Netless in China

Odd, how the earthquake-induced damage to a cable none of us knew even existed can wreak such havoc on China’s Internet. A blogger reflects on how this distant catastrophe effects his daily routines:

This past week has reminded me of the little things I take for granted: Eating the same breakfast casserole every year on Christmas morning, with fresh-baked blueberry muffins and orange juice; spending Christmas dinner joking with my siblings, telling the same stories and laughing just as hard; and an Internet cable running under the Pacific Ocean that connects North America to East Asia, that I never even thought about until an earthquake ruptured it sometime Wednesday.

The breakage of that cable has left much of China cut off from the World Wide Web for the past two days. Any sites not hosted locally have been unavailable or at best painfully slow. I’ve managed to see that I have email but can’t read it.

News has been the biggest loss. I usually read a dozen blogs and get RSS feeds on as many major newspapers. All I have now is China Daily. I was able to learn Wednesday that former President Gerald Ford died. I also read about how well China treats foreign reporters, even those from Taiwan. Xinhua told me, so it must be true.

Let’s all hope it gets repaired quickly. The idea of having to rely solely on state-owned media for information is scary (“we have completely eliminated SARS in Guandong province, and there are no signs of the disease in Beijing…”).

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Killing Dogs

Wangjianshuo posts about the violent death of his friend’s beautiful dog, and comments on China’s much-criticized policy of killing unlicensed dogs.

I don’t know if I will adopt a dog or not in the future. I don’t have an idea about how I can protect it. What should I do when someone jump into my house and kill the dog before me, or come back home one day and found my dog dead. I just don’t want to have a dog at home when the terrible situation does not change.

Dogs are human’s friends. When the lives of millions of dogs can be taken away in just few days, how about people’s life?

Good question. And a very poignant post.

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Investing

[Note: Some of these issues were discussed in a lively thread a few days ago. I thought I'd say a bit more about it here. It was interesting to see just how emotional a response this topic generated.]

I spoke with my mentor in NYC on the phone for about an hour last week and he shared with me his thoughts on the economy, in particular the strength (weakness) of the US dollar and how this will affect us all in 2007-8. I am no economist, and do not have the knowledge or skills to debate these arcane issues intelligibly. I do know, however, that the media are confirming many of the things he told me 10 days ago: the price of oil and other commodities will continue to rise in the long term; the dollar in the foreseeable future cannot recover no matter how much Bush urges us all to go shopping, and all the Fed can do is print more dollars, pushing us closer to inflation; China will probably sell a healthy chunk of its dollars (in Chinese, via Shanghaiist) after the New Year (things are orchestrated to allow us to enjoy our holidays); the housing slump will further slow down the US economy (so many jobs and ancillary industries are linked to the housing market, as they are to the auto industry); as always at a time of slower growth and diminished supplies of resources, the best investing bet for the next two years will be commodities, precious metals, natural gas, etc.

For an extremely opinionated outlook on these issues, you may want to peruse this site. The author is obviously banging his agenda-driven drum loudly, even hysterically, but I find enough nuggets of insight there to make it a daily must-read. And the guy is no quack. I overhauled my entire portfolio this week to protect it against a weakening dollar. I put some of my savings into a fund that shorts the US dollar, as well as mining stocks and commodities funds.

I am not predicting the collapse of America, just some hard times for many and some surprises for those whose hopes and dreams are pegged to the dollar. And I may be totally wrong – God knows, I was wrong during the dot-com bubble, though I like to think I learned a lot from that experience (I haven’t lost any money since). All we can do is watch and wait.

About my mentor: He is a professor in NYC, my oldest and closest friend, and he has an astonishing track record when it comes to investing. He is a contrarian and sees all “establishment” thinking on the economy to be fraudulent, almost a form of brainwashing. His philosophy: The oligarchy rules and we serve, and while there is no way to alter this, we can open our eyes and see how the oligarchy operates, and from time to time we may even outwit them. Evidence of how the powers that be is there, right in front of our faces, but most of us choose not to look. Ignorance is bliss. One splendid recent example, via Sinclair, is the Federal Reserve’s recent decision to mask the dollar’s perilous position. Money quote:

With their decision to put an end to the publication of M3 and other indicators designed to measure the evolution of Dollar ownership worldwide, the US authorities initiated a policy of “hidden monetisation” of the US debt. The Bush administration’s incapacity to handle the various deficits (budget, trade) and the related debt will result in a monetary creation of unequalled proportion, leading to a dilution of the American debt in an ocean of Dollars. The process has in fact already started: during the first three and a half months of the US fiscal year (beginning in October), the Federal Reserve has increased by 320 billion USD its stock of currency, that is 5 times more than it did over the same period last year…

I increasingly like the thought of going to work in China and being paid in RMB. I am delighted that my contract states my pay in RMB and not US dollars.

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Adorable inbred Japanese dogs

I love adorable dogs. Everybody does. But what some people in Japan are doing to “customize” their adorable and socially prestigious puppies is revolting and outrageous.

Care for a Chihuahua with a blue hue?

Or how about a teacup poodle so tiny it will fit into a purse – the canine equivalent of a bonsai?

The Japanese sure do.

Rare dogs are highly prized here, and can set buyers back more than $10,000. But the real problem is what often arrives in the same litter: genetically defective sister and brother puppies born with missing paws or faces lacking eyes and a nose.

There have been dogs with brain disorders so severe that they spent all day running in circles, and others with bones so frail they dissolved in their bodies. Many carry hidden diseases that crop up years later, veterinarians and breeders say….

…Rampant inbreeding has given Japanese dogs some of the highest rates of genetic defects in the world, sometimes four times higher than in the United States and Europe. These illnesses are the tragic consequences of the national penchant in Japan for turning things cute and cuddly into social status symbols. But they also reflect the fondness for piling onto fads in Japan, a nation that always seems caught in the grip of some trend or other.

I can see getting caught up in a fad; I can understand the power of marketing and peer pressure and the desire to be trendy. But am I missing something, or is this not at the end of the day a form of torture? Pets are creatures to love like a member of your family, like a child. How could anyone do anything that carried even the slightest risk of causing an innocent animal to undergo such agony? I guess it’s just “a cultural thing” and we should respect and tolerate it as such.

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Funny

Best laugh of the day.

Via Granite Studio.

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A Republican senator calls it like it is in Iraq

If you read just one story today….

What an amazing article. What a brave thing to do. Too little, too late of course, but at least some Republicans are willing to admit they screwed up and are paying for their error with the blood of our own and Iraq’s people.

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“Five things you didn’t know about me”

As some of you may have noticed, I’ve been offline a long time – probably the longest period ever since I started this site. I’ve been enjoying forgetting about the blog for a while, spending a lot of time with my parents and friends, and dealing with the practical issues involved in preparing for my move in 10 days (yikes) to China. So I was late to notice that China Law Blog has tagged me to reveal five things about myself that you don’t know. (Go to CLB to see more about this tagging process, and how he himself got tagged.)

Well, let me see what I can come up with. And allow me to be brief, as I’m still on vacation and vowed not to spend a lot of time on the site until I settle down in Beijing.

1. I was trained to be an opera singer. It was simply a matter of fact when I was a teenager that this would be my destiny, and I began training with a coach from the Metropolitan Opera when I was 15. I was a full bass, and my favorite role to sing was Sarastro in The Magic Flute. (So what happened? All I’ll say is that life plays tricks, and things often don’t work out the way we’d planned.)

2. My favorite hobby after classical music is cooking. I like cooking the complicated stuff that takes many hours to prepare, like paella or osso bucco or coq au vin. I baked two pies for my family’s holiday dinner (one pecan, one apple). I use no prepared foods or artificial ingredients, and I take my cooking seriously. It’s also therapy – nothing makes me feel more “harmonious” than preparing the perfect meal.

3. Although I listen mainly to the heavy-duty classical stuff like Wagner and Mahler and Bach, in 1999 I fell in love with the music of Abba – yes, the bubble-gummy, feather-light background music you’d take to listen to at the beach. Only it’s not bubble gum, it’s seriously great stuff once you get into it .(And I know I’m taking a big risk in admitting this. All fashionable pop afficionados know nothing is more uncool than Abba, but that means there are a lot of very uncool people in this world, considering Abba has sold more albums than any other group in history.) My favorite two songs: The Winner Takes it All and One of Us. But whichever I’m listening to is my favorite. And yes, again, I know how uncool it is to love Abba! Why else wold I keep it such a closely guarded secret?

4. I had two brushes with the super-famous in my life. For my graduate thesis, I interviewed Leonard Bernstein, whom I met for dinner at his Greenwich, Connecticut home in 1984. I still look back on that dinner as one of the most thrilling experiences in my life; to actually sit at the same table with Bernstein and talk about classical music and literature for hours, and then have him play his newly recorded Tristan und Isolde… The second experience was years earlier, when I saw an actor in a Broadway matinee whose performance I loved so much I went backstage and met with him and the show’s leading lady. The three of us then went walking through Central Park and spent two wonderful hours together talking about life and its myriad oddities. The actress was Marian Seldes, and the actor was at the time all but unknown, a charming and brilliant fellow named Anthony Hopkins. God, I loved living in New York City.

5. I lost more than $120,000 in the dot-com’s bursting bubble and its aftershocks. It seemed so real and such a sure thing at the time. I took a few thousand dollars in 1996 and turned it into what was, for me, a small fortune, and saw it vanish in just a few months. I learned a painful lesson and am now a cautious investor.

So whom should I tag? So many to choose from… Okay, here goes:

Lao Lu

88s

Jeremiah

PiPi

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Xinhua’s Official P.C. Guidelines

Though it hasn’t been authenticated, there seems to be good reason to believe this set of guidelines for Xinhua reporters is the real thing. Sample:

1. Physically handicapped persons should not be described by denigrating terms such as “cripple 残废人”, “one-eyed dragon 独眼龙”, “blindie 瞎子”, “deafie 聋子”, “fool 傻子”, “idiot 呆子”. Instead, the appropriate terms are “handicapped person 残疾人”, “blind person 盲人 “, “deaf person 聋人”, “mentally impaired person 智力障碍者”.

Many other examples can be found in the post, whose author notes:

Aside from the rather predictable rules about Taiwan, it’s interesting that most of the list resembles a guide to Western style political correctness rather than the usual Communist Party list of taboo words and subject matter.

I ‘m not sure about the comparison to Western-style political correctness. Having worked at two big American media companies, I know there are plenty of rules to keep stories politically correct. But to refer to a deaf person as “deafie” or a retarded person as “idiot” is not politically incorrect, it’s vulgar and cruel and crude – at least in American English. Political correctness, to me, is much more inane and difficult to defend, like insisting you refer to black as “people of color” and to garbage men as “sanitation technicians.” These Xinhua guidelines are not inane or absurd or extraordinary. What is extraordinary is that Xinhua needed to create a formal document articulating what you’d hope would be obvious already to their professional journalists.

Something may have been lost in translation, however. Maybe in Chinese, the term translated into “deafie” isn’t as offensive as it sounds in English. When I was in Hong Kong, I’d see a small bus every morning carrying retarded people, who were referred to on the side of the bus, in English, as “spastics” – in HK, apparently, the word “spastic” doesn’t have the negative connotations it does in the US. If the words in the Xinhua guidelines are indeed as offensive as their English co-equivalents, then again I’d have to wonder why Xinhua would ever need to create such a document. Can their reporters really be so poorly trained that they’d use the equivalent of “deafie” in a Xinhua story? Or is 聋子 less harsh in Chinese?

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My fellow mammals, last one to leave please dim the lights and lock the door: Economics, the environment, and the Yangzi River dolphin

I wrote about this two weeks ago, but I just read a moving piece in the New York Times (via CDT) by Robert Pittman, one of the scientists on the six-week expedition that combed the Yangzi for signs of the Chinese River Dolphin (baiji).

Locally, the Yangtze River is in serious trouble; the canary in the coal mine is dead. In addition to baiji, the Yangtze paddlefish is (was) probably the largest freshwater fish in the world (at least 21 feet), and it hasn’t been seen since 2003; the huge Yangtze sturgeon breeds only in tanks now because it has no natural habitat (a very large dam stands between it and its breeding grounds). The whole river ecosystem is going down the tubes in the name of rampant economic development. There is a huge environmental debt accruing on the Yangtze, and baiji was perhaps just the first installment.

The counter argument one hears out of China is that millions of Chinese people still live in poverty. The economic demands of development trump the needs of fish and the sexy megafauna, like dolphins, to which Westerners seem so mawkishly attached. (Must be all those reruns of “Flipper” and class trips to Sea World.)

But Pittman’s scientific reserve breaks down as he describes the baiji not only as a symbol of the perilous environmental condition of China’s waterways, but also as part of a legacy that belongs to all of us regardless of national boundaries:

For the Chinese, I think that losing a half-blind river dolphin and a couple of oversize fish was a fair trade for all the money that is being made there now. China is an economic model envied by most of the rest of the world, and I think that many other (especially third world) countries will be confronted with similar decisions of economic development versus conservation of habitats and animals, and the response will be the same. From now on we will have to choose which animals will be allowed to live on the planet with us, and baiji got cut in the first round. It is a sad day. I know it is their country, but the planet belongs to all of us. We came to say goodbye to baiji, but after its being in the river for 20 million years, we apparently missed it by two years.

In related news today, the United States government listed polar bears as ‘threatened,‘ marking the first time “the United States has made a direct link between global warming and the threat to a species.” The bears’ habitat, the ice floes of the arctic, are melting, depriving the bears of their hunting grounds. There has been increasing evidence of cannibalism among the bears as well as several sad reports of bears drowning in the oceans off of the Alaskan coast after they became stranded on shrinking ice floes.

We are losing some of Earth’s greatest natural treasures and too many people seem okay with this. The Bush Administration still refuses to back mandatory controls of carbon dioxide emissions, American patterns of consumption continue to favor convenience over conservation (patterns of consumption that many urban Chinese seem all too willing to emulate), and officials and business interests in China zealously insist on economic growth above all other concerns. The loss of the last few dozen of a blind river dolphin half a world away hardly seems like news here in the United States. But it should be a wake up call for all of us, regardless of where we live.
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Cross posted from the Chinese history blog Jottings from the Granite Studio

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Closed for Christmas

I hope you’re all enjoying a sublime Holiday season, and come back soon. Love, peace and joy.

China Christmas.jpg

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