Reflections on a Wandering Life.....
Friday, October 12, 2018
Thursday, October 11, 2018
See also Zen Baggage, Shaolin Temple.
Key Words: Buddhism China Money and Power Religious Corruption
Monday, October 08, 2018
Wednesday, July 04, 2018
This is the subway map that was current when I moved to Beijing in January of 2004. The red line is Line 1. It goes right by Tiananmen Square. The pink line to the right (east) is the extension, apparently added later. The blue line is Line 2. Line 2 follows pretty closely the perimeter of the old city wall. The old city wall has mostly been torn down, but some of the gates remain, and where even the gates are gone, the names remain. So many of the the names of the stops on Line 2 are the names of the old city gate that once stood at that place ("men" means gate). In the summer of 2005 I stopped in Xi'an on my way back from Xinjiang. In Xi'an you can go up on top of the old city wall, rent a bicycle, and ride around the city on the old city wall. It took me an hour and a half. But as far as I know, Beijing is the only city in China where you can ride around the city underneath the old city wall. That's Line 2. The horseshoe is Line 13. Line 13 is an extension that was added later, so it is mostly an elevated train rather than a subway. It's part of the subway system, but I guess you could call it a subway up in the air. It was really important for me when I first came to China, because I was living and teaching at Beihang University, which is very near to Wudaokou on Line 13.
Click for larger image.
This is the subway map of Beijing today. This is just one example of the massive infrastructure development that goes on all the time all over China. And it goes on at a very rapid pace. During those years, we would occasionally read an article in the China Daily about a street caving in or something. Oh, well. Fix it and go on. The government seemed in a mad rush to get the subway system modernized. On this map you can see Line 2 as the small circle in the center of the map. Line 1 runs east and west across the bottom section of that circle. And Line 13 is the yellow horseshoe which connects to Line 2 at Xizhimen and Dongzhimen. Everything else is new since 2004.
So who pays for all this development? Much of it comes from Americans shopping at Walmart. China has a huge trade imbalance with the United States. The numbers I hear now sound incredible--anywhere from 300 to 500 billion dollars. When I first came to China, the number I heard most was about 200 billion, I think. But that's still a trillion dollars every five years flowing into China. Every two years now, if you believe the current numbers. That is not the total amount of American dollars. It is the amount over and above what China has been paying to the US for American products imported by China. Now there is some argument about this, because the figures everybody uses do not reflect the fact that much of China's benefit from all this trade is as the manufacturer of other people's products. iPhones, for example, are assembled in China, so they are regarded, in their entirety, as Chinese exports to the US. But in fact, the guts of the phone comes from Japan. So a big chunk of America's trade imbalance with China is actually with Japan. But that aside, there is lots and lots of money flowing into this country from America. And, of course, many other countries. China has a largely export-driven economy. That has made China rich, but also vulnerable. China cannot consume what China produces, so China is very dependant on others helping with that consumption. But if the Americans every decide to get therapy for their addiction to consumption, China is in trouble. I don't see much danger of that, to be honest with you. Americans like stuff. But there are other things that could affect the level of American consumption. The Supreme Court just handed a great victory to manufacturers, by denying unions the power to force workers to pay union dues. American labor unions have priced the American worker out of the market. Now the unions will have less power, because they will have less money.
But back to infrastructure. Although I think China sometimes gets carried away with infrastructure, doing projects that are obviously designed to create jobs rather than build something that is really needed, it can't be denied that, as a developing country, China was far behind other countries in Asia. I should say "country," because I've only been to one other country in Asia, and that is the one I am referring to. Tokyo's light rail and subway system when was a child 60 years ago was more sophisticated than the system Beijing had when I moved here in 2004. So it was and is badly needed. But another benefit of this kind of infrastructure development is that it continues to provide jobs long after construction. And, of course, it continues to provide service even if the economy takes a downward turn. I remember when I moved to North Dakota during the oil boom of the early eighties. The extra money rolling in was enough to motivate the city to build a new library. I watched that building going up and stopped by several times to talk to the workers. I remember one time I stopped by to see how it was going, and I got into a conversation with one of the workers. He said, "I think it's a waste of money."
I remonstrated. The old library was badly in need of replacement. He said, "I've been here thirty years and I've never been in that library." He probably wasn't the only one who felt that way. But the new library got built, and when the bottom dropped out of the oil economy, that library continued to provide service for people like me during a time when the economy was such that it never would have gotten built if it had not already been there.
Monday, May 07, 2018
Melissa gave me this coffee maker when I was in the States last. It's basically a funnel with a bunch of holes in it. But the inside (which you cannot see) is lined with a very tightly woven mesh. Basically, it's a coffee maker with a built-in filter. I have another one that Anne Marie gave me when she came through one time, a plastic funnel with a hole in the bottom. It is a simpler device, because it is designed to be used with a paper filter. But the problem in China is that Chinese people do not drink coffee at home, so you cannot buy coffee filters in the supermarket. I have never seen them for sale in any store I have been in. One of my students offered to help me with my problem and finally found some Japanese one-cup coffee filters online. So I had to have her order some for me whenever I ran out. This thing doesn't need filters--the filter is built in. So techically it is a little more work, because you have to rinse it out each time. But in only takes a minute.
I was worried at first that if I poured the water in too fast, the water would seep through the holes in the top and not touch the coffee, effectively diluting the solution. But that doesn't happen. It's really interesting. Something to do with capilary action, I guess--the mesh is so fine that the water doesn't seep through except where there are coffee grounds.
The next problem I had was how to make a stand for it. The one Anne Marie gave me sits on top of the cup, but this one has to be held in your hand. I didn't want to do that, so I took a plastic jug that had Australian oatmeal in it, and cut one side out. Happily, the mouth of the plastic jug exactly fits the funnel. You can see that when I cut the side out, I left a little lip on the bottom. This is so that if I pull the cup out a little early, the remaining coffee stays in the jug--it doesn't flow out all over the table.
I should caution you that this is not really designed for gourmet coffee. The other day I heated some milk to the boiling point and poured that in instead of water. I was trying to make a latte, but it didn't work that well. I got about half a cup, but the rest just stayed in the funnel. The inside mesh is so fine that milk doesn't really seep through it. So I can't recommend this for that sort of thing. Better to just make a cup of coffee and then pour some condensed milk in after it drips through. But for a basic cup of coffee, this thing is the cat's meow.
Tuesday, March 06, 2018
It's not going to happen. Trump will be around for the remainder of his four-year term. But then what? If you're interested, I'll tell you how it's going to go. When the average voters walk into the voting booth in the fall of 2020, if their financial condition is significantly better than four years earlier (Fall of 2016, in other words), they will vote for Trump. If their financial condition is about the same, they will vote for Trump if they voted for him last time. If their financial condition is a little worse, they will probably still vote for Trump if they are Republican. Otherwise, they will vote Democrat. If their financial condition is much worse, they will be inclined to vote for the other guy no matter who it is, and Trump will see a serious challenge from his own party.
So what's the prognosis? When the tax cut bill passed recently, the odds tipped in favor of Trump being reelected. Tax cuts tend to boost the economy. The two most significant in my lifetime were the tax cuts implemented by John F. Kennedy (a Democrat, but a fiscal conservative) and the Kemp-Roth tax cut implemented by Ronald Reagan. Bush Jr. also pushed through a tax cut with a sunset clause, and by the time it was getting ready to expire, letting it do so became tantamount to a tax increase. When Trump managed to get his tax cut through Congress with such a significant cut in corporate tax rates, he greatly increased his chances of being reelected.
But there is one thing about Trump that gives me pause. He has a protectionist streak that worries me a bit. I tend to be a free trader. Perhaps it's because of my background growing up as an expat in Japan. But I guess I just believe that the business should go to the one who produces the best product for the best price. No one should be surprised, though, by Trump's actions. They are consistent with what he has been saying for many years, as you can see in this video:
I remember during those days (late eighties) I was living in North Dakota. I was in a computer shop talking with the proprietor, and he was going on and on about how all the jobs where going to Japan. I had heard it all before, and I was weary of it, but I listened. He then asked me if I had children. I told him I had three daughters. He said, "What are you going to do if your daughters grow up and all the jobs are in Japan?
Obviously, he didn't know that I was born and raised in Japan. I said, "I'll tell them to go to Japan and get a job." He looked at me like the idea had never occurred to him.
It's a global marketplace, my friends. If you are just graduating from university or whatever career preparation you have elected, and are getting ready for your working life, there is at least a distinct possibility that the best job for you is not in the United States. So I have not been inclined to favor protectionist policies, and I am skeptical when Trump says that trade wars are good.
But let's look at it from his perspective for a minute. One example he gave was Mercedes Benz building a plant in Mexico. The obvious intent is to make cars to export to the US. So what's wrong with this? If Mexico can make a better car and sell it for a lower price, shouldn't they be allowed to? But these are not Mexican cars, they are German cars. But shouldn't a German company be allowed to build their cars where they can save the most money? German people may have something to say about it, but what business is it of ours? The problem is that they are obviously building the plant in Mexico so that they can make money selling cars to American customers without having to give jobs to American workers. That practice has just become accepted in today's world. But Trump doesn't like it.
By the way, a few days after my conversation with the proprietor of the computer shop, I saw him on the street in Williston. He was driving a Japanese sports car.
Saturday, September 10, 2016
Sunday, June 26, 2016
The way it works is that teams are matched against each other in 90 minute rounds. Each team puts up three contestants for each round, but only two of them speak. The third is considered "of counsel." So for each round, there are two applicants and two respondants, and each team gets 45 minutes. They generally reserve one or two minutes for rebuttal. During their presentation of their pleadings, the judges on a three-judge panel will ask them questions, just as any panel of judges would do, whether in a court of appeals, the US Supreme Court, or the ICJ itself.
Click for larger image.
The judges for the national competition are typically professionals from the legal community who volunteer to serve as judges for the contest. The case is not real, of course. It is a ficticioous case designed to give approximately equal arguments to both sides, and is outlined in detail in a document called the "compromis," which is usually influenced by current events in the arena of international law. So the compromis contains the "facts" of the ficticious case, and students are expected to apply existing law (such as previous decisions by the ICJ) in arguing their respective positions. This exercise gives them a chance to show their knowledge of the facts, as well as relevant law. This is an important exercise for young lawyers. Many years ago, when I was a senior in high school, I served on a jury in a moot court case at Willamette University Law School. The case in that moot court was a traffic case. I remember the law student playing the role of the prosecutor announced to everyone that he had been a police officer and launched into an impassioned defense of the law that had allegedly been violated. The judge looked at him and said, "Your entire line of argument is irrelevant The question before the court is not about whether this law is good or not. The question is whether or not the law has been violated by this person in this instance." So it's important for young lawyers to be aware of both the facts and the law.
Last year, the compromis told a story about secession, and was obviously based in the situation in Crimea. This year, the Compromis addresses cyber spying and was strongly influenced by Edward Snowden and Julian Assange. This year's compromis was written by Asaf Lubin, former intelligence analyst for the IDF. The video below includes includes a question from one of our students about how the compromis came to be written, and I liked Asaf Lubin's answer. I was also intrigued by what he said in his introduction about the presumption of lawlessness in the area of espionage. I agree with him, but I don't know how this issue can be resolved. Can anyone imagine a world where spying is a violation of international law, and every country signs off on it? Or can anyone imagine a world without espionage? Is there even such a thing as lawful espionage?
Later the OSS set up a "Research & Development" branch, with Stanley Lovell as its first director. In his 1963 memoirs, Lovell wrote that his goal was to "stimulate the Peck's Bad Boy beneath the surface of every American scientist, and to say to him: 'Throw all your law-abiding concepts out the window. Here's a chance to raise merry hell.'" The OSS came up with some wild ideas. They had a plan to lace Adolf Hitler's food with female hormones so that he would develop a high voice and lose the respect of his officers.
The OSS was disbanded after World War II, and the CIA was eventually established to take it's place. Eisenhower is known as a "peaceful president," because he ended the Korean War and presided over an America that was uninvolved in military conflict for the remainder of his presidency. But the covert picture was quite differnt. Eisenhower used the CIA to remove foreign leaders that he didn't like--most notably Mohammad Mosaddegh of Iran, which action created a hostility that has endured to the present day. To this day the U.S. has no diplomatic relations with Iran and does not have an embassy there.
Later in Eisenhower's presidency, the CIA developed plans to assassinate Fidel Castro of Cuba. This folly continued into Kennedy's administration, so it is evident that both Eisenhower and Kennedy wanted Castro dead. Most of their schemes were poorly conceived, and none succeeded. They actually convinced a New York City police officer to give Castro a cigar filled with enough TNT to blow his head off. Would have made an interesting headline (no pun intended), but apparently the cop was never able to get close to Castro.
In 1962, the Joint Chiefs of Staff hatched a plan to have the CIA commit acts of terror against US citizens, which would be blamed on Cuba, and used to justify going to war against them. Fortunately Kennedy nixed that one.
More recently, the CIA has come under much controversy, because of the exponential increase in drone strikes under Obama. Leon Panetta, former director of the CIA relates a situation where he was at Arlington National Cemetery attending the funeral of a CIA officer who had been killed by a terrorist in Afghanistan. Suddenly he got a call saying that the CIA had the terrorist in the crosshairs of a drone. The only problem was that his family was with him. Panetta had to make a decision right then and there about what to do. In the end, he gave the green light, and the terrorist was killed, along with his wife and children. This decision was made by an appointed cabinet level official completely outside the chain of military command.
So I applaud Asaf Lubin for going after this issue, and wish him well. But I'm just not sure how optimistic I can be. Espionage of some kind seems inevitable in a sinful world. And how can it ever be made lawful? What country would agree to terms by which an enemy nation could legally spy on them? Lubin himself alludes to this in his own closing remarks at the end of the video, when he quotes from the The Secret Pilgrim, by John le Carre:
For as long as rogues become leaders, we shall spy. For as long as there are bullies and liars and madmen in the world, we shall spy. For as long as nations compete, and politicians deceive, and tyrants launch conquests, and consumers need resources, and the homeless look for land, and the hungry for food, and the rich for excess, your chosen profession [intelligence analysts] is perfectly secure, I can assure you.Anyway, the video is a bit long, but parts of it are useful if you are interested in international law.
During the Jessup competition, the presentations by the students are usually very serious and professional, but on the last afternoon of the preliminary rounds for the China national competition in Suzhou, there was an amusing moment when one of the contestants for the other team was presenting her argument, and she cited a case which, according to her, had been appealed all the way to the Ninth Circuit. She was obviously unaware that the presiding judge for that round (seated, center) is actually a federal judge on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. He smiled when she said that, but it went right by her, until the end of the round, when the judges introduced themselves. Judge O'Scannlain had to leave China early because of an emergency. He was a close friend of Antonin Scalia, and had to fly back to Washington for the funeral. But he stayed through the preliminaries, and judged many rounds. The Jessup could not exist without the kindness of people like Judge O'Scannlain.
The judge who asked some of the best questions, I thought, was a retired trial judge from Hawaii (seated, right). He had been a trial judge for 25 years and a trial lawyer before that for just about as long. I think he had also been a JAG officer in the military, so he had a lot of experience. But he really put those kids to the test. The judges asked pretty tough questions during the rounds, but they were quite conciliatory in their remarks at the end of the rounds, because they understand that these young people are learning.
The CYU team has an advantage, because they have the assistance of Professor Shinye Murase (standing, front and center, with me and the team members) from Sophia University. He has written an International Law text which has recently been translated into Chinese by a member of our faculty, and he has volunteered to help coach our team. But we also benefitted immensely from the tireless efforts of Dr. Chen from the law school (holding the stick for the super-selfie), the head coach of the CYU team. And the team members have gotten much good advice from Professor Bramwell Osula, a member of our faculty who used to teach at Regent University in Virginia Beach. Unfortunately, Bramwell was in the States giving a lecture or something, so he was not able to go to the national contest.
We have seen excellent progress from our team in the last two years. Last year they came in 17th out of 40 or 45 teams. This year they were eighth. Only the top five teams go to Washington for the International finals, so they were not be part of that, but they were invited to D.C. anyway as an exhibition team. Last year, in Washington, they won two and lost two. This year they cleaned house. They went up against teams from Egypt, Russia, Italy, and Bulgaria and won all four rounds.
Saturday, April 2, I got up at 2 o'clock in the morning to watch the final championship round livestreamed from Washington (There's a twelve hour time difference between Beijing and Washington). The final round was between an American team and a team from Argentina. The Americans were very good, but I thought the Argentines were better, and I was not suprised when the judges gave it to them. During the final round, Sir Christopher Greenwood was questioning one of the American contestants about interpretation of law, and he said, "Thou shalt not commit adultry" can be interepreted several ways but it cannot be interpreted as "Thou shalt not commit adultry, but in fact, adultry is quite alright." I wish he could give that admonition to the members of the American Supreme Court.
It's a little sad to watch the losing team stand by as the winning team gets the all the glory. You don't get to the finals without being very good. All of those contestants in the final round have the potential to be world class litigators. But I do have to say the Argentines deserved to win. They were quite impressive.
There is so much injustice in this world. So much that is not right. When we are reminded of this reality, it can either drive us to despair, or move us to work together to train young people to fight for justice for those who have no one to speak for them. The Jessup has become a very important part of that mission.
Tuesday, August 11, 2015
Interesting story. I think many Americans would be inclined to shrug their shoulders and say, "That's China." True, but also not true. It's true because it actually happened. But it's not true because that's only one part of China. I'll tell you another story to illustrate what I mean. I have stayed at the Foreign Experts Building on the campus of Northwest Normal University in Lanzhou several times. One time I was coming into Lanzhou, so I called Holly at the Foreign Experts Building and told her I would be coming. She welcomed me. When I got there, the place was packed to the gills. There was some kind of conference or something, and there was absolutely no room. Holly told me not to worry. She was very busy (of course), but she left someone else in charge of the place and insisted on walking me over to the International Students' dormitory where she had arranged for me to have a room. She told me to come the next day and they would have a place for me. That was a pretty important favor, because I didn't have anywhere else to stay. Kunming has lots of youth hostels, but Lanzhou doesn't have any.
You see, the first story is true--I didn't make it up. That's China. But the second story is also true, and that's also China. And I have had many more experiences like the second story than like the first. Many more. A couple days ago, I was at a bus stop trying to figure out which bus to take. I was frustrated, because in Beijing they have an arrow showing which way the bus is going, so you can easily see whether you are going the right direction, or if you need to cross the street and take a bus in the other direction. In Kunming, no arrows. There was a young lady standing there, and I asked her if she knew which way I should be going to get to the stop I was headed for. She asked me for my ultimate destination and then told me that there was no bus going there from this stop. She insisted on walking me to another bus stop where I could get a connection. She showed me a short-cut along the railroad tracks for about 150 meters. She walked boldly down the middle of the tracks, stepping gingerly from one tie to the next and I walked along the side. As we were walking, she continued to lecture me about how the bus system worked. When we got to the bus stop, she explained how the sign indicates which direction the bus is going, using characters instead of an arrow. It was all very simple, and as soon as she pointed out the characters to me (开往), I saw it, but I would not have noticed it without her help. A bus stopped. As soon as the door opened, she stepped forward abruptly and gave me a brief lecture on the ticketing system. She explained how to tell what the fair was (they have regular busses and air conditioned busses) and the different ways of paying, and she made the driver wait until she was through with her lesson. When she had assured herself that I was situated, she told me she had to go and she left. Just like that. That's unusual? No, that's China. I have had so many experiences like this in the years I have been traveling in China.
There's another thing about a blog post like this that can be very misleading. This blog is written in English, so I have related these conversations as if they took place in English. In fact, none of them did. None of the encounters I have told you about would have been possible if I had not taken the trouble to learn a little Putonghua. I don't know...the last young lady who showed me the bus system looked to be in her twenties--it's possible she spoke a little English. I didn't ask her, because I did not want to give any idea that English language proficiency was a prerequisite for being able to help me. That would have been self-defeating. As a general rule, if young people feel comfortable with English, they will answer you in English even if you start the conversation in Chinese. She did not, so it's a pretty safe bet she perhaps did not feel comfortable with English, although most young people have better language ability than they give themselves credit for. But basically, if you want to travel by yourself in Western China, you need to learn Chinese. I was lucky, because when I first came to Beijing I lived very near Wudaokou, which has many small language schools for studying Mandarin. There are expensive ones, but also cheap ones. It was 12 kuai an hour when I signed up for two hours a day during the first year I was in China. In 2009-2010 I did it again, and the price had gone up to 30 kuai for an hour-and-a-half. That's cheap. That's China. I don't take classes anymore, because I'm too busy and I don't live near the language schools now. But I developed a twenty-minute listening and reading exercise that I go through every day. I also have some other study projects--chiefly the one I set up with friends from church to study the Japanese and Chinese Bibles. I try to work away at that a few nights a week. But I do the listening exercises every day. The reason I am so picky about listening is because even if your grasp of a given language is not strong, it's amazing what you can get by with if you basically understand what people are saying to you. And speaking naturally follows listening. Young people in China are very self-conscious about their speaking ability. They always tell me that they can read and understand better than they can speak. So what often happens is that they neglect listening and focus on speaking. They want to get their speaking level up to their listening level. Big mistake. Your listening ability will always be greater than your speaking ability. The most affective approach is to forget about speaking and focus on listening. If you get your listening comprehension up, your speaking ability will be right behind. Young people always want to focus on speaking. That may be a good short-term approach, but it is not a good long-term approach.
But I digress. I got off on that language tangent because language is the chief reason some foreigners have a negative view of China. Foreigners who never learn Chinese and spend all their time in Beijing do avoid some unpleasant experiences. But they also miss out on a lot of extraordinary human kindness such as I have received from ordinary people all over this country. That's China.
Monday, August 03, 2015
This is pretty good stuff, you guys. Probably a good thing I don't live in this town. Dali has a lot of expat hangouts. In that respect, Dali is a lot easier to live with than Lijiang. This one is called "Hello Dali." It's run by an American lady who grew up in China. The main problem with Dali this year is that there was some Chinese movie in the past year that featured Dali. So swarms of tourists are flooding through Old Town. Most of them do not stop. They come riding through in trams and look around--just doing the tourist thing so they can say they've been here. But there are plenty of others, too. If you know the town well enough, you can find the places on side streets that do not have too many tourists. But it really does get tiring trying to avoid them. Dali is scenic, but a bit overwhelming because of all the tourists. Not like Lijiang, but getting that way. The other problem with Dali, is that the government has all but completely taken over the key tourist areas. Er Hai Lake used to be a place where you could get a ride on a little village boat or something. No more. And there is no real individual hiking on the mountain. You have to follow a tourist path, and it is not cheap. I met a mountain man from England who told me about a different route so I may try it sometime. But this place does not really lend itself to "hiking up in the hills" the way I like to do. Still, it is pretty, and the air is beautiful.