Friday, March 31

Linen shirts again.

In 1996 a best-selling book entitled "The Millionaire Next Door" caused a minor sensation. In contrast to the popular perception of millionaire lifestyles, this book reveals that most millionaires live frugal lives -- buying used cars, purchasing their suits at JC Penney, and shopping for bargains. These very wealthy people feel no need to let the world know they can afford to live much better than their neighbors.

Millions of other Americans, on the other hand, have a different relationship with spending. What they acquire and own is tightly bound to their personal identity. Driving a certain type of car, wearing particular designer labels, living in a certain kind of home, and ordering the right bottle of wine create and support a particular image of themselves to present to the world.

This is not to say that most Americans make consumer purchases solely to fool others about who they really are. It is not to say that we are a nation of crass status-seekers. Or that people who purchase more than they need are simply demonstrating a base materialism, in the sense of valuing material possessions above all else. But it is to say that, unlike the millionaires next door, who are not driven to use their wealth to create an attractive image of themselves, many of us are continually comparing our own lifestyle and possessions to those of a select group of people we respect and want to be like, people whose sense of what's important in life seems close to our own.

This aspect of our spending is not new -- competitive acquisition has long been an American institution. At the turn of the century, the rich consumed conspicuously. In the early post-World War II decades, Americans spent to keep up with the Joneses, using their possessions to make the statement that they were not failing in their careers. But in recent decades, the culture of spending has changed and intensified. In the old days, our neighbors set the standard for what we had to have. They may have earned a little more, or a little less, but their incomes and ours were in the same ballpark. Their house down the block, worth roughly the same as ours, confirmed this. Today the neighbors are no longer the focus of comparison. How could they be? We may not even know them, much less which restaurants they patronize, where they vacation, and how much they spent for their living room couch.

For reasons that will become clear, the comparisons we make are no longer restricted to those in our own general earnings category, or even to those one rung above us on the ladder. Today a person is more likely to be making comparisons with, or choose as a "reference group," people whose incomes are three, four, or five times his or her own. The result is that millions of us have become participants in a national culture of upscale spending. I call it the new consumerism.

Part of what's new is that lifestyle aspirations are now formed by different points of reference. For many of us, the neighborhood has been replaced by a community of coworkers, people we work alongside and colleagues in our own and related professions. And while our real-life friends still matter, they have been joined by our media "friends." (This is true both figuratively and literally -- the television show Friends is a good example of an influential media referent.) We watch the way television families live, we read about the lifestyles of celebrities and other public figures we admire, and we consciously and unconsciously assimilate this information. It affects us.
But one doesn't necessarily need it!

Old news: Ashcroft was a hypocrite

And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.
Prompted by news that that remote prayer not only doesn't make any difference, it actually makes things worse.

We hate our freedom

[An enthusiasm for personal subordination] is a universal feature of our admirable species. Indeed, since the development of the political state, human history is incomprehensible on any hypothesis other than that people hate and fear their freedom. On the hypothesis that everyone aspires to freedom, it is difficult to explain why we are continuously subordinated.


Mess with Bush and his program for universal liberty, and you're liable to be bagged up and whisked off to a black site, where agents of this or some other government will satisfy your desire for subordination once and for all.

So that the Iraqi people might not feel too disoriented, we continued administering their country from Saddam's palaces and kept his torture facilities in operation. It appears, in our heart of hearts, everyone likes a good Baathist, whether that Baathist be Saddam Hussein or Dick Cheney.

Since all the world over it's so easy to see, etc., we might suppose such policies would cause outrage and resistance. Yet, exactly one man is unhappy about it: Russell Feingold -- who's not nearly Milosevic enough to make a satisfying POTUS.

We want the government to guarantee our health, deflect hurricanes, educate our children and license us to drive; we want to be told what to eat, what to smoke and whom to marry. We are justly proud of the fact that no enduring society has ever incarcerated more of its people. Noting that the policeman has a pistol, a club, a stun gun, a can of pepper spray and a database that includes us, we feel happy and secure.

Our submission is absolute: We want to be operated like puppets and provided for like pets.

The terrorists hate our freedom. But we should be comfortable with that. We hate our freedom, too.

A linen shirt--with knobs on

I was getting in a snit about Adam Smith's linen shirt:
Consumable commodities are either necessaries or luxuries.

By necessaries I understand not only the commodities which are indispensably necessary for the support of life, but whatever the custom of the country renders it indecent for creditable people, even of the lowest order, to be without. A linen shirt, for example, is, strictly speaking, not a necessary of life. The Greeks and Romans lived, I suppose, very comfortably though they had no linen. But in the present times, through the greater part of Europe, a creditable day-labourer would be ashamed to appear in public without a linen shirt, the want of which would be supposed to denote that disgraceful degree of poverty which, it is presumed, nobody can well fall into without extreme bad conduct.
I just don't get it. Exactly what is the modern American counterpart? An automobile, assuming you're someone not in one of the big cities without public transport?

Anyway, Smith also says,
Custom, in the same manner, has rendered leather shoes a necessary of life in England. The poorest creditable person of either sex would be ashamed to appear in public without them. In Scotland, custom has rendered them a necessary of life to the lowest order of men; but not to the same order of women, who may, without any discredit, walk about barefooted. In France they are necessaries neither to men nor to women, the lowest rank of both sexes appearing there publicly, without any discredit, sometimes in wooden shoes, and sometimes barefooted. Under necessaries, therefore, I comprehend not only those things which nature, but those things which the established rules of decency have rendered necessary to the lowest rank of people.
(My emphasis) That was in 1776. Who 'da thunk? Any way, why do people insist on being slaves to society?

In a similar vein, Don Boudreaux argues,
We can get a pretty good idea of changes in consumption-ability by looking at the Fall/Winter 1975 Sears catalog and asking: How many hours did the typical nonsupervisory worker have to work in 1975 to buy an assortment of the goods offered in that thick book -- and how many hours must the typical nonsupervisory employee work today to buy similar goods available now at at today's prices?

The results suggest that our consumption-ability today is much higher than it was 30 years ago. For example, to buy Sears' lowest-priced 10-inch table saw in 1975, the typical worker back then had to work 52.35 hours; to buy the lowest-priced 10-inch table saw available today at Sears requires today's typical worker to toil only 7.34 hours.

Here are results for several other goods:

  • Sears' lowest-priced gasoline-powered push lawn mower: 13.14 hours of work required in 1975; 8.56 hours of work required in 2006
  • Sears Best lawn tractor: 340.1 hours vs. 116.3 hours
  • Sears' lowest-priced telephone answering machine: 20.43 hours vs. 1.1 hours
  • The lowest-priced garage-door opener: 20.1 hours vs. 8.57 hours
  • A one-half horsepower garbage disposer: 20.52 hours in 1975; 4.59 hours in 2006
  • Sears highest-priced Die Hard auto battery: 9.23 hours vs. 7.32 hours
  • Sears Best freezer: 79 hours vs. 39.77 hours
  • Sears Best side-by-side refrigerator-freezer: 139.62 hours vs. 79.56 hours
  • Sears highest-priced work boots: 11.49 hours in 1975 vs. 8.26 hours in 2006.
...The amount of time the ordinary American worker must work today to purchase a house, a car and a four-year college degree is greater than it was in 1975. But houses today are larger and much-better equipped than they were 30 years ago; automobiles are enormously improved and more durable; and the addition to lifetime earnings generated by a college education is significantly higher.

...Speaking of things being unavailable, perhaps the most noticeable feature of the 1975 Sears catalog is what it does not offer.

Sears customers in 1975 found no CD players; no DVD or VHS players; no cell phones; no televisions with remote controls or flat screens; no personal computers or video games; no food processors; no digital cameras or camcorders; no Spandex clothing; no down comforters (only comforters filled with polyester).

But they did find typewriters.
Sears--feh. I'm still angry about the knob on the Kenmore washing machine that we got nineteen years ago. The knob, which one must turn and then pull to start the machine, was made of plastic on the part that threaded on to a metallic screw thread on the machine. Unsurprisingly, after many years of stress, the plastic gave way. I repaired it with Probond, but ordered a new knob anyway. Together with shipping, it cost $20 dollars, but the important parts were metal. Why didn't they make it that way to begin with?

Guide to Binding Your Own Paperback Books

(Via lifehacker) Here's the part I want to remember:
Wet the spine. I use Gorilla Glue to bind the books. It's great for several reasons. One it expands and fills in any unintentional gaps. Two it holds firm and tight. Part of me wonders if pro binders use it because it's so solid.

I use a cotton ball slightly wet with water to wet the spine. I make sure I make a pass or two over the spine so it's damp.

Then I squeeze all the water out of the cotton ball and use it to apply the glue.

If I ever get around to this, I'm going to use Elmer's Probond, 'cause that's what I got.

Tuesday, March 28

I have no fear of the media

The heartland turned vicious this week when an Oklahoma town threatened to call in the FBI because its web site was hacked by Linux maker Cent OS. Problem is CentOS didn't hack Tuttle's web site at all. The city's hosting provider had simply botched a web server.
The title quote is what Tuttle's city manager Jerry Taylor said to CentOS.

Does this count as conservative?

Last night on NBC Nightly News there was a segment that noted,
By inserting a gene, researchers made...pigs produce omega 3 fatty acids. That's the good fat that guards against heart disease.
The reporter later warns us:
But there's a catch. The pigs in question were cloned. You know, like Dolly the sheep. But does it sound appetizing? And can you imagine ordering it from your butcher?

Frank, I'll have the cloned pork roast, please.

As for Frank, he'd rather the scientists meddle elsewhere.
The "Butcher", Frank Ottomanelli, is apparently an owner of a gourmet food shop. He whines,
Get us to the moon, get us to the Mars, get us everywhere else. Forget about the food. Let nature take care of itself.
Then she cites "Nutritionist" Bob Cooley, better known for his Genius of Flexibility (what made her think of him as nutritionist?). He says:
I think it's the most ludicrous thing I've ever heard in my whole life. Like, you don't need to genetically modify animals in order to get the foods you need.
As if that weren't enough fear of cloning, Brian Williams gives us his two cents:
I'm with Frank the butcher.

Monday, March 27

Unpolluted by reality

France is still in the grip of precisely the political mentality that has prevailed here since the Middle Ages. As the protesters themselves cheerfully declare: It's the street that rules. Today's mobs, like their predecessors, are notable for their poor grasp of economic principles and their hostility to the free market. Only wardrobe distinguishes these demonstrations from those that led to the invasion of the national convention in 1795, when first the mob protested that commodity prices were too high; when the government responded with price controls, it protested with equal vigor that goods had disappeared and black market prices had risen. Similarly, the students on the streets today espouse economic views entirely unpolluted by reality. If the CPE is enacted, said one young woman, "You'll get a job knowing that you've got to do every single thing they ask you to do because otherwise you may get sacked."

Imagine that.

As a legacy of this long tradition, the choice in France now is between popular legislation -- that is, useless legislation -- and the street. Thus the paradox at the heart of the protests: Those who want power exploit the mobs to maneuver themselves into position, but having gained power cannot use it to achieve anything worthwhile, lest the same tactics be used against them. The fear of the mob has created a cadre of politicians in France who are unable to speak the truth and thereby prepare French citizens for the inevitable. No one in France -- not one single politician, nor anyone in the media -- is willing to say it: France's labor laws are an absurdity, and if they are not reformed at once, France will go under. "What do they think?" said my driver, who was not, he told me, a mover by trade but an unemployed radio journalist forced to moonlight. "Do they think that jobs just fall from the sky?"

Apparently, they think just that.

In this regard, France, like every European country, remains blackmailed by its history. French rulers, seemingly unable to appeal to the legitimacy they possess as elected leaders, instead behave as popular kings, or as leaders of some faction -- like a king's ministers. They cannot seem to forget what happens when a king loses his popularity. There are thus two choices for the French ruling elite, as they see it: toady or go under.

When Margaret Thatcher took power in 1979, an urgent question hung in the air: In Britain, who rules? It was a question to which Britain's powerful unions had a ready answer: We do. Men such as Arthur Scargill, the head of the miner's union, were convinced that although they would never lead Britain, it was within their power to run it and to run it for their benefit through labor laws that anyone beyond the union halls could see would destroy the nation as a competitive economic power. Thatcher so thoroughly crushed both Scargill and his union that neither recovered. For a brief moment, power politics stood revealed. The unions had made a bid for power. They lost.

The same question is now being raised in France: Who rules? This is the second time in 11 years that a popularly elected government here faces dismissal not from the voters, but from the streets. If this does not represent a direct challenge to the government's power, it is hard to know what would. Should the government fall, the question will have been answered.

And the answer will be the mob. As usual.
Let's face it; they're not the only ones.

I Couldn't Understand this Article

In December, the National Center for Education Statistics published a report on adult literacy revealing that the number of college graduates able to interpret complex texts proficiently had dropped since 1992 from 40 percent to 31 percent. As Mark S. Schneider, the center's commissioner of education statistics, put it, "What's disturbing is that the assessment is not designed to test your understanding of Proust, but to test your ability to read labels."

The Higher Education Supplement of The Times of London reports that a British survey also finds that the ability of undergraduates to read critically and write cogently has fallen significantly since 1992. Students are not just more poorly prepared, a majority of queried faculty members believe, but less teachable.

Zhào Yán won't be released?

Unlike the previous report.

Rich but dumb now the third-biggest consumer of luxury goods, accounting for 12 percent of sales worldwide, up from 1 percent just five years ago, according to a recent report from Goldman Sachs. If the high living continues as expected, China will surpass Japan to become the world's second-largest purchaser of luxury goods by 2015, when it could account for 29 percent of the world's luxury sales, the report said...

Parts of Chinese culture have always been fond of money and the things it can buy. Ritualistic and traditional symbols for prosperity, such as fish, adorn almost every palace, temple, school, office building, and home. No Chinese festival is complete without paying due homage to qian, or money.

But for many Chinese the rush to buy is also driven by a profound societal need to escape from the recent past when Mao tried to turn the country into an agrarian utopia and people thirsted for simple items, such as soap and TVs.

"Money is the new god in China today," said Dr. Ding Ning Ning, director of social studies at the Development Research Center of the State Council. "People are in a selfish mood. They want to show off and be extravagant."

Some rich Chinese consumers readily confess they like to walk out of a shop knowing they've overpaid. Said Isabella Ma, 32, wife of a wealthy electronics manufacturer in Beijing: "Why be shy to confess it."

Looking cool and being a criminal

Orlando Patterson declares
...the economic boom years of the 90's and one of the most successful policy initiatives in memory — welfare reform — have made it impossible to ignore the effects of culture. The Clinton administration achieved exactly what policy analysts had long said would pull black men out of their torpor: the economy grew at a rapid pace, providing millions of new jobs at all levels. Yet the jobless black youths simply did not turn up to take them. Instead, the opportunity was seized in large part by immigrants — including many blacks — mainly from Latin America and the Caribbean.

One oft-repeated excuse for the failure of black Americans to take these jobs — that they did not offer a living wage — turned out to be irrelevant. The sociologist Roger Waldinger of the University of California at Los Angeles, for example, has shown that in New York such jobs offered an opportunity to the chronically unemployed to join the market and to acquire basic work skills that they later transferred to better jobs, but that the takers were predominantly immigrants.
Then he points to some of the cultural factors that explain the sorry state of young black men.
An anecdote helps explain why: Several years ago, one of my students went back to her high school to find out why it was that almost all the black girls graduated and went to college whereas nearly all the black boys either failed to graduate or did not go on to college. Distressingly, she found that all the black boys knew the consequences of not graduating and going on to college ("We're not stupid!" they told her indignantly).

SO why were they flunking out? Their candid answer was that what sociologists call the "cool-pose culture" of young black men was simply too gratifying to give up. For these young men, it was almost like a drug, hanging out on the street after school, shopping and dressing sharply, sexual conquests, party drugs, hip-hop music and culture, the fact that almost all the superstar athletes and a great many of the nation's best entertainers were black.

Not only was living this subculture immensely fulfilling, the boys said, it also brought them a great deal of respect from white youths. This also explains the otherwise puzzling finding by social psychologists that young black men and women tend to have the highest levels of self-esteem of all ethnic groups, and that their self-image is independent of how badly they were doing in school.

I call this the Dionysian trap for young black men. The important thing to note about the subculture that ensnares them is that it is not disconnected from the mainstream culture. To the contrary, it has powerful support from some of America's largest corporations. Hip-hop, professional basketball and homeboy fashions are as American as cherry pie. Young white Americans are very much into these things, but selectively; they know when it is time to turn off Fifty Cent and get out the SAT prep book.

For young black men, however, that culture is all there is — or so they think. Sadly, their complete engagement in this part of the American cultural mainstream, which they created and which feeds their pride and self-respect, is a major factor in their disconnection from the socioeconomic mainstream.
It could be. Compare this with something from the Sowell piece below:
"The left likes to portray a group as sort of a creature of surrounding society. But that's not true. For example, back during the immigrant era, you had neighborhoods on the Lower East Side [of Manhattan] where Jews and Italians arrived at virtually identical times. Lived in the same neighborhoods. Kids sat side by side in the same schools. But totally different outcomes. Now, if you look back at the history of the Jews and the history of the Italians you can see why that would be. In the early 19th century, Russian officials report that even the poorest Jews find some way to get some books in their home, even though they're living in a society where over 90% of the people are illiterate.

"Conversely, in southern Italy, which is where most Italian-Americans originated, when they put in compulsory school-attendance laws, there were riots. There were schoolhouses burning down. So now you take these two kids and sit them side by side in a school. If you believe that environment means the immediate surroundings, they're in the same environment. But if you believe environment includes this cultural pattern that goes back centuries before they were born, then no, they're not in the same environment. They don't come into that school building with the same mindset. And they don't get the same results."
And here I was talking myself out of the cultural explanation--not because I don't like it, but I find it very attractive, particularly in explaining the success of the Chinese.

A Revolutionary, Anti-elitist Concept

Free-market economics, a legacy of the classical school, is thought of as an old conservative doctrine. But [Thomas Sowell] explains that it was in fact one of the most revolutionary concepts to emerge in the history of ideas. Moreover, "the thinking of the classical economist was not only a radical break from landmark intellectual figures like Plato and Machiavelli but also from mainstream thinking to this day." The notion of a self-equilibrating system--the market economy--meant a reduced role for intellectuals and politicians, he says. "And even today many still haven't accepted that their superior wisdom might be superfluous, if not damaging."

Are Immigrants Cost-Conscious?

From Michael Maiello and Nicole Ridgway:
It's not easy finding American citizens willing to push shingles around on a hot roof during 100-degree weather. It's not easy finding engineers, either. James Goodnight, chief executive of sas, the world's largest privately held software company, recently went looking for Ph.D. engineers. He needed them for a project to help companies increase profits by getting a handle on their suppliers. Plenty of willing and able foreigners could have done the work but landing the H-1B visas, which allow foreigners with special skills to work in the U.S. for up to six years, would be next to impossible. As a result, Goodnight came close to opening an R&D center in Poland. "I wish I had done it," he laments.

America's immigration policy is a shambles.... Australia and the U.K. have a much better system: They come pretty close to stapling a visa to an engineer's diploma. "If we had purposefully set out to design a system that would cripple our ability to be competitive, we could hardly do better than what we have today," says Barrett....

Adding to this morass of ambivalence about foreigners doing our dirty work: the fear and xenophobia that grew out of Sept. 11. The resulting crackdown did nothing to stop the unskilled workers walking across the border, but it did choke off the engineers from India and China. Since 2001 Congress has whacked the number of H-1B visas from 195,000 to 65,000 a year. Separately, green cards--permanent resident visas that allow for work, among other things, and granted to noncitizens--are handed out at the rate of 140,000 a year. Rationing of these precious documents is done not by setting employment priorities but by trying applicants' patience and forcing them to spend money on lawyers. For employment visas the waiting period for an initial interview with the U.S. consulate in the home country can be up to 149 days. Homeland Security says it does 35 million security checks a year before issuing visas to workers, tourists, visiting lecturers and the like.

Chipmaker Texas Instruments was trying to secure 65 visas last summer when the federal limit ran out and was told it would have to wait for many of them until April, when applications for 2007 are accepted, to begin the process all over again. That means advertising the jobs for 30 days to find "minimally qualified" U.S. workers, sifting through résumés, submitting paperwork to the Labor Department and trying again to lure talented recruits from abroad, a process that can cost up to $30,000 for each employee--and increases the risk that a company will lose foreign candidates it has its eye on, as Texas Instruments did. "The more barriers we have in place and more process steps we have to take, the more we're going to see these things happen," says Steve W. Lyle, TI's director of worldwide staffing.
Then there are few proposals. These are my favorites:
Some people argue the best way to deal with illegals is to create so many opportunities for legal immigration that no rational migrant would risk a deadly trek through the desert. (Last year, 460 people died trying to get into the U.S., up from 61 in 1995.) Daniel Griswold, director of the Cato Institute's Center for Trade Policy Studies, suggests letting in at least 300,000 temporary workers on three-year, renewable visas each year. Undocumented workers here could receive the same visa. But unlike Bush's proposal, this one does not force illegal residents to go home; they could pursue citizenship, as long as they pay an unspecified fine ("not chump change," Griswold says) and have clean records. Douglas S. Massey, a Princeton University professor of sociology and public affairs and author of Beyond Smoke and Mirrors: Mexican Immigration in an Era of Economic Integration (Russell Sage, 2002), would also let in 300,000 temporary workers every year. Each of them would pay $400 or so, about one-third what a "coyote" charges to smuggle people across the border, giving immigrants a financial incentive to play by the rules. Griswold agrees, adding that such reform would "drain the swamp of human smuggling and document fraud that facilitates illegal immigration."

As for the illegals already in place, Massey would allow anyone who arrived as a minor to apply for permanent legal status right away. Their parents would have the option to apply for temporary status. But, in any event, Massey wants the U.S. to allow far more than the current 20,000 green cards for Mexicans each year. That would swell their contributions to the U.S. Treasury. Massey's surveys have shown that a surprising 62% of illegal workers have taxes withheld from their paychecks and 66% pay Social Security. In 2004, illegal workers contributed $7 billion to Social Security and $1.5 billion to Medicare. Yet these workers seldom use social services because they fear getting busted. Massey found that only 10% of illegal Mexicans have sent a child to a U.S. public school, and just 5% have received food stamps or unemployment....

Nobel laureate Gary Becker, who teaches economics at the University of Chicago, thinks the U.S. should welcome anyone who's not a criminal, a terrorist or a carrier of a communicable disease--for a fee of $50,000. That buys permanent status. Becker says the plan would lure skilled workers since they have more to gain. For those who can't afford a ticket, Becker would encourage commercial banks to make high-interest immigration loans.

Becker is tempted to push his own proposal a bit further. Why not auction off guest-worker visas--and the chance of citizenship--to the highest bidders? At a minimum, Becker thinks, such auctions could bring in $50 billion a year--enough to pay for the entire budget of the Department of Homeland Security.

Sound weird? There's a version already in place, known as the EB-5 visa, introduced in 1990. It's available to 10,000 foreigners a year who are willing to invest at least $500,000 (in some cases, $1 million) to create a new business or expand an existing one, creating ten or more jobs....

Xenophobia and protectionism combined to defeat an honest airing about whether an Arab ally should operate U.S. ports. Immigration probably won't fare any better.
I agree with Russell Roberts:
If immigrants come here and pick those tomatoes and put up that dry wall and mow our lawns, they add to the economic pie, they don't take from it. As for social tension, I'd argue that immigrants add much more through enriching American culture than they detract from our lives in the form of 'social tension.' Social tension is just another name for racism—why should we pander to that?

...A little more lawn mowing and laundry isn't a tragedy. But what about the Mexicans? I care about them, too.

...the American economy gives those Mexicans a chance to get out of poverty, a much better chance than they have if they stay. That's why they risk so much to come here. Stopping them from coming means they're more likely to be stuck in poverty. That's the real tragedy.

Thursday, March 23

八荣八耻 bā róng bā chǐ

As Edward Cody says,
The Communist Party's traditional values of egalitarianism and service to the poor have largely faded favor of a get-rich ideology that blurs the distinction between officials and entrepreneurs. The strait-laced morals of Mao Zedong's time, they note, have relaxed to the point that bribes are part of doing business and prostitution is practiced openly. In addition, the party's reputation for corrupt land seizures has contributed heavily to often violent peasant unrest, making the need to re-burnish the government's legitimacy more urgent...

In a speech last year to cadres training at the Central Party School, [President Hu Jintao] suggested that the solution lies in renewing traditional Marxist thought, revisiting the best of Mao Zedong's policies and reviving ancient Chinese culture, including Confucianism. Of the three, [Kang Xiaoguang, a social sciences researcher at the Chinese Academy of Science] said, Hu looks to Chinese culture as the most likely to provide moral values.

So when he sat down with a group of delegates to the National People's Congress on March 4, Hu harked back to a long Chinese tradition that stipulates leaders are supposed to urge moral conduct on their followers. "Love the motherland, do not harm it," he said. "Be disciplined and law-abiding, not chaotic and lawless."

In all, he recited eight such rules, which he called "the eight glories and the eight shames." The official New China News Agency called them "a perfect amalgamation of traditional Chinese values and modern virtues." The People's Political Consultative Conference, the other house in China's bicameral legislature, passed a resolution saying, "Let it be a paragon and common practice of the times."

The official People's Daily newspaper quickly filled with statements from Communist Party cadres describing Hu's ideas as marvelous and saying they were starting programs to teach the eight do's and don'ts through schools, workplace meetings and popular performances.

But Huang Weiting, deputy editor of the party's Seeking Truth magazine, said party officials should be looking at themselves as well. "It's a cadre problem," he said in an interview.

"Eight glories and eight shames are not only a requirement for youth, but also for every citizen," he wrote this week in the party's Discipline Inspection newspaper. "Especially party members and cadres should take the lead."

Despite the noise generated by party propaganda organs, some Chinese questioned whether Hu's preaching would ever reach officials in the small towns and villages where disenchantment with the party is strongest. "It won't even get to provincial capitals," said Kang, the social scientist.

Even in Beijing, a group of recent graduates from prestigious Peking University, all of whom work in government-connected jobs, said they had not heard of the eight aphorisms after more than a week of the campaign. And in Inner Mongolia's distant Tongliao City, Bai Lianhua, a 46-year-old homemaker, said in a telephone conversation that she had no idea what they were.
I'd call 八荣八耻 bā róng bā chǐ "the eight ways to glorify the motherland, and the eight ways to shame the motherland," but no doubt it will be called the "eight honors and eight disgraces". Anyway, no wonder the Chinese were talking about 热爱祖国 rèài zǔguó the other day.

Here's the original Chinese, along with the Washingon Post translation:

yǐ rèài zǔguó wèi róng 、yǐ wēihài zǔguó wèi chǐ
Love the motherland, do not harm it.
yǐ fúwù rénmín wèi róng 、yǐ bèilí rénmín wèi chǐ
Serve, don't disserve the people.
yǐ chóng shàng kēxué wèi róng 、yǐ yúmèi wúzhī wèi chǐ
Uphold science, don't be ignorant and unenlightened.
yǐ xīnqín láodòng wèi róng 、yǐ hàoyìwùláo wèi chǐ
Work hard, don't be lazy.
yǐ tuánjié hùzhù wèi róng 、yǐ sǔnrénlìjǐ wèi chǐ
Be united and help each other, don't benefit at the expense of others.
yǐ chéngshí shǒu xìn wèi róng 、yǐ jiànlìwàngyì wèi chǐ
Be honest, not profit-mongering.
yǐ zūn jì shǒufǎ wèi róng 、yǐ wéifǎluànjì wèi chǐ
Be disciplined and law-abiding, not chaotic and lawless.
yǐ jiānkù fèndòu wèi róng 、yǐ jiāoshēyínyì wèi chǐ
Know plain living and hard struggle, do not wallow in luxuries.

Atheists--America’s most distrusted minority

Atheists, who account for about 3 percent of the U.S. population, are seen as a threat to the American way of life by a large portion of the American public. Many associate atheism with an array of moral indiscretions ranging from criminal behavior to rampant materialism and cultural elitism.

And yet, I'm often struck by the dishonesty of people for whom their religion seems to be so important. Does that mean they'd be even more immoral without their religion?

Tuesday, March 21

What have you done recently having to do with ardent love for the motherland?

Diàochá :nǐ zuìjìn zuò guò nǎxiē yú rèài zǔguó xiāngguān de shìqing?
Survey: What have you done recently having to do with ardent love for the motherland? (responses in parentheses, as of today)

关心国家大事 (50.1%)
Guānxīn guójiā dàshì
Concerning yourself with the major affairs of the nation
(Lìrú :shōu kān shén zhōu liùhào fāshè jí huíshōu zhuǎnbō 、shōu kān Wēn zǒnglǐ dā jìzhě wèn)
(For example: watching the broadcast of the launch and recovery of Shenzhou #6, or watching Premier Wen's responses to reporter's questions)

传承传统文化 (11.4%)
Chuán chéng chuántǒng wénhuà
Spreading traditional culture
(Lìrú :yuèdú rú jiā jīngdiǎn 、liànxí xiě máobǐ zì 、tīng jīngjù)
(For example: reading Confucian classics, practicing brush writing characters, or listening to Peking opera)

做好本职工作 (27.3%)
Zuò hǎo běnzhí gōngzuò
Doing your own job well
(Lìrú :yīshēng jiù sǐ fú shāng ,jiàoshī jiāo shū yù rén)
(For example: a doctor's saving patients, or a teacher's teaching)

游历名山大川 (3.8%)
Yóulì míng shān dà chuān
Visiting famous mountains and rivers
(Lìrú :cānguān àiguó zhǔyì jiàoyù jīdì)
(For example: visiting patriotic education bases)

其他 (7.3%)
(Lìrú :zàiwài yòng cān suǒ yāo fāpiào děng)
(For example: When eating out, demanding receipts, etc.)

Not to criticize Chinese patriotism, but it all seems quite passive. Of course, this is how the Chinese government wants to set limits.

In the same paper, there was a survey asking 你认为哪些行为会危害祖国? Nǐ rènwéi nǎxiē xíngwéi huì wēihài zǔguó?(What behavior do you feel harms the motherland?) Most of the criticisms seem to be against corruption, but a few criticized 崇洋媚外 Chóngyáng mèiwài. Apparently what they take exception to is Chinese adopting foreign customs, enjoying foreign culture, and buying foreign products. So presumably for some Chinese, "ardent love for the motherland" includes protectionism against foreign goods.

Sunday, March 19

Does it matter?

[The Long March] was the 8,000-mile trek by the fledgling Communist party and its armed forces that was to become the founding legend of communist China, a symbol of endurance and courage. Only a fifth of the 200,000 marchers survived the ordeal that began in 1934, when the Red Armies had to leave their bases in southern China - where Mao Zedong had been the leader of a short-lived communist government - to escape annihilation by Chiang Kai Shek's nationalist forces. Of the 40,000 who reached the march's end two years later in China's barren north-west where the communists regrouped, fewer than 500 are believed to be alive today, and they are in their 80s and 90s.

The Red Army...had large numbers of young recruits, the Little Red Devils, most in their early teens. No one is sure of their number. Wang thought it was 5,000 or 6,000 out of 100,000 in the Fourth Army, and roughly the same number in the First Army. Li Wenying was 14 at the time of the march. She had been sold as child bride, and found herself trapped with a cruel mother-in-law. Like so many Little Red Devils, she joined up for a square meal and some pork now and then. "When I was small, we saw pigs running about, but never knew what they tasted like. Only the landlords could afford it."

Following the Long March route, I came across a report in an archive in Sichuan. It was compiled by Nationalist officials, detailing Red Army stragglers abandoned in their particular county. My heart ached as I ran down the list, so young, half of them in their early teens, the youngest only nine years old. In the remote Sichuan grassland, I found one of them, Sangluo, now an old man in his mid-80s. He was 13 when he joined He Long's army far to the east in Hunan province, but in the grassland he could not keep up with the marchers. One morning when he woke up, the troops were gone. They had left behind more than a thousand sick and wounded, and the young. "I screamed and screamed. The Red Army was like my parents. How could they abandon me just like that?"

His youth saved him: the Tibetan families of the grassland relished a son, or took pity on the children. He was taken in by a lama, whose mother looked after him. Isolated for most of his life on the pasture with no other Han Chinese, he can no longer speak Chinese, nor remember his home village. The man before me looked completely Tibetan, his wrinkled face the same dark red as his robe, his fingers bent from the rheumatoid arthritis that plagues the nomads. He was grateful for his life: most of those abandoned with him died of hunger or were killed by the local people. As I said goodbye, I asked him whether he felt Chinese or Tibetan. He replied, "Does it matter?"

Saturday, March 18

Governments don't always help

Dan Grech's report "Seeking solutions to water woes" cites Janet Larsen of the Earth Policy Institute as saying that water is "moving from what was once considered a social good...­provided for everyone to a good that is sold at increasingly higher prices," and Grech notes that "In many poor countries, public water systems are under funded and polluted" and that "...­bottled water sales are growing fastest in the developing world," which bothers Benoit Mailloux with the International Secretariat for Water, a Montreal based non-profit. Mailloux complains, "Bottled water is all controlled by big conglomerates. And their main goal for existence is not taking care of water for the poor, it's making money, period." Grech concludes, "Mailloux says water shouldn't be something you pay for, it should be a basic human right like air."

Water shortages stem from the refusal to treat water as an economic good, subject to the laws of supply and demand. Water is typically vastly underpriced, where it is not given away for free. This ignores the huge costs of collecting, cleaning, storing and distributing it, to say nothing of treating waste-water and sewage. It also leads to overuse of water for the wrong things.

Governments in the developing world spend a fortune on urban water utilities to provide water at rates well below the cost of provision, but the main benefits flow to the middle and upper classes. However, government control of water often leads to bureaucratic red tape and corruption. Even after all the money spent, the poor rarely have access to sewerage or piped water.

When people pay private firms responsible for water, the firms have the incentive to provide the water, to improve bill collecting, to reduce leakage and to upgrade infrastructure. Carefully targeted means-tested subsidies that cover part of the cost for the poorest citizens could help the poor by making them paying customers that the firms will also serve.

Friday, March 17

Only Crazy People Oppose the Chinese Government

The [Chinese] authorities determined that [Wang Wanxing 王萬星, a Chinese dissident who spent 13 years in a police-run psychiatric institution] had "delusions of grandeur, litigation mania and conspicuously enhanced pathological will," which Western human rights groups say are diagnoses that officials have used to lock up troublesome dissidents who have not broken any laws....

Human Rights Watch says it has documented 3,000 cases of psychiatric punishment of political dissidents since the early 1980's. The group contends that the use of penal mental asylums to confine dissidents has increased in recent years as the police have sought ways to punish followers of banned religious sects, political dissidents and persistent petitioners without channeling them through the court system.

Friends and Enemies in High Places

Chinese authorities on Friday unexpectedly withdrew the state secrets case against [Zhào Yán 趙岩] a Chinese researcher for The New York Times, a surprise decision that may clear the way for his release and comes a month before President Hu Jintao is scheduled to visit the United States.

...The rare reversal by prosecutors and Beijing court officials comes less than three months after Mr. Zhao was indicted for disclosing state secrets to the Times and also on a lesser charge of fraud. Mr. Zhao has denied the allegations.

"The number of cases in which the prosecutors indict someone on state secrets charges and then withdraw their case is the rarest of the rare," said 莫少平 Mò Shǎopíng, the lawyer for Mr. Zhao, who noted that the lesser charge also is being withdrawn. He added, "To withdraw the case is the equivalent of a verdict of innocence."

..."[Prosecutors] are clearly looking for a reason to end the case," Mr. Mo said, adding that court officials told him by telephone that both charges would be dropped. "This is the reason they chose."

...The case against Mr. Zhao was politically sensitive because it involved the highest levels of the Chinese leadership, making the decision to drop the charges all the more remarkable. His arrest was tied to a Sept. 7, 2004, article in the Times, which disclosed that the former president, Jiang Zemin, had unexpectedly offered to give up his final leadership position as head of the military. The story later proved accurate when Mr. Jiang resigned.

Chinese media are forbidden from reporting on the inner-workings of the top leadership of the Communist Party. The Sept. 7 article in the Times prompted a high-level investigation to find the sources of the leak, according to a person familiar with the investigation.

...The key piece of evidence, later revealed in a confidential state security report, was a photocopy of a handwritten note that Mr. Zhao had written to the Times' Beijing bureau chief, Joseph Kahn, the author of the Sept. 7 article.

The note, written two months before the publication of the article, was unrelated to Mr. Jiang's resignation Plans. Instead, it described maneuvering between Mr. Hu and Mr. Jiang over military appointments. Mr. Kahn later referred to the political jockeying as background material included at the end of the Sept. 7 article. It is still uncertain how state security agents obtained the photocopy. Agents either entered the office without permission or enlisted someone to help them make a copy. Under Chinese law, the note should not have been admissible in court.
So the Chinese government arrested the wrong guy and was going to convict him without proper evidence and only dropped the charges because they wanted to cozy up to Bush.

Also, the researcher's name is Zhào Yán 趙岩, not to be confused with the unfortunate Zhào Yàn 趙燕.

Thursday, March 16

How to Find News Transcripts

Assuming you're using our library, that is.
  • Go to the library homepage ;
  • Look to the left side of the screen for the list of "Quick Links" and click on the third item, "Databases / Find Articles;"
  • Go to "Browse indexes / databases by name" and click on the letter "A";
  • The list of indices/databases will be displayed. Look for "Academic Search (Lexis-Nexis)" and click on the words;
  • When the Lexis-Nexis screen has opened go the left side and find the words, "Academic Search Forms." Click on: "News";
  • The new search screen will now be displayed. If the "Guided News Search" box is not displayed, switch to it by using the tabs at the top of the search box;
  • Go to "Step One: Select a news category" and click on the arrow in the drop down box. Scroll down to the sixth item on the list, "Transcripts" and click on it;
  • Go to "Step Two: Select a news source" and again click on the arrow. This time click on the desired item (e. g. National Public Radio Transcripts);
  • Finally, enter a "Search Term(s)" and set the "Date" range, then click on the "Search" button.

The Will Towards Justice & the Great Ship of Destiny

Our local NPR affiliate keeps broadcasting a clip that includes the phrase,
...program that, with its will toward justice, will slowly change the great ship of destiny.
I keep thinking it's some way to spend more money in some government program, but it turns out it's from this interview with Stephen Colbert, regarding "The Colbert Report".

Monday, March 13

Other Movies

I'm a little annoyed by The Last Samurai, which I only just saw. Of course it's got to be anti-war, but its anti-capitalist line really annoyed me. As Sandy Starr says,
...The Last Samurai depicts the Western fantasy of Going Native, where a white man defects to those whom he feels bad about oppressing, and assists them in their (usually doomed, but no less noble) struggle against their oppressors. The Last Samurai's underlying message is unambiguous: Boo! to the introduction of trade, industry and mechanised transport into nineteenth-century Japan; Hooray! for the rural simplicity and quaint ritual suicides of the local samurai.
Steven Vincent wrote
Using the youthful Emperor Meiji as a figurehead, [a] clique began transforming Japan’s agrarian economy into a democratic-industrial state modeled after the West. One obstacle to modernization, however, were ultra-conservative elements among the-then decadent samurai class, whose Shogunate had dominated Japan for seven centuries. In 1877, one of these warriors, Takamori Saigo, led the so-called Satsuma Rebellion against the Meiji nationalists, only to be vanquished by a peasant army equipped with modern weapons. It’s this doomed rebellion that The Last Samurai highlights and romanticizes.

There are...problems with the film. To begin with, it invites us to root for samurai reactionaries who, had their rebellion succeeded, would have stalled Japan’s modernization and led to its eventual colonization by some foreign power. Moreover, it posits the greedy capitalist Omura as the film’s antagonist—although his main transgression seems to be the funding of railroads, telephones, modern armies and other trappings of democracy. Are we supposed to believe that a band of swordsman whose highest ideal of public service is ritualistic suicide are better fit to lead a nation into the modern age?
Then we also saw Saving Face (2004), directed by Alice Wu. Although it's another gay movie, it didn't get much press, probably because it's about 80% in Chinese, which probably makes it a harder sell than the gay angle. Not bad, though the ending was a little contrived.

And also I, Robot, which I was disappointed in. It wasn't enough of an action movie to be a good action movie, and it didn't do itself any favors by jettisoning nearly all of Asimov's ideas.

Friday, March 10

50 years ago?

Wu Renbao saw the future of his little village long ago, and it worked. It worked so well that Huaxi has become the richest village in China.

As a result, Huaxi has been cited by Communist Party leaders as an example of what they mean when they vow to build a "new socialist countryside" to help farmers share in China's prosperity and halt the protests and riots that have erupted with increasing frequency across the country.

Although it is doubtful Huaxi's exceptional wealth can be duplicated everywhere, the transformation of this community, in Jiangsu province 85 miles northwest of Shanghai, has inspired imitation in a number of villages. In the process, it has opened a window on what China's Communist Party hopes will be the future of this huge, fast-growing nation.

Huaxi's success story began in 1969, when Wu, who was the local party secretary, overcame bitter opposition from Cultural Revolution extremists to start a village-owned textile factory. The village took off a decade later when, again under Wu's leadership, Huaxi residents decided against dividing communal land into family farms, as encouraged under the economic reforms then getting started. They opted to retain village control, retire their plows and build more factories, embracing urbanization instead of fighting it as millions of farmers with family plots have done in recent years.
Although I'm skeptical that the enterprise is going to keep going well, it's interesting to see them using communal ownership. But here's the howler:
In his unpretentious home, Wu seemed to live by his words. In a room decorated mostly with photos of him greeting party dignitaries, there also hung a large portrait of Deng Xiaoping, the late leader credited with putting China on the road to reform; beside that was a photo of a Mercedes 300SL, the gull-wing sports car that for many symbolized wealth and luxury 50 years ago.
Yes, there was a Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing Coupe in the 1950's, but I find it hard to believe that in 1950's China, it was a popular car.

In those days, the Chinese were pining for Flying Pigeons 飞鸽自行车.

Tuesday, March 7

Freedom of speech

Anne Applebaum writes of the encounter between Oliver Finegold of the Evening Standard and Ken Livingstone, the mayor of London, where the latter asked him if he was a German war criminal, then said, "All right, well you might be Jewish, but actually you are just like a concentration camp guard, you are just doing it because you are paid to, aren't you?" Livingstone refused to apologize.
Whereupon, incredibly, something called the Adjudication Panel for England suspended the mayor from his job for four weeks...

We...have evidence of something that, in the wake of the cartoon fracas across the Muslim world, should interest us all: the Western world's growing inability to deal with its own offensive, insulting and racially or ethnically controversial debates. We don't, for the most part, burn flags, storm embassies or hang foreign prime ministers in effigy when someone offends the general public's sensibilities, which is an extremely good thing. But neither does it seem right that an unelected committee should prevent the elected mayor of London from doing his job, just because that mayor is unpleasant and offensive (and I can personally testify that he is both). Surely it's the voters' job to weigh Livingstone's behavior against the fact, conceded by all, that he has improved the flow of London traffic.

It is not directly analogous, but the recent imprisonment of historian David Irving is troubling in some of the same ways.... Irving, an extremely knowledgeable historian and the author of more than two dozen books on Nazi Germany, is nevertheless willing to twist that knowledge when the mood takes him, largely to create outrage and direct attention to himself. He has claimed, at times, that the Holocaust never took place; that it did take place but Hitler knew nothing about it; that millions died, but not at Auschwitz, and so on. He enjoys lecturing to Austrian and German neo-Nazis. He once joked -- prepare to be really, really offended -- that more people had died in the back of Ted Kennedy's car than in Nazi gas chambers.

Still, I'm with Deborah Lipstadt, the historian whom Irving unsuccessfully sued for libel several years ago and who proved in the course of that trial, that he had altered facts and massaged documents to make his pro-Nazi case. "The way of fighting Holocaust deniers is with history and truth," she said -- not jail sentences.
I agree.

Monday, March 6

The Mortgage-Interest Deduction

Economists don't agree on much, but they do agree on this: the interest deduction doesn't do a thing for homeownership rates. If you eliminated the deduction tomorrow, America would have the same number of homeowners, the same social networks, the same number of gardens.

The deduction might help some people (like me) to purchase bigger homes than they otherwise would. And it certainly helps people who are selling mansions to get a higher price. But it is hardly the democratic subsidy people think. In fact, it's patently regressive.

...Research suggests that without the deduction, people would still buy the houses they do now; they would just cost a little less. In effect, the market would adjust downward to reflect some of the decrease in buyers' purchasing power.