Sunday, July 27, 2008

Skepticism: Alas more wacky ufologists! Watch the skies!

And today I've decided to procrastinate by sharing my thoughts on the second of the four (so far) responses by ufologists to my UFO piece.

Curiously, this piece was linked to by a variety of blogs and websites around the country, meaning, oddly enough, that I am on the "poopie-list" of such groups as the Southeast Sasquatch Watchers Association (or something like that, I forget the exact name. My hope is that by not putting their name exactly right, they will be more likely to ignore me and keep watching those sasquatches instead of me.)

See: for the actual piece.

And now for response #2 of 4:

"griffi12 ( no real name given ) says...

I feel we are still a long way off before scientists are willing to propose any kind of answer to the UFO questions. For example look at the global warming/ climate change debate. For decades these scientists would only say things like “we currently to not have enough data to answer the global warming debate conclusively, and speculating on things that can’t be proven is useless”. The slowly over the decades as the data began to build more and more timid scientists began to step forward and say things like “It now seem certain that the temperature changes we have seen in the last 50 years are the results of human activities”. One day when salt water is rushing into our homes scientists will stand up and say “It’s proven, we humans have changed the climate on our planet.”

The subject of UFOs is just now entering the “can’t be proven and it’s useless to speculate” phase and like global warming debate, a lot of people can already see the hand writing on the wall."

Well, thank you "griffi12."

Curiously enough, aside from the complete pointlessness of this thing, as well as the total lack of evidence offered to argue the writer's position, the part that irks me the most is the phrase "hand writing on the wall." The usual phrase is simply "writing on the wall" and it's a reference to the Biblical story of Daniel.

See here:

If I recall correctly, based on what I was taught in Old Testament class in high school (there was one year, due to my parents' employment, I attended a church run school for Navajo people where this was a required class for people in my year) the book of Daniel was written as a piece of allegorical fiction and was not intended to be taken literally by the people of the time it was produced.

Oh well. I am, of course, showing off, in part because it's my view that few skeptics have much knowledge of religion. Time to get to work. Actual substantive work, and stop with silly blogging. Adios!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Skepticism: Oh those wacky ufologists!

In regards to:

About a week ago, the local paper ran an op-ed piece I'd written in response to a piece on the local MUFON chapter and its head. (MUFON is the Mutual UFO Network, the largest "Oooh! Oooh! I don't know what it is but it's a thingie in the sky that I cannot identify so the universe must be about to change and then everyone will know I'm a cosmic genius" club in the United States.)

It had been a long time since I'd written about UFOs and I'm beginning to remember exactly why. Reasons like this:

Response #1:

"July 20, 2008 10:44 a.m. TheAvenger ( no real name given ) says...

I believe that if one reads the recently released Mufon radar report on the Stephenville, Texas mass sightings, you must acknowledge that a decent scientific report about the U.F.O. phenomenon does exist. Granted, it only proves that the dozens of witnesses saw a real object, but multiple visual reports that correctly locate an object's position coupled with radar data is quite compelling evidence.

Several of us real scientists are now having a look into the U.F.O. enigma and hope to have a better understanding of what they are or aren't in the next few years."

Please note that this response, 1) cites MUFON literature as its source. It is my strong belief that anything a ufologist writes on UFOs is probably a second-hand source. As a historian, and I'm as much a historian, academically speaking, as anything else, it's important to get as close to the source as possible particularly when controversy over the facts of the matter exist.

2) Proves nothing of any sort even if accepted as fact because all it claims is that many people saw something in the sky and that radar confirms it. This does not prove anything except that there was something in the sky and nobody knows what it was. There are lots of things in the sky. There are lots of things in the ground and there are lots of things in the water too. Many people do not know what they are either. Hello MUFON people. Please call me when you figure something out. Better yet, when that happens, if it's truly significant, I feel safe I'll hear about it elsewhere, probably through multiple sources.

3) This post was allegedly done by a "real scientist." What the *&$#@%$!! kind of real scientist? Come to think of it the last time I heard a reference to generic scientists as a source of anything it was also from a ufologist trying to get someone to take his alleged implant seriously after a physicist had said it appeared to be nothing out of the ordinary. And why does he not give his real name? (I have.)

There was a time these things amused me. Now they just make me grouchy.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Skepticism: Ufology is "mostly harmless," but not entirely.

From today's Sunday Gazette, in Schenectady, New York, another piece by yours truly.

Op-ed column: Story on UFO watcher raised some disturbing questions
Sunday, July 20, 2008
Peter Huston

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Donna Grethen/Tribune Media
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July 10th’s Gazette reported on James G. Bouck, Jr., local UFO enthusiast. Although I’ve never met Bouck, 10 to 15 years ago, during my “hard-core skeptic” phase, the UFO scene interested me greatly.

During that time, I wrote two books dealing in part with ufology, served as officer and newsletter contributor to the local skeptics group, and contributed to national media, including an article on UFO abductions for “Hustler” magazine. (“More anal probes!” they demanded.)

I attended local and national conventions of UFO believers, and even interviewed the late Betty Hill, a charming yet eccentric woman and the world’s first UFO abductee to be taken seriously, as well as our most prominent local abductee, a sincere man with a history of mental illness and homelessness who considered his alleged UFO experiences a mark of distinction.

Although burn-out eventually struck, it was a long, strange run.
Mostly harmless

Today, I find UFO enthusiasts “mostly harmless.” Like many such things, however, there’s a depressing, ugly, icky undercurrent in the field if one looks deeply.

Without question, I do not believe UFO sightings are evidence, much less proof, in any way of alien visitation. Instead I believe ufology is a movement fueled by a network of enthusiastic people who share ideas and reports, reports gathered with widely-varying degrees of professionalism and care, and then interpreted to fit pre-conceived views and a desire to believe they are unveiling great cosmic mysteries.

After 60 years plus of frenzied effort, ufologists still have not assembled enough evidence of anything to obtain a decent government grant, prepare a satisfying exhibit in a reputable museum or provide a single, solid chapter in a legitimate school science textbook.

If one explores the history of modern UFO belief, there’s an evolution and shifting of claims rather than consistency. For instance, although most ufologists agree that modern UFO sightings began in 1947 when a small plane pilot witnessed “flying disks,” the concern of the time was if they were of Soviet or renegade Nazi origin. Ideas of space aliens pilots came years later.

But today’s ufology involves much more than lights in the sky. Although the original proposition, occasional odd sightings in the sky hint at something of extraordinary importance, still remains unproven, ufology’s enthusiastic network has produced (equally unproven) claims of alien abductions, crashed saucers, crop circles, cattle mutilations, government conspiracies and more. The claims grow, the proof still eludes.

Don’t get me wrong. Generally speaking, I don’t dislike ufologists. Even if at times their logic is a bit convoluted and the standards of evidence slipshod, they consider themselves serious amateur scientists. A surprising number are accomplished amateur astronomers.

But there is a hard, ugly edge within ufology.

My last real contact with organized ufology was spring 2000. Discovery channel filmmakers, wishing to hear my opinions, paid my way to attend a UFO convention in the Bronx. Aspects left me deeply concerned and disturbed.

First, much programming involved reports by “UFO abduction survivors,” their therapists, UFO abduction support group organizers and abduction investigators.

Abduction claims often involve hypnosis or other memory-altering techniques. There are some truly frightening people, licensed and unlicensed, practicing psychotherapy. They often do serious damage to fragile humans.

Convincing people they are UFO abductees is harmful and increases social isolation. After all, how many really take a self-proclaimed UFO abductee seriously? Aside from Betty Hill, who was delightful, the ones I’ve met have been sad people.

Bud Hopkins, prominent UFO investigator, author and artist by training, announced his latest “discovery.” People, he announced, should be alert to hidden signs of UFO abduction in themselves. They should also, he said, be alert to signs in their children. He sold a videotape describing the signs.

Parents should not hand their children to amateur psychotherapists to treat unproven conditions such as abduction trauma from space aliens, yet, depressingly, some actually do.
Alien implants

Also praised was the work of Roger Leir, a podiatrist who surgically removes what he claims are “alien implants” from patients.

Remember, when someone wishes to cut you open with a scalpel to find something he deeply wishes to find, that no reputable person in his profession feels is really there, get a second opinion. Yet some people obviously don’t.

Ufology can get scary and weird if you dig deeply.

In conclusion, the Gazette article was balanced. Having never met Mr. Bouck, I cannot criticize him personally. The fact that he admits to having proved nothing after years of work, indicates to me that he is probably doing his UFO investigations more rationally and thoroughly than many.

Yet ufology, after 60 years, still resembles an odd, quasi-religious social movement rather than a scientific endeavor. And although ufologists are “mostly harmless,” “mostly harmless” implies occasionally harmful.

Peter Huston lives in Scotia. The Gazette encourages readers to submit material on local issues for the Sunday Opinion section.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Dead in Wisconsin must stay chaste, rules court.

! Creepy! Creepy! Creepy!

Back on May 29, 2008, I wrote about a case involving some Wisconsin wannabe necrophiles.

Seems like courts in Wisconsin move slowly especially when the case is complex. Remember this one? Years ago, three morons decided to dig up a dead woman and give necrophilia a fling. Now everyone admitted this was a bad thing to do but no one was quite sure what to charge them with because apparently necrophilia was not against the law in Wisconsin. Now, years later, it seems that someone decided that a sexual assault charge might stick and the Wisconsin state supreme court has decided that that sounds like a good idea to them. Now I'm wondering if this means that a dead body is legally a person in Wisconsin? Is this a slippery slope sort of thing? Is it opening the doors for other misuses of the deceased to be legally treated the same way as a living person? For instance, if this is sexual assault can a dead person keep his favorite parking space or is it discrimination to take it away from him just because he's dead? What would George Romero say?

Apparently the decision is based on the corpse's lack of ability to consent. (Actually I confess I have not read the ruling. It's 34 pages long and contains several big words.)

Now, what happens if someone consents to such an act, say in a will? Is it legal then? I'd say it's time that some libertarian minded soul leave his corpse behind with a permission slip just to test this sort of

Thirdly, I have to ask is there something in the Wisconsin water that makes threat of rampant necrophilia a real risk? Is it really worthwhile to send this strong a message to the general population that they should not have sex with a dead person? I mean I've done a lot of things, I'm ashamed of, and fantasized about doing several more, but actual necrophilia is not something I'd dabble in even if it were legal. But at least now I know that should I suddenly developed the urge, well, don't do it in Wisconsin, I guess.

To read the court's decision, click here:

To see the important news from America's dairyland, click here:

Supreme Court Reinstates Charges in Grave Robbing Case

Posted: July 9, 2008 11:49 AM

Updated: July 9, 2008 05:43 PM
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Click here to read the Supreme Court's decision

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has reinstated criminal charges against three Grant County men accused of digging up a corpse to have sex with it.

In 2006, twins Nicholas and Alexander Grunke, and their friend Dustin Radke were arrested for allegedly trying to remove the body of 20-year-old Laura Tenneson who had been recently killed in a motorcycle crash.

Prosecutors say one of them saw an obituary photo of the woman and asked the others to help dig up the body so he could have sex with it. They eventually abandoned their plan and were caught by authorities.

Lower courts had dismissed attempted third-degree sexual assault charges against the men, saying state law does not criminalize necrophilia. But the Supreme Court says people can be charged with sexual assault when the victims are dead.

As a result of the decision, the case will be sent back to Grant County Court. The three men will be tried on third degree sexual assault charges.

China Watch: Problems in economy

I do not consider myself an expert on Chinese economics, although I am advanced in the study of that country. Unfortunately, however, when one studies a nation or region, what many people expect from you seems to be the ability to prophecize events and conditions in that region. They say, "Oh, you study China. Great, what will happen there next?" or "Do you think their economy will continue to improve?"

I cannot do this for China, at least not with much accuracy, and I cannot do it for the United States either.

But in my opinion, the Chinese economy will continue to grow for a bit and then slow down. At that point the Chinese economy will continue to be important in the world, but much of its current activity will shift southward to Indonesia and Vietnam.

This assumes, of course, that catastrophe such as civil war or economic collapse does not occur. Then again, although I think such things are possible, I don't think they are going to happen.

I think a parallel could be drawn between China now and Japan and its economic boom in the 1980s.

By the way, for more of my views on the Chinese economy and current conditions see my other blog at ,

Peter Huston

If China slips on oil, it will learn that distance is tyranny

July 9, 2008

China's days as the world's manufacturing base may be numbered, writes David Hirst.

AS MUCH of the financial world comes to realise the extent of our economic woes and the possibility of catastrophic consequences, reports on the scope of the crisis are coming at bewildering speed, killing any hopes of sharemarket rises daily.

On Monday, the Dow, buoyed by falling oil prices in the morning, was buffeted and continued to take water when Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae began to founder. Those two organisations, if one can use that word loosely, are the bears' best friends, and a mention of them is enough to send the indices into troubled waters.

But along with the publicised Bank of International Settlements reports, and apparently unreported outside of Europe, is an extremely dire study (on which the BIS reports may be partly based) that finds that banking losses have skyrocketed to $US1.6 trillion ($A1.7 trillion), with total debt risk of $US26.6 trillion, which has stunned European financial authorities.

And perhaps more frightening is a report published by the London Telegraph on Monday that China oil prices threaten the "blowing-up" of the Chinese economy and the demise of the Chinese economic model, as distance from markets threatens to impose a harsh tyranny. "The great oil shock of 2008 is bad enough for us," writes the Telegraph, citing some very solid sources. "It poses a mortal threat to the whole economic strategy of emerging Asia."

China's economic model is, like most economic models, based on oil prices far below what they are today. Even the ships that transport the basic goods to be assembled in China and then freighted around the world are built assuming cheap oil. And its super-mass production relies on very slim profit margins. And, before we take heart in the hope of cheaper oil, China's banks, controlled as they are by the Communist Party, are not exactly models to follow, except for those elements in the US Government that seem to be uncovering new and exciting ways to nationalise or socialise that country's banking system. Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae are likely starters for formalising such, but more of that when we have digested the problems to Australia's north.

On Monday, a US website posted a translation of a German newspaper report from Marco Zanchi, a noted European writer and editor of Finanz und Wirtschaft of Zurich, commenting that his "dire" predictions for world markets had "echoes of Japan written all over it, with the spectre of zombie banks slowing the US for years" unless its mess was cleared away.

The report, titled "The large financial crisis has just begun", opens with the statement: "Those that assume the misery is coming to an end are wrong. When it comes to write-downs, losses and raising fresh capital, the crisis has only just begun for banks. Losses are expected to reach $1.6 trillion, only a fraction of which have been uncovered."

"But that is not everything," the study continues. "While banks give their word of honour that no further capital is needed, the paper by Bridgewater Associates says: 'We have big doubts that financial institutions will be able to obtain enough new capital in order to cover the losses. This will worsen the credit crunch."'

The suggestion that China may soon be dead in the water is so unthinkable that it should be unprintable. Especially in Australia. For Australia has de-coupled in its mind from the US and found a new great and powerful friend. Along with news of the huge strains Vietnam is experiencing — I believe no sharemarket in history has, like Vietnam, fallen every day for a solid month — the news out of China might result in a blow to the lucky country's glass jaw.

The Telegraph report follows a weekend Reuters story, "Asia's exporters suffering as global demand weakens", which quotes a Deutsche Bank estimate that 20% of China's low-end exporters will go belly-up this year.

China's official inflation rate is 7.7% but it has started rolling back domestic subsidies for fuel — and fertiliser, the price of which has increased about 300% recently. The Chinese Government has realised a bit late that its energy inefficiency puts it at a competitive disadvantage; ending the subsidies is seen as necessary to force businesses to become more efficient energy users. This will be a painful process.

Likewise, the cost of a 40-foot container from Shanghai to Rotterdam has tripled since the price of oil exploded. China's industries have been built on cheap transport over the past decade. A report cited by the Telegraph from Stephen Jen, currency chief at Morgan Stanley, states that "at a stroke, the trade model looks obsolete. Asia's intra-trade model is a Ricardian network where goods are shipped in a criss-cross pattern to exploit comparative advantage. Profit margins are wafer-thin. Products are sent to China for final assembly, then shipped again to Western markets. The snag is obvious …

"Energy subsidies have disguised the damage. China has held down electricity prices, though global coal costs have tripled since early 2007. Loss-making industries are being propped up. This merely delays trouble. The true impact of the shock will only be revealed over time, as subsidies are gradually rolled back."

Last week, China raised internal rail freight rates by 17%.

BP's Statistical Review says China's use of energy per unit of gross domestic product is three times that of the US, five times Japan's, and eight times Britain's.

China's factories "were not built with current energy levels in mind", says Jen. The outcome, he suggests, will be "non-linear". Translation: "China is at risk of blowing up."

The Asian outsourcing game is over, says CIBC World Markets. "It's not just about labour costs any more: distance costs money," says chief economist Jeff Rubin.

Although many governments might envy the stability of Communist Party rule of 60 years next year, it masks potential social instability, a condition common with many of the most successful but newer economies. China is being crunched by the triple effects of commodity costs, 20% wage inflation, and sagging import demand in the US, Canada, Britain, Spain, Italy and France. And critics warn that Beijing has repeated the errors of Tokyo in the 1980s by over-investing in marginal plant. A Communist Party banking system has let rip with cheap credit — steeply negative real interest rates — to buy time for the regime.

Whether or not this is fair, it is clear Beijing's mercantilist policy of holding down the yuan to boost exports has hit the buffers.

Of course, oil prices may fall. But broader international economic issues are coming into play.

The research paper published in Europe is "hot" in professional circles not only because of its content, but also because of the originator: Bridgewater Associates is the second-largest hedge fund in the world. The people behind it are brilliant, first among them Ray Dalio, who founded the company more than 30 years ago. And Bridgewater's macro-analyses have special weight with central banks as some of them are Bridgewater customers.

What is at risk for the banks? To identify the dimensions of the crisis for financial institutions, Bridgewater has calculated the expected losses on a wide range of risky credit-based US assets. Then, one would need to know basically who had how much on the books. The total value of these risky loans comes to $US26.6 trillion. The losses on these assets would then sum to $US1.6 trillion, if all of the assets were valued at market prices, writes Dalio.

David Hirst is a journalist, documentary maker, financial consultant and investor. His column, Planet Wall Street, is syndicated by News Bites, a Melbourne-based sharemarket and business news publisher.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

China News: Cyber revenge --"Human flesh search engine"

I'm not sure what to make of this but find it fascinating that this comes from an official Chinese source.

Peter Huston

'Human flesh search engine:' an Internet lynching?
Updated: 2008-07-04 17:36
Comments(32) PrintMail

A woman puts the small kitten on the ground and later steps on it with her high-heeled shoes and kills the cat. [file]

BEIJING -- Behave yourself in China, or you may find yourself up before a kangaroo court of angry netizens and receive a virtual lynching.

Those whose behavior is deemed wanting by enraged netizens have found their name, birthday, mobile phone number and home address researched and exposed, available for 160 million netizens who might drop you a surprising call.

When farmer Zhou Zhenglong finished faking his South China tiger photo, he never expected that netizens would find the old Lunar New Year commemorative poster he lifted the original picture from just 35 days later and expose him. After a long drawn out saga, the authorities finally came clean and admitted that the picture was a fake. Zhou was arrested.

"In finding out truth of the 'paper tiger' event, our Renrou search engine played an important role," said an Internet staffer nicknamed Yule on the Mop entertainment website.

Renrou literally means human flesh, and 'Renrou search engine', the 'human flesh search engine' is not the search engine familiar from Baidu and Google, but the idea of a search engine employing thousands of individuals all mobilized with one aim, to dig out facts and expose them to the baleful glare of publicity. To do this they use the Internet and conventional search engines.

The model has some similarities with Wikipedia and Baidu Knowledge, which both attract 10 million clicks every day, and which pool answers from netizens to a question.

By its narrow meaning, Renrou search started in 2001, when a netizen posted the photo on Mop of a girl, saying she was his girlfriend. Some others soon found out that the beauty turned out to be Microsoft's model Chen Ziyao and publicized her personal information as proof that he was lying.

The term became a catchword in 2006, when in February, video of a woman stabbing a kitten in the eyes with her high heels and crushing its head stirred rage of netizens.

People analyzed the background of the video, and someone soon located the place as in a county of northeastern Heilongjiang Province. Less than a week later, information about the woman, including her real name -- Wang Jue, a 41-year-old nurse, and the fact that she divorced was dug out. Wang was later suspended from her job.

'Human flesh search engine:' an Internet lynching?
Updated: 2008-07-04 17:36
Comments(32) PrintMail

A woman stomps on the head of the kitten with her high-heeled shoes and crushes it into death at last. [file]

The year 2008 has seen a peak of Renrou searching, when a husband whose wife committed suicide because of his betrayal, a man who disrupted torch relay in Paris and a girl from northeastern China who dared to criticize those affected by the massive earthquake became targets.

"Those who mistreated the vulnerable are likely to incur the hatred of netizens," said an online freelancer nicknamed Ayawawa who herself was involved in a search for a disloyal husband.

"I just want them to be punished," she said, adding that according to Chinese law, such behavior, although immoral, invite no legal punishment.

After the May 12 earthquake, a girl from a college in Chongqing municipality nicknamed Diebao said on the Internet that the earthquake was "interesting". "I wonder why wasn't it more vehement?" she said.

Her mother and teacher received cursing and threatening phone calls from angry netizens, forcing the girl to suspend her schooling.

In comparison, the punishment of Wang Fei seemed more severe. His wife Jiang Yan jumped from 24th floor on December 27 last year after learning of Wang's adultery, leaving a blog diary to recall her despair over the previous two months.

People not only wrote characters with paint on the door of Wang's parents accusing them of killing Jiang, but contacted Saatchi & Saatchi, the company where Wang and his mistress worked. Later the company suspended them, and the pair later resigned.

Wang sued the Tianya and Daqi websites in April for infringing his privacy and reputation, which was recognized as the first lawsuit against a Renrou search.

"It has seriously hampered my normal life," Wang said, noting that he had received many mails and his parents were frequently harassed.

"This is online violence," said a friend of Wang who only identified his surnamed as Jia, "netizens could blame him, but exposing his personal information is not right. After all he is not really a bad person, and most, if not all, of the netizens didn't really know what happened between the couple."

'Human flesh search engine:' an Internet lynching?
Updated: 2008-07-04 17:36
Comments(32) PrintMail

A survey by the China Youth Daily last week showed that 79.9 percent of the 2,491 netizens polled believed that Renrou search should be regulated, 65.5 percent thought it might become a new way of venting anger and revenge, 64.6 percent said it infringing privacy, and 20.1 percent feared that they would become a target.

Ayawawa also agreed that some targets were just scapegoats for netizens to vent their anger in daily life.

"For instance, we see many disloyal husbands and adultery happens every day. Wang Fei's case gave us an occasion to attack those immoral," she said.

Internet gave people a disguise, and power without the responsibility that should come with power. Nobody knows who you are and people don't have responsibility for their conducts, said an Internet professional, who declined to be name for fear that he might suffer a roasting at the hands of the 'human flesh search engine'.

"I am sure that many of the attackers of Wang Fei are his colleagues or even friends, who have access to Wang's personal information," he said, admitting that to achieving high clicking rates, some websites deliberately fanned people's fury and fueled their desire to search.

"Netizens should be cautious online, especially when registering, don't give out your personal information," he added.

According to the survey by China Youth Daily, 24.8 percent of those polled supported legislation to restrict Renrou searches.

However, Chai Rong, a law professor with the Beijing Normal University (BNU), said that even if the law was drafted, it would be hard to enact.

"Take Wang Fei's case, you can't decide who played a more important role in ferreting out his information. In fact, every netizen contributed to the result. As for the girl condemning the earthquake victims, her behavior deviated from social ethics and she would be accused anyway."

Xia Yang, associate professor with the law school of BNU, suggested that real names be required when surfing on the Internet.

"Currently we have no legislation protecting people's privacy in China," he said. "On the other hand, Chinese netizens are not mature enough to control their own online behavior."

He pointed out that Renrou search nonetheless played an important role nowadays. For instance, after the earthquake, many anxious people contacted their relatives in Sichuan, where the epicenter was, in this way.

"In Chinese we say 'more helpers make the job easier'. More people could help resolve the conundrum that no single person could handle," said Xia. "Actually Renrou search reflects development of society and the popularization of the Internet," said Xia.

In a way, Renrou search could be a way of monitoring which brings to light some blind spots that governments and media might miss, like in the case of the "paper tiger", he said.

Meanwhile, it could remind people to behave themselves all the time, if they don't want their personal information revealed in broad daylight, said Ayawawa.

Mop is founding its union for Renrou search.

"We started recruiting talents and rewarding them with virtual currency in May," said Yule with Mop. To date, more than 100 people have been selected for the activity. Standards for selection are capability and morality.

Yule also revealed that they are drafting a Renrou search pact, which would be amended by legal experts.

"It is our honor to help others seek happiness and our shame to leak out their privacy," he said.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Thoughts on Chinese culture, psychology and women. Avboding emotional vampires.


Just some random, undoubtedly non-PC, yet hopefully useful thoughts on these intertwined things learned over the course of many years. These are observations and generalizations, not firm conclusions. At times, I am aware, they verge on being racial stereotyping, especially if the reader is reading quickly and quite sensitive to such things. It's my hope that perhaps they can eventually lead to a more polished, more mature understanding of these topics somewhere down the line. After all, every discussion needs to start somewhere.

Some preliminaries: Intercultural relationships can happen and can be good. When they work there is an extra richness to them, but there are also extra complications. In this off the cuff mini-essay, I'm going to discuss some of them.

Flirting, most romantic relationships begin with flirting. However, one needs to be wary when dealing with Chinese women as they have several habits that mimic flirting. Their body language and notions of body space are often different. In Western culture, one quick and easy way to judge a woman's level of comfort and interest in you is to enter her body space, stand a bit closer than you normally would with a friend. If she moves away, she's not comfortable. If she stays close, then she is comfortable and likes you being close. If you are interested in romance, this is a good sign. However, Chinese people often just plain stand closer to one another than Americans do. Therefore if you enter a Chinese woman's space, and she does not move away, it really does not mean terribly much as she perceives her personal space differently than a Western woman.

Secondly, flirting often involves light silly compliments to another. Guess what? In Chinese culture, polite behavior and giving face often involves giving light silly compliments to one another.

I've had Chinese women enter my space, engage in behavior that in our society could only be termed flirting and then suddenly begin speaking of her husband.

Do not assume that a Chinese woman is interested in a romantic relationship with you just because she appears to be flirting. She may be. She may not be. It's tough to say.

But let's talk about the ones who you really need to watch out for.

Life in China is not easy. There is a great deal of pressure on people, especially women, to succeed. Therefore Chinese and Taiwanese who have succeeded academically (which would include almost every Chinese graduate student in the USA today) have worked very hard, and been pushed very hard, under difficult, highly competitive and conditions (that start with learning a multi-thousand ideographic writing system and get worse from there), often suffering what we in the west would describe as emotional abuse to get there.

This often leaves psychological scars, including low self-esteem, insecurities and occasional gaps in social skills. (Then again, it's not uncommon for anyone anywhere who is working on a PhD to be a bit outside the mainstream psychologically and exhibit occasional social-skill gaps.)

Furthermore, it's my contention that because the Chinese education system is so memorization-intensive and so wary of teaching critical thinking skills, that many highly educated Chinese show imagination deficits although they often compensate by being able to pull skills out of a hat at a moment's notice.

For instance, once in Taiwan, a German exchange student told me he enjoyed the Chinese as they are such "compact people." I never really understood what he meant until I met one particular Chinese woman, a highly educated woman working on a PhD who was a master-musician, translator, knot-tier, research technician, medical doctor, calligrapher and more. On the other hand, with all these skills, there were also major deficits, social skill gaps and immaturities that undoubtedly had developed from spending too much time as a skill-learner or knowledge-receptacle and not enough as a child or person who was learning how to cope with the world.

And without imagination, it is impossible for someone to understand what other people want. Empathy for another is impossible without first having the imagination to picture what they might be thinking or feeling.

Although I am not a psychologist, and it is always dangerous for non-psychologists to use psychological terms to describe people they meet, I have found in some cases a knowledge of borderline personality disorder (gained from reading this book has proven useful to me in understanding the personalities of some highly educated Chinese that I have met. Then again, a critic would have to respond, "Of course, some Americans show signs of borderline personality disorder. The relevant question is not whether members of a certain ethnic group manifest this problem or signs of this problem, but what is the rate at which they manifest it? How does the rate of incidence of this condition compare from one population to other populations?"

Clearly I am not qualified to answer this very important question in anything resembling an academically rigorous way. I will, however, repeat that it has been useful to me to have read about borderline personality disorder when I have dealt with some of the highly-educated Chinese I have met.

One aspect of borderline personality disorder is that sufferers often seek or desire a "perfect" relationship to make up for the cold ones that they have suffered in the past. Perfect, it needs to be stated, means perfect from their point-of-view, as in one sided, with the other person caring for them and nurturing them in many ways, expecting nothing in return.

Secondly, many Chinese have distant fathers who work long hours and whose role in the family structure revolves around their role as disciplinarian, bread-earner and stern leader, rather than as a nurturing parent.

This, I think, leads to a desire for affection from males in many Chinese women.

Thirdly, Chinese culture has historically been radically different from Western-American culture. A generation or two ago, in many cultures, Asian women were (under ideal conditions) sheltered from the outside world, chaperoned, encouraged to remain chaste, and prohibited from dating until time came for them to enter into an arranged marriage that was probably brokered by their parents.

Now, what's scary is that these are the very same people who today are often teaching many members of the current generation of Chinese women about men and men's behaviors.

Therefore we have a group of people who have been discouraged from questioning received wisdom, who are getting much of their knowledge of relationships and men's behaviors from people who do not understand men's behaviors. Their picture of men is often rather sex-less and they often assume that men naturally would be quite content to be "just friends" with them. After all, their mother never told them anything differently and neither did their teachers.

Wait! Save the hate-mail or at least read what I say first. I never said men and women cannot be friends. However, it is unrealistic, naive, unimaginative, un-empathetic and lacking in imagination, not to mention emotionally and sometimes physically dangerous, for women to assume that the men they meet are content to be "just friends." Men and women can, indeed, be "just friends." However, in my opinion this can only happen when both of them are content and satisfied to be "just friends." If one of them wishes to be something other than "just-friends" then the resulting "just-friendship" will never be completely healthy and one will always be pining for the other, unhappy, discontent, and dissatisfied, feeling either stifled or rejected, forever trying to change things so that the two people in question are not, in fact, "just friends" but instead something else.

To achieve a healthy state of heterosexual, male-female "just-friendship" is an achievable goal, particularly if both partners in the friendship wish it and consider it desirable, and a life-enriching accomplishment, but it's far from easy and requires mutual understanding, empathy and communication. Platonic, healthy, male-female heterosexual relationships undoubtedly require a higher level of maturity on both sides than say, a fast, shallow physical relationship.

But please note that I said that we are dealing with some individuals who were raised in a way that limited both imagination and emphasized formal education over emotional maturity.

And, yes, yes, this is beginning to verge on a racist rant. I am not saying "ALL" --I am not saying "MANY" --I am saying "SOME." SOME!!! As in among the Chinese women I've met this sort of person is a visible minority who needs to be watched out for, recognized and dealt with. This type of person can be a major drain on your time and emotions if you do not recognize them.

Fourthly, it is not uncommon for Chinese graduate students in the USA to rush into a marriage or engagement before coming to this country for study. Often one half of the partnership stays in China and the other comes here, often for years at a time. For whatever reason, many of them feel insecure and self-conscious about this relationship and do not like to talk about it or else say they do not know how to tell people about it. I find this difficult to understand but have seen it more than once.

As I said, I do not understand this, and can only speculate on why a woman might routinely hide her marriage or engagement instead of strutting it proudly. Therefore, I think I'll just keep my mouth shut. I've generalized too much, already I suspect.

Anyway, bottom line. Chinese women, like any kind of women or any kind of people for that matter, can be neat. Some can be fascinating and teach you a lot about many things. However when dealing with Chinese women one needs to be very careful that you do not find yourself operating under a different assumption than they are. It does not hurt to directly ask, "Are you married or engaged?" before inviting a Chinese woman, particularly an educated Chinese woman, to do something socially. Although most of us assume that women are smart enough to reveal this if a man invites them to dinner, for the reasons stated above some of them will not do so. This will, inevitably, lead to problems down the line.

Secondly, should you deal with Chinese women, be very wary of the ones who latch on looking for some idealized version of a big-brother. Naturally, especially if you are a caring type person, you may be tempted to hang on, hoping that once they see what a wonderful, caring guy you are they will change their mind, and enter into a romantic relationship with you, but it's not likely to happen. Remember the old saying that women tell their daughters to discourage them from promiscuous behaviors, "Why should a man buy the cow if you give the milk away for free?"

It's like that, only these women do not want sex. They want affection, but affection of a fatherly type that is separate from a romantic or sexual relationship. Their image of a perfect relationship is platonic. It's cruel to say but in some cases these people have a big gaping hole in their psyche and they will take, take, take emotionally hoping that you will fill it. Watch out for these people. They will take a lot of your time, energy and leave you feeling drained and inadequate if you don't spot them early on and cut them loose.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Korean Kamikaze pilot memorial controversy.

An interesting story. The history of non-Japanese Asians who served in the Japanese military during world war two is often neglected and most certainly far from politically welcome. Nevertheless, large numbers of non-Japanese Asians, often motivated by anti-Western, anti-Colonialist sentiment, did serve in the Japanese military during the war.
Additionally, years ago, when traveling in Seoul, a fellow American had told me that he had met and had an interesting discussion with an old Korean man who had told him he had served as a kamikaze pilot in the Japanese armed forces during the war. Although the particular case is not verifiable at this time, because of this, the entire question of whether or not there were Korean kamikaze pilots in the Japanese forces has always stuck in my mind. Although I'd never made an attempt to look into the matter (just too many things going on) this is the first time I've seen actual evidence of the existence of Korean kamikaze pilots in the Japanese forces.

Peter Huston

July 2, 2008, 11:47PM
Kamikaze memorial met with anger from Koreans
Project shelved by those who still see the fighters as collaborators

Associated Press

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA — For decades, Tak Kyung-hyun and 17 other Koreans who flew kamikaze missions for Japan in World War II were reviled as traitors at home.

A half-century after his death, however, Tak's hometown of Sacheon pushed to change that legacy with the first memorial in South Korea to a former kamikaze. But the 16-foot-high stone memorial stirred up so much protest that it was taken down and stored at a nearby temple.

The response shows just how much anger remains over Japan's brutal colonial rule of the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

"Tak was a pro-Japanese collaborator who died for and pledged allegiance to the Japanese emperor," said Kim Hyung-kap, who led protests against a scheduled unveiling.

Traitors or victims?
The memorial was born out of revisionist thinking that the Korean kamikazes were not collaborators, but rather victims of the Japanese colonial period who were forced or pressured to take on suicide missions.

"It's time to save those who have been lost in the black holes of history," said Hong Jong-pil, a South Korean historian involved with the project.

It was also an attempt to foster closer ties between Korea and Japan. The state-run Korea Tourism Organization planned to promote the memorial to Japanese tourists.

Japanese actress Fukumi Kuroda proposed the memorial last year and paid most of the construction costs.

But city officials canceled the unveiling when protesters and riot police blocked Japanese officials and tourists from entering the site for the ceremony. Recently, Kuroda and Hong sent a letter to the city warning they would sue unless the monument was restored to its original site. "I feel sorry for Tak as I failed to bring his wandering soul to his hometown," said Kuroda, 51.

Kuroda said the project was inspired by a dream she had in 1991 in which she met a former kamikaze pilot on the beach in southern Japan.

"He was smiling, telling me he was a pilot who died here," Kuroda said, speaking fluent Korean. "He said he didn't care about dying during a war but felt bad because he died under a Japanese name although he is indeed Korean."

'Looked so lonely'
In 2000, Kuroda described the dream to the daughter of a former restaurant owner who was a mother figure for kamikaze pilots on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu. The mother, Tome Torihama, cooked the pilots' favorite foods, kept their farewell letters and gave them final hugs.

Her daughter, Reiko Akabane, told Kuroda that the tall, dark-skinned man in her dream "must be Tak."

"Reiko said her mother especially cared much about him as he always came to the restaurant alone, stayed there quietly and looked so lonely," Kuroda recalled.

On the eve of his mission, Tak, 24, visited the restaurant, jammed on his military cap and started singing Arirang, a popular Korean folk song on love and separation, "in the saddest tone they had ever heard," Kuroda quoted Akabane as saying.

Tak died in May 1945 when his explosives-laden plane is believed to have crashed in the water short of a U.S. warship that was his target.

Sacheon officials are waiting for the anger to subside before deciding what to do with the memorial, a rectangular pillar topped with a sculpture of a three-legged crow from Korean mythology.

Lee Hyung-chul, a Japan expert at Seoul's Kwangwoon University, expressed reservations.

"I know Kuroda means well, but reviewing history should not be conducted lightly," he said. "That is not something that we should do based on an individual's dream."

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

He faked his own death!!

This is just one of those little subjects that interest me, make of it what you will. It began interestingly enough with approaching various claims of "CELEBRITY X faked his/her own death." Again, we only get the reports of the people who goofed. It's possible that somewhere out there, a few miles from the highway perhaps, somewhere in the Pennsylvania rust-belt, there is an entire town of people each of whom is officially deceased as far as the authorities are concerned.

Peter Huston

Fugitive hedge-fund swindler surrenders in Mass.
Wednesday July 2, 12:45 pm ET
By Larry Neumeister, Associated Press Writer
Fugitive hedge-fund swindler surrenders to Mass. authorities a month after faking suicide

NEW YORK (AP) -- A fugitive hedge-fund swindler who faked suicide on a Hudson River bridge and went on the run to avoid a prison sentence surrendered Wednesday in Massachusetts, the U.S. attorney's office said.

Samuel Israel turned himself into Southwick, Mass., police between 9:15 and 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, said Suzanne Anderson, police Chief Mark Krynicki's assistant. She said he was being processed at Southwick Police headquarters and referred all further questions to federal authorities.

U.S. Marshal Joseph Guccione in Manhattan said law enforcement authorities were aggressively pursuing Israel when he surrendered in Southwick, about 95 miles away from the federal prison in Ayer, Mass., where Israel was supposed to have reported last month.

"We believed he was in the country and that's why we continued our massive manhunt," he said.

A call to Israel's lawyer, Lawrence S. Bader, wasn't immediately returned.

Israel, already facing a 20-year term for conspiracy and fraud, was likely to be charged with failing to surrender to serve a federal sentence, authorities said. He was expected to appear later Wednesday in federal court in Springfield, Mass.

Israel disappeared June 9 on the day he was supposed to report to prison. His car was found on a bridge over the Hudson River with the words "Suicide is Painless" -- the title of the theme song for the "MASH" television show -- scrawled in dust on the hood.

Because no body was found beneath the 150-foot-high bridge where his car was abandoned, authorities believed from the start that he faked his disappearance.

The 48-year-old Israel, a co-founder and chief executive of the now-collapsed Bayou hedge funds, was sentenced in April to 20 years in federal prison for conspiracy and fraud. He was also ordered to pay $300 million to his victims.

Prosecutors said he and two other men persuaded investors to put $450 million into the Stamford, Conn.-based company by announcing nonexistent profits and providing fake audits.

Meanwhile, they made millions in commissions on trades that lost money for investors. The fund's collapse prompted calls for stricter oversight.

Officials said that after Israel abandoned his car, he took off in a white recreational vehicle carrying a motor scooter and his belongings. He was believed to be staying at RV parks, campgrounds or highway rest areas.

Southwick, where Israel turned himself in, is near the Connecticut line about 100 miles southwest of Boston.

Israel's girlfriend, Debra Ryan of Armonk, was arrested 10 days after his disappearance and charged with aiding and abetting his escape.

Authorities say Ryan confessed that on the day Israel was to surrender, she drove her car and he drove the RV to a rest area about 55 miles north of New York City. Israel parked the RV there, and the two drove back to their home.

Ryan could face as many as 10 years in prison if convicted in the scheme.

Associated Press Writer Mark Pratt contributed to this report from Boston.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Thoughts on Heavy Company.

Recently in an entry called "Heavy Company" I posted here about Michael Shermer and his magazine. Although I consider it factually correct, and a point of view worth sharing, it came out angrier than I wished. I tend to be an angry person, but it's not a trait in myself that I find particularly desirable. And, to be honest, the topic of organized skepticism does make me very angry. I started out quite enthused, put a lot of time, energy and emotional investment into it and came out very bitter and upset.

One of the reasons, I entered writing, journalism and media pursuits in general was a desire to spread the truth, expose hypocrisy and abuse, and make the world a better place. I gravitated towards skepticism because it, too, claims to work for these things.

However, the deeper one gets into organized skepticism, the less important people seem to consider such things as truth and working to spread truth and expose hypocrisy. The deeper the hypocrisies and lies within skepticism seem to become. And Shermer is just one example of this.

I am also, in a minor way, a fiction writer and although my success has been minimal, I have put much time and energy into learning that craft. Several years ago, I had the chance to attend an excellent writing workshop put on by Robert Sawyer, the award winning science fiction writer. Sawyer is an excellent teacher. At one point he said that the key to achieving commercial success as a science ficton writer does not lie in winning over people who dislike your writings. Instead the key to financial success as a science fiction writer is to gain a following of people who like what you do and keep them satisfied so they will seek out what you produce.

I think skepticism works the same way, although it does not, to the best of my knowledge, admit it. Although it promises to work to educate the general public and promote science education and critical thinking, in fact, I do not think this is a true priority for the bulk of organized skeptics. Instead, I think, they are following the model that Robert Sawyer suggested for science fiction writers. Shermer, and other prominent skeptics, have achieved a following and are working to entertain and satisfy them, telling them what they wish to hear whether it be accurate or not. The public and public education comes second.

Therefore, because the organizations and their leaders generally claim to be working for one thing, while in fact working for another, there is an inevitably high degree of hypocrisy and misrepresenation in many of their actions.

Because lack of tolerance for hypocrisy and misrepresentation was one of the reasons I entered the field of skepticism, if not writing itself, yet the field is rife with hypocrisy and misrepresentation, inevitably contact with organized skepticism leaves me feeling angry and upset.