I met a descendent of someone famous

Alright, I have to respect confidentiality. This morning I had a brush with history and met a grandson of a grandson of Lin Tse-hsu (or Lin Zexu, 1785-1850), the anti-opium commissioner in Canton (or Guangzhou) in 1839 who ordered the surrender of imports of opium from British merchants, their detainment when they refused, and finally, the burning of the opium. Its burning was not the cause of the First Opium War; it was the prelude. Even so, most Chinese people thirty years or older will recognize Lin Tse-hsu because Chinese folklore and history memorialized Lin as anti-Western-imperialist and firmly against use of the narcotic drug. I was born in Hong Kong, one of many ports awarded to the British in the 1841 Treaty of Nanking (or Nanjing), and I read a Chinese history book last January. So, I found all this link to the past fascinating. After the Chinese Revolution of 1911, this guy's grandfather became refugee because of Kuomintang persecution of aristocratic families, moving to Hong Kong, then Venezuela, while his great-uncle ended up in Cuba. If you know art, this guy's uncle is Wilfredo Lam (1902-1982), whom the Guggenheim described to have created his style by "fusing Surrealism and Cubism with the spirit and forms of the Carribean." Wilfredo Lam's most famous piece is La Jungla (or The Jungle, 1943). Another uncle is a successful businessman in Venezuela. As an immigrant myself, I found it gratifying to see the success of Chinese refugees and immigrants.


New York Times article on Italy and the rule of law

Political science students, constitutional lawyers, human rights activists and politicians of emerging democracies often use "the rule of law" in their vocabulary. Its meaning is essentially "there are rules as defined by law" as it relates to personal protection from arbitrary abuses of power, e.g. search and seizure, imprisonment and summary execution, or kidnap and rape, carried out by "the government" or individuals. Its meaning encompass a judicial system interpreting the rules, e.g. trials to prosecute perpetrators, recourse to sue individuals or "the government" for any intrusions, and courts and courts of appeal. Now, it's interesting to read the New York Times about the lack of rule of law in a developed, industrial country. Read an article on Italy, "Breaking All the Rules, With a Shrug and a Sigh" by reporter Ian Fisher. A quotation: "The shrugged shoulder is real, a daily reminder here that part of Italy’s charm rests in the fact that it does not much care for rules. Italians can be downright poetic about it, this inclination to dodge taxes, to cut lines, to erect entire neighborhoods without permits or simply to run red lights, while smoking or talking on the phone."

It's cold outside

Belated Happy Valentine's Day. Bibi, her sister and I took my mother-in-law out for dinner to celebrate 2/14. Lots of food and drinks at this Chinese hot pot restaurant known for their dumplings made in-house. We moved downtown last weekend after much fuss over legal paperwork. Alas, we are here--learning all the intricacies of condo living as the builder finishes construction. Well, it's nice and warm and more room than our last rental unit. Finally, best wishes to you all. Happy Chinese New Year as the year of the pig begins Sunday.


Inauguration Day in America

Two politicians can claim to be the first. Deval Patrick became the first African-American governor of Massachusetts and Nancy Pelosi was elected the first woman Speaker of the House of Representatives.


Now I am reading Chinese history

Lately I am reading 中國人史綱 by 柏楊 at a more leisurely pace. I borrowed it from the Richmond Hill Public Library. The book covers the history of China from legends of creation to the retreat of the Empress Dowager to Xian when Western military forces invaded Beijing in response to the Boxer Rebellion. Now I am at the beginning of the Ming dynasty and have yet to tackle the Qing dynasty. A few thoughts on Chinese history so far: Lots of bloodshed, one wonders how it relates to Chinese ethnic homogeneity--even so China remains populous and multicultural. Lots of "Dark Ages" (a Western term), one only needs to know the major dynasties, their founders or most significant emperors, i.e. Han Wu-di, Tang Tai-zong, and from the Qing dynasty, Kangxi and Qianlong, who were successful--the rest is all decline or disunity. Lots of Confucianism and culture over the centuries; they come and go, sometimes hand in hand, sometimes against each other--the former contributed to formation of a privileged, non-productive aristocracy resistant to any useful innovation, and the latter contributed to various vibrant things we call Chinese, like calligraphy and ceramics, painting and poetry, and songs, operas and novels. This is a book I would buy to keep.

I was busy reading Jin Jong's novels

You will notice that I posted no entries in autumn. Well, I was mesmerized by 金庸, Jin Jong's wuxia novels, 射鵰英雄傳, and 神鵰俠侶, in their latest editions, 2003 and 2004 respectively. I enjoyed particularly the martial arts in the former and the love story in the latter. My first exposure to either novels was in Hong Kong during pre-teens when both appeared as TV series 1981/83 and I hardly watched any episodes. Now a 2006 TV series made in China revived my interest. Bibiana will complain if I re-read them so soon.

Congratulations to Clara and Tommy

Congratulations to my sister-in-law, Clara, who picked a date to marry Tommy in August. Happy New Year and best wishes to them both. :-)

Reaction to the death of a dictator

Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, on his first day of work: "Saddam Hussein was responsible for committing heinous crimes and unspeakable atrocities against Iraqi people and we should never forget victims of his crime," he said. "The issue of capital punishment is for each and every member state to decide." "As the secretary-general, at the same time, while I am firmly against impunity, I also hope that members of the international community should pay due regard to all aspects of international humanitarian laws. During my entire tenure, I'll try my best to help member states, international community, to strengthen the rule of law," he said. "The Iraqi people and government have taken their steps to address their past," Ban replied, "and I hope that international community should also understand the stakes and try to build rule of law nationally and internationally."


New York Times' Thom Shanker on world reaction to Communist Korea

Thom Shanker comments on the diplomatic visits by U.S. Secretary of State Rice in northeastern Asia in "News Analysis: A fragile consensus on North Korea" (International Herald Tribune, 22 October 2006.) .... South Korea feels most threatened by the North's nuclear program, but also the most exposed, and a number of opinion leaders in the South are doing all they can to rescue Seoul's policy of engaging, not isolating, the North, redrawing their lines in the sand while North Korea keeps blowing over them. ... Rice acknowledged during her journey that Iran, with its own nuclear ambitions, was watching her efforts. She left one senior advisor in Asia to continue discussions of sanctions, while another spent time at the working-group level to devise specific goals and rules for monitoring and inspecting North Korean cargo. Administration officials say these initial steps forward already may be influencing North Korean decisions to hold off on a second test, and that over time a strict sanctions architecture can be erected to contain the North's nuclear ambitions and prevent the transfer of weapons to another state or terrorists. ... Another interesting webpage: An interactive graphic on the North Korean border with China and Russia accompanies an article by Norimishu Onishi, "Tension, Desperation: The China-North Korean Border," in the New York Times (22 October).


British media's coverage of the late Wang Guangmei, wife of the late Liu Shaoqi

The Guardian (Friday 20 October, 2006) published an obituary of Wang Guangmei who died on 13 October at the age of 85. Wang's husband, Liu Shaoqi, died and Wang herself spent years in prison during the Cultural Revolution. The Telegraph published (Telegraph Blogs, Richard Spencer, 18 Oct 06 11:07) "Remembering the Cultural Revolution" and commented on Chinese newspaper coverage of her passing.

Telegraph's Peter Foster blogs on Sri Lanka

"Don't hold your breath for Sri Lanka" (Telegraph Blogs, Peter Foster, 21 Oct 06 13:31) "It is very hard to see where the break-through is going to come from at the moment. The gulf between the two sides is just too large. I found myself in a heated conversation last night with some Sri Lankan friends who accused me, and the 'foreign media' of exaggerating the attack on Galle. It was 'just a skirmish' said one of those friends, why make it into a 'war'. ... Sri Lanka's situation is often compare with Northern Ireland's, but it seems from my interviews here that both side are nowhere clear to making the kind of leap of faith that brought the IRA into the political sphere. ..."

A story about Arnold!

"Schwarzenegger Story Gets Another Rewrite" by Peter Nicolas, Sat. 21 October, Los Angeles Times. .... From a nadir at which he was being compared with Jesse Ventura, the pro wrestler who flamed out as governor of Minnesota after one term, Schwarzenegger rose to be the front-runner in the Nov. 7 election.His governorship has been a string of such moments: spontaneous decisions that have carried large consequences, for better and for worse. New to professional politics, he has been learning as he goes. He has overreached; called officials "stooges" and worse; flip-flopped, wasted time and money. All in full view of California voters and in the face of enormous expectations that came with the historic 2003 recall election.But over the last 11 months he has righted himself, relying on competitive instincts that told him if he was to survive he needed to drop the hubris and build a centrist government more in step with California voters.It worked. His approval rating is up to 56%, according to the latest Los Angeles Times poll, a rise of nearly 20 percentage points in one year....


Thoughts on Communist Korea and Communist China

I attended two guest lectures recently by Gordon Chang, author of Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World (Random House, 2006), and Minxin Pei, author of China's Trapped Transition: The Limits of Developmental Autocracy (Harvard University Press, 2006). While neither has all the answers, both makes excellent observations in their books and speeches. Now that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea has institutionalized brinksmanship, Chang advocates a change in diplomacy--one that combines a reduction in the American nuclear arsenal and applications of all available leverage on the Republic of Korea and Communist China. Now that the People's Republic of China has compartmentalized being classically liberal abroad and positively illiberal at home, Pei advocates critical engagement--one that combines associating and talking to Chinese Communists and being honest enough to criticize them they are paying a price when there is a gap between economic growth for an increasing number of Chinese people and the monopoly of political power in the Chinese Coummunist Party. By the way, the journal Foreign Affairs (July/August 2006) has a review of Pei's book. I recommend both books.


Taiwan, Hungary, and ... Thailand

Citizens can demostrate--like in Taiwan. Citizens can protest and occupy government offices--like in Hungary. Citizens are citizens after all. If one wants to threaten a sitting government, one uses the military, with tanks--like in Thailand. Let's recap. Monday night, 19 September, protesters held a rally, smashed windows and battled police around the state television headquarters in Budapest after local media broadcast a tape recording. In it, Hungarian Prime Minister and Socialist Party Leader Ferenc Gyurcsany admitted in May that his officials lied about government finances to win April's elections. Last Sunday, 10 September, thousands of demostrators marched in Taipei to protest alleged corruption related to the son-in-law and the wife of President Chen Shui-bian, also Democratic Progressive Party chairman, and also to protest news of an investigation on the use of false invoices and a secret fund by Chen's office. Today, Tuesday, 20 September, Thai military TV Five reported the Thai military declared a coup d'état with over a dozen tanks blocking roads and surrounding government offices. Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, on a visit at the United Nations in Manhattan, announced a "severe state of emergency."


Tax cuts, yes, but first reform public services

Sir Richard Sykes is Rector of Imperial College London and the new Chairman of the Advisory Board of the independent think tank Reform. Sir Richard published in the Telegraph on 3 September, "Tax cuts, yes, but first reform public services." .... But we are in danger of spiralling into an ad hoc debate about tax reduction without facing up to the underlying necessity for spending reform. Reforms to make public spending more efficient and to limit government's activity will create the room for tax reductions. They are the essential precondition for tax reduction. It will not be possible without them.... Political leaders would gain great credit by being more honest about the outputs of the services for which they are responsible. For example, it is astonishing that ministers take credit for improving exam results when around 50 per cent of A grades in A-level mathematics, physics and modern languages are achieved in independent schools (which teach only one in eight A-level students).... We are now approaching a genuine turning point.... There is a clear and urgent choice. Either reform to improve services, keep government affordable and enable tax reductions. Or a continued failure to reform, leading to rising costs, reductions in services and further tax increases. Either economic growth, with all its benefits, or the disaster of low growth and its creeping social and economic cost. We need much greater honesty in the political debate about the extent of change that is needed and the greater role that markets can play in delivering better government performance and value for money. On the one hand it means an end to the one-size-fits-all attitude that characterises the provision of public services. For example, we select in every other part of life, so why not in education? The idea that the comprehensive system would increase social mobility, would "give everyone a grammar school education", is one of the greatest lies told to the British people. We must end the waste of human potential. On the other, it means the recognition that funding for services will not come from the taxpayer alone. Despite its calls for long-term thinking, the Government has done nothing to reconcile rising expectations with inevitable limits on the funding that the taxpayer can provide. The NHS is already struggling to fund the latest cancer medicines. The future of universal public services depends on the creation of mixed funding systems. The introduction of tuition fees in higher education represents a first step in the right direction. This approach is not "Right-wing"; recent experience shows how markets have advanced opportunities for everyone in society. Following the privatisation of telecom-munic-ations and air travel, mobiles and international flights have become accessible to all. But a decent education, the crucial thing in life, is not available to all. Only two-fifths of 16-year-olds achieve good passes in the core subjects of English, maths and science.... Next year's Spending Review ... should be based on a "growth rule", that public spending will rise by less than the rate of growth of the economy, to focus minds and allow for tax reductions in the near future.

UK Conservative group calling itself No Turning Back

Telegraph editor Melissa Kite reports on 3 September in "We must cut tax as a matter of morality, senior Tories insist". John Redwood MP is the chairman of No Turning Back and head of UK Conservative Party leader David Cameron's policy review on economic competitiveness. "If you keep the proportion spent on public services down, you can benefit from lower taxes and faster growth, giving you a better rate of increase in the amount of money you have available for public spending. Lower tax rates represent a win win." "Lower taxes are not a desirable extra you can add when everything is going fine. Lower tax rates are the way to get everything going well." "Taxation at best is compulsory charity. At worst it is theft by kleptocrat politicians. There is nothing moral about demanding high taxes from people. It is one of the distortions of the British debate to accept that public spending is good, and private spending is selfish. Public spending includes the money to pay for the entertainments of those who rule us, the cash to buy fireworks displays, banquets and civil servants to manage the lives of ministers." "Private spending includes the money families spend on their children, the cash to pay for care for elderly relatives." "Who dares say that it is morally right for government to waste so much of other people's money on a centralised health computer system? Or right to subsidise the empty Dome? Or good to increase spending on consultants to £3 billion- a year? Or uplifting to spend £20 billion on mending the railway, which still does not perform as well as it did when they took it on?" The pamphlet argues that a low tax economy is more moral because it leaves people with the choice of "whether to indulge ourselves, or give to charity". "Of course some state spending is good. We welcome the payments to the disabled, who need the help of other taxpayers to enjoy some of the benefits of our rich society." "We do begrudge the money wasted on regional government, on Regional Development Agencies in England, on health reorganisation, police reorganisation, on EU waste and fraud and the growing army of regulators." It declares there is "colossal waste in public spending". While Gordon Brown had outlined plans to cut expenditure in some government departments by five per cent, "bigger reductions are possible and should be pursued more vigorously". Although it backs the leadership's stance that a Conservative government will share the proceeds of growth between lower taxes and spending on services, the pamphlet adds: "It is important to remind people that we can have our cake and eat it. If we raise the growth rate of the UK economy, there can be substantially more money for tax rate cuts and for better public services."

New York Times interviews Wang Guangya, Chinese ambassador to United Nations

"The World According to China" by James Traub, New York Times Magazine, 3 September 2006. This interview reminds readers the change in how Communist China conducts diplomacy in the United Nations. From Traub: It’s a truism that the Security Council can function only insofar as the United States lets it. The adage may soon be applied to China as well. Quotation of the last few paragraphs: Wang told me he believed that blunderbuss diplomacy is the American way “because America is a superpower, so America has a big say.” China would appear to have a big say of its own, but that’s not Wang’s view. At the end of our second conversation, he returned to a favorite theme. “The Americans have muscle and exercise this muscle,” he said. “China has no muscle and has no intention of exercising this muscle.” I said that, in fact, China had a great deal of muscle but punched below its weight. Wang smiled at the expression and said, “It’s not good?” Well, I said, that depends. And then Wang said something quite startling: “China always regards itself as a weak, small, less powerful country. My feeling is that for the next 30 years, China will remain like this. China likes to punch underweight, as you put it.” Why was that? Why did China want to punch underweight? Wang spoke of China’s peaceful rise, of the need to reassure all who fear its growing clout. “We don’t,” he said, “want to make anyone feel uncomfortable.”


Book review: Generals in the Cabinet Room: How the Military Shapes Israeli Policy

"Generals in the Cabinet Room: How the Military Shapes Israeli Policy," by Yoram Peri, United States Institute for Peace Press, 328 pages. Book review in Haaretz by Yagil Levy, 25 August. The book looks at politicians' oversight of the Israeli Defense Force during the second intifada while the the book reviewer used the book to illustrate the balance of power between the army and the political leadership of Israel. Interesting to military analysts and political scientists.

Bloomberg's Peter Robison reported on Israel's security in aviation

What El Al does for airline security. Israeli-Style Air Security, Costly and Intrusive, May Head West. (Aug. 25)

Washington Post's Laura Blumenfeld reported on Israel's targerted assassinations

Interesting insights provided by Laura Blumenfeld, in the Washington Post article, In Israel, a Divisive Struggle Over Targeted Killing, free registration required, (Sunday, August 27, 2006; Page A01) with interviews of generals, a security agency chief, a defense minister and a prime minister of Israel.


New York Times on Chicago's heavily Pakistani Devon Avenue

A feature story, "Pakistanis Find U.S. an Easier Fit Than Britain" , with interviews of Americans of Pakistani heritage and contrasts with British cities' Asian enclaves: "immigrants are not mired in the Devon Avenue neighborhood; many move out once they can afford better. Unlike the situation in Britain, there is no collective history here of frustrated efforts to assimilate into a society where a shortened form of Pakistani is a stinging slur, and there are no centuries-old grievances nursed from British colonial rule over what became Pakistan. Where such comparisons fail, however, is in providing a model to predict why some young Muslims turn to violence, although no religion is immune."


Tiger wins again!

Woods at this year's PGA Championship.


Besides Governor Schwarzenegger and President Reagan, there are others in Hollywood with whom I agree

From a full-page ad in Los Angeles Times, Thursday, 17 August: "We the undersigned are pained and devastated by the civilian casualties in Israel and Lebanon caused by terrorist actions initiated by terrorist organisations such as Hizbollah and Hamas. If we do not succeed in stopping terrorism around the world, chaos will rule and innocent people will continue to die. We need to support democratic societies and stop terrorism at all costs."

If you believe the month-long war in Lebanon is really about Iran's nuclear reactors

We still have United Nations Security Council Resolution 1696 giving Iran until 31 August to suspend uranium enrichment and open its nuclear programme to international inspections. If it does not comply, the council would consider adopting "appropriate measures" under Article 41 of Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which relates to economic sanctions. Don't hold your breath. Remember how many deadlines lapsed before Iraq suffered consequences. Anyway, we'll see.


Politics and control

The situation is worse around Israel; it pretty bad in other parts of the world, too. North, south and east of Israel are Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank (of the Jordan River). Lebanon experienced a lengthy civil war during which American, Iranian, Israeli, Syrian, United Nations and various Lebanese factions had militias, spies and troops operated on Lebanese soil. Most foreign troops have left and home grown Hizbullah (Party of God) of Shiite militias and politicians are now dominant, more dominant than Lebanon's Army. Israel occupied and evacuated from Gaza and various parts of the West Bank. The evacuated parts are "governed" by the Palestinian Authority. Yet the Palestinian police is just one force among many which carry and have access to guns and other weapons; Hamas (Islamic Resistance Movement) is so strong it garnered the most votes in the last election, formed the majority in the Palestinian parliament and paid its own militias. All the rest of the world, where the governing party governs with a minority of seats in parliament or where the president of the governing party has to live with a parliament headed by a speaker or a prime minister belonging to an opposition party can rest easy, can rest easy--at least the governing party controls the military. Imagine in Gaza or in Lebanon, neither the Palestinian President nor the Lebanese President controls all the police and soldiers in his country. Even so, they are the people who has to face the Israeli Defense Force when Hizbullah or Hamas attacked Israel. Sigh.