News & opinion on Greater China and the even Greater Beyond: by Biff Cappuccino.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Letter to

Regarding Jack A. Smith's "Bush's 'transfer of power' gambit": Why all the handwringing about colonialism? All of us grew up in colonies. Every nation on the planet has been colonized by some other nation at some point. Big deal. I grew up in colonies and ex-colonies such as Scotland, Nigeria, Uganda, Northern Ireland, America, and Canada. All of them benefited from being colonized. Now I live in Taiwan, which also benefited from being colonized. Many members of Taiwan's elder generation have fond memories of the Japanese colonial era. When the Japanese came, they ended the aboriginal tradition of headhunting and the Chinese tradition of clans massacring one another. When the Japanese went into Korea, they ended the cherished tradition of institutionalized slavery. Manchuria under Japanese rule was the most modern part of China at the time. Hong Kong, having profited from English colonial rule, remains the most modern part of China today.

If the United States leaves Iraq now, surely the country will erupt in civil war. After my family left Uganda, the local patriots threw all the white people out. Then the local patriots threw the Indians and the Chinese out. When there were no more demonic foreigners to throw out, the patriots looked for a new target and killed 600,000 fellow citizens by demonizing them as an unpatriotic tribe.

If the American forces were actually to be forced out, something similar would most likely happen. Although the public argument against colonialism is usually some version of the claim that wily omnipotent foreigners suppress naïve and cuddly locals, the subtext is usually a combination of racism and cultural chauvinism.

My barbarous ancestors in England benefited greatly from being colonized by the Romans. Iraq would be lucky to be colonized by the Americans. Unfortunately, that's not going to happen.

Biff Cappuccino (Taipei)

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Just finished watching Tears of the Sun, with Bruce Willis. Regretful was the absence of a narrative. Michael Herr's for Apocalypse Now is arguably the best part of the film. This absence was serious, as there was so much empty space otherwise. None of the actors actually said very much at all. I was surprised at how dumb and dimwitted the roles were; as if the screenplay was written by a military caricature: some long-suffering blank cartridge so verbally repressed and socially so inert as to be dysfunctional. Bruce Willis played the tough silent type, the sort of sexy lummox attractive to lazy women looking for an easy mark.

It was a surprisingly illiterate film overall, given the fabulous issues that were being dealt with: US intervention in an overseas civil war, church and NGO interaction with local régimes; tribal loyalties; the gorgeous African scene that was so well described by J. Conrad in Heart of Darkness. And it was odd that at the end of the film, given the prodigies of tear squeezing and emotional foreplay during the rest of it (even sad-sack violins), that the screen goes dark and, behold, a quote from Edmund Burke. Ed remains one of the Archangel's of the US conservative camp and is perhaps most prominent historically for his well-argued opposition to the French Revolution, which he thought bloody, ultimately destructive, and opposed to the public welfare. He wrote at length, and too often snoringly, in favor of productive social change, which meant slow-as-she-goes, prudent consensual change leading to an enhancement of the lifestyles of all.

Although the quote make sense in view of the story's background (civil war and ethnic cleansing), it seems incongruent given that the film espouses various PC values and do-gooder hallucinations: the witless church/NGO intervention plus the emotion-driven countermanding of military regulations and rank-and-file order in favor of doing what seems to be "right" to the common man. In so saying, I mean no sneer at the common male; simply to say that it seems typical of world-savers, soul-snatchers, and professional tear-squeezers everywhere to dodge the underlying imbecility (not to mention insanity) of the worldview of the peoples of the underdeveloped nations. Rather than realize and act upon this, in the film, (mirroring reality in many ways and doing so rather well I thought) people prefer to stick with homely knee-jerk emotions and employ emotional blackmail in their conversations with others when discussing the value of what they do and when reassuring themselves that their feeble, often counterproductive efforts to save others, are not in principle what they are in fact: smoke and mirrors, an expensive waste of time, and primarily devoted to catering to the wish fulfillment of individuals with a keen desire to become important and who would appreciate a leg up and a free lunch while they're at it. By playing the great white host outfitted with a potlatch worth of CARE packages, whether a priest or an NGO volunteer, one is actually the pointy end of a huge logistics pyramid. One is also the representative of a Valhalla of terrifying 19th century warring ghosts. One is backed, in a very real way, by an enormous military power consisting of Westerners, most of whom are, or have been, white. And thus white, roughly speaking, is the color of power in the Third World today (as opposed to yesteryear, when power came in many other colors all over the world).

The NGO's would not be there were it not for the Western military; these volunteers would not be praised as saviors were it not for the economic power of their homelands; their worldview, religions, and personal safety would not be taken seriously were it not for combination of both. And yet, of course, both soul-savers and NGO's prefer to console themselves with the clearly bogus notion that it is their innate goodness, there selflessness which has put them there, front and center, given them centerstage, made them great people, a new generation of apprentice Gandhi's and Martin Luther King's.

Again, the Messiah complex. We all have it, we all fantasize about it, we all want it made real and recognized. But to have the limelight, in this case, requires a lighting crew and theater owners and, most critical of all, investors and bouncers. Volunteers or students hired on the cheap is far, far from enough. And let's not forget the playwright, as most of these goodhearted people don't have enough wherewithal for public speaking off the cuff and not enough chutzpah for leadership. What would those in communication with the divine say if they didn't have a Bible for cribbing notes, for teaching songs, for copping affecting allegories? What would volunteers say if they didn't have catchy slogans and reference manuals passed down from on high from the NGO's PR firm?

The real problem with the film is that the missionaries and NGO people shouldn't be there unless they have something useful to offer the locals. And neither importing their religion (ipso facto bogus) nor their food (most of which is stolen by, or just frankly given outright to, the oppressing regime in bribe/barter) has any hope of curing the ailment that these nations are unfortunately down with good and hard.

Operating from the premise that racism is outmoded and that all people, when taken in groups, come aboard this world with the same fundamental level of intelligence, then the difference between underdeveloped peoples and developed peoples comes down to massive differences in culture, worldviews, habits, taboos, and so forth. (Here, I'm presuming that the reader has already gotten past the Chomsky et al conspiracy theories of elites and other organized gangs of well-connected bozos pulling strings and riding herd. Try to imagine GW Bush, Poppy, BJ Clinton, the snoozing Reagan and his astrologer-consulting wife, and other powerful cream puffs with enough knowledge and wherewithal to control the planet. Bush et al can't be both master bozos and master wire-pullers.)

The setting of the movie was Nigeria, and, most of the difficulties there I believe have been due to a combination of tribal and Muslim/Christian friction. In the film, though it's not made perfectly clear, I presume that since the opposition does not like the Christian crosses that they see, that they are opposed to Christianity. Probably, they are supposed to be Muslim but, given the present opposition to racial profiling etc., in the film the bad guys are just bad. No reason given, though plenty of opportunity, had anyone cared to write it in to the scenario. Fair enough, in a sense, for I've no interest in working up religious chauvinist opposition to Muslims either. However, it is surely no coincidence that the Muslim prohibition upon usury coincides with the overwhelming predisposition for Muslim countries to be languishing in poverty. Just as it is surely no coincidence that medieval Europe's poverty was overthrown by minority Protestant sects ignoring the Catholic church ban on usury. They went out and made a buck instead. In comparison with the old days, it's been mostly happy days ever since.

Without usury, the lending of money, you can't have a modern economy. No banks, no investors, no stock market equals no capital flow, no added value, no wealth beyond the subsistence level. If your country is this strapped, then you can't send children to school. The economy, i.e. the people, can't afford to pay for children to sit in schools. In poor countries, children pay their own way into adulthood for the most part.

If you can't go to school, you can't learn how the world works. And how the world works, in principle, is via a complex body of systems. We learn about these systems when we study math, physics, historical trends, business operations, meteorology, geology, and so on and so forth. If you don't interpret the world in terms of systems, then you interpret it in terms of conspiracy theories. It is one, typically, or the other. You find religious people who also have a working knowledge of science. But you usually find their understanding of science is obfuscated by their unwillingness to attribute too much to science because they feel guilty about taking too much away from God.

The point I'm trying to make is that Nigeria, like Iraq, Indonesia, and the Philippines is majority-populated by people who believe in conspiracy theories. They believe that ghosts and spirits and devils and angels manipulate and control everything. That everything happens for a reason. And that behind every reason is a person, either good or evil. When you see the world in terms of good or evil, and things don't go your way, you blame someone. Blame, blame, blame. This is the antithesis of detachment, understanding, and a sophisticated worldview that is accommodating, tolerant, and mild-mannered.

Until you eradicate blame and mood swings and replace them with detachment and well-adjusted people, the problems of Nigeria and Iraq are not going to go away. Democracy does not function unless people understand systems. Democracy itself requires checks and balances; again, more systems. If a given system doesn't work, you fix it; you don't fix the people (i.e. no reform camps, struggle sessions, or summary executions). If you interpret society in terms of spirits and ghosts -- and only see good guys and bad guys, heros and villains, martyrs and cowards, sorcerors and zombies -- democracy is not going to function. And when democracy does not function, the public's desire for justice is doomed. The military and the police become sectarian as they themselves are simply fellow citizens when push comes to shove. And when this and more happens, democracy is put on the shelf and exchanged for warlordship. Ergo Nigeria. Ergo Iraq. Ergo, a not terribly satisfying film for thinking people. But perhaps a realistic film that captures well the banality and futility of the worldview held by the non-thinking, be they Nigerian, American or European.

Biff Cappuccino

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

This is a hasty review of Dick Wilson's, The Long March 1935: the Epic of Chinese Communism's Survival

According to the author Bio, Dick Wilson was born in England, was a graduate of Oxford and went on to the University of California at Berkeley. He was a journalist for the Financial Times and the Guardian, a director for the Far East Economic Review and editor of the China Quarterly. He served as financial editor of the Straits Times and senior editorial adviser to the New Nation, both of which are/were Singaporean publications.

Well, fabulous résumé qualifications but an unfortunately incredible book written by someone who appears to have little grasp of human nature, real politik, or even economics. How this pretender managed to serve on these publications was a mystery at first, but on reflection, the answers come quickly. Clearly, paper qualifications and the ability to write what is popular, in unabashed opposition to common sense and facts that get in the way, and to ride with the herd and adhere slavishly to the fashions of the day were, and remain, more important than actually having something new to say or having spine enough to say what one believes at heart. As always, intellectual temerity is the rule and intellectual courage and fortitude the exception. In my view, it's because most people cannot think on the fly and are thus incapable of confidently refuting the arguments of the mainstream when they're challenged in social or professional situations. It's more comfortable, easier, and professionally safer to hew to the views of the majority, regardless of how ignorant or incredible they may be.

This book is a case in point demonstrating how such lunacy can be propagated and be profitable, and doom the rest of us to wasting ever-more time refuting pseudo-history. When one is young, the more vigorous have often have a healthy ambition to dominate their world or at least leave a noteworthy mark on it. Now that one has graduated, homework is a thing of the past. A shortcut is greatly appreciated. Enter the easy fight, the moral engagement, the popular cause: socialism which is, at heart, a quack's nostrum proposing to cure a conspiracy theory. An incompetent solution to an imaginary problem, you complain? But it's the best kind for their purposes as the alleged goal can never be achieved. Thus, one can keep chasing one's tale for generations, centuries, millennia.

Superficially, young socialists wish to save the downtrodden. But quite clearly the animus is the latent wish to uplift their jejune selves in the fastest way possible and outshine their elders; the end justifying the means, as always when we are young.

Like Dick Wilson, they wish to wrench leadership from their betters (i.e. the older generation) and so they try to adopt their means and jump into the leadership saddle. They take to paternalism. But with a twist. Needing to distinguish themselves, they accuse their jaded betters of cynicism and selling-out. They take take to guilty causes and saving society's downtrodden: i.e., it's misfits, lunatics, and incompetents. But saving the underdog, allegedly an act of contrition and altruism, is of course a self-help project; a form of favoritism with oneself being the favorite; a hope that if one gets behind the ranks of other failures in life, then perhaps oneself, who is not yet successful and who senses a personal mediocrity, will have a chance to get ahead. As always, safety in numbers, or in lieu of that, the rule of the majority that was feared by the Founding Fathers and who predicted the inevitable end. As they stated, history shows that full democracy grows democrats who eventually, when they have their druthers, vote into office monsters: Cleon, Napoleon, Mussolini, Hitler, and Stalin. All of these good old boys promised national socialism, and boy did they deliver. You better be careful what you agitate for.

If I'm not mistaken, this sums up the side of Dick Wilson that appears in this book and which animates his many absurd interpretations of events.

On page seven appears the following sentence: The rebellion reflected the miserable conditions of this region of China at that time, which were exacerbated by the effects of China's forced trade with the West and by some of the worst floods and famines in Chinese history.

One wonders what the phrase "forced trade" means. The only kind of forced trade that comes to my mind is: "your money or your life". How else can trade be forced? If trade is forced, surely it's theft. In other words, the writer doesn't seem to know what trade is.

Other things come to mind, such as the Opium War and the forced trade in drugs. But this brings to mind that America's "Opium War" (i.e. the drug war, a war to keep drugs out of America) has been a fabulous failure for the home country too. And surely the rationale behind legalizing drugs in the US should apply to China. If so, and I view things this way, then the Opium War takes on a new, sweeter flavor. It legalized part of the drug trade: i.e. it was a step forward; it was progress. You can't force people to do drugs. And anyone who does their homework knows that most opium users were not addicts, they were recreational users just like most beer-users are recreational users. (Even cigarettes were once banned in the United States for their alleged moral hazard.)

The end of the US drug war will come when the drug trade is liberalized; when it becomes laissez-faire; when it becomes just another tentacle of global free trade, prying open domestic monopolies.

This book was published with a 1971 copyright. Surely Dick Wilson was familiar with the Golden triangle drug traffic. It was common knowledge in the day that the Golden triangle was a KMT run operation. As such it can be said, and especially if one wishes to play the idiotic patriot game, that China has already had its revenge for the Opium War on Western Europe. Opium harvested in the Golden triangle was processed in Hong Kong (producing famed China White heroin) and then shipped to Marseilles for the infamous French connection. Drugs were sold to Europe because the shipping agent, the CIA's Air America, was expressly forbidden to ship the drugs to America.

On page eight, the same politically motivated painfully naïve description of economics appears yet again. This time, there is math bungling as well. It is curious but true that reporters often have trouble with their times tables. Check this out: By the time the Communists were fighting for supremacy in China, the situation of the Chinese peasant was as bad as it had been during many of the previous revolutions. The average size of the Chinese farm was about 3.3 acres, from which an adult farmer could earn perhaps ¥65 (or US $16) a year. The landlord usually took half of this, and the balance was hardly enough for the tenants' livelihood and that his family. He was obliged to borrow from money lenders to tide of the slack season, and to pay interest of 30% or more a year.

If this was a situation of the average farmer, and the average farmer could barely get by with the balance left over after the landlord took a share, the interest payments on the borrowed money could never be met. If that is the case, then, for mathematics sake, let's say 50% of farmer's per annum lost their farms. In two years 50% of the remaining 50% would again lose their farms. In other words 75% of farmers within 2 years would not have a farm. If you push the math farther, within five years 97% of farmer's in China would not have any property. Two more years later, and 99% of China's farmers don't have any property. Are we really supposed to believe this?

He goes on to say to: these poor tenant farmers were harassed, as in previous centuries, by extortionate taxation on the part of both the central government and the provincial or regional warlords, and by the corvée.

Beyond the verbal overkill of "harassed... by extortionate taxation" (as opposed to being harassed by non-extortionate taxation?) there is the lack of common sense.

Surely the central factor in this exploitation, so-called, was the tradition of having as many kids as possible. It's been said that what ended feudalism in Europe, amongst other things, was the Black death. Once laborers died en masse in one of nature's coordinated leaps into the grave, labor became scarce, tenants could demand rights because they were no longer dime a dozen, they were no longer next to worthless. Rousseau, that loudly protesting lover of the noble savage, children, and most importantly of all, himself, sent six of his infant children to their deaths in the state owned and operated slaughterhouse for the newly born. Again, was this institution's existence due to the harassment of exploiters? Was Rousseau being exploited when he exploited the convenience of letting the government kill his children for him? Or was this a matter of people having too many children and the population growing above the capacity of the land, the technology of the day, and the marketplace?

Obviously, it's the latter. And quite as obviously, this same notion is familiar to people who pretend not to take it seriously. Why don't they take it seriously? Because simple folk need something to blame. Their mindset is still medieval. They don't like systems and they don't like math both of which are presumed too complicated and to require time and effort to understand (though very little, actually). Worst of all, systems and math provide no opportunity for sport. They replace the blame-game with cause-and-effect. There is no immediate gratification and no entertainment (no chase, no slaughter, no hero, no villain, no climax.) Where have all the good times gone? Thus, this science-based and spirited explanation is a no-go from the start for natural, primal factors. I.e.: from youthful willfulness, from giving in to the latent immaturity and desire to galavant irresponsibly that lurk in all of us.

(I didn't intend for this to be a rant against socialism, but I'm short on time and I will have to stop here.)

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Excerpts from "Taiwan Faces New Missile Threat "

The anonymous military source added that China's weapons are liquid-fueled, slow and cumbersome. They could attack U.S. ships in the Taiwan Strait because they don't need much in the way of a guidance system: "You just turn the missile on and tell it to go for the big blob," the official said.

But a land-attack cruise missile is harder to build, and expert U.S. defense officials said that China's cruise missile technology is struggling, because of Beijing's inability to build a state-of-the art jet engine. "A jet engine is the heart of a cruise missile," which also includes guidance technology that uses computer-powered in-flight terrain mapping that matches stored images of the ground with in-flight data, according to one official.

Chinese pilots are under strict control from ground controllers, say military experts who spoke with UPI. "Regardless of where they sit, the controller dictates every move the pilot makes," one U.S. defense expert said, much like the old Iraqi and other Soviet-derived air forces.

The Chinese also have no over-the-horizon targeting capability, as the United States does, which severely limits missile effectiveness. The Chinese navy has virtually no anti-submarine warfare capability, which would leave it helpless against U.S. attack subs that are sure to be involved in any conflict over Taiwan.

"The Patriot isn't an anti-aircraft weapon, not an anti-missile missile," he said. "It flies too slowly and has too much difficulty distinguishing between decoys and booster debris to destroy the warhead," he said. Even if it blows up at the right time, it's so low, that "a chemical warhead would be a disaster," dropping back on the defenders, he said.

A U.S. defense expert agreed. The Patriot, he said, is only "marginally effective," good only for defending "what it's sitting on top of." It hasn't the speed required for interception. One U.S. defense expert said that the real issue in any Chinese campaign against Taiwan is how vigorously the Taiwanese resisted ?how much punishment they would be able to take without surrendering. Because all China can do is damage Taiwan, but if the damage "doesn't cause capitulation, that is it," he said. China can't "go beyond punishment to conquest."

Because of this, he said, the Chinese theater missile threat "is not nearly the significant capability as some read it to be." He compared the sheer numbers of warheads the United States dropped on targets in the Kosovo campaign ?30,000 missiles of precision guided munitions "put on a target selected by a very elaborate intelligence and reconnaissance system" costing billions of dollars.

China has no system that can begin to compare, and "one has to not just talk of the missile, but of the numbers of launchers, the number of reloads" and resupply, he said. All told, "China has a couple of hundred missiles to devote to Taiwan."
Now that chicken flu and Chen Sui-Bian are going cold in the press morgue, some of the more savvy scribes are trying to wind up their customers with speculation about a war between China and Taiwan. I was reviewing some of the commentary and found an amusing conversation at the following forum. Both writers are Singaporean Chinese, I believe.


Re: Taiwan Invasion Not So Unlikely April 9 2004, 7:12 AM

I'm a chinese Singaporean living and working in Shanghai for the past 2 years. Before that I spent over 5 years in HK.

>>> so what?

Before coming to HK and China, I was very pro American/western etc. I couldn't even bring myself to speak Chinese languages.

>>> shame on you... but... at least we all get to see how easy you can be "influenced".... brainwashing you would be easy!! hahahaa....

I used to think PRC was the enemy because they are communists, right? So they must be backwards and evil and dangerous etc.

>>> oh.... poor chap... got so badly brainwashed by simple western media... most "normal" singaporeans never believe in that kind of rubbish that "Communist is enemy" BULL****I.

I don't think like that anymore. It's very obvious that I was fed all kinds of anti-chinese propaganda from my own government and US propaganda machinery like Time and CNN. The Chinese did what they had to do to preserve their soverignty and command the respect they deserve - nothing more.

>>> hold your horses... and stop lying through your ass... singapore govt NEVER fed anyone in singapore any ANTI-chinese propaganda... it stupid since.. 70+ percent signaporeans are chinese!!!

>>> and until afew years earlier before cable TV is available to singaporeans, CNN can only be watch by foreigners in HOTELS!!

The Chinese are not evil. The PLA soldiers I've met in China and Tibet and friendly and very disciplined and helpful. (They gave us free medical aid in Tibet.)

>>> NOPE... chinese are NOT evil... they are just human... just like singapore medical units in East timor and in dozens of other parts of the world.. saving and helping people they never knew...

Chinese people are a mix of very modern in the cities and very backwards in the countryside.

>>> so too... is most of the world nations... though the mix is of different proportion...

At the same time there must be close to a million Taiwanese living, working and doing business in China. In all but words - the 2 people are reunited. Most Chinese definitely want Taiwan back but do not want bloodshed. In today's more gentle society, killing Taiwanese sounds quite unthinkable even to the most militant chinese youths I have met. The Taiwanese are just a wayward child but still family.

>>> oh.... i believe that the govt of PRC has NO intention to attack ROC despite all the verbal abuse... and no one (except some luny forumners who probably never carried a rifle, which i noted in the past) wants any war... war sucks... but some chinese think they can take on USA!....

And strangely enough, a lot of Taiwanese I've met in Taiwan (I had a Taiwanese gf once), DO want to be reunited with China. It's a good half and half for and against. Again, the thought of war between the 2 people is quite unthinkable. Though most Taiwanese will not hesitate to defend their country to the last bullet. (Taiwanese like to fight.)

>>> dont be so quick to judge others... what do you mean by taiwanese LIKE TO FIGHT!!??

>>> and people's opinion changes.. maybe after PRC starts to put more missile across the formosa straits... the taiwanese are having second thoughts about the PRC benevolence (or lack of it)... towards taiwanese...

But many are sick of living on a small island being barred from going over to the mainland. So when the rules were relaxed - a lot of Taiwanese just up and left the island in their own freewill.

>>> but they still kept the ROC citizenship.... wonder why?? dont trust the CCP enough? maybe PRC should start asking them if they will give up ROC citizenship in exchange for PRC citizenship....

>>> and some of those taiwanese that went to PRC... was on spying missions....

It's only those in the government that likes to play these cat and mouse games. I don't know why the idiot child Chen Shuibian got voted again but I know for a fact that the most nationalistic Taiwanese may want independence - but NOT through war and definitely not with American assistance, though it's good for them to know that it's there should they need it.

>>> wait a minute... didnt you talk to "ALOT" of taiwanese?? now you dont know why CSB is elected instead?? hmmm... maybe they arent telling you their true feelings!

Still, my heart lies with China. If they ever fight against the Americans I hope the Chinese win. I hope the Americans get the shxt kicked out of them. They've been behaving like 1st class bullies: invading Iraq and Afghanistan, bombing PRC embassy, sending spy planes etc.

>>> yah.... and while your at it... change your citizenship please... so that you can go kick american butts as a PLA soldier!

>>> not right and moral to ask PLA soldiers to die for your personal desire you know... and lastly... who are you to judge USA? maybe you lived in USA for 5 years like you did in PRC? or you watch too much CCTV like you watch too much CNN like in the past?

I am confident the Chinese will prevail as they have the moral right to stop Taiwan going independent. They won against the Americans in the 50's in Korea when they didn't even have enough guns. Those behind pick up the weapons of those killed in front.

>>> if moral can wins war... who needs rifle!?

>>> they didnt won the korean war... its an armistic... and the PLA attacked without declaring war on the UN... its a sneek attack like the japs on pearl harbour... just that USA aint interested in occupying PRC when they just barely just occupied japan... though many PRC citizen would ask if US can occupy PRC...

And the peasant army in Vietnam also kicked American butts back to US of A.

>>> i believe all the PRC citizen would agreed with me.. that Viets didnt kicked american butts.... on their own... until PRC and RUS came to their aids... PRC alone sends so much stuffs to the viets... the viets cant finish them and was able to use those excess PRC supplies against PRC later on....

If you compare the number of missiles and planes and ships and tanks between US and these 2 enemies back then in the 50's and 60's, Americans win hands down. Yet, they lost the war - twice.

>>> in korea, USA is still there... if you might noticed that there are NK and SK.

>>> in vietnam... USA lost to a PRC, RUS and VIET combine forces... but in the end PRC also got their ass whipped by VIET while RUS deployed 50!! armored divisions along PRC northern borders!!... the warm of communist friendship is certainly getting too hot to bear!! hahahahaa....

So I am sure if the US sent their battle fleets and men into Asia again, they will again pay a very heavy price and be humbled.

>>> sure? you?? who the hell are you?? when even the PLA never said they could defeat USA openly...

There will be no shortage of volunteers in China to fight a war with America. The Americans have given the ordinary Chinese person enough reasons.

>>> volunteers?? no problem... i give you 150 BILLION volunteer PLA soldiers... now go and faced down the 4,000 american nukes... lets see how many volunteers you will be left...

Re: Taiwan Invasion Not So Unlikely April 9 2004, 11:09 AM

Damn, lost the front part of my message...

Foaming at the mouth and demanding I renounce my Singaporean citizenship again? I can imagine you glasses fogging up with rage and your saliva splattering the screen as you type.


: )


nahhhh..... but you wanna see PLA soldiers die for your pleasure... at least have the morality to take the front with them.....

Re: Taiwan Invasion Not So Unlikely April 9 2004, 11:29 AM

Okay lah, whatever you say. You win. You are smartest they should give you a medal etc...

But let's end this here and not turn this thread into another one where we both argue.

Friday, April 09, 2004

Hi J: I got around to reading that Salon article The Confessions of a Semi-successful Author. It's an interesting article, but I'm not convinced that it has that much to do with my prospects. Of course, I agree that writing is a very competitive and that most people don't make any money out of it, but surely the author in this case doesn't like the fact, and is even in partial denial, that she's operating in a marketplace. One of her prime grudges is that she can't get published despite writing what she calls "quality books". In other words, and she makes this clear over and over again, she believes that the market owes her a living. She believes that the industry is out of whack, that her tragic inability to make a living from writing is somehow unfair. This of course is absurd. The market owes no one a living. The market changes in random ways and you have to adapt to it; like weather, cancer, or a natural disaster, it is not going to adapt to you.

She even goes so far as to admit, with pronounced irritation, an inability to understand what the market wants. On the one hand she despises what sells; on the other hand she is at a loss to explain why garbage books do sell and do so in droves. Surely it's professional incompetence to try to retail a product in the marketplace in this way and an incredible effrontery to be contemptious of those who've succeeded (ex: Michael Moore wrote the No. 1 non-fiction book in the US market last year). This woman's unwillingness to bend and make concessions to market tastes, and then complain that her books don't sell, surely makes her a pathological case.

As usual with such democratic phenomena, Mencken has written about this at length before. In one of his articles he mentions something to the fact that a person specializing in deciphering ancient Egyptian is not going to find much luck working in Peoria Illinois and should not complain about it. In other words, what she really wants to do is pursue an esoteric hobby and have the public support her whims by purchasing her books and making her a millionaire in the process. More denial, little common sense, and an incredibly self-centered worldview that presumes entitlement, amongst other lunacy. For someone from the upper-middle class, she has a very dreamy inner-city, welfare-bum perspective on things. She's only a step away from the Marx/Chomsky neo-animist conspiracy cosmologies...

Also, because I don't know who she is, I can't tell what kind of writing she produces. This is unfortunate as I'm sure that if we could take a look at a few pages of the quality material she churns out, we would understand immediately why she's failing. In lieu of this, the next best thing is try to get an idea of her approach.

It seems that she makes a pitch, gets an advance, and then devotes the next couple of years to putting the book together. My approach is exactly the opposite. Before launching into a book project, I first build up my knowledge base and then write the book. It's for this reason, for example, that I'm reading both Chinese and American history. With her, she's limited by time constraints and thus necessarily restricted to focusing upon a narrow area. If she's in fact doing what I'm thinking, this would also make it difficult for her to attract a general audience since a general audience wants a mishmash of material, it does not want to read a narrow academic monograph; regardless of the quality.

Also, check out the quote: "I've published several books, won rave reviews, and even sold a few copies. But I've made almost no money and had my heart broken." Her first US $150,000 advance seems to me to be a very impressive sum. I've made nothing so far.

And that phrase, "had my heart broken." Hmm... that suggest plenty to me about her failure...

Furthermore, writing her books in a given style or format that has failed to sell in the past seems to me to be pigheaded, indulgent, and financially irresponsible. She's been digging her own grave. It's one thing to make a mistake once and its another not to learn from it. Sort of a variation on the adage: fool me once a shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.

And how about this quote: "Taking the job would feel like admitting failure," I told my now 19-year-old daughter, the girl I raised to believe that dreams do come true. I don't think either one of us would enjoy the writing of an author who cherishes such foolish sentimentalities.

Just throwing in my $.50 worth. Thanks for the referral.

An email and notes...

Sounds good.
>maybe 15 may or so?
>i hate marxism.

Marx writes like a hustler, like a politician with verbal talent sheparding his sheep. (I've come to the conclusion that Noam Chomsky's most likely a charlatan too) I was just talking to Judd last night about the Manifesto (written in 1848). A couple of quotes follow:

"It has drowned out the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation."

In other words, "religious fervour...chivalrous enthusiasm...philistine sentimentalism" are preferable to enlightened self-interest. This is just sophistry. Intelligentsia slang-whanging.

"It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage laborers."

Physicians and lawyers are professionals. By definition, they don't work for wages, they work on a contractual basis with their incomes formulated (i.e. artificially inflated) by the guild (i.e. medical associations or the bar, both of which are owned and operated by their peers, not big business). Same goes for priests. Real poets don't work for wages. They work for free. Poets for hire aren't poets. They're PR executives. Same goes for that genre of writers who specialize in winning over awards & prize committees, as opposed to winning over readers. Men of science (as opposed to technicians) tend to be entrepreneurs who run companies and employ wage laborers. Think of Sam Morse, the ex-painter cum entrepreneur and originator of the electric telegraph who was doing this at the time Marx was writing the manifesto. Or think today to the start-up biotech firms (Genentech), aerospace firms, computer companies (Taiwan ranks fourth worldwide in US patents awarded annually, etc.) and so forth. Men of science earn income, not wages. Entirely different things... How could an economist, of all people, confuse income with wages?

It was bullshit when Marx wrote it and it remains bullshit today. 95% of the population will throw their lot in with anything from marxism to astrology if it means safety in numbers. The poor, pathetic bastards.


To the above I might add that Marx is also sort of predecessor to contemporary caricatures of bookish nerds; a sort of glorious pioneer who set the stage for later generations of ivory tower hacks. For example, he was well-known to dislike bathing and was widely reported as being dirty and odiferous. Furthermore, he was professionally incompetent in the private sector. He was also chronically insolvent and ended up being put on a stipend of sorts by Engels who supported him financially whole hog for between 20 and 30 years. Engels, who inherited wealth, more or less split his own allowance with Karl Marx, which gave Marx a newfound prosperity. Even then, the author of capitalism and the widely-acclaimed expert on money was wholly incapable of managing his own finances and living within his means. He died bequeathing his debts to his friends.

Further, Marx, true to academia, slept with his disciples. In his case, he knocked up the family maid and had Engels take the blame and claim that he sired the child. For that matter, like many academic activists, he was given to conspiracy theories. Perhaps he invented the genre. Furthermore, like many academics, he had little contact with the private sector and easily fell into writing escapist, ivory tower nonsense.

For that matter, he incurred scandals after being found guilty in his day of deliberately misquoting speeches and using inappropriate, dated statistics to back up assertions that capitalism and government was colluding to make things worse when in fact safety-standard legislation and general prosperity were improving. And again, like so many academics, Marx was inordinately proud and found it a very difficult to accept contrary opinions. His famously ferocious temper made it very difficult to keep friends. His pronounced intolerance of others flies, of course, right in the face of the popular notion that he was a friend to the downtrodden. He was, in fact, a prick to the end.

To paraphrase Mencken, professors are afflicted with theories like dogs are afflicted with fleas. Here again, what is Marx but a failed professor afflicted with theories that he had to prop up with falsified evidence to give the appearance of flight.

Given Marx's psychic resemblance to many members of the overeducated academic crowd today, it's little wonder he's so popular with so much of academia. To again paraphrase Mencken, for every problem there's a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong. As an explanation for history, dialectical materialism couldn't get much simpler, neater, and more wrong. And of course, his solution to the woes of mankind consisted of the incompetent majority stealing the property of the competent minority, followed by a moving back to the countryside where we'd all take up the Amish lifestyle. And live happily ever after.

What a clown. But what a fantastic self-perpetuating circus he left behind...

Sunday, April 04, 2004

Chapter 11

I woke up in the district hospital. The establishment had a good reputation for its doctors and services. It had been founded by a Buddhist philanthropic association and had excellent facilities due to good management and high profitability. The latter came in part because it was a large cash business and thus excellent for money-laundering and tax dodging. It was a favorite resource of politicians in particular. You could invest in it, you could donate to it, and so forth and for a small surcharge - voilà! - your money was clean.

The CEO swathed himself in Buddhist attire and lore when on the premises of the main temple, but traveled around our town in a well-fitting suit, driven around by chauffeur in the back of a fine Mercedes. A new model every year. He was proud, happy, successful in every sense of the modern world. He had a sex life. This meeting of capitalism and Buddhism was referred to as flower Buddhism and, despite the pie-in-the-sky puritanical complaints of some, it seemed to work just fine in the right hands. It’s hard to argue with success, though so many traditionalists, socialists, and other sorts of eternally pathologically dissatisfied dreamy dreamers do.

I moved my head and looked around at the crab-grass green drapes, the sallow walls, the lumpy tiles. It was very 1950s in that the establishment felt so much like an institution in the vernacular sense: it was functional but not ergonomic, it offered square boxy rooms, clean lines, and plenty of shy, dusty shuffling peasants and neo-urbanites who were more at home here but who also wore clothes that didn’t quite fit. The place was sufficiently clean, in the Chinese manner, which is to say that there was loose grainy crud here and there, the occasional smear on the walls, plus cobwebs where the walls met the ceiling, high out of reach of a cleaning staff that was presumably short, short-sighted, or short of elbow grease. The air was redolent with iodine or peroxide, but most of all, most noticeable, was the heavy dampness. It was fortunate that the room was a bit warm.

I leaned forward and the stretching of my neck reminded me to pay attention and make sure the rest of me was okay. I sat up promptly in a panic. But I wasn't paralyzed or missing any limbs. Everything was in order. I looked over and saw Mikey. I ventured a smile, until I realized he was scowling.

"Mikey? Are you OK? Hey, am I OK? How do I look?"

"You stupid sod. I was just getting warmed up, I had a good chance. Until you fucked up."

"I beg your pardon? Fucked what up?"

"Why did you hit me? You idiot! We got clobbered."

I stammered, "Awe shit. Really?" I bit my upper lip and tried to remember. It was all still fuzzy. I made a snap decision to do the Chinese thing and just go through the motions. I'd piece together what really happened and what I really thought later. For now, I deadpanned and said, "Sorry about that. I didn't know what was happening. Somebody hit me on the side of the head. Everything went out of focus. I was just trying to help. I seem to remember thinking somebody was coming to attack me."

"You moron. I was sideling over to you so that we could face them back to back, when you smacked me a good one in the eye. I couldn't see anything. I was helpless. They gave it to me good and hard. The gutless bastards attacked me all at once."

"Well, you should have left the drunk alone. You never should have hit him. If you hadn't started it, they wouldn't have had to end it."

A nurse came in, very businesslike, in her mid-thirties. Retaining the short childish steps of her early youth, she was yet confident, in control. Impatiently she said, "I've come to take your temperature. Open wide." She took my temperature and then said, "You had a bit of a fever last night but you seem OK now."

She went to toss the thermometer into the bin. Another duty completed, just another temperature. Given the waste inherent in this single-use of the appliance, I couldn’t help wonder whether the thermometer was going to be thrown out or recycled by a shady medical supplier. She turned, we were already out of sight and out of mind, and she was already leaving when Mikey complained, "Well what about me? Don't you want to take my temperature?"

She looked at me and asked, "What did your friend say?" I told her and she said, "Tell him to shut his mouth. I'm not a waitress. He's fine. He's ready to leave. And so are you." She left in a huff. She was busy. She was a professional. Or was she determined not to give the foreigners special treatment, not to give in to the pathological obsequiousness, eternal flirting, or the naturally healthy curiosity of so many of her younger, less devoted, less experienced, less professional peers? The younger generation was so easily distracted. Either way, like most nurses outside of porn videos, she had little patience with patients. Half the paying customers were hypochondriacs. And in a country where sympathy trips were very popular, another quarter of the paying customers were head cases.

Johnson came in just as I was saying to Mikey, "The nurse says you're OK. We're ready to leave I guess."

I sat up in the damp sheets, but failed to find the expected, and these days reassuring, scent of mold that was a part of my new identity; that was part of the scheme of things that was part of this adopted tropical country, this beautiful frowsy town. Johnson came over and shook my hand. "Look at me. Can you see me? How many fingers am I holding up?"

I frowned in disgust, "Give us a break, will you Johnson? We're fine. Just a bit of an altercation that's all. We weren’t mangled."

He took my knee-jerk meanness in stride, not noticing it in his concern, treating me as if I was a relative, all sins and transgressions to be forgiven. I had earned my right to complain, to offend. He exhaled: "Well, I'm glad you’re OK. It would've been dreadful if you'd actually been really hurt. We'd have real trouble replacing you." I was warmed by his mercenary spirit. He was just being practical. And predictable. Everything had its worth, it's specific value. In many ways, this made talking with Johnson so eminently easy. You knew where you stood. You knew what his priorities were. There was no bullshit. He got to the point. You knew how to negotiate. And everything was negotiable.

He shook my hand firmly. Now that this awkward business was done, now that his term of professional worry and personal anguish was over, it was time for a minor reward to lift his spirits. To put the day back on an even keel. He said, "Well, looks like I'm going to join you for a bit anyway. You still need to get some rest. So relax for a while." He trotted out happily between the blinds, shouting back at us "I'll be right back. I need them to wheel in a table for me."

Mikey exclaimed, "Bloody hell. Don't I get any attention. Or am I just a piece of meat?" The question answered itself. His sentimentality had little place here. You had to earn your worth. The hospital was just another private concern and he was just another customer in the puling crowd. In this case, an oversized, scruffy and manifestly belligerent customer.

Johnson was back in a jiffy with a doctor. The doctor brought with him a reclining bed, behind which was mounted an IV assembly with a bag of clear liquid. Johnson got up on the bed, and when he was comfortable, the doctor began rubbing his inner elbow with alcohol and cotton, before finding the vein and plunging the needle in.

Mikey decided to weasel in on Johnson's good side and asked him in a concerned tone, "Are you sick? What happened?"

"Me? Oh, I'm just hot. It's ferocious outside and the air-conditioning doesn't seem to be working in this ward. IV's are cheap. There's nothing like one to make you comfortable in the heat."

I said, "With an IV? You can't be serious? That's hardly an appropriate use of the facilities is it?"

The doctor introduced himself in halting English, "Ah, you speak English very well. What is your name?"

I took him in with a glance and noted the gray brush-cut, the smudged glasses with the yellowy-pink streaking that indicated the scratch-proof layer of plastic coating was giving up the ghost and oxidizing. He was dressed in a drab tie, a paunch and had a pair of pragmatic, no-slip sneakers clashing with his dress pants. I presumed nylon or rayon socks inside. Not an encouraging specimen. One of the old school quacks who received his training in the military, where loyalty, taking orders, and bogus honor were more important than professional competence. He had been ready for the retirement home ever since first taking up his practice.

We ignored him and Johnson continued, "Don't they do this in Canada? They should. Everyone does it these days. If someone comes down with a fever, and can't stand the heat, get the doctor to give you an IV. It's covered by the national insurance anyway."

"But surely that's an abuse of precious medical resources. Surely you're taking up space that could be better applied for the benefit of the genuinely needy."

"Oh, come on Edward. Give me a break." He rolled his eyes. We were being a couple of bumpkins. We'd failed to stay abreast of global developments. We didn't realize what age we were living in. No wonder we were out here in the boonies working at his school.

The doctor saw his chance to cut in again. He wanted a piece of the action. He wanted to practice his English. He wanted some strokes. Preceding his words with a perfunctory belch, he inquired, "So, where you come from?" He squeezed out a small fart to make himself comfortable.

Nobody said anything and it got quiet in an awkward way. I made the mistake of feeling sorry for him, which was precisely what he wanted. I cut the ice by replying without any particular enthusiasm, "I'm from Canada, he's from Australia. I gather that our condition is fine. The nurse said we can go. So, thanks for your help anyway. We're out of here."

But he wasn't that easily persuaded. "It takes doctor to be sure. Let me take a look you for to be sure."

He felt my forehead, and his hand moved firmly around to my temple. He found a bump, depressed the swelling, and I squealed. He was one of the rough and ready school, one of the cheapskates that enjoyed producing pain and excused the lack of tranquilizers with the implication or outright statement that one was a man and thus didn't need them. There are plenty of earnest doctors in this country, but there are also a lot of these half-trained amateurs left over from the early martial law era Gilded Age of get-rich-quick quack practitioners.

He pronounced, "That not so good."

But we just wanted to leave. "Look, it's not a problem. We're just on our way out."

But he was already gone. He came back 30 seconds later with a younger nurse. He gave her orders in English, not Chinese. "Take his pulse. Check the side of his head. Take his temperature again."

Did she understand him? Did it matter? And then he squawked at her in Taiwanese, giving directions that I didn't understand.

All this conspicuous lavishing of bogus attention was followed by his pulling open the drapes to our section and introducing the rest of ward to the prodigies of his English studies: "So you from Canada, is that it? I been there many times. So you must be from Vancouver, right?” People started showing up sure enough. Shy yokels, moms and pops with bad teeth and worse factory export clothing. I rolled my eyes. “Wonderful place. Canada has great - how do you say?” And he lingered, savoring the next word to come, the impressive multi-syllables and potential for mellifluousness if the pronunciation was apt, and then released it, “atmosphere… It's great place to retire. I envy you very much. So what do you think of Canada?"

What a bore. I guessed that he’d probably worked with the US forces stationed in Taiwan 35 years prior. It appeared that he'd been making a one-trick pony show of his English proficiency ever since. With Taiwan's high population, the pressure to get ahead of the competition was intense. In lieu of talent, gimmicks would have to do, and often did do.

But he was in charge, and insubordination was something traditionally punished by death. Of course, those days were long gone, but the ghosts of tradition march on and are only diverted slowly. There was a strong residue of moral compulsion which made most people fawning and unwilling to stand up for their rights and dignity. Half the time, it seemed that interaction in Chinese was all about either establishing or losing one's dignity. Usually the latter it seemed, as there was always someone higher up in one of the myriad hierarchies that everyone was a part of, or should I say, subordinate to.

Some of this was beginning to rub off on me as well. After all, I was living here. When in doubt it was usually wise to do as the Romans do. So rather than telling him to buzz off, I took the middle road: "Sorry. I'm not from the West Coast. I've never been to Vancouver. Anyway, we just want to leave. Thank you for your attention."

Johnson pretended he wasn't there; now that he'd brought this quack in, he tried to play the role of innocent bystander.

The nurse returned with a package of medicine. I opened it, and saw what appeared to be clear yellow capsules of vitamin E and something suspiciously like one of the local sweetened gastric medicines. It was all smoke and mirrors from beginning to end.

The doctor went over to annoy Mikey, “So, you must be an American."

Mikey frowned. "Not half. I'm from Australia. Do I look like a bloody American?” Looking at me and Johnson, he glowered, face reddening, “Why is it that English speakers in Taiwan are always called Americans?"

The doctor chuckled insincerely to bring himself back to stage center, and passed more wind out the back end in the process. "So! Australia is also wonderful place. People there are very rich.”

“Tell that to the abos.”

“It's also an excellent place for retire.”

“I'm planning on retiring in Taiwan.”

“Many Taiwanese go there, go to Sydney."

"Look I'm not from Sydney, mate. I'm from Alice Springs." Mikey didn't know whether to keep talking to this clown or ignore him. I didn't dare give him any cues, because I didn't want to bring the good doctor's attention back to me. Johnson was saying nothing, because if he opened his mouth, it probably would've been to vent his temper. Getting on the doctor's bad side might be bad for business.

The doctor inquired again, "So, Australia is a fine place, don't you think?" He belched. All this digestive action made me wonder about the time. Inside hospitals, it’s often impossible to tell. Was it post-breakfast, lunch or dinner?

The doctor’s question was inane, but Mikey's sucking up a put him in a frame of mind that convinced him he had to go through the motions. "Yeah, I guess so. It could be worse. Have you been to the north? All kinds of aborigines up there. Kroc's too. The saltwater crocodiles are huge." Mikey was beginning to get into it, his memory recalling former adventures in the outback's heat.

But it was now the doctor's turn to be bored. He frowned and said nothing. But he just stood there. Demanding satisfaction. Mikey looked at him, and then looked at me. He was confused. I decided to save him by taking up the slack and giving the doctor what he really wanted to hear after all this stilted interaction, this drowsy blather: "Taiwan's a great place too. That's why we're here. And this town is wonderful too.”

This satisfied the inferiority complex that had been compelled in a guilty Chinese patriot who’d given up traditional Chinese medicine for the Western variety. There were many unfortunates like him. He’d given up the shamanism, poultices, and hearsay that are part and parcel of all early medicine, for a more science-based empirical approach. But the approach was a body of technique that overlaid a mindset which, in the case of the doctor, was still pastoral, feudal, primeval, confused, needy, and profoundly distraught. Growing up in a luminous mental world of magic and magicians, the grey world of science, its technique and technicians, was profoundly disappointing and eternally dissatisfying. It just wasn’t fun.

Having got the chore out of the way, I looked over to Johnson and said, "Look, Mikey and me are going to get out of here. We'll catch up with you again back at the school."

Johnson got up on one arm and said, "Hold on a second. Tell me. You two had quite the adventure last night. What happened?"

We could run out on the doctor, but not on the boss. So I said, "One of those hysterical cinema drunks was getting really mouthy last night and Mikey just couldn't take it anymore. He came over and started shouting right at us. Saliva was flying in my face. It was humiliating. Something had to be done. I can't blame Mikey. I suppose I was on the verge of an explosion myself. Anyway, well, Mikey? Do you want to tell him?"

He frowned, not relishing the potential for humiliation. But it wasn't hard to guess that he'd rather be in control of the delivery. But Mikey, despite his overblown tendency to violent yammering, was not unintelligent or lacking in resilience. He said, "Well, I suppose I have to hand it to them. I figured they'd just take off and ignore what was happening. I guess I have to respect the fact that they came down to protect that old man. He was a real mouthy pain in the ass. He was surely surprised when I whacked him one. But he didn't run either. I was really pissed then, but now, when I think about it calmly, I guess they gave a pretty good performance all things considered."

He had started out with the intent of sucking up to Johnson. But by the end of his spin and spiel, it was clear that he was sincere. He’d persuaded himself.

Johnson wasn't interested anymore. Like many self-made wealthy men, he loved his toys, "I love these IV's. Nothing like them to cool you down. It's like a trickle of winter that starts in from your arm and courses around your whole body. You should really try it some time. Terrific what technology can do."

Toys didn't fascinate me. I was more interested in the legal repercussions to the cinema riot. "So was anybody arrested, Johnson? Did anyone file a complaint against Mikey?" I belatedly realized my tactlessness and looked over at Mikey and added, "I mean, Mikey and me?"

He played with the plastic tubing and looked fondly at the bag of saline solution. "Huh? Why would anybody file charges? Don't be silly. It was just a minor scuffle. Happens all the time. Neither one of you was hurt right?"

I'd been knocked out, and my head was a little woozy. But once I went down, I’d been left alone as Mikey became the center of attention, the vortex of the lazy, almost non-violent frenzy. Nobody had even bothered with me. I turned to MIkey. "How about you, Mikey, you're alright aren't you?"

"I'll survive. I took a few shots to the stomach and somebody kicked me in the ass once I was down on the floor. Right on the tailbone. Not fun. But, all in all, they were pretty bloody civil about it. In a weird way, it was kind of like friends, you know? When you get in the bar, and get a bit of liquid courage down your throat, you want to fight somebody. Anybody. Just for a bit of fun and excitement. To let your hair down. With your mates. Nothing serious. But I suppose if some foreigner had smacked an old drunk in the cinema back in Oz, he might have got a pretty good hiding from the crowd.” He shrugged. “I guess I can't complain."

It was surprising to hear this from Mikey. But then again, when I thought about it, after the end of the First World War, many British soldiers had a new respect for the German soldiery. Although the British and French were allies, they still disliked one another after the war. So, Mikey's reaction had its precedent, and, like all things that don't seem to make sense at first glance, it simply had to. There's a logic to everything if you look hard enough.

When we wobbled back to the school, we were surprised to find, low and behold, the drunk from the cinema. He was there with his wife, both in their Sunday best. Their conception of which being dark, thick clothes, like woolen winter suits from the 1930’s. The rural theory being that good quality meant built to last. He was in cheap vinyl loafers, she in scuffed nail-polish pink heels. Their university-age daughter was in tow. Pretty with a smile showing the small children’s teeth that arrived from the rural low-calcium diet. They were talking animatedly to Shelly and Madonna, and as we came through the door, they saw us and got up.

The drunk gave us a deep bow and followed up with, "I'm very sorry. Very sorry. After drinking, it's easy to lose control and get chaotic.” He had a twitch around his right eye, something common to right-handed people under pressure. I looked at his wife and the unease this caused her made both of her eyes blink and twitch, as if a circuit had been interrupted. I felt sorry for her and smile awkwardly, for which she was grateful. Her husband was still yammering, but we had to stifle our irritation and express that the effort was appreciated. He said, “It's easy to make one wrong move; one that's very out of character. That's what happened. It wasn't on purpose. It wasn't personal. But I can hardly remember anyway." Then a forced chuckling.

What to do?

Mikey and I grimaced. Mikey didn't understand a word of the man's Chinese of course. But he didn't have to in order to understand the rudiments of what was taking place. He simply wanted to pound him. I was partial to violence too. But it was one of those weird cross-cultural situations where you really didn't know what to do. Where, if you acted on the situation as if it had occurred back at home, you knew somehow that your actions would only exacerbate things. That the blame would move from the offender to the offended.

I looked at the girls, and both Madonna and Shelly were beaming approvingly. If they were happy, and given that they were far better judges and bellwethers of the situation, I felt that we had no choice but to accept the situation.

I said to the old man, "OK then. Just forget it. Please try to be more responsible in future. Both of us ended up in the hospital, you know. Something serious could've happened."

The man began saying, "Oh no. That's impossible. Nothing crazy could've happened. You must understand..." At this point he was cut off by his wife exclaiming, "This foreigner's Chinese is very good. How did he learn such good Mandarin? Has he lived in Taiwan for longtime? Is he married?"

Squawk, squawk, squawk. The girls saw an opportunity to divert the situation to neutral, even positive ground; to move the situation to a more advantageous location; to save us, save the school’s reputation, and achieve closure, while winning our and Johnson’s favor and putting us all in their debt. A win-win situation from their perspective. But you get what you pay for and nothing comes for free. Shelley looked at me and winked. I stared calmly at her, tacitly accepting the terms of the deal.

The girls began competing over the right to vouch for my fluency and intelligence. It would've been embarrassing if it had not been so absurd. As so often happened in verbal situations, the women took entirely over. The ex-drunk was sidelined. He’d been here before. He was more or less inured to his fate. Maybe this was part of his rage that night. In his fifties, it was clear that, like many other elderly men, he had already turned over the reins of the relationship to his wife, as so often happened. I knew that when they went to leave, the wife would be in the lead with the husband two or three steps behind, trailing like a child on an imperceptible leash.

The ladies were all on automatic pilot. The chatter was basically fixed, the questions and the replies already well rehearsed. I was just a prop. The elderly gentlemen, Mikey and myself, were far offstage. The women's enthusiasm was genuine however. Complicated people eternally have trouble with the simple truth that simple people enjoy their ruts. They go round and round, the faster the better. They never seem to tire of chasing their tails. Just like the simple people watching afternoon television soaps back home, or the terrifyingly easily amused fanatics who are endlessly mesmerized by endless sporting events. The mind is indeed a terrible thing to waste.

I decided to slip out and check my mail. Mikey caught my arm and whispered, “Oh no you don't. You're not leaving me here with these birds.” Security in numbers, we exited together, leaving the ex-drunk alone to his fate.

Saturday, April 03, 2004

A Brief Tract on Economics & Currency:

Studying economics for one month had a very profound impact upon my political leanings and interpretation of history, colonialism, foreign adventurism, etc. I’m developing an increasing sympathy for the ambitions, goals, and achievements of latter 19th-century and 20th-century colonialism: specifically, the achievements of the Japanese who appeared to me to have done an exceptionally intelligent and humane job, all things considered, the good taken with the bad. I certainly did not start out with this point of view. Again, one reason for the latter is my self-study of economics and my newly acquired understanding that the zero-sum notion (i.e. that economies have finite resources), is simply nonsense.

While making use of the limited library and Internet resources available, I looked for but never found an explanation to counter this zero-sum notion. So, I’ve come up with my own. It only took a couple of minutes to piece together. Here’s my sample scenario disproving zero-sum:

200 years ago, on average it took about two people to make enough food for three mouths.

If you're a farmer living somewhere in a barter economy, you trade your grain for whatever it is that you want. There's no such thing as money. But the problem with trading grain and other foodstuffs is that they rot, are eaten by vermin, destroyed by frost and damp weather, etc.

So, the problem with using grain as a currency is that it constantly depreciates. Your five bushels of grain may become four or even three bushels within 12 months. The value of your harvest steadily declines to nothing as time progresses.

Currency is invented by somebody or else it’s co-opted from some other culture/economy/state. Early currencies consisted of everything from shells to jade. Here, for simplicity's sake, we'll jump directly to a currency of gold. Gold does not rot. Thus, the first advantage of gold as a currency for trade is that you have more profit left over at the end of the day because gold does not depreciate.

In other words, the cost of doing business has gone down significantly because the value of the currency is steady (which also means that the cost of the currency has decreased. Money actually costs something to buy. It did then and it still does today. And the cheaper the cost of money, the cheaper the cost of doing business). Barter goes out of fashion: it's more cost-efficient to get rid of (i.e. sell) depreciating assets (your grain) and store its value in a non-depreciating asset such as gold. Another reason is that the cost of transporting currency declines precipitously when you can store high value in a small satchel of metal. The equivalent of that satchel would be transporting wagon loads of grain, which requires horses, wagons, and people to drive them. All this lowers efficiency and is a heavy additional cost/drag to doing business.

So, rather than trade in a currency of perishable goods which consistently lose their value through various depreciation processes (frost, vermin, mold, fungus, fire etc.), there are great advantages in dealing in gold currency.

(As an aside, you might reasonably wonder, if grain is perishable, then no matter where the grain is stored it is still going to lose value. What develops is a profession, the grain merchant, specially dedicated to storing grain in a manner preventing it from perishing at such a rapid rate. This profession develops specialized storage space and processes for preserving grain. It also develops methods for converting already perishing grain into goods of value (such as alcohol). The grain merchant earns his living through a combination of specialized know-how and through taking advantage of economies of scale.)

So, at the end of this process, the cost of money is much cheaper. The value of trade is much higher. The value of money is constant. The profitability of your farm has jumped dramatically.

Let's say, at this stage, due to the greatly increased efficiency of trade and value storage (i.e. gold), two people can produce enough grain to feed four mouths. This means that there's now a surplus of grain on the market, which means that the cost of grain goes down because everyone is competing to sell grain to the same population of people. The lower cost of grain means that it's cheaper to employ work animals such as horses. When the cost of maintaining horses comes down significantly, so does the cost of harvesting lumber because horses are used to skid wood out of the forests and transport it to lumber mills. The cost of mining comes down as well because horses are used to transport minerals and coal out from the mines. The cost of transporting grain for the farmer to the marketplace comes down as well.

To give you an idea of the significance of this, according to classicist Victor Davis Hanson, in ancient Greece the amount of land required to raise one horse was sufficient to maintain 20 farmers. Lowering the cost of maintaining horses made a huge impact upon early economies. Prior to the automobile, horses were used everywhere: on the farm, to pull carriages and coaches, to wage war, etc. (Horses were so prevalent that you knew when the flu was coming because horses usually got the flu two weeks before people.)

Lowering the cost of harvesting lumber and of transportation in general, means the cost of furniture and the cost of building houses out of wood comes down a great deal as well. Not to mention the fact that with lower cost of grain, feeding laborers has become less expensive as well. This means you can employ more laborers because you can feed more of them for less money. The cost of living and the cost of doing business have come down. At the same time the number of jobs has increased for everyone now that the demand for products has jumped. People can afford better houses, furniture, storage for farm produce, new and more horses, children’s toys, wooden and leather storage for clothes, bows and knives. Quality is higher, efficiency rises, and everything lasts longer. I.e. the cost of living declines once more, while the quality of life increases.

Similarly, the cost of producing metal implements has come down as well. This is because the cost of wood, minerals, and coal has come down, as has the cost of producing man-made coke, which used to be required to make steel, has come way down. Again, the cost-of-living keeps coming down so you can employ more people to make an ever-growing volume of materials of all kinds as well. There is an increasing surplus of everything.

(In other words, the poverty that is sometimes associated with early capitalism was the result of excess population. This surplus population was a hang-over from feudalism. It was not invented by capitalism. Indeed, capitalism’s higher living standards results in people having smaller families. And, were it not for capitalism, Western Europe during the 19th century would have resembled some of the worst parts of India. Capitalism was not the problem, it was the solution.)

Today, two percent of American’s work on farms and they produce a surplus that’s sold around the world.

What seems counterintuitive at first is that high value can be extracted from traditionally low-value resources. What happens, at least what I believe happens, is that the value locked into the resources has been released via the key/catalyst of capitalism. For example, as long as grain depreciated, value was automatically lost. As long as horses were fed on grass, and not grain, they were inordinately expensive as the amount of land required for the grass was great. In a sense, they were artificially expensive. When the cost of grain was brought down through introduction of stable currency, which then facilitated improved storage and market efficiency, it became cost-effective to feed it to horses and the innate efficiency of horses could be tapped into. Etc, etc…

Biff Cappuccino

Friday, April 02, 2004

Atimes letter to the editor...

Dear Sirs: regarding Henry C K Liu's Mao and Lincoln-Part One: Demon and Deity:

Perhaps I can make a quick comment upon Mr. Liu's Chomsky-like political views. Mr. Liu writes: "This concept of the rule of law is different from that used in the US legal system, in which laws are made by lobbyists, manipulated to serve special interests and applied by courts dominated by high-priced lawyers. The US legal system is blatantly undemocratic, with its courts packed with politically appointed judges and a legal-fee structure unaffordable by the average citizen."

Anyone can form, join, or support a political action committee and employ lobbyists. That's what the NAACP does, the ACLU does, the Sierra Club does, and what Greenpeace does. According to the census, America has at least 280 million special interests. And courts use all kinds of lawyers, some are expensive, some are pro bono.

And saying that the US legal system is blatantly undemocratic suggests that the rest of the system is democratic. The United States was formed as a republic; it's full of checks and balances preventing pure democracy from being executed.

Politically appointed judges, if anything, are democracy in action. The electorate votes in the politicians who then nominate the judges. In the case of federal nominees, they enter the murky waters of the political arena and sink, like Robert Bork, or barely swim, like Clarence Thomas.

As to the legal fee structure being unaffordable by the average citizen, that's a questionable premise as well. The average citizen has access to small claims court, which costs nothing. Business people - small and large - have access to binding arbitration, which avoids lawyers altogether and is quite inexpensive. And all of us have access to trial lawyers who work on a commission basis. If your lawyer loses the case, it costs you nothing. If your lawyer wins the case for you, he or she takes somewhere around a 30% cut. If no lawyer is willing to take on your case, then it is overwhelmingly likely that your case is simply not actionable. In addition to this, people like my father take on cases pro bono every year.

If I can get a quick comment in on Lincoln. Mr. Liu might also have made grist of the fact that Lincoln was outspoken in his support for corruption. Lincoln said the spoils system was the only way to get democracy to work. This isn't hard to understand if you've dealt with bureaucracies. Bureaucrats, like private-sector workers, hustle a lot faster when they're offered extra cash. In the private sector, this is called a bonus. In the public sector this is called a bribe. But the principle is the same. And so is the effect.

Lincoln as an elected politician was definitely a mixed bag. Mao, on the other hand rose to become an emperor of the old school. At times, Mao could kill on a whim. That was never an option for Lincoln.

And the following statement of Mr. Liu's takes the cake so far this year for double standards: "In the context of the strong US tradition of civil liberty, Lincoln's assault on due process was decidedly more violent than Mao's alleged autocratic leadership style, since such is natural in Chinese political tradition."

Having said all of this, I enjoy reading Mr. Liu's work. Please keep publishing it.

Biff Cappuccino (Taipei)

Thursday, April 01, 2004

The Global Village (fiction) Chapter 07

As I came through the school doors, Johnson's wife Annie was standing next to the reception area counter. She was looking overworked, which was normal, but today she didn't look resigned but agitated. I realized that she was bent over more than usual, her brow knitted. Somehow she seemed to be compressed, on the verge of an explosion. I had a perverse image of a sort of Palestinian meat bomb.

I went to look at Johnson, but he had already stopped up behind me, trying to maintain a safe distance from the coming blast.

And then Annie began to shriek. "You 10,000-year-old rotten egg. I want to kill you to death. Kill you to death!"

The girls behind a desk stared. The room was silent but for the echos resounding off the nearly bare walls. She had been waiting for Johnson. The taut silence gave me just enough time to pose a question to myself: How long had she been waiting?

But then I was interrupted, captivated, and enraptured with the shameless theatrics of Annie pummeling her small fists on the counter in front of the girls, "I knew I never should have married you. You're a chaotic account; a moral degenerate; a people abuser." She picked up the pace, her voice rising in volume and register: "Why am I treated like this? Why? Why? Why?" And from the top of her crescendo, she fell through an octave while howling: "Why is heaven so unfair?"

Johnson stiffened, white with rage and then released his tension with a wild bark: "Into my office!" The phlegm strangling his voice, he slurped a frothy "Noooow!" He began to move forward, but Annie was ready for him with Act II.

She stood her ground, as if cornered and vicious: "What are you afraid of? Why do you just stand there? There is no hole to hide your shame. You awful trash. What can you say? What dare you say? Nothing!" She was red with rage, shaking with pent-up anger. She could have done anything. Instead, she continued to lecture: "Does ivory sprout from the jaws of a dog? You 10,000-year-old rotten egg! You trashy chaotic account thing!"

And then she picked up one of the girls notebooks from the desk and threw it in the direction of Johnson. It was a clumsy move, more like a toss. There wasn't much energy behind it and not much damage could accrue from it.

"I'm warning you," said Johnson sternly, "Don't go too far with this!"

"What are you going to do about it? What do you dare do about it?" She hissed at an ever lower volume that made one strain the ear to hear. Having snookered us in, she burned our ear-drums with a righteous banshee howl: "Your shameful conduct has been revealed! Everyone with eyes can see it!" Her right hand was up, like a teacher addressing students; like one of the fascist local representatives talking down to the electorate.

She kicked away the chair beside her. She picked up a pen, and threw it toward Johnson, but again lethal force was lacking. She began whimpering, and then turned on the waterworks full-bore. A gale of shrieking wind and flashing rain came forth.

She squawked, "Oh why me? What have I done to deserve this? Why? Why? Why?" She slumped down on to a chair, and then realized the floor was better and relaxed her posture and slipped down onto the tiles. She kneaded her eyes with her hands, tears dripping dramatically, and then changed tactics and drummed her fists on the floor like a toddler howling for toys. She thumped and thumped again. She took off a shoe and threw it clumsily at Johnson's legs.

The effort was so pathetic that I wanted to laugh. Shelly had been watching me and gave me the evil eye.

Johnson was familiar with the routine though, I felt certain. This was his wife after all. He knew the rules of the game, what he could do, and what he could not. And when to do it. Annie was naturally giving her performance here in front of the girls, where it would be most appreciated, where she might receive demands for an encore, where she might whip up the most sisterly sympathy and support.

Right on cue, Madonna and Shelly went over to Annie and held her hands imploring her, "Please don't take it so hard, Mrs Wang." Looking stonily at me, Shelly said to the room, "There must be some way of resolving this."

This encouraged Annie to deliver herself of a few more wails. She resisted Shelly's efforts, to evince the appearance of being persuaded against her will to give up the righteous path for the regrettable pragmatism of worldly conciliation.

Someone tapped me on the shoulder, and I jerked to attention with a start. Mikey whispered in my ear, "What the fuck is happening here?"

I stammered, "It's too early to tell. The cat's not out of the bag yet. They're still in the opening acts, the pre-negotiating stage."

"Stop talking gibberish. Did he slap her?"

"No. Not yet..." and I sniggered. "We just came in the door, and she launched into this routine. It's like a soap opera and just as predictable. Only, we don't know which climax has been written into the plot."

Mikey's whisper got sharper: "We? Who the bloody hell is we? You're in on this aren't you? What kind of monkey business are you up to?"

Two other girls were assisting Annie now, generating a volume of sympathy that was increasing in an almost geometric progression. According to the rules of the domestic game, it wasn't Johnson's time to enter into the fray and break it up yet. Besides, we still didn't know what this was all about. Annie was being deliberately vague and standoffish.

Because I hadn't answered Mikey immediately, he kept prying: "So, was nobody giving her the shaft? There's no problem of hers that a few good sessions of rooting wouldn't cure."

"That might be the cure for what ails you Mikey, but..."

"Watch it! I can take care of myself. No smart ass remarks from you, thank you very much."

"Anyway, I don't know what's going on. When I know something, I'll let you know."

"Yeah, right." Changing his mind, he said, "Well, OK. Do that. I've got class to get to."

But just as Mikey was about to go, Johnson lost his temper and grabbed Annie off the floor. Annie stuck her nails into his arm, and Johnson grimaced, but he kept going. He began dragging her bodily across the room like a sack of rice.

Annie shrieked, "How can you do this to your wife? Have you no shame?" She went on and on and on. But so did he. He was relentless, dragging her into the corridor, onto the rug, trying slyly to give her a friction burn while he was at it and get his revenge.

The shrieking went on and on until he got to his office door. And then, to my surprise, he hollered " Edward! Into my office, now!"

Mikey was as puzzled as I was. "What the hell are you two up to?"

As I got moving, I turned back to him and grinned: "When I find out, you'll be the first to know."

I closed the door after entering the office and Johnson was in his favorite seat, while his wife was standing out in front of the desk like a truant school child. Now that things were in private, the normal power scheme was in place and Johnson was back in the saddle. He said, "Edward, I want you here for a reason. She won't pull anymore Chinese-style tricks in front of you. She'll be too embarrassed if you and I are the only audience that she has." And he turned to his wife, "Right?"

She grunted, which could have meant anything. She looked miserable, defeated. It was all a let down after the suspense, buildup, and climax out in the public forum; the Circus Maximus of the customer reception area. She was powerless, yet again. Shrunken to her old proportions now. But, after all, the time had come to resolve things.

"So what's this all about, Annie?"

She just stood there, saying nothing to her master reclining in the leather chair. Sexual equality was on the way, and in many ways Chinese women, like Canadian women, had the upper hand on men. But that was the future, and this was the present.

"I've been your husband for 20 years. I've given you wealth, security, companionship. If you have a problem, we should solve it privately and amicably. Not with this foolishness. You watch too much television, you listen to your mother too much. Who put you up to this? One of your gossipy friends? What's this all about?"

That second last sentence. That was a hint. But of what?

Still, Annie said nothing. She was mum. In Chinese they called this the mute who mistakenly ate a yellow orchid. The orchid was bitter, but the mute, lacking a voice, couldn't complain. Call it an ancient profundity, or call it the pre-PC humor of yokels, either way, now that she'd belabored and humiliated him, she wanted sympathy from him. It was a desperate attempt, though I'd seen even cruder ploys push the good people's buttons.

At the same time, she was fishing for concessions. Like a reporter going silent and hoping their victim gets nervous and coughs up potentially embarrassing admissions, she was hoping Johnson would start fumbling for something to say and cough up some initiatives for compromise. She knew from experience that once the proceedings went formal, she wouldn't be able to twist the rules of negotiating to her advantage. Johnson was no greenhorn to negotiating.

But despite all the feline machinations, it was a no-go. Johnson was giving nothing away for free. He got proactive and demanded, "What the fuck do you want? What the fuck was that fracas about?"

She looked down and mumbled, "You never give me enough time off from the office. I work so hard. I'm going to die of work exhaustion. I'm aging beyond my years. It's all your fault. You don't care anymore. You just don't care."

Johnson replied, "No sympathy tricks! Try again! Another excuse please. I don't believe you. Not even a little bit."

"It's true! It's true!"

"True or not, I don't believe it. Everything is true and nothing is true. It's all about context. Stop wasting my time and get to the point, please!"

"No matter what I wear, you never comment on anymore. It doesn't matter to you. I should die for all you care. What's the difference? Maybe I will go up to the roof and jump off. Then we'll see if you care." She looked up hopefully.

"Help yourself. Up the back stairs and you can get to the roof directly. Anytime you want. Go for it."

"You bastard. You stinky pig's head."

"Enough of yammering. Enough of your ridiculous talk. What the fuck is this about?"

I was amazed listening to Johnson. He had departed from the Chinese paradigm almost completely. But he wasn't in a Western paradigm either. There weren't few Western men who could handle themselves competently when faced with a fierce, relentless, and versatile female opponent. Johnson was his own man, making his own way. No wonder he was such a business wizard.

Annie slumped down, realizing that there was only one implement left in her arsenal. The truth. For honest people, truth is a tool. For the dishonest, it's a weapon. She looked at me, and sized up the situation. Perhaps I had a utility after all.

She hissed at Johnson: "You're fucking that white teacher. I know all about it." She suddenly broadsided me with her hostile gaze, hoping to foment within me a racial, manly jealousy. Her eyes were narrow slits probing, feeling for my reaction. More evil eye. It was all quite intimidating.

My rule of thumb at such times is to give people the opposite of what they want. I burst out laughing.

Johnson saw his cue and began to guffaw. Annie's falsetto cut through our wheezing chatter like a knife: "You won't be laughing very hard when I spread the news around town. Watch what will happen to business then."

Johnson was silent, his lips pursed tightly. He was dead serious now. He said, "It's our business. Not my business. If you hurt my business, you hurt our business."

"We have enough money. It is you who has ambitions. It is you who wants to go overseas. Not for the money. But for women. Lust is burning you up like a hot flame."

"That's farts! Farts, farts, farts! Everything you say is dog farts."

She burst into a whimper that rose rapidly through two octaves into a scream, "You get rid of that girl. If you don't, I start talking. I'll put a rumor in motion that you can never live down. I don't care about money. I care about my husband. You're mine. Not hers. Don't you forget it!"

Having delivered herself of her ultimatum, she got up, patted down her clothes, pressed her hair into place, and trotted over to the door and helped herself out. The door closed quietly.

When I saw her two minutes later in the reception area, she was cool as if nothing had happened. I had to admire her. She was moral relativism in action. Or perhaps she was all ethics and no morals at all. Either way, she had her feet on the ground. The girls showed no sign of having witnessed any event of any kind. The usual choreography. But Johnson got the message. Girls were dime a dozen; business opportunities were not.