving and rebuilding doesn't fix all the posting issues (I've got one post that just plain refuses to appear, and another one with a graphic that won't display at all). Very frustrating.
The nature of guilds
In a discussion on the technical writing mailing list earlier this week, someone proposed trying to organize technical writers in some form of union or guild. Kevin McLauchlan tackled the idea of a guild head-on:
Doctors and lawyers don't often work in groups of hundreds or thousands, but their guilds regulate them (a little) and keep their clubs exclusive (sorta), and collude with government, thereby keeping membership numbers controlled and prices up. For example, [in Ontario] the medical association just graciously "permitted" a new medical school to come into existence.
The other side of that is that they've been not permitting some/many to come into existence. This, in a province and a country that is becoming desperately short of doctors. Here in the land of socialized medicine, a large (and rapidly increasing) percentage of the population does not have a family doctor, simply because there are not enough licensed doctors to go around. Instead, people use the hospital Emergency room for every medical need, or they go to walk-in clinics (where they rarely see the same doctor twice . . . but at least some records are kept . . . but they don't always go to the same clinics because. . .)
Clinics are closing, or are going on reduced operating hours because they can't find doctors to work the time-slots. Lots and lots of our doctors (including my own GP) are foreign-born and foreign-trained, but many foreign-born, foreign-trained doctors are working as taxi drivers or other occupations because they are not permitted to practice medicine in this place that is so desperately lacking doctors.
Between government (that gives them the clout to enforce) and the medical association that does the enforcing, the number of doctors is kept artificially low. The newly arrived doctors from India, Malaysia, Arab counties, Eastern Europe, etc. are not permitted to become Canadian doctors. Part of the excuse that's given is that their skills need to be harmonized with the Canadian medical standards of practice . . . but there are not enough resources to process most of the applicants. But the lack of resources lies directly at the doorstep of the /g/u/i/l/d/ Medical Association that sets the numbers of med-school seats, the number of med schools that can be accredited, the number of programs and personnel that can mentor and supervise immigrant doctors until they get up to speed.
That kind of power and impunity can exist only when you've got government in your corner, supplying the legal clout to make your /g/u/i/l/d/ association pronouncements carry the force of law. The results are kinda harsh, when the turnaround time for a change of priorities is a matter of years or decades.
So, STC (or some other techwriter guild) would need to get government on-side in order to set quotas and price guidelines that could be enforced on the hundreds of thousands of companies that employ us in onesies, twosies, and small groups. They'd also need to enforce requirements for our services. Unlike engineers, we provide services that can be dispensed with, or that can be offloaded to non-professional, non-accredited techwriters . . . unless the law says that any product that is sold must be accompanied by documentation that carries the <STC?> seal of approval . . . having been created by <STC?> accredited writers. Of course, that kind of requirement would drive even more production offshore. Unlike the provision of medical services, product development and production can be done very far away from the people who eventually purchase the product.
May 01, 2008
Hmmm. Must be something in the water
I ran the same test on the blog, once at the old location and once here. Apparently I've developed a written form of Tourette's Syndrome:
Advice for new bloggers
My usual piece of advice is to blog frequently, but Megan McArdle provides an even better word of advice:
Note to all new bloggers: this sort of thing is generally, at least in the blogging circles in which I travel, considered to be rather poor form. Worse, indeed, than accidentally neglecting to provide a link to someone you have already conceded to exist.
That doesn't excuse me for forgetting the link — I shouldn't be so careless on that score. But if you use substantial parts of another blogger's post, you should mention that you found it somewhere else. Direct paraphrase without even attempting attribution is regarded with less horror by bloggers than it is by English professors . . . but not all that much less horror. Especially since linking a source is a lot faster and easier than footnoting.
The answer to the question I posed in the title is, basically, "Always!" As Nick Gillespie noted yesterday, "there's no cost to acknowledging sources—if anything, it's a sign of erudition and plugs an author into a broader network of thinkers." Besides, as he also noted, if you go over the line you're very likely to be caught.
I'd add to what she says about linking being "a lot faster and easier than footnoting" that it's also significantly more useful for the reader. That argument seals the deal every time for me: if I want you to have to work hard to understand what I'm writing, I'd be an academic, not a blogger.
QotD: The origin of the name Canada
"Canada" [. . .] is the ancient Ojibwa word for "kick me"
Kathy Shaidle, "I missed 'Pingu' for this?", Five Feet of Fury, 2008-04-30
Book reviews . . . of DOOM
You know those books you read but would prefer that nobody knew that you read . . . no, not those ones. The worst trash you read. Everyone seems to have some reading vice like that. David Hines knows exactly what you feel:
You think that paragraph alone would make this book awesomely bad, but no. IT GETS MORE SO. Yes, you will be horrified by a lot of this, because Mike Harmon's adventures are by turns awesomely horrific and horrifically awesome; I freely confess that I cannot stop reading these books, because *I have to see what Ringo does next.* I do, however, have a finely-tuned defense mechanism: whenever something trips my circuit breaker, causing me to cringe away from the page, I utter aloud a cry that resets my noggin. You will probably need it yourself, so I provide it here, as a public service: "OH JOHN RINGO NO."
GHOST is Ringo's own admitted Lord King Badfic, his id run wild. By his own account, he was trying to write several books he was actually contracted for, but GHOST kept nudging at him, and finally he just wrote the damn thing to *make it go away* so he could get back to fulfilling his contracts. Ringo locked the spewings of his id away on his hard drive, until he mentioned in passing on an online forum that yeah, he'd written another book, but it was *awful* and would never see the light of day. Naturally, folks were curious, and when Ringo posted a sample, nobody was more surprised than him to find that the response was, more often than not, "Hey, man, I'd buy this."
So his publisher put it out, and the books are now doing pretty well for them. I'm sure this is a pleasant surprise if you're Ringo or his publisher, but it's also got to be a little embarrassing; he's committed the literary equivalent of charging money for folks to watch him roll naked in a pile of dead and smelly fish. And then being begged for encores. As of this writing, I have only the first three books in the series, because dammit, I will buy crap, but I refuse to buy crap in hardcover. That's *expensive.* I mean, I could be spending that money on *guns.*
I've read a few of these, and David is being very precise in his review. Ringo is a very good writer . . . and this series is gut-churningly disturbing. David continues:
I feel about the PALADIN OF SHADOWS series the way that a lot of people feel about ALL-STAR BATMAN AND ROBIN: it is so horrifically awful that it becomes TOTALLY FUCKING AWESOME. Unless, of course, you have triggers about some or all of this stuff, in which case my recommendation is TO RUN AS FAR AND AS FAST AS YOU CAN. I will, however, say that GHOST and its sequels are *excellent* for reading out loud to people, particularly friends who are horrified and actively begging you to stop. (And you will be inclined to disregard such pleas, because you will need to share the pain.)
Amusingly, John Ringo himself liked the review.
April 30, 2008
QotD: "Intelligent" Design
Dr. Ayala, a former Dominican priest, said he told his audiences not just that evolution is a well-corroborated scientific theory, but also that belief in evolution does not rule out belief in God. In fact, he said, evolution "is more consistent with belief in a personal god than intelligent design. If God has designed organisms, he has a lot to account for."
Consider, he said, that at least 20 percent of pregnancies are known to end in spontaneous abortion. If that results from divinely inspired anatomy, Dr. Ayala said, "God is the greatest abortionist of them all."
Or consider, he said, the "sadism" in parasites that live by devouring their hosts, or the mating habits of insects like female midges, tiny flies that fertilize their eggs by consuming their mates' genitals, along with all their other parts.
For the midges, Dr. Ayala said, "it makes evolutionary sense. If you are a male and you have mated, the best thing you can do for your genes is to be eaten." But if God or some other intelligent agent made things this way on purpose, he said, "then he is a sadist, he certainly does odd things and he is a lousy engineer."
Cornelia Dean, "Roving Defender of Evolution, and of Room for God", New York Times, 2008-04-29
Meet the USLP candidates
David Weigel has a look at "wildest Libertarian Party nomination fight in decades". After the big names, he presents the usual list of names nobody should expect to see on the final ballot:
9. The others. There is absolutely zero chance that John Finan, Barry Hess, Dave Hollist, Daniel Imperato, Alden Link, or Robert Milnes will get the Libertarian Party’s nomination. They are occasionally entertaining, and they are harmless. Imperato, in particular, has run a campaign worthy of Max Headroom, bidding (with no success) for the Constitution and Green Party nominations, claiming to run a multi-billion-dollar international organization, to speak seven languages, and to be descended from Emperor Nero. (If that actually was true, why would anyone admit it?) "He is the most ridiculous candidate I have ever seen," says Starchild.
Jacob Sullum asks some pointed questions about the state's interest in removing several hundred children from their mothers:
I'm not quite as old-fashioned as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), which hews to the early-marriage customs of the 19th century and the polygamous practices of biblical times. But I'm old-fashioned enough to believe the government needs a good reason to pull a crying, clinging child away from her mother and hand her over to the care of strangers.
The possibility that the child might marry an older man 10 or 12 or 14 years from now does not cut it. Citing that long-term, speculative danger to justify the certain, immediate damage it has done by forcibly separating hundreds of children from their parents, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services has violated its duty to take such extreme measures only when there's no other way to prevent imminent harm.
The department took custody of 463 minors who were living at the FLDS church's Yearning for Zion (YFZ) Ranch in Eldorado after an April 3 raid that was based on an abuse report police believe was a hoax. On Monday state officials said the children, who are now living in group homes or shelters, include 53 girls between the ages of 14 and 17, of whom 31 are pregnant or have children.
It's all very well to act on the basis of credible intelligence, which this case does not seem to have had, but it certainly appears as if the state is treating the FLDS children differently than they would if it had been a non-religious group (or [ahem] if it was another religion which also has a penchant for polygamy). Laws are created in order to apply equally . . . and that does not appear to be happening here.
April 29, 2008
QotD; [INSERT NAME OF MESSIANIC LEADER HERE]
Mrs Obama is most famous for declaring, a propos her husband's candidacy, that "for the first time in my adult lifetime I'm really proud of my country". Just a throwaway line reflecting no more than the narcissism and self-absorption required to mount a presidential campaign in the 21st century? Well, possibly — were it not for the fact that almost every time the candidate's wife speaks extemporaneously she seems to offer some bon mot consistent with that bleak assessment.
And when she stops looking back across the final grim despairing decades of the 20th century ("Life for regular folks has gotten worse over the course of my lifetime") and contemplates the sunlit uplands of the new utopia, it doesn't, tonally, get any cheerier. Pretend for a moment that the name of the candidate had been excised from the following remarks. Would it seem part of the natural discourse of a constitutional republic of citizen legislators? Or does it sound more appropriate to the leadership cult of Basketkhazia or some other one-man stan?
"[INSERT NAME OF MESSIANIC LEADER HERE] will require you to work. He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. That you put down your divisions. That you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zones. That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed."
Barack, eh? Barack Jong-Il? Unlikely. Not too many "comfort zones" in Pyongyang. Barack Turkmenbashi, the late dictator of Turkmenistan? Possibly. But he would have exhorted his people to push themselves to grow more melons (a particular source of national pride). No, the above words were his wife's vision of life under the Administration of Barack Obama, the transformative Presidential candidate offering change you can believe in — or else. I hate to sound like I'm walled up in the Shed of Cynicism, but the constitutional right to be "uninvolved" and "uninformed" is one of the most precious, at least if the alternative is being "required" to work at coming out of your isolation and engaging with fellow members of the uninvolved, uninformed masses as we push ourselves to move out of our comfort zone.
Mark Steyn, "Mrs. Grievance", National Review, 2008-04-29
Some ideas just won't go away
So it is with the idea of creating new states where existing ones are not meeting expectations. Katherine Mangu-Ward has more:
If Peter Thiel funds something, it's bound to be cutting-edge awesome.
He is a supporter of the Methuselah Mouse Prize, which seeks to slow, stop, and eventually reverse aging. He was a producer of the film Thank You for Smoking, based on Christopher Buckley's charmingly ambiguous novel about a pro-tobacco lobbyist. An early investor in social networking, he was involved with Linked In and was the first investor in Facebook. He's big at the Singularity Institute (reason's Ronald Bailey caught up with him at the Singularity Summit earlier this year, check out the interview in the May print edition), which ponders and pushes artificial intelligence in preparation for a Vernor Vingeian "intelligence explosion." His first success was PayPal, which he originally hoped "would grow to become an extra-governmental system of currency, something reminiscent of the world described in Neal Stephenson's novel Cryptonomicon, in which programmers use encryption to create an offshore data haven free from government control."
And last week, Thiel announced a $500,000 investment — the same amount he put into Facebook in June 2004 — in the Seasteading Institute. Seasteading, or "homesteading on the high seas," is an idea that has long attracted libertarians and others who would like to see a little more competition between forms of government. The idea is to get out into international waters and set up a floating outpost (or 12, or 1,200) from which people can come and go, experimenting with different types of legal, social, and contractual arrangements.
Micronations have been discussed before.
April 28, 2008
QotD: Biofuel warm-mongering
The biofuels debacle is global warm-mongering in a nutshell: The first victims of poseur environmentalism will always be developing countries. In order for you to put biofuel in your Prius and feel good about yourself for no reason, real actual people in faraway places have to starve to death. On April 15, the Independent, the impeccably progressive British newspaper, editorialized: "The production of biofuel is devastating huge swathes of the world's environment. So why on earth is the Government forcing us to use more of it?"
You want the short answer? Because the government made the mistake of listening to fellows like you.
Mark Steyn, "Chickenfeedhawks: Global warm-mongering", National Review Online, 2008-04-26
Ronald Bailey points to some new suggestions for easing the load on doctors and nurses . . . icons to replace medical charts:
Do you want to live forever?
Arthur Caplan refutes some common misconceptions:
What is particularly interesting is that many of those raising the question of the ethics of immortality do so with an answer already in mind — "No, it's not right!" Both conservative and liberal writers alike are expressing a lot of moral angst in recent books, articles and opinion pieces about the prospect of people hanging around long, long after the last broadcast of "The Price Is Right" has aired, which could be an eternity.
Why is the prospect of immortality viewed in such a negative light? A bunch of different reasons can be found in the writings of the growing ranks of anti-agers. An often-invoked argument is that using science to create a world of geezers would not only cost a ton of money, it would not be a lot of fun for anyone, especially the geezers. Living longer and longer only means more arthritis, more osteoporosis, more gum disease and more dementia — and who needs or wants that?
Another concern is that it is not right for humans to strive for immortality because it violates the natural order of things. We were meant to live roughly to a maximum of 100 years. Anything longer is way outside what God or evolution had in mind for us.
And those who fret about a world of immortals also worry that not only will it be stuffy and dull since the young will never get a chance to do anything, but it will also be a world full of the vain and self-centered who think themselves worthy of more and more life ad infinitum.
H/T to Ronald Bailey.
April 27, 2008
The best money you'll ever spend on amateur theatre . . . need I say more?
H/T to Meredith Hubbard.
April 26, 2008
The power of prayer
Regular contributor Roger Henry sent this little gem . . .
A Judge's Dilemma
In a small town, a person decided to open up a brothel, which was right opposite to a church. The church & its congregation started a campaign to block the brothel from opening with petitions and prayed daily against his business.
Work progressed. However, when it was almost complete and was about to open a few days later, a lightning bolt struck the brothel and it was burnt to the ground.
The church folks were rather smug in their outlook after that, till the brothel owner sued the church authorities on the grounds that the church, through its congregation & prayers, was ultimately responsible for the destruction of his brothel, either through direct or indirect actions or means.
In its reply to the court, the church vehemently denied all responsibility or any connection that their prayers were reasons for the act of God. As the case made its way into court, the judge looked over the paperwork at the hearing and commented:
"I don't know how I'm going to decide this case, but it appears from the paperwork, we have a brothel owner who believes in the power of prayer and we have an entire church that doesn't."
April 25, 2008
Illegal in Montreal, too
A couple of days back, I made fun of my home town for their sudden attempt to create a crime of "taking photos of storefronts". Apparently, Montreal is feeling left out, so they're creating a new crime of illegal sitting in a park:
Most people who walk by Émilie Gamelin Park downtown see its many granite surfaces as an invitation to sit and relax.
Dozens were doing just that in the sun yesterday and ever since the park opened in 1992.
But as a Concordia University student found out Saturday, Montreal police, if they so choose, can hit you with a $628 ticket for nothing more menacing than sitting on a ledge.
The connection is, of course, attempting to suppress photography by "civilians".