Rants in This Holiday Season

The US Postal Service has been in heaps of trouble for quite some time. But they don't seem to deserve much sympathy because their services are obviously lacking, especially in a busy holiday season like this. On the other hand, I also have a bone or two to pick on Barnes and Noble, the remaining nationwide book store chain after Borders went out of business earlier this year.

I was a Borders card holder -- after all, they were a local entity in the Tree Town I had called home for many years. When they went out of business, they obviously sold the list of customers to Barnes and Noble. I got a offer in email for the new Nook tablet. Online reviews seem to give it high marks comparing to the Amazon Kindle Fire. So I ordered one as a holiday gift for my daughter.

The order was placed on November 22. I received an email the next day informing me about the shipment. I have been checking the status of it on UPS, which initially stated that the expected delivery date was December 3. But on December 2, the UPS tracking tool displayed a yellow notice saying that, "As requested by the sender, UPS has transferred this shipment to the local post office for delivery to the final destination."

Since then, the USPS tracking has been showing me that "Electronic Shipping Info Received". There has been no update whatsoever about the status of the package.

In this day of age, the Postal Service doesn't seem to face up to challenges in front of it. With the news that half of its processing facilities are to be closed, I guess we can expect the services from USPS to go from bad to worse.

Calling Barnes and Noble is no help either in this matter. I wondered from the beginning as why the chain did not offer in-store pickup of online orders. Having many brick-and-mortar stores across the country seems to be the only advantage Barnes and Noble has against Amazon, yet it doesn't seem to care to use it to serve its customers. Now that my table is nowhere to be found two weeks after it is ordered, all the Barnes and Noble customer service person could tell me is "call your local post office."

At this rate, I wish B&N and USPS both the best of luck staying in business. But on the other hand, I would not be too surprised if they don't.


Why do I call the "TEA Party" cancer?

The other day in one thread of discussion on Google+, I responded to a comment with this: The Tea Party is not what is causing cancer. It is cancer!

Here is why: A cancer cell starts from a regular, normal cell. Somehow along the way, a cell grows out of control and becomes cancerous. Once enough of them become that way, the cells absorbs as much nutrition as possible from its surroundings, display uncontrolled growth, invasion that intrudes upon and destroys adjacent tissues, and often metastasizes, wherein the tumor cells spread to other locations in the body ... and eventually kills the body that they are part of.

That is exactly what the tea party is: They do not care how the whole body is, what the body needs to function, or even they themselves need the body to live on. All they care about is themselves. Nobody is taking anything from them. Everything theirs belongs to them. Everything yours they will grab if they can. If you die as a result, too bad. You only have yourselves to blame: It is all because you are not as smart as they are.

Now here is a real example of that: Screw The Rich (Here’s How): "As for me, I think the government should be starved of income and be forced to spend money where it’s supposed to – defending the border, establishing a trusted currency, and protecting property rights." -- See what I am saying? Government should not be able to do anything but defend them for their property rights. You are homeless? Too bad. The government should not do anything for you.

It seems that, in tea party logic, the government is not evil only when the government can be put into their pockets.


Political Ponderings

I don't write for a living, I guess it is more of a way of venting.

Republicans are in power in much of the country these days. They continue to spout their lines about the government being the problem, etc. and continue to push their tax cuts for the wealthy, although they have no proof that their supply-side economics has ever worked.

Conceptually, I agree with them on the need of the government spending within the means. Although I cannot stop wondering, why did we not hear them saying those same things a few years ago? They say that, like a household, the country cannot spend more than it makes. I just hope that it is that simple.

I don't know about other people's households, but in mine, if we are in danger of running out of money, we would make sure that the kids are fed first. The parents may have to sacrifice a bit to do that, but there is no alternative to that. The Republicans seem to be a different breed. They don't seem to care about the kids, or the poor, for that matter. They would sacrifice everybody to guarantee that the well-off have their tax cuts. I am fine with them doing that, actually, as long as they tell what they do exactly as is. Don't pretend that they care about my job or creating jobs for those poor souls who don't have theirs.

Tell us how exactly the wealthy would create jobs? Or let's take a step back, why would they? A good free market capitalist would tell you that a private corporation exists to make profits for its share holders. So if nobody is buying a car in this country, would GM expand its production just to create more jobs because the government gives them a tax cut? My guess is no, they would not. Nobody is obligated to create jobs for us. The corporate executives are not satisfied with making only a few hundred times more than you and I do. They want more. They are only obligated to make themselves more. You and I should not forget or overlook that.

I guess the Republicans are just taking us all for fools.

I'll wait and see. November 2012 is not that far away.


【译】Gmail 黑客案:证据指向中国的蓝翔技校

-- 学校既教电脑,也教烹饪、理发,与中国政府一道讥讽所受的指责

星期四 2011 年 6 月 2 日,英国夏令时 13.59

【原文照片】中国济南蓝翔技校学生,该校是 Gmail 被黑事件的中心。摄影:路透社


该校成立于 1984 年,每年招生两万,在国内有名的是其厨艺和精品店方面的培训。

但它也有一个很大的计算机进修班。学校的简章里炫耀该校有 10 座大型高标准实验室,配备有 2000 台方正品牌电脑。有一段,蓝翔还称该校持有一项一间机房里计算机最多的吉尼斯世界纪录。

这家学校出名是在 2010 年,纽约时报指认其为两所黑客学校之一,涉嫌参与攻击美国公司和人权运动积极分子。

那篇报道援引一位匿名知情人士,称那次攻击与一位乌克兰教授在蓝翔开设的某项课程有关。逆向索源,那次攻击来自这所学校的一台计算机的 IP 地址。

学校多次否认参与任何计算机黑客活动,或者与军方有任何特殊关系,但是当 Google 透露出这次高水平的“钓鱼”式攻击活动来自该校所在的山东省会济南,专门针对海外的军事目标和中国国内的维权人士,这所学校又回到了聚光灯下。

身为美国搜索引擎的 Google 并未点这所学校的名,但由于去年纽约时报的报道,它理所当然地又一次成为关注的焦点。

纽约时报称蓝翔是由军方支持建立的一所巨型技工学校,为人民解放军培养计算机人才。 报道称该校的计算机网络由一家与百度关系密切的公司运营 -- 百度是中国最大的搜索引擎公司,Google 的竞争对手。



卫报(the Guardian)与这家学校取得了联系,他们拒绝了最近的指控。“我们跟这事儿没有任何关系,”学校办公室的女士拒绝透露姓名,她说:“我们哪儿有这么高的技术?这么精明的学生?这不可能。”

这些指控揭示问题的同时也提出了许多问题。分析家们猜测,因为没法明确追溯到解放军,这家学校的电脑既可以轻易地被有关当局用作伪装,也能被某个第三方利用 -- 如爱国流氓黑客,甚至是第三国。除非学校开放其计算机的审查,否则难以确定。在调查早期,攻击看似来自美国的盟友台湾,但那后来已被排除。济南则可能仍然是全球黑客活动的调查重点。


【译】 没有一个全球互联网战略中国能成功建立起软实力吗?

原文比尔·毕晓普于 2010 年 6 月 18 日发表于作者有关常见中国话题的一个博客 — Sinocism.com。】



如果世人都知道一个国家堵截诸如 Facebook, Google, Youtube 和 Twitter 这些全球知名的互联网服务,这个国家还可能赢得人心吗?

首先,介绍一些背景。这里有一条题为《中国软实力的方方面面》的 Sinica 网播和华盛顿邮报约翰·潘夫瑞一篇题为《从中国的口到德州的耳:直到加尔维斯顿的小广播站》的报道都是从传媒行业角度介绍中国力推其软实力的佳作。今天,美国研究中国的学术领袖之一沈大伟教授在国际先驱论坛报发表评论文章,题为《中国展示软实力》。他在文中勾画了中国为推展其软实力所采取的许多方面的措施:


中国政府将在 2009-2010 年度投资 87 亿美元用于“对外宣传工作” — 主要针对“四大”:中国中央电视台(CCTV),中国国际广播电台(CRI),新华社和中国日报 — 同时,许多国家的媒体权贵和舆论领军人物被邀请到中国作“沟通”之旅。


具体的改进措施还包括新华社的 24 小时新闻电视频道,模仿半岛电视台;CCTV 尝试与 CNN 和 BBC 竞争;CRI 在美国和欧洲的一些调幅及调频广播市场购买更多的时段,同时对非洲、中东和拉丁美洲直播。CCTV 现在有六个国际频道以五种语言播出,号称全球观众一亿两千五百万。

部分省级电视台(重庆,上海和湖南)也在国外广播市场寻求一席之地。中国还在国外市场投资了一系列英语和华语电视台,例如 Blue Ocean Network (BON TV) 和美国的长城电视。


目前,新华社有八万订户机构,是新华社一个强力的收入来源,对缺乏自身新闻来源发展中国家公众而言,新华社也提供了一个新闻和信息来源。新华社有 400 报道人员分驻世界各地 117 个分社,计划在 2012 年底前再增加 10 个分社,到 2020 发展到 180 个分社。

这些计划给人印象深刻,且所费不菲。中国正充分利用她所了解的媒体渠道和市场分销机制,不惜代价地雇用西方传媒业界的老手充当顾问。但是,Google 和 Facebook 及其五亿用户已经明确地告诉我们,未来全球范围有影响力的人群正越来越多地走上互联网。

Google 的撤离对于中国发展软实力的努力将会有长期的影响。如我在 Google 退出后不久对纽约时报所言:

“中国对其推动软实力发展的努力是很认真的,” 比尔毕晓普...在星期二说。“Google 退出等于在他们的推销计划书上戳了个大洞,我想这点他们心知肚明。”

中国国内的互联网公司里还没有一家有机会在全球范围造成象 Facebook,Google 甚至 Twitter 这样的影响。首先,语言障碍是现实存在;也许孔子学院最终能够成功地教会千百万人中文,但是那起码得几十年,而且即使到了那一步,中国之外能读英文的人还是远远多于会读中文的。

其次,中国顶尖的互联网公司里,百度、腾讯、新浪、搜狐、盛大、网易,没有一家拥有在海外主要市场实质意义上成功的 DNA 或信誉。在大多数市场里,他们将面对西方互联网公司在中国所面对的同样的问题。他们在发展中国家的某些局部,尤其是游戏,能够获得一些市场份额,但对于中国发展软实力的整体目标不会产生有实质意义的影响。






中国传媒研究计划:李长春论传媒与中国的 “国际影响”

中国传媒研究计划:“软实力” 出击:中国探索宏观措施,以加强其全球文化实力




CRS 报告:中国的外交政策和“软实力” 在南美,亚洲及非洲


Imagethief:给新华社新立 CNC TV 新闻部门的毛遂之见

每日秀:中国软实力之努 PK 每日秀,加州哈仙达岗的愚蠢


你可以用 RSS 在这里订阅我的博客,你也可以在 Twitter 上跟踪 @niubi,我的 Twitter 更新会更频繁些,用新浪微博的话你可以在这里找到我。当然你还可以在 Sinocism 跟踪我平常讨论中国话题的博客。



Even God Has Problems

The subject line is purely rhetorical, it does not mean that I believe god exists.

I said that to my youngest child the other day. She is a sensitive kid, with a very inquisitive mind of her own. She asked mom yesterday what god has problems actually meant. So I thought I would explain myself, to her, in this way.

If there were an almighty god, then he or she had definitely got problems. If not, my guess is that we would already have world peace. On the subject of god, I recommend the movie Dogma (Warning: the movie is R rated.)

What triggered that statement was an incident she had at school. I got a call from the school asking me to pick her up because she had been crying for some time and the teacher didn't think she was able to go back to class. She was in a small group of students when one of them started insulting everyone in the group, saying that everyone had problems, not her.

So I said, "Why is that insulting? Everyone has problems, even god has problems. Anyone saying she doesn't is just delusional or ignorant."

I trust that she does understand what I said. My guess what frustrated her to crying was a sense of injustice when the other girl could insult others and get away with it, but she could not do anything about the situation. So I did a little bit of role playing with her: I asked her to say to me, as if I were the other person, "I don't like what you are saying. Stop it!" That may be all it takes to release her frustration in this particular kind of situation.


Sunday Morning Musings

Opening the Sunday morning AnnArbor.com newspaper, there is Governor Snyder's 2011 Spring commencement speech at the University of Michigan. Right underneath, there a 5th grader protesting against his budget policy for its cuts in education funding. A reflection of our time.

I am against the governor's cuts on top of cuts already made to the K-12 education system. Maybe I am biased because my kids are in the system. However, that is not the main reason I am against his cuts. There was a story in the front page of last Thursday's story, in which a little girl whispered in the governor's ears, "Stop taking money from my school" -- according to the girl's father. That may not be entirely correct. The governor's proponents would say that he is not taking money from the school, he just doesn't have enough money to give the schools, although the governor probably has proven his proponents wrong in that regard: He is also taking the the K-12 school funds and shifting them to fund community colleges.

I agree with the guest opinion by Donald Salberg on page A6 that lowering business taxes will not create more jobs. But he may have missed a point: The business tax cutters may not be aiming to create new jobs, they may pin their hope on attracting businesses elsewhere that may be considering expansion to expand here in Michigan. I do suspect that business tax cuts would fail at that, too. The tax cutters seem to be competing against some imaginary other places as if those other places exist in an imaginary bubble. If tax cuts work magic on businesses, would those other places not be smart enough to follow suite? That seems to be a perfect scenario of race to the bottom -- where big business owners can profit comfortably on the backs of others.

According to one of the business school legends: Henry Ford gave his factory workers the highest wages in the industry, which created a demand on his cars, which in turn partly fueled his success. I don't know what today's Republicans would say to that. Call Henry Ford a fool, perhaps? Who could guarantee that those workers would necessarily buy Ford's products? Maybe they should do some research on the business taxes back then to prove that it was Michigan's low tax rate that put Henry Ford in Detroit, rather than Windsor across the Detroit river, or across the lake somewhere in Ohio.

The lessons of Silicon Valley on the Business Review page seems to provide some interesting ideas what a government could do: intentional innovation, economic gardening. Hope the whole Ann Arbor area grows into a better entrepreneurial garden. But I believe education, including K-12, has to be part of that garden.


239. 《好一朵美丽的 . . .【此处删去三字】》


音乐不错,宋祖英唱得还过得去,尽管听不出来这原是江南小调。倒是杨澜的英语让我起了不少鸡皮疙瘩 -- Maybe I expected too much from a Columbia graduate.

[Edit] The embedded doesn't seem to work, so here is the link.