Eleven-Year-Old Crippled for Life by Mao Supporters


  Source of book image:  http://www.holtzbrinckpublishers.com/henryholt/Search/SearchBookDisplayLarge.asp?BookKey=1524294


(p. B29) This improbable journey, from Maoist orthodoxy to the entrepreneurial quasicapitalism officially described as “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” is the main theme of “Chinese Lessons,” but Mr. Pomfret, a reporter for The Washington Post, gives his tale a twist.  He tells it not only through his own experiences as a student and journalist but through the life stories of five university classmates, who suffered through the Cultural Revolution as children, found inspiration and hope in the growing democracy movement and lived to see a China that neither they nor their parents could have imagined.  . . .

All the lives Mr. Pomfret explores are extraordinary, and each sheds its own light on recent Chinese history.  Perhaps the most endearing of his characters is Guan Yongxing, better known as Little Guan, who as an 11-year-old suffered social ostracism after accidentally using a piece of paper with “Long Live Chairman Mao!” on it to wipe herself in the bathroom.

After classmates threw her to the ground, no doctor would treat her dislocated shoulder, leaving her crippled for life.  Her father’s job as a schoolteacher made the Guan family a prime target for abuse, and Little Guan, rather than endure ridicule and torment at school, picked cotton and sprayed fertilizer on the fields, her back constantly burned by chemicals leaking from the tank on her back.  Tough, determined and highly intelligent, she survives and eventually prospers in the new China.

. . .

Zhou Lianchun, called Book Idiot Zhou by a contemptuous Communist Party official, meted out insults and torture as part of a Red Guard brigade.  “I did what I was told and, being 11, I liked it,” he tells Mr. Pomfret.

. . .

More even than sex, students want just a little bit of the good life that seems to be in reach as China’s rulers relax their economic policies.  To get it they master a strange kind of doublethink, pledging allegiance to the party and Communist ideals while scheming to start a business.

Book Idiot Zhou, a history teacher by day, jumps into a business partnership to process urine for the pharmaceutical industry.  “Several days a week, he taught Marxism, Leninism and Maoist thought and railed against the exploitation of the capitalist class,” Mr. Pomfret writes.  “The rest of the time he spent as a budding entrepreneur, employing dozens at rock-bottom wages, working the system to enrich himself, his partners and his family.”

. . .

His classmates have done well.  But their lives, and the China described in “Chinese Lessons,” bear a heavy load of suppressed grief, terrible compromises and boundless cynicism.  At a new drive-in called the Happy Auto Movie Palace, Mr. Pomfret notices something strange about the concrete slabs underneath his feet.  They show the marks of tank treads.  The drive-in owner bought them after the government repaved Tiananmen Square.

This strikes Mr. Pomfret as bizarre, but not the owner.  “It was a good deal,” he says.

 

For the full review, see: 

WILLIAM GRIMES. "Books of The Times; Twisting Along China’s Sharp Curves." The New York Times (Fri., August 4, 2006):  B29.
(Note: ellipses added.) 


Taking the Red Pill in China

Surfing the Web last fall, a Chinese high-school student who calls himself Zivn noticed something missing.  It was Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia that accepts contributions or edits from users, and that he himself had contributed to.

The Chinese government, in October, had added Wikipedia to a list of Web sites and phrases it blocks from Internet users’ access.  For Zivn, trying to surf this and many other Web sites, including the BBC’s Chinese-language news service, brought just an error message.  But the 17-year-old had had a taste of that wealth of information and wanted more.  "There were so many lies among the facts, and I could not find where the truth is," he writes in an instant-message interview.

Then some friends told him where to find Freegate, a tiny software program that thwarts the Chinese government’s vast system to limit what its citizens see.  Freegate — by connecting computers inside of China to servers in the U.S. — allows Zivn and others to keep reading and writing to Wikipedia and countless other sites.

Behind Freegate is a North Carolina-based Chinese hacker named Bill Xia.  He calls it his red pill, a reference to the drug in the "Matrix" movies that vaulted unconscious captives of a totalitarian regime into the real world.  Mr. Xia likes to refer to the villainous Agent Smith from the Matrix films, noting that the digital bad guy in sunglasses "guards the Matrix like China’s Public Security Bureau guards the Internet."

. . .

(p. A9)  . . . , with each new version of Freegate — now on its sixth release — the censors "just keep improving and adding more manpower to monitor what we have been doing," Mr. Xia says.  In turn, he and volunteer programmers keep tweaking Freegate.

At first, the software would automatically change its Internet Protocol address — a sort of phone number for a Web site — faster than China could block it.  That worked until September 2002, when China blocked Freegate’s domain name, not just its number, in the Internet phone book.

More than three years later, Mr. Xia is still amazed by the bold move, calling it a "hijacking."  Ultimately he prevailed, however, through a solution he won’t identify for fear of being shut down for good.

Confident in that solution, Mr. Xia continues to send out his red pill, and users like Zivn continue to take it.  The teen credits his cultural and political perspective to a "generation gap" that has come of having access to more information.  "I am just gradually getting used to the truth about the real world," he writes.

 

For the full story, see: 

Geoffrey A. Fowler.  "Chinese Internet Censors Face ‘Hacktivists’ in U.S."  The Wall Street Journal  (Monday, February 13, 2006):  A1 & A9.

Entrepreneurial Archaeology

In the "Dig for a Day" program, participants pay $25.00 to spend three hours helping to excavate a Tel Maresha cave.  Source of the image:  the online version of the NYT article cited below. 

 

While most archaeological excavations require hundreds of thousands of dollars, Mr. Alpert said, this one is unusual because it is self-supporting.  “We have the people working and paying for the work, which has proven itself archaeologically and from a tourism standpoint,” he said.  “That’s why we are able to dig for so long.”  The Maresha excavation is licensed by the Israeli Antiquities Authority, and reports are submitted each year to evaluate its scientific contribution.

“This is the ultimate chutzpah,” said Ian Stern, another of the company’s three owners, who has a doctorate in archaeology and emigrated to Israel from New Jersey (the third owner is Asher Afriat, a historian and native Israeli).  “We are providing the public with an active educational experience, while they do the work.  Their money underwrites the excavation and is used for all the follow-up of putting the pottery together, registering and photographing the finds, and writing the scientific reports.” 

 

For the full story, see:

CAREN OSTEN GERSZBERG.  "Family Journeys; Israel; Amateur Archaeologists Get the Dirt on the Past."  The New York Times, Section 5 (Sun., July 16, 2006):   11.

 

  Amateur archaeologists excavate a cave.  Source of the image:  the online version of the NYT article cited above.

 

Hurricanes Not Caused by Human-Induced Climate Change: More on Why Crichton is Right


The Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Science at MIT analyzes the case for human-induced global warming:

(p. A14) There have been repeated claims that this past year’s hurricane activity was another sign of human-induced climate change. Everything from the heat wave in Paris to heavy snows in Buffalo has been blamed on people burning gasoline to fuel their cars, and coal and natural gas to heat, cool and electrify their homes. Yet how can a barely discernible, one-degree increase in the recorded global mean temperature since the late 19th century possibly gain public acceptance as the source of recent weather catastrophes? And how can it translate into unlikely claims about future catastrophes?
The answer has much to do with misunderstanding the science of climate, plus a willingness to debase climate science into a triangle of alarmism.
. . .
To understand the misconceptions perpetuated about climate science and the climate of intimidation, one needs to grasp some of the complex underlying scientific issues. First, let’s start where there is agreement. The public, press and policy makers have been repeatedly told that three claims have widespread scientific support: Global temperature has risen about a degree since the late 19th century; levels of CO2 in the atmosphere have increased by about 30% over the same period; and CO2 should contribute to future warming. These claims are true. However, what the public fails to grasp is that the claims neither constitute support for alarm nor establish man’s responsibility for the small amount of warming that has occurred. In fact, those who make the most outlandish claims of alarm are actually demonstrating skepticism of the very science they say supports them. It isn’t just that the alarmists are trumpeting model results that we know must be wrong. It is that they are trumpeting catastrophes that couldn’t happen even if the models were right as justifying costly policies to try to prevent global warming.
If the models are correct, global warming reduces the temperature differences between the poles and the equator. When you have less difference in temperature, you have less excitation of extratropical storms, not more. And, in fact, model runs support this conclusion. Alarmists have drawn some support for increased claims of tropical storminess from a casual claim by Sir John Houghton of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that a warmer world would have more evaporation, with latent heat providing more energy for disturbances. The problem with this is that the ability of evaporation to drive tropical storms relies not only on temperature but humidity as well, and calls for drier, less humid air. Claims for starkly higher temperatures are based upon there being more humidity, not less — hardly a case for more storminess with global warming.
. . .
In Europe, Henk Tennekes was dismissed as research director of the Royal Dutch Meteorological Society after questioning the scientific underpinnings of global warming. Aksel Winn-Nielsen, former director of the U.N.’s World Meteorological Organization, was tarred by Bert Bolin, first head of the IPCC, as a tool of the coal industry for questioning climate alarmism. Respected Italian professors Alfonso Sutera and Antonio Speranza disappeared from the debate in 1991, apparently losing climate-research funding for raising questions.
And then there are the peculiar standards in place in scientific journals for articles submitted by those who raise questions about accepted climate wisdom. At Science and Nature, such papers are commonly refused without review as being without interest. However, even when such papers are published, standards shift. When I, with some colleagues at NASA, attempted to determine how clouds behave under varying temperatures, we discovered what we called an “Iris Effect,” wherein upper-level cirrus clouds contracted with increased temperature, providing a very strong negative climate feedback sufficient to greatly reduce the response to increasing CO2. Normally, criticism of papers appears in the form of letters to the journal to which the original authors can respond immediately. However, in this case (and others) a flurry of hastily prepared papers appeared, claiming errors in our study, with our responses delayed months and longer. The delay permitted our paper to be commonly referred to as “discredited.” Indeed, there is a strange reluctance to actually find out how climate really behaves. In 2003, when the draft of the U.S. National Climate Plan urged a high priority for improving our knowledge of climate sensitivity, the National Research Council instead urged support to look at the impacts of the warming — not whether it would actually happen.
Alarm rather than genuine scientific curiosity, it appears, is essential to maintaining funding. And only the most senior scientists today can stand up against this alarmist gale, and defy the iron triangle of climate scientists, advocates and policymakers.



For the full commentary, see:
RICHARD LINDZEN. “Climate of Fear.” The Wall Street Journal (Weds., April 12, 2006): A14.

Indiana Almost Legislated Wrong Value of Pi

pi_day1.gif
Yesterday (3/14) was “Pi Day.” Source of image: http://www.mathwithmrherte.com/pi_day.htm
After school yesterday, my daughter Jenny told me that in her sixth grade class with Barbara Jens, they had celebrated “Pi Day.” I didn’t get it until Jen pointed out that the date was 3/14 and the first three digits of pi are 3.14.
Being a hoosier by birth and upbringing, Pi Day reminded me that in 1897 the Indiana House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill legislating the wrong value of pi. It would make a better story if the House had taken this action based on a literal interpretation of the bible, which gives the value of pi as an even 3. But apparently the House action was based on a mistaken “proof” offered by physician Edwin J. Goodwin. Fortunately for the reputation of Indiana government, a mathematician visiting the state capitol for other reasons, convinced Senators of the mistake, and consideration of the bill was postponed indefinitely in the Senate, before it could become law.
For my source, and more details, see Petr Beckmann’s wonderful book:
Beckmann, Petr. A History of Pi. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1971.

Source of image: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0312381859/ref=ed_oe_p/104-6209536-4473568?%5Fencoding=UTF8

French Courage: In Defense of Voltaire and Free Speech

Voltaire.gif   Better known by his nom de plume: Voltaire.  Source of image: WSJ article cited below.

 

There is much to like about Voltaire: he defended reason; his novel Candide is hilarious; and he is reputed to have drunk more than 40 cups of coffee a day.

The enemies of freedom censored Voltaire when he was alive, 250 years ago. In an unintended tribute to the power of his ideas, today’s enemies of freedom still seek to censor him:

 

(p. A1) SAINT-GENIS-POUILLY, France — Late last year, as an international crisis was brewing over Danish cartoons of Muhammad, Muslims raised a furor in this little alpine town over a much older provocateur: Voltaire, the French champion of the 18th-century Enlightenment.

A municipal cultural center here on France’s border with Switzerland organized a reading of a 265-year-old play by Voltaire, whose writings helped lay the foundations of modern Europe’s commitment to secularism. The play, "Fanaticism, or Mahomet the Prophet," uses the founder of Islam to lampoon all forms of religious frenzy and intolerance.

The production quickly stirred up passions that echoed the cartoon uproar. "This play…constitutes an insult to the entire Muslim community," said a letter to the mayor of Saint-Genis-Pouilly, signed by Said Akhrouf, a French-born café owner of Moroccan descent and three other Islamic activists representing Muslim associations. They demanded the performance be cancelled.

Instead, Mayor Hubert Bertrand called in police reinforcements to protect the theater. On the night of the December reading, a small riot broke out involving several dozen people and youths who set fire to a car and garbage cans. It was "the most excitement we’ve ever had down here," says the socialist mayor.

The dispute rumbles on, playing into a wider debate over faith and free-speech. Supporters of Europe’s secular values have rushed to embrace Voltaire as their standard-bearer. France’s national library last week opened an exhibition dedicated to the writer and other Enlightenment thinkers. It features a police file started in 1748 on Voltaire, highlighting efforts by authorities to muzzle him. "Spirit of the Enlightenment, are you there?" asked a headline Saturday in Le Figaro, a French daily newspaper.

 . . .

(p. A10) Now that tempers have calmed, Mayor Bertrand says he is proud his town took a stand by refusing to cave in under pressure to call off the reading. Free speech is modern Europe’s "foundation stone," he says. "For a long time we have not confirmed our convictions, so lots of people think they can contest them."

 

For the full story, see: 

ANDREW HIGGINS.  "Blame It on Voltaire: Muslims Ask French To Cancel 1741 Play; Alpine Village Riles Activists By Letting Show Go On; Calling on the Riot Police."  The Wall Street Journal (Mon., March 6, 2006):  A1 & A10.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

Hayek Was Right: Free Speech is Fragile, When Property Can be Seized


For those who doubt the central message of Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, something to ponder:

 

(p. 351) The Sandinistas called coffee farmers who cooperated with them "patriotic producers." Anyone who questioned their politics or policies was labeled a capitalist parasite. Throughout most of the 1980s, any farms that did not produce sufficiently, or whose owners were too vocal, were confiscated by the government.

 

Source: 

Pendergrast, Mark. Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World. New York: Basic Books, 2000.