Charging for content

As much as I would like to, I don’t have time right now to go into any deep philosophical musings about cyber-capitalism and online economic opportunity, or how the internet has freed information and charging money for it is against the spirit of blah, blah, blah… So just to be clear from the outset, however much what I’m about to say might or might not reflect my ideological attachments, the real purpose of this post is to let off some steam on a Friday afternoon, and the NYTand Mr. Roubini just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, so to speak. It is emotion talking, not reason, okay?

That said, here it is:

Why did you have to start charging for content!!!!!!!!!!?????????

First, the NYT required registration, which was annoying enough because if you were in a computer lab and just wanted to check one story in a hurry, you had to remember your username and password. If, on the other hand you were always using the same machine, no problem – just have your computer remember your info. That works fine of course, until you go to a computer lab for the first time in ages, or use someone else’s machine to check one story in a hurry and it’s been so long that you have forgotten your username and password (I’ve had mine since around 1996, so this has happened to me a few times.)

Then, all these other journalistic outfits started requiring registration. If you’re a regular reader, this is not such a big problem. But if you follow someone’s blog link to an out of town paper, or one you don’t normally read, then you have to register just to read one lousy article. Well, it’s a good thing that both 12345 and 90210 are actual zip codes, and that most sites will let you in even if you enter your name as “George W. Bush” or “Zamfried Hockenluger.” (And don’t get me started on bastards who want to send your password to the email address you provide before you can sign in.)

Now we have NYT Select. Not that my lone volley of anger is going to hurt something the size of the NYT, but if you think I’m actually going to pay you money to read more M. Dowd or T. Friedman, when I rarely read it for free before you’re crazy. Besides, don’t all those folks make enough money recycling their op-eds in to another book every other year?

As for Mr. Roubini, I loved his blog. It just got better and better. I recommended it to countless people. His onsite reviews are right on the money – “…best economic website in the world.” But $599 a year for a subscription to the Roubini Global Economics Monitor!!!!!

This by no means a personal condemnation of Mr. Roubini. Hell, I would have done the exact same thing. I’ll still read his papers in academic journals or what have you. And I don’t feel guilty for attacking the NYT, because it’s a faceless, evil corporation, bent on destroying all good in the world (I’m kidding, of course). So to redeem myself for my emotional outburst against the spirit of capitalism, I’ll do something that no self-respecting would-be commie would never dream of and just admit the honest truth about my ire: I’m just pissed to have lost access to such a wonderful resource.

McSalothsar’s – I’m not luvin’ it

Ran across a crazy story in today’s Asahi(print edition, so sorry there’s no link) about a restaurant in Phnom Penh that was recently shut down by local authorities for it’s Pol Pot era themed decor and cuisine!

I ran a Google search in English and managed to find a Reuters report from last week that wasn’t quite as good as the Asahi story, but good enough to suffice for the purposes of this post. From Reuters:

Faithful to the Khmer Rouge era… the waitresses are barefoot and clad in the black pyjamas and red-white scarves of the guerrillas.

Speakers blare out tunes celebrating the 1975 toppling of U.S.-backed president General Lon Nol and the walls are adorned with the baskets, hoes and spades Pol Pot hoped would power his jungle-clad south-east Asian homeland to communist prosperity.


And it gets worse… Having adapted a move that sounds like it came straight out of Robert Mugabe’s playbook (hat tip to Curzon for that one), the owners are actually plugging their cafe’s appetizing menu of “rice water and leaves” as a way to lose weight!

Recognising that many tourists might not be able to stomach such a close brush with the Killing Fields, the “Khmer Rouge Experience Cafe” is also promoting itself to those wishing to shed a few pounds.

“It’s good for me to slim down,” said Tan, a 40-year-old Malaysian visitor.

Taiwan, Amtrak and the ISO

I just mentioned that the editor of the CIA world factbook seems to consider Taiwan an oddly stateless territory. This makes a little more sense if you read about why Amtrak recently changed Taiwan’s entry in their website’s country selection form from “Taiwan, province of China” to merely “Taiwan.”

In the letter, the FAPA pointed out that in a 1996 memorandum, the US State Department stated that since the US has no diplomatic relations with the Republic of China, US officials need to refer to Taiwan as “Taiwan.”

Amtrak was established by the US Congress and receives funding from the government, therefore, what they do should be in accordance with the rules set by the government, the letter said.

According to the article, Amtrak changed their website in response to a letter of complaint written by Wu Ming-chi (吳明基), president of Formosan Association for Public Affairs.

“I was informed that Amtrak takes no position regarding the sovereignty of Taiwan and simply lists all countries around the world according to ISO 3166-1 provided by the International Organization for Standardization, which does not list Taiwan as a province of China”, said Wu Ming-chi (吳明基), president of FAPA in the letter.

The funny thing is, he has his facts completely wrong. If you actually look at ISO 3166-1 on the ISO web site, you’ll see that they DO list Taiwan as “TAIWAN, PROVINCE OF CHINA!” Whatever the US government policy on Taiwan’s name is, it’s a little funny that Amtrak responded to a complaint that didn’t even correctly cite the International Standard Organization’s name for the country. In fact, the FAPA website even contains a letter of complaint written to the ISO about this very issue, written by the same man who had claimed in a different complaint that the ISO has NOT referred to Taiwan as a province of China! And I just noticed that both letters were written ON THE SAME DAY! I think my head is spinning.

July 18, 2005

Masami Tanaka, President
International Organization for Standardization (ISO)
1, rue de Varembé, Case postale 56
CH-1211 Geneva 20, Switzerland

Dear Mr. Tanaka:

I write to you today to express my serious concern about the ISO 3166-1standard which lists Taiwan as a province of China. This issue has caused strong feelings on the part of Taiwanese around the world. I therefore urge you strongly to correct this factual error.

I understand that ISO seeks to stay politically neutral and uses UN sources when developing the ISO standard 3166-1. As stated in the FAQ section on your ISO website, “the printed edition of the [U.N.] publication Country and Region Codes for Statistical Use gives the name we use in ISO 3166-1.” However, I would like to point out that the UN Country and Region Codes for Statistical Use does not list Taiwan at all – let alone lists Taiwan as a “province of China.” (See: the on-line version of the Country and Region Codes for Statistical Use on the UN website. Moreover, the FAQ section from your website adds that, “since Taiwan is not a UN member it does not figure in the UN bulletin on country names.” Thus, there is no source for the use of such misinformed
labeling as “Taiwan, Province of China.”

In addition to the validity of the source the ISO uses when referring to Taiwan, we would also like to point out that it is incontestable reality that Taiwan is not a part of China. All this, despite China’s political claims to the contrary. Taiwan is a de facto sovereign nation
that democratically elects its own president and government officials. The Communist government in China has never exercised any jurisdiction over Taiwan since it was established in 1949. If the ISO intends to stay politically neutral, as it prides itself of, labeling Taiwan as a province of China, simply because China says so, would constitute a double standard.

I urge the ISO to revise the 3166-1 standard and eliminate the term “Province of China” from its listing of Taiwan.

Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

Cordially yours,

Dr. Ming-chi Wu, Ph.D., President
Formosan Association for Public Affairs

I think that if Dr Ming-chi Wu wants his complaints to be taken seriously in the future, he should start by keeping his own facts straight.

(Thanks to Michael Turton’s blog for pointing out the Amtrak article.)

Taiwan in the CIA World Factbook

Since everybody has been talking about Google’s classification of Taiwan, it’s kind of fun to see how the CIA World Factbook contorts a little bit to list them properly.

Yes, under their dropdown menu of “Select country or region,” Taiwan gets the odd distinction of being placed at the end of the other-wise alphabetized list, along with the European Union.

Look familiar?

Is this the fate of all political parties when they hold power for any length of time?

Oct 6, 2005 Taipei Times Editorial

After almost six years in power, the performance of the DPP administration has disappointed a number of pan-green diehards, with some gloomily wondering whether the DPP is losing its ideals and ability to improve itself. It has also alienated a large segment of the party’s grassroots supporters, the very people who had helped to elect the then 14-year-old DPP in 2000.

Some supporters are beginning to wonder whether the DPP has turned into the equivalent of the old Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) regime it used to fight against — a corrupt party leading a corrupt government. This kind of sentiment was especially prominent in the wake of the recent spate of scandals plaguing the DPP administration — one of them being Kaohsiung’s problematic MRT project. An Aug. 21 riot, ignited by Thai laborers protesting against their poor living conditions, unexpectedly brought to light a complex influence-peddling scheme in which ranking government officials apparently exploited Thai workers while pocketing money from the project’s construction funds.

January 9 2005 Washington Post article:

Democrats and some Republicans, troubled by the moves, cite parallels between today’s Republicans and the Democrats who lost their 40-year hold on the House in 1994 after Gingrich and other conservatives campaigned against them as autocratic and corrupt, and gained 52 seats.

“It took Democrats 40 years to get as arrogant as we have become in 10,” one Republican leadership aide said.

Julian E. Zelizer, a Boston University history professor who edited the 2004 anthology “The American Congress,” said Republicans used the past week to “accelerate the trend toward strong, centralized parties.”

“This is a move toward empowering the leadership even beyond what you saw in the 1970s and 1980s,” Zelizer said. “They have been going for broke.”

Now you know why I registered to vote as an independent.

Professors fail remedial economics

UpdateI’d like to apologize for forgetting to link to the article yesterday.

The New York Times has an article exploring the issue of whether there may be more important things than a country’s economic development. A worthy topic, but sadly the article references what is possibly the worst academic survey every conducted.

[B]eyond a certain threshold of wealth people appear to redefine happiness, studies suggest, focusing on their relative position in society instead of their material status.

Nothing defines this shift better than a 1998 survey of 257 students, faculty and staff members at the Harvard School of Public Health.

In the study, the researchers, Sara J. Solnick and David Hemenway, gave the subjects a choice of earning $50,000 a year in a world where the average salary was $25,000 or $100,000 a year where the average was $200,000.

About 50 percent of the participants, the researchers found, chose the first option, preferring to be half as prosperous but richer than their neighbors.

I think that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. They seem to think that people choosing the $100,000 option are twice as wealthy in absolute terms than the people choosing $50,000, but that is utter bollocks.

If the average salary of the world increases by 8-fold and yours drops by half, than in absolute terms you have only 1/16 of the wealth that you had before. Money is not some kind of nano-gel with the ability to transform into an amount of physical material in proportion to the number of units you have, it’s an abstraction that represents the portion of the economy’s total wealth that one controls. The value of individual money units is a simple proportion based on the total amount of money units in existence, this is why we have things like inflation-a concept that seems to have escaped the Harvard School of Public Health.

If they had said ‘town’ or ‘community’ than it might make some sense, because your currency value is still based on the larger economy and in fact would represent a large share of the world’s wealth, but if you’re talking about the entire WORLD’S average income than people who chose the second scenario, much like the people who designed this survey, just don’t know the most basic of math skills.

Unless they were really were testing for basic logic skills, and the whole ‘values of wealth’ thing was just obfuscation.

Saru linked to a paper by the two Harvard professors in question, which contains a survey with various questions making the same test in both monetary and non-monetary terms. It contains one question identical to, and one almost identical to the one listed in the NYT article, except it is phrased exactly the way it should be. The raises the question, was this a mistake by the NYT writer or editor, or did the professors give the reporter a dumbed-down explanation that wasn’t as clear as their actual paper?

I see that Andrew Revkin, who wrote the NYT article, is one of their regular science writers, but even science journalists aren’t supposed to be experts, and aren’t even expected to fully understand the science themselves. He should have had the professors check his article before publication, and they should have caught that mistake.

First survey:
In the questions below, there are two states of the world (State A and State B). You are asked to pick which of the two you would prefer to live in. The questions are independent. For each question, circle either A or B, or if undecided, both A and B. “Others” is the average other person in society.
Note that prices are what they are currently and prices (the purchasing power of money) are the same in States A and B.
A: Your current yearly income is $50,000; others earn $25,000.
B: Your current yearly income is $100,000; others earn $200,000.

Second survey:
Note that prices are what they are currently and prices (the purchasing power of money) are the same in States A and B.

A: Your current yearly income is $200,000; others earn $100,000.
B: Your current yearly income is $400,000; others earn 800,000.

Cannibal beef

For those who were wondering why Japan has still not ended their ban on US beef, today’s NYT makes it quite clear.

The F.D.A. proposed banning from animal feed the brains and spinal cords of cows more than 30 months old. It also proposed banning the same parts of any animal not passed by inspectors as suitable for human food, any tallow that contained more than 0.15 percent protein and any meat contained in brain or spinal column that was separated from carcasses by machine.

The new proposal would still allow animals to be fed material that some scientists consider potentially infectious, including the brains and spinal cords of young animals; the eyes, tonsils, intestines and nerves of old animals; chicken food and chicken dung swept up from the floors of poultry farms; scrapings from restaurant plates; and calf milk made from cow blood and fat.


Michael K. Hansen, an expert on prion diseases at the Consumers Union, called the proposed regulations “completely inadequate,” noting that Britain “took many halfway steps in their efforts to eliminate mad cow disease and failed to stop it.” Only when it stopped feeding mammals to food animals did they cut the cases down to less than 10 a year, he said.

Justice denied: The evil Adam Richards gets a plea bargain

Child Abuser Gets Reduced Sentence
Baby Left With Brain Damage, Skull Fractures

CINCINNATI — A woman whose son was left brain damaged by a child abuser is trying to petition Congress for stricter regulations, News 5’s Sheree Paolello reported.

Adam Richards was sentenced Monday to five years in jail as part of a plea bargain. Richards could have faced up to 20 years in jail, but he had no prior record of abusing children like Dillon Cloud.

Cloud was left in a coma, suffering skull fractures and brain damage after Richards spent two weeks baby-sitting him.

During that time, police said, Richards slammed Cloud into his crib — and even held the infant by his ankles and then dropped him.

“[Doctors] had to keep him ice cold so he didn’t have a fever so his brain wouldn’t swell,” Meghan Cloud, Dillon’s mother, said. “He was helpless. He was laying on the bed and we couldn’t do anything.”

She spent weeks in the hospital, and told Paolello she and her family prayed that they would get some closure when Richards was sentenced. Instead, she said, he was let off the hook.

“It flabbergasts me that there are so many cases of this that the prosecutor has to go this route for a plea deal,” Jay Voline, Meghan’s father, said.

Now the family is trying to get a law passed that would require child abusers to register their addresses, in an effort to stymie the type of suffering Dillon has undergone.

“He doesn’t walk — he doesn’t even try to walk,” Cloud said. “He didn’t crawl till he was 11 months old. He struggles to do everything.”

God that is sad. The poor kid!

The son of a bitch that did this really needs to change his name.