January 31, 2004
What Chinese middle class?
The expanding Chinese middle-class is a myth, according to a study by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), cited in China Newsweek and the Straits Times. While 1 in 2 Chinese think they're middle-class, less than one in 20 really are, according to the study.
One factor mentioned in various press acounts of the CASS study I've seen is that foreign investors turn tail too quickly to raise the living standard much higher, for more people, in China.
Wonder about the atmo? Read this "01 Seattle Times guest column of mine (if you haven't already, register free at this link for seattletimes.com archives access).
One thing's for sure. The U.S. and other Western nations walk a tightrope on China. We've got to encourage economic development while we also remain vigilant about democratic reforms. The "progressive" communist regime wants to have it both ways, encouraging some private sector growth, yet sharply delimiting individual rights and free expression in China.
Announced reforms to recognize private property rights in China would mean something, if actually enacted.
Shopping down terrorists
Baghdadis are shopping, shopping, shopping in the face of terrorism, says Omar at Iraq the Model. Can that be a bad thing?
Omar reports, "Today is the Eid of Adha eve. (also called the BIG EID in Iraq as it lasts for 4 days, while the Eid of Fetr lasts for 3). I went for a drive with Zeyad this afternoon and the streets were incredibly crowded, everyone is out for shopping; clothes, gifts, food and greeting cards are all selling very well these days, as families prepare to welcome their guests who visit them to exchange greetings on the days of the Eid..."
"The hyper activity in Baghdad tells that people want to go on with their lives and celebrate their Eid with no fear of what terrorists might plan to do..."
"When Iraqis keep living their lives the way they want, they're not ignoring the dangers or trying to forget the sad events that happened today or anywhere in the last months, NO, they're fighting to survive and struggling to secure their right to live in peace and freedom. Some of them are fighting with guns, others are fighting with a stronger weapon; LOVE OF LIFE."
January 30, 2004
Bash-Bush Book Bloat
Sheesh. If Howard Dean tanking really means anger is out, no one has told book publishers. I dropped in to Seattle’s top independent bookstore today, the venerable Elliott Bay Book Company. It’s still a wonderful place - where you could easily spend hours browsing and buying.
But the prominent display of new “History” titles was a primal scream against Bush, Republicans and conservatives.
Beyond the latest screeds from Molly Ivins, Al Franken, Michael Moore, Paul Krugman, George Soros and Noam Chomsky, the new “history” books that were featured included:
“The I Hate Republicans Reader (Why The GOP Is Totally Wrong About Everything);”
“The Bush Haters Handbook: A Guide to the Most Appalling President of the Past 100 Years,” by Jack Huberman;
“The Lies of George Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception,” by David Corn;
“Bush Women: Tales of a Cynical Species,” by Laura Flanders;
“Imperial America: The Bush Assault on the World Order,” by John Newhouse.
There were a few conservative titles in the same display: the Frum/Perle book, something by John Stossel, and Democrat Zell Miller’s excellent, “A National Party No More,” which I’ve discussed in an earlier post here, “Required Reading For Kerry.”
I can hear you saying, “so what do you expect in Seattle, anyway?” More important: how Democratic intellectual capital (is there such a thing anymore?) gets deployed. Titles and presentation matter. Applied to political opponents on the covers of books released by mainstream publishers, words like “hate,” “lies,” "totally wrong," “assault,” “appalling,” “cynical” and “imperial” betray the great frustration, and impotence of the liberal intelligentsia.
I’ll add here, too, that I tried to read a Bill O’Reilly book once, and couldn’t get too far - it was pompous, self-aggrandizing crud. Ann Coulter is another author on The Right who’s way over the top. And yes, there were plenty more book-length anti-Clinton polemics not too long ago. Moreover, I remember wearying greatly at the ceaseless conservative feeding frenzies over Clinton bimbo eruptions, the Starr Report, Vince Foster, Whitewater, and so forth.
But while today’s loyal opposition faces a steeper task than Republicans did in 2000, their motto appears to be “we can act even worse.” When does the payback cycle end? And is revenge better than winning? More than a few smart Democrats have observed that though Bush should be challenged on a range of policies, he has shown great personal conviction, and integrity in the face of unimagined adversity. Disagree with the guy, sure. But trashing him is plain stupid.
Maybe I’ll have to pick up the one other Democratic book in the whole gruesome display - besides Miller’s – that actually promised a constructive approach to beating Bush, James Carville’s, “Had Enough? A Handbook for Fighting Back.” I’d probably find a lot to disagree with, but at least Carville is about winning elections.
Talk about accountabilty. The school superintendent, school board members and principals in the Castle Rock, Washington schools have pledged to boost student performance or resign.
The Longview Daily News reports, "The district will meet next month to review the goals, which include increasing the percentage of students who pass the Washington Assessment for Student Learning scores by 2007. Officials also plan to improve graduation rates by 2008.
"The district will release a final copy of the goals at the Feb. 24 School Board meeting. Wilde said they will have a strategy hammered out by June and put the plan in place for the 2004-05 school year.
"School officials also say the plan is attainable, but it will require tenacity.
"'It's a very reasonable goal. .. It's going to take some work,'" said Ron Rodgers, the president of the Castle Rock teachers' union.
"Despite the deadline for improvement, principals say they see the pledge as a surge of support, not a threat.
"Ultimatum is not the word we see. It's a commitment. It's a district-wide commitment," said Faye Ashland, K-8 co-principal. "We don't see it as an impossibility. We're going to give it our best shot."
Here at Rosenblog, we'll be coming back to this story, and other examples of public educators interested in progress, not excuses.
January 29, 2004
Dead Whale Explodes in Taiwan
There's not much to add to this vivid story from Taiwan, courtesy of MSNBC.
Don't miss the awesome pix of whale entrails littering the streets.
Then there's this from the MSNBC item, about the 56-foot long whale corpse which had died in a beaching and was to be studied by scientists before unexpectedly exploding.
"Once moved to a nearby nature preserve, the male specimen -- the largest whale ever recorded in Taiwan -- drew the attention of locals because of its large penis, measured at some five feet, the Taipei Times reported."
"More than 100 Tainan city residents, mostly men, have reportedly gone to see the corpse to 'experience' the size of its penis,' the newspaper reported."
So let's see...56 feet is to 5 feet as 6 feet is to.....
Blogger spotlight: Michael J. Totten, and John Perry Barlow
There are a growing number of high-impact independent bloggers who are liberal Democrats, but eschew hard-core Bush-bashing. Some (such as the first of the two cited in this entry) even support the U.S. effort in Iraq.
Typically, they have a lot to say about the Democratic presidential scrum and other topics, from a reasonable, left-of-center perspective. They manage to provoke everyone, regardless of political stripe, but in a thoughtful manner.
One such blogger is Michael J. Totten, from Portland, Oregon. Check out Totten's site, post haste. Delve into his article links, and the comment sections of his entries.
Another such blogger of note is John Perry Barlow, co-founder of The Electronic Frontier Foundation, fellow at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for The Internet and Society, retired Wyoming cattle rancher, and former Grateful Dead lyricist.
Republicans, Democrats and Independents will all find these two sites worthwhile. There is no "cyber-balkanization."
The civil discourse between political opponents is something to see. In a good comments "string" you'll see how the blogosphere can transcend letters to the editor, hot talk radio, and, of course, shouting heads on TV.
Join in the discussion at these sites, and here as well.
Ultimate high-tech mobile music device
You'll plotz. It's actually a $4.99, clip-on portable cassette player I bought last weekend at Target - the Emerson EW71. Don't howl yet. I looked at the various portable, personal CD players, priced from quite low up to $89.99.
This cheap Chinese import won my hard-earned dollars.
The sound quality is OK, not a big problem. I happen to have a lot of cassettes, mostly special mix tapes I've made; everything from New Orleans r&b to Latin jazz, to 60s rock and wailing pedal steel guitar music.
INTERJECTION: You'll be seeing CD reviews and buy-links here in days and weeks to come. Here are a few related, very different (i.e. not "cry in your beer" country music) pedal-steel CD tips. They're from a few years back but likely all available at amazon.com.
Anyhew, the EW71 clips on nicely, and adheres well while I do slanted-board sit-ups (holding a 15-lb. ball, thank you) at my local health club. And it keeps staying put while I torture myself with various other exercise machines.
I can't help but notice other health club patrons who are enjoying somewhat superior sound quality with their personal CD players that...DON'T CLIP ON.
There they are, headphone-clad on the aerobic striders and treadmills, but with their CD players vibrating toward the edge of the little reading platform because they have nowhere else to put them.
And you should see them trying to use the weight machines, while carrying their little devices around like pet rocks.
Probably, there's a portable CD player with a really good belt clip out there. But none of the half-dozen or so models at Target met the bill. I was thankful for the low-cost option, because my lovely BETTER HALF was somewhat exercised about an additional consumer electronics expense, having recently opted - without UN approval, or mine - to buy a new TV.
A belt clip as deal-clincher? Awk. Perhaps you're reminded of American car buyers who decide what to buy, not based on any "Buy American" shtick, but because we do cupholders better than the Japanese.
Myself, I drive a Honda CR-V with very iffy cupholders, and love it anyway. But I want my mobile music device to stay attached to my belt. Low cost is a nice plus, though not crucial. And I want MY music. The Emerson EW71 gives me all that, for $4.99.
Outrageous. If this has something to do with globalization, I, um, vote "Yes."
I'll keep you posted on how well this cheap little gizmo performs over the coming months.
Crunch. Crunch. Abs of Steel, here we come?
Hope in Sudan
A settlement of the 20-year civil war in Sudan may come before long. The benefits could be substantial, over time, as the Christian Science Monitor notes.
The paper reports, "Now the test is whether Sudan can morph from an ethno-religious killing ground into a modern melting pot with robust religious tolerance. The outcome will deeply affect the future of Africa's vastest country. And it could set a tone of religious civility for the nearby Middle East, and for Africa, where Muslim-Christian tensions are rising."
In the United States, you usually hear little about Khartoum's brutal campaign against the Christian and animist peoples of South Sudan, because it is the extremist Muslim regime of General Omar Al-Bashir that bears great responsibility.
However, international pressure for peace and democracy in Sudan has been building.
Here's a bit more on Sudan, from one of my freelance guest columns.
One Seattle columnist's take on fixing public schools
OK, that columnist is me. Here are some of my regular, freelance guest opinion pieces for The Seattle Times on the challenges our city and state face in improving public education. (And again, The Times' FREE archive registration - which you'll likely see when you click on these links, unless you're already signed up - is no hassle at all. Plus, the archive is a great, cost-free resource).
School Reform in NYC
Courtesy of Charles Hoff, Vice-President of the Federal Way, Washington school board, comes this New York Times piece on the ambitious mission of NY schools chief Joel Klein.
Klein is urging a great leap forward. In the positive sense of the phrase, not Mao's.
The Times reports that Klein "called yesterday for sweeping changes in the way teachers are paid in New York City, advocating bonuses based on student achievement and higher salaries for teachers who agree to work in troubled schools and for those in fields where there are staff shortages, like math and science."
A few other key excerpts from the article:
"We have to change the culture of our schools," Mr. Klein said. "We don't have a culture of excellence."
".....his criticism of the general state of the school system was relentless. 'We have become not surprisingly an excuse-based culture,' he said. 'I cannot tell you when I walk around how often I hear it's the kids, it's the parents, it's the school system, it's the principal, it's the supervisor, it's anyone but me. Try to produce effective outcomes in that kind of culture.'"
He added: "At the heart of the problem are the three poles of civil service: lockstep pay, seniority and life tenure. Together they act as handcuffs and prevent us from making the changes that will encourage and support excellence."
The teachers union, The United Federation of Teachers, has shown some genuine interest in real change. They've voiced support for speedier discipline and dismissal of incompetent teachers.
School choice, already implemented in New York State in the form of charter schools, is helping NYC's public schools see the light. The intense scrutiny some NY charters are now experiencing, and the success of others, are helping to inspire the "new culture of excellence" that Klein urges.
That culture must become real in all urban public school districts.
January 28, 2004
Playin' poker with Saddam
Saddam's scientists did destroy a lot of WMDs, but he kept mum in the interest of "constructive ambiguity."
That's what ex-U.S. inspector David Kay says in this Washington Post story, linked to here via The Seattle Times. (By the way, The Times and other papers I link to here require registration, but go ahead - it's no hassle, free, and well worth it).
The Post story notes, "Kay said the Iraqi scientists didn't have complete records to back up their claims (of disarmament) because the destruction had taken place under pressure to keep it secret from U.N. inspectors."
Pressure from Saddam.
The Post adds, "Kay said he believes Saddam may have been pursuing a course of 'constructive ambiguity' before the war, bluffing about having weapons to provide the illusion of power and serve as a deterrent. 'Saddam wanted to enjoy the benefits of having chemical and biological weapons without having to pay the costs,' Kay said."
No wonder Bush, and many Democrats before him, had to take Saddam's bluff for real. In addition, there were many other reasons, good ones, given for our intervention in Iraq.
And there was that matter of the vote by Congress.
Perhaps it is not surprising then, that a majority of Americans polled by the Pew Research Center for The People and The Press support our intervention in Iraq, despite the hard going.
Anybody wonder why Clark and Dean are fading fast, and Kerry is (yes) doomed?
School vouchers mean MORE $ for public schools
How's that again? Don't vouchers (an evil plot advanced by right-wing conservatives) bleed public schools of dollars, helping a privileged few at the expense of the many? No, not quite, writes Hoover Institution senior fellow and Stanford political science professor Terry M. Moe in the New York Times.
Here's Moe: "In fact, the public schools should actually come out ahead. In a typical voucher program, the cost of the voucher (say, $4,500) is far lower than the average amount the public schools spend on each student (say, $8,000). This means that when students go private, only part of the money budgeted for their education goes with them. The remainder stays in the government's pocket. If these savings were put back into the public schools, the schools would actually have more money per child. And the greater the number of students using vouchers, the greater the increase in spending per child could be."
Moe states: "So the bigger picture is essentially this. There are savings when students go to private schools. There are costs that subtract from the savings. And a voucher program can be designed to see that the savings more than cover the costs, with the residual put back into the public schools to increase per-child spending and leave schools financially better off."
He concludes, "The argument that vouchers drain money out of the public schools may sound like a high-minded defense of the public system. But in reality it's simple-minded, it isn't true and it provides no justification at all for denying needy children the educational opportunities that vouchers can offer."
Hat tip to education blogger Joanne Jacobs for the link. From her site, you'll find links to many other useful education blogs. Go! Explore! The tide is actually turning, against mediocrity in K-12 U.S. public education.
Asylum, Meet Inmates
The word is Howard Dean's New Hampshire primary campaign was run with somewhat more discipline than the disastrous Iowa effort. But, as Seattle blogger Howard Hansen mentioned to me recently, "you get your cues from the people you attract." Hansen, by the way, is an example of the many liberal voters who are turned off by Bush-bashing and anti-Iraq hysteria. See this fine entry on the subject of how the Democrats can win, from his blog "Howard's Musings" here.
A Seattle-based computer consultant - Hansen is a nice, reasonable, and very smart guy who backs Dean. Such people do exist. Hansen just believes Dean has been playing to the wrong constituency.
That was underscored in a hilarious manner by guest columnist Debby Morse recently in the San Francisco Chronicle. You'd think it would take a lot to weird out someone from Marin County, but local Dean-iacs proved more than equal to the task.
This is so good, I must quote at length.
Introductions, at first cheerful and informative ran something like, "Hi, my name is Solstice Rainpetal (not her real name but probably should have been), and I have a small printing business" -- and eventually devolved to "I'm Solstice."
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