Thursday, December 22, 2011

A deep and thorough cleansing

Be proud of us! Eric and I cleaned the apartment. Too bad we didn't take before/after photos, or document things in process -- we were too busy handling the mess and making new discoveries. =P

Here are the results:

1. Sorted the dish cabinet, with mugs, glasses, plates and bowls all in their proper spheres. The dishes enqueued in the sink had their cases resolved.


2. Cleaned the top of the refrigerator, which involved removing a rotting bag of onions and scrubbing away the slime. Unfortunately, due to the lack of paper towels or rags, I had to substitute in toilet paper. Not pleasant. However, it is now a neat and tidy pasta station!


3. The counter top hadn't been wiped in ages, probably because of the accumulation of pots, pans and other detritus over the past couple months. We washed it down thoroughly with soap and water, removing some very sticky patches.


4. The cabinet which had been haphazardly stuffed with jars and plastic bags has been resorted. Clockwise from the top left: (1) teas, teabags, and other hot drinks; (2) baking mixes and non-traditional flours; (3) vegetable, canola oil and spices used for stove-top cooking; (4) canned goods.


5. Stove area has largely been cleared. Pans are currently stored in the oven, due to limited counter and cabinet space.


6. Overall, the kitchen feels more open, providing a pleasant and inviting work space. Pots, pans and dishes are no longer stacked precariously on the remnants of earlier culinary expeditions. Users will now have full access to the range of tools, ingredients and prep surfaces, yielding a more efficient -- and more fulfilling -- cooking experience.



Good marketing speak, right? =D With any luck, the apartment will stay this way for a little while. There'll be a few week's reprieve, at least, since we are all heading out for winter break.


Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Stanford is a University of California, too!

Stanford announced today that it is dropping out of the competition to build a new engineering campus in New York City. The Board of Trustees is meeting this week, and this is probably an outcome of one of those discussions. (The alumni association dutifully informed all alumni via e-mail early this morning, so I found out before The New York Times reported on it later in the day.)

So I'm not trying to sound heretical or anything ...

But I wonder what would happen if Stanford took all that money saved from not developing a $2 billion campus in New York, and instead forged stronger relations with the UCs, starting with a certain institution right across the Bay. In these challenging times, we ought to focus our efforts on rebuilding at home. There is a lot of room for collaboration with our friends and erstwhile rivals at Berkeley, and both our institutions -- as well as the State of California -- would be the stronger for it.

Last Friday at the "Occupy the Future" rally, former Stanford president Donald Kennedy (also editor-in-chief of Science; you can be a great scientist and have a social conscience =D) called on the Stanford community to be concerned with the fate of our brethren in the UCs. "Stanford without Berkeley just wouldn't be Stanford," he said, noting that we push each other to excellence. Investing in cooperative academic ventures would be one such concrete action, helping to engender good will and sparking a lot of innovation and creativity. It would also help maintain the high quality of tertiary education in our state as the education budget is continually slashed, leaving the UCs in dire financial straits.

Some naysayers might want to highlight differences in the undergraduate culture, but let's set those issues aside for now.* The graduate schools and faculty at both institutions are world-class, and that's where much of the collaboration would be happening. I bet this kind of arrangement would be at least as fruitful as any China or New York campus for at least several decades. Furthermore, by partnering with the UCs, we would be improving conditions at home for all Californians by helping to secure the future of education in this state. It sounds a little crazy, but unconventional circumstances call for unconventional measures, and it'd be interesting if we took a chance.

And you know, if Steven Chu can do it ...

*Go Card! =P

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Science, Technology (and Innovation?) 科學、技術 (與創造力?)

An article on innovation and technical advance in China:
Power in Numbers: China Aims for High-Tech Primacy

This appended note was hilarious: "Correction: December 5, 2011. An earlier version of this article misstated the name of Tsinghua University as Tsingtao." If only.

Now on a more serious note ...

1. The article points out two kinds of innovation: “We tend to equate innovation with companies that start from garages based on brainstorms. There is another kind of innovation that results in constant improvement that we are not good at — and they are.” Do you buy that sort of distinction, and do you believe one model or the other is more prevalent in China? It is a little scary to contemplate the idea that America is slipping, that we can no longer be as innovative or creative as before, whether this is because our students are getting worse and worse at math and science, the economic stagnation means fewer innovations come to market and fewer firms get funding, or just because the Chinese are advancing their scientists and engineers in leaps and bounds. (However, it must be pointed out that the "top-ranked" scientists and engineers only come from a small handful of schools or from abroad. So the "big numbers" here are less scary than sometimes cited.)

2. There is also a difference between state-backed projects, such as supercomputing centers that require massive government investment, compared to innovation among firms and the products they create more generally.

3. "What scares competitors is that China has begun producing waves of amazing hardware engineers and software programmers, winning international competitions and beginning to dominate the best engineering programs in the United States. The University of California, Berkeley, is about to announce a deal to create an engineering campus in Shanghai, raising fears about transferring technology from one of the best American engineering schools."

If we are worried about this, then get those graduates visas and green cards, and keep them here in the US! Many of my friends from China going to school in the US actually do want to stay and work in Silicon Valley firms (e.g. ZY went to NVIDIA) or in New York (LQ went there), etc.

I am a little bit worried about creating the UC outpost in Shanghai. What if in the future, Chinese don't have to come to the US for a UC-quality education? We have sold our competitive advantage, the one American thing that China doesn't have and could not replicate for decades.

Actually, that makes me a little bit mad. At a time of severe budget cuts and hardship for UC students in California, UC Berkeley is now expanding into Shanghai? So it's willing to provide quality education to Chinese students (and give up our competitive advantage), but it's not willing to help absorb the pain for California students who are now facing massive tuition increases and getting less for it?

4. “This is what Chinese companies need to do,” said Hu Weiwu, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences who is the chief designer of another Chinese family of microprocessor chips. “We can send a spaceship to space. We can design high-performance computers.”

Sometimes I really feel China has priorities misplaced. I don't think spending billions and billions on a space program is the best use of those funds when there are people living in rural poverty or urban squalor. Sure, Europe and the US have our own issues with poverty, but we're also not the ones who keep claiming that "We are only a developing country!" and trying to get out of climate responsibility, as it were.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Instead of Tiger Parenting, we could also try ...

Finland is a pretty amazing place! This article in The New York Times raises some neat strategies the Fins use to achieve high-performing but well-adjusted children.
From Finland, an Intriguing School-Reform Model (The New York Times)
An educator from the Scandinavian country that ranks among the world’s leaders in school quality visited New York and explained his nation’s success.
It also introduces some interesting concepts, such as "the right to be a child." In Finland, the education system "scorns almost all standardized testing before age 16 and discourages homework, and it is seen as a violation of children’s right to be children for them to start school any sooner than 7."

It's a little ironic, because I just finished reading Amy Chua's "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" today, which is actually quite entertaining. And while the reasoning behind the Tiger Parent model seems sound and can work with some children -- would definitely adjust strategies to be less harsh -- Chua eventually also recognizes that such a strict model doesn't apply in all circumstances. (It often fails with the second child.) And now in Finland, we have a model that is precisely the opposite, which doesn't require endless brow-beating and slaving away, but can still yield high scores and sound education.

In fact, it's intriguing to hear that "Finland is going against the tide of the 'global education reform movement,' which is based on core subjects, competition, standardization, test-based accountability, control." (All of which might swing in a Tiger Parent's favor).

In any case, despite Finland's success and the interest in school reformers to adopt some of the Finnish approaches, apparently some "critics say that Finland is an irrelevant laboratory for the United States. It has a tiny economy, a low poverty rate, a homogenous population — 5 percent are foreign-born — and socialist underpinnings (speeding tickets are calculated according to income)."
However, I think it's a total cop-out when big countries claim, "Oh, those other countries doing a good job are small, so their lessons aren't applicable." A big problem can be broken down into smaller problems -- to the state and community level, for instance. "Linda Darling-Hammond, an education professor at Stanford, said Finland could be an excellent model for individual states, noting that it is about the size of Kentucky."

This is also why it's total BS when Chinese people say, "Oh, but Taiwan only has 23 million people, so things like democracy that happen there aren't applicable to China and can't be compared." Um ... I'm pretty sure you have smaller-sized units within your own country that require good governance, economic balancing, environmental protection, cultural preservation and obtaining support and buy-in from the public. (Also, not our fault that you incentivized population increase in the 1950s based on faulty socialist ideology, when you could have started implementing a softer population strategy that would have changed the tide sooner, so you wouldn't need to implement a draconian One Child Policy in the 1980s. #Mao'sLegacy)

And if lessons abroad aren't applicable, then why are the rulers in Zhongnanhai so intrigued by the Singaporean soft-authoritarian model as the way to go for China? There are only 4 million people in that country! The point is that lessons and models can be imported, adapted and scaled for the appropriate target. And you shouldn't weasel out of change.

Finally, the "cultural" argument is even weaker in the case of the PRC, because Taiwan and Singapore are both Chinese-speaking, with strong influence of traditional 華 Hua culture. If a conservative Sinic society in Taiwan can democratize (ditto for tradition-bound South Korea and hierarchical Japan), then I actually don't see why places that are even less "encumbered" or in thrall to Confucianism cannot. (Not saying the lack of Confucianism is a good thing. I'd probably argue that Confucian doctrine can in some cases help the transition to democracy by holding the community together. Moreover, moral appeals can be made on the basis of Confucianism. There is also stronger trust, and less outright materialism/moral vacuum. But that's a discussion for another time.)

Sure, America is culturally more distinct from Finland (well, ~Western Christendom, kind of), but that's why we can structure programs and incentives to help boost the right actions. It's called public policy.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Viennese Waltz means Rotate!

I don't know if this information is public yet, so don't leak it to others; but the funniest part of the Steering Committee meeting on Sunday had to do with selecting the logo for Viennese Ball this year.

Entry 12 was the winning logo:



Trust me when I say it's way better than anything else that was on the board. The image is classy and elegant, but with a spark of fun. However, when the committee heads put the entry up for vote, they first pinned it to the board in the wrong orientation -- rotated 90 degrees to the right -- which resulted in a rather more suggestive pose:



I still contend that it's just a languorous scene, as if the two dancers were falling down the rabbit hole together into Alice's Wonderland -- a floating, ethereal sensation. Quite charming, actually!

However, Karen Law (presumably with a different interpretation) was scandalized and called out, "Dan, please! Can you rotate the image the right way?" It was pretty hilarious. After the meeting, I attended a Julliard Quartet concert, and more than once, I broke out into giggles when I remembered the rotated logo. It pretty much made my afternoon.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Liberal Education

The education of Bo Guagua (son of Chongqing mayor and rising star in the CCP Bo Xilai):

At age 12, he attended the British prep school Papplewick;
followed by several years of secondary education at the Harrow School (Winston Churchill is an alumnus);
matriculated from Oxford University;
and is now studying at the Kennedy School at Harvard.

We'd better get a liberal out of this kid. It's scary to think, but one must pose the question: if an open-minded, broad-based liberal education doesn't work, then what will?

I mean, it's possible his privileged upbringing and early childhood development can outweigh all of that. But hopefully the British and American education systems have something to offer. (Otherwise is political outlook determined by age 12?)

From an article in The Wall Street Journal about the rise of the "princelings" -- the sons and daughters of leaders of the Communist political class in P.R. China. Interesting quote:

"there is a widespread perception in China that they [the princelings] have an unfair advantage in an economic system that, despite the country's embrace of capitalism, is still dominated by the state and allows no meaningful public scrutiny of decision making."

Some of this might resonate with Occupiers; it's just a much grosser extreme in China. The direction of influence is also different: in the United States, there are worries that plutocratic monied interests (personified by Wall Street and Goldman Sachs types) have captured the government and are undermining the democratic system by using their wealth to buy politicians and legislation.

In China, it's the opposite: officials and political leaders are extracting most of the surplus of the country's rapid economic expansion, and they are using government powers to protect those gains. But they were in a position to capitalize on growth and rake in the dough because they held political power in the first place. They have access to/can force through preferential treatment. Something smacks of unfairness, of exploitative or fraudulent ascension.

At least in the US, most rich people rose through a competitive capitalist system. Whatever you think of the social contribution of investment bankers, their outsize remuneration, or society's misplaced priorities in elevating these individuals, these bankers got where they were through their hard work and smarts at providing the skills desired in this (flawed) system. They weren't necessarily born with entre to the banking world; for instance, cue former New Jersey Governor Corzine, who came from a Midwest farming community and worked his way up the ladder at Goldman Sachs. (By the way, as someone who took excessive risk, lost billions, and now currently under investigation, he is still not a good poster child for the financial industry).

Though these financial elites are now perceived as attempting to rig the system to prop themselves up and give themselves special protections, they didn't get exceptionally favorable bank loans/tax breaks/policies via pre-existing political connections by virtue of their birth to propel them to the top. Indeed, that may be what's at issue today: now that Wall Street investment bankers are on top, they are pushing on the levers of government to cement in what many consider to be unfair practices, in order to tilt the playing field and insulate themselves, while the ordinary American suffers the effects of their risky (sometimes fraudulent) actions.

It's possible that in recent years (starting from the last decade), financial firms and Wall Street already started the rigging, but at least it's not inborn: they have to gain economic clout before they can seize government power. In China, it's precisely the opposite: this class is born with political advantage, and can wield it to capture  economic wealth, and defend this privileged position with political power and money. No one else even had a chance.

It's the problem of an entrenched elite getting to the top of the hill and keeping others out. But one of these situations is just even more egregious than the other.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

American Dysfunction

Hi folks:

We live in a democracy, a system of government based on tolerance, pluralism and political compromise. If we don't wake up and recognize that we need to respect those principles and get our government functioning again, we are kind of screwed, and the American project is going to founder.

This article from The Atlantic Monthly highlights this problem quite cogently:
"the inability to make even quite small changes in our levels of taxes or spending should worry the hell out of everyone. Yes, yes, I know--the other side is evil and intransigent and you don't trust them anyway. The fact remains that we're married to those jerks in the other party, and there's no prospect of divorce. "Stick to your guns, dammit!" is not a workable policy agenda for either side ... and no, I don't really care how much better things could be if we were more like Europe/19th century America ...

In a modern democratic state, two things are true of any policy agenda:

1. You eventually have to pay for it, with actual money.
2. You have to get those bastards on the other side to agree to it.

We seem to have an electorate who believes neither of these things, and the political class has followed them."

That's just plain irresponsible. As leaders, you should defuse the partisan hate-mongering and pull citizens back from the brink. Have some courage, have some guts, have some decency! We need you to lead public opinion, not just blindly follow it off a cliff, or seek to profit from it. Otherwise that's demagoguery.

Rise to the occasion and help move our nation in the right direction!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What will be left

In the run-up to COP17, the British Embassy in China is holding a postcard design competition and soliciting entries from the public. There's something poignant and moving about this enterprise of writing messages to the future -- to the children and grandchildren of this world not yet born.

The top prize is a seed rod, which could not be more perfect. A tiny gem, frozen in time, representing the hope that the brilliant and immense biodiversity in our world can be preserved, and if needed, someday restored. Depending on the actions taken today by societies everywhere, succeeding generations may actually need these capsules and their precious cargo. It is possible that the world 50 years from now will be vastly different. We could lose the groves, the thickets and glades, the forest slopes and open meadows covered with plants whose genetic code is captured in the seed rod.

In such a time, this chapel of ecology is both a promise and an artifact bearing witness to a planet that once was. It holds memory, a reminder of humanity's choice and the world we had enjoyed.

The Seed Cathedral under construction in Shanghai (Despoke)

The seed pods, stored in fiber optic rods (British Council)


The e-mail invitation from the British Council:

Dear BEN friends,

You are invited to join a postcard competition called “Our Climate,
Our Future” co-hosted by the Cultural and Education Section of the
British Embassy and the Green Channel of Sohu.com. The competition is
open to the public, aiming to encourage members of the public to
make:

- their opinions on messages from China to COP17, via
postcards

- their own climate change stories, what impacts they have
seen/experienced and what actions they have undertaken

- their messages to people in the year of 2100, what they
want to say to next generations and future about climate change

The top 100 winning designs will be printed as real postcards and
displayed at the British Council stand at COP17 with postcards from
other counties (Bangladesh and some European countries), top 30
winners will receive their own postcards delivered back from COP17
stamped with Durban postmark and signed by delegates of COP17. Each of
the top 2 winners will be awarded a seed rod of the Seed Cathedral,
part of the UK Pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo 2010.

Please send your designs to climategen@gmail.com before 22 November
2011. More information about the competition could be found at
http://green.sohu.com/s2011/postcard. You can download the design
template both in jpg and ppt formats as well as the registration form
there.

Please feel free to distribute this message to your friends who might
also be interested. Join us to highlight your creativity, share your
stories with the world and convey your messages to the decision makers
attending COP17!

Best regards,

Cathy Sheng 盛少岚
Project Manager, Climate and Sustainability 气候变化与可持续发展项目经理
British Council Beijing 英国文化协会北京办公室
Cultural & Education Section, British Embassy 英国大使馆文化教育处

Friday, November 11, 2011

In Italia si dice 'democrazia'

The undermining of democracy in Italy. Tragic! Even in Europe we need to be on guard against democratic decay. Features that Huntington and Fukuyama consider politically immature, part of a pre-modern rather than modern system of governance, are manifested in Italian political life today: the personalization of power, subversion of the rule of law, patron-client relations among other concerns. (Arguably, this might not actually count as "backsliding" if Italy simply never outgrew this phase of politics.)

This article in The New York Times is a great commentary on the underpinning principles of democracy, which is actually a fusion of three trends -- liberalism, republicanism and democracy. [1]

In a republic, political leaders ought to serve the public interest. In Italy today, "Mr. Berlusconi’s behavior and his own words eloquently reveal how his government is based on gaining loyalty through private favors. He truly feels betrayed that elected politicians would put the voters’ interests over their loyalty to him."

Indeed, you have the classic description of caciquismo, the author continues:

"He can be forgiven for feeling this way. Because of his enormous personal power — built on an immense fortune, the proprietorship of a media empire, the rhetorical skills of a demagogue and the control of a political party that he created — Mr. Berlusconi has been able to attain the loyalty of many people. The system he has built has the features of a lordly court: a signore sits at the center, surrounded by a large number of courtesans and servants who owe him their power, their wealth and their fame.

Many of the people Mr. Berlusconi has surrounded himself with are corrupt and servile, all the easier for him to dominate them. People with principles are regarded as dangerous enemies."
However, now that Berlusconi will step down:
"This provides Italy with a chance to begin a process of civic and political regeneration. To do so it must liberate itself not only from Mr. Berlusconi, but also from his system of power, and from the political and moral bad habits that he has reinforced and relied on in the political elite and in large sectors of public opinion.       

The first step should be to abandon the belief, promoted by Mr. Berlusconi’s elite, that to be a free citizen means to be free from the law and civic duties. Italians must also reject the other fundamental dogma of Mr. Berlusconi’s doctrine, namely that the people are not only the sovereign but the judge, and that politicians must therefore be responsible to the people, and not merely to the magistrates. And finally, Italians must rediscover a healthy republican and liberal wariness of any sort of enormous power.

This means going beyond a few necessary reforms. It must be a serious process of moral renewal inspired by the true principles of citizenship."
Amen. Viva la Repubblica.


[1] See "The Self-Restraining State: Power and Accountability in New Democracies" by Andreas Schedler, Larry Jay Diamond and Marc F. Plattner, eds. On page 32, "democracy (in its equalizing impulses), liberalism (in its commtiment to protect freedoms in society), and republicanism (in ist severe view of the obligations of those who govern) each in its way supports another fundamental aspect of polyarchy and of the constitutional state that is supposed to coexist with it: rule of law."

Sunday, November 06, 2011

"Smart" does not equal "wise"

Yes, "smart" is better than "ignorant." But I'd prefer someone far-sighted and grounded, rather than merely clever, as a leader. Wise choices made by people who apprehend the realities of life and are sensitive to the needs of people usually lead to better outcomes. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/06/opinion/sunday/douthat-our-reckless-meritocracy.html

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Rural means ...

Wow, I just read a first-person piece describing the struggle of rural people and their experience growing up in China. Entitled, "I fought for 18 years to have a cup of coffee with you", it really hit me hard.

In related news, the United Nations Film Festival is showing a documentary on rural China called Restoring the Light. Made by Carol Liu, a Stanford alum ('05).

TODAY (Wed, Oct 26) at 5:15 PM
Stanford Medical School (Li Ka Shing Building)
Room: Alway M114

More info at http://www.restoringthelight.com/

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

When the tide turns

ATTN: Russia and China
RE: "Syrian Opposition Calls for Protection from Crackdown" from NYTimes

When the popular movement triumphs, how do you think the people of Syria and their newly-elected government will receive you? The populace knows you are stymieing efforts at the United Nations to protect human lives in Syria. (See: http://wapo.st/rKdVMg)

It may behoove you to support the people working to peacefully secure their rights, rather than a regime that brutally suppresses a non-violent movement with bullets and tanks. Moreover, given the reasonable nature of the Syrian protestors, can you really justify supporting Assad to your own population? Is there any moral grounding for your actions, other than naked self-interest?

Even if you view this through the geopolitical lens of national interest, a weakened autocrat sitting on a tinderbox won't be a useful partner in the long run. He may be more pliant, but he will also be less able to support your initiatives or guarantee stability. Indeed, Assad's reputation on the world stage and in the region have already been severely undermined. In contrast, an empowered and legitimate government grateful for international support in the Syrian people's time of need will be much more amenable to working with you and would welcome your future investments.

Choose wisely.


URLs:
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/26/world/middleeast/syria.html
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/russia-china-block-syria-resolution-at-un/2011/10/04/gIQArCFBML_story.html

少管閒事、瓦上霜

The story of Yue Yue, the Chinese toddler who was struck on the road, then summarily ignored by 18 passers-by before being hit again by another vehicle, has brought to a head an issue that I've been pondering about for a while. It reflects the real problem in China today, which is one of ethics.

In Chinese society today, there is a lack of concern for the fate of others. This is paralleled by an absence of a civic culture, a certain sense of public-spiritedness. Instead, it's all about "me, my, mine" and what I want. We desperately need something different.

Forced public action is not the way -- that's just coercion, and is ultimately ineffective. (This is why Communism rings so hollow today). Instead, we must change hearts and minds, awakening people's loving-kindness and come together to exercise compassion for others. Only that kind of normative transformation, undertaken freely and with good will, is sustainable in the long-run, and can permanently alter society for the better.

Otherwise, what we're left with is this barren landscape entirely bereft of humanity. Yet (ironically) this has been a historical problem with Chinese people. The critiques of this abdication of responsibility for other human beings became quite sharp in the modern era -- for instance, in the literature touching on issues of social justice in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

But the major difference is that at least in the past, we had certain traditional obligations to others -- to our parents, our siblings, our other relatives -- that kept us from being completely selfish prigs. We knew how to look beyond ourselves. There were also proper ways of behaving toward others in society. Today, it seems egocentricism reigns, and self-enrichment is the only watchword.

We can blame the people involved, but a serious part of the problem is related to governance. If a government fundamentally does not respect the rights of individuals and believes they can simply be trampled and tossed aside, how can we expect it to effectively inculcate positive social values? If the government itself is just fine when millions of people are displaced and their homes demolished; or when people should be squashed for the sake of "development," any admonition to act differently rings hollow. If the government treats people as resources to be pushed around and moved however the center sees fit; if it places no value on the lives of Chinese; if it doesn't care about individuals, but always views things in the lens of "the mass of people," then how can it possibly promote sensitive actions at the personal level?

If the government's position is that fundamentally, human lives don't matter all that much, and can be sacrificed for other objectives however the Party sees fit, is it a surprise that all levels of society see this and fall into the same ranks that disrespect and denigrate human lives?

So now it falls upon social organizations to teach and to share how we might care for others. But perhaps this will actually be a more effective program, because any action necessarily becomes a voluntary effort. And therein lies the strength of such a social movement: people choose to act benevolently. They now consciously strive to be more generous, expansive, broad-minded and compassionate. And that act of choosing is important, because it means the issue has been considered and is now being acted upon. It takes place in a "mindful" way, which is a crucial step in learning to care for others, and then applying these principles in real life.

From the Guardian:

少管閒事

"The fundamental problem, in my view, lies in one word that describes a state of mind: shaoguanxianshi, meaning don't get involved if it's not your business. In our culture, there's a lack of willingness to show compassion to strangers. We are brought up to show kindness to people in our network of guanxi, family and friends and business associates, but not particularly to strangers, especially if such kindness may potentially damage your interest.

各人自掃門前雪,莫管他家瓦上霜

Fei Xiaotong, China's first sociologist, described Chinese people's moral and ethical characteristics in his book, From the Soil, in the middle of the last century. He pointed out that selfishness is the most serious shortcoming of the Chinese. "When we think of selfishness, we think of the proverb 'Each person should sweep the snow from his own doorsteps and should not fret about the frost on his neighbour's roof,'" wrote Fei. He offered the example of how the Chinese of that period threw rubbish out of their windows without the slightest public concern. Things are much the same today.

...

China's moral crisis doesn't just manifest itself in personal life but also in business practice and many other areas. The high-profile "poisoned milk powder" case and the scandal of using "gutter oil" as cooking oil have shocked and disgusted people around the world. Last year an article, "Why have Chinese lost their sense of morality?", in which the author tried to find an explanation, was widely read. He reasoned that China has introduced the concept of a market economy from the west but failed to import the corresponding ethics, while the traditional moral principles of China no longer fit the market economy model.

There's a lot of sense in that. I believe that the lack of a value system is also deepening the moral crisis. Before Mao, the indifference towards others once so accurately described by Fei existed but was mitigated by a traditional moral and religious system. That system was then almost destroyed by the communists, especially during the 10 mad years of the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976. Nowadays communism, the ideology that dominated Chinese people's lives like a religion, has also more or less collapsed. As a result, there's a spiritual vacuum that cannot be filled by the mere opportunity of money-making."

URLs:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/oct/22/china-nation-cold-hearts
http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2011/10/18/would-good-samaritan-law-have-helped-little-girl/

Note: This is the Chinese government that also jails lawyers who wish to help people and declares them subversive. Are we really surprised? http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/10/24/2470019/china-cuts-access-to-lawyer-who.html

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The 5Rs of Common Thread

Sign the Patagonia pledge to not buy something if you don’t need it. Reduce, repair, reuse, recycle, reimagine! It's a pretty innovative/courageous/risky/bold stand from a clothing company. Definitely requires a re-imagining of the business model -- but could also produce some very compelling stories and help to cement loyalty.

"The Common Threads Initiative addresses a significant part of today’s environmental problem—the footprint of our stuff. This program first asks customers to not buy something if they don’t need it.”
—Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia founder & owner

http://www.patagonia.com/us/common-threads/

I wonder if there's a way to get Da Ai Technology into a partnership as well ...

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Reminder: DON'T BE EVIL

On October 25th and 26th, Access will be hosting the Silicon Valley Human Rights Conference (https://www.rightscon.org) in San Francisco. The main focus of the conference is to examine and explore how the high-tech industry can better plan for and manage the emerging human rights implications of their technologies. The event is designed as an exchange of experiences, learnings and best practices between tech companies, grassroots activists, technologists, civil society organizations, academics and governments.

Sponsored by Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Skype and Mozilla, among others, in partnership with civil society organizations.

Also, ATTN CISCO: Don't be a moral pygmy. Live up to the Valley's ethos. These companies aren't just businesses; they are the projections of our ideals and beliefs, our dreams and values. We choose to work for them because we believe they are helping to create a world we want to live in. Yes, we engineers are allowed to say that. Thank you, that is all.


Watch at least 0:20-0:45 for the relevant quote.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Tiger Cubs, Tiger Tiger Cubs & American Battle Hymns

I started reading Amy Chua's book, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" and I suddenly realized that she's not the voice of our parents' generation, the people who are thought of as stereotypical "tiger moms." Chua is actually the voice of *our* generation.

When she talks about her childhood and upbringing, or reflects back on her life choices, she articulates the concerns and hopes and fears people like us have. She grew up in a conservative (Chinese/Fujianese) household, but chose an independent, though high-achieving, route. Her tone, her insights, her wry sense of humor -- it all sounds like *us.* It's definitely not the way our parents speak or communicate.

Chua's explanation of Asian parenting doesn't come from the perspective of a tiger mom; it comes from the perspective of a tiger cub analyzing "Asian parent" behavior, and then choosing to apply it in the lives of her own children. This style of parenting comes about not because it's the only way she knows how (as it would be with immigrant parents), but as a rational choice.

Author and professor Amy Chua

So even if her daughters, Sophia and Lulu, are close in age to us, they are actually more akin to our (future) children -- the third generation in America. The life stories that my peers and I relate to aren't theirs, but Chua's. (Lawyer mom and Jewish professor dad in New Haven? Definitely not something we are familiar with.) And given her experience growing up in America, she is more refined and sophisticated in what she chooses to do and how to justify it than your average Asian mom.

While I don't necessarily agree with all of Chua's prescriptions for parenting in the first few chapters, I do find much of the diagnosis compelling. The author's voice is unmistakably ours.

You can say "Battle Hymn" is a book about Chinese parenting, but even just a few pages in, I can already recognize it is an unequivocally American work.



#secondgenABC

You've got to clean up after yourself

Today in The New York Times, another article about "Occupy Wall Street" that jogs some thinking. The police are moving protesters aside, so the walkways can be cleaned. Afterwards, the protesters are welcome to return, but sleeping bags and tents will not be allowed back in.

Facing Eviction, Protesters Begin Park Cleanup

Occupy Wall Street protesters at Zuccotti Park swept and scrubbed on Thursday afternoon, hoping to stave off eviction.Occupy Wall Street protesters at Zuccotti Park swept and scrubbed on Thursday afternoon, hoping to stave off even temporary eviction. (Robert Stolarik for The New York Times)

The issue of litter and filthy sidewalks might seem pedestrian, but in a way, it may symbolize a lot more.

The challenge by the police, and the attempts to rise to the occasion and clean their own mess can be seen as a test: if the so-called rabble here can actually be constructive instead of destructive; if they can show that they are not simply a bunch of "dirty hippies" or "messy socialists," then not only will they be allowed to continue the demonstration in the manner they see fit (with those tents and sleeping bags allowed back in), but even more importantly, with greater public support.

No one said change has to be disorderly. Socialist vandals are scary precisely because they cause chaos. In demonstrations past (think G8 or WTO), some of more idiotic individuals revel in it. But that so-called 99% includes middle class people, and they do not relish disorder.

This is therefore a litmus test for "Occupy Wall Street." Can you stop the destructive imbeciles among you, those people who have no civic regard and no sense of public-spiritedness, who litter with abandon and break things, just because they feel vengeful, annoyed, or simply malicious. Those people are as much about "me me me" and self-gratification and rejection of social norms as the high-fallutin' CEOs on Wall Street.

So this battle's one for the middle class. You, "occupiers" -- can you show that you can make this arrangement last? Do you have enough respect and discipline to not just be an angry mob that leaves trash and destruction and discomfort in its wake? Do you have decency and concern for others? Without this, how do you expect to gain the trust of the common people.

Oh, there may be proposals for people to act for the greater good, but I fear those ideas may be shouted down by the ass holes among them, and the thing will degenerate into the lowest-common denominator of every-man-for-himself-except-we're-mad-at-Wall-Street-too. When the Left and the Radicals can show a modicum of care for others in their midst, and for the land and public areas that are shared by everybody; when it's not the pot-smokers and unruly, but the studious and well-behaved, then this 99% idiom might actually convince the center to join in.

This battle for cleanliness and the resolve to clean is really a battle for this nascent movement. Let's hope the extremists don't win.

Monday, October 10, 2011

十十 Happy Birthday, ROC!


十十 Happy birthday, Republic of China! The dream is still alive.

十十 Today marks 100 years since October 10, 1911.

十十 The Republican Revolution of 1911 ended imperial rule by the Qing Dynasty, and ushered in the birth of Asia's first democracy.

十十 Remember the ideals that generation of revolutionaries fought for: liberty, equality, popular sovereignty. The rule of law. The right to participate in one's own governance. The right to determine one's own fate.

十十 May all people one day enjoy the fruits of peace, freedom and democracy that spring from the seeds planted by our forebears.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

UC Chile

An article from The Guardian profiles one of the leaders of the student protests in Chile. From "Camila Vallejo – Latin America's 23-year-old new revolutionary folk hero":
Vallejo "focused on what she sees as the positive achievements thus far. 'For years, Chilean youth have been consumed by a neo-liberal model that highlights personal achievement and consumerism; it is all about mine, mine, mine. There is not a lot of empathy for the other... This movement has achieved just the opposite. The youth has taken control… and revived and dignified politics. This comes hand in hand with the questioning of worn-out political models – all they have done is govern for big business and powerful economic groups." ...
Throughout the six-month revolt, Chilean students – in many cases led by 14- and 15-year-olds – have seized the streets of Santiago and major cities, provoking and challenging the status quo with their demand for a massive restructuring of the nation's for-profit higher education industry. In support of their demands for free university education, since May they have organised 37 marches, which have gathered upwards of 200,000 students at a time ...
What began as a quiet plea for improvements in public education has now erupted into a wholescale rejection of the Chilean political elite. More than 100 high schools nationwide have been seized by students and a dozen universities shut down by protests.
Hey, maybe the UC system could serve as a model for public education. Oh wait, that could happen only if we stop gutting this world-class model of higher education. Get it together, California! I'm also a little bit worried by these "takeovers" of schools. If not controlled, this kind of action might smack of the Cultural Revolution. One major difference is that Chile is a democracy with constitutional protections for citizens. Given the repression of the Pinochet regime and the non-violent movement that rose to overthrow it, the populace cares about concepts like liberty and the protection of human rights. That should be a major bulwark against unfounded attacks.

URL: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/oct/08/camila-vallejo-latin-america-revolutionary

Saturday, September 24, 2011

ABC in the PRC


Yeah, Locke! From Elizabeth Economy: Chinese Media Knock U.S. Ambassador to China for Being Too Popular.


(Reuters)

"A series of candid photos of the ambassador with his family -- carrying their own luggage, riding in a minivan, and flying economy class -- elicited a tidal wave of ... popular attention" from the Chinese public, who are holding him up as a sharp contrast to their own officials. However, government-run newspapers have taken offense and are criticizing this public adulation.

Well, Ambassador Locke might not speak Mandarin, but this low-key and frugal behavior seems pretty Asian (American) to me. ABC's represent!

P.S. At APEC, I witnessed first-hand how the minister of a certain Chinese government body had three people haul his luggage for him, among other ostentatious things.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Derby Time!

Lots of hipster animals for the Shirt.Woot Derby this week. Some that I like are displayed below. You can click to vote for them in the Derby:

"Indie Turtle" (here)

"Neighborhood Thrift Store" (here)

"Couldn't Care Less Bear" (here)

"No Thanks" (here)


I also liked these thumbnails on the site:

ab  

cd    

e


a. "Panda Dance" (here)
b. "Neighborhood Thrift Store" (here)
c. "Couldn't Care Less Bear" (here)
d. "So Meta" (here)
e. "Scoff. Cooler than you." (here)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Gevulot

'I used to like it, crafting, making things out of the coral. You visualise a thing. You find the words that it is. And you sing them to väki; it grows and makes it. And in the end you have something that is truly yours, a new thing in the world.'

-- Mieli, on how she made Perhonen. From The Quantum Thief

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

What's it for?

An appalling expose in Danwei about how some Chinese students blatantly fabricate their college applications, usually through the connivance of "educational consultants."

In the back of our minds, we all know there are people who fake their apps, but seeing it leveled so clearly is shocking and a bit horrible to contemplate. This kind of behavior is really quite troubling, on an ethical level and a personal level.

These people are stealing places that would have been open to a deserving student from a low-income family who may have the aptitude and the credentials, but not the money to pay exorbitant amounts for "polishing" services. (BTW that is another thing our humanities program can offer: a truthful letter of recommendation -- an honest appraisal of an applicants' ability to do college-level work and genuine interest in broadening horizons. The instructor has a good BS meter).

Please read the article for yourselves. I am aghast! When did such dishonesty become acceptable? If the whole system is predicated on cheating your way to the top, it demeans and devalues the honest work that others have done. I understand the desire to study at a top university in America, but it in no way justifies buying your way in or misrepresenting who you are.

College and the application process is an opportunity to express who you are, in an open, honest and sincere way. This is who I am. This is how I come to be who I am, where I am, how I am; and these are the things I believe in. Accept me on the merits of who I am, and what I have done, and the principles for which I stand.

Cheating completely defeats the purpose of a university education, because it is not only about acquiring technical skills or learning to navigate personal relations, though these are indeed important. Higher education presents a unique, life-transforming opportunity to discover oneself.

I wish to be somewhere I belong, to be accepted for who I am. I want to be part of a community that welcomes me precisely for being myself. Only then can I know that this place is where I truly belong.
 
If I can only get somewhere by fundamentally misrepresenting myself, how can that be the right place for me? It defiles the sanctity of the institution to which I am applying, and it disrespects my own identity by forcing me to distort my person. It is a losing proposition, and destructive to both the university and to the student who attempts to fake his or her way in.

Can you look your peers in the eye? Can you engage your professors with a straight face? Can you sign the Honor Code without shaking? Moreover, can you look in the mirror and live with the person that looks back? Cognitive dissonance is a bitch, and one day you will pay for it. On a gentler note, how can you not wish to be who you are? That is all one can ask for in this world. Many times, there are other pressures, responsibilities and obligations that wear on us. University is our chance to express ourselves, to have an opportunity to be who we really are: 當自己的人.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Tomorrow is Classic 明天會更好

A musical collaboration among the major artists of the Mandarin-speaking world. The year was 1985, baby! "明天會更好" (Tomorrow Will Be Better) How many of them can you recognize? (Listed in Chinese and English).


And a reprisal by a new generation of singers, a quarter century later:

中秋節 is coming!


Since the Mid-Autumn Festival will take place in a few days (sometimes referred to as the "moon festival"), I shall post a couple of excerpts that I like, from a story called "月牙兒" (Crescent Moon).

《月牙兒》, 老舍著:

"愛這個月牙因為看著它,使我心中痛快一點。他在夏天更可愛,他老有那麽點涼氣,像一條冰似的。我愛它給地上的那點小影子,一會兒就沒了;迷迷糊糊地不甚清楚,及至影子沒了,地上就特別的黑,星也特別的亮,花也特別的香——我們的鄰居有許多花木,那棵高高的洋槐總把花兒落到我們這邊來,像一層雲似的。
......

我敢在院中走了,一個春天的月牙在天上掛著。我看出它的美來。天是暗藍的,沒有一點雲。那個月牙清亮而溫柔,把一些軟光兒輕輕送到柳枝上。院中有點小風,帶著南邊的花香,把柳條的影子吹到牆角有光的地方來,又吹到無光的地方去;光不強,影兒不重,風微微地吹,都是溫柔,什麼都有點睡意,可又要輕軟地活動著。月牙下邊,柳梢上面,有一對星兒好像微笑的仙女的眼,逗著那歪歪的月牙和那輕擺的柳枝。牆那邊有棵什麼樹,開滿了白花,月的微光把這團雪照成一半兒白亮,一半兒略帶點灰影,顯出難以想到的純淨。這個月牙是希望的開始,我心裡說。
......

二十

我又找了胖校長去,她沒在家。一個青年把我讓進去。他很體面,也很和氣。我平素很怕男人,但是這個青年不叫我怕他。他叫我說什麼,我便不好意思不說;他那麼一笑,我心裏就軟了。我把找校長的意思對他說了,他很熱心,答應幫助我。當天晚上,他給我送了兩塊錢來,我不肯收,他說這是他嬸母棗胖校長棗給我的。他並且說他的嬸母已經給我找好了地方住,第二天就可以搬過去。我要懷疑,可是不敢。他的笑臉好象笑到我的心裏去。我覺得我要疑心便對不起人,他是那麼溫和可愛。

二十一

他的笑唇在我的臉上,從他的頭髮上我看著那也在微笑的月牙。春風象醉了,吹破了春雲,露出月牙與一兩對兒春星。河岸上的柳枝輕擺,春蛙唱著戀歌,嫩蒲的香味散在春晚的暖氣裏。我聽著水流,象給嫩蒲一些生力,我想象著蒲梗輕快地往高裏長。小蒲公英在潮暖的地上生長。什麼都在溶化著春的力量,然後放出一些香味來。我忘了自己,我沒了自己,象化在了那點春風與月的微光中。月兒忽然被雲掩住,我想起來自己。"

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Seediq Bale - Taiwanese historical epic

A new film from the director of Cape No. 7, the smash hit from Taiwan. Seediq Bale tells the story of resistance by an aboriginal tribe against the Japanese in the 1930s. It looks like an epic film, mixing the emotional resonance of a variety of tales: the 300 at Thermopylae; Squanto, the Native American who helped the Pilgrims survive their first years in the New World, who bridged cultural divides; Avatar and the preservation of home culture; resistance by Indian tribes against westward expansion, led by chiefs like Crazy Horse. A general spirit of anti-colonialism seems to prevail. There are some stunning nature shots, and it's pretty cool that the actors speak in the aboriginal language. (Trailer below.)


 

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

BMW Electric

BMW's electric vehicles for urban mobility. The "i" series should be out by 2013. A little late to the game, but glad they are moving forward in a serious way.

I went to a seminar in winter quarter, where the BMW folks presented their strategy for entering this space by appealing to a particular user -- it's a lifestyle, not just a vehicle.

Article here. Check out the photo album of the i8, too. You'll (inappropriate verb here) after viewing it.





Sunday, July 31, 2011

You don't say ...

The train issue in China is deeply distressing. It is fast becoming a symbol of some of the fundamental problems with the country and the Party today.

China Imposes Blackout on Train Wreck Coverage
After days of growing public fury over last month’s crash and the government’s reaction, Chinese authorities have enacted a virtual news blackout on the disaster.

Beijing imposes media ban on rail crash coverage
Chinese newspapers, which last week defied government censors, were forced to scrap pages of coverage of the Wenzhou rail crash at the last minute on Friday night, after the Communist party’s propaganda organ issued an order restricting crash coverage that was not “positive”.

How can you not give people time to mourn and memorialize those who have been lost? Why would you shut off coverage instead of allowing the public to grieve together? Moreover, shedding light on problems and harnessing public outrage can help force changes in a corruption-riddled rail system. Do you want to solve fundamental problems or not?

This quote struck me as an articulation of one of the basic problems in China, and it's something I've discussed with many friends over the years. Yet so many years later, it's still the same issue:

The host of the television program asked: “If nobody can be safe, do we still want this speed? Can we drink a glass of milk that’s safe? Can we stay in an apartment that will not collapse? China, please slow down. If you’re too fast, you may leave the souls of your people behind.”

It's just so frustrating and tragic. When 76 people in Norway are killed, it is a time for deep mourning and for national reflection. People talk about how this could have come to pass in Norwegian society -- what the implications are, how to respond so that Norway's values are maintained, while also improving security. The government's response will be scrutinized deeply so that such an incident will not happen again.

In China, when 40 people are killed, the media is told to play up positive coverage and make it a "feel-good" event to bolster the Party. Aside from the crassness, where is the introspection? It's not only the Railway Ministry that has to respond, because it wasn't just a technical hiccup. People have to ask themselves, what kind of society, what kind of incentive structure, what kind of system gave rise to the conditions that resulted in this tragedy? Should we accept things on those terms, or what needs to change? But none of these questions will be asked.

The attitude is cavalier: "Just mop up. Hey folks, shows over, get back in line." No time for mourning ... I can't even fathom the idea of pretending that everything is okay, everything is all right. Sanitize history, sanitize news, sanitize life. Blot it all out, because everything has always been all right.



Good for the Economic Observer. They're willing to speak what is. From the WSJ:
China’s Economic Observer decided this weekend to publish a hard-hitting special report on the previous week’s high-speed train collision near the city of Wenzhou, defying strict orders from propaganda authorities in Beijing to play down coverage of the accident.


While many other newspapers obediently killed reports and took the train collision off their front pages in response to Friday night’s order, the Economic Observer devoted eight pages to its special report, entitled “No Miracles in Wenzhou,” and promoted it on its front page with a striking illustration showing the logo for the Ministry of Railways superimposed over a black-and-white photo of one of the ruined trains.


Beneath that image was an equally striking commentary on the accident titled “Yiyi, When You’re Older.” The commentary, which takes the government to task for its opaque handling of the accident, it written as a letter to Xiang Weiyi, a 2-year-old girl whose “miraculous” rescue has been widely trumpeted in state media.


Excerpts from that essay, translated by China Real Time:


Yiyi, when you’ve grown up and started to understand this world, how should we explain to you everything that happened on July 23, 2011? That train that would never arrive, it took away 40 lives that loved and were loved, including your parents. When you’re grown, will we and this country we live in be able to honestly tell you about all the love and suffering, anger and doubts around us?


How do we tell you that, even as they’d declared there were no more signs of life in the wreckage and had started cleaning up the site, you were still there struggling in the crushed darkness. Do we tell you that, with the truth still far off in the distance, they buried the engine; that before any conclusions had been reached, the line that had given birth to this tragedy was declared open. They called your survival a miracle, but how do we explain it to you: When respect for life had been trampled, caring forgotten, responsibility cast aside, the fact that you fought to survive – what kind of miracle is this?


Yiyi, one day you might pass by this place again. When the train whistle once again startles this silent land, will we reluctantly tell you about all the hypocrisy, arrogance, rashness and cruelty behind this tragic story?


Yiyi, we should tell you the truth, our country has been this way before. We want to tell you, those adults you see have wondered countless times whether in this era we’ve forgotten love, caring and basic trust. We’re full of complaints, but our anger is only that. We believe without doubt that life will continue on this way.

Yiyi, how do we explain to you that, at that time, there were two completely different images of China: one blossoming in the midst of the people, the other hidden in officialdom. We hope that when you’ve grown up and understand things, when you’ve learned to see with your own eyes, think with your own mind and encounter this world through your own actions, you will find this has changed.

Now, Yiyi, on behalf of you lying there on that sickbed and those lives buried in the ground, people are refusing to give up on finding the truth. Truth cannot be buried – no one plans to give up the inquiry. We know that anything we take lightly today might lead to our rights being violated and our lives being ignored again tomorrow. We reap what we sow. If every fact we seek becomes a secret, we’ll never know the truth. If we keep giving up half way in our pursuit of dignity, we will never be treated with dignity.


To live – to live with dignity – is that rainbow you get to see only after suffering through the wind and the rain. Yiyi, when you’re older maybe you’ll realize that dark night of July 23 was when things started to change. After that day, we won’t simply complain, but instead learn how to advocate and act. We understand that we have rights, we respect these rights and are will spare no effort to protect them.


Yiyi, if we’re going to promise you and other regular children like you a future, the journey must start from the wreckage of the train collision. That is the best way to remember your parents, and all the others who perished there.


– Josh Chin. Follow him on Twitter @joshchin

Friday, June 10, 2011

You can't buy ...

Article from The New York Times on recent unrest in Inner Mongolia.


“The Mongolian situation is very worrying for the Chinese leadership because you can’t just throw money at an issue like ethnic identity,” said Minxin Pei, a China expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and professor of political science at Claremont McKenna College in California.
@CCP:Like ... hello! Really?

Sigh, this is what you get when you mix Communist historical materialism with a sheen of capitalist greed. No respect or understanding for the importance of culture, or the depth of feeling regarding issues of identity. They don't even care about their own culture, much less that of other peoples.

You think you can buy your way out of this mess? Or just put up a perfunctory "museum"? Culture is something to be cherished and lived on an everyday basis. People have the right to shape their lives according to their traditions. Money doesn't make people forget.

Well, maybe it makes post-Communist Chinese people forget. But other peoples don't.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Is this what a Confucian society looks like too?

Denmark is pretty amazing: solidarity and social capital; trust of government and neighbors; resistance to abuse and oppression ... and the happiest people on earth!

(I've been to the country and can attest to the high level of trust that people have for one another, because they have confidence in other citizens. At the airport, a mother stood up and asked her neighbor (an African man) to please keep an eye out on her two young children, who were playing on the floor. Then she went off to take care of business, leaving her kids with a stranger.)

Granted, there may be some differences in how Danish society and a "Confucian society" are structured (certainly between Danish society and a traditional Chinese one), especially in areas like hierarchy and social status. And the country's values may be based off of different principles. But in some sense, the emphasis on harmony, social responsibility, and virtue mentioned in this article made me think of Confucian ethics.

As an exemplar of the Western humanistic tradition, perhaps Denmark can show us a way forward. (P.S. the US is not the only repesentative!). So the question is, how do we get there?

http://www.theatlantic.com/life/archive/2011/06/the-worlds-happiest-people/239971/


The World's Happiest People
By Robert Lavine
Jun 6 2011, 10:20 AM ET16

Denmark regularly ranks among the world's happiest countries, and it also saved most Danish Jews during World War II. What explains the society's success?

Denmark has the highest well-being of any country in the world, according to a recent Gallup Poll, with 72 percent of Danish people "thriving." (The worldwide median is just 21 percent.) In addition, during World War II, the country rescued almost all Jewish Danes from impending atrocities.

A kind of positive psychology underlies both accomplishments. People who trust their government and their neighbors, and who resist abuses in their society, are more likely to feel a sense of well-being in their own lives. Social psychology shows that countries with little trust are less likely to be happy. Networks of support between people and groups—what the political scientist Robert Putnam called social capital—promote people's well-being and their ability to react well to crises, from turmoil in North Africa to flooding in the U.S. and tsunamis in Japan.

Consider the mutual support at the root of Denmark's resistance to atrocities and what we can learn from Denmark's experience.

In 1943 the Nazi occupation met growing contempt from the Danish population. Strikes and sabotage in Denmark led to brutal reprisals. When the Danes received word of the plan to deport their Jewish citizens to concentration camps within days, the inclusive Danish community that had developed over decades or even centuries sprang into dramatic action. Danes from all walks of life helped 7,200 Jewish Danes cross the Oresund Strait to safety in neutral Sweden, allowing over 95 percent to survive the war. Nurses hid people in hospital rooms, resistance members held off armed German patrols, women followed coded messages to bring food for departing families, and refugees waded through cold water in darkness to the lights of waiting fishing boats.

Studies of personality traits may offer clues about why the rescue was so widely supported. In Dutch psychologist Geert Hofstede's Power Distance Index, which measures how differently people treat others because of their social status, Danes ranked among the lowest in unequal treatment. In a 2004 Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology study, Danes were also low in experiencing negative feelings like anger and anxiety, as well as in compulsive rule-following.

How do Danes reconcile their standing up and rescuing others with their traditional reluctance to stand out? Danes are taught not to tolerate abusive behavior, and to speak their mind even if others disagree. A case in point is the boy Christian who retaliates against bullying in the 2010 Oscar-winning Danish film "In a Better World." Danish people respect authority, but only if authority is virtuous, according to Mette N. Claushoej, recent Danish Embassy adviser in Washington (who, the embassy wishes to emphasize, was expressing her personal views). And they are taught not to think of themselves as better than others. Their sense of shared responsibility for all members of the group, evidenced by their widespread support of social welfare, might help explain the Danes taking risks during the 1943 rescue.

Furthermore, the recent Gallup well-being poll, conducted this April, isn't an outlier. For decades international surveys have shown a greater percentage of Danes who describe themselves as happy compared to other national groups. An egalitarian society with widespread financial security certainly contributes to Denmark's contentment. But contrary to welfare-state stereotypes, Forbes magazine recently rated Denmark as the world's best place to do business.

What may be essential are the supporting networks between people and groups that enhance social capital. Social capital is a major predictor of national happiness, according to new research in the 2011 Journal of Happiness Studies. A 2004 Cambridge University study concluded that mutual support and trust in society leads to well-being in Denmark and elsewhere. The research finds that the citizens of countries that scored highest for happiness also scored highest for trust in their governments, their laws, and each other. Where trust was lacking, "even the well off tended to be unhappy," according to the study.

To be sure, there is neither a simple nor linear cause-and-effect relationship between social psychology and historical events. The surveys cited began years after World War II, and what holds true in Denmark might not be the case elsewhere, such as the Arab countries now undergoing upheavals. But the upshot is that successfully confronting the atrocities of a brutal regime seems to be correlated with attaining national happiness.

Just as Denmark's defiance of the Nazis can be linked to its internal values of trust and willingness to speak out against abuse, the same traits are linked to its more recent well-being. National well-being in Denmark is forged from shared experience under stress, and the country provides a positive example as places like Egypt and Japan rebuild their societies during these tumultuous times. Take it from the world's happiest country.

The High Price of the New Beijing

“Fifty years from now, someone will regret this.” -- 梁思成

This article and the sentiments it expresses are moving ... and desperately sad.

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2011/jun/23/high-price-new-beijing/?pagination=false

Friday, May 27, 2011

Subtitles. Fight!

Saw this video a while back. Annie Lee says her mom actually knows the Chinese woman.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1rm4SazjKsQ

Description:

Oct 7, 2009 10am, Chinatown San Francisco. This fight occurred on the Muni Stockton route (the 9 i think) just before the stockton tunnel. As you can see, a simple argument about seat-hogging quickly turned into a full blown brawl. It's pretty clear who threw the first punch, you can see the bus' serial number, and the exact time in the video.


But the version with Chinese subtitles is so much more illuminating!


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VSmBUcGSJTQ

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

May 4 - Movie Night

Stanford University Nikkei (SUN) is screening "Howl's Moving Castle," an award-winning animated film.

There will be FREE Japanese food! Donations to Tzu Chi Foundation and American Red Cross for Japan earthquake relief will also be accepted at the event.

 It will be in History Corner (Building 200) at 8 PM.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth Day 2011

Happy Earth Day everyone! Let's work together to care for our planet.


Come to Tzu Chi's "Bottles to Blankets" exhibit in White Plaza on Friday and Saturday, where we'll have a display on how plastic bottles can be converted into eco-friendly blankets, clothing and other textiles. Reduce, reuse, recycle! And rethink! We will also be helping the Million Crane Project table to raise awareness for Japan earthquake relief.

To find out more on the awesome process of how bottles are turned into blankets:

A Greener Blanket http://tinyurl.com/3h4ad3o

Textile Tycoon Swaps Putting Greens for Green Products http://tinyurl.com/3ccc8vs

Fabrics Go Green http://tinyurl.com/3s8mukr

Plastic Alchemy Turns Garbage into Gold http://tinyurl.com/3tphrw5

DAAI Technology Company Unveils Eco-friendly Products http://tw.tzuchi.org/en/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=301

Global Company Certifies Tzu Chi Recycled Goods as 'Green' Gold http://tinyurl.com/43gxwb8

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Friends within and without

The Arab League, Russia and China are now criticizing the use of air strikes and a no-fly zone in Libya. Apparently they don't like how force is being deployed to drive back Qaddafi's tanks, soldiers and heavy artillery. (You know, heavy artillery, those weapons used to bombard cities?)

According to The New York Times:
A commentary in China’s state-run People’s Daily newspaper said that the Western actions violated international law and courted unforeseen disaster. “It should be seen that every time military means are used to address crises, that is a blow to the United Nations Charter and the rules of international relations,” the commentary said.
Funny words coming from the CCP, who thinks that power grows out of the barrel of a gun. (Oh wait, those international principles mean nothing within borders, because governments have the shield of sovereignty. My mistake!) Anyway, I decided to look for this People's Daily (人民日報) editorial, but lo and behold, that quote was nowhere to be found via Google! However, I spotted another similar article, which was the "official" English translation:
"It should be noted that attempts to resolve the crisis using military means affects the U.N. Charter and the norms governing international relations."
Hm... awfully soft and weasel-y. Did the NY Times just spice things up for a quote? So I went to the original Chinese:
应该看到,每一次借助军事手段来解决危机都是对《联合国宪章》和国际关系准则的冲击,都是对求和平、谋发展这一时代主流的干扰。
It looks like The New York Times went to the original Chinese-language editorial, and translated it, pretty spot on. I know that Chinese state media tailor their editorials for different target audiences. Chinese pieces are for domestic consumption, English pieces are for Western audiences. (Seriously, how many times have you seen something in Global Times and thought, "Wow, that's refreshing/novel/encouraging!" but then recalled that the target audience is primarily Western ex-pats in China and realized you're being had?)

But what's the rationale here for such soft criticism abroad and harsh critique at home? This is just a reminder that the conflict in Libya is being spun in a particular way to Chinese audiences. If you look at the headlines, it's the ol' "imperialist West intervening in other countries' affairs" again. Sigh.

The world finally unites to stop a madman from plunging the eastern half of his country into a bloodbath of reprisal killings, and Beijing is scoring political points, while doing nothing to help? The West isn't perfect, but I hope Arab publics remember which societies are willing to reach across borders to help them in the fight against tyranny.