Rants and Raves

Opinion, commentary, reviews of books, movies, cultural trends, and raising kids in this day and age.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

I'm back, and I've got an answer about China

I've been in Vancouver for a week at the Fraser Institute seminar/course on economics for journalists, a great experience on which I'll be blogging anon.

I came back to a depressingly empty house, as I evacuated my family after the sewer system in the city was breached by floodwaters. Limited use has been restored - but we're still using port-a-potties stationed on street corners.

Vancouver is a city set in the most staggeringly beautiful setting I've ever seen, which made it doubly hard to come back, but duty calls...

At any rate, during a dinner discussion on how China may, or may not be liberalizing due to the benign influence of market economics, I raised the question of whether it matters if the gender imbalance in China creates tremendous civilization-wrecking instability.

For years I have been trying to find data on what the gender imbalance caused by China's one-child policy is, since wa-a-a-ay before I started to see it in print.

Well, now there are some figures: around 32 million extra boys in China, and getting worse in the younger, not yet pubescent age groups.

If you go here: http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1550484

you'll find an article by Therese Hesketh, a lecturer at the Centre for International Health and Development at University College London, and Qu Jian Ding: Family size, fertility preferences, and sex ratio in China in the era of the one child family policy: results from national family planning and reproductive health survey.

The conclusion is: Since the one child family policy began, the total birth rate and preferred family size have decreased, and a gross imbalance in the sex ratio has emerged.

The funny thing is, the article is from 2006, the article on MSNBC here: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/30155400/

is from a few weeks ago. Look around and you find the MSM seems to have noticed this just recently.

The MSNBC article seems to summarize the point of the more technical BMJ article reasonably well. Briefly, the gender imbalance in post-pubescent males is very bad now. It's going to get much worse over the next 10-15 years as more boys grow up and experience that volcanic hormonal surge we all remember so fondly.

Many media articles quote Hesketh thusly, "If you've got highly sexed young men, there is a concern that they will all get together and, with high levels of testosterone, there may be a real risk, that they will go out and commit crimes."

I don't know if this is an example of that charming British understatement, or just plain dense. These numbers are not just a recipe for a high crime rate, this is a portent of war, revolution, and chaos on a scale not seen since World War II.

Oh, and by the way, India may be experiencing the beginning of a similar gender imbalance for the same reason, a preference for sons expressed in sex-selective abortion and female infanticide.

Pleasant dreams!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Pirates – hostis humani generis

Note: This appeared as an op-ed in the Valley City Times-Record.

If you've been following the news, you know that Capt. Richard Phillips is free, and three Somali pirates won't be sailing under the Jolly Roger anymore.

To most people, this must seem like a pretty bizarre interlude amidst news of the economy, foreign affairs, etc. Most people are only marginally aware that there still are pirates in this day and age.

Piracy, the capture and looting of cargo transported by sea, is a very old business. Three-thousand-year-old wrecks of ships recovered by archaeologists from the Aegean Sea, show evidence their cargo was looted and the ships deliberately sunk.

The Roman statesman Cicero called pirates, hostis humani generis - “enemies of all mankind.”

The first foreign war fought by the United States was a Naval/Marine Corps expedition sent by Thomas Jefferson against the Barbary Pirate state of Tripoli, in what is now Libya. The capture of the pirate state's capitol is commemorated in the Marine Corps Hymn, “From the halls of Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli...”

Piracy diminished, but never entirely died out, when steam ships became faster than any wooden sailing vessel. Steam ships required coal for fuel, and extensive infrastructure to build and maintain their steel hulls. Pirate ships which were formerly pretty self-sufficient when powered by wind, and able to affect their own repair and maintenance with available wood, just weren't able to catch merchant ships anymore.

In effect, civilization doomed piracy.

But piracy survived in places where ships have to pass through narrow seas near coasts not under the control of civilized states. The Gulf of Aden, the Straights of Malacca, the Philippine archipelago are all areas long dangerous to commercial shipping and wealthy yachtsmen.

In modern times, pirates operate from swift motorboats darting out from rugged coasts, or launched from harmless-looking mother ships.

Pirates, then and now, require a marketplace to sell stolen goods, and modern financial apparatus to arrange the transfer of ransom payments for captured ships and seamen.

And, just as in Jefferson's administration, they thrive because the merchant firms and governments they operate under find it easier and cheaper to pay ransom than take on the pirates.

In Jefferson's time the European states had been paying ransom for hundreds of years. If you were among those fortunate enough to be ransomed like Miguel Cervantes, author of Don Quixote. Some historians estimate that more Europeans were captured and taken into slavery in North Africa, than West Africans were taken into slavery in the Americas.

And in both cases, the slave catchers and sellers operated from North African Islamic states which grew rich on the trade.

Now U.S. ships and seamen are once again targets of pirates. President Barack Obama gave orders to act decisively at the discretion of the on-site Naval commanders, and deserves great credit for this. The Europeans are again playing the ransom game, and the pirates are even now holding dozens of European hostages and several ships awaiting ransom.

Congressman Donald Payne, (D-N.J.) chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee's subcommittee on Africa, traveled at some personal risk to assess the situation on the ground in Somalia, and also deserves credit.

Unfortunately, he also came back mouthing more of the “we have to address the root causes” drivel our civilization seems afflicted, and hamstrung by.

Congressman, permit me to explain the truth about “root causes.”

The reasoning of a pirate or any other extortionist goes like this, “You have it. I want it. I'm strong enough to take it. You're not strong enough to keep it.”

Keep that in mind and the path to a solution to this problem should be, if not easy, at least relatively straightforward.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Bias example

Here's another example of the kind of thing I study in media bias. Not the open, conscious type of gatekeeping (a la the New York Times, which decides what you ought to know) but the unconscious, off-the-cuff turn of phrase that reveals the mindset of the speaker.

Last Sunday (Sunday before Easter) I caught Geraldo at Large on FOX. The subject was, men who go off their heads and kill or rob after losing jobs etc.

Now note one thing. FOX is widely known, and widely despised in some circles, as a "conservative" network. And in fact, you can see the opinions of some of the newsreaders on FOX displayed quite openly.

To my mind, that's the good thing about FOX. The positions of their talking heads is out in the open. On the other networks, they're "objective" you know.

Of course, they're nothing of the kind, and it shows to anyone paying attention.

And in point of fact, FOX employs more self-identified liberals than the other networks combined have open conservatives.*

One of them is of course, Geraldo Rivera.

At any rate, on the program, Geraldo asked two guests, "After all things were worse during the Reagan administration, unemployment was higher, my God... And in the 70s with those gas lines..." (Quoted from memory, I don't have recording devices ready at all times for this kind of thing. I have to get it on the fly.)

Notice what is missing, "in the 70s" NOT "during the Carter administration." He specifically mentioned the Reagan administration, then identified the Carter years only by decade.

That's the kind of thing I'm looking for - and I'd appreciate help. Examples from any point of view.

Happy Easter to all.

* There remains the question of whether FOX deliberately, or unconsciously chooses liberals to represent that point of view, who are kind of creepy, or macho-flash a$$es - or whether they just have to scrape the bottom of the barrel because liberals who are articulate and attractive are all welcome at the other broadcast outlets.

It is also worth noting that an analysis of campaign contributions by FOX employees a few years back, tilted slightly to the Democrats.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Why America can do nothing for Roxana Saberi

Note: This appeared as an Op-ed in the Valley City Times-Record. You can google Roxana Saberi if you're unfamiliar with this case. Briefly, she's a Fargo resident, dual American-Iranian citizen, now in prison in Iran charged with espionage.

Her father is Iranian, her mother Japanese, and if there's any combination more likely to produce lovely daughters I'd like to hear about it. She is a former Miss North Dakota USA.


Fargo resident Reza Saberi, father of imprisoned journalist Roxana Saberi is in his native Iran, demanding the regime release his daughter.

I hate to say this, but lots of luck.

Roxana, a 31-year-old freelance reporter from Fargo, is in an Iranian prison charged with espionage. Reports indicate she has been living in Iran for six years, working as a freelance journalist reporting on the Islamic Republic, and stayed on after her permission to work as a journalist was revoked.

One report has it she was arrested buying, or attempting to buy, a bottle of wine, a big no-no in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The thought of a lovely young woman in prison in Iran gives one a queasy feeling. The worst jail in America is a five-star hotel in comparison with what passes for normal in Islamic countries. And news reports say she's in the infamous Evin prison. That's not good.

There are efforts underfoot to bring pressure on the Iranian government to release Saberi.

I would give a lot to be wrong about this, but there is probably nothing that can be done to help her from this country. She is going to have to rely on the whims of a capricious and probably clinically insane clique of thugs for mercy.

It could happen though. Ahmedinejad delighted in showing “king's mercy” to the British sailors and marines they caught at sea a few years back – after rubbing the UK's nose in their impotence to do anything about it, and their complete lack of support from their fellow EU members.

And, the President of the United States has made conciliatory gestures to Iran. He was answered with withering contempt, but it doesn't seem to have registered on him.

President Obama was also recorded on video bowing low to the King of Saudi Arabia, also known as “The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques,” and conspiracy buffs have been having a field day ever since, while the media studiously ignores yet another protocol blunder.

The White House denies the bow. So who are you going to believe, the President of the United States or your lying eyes?

But, if the President deigns to take notice of the Saberi case, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has stated publicly Saberi should be released, then it might just happen. Because nothing would trip President Ahmedinejad's trigger more than to have our president grovel publicly to him.

And, that's the only thing that has a chance of working, because legally the United States doesn't have a leg to stand on, even presuming the Iranians would be impressed by legalities.

Here's how I know. Saberi holds dual American and Iranian citizenship. My children are dual citizens of the U.S. and Poland. When our first child was born in Warsaw, we registered the birth with the Polish authorities and the American Embassy.

What they told us at the embassy was, they don't like dual citizenship, but they recognize it happens. The consequences are: my children must enter Poland on their Polish passports, and enter the U.S. on their American passports. Everywhere else they can whip out the passport that offers the cheaper visa.

Whichever country my son becomes of draft age in (if they have conscription), they've got him.

And here's the kicker, if a dual citizen is arrested in either country he/she holds citizenship in, the other can do nothing.

I think we'd better get used to seeing our president grovel.

UPDATE: April 18, According to the morning news, Roxana Saberi has been convicted of espionage in Iran, and sentenced to eight years in prison. We'll see what happens.

It could have been worse...

Friday, April 03, 2009


Here's the still. Go here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5JGK-xbXxMw&feature=related

for the video and see that it's not a trick of cherry-picking photos for an awkward or out-of-context shot.

The President, and his staff's ignorance of protocol, resulting in abominable rudeness to the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom pales before this.

That is the backside of the President of the United States you see, as he bows low to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

You may recall, the President returned a bust of Winston Churchill on loan to the United States. And after receiving wonderfully tasteful and significant presents from Prime Minister Gordon Brown, gave him a set of DVD's that won't play on English sets and some trinkets from the White House gift shop.

If it wasn't a calculated insult, it was definitely tacky.

He also, by the way, took the Queen's hands in both of his. Protocol is for a quick touch of the hands. Michelle touched the Queen on the back, also not protocol. To be fair the Queen initiated a touch, so Michelle might actually have been invited to a greater intimacy than protocol stipulates.

Those of a conspiratorial bent will no doubt read very sinister motives into this. I think there is no need - even "innocent" ignorance in this case is appalling enough.

At this moment I am so furious I can barely see straight. Once and for all, AMERICAN CITIZENS DO NOT BOW TO FOREIGN MONARCHS GOD DAMN IT!

Much less the President of the United States! Innocent ignorance, or whatever motive you wish to ascribe to this. Our president has disgraced our country.

If it were a private citizen who'd done this, I'd say stay overseas because you haven't got a country to come back to.

I am going to be watching the MSM for reactions to this with great anticipation. I'll be watching to see how the MSM tries to 1) ignore, 2) make light of, 3) justify this.

Thank God for the Internet! It's very difficult to bury things anymore. (My wife saw it before I did - on the online Polish media.)

I have been a critic of the President; his ideology, his associates, and his policy. Nonetheless, I realize that these are differences of opinion, and my assessment of the soundness of his judgement, and have tried to express my differences in an appropriate tone.

But this is neither.

This is a disgrace.

Mr. President, you have disgraced our country. Every one of your countrymen who understands the symbolism of this gesture, giving the sign of submission to a foreign tyrant, is - or damn well should be, burning with shame right now.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Sandbagging for the flood

Note: This appeared as an op-ed in the Valley City Times-Record

I went up to the North Dakota Winter Show building on Tuesday morning to put in a few hours sandbagging after the paper went to press.

Monday I'd seen the college students up there and I knew the high school students would be there taking the first shift.

So I drove up, parked my car and walked over to the sign-up desk. I'd covered this story enough to know they really need to be finicky about documenting everything for federal aid reimbursement, and that includes volunteer time.

“Where should I go?” I asked the gentleman at the desk.

“You know Daryl Stensland?” he said.

“Yeah, I think so.”

“See him, he's over there.”

So I go up to the volunteer fireman who's coordinating efforts on the floor.

“What should I do?” I ask.

“Grab a shovel and start filling,” he answers quite logically. “Three full shovels in each bag.”

Following his advice, I join a group of high school students at the nearest pile of sand. They're all paired up, shovelers and baggers. So I start filling bags solo.

There's a drill to this. Grab a bag and open it. Hold it with a couple of fingers while you use both hands to stick the shovel into the pile. Take out the shovel with your right hand near the blade and use it like a very big trowel to put in the bag. Put the bag down and get another shovelful with two hands. Shift grips, grab the bag with your left and pour in the sand. Repeat. Shift grips, grab the bag with your left, and put it aside.

Young girls around me are shoveling and grabbing bags that look like they're a significant fraction of their own weight and piling them on pallets.

After a while a young lady comes up and without a word starts helping me with the bags. Now I can shovel without interruption while she opens bags, holds them and puts them aside. Repeat.

I can feel it coming, the ache. It starts in back, right on the belt line, a little more on the right at first, if you're right-handed.

Come on! You used to do this for a living. And shoveling stuff much less pleasant than sand at that.

Jeez, will you look at that girl! You can see the exhaustion in her face, but she doesn't complain.

Come to think of it, nobody's complaining. These kids are having a ball. They're doing meaningful work to help save their town, and they're doing a durn good job of it too, without supervision and without slacking an inch.

There's an old guy over there working alongside kids who look like they could be his grandchildren. There's a woman with a grade-school kid working together, filling bags.

Pallets get covered with bags, one, two layers at most. Wouldn't take many of these to break them. Guys come and get them with forklifts and put them on big flatbed trucks to take into town.

My partner gets called away to help with something else. By! I wonder what her name was? Back to shoveling one-handed.

After a while the Salvation Army arrives with barbecue sandwich makings. This is the second meal in my life I've had from the SA. Tastes grand.

More sandbagging after a quick lunch. Then I've got to get back to town and take some pictures of the work along the dikes.

So long kids, it's been an honor working with you.